I have been a father for about five and a half years. I have two wonderful kids who I love very much. The one question that I have asked myself over and over again as a parent is…..what is going inside the head of my children?
I know that babies don’t have the ability to think as we do — but what would they be thinking if they did have a developed language? I know this is not a new idea. There is a 1989 film that brought this idea to life in the movie Look Who’s Talking. But it is one of the first things I ask myself when I see a new little baby.
The time that I really wanted to know what a baby was thinking happened during the summer of 2005. As a part of my training to become a pastor I had to spend a summer as a chaplain in a hospital setting. Now I have to be honest with you – before I started this experience I was trying to do everything I could NOT to actually be in the hospital. Before my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) experience I had only bad experiences in hospitals and I was not sure how I would handle the summer.
I ended up going to Cooper Hospital in Camden, NJ. This hospital met many of my requirements. First I could get to it by public transportation. This was important because at the time we only had one car. Another thing I liked about this program was that I could do half of my CPE experience in the hospital and half could be in the community serving in another capacity.
Anyway, I got to the hospital and my the group of others that I would be spending my time with for the entire summer. We did some training and then we had to choose which department we would be in for the summer. I ended up in the pediatric unit and the psychiatric unit.
I want to share two of the many experiences that really impacted me that summer.
The first had to do with a baby less than a year old. The baby was sick, not injured and she needed fluids and antibiotics. She was in the hospital for about 2 weeks. The one thing that stuck out in my mind during her hospital stay was that I did not ONCE see her parents, or any other family member. I can’t remember how she got to the hospital or how she left (I assume her parents did that). But I would visit her everyday and I would talk with her and hold her little hand and sometimes I would cry with her. Babies that young need constant care and attention and I thought that I could give her some of that when I could. I knew that the nurses were doing their best at spending time with her as well but they were caring for many, many children at the same time.
I also prayed for/with her. Now this brought up some issues in my group because I was making assumptions about the faith practices of this baby and the family that she belongs too. Since I did not have any information about a faith practice and I did not have anyone to talk with about about it, I thought it was okay to pray for the wellness of this baby and for the family unit. But the question that was posed to me was “is it appropriate for me to impose my faith on someone who is not old enough to choose their own faith?” I still wrestle with that question because I am not sure how to answer it. I am making that choice for my own children but do I have a right to do that with a complete stranger? Would I be offending the baby (or more likely the family) by praying with this baby?
My answer is no –
I say that because I was praying for her health and wellness, but I say that with a slight hesitation……. I can see the other side of the argument as well but if I had the opportunity to do back and do it all over again I would still make the same choice.
The other baby that will forever have an imprint on my heart came to the hospital because of an accident. She was the same age as my son at the time. I walked into the situation about 15 min after the baby came to the hospital. Doctors and nurses worked on the baby for awhile but they could not bring her back to life. This was my first experience with the death of a child. It was worse for me because my son was the same age and I could not stop myself from imagining him in the same situation. I went home that night and I held Logan so tight telling him over and over again that I loved him.
I was glad to be there on one hand because I was able to be a support for the parents and the hospital staff. I talked with them, cried with them, and tried to listen to them and talk with them as they asked the unanswerable questions.
Besides my own upbringing, I feel these experiences have had a significant impact on how I am as a father. I have realized from them the importance of contact with my children and cherishing every moment I have with them. I don’t have a constant fear of them getting hurt or dying. But I do appreciate all the time I have with them. They are going to be young for so long and then I will lose them to teenageism, collegeishness, and adulthood.
What do babies think about? I don’t know – what I do know is that we can learn from babies just as much as anybody else.