Write about motherhood, the editor says. She has a story from a new mother and wants one from a wise (read old), experienced one. I don't know about qualifying for the "wise" part. (Do we ever?) But since my"baby" turned 30 last year, I have to admit I qualify for the "old and experienced" part.
So I gliss the place to begin is at the beginning. We were married five years before our first son was born. The first two years we were busy finishing college and seminary. Then I quit working, intending to start a family. But nothing happened. I attended baby showers for friends, welcomed the little newcomers, and felt an ongoing ache and emptiness in my own heart. Finally we applied to an adoption agency. When they called for the first interview appointment, I had to cancel it. It had happened. I was pregnant!
I remember the sensation I caused the first time I appeared at a church function in what was obviously a maternity outfit, and how excited the church members were for us. The baby's due date fell at about the time of camp meeting! In those days, camp meeting occupied almost a month of a young minister's life every summer with two weeks of camp pitch, ten days of camp meeting, and another half a week of camp take-down, and one didn't just ask to be excused! Besides, my husband, as waterfront director, had to be at all the summer camps too! So either I stayed home alone or took my baby equipment along and went with him. I chose the latter and waddled around the campground, helping as best I could, making everyone nervous. (At worship one morning before work started, the president handed my husband the worship book to read to the group of ministers. He got as far as the title, "Patiently Waiting" and everyone cracked up in very unworship-like laughter.)
Stephen checked into the world at 9 pounds 4 ounces in the Portage, Wisconsin, hospital just as camp meeting was beginning and got announced over the loudspeakers in the main auditorium. So he attended camp meeting before he ever went home. In his brand new baby buggy, it didn't make any difference to him. My husband Fred walked around with a non-stop grin, and I was in such a state of euphoria that it wouldn't have mattered where I was. I can remember waking up in the middle of the night and just gazing in awe at this wonderful baby, as if I still couldn't quite believe it had actually happened to me!
After that, Tim and David followed at two-year intervals, and the three little Ellis boys became a well-known sight at subsequent camp meetings and workers' meetings. We thought our family was complete, but after going to Pakistan Adventist Seminary to teach, Daniel joined them as an unplanned addition. (His birth in a foreign hospital is another story in itself.)
So what is motherhood? To me at this stage, it is a kaleidoscope of memories; tiny baby clothes, dirty diapers to wash (no disposable ones then), interrupted sleep, rocking chair time to soothe a fussy baby, first smiles, first steps, first words. It was parading down the sidewalk pushing a stroller with the dog on a leash fastened to the handle, followed by a small tricycle and a larger tricycle, just to get out of the house for a bit. It was cuddly story times, Sabbath School lessons, memory verses, songs, and bedtime prayers, trips to the park, visits to proud grandparents, and carting three small boys to three church services in one Sabbath, struggling alone trying to keep them from disturbing the congregation too much while Daddy was up front preaching. (Once, getting up from my knees after the prayer, I found that Steve had slipped away and was kneeling beside his father on the platform copying his position exactly, to the delight of the congregation. Or having one of them holler out in the middle of a wedding, "There's my Daddy!"
Then came motherhood as a missionary, traveling halfway around the world on airplanes with three little boys under six and 13 suitcases to keep track of, with the boys waking up bright-eyed and eager for the day at 4 a.m. and conking out for the night about 3:00 in the afternoon, too sleepy for supper for the first few weeks after arriving. It was trying to juggle homeschooling (along with caring for a baby and a pre-schooler) till I was weary and ready to send them all home to their mother (only I was the mother!). It was trying to shelter them from curious villagers who followed, stared, and pinched to see if white skin was the same as brown.
One vivid memory was taking newborn Daniel to the village Branch Sabbath School my husband was conducting, and having him snatched from my arms by one of the local women, then passed like an offering plate up and down the rows of villagers seated on the ground, and brought back to me with a pile of coins and paper rupee notes on his tummy. His arrival made my husband a baarda sahib (big man), particularly blessed by Allah who had given him four sons. (The principal, in contrast, who had fathered only daughters, received their sympathies and encouragement to "Keep trying, Sahib!").
Then it was splashing with their friends in a small cement swimming pool in our yard on hot afternoons, soccer games on the lawn which threatened the flower beds, family bicycle rides along the canal banks, vacations in the mountains and at the coast, chasing butterflies, playing with new puppies, working on A.J.Y. honors and crafts, with Mom trying to provide activities similar to what they might have been getting at home, and listening to them chatter with their local playmates in a jumbled jargon of English, Punjabi, Bengali, Urdu, and sign language (the little boys all seeming to understand each other perfectly), with dad worrying if they would ever readjust to proper English when they got back to the U.S. (They did!).
Once we returned to the U.S., motherhood included becoming a "taxi service," delivering to and picking up from kindergarten, church school, swimming lessons, music lessons, Pathfinders, and other activities. There was a sequence of pets: dog, cat, gerbils, guinea pigs, hamsters, and tanks of fish. Of course, there was homework to supervise, multiplication tables to learn, birthday parties, Christmas gatherings, picnics, camping trips, etc.
Before we knew it, we were packing them off to academy and then to college. Motherhood now included trying to help earn enough money to keep them there. Life included honor rolls (and learning disabilities with accompanying struggles), thrilling at seeing them perform in programs and march in graduations, cringing at phone calls about too many tardinesses and other miscellaneous misdemeanors, and welcoming them home with their favorite foods on homecoming weekends. (Also churning through the heaps of accumulated laundry they brought home for Mom to do.) We endured sibling rivalries, went through the motorcycle stage and a sequence of old cars which seemed to constantly need myriad repairs. We had our share of teenage rebellion ("Don't stuff religion down my throat!"), a typical assortment of sicknesses, physical and emotional problems, and various other unexpected surprises related to the process of growing up.
Memories include outdoor ice skating, backpacking and canoeing trips, and other neat vacations to make lasting memories. We rejoiced at their successes, agonized over their failures, experienced the joy of their baptisms (and later one rebaptism), two marriages, one divorce, a medley of laughter and tears, despair and thrills, which are still ongoing. In other words, motherhood (or fatherhood) is an all-absorbing condition that has no end as long as life lasts. (I remember a 90-year-old man in one of our churches coming to my husband in great concern over his "boy's" problems. His "boy" was 75!)
Perhaps God gives us this privilege and responsibility to help us realize, at least in a small way, how much He cares about His earthly children, loving, forgiving, worrying, rejoicing, always ready to pick them up when they fall, sorrowing when they go astray, and ready to take them back in when they need Him. A young mother looking ahead asked me, "How do you do it?" I answered, "One day at a time." And that is all God asks of us, too.