Anyone reading or listening to news over the past few weeks must, as I do, long for comfort and continuity to counterbalance media reports. What better way than to root ourselves in customs that go back enough generations that they’ve withstood the test of personal and national distress. Our family honored such a tradition recently with a shower to celebrate the birth of our youngest daughter’s first child. As I put away a dish passed from my grandmother to my mom and now to me, I thought about the generations of women who’ve gathered to celebrate an impending birth.
The women who used this dish immigrated from greener landscapes to the arid plains of western Kansas. Some lived through the Civil War, the Plains Indian wars, The Spanish American War, WW I, The Great Depression, WW II, The Korean Conflict, Vietnam, and recent events. My mother who was born in the midst of the Dust Bowl worked only a few blocks from Murrah Building in Oklahoma City and drove past its ruins and later the monuments to those who died that day. When I want to shut my eyes and ignore things that terrify me, I remind myself I come from sturdy stock. We do what is necessary to survive and thrive in a difficult world.
The poet Carl Sandburg states many families’ optimism in the future, explaining why it’s necessary to rejoice when a child is born. He wrote, “A baby is God’s opinion that life should go on.” As I watched women who love our daughter delight in giving handmade quilts and leatherwork, practical gifts, and books, several thoughts ran through my mind. I appreciated the hours of labor those crafters spent creating heirlooms that will comfort this child and pass to future generations. I’m grateful for the gifts that ensure the safety and wellbeing of our new granddaughter and for the thoughtfulness of mothers who’ve already raised kids and know what a new mom needs to ease that first year. The growing stack of books next to the mom-to-be’s chair told me how this group valued the ties of language and ideas and wanted to pass on their favorites. One Great-Aunt touched all our hearts when she included a favorite book she received as a little girl. Each of these presents warmed my heart and validated Sandburg’s message.
While the adults enjoyed visiting and remembering their own early parenting experiences, toddlers attending helped pass out gifts and make sharp observations. One cousin-to-be wants that baby to come out to play. Others were more interested in the immediate delight of raiding the mint and nut bowl. Each of these little ones reminded all of the adults of how swiftly infancy passes.
This long practiced custom of giving gifts to prepare new parents for their long awaited child states so clearly that our hearts cherish the hope new babies offer. Those of us who’ve raised our own, enjoy helping expectant moms and dads get off to a good start. It’s also a needed reminder to savor every moment and to work to leave a better world for the next generation.