Eventually, that first child was on his way. We told our friends the happy news and explained that we were trying to prepare ourselves for the challenges a baby would bring to our lives. “Oh, one baby is nothing,” they corrected us. “Life won't really get tough until you have to juggle two kids, keeping both of you busy all the time.”
A couple of years later, knowing we'd had it easy up until then, we found out that our second child was on his way. We shared the happy news with our friends, thanking them for the earlier warning that the second child would be the one to bring challenges to our family's life. “Oh, raising two kids is a cinch,” our wise friends replied with bemusement. “After all, with two, each one can have a parent's full attention. It's when you have three that you'll feel overwhelmed. After all, by that time, the kids will outnumber you.” Once again, we were relieved upon hearing that our family life would continue to flow effortlessly with two children.
In reality, of course, every one of these transitions in life places all sorts of new demands upon us, continually shocking us out of our complacency and selfishness. It's as if our self-centeredness is at the heart of a black hole, always sucking us in with the strength of its gravitational pull. The closer it pulls us into ourselves, the harder and harder it gets for anything to pull us back out. Thankfully, for those of us that are married, we have the advantage of spouses and children whose job it is to perpetually draw us away from ourselves, freeing us from that black hole of self-absorption.
About a year and a half ago, we experienced the strong hand of our newly born second child as he started yanking us back away from the abyss. Having one child drastically altered our lifestyle, of course. As he grew into a toddler, however, without really even realizing it, we had started to settle into a comfortable routine with our firstborn two-year old, Christopher. He had gotten easy to take to restaurants; he was going to bed easily at night and never waking up until morning. He consented to taking naps without protest. He was a good trooper on our frequent jaunts out-of-town, no longer minding the hours in the car seat. He loved spending time with his grandparents and cousins, so leaving him with family while we had a date or gave a talk was no problem at all. His behavior at Mass was (usually) exemplary as well.
Then it happened. Peter was born. The comfort zone we were settling into disappeared literally overnight. The first night Peter was home from the hospital, Christopher woke up at 2 a.m. with a high fever, clutching his ears. He only wanted his mommy right as she was nursing the new baby. It was a rough night, to say the least. The next morning, we tried to look at the bright side, saying, “Well, it can't get any worse than last night.” (Of course, Caroline's sister added, “Oh yes it can. Just wait until they're both sick.”) That turned out to be true, but what was also true was that the “worse” could continue at the same level for the next four nights as Christopher battled his double ear infection.
After that brutal initiation, the challenges continued, as we learned how to travel out-of-town, or to the gas station, for that matter, all over again with two little ones and all their requisite gear in tow. Sunday Mass became a lively, unpredictable experience once again. An altogether new challenge, one we didn't face with our firstborn, who was being vigilant in protecting our infant from Big Brother's “affection.” As Peter has gotten older, he has learned to give as good as he gets.
Are we complaining? No way! Far from dragging us down, we focused on the reality that each of these experiences was a golden opportunity for growth in holiness, as we became other-centered all over again. Besides, every time we coaxed a smile out of little Peter, or saw Christopher sing his baby brother a song, all the struggles blew away like sand, and we were reminded that the Church tells us that “children are the supreme gift of marriage.” As our family grows, it is also the gift that keeps on giving, and we couldn't be more grateful for it.