Hey! Over here! Sets down purse overflowing with diapers and old receipts, and waves frantically with one hand while balancing the two-month-old in the other. It’s me! I’m back!
Back to blogging, back to the real world that consists of more than just sitting out by the backyard pool or driving kids to swim practice, back to the grind of school uniforms and fall sports and early bedtimes and meal planning.
I didn’t make a conscious effort to take a summer writing sabbatical, it just kind of happened. The weather got all warm and nice, my kids were home and milling around, and also? I had my baby! Yessirree, on June 22nd I gave birth to sweet little Beatrice Julianne. Pictured above. She was born, incidentally, on our fourteenth wedding anniversary. I woke up at 3 am and I thought to myself, Hmmm. I have a bad stomachache. That seems to come with cramps every ten minutes. Then after awhile I realized that actually, no, it was labor, and I should probably wake my husband and let him know.
We showed up to the hospital at 7 am–and Bea was born one hour later. I’ll have to share more about the whole thing at some point because the story’s a good one. Think a nurse who decided I wasn’t in labor, and a doctor who sprinted to my bedside in running clothes. The main thing to know for now, though, is that Beatrice is here and has more than lived up to her name, which means “bringer of joy.”
Beatrice is our ninth child, and my fifth baby. (Four of my kids are adopted.) This summer has been such a precious time of getting to know her and really just being together as a family, especially because my husband took a bunch of time off work. Lots of swimming, card playing, and laughing. We also attended the usual swim meets, the kids went roller skating, we took our annual family trip to Elitch Gardens, and our old kitchen was more or less gutted (with remodeling into an entryway/office space beginning soon). We got rid of a ton of stuff, and got garages organized. All the while with Beatrice in tow, of course.
It’s a big deal any time a new baby is born. A huge deal, really. The anticipation and the planning, and then the transition once she arrives. We may be a large family but that doesn’t mean we take the gift of a new child lightly–an assumption I think a lot of people probably make. I got the “Don’t you have a TV?” question the other day, belying the sincere and widespread confusion as to why someone would go on to have a ninth kid, when you already have eight, and surely that is enough. But the truth is that I don’t sit around contemplating numbers, and my children are all profound gifts beyond anything I deserve. Each and every one of them is, respectively, more than enough. In any case, Beatrice was very much hoped and prayed for, and I am quite thankful to be in a position where we’ve been able to welcome sweet new babies into our family every few years or so.
And, yes. We do own a television.
The transition this time around has gone pretty smoothly. The biggest initial challenge (aside from the inevitable early breastfeeding woes) was the crowd of Heldt kids swarming around baby and me ALL OF THE TIME, for the first few weeks. Personal space can be hard to come by when a new baby draws siblings like moths to a flame. Also, having a newborn is exhausting. And emotional. And life doesn’t really stop when you already have kids, several of whom have social lives and activities and Very Important Places to Be. But, you know, you find your groove. You get through the day. Sometimes all you did was nurse and change diapers and cuddle, but that is really okay because oh, how the time flies, and babies are only small for so long. Plus, that’s actually kind of an awesome way to spend the day because hello, you can do it from your couch!
With each new baby I have found myself learning to embrace my vocation (marriage and, consequently, motherhood) all over again. With older kids, I can occasionally choose to tune them out (although I shouldn’t), or believe that I’m a free agent around here (which I’m obviously not because all these kids have needs, even if they have reached the age when they can successfully wipe themselves). But babies are SO incredibly dependent. They are game-changers. They force you to slow down. To give everything you have. And, to forget about yourself and your normal daily hygiene routine. It would be so easy in these early months to resent, begrudge, and bemoan. Because going to the store, getting ready for Mass, running a kid to a friend’s house–all of those things used to be so much more simple before a newborn entered the picture.
And this is why, I think, a lot of folks decide that once they have Big Kids, the ones that use the bathroom unassisted, babies are more trouble than they’re worth. Big Kids go places and need help with homework, and Big Kids like to talk and yell and cry on your shoulder. Big Kids need to be driven to Confession and youth group and soccer practice. Big Kids have moved on, and therefore so have we, and to have a baby is to start over.
Big Kids–the ones that leave their brand new socks outside overnight for some unknown reason, who thunder through the house like a pack of wild, rabid elephants and who, on occasion, talk back to their parents or snap at their siblings with an attitude–have a special place in their angsty preteen hearts for, of all things, babies. They come home exhausted from a sleepover with their friends, but make a giddy beeline for Beatrice, with a big smile on their face. They appear in my doorway on Saturday mornings to get a glimpse of her, and see how she slept. When they draw pictures or fill out surveys during the first week of school, about how their summer went or what’s important to them, Beatrice is there on the page, in a prominent spot. Beatrice, being a game-changer, inevitably changes things. She grows and softens hearts. She realigns priorities. She is loved, and she brings love, this itty-bitty baby with so many needs.
And so I am reminded that being a mom is a whole lot about simply being. THAT is the essence of my vocation. It’s showing up in my big van at the end of the school day to collect some combination of tired, grumpy, and amped-up kids. It’s getting home and listening to long stories about how a Big Kid couldn’t get his locker open and missed most of his lunch period, it’s gathering for family prayer time in the evening when I can barely keep my eyes open, it’s giving hugs and gentle, hopefully-comforting words when one of my Big Kids is feeling emotional about something. I of course did this stuff before June 22nd, but now I do these things with Beatrice in my arms or at my breast. In some ways, starting over again with a baby makes me more present to my Big Kids, and more conscious of what the Lord has called me to do–even if I am also sleepy and unshowered.
So if anybody out there is contemplating having another cute little baby, but wondering how it might affect their Big Kids, well, it will. But in the very best of ways, for the most part. There will be sacrifices, yes, and the occasional “I CAN’T HELP YOU WITH THAT RIGHT NOW BECAUSE THE BABY IS UPSET”, but it is worth it. Worth.it. I have not once regretted being open to life in my marriage, and especially not when I look at little Beatrice cooing and smiling at me first thing in the morning. Or when I see the love my husband and Big Kids have for her. This whole thing is God’s design, and it is good. So, so good.
Is life perfect? No way. Is being a mother hard? Absolutely. Is having a new baby exhausting and all-consuming? You bet. But sometimes hard stuff also brings really good things. So, we are happy. Because Beatrice is here! Seven of the kids are back in school as of this week. Which means I’m running around getting everyone settled, scheduling multiple IEP meetings, and obtaining a 504 plan for a kiddo who needs some help staying focused and organized in the classroom. Blogging remains a dying art form, but I’m hoping to keep at it anyhow, and I’m still writing my humble little column at the National Catholic Register. I haven’t recorded a new radio show in ages but hey, maybe I can get back into that too. As always, thanks for reading and following along. And, for stopping by to meet Beatrice!