Friday, 6 May 2011

Motherhood and God

A while ago, when Abigail was nearly a year old, a good friend asked me what becoming a mother had taught me about God.  I had to tell him to wait for the answer, as it was going to take me several days to think about a question like that!

After a good deal of thought (and gentle nagging from my friend who wanted his answer!) I eventually replied that most of all, motherhood had taught me about how utterly uncompromising God must be, how demanding of perfection.  It was a reply that surprised even me slightly, but try as I might I couldn't truthfully say anything slushier or gentler.  My experience of motherhood so far had shown me how fiercely and instinctively protective I was of my child, to the extent that I didn't want anything bad to happen to her at all - from pain and illness right down to not quite being fed on time, my desire for her experience of life was absolute perfection.  

Of course it's something that no parent can provide, and of course in this world every negative experience is a necessary character-building mountain to scale and all the rest of it, but for the first time I fully understood why God demands the impossible - perfection - in his world, and why He was prepared to go to such extraordinary lengths to achieve it.  I really think that I would take any pain in Abigail's place if I could.  I don't feel that way about The Rev or any other of my family or friends - I can say that I hope that I would, ideally, be self-sacrificial for them, but with my daughter it's different - a deep, instinctual knowledge that yes, I would.  

At the time, I couldn't think of anything else significant that I'd learned from the great Theological College of Motherhood, but more recently Abigail has been producing plenty of sermon-filling incidents.  It must be something to do with becoming a toddler.  I don't doubt that The Rev is keeping a catalogue to bring out on future occasions (poor girl...)  One that I noticed tonight was about communication and prayer.  

Abigail was having her supper when suddenly, she started asking for the cheese grater.  No, she doesn't speak yet, but I knew she was asking for the cheese grater: she was reaching towards it and doing her "uh uh uh uh" noise with which she usually makes herself understood.  So I said, as you'd expect a responsible mother to say, "No, dear, you can't have the cheese grater".

Now, I have no idea whether Abigail understands exactly what I say, but as she continued her escalating frustrated squeals, it occurred to me that she probably has no idea whether I understand what she is saying either.  How can she tell the difference between my incomprehension of what she wants and my answer being "No"?  The only way that Abigail can be sure I've heard her is if she gets what she wants.  If she doesn't, then naturally she simply continues to ask, getting louder and more tearful all the time.  Which describes my relationship with God more or less perfectly.  Is it any wonder that a "No" or a "Not yet" from heaven simply sounds like resounding silence?  But until I know for sure that I've been heard, I'll just keep going!

Dear God, uh uh uh uh uh UH UH UH UH!!!! Amen.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Health and Safety

You know, I despair for the evolution of our species.  If it's all supposed to be about survival of the fittest, why are toddlers programmed to self-destruct?

If anything long and bendy falls into Abigail's hands - a skipping rope, a pair of my tights, a pair of her tights, a headband - it goes straight around her neck.  A bag of any description gets put over her head.  Anything exactly the right size and shape to be choked on gets put into her mouth.  Anything climbable gets climbed, even though she can't yet walk on her own; but once she's on a high surface, her instinct tells her to get off it head first (though we have had some success in teaching her to wiggle backwards off the sofa).  Given a room full of fascinating toys, she will make a beeline for the one dangerous thing I've overlooked, and she makes original and innovative use of the most innocuous-looking objects: this morning, she used our tall wheeled vegetable rack as a walker, and when it fell over, instead of letting go she kept hold of the shelf she was clutching and ended up balanced precariously on top of its narrow side, her legs kicking into space as she hung on for dear life.

Everybody knows that this is completely normal for a 16 month old, (although why it should be I have no idea.  Do mother gazelles have to tell their babies not to play with lions?  Do baby zebras have to be taught how to drink from a lake without drowning themselves in it?)  And yet, I have to confess, I haven't really babyproofed my house.

We have a stairgate - it's just not attached to the wall yet.  Neither is any of the furniture, not even bookcases.  Our electric plugs aren't filled in with little bits of plastic and our toilet seat is not locked down.

This is partly because I'm still living in hope.  I'm hoping that it is possible, through a simple strategy of closed doors and constant supervision, to bring up a toddler safely with a healthy respect for the word 'No' and a basic understanding of what not to touch - one that will serve her as well in toddler-free friends' houses as it does in ours.  Another part of it is realism.  In a house as cluttered and disorganised as ours, there will always be something to worry about, especially given that creative use of everyday objects I mentioned earlier.  Probably having an enormous clear-out of excess junk and furniture would do more for Abigail's safety than fixing a stair-gate to the bottom of the stairs in case she manages to climb a significant number of stairs in the ten seconds it takes us to follow her from the kitchen to the front hall.

I do wonder whether any of this will change as Abigail gets more independent and able; already she is happy to spend far longer than you'd expect playing in a room by herself, and I don't want to have my back turned the first time she works out how to remove a screw cap from a bottle of bleach, for example.  It may yet transpire that we have to move into a padded cell until she's 25.  In the meantime, I shall be answering her apparent death wishes with a firm belief that it will take longer for her to do herself damage than it will take for me to work out where she's gone and chase her there.