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Splashing in the Water

The author and her family celebrating baptism

As preacher’s kids, my sisters and I were forever baptizing our pets. We come from a tradition that baptizes infants as a celebration of God’s grace; we don’t choose to be baptized, because it is a recognition of how God chooses us. It is also not an action we ever have to repeat; there are no re-baptisms in the United Methodist tradition, because God doesn’t mess up choosing us. But I don’t think we believed that we had to baptize our poor cat Amanda for the 403rd time (seriously, why didn’t she run away?) because God messed up; we just liked splashing in the water, and we liked remembering we were a part of a bigger story, something cosmic and ancient, even in our play.

I have not baptized my pets as an adult, though my dog has had her fair share of communion bread (some of which was not on purpose- sorry to all the shut-ins I was supposed to take communion to that one time!), but I still have dreamed of my own child being a part of that cosmic and ancient story. My spouse comes from a different tradition of baptism, but as our wait for a baby extended from months to years, and as that wait for a baby was clouded by pregnancies that ended in miscarriage, even he wanted a ritual celebration of love for a living child.

Once we did finally have a living child, the pandemic limited our ability to celebrate in person, so we decided to wait. We waited until we found out we would be moving. If we continued to wait, the congregation who walked alongside us for the fertility treatment, pregnancy, and birth would not get to celebrate with us. So my spouse and I finally just wrangled our families together and picked a date.

This ceremony was not a grab-the-child-and-stick-him-in-the-bathtub-like-we-did-with-the-cat kind of event. It wasn’t just important to me but also to my own clergymom, seminary friends, and colleagues, all of whom were celebrants willing to take part in ritual creation and leading worship. It represented a kind of gratitude to the church where I stood crying, trying to tell them I was finally pregnant and they stood and clapped and clapped. It was me making a vest for my child out of leftover fabric from my wedding dress to add another layer of love and creativity and sparkle. It was a Big To Do, though my less liturgical Baptist spouse put a limit to the pageantry, as did the continued pandemic.

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Video Chat Life

Shannon and her child try to connect with loved ones through video chatting

I let my breath out slowly through my teeth as my baby kept screaming. I took out my phone and sent a friend a video chat of me, bags under my eyes, hair a mess, holding a tearful, grumpy baby at my desk. I didn’t speak, just gave her a meaningful look. She sent a video chat right back of her own tired eyes, messy hair, and fussy baby.

This moment was not one in which I lamented motherhood — I wanted a baby my whole life and had many losses and failed treatments to get this child, screams and all. Instead, this moment was one that illustrated my overwhelm as the only adult in my home for days on end, whose amount of work kept piling up even as I got less and less sleep. Many of us, especially those of us in communities with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, find ourselves in this unique kind of isolation the pandemic has created. So when I am at the end of my rope, I try reaching out, if only to send my friend a video of my kid crying.

Perhaps video chats of grouchy babies are not the best use of amazing technology, but knowing I had someone to whom to confess all of the Instagram v. Reality of my life grounded me. This fussiness will pass, my video chat reminded me. Fleeting, like this chat. And hers reminded me that I was not alone, even in pandemic isolation.

She is one of my clergy mom friends, and her baby is only three months younger than mine. A few other friends sometimes join us on these chats, some with babies a little older or younger than ours, one who doesn’t have babies anymore but who has some great stories about when hers were little.

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