A Kristin Lavransdatter Baptism


If Kristin Lavransdatter is any indication, in the history of Christendom, baptism was a Pretty Big Deal, and not for the heirloom gown or the pastel cupcakes. Instead, I was struck when reading it with how 14th century Norway Catholics took baptism really, deeply seriously. Like, don’t take your baby out of the house until he’s baptized seriously. Seriously.

Pippin’s baptism was not that way. It took awhile for us to decide for sure we’d baptize him Catholic (vs Anglican — we were a house divided at the time), and then to break the news to family who we thought might not be thrilled (they were, because they’re great). And then all the family wanted to be there, and our insanely generous former Anglican priest, which is wonderful, and suddenly, he was ten months old and too fat for the family baptism gown.

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What would Kristin say?

Next up was Scout. She was born four weeks early, throwing our plans off and making us miss the mandatory baptism class, but we fared better: we managed to get her baptized when she was about seven weeks old. (And the party wasn’t too shabby, either.)

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Warning: If you do a baptism this fast, YOU might be the one too fat for any appropriately baptismal gown.
But we want to take baptism as the solemn gift it is, as Kristin and her contemporaries did. I love the lacy gowns and (honestly, all) cupcakes, and I will cheerfully attend your kid’s baptism at any age, but even as late as my father’s childhood in the 1960s, the Church was instructing young catechists on how to perform emergency baptisms just in case of roadside accidents. This made me wonder if there was maybe new post-Vatican II teachings that supported why our parish priests had felt so unrushed in baptizing Pippin, and why we kept encountering a lot of resistance to scheduling in our current church.

Spoiler: There isn’t.

Instead, I talked to people far smarter than I am, and this is the sort of thing we found.

From the Catechism:

250 Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called.50 The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.

But maybe the Church has revised its teaching on the ultimate destination of the unbaptized? Maybe there’s a general shift toward greater reliance on God’s mercy? we wondered. And after all, infant mortality rates are way down from KL’s day. But elsewhere we’ve got this line:

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” 64 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

Canon Law reinforces this idea:

Can.  867 §1. Parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks; as soon as possible after the birth or even before it, they are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared properly for it.

In talking to a wide range of American Catholics, I’ve found there’s a huge spectrum in how determined clergy and administration are to making that “first few weeks” thing happen — our church tries to schedule on only one Saturday a month and generally refuses to baptize Thanksgiving weekend, Advent or Lent. (Sometimes the argument is that these are penitential times, but baptism is, to my mind, penitential!) It seems like Tridentine churches often get on the ball sooner; big churches like ours seem to struggle most.

But it seems like a practice worth pushing back against. So we informed ourselves and got to politely advocating for a speedy baptism.

Roo’s big day came on her one week birthday. A scramble!
Here’s how we made it happen:

  1. Introduce extended family to your plan early. We have loved having our whole families attend previous baptisms but including them when they live so far away has contributed to a lag. Explain your reasons for baptizing promptly well before your due date so no one feels snubbed.
  2. Get godparents on board. You’ll need flexibility in their schedule or a willingness on their part to let you use proxies (which we did for Scout’s semi-prompt baptism). Roo’s godparents let the priest know she was born the next day and started trying to schedule right away on our behalf.
  3. Meet all parish guidelines in advance.
  4. Gather family heirlooms. I realized at 32 weeks we didn’t have the family baptismal gown here — it was still with my mother-in-law. Since my last baby was a 36-weeker, I made sure to ask my MIL right away if she’d be willing to mail the gown.
  5. Don’t worry much about a reception or party. We got the official time for the baptism less than 24 hours in advance, and promptly sent out text invites to everyone who had fed us and cared for us during that long, long pregnancy. We decided to do pizza and my mom made brownies and salad — other friends offered to bring cake and bread and Prosecco. We didn’t even worry about a final head count until after the sacrament, at which point we counted and called in an order of pizza. And you know what? It was fine.

Worth the rush

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The Bonus Baby

When I was growing up, all my close friends were the product of still-married couples who had two children, two or three years apart. All of them. It wasn’t until I was in college that I really got to know people from really big families (11 kids!) or only children raised by single mothers.

So I guess it’s not surprising that this spring I found myself newly and surprisingly pregnant, trying to push our crappy double stroller along the uneven pavement of Charleston, mildly panicking about how we’d decided to Go Big on this parenting thing.

We were looking for a coffee shop open early enough for preschooler/ravenous pregnant lady breakfast schedules into which I could cram the giant stroller. (I’m not sure where J was, possibly at the conference.) I wasn’t sick yet and certainly not visibly pregnant, but already I felt conspicuous among the toned and carefree early morning joggers huddled around their espressos.

I have struggled a bit with getting my head around this pregnancy. It made sense to everyone around me and to myself that I would endure pregnancy again to give Pip a sibling. In the circle I grew up in, it’s just what you do, and J and I love our siblings so much. But now am I just a glutton for punishment? Now that I’m visibly pregnant, a (socially awkward? creepy?) man in the library elevator commented, “You must really enjoy being pregnant.”

Um, I hate it.

But I love this bonus baby of ours. I love the idea of Scout being a big sister. I’m even looking forward to most of the newborn insanity, after Scout’s cheery babyhood helped redeem Pippin’s tense and somewhat lonely infancy.

I like the idea of a big family gathered around our first real, grownup dining room table, love to imagine the kids piled like puppies in our none-too-big house. J and I debate the probabilities that this will finally be our brown-haired, brown-eyed baby, resign ourselves to discussing minivans. Three. How did we get here?

It’s a little crazy, by the standards by which I was raised, but exciting, too. Three feels like extra credit or a symptom of insanity, depending on your perspective. And I do worry sometimes that we’ve asked too much of God: I’m halfway through my third barfy but remarkably uncomplicated pregnancy. I’ve got two rosily healthy, generally charming non-prodigies who mostly bring joy to the world. So many people struggle for one child, and here I am getting greedy with number three.

But having or not having my own babies will not help those who struggle to have their own, and occasionally worrying I’ve gotten too big for my (maternity) britches doesn’t negate the unique wonders we will encounter when we meet sweet Roo. She is number three, a tipping point in our family’s history, but more importantly, her own tiny, miraculous person. Even if I have three more (oh help), I don’t see that wonder getting old.

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Unique person 1

 

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Unique person numero dos

 

Grubby Kids

When Pippin was a wee newborn, a friend with a toddler commented she’d had difficulty navigating the transition from keeping everything sanitary for a newborn to accepting everything would be filthy with a toddler.

I didn’t get it, at the time. Having a newborn felt pretty messy: he was kind of leaky, it seemed, always spitting up or blowing out or seeping through. It felt like a Herculean task to try to keep it all under control and his sweet seven pounds dry and tolerably clean.

Now I understand. I have an almost-toddler with dirt and butter in her curls, knees grimy from crawling, crumbs in her neck. I have an almost-preschooler who colors his legs with markers and smears PB&J around his pie(/sandwich) hole.

There is both a sadness and a glory in letting go, in letting the grubbiness take over. I can’t always pick out Pippin’s clothes now, or decorate his room just so, but in exchange I get his crazy, rainbow-hued ideas and his increasing helpfulness and independence.

I approved the Shire print, owl and duvet. The rest is all him.

With a newborn, you get to control everything but you have to control everything. These days, it’s a relief when Scout shows an obvious preference  for a lunchtime meal, and it’s touching when Pippin chooses what he’d like hanging on his walls, though there are so many times I’d rather just handle it myself — less mess, less drama. Delegating decisions is scary and frustrating and illuminating and freeing.

Pippin-selected art; Pippin-applied washi tape (I’m raising the next Martha Stewart here, y’all)
And grubby, for sure.