“They’re such a gift, aren’t they?”
The voice came from behind me in the grocery line. I tried to keep my shoulders from sagging, and mustered what I hoped passed for a smile as I turned toward the cheerful lady beaming at my children.
“Oh, yes, such a gift,” I replied, adding a lilt to my voice that I hoped would hide the edginess I was feeling. I carefully placed my items on the conveyor belt, resisting the urge to slam down the frozen vegetables and cans of pricey formula.
Nothing seemed to be going right. Those cans of formula would be pricier than usual since the coupons I had collected were sitting uselessly on my kitchen counter. I could see them resting there, alongside a night and morning’s worth of dirty bottles I didn’t have a chance to put in the dishwasher.
My left hand gingerly held a loaf of bread while my right hand narrowly caught a jar of olives the baby wanted to drop out of the cart. Dropping things was her latest new trick. Her sister had one leg slung over the side of the cart, attempting to escape her prison of cereal boxes and the cookies I swore I wasn’t going to buy this time. This grocery run felt like a circus act where I had to fill every role, running on three hours of sleep.
Such a gift.
I hope that nice lady didn’t sense my frustration at her comment. I know she meant well. But when you’re in the trenches of motherhood, the blessings can be hard to find. Somewhere between walking 900 bouncing laps around your kitchen and aggressively scrubbing spit-up stains from carpet, I started questioning this whole idea of a gift.
What sort of gift jolts you from a sound sleep in the wee hours of the morning? How do you gift wrap a wrecked body, a raw heart, and a brain gone rogue? Where is the receipt for all those tantrums and ear infections? I certainly didn’t register for any of this.
They say the devil is in the details, so it makes sense that every little inconvenience tested my patience to the brink. Every lost pacifier or missed nap made the gift harder and harder to see.
I didn’t see anything but difficulties and hassles on the day I packed my 4-month-old baby for a trip home to visit my family for the holidays.
When we arrived, I was completely spent, exhausted from all the preparations and stress of traveling such a long distance alone with a baby for the first time. Before I’d had a chance to properly open my car door, they were there. My family. Each person grabbing a bag, giving me a hug, oohing and ahhing over the baby.
My heavens, that baby was the star of the show. All eyes were on her. Each time her lip curled into a half-smile or she clapped her chubby little hands together, the room erupted into applause and goofy laughter. Broadway actors would kill for an audience so engaged and giving such rave reviews. The room was full of love and amazement and a general merriment that had been missing for a long time. What did we do before she was here?
I looked around the room, at these people who raised me and stayed with me through all of my life’s ups and downs. I realized that there was a time when they did this for me. A time when my baby laughs filled their hearts with joy. Someone in this room walked and bounced with me for hours on end just to keep me content. Someone here made funny sounds so I would eat pureed green beans, then cleaned up the mess when I decided green beans were disgusting. Someone sang me songs when I was scared. Someone caught the olives that I tried to drop out of the grocery cart.
Everything I was doing for my baby, all those things that were wearing me down, someone once did for me.
As I looked around at all the happiness in the room, I realized I was happy, too. My shoulders relaxed and my jaws unclenched as I laughed along with everyone else at this silly, sweet angel that love brought into this world.
A gift for certain, but not one that was meant just for me. This baby was a gift for them, too—the people who gave life and love to me. She was given to me so I could share her with them.
This is what we do. This is why we do it. We lose the sleep, we endure the chaos, we rearrange our entire lives to make room for this gift. We do it because someone did it for us. We do it because a baby’s smile lights up a room and her laugh fills your heart in a way that is different from anything you’ve ever felt.
I replay the earlier scene with the lady in the grocery store. “They’re such a gift, aren’t they?”
I turn to answer, but this time my smile is real. It starts deep within me, born from a grateful heart. In a voice that is clear and without a trace of that familiar edge, I confidently reply.
“Oh, yes, such a gift.”