The best things, II

Fall seems to finally be arriving here in South Bend, and every day I feel more like the mother of two toddlers instead of a toddler and a baby. We are soaking up the all the breezes, turning leaves, and time together. Here are some of my favorite things from this week:

  • John Henry says “ouch” every time he hears any sort of sound like a bump. When we are listening to Mozart and he hears the drums, there’s an “ouch!” from the backseat. When Edith drops a book on the floor, “ouch!” Even when he takes a tumble, if it isn’t tear-worthy, there’s always an “ouch!” The best part is he very carefully pronounces each sound, dividing the word into two syllables. “Ou-chshhhh!”Processed with VSCO with q8 preset
  • The way Edith internalizes books and stories these days is pretty remarkable. She told me the other day she didn’t want to get toothpaste in her hair because it would be sticky. (One Morning in Maine) She also found a puzzle piece we had been missing and said, “It was in your [my] belly. But you [I] got it out!” (Curious George Goes to the Hospital) It is pretty amazing to discover just how much power literature and reading has in forming a child. The books she read are literally giving her a vocabulary for her life. That’s crazy, and quite the responsibility.
  • We’ve been listening to Classical Kid’s and Edith loves Mozart’s Magic Flute. She walks around the house all day talking about “Prince Tamino” as if he is one of her close friends.
  • More from The Magic Flute: Edith answered my question of where angels live with “in the darkness” and she told me we would have to go take a nap when the “darkness covers the sun,” both phrases from Mozart.
  • When Edith learns a word for something she hasn’t encountered before, she often uses a word that she knows instead. Two recent examples: apple cider became apple spider and apple crisp, apple Christmas.
  • John Henry thinks he can say far more words than he actually can and it’s so cute to hear him making lots of different sounds, as if he’s clearly communicating all day.
  • And one last treat from this week: I made an inaugural trip to IKEA and found the cutest little chair in the clearance section that makes both my living room and our grad-school budget both happy. Win.

These days of small things

Processed with VSCO with x4 presetIf I don’t do it, it won’t be done.

Too often those words run through my head. And too often, the tone accompanying them is annoyance, frustration, and certainly a bit of exhaustion. My list of things to do seems nearly endless, and I never complete everything on it.

My bathroom rarely gets a good scrub. I vacuum far less than my home needs. I haven’t washed a mirror or a window in probably a year.

It’s more than just chores, though, that prompt this train of thought.

When my babies wake up impatiently and don’t want to wait another minute in their beds: If I don’t get them up, no one will.

When I’d rather take a nap than make dinner: If I don’t make us something to eat, no one will.

When yet another diaper needs to be changed. When the laundry needs to be folded. When mouths need to be wiped, blocks picked up, bumps kissed, and peanut butter and jellies prepared.

If I don’t do this, no one else will.

I’m ashamed to admit this is a complaint. Ashamed to think it, ashamed that I can sometimes resent this position in life, these days of small tasks.

We all have these moments, right? Whether we stay home with children, or go to an office full-time, or attend school. We all are faced with tasks that require us—and sometimes only us—to actually do them. These tasks ask us to have humility and a willingness to accept them and resolve to simply apply ourself to what is given. They are usually the small, unglamorous, dirty tasks like washing the extra coffee cups piled in the sink at the office, or cleaning the toothpaste off the vanity, or letting another car move in front of us in traffic.

If I don’t do this, who will?

I don’t want to stop thinking this. These words can be the opposite of a complaint. I want to think them and to realize the position I am in as I say these words.

These words present me, each time, with a beautiful opportunity.

These words indicate the greatest, most important tasks that are given to me. Truly, the tasks that I alone have been asked to do, the tasks that go overlooked or undervalued or forgotten altogether, are those that are richest with meaning. And the saints are those who fully accepted and embraced these exact moments.

Oscar Romero spoke out against poverty, injustice, and oppression. If he had not spoken, who would have?

Maximillian Kolbe volunteered to die in the place of a stranger in Auschwitz. If he had not volunteered, who would have?

Mother Teresa went to the Indian slums and offered its people love, and care. If she had not gone, who would have?

These acts of the saints sound like great acts, but in each moment, I am sure they were simply what must be done. If they didn’t meet the need they saw, who would?

If I don’t do this, who will?

That is a unique position, indeed. Even something as seemingly insignificant as changing a diaper offers the chance for me to meet the need of another human being. Making dinner, cleaning up toys, offering understanding and patience to my children. These are all small, daily moments, yes, but they are privileges that require me to accept them and embrace them with all that I am. For, indeed, I was made for these moments.

I must do this, for if I don’t, what else would I do?

The best things, I

Matching diapers and matching bellies

This week has been full of many toddler emotions, which always leads to a great deal of bewilderment on my part, and the hottest days of the year so I am happy to see it go. Despite all of that, here are some of the happy moments from our week.

I was inspired by my friend, Geena‘s, lists of recorded memories, and want to be better about collecting and writing down moments in our day that I want to remember. This stage in life is so full and busy—not busy meaning that our calendar is overflowing, but busy because there are so many needs and so many wants…and so. many. feelings. Even so, I want to remember all of this:

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  • the way John Henry charges to the stairs, looks over at me with a big grin and says, “No no. No no.”
  • Edith and I always come up with something she can tell her dad when he gets home from school, and the minute she hears the door open, she starts repeating it over and over again. The other day was “when you a baby, you say kaka. That means you want water.” (You being I.)
  • when Edith and I were discussing a friend’s pregnancy, I asked if she is having a baby girl or a baby boy. Edith, in a correcting tone, says, “No. She’s having a baby.”
  • after I sneeze, completely unprompted, Edith says, “Bless you, Mama.”Processed with VSCO with f2 preset
  • my little whirlwind, Edith, somehow can sit happily and perfectly content in her brother’s high chair, playing with beads for hours on end. She sorts them and looks at them and puts them in a bowl, all while listening to Curious George on tape. It is amazing to watch.
  • when we came in from playing outside, Travis asked Edith what she was doing and she said, “singing to the leaves.” (Really, she was. #hearteyes)Processed with VSCO with q8 preset

Just doing Nothing

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“I like that too,” said Christopher Robin, “but what I like doing best is Nothing.”

“How do you do Nothing?” asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.

“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it, What are you going to do, Christopher Robin, and you say, Oh, nothing, and then you go and do it.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh.

~

Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hands, called out “Pooh!”

“Yes?” said Pooh.

“When I’m—when—Pooh!”

“Yes, Christopher Robin?”

“I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”

“Never again?”

“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”

(A.A. Milne, The Complete Tales of Pooh)

This ending to Winnie the Pooh tugs at my heart every time I think about it and hear it on the 45-minute adaptation on Spotify that Edith listens to every day.

I think about how beautiful it is, that my children can do nothing with their days and nothing with their time, and that this nothing is a good and right and beautiful thing for them to do. I think about how never again in their lives will they be encouraged to do nothing, never again will it be a positive thing.

Most days, I feel like I did “nothing,” but I am learning that it is actually a good thing. I am guarding their ability to do nothing. I am protecting their days of playing and reading and exploring, for truly they will be gone, as one day they must be.

One day they will have classes and worksheets and assignments and schedules and logs and calendars and everything else. But not now.

For now, their nothing is everything.

(15:1) Mater Dolorosa

mater-dolorosa-by-currier-ives

A new acquaintance of my husband’s recently suggested that he take 15 minutes every night to write. I took this suggestion to heart as I have missed writing but always feel like I don’t know what to say. While I don’t plan to share every evening’s thoughts, I thought I might share some. I am one to often start projects or have grand aspirations and then never follow through, but this is one that I hope (desperately plan) to keep. You are welcome to hold me to that!

Sunday, July 16
John Henry is sick with a high fever today. He spent the whole day sleeping on me, resting on me, whining on me. It is days like these that I am struck by the sheer uniqueness of motherhood—there is truly nothing else like it in all the world. My child is part of me: began in me, lived in me, even now grows from me. So much of him is me. He takes, and I give. He lives, and I slowly die. I feel his pains and his sadness and his discomfort in a way no one else does, for so much of him is me.

All of these moments as a mother make me think of Christ’s mother. Of course she felt as I do when Jesus was sick. She held him, and rocked him, and knew she would do anything to take away his pain. There is a special position, then, for women, for mothers. We can identify with Mary in a way no one else can. We have shared the love we feel for a child, the joy of their smiles, the heartache of their tears. And although we don’t know it fully, we can know in a distinct way the sorrows of this mother at the cross. Standing at its foot with the Mater Dolorosa, we can feel—although only a taste of the depth of her experience—the nails driving in, the spear bringing water and blood, the agony of her Son crying from a cross of wood. Such horror and such grief. Yet such a gift.

Be it done unto me according to Your word.

Throughout her life, Mary assumed an attitude of not mere acceptance, but gift. She does not just passively receive what comes; she presents herself—her womb, her breasts, her maternal heart—as offerings to the Lord. She gives to Him all that she is, she offers herself as a living sacrifice to God. And while she receives the greatest of sufferings, she also receives the greatest of rewards.

Oh, that I might be more like this Blessed Mother. That I might not simply receive what is given as if I am only a passive object of God’s will, but that I might open my heart and open my hands and offer all that I am for the sake of Christ, embracing His will as a small part of His great plan of salvation.

Speak, Lord, your servant is listening. Not my will, but Yours be done.

Mothering in secret

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Real life.

(Lately words have been slow in coming. I hope you will forgive a half-baked, incomplete piece. Perhaps this is more of a conversation. Me to you, whoever you are who might need to remember this as much as I do.)

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6)

Lately my thoughts about this exhausting season of life are less-than pretty. But most of them center around this one question that I find myself asking again and again: Where is my recognition?

It is a human feeling, right? The desire to be seen, the desire to have our hard work noticed.

For me, motherhood brings this question to the surface especially often, since a mother’s daily labors seem fruitless and trivial. In a world where titles and job descriptions and accomplishments bring praise and recognition, the role of mother sounds underwhelming and invisible. Even those closest to me don’t see most of what I do day-in and day-out.

Most of motherhood is entirely hidden. The 12 a.m. and then 2 a.m. and then 5 a.m. wakings; the patient word uttered to a toddler in the midst of a meltdown; the nap time spent chopping herbs and boiling vegetables to prepare for dinner. Most of these moments go entirely unnoticed.

I am not here to discount the encouragement that a word of recognition can bring. I am not here to ask for praise.

I am here to remind myself, and hopefully another mother or two who might also need to hear it:

The things we do in secret are often the most important—and the most sanctifying—ones.

I have been thinking often on Christ’s instructions to His disciples in Matthew 6. Let your giving be in secret. Shut your door and pray to the Father in secret. Keep your fasting secret. These are some of the most fundamental practices in the Christian life, and we are exhorted to practice secrecy in all of them.

And with each of these practices, there comes a promise: And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

How humbling and beautiful to read those words. I am reminded again that it matters not what man thinks of me. I am seen and known by a Heavenly Father who accepts my small offerings of sacrifice. What is the praise of man compared to the reward of God?

Motherhood is a practice in “letting no opportunity go by for serving others in love,” its sacrifices “a bouquet of insignificant little blossoms that are daily placed before the Almighty—a silent, life-long martyrdom.” (St. Edith Stein)

I am asked only to be faithful in the tasks I am given, to look not for the praise of man, but to work and wait and pray that one day I may hear the only praise that matters:

Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest.