Sunday, June 24, 2012

Don't Put Headphones on the Cat (and other Life Lessons)

It had been a hard week. I was irritated. 

I was irritated because some of my children adjust to summer more easily than others about how this is a slow time and don't get up until after 10.  I was irritated because some of my children get up asking to paint, go to a park, play the computer, invite friends over and have a cook out, making me tired before I've served breakfast.  Further, I was irritated by one child in particular who is struggling with the hardness of being an adolescent, being out of school, and with having a large family that is often disorganized and cluttered and seems unable to do anything swiftly.  He and I had sparred a few times ultimately culminating in a chilly peace being carved out by him riding his bike for an hour and me calling my mom.

Mom is very sympathetic and she listened as I cried and complained and groused, "There isn't a manual for raising ten children!"  I later growled at God during my Rosary, why isn't there one?

That day the book Don't Put Headphones on the Cat arrived.

Rose and I are Erma Bombeck writing group buddies.  She'd signed it and sent it for me to read and review. I'd dutifully put it by my nightstand for "later." 

This weekend, half my family made a trek up to Connecticut for a family picnic while I worked here to prepare us for a trip we're making to be at my brother's wedding.  So far, the weekend had not been especially productive.  While I'd folded a bazillion clothes, the washer had decided, it would not spin. I'd sensed on Friday that something was wrong but stubbornly kept using it Saturday in hopes it would change its mind and start working again.

Late Saturday, I'd gone to the basement to get a hole puncher from the second study and remembered why I'd considered purchasing a new hole puncher rather than go down those stairs.  I never go to the basement, as the cumulative mess threatens to put me into either a wrathful cleaning frenzy or a self pitying despair.   I told myself it could wait because it had waited this long and wilfully marched myself upstairs. 

To keep myself from fuming about it, I threw myself into Rose Godfrey's book. There wasn't a book on how to raise 10, but there was one by a mother raising 11.  God had heard my prayers and said, "I'll do you one better."  God is like that.  

I hadn't planned on reading until 1 a.m. but I was waiting for my oldest son to return from being at a friend's.  I fell asleep with the book.  When I woke up, I realized I hadn't seen my son.  Neurotic me wanted to panic but the Sensible me said, "There will be a tell that he is home, even before you walk up the stairs." 

I got up and opened the door of my room and there it was;  a empty can of root beer placed on the table in the dining room.  He made it home. No worries.  

Free from that stress and feeling the singular quiet of a home in the morning with all guns out, I decided to take a bath and bring Rose's book with me.  I finished it, towled off and opened the door of my bathroom to find my bedroom had been unlocked and two of my daughters were sitting on my bed talking to my baby girl in her crib. 

Normally, I would be annoyed if someone has picked the lock to my room.  But they immediately started moving for the door. 

"I made your bed for you." my six year old offered as she ducked out, heading straight for the unclaimed computer.  My five year old looked at me in my towel.

"What?" I asked. 

"You look nice that way Mom." she said with a smile and shut the door. 

It's that kind of slice of life story that Rose excels in, and that kind of slice of life story that I loved.  Those sorts of stories had been happening but I had been sort of missing them, being caught up in the struggles of trying to do the impossible, to maintain Homeostasis in a family that was growing and changing and needing me to be a leader rather than a triage parent. 

Sunday morning still loomed as the washing machine remained staunchly still.  We were mostly caught up so I filed the stress of the machine under a "To be done Monday" list and set about making breakfast.  I still feel woefully inadequate to the task of raising these kiddos, like I do with respect to cleaning the basement and getting the laundry under control and preparing for the looming trip and a hard group to take to mass.  But then I realized how the Holy Spirit understood and even wanted me to know this reality. I was woefully inadequate.

This past week, the Holy Spirit's has been thrown at me multiple times.  The past week, the phrase "You cannot do this alone." has quietly screamed at me from unexpected sources; a friend on the phone, in the film Brave as the firey heroine brings about peace by appealing to the reality that the four clans worked together,  and Rose's book when she and her daughters work to help a goat give birth.  The message over and over again, "All of this was possible if it wasn't all me."  It could have been a smaller hammer hitting me on the head than the mess of the basement perhaps, but then if it had been, I might have just ignored the pain and simply resolved never to go down there.

Rose's book came into play. She ended each chapter with a question.  At first, this annoyed me.  But as I allowed myself to go deeper into her chapters, the stories became more poignant, touched deeper to the bone, and revealed the prayerful component of a Martha life that is sacred.  I undertand this element, it's just I often forget to give it its great due, that this life, this pouring out of one's life, if done out of love, does bring us closer to God's vision of us.  But only if we cooperate.  We cannot do it alone.

Part of why Rose sent me the book was to give it a review and encourage others to buy it and read it.  This I heartily do. It is funny and wise and an easy read.

But God always uses all of our experiences to beguile us into following Him.  So I remain humbled and as always, startled by the alarmingly immediate way the Holy Spirit responds to prayers.  Here was a book sent the day I lamented, tailored for refreshing me for the ongoing struggle, a bit of lambas bread for the journey if you will.  I'd needed a mentor and was even asking for it.  Here was someone going through this same experience, and I thought of the immediacy of God's answer of my prayers.

Finally, a bit of resolution for you on all my irritation.  There were two chapters in Rose's book where she talked about  how sons show their love. Sometimes, it was through digging holes, and other times, an odd sort of protection of their family.   My son was protecting his family from himself by taking long bike rides to Giant to buy chocolate milk.   He was also trying to protect me in a odd way by talking about my need to lose some weight and the need to reduce the clutter in our home.  He wanted his family to thrive too, he just saw them not thriving and me not doing enough about it. 

Starting that Tuesday when the book arrived before I'd read it, he and I have taken to taking walks in the cool of the evening and praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. It is his concession to me, and mine to him.  His to pray, mine to exercise.  We are both works in progress, protecting each other. I hadn't realized that was what we were doing for each other until I read her stories.

So I am grateful to Rose and her book.  It was a fun read and a good for summer at the beach or in your room at 1 in the morning waiting up for a teen. While it isn't a manual for How to Raise 10 children, it is rather excellent at showing the why of all this regardless of how many one might be trying to love into adulthood.

To buy her book you can go here. It is also available on Kindle.


Robin E. said...

Hey, thanks for taking the time to share this. I think the Holy Spirit wanted you to pass it on! Realizing my own need for a mentor or guidebook since the birth of my eighth child 3 weeks ago, I have been doing a few google searches for "catholic mom of eight," and when that turned up nothing much, "catholic mom of ten." I already read your blog pretty frequently, but hadn't seen this. I'll be buying the book probably today. :) Keep doing what you are doing. There are others of us out there, just a few years behind you, that benefit a lot from hearing your thoughts and stories, and even just knowing you are out there, walking a few steps ahead. Many thanks. :)

Rose Godfrey said...

Thanks, Sherry, it sounds like the book got there right on time :). Your writing has inspired me often over the years, I hope, in some small way, I was able to return the favor.

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