an original sin issue
I have been lulled into a false sense of security. Up until a few weeks ago, I had assumed that my boys were primarily governed by instinct. When they hunger, they wail. When they tire, they weep. When they bonk their sweet little heads on the ground from an overly enthusiastic roll, they screech!
But in the last couple of weeks, I started to notice several changes. For one, the toy battles have begun. Certain objects (such as a tiny wobbly owl) have become prized objects of possession - but only if the other brother has the owl. My darling, innocent, good-natured Toby decided that he HAD to have the owl that Theo was playing with one morning. So being the big, strong, handsome baby that he is, he reached over and took it! Theo was displeased, and it seemed clear that Toby was in the wrong, so the adults in the room returned the owl to its temporary rightful owner. This resulted in Toby becoming inconsolable, literally shrieking for the owl that he usually cares nothing for on ordinary mornings. And that’s when it hit me - my precious angel child is a sinner! (I became so tired of the back and forth screaming that I decided no one would have the owl - a few minutes later he was promptly forgotten.)
That’s not all - Toby also has a deep, abiding obsession with his bottle. Take it away a moment too soon, and that same shrieking occurs. You see the pictures - Toby is not underfed. He’s currently 20 pounds and over the 90th percentile in length! Bravo Toby. But why don’t you trust that Mama will keep feeding you - doesn’t she always, day after day? It’s gotten to the point where I stopped mid-bottle burping because of Toby’s explosive reactions.
Toby, Toby, Toby. But what about my amazing and tiny Theodore, with his big, hilarious personality and impish grin? Theo, I have realized, wears his sin on his sleeve, but it was so darn cute for the longest time that it was nearly unrecognizable. His quick mind is always roving, planning his next move to uncharted destinations. This same logic has been applied to diaper changes, face wiping, and being buckled into his side of the stroller. Theo’s got places to roll - if he doesn’t like what you are doing, he lets you know in loud, dramatic ways and tries to roll away!
Last week the entire first floor of Whole Foods witnessed this dynamic. He was clearly getting bored in his stroller, so I got him out so he could interact with strangers and touch random things we weren’t going to buy. But when I had to put him back so I could check out, it turned into a full on battle! He was violently rolling, nearly out of the stroller and onto the cold, hard ground of the checkout line, as I tried to strap him in. I literally said to my 10 month old, “Mama loves you so much and it is her job to keep you safe - Mama has to buckle you in so you can stay safe and Mama can pay for your bananas and yogurt to eat this weekend!” I have no idea what effect that had on Theodore, but it certainly made me feel better as I wrestled (gently) with my baby and returned him to his seat as he screamed at the top of his lungs.
I remember reading Augustine’s Confessions in college, and being slightly incredulous at the idea that infants were sinful:
I have personally watched and studied a jealous baby. He could not yet speak and, pale with jealousy and bitterness, glared at his brother sharing his mother’s milk. (…) Mothers and nurses claim to charm it away by their own private remedies. But it can hardly be innocence, when the source of milk is flowing richly and abundantly, not to endure a share going to one’s blood-brother, who is in profound need, dependent for life exclusively on that one food.
Was Augustine observing twins? This reflects the twin nursing dynamic of older babies that I read about in Mothers of Multiples back when I was trying to accomplish the monumental feat of nursing two babies at once (I failed). But I do experience it when I pick up one crying twin only to provoke the other twin into crying out of jealousy. Being a twin mama is rough sometimes!
Another thought about twins - observing two babies of the same age growing up together is a fascinating lesson in character formation! Had I observed the same owl-stealing drama with an older child, I probably would have said to my toddler, Toby’s just a baby, you can’t steal from a baby! But what about when babies steal from babies?
How then, should we as parents respond to our delightful babies, the apples of our eyes, the loves of our life, who also happen to be sinners? This is what I propose:
Words - I highly doubt that my kids absorb much of anything that I tell them when they are wailing, but I see it as practice for when they are toddlers and do understand more. I emphasize that I love them regardless of their behavior, as the Lord loves us. I also explain the principle behind what I am trying to teach them [Theo - Mama loves you and wants to keep you safe - please don’t roll off the changing table!]
Song - Who doesn’t love music? Sometimes a simple song does the trick during a baby tantrum. I sing “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music when we all need a little more gratefulness in our hearts, “I Just Can’t Wait to Be King” from The Lion King when we need a little more silliness and the “Isaiah 43” song when their outbursts seem motivated by fear like during Toby’s first time sitting in a big scary bathtub filled with water. When I don’t have it in me to sing, I put on Hillsong’s “Man of Sorrows” if it’s a mama-sin-issue or some soothing classical music like Satie or Bach’s Cello Suites if we all need a little calmness and beauty. [Side note - the other morning Theo totally calmed at morning naptime after I asked the Google Home to play Satie!]
Redirection - When Theo absolutely refuses to have his diaper changed (and it’s poopy so he MUST stay still to avoid way too much clean-up work for Mama!) I try to guess what toy will hold his attention for a couple of minutes. Sometimes I guess right! Holding his own clean diaper worked for a whole week but no longer.
Compassion - We were all once infants governed by hunger, fear, fatigue, jealousy and boredom! (Oh wait, that sounds a lot like me still!) Hopefully our parents had compassion on us when we were in this state (I am 100% certain that mine did). Certainly we can look to the Lord’s unfathomable patience with our own foibles and griping as inspiration for dealing with yet another tantrum.
Prayer - Do you pray for your kids? I went through several months at the beginning of residency where I hardly ever prayed for mine. It was a dark time, but one day, Chris reminded me of the light. He asked if I was praying for them every day, and my core was convicted. We also recently lost our dear Grandpa Einar who prayed for every one of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren every single day, right up to the very end. I decided to carry on his legacy of daily prayer, and now I make a point of praying for them every night at the boys’ bedtime, out loud. More often than not, I find myself praying for my own heart and ability to parent them with patience and grace, but I also ask God to reveal Himself to them and to shape their characters even at this tender age. It’s hard to say with certainty if these prayers are being immediately answered, but I have noticed that there have been no owl fights for an entire week :)
Running after joy, one prayer for patience at a time! - Mama Bear NYC