I Need a New Heart

It’s serious. I need a new heart. No, no, not that kind. Thank goodness I’m alive and actually pretty healthy. What I’m talking about is my kitchen. They say the kitchen is the heart of the home. Well, I need a transplant.

Let me back up a second. My kitchen is actually very nice. I have simple cherry cabinets with clean lines, a functioning refrigerator and stove, although the latter is approaching its 20th birthday. The faucet works. The view of the backyard is nice, and the light oak floor hides the crumbs very well. But the eating area is markedly too small for our brood of nine children. We have to all hold our breath to sit down at the table for dinner. Have you ever been to a circus where clown after clown keeps climbing out of a Volkswagen? Well that reminds me of my kids and my kitchen.

Woe to the three-year-old who has to excuse herself to use the bathroom during a meal. She has an important decision to make. Will she squeeze through on Dad’s side, though he will be required to take a deep breath to allow the passage? Or will she pass through on brother Michael’s side, which would require him to stand up and to the side? Never mind either of those options. She chooses the sensible thing. She crawls under the table, dodging legs, and gets through in a jiffy.

It’s gotten so cramped around here that the kids actually take bets at the beginning of the meal as to who will be the one to spill the milk. The odds are pretty good that someone will. Eleven people going elbow-to-elbow at a table meant for six is a recipe for a milk disaster if I’ve ever seen one. Last night the unlucky one was Melissa, age 10. She was a pretty good sport about it (it happens to most of us at one time or another), and not too much milk landed on the floor. Most landed in the dish of cold carrots, which were, after all, crammed in right next to her plate.

I’ve read that crime rates increase in cramped spaces in hot weather. I believe it. That’s why I try to keep the kitchen cool. No need to build up friction when rubbing elbows already accomplishes that. I’ve always got the ceiling fan on in there, too. It’s hard to swat at a younger sibling when a brisk breeze is blowing you backwards.

I was pondering our space situation the other day as I was helping three little girls who share one double bed fluff up their pillows and quilt. (Our kitchen isn’t the only space in this house that is too small.) Is it really necessary, I wondered, to have lots of room to accomplish our mission as a family?

In his Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (on The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World), Pope John Paul II emphasized four general tasks for the family: forming a community of persons, serving life, participating in the development of society, and sharing in the life and mission of the Church.

I don’t see anything in there about a spacious kitchen.

A family’s job to form a community of persons seems simple enough. Marriage makes an instant family. Adding children through birth or adoption makes the family grow. But the next task starts to make things tricky. It is serving life. Notice the task is not “serving life in a 3,000-square-foot home” or even “serving life comfortably” but just serving life. By opening our hearts and home (small kitchen and all) to people, from noisy babies who keep us up at night to aging parents with their own idiosyncrasies and demands to unexpected visitors, we are performing the family mission of serving life. By educating our children to the best of our ability and making sacrifices to do so, we are also serving life, and thus fulfilling our task as family.

Participating in the development of society and sharing in the life and mission of the Church mean we are to model the universal Church in our family home. The universal Church is composed of many members. Strong members are to look out for weak members. In a cramped kitchen they pour the milk and cut up meat for those unable to do so.

We’re making plans to build a new home, closer to the kids’ Catholic high school and to my husband’s new office. We’d like to add a bedroom or two since the kids are currently stacked vertically, in bunk beds, to sleep. While I’m hoping for more square footage to raise this brood of blessings, I know it’s not necessary in order to fulfill our task as a family. Our oldest starts college in the fall, so finances are going to be tight. I really would like a larger kitchen, but I’m not going to hold my breath — unless, of course, it’s to let one of the kids through.

Theresa A. Thomas, wife of David, is a homeschooling mother of nine children, as well as a freelance writer and newspaper columnist for Today’s Catholic. Look for her contribution in Amazing Grace: Stories for Fathers due out from Ascension Press later this year. This article originally appeared in Today’s Catholic.

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