In May FDW is hosting a new series on stories from people in all walks of life and their observations of children and what they make us. Click here for more on the series and a list of the contributors. This post was written by a good friend from seminary days, theologian, writer, scholar, and beautiful, new mama, Stina Busman Jost.
When it comes to children, I consider myself pretty knowledgeable. Because I’ve been one for 36 years.
When it comes to raising children, I am that adult sitting in the shallow end of the pool, flailing her arms and legs all about. I’m not drowning, but I’m definitely not swimming yet. I find my little 4-month-old to be an enigma. An adorable squeaky little enigma, but an enigma nonetheless.
Henri Nouwen, in Bread for the Journey, talks about children as guests of their parents – strangers that come and stay for a little while. That, my friends, rings so true. I am regularly in a state of wonder (okay, maybe bewilderment) about this little guest who so boldly has entered my life and goes by the name Ruthie.
But even as I get to know this tiny stranger, I myself am still a child. I am the child of my mother, who is the child of her mother, who is dying. We are all children – moving in different rhythms and seasons. And with my daughter in this world – as I learn her needs and wants – I find myself wanting and needing my mother more than ever, as she is wanted and needed by her own mother.
Perhaps the most profound insight that has arisen from the sleepy haze that is early parenthood is just that: we need each other. Birth is a reminder of this truth. But so is death. We need a tribe to surround us when we begin, but we also need our people as we lose our memories and take our final breaths. We long for a family to journey with us – whether that family is spiritual, biological, or a beautiful mix of friends and neighbors.
We need each other. We were made that way.
On Tuesday afternoons I drop Ruthie off at my parents’ house and head off to my theology classes at Bethel University. It’s become known as “Tuesdays with Ruthie.” My parents are my people. And they have become Ruthie’s people, too. As I teach about atonement and salvation, they change diapers and give bottles.
They even babywear. Last Tuesday in the middle of my lecture I saw a picture pop up on my phone of my dad vacuuming while wearing Ruthie in a front pack. Yes, that’s right. My dad. Babywearing and cleaning the carpet at the same time. He’s amazing. And let’s be honest, I don’t think I could manage that.
My grandma’s assisted-living facility is just down the road from Bethel. So most Tuesday evenings my mom drives Ruthie there, and I meet them after I’m done teaching.
On her good days, my grandma lights up when we carry the car seat into her room with the tiny one in it. Ruthie brings my grandma delight. But there’s something else going on, too. My grandma seems satisfied after our visits. What I’ve come to realize is that Ruthie isn’t simply a smiley little guest we bring to see her great-grandmother. Ruthie has a role to play. She is needed too.
Ruthie meets her great-grandmother’s need to nurture. At the end of life, there is such a pronounced need to have care, to be cared for. When we sit at my grandma’s bedside, little Ruthie becomes her focus. Hearing the needs of Ruthie is what she needs. She asks about Ruthie’s habits – her eating, her sleeping. And then like many individuals with dementia, my grandma asks the same questions again. And again. The beautiful thing is, that’s perfectly fine with Ruthie.
Ruthie won’t remember these visits, but I will remind her of them when she’s older – not simply to tell Ruthie her history, although that’s important. I want Ruthie to know that she always has had a role in meeting people’s needs. And I hope she embraces this role as her own. I want to love her well so that she in turn can love well. I want to meet her needs so that she can meet the needs of others.
So there we gather on Tuesdays as the sun sets. Me, my little enigma, my sweet mama, and my grandmother. Four generations of women. Learning and teaching the lessons of community – needing and being needed.
Stina Busman Jost lives on a little acreage in Minnesota with her husband, her very large dog, and her tiny baby. She is the author of Walking with the Mud Flower Collective: God’s Fierce Whimsy and Dialogic Theological Method. She teaches theology and ethics at Bethel University. Books are one of her primary love languages. She likes using her sewing machine and eats gluten-free (shout out to all fellow celiacs!).