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Surprised by Joy

April Hunter
Cheshire, GB
From New Beginnings, Vol. 26 No. 2, 2009, pp. 16-17

Right now it feels as though I have reached some sort of oasis: a calm before the storm. I can honestly say I am enjoying my two-year-old daughter in a way I never dreamed possible.

We are in a season of transition. Considering we are in the midst of change -- coming down from our year in South Africa and all the changes that has meant for our family -- it amazes me that there is this little person in my life who gives me incredible happiness, even though her own world has been turned upside down.

Before I had a child, I imagined that I would cope wonderfully with the baby stage -- babies don't really do much -- and then begin to struggle, the older my child got. I dreaded the toddler years as I imagined myself constantly having to make an effort and find the energy to entertain and engage. I was never one of those people who loved little kids so I figured that stage would present a challenge to me.

My actual experience has been so different. I thought I was nearly going to lose my mind during the little baby stage. I found it very hard, especially in the first few months. I did not have a peaceful baby that I could show off and pass around. Neither was she gracefully attached to me in a sling most of the time while I went about my daily routine. I tried that and it only worked a few times. She hated her sling inside the house. She was what I would describe as a "high needs" baby in the beginning and I found I simply did not have the energy to match. My evenings were filled with stress and dread as it always took forever to put her down to sleep. Then I could count on being up several times in the night after that.

Don't get me wrong. I did enjoy her. I loved walking around with her in the sling (she liked it when we were out and about) and I treasured our breastfeeding relationship and got much satisfaction out of feeding her, knowing I was giving her the healthy start she deserved. However, since she's grown a little bit, I have found that I have enjoyed her more and more with each passing month. As she has entered the toddler stage, it has not been without the occasional tantrum. She is fiercely independent and is not afraid to assert herself, so it's not like I have this placid, compliant child. It's just that I'm loving it so much! I am loving it more than I ever thought I would, challenges and all. There are more "warm fuzzies" every day than I thought possible!

The affection and love that I am receiving from her touches me deep inside, places I never knew could be touched. I mentioned that I had envisioned having to spend all this full-on, engaged time with her, but I have found that just allowing her to be, to learn, and find things to do on her own (even though it's been very messy and destructive from time to time) has paid off. I have had a rather "hands off" approach, which I think has benefited us both.

I'm not some sort of super parent, not by any stretch: I can see my flaws and admit to my failures; and I know there are going to be some apologies to make as I go along. I am in a process of learning and, many times, a lot of my own inner garbage spills out over the top when I'm dealing with her precious little soul. But, overall, I'm loving it.

I love how excited she is to see me in the morning.
I love how excited she gets about everything, from a trip to the store to a visit to gran gran's.
I love how much she adores her grandparents.
I love it when she holds my face and kisses my nose, my eyes and my cheeks, my ears and my mouth, and then I get to do the same to her.
I love how we don't have to do anything complicated. Just rolling around on the bed for a tickle and a cuddle is more fun than anything.
I love it when she is off playing by herself and I hear her talking and singing, making adorable noises.
I love how I can close my eyes in the afternoon and tell her I need to rest and although she might not accept it right away, she usually brings me a blanket and gives me some down time.
I love her smiles and laughs.
I love her short curly wild hair.
I love that she loves her millet, oats, and black strap molasses for breakfast.
I love it when she kisses my tummy and hugs the baby inside. I actually think the baby feels it; I sense its reaction to her.
I love it when she cries, "hold hands," when we're walking in the park.
I love how she repeats everything I say.
I love her observations that get more detailed every day.
I love being able to comfort her cries at the breast and I love how much she still adores breastfeeding. I am so lucky she is still nursing.
I love it when she reaches out to other people with confidence.
I love it when she is shy and coy.
I love it when she hears her daddy come home in the evening and says, "Hello daddy!" with a huge smile.
I am just loving it right now.

I am so thankful for the individual person she is and I feel blessed beyond comparison.

I have learned that it's okay to need her in my life. The relationship between a mother and a child in the early years is not just one way. A child's need for her mother and to be close to her is as intense as her need for physical nourishment. I have realized that need and am starting to surrender to it more and more.

As Iona is still learning to speak, she often mixes up words and she will often say "mommy hold you" when she means "mommy hold me" or "mommy sit on my lap" instead of "mommy I want to sit on your lap." I'm often cooking, cleaning, reading, or doing something else and it's easy to put her off and tell her to wait, or try to explain that I'm busy, but I'm starting to find the more often I stop what I'm doing and give her that hug and cuddle, just how beneficial it is not only for her, but for me too. It's almost like she's telling me "mommy you need me too!" Often, as mothers, we fear if we stop for a cuddle we'll be stuck for the rest of the afternoon; but often, it's just that small reassurance our children need and that bit of attention, then they are happy to run off and play again.

I try to surrender more and more, to allow myself to be more in tune with Iona's needs and not always striving for a sense of control. I am learning the value of simply being with her.

It is almost as though I am being given this oasis of pleasure, as I imagine the coming months will be hard, and there will be a huge adjustment when the new baby comes. Iona will grow and more challenges will present themselves. I will have moments of doubt, anger, frustration, and discouragement; but in the midst of it, there is this joy I have. I will always remember these days. The emotional attachment that is fed and nurtured every day will be there in years to come. We are building up a reservoir that will act as a balm for the knocks our relationship will inevitably endure. I feel liberated and empowered as I am learning to surrender to this season in my life but, mostly, I have an inner peace and a joy that acts as a protection when circumstances dictate otherwise.

My prayer every evening has come to be, "Thank you for my precious baby. May she always feel totally loved, and totally secure, both by us, and by you. Amen."

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