All She Does Is Nurture
I. Purple Sharpies and Smaller Human Beings
Sometime last year, it could have been any day last year, I was prompted to take a purple-colored Sharpie from the chaotic drawer of a kids-have-obviously-been-using-it family desk. I wrote the eight words above on a not-so-special piece of Staples-brand computer paper. Romantic, I know.
Next, I located a roll of Scotch tape that had not already been mangled (how can this happen with such frequency?) beyond recovery. I affixed this simple message to the inside of a kitchen cabinet, where, reaching for her coffee mug before putting together kids' lunches in the wee hours of some morning, my wife of 17+ years would unwittingly find the eight words and be overwhelmed by my haphazard, well-intentioned gesture.
Simply, but there is no simply, Amie has a gift/talent/learned skill (all of the above) for the nurture of smaller human beings. And it is Reason #642 for why I love her.
II. From Fish Sticks to Fantasies to Figures to...
How can I say this?
I suppose Amie is as good at nurturing smaller human beings as I am at putting fish sticks and crinkle fries on a tray and placing them into an oven (and then—I am very good at this, mind you—forgetting to rotate the fish sticks halfway through). So, yes, she is quite good at nurture. You could also say: her nurture is inversely proportional to my own striking capacity to give in to the smaller human beings, to allow them just one more episode of Johnny Test or Kickin' It.
She is, of course, not entirely perfect at it. And she makes no pretense about it. On rare occasions, I've actually seen it: I've seen her get angry and go all combustible on those smaller human beings. Regrettably—no, not regrettably!—it makes me feel (somewhat) good about my own typically deficient parenting. When I find myself especially bold, I'll even try to remind her of these infrequent imperfections in order to make myself feel better as a man (and a human). I'm kidding, people.
But there is something else you must know about this woman. She is not remotely inspired or animated by that sainted cultural myth of the modern feminist heroine. You know, that woman who magnanimously juggles family, work, friendships, expensive handbags, PTA committees, spiritual well-being, yoga, the chauffeur side-business of driving around children for no pay and no tips, and 28 to 47 other things.
Every day I'm impressed by how she holds together all these things—minus the expensive handbags—with grace and aplomb. However, I never get the impression she's attempting to transform herself into some master-juggler—with a killer routine to show-off for the masses—in order to fulfill the fantasies of an American or Western archetype. (Also: to her credit, she would never write a sentence like that, so...)
For those of us donning the Christian moniker, additionally I feel compelled to say: I don't sense Amie is beholden to that socially constructed woman and mother-figure of perceived biblical recommendation. (A recommendation which was recently challenged, and for good measure, here.) Having been raised in conservative American evangelicalism, she is well-acquainted with the figure, and, for the most part, wants very little to do with the caricature as it often gets presented.
But in fact, as I watch, Amie is a woman altogether truer than both the culturally rooted fantasy and the so-called biblical figure. She is indeed unabashedly a Christian—a humble follower of Jesus who is surrendering herself fully to the love of God and to the love of her many neighbors, who, naturally, include the smaller human beings who live with us. She is a woman and a mother who wants to be captured by the wisdom of ancient values. All the while, it seems she interprets and lives these values in empowered 21st-century ways.
III. Pop Artists, and Other People Who Use Their Voice
For instance, on a recent Sunday morning around the breakfast table, Amie wrangled enough attention-span bandwidth among our smaller human beings (ages 12, 9 and 7) to discuss this crazy-fun music video by Sara Bareilles. Perhaps you've heard the anthem-like lyrics embedded in the song "Brave": Say what you wanna say/And let the words fall out/Honestly I wanna see you be brave. The artist's admonition toward personal courage—in particular, the courage to exercise one's voice—in the face of weakness, difficulty, threat, or injustice is the standout message.
After playing the video for the smaller human beings, Amie addressed the irony hovering over our family table. Our table includes people who really do not need much inducement to let the words fall out, if you know what I mean. She told our children matter-of-fact: This lyric should not be taken as a license to say whatever the heck you wanna say whenever you wanna say it. To a certain degree, I remember thinking, our family is better served by John Mayer's lyrics: Say what you need to say.
Furthermore, she reminded the smaller human beings that if you're in a group setting, say, for example, a family, and everyone is primarily focused on or even consumed with saying whatever the heck they wanna say whenever they wanna say it, this dynamic will leave a desperate vacuum for the one thing still more important than speaking: listening. In that vacuum reside rudeness, crudeness, and other forms of ugliness bent on unraveling and destroying human community.
Suddenly, tenderly, strongly, Amie looked at these three smaller human beings who walk the earth calling us mom and dad. She spoke a blessing—"the projection of good into the life of another under the invocation of God" (Dallas Willard)—straight through the words of the pop artist. And with every ounce of herself, she called our children to be brave—for whenever they face whatever they are bound to face; in their personal stories as they write them (as unexpected storylines intrude on them); and along the landscape of a frightened place filled with much fear.
As most parents accept, the growth of smaller human beings is not inevitable. It takes the mundane, persistent, loving work of nurture, and then some, right? Which being interpreted means, I can count myself among the luckiest men who own a purple-colored Sharpie: Nurture is what the woman I love does.