July 24, 2009

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Happy birthday to the cutest, smartest, sweetest …

Cynthia DewesToday is our oldest child’s birthday. Of course, it’s a time for reminiscing and re-assessing the years leading up to it, but for us it’s mostly a time of joyful gratitude.

That’s because we feel the same awe now that we felt upon seeing Will for the first time. To think that we created this wonderful new person from our love for each other was overwhelming. It still is.

Unlike what we read in sentimental mommy literature, I didn’t feel too attached to my infants in the womb. Except for physical changes or discomforts, what I felt most was the responsibility to prepare for a new member of our family.

I loved the prospective baby in the abstract, but really didn’t feel much personal affection for him or her. I liked the mystery of whether the baby would be a boy or a girl, and also the idea of selecting yellow or green nursery equipment to avoid the pink or blue dilemma, but neither of these led to a feeling of intimacy with the new boy or girl.

But lo! The first time they put that little red “critter” in my arms, a rush of intense love came over me. I suppose that is the maternal instinct at work, but whatever it was it has continued to operate with all my children. My husband tells me he feels the same way, so I don’t believe it’s just a function of physically bearing the child.

Naturally, Will was the cutest, smartest, sweetest baby ever born. We have photos of ourselves gazing in wonder at him as he lay, nonchalantly in his buggy or asleep in his crib. He was also the funniest, something I didn’t expect in a tiny baby.

Once, I left him with his dad for an evening, leaving a bottle of breast milk for him in case he got hungry. Apparently, Will did not approve of this method of eating because when I returned the two of them were lying on our bed, scowling and looking disgusted. Dad still held the full bottle of milk in his hand.

The first baby, unfortunately, is always the one on whom we practice parenting. We want that cutest, smartest, sweetest baby to become the most obedient, most reverent and best educated child and adult. So we stick to a strict master plan with advice from our own parents, parenting manuals and horror stories from other parents.

We make mistakes, and parental guilt becomes a permanent aspect of our characters. We rationalize, and even relax.

Will once said to me, “How come you let Pete [number five child] get away with that? I never could.” My truthful answer was, “Maybe I just got tired.”

Nobody’s perfect, but Will has certainly fulfilled our hopes. He served our country with honor for many years in the U.S. Navy, and he is a faithful and loving son, husband and father. His family, his sailors and his dogs love him.

Sometimes Will’s children get tired of hearing about their dad as the paragon of virtue, and ask us what bad things he did when he was young. So we tell them about the secret beer party he threw for his high school buddies, and the time he tried to cut his own hair and came out looking like Raggedy Andy. Not too much to tell, really.

God gave us Will as the first of many precious gifts. And we’re still in awe.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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