Naming a Baby

My cousin's daughter has been blessed with a new baby. My mind has been on her family these last weeks for a couple of reasons. For one thing, my oldest baby is half a world away, serving his country. The contrast between her life and mine is intriguing. She is in the years when protecting her children means car seats, outlet covers and holding hands to cross the street. I'm still struggling to let go enough to put my baby's safety in God's hands and trust Him with my son.

The other thing that is skittering around in my tired brain is her beautiful baby's name. They named him after his Great-Great-Grandfather (that would be my grandpa). It's a strong, old-fashioned, old world kind of name and I LOVE it. I love the idea of bringing an old name back into the family. I love the idea that maybe, just maybe, that may also bring back some of the special qualities of my grandpa. My grandma would have been so very pleased. I can hear her saying his name, with her Holland accent, and I can imagine her happiness.

I wonder very much about names. How much does a name influence who we become in life? I don't know very many people with old-fashioned names that grew up to become Emos. (is that how you spell that?) Maybe we treat someone named Mary different than someone name LeTinosha, and so they grow up differently? Maybe there are some innate instructions that come with a name--some mysterious directions on how to grow up?

Who would I be if I had a different name? If I were named Sarah, would I be more soft and sweet? If I were named Helga, would I be stronger and more stubborn? (I'm not at all sure it's possible for me to be more stubborn than I am.) My first name is old, and a little haughty. It's a name that might belong to a librarian. My middle name is more sweet and delicate. My second middle name is melifluous and musical and once belonged to a child martyr. I put those together and what do I get? A bookish, tender-hearted poet? Well that isn't exactly me. Maybe if I mix up the qualities....someone who likes to read and listen to music, who tends toward cynicism? That could be me. Part of me, anyway. I don't know. It's a riddle.

And who will this newest member of the extended family be? Of course I realize that I don't get a vote, being only a second cousin, once removed. (Or something like that.) But if I had a vote, what would I hope for? I'll hope he has his great-great-grandpa's sense of humor, his courage and his tenacity. Maybe he'll have his great-great-grandma's enduring grace and patience. I'll hope he has his great-grandma's wisdom, strength and compassion and his great-grandpa's work ethic, and his joy for life. I'll hope for his grandpa's tender heart and his love for the outdoors. I'll hope he gets his grandma's generosity and caring ways.

I suppose, that as much as anything else, the name we carry through life is a comment about our roots. An old family name nourishes the deepest roots. Our parents teach us about love, discipline, faith, expectations, honor and values. The name they choose for us tells us about what they hope for us, and expect of us, where we come from and where we are going.

My Own Imagination

Most days, having a well-developed imagination is just the status quo for me. It's not always something you want people to know. For instance, the guys I used to work with found out that I make a vivid mental picture when something is described. It was great fun for them to try to put disgusting or revolting pictures in my brain....especially when they learned dislodging the image isn't easy. Incidentally, it isn't good if a bunch of construction workers discover you don't blush....but that's another subject.

Usually, it is a fine thing to have a good imagination. I can come up with ideas without a lot of trouble. It adds a little extra oomph to my cooking. Sometimes I think it helps me tell a story fairly well, because I can paint a picture in words for those people who don't make their own imagery. But I have to tell you, the day your son goes off to war is the day to have your imagination euthanized.

I don't watch blood-and-guts movies because I don't need those pictures in my head. I certainly don't need that sort of thing invading my dreams. Dreams? Ha. You have to be able to sleep to have dreams.

I picture our young man, sweating under a 70-pound pack, in full gear, under the hot Iraqi sun. Will he be alright? Will he stay well, and come home again with all of his parts present? I hope he comes home safe, to look back on this experience and feel good about it. I am glad he won't come home to the kind of thing that faced the Vietnam vets. They suffered a shameful injustice. Troops come home to a supportive America now, paid for by the ones who came before. I would say thanks to them for that, but words are too small.

Maybe I would feel better if I had ever been where he is going. I doubt it. I do know I will rest easier when he is back on American soil. My mind tells me to put him in God's hands and stop worrying. My heart feels like putting him in God's hands is the same as completely letting go of him, which I'm not ready to do. So I split the difference and ask God to protect them all. (That's cheating, isn't it?) I pray to Mary (surely another mother understands!) to watch over him and bring him home safely. I ask his guardian angel to be especially vigilant. I ask his Grandpa in heaven to keep an eye on him. One thing about being a Catholic, you have no shortage of ones to pray to. If I go many more nights as a neurotic insomniac, I'm going to start praying for Tylenol PM.

Fabric of Life

Our son is leaving for Iraq in four days. If you have a loved one in the military you will understand what a wrenching thing this is. Pride and worry and concern and faith are all wrapped up in one big mess. As it always seems to be with turning points in life, I find myself especially aware of the fabric of my life--and the little threads that make it up.

There's a new member in the extended family: my cousin's daughter and her husband were blessed with a beautiful baby boy. Rumor has it that he was named after my grandfather. That's a long thread, running strong and sweetly through our hearts. That grandpa was dearly loved and truly a treasure of a man. I hope that bringing his name back into the family will bring some of his unique qualities back to us, too.

I think of my dad, and how proud he would have been to see this most cherished grandson in his uniform. Our son was named after my dad and my husband's dad. How convenient that both men had the same name! My dad and my son had a very special connection. Even though Dad hated the army in a lot of ways, he would have been busting with pride now.

Looking at it through the lens of the day, I can see that my life is rich in many ways. I have family to love, a happy home, an interesting family history making interesting roots, a promise of fascinating events ahead and small, simple joys in abundance. I also have enough problems to take none of that for granted, enough worry to remember to put things in God's hands, and enough rain to make the sunshine doubly welcome.

A Matter of Semantics

Someone asked me if I pray often. As a Catholic, I suppose I am accustomed to thinking of prayer as a formal thing. I will admit I do not say the Lord's Prayer often. I do pray the rosary, but mostly in times of deep personal turmoil or great anguish. So in the traditional Catholic sense of the word, no. I don't pray often. There is another point of view, though. I talk to God quite a bit.

I don't make appointments to talk to my mother, and I don't wait for Sunday to talk to God. No day passes that I don't express an appreciation for something, request guidance, ask Him to protect someone or ask a question of God. Is that praying? I think it is. I feel closest to Him when I think of Him as a parent. My dad wouldn't have wanted me to talk to him using only a script. He would want real conversations, about real things that mattered to me or to him.

In the same way that I want my children to come to me with their joys and their sorrows, I try to make sure I let God in on the good stuff, too. I try to notice the blessings, admire His handiwork, and bitch as little as possible. I am not afraid to run to Him like a frightened child when I need to. I just don't want to forget to present Him, every once in while, with a fistful of wildflowers....roots and all.

Make no mistake about it: there is certainly a place for traditional prayers in my life. At those times when my worry or fear or pain is so great, my own words escape me. Those dreadful times of anguish that the only thing my brain can do is scream or bawl, words I memorized as a child come to me by rote and at least let me channel that scream into a cry for help.

No, I don't pray often. That doesn't mean we don't talk frequently.