Monday, June 8, 2009

Hope is a thing with feathers.

Or with excessively cute, chubby thighs.

I was watching Miriam and Bella at the park this morning--watching them watch the other kids. This is something I remember so vividly from my childhood. I would stand or sit on the side and watch the others, absorbing, yes, judging, wondering why at every move the other children made. And now I watch my children doing the exact. same. thing. all the time. The poor things get it from their dad, too. It's delightful, though sometimes exasperating.

But it made me think about the circle of life (cue: Elton John). How we human beings keep on reproducing, at higher or lower rates, and perpetuating these same ol' genes. When it happens in the ordinary course of things, a man and woman end of up raising more little people who are surprisingly like themselves. And as those children grow, as much as they may resist it, they start to notice, "Wow. I just sounded exactly like my mother."

Then my thoughts turn to the self-imposed fear of reproducing that seems to have settled on my generation. The sort of dull fear and despair over this whole circle of life thing. Since having Bella, the most common question I get from strangers is, "Are you going to try for another one? A boy, maybe?" As if it would require heroic bravery for us to dare to reproduce again, to cast the die one more time, to make that dangerous gamble.

The assumption behind this fear is that we are stuck in an irredeemable circle. I can only hope against all hope that my children will be more wonderful than I. A man and a woman must prepare everything perfectly for those two or three children so that those children will somehow escape the pain or failures or disappointments of life, so they can be shielded from its difficulties as much as possible. And then, of course, they must be shielded from too many siblings, who will draw precious resources and college funds away from them. Fear that my faults will be seen again on earth. Fear of 18 more years of motherly boredom, seeing the same diapers, behavior patterns, and frustrations every day. Fear of even being bored or afraid, because that makes me a bad mother.

All of this mulling, which I see awakening in my two girls (and, yes, we'd love to have more, boys or girls, in case you were wondering).

Why do these fears, however understandable, have no grasp on my heart? (I say that in all humility and honesty. They have no grasp here.) It is because of the profound grace of hope. I know that my children, however many we are given, will in all likelihood bear my foibles and darker secrets in their little DNA. But I also know that my redeemer lives. I have seen growth away from sin and sorrow in myself and in my husband. I know that the one thing necessary in life is unconditional love of God--and no failure, no boredom, no routine will ever separate these children from him. I can delight in the circle of life, in seeing myself in my children (and my mother and father and grandparents) without fear or despair, because God has not been afraid to bring them into existence.

As Edith Stein wrote in one letter, "Be patient with yourself; God is." I might embellish that a bit for these purposes: "Do not despair of yourself; God doesn't." Armed with that conviction, we become free to ... well, reproduce. Life and its delightful, biological mess overcomes death and sterility. Yes, there is pain, but it is not the final word. That is why Christians who believe in the presence of Christ risen, Jews who believe in their election, Muslims who believe in Allah's promises, and the poor (most of all, the poor) who see where true riches lie love life and more lives.

Hope is a thing with very chubby legs.


Melanie B said...

"watching them watch the other kids.... It's delightful, though sometimes exasperating. "

Oh goodness I have so often had the same reaction... As Isabella stands rapt in the aisle of the grocery store, caught up in watching, studying other shoppers. At library story time I am bemused to see her not participating in the songs and activities, but watching the other children singing and dancing. She delights in the company and presence of others but often from a distance. I'm afraid it is a sore source of temptation for me to lose my patience with her. Especially when I'm trying to get the shopping done and keep losing her to contemplation of only she knows what.

I'd never thought to examine myself for the same tendencies, though, to see the workings of heredity. I suppose I do it too, standing and watching. I've just learned discretion and how to disengage a little more readily. (Though I still recall how one woman on the train out of Boston took great offense at my "staring at her" one afternoon when in fact I had no idea she was even there. My eyes were fixed and staring but my mind was a million miles away.) I suppose seeing that tendency as springing from myself will give me a little better understanding of and tolerance for Isabella's exasperating behaviors.

Melanie B said...

Oh and those are excessively cute chubby thighs!

Modest Mama said...

Oh! I want to give those little legs a big squeeze!!!!

Lola said...

This is excellent.

I linked to it on my blog under Excitement VS Fulfillment.

God Bless you and keep sharing your observations!

Smoochagator said...

Here via Conversion Diary...

I am pregnant, at 30, with my first child. I put off having kids until now for a great many reasons, the chief of which was fear. But I longed to have children, and I finally decided this summer that I would trust God to decide whether I was fit to be a mother. I was pregnant less than two months later.

I'm still scared more often than not, but I continuously remind myself: God made this child. He would not create a life that he wasn't going to provide for in every way - financially, mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually. God trusted me with a little life, and so I will trust him.

Thank you so much for this post. Your words have given me much-needed encouragement and reassurance.

mary l said...


So glad to find this post. Here via Conversiondiary as well. I want to respectfully ask a question that plagues me though. How do you think about overpopulation? I have been to the third world many times, and have seen the hills terraced up to the breaking point, and had mothers offer me their children. I had children late, and regret waiting, but this was one of my chief husband and I felt selfish for wanting children. How to you think about this issue?

Very respectfully submitted...think about this all the time.


Melanie B said...


The problem is not that there are too many people in the world; but an unequal distribution of resources. When our own country is paying farmers to not grow food, when the average American family throws away 122 pounds of food each month (and the main concern in the article is how much compost that could make not how many people it could feed), when grocery stores and restaurants throw away tons of food every day and when obesity is an epidemic... if people are starving in third world countries the problem is not that the earth cannot support the number of people on it; but a lack of love for our neighbors. Blame corrupt governments, blame poor economic systems, but most of all blame the closed hearts who never even think about sharing their abundance.

No there are not too many people, just not enough love. This isn't a platitude. Just do some research and look at the hard data.

"If you allotted 1250 square feet to each person, all the people in the world would fit into the state of Texas. Try the math yourself: 7,438,152,268,800 square feet in Texas, divided by the world population of 5,860,000,000, equals 1269 square feet per person. The population density of this giant city would be about 21,000 — somewhat more than San Francisco and less than the Bronx."

Check out more of the numbers here:
Too Many People?

These aren't just fringe groups that question overpopulation. Check out the books reviewed here:

Taking on the Overpopulation Myth

Overpopulation is a myth

Mary l said...

Dear Melanie,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful post. I do agree that there is SOOO much waste in this world. It drives me nuts. I feel horribly guilty, in that I contribute to this waste sometimes, even when my husband and I try very hard not to. (when we had our third child we decided to try much harder to reduce our impact and live more frugally. We are trying to move closer to vegetarianism (but it is hard!), and we try to keep everything until it is positively falling apart and then recycle it, and we try not to ever throw food out or drive unnecessarily, and we keep our heat as low as we can stand it...but seems as our world here in Massachusetts is constructed so that you must waste energy to live) but as a trained biologist, I can tell you that at some point we will overpopulate the world. If everyone had large families, the numbers quickly grow unsustainable. I just don't know how it could work for more than one or two generations. I also understand that all the world is not arable. Even with irrigation, the soils in much of the world are barren. We have done terrible, perhaps irreparable, damage to worldwide fisheries, and this is a fact. We cannot double our population without causing many extinctions of different types of God's creation, and I do feel that it is a crime to wipe out species that are so glorious to see and learn about. If our populations were to continue to expand exponentially, we would HAVE to colonize space, but I feel that somehow that is not the right choice. It does not show respect for our world. I look at ecological systems and see how, although brutal to individuals, they work as finely balanced systems. I sense that we are intended to learn how to live within that sort of framework. I do think almost all people are made better by raising children, but I cannot help thinking that keeping things smaller is more loving towards all peoples and the earth.

I feel that responsible use of birth control that is clearly not abortive (condoms etc.) is the right choice within a marriage. However, I do see how the "attitude" towards birth control has had devastating effects on our view of the role of sex in our society and the role of women. But, my thought is that it is in the implementaiton that is the problem. Women and men have come to use it (it is a tool) to do wrong, rather than to do right.

I would be interested in all thought on this, as I really do see both sides, but struggle often with my thoughts and try to find the "right way", but always see the biologist's view. Perhaps Philosopher Mom's husband the scientist has some ideas on this?


Mary L said...

Hi Melanie,

Many of those stats in your link are true, but some are absolutely not, or are misrepresented. One point: The Leipzig Declaration, which was cited as evidence that many scientists disagree that planet warming is a problem and that it is caused by people, is really full of holes, as most of those listed are not actually scientists and many (33) of those who signed in 1995 would not resign in 2005.

I have a very close friend who is also a thoughtful and loving person who is an ecologist and she says that most scientists she knows are totally convinced that warming is occurring and it is cause by man. She says to claim that there is true dissent in the scientific community is disingenuous, but that it is always good too listen to what the dissenters have to say!

I do think we are contributing to warming, but I sense that we have to think creatively about how to deal with it.