Letter to My Daughter: Starting a Job

Dear Baby Girl,

Tomorrow is my first faculty orientation. I’ll learn how to enter grades, get my first ID that says “Faculty” on it, and probably hear a lot of school policies that I’ll forget in roughly 3 minutes. None of those things worry me. What worries me is that for the first time, I’ll miss your entire day. Your daddy will choose your outfit, make sure you get your “milkies” and apple puree, take you on errands, and deal with the requisite diaper blowouts. Meanwhile, I’ll be on 24-E driving to the seminary on the mountain.

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When I first heard about this job, I almost didn’t apply for it. And then I applied for it, but when I got the offer, I almost didn’t take it. I told myself I shouldn’t take the job because you need me too much. But let’s be real, Debbie Joy—we both know that isn’t totally true. We both know you have a daddy who will rearrange his schedule to meet your needs and to make my professional dreams come true.

The truth is that I will miss you so much that it scares me. For 39 weeks and 6 days, I carried you in my womb, and I loved every moment (okay, maybe I didn’t love the last few moments so much).  I knew exactly where you were and that I was doing exactly what you needed. Ever since you made your speedy exit, you’ve been inching away from me: You learned to take a bottle from your daddy when needed; you learned to sleep without me; you learned to roll away from me. One day soon, I think you’ll be on the move for real. And I’ll learn more and more to accept that you’re Debbie Joy all on your own—you don’t need me to do your living for you.

Sometimes I ask myself why I work outside the home, when I see so many mamas thriving while home full-time with their babies. I want to be like them. But I think the answer is that I’m not sure I’ll be 100% me if I am home 100% of the time. God made me your mama, and God also made me passionate about teaching, researching, and writing. While being your mama is the most important thing I’ve ever done in my whole life, I’m worried that if I feel like I’m only getting to be 80 or 90% myself, the other 20 or 10% might cause a whole heck of a lot of trouble. When I go away, it’s so I can come back and be more “there” for you than I was before.

And I also go away because the teaching, researching, and writing I do are to help make the world a better place for you and children like you. I want you to grow up in a world where Christians like your daddy and me use the Bible to build each other up, to create community, and to do justice and love kindness. I teach so people can understand how to use the Bible like that.

And I go away because I want you to see me and believe that you can do anything. I want you to know that you can grow up and have kids or not, and you can be a stay at home mom or not. I want you to know that you can be a philosopher or an engineer or a chef or President of the USA (although right now, that bar is set pretty low). You can be whatever God calls you to be. (Just please, please, please don’t decide you want to play in the NFL or be an MMA fighter. That would put my feminist convictions to the test.) When you look back on your childhood, I want you to remember me as an empowered woman and know that you can be empowered, too.

Here’s what I’ll do tomorrow. I’ll do my job, and I’ll do it in a way that I hope will make you proud of me one day when you’re bigger. I will look at pictures of you all day. I’ll check my classy flip phone to see if your daddy texts me any updates about you. I’ll worry and I’ll wonder and I’ll wait until I can press your round, smooth cheek against mine again. And I’ll trust that your daddy and God don’t need me to tell them how to care for you.

But I’ll miss you more than you can fathom.

Love,

Your Mama

Letter to My Daughter (at 5ish months)

Dear Baby Girl,

You’re now five months old, plus a week or so. You roll, sit up, laugh constantly, eat a few solids, and grab everything (including my hair…ouch!). I call you my little buddy, because we go through our days together, you riding on my left hip or inside your carrier like a tiny kangaroo.

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Fortunately, you smile and laugh a lot, too!

But you also have struggled. You’ve struggled with sleep off-and-on since the dreaded four-month sleep regression rolled in like a summer thunderstorm. Teething pain and the (necessary but unfortunate) swaddle-weaning have only made things worse. There have been a few terrible nights when it seemed like all the nursing, rocking, walking, and swaying in the world couldn’t help you.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, because the pain of labor was pretty darn terrible, but the height of birth pain was easier on my emotions than your primal screams. Your daddy offered me noise-canceling headphones to protect my ears. But even though the sound is truly an assault on my eardrums, that isn’t what bothers me. It’s the knowledge that you’re hurting somehow that breaks my heart. The sight of your precious face scrunched up to scream and fat tears wetting your chubby cheeks is enough to make me weep, too.

“I’m here, Debbie Joy,” I whisper to you. “Mama’s here. We’re going to be okay.”

I insert these whispers into those moments when you gulp down some air to continue your shrieks of woe. And sometimes you hear me, and I successfully interrupt your sadness. Your arms stop flailing for a moment. Your brown eyes lock with mine. Your body nestles into the curves of my chest. For a moment, I feel like a real mama.

“That’s my girl,” I whisper. “I’m here for you. Mama’s not gonna leave you.”

There is a part of me that becomes whole in these moments. While only God knows how many times I’ve been decidedly ungodly in my relationship to you, right then, I know I’m joining in the life of God. Before you were born, I never really appreciated the idea of God as a mother, of God mothering humanity. But at my best as a mother, I know that I can care for you in this way, because this—and so much more—is the way that God has cared for me.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love,” God whispers to me when I hold you in the darkness pierced by your cries. “I have called you by name; you are mine.”

God gave me a name. God comforts me at my most fearful. God cradles me when I am afraid. God sings over me with joy. God feeds me with the bread of life. God promises never to leave me.

On some level, these are also the things I aspire to do as your mother.   And someday, I hope and pray that in spite of all my imperfections, my motherhood will help you know the One who loves you more fully and deeply than even I can.

Thank you for showing me more about how God loves me. Without you, I wouldn’t have known so well.

Your Mama