Our one year old, Peter, suddenly woke up screaming. He had been angelic all day in the car and evidently had decided that he had had enough. We sang, rocked, nursed, pleaded, prayed, but nothing calmed him down. He kept pointing to the hotel door shouting, “Go, go, go!” He was mad and he wanted to go home to his own bed. After 40 minutes we started to panic.
It was so out-of-character for this good-natured child, dubbed Sweetie Petey; not even as a newborn did he ever cry uncontrollably for longer than a minute. We contemplated rushing to the ER, imagining all sorts of horrible conditions like brain aneurysms and bowel obstructions. Finally in desperation I decided to try walking him around outside. My plan was to make a mad dash down the hallway to the outside door so as not to awaken the entire Marriot. I was met in the hall by an annoyed looking security guard, whom someone on our floor called because of the racket. (We laughed about that later. What was HE going to do … say, “Stop crying, Baby, or I'll shoot!”?)
The cool of the evening and the change of location calmed Peter down considerably. (I ruled out the brain aneurysm.) But there I was, pajama-clad in a hotel parking lot at 1 a.m., walking laps, lugging almost 30 pounds of wide-awake, cranky boy.
It was one of those crisis moments that every parent repeatedly faces, from the toddler to the teenage years. We may not feel like it, but these crisis moments are actually invitations to grace. We can respond in two ways. We can completely lose it, stomp around, scream at our children, start a “Woe is me — I never get any sleep” Pity Party, OR we can latch on to the graces of the sacrament of marriage and muster up some gentle, patient compassion and love. After all, on our wedding day we swore to God, our spouse, and everyone else that we would “accept children lovingly from God.”
This doesn't just mean when they come home drowsy, snuggly, and wrinkled from the hospital; it also means when they come into your bed for the fifth time that night, and when they come in the door two hours past curfew.
That's why during the Nuptial blessing near the end of our wedding liturgies, the priest and congregation pray “that they may have the strength that comes from the gospel,” and especially for moms we pray, “Give her the grace of love and peace.”
Every day (and sometimes 10 times a day) we parents are given the opportunity to choose between serving ourselves, or serving the Lord through serving our children. In that parking lot, by the grace of God, I chose the Lord. Not long after, I was rewarded by a heavy, sleeping baby and that telltale feeling of drool on my shoulder.