when baby came home

Tonight, on the eve of my fifth child’s birthday, I sorted through photos taken the day he came home from the hospital four years ago. What a welcome he received from his excited siblings!

All of this brought to mind the visual a friend once shared about growing up in a family of 18 children. Before meeting him, I’d never known anyone who’d come from such a big family, and in the middle of growing my own family as I was at the time, his story was more than a curiosity to me. It wasn’t all roses, he’d admitted. There were some hard times sharing a life with twenty other people. But when he told the story of what it was like to anticipate the coming-home of a new sibling, how the kids would wait for their parents to arrive home from the hospital with the newest addition, his eyes shone. "I still remember waiting for the car," he’d said, "and once we spotted it, we’d all bound out the door and down the road that led to our house to meet the newest family member. The excitement of new life — there’s nothing else quite like it."

It was good for me to pore over these photos and recall the absolute euphoria of a brand-new person having come into the world. And of course, the intensity, too, of adding another member to our family. There was always the dreaded "de-throning" of the former youngest. As a mother, that was a tough one for me. But in time, that penultimate child would seem to forget about his or her long-ago life at the bottom of the heap. Inevitably, a re-settling would happen, creating a new order, a new norm.

Life is always in motion, leading us to a new place. Even when it appears to be standing still, it is going somewhere. And that is a good thing. It might be tempting to cling to those wonderful "first days" and want it all back, but we defeat ourselves in lingering there too long. It’s good sometimes to revisit the past for a little while. It helps us cherish what was, and all that has passed between then and now. But it’s necessary, too, to follow the flow of life.

And there’s always something waiting around the bend. For example, today was a special day for Nick. After he and his daddy spent some quality time together earlier, Troy reached out his arms to him and said, "Hey, Buddy, it was fun hanging out with you a while on your last day being 3." Later on, we had our own few moments of quality time, and I asked him if he was excited about turning 4. "Yeah," he said, looking at me quizically, "but how did YOU grow?" From there, a deeper conversation ensued — about how I was once 4, and how God made us in a way that we would grow, slowly, each day, and how someday he’d be as old as I am now, and he’d be taller than I am, and he might even be taller and stronger than all his siblings, and how wonderful it will be someday to be the tallest and strongest instead of the littlest. "Yeah, but then I can’t wear my Batman costume, right?" Ah, yeah, the dreaded thought. "No, maybe not," I said. "But," he added, "I can wear it when I’m 5, and when I’m 6, right?" "You bet you can," I said. "So, don’t be in too much of a hurry to grow up, okay?"

I’m wistful, but not to the extreme. I feel grateful to have been eased into this kids-growing-up thing fairly gently so far. Having five children has given me the perspective to understand more fully the reality of lives in motion, and how I am powerless to stop it, and that, even if I could, I wouldn’t want to. Not really. My goal is to look back with as few regrets as possible, savor the current day as much as possible, and look forward, hope-filled, to the rest of the story of our family’s life together.

Well, now I’m on an important mission: to find tape so I can wrap a new "bigger and better" Batman costume (a gift from Nick’s paternal grandparents, who are in the South at the moment but ordered this online for him last week). The old, plastic one is toast and went into the garbage about a week ago. But I need to ask, does anybody else with kids or grandkids have a problem with disappearing tape? I buy it, and within days it’s gone. So, I might have to get creative, like, check under the table for "already been chewed" bubblegum and use that to keep the wrapping paper sealed. Truth be told, I don’t think Nick will really care.