I’m having some trouble writing at the moment, so in honor of my daughter Olivia’s 3rd birthday, here’s a repeat which ends with the story of how Olivia came to be – aside from the obvious, of course. (At the time this was written, my husband and I were separated. We’re back together now. For those of you following along at home.)
Each of my children has a story we tell them about some way in which their lives have mattered. I believe that it’s one thing to tell a kid they are important and that they matter, but it’s something of a gift to them to be able to tell them how they have mattered. Then they’re not just a lowly child floating out in the world with no real base or purpose to start with. It grounds the message that they have value in their real world. It’s concrete evidence for them that just because they exist, the world is a different, better place.
My oldest Noah was born when his father and I were not married. If it wasn’t for him, we would not have formed a family and his siblings wouldn’t be here. And his birth also changed me. Before having him, if you had walked up to me at any given moment and said, “I’m sorry, only real humans are allowed here. Penguins such as yourself belong elsewhere” and I would have shrugged at being caught and thanked you for telling me I was a penguin – I had been wondering about that. I had a bad case of imposter’s syndrome. Practically from the start, parenting Noah was something I just knew how to do and I felt completely comfortable doing it. It was almost like working out of an area of spiritual blessing and was an important step on the way to me knowing (hopefully) more and more of who God created me to be.
Collin, who is now 12 was born while his dad was very sick. His medical care was awful but we were young and hadn’t yet realized that the system works differently once your illness has no identifiable cause or treatment. They eventually told us that he was crazy – really, they did. They even gave us a black binder with a report saying so. In fact he was crazy in a way. Unbeknownst to anyone, his body had stopped processing B12 years before. Your body uses B12 to coat nerve endings so they can communicate smoothly. He was not thinking clearly and became difficult to the point of being unsafe to leave the kids alone with him. We had been married a year and if we hadn’t had Collin right away, I doubt I would have stayed. He was only diagnosed when he nearly died. If I hadn’t been there to call 911, it could have been days before someone found him. So, Collin kept us together which ended up saving his dad’s life.
Michaela was the one child I that was my idea. This time I was the one to talk the qxh (quasi-ex-husband) into having another kid. He was ready to be done, but I really wanted a little girl. Believe it or not, but I had never had any intention of being a parent and it had rather disrupted everything else I had wanted to do with my life. So I figured that as long as I was going to be a parent, I at least wanted to try for a girl. Against his better judgment, the qxh went along to make me happy. When Michaela was a few months old, he came and thanked me. “She’s my heart,” he said, “I can’t believe I didn’t think I needed her.” The qxh had all sort of very retrograde ideas about how to raise boys – many of which revolved around putting as much parental inflicted suffering on a kid as he can take in order to train him for the rigors of manhood. But with girls, he took a cue from Chris Rock: “my job is to keep her off the [stripper's] pole!” The qxh sees a father’s job as demonstrating to his daughter how she should expect to be treated. So Michaela was the one who helped him find a much softer, gentler and more patient side than he had been working from before she was born. Which made all of our lives more pleasant.
Sophia is my second daughter. She was all the qxh’s idea. There is an almost 6 year gap between Collin and Michaela and the qxh wanted Michaela to have a sibling to play with. Two weeks later, Sophia was on her way. Sophia was the child we had no real reason for having. Most likely in the scheme of things, having Sophia meant that Michaela wouldn’t be completely ruined by being her father’s only daughter! But when we tell Sophia her story, we tell her that she was the baby we had for the fun of it. It was a gamble, but it paid off.
And then there’s my baby, Olivia. She has a strange story that I’m glad I don’t have to try and explain to her yet. Just over three years ago, the weirdest thing kept happening. My four kids would all be in a room with me and I would count them because I thought someone was missing. I told a friend who has 5 kids about it and she immediately responded, “uh-oh.” (Many people assume that large families are a sign of contraceptive issues, but it really comes from a completely different mindset towards having children. Among those who have large families, this sense that someone is missing is often given as part of their reason for having another child.) Shortly after that, the qxh came out of no where and announced that he had no idea why but he was suddenly gripped with a desire to, um, do his part to assist in the creation of a new Trotter. And I said, “well see – that’s strange, because I have had this odd sensation of someone being missing.” Weird, right?
So we talked about it for a couple of weeks and I came to the firm conclusion that having another baby was a really, really bad idea. My husband was sick of being the sole breadwinner and our youngest was starting preschool that fall so I could start working on building something myself to contribute to the family finances. And my then 13 year old stepson was coming to live with us, so I would be going from having 4 kids to 6 in a very short time. And babies are sooooo much WORK. We didn’t even have a vehicle big enough for all of us as it was! Bad, bad, bad idea.
However, a couple of weeks later, I was complaining to God (yes, I complain to God a lot. That way everyone else doesn’t have to listen to it!). “Where’s my joy?” I demanded. And clear as anything the words, “she’s here with me. Waiting.” just popped to the front of my head. I knew immediately that this was about that bad baby idea. So, I told God that I thought it was a really, really, really bad idea and I wasn’t going to do anything to help bring it to fruition, but if it was really what he wanted and it was that important, that I would trust him. 6 weeks later on the first day my period was late, I didn’t need a pregnancy test. I knew. I had been forwarned.
The next 8 months ended up being a nightmare for so many reasons that I began to hope that the baby (due at New Year’s) wouldn’t come until January just so she wouldn’t be associated with 2009. Turns out 2010 was even worse, so 6 of one, half-dozen of another. The pregnancy was difficult, I had become depresses which made life very unenjoyable and there were some really serious family problems that came up that fall.
When the baby did make her appearance, it was just after Christmas. I was in labor for nearly 48 hours and I’m certain that my ambivalence about having another child contributed greatly to the long-drawn out ordeal. I knew she was “sunny side up” (facing the wrong way – face up) and that I should have been doing things to help turn her, but the nurses and doctors didn’t believe me so I pretended not to know either. It wasn’t until the doctor used a suctioning device to assist with the delivery that he realized that I was right - she was facing the wrong way. It seems her nose seemed to had gotten caught on the way out. We named her Olivia Joy.
And of course, I love her. I still think it was a really bad idea to have a baby just then. And it was really confusing. It seemed so clear to me that God intended her to be here. So, why would he send her into a family that was falling apart the way ours suddenly was? Sometimes I would think that Olivia’s existence must mean that things were going to work out and we were going to pull through. Unfortunately, everything worked out much worse than I had been afraid of when I decided that having another baby was a bad idea.
Now she’s two and she’s gotten to be my little buddy. She’s a very sweet, loving little thing. Although she climbs like a monkey and is into absolutely everything. (Like pouring salt into the sugar. Or into the soup minutes before I was going to serve it. We are now keeping the salt on top of the fridge. She’s been trying to figure out how to stack chairs up to reach it, but so far, no dice.) When I was at my lowest, she would come and shove my head off my pillow and say, “get up!” At which point I would have to get up because what kind of shlub mom am I if my toddler’s forcibly trying to get me out of bed? It still doesn’t make any sense to me that it was so important for her to be here, especially at such an inopportune time. I’m sure it will all be clearer later. Right now it’s probably enough that I know she was purposed to be here.
And really, that’s why I tell my kids these stories about themselves. I want them to know that they have a purpose for being here. I want them to understand how important they – and all people – are just through their existence. And researchers know that people who see their lives as an unfolding story rather than a conglomeration of events and periods in one’s life are happier and more fulfilled. I want my kids to know how to create their own stories and claim their credit in the world. I always think these stories we tell our kids about themselves are like a little building block we can give them to get them started.
Do you have any interesting stories to share about your kid’s effect on your world? Do you tell them to your kids?