I had never realized she wanted a baby doll.
Probably, after four boys in a row, my brain just failed to recognize the same need to nurture which applied to our first three children — all girls.
At the dentist’s office, Anna toddled over to the toy box and unearthed a dirty plastic doll. Her older siblings and I sucked in a collective breath of horror over her contact with the filthy toy, squinting and grimmacing over the layers of germs we were sure encased it.
But not Anna.
She crooned. She patted. She embraced. She kissed, all with a smile of sweet contentment.
I weighed my options.
1. Snatch the filthy thing from her grasp and fling it back into the toy box and whisk her away to scrub with antibacterial soap in the bathroom,
2. Casually substitute another toy for the offending one, and scrub with baby wipes from the diaper bag,
3. Leave her alone and repeat the mantra of motherhood: “You have to eat a peck of dirt before you die.”
I watched, mesmerized.
At 17-months, Anna was clearly hardwired for a vocation involving motherhood. Where the boys’ playtime revolved around things explosive and projectile, this little one had picked up the doll with the joyful cry of recognition and fulfillment.
Girls are made for motherhood. Whether spiritual or physical is up to God, and while each girl has a distinct and personal destiny, we appear to all have been designed for the same thing: nurture.
I combined options 2 and 3 and managed to distract her, shooing everyone out the door and away from the toys at the earliest opportunity.
But on our next trip to Costco, making an obligatory pass through the toy aisle, we stopped in front of a display of baby dolls.
“Ahhhh…” she smiled.
“Baby. Do you like the baby?”
She crooked her arms in front of her and rocked — the sign for “baby” in sign language.
“Would you like a baby? Shall we get you a baby?”
She guessed my meaning and held out her arms , bouncing up and down in the shopping cart’s front seat.
At home, we unboxed the doll, a task which nearly required a college degree, and placed the baby in her arms.
Now, she totes the baby around with her, dragging it inside and outside, to the car and back to the house, in the crib to sleep and to the table to eat.
Anna frowns protectively at sniffing dogs, points with urgency when we leave, concerned her baby will be left behind.
Another aspect of the machine code built into us: protection of our young. Sometimes fiercely.
Which brings us to this afternoon.
We were outside at our little Marian shrine, saying the Angelus. During the prayer, she put her baby on the garden border and toddled over the decorative pebbles to the statue of Mother Mary, puctuating the prayer with kisses, delighting in our Mother.
Until suddenly, a disturbance in the Force snapped her attention back to the baby. She turned, screaming a warning to her three-year-old brother who had crept up to investigate the fit of the baby’s clothing. Knowing better than to tangle with the wrath of a woman, even a one-year-old woman, he threw the baby down and retreated to a safe distance.
The rest of us continued our prayer, trying not to giggle at the mini-drama.
But Anna never went back to prayer. Instead, she fussed with her baby, and was soon distracted by something else which sent her toddling away.
And it occurred to me, we women are ingrained with something else, too. Distractibility. Oh, yes, it’s for a good cause that we leave our prayer. Someone is crying, someone is callling, a situation is developing, and we are the only ones who can help.
Off we go, and never come back. And Christ is left, like a lover abandoned mid-kiss.
The speaker at a recent seminar on prayer I attended related the obstacles to prayer enumerated by the Cure of Ars:
1) Personal obstacles — noise, lack of love, lack of fidelity
2) Supernatural obstacles — morning chatter — did you ever notice the kids seem to get up earlier when you are up early to pray?
3) Materialism — but not the kind you think. This materialism is the belief that the material world is the ONLY world, or at least the only relevant one.
There are only two things for which we should get up from our prayer, said the speaker. The first is obedience, as in a religious superior making a request, and the second is charity.
And not a refilling-the-cereal-bowl-for-the-third-time sort of charity.
This is charity reserved for the neighbor who comes to ask you to watch her children so she can take her son to the emergency room.
Otherwise, it’s distraction.
God has this plan. Men do what they’re called to do, and women do what we’re meant to do — we love our babies, protect our babies, and plan ahead, making sure our babies are safe and satisfied for a few minutes so we can pray without distraction.
And if your “babies” are not physical, the same prayer and distractibility principles still apply!