“Mothers are the strongest antidote to the spread of self-centered individualism… It is they who testify to the beauty of life.”
I sit on the second leg of a cross-country plane ride sandwiched between a carseat and a five- year-old boy. My son sleeps deeply with his head on my lap, scrunched up in his seat. In my arms is my six-month-old daughter, whom I attempt to nurse over her brother. I sit in this makeshift human game of tetris, breathe in deeply, and think, hours left in our journey, “what is my life?”
There are many times when I have asked this question throughout the past five and a half years. It’s a question I ask bemusedly from time to time when I have been stretched in such a way that I never thought would be possible—in the moments when I am asked to give creatively, humorously, or abundantly. As you might imagine, motherhood presents those opportunities quite often.
I smirk in these moments because I know these thoughts come from the woman who said as an adolescent that she would rather not have children. Babies were foreign to me and teenagers seemed like purgatory. Why would I want to have kids who would one day likely treat me the way I had treated my parents as a young person—always keeping them on their toes, suggesting another mission trip or school program that happened to be thousands of miles away in third world countries, or simply giving them attitude, ungrateful responses, and callous words?
Why would I want to pour myself out to a being that may not appreciate me or reciprocate the love I gave?
Why would I want children?
My family loves to tease me about and remind me of this fact with each child I have.
Here I find myself, three kids in, packing extra clothes for that one blowout, using a toddler potty in dire instances of emergency, cutting sandwiches into bento lunch boxes, sneaking vegetables into homecooked dinners, and bandaging the latest knee scrape. Here I find myself, convincing toddlers that shoes are a good idea, cleaning the mold from bath toy crevices, trying to keep my cool when the freshly assembled yogurt and granola bowl is tipped over, listening to children’s saint podcast episodes, and reading all the books using all the voices.
How did this happen?
The best answer I can say is grace. God took the young callous woman who had never changed a diaper and made a mother out of me (more on that journey another time), and I found that I loved it.
I remember when our first son was born. I would go to bed after he was asleep and lay there hoping to be needed by him again (I know—crazy right?). I relished the fact that I could provide for him—I could feed, soothe, hold him. It felt like the most important task I had ever been given. Probably because it was and continues to be. As John Paul II wrote in his Letter to Women, “For in giving themselves to others each day women fulfil their deepest vocation.”
Today, motherhood takes every ounce of my energy and creativity and patience. There have been many times when I have fallen short of my vocation to love unconditionally, forgive immeasurably, and respond charitably. I lose my patience, raise my voice, and threaten ridiculous consequences. Sometimes I wonder who indeed the child is in a scenario.
But I don’t regret a minute of it. My task, though often behind the scenes, is to help form a civilization of love starting with my domestic church—my home. My task, though often overlooked, is to raise men and women of virtue striving to become saints. My task, though often ignored, is to bring the "genius of women” to society--“placing [myself] at the service of others in..everyday [life].”
I have learned slowly what St. Ignatius of Loyola spoke of when he prayed to “give and not count the cost.” As a teenager, I could not fathom the depths of true love and mercy. Years later in graduate school, I heard a professor define mercy as “love that keeps giving in the face of rejection.” What seemed like it was for chumps to my teenage mind now comprises my entire life mission. Mothers, and parents overall, are called to live this mercy profoundly—imaging for the world in a special way the love of God.
And I’m not the only one attempting this kind of supernatural love. I’m surrounded by these kinds of mothers. I’m surrounded by women who give of themselves extraordinarily every day. Mothers who offer to watch my kids for a couple of hours to give me a mental health morning. Mothers who drop off a day of meals when our family is sick. Mothers who leave notes of encouragement for one another. Who call to say hi and just check in. Mothers who remember my birthday. Who encourage me with their witness of authenticity, humility, and courage. Mothers with multiple roles or jobs ,new mothers and seasoned mothers.
So many times, I have looked around and thought not only, “what is my life?” but “what is life, what is society, what is culture, without motherhood?” And not only physical motherhood, but spiritual motherhood, too. Women who bring life into the world in ways as unique as themselves—with their compassion, sensitivity, creativity, and love.
I have been humbled by this vocation time and again.
And so, I look up with a smirk to the Lord, my shoulders wrapped in a nursing cover, finagling an infant and sweating, trying to keep two children asleep in a cramped airplane row, and say not only, “what is my life?” but “thank you for this life.
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