My Dad is a devoted reader of the Sunday funnies. One day he handed me a Baby Blues cartoon that showed a brother and sister fighting loudly over the same toy. Mom appears on the scene and in big, bold letters yells, “THERE WILL BE NO MORE YELLING IN THIS HOUSE!” Immediately she turns from her children and says, “I just yelled that. I broke my own rule. I’m putting myself in time-out.” She grabs hold of her own arm and marches herself out of the room, still talking. “Yep. No more parenting for me for one hour.” Her absence leaves the kids silent until one says, “For a mom she can be pretty creative.” Then the other replies, “Do I hear snoring?”
I love this cartoon because it captures the stress and exhaustion of motherhood, as well as the desire we have to be good, to improve, to be an example to our children.
A couple weeks ago, I sat down on the floor of my twin boys’ bedroom, switched off the lights, and began to sing a few bedtime songs. It had been a hard week. I was pretty much running on empty. I won’t share all the sordid details, but I will tell you a few. This particular day had involved chasing my three-year-old boys all over the neighborhood, one of them almost getting hit by a car, my girls sawing apart the basketball hoop downstairs with butter knives and using the bars for canes, which they decorated with stickers and popsicle sticks. I found four of my children in a neighbor's yard where my boys had dug up the flowerpots and dumped them onto the neighbor's patio. My boys had also wet their pants so they had to waddle home where we walked into the kitchen, past the breakfast and lunch dishes still sitting on the counter, I changed my boys, then sat down on the couch to lecture my girls, only to discover I had just trekked all over the house with dog poo on the bottom of my shoe.
Do you ever have days like this? When you want to shout, “Really? This is my life?”
That night, after singing a couple songs, my little Gordon, age three, climbed out of bed with his blanket, walked over to me and slipped his arms around my neck. I leaned back and fit him into that perfect spot where baby heads nestle onto shoulders. I twirled his yellow curls, brushed my fingers across his forehead, and we stayed like that a long time, the two of us holding onto each other, needing each other. I wanted to burn that feeling into my skin, hold him forever.
Children have a wisdom about them. They seem to know what we need. They bring us back to ourselves.
For many years, my husband and I longed for children. Eventually, with the help of good doctors and In-Vitro Fertilization, we were blessed with our first daughter. Knowing the window in which we could have children was small, we moved quickly. 19 months later, our twin girls were born - two months early in a crash c-section that saved both their lives. A year and a half later, hoping for one more child, we did a final round of IVF, in which we implanted one embryo. At our doctor’s advice, we implanted only one to prevent the eclamptic seizure I had suffered with our twin girls. At 16 weeks gestation, however, we learned that that single embryo had split. We were having identical twin boys. And one week after our oldest daughter turned four, our boys were born. Five children in four years was not what I had planned for, nor expected.
Nothing quite prepared me for four children in diapers, two babies crying tag-team style for an entire 24 hours, library books torn out to the binding, Barbie dolls beheaded with scissors, or swimming on the living room table (this is a true story – my girls poured water all over the table, got in their swimsuits and slid like penguins across the top). No one told me the laundry would never, ever end, that I would crawl into bed some nights only to realize I hadn’t showered, looked in a mirror, or brushed my teeth that day, or (my personal favorite) that I would find a home-made sign on our front lawn that read, “Mom for Sale.”
The poet, Mary Oliver, wrote,
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Many times I have looked at my kids and thought, “What could be more wild? What could be more precious?” With so much waiting and wanting, there was only one way to consider our situation. It was a gift. A glorious, extravagant gift, and I was going to give my all to these five miracle-babies.
This summer, our boys will turn four. As exasperating and challenging as it has been, I have had the impression on many occasions that these days with small children are holy. Children are sacred to the Lord. They are pure. And this is a sacred space, to be enjoyed as best we can.
A friend of mine once described her gratitude for Jesus with these words,
“Every day I come sighing – and sometimes singing – to him" (Lisa Garfield, Blog Segullah, April 2013).
To me, these two words define perfectly the polarity of the motherhood experience.
So I would like to share with you three things I have learned about coming to the Lord. Sometimes we come sighing. Sometimes we come singing. But to paraphrase Peter, “Where else would we go? Only Jesus has the words of eternal life“ (John 6:68).
1 – Remember You are Building
Last summer a friend called to say she was driving through Salt Lake and wondered if she could stop by for a quick visit. Of course, I said yes. But we live in an old house. It looks old. And I was a little worried. There was no time to pick-up toys, finish dishes, fix hair or wipe faces. Just like that, she was there.
As she came in, I began to apologize about the house, the mess, the disasters in play. She stopped me immediately and said, “Catherine, don’t worry about it. Think of a building going up. The scaffolding, the boards lying around, the workers, the dust.