Occasionally, you’ll hear about a child named “Princess” or “Precious” or even “Perfect.” Makes you cringe, but anyone with a beloved new baby will understand the impulse, if not the offense against taste and common sense: You want to make an official record of the fact that you love your child. You want to imprint the little one, from the very first moments of life, with the knowledge that he is welcome and cherished, that the world is better because he is here.
Okay, so naming him “Yourhighness” is a bit much, but most parents want to choose a name which makes a favorable impression on the world and on the child himself, especially since the world can be so hard.
My baby is just over six weeks old, and she and her name are now fully reconciled (this can take a while, because newborns are strangers, even if you’ve been calling them by name in utero). Her first name is Benedicta, a name which brings more patron saints than you can shake a stick at (especially since the little varmint was determined to be born on December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, even though I was in labor for most of December 7!).
With St. Benedict, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Our Blessed Lady, Benedict XIV, and the saintly mother of a family friend all looking over my shoulder, I call my baby “Benny.” Or “Benny Boo,” or “Benny Wabbit,” or “Bootsie Bootsie Bootsie Pie,” or whatever else my brain comes up with while melting with a combination of affection and fatigue. “Benny, Benny, Benny!” I coo, and she rewards me with a smile of pure rejoicing, a gorgeous, ridiculous, blessedly naive smile of a creature who doesn’t know anything at all, but who can see that I love her. To receive the smiles of a baby who is just learning to smile—shut up, world. This is what is real.
Now, I realize that my baby doesn’t even speak English, never mind Latin, but when I say, “Oh, Benny, Benny, Benny,” I enjoy the little secret double meaning: Along with simply calling her name, I’m telling my baby (via the Latin root word bonus), “you are good, you are good!”
It’s easy, a pleasure, to say this to a little baby. She is so fresh and innocent, with such easy demands. If anything in the world is good, a little baby is good, and we delight in telling them so. I love the baby, and her dear heart loves me back: pure sunshine.
But here is a notion which often clouds the delight of playing with a new baby: Often The Ruiner comes to me and whispers, “Enjoying yourself, are you? That’s cute. But don’t you know this beautiful girl is going to grow up? We know what you’re like. You love your baby now, but the second she causes some trouble for you—becomes an irrational, tantrum-throwing toddler, or a kid who sulks and whines even though you’ve given her everything you can give, or a sarcastic, self-centered teenager—as soon as love gets a little complicated, where’s your “bene, bene, bene” then?”
And with shame I remember what I say to my older children all too often: “Not now. Leave me alone. Stay still! Can’t you be quiet? What is wrong with you?”
Go back to Hell, ruiner. Stay away from my girl.
But, like every temptation, this cloud that wants to cover the sunshine of baby joy has a bit of truth in it: nothing gold can stay. That’s what this world is like: There is no joy in the present without at least the smallest reminder that it will pass—sometimes to be replaced by something better, sometimes not.
What can I do? I commend my baby to the Father—bring her to the temple like Samuel’s mother. I love my baby with all my heart, and that is as it should be. I will use this simple love, this easy giving of my heart, as a reminder that the others need my mind, my soul and my strength, as well. They need me to say to them, “Bene, bene”—“you are good, you are welcome, I love you, and it is good that you are here.”
When they need to be corrected, I can make myself one notch more gentle than I’m naturally inclined to be. When they need to be quiet, I can shush them with a smile, not a snarl. I can insist on hugs and kisses even from the children who tower over me, and take the time to smile straight into their faces when I see them in the morning, even if they don’t smile back.
What do we call our children, beyond their literal names? What do we say to them? No matter how old they are, how often do we tell them that they are good, and it is well that they are here?