We mothers can be so efficient. We can do laundry, clean a dirty kitchen, and calm sibling spats in between spooning Gerber’s best into our babies’ mouths. Once, just for fun, I wrote down everything I did during a one-hour period one morning. The list took up two pages.
I often get wrapped up in juggling tasks, in accomplishing, in doing. I know I am efficient. Most mothers are. But I am here today to admit that maybe that’s not always the best thing to be.
Once one of my sons, in the fifth grade at the time, invented a new game. He spent hours devising rules, cutting out game pieces, and gluing the pieces to toothpicks (It was a very involved game). The object, if I remember, was conquering the world, which wasn’t a bad goal considering he was just ten. At any rate, I was busy the morning he finished the game. I was doing laundry, cleaning up baby spit-up, changing diapers, sweeping the carpet and tending to a dirty kitchen. You know, I was being efficient. I was “doing.”
When my son finished creating the game he immediately wanted to play. I admired the game from the stairway, my arms full of miscellaneous objects I was putting away, and I promised to play “in a bit.” I had, in my mind, a list of things I needed to do, and I was on a roll. I would play later. He could show his sister now. When the clothes were put away and my other chores were done, I asked my son to show me his creation. He simply gave me the short version of his game. No one told me his initial enthusiasm and willingness to explain every detail would wane. It simply dissipated and didn’t come back. Even a little motherly prodding didn’t elicit more than, “Well, you just roll the dice and follow the instructions on the card. It was fun when I played it awhile ago. What’s for dinner?” Now, eight years later, I still think of that moment lost. It’s a little thing, but I wish I hadn’t been quite so efficient that afternoon.
Another time my efficiency cost me something really special. It was early spring. I had been trying to teach the children to come to me when they wanted something instead of yelling out “Mom!” from wherever they were. That morning I was in the basement, switching a load of laundry, with the baby in the swing. “Mom! Come here!” I heard. Again, “Mom! Come here!” There was no alarm in the voices, just a sense of urgency. “I’m in the basement,” I answered cheerily, giving them notice but not budging. “Mom!” Now more than one child was calling my name. What did those kids want? Why wouldn’t they come to me? What was so important? I finished pouring liquid detergent into the machine, folded a couple more towels, grabbed some garbage bags which I needed in the kitchen, took the baby from the swing and climbed the stairs. In the family room five children were standing, staring at the sliding glass door.
“You missed it!” said Michael, visibly disappointed. “Missed what?” I asked, peering out the window. “Two deer,” he continued, “A buck and a doe. In our backyard.” Now, if we had lived on a farm or other rural area, that might not be such a big deal, but we live in a subdivision with a smaller yard that is fenced in on two sides. “Really? Deer?!” I exclaimed, coming closer to look. “It’s too late, Mom,” Michael said, “They’re gone.” The kids turned away from the window, leaving me there, standing alone. That was the second moment that I lost because I was being efficient.
It’s true. My kids won’t be scarred forever on account of these two incidents. But you can bet that both events taught me something. I learned that no work I am doing is so vital that it can’t be put aside for just a moment, if something important comes along. My children should not expect me to come running at the drop of a hat, but nor should I be so busy that I can’t take advantage of a precious moment that spontaneously arises. The Martha-Mary dilemma presents itself every day, and moms need to discern quickly to make the right choice. There is a good reason God calls us human “beings” and not human “doings.” From now on I expect to “be” just a little bit more.
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.