Confessions of a Catholic Mother

School starts again next week, and not a moment too soon. Take today, for instance. I spent the morning with Sarah, scrubbing toothpaste off the carpet and walls (don't ask). Shortly after lunch, I was loading the dishwasher when a commotion started in the bathroom. Someone had decided to see how far a glass of water would spread on the bathroom floor. To make the game a little more fun, they added a liberal dash of red food coloring to the cup. Then they frantically emptied the dryer (whites, of course) to cover up the mess.

Long story short, everything we own is now pink.

Clearly, the kids needed a little physical activity, so we went outside for a quick dip in the pool. Sarah began to shiver, so when they were both safely out of the pool I ran to get a large towel … and stepped on an inch-long piece of glass. Someone had dropped my candy thermometer, and decided not to tell me about it. I lifted the offended foot to assess the damage … and promptly injured the other foot on another shard.

That did it. After bleeding all over the house on my way to find a suitable bandage, I picked up the phone and called my darling husband, the one person in the world I can always count on for kindness and concern. His response to my request that he come home ASAP? "Gee, honey. Urgent care is a bit expensive … do you think you can hold out until tomorrow, and see your regular doctor for the tetanus shot?"

Yes, folks, I'm ready to turn in my "Mom" badge.

Vocational Envy

At times like this, I'll admit I sometimes close my eyes and think of my days as a single woman. What bliss it was, to walk across the carpet without getting impaled on a Happy Meal trinket, or to leave a glass of Diet Coke on a table and return to drink it without inspecting the bottom of the glass for a lurking green crayon.

 Above all, I miss the delirious freedom of getting fifteen whole minutes to write without (1) fielding 16 requests to create yet another Paintbrush "dancing dinosaur" with my five-year-old (2) reminding my superhero-in-residence that he has one week left of school, and is still only halfway through his reading list, and (3) being distracted by the ominous silence in the next room.

The problem, of course, is not my children. They have always been bright-eyed, chaos-creating forces of nature who live to bask in the sunshine of my everlasting presence. The casual observer has even been known to find them … adorable.

No, the problem is me. More precisely, it's an unfortunate weakness of mine to respond to the momentary "dry patches" of motherhood by turning my sights behind me, like Lot's wife, longing for the unfettered days of single life (or even early marriage). Some days I can even taste the salt.

The Gift of Contentment

Of course, this kind of longing is an unproductive — possibly even spiritually harmful — waste of time. After all, every vocation has an element of self-donation; it is only by surrendering to it (rather than wishing it away) that we will ever be able to avail ourselves of all the graces God wants to give us. It is in the surrender that we find true contentment — a virtue that is the most lasting antidote to the kinds of envy most prevalent in motherhood.

This is not to say that if we embrace our vocations each day with all the joy and abandon of a kid running through the sprinklers, each day is going to be full of sunshine and wonder. There are those moments, of course. But to be frank, my expectations of what motherhood was going to be like were very different from the reality. I don't know if, as an adoptive parent, my experience of motherhood is qualitatively different from those who experience pregnancy and childbirth. I doubt it — I've spoken to lots of adoptive parents who feel exactly the same about all their children, regardless of whether there is a biological connection. I admire the mothers who want to be around their children 24/7. On days like today, I wish I could be more like them.

But I'm not. And that requires a different kind of love, doesn't it? The kind that chooses, day after day — regardless of what feelings tell us — to say "Yes!"

Yes! Let's play another game of Candyland.

Yes! Let's forget about that old deadline, and fire up that Paintbrush program.

Yes! I see that you can write all your letters now. In toothpaste, yet.

Yes! I'm so proud of you for loading up the washing machine for me, all by yourself.

Yes, parenting is hard work – both because of all you do and all you restrain yourself from doing. The rewards (at least in this life) are seldom proportional to the effort. I suspect this is true of all vocations. After all, the primary purpose of a vocation is not to give us a lifetime of warm fuzzies and consolations, but to prepare us for heaven. This training is more painful for some of us than for others — some catch on more easily to the secret of St. Paul: "I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be content …. I have strength for everything through him who empowers me" (Philippians 4:11,13).

So many of the saints — Blessed Mother Teresa immediately comes to mind — experienced long periods of spiritual darkness, and even doubts. They attained sainthood not because they floated through life untouched by its vicissitudes, but because they recognized in each turn an opportunity to love more completely, selflessly … and perfectly. And while I do not claim to be a saint — far from it — I do know that when it comes to blazing a heavenly trail, I am much better off following than improvising my own. Because I'm a Catholic mom … and God has entrusted two young souls to me, to guide them every bumpy step to heaven.

Lord Jesus, more of you and less of me.

This is all I ask of Thee.

And with Thy gracious presence, bless

Both me and mine with thankfulness.

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  • Guest

    Okay, now you're scaring me!  Do I really want to pursue this motherhood thing?

  • Guest

    I laughed all the way through this article.  Why DO they pick the green colored crayon for the diet coke?!?  For all of August, I have been saddened by the impending return of school.  For the most part, it is because we are having a blast together.  Of course, part of it is that I simply cannot stand making packed lunches AND snacks day after day after day….pathetic, aren't I?

    But this week has, thankfully, given me a different perspective on the start of school next week.  The kids just seem to want to prove to mom that Yes, in fact, going back to school is exactly what they want and need!  From the whelt on the 3yr old's face "But mom" says the 8 year old with elastic band in hand…" She said she WANTED ME TO!" with vigorous nodding from the 6 year old – to the unexplainable locks and locks and locks of blonde curly hair on the kitchen floor.  Unexplainable until I remember little Katie was so nicely cutting out shapes to glue to the paper this morning.

    There are many more from this week alone.  I've blocked them from memory already.  Mother's survival mechanism.

    For those that homeschool, my hat's off to you.  You must have very creative ways of getting their energies redirected, and of giving each one their space they need to call their own in retreat.  Must work much better than my daily lumping children together, saying YES! Play nicely with each other!  That's why we gave you siblings!

    And, yes, Claire, you do want to pursue this motherhood thing.  Who wouldn't want a guaranteed path to Heaven by working on virtues like patience and fortitude!

    The thing I have to keep reminding myself of is to see myself in these children.  God wants us to be childlike - but not childish.  Sometimes the stupid things *I* do are childish.  I need to work on being more childlike instead.  Kids really help clarify what that really means!

  • Guest

    I would do it over and over and over again, and guys stay aloof a bit. How wonderful Heidi that you're a Catholic mother in the youth of your life. There's a boutifull garden of fruits, flowers and all sorts of goodies that are out there in the Faith. You have so much indulgence time with your children. I came to that realization later in my life even as a cradle cat. and I can't get enough. Fortunatley my daughter owns a gym for the little ones and I'm here today for back to gymnastics. God always gives us another chance to do it right.

    P.S. what's wrong with pink?

  • Guest

    Claire, dear:  This day was memorable in its badness. Not all days are like that. If you haven't already done so, you might want to check out my columns at CatholicMom.com — some of those recall happier days. Go to http://www.catholicmom.com/saxton.htm

    God bless!  Heidi 

    Heidi Hess Saxton Editor, "Canticle" Magazine Blogroll

  • Guest

    Thank you, Heidi, for a wonderful article.  I, too, am a Mom of two little ones with my 4 yr old trotting off to preschool in a week.  I cried just buying his school supplies!   

  • Guest

    I know, Heidi.  I was only joking.  I would love to be a mom.  (Well, technically I already am because I have three in Heaven, but I really hope to raise one here on earth to adulthood;  we're hoping to adopt in the near future.)

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    As a devoted father and grandfather (and uncle, etc.) I have a lifetime Candyland record of 217-487 – I SUCK at Candyland.

    “Mom”: that person who if a man is clever enough stands most dirty diapers, despoiled household goods, spilled everythings and other childhood foibles that may get between him and his enjoying his kids.

    Then again, I’ve never heard a one on camera wave with a smile and say “Hi, Dad!” Have you?

    Remember, I love you, too

    Reminding that we are all on the same side – His,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    Warren,

    A little intell on Candyland — by the time they're three or four, they cheat and stack the deck. At least all of ours do.

    That's when we get to teach them how to "think outside the box" and say, "Let's play so the last one home wins!"

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    No, no, PTR.

    I do the shuffling – the deadly double-purple, wrong place, wrong time, gets me like I’m magnetized to it. And, I even tried cheating, tossing that all-the-way-back ‘go-back-to’ character out of the pile. God has it in for me, with Candyland – humiliation coupled with children who joyfully (revenge of the children?) think they have this talent . . .

    And, DON’T get me going on ‘Chutes and Ladders’! And, no, I’m NOT teaching any of them little ‘sharks’ poker – money’s tight enough without them getting sums of it.

    Remember, I love you, too

    Reminding that we are all on the same side – His,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    I've been there!

    And if you need even more humility, play the Concentration memory game. 

    Oh well, there's always Old Maid, Go Fish, and War.

     

  • Guest

    boys…boys…boys…

    Give it up.  Have you not yet learned that God only gives mothers the unexplainable power to always win boardgames?  Well, almost always?

  • Guest

    Hi,

    Thanks for the great article, Heidi! I have to admit, being so un-saintly myself as I am, sadly, that I often have these feelings with my beautiful girls (ages 6 and 2,5). We spent the summer together. I didn't have any work for a long time (I'm a freelance- musician). We were out, swimming, going to parks, seeing friends… now my children are in preschool/daycare (the younger one started just) and are really happy there. They are there only about 5,5h/day. But what a difference! I feel sad and somehow guilty, when sending them there in the morning with my husband but still; what a relief!! I can play my instrument for a few hours in peace! And when having concerts, I nolonger  need to feel I don't exactly know what I'm doing.

    I admire you, great homeschoolers, but I couldn't do what you are doing.

    Just one more point; in the summer, while the kids hanging around all the time, I was often really tired. So I got easily frustrated and angry. Now that I get my own time I'm more available to them when we are at home.

    We play and discuss and learn to sing and play etc. I enjoy their company. I'm not angry.

    I wonder why isn't this "needing time of my own in order to be a good mother"-thing mentioned more often in faithful catholic books on motherhood &related issues. Or is it so, that other catholic mothers are so much holier than me (that's easy, I think..)?

    I think this reality sort of approach could help us who struggle with motherhood, with all its demands and blessings! 

     Blessings to all of you, greetings from Finland!

     

    Pilvi 

  • Guest

    I am a mom of seven and I too need time on my own—not only to use the bathroom in peace but just to put one thought in front of the other!  With five of the kids back in school and only the two baby boys at home I do get some time to rejuvenate.  It is SO important to take/make the time–even if it's just for a walk around the block. 

     I thoroughly enjoy reading and usually have a book with me.  During the school year a get a good deal of reading done—when, you ask?  When the babies are sleeping.  I remember when I had just two or three, I would spend that nap time cleaning and picking up toys, etc.  I have since learned that it is so important for me to take the time to read–do something I enjoy.  I am happier for my kids and my hubby when they get home.  I am careful to make sure that the most important jobs of my day are finished before I sit down with my book–laundry, dinner, bills, etc.  My book is my treat!  My reward for doing my job well.

    Pilvi–don't feel guilty.  Enjoy your treat, your reward!  God gave you the musical talent–play for Him!

     

    Jesus, I Trust in You!

  • Guest

    Thanks so much for writing those things! it meant a lot to me! 

    i wish you and all here a nice and prayerful weekend (mine will be busy…having a concert tomorrow and a protestant service to play on sunday! I really hate playing protestant services, but I'm an organist and my family needs the money where ever I can get it!)!
    precibus, Pilvi
  • Guest

    I'm still laughing.  I got tears in my eyes.  This brings back so many memories that our two boys gave to my wife and I.  Here are a few;

    Finding the jug of milk red because the oldest son mixed cheery Kool-Aid and milk to make smoothies.

    My son picking up a can of beans in the grocery store and proceeding to tell everyone he saw that beans made Daddy…….well you can guess.

    Our son telling everyone he was adopted because he was born in Japan.  When actually the oldest son is adopted and one born in Japan is our natural son.

    The oldest son when he was 3 telling his uncle "Mommy can't come to the phone now she is labos."  Labos is Filipino for naked.  Yes mommy heard him.

    The youngest getting upset when Mommy found what she thought was a rubber snake in her house plant and proceeding to scream and then pound the poor snake to death.   It wasn't he was keeping there because the shoe box had another snake in it.  I didn't tell my wife about the shoe box.

    Oh yeah and every parent needs to experience seeing a bright flash from your child's bedroom, all the lights in the house go out and a little voice saying "uh-Oh"

     

    Yes Claire.  Have kids they are blessing and memorable.

     

    Hey how come we never see articles about kids when they become teenagers?

  • Guest

    Dear Pilvi:

    I hear you — in fact, Simon Peter Press is about to publish my book on just this subject. "Raising Up Mommy: Virtues for Difficult Mothering Moments" was originally titled "Taming the Mommy Monster." Early on in the parenting process, I saw that being "on call" every waking moment (by my children's definition, not mine) of every single day quickly brought out the "angry monster" in me. Others vent stress in other ways: overeating, being overly critical of hubby, etc.

    For more information on the book, or to be added to the list to be notified when it is available, send me your name, address, and e-ddress via my "parent" blog: http://mommymonsters.blogspot.com

    I smiled when you said you were a church organist … I got my first church when I was twelve, a Lutheran church that exposed me to the beauty of liturgy. It was the first on a long series of steps to the Catholic Church.

    God bless you!

    Heidi Hess Saxton Editor, "Canticle" Magazine Blogroll

  • Guest

    I have a both/and situation at my household.

    I've got one child who left for college not a minute too soon, but before I was ready.

    And I have a child who headed off to begin her Senior year at public high school.  She won't be missed this year, because I know she'll come home every night, sit at the computer and do IB homework, flit over to me periodically with a story she can't articulate from giggling, head upstairs to watch Little House on the Prarie reruns, babysit other people's kids for money, load the dishwasher a couple of times, and start all over the next day with swim practice at 5 AM.  She's not around much, yet present.

    My shy 5 year old cries almost every morning as she joins the carpool for school.  She returns home bubbly…even the day she tinkled in her undies.  I know she'll return to homeschool next year.  So, I'm excited she's learning to trust others in a safe environment.  Separation anxiety must be lovingly dealt with before it becomes entrenched.  Growing pains hurt.

    Four other darlings are homeschooled in addition to 2 students in training (my toddlers).  I'm struggling to maintain the energy school aged kids need from a teacher.  Routines don't come naturally for me and my 44 years feels like 44 weeks pregnant instead of 27 weeks along.  This first week we were blessed by a mass for homeschoolers celebrated by the bishop at the cathedral.  He encouraged us as the primary teachers of our children to bring Christ to our children through the homeschool experience.  After the group picture and juice we domestic schools returned to our monastaries to help the kids know, love, and serve God and be happy with him now and in heaven…..as we parents strive to do ourselves.

    My tears flowed this late August only when my beloved 15 year old son left for 9th grade at the public school.  It's his first experience at an institutional setting for schooling.  His excitement, tinged with trepidation, captured for all time on digital print.  I, too, am in that picture.  Only my face was red and swollen.  I'd been crying for 3 days. The tears fueled by a heartache that knows, yet again, separation rips at a mother's heart.  I rejoice in the 10 years I was privileged to be his teacher but I know that special time has moved aside and made room for a young man to wonder at life outside the womb.  He's filled with wonder and awe as he experiences firsts:  the lunchroom, hall passes, extra credit, open house, swim team records, girls loaning him pencils….

    Growing pains hurt.  And not just for kids.  I'll miss this child and his Mozart and Beethoven during the day.  I'll need his brawn in the yard and will make do with a younger babysitter.  Mainly, I'll miss believing he'll always be my little boy.  He can't be.  It wouldn't be fitting, plus, he'll annoy me (you know, he'll leave the cheese grater  out with strands of cheese strewn about) at the appropriate moment just as a reminder that I want him to cleave to another.  For now the pain is too raw.  It is salved by his enthusiasm, however.  Maybe he'll let me hold his 6' 3" frame in my arms tonight.  He will.  He's grown up enough to know moms need to be humored.

  • Guest

    Hi Heidi,

    Thank you for this. It was great!

    Patrice 

     

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    Ladies – some Dads too

    God only permits our children to break our hearts, sometimes poignantly, sometimes pointedly, that we go to Him because He is Father – Abba – Dad – Pop. In His embrace, each of us is just one more heartbroken child . . .

    The more kids, the more heartbreaks, the closer we get to our loving heavenly Father.

    Claire – in your heart so broken – you may as well have borne a battalion. Like I do so many nights in loneliness, let your head sink not into a pillow, but your Papa’s knees. He knows the loss of an only Son.

    Remember, I love you, too

    Reminding that we are all on the same side – His,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    Heidi,

    God Bless you!  What a wonderful article!  I always think I am the only one who goes through these things! 

    I have three children.  They are 13,4, and 6.  And they are brilliant,  beautiful, spirited, independent, headstrong, loud, and filled with the magic of life.  I am in awe of them and thank God for letting me have them in my life.

    I laughed so hard when I read about your daughter and her curls all over the floor.  My 4 yr. old had beautiful blond curly hair.  It used to make precious little ringlets around her face.  She looked like an angel.

    (She still does of course!)  She had been cutting the hair on one of her dolls one day.  Me, being the pro-active and wise mother I am, I took the scissors from her and hid them in a safe place. (or so I thought)

    I was busy with something when my son came to me and said, "Mom, Chloe is doing something she shouldn't do."

    I ran into the bathroom and there is my little chreub.  Beaming from ear to ear and gazing into the mirror.  She had a perfectly shaped MULLET!

    The floor was covered with wispy blond curls.  I was in shock.

    She turned to me and said, "Oh mom!  Aren't I BEAUTIFUL!  I LOVE my short hair!  Aren't I beautiful mom?"

    I had to smile.  She was so happy.  Blissful almost. 

    What could I do?  I just told her to ask mommy next time and that those scissors could have made a big boo-boo.  I was crying inside, but, I couldn't bear to crush her happiness. 

    I realized that she wanted short hair and if she would have asked I wouldn't have respected her wishes and would have said no.  I realized that I needed to listen more and that even 4 year-olds deserve to do things their way sometimes!  Just no more mullets, please!!

    Yes, life is an adventure and my goal is to make sure I see my children through the eyes of Jesus and realize that every moment is precious and magnificent.

    Thank you and God Bless!

    Marie

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