I don’t know when it started happening, but I think it was sometime around when we took you for your first haircut. As you sat in the chair and I watched your soft baby-curls fall to the floor, I swallowed hard against the lump in my throat that had risen up unexpectedly. It’s just hair, I told myself. And it was, of course. But it was also a symbol, a metaphor; my baby was starting to grow up.
And then you started talking. It was later than we all expected, sure, but once you began, you didn’t look back. All of a sudden one day you were counting all the way to fifteen and singing every word of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and putting a plastic cup on your ducky’s head while shouting excitedly, “Astronaut!” You starting helping me pick out the bedtime story, rummaging through your book basket as you mused softly to yourself. “Hmmm. …How about…this one!”You let us know when you’re mad, or sad, or happy, and you ask us, “What’s that?” about a million times a day. I blinked, and suddenly you were a running, climbing, ball of energy who never stays quiet and makes his opinions known, who is curious about everything and has such an enormous personality in that teeny little body.
They say the days are long but the years are short, and as we near the celebration of your second birthday, I’ve never agreed with a sentiment more in my life. On vacation last week, we snuggled in bed one morning, just looking into each other’s eyes. And you let me run my fingers through your hair sticky with yesterday’s sunscreen, and all of me melted in those two pools of dark, rich brown while you stared at me. And when we went swimming, you clung to me like I was your safety net, your arms tight around my neck as I softly assured you it’s okay; it’s okay. Mama’s got you. I’m right here. There’s still some baby left in you for the time being, even if I have to squint really hard to see it.
“Time, please have a little mercy on this mama. Slow down a bit, won’t you?Give me just a while longer in this sweet space, this in-between place, before he grows up more. Be gentle with me, time.”
It’s the heart-cry of mamas everywhere, isn’t it?
I have a deep affection for the scriptures of the Old Testament, and these days I find myself going back to some of my favorite stories: when the Israelites took stones to build their altars of remembrance. When God rescued Jacob. When God spoke to Moses. When God dried up the Jordan River. The simple stones helped them remember the faithfulness of their God, who brought them out of wilderness and into the sweet, open spaces of abundance and fulfilled promises. Future generations would look upon those very stones and say, “Yes. Surely the Lord was in this place.”Their children and children’s children would know–God met our ancestors here.
“It is to be a witness between us and you, and between the generations after us, so that we may carry out the worship of the Lord in His presence with our burnt offerings, sacrifices, and fellowship offerings.”
If I were to look back at the first two years of your life, where would I build my altars?Where could I say, “The Lord was in this place”? I confess I struggled to see him most days. I was lost in a sea of dirty diapers and dirty dishes, in hours spent in the rocking chair holding you, in marveling over each new skill you acquired. There were late nights, early mornings, and after-midnight wakeups that left us all feeling a little worn and frayed at the edges. There were months of physical therapy and helmet therapy, and endless tears in those early days (from both of us!) when you were unable to move your head to nurse. There was patiently repeating words to you as you learned the skill of language, and the same books and songs over and over again; playing on the floor while I tried to teach you the concept of sharing toys or cleaning up after yourself. It didn’t feel very holy most of the time, if I’m being honest.It felt messy, or uncomfortable, even ordinary.
But he makes the small things significant and the significant things small, doesn’t he?
Because here among the small moments, the small things, you grew. You learned to roll over, and crawl, and stand up by yourself, and walk and run. You learned to talk, to sing, to pray. You learned who your family is, and how secure you are in our love. Love is multiplied in this place–from a single cell to a two-year-old toddler. Life grows here.What else can I say but “this is the space where God met me”?
So today, I build my altar of remembrance. On the cusp of having to say goodbye to this baby stage, where I’m learning to let you, my very first baby–who I grew and birthed from my own body, who needs me less and less each day as he explores more of the world around him–go a little bit. Sometimes I catch a split-second glance at the boy and the man you will grow into, and it makes me come undone. As we approach your second birthday, I place my stones and I remember God’s faithfulness, his constant presence, the good works of his hands over these past few years. And I decide that my altar will be named chayah which, in Hebrew, means to live or cause to grow.
Surely, the Lord is in this place. Which means surely, it is holy. Chayah has happened here.
Maybe you’re a mama on the verge of a new season, like I am. Maybe your baby is transitioning to full-on toddlerhood; maybe your baby is off to high school; maybe your baby has left home and has babies of their own. (They’ll always be our babies, won’t they?) Motherhood is incredible because we also are reborn through our giving of life; we become something new, something we’ve never been before. A mother. And with each new stage, there comes another metamorphosis. Life moves on, our children grow up too fast, and we have no choice but to adjust and adapt while all the while our heart is screaming, whether we hear it or not, for time to slow down, to give us more memories, to help us suck the marrow from the current season and savor every single second of it. May I suggest building your own altar if this is you. Look around; see where the Lord has met you where your feet are. Look back; remember the faithfulness, the times you thought you couldn’t do it but somehow, miraculously, you did. Look ahead to the new and beautiful and good things that are coming; just don’t forget to mark where you and your babies have been.
Your mothering is holy, even if it doesn’t feel that way sometimes.
God is here with you, even if that’s hard to remember some days.
Pick up your stones, mama. Build what’s yours to remember. Surely, the Lord is in this place.