I admit to being a very fearful mother when Atticus was born. I had normal second-time mom anxieties: will I love this baby as much as my first? How will I handle two? Will my children love each other? Will I feel too stretched?
Now, as he stands on the cusp of his seventh birthday, I realize that all those fears were perfectly well founded.
You're picking your jaw up off the floor now, wondering how in the world a mother of three (a mother of three who wants more kids!) can possibly say these things. Very easily, actually.
Do I love Atticus as much as I love Jo? As if you could possibly love two people in the exact same way! One of the biggest fallacies of motherhood is that we love all of our children "the same." How is that possible? There is no way that I can love Atticus with the mother/daughter kinship I feel with Jo, just as there is no way that I will ever swell with love for Jo in the same way that I do when I see Atticus revealing a little bit more of the man he will someday be. The love of a mother is very much like the old standard for institutionalized racism: separate but equal. Atticus taught me that as I watched his personality emerge over the early months and years of his life as my eldest son. You can love two people fiercely ... you just love them where they are.
I was terrified of somehow falling behind in juggling two children. Here's the truth: if you micromanage every detail of every day, yes, you will find that anything more than one child is too much to ask. When you begin to accept that pants can be worn for more than one day and that you are by no means entitled to an eight hour stretch of uninterrupted sleep every night, you begin to see that the problem is you--not the number of children you have. Atticus showed me that.
Another worry was whether or not my children would connect in the way that would keep them close well into adulthood. While I can't say that we've crossed the line that I can point to and say with absolute certainty that they will always be siblings and best friends, I can say that this fear is one that I have found to be a bit within my control. While the Lord clearly made my children with complimentary personalities, He also gave me some great tools for ensuring that they treat each other with love and respect. Atticus' huge, soft heart doesn't hurt, of course. He is willing to suffer just about any indignity at the hands of his beloved big sister: he has been coerced into tea parties and pony games since birth, after all. On the other hand, his sister adores him with an almost epic devotion. Logan would fight to the death for either of them. (On our bad days, I actually fear that someday he will.)
And finally, as I looked at my big belly on May 24, 2000 and wondered about whether or not I would feel overly extended in parenting two children ...
Atticus has taught me that if you do not feel stretched in your parenting, you are probably not committing your whole heart to the process. Motherhood is not a gentle walk in the park; if it was, what would be the point? The entire act would be completely narcissistic. The idea of self-sacrifice is what makes parenthood an admirable calling--to willingly lay down every right, every desire and to pick up the the care and nurture of someone else for the sake of nothing but their eventual well-being. This is something that I never would have learned if it had not been for Atticus. Having just Jo allowed me to still keep an eye to myself. But the gift of Atticus showed me that this needy little man deserved so much more than a momma who worried about whether or not she was going to get to finish that story she was working on.
My oldest son has a heart made of something more pure and yet more vulnerable than most. I can't imagine the plans the Lord has for it; something that innocent and soft in the world is a frightening thing to me. There are days I would actually prefer that his emotions were held firmly in check, that his fears were buried under a bit more bravado. Atticus at his best is a goofy, jumping jack of a boy giggling for all he's worth. Atticus at his most sensitive is a trembling heap of little boy flesh frozen by what he thinks might possibly happen. Atticus is the boy who asks needs to understand the orbit of the earth around the sun to feel secure in the firmness of the earth, the one who must understand the surfactant of human lungs to be sure he is actually breathing. This takes a toll on a mother who is distracted, but on a good day ... the depth of understanding and the genuine awe of creation is almost too much to bear.
So while I look at Atticus turning seven and wonder where his anxious spirit will take us over the next few years, I also remember how deeply rooted my own fears were as I felt the grip of the contractions that would eventually bring him to us. And I can clearly see how easily they were defeated, with just prayer, time and faith. I know that Atticus will learn this same lesson. I am honored to watch him walk that journey.
Happy birthday, Atticus.