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.
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.