“Feed, feed!” my 17-month-old daughter signs frantically, leaning against the wall opposite the bathroom door as she waits and watches while I use the toilet. It is half an hour before her normal morning naptime, and she is obviously ready. As I prepare to follow her to the bedroom, she runs on ahead, saying, “Vweee, wee, weeeee!” happily. I take off my outer shirt and climb into bed and pull her in with me. She settles into the curve of my arm and eagerly latches on, and I gently massage her body as she lies quietly while I sing. I know she’s still awake, because she lifts her hand to cross herself when I chant, “may all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace, amen.” Soon she is overcome by a great sleepiness and shifts into fight mode. She squirms and flops her strong, solid body back and forth over mine, struggling to keep her eyes open. I continue singing and massaging her, and she settles back down, her hand tracing the same well-worn path it has followed for over a year, creeping under my camisole to find something soft to squish. Sleep claims her for his own, and as I pull her hand back out, she grasps mine firmly with it, her breathing deep and even.
I feel the firm strength of her sinews and ponder on the utter vulnerability of newborns while praying the third Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, the Nativity of our Lord. Despite all the new things she is learning to do herself, she is still very vulnerable. She still needs someone to give her food, even though she feeds herself. She still needs someone to take her to the toilet, and will probably not be able to take herself for a year or so. She still needs help getting dressed, or she ends up with both feet poking through one pantleg. She still craves my almost constant companionship, calling out “Mama!” from another room, or patting the floor or seat next to her as an invitation to join her. She still cannot tie her shoes or introduce herself or say “no” to bullies. She is still a baby. But even at this stage of babyhood, she is far stronger and more capable than she was as recently as a year ago. Now, if she gets sick with a cold, it would not be the terrifying experience it was at two months. If she wakes and finds herself alone in bed, she sometimes knows to simply call “Mama!” and I will come, instead of being afraid that I have abandoned her. She is learning to trust. Looking back at how far she has come, it is incredible to see how truly vulnerable she was as an infant, and even moreso the further back you go, the closer to conception.
How wonderful, how marvelous that our Lord should choose that vulnerability. That he should choose to accept life as a microscopic being deep within the womb of a Virgin. That he should receive with humility the life that she gave him – he, who gave her life. That he should be content to be fed by her, nourished by her, taught by her, subject to the headship of his foster-father. That he should step from eternity into time, not to brilliantly wow the world with signs and wonders, get his business done, and leave again, but to receive the slow nurturing of familial love. Jesus the Christ embraced the hidden life of home, and in so doing, sanctified it.
My daughter is fully relaxed. Her eyelashes spray out darkly over her cheeks, her hands rest slightly open against her middle, and she suckles slowly. If I remove my arm gently from under her head and pull away quickly, she will stir, fling her arms about, and turn her head this way and that. Perhaps she will settle into a deeper sleep. Perhaps her eyes will fly open and that grin will break over her face, the impish one that seems to say, “You thought you could be sneaky, Mama, but I am sneakier.” Either way, our day will continue on as a series of little things done together, tasks and plays and work and giggles and tears, common, sometimes boring, exhausting, overwhelming, drudging. This is the life our Lord chose, and we too will live it faithfully, by his grace.