M has learned this game, the little song, the circle-dance, the falling. She has learned to sing (not all the words, of course) and twirl and fall. She has learned to pretend "Ring Around the Rosie" with her little figurine toys. When "we all fall down," she tosses the toys magnificently. Theirs is rather an epic fall.
I am sitting in a dark bedroom, waiting for a toddler to fall asleep (this is a new struggle--falling asleep alone). Several blocks away, a handful of the members of my faith community gather to receive ashes from J's hand. I know how he presses those burned palm fronds against foreheads, the gentleness with which his finger imposes the reminder, the tenderness of his words, the seriousness and kindness of his liquid brown eyes. I know, as well, the cracks and roughness of his skin, evidence of the dishes he washes, the diapers he changes, in our household--in other words, I know the love more than most.
But still, I wish I could be there, hearing the words, singing the songs, commemorating the day as more than just one more in the busy hubbub of cooking and grading and sweeping the floor.
These early parenting weeks and months and years are a joy (I've never laughed so much or felt so drunk on the scent of another human's skin), but they are also consuming. I am amazed at those who can parent small children and regularly blog. Not all bloggers are employed full-time elsewhere, I remind myself, but I didn't even find the time during my year-long maternity leave! I find myself spent by early evening--and then I almost always still have work to do. I find that I am learning new patience, and new self-forgetfulness, and new asceticism. I find that time moves both more quickly and more slowly. I find that I am faced in a whole new way with the fact of mortality: Please, keep her safe. Please, keep us safe so that we can keep watching the wonder of her life unfold.
Which is to say, I suppose, that the crucible of parenting is another form of Ash Wednesday, day in and day out: a humbling, quiet bearing in one's body the reality of limitation, the inevitability of a return to dust, the preciousness of fragile life, the longing for more. My forehead is not marked tonight, but my body is marked; my life is marked. We all fall down--and we all long and hope to get up again.
Amen and amen.