Peering Into a Catholic Motherhood's Toolbox
Madeleine's pet gecko!
To motherhood belongs the distinguished commodity: our own special toolbox of learned skills, the intelligent planning, and the intuitive wisdom gained and increased with each passing year of motherhood tucked under our belt. With this process of mother-becoming, an old self is shed like the skin of my daughter Madeleine's gecko. The old skin (in my own sad case) is, sadly, the selfish hoarder (granted, who was but a young girl), ultimately a person in denial about her own self-worth, and she casts that insecurity onto her friends and spouse and other family members like a crystal reflecting a prism. When the child bursts upon the scene, her heart explodes with a wild-animal kind of love. The passive aggressive, the petty, the thief of joy-- her selfish insecure moth-like insect transforms. A mother is like a gecko with a fresh new skin, or in my case, a mother butterfly with her own little swarm of caterpillars.
Every mother has her own biggest values. I call this her primary go-to toolbox, the one she reaches for the most often. It might be a Pinterest-strict diet, be it no sugar and grains, or all juice-infused hemp smoothies.... or activity planning or fresh air. It might be "go to church!" It might be a strict routine or "no alcohol" or "no drugs' or "no tv." In my case, the first thing I reach for is not brainwashing but rather letting the Lord's Prayer lead, or the idea of "Thy Kingdom come." Recently I was with a good friend at the beach of a nearby river. I texted to ask where she was, and she said, "under a bush, by the stream." I laughed out loud. But I found it a good analogy to that desire to speak with the divine or God or something higher. We are under the shadow of a Being who is protecting and defending us. Power springing from a higher order gives one a sense of relief and I would daresay unity with others.
I think every Catholic and probably other mothers, at their heart would suppose that I should have a different answer. I should be saying, "Oh yes, in order not to be a jealous dictator, ruling with cruelty, take your kids to church-- more specifically, Mass! They need not only to be raised with the idea of a God who is bigger than themself, they need the tool belt of self-righteousness!" Just kidding. They do need the sacraments, though, in addition to "Thy Kingdom come." Faith is nothing if I am lording it over my kiddos, attempting to teach them whatever has flown into my own head that day. Priests can take the reading of the week and with far more training than I will ever hope to have, speak a homily of wisdom and transmit that leadership into their little lives. And that kind of loving authority is something I'm ok with.
The week that Frances made her first confession and received her first Holy Communion, I asked Molly to explain to her little sister what it was like when she went through this process three years ago. Molly told Frances not to be nervous, and gave her a few tips about folding her hands, watching those in front, and crossing herself. Then I asked Molly, "And now do you feel different, now that you have received?" "Yes, said Molly., I said, "Ok, explain it to Frances." She said, "Oh I DEFINITELY feel Jesus." I sighed a big breath of relief. YES. I feel different too. Because intimacy changes everything.
The third thing in my toolbox after prayer and the sacraments, is my love for reading. I bring this up because last year at this time, Stephen and I had a second conversion. We converted from sending our kids to a private Catholic school, to homeschooling all six of our children...! This decision was accompanied by a lot of speaking Hail Mary's into the air, meetings together and with the Catholic school about financial aid, conversations with friends at the Co-op at our parish, and friends we have a weekly potluck with who also homeschool their kids. I love to read, and I hope to pass this love along to my kids. Reading out loud, seeing the bug catch fire, and seeing the butterfly emerge from its literary chrysalis is one of the biggest reasons for homeschooling. We hope they also learn independence and learning to think for themselves.
When you become a mother, the reason you start to grow an intentional toolbox is because you realized that "OH CRAP! This is harder than I thought to raise a little one!" You can't dial it in one day a week or EVER. You have to be a Mom full-time in order to allow faith to penetrate. Don't hear me incorrectly because it is a total joy, my calling, and vocation. Rather than curb the volcanic eruptions, ignore the moods, deny the wet and dirty diapers.... we seek out the path of love and we do so in our IRL community, and there is so much joy in our parish among those who are pregnant, nursing, have newborns, or older kids. It is my conviction, from having babies and experiencing it in community with younger mothers-- this sense of family breeds happiness and joy. And I would add that having a toolbox of self-aware and intentional parenting standards brings wisdom.
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