Column: Growing through parenthood

Some experiences exceed our best efforts to describe them. Being a parent for the first time is one of those. Words fall short in describing the way our lives are turned upside down, and our hearts fill to bursting. We think we have our life together; we add a baby, and all our notions of being under control are cast aside. Not only do we lose control of our routine, but we lose control of our emotions. Who would have thought such a small person could have so much power?

In a few weeks, my daughter and son-in-law will undergo this experience. (I wanted to write “awesome” experience, but the word “awesome” has been diminished by overuse. It’s lost the power to describe awe-inspiring

What’s interesting about new parenthood, however, is the paradox. Parents are thrust into this world of the ugly and mundane — dirty diapers, spit-up, middle-of-the-night interruptions — while undergoing the most astonishing and transcendent experiences of the heart.

On the one hand, we want to scream from frustration when our lives seem to be consumed by petty trials, sleepless nights and excruciatingly boring routines. But on the other hand, we are brought to tears by the depth of our love for this child. We would gladly give up our own lives for this small, new one. How can it be so?

What having my first child did for me was to clarify my purpose. As one who had always before felt aimless, I knew when Katie was born that I was forever changed. Of course, my child didn’t define me, but I chose to define myself as one who would put this child at the center of my attention. I chose this not so I could spoil her or fill some empty place or emotional need, but because she was literally helpless without me.

Of course, over my years as a mother, I experienced plenty of “poor me” moments. Poor me stuck at home with sick kids. Poor me not getting enough sleep. Poor me getting back-talk from a pre-teen. Poor me, waiting in the interminable school pick-up line. Poor me, after all I’ve done for you….

I was not noble in my self-giving. Giving up what I wanted in order to care for someone else was as painful as giving birth. Yet it happened, and I was the better for it.

And those moments along the way, the smiles, the hugs, the exuberance, the joy, the tenderness, all those moments raised me up from those dark places of self-pity and revealed to me the saving power of love. Love lifted me. Love brought me out of myself to a place where I could put another human being’s welfare above my own. Love brought me out of myself to a place where I could give and give and give and keep giving. Yes, I counted the cost. Yes, I was petty and angry and resentful. But my pettiness and irritation and resentments always melted in the warmth of this love.

Parenthood taught me that my selfish ways are not love’s way. But, when I surrender my selfish ways and open my heart, love fills it with miracles. Yes, I’ve experienced many miracles in my three decades of being a mother.  Thomas Edward, my grandson, is one more.