Gas Bubble Smiles
It's the classic "wedding vs. marriage" schtick that many pastors talk about in many weddings on any given weekend. No matter how much time and money and energy you've spent planning for this time featuring fancy dresses and carefully prepared food, this will not be how it always is. Eventually, you actually have to start figuring out how to live with each other, quirks, warts, bad habits and all, preferably for a lifetime.
The wedding is the living out of a fairytale for a day, but we never hear the story about how Snow White always yells at Prince Charming for peeing on the toilet seat and how Charming has to occasionally nudge Snow White during the night to get her to stop snoring. It always stops with the shiny happy hopeful moment before all that stuff starts.
This doesn't just apply to marriage, of course. Pick any grand moment that one may celebrate: graduation, a new job, and news of a pregnancy and eventually the birth. Any of these may be marked with that same big moment featuring congratulations and smiles and indulgence, but then again, everyone goes home and it's time to actually live into this new reality, whatever it is.
The birth of Coffeedaughter, as expected, was that kind of a moment. Announcing it on Facebook probably brought the record number of "likes" for anything I've ever posted there. Likewise, well-wishes and celebratory words came from Coffeewife's co-workers, my spiritual direction classmates, and other friends and family in other ways. And don't get me wrong, it was truly wonderful to finally see her, hold her, begin interacting with her. I looked forward to having her home, having Coffeeson meet her, and all those other things you imagine before they actually happen in real time.
So naturally, when Coffeedaughter actually did come home a few days later, that was something to celebrate in itself. But that's when the fairytale ends and reality begins. We knew it would; we'd been through this before. At that point comes meconium-filled diapers and feedings at 2 a.m. and crying fits that seem to have no justification whatsoever. Then comes actually learning what it means for a family of three, who have established their little routine and have come to know each other's preferences and idiosyncrasies, to learn what it means to add one more. Eventually will come reconsidering how work schedules affect the family system and making sure that Coffeeson gets to where he needs to be on time and eventually the inevitable clash of siblings. No more fairytale; no more high moment of blissful delirium pretending that this is how it will always be.
On the third night of this new-yet-familiar experience, around 3 o'clock in the morning following a sequence of giving Coffeedaughter a bottle, changing a poopy diaper, needing to give her another bottle, and worrying about the onset of carpal tunnel trying to get her to burp, I set to trying to rock her gently back to sleep so that I in my zombie-parent state could maybe get a little myself. As it turns out, my new little bundle of basic needs wanted to take a moment to check everything out instead. Her eyes, as wide as I had ever seen them up to that point, were looking around the room, at the ceiling, at me. And then, as if satisfied with her little survey, she slowly began to close them. And she smiled.
I know that, developmentally speaking, this was not really a smile of amusement or contentment. It was not an emotional reaction to something in her surroundings. Instead, the most likely culprit was a bubble of gas making its way through her tiny frame. No, it will be a while before she can express happiness and joy.
But for me, running on the endurance energy that parents dig down to find in those early morning moments, I caught a glimpse of what I can look forward to. There are aspects of these first fairytale-squashing months that suck, which I'll be glad to leave behind as we start to establish a regulated sleep and eating schedule. But there is and will be joy: of holding close this delicate little person, of watching her grow and discover herself.
And there will be smiles. Real ones. The ones that come from seeing some silly thing that her daddy does or gentle tickles from her mom, or from wanting to be involved in whatever her big brother is doing. There will be laughter, too, the infectious high-pitched full-bodied kind that only the littlest among us can pull off. And there will be reciprocal love in the midst of this joy; that causes it, really, and that will get us collectively through each day of new coordinating challenges and each night of hoping to string together a few hours of rest.
And really, that's the closest to a fairytale that one could hope for.