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Tuesday, December 02, 2014

What I Learned About Love and Marriage from My Five Month Old Son

Tomorrow marks five months since my son was born. I remember vividly how arriving at the hospital to be induced at 40 weeks and 3 days felt both anti climactic and full of promise. I recall waddling into the hospital room, preceded by my watermelon belly, and staring at the empty bassinet next to my hospital bed as I wondered who and what would soon be filling it up. It just felt surreal. Over thirty hours of medical intervention to promote dilation, induction, labor, epidural, more labor, transition and delivery later, I held my son in my arms for the first time and I thought that I loved him.

Don't get me wrong, I for sure had a deep attachment to him in those first moments. How could I not? I carried that wiggly, squirmy, kicking little boy inside me for 40 weeks and 3 days, remember? And how could I not feel deeply attached to something so deeply attached to me? He was at once strangely familiar and totally foreign. The weeks to come were a blur of nursing, rocking, bouts of sobbing (we won't mention names here), extreme exhaustion and somehow the ability to muster up enough energy to repeat the aforementioned sequence. And something happened in those weeks as they transitioned into months one heart-wrenching and heart-warming moment at a time: I fell in love with the little boy my son became. He is a real person. He is not just "part of me" and "part of my husband." He is full of personality and opinions and tricks up his sleeve. He smiles at me first thing in the morning from his crib. He laughs big belly laughs when I put him in new pajamas. He pouts like a puppy dog when he is about to cry. He screams his head off like bloody murder when I'm in the kitchen and then lets loose a smile about a mile wide as soon as I reenter the room. He smiles so much when I sing him his favorite lullaby as he is about to drift into peaceful slumber that his pacifier falls out of his mouth, sometimes waking him back up to alertness and inducing the previously mentioned pout...

Yup, I love the little guy. I love him because he is a part of me, and that part of my love I could never describe, defend or deny. I also love him because of who he is and who he will become. This, I now understand, is both independent of me and dependent upon me. He is his own person, a little one albeit. And his world and life are shaped by those to whom he is most deeply attached. I still hit those energy walls like a ton of bricks, especially after a long day of mothering, teaching and mothering some more. They are no longer accompanied by hormone headaches and nursing nausea. I'm no longer sleeping away the seconds between the hours of feeding, diapering, rocking and repeating. Now I can see that this truly was just a season in our lives. And now I can truly see what it was that gave me strength and ability to do it all again--even when I was sure that either that season would never end or that my patience surely would before it had the chance. It was love. A love that felt heavy and burdensome on only 40 minutes of sleep at a time. A love that felt over-consuming when in those 40 minutes I had to sleep, I instead worried about the contents of my son's last diaper. It's a love that in the very middle of the night after that little boy woke up and needed my help to fall back asleep, now leaves me peacefully wide awake counting down the hours until morning when I can wake him up and see that smile. And I lay there as he sleeps, now awake myself. I unzip his swaddle just enough to hold the little hand gently smooshed against his side. And before I can count another sheep or even plan another preschool project, my own eyes close and drift to blissful slumber.

I recently began taking a women's class about marriage and intimacy offered by our local Chabad. If you live in my area, I encourage you to attend this class and if you live in another area, I encourage you to look into where it may be offered near you. The first class in the session focused on love and marriage. Students were asked at one point to discuss with a partner two questions: What is love? and Why get married? Talk about loaded questions. Before my husband and I became observant Jews, we both dated the "secular" way. We believed that you got married after you found a person you fell in love with. When each of us made our way toward observant Judaism and began to explore dating for the purpose of marriage within that framework, we were each astonished to be told that the purpose of dating was not to fall in love but rather to determine compatibility and that love would develop after marriage. To me, it seemed rather risky. But with divorce rates on the seemingly exponential rise, and with the awareness that after 28 years of single-hood what I had been doing hadn't worked, I was willing to have enough emunah (faith in G-d) to give this a genuine try. Dating in the Orthodox world was still awkward, but it no longer felt like guesswork the way my old way of dating had. It no longer felt forced or artificial. It felt purposeful, albeit frustrating and frightening at times, and I genuinely felt driven by a spiritual force greater than any reason I could come up with to pursue marriage.

And that is where the answer to those loaded questions lies: my reasons for marriage are much like many others' reasons. Companionship, connection, financial and physical stability, the desire to have a family, shared responsibilities... But the deeper reason behind it is truly a spiritual one. My husband is most definitely my soulmate. And I firmly believe that every person has a soulmate in every part of their lifespan (whether it is the same person throughout or in certain cases different people). Long before a shadchan (matchmaker) I never met or spoke with found our two shidduch resumes and decided we might make a compatible match over an international website, G-d knew that this woman was meant to marry that man at exactly the time we did. Eons before these two people met face to face on a sidewalk in Brooklyn for the first time in this world, those two faces were part of one soul in the World to Come. That soul connection was the driving power that allowed us to put aside any and all reservations and stand beneath the chuppah (wedding canopy) together after three months of dating and four months of engagement. But I did not love my husband then.

Sure, I was attached to him. I chose him and he chose me. But on a deeper level, I was attached to him because G-d chose the both of us and in a greater sense than I could ever describe, defend, or deny, my husband was already a part of me. It was not until later in our marriage, through a multi-state relocation, building a home together and a life under that roof, that I began to know and really love the person my husband was. And it was not until sharing in pregnancy, birth, and now parenthood that I grew to love the person my husband is and the family that we are becoming.

Marriage is hard. Parenthood is hard. The Torah provides us with ample evidence to support this. Secular and religious bookstores are stocked with texts to provide tools of support, tools of encouragement, tools of humor and inspiration. Energy levels fluctuate and seasons of our lives come and pass. As the old saying goes, the hours are long but the years are short. We walk, we run, we stumble and fall, we hit walls and they hit us back like a ton of bricks. And somehow, we find the energy to do it all again. And it comes from genuine and unconditional love. The ability to give of yourself even when you feel completely empty. It is a love that feels heavy as we carry its weight and leaves us feeling weightless as it carries ours. And in this darkest and coldest month of the year,it is the lessons I have learned about love from this chubby little boy beside me that warm and brighten my world. Happy Five Month Birthday, little one. You've taught me and your Tatty more in five short months than we had yet learned in our lifetime!