Every year since I’ve become Catholic, with the sole exception of the Easter Vigil when I entered the Church, I find myself kneeling in front of the Tabernacle on Easter Sunday and being flooded with this overwhelming feeling that I don’t deserve this, because I did such a lousy job preparing during Lent. I struggle with the thoughts that I didn’t work hard enough at preparing my soul, and by soaking in the joy of Easter, I’m taking something that I didn’t earn.
Obviously, since everyone on the planet is less spiritually hopeless than I am, you’ve already spotted the error in my thinking. None of us “deserve” Easter. Like Heaven, no one could ever work their way to it. No one gets to Heaven because they were “a good person”, and no one observes a Lent austere and disciplined enough to deserve the consuming joy of Easter. The only reason we have Easter, and a shot at Heaven, is solely because of the undeserved gift of Jesus.
But that still doesn’t stop me.
When I was in school, I had this lovely habit of not doing my homework. Wouldn’t do it. But I would cram for every exam, and test very well, so my poor classwork grades combined with my excellent test scores averaged to- well, average.
Understandably, this drove my parents insane, and they racked their brains for every possible remedy to this shocking display of poor work ethic.
However, despite their Herculean efforts, I never did decide to change my slothful ways, and they’ve carried through to the spiritual life of my adulthood. Instead of the slow-and-steady approach to Easter, prayerfully discerning the most fruitful way to observe Lent, sticking to it, and greeting Easter morning with a humble heart of holiness, I try to cram for the final.
“Cramming for the Final”, in this case, means Holy Week and the Easter Triduum. Every year, on Palm Sunday, I admit that I’ve sloughed off on Lent, and I figure that if I can attend every single religious event in the next seven days, I’ll kneel down in front of the Tabernacle on Easter Sunday with a sense of accomplishment.
In these plans, I never seem to take realistic account of the ability of my children to endure a week of their mother’s insanity.
Since my husband works afternoon shift, and the majority of Holy Week events at my parish are scheduled at night, I would have to take five children under the age of ten all by my million year pregnant self. In theory, this is no problem. God will see my efforts, reward them with an epic flood of graces, and allow me to float in a zero-gravity bubble for the week, while lobotomizing my children into good behavior.
Let’s see what actually happened, shall we?
Having pushed Mass to the final possible opportunity (“Last Chance Mass” as a friend of mine would call it), when it comes time to go, the three little boys are falling asleep at the table, and Ken is coming down with flu-like symptoms. I take the two big kids and head out with a greatly reduced entourage. Despite the six year old actually raising his hand to interrupt Father’s homily by answering a clearly rhetorical question, Mass goes off without a hitch. I take this as a sign of confirmation- I will be able to cram the maximum amount of holiness into this year’s Holy Week! No one poked anyone with palm fronds! I didn’t have to do the pinch-below-the-pew and/or hiss whisper to a single person! I could pay attention to everything! I will do ALL the Triduum! I will earn myself an Easter!
(h/t to Canterbury Tales for this list of traditional names for Holy Week)
Nothing planned at church, except for daily Mass, which I end up missing because my lower back has begun to feel exactly like someone has replaced the bones with radioactive lead. I limp around the hous
e, trying very hard to act like this is normal, and all pregnant women bite their tongues in pain while doing housework. I make up for my failure to attend Mass by allowing Joaquin to use my great-grandmother’s china to play Mass. Fantastic! My son is clearly being called to a priestly vocation at a tender age! He’ll not only be the first American Pope, but also declared a saint immediately upon his death, and everyone will know that it was the Holy Cramming of his mother during the Triduum that fostered such sanctity.
I ignore the fact that he’s using Hint of Lime tortilla chips for the host, a light-up “Lord of the Rings” goblet from Burger King for the chalice, vestments made from a modified baby blanket, and that he’s chosen to employ an EMHC even in a parish of three (note to self, get the boy one of these for his birthday, if only to spare the heirloom china). I also ignore the surly glares of said EMHC, who can intelligently explain the Sacramental theories of fit matter and form, but still pouts because she can “only” be a helper.
My back even worse today, I again skip morning Mass and tell the kids that school will entirely consist of creating a timeline of Holy Week. They’ll use both images and text to display the events from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Lotus runs upstairs to get her Bible, Joaquin gets the crayons, Gabriel and Jude look hopefully at the scissors and glue. I thankfully sink into the computer chair and wonder if the baby isn’t posterior, and is busily carving its initials into my spine with its skull. Half an hour later, I go check on the timeline’s progress, and discover that all the Apostles have been rendered as Transformers. Transformers equipped with laser guns. I squash their creative re-imagining and print up pre-screened coloring pages for them to use. Once the timeline is completed, I spend the rest of the day on the couch. I feel some small, displaced sense of accomplishment. Having the kids reflect on the events of Holy Week must surely count for something, right? Killer robots notwithstanding.
I go for my 37 week checkup and ask the midwife if she can tell if the baby is posterior. If I have some plausible reason for the pain, I can ignore it and go on with business as usual. Pain with no source is unacceptable to me, and so I will fill in the blank by calling myself “lazy”- not an acceptable state of being in our house. The midwife listens politely to my insanity, and goes about her business. She checks the baby, gets a look on her face, and has me waddle across the hall to a room with an ultrasound machine. I already know where this is going. Oh man. I know.
She scans my belly, and confirms my suspicions. The baby is no longer head down. The little jerk is now breech, and the discomfort I’ve been feeling was probably the product of the baby moving into its new position. I sigh heavily while she gets one of the doctors to come talk to me. The doctor comes in and briefly outlines my two options: I can attempt an external cephalic version with an epidural and an immediate induction of labor if the procedure is successful and an emergency C-section if it isn’t, or I can avoid the middle man and just schedule a C-section right now.
Neither option sounds like something I’d like to try, and I tell them that I need time to consider the options and talk to Ken before I schedule anything. The doctor agrees, tells me I have a week, and skips off.
The midwife slips me a phone number of a local chiropractor who specializes in something called the Webster Technique, which claims an 80% success rate at getting breech babies to turn without all the medical intervention. I take the phone number and go home, muttering about the Judas of a baby who has to go all breech after I made such a big public deal of a previous breech miraculously (and painlessly) turning. Ken and I talk things over, and I call the chiropractor, scheduling an appointment for the next day.
I manage to not skip Mass this morning, but only because there isn’t daily Mass at my parish on Thursdays. I do, however, make a blood pact with myself to go to Maundy Thursday Mass tonight. I will make all the kids take naps. I will stuff them full of protein right there in the parking lot of church, I will pack pens and paper galore so they’ll have all their sleep/food/entertainment needs met so I can pay some attention to these last moments before Easter.
But first I have to go to the chiropractor.
Which, according to the super chipper secretary I spoke to on the phone, has a children’s play room, so I am encouraged to bring all the kids.
We’ll see, Chipper Secretary, we’ll see.
Ken comes with me to the appointment, just in case I decide to be extra annoying and go into labor or something. Or, more likely, if the play area fails to properly contain the kids while I’m getting adjusted and they need to be stopped from burning the joint down. He stands guard at the door to the play area, unable to go inside, since the space is actually smaller than some of the closets in our home, but the kids are happy to play with toys. I go and maneuver my gargantuan body, belly down on the table, and have this charming, glossy-haired, 98 pound chiropractor try and adjust my hips, which are probably bigger than the car she drove in to work.
Daily dose of humiliation over, I kiss Ken goodbye; he leaves for work from the doctor’s office, and I load kids into the van and go back home, ready to enforce universal naps for the minions.
I get everyone down and proceed to lapse into a chiropractic-induced coma for the next two hours. When I come to, I try to jump out of bed to start preparations for Mass. However, my back, which was painful before, has now stopped sending anything but pain signals down my legs. I am unable to walk, and instead fall back on the bed in a spasm of agony and indignation. This is ridiculous, this is unacceptable, and I have Easter Sunday cramming that I need to get done.
Nope. I order pizza for the kids and we watch She-Ra for the rest of the evening. They are ecstatic with the unexpected combo of pizza and mommy watching truly horrible 80s cartoons with them. I am sullen and seething. Ken comes home early, sends me to bed, and I spend the rest of my night alternating between rounds of “Draw Something” and sending grouchy FB messages to various pregnant bloggers who probably wished they didn’t know me at that particular point.
I wake up and tentatively step out of bed. I spent much of the restless night thinking about Jesus’ Agony in the Garden, and I realize that all day today I can have a visceral link to Christ’s suffering along the Via Dolorosa with my current trivial suffering. I will perform all my vocational duties with a heart full of love and gratitude, no matter how much I hurt. I can practice that most Catholic of responses to pain: I will Offer It Up.
I’m almost happy when I put my feet on the floor and prep myself for the pain that will follow.
Only it’s not there.
Nothing. My back feels fine. I can walk with nothing but the waddle you’d associate with any extremely pregnant woman. All things considered, I feel great.
Are you kidding me, God? Seriously? Is there not a single one of my Holy Week plans that You’re going to let me follow through on? Am I seriously complaining to God, on Good Friday of all days, about this?
I stomp downstairs (because I can, pain free, and not because I’m still having a temper tantrum) and make breakfast for the kids. I clean the whole house. I wash baby clothes. I ice my back every hour like I was told. I do a million cat to cow yoga moves like I was told. I drink water. I change bedsheets. I write a Good Friday post. I go into the garage, where Ken is working on building a crib for the baby, and tell him that we have an hour before we have to leave for Good Friday service at church.
He looks at me.
“You’re not going,” he says. I blink at him aggressively. ”I’ll go with the big kids, but you’re not going. The doctor told you not to lift any babies, and you know you’ll end up doing just that at church. I also don’t think you should be on your feet for that long. In fact, I don’t like the way you look right now. You’ve overdone things. Go to bed.”
I turn around and go back into the house.
I clean some more. I do some penitential bathroom cleaning, which in a house full of little boys, is truly an act of mortification. I start to panic a little bit that I’m going to kneel down in front of the Tabernacle on Easter morning, profoundly aware of how much I did not do anything to earn this.
I go remind Ken that we need to leave for church, and suddenly stop feeling well before I get to the garage. I put myself to bed in fury. Ken comes upstairs, and finding me in bed, shakes his head and makes the very air around him shimmer with an unspoken “I Told You So”. I ignore him and spend the rest of the day alternating between “Draw Something”, irritable FB messages to fellow pregnant bloggers I know who probably reeeeeaaaaally wished they didn’t know me, and moody reflection on the story of Martha and Mary.
Sure, it’s all well and good for Jesus to tell Martha that Mary made the better choice, but let’s stop living in a dream world, Jesus. Who was going to clean the house? Who was going to make sure Jesus and the Apostles weren’t sitting in dried hummus and mouse droppings? Who was going to make a meal for people to eat? Sure, Jesus is God, and God can do whatever He wants, but it’s not like He bothers Himself with miraculous creation of food out of thin-
-oh. Wait a second.
I stopped thinking about poor, devoted Martha and her lazy sister Mary and concentrated on “Draw Something” for the rest of the evening.
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