Wednesday, May 30, 2012

It just works

"Do you have children?" the woman asked me.

{I always laugh a little bit inside when an unsuspecting person poses this question.}

"Yes, I do. We have seven!"

She, like most everyone, was surprised, though less so than I was expecting. Eventually I reached the point in the conversation where I found myself saying what I say to a lot of people:

"It's crazy, and it's busy, but it works. It just works."

I'm not even sure what I mean when I say that. I suppose it's simply shorthand for the fact that we somehow make it to bedtime at the end of each day, and are able to get back up in the morning and work at loving and living together all over again.

Now I must admit that seems awfully minimalistic. There was no mention of baking chocolate chip cookies together on a daily basis, or of sitting side-by-side crafting really magnificent things worthy of display on my mantle. No description of weekly trips to the zoo or museum, no list of big awards my children have won at assorted meets and competitions. No acknowledgement of alleged ideals, and yes I am an idealist (while practical too) in many ways, but when it comes to the question of how we even do this thing, well, sometimes I don't even know. It just works.

Making it through the day. Going to sleep. Getting up in the morning to the same sea of faces.

It's not that we don't do fun things together. We do. But a long time ago, I made the decision that I was not going to measure my success as a wife and mother by things that are external to our family, or by things that other people do. Instead, I'm hoping to love and nurture my children in a way worthy of my vocation, and to grow them into Jesus-loving and Catholic-faith-practicing adults. And for a family our size, that means we don't spend a ton of time running to and fro. Fun outings for us are spent at church activities and/or with dear friends. Those are the things we invest in. And, they keep us plenty busy!

You've heard the old adage "Know thyself", right? Well, when it comes to being a mother, I am anything but a recreation director, and am far from being any sort of fun-activities-for-children guru. I make meals and fold laundry and explain arithmetic and writing lessons. I teach my children the Catechism and make sure to have lots of conversations and cuddling with them throughout the day. I allow them to play freely and use their imaginations. We visit with friends. We read. We do life. And it is in this crucible where conflicts are resolved, where hugs are doled out, where owies are kissed and where discipline and training occur. It is crazy simple, but it works.

And yet sometimes, occasionally, every once in a great while, I still feel a little bit guilty about it. Because which of us hasn't seen some fabulous mom crafts on Pinterest, or read about this or that bloggy mom doing something all-out awesome with her kids? "Man", I'll think, "I'm so not that mom, the cool and creative one. I'm the boring one. Whose kids only do crafts at homeschool group or other peoples' houses."

But then I'll consider our happy little family, and I'll recall what I told that woman, about how it just works. And maybe part of why it works is because I'm sticking to the essentials, and doing what works for me. As a woman entrusted with the care and raising of these particular, seven, precious souls.

Of course now you're probably wondering about those ideals I mentioned above. I do love ideals. And I'm not ready or willing to trash the concept of ideals altogether. Because honestly? I believe we need them--just look at the saints, and how they lived, and what a beautiful example of lives examined and given away for God. So how do I reconcile the two? Doing what works on the one hand, and being idealistic on the other?

I really kind of think that the two are actually pretty compatible. Because what if, in doing what works, we are leaving more space and more time and more opportunity for the pursuit of things that are true ideals?

"Ideally I'd spin my own wool and knit my kids' sweaters, as opposed to buying them. But I don't own any sheep, so I can't do that, and so I'm just going to settle for whatever is less than ideal."

It's a ridiculous example, but you could sub in anything there--buying organics only, not allowing your kids to watch any TV or eat any junk food, enrolling each of your kids in a sport each season, whatever. The point remains the same. There are some ideals that we should truly, honestly, fervently be trying to achieve with everything that is in us, but beyond those, there is freedom in the ebb and flow of life.

And as for what those ideals are, well, here are but a few I've come up with: instructing my children in the Faith, avoiding the occasion of sin, being available to my husband and kids, taking care of myself, loving others, spending time with Jesus, attempting to live out my vocation well. Those are things that should be a given in my home, whether or not I'm making homemade organic green smoothie popsicles for my kids each and every summer. (I buy the Costco-sized box of Otterpops instead. Shhhh.)

So don't believe the lie that you have to settle for somewhere inbetween "it just works" and "ideal motherhood." They're not mutually exclusive, nor does there need to be much of a tension there at all. What is being a mother if not attempting to discover what works moment-by-moment, day-by-day? When did we give up the notion that ideals ought to be rooted in solid virtue and an integral manifestation of faith, and instead began holding up some sort of hollow Betty Crocker/Martha Stewart hybrid as the ideal woman? I'm not entirely sure, but I'll tell you one thing: that is an "ideal" that doesn't matter to me, nor does it work for me.

This is why when I'm sick, and I stick my kids in front of a video so I can grab a nap, I don't feel guilty.

This is why if we're unexpectedly out all day, and I have no time to prep dinner, I try not to feel like the world's worst mom for serving corndogs or quesadillas at the evening meal.

This is why I'm far more concerned about how my children treat others than if they have the opportunity to play organized sports year-round.

Because while I'm not a huge fan of my kids watching mindless television or eating processed junk, and while I love to see my kids enjoying an activity, there is some major love and joy in my home, and lots of little people who make me laugh, and at the end of the day, we're all still here and (mostly) smiling. Life is complicated afterall, and does not always go as we might expect. We are not raising our children in a controlled, labaratory environment, and so there is clearly no room for guilt over ridiculous, petty things. I'd rather spend my time attempting to cultivate faith, hope, charity, and compassion in my own heart, and in the hearts of my children, than expend a bunch of energy trying to be the sort of mom I'm not.

Being a mother requires the ability to adapt, to be flexible. Most of it is lived in the mundane, everyday sorts of moments where we're making decisions and changing our course of action. And I think that having a proper, holy understanding of what constitutes "ideal" will keep us on the right track and moving in the right direction, while allowing us the freedom and space to do what works.

And that is something that works for me.


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