It seems like most individuals and families have a special summer spot.
As a child, my favorite summer location was our grandmother's camp, located on a lake in the Berkshires.
Later childhood, when our family bought a pool, it was our backyard where I spent hours swimming and balancing on top of our whale float.
In college and afterward, it was the elementary school playground down the road where I would watch the sunset dip past the rolling hills--the spot where Chris would later propose to me.
Summer has always been my favorite season, by far, and perhaps it was because of these meaningful locations.
The past couple of years, since our Mary entered our lives, we didn't really have a summer destination of choice...until this year! Our special family summer spot is the local town beach.
Though I grew up five minutes from here, I never actually visited this particular beach (perhaps because my parents live in a different town from us, despite the close proximity). So when Chris, Mary, and I visited Snyder's Lake, it was a new experience for all three of us. And all three of us absolutely loved it.
Only ten minutes from our house, it's the perfect spot to go right after Sunday morning Mass. At that time, the beach is just about empty. The water is pristinely clear, the picnic tables where we have our lunch perfectly shaded by tall pine trees, and the slides at the playground wonderfully fast for a toddler.
That was my destination yesterday. Chris was occupied that morning, so it was just the girls. Mary and I packed our bags, donned our swimsuits, lathered on the sunscreen, and hit the beach.
The two of us couldn't have asked for a better morning.
I took Mary into the deep water where we swam together, her arms clasped around my neck. The water was wonderfully cool in the hot sunshine. Then we worked diligently with our shovels and pails to create a sand "birthday cake," complete with stick candles. After one more dip in the water, we walked hand-in-hand to our usual picnic table, where we shared some leftover pizza and split a banana.
It was such a special morning for us, mother and daughter. I always spend a good amount of time with Mary, but most of it is occupied with things to do--chores, cooking, gardening, errands. But yesterday was just being together: laughing, playing, chatting.
I think it hit me when I was holding her in the water, encouraging her to kick: things won't be like this next summer. Even more: things won't be like this come October.
I immediately felt guilty for thinking this. Of course, of course, of course I am supremely grateful and excited and happy for our baby boy on the way. I cannot wait to see his face and to know which features of his come from Chris or from me. I want to smell that singular newborn baby scent, to touch those little fingers and toes, to baby-wear and nurse once again.
But amidst all these desires and emotions was the realization that a big change is coming to our household and the relationships we know now will indeed be altered: changed for the good, but changed nevertheless.
It's so easy for me to give Mary my full attention now--to take her places we can explore together, to read her a story at her request, to have her cuddle in my arms each night and each morning before leaving bed. And we've enjoyed so many precious times together, such as yesterday morning at Snyder's Lake, times in which we have developed such a beautiful, loving bond.
As much as I sincerely welcome the change in the form of a new family member, part of me was feeling the loss of a family of three.
It brought to my mind the time before Mary's birth.
I knew that the "honeymoon" phase of our marriage was going to come to a grinding halt with her entrance into the world. I similarly felt the loss of what Chris and I had enjoyed, just the two of us. I was concerned that the closeness and special moments we had shared as newlyweds would soon disappear. No longer could we walk hand-in-hand as we always had: now there was a diaper bag and carseat to carry.
As I reflected upon all of this, I realized that, yes indeed, Chris and my relationship was changed by Mary's birth; it was changed for the better.
Could we spend peaceful, uninterrupted hours gazing into each other's eyes? Talk whenever one of us needed to? Plan a romantic evening at a moment's notice?
No. But when we did gaze into each other's eyes, it was with a deeper understanding of the other. When we did talk, it was to share the excitement of our child, the incarnation of our married love. And those moments of conversation were so much more treasured and valued, never taken for granted as they once were before Mary's birth. As for the spark of romance, seeing Chris not only as my husband, but as the father of our child, only increased my esteem for him and deepened my love and attraction.
Our Lord says, "Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12: 24).
When Chris and I welcomed Mary into our family, something did die: there was no longer two. "Two" alone had died; we were now three.
But that death brought forth so much life, so much love--much more than Chris and I ever could have produced on our own, without Mary. Mary helped us to love in ways we never knew before. And while there are times I miss those newlywed moments, I would never exchange them for even a moment spent with Mary.
And so last night this is how I reassured myself. Yes, something in my relationship with Mary will die when our baby boy arrives on the scene. No longer can I give her my undivided attention and the times when we can spend together--just mother and daughter--will be much fewer. And that will be sad and an adjustment, to be certain.
But our baby boy will give her something I never, ever could give her, as hard as I might try. He will teach her even more how to love: that love isn't receiving, but giving of oneself. That there is someone beside her who needs our attention and care. He will teach her selflessness and responsibility; no longer is she the neediest member of the family. Now she, with us, will need to care for our little boy.
This is what love does. Love is never content to be as is--it must always grow.
So the love of husband and wife doesn't rest between the two of them, gazing upon each other. That love shifts from each other to the new life produced from their self-giving union of one flesh.
And then love isn't content simply to gaze upon the eldest child as he or she grows from newborn to baby to toddler to child. It brings forth another incarnation of marital love, another little soul to raise and to care for.
Together, these relationships of giving and receiving, teach the family about the deepest meaning of love, revealing He who is Love itself.
When our little boy arrives outside the womb, he will change our family. He will help each one of us give a little more selflessly, to love a little more generously. In that way, we will sanctify each other and bring each other closer to our true homeland that is heaven.
It will be a challenge, as is all change. And I will have to be very cognizant about passing the newborn off to Chris to still give Mary some special mother-daughter time--time I will be in need of, too.
But, as Blessed (soon-to-be Saint!) Pope John Paul II said, the greatest thing that parents can give their child is another sibling. I thank God for giving this gift--the gift of our baby-in-the-womb--to our family, and to Mary.
Last night, as I kissed her goodnight, Mary said, "I had fun playing at the beach with you." It will always be a precious memory to me, too...and--God-willing--how many more memories lie ahead for the four of us!