Susanna has been planning her birthday party for months. She’s on her third iteration of invites and the treat bags have been partially filled for weeks. She finished hammering out the details last year (corn maze, hotdogs, and candied apples) which is why Belén and I were both confused when she announced she’d like to have surprise party.
“Susanna, you can’t have a surprise if you’ve planned everything,” Belén pointed out.
“It’s true,” I agreed. “It’s awfully hard to surprise someone if they know exactly what’s going to happen.”
The next morning, when I hang half-a-dozen diapers on the line, I’m reminded of my own surprise born two months ago. Who would’ve thought I’d be washing baby clothes again? Now, a couple months in, I still haven’t gotten over the tiny sleepers in my laundry basket or that I’m nursing again or that this wide-eyed infant is actually my baby. Sometimes when I’m making rounds jiggling her to sleep I stop by the bathroom mirror just to stare at the two of us. And it’s thrilling. I don’t know how many times I’ve told her (yes, I’m mommy-monologuing again) I can’t believe she’s here and she’s mine. But she wasn’t part of the plan.
See, when it comes to family, I’m like Susanna and birthday parties. I dreamed of my future children when I was still a child myself and I knew all the specifics, their names, genders, and age gaps, before I ever met my husband. It took me a little while, well, let’s be honest, years, to figure out Stan had an important part in the plan. Like agreeing to it, for starters. And when that didn’t happen I was crushed. But finally, after many conversations and tears I let go of my plans. Then, a year or two after I accepted my real family as is, instead of lobbying for my imagined family, we found out we had another one coming. Vivian was on her way.
Had it been up to me I would have ordered babies one after the other, with some boys in the mix, but then I would have missed this: The delight in my ten-year-old’s laugh when she tries to imitate her baby sister’s yawn. The sparkle in my eight-year-old’s eyes when she heads straight for Vivian after school with arms outstretched, eager to change the dirtiest of diapers. The disbelief that rides on waves of gratitude when I wonder who this little one will be. (Do I really get to do it all over again? And, will she be even-keeled and sunny-dispositioned like Belén, or passionate and warm like Susanna?) The crowd of fifth-graders gathering around her at hot lunch to discuss the shape of Vivian’s thumb. The gangly boy (Belén’s classmate) at the cross-country meet running to touch her for good luck before his race. My friends, all with older, independent children happy to cradle a tiny babe. (I asked Stan the other day how long he thought these women would be interested in holding Vivi before the novelty wore off. “I don’t know, ” he answered, “But you better milk it while you can get it.” Done.) The perspective and confidence I have this time around that laughs compassionately at the anxious new mom I was ten years ago.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like the diapers waving in the wind aren’t poop-stained or that Vivian never keeps me from eating a warm supper or that I get done what I set out to accomplish each day; the beauty is solidly couched in the messiness of everyday life. And if you’ve read any of my blog you’ll know this isn’t meant to be an obnoxiously cheery post depicting perfection, but only an attempt to bear witness to blessing and record a lesson learned. One of many lessons, I’m sure, coming my way to remind me I’m not in charge. It’s easy to grasp intellectually that life cannot be planned, but harder to come to terms with in spirit and soul, especially when the surprises are more painful than joyful. For now though, I’m not worrying about what’s ahead because I’ve just opened the door to my own surprise party and I don’t have to fake any of it. Not my surprise, and certainly not my delight. It’s better than anything I could’ve rigged on my own.