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All children are gifts

Children are a gift. They’re the most special kind of gift. They’re not the gift certificate type of gift, where you get to go shopping for something you want. They’re not a birthday gift, where you get it because the giver thinks you’re special. They’re not the sort of gift well-meaning mothers-in-law give when they notice that your tablecloths are all really shabby.

Children are the sort of gift we can’t ask for. Children are gifts that come to us in good times and bad. They come to us whole or damaged. They come to us perfect or deformed. They come to us with the complexity of their biological parents’ genes twisted together. They come to us with the epigenetic memory of our forefathers etched into the fibers of their being. They come to us full of promise and full of mystery. They come to us as wholly imperfect beings. They come to us with brains hungry for learning.

Children are never what we expect them to be. Perhaps they have his nose and your hair, or her way of talking but your way of hugging. But the rest is going to be a mystery. How did she develop that passion? How did he develop that fear? Where did that stubborn will come from? I am perfectly sure I never screamed like that as a child. I can’t believe I was ever this smart.

Children can fulfill our expectations for good and for bad. We expect that they’ll do well in school like we did, and they do. We expect that they’ll not make it through the family reunion without a tantrum, and they don’t. We expect that they’ll like spicy Thai food like we do, and they do. We expect that they won’t like any unusual food, and they don’t.

Children are always the children we need. When childless friends remark how our lives have changed, we agree, and we notice how incomplete our pre-parenting lives seem. When we desperately need someone to love us unquestioningly, they are there. When we need a friend, an ally, someone who really looks us in the eye, there they are. When we need someone to remind us we are all human and make mistakes, they are happy to oblige. When we need someone to challenge us, they are always willing to be the challenge we need.

You can quit a job, stop seeing a friend, even divorce your spouse. But the challenge your child offers you is the hardest to back away from. They are the toughest coach you ever had, who makes you keep going when you’re sure you have nothing left. They are the hardest exam you’ll ever take, because the consequences of failure are so vast, you know that you can’t fail.

Your child is a gift you can’t sum up in words. That twisted DNA. That history of shared laughter, breath, home, learning, sustenance. Those emotions deeper and more violent than any others. What your child gives you is more than language can handle.

Your child changes daily, and you do as well. Your relationship twines upward, each twist new in its own way. When your child goes her separate way, you are still standing on the foundation you built together. You can see your own parents down there, feel the strange mystery of grandparents you loved or didn’t know, hear the distant sounds of places your DNA has been, feel the twining of shared lives that defies genetic inheritance.

And you know, from being a parent, that your child will never truly be away from you. Your shared experiences are part of the ground you stand on. The space between phone calls, the years you don’t see each other, or the unthinkable time when a child passes on before his parents—parents are never alone.

Having had a child, you have a child within you still.

All children are gifts, the sort of gift we can’t ask for.

Posted in Culture, Parenting, Psychology.

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