The season of Lent is a season of preparation and anticipation, but the season of motherhood is a season of immediacy. With two small children I live in the moment, second by second, hour by hour. I can barely grasp the concept of forty days all at once, broken down as they are into diaper changes, nursing sessions, small hours of sleep. These, too, can be spiritual disciplines.
Easter Sunday is an obstacle; the necessity of arriving at church even earlier than usual and in one’s very best clothes nearly derails me. My children don’t understand the rush and fuss, but they do understand the plastic eggs that open with a crack, the shiny, foil-wrapped sweets inside. I smile as my daughter hands me another candy egg: there will be time later for the unwrapping of holy mysteries; at age two, we’ll just eat chocolate.
The interminable season of Pentecost stretches through the summer. Also known as “ordinary time,” this season spans the time between Easter and Advent. Sunday bulletins say things like “The 17th Sunday after Pentecost;” with the exception of All Saint’s Day and Christ the King Sunday, liturgically, not much seems to happen.
Outside the church, we spend the summer at the pool on cloudy days and afternoons that threaten rain — perfect for our redhead complexions. At the beginning of the summer, my son sits on the gentle slope leading into the pool, the water lapping at his chubby thighs. By summer’s end, he’s cruising around the pool, one hand holding on for support as he walks.
Fall brings a sudden cluster of milestones: my daughter weans, my son turns one. The colder weather hits my family hard. I am sick, then the children are sick, then my husband is sick. I am sick again. I have pneumonia, on Thanksgiving. We celebrate with our very own Charlie Brown spread: buttered toast, popcorn, jellybeans. I look at our feast and hug my children, more than thankful today to eat toast instead of turkey.
My daughter falls in love with the Christmas story. She names her new baby doll, a gift for her third birthday, “Baby Jesus,” and acts out the Christmas story over and over again. I watch her with a complicated mix of feelings in my heart, joy and pride and love and fear, one eye always on the calendar, looking past Christmas, toward Easter, wondering how to explain it all.
I realize just how much of our Christmas rhetoric my daughter has absorbed, our emphasis on the sacred over the secular, presence over presents. Exchanging gifts with extended family, my daughter surveys the colorful packages, their ribbons and bows.
“But Christmas isn’t about getting,” she announces to anyone who might be listening, and I close my eyes, knowing the line she’s quoting from VeggieTales. “It’s about giving. And it’s especially about a little baby named Jesus, who was the greatest gift of all.” She will not open another present. I excuse myself to the bathroom, where I see my face is crimson. I am mortified . . . and perhaps just a tiny bit pleased.
I am in denial. It is not Lent, it will never be Good Friday. I rehearse a thousand different ways to tell my daughter the story of Easter, but I cannot bring myself to open my mouth and speak the story to a little girl who sleeps every night with Baby Jesus snuggled in her arms.
When Good Friday comes, as of course it must, I realize Baby Jesus is missing. I turn the house inside out looking, but that night my daughter falls asleep empty-armed. She doesn’t say anything. The next day I look even harder, we’re leaving to go out of town for a few days after Easter dinner and I can’t imagine my daughter falling asleep in a strange place without her beloved baby doll. “Have you seen Baby Jesus?” I hiss to my husband. He hasn’t.
The morning of Easter Sunday, I’m desperate. I don’t want to highlight for my daughter what she is missing, but we’re packing, we’re leaving. If we don’t find her doll, we’ll leave without Baby Jesus.
“Have you seen Baby Jesus?” I ask her, tentatively, tying the sash on her Easter dress.
“The Lord is risen indeed!” she calls mysteriously. Then she crawls under the crib where Baby Jesus is lying face down in a dusty corner, wrapped in a blanket, face covered. “He is not here,” my daughter proclaims. “He is risen!”
My son has no such spiritual epiphanies. As he runs around his grandparents’ house I notice his cheeks look slightly distorted, and I hold my palm open under his lips. He spits out candy-coated chocolate eggs: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.
“Canee!” he finally calls when his mouth is empty.
“Candy,” I agree, washing my hands. “Candy one piece at a time.” That is our Easter lesson for this year.
The baby who began last summer sitting at the water’s edge launches himself into pool season this year, running gleefully toward the water to the sound of lifeguards’ whistles. Last summer he learned to walk, this summer he must learn to “Walk!” My daughter learns to swim.
On the 4th of July I take a pregnancy test, and spend several minutes trying to decide if the ghost of a line is a real line, or a phantasm I’m seeing because I want it there. Finally I break down and consult my husband.
“That’s a line!” he says. “Want some folic acid?”
That night, I nurse my son as we watch the fireworks that we can see from our bedroom window. I lean back against my husband’s chest, and my daughter climbs into my lap to snuggle up against her brother. My husband and I wrap our arms around our children, the two in our laps and the one just beginning.
The summer wanes and the nights hold a hint of chill. My son turns two, my daughter will soon turn four. It will be Thanksgiving and Christmas again.
My children become obsessed with the story of Peter Rabbit and enact it nightly, my husband playing Mr. MacGregor, chasing after them waving a mop. I am Old Mrs. Rabbit, my feelings about the moniker notwithstanding, sitting in the rocking chair with a bunny-child on each knee. I hold my children and rock them, feel the new one moving inside me. I smile at my husband with his mop, and look forward to the coming seasons, waiting for me and my house to grow.