Sunday, August 14, 2011

Embracing an Advanced Degree in Motherhood

Back when I first started staying home as a mom, I had great ambitions and most of them, amounted to silliness and ego.  I was going to read a book once a week, learn a foreign language by having the tapes on in the background while I cooked; and the food would be eventually, gourmet.  I dutifully watched Great Chefs of New Orleans and the Frugal Gourmet (They were my equivalent of the Food Network at the time) and took notes.

I nearly spent us into oblivion in my first four months of being at home because I bought exotic ingredients and used my cooking obsession to fill the void; all the time feeling terribly guilty that I wasn't doing enough with my son such that at one point, I sat reading aloud the cookbook to him in a sing song voice because he was up.  I didn't know how to be and enjoy motherhood yet.

I simply had all the impossible standards and invisible voices of years of being taught that I needed to be more than by the magazines and popular culture.  My mom had never demanded perfection, and she had loved us well; it was me getting stuck in the amber of pride.  I was just a stay at home mom.

Well that wouldn't do. 

That wouldn't do at all.  So I tried cooking....but that particular kind of crazy caused me to 1) spend money 2) gain weight and 3) make a general mess of the apartment kitchen which was not suited to the abuse I gave it. So, did I stop, reflect and change course?  Well, sort of.  I stopped.  I more changed color than course.  I started exercising at the gym and that became my devotion for the day, plus I started studying for the GRE.  Yes. I was living the dream.  I had it all.  I went to the gym, dropped my son off at the child care room, hopped on the treadmill with my practice book, number two pencils and my walkman playing classical music to drown everything else out, and I would take two tests while I marched. 

The flailing to "drown everything else out" was the same, it was just the focus that had changed.  I'm a stay at home mom....and I'm a graduate student studying blah blah blah.  Fortunately, a job forced us to relocate and while I attempted the madness again and again and again, by the time my daughter came around, even I had to recognize to some dull extent, this wasn't working.  The dream wasn't bad, it was simply misplaced, out of order, not what should be first.  Like Martha with Jesus in her house, I wasn't paying attention to the gifts I'd received, but more focused on an impossible ideal; a perfect Sherry as versus a perfected Sherry. 

I still labored with these annoyingly stupid thoughts.

If I had the Ph.D. I would be smart.
If I had the title, people would respect me.
If I did these things, I would be accomplished.

Earth to Sherry, Heaven to Sherry, this is not what I want from you.  God sent a third child.

And it was nuts. Sitting in the delivery room, hooked up to an iv and monitors, talking on the phone to my team about a paper on teaming based on qualitative research about schools and trying to explain my thoughts in between suddenly dawned on my brain...this is a special kind of crazy...and not the good kind.

So with her, I started to surrender.  It was small at first and I had lots of set backs.  I tried being Parish Council, (4th child) (after all, I have this free time because I'm not in school anymore) and Development Director (5-6th) (done with Parish Council and I need to do something) and being a writer. (7th to present)  All three were great, all three were also for other reasons,to serve because I was asked, to organize things because it was part of getting my children into Catholic school, to share stories, to make money, to have a little something for me, there were good, bad, mixed and pure motives in everything, like there always are for all of us.  But the extra always came first up until Paul.  Then I had to wrestle with the now of saying, "I'm a mom of ten." because the operative word should be Mom, not the number.  And that's hard because 1) it's a reality 2) I'm proud of them all, and 3) I'm a bit of a show off.  I'm always looking for an excuse not to do the one thing God asks and has asked in spades. 

But one of my children is starting adulthood, he's preparing for college and that, contrasted with holding an 8 month old daughter, brought back into sharp relief the time span that had transpired.   The old demons that had been fought so often, made an attempt to bite me ...if they can't have me, they'll at least make me sting a bit....

So Sherry, got that degree yet? (No but some day). What about learning that language? (Ha!)  How many books do you read a year (4-7)...but I buy more than I ever read. Learn a new piano piece in the past year (No). Gourmet cooking? nope, love eating it, don't have the precision or the time for it. How's that book coming?  (Slowly).  They've needled me into momentarily looking at the 18 years like time squandered, lost, flung away carelessly on computer, on eating badly, and laundry.  The maw of despair is always there trying to make me under value love, undervalue teeth brushed, baths given, stories read, beds made, meals and errands and the daily feeding, dressing and cleaning of children; like 18 credit hours somehow carry more weight than 18 years of care.

But God orders all things and knew the demons would be there lurking, waiting to bite me today; so the Gospel was Gospel Mt 15:21-28.

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out,
"Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David!
My daughter is tormented by a demon."
But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her.
Jesus' disciples came and asked him,
"Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us."
He said in reply,
"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, "Lord, help me."
He said in reply,
"It is not right to take the food of the children
and throw it to the dogs."
She said, "Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps
that fall from the table of their masters."
Then Jesus said to her in reply,
"O woman, great is your faith!
Let it be done for you as you wish."
And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.

and the Holy Spirit prompted me to click on Fr. Barron's Word on Fire for a precursor understanding while I fixed breakfast for the youngest six.

And the 18 years suddenly felt like training for the Olympics or like being forged.  If a sword in the making could know what it was to become, would it welcome the blows? Embracing a vocation requires knowledge and awareness (I know what I am about to do and am prepared to do this), and volition (I will do this even when I'm not feeling it) and obedience (I submit forever).

You live out a vocation not when it is without thought, effort or struggle, but when the fruits are not yours first and your thoughts are not either. I was feeling fairly rapturous about it all and then I realized, I was being forged into being a better mom.   Would I ever get there?

Then, I remembered, I'd received a gift this week.  Words spoken to me at a meeting regarding my son's placement in school this coming year.  We were discussing his verbal skills and I was explaining I didn't think he needed socialization so much as language; that home life had acclimated him to being around others from the get go.  I joked that having always had a baby or toddler in my life for the past 18 years, I was something of an expert on this area of development.  The woman across the table looked at me with a wide smile and said, "You have a Ph.D. in child development from the school of hard knocks."  She did not know I'd sought an advanced degree, she was simply having a bit of fun.  But those words in that moment, felt like I'd crossed the stage and shaken a hand.

And just as Heaven is when we begin to really love as versus the imperfect love we render here, so also the degree was merely a starting point.  A sword, a book, a brain grows dusty if it is not used.  It must be used to be of value.  The training would go on, but even as it did, now was time to get to work.  And the blows of training will still sting, the imperfections still prickle, but at 18 years, with 18 more to go to see the latest to the same point my oldest is now, I was no where near ready, it's just now, I know I'm only less unready.

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