I’m many miles away from my children this week, visiting my sister who just had a baby. Are your kids going with you? friends asked when I told them about my travel plans. No, I said; I want to be helpful, and bringing extra kids to visit a newborn is anything but.
So I left my own kids at home and came to meet my nephew, who, at eleven days old, is tiny and hilariously adorable. He wrinkles his forehead when he sleeps, and occasionally opens one eye and squints at me from his swing in the corner, as if to check to see if the world is indeed still here. When he’s not swaddled, his arms flail around uncontrollably; sometimes one hand will float by his mouth and he’ll suck on it for a moment, until it drifts away. He’s sweet and snuggly and perfect.
It’s hardly a sacrifice to be here (despite this afternoon’s exploding diaper that necessitated a complete wardrobe change for both of us.) Or rather, the sacrifice really falls on my husband back home, who is juggling all the schedules and tasks with two fewer grown-up hands. So I’m grateful for the chance to visit with my sister, to play with my niece while her little brother nurses, to kiss tiny baby toes.
But it’s more than that: I think there’s something significant about caring for other people’s kids, whether we’re related to them or not. It reminds us that our own children are not the only – or the most important – children in the universe.
Sure, I want the best for my children. But I also want the best for my nephew and my nieces, and the kids across the street and the kids across town.
We’re all in this together. That’s why we take meals to new parents and offer to babysit. It’s why we share hand-me-downs and advice. But it’s also why we volunteer in schools and read books to kids who aren’t our own. It’s why we advocate for laws that protect and provide for children. It’s why we support community programs that work to keep families out of poverty.
I spent some time this summer studying the book of Ruth, and my new favorite characters in that story don’t have names; they’re simply referred to as the “neighborhood women.” They show up twice: once when Ruth and Naomi come home to Bethlehem having suffered unbearable loss, and once at the end when Ruth has a baby boy. Those neighborhood women ooh and ahh over baby Obed and surround Ruth and Naomi with love and care and support. Those women – who surely had kids of their own at home – know that other people’s children are also children of God.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a baby to snuggle.