Being the mother of nine children makes getting out of the house without a crew in tow, a positive rarity. One would think I’d harbor moments of solitude like a miser, but on those occasions when I’m out in the world alone, I find myself looking for people to tell about my children. Over time I’ve noticed that when my children are with me, I’m hoping people won’t define me simply by the number of offspring I have, whereas when I am alone, I’m anxious that everyone know just how big my family is.
At least part of my discomfort both with my children and without them stems from my own neediness to be noticed. I’ve always fought to ensure I was defined by more than one thing when meeting people. When I was younger, “I have a Master’s in Special Education but I’m working on my doctorate.” Or “I’m a stay at home mom but I also write free lance for a paper.” I always wanted an and tacked to a description or definition of myself. My self was insufficient to impress, if no one else, me.
Somehow, I didn’t want to embrace the great and difficult role of “just” being each of these people’s mother. I didn’t want to surrender my whole self even though my profession of faith, my life, my choices demanded it.
Children need. Some need more than others, but all of them need and crave near infinite love. I was wanting to give less. Mothering reduced to pure errands can become mundane and exhausting. Mothering absent that element of service can become ephemeral and meaningless. These jobs on my to-do list were my choice and revealed not simply my life, but how I would meet the challenges of this life. Would the house work and school obligations become a maternal sysphian struggle, or would they reflect for each child, how much I loved them individually?
Lately, I’d slipped into pragmatic and “triage” parenting. I got the job done. Nagging one child to practice their music, I lectured. “One can’t do an extraordinary job with a mediocre effort.” The words echoed back on me. My own heart needed retuning. I prayed. I cried. I prayed some more.
The sheer weight of the tasks involved threatened to overwhelm my willingness to take everything on. I worried I would fail. Every task took effort. I found myself almost muttering prayer constantly.
“How God? How can I do this?” I demanded.
Then, my not yet two year old came over, spied space on my empty lap and climbed up. After regarding me for a few minutes with her soft bright brown eyes, she kissed my cheek several times and I felt the strain and stress of the whole world melt for a time. I had my answer.
Taking care of a large family, it’s work. But this I believe, it’s no sacrifice to be surrounded by people to love, and that also, love you.