Monday, April 22, 2013

On motherhood and quitting

My daughter Mekdes, meeting her newborn sister Alice for the very first time.  Otherwise known as love at first sight.

Last month we moved to a new house in a neighboring town, in order to get a couple of acres for the kids to run around on.  Which has been great, but it also means we are now farther away from most everything we do.  And so, due to this distance and the fact that I also now have a newborn who pretty much runs the show around here (because she's so darn cute), we made the decision to quit our kids' weekly homeschool enrichment program. 

We wouldn't have returned next year anyhow, but for some reason it was really hard to walk away mid-semester.  I knew rationally that an hour-plus drive (each way) was not remotely practical for us at this stage of our family's life, but I hated to miss out on the assorted activities my kids were working towards, and we've been part of this program since my oldest started kindergarten--roughly four years.

Thankfully though, common sense won out--deep down, I knew that if we attempted to continue, we would collectively be a complete and utter mess by the end of May.  I would no doubt have gone insane.  The kids would have been exhausted.  My little ones would have had to forego naps and their usual routine.  So we quit, and it was hard.  And I know precisely why it was hard: it involved choosing one good thing over another good thing, and that is one of the hardest things for me to do, period.  I hate making decisions!  I don't like the idea of opportunity cost!  I want to do it all!

And yet, I can't do it all.  I really can't.  And as a mom-to-many, I have to balance what is good for our family as a whole, with what is good for each individual member.  There happen to be a lot of us, so that can be difficult.  It has meant, among other things, not enrolling my kids in many organized sports, foregoing certain activities, skipping the occasional event, and in this case, unenrolling them from a weekly enrichment program eight weeks before the end of the year.

I'm thinking that this delicate balancing act--that will eventually require some amount of sacrifice from each and every family member--is part of what makes the large family seem less than desirable in our modern era.  Parents want their kids to have limitless opportunities, and the give and take required when there are multiple children is inherently limiting.  My kids admittedly are not on the fast track to becoming Olympians or musical prodigies.  They're just kids with holes in their jeans, who spend hours outside each day riding bikes and scooters together, who love taking pictures of the deer in our yard, and who fight over who gets to hold their newborn sister.  They're kids who share bedrooms, and regardless what they might tell you about wanting their own room, they speak and giggle together in hushed tones before drifting off to sleep each night.  They like going to Mass and to their grandma and grandpa's house.  They like to sip strawberry lemonade, prepared by my oldest, while lounging around in our little gazebo--if the day is particularly warm, they do it while wearing bathing suits.  Even though there's no pool in sight.  That's a good day for them.

They are, well, pretty much average, run-of-the-mill kids doing average, run-of-the-mill things.

And not only that but they, and I and my husband, make other sacrifices to live as a family of ten.  We walk a little slower in the parking lot to accommodate my two daughters with Down syndrome, and we all do chores around the house.  We stay home a lot, especially now, because our littlest family member wakes her mama a few times each night, leaving that mama more than a little tired.  And I don't know how my children will remember their respective childhoods once they grow up, or how they'll look back on their responsibilities and the fact that their family's lifestyle was different from that of the mainstream culture's.  I really don't. 

But I know that there will be some memories of laughter, joy, empathy, fun, creativity, and community that we all share, living life under the same roof together.  I know that my children are close friends and that they love Jesus, and that they get a lot of practice serving one another, just like Jesus talked about.  I know that we gain a whole lot more than we sacrifice, and that sometimes we gain things we wouldn't have had we not made the sacrifice--opportunity cost works the other way too.  And I've learned that oftentimes, what is best for the collective family really is what's best for individuals, even if it doesn't feel that way to everyone at the time.  And instead of feeling like a failure of a mom when we have to cancel this or that, or choose one thing over another, or--heaven forbid--disappoint a child, we must instead choose to remember the big picture.

Because the big picture doesn't leave much room for feeling guilty when we make a decision for the good of our family, or for the good of ourselves.  On the contrary, it keeps us balanced and forward-facing, more concerned with long-term charity and virtue and character than whether an exhausting day resulted in macaroni and cheese or frozen corndogs for dinner.  And it allows for flexibility, for that give-and-take where sometimes you just plain have to give up on an activity you like.

And I really, truly believe that in the long run, my kids are learning about compromise, self-giving, priorities, core values, and ultimately love.  Because it's love that shows patience towards a sibling who struggles to walk, and it's love that never begrudges a newborn sibling a mother's time and attention.  And all of that is part of the big picture goal, of nurturing and loving the little souls who grace my home.  Mercifully, that picture is not dependent on ballet class or violin lessons or anything I've pinned on Pinterest.

Sometimes we moms can learn just as much from quitting as we can from pressing on.


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