It was a glorious, baby-in-a-diaper, summer Sunday lunch eaten well past the noon hour. The luxury of this slow and sleepy afternoon stood in sharp contrast to the chaotic Sunday morning my husband and I had spent corralling our little people to church and back. A lazy Sunday afternoon always feels deserved after gathering for corporate worship with our gaggle of children in tow. Worn out from her morning of crawling around the back of the gathering, the baby slept right through our family lunch. When the big kids eventually scattered outside to enjoy the sunshine with their Daddy, I sat down at the wooden slab table, crafted by my husband’s own hands, to feed the baby her late lunch.
It was just the two of us. The menu itself was not worth describing other than the delectable Michigan blueberries I quartered and tossed on baby’s tray. In between gummy grins and giggles, she managed to get just a fraction of her meal into her mouth. While I relished in her grins, giggles, and chubby, flapping baby arms, I removed the high chair tray and spotted the blueberry. It sat wedged neatly inside her belly button, filling the very spot that once connected us. I took a step back in wonder and paused. A ray of sun shone down from the skylight above; a circle of light illuminated my laughing, blueberry-smeared girl. I smiled so big that I started to cry in the joy and holiness of this ordinary moment.
That blueberry nestled in her belly button reminded me that our physical connection is dwindling. Before long, she’ll be weaned and no longer depend on me for nutrition. In a short time, she’ll be walking on her own, leaving my arms free and a little too empty. As the necessity of our physical connection becomes less, ordinary moments like this one are building the foundation of a lasting emotional connection between us. Sometimes I stumble on these moments of connection in surprise. Other moments are built with intention. Interestingly, the repetition that often makes the little years so grueling is a powerful tool for building a lasting relational connection.
Blowing raspberries in her belly button at every diaper change shows how much I delight in her. Showering kisses on every bump or scrape communicates that she can come to me when she is hurt. Whispering thanks to God for her life as I put her to bed, speaks that she is valued and part of a greater cosmic story. The daily rhythm of gathering at our family’s handcrafted dining table gives her a sense of belonging. Wandering familiar trails and splashing in the creek at our favorite metro park make for lasting memories of laughter and learning together. Noticing the beauty and power of connection in the mundane moments keeps me tuned in to the present. It’s the magic in the middle of diaper changes, endless laundry, dirty dishes, and reading the same two board books over and over again.
These days of picking blueberry quarters out of belly buttons are precious indeed — hilarious, messy, beautiful, sticky days. I am determined to squeeze all the juicy goodness out of this season of raising my final baby. My eyes and heart are tuned daily to the wonder of it all; savoring every blueberry picked out of belly buttons, every sticky little handprint on my shirt, and every night-time nursing.
With glistening eyes, I wondered if I’d ever find a blueberry in her belly button again. Joy and sorrow mingled together in my mother’s heart, but mostly joy as I imagined just how many other holy-ordinary blueberry-filled moments we might have together. Maybe I would guide her wonder-filled toddler eyes and hands to search out and pick her own blueberry. Perhaps sometime we will roll out a buttery crust to make a blueberry pie, side by side in a kitchen dusted with flour and filled with laughter. I might engage her pre-teen self in a discussion of the best blueberry we’ve ever tasted. Together we may long for blueberry season in the cold of her first winter break home from college. One day, I just might watch her pick a blueberry out of her daughter’s belly button and tell her the story of the day I did the same to her.
Eliza J. Shanley is a former expat whose parenting and perspective were deeply shaped by five years in North Africa with her husband and (at the time) three kids. Since their somewhat unexpected return to the US in 2017, her family has added baby #4 to the mix. In the midst of shuttling her big kids around town and keeping the baby alive, you’ll find Eliza dreaming big dreams, wrestling with big questions, and looking for our big God at work in everyday moments. She writes about the expat life, beauty, and redemption on her blog.