R has been exceptionally needy for the past week or so. She cries whenever I put her down, even in the swing, unless she’s especially in the mood to play with her hanging toy. Then she’ll tolerate about 20 minutes of floor time. Otherwise, forget it. She cries unless she’s being held (or N is climbing on top of her. I used to stop him from doing that, but then I noticed that it makes her smile.) If she falls asleep and I put her down, she’s crying two minutes later. It’s exhausting.
Perversely, though, I won’t wish it away. Every time I pick her up I remind myself that her crying is a blessing. If she wasn’t needy, how easy would it be to neglect her – to park her in the swing or on the floor and then play with the older kids, who will actually remember whether or not I was there for them? R’s crying is a reminder to me that she needs to be kept close. She wants to be in on the action.
Every time I pick her up from crying, she heaves a shuddering sigh and then snuggles into my shoulder. And when I hold her in my arms and look at her she smiles widely, and I see two things: first, that R has a beautiful face, and second, that R has a beautiful soul. I can see it in her eyes.
When I was pregnant with R, a friend lent me a book about Judaism and pregnancy. Several of the women interviewed used a phrase I’ll never forget: “bringing down a neshama (soul)”. What they mean is that pregnancy and birth are a process of bringing a soul down from the spiritual realm into the physical world so that it can fulfill its purpose.
I love this idea. I’m not just having children, passing on my DNA, changing diapers and doing dishes. My children are not just extensions of me, adorable companions, or heirs to the Decemberbaby fortune (if I can remember where I’ve stashed it.) Each child is a unique neshama, a soul with a mission to accomplish. Each one already has the necessary aptitudes and traits to accomplish that mission. My role isn’t to turn the children into the people I think they should be, but to watch carefully and discover who they already are. These souls have been entrusted to me so that I can help them identify, refine, and apply their own gifts.
As I often find myself saying: “My job as a parent is to help my children learn to use their personalities and abilities for good instead of evil.”
R may not be as quiet or as patient as I might want, but her cries and smiles constantly remind me to nurture the soul that she has – and in the process, to refine and develop the gifts that enable me to be a good mother.
I typed most of this post standing up, with R in a sling, swaying to music. R is, at the moment, quite content. Thank God for baby slings!