The first part of this story took place in the small bathroom of my two-story home back in Springfield, Illinois. In those days, Catholics, like my mom and dad, frequently bore their children in bunches. In our family, a several-year reproductive hiatus separated one batch of “Irish Triplets” (i.e. three consecutive children born less than three years apart), from the other batch. Danny, born four-years later, was mom and dad’s only stand-alone, outlier of a child. Like the fabled mother who lived in a shoe, childcare frequently involved assembly-line procedures that would have made Henry Ford take notes.
For example, when it came time for bathing, mom would plop her second set of tri’s (including my two younger brothers and me) into the tub. After soaping us up, scrubbing us up, and hosing us down, mom would take us out to dry. One of my earliest, and sweetest memories, had to do with standing face-to-face before her as she dried me. At a certain point in the process, I noticed something. “I see Tom in mom’s eyes.” I observed. Without missing a beat, mom responded, “That’s because Tom is in mom’s heart.” The next time I took a bath, I made the same observation, and was met with the same response. This repartee became something of a sacred ritual between mother and son for all of the rest of my pre-school baths.
To continue this story, I have to leap several decades ahead to just over eighteen years ago, when my wife was in her third trimester with our first-born. In anticipation of the blessed event, I did what any red-blooded American male would do, who had lived through the Eighties. I made a mixed tape for her: “Songs to Have a Baby By.” On it, I included relaxing and peaceful tunes designed to take the edge off of labor (as if anything short of an epidural could take the edge of labor…). When the blessed day came, and her water broke, in addition to the usual things that a soon-to-be-father packs in the car, I toted a boom-box, and my mixed tape.
It took awhile before hard labor set in. When it finally did arrive, I knew just what to do. I reached over, and pressed the “play” button for my mixed tape. Almost immediately, my wife said, “Tom, could you turn that thing off? It’s really annoying me.” Thank goodness I had the sense to realize that when a woman is pushing a six-pound baby out of her birth canal, a husband is not allowed to get his feelings hurt.
It took a whole day, and lots of hard labor before my daughter made her way into the world. After nursing, Lisa was dead-dog tired. As she began to nod off, a well-intentioned nurse tried to swoop in and cart my little girl off to a warming table for a bath. With sharp elbows, I let the nurse know that there would be no prying daughter from daddy. As I held Annalise for the first time, I asked myself, “What does this little girl really want right now?” The answer showed up immediately, “She wants her womb back!” With that, I laid her on the warming table, and firmly encircled her with tight, womb-like arms. That’s when it hit me! I knew just what to do! I reached over and softly hit the “play” button to my mixed tape (Come to find out, I had made that tape for me.). The very first song, an old Christmas carol, started to play. “Still, still, still, let all the world keep still….” With faces no more than twelve inches apart, I looked into her slate blue eyes, as she looked into mine. I knew for sure what she was thinking, and could almost hear her saying it, “I see Annalise in daddy’s eyes.” And I knew what I was thinking, so I went ahead and said it, “That’s because Annalise is in daddy’s heart. Come to find out, maybe you’ve always been in my heart.”
Developmental research has indicated that each and every mother’s child spends the first few years of life searching her parents’ face to see what’s mirrored back to her. In the mirror that is the parental relationship, a child comes to know who he is. On that blessed day of my daughter’s birth, I intuitively discovered the two main ingredients necessary to call the deepest part of a child out into the world. (#1) Our children search our faces to see if the frame around their reflection is a frame of delight and appreciation. (#2) The second thing that they seek, is to know if our hands, arms, spirit, and psyche are strong enough to provide firm and consistent structure.
I have caught myself walking through the door after a long day, scowling at my children saying, why the bleep-a-dee-bleep is this kitchen still messed up? The appropriate response should be to walk through the door with my face trained to delight and appreciate them first. Ten minutes later, I can hold them to account for the messed up kitchen.
Here on the most important day in Christendom, I want to share an Easter insight. What I have learned through the years as a clinician and consultant is that each and every one of us is a child. Some of us just wear adult clothes and wrinkles. Therefore, what’s good for the goslings, is also good for the geese and the ganders as well. If you want to create inspiring relationships that stimulate more resurrection living in your family, in your workplace, in your friendships, or in your community, provide those two basic ingredients in your relationships: (1) delight/appreciation (expressed verbally and non-verbally; (2) and firm structure (clear, specific expectations, and clear healthy boundaries expressed verbally as needed). For the next fifty days of Easter, can you resolve to pick one relationship to flood with daily delight/appreciation, and healthy structure to support it?