I went searching in my archives for a recipe at Sarah's request, and I stumbled across a post I had completely forgotten. I never published it, because it was long and I thought it might sound boastful, but it was about sharing my faith with my children. It was such fun to read -- a fantastic window into our family's life six years ago. That's what I love about blogging: the record of events and thoughts and quotes and stages. It slips away so quickly if I don't record it.
As I've become less anonymous I've done more self-censoring. I suppose it's inevitable but it's also a shame. In the octave of Easter, even before it surfaced in the royal wedding, I kept running across this quote from St. Catherine: "Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire." I was kneeling in the Adoration chapel, asking why I kept tripping over this quote. I said, "What would you have me do?" And the answer, mysteriously but unmistakably, was "Write."
So I'm writing.
(And also feeling utterly naked.)
Since I am already feeling naked, I will share a story that my inner editor would most likely have blue-penciled a couple of weeks ago. I was at Mass this morning, sitting across from a young family that leaves me feeling like a slacker. They've had four kids in rapid succession and yet they are always, always there at daily Mass. Back in the fall when I brought Stella to a weekday Mass, I got the distinct impression from the dad that he thought she was a bad influence on his kids. (She's not a fan of sitting quietly in the pew, my Stella.)
Do you do that unfortunate thing when you feel disapproval from someone else, that thing where you find yourself looking for something to criticize in return? "Well, my daughter may be a shrieking lunatic, but hey-- your tie is totally crooked!" No?? It's just me?? [heavy sigh and firm resolve] I have struggled with that unfortunate thing ever since.
Today I was there alone, while they were muddling through with their four little ones. Usually their kids are preternaturally well-behaved, but their newest baby is very new indeed and the older ones were wigglier and noisier than usual. At one point the dad asked each of the two oldest if they wanted a swat. As you might expect, they assured him that they did not.
Ten years ago that scene would have unleashed a torrent of strong feelings in me. (OK, actually, "strong feelings" = judgy judgy judgment.) Way to teach your children about the love of Jesus there, Dad! That's why he said, "Suffer the little children to come to me, and forbid them not, for in the kingdom of God I shall swat such as these." Or something like that.
But the certainty I had ten years ago about my parenting philosophy has been eroded by the reality of mothering my children. Ten years on I am able to see the irony in feeling superior to a parent whose children usually sit quietly and participate while mine erupt in unpredictable plumes of mirth and fury.
The reality is that the research on long-term attachment parenting outcomes is not as clear as Dr. Sears likes to say it is. The reality is also that Alfie-Kohn-esque discipline strategies can leave you up a creek in the short term. I continue to believe that it is worthwhile to teach children to do the right thing for its own sake, but OH do I see the utility of an occasional threat or bribe. I cannot know how it will all shake out in 20 years' time. Will my children be faithful Christians as adults? Will theirs? None of us can really know, and so I have come to think it's wiser to give each other the benefit of the doubt.
My 6yo has been having some trouble with his temper lately. This is a new thing for him; for a long time he was the sweetest and meekest of my children. In recent weeks anger has been smacking him around capriciously-- something minor will leave him enraged. This afternoon I sent him to his room to calm down and went up a few minutes later to check on him. "What was that about?" I asked him. "Hell," he answered instantly. "I think hell took over about a quarter of my brain."
At bedtime he got angry again. He has, and hates, the earliest bedtime. "I'm not going to put my clothes in the hamper," he fumed. We talked about it for a few minutes, about flexing your doing-the-right-thing muscles so they get stronger than your doing-the-wrong-thing muscles. "I'm too tired to do the right thing," he grumped. "Doing the right thing even when you're tired is the very best practice for your doing-the-right-thing muscles," I assured him.
He put his clothes in the hamper. "I'm doing this," he said with definite displeasure but no further defiance, "because I love you."
That's my highest hope: that when it is crunch time for them as Christians, that they will choose what's right and say to God, "I'm doing this because I love you." Will they? Do I?
I started this post three weeks ago and buried it in my drafts folder because (a) who wants to be naked in public? and (b) it kept getting longer, with no tidy ending in sight. After that Mass three weeks ago I thought to myself, "Instead of feeling so awkward around that family all the time, you should just love them the best you can. Take them a meal now that the baby's here." Today I finally did, lentil soup and corn muffins and a box of fudgesicles, assembled during the most tempestuous afternoon I can remember. The three youngest kids took turns wailing, and an older brother punctuated the wailing with poisonous sarcasm. I dropped that dinner off while my boys squabbled in the back of the van, with a prayer that we could all be more gracious to each other.
Maybe I don't have a tidy ending because motherhood isn't about the tidy or the endings: it's messy, it's gradual. It's love disguised in a box of fudgesicles and in fumbling efforts to be patient, and you can only hope the message gets through.