Saturday, April 10, 2010

Sarah Laughed

Mother’s Day Missal

Then the Lord said, "I will surely return to you about this time next year and Sarah your wife will have a son."
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already old and well advanced in years and Sarah was past the age of child bearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, "After I am worn out and my master is old will I now have this pleasure?"
Then the Lord said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh and say, 'Will I really have a child, now that I am old?' Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year and Sarah will have a son." 
Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, "I did not laugh." 
But he said, "Yes, you did laugh."
Genesis 18:10 – 18:15

When I was 37, I was training for a marathon. My husband and I had worked very hard five years before to have our beloved children, a boy and a girl, five and six years old, respectively. When our son, Sam, was born we knew our family was complete and we never again tried to have children. Now, because we had struggled with infertility, we did not have to work very hard to keep from having more. In fact, in those intervening five years, we enjoyed that special privilege that only infertile couples enjoy. It was a free and wanton lifestyle, I admit and we took it for granted. Then, that infamous fall, a few weeks after 911, I began to feel unwell. I went to the doctor and explained that my racing times were slowing down and asked if I was overtraining. She said: "Pee in this cup.”

At first I was confused but then it dawned on me. I shook my head, blocked the cup with the palm of my hand and said, "No. No no no no no. I can't get pregnant. I'm infertile." I said that. And then I laughed.

The next trip to the doctor was to a specialist. I was not entirely clear on why I needed to see a specialist but it didn't really matter, it was near the Dunkin Donuts where my Dad and Sam and I had coffee on no-school days and so it was no biggie. Until I got into the gown and into the room and the nice young man in a doctor's coat – the man who still had acne and a high voice but managed to scribble the words MD after his name, that man- came in and explained to me that I was a high risk pregnancy. 

"Why am I a high risk pregnancy?" I asked. I was in perfect shape, I didn't smoke or drink, I had never been promiscuous, I hadn't conceived on the full moon or pulled a Scarlet O'Hara on horseback.
            "Because of your age," he said gently. "You are 37 years old."
            I did not laugh. I snarled. "You're saying I am too old to have a healthy pregnancy?"
            “I'm saying being this close to forty, you are a high risk."
            I sat there for a while, letting my blood pressure rise to pre-ecclamptic levels and then hissed, "One of us is as risk, Doogie, but if I were you I'd mind my manners in the presence of my elders."

Being the "older mother", the "non-standard" mother, the "experienced mother" is not all it’s cracked up to be. My mother was forty-two when I was born and she only made appearances at school on Halloween so she could show off her cackle and make everyone think I lived with my grandmother. 

But I, I was never that woman. I was a slender, attractive mother of two, active at school and well respected in the community. I was my husband's child bride and we had "rich man's family" with the prospect of the two children, close in age, liking the same rides at Disney World and going off to college and leaving us in peace while we still had our hearing. Now, I was an "at risk pregnancy" because I did not get knocked up at prom.

Telling my Dad was the hardest part. He was himself thirty six when I was born, so to him I must have seemed ready to be a grandmother. My husband told him several days after we found out. I wasn't saying the words, yet. I was in denial. When I had to leave Disney on Ice (Toy Story) to throw up in the bathroom, it was because the show was that bad, it was not morning-all-day-sickness. But not my husband. Dave was a balding, almost forty, vibrant man who knocked up his wife – again – ha HA!

And my Dad's response was, "No." Like he could just say it and it wouldn't be so. Like we were asking him if I could be pregnant. He was decisive, he was firm and he was openly shocked. My step-mother laughed.

Over the years, the strangest kinds of things have occurred as the result of the late baby. I have had to tell my eldest daughter about her menstrual cycle while poking mashed bananas past perma-sealed lips. I have stood with Dave's grandmother touring a Senior Care Center with a baby in a stroller. I have had one child in the diving pool, one in the 6foot pool and one in the wading pool for three years in a row. And I have not had a good night's sleep since Bill Clinton's first administration. 

Now, forty three years old, a year older than my mother was when I was born, I begin to get the point. I am still very active at the elementary school, I am now, always have been and seemingly always will be training for a marathon, and I am still my husband's child bride, but things are a little different for me now.

For one thing, orientation at school? That should only be attempted after one large margarita. Because first grade teachers, bless them, are WAY too enthusiastic. And we have seen it all. All the other mothers who are dolled up for Orientation in cute little cropped sweaters and snazzy shoes are all a-twitter about the innovative way the children will be learning the denominations of money. I'm sitting in the back thinking, "Oh, no, please not "buying recess" again!" They are all about "what should my child be reading in summer to prepare for first grade?" I groaned, I actually groaned out loud. My goal for the summer is to keep Betsy from eating so much sand that she gets worms. Again. 

"Tell me, Mrs. Foster, may I come in and just watch little Cooper in class on occasion? I just love to watch him learn. It's such a magical time." 

Mrs. Foster patiently gives the detailed parameters for parent involvement in class… I'm picking my cuticles thinking: because if you come every day you'll screw up his life! Get a JOB, a HOBBY, a HABIT for goodness sake! Find a modifier for your name tag that is not "Cooper's Mommy."

 "Oh, and if you have any questions, you can ask Mrs. Robertson, she is your room mom and she is a veteran at these things."

A veteran. Now I'm a veteran. Because anyone who has seen my eldest knows I've been in the trenches. Because aside from the obvious emotional and intellectual toll it takes on a person to bring three other humans safely and sanely into the world, my body very closely resembles a battle scarred war vehicle. My feet are two sizes bigger, at any rate. And yet, if I were a veteran, I would have free healthcare. Gee, I guess that's not accurate then, is it?

But I smiled. Indeed, yes, it is true, I laughed. Do you know why? Because I could not see it at the time, but just as surely as Abraham and Sarah were given a gift from God, so was I. Just as Isaac was the beginning of something his parents could not know, so my little last lamb is the start of something new.

She can sing the entire Patty Page Songbook. She knows how to call her older sister "stupid" in American Sign Language. She can run so fast that her "colors run together" and every day when I sing, "Whoa, whoa, hey, hey," she answers, "I love you more than I can say."

At forty three when I had envisioned myself working at NPR and wearing Anne Taylor suits, I am now giving up coloring my hair, because who has time for that and when the mail comes I sing the Mail Song from Blues Clues. And while the mothers of middle schoolers I know have pop songs for their ring tones, mine plays the Wonder Pets Theme Song: "The phone! The phone is ringing! There's an animal in trouble somewhere." 

But unlike Sarah, I have companions. There are two other moms in the kindergarten class who have children in middle school as well. And we are old and grey and young and stupid together. We sit in our cars and laugh and try to figure out how to handle our eldest child's first crush. We sit at the dining room after dinner and laugh as we are confronted with pre-algebra, a blank map of the continent of Africa to be filled in, and a book-in-a-bag about circles. It's okay, we laughingly tell one another, to spill wine in the "Sound Jar" and to sign the report card in green crayon. Even at Winter Program when our children sing the dirty lyrics to the Carols because their older siblings taught them to, even then we giggle and snort behind our hands. 

So, here is how I envision the whole Genesis 18 thing coming down: Abraham is out there with the three visitors and they tell him he will have a son with Sarah in a year. She is inside, cleaning up, mind you, having just served an impromptu meal complete with fresh bread to these guys, while Abe is out there shooting the breeze. She hears the prediction that they make and – no doubt about it – she laughed. "I'm way past it," she says, "And Abraham is older than me!" She snorted, you know she did, but to herself. It says "to herself." A girl is not even aloud to laugh to herself! And the Lord gives her the old evil eye and she waves her hands, trying to suffocate the laughter in her throat and says, "No, I wasn't laughing!" 

Then he says, because even the Bible can read like a Seinfeld script sometimes: "Yes, you did! You laughed!"

See, it's her laughter that does her in. It’s not that she doesn't believe or that she's incredulous at the proposition. She does herself in because she has laughter. God knows in that moment that she has the key ingredient to being a mother in your older years. She can laugh, even in her "advanced age" and so God feels confident giving her a child to raise.

So, a year later when she is a new mom, and ten years later when she is older than dirt and still a mom, in fact, long after everyone else has begat and moved on to other chapters, Sarah and her friends are still raising children. And they are still laughing. 

And thank God for that.


Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter everyone who hears will laugh with me.”  Genesis, 21:6

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