Having spent most of my adult life as an educator, fall naturally brings to mind the beginning of a new year of teaching. This year, however, my thoughts are more along the lines of being taught. My mentor just happens to be my one-year-old daughter who began my instruction before she was even conceived. In fact, she announced her upcoming arrival almost a year before I was even pregnant.
Allow me to provide some background to the story.
I was at a weekend retreat and we were ending our day with a Jesuit form of prayer called the Examen. This is a beautiful ritual and one that has been quite helpful to me personally. The purpose of this prayer is to quiet oneself in the presence of the Holy, taking a look at what during the course of the day has caused us to feel more love, as well as events that may have led to isolation.
The circle was engaged in silent prayer, myself included. I was meditating on my day when a gentle light dawned and I felt an interior voice telling me that I would have another child, and that it would be a girl.
As a single mother of two teenage boys, you can imagine that I questioned this revelation. I had made some monumental changes for myself and my boys midlife, finally ending an extremely unhappy marriage after trying every possible means of restoring the relationship and our family.
And although I was now engaged to a wonderful man, my teenage sweetheart to be exact, babies were not part of our family plan. We were both in our forties, to begin with, and I had struggled with fairly serious reproductive problems in my last pregnancy well over a decade before. It also seemed paramount to provide our family appropriate time and space to heal from past wounds and bond together.
So it is perhaps understandable that although the mere thought of a baby filled me with joy and gladness, I dismissed it as improbable and shelved it away in a corner of my mind.
Thankfully, though, my daughter persisted, and I was both thrilled and panicked ten months later when two pink lines confirmed the reason for my recent exhaustion. She knew and understood that we needed her to complete our family, whether or not having a baby midlife fit in with our plans.
A New Beginning
A dear friend, whose spiritual wisdom I greatly treasure, told me that she had a strong sense that our daughter would be a reconciler. I am grateful to say that my daughter has indeed brought us closer as a family. Not only are we spending much more time together, but there is a completely different atmosphere in our home, one characterized by playfulness and levity. There is no greater sound than to hear delighted little girl shrieks as my fourteen-year-old plays with her on the floor, which happens many times a day — to her absolute happiness!
Having a baby in the context of a healthy relationship has transformed all of us. I cannot describe adequately the difference it makes to parent with someone who is a true partner. Not only have the boys had the chance to witness a marriage based on love and friendship, but they are now part of a family that is learning to work together in all aspects of life and to find its own rhythm. One of the highlights of the day is our family dinner time, a joyful nightly ritual in which everyone over the age of one contributes in some way.
What I am Learning
Naturally, becoming a mother again in my forties has given me a different perspective on parenting and life as a whole. My daughter’s entrance into the world has reminded me of what kind of wife and mother I desire to be and that I need to make the most of this brief time that they are at home with us.
Running the risk of sounding cliché, as an older mother I know first-hand how rapidly time passes. Milestones come before we are ready for them sometimes, and it is important to do all we can to be mindful of every moment. This month has been significant in terms of landmark occasions. My oldest son boarded a plane to move several states away in the same week that my daughter took her first steps. Both beginnings and endings. Having children at several different ages necessitates that there will always be some holding of tension between different growth phases. This has been a good lesson for me in just how important my awareness is.
I am learning once again to trust my intuition as a parent. As a young mother I was too easily swayed from my convictions about child raising by “expert” opinions, not being confident in my role as the one who knew my children better than anyone. When my first son was born, there was little support to be found for holistic parenting. It is wonderful that there are so many resources available on the topic via books and the internet. Although my family and I live in a fairly rural area, I am very fortunate to belong to a wonderful and supportive “natural mamas” group.
Without a doubt, however, the most significant lesson our daughter has taught us is how to believe in the miraculous. She has infused our household with a palpable air of joy and expectancy. My world view has indeed been turned upside down by her arrival in the best possible way. I will close with the words of Albert Einstein who said: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
Mary Ellen VanMarter has spent most of her career as a Montessori educator, but has benefitted greatly from Waldorf wisdom, both as a teacher and a parent. Additionally, she is a teacher consultant with the National Writing Project and holds an MA in Reading and Literacy. She lives with her wonderful husband and children in North Carolina. You can find her at her space.