The 50/200 Paradox

I’ve been quiet for several weeks now because we unfortunately found out at 18 weeks that one of our twins did not survive my case of H1N1 a few weeks prior.  We’re (thankfully) not at any increased medical risk, and our remaining child is growing well.  We have named the child that we lost Nicholas, and the daughter we are blessed to have Mercy.

Looking at my “reproductive history” now, I have had 11 babies in 9 pregnancies leading to 4 (soon to be 5, by the grace of God) babies alive at birth.  It can be pretty demoralizing to look at, to be perfectly honest.  Less than 50% of the children given to me actually live long enough to make it into my arms?  I have more children in heaven than I do on earth?  I mean, we have chosen to embrace openness life, and this is the result?  Sometimes it feels like this is all some kind of cruel joke.

And at the same time, what gives me pause when I’m going to go on one of those really negative trains of thought, asking God what the heck He was thinking, is to ask myself two questions: do I really believe that life begins at conception or not, and whether I believe my children exist for their own sake or because they exist to play a part in MY destiny.  If I make myself act in line with what I know to be true, namely that the fertilized egg is as much an image of God as I am, I am a mother of 11, not a mother of 4 (hopefully soon to be 5.) We both exist for the same purpose and in loving relationship to God and to eachother, no matter how different our specific roles and abilities may be at that point.  And their existence has everything to do with them and their relationship with God, in which I am honored to serve them as they become the people God calls them to be.

If I embrace that truth, I am doubly blessed and my life is twice as rich even though that joy is mingled with the pain of separation.  It’s the 50/200 paradox.  Have I been “cheated” of half the children that I was supposed to have, or has God given me the privilege of being a mother to twice as many children before birth as those I’m called to mother beyond birth, such that for 6 children for their whole lives I have been the one honored to give them love, dignity and affection?

I do not believe that God will just let someone die before they have had the opportunity to do what He has called them to do, or the entire Catholic theology of salvation doesn’t work.  Therefore I have to believe that my children died having done what they were called to do, and that’s the best that any of us can hope for.  And as much as it can feel otherwise, it is an honor to be the mother to that child even if just for a few weeks.  You are that child’s entire world, and it is a profound gift.  They spend their entire lives within the confines of your body, in a constant and living dialogue of love.  That child’s vocation may be to live only for a short time, and my body gets to be the setting for that life.  What an honor to be the loving home for someone’s entire life.  I am called to be the mother of my children regardless of what the outcome may be.  And my children have the right to a loving mother more than I have the right to a living child.

I am not entitled to my children having a long life or a healthy life, because their lives are about their vocations and their relationship with God and I am only the blessed woman who is graced to love however many children, and care for them for however long God calls me to do so.  My life and my love are given over to them without condition or expectation because that’s what I vowed before God in marrying my husband.  I promised to accept the fruit of our love and to jump off that cliff, embracing whatever ends that implies, because my husband is worth everything I have… even, maybe especially, when that means blood and tears and loss.

Love is a gift.  Love is not commerce, or a contractual negotiation made for the mutual benefit of the parties involved.  Love isn’t about being safe or what I receive in return.   The God I worship is Christ crucified, and my pain is not greater than His love.

Love is the road to the cross, and even through the pain, I choose it still.  That I have children at all is the result of the fact that I have a husband first, and in the middle of this sadness I am called to love more fully, not less, and to live free from fear.  That my children may only be mine for a short time is a greater reason to love with all I have, not a reason to delay love until I have a better assurance that that relationship will not end earlier than I would have hoped for them.

Ultimately, I choose to love and live by the 200%, not the 50%.  I am blessed in all of my children, no matter how long they live and no matter what their vocations in life are.  Saints Evelyn, Anastasia, Zoe, Patience, Aine, and Nicholas, pray for me now and at the hour of my death.

7 Quick Takes

I’m so sorry for having kind of abandoned this blog!  Life got kind of busy, so I’m going to use Jen at ConversionDiary’s format for doing 7 Quick Takes.

1.  We are pregnant.  And not just ANY kind of pregnant.  We are pregnant with twins.  This will make for babies number 5 and 6, bringing us to a grand total of 6 children in just under 8 years of marriage.  Our twins are doing marvelously, and are due sometime in April.  I’ve already grown 11 lbs of baby before, so if anyone can grow twins with as little difficulty as possible, it’s me.  Which brings us to point number 2…

2.  If we continue at this rate, we will be well into double digit children when all is said and done.  I am only 25, and could easily hit 14 kids at this rate.  Easily.  This has brought a lot of commentary from well meaning friends and family concerned about how we will adequately take care of this number of children.

3.  The simple fact is that I cannot adequately take care of 14 children on my own.  I can’t take care of the 4 I have adequately on my own.  I lack the virtue and the stamina to do even a “good enough” job without grace sustaining me through whatever we face.  So, I can either choose to rely on myself or I can try to walk by faith, or perhaps more accurately be carried by faith.

4.  I need to get over caring about what people think, especially for situations that are clearly beyond my control and where God has made His will abundantly clear.  When I think about it, the prospect of having 14 children total doesn’t actually scare me.  I have an extremely solid marriage, kids who are quite easy, and we started young enough that having 14 kids would give us spacing that is not terribly unmanageable.  What does scare me is the amount of sheer animosity that having a large family seems to garner.

5.  In praying about everything, what has become abundantly clear to me is that God always provides for you to be able to fulfill His will, and any conception clearly falls into the category “God’s will” because no human being can manufacture a human soul.  He would not ask you to do the impossible, although sometimes His will is difficult.  He will not entrust children to me that I cannot feed, or house, or clothe but sometimes I will have to rely on Him to work out the logistics and be willing to accept the help that He offers me through other people.  If this is the will of God (and who knows… I could wind up with a hysterectomy and never have another child again), His yoke will be easier than any of the alternatives, and it’s complete and utter foolish arrogance to pretend that just because God doesn’t call many people to have 14 kids that *surely* He can’t be calling ME.  In some ways, I feel like the total number of children we eventually will have has very little to do with me and everything to do with God choosing to create that child and our family being the chosen setting for that child to come into being.

6.  This is one of those times where if I’m going to make it through ok, I’m going to have to stick to what I really believe my priorities need to be.  #1, I need to be willing to let God love me and live within His love without excuses but also without shame.  #2, I need to be willing to be loved and to love in return the husband that God called me into marriage with.  #3, I need to let the love I receive flow through me to my children instead of relying on myself to somehow come up with all the necessary love and resources.  As a source, I fail.  As a conduit, God chooses how to care for our family and my specific gifts and talents are the tools through which He provides for us.

If I am a good Catholic, I will be a good wife.  I cannot love God with everything I have and then be cruel, demeaning, demanding or apathetic towards my husband.  The two are incompatible.  If I value my husband because God chose us for eachother, I will be a good mother because I could not possibly act with anything less than love towards the children who exist as the result of that relationship.  When I make that first choice for God, everything else important in my life naturally falls into place.

7.  Above all, God is good to me, and I need to make sure that my attitude is always in line with that fact.  With so many blessings before me, happiness is more than just a feeling: it’s a duty.

Holiness and Humor

So, today over scrambled eggs I was talking with Nat about being a good boy. He was telling me that he’s so smart and trying to get me to agree with him about how smart he is. So, we had a discussion about how yes he is very smart but being smart is less important than what you do with your intelligence.

We talked about the difference between being good and being holy, and about how when people see him they either learn good things or bad things about him and about God. So, when you are kind and loving, what you do tells people that you are a good person but also that the God you worship, the God who made you is also kind, loving and good. Telling the truth about God in what you do is called “holiness,” and behaving yourself is only part of holiness. Sometimes it is hard to be holy and sometimes we will screw up, but the alternative is having our actions say things that aren’t true about ourselves and about God so we work to be holy even when it’s hard. I could tell he was really listening and thinking about what we were talking about, with those wheels turning in his head.

So, maybe 20 minutes later when I was making granola, Nat came in with a big smile on his face like he frequently has.

“Mommy, you’re so nice and you’re the best mommy ever.” *pause and huge grin* “You’re so… holy.”

I thanked him and gave him a hug because he’s such a sweetheart. I’m working on it, Nat. I’m working on it. 🙂

I’m still around, but blogging is taking a back seat right now because I’ve got SO much to do!  I will try to write more, though.  In the meanwhile, here are some thoughts on anger, venting, and honesty.

When you are angry, be very careful about the truth of what you say and to whom you say it.  It doesn’t matter how upset you are.  Deliberately saying something that is not true simply because you are angry is a telling a lie, and as unacceptable as every other form of dishonesty.  There is no level of anger or frustration at which saying hurtful and untrue things could ever possibly be ok.  Being upset is not an excuse for deception and cruelty, and words spoken in anger can give scars that last a very long time.

When you are angry, check yourself before you say something you can’t take back.  Before you say something that could hurt someone, especially someone you love, ask these questions:

1.  Is what I want to say true?

2.  Will saying this be helpful?

3.  Is saying this necessary?

4.  Is now the right time to bring this up?

5.  How can I frame this in a loving manner?

If your statement doesn’t meet those criteria, DO NOT SAY IT.

There is a place for anger and frustration.  But love is more important, and love does not allow the destruction of someone else because you had a bad day.  Love doesn’t become optional because you’re upset, and saying “I didn’t mean it” doesn’t erase your actions.

Situations like these tend to come up when people are under a lot of stress.  Some of this is unavoidable, but some of it happens when we become overextended.  If you are so stressed that you are lashing out at people you care about, something needs to change.  We all have our limits, and respecting those limits is a form of care for our loved ones because it means we are choosing to ensure that to the best of our abilities we are never in a place where we treat others poorly.  There is nothing more crucially important than treating those we love with kindness, and tolerating the risk that you will be in a position where you can’t control your tongue is itself a failure of love.  If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  If your lifestyle causes you to harm those you love, cut it down.  Better that you not make that promotion or miss out on that hobby than that you treat someone you love with anything less than the respect they deserve.  Some things are not negotiable.

The people we love best deserve the best of what we have to offer, not the leftovers once we’ve finished running around like headless chickens in pursuit of unrealistic goals.  Do little things, and do them well.  As the saying goes, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.

Of the following truths, I am convinced:

1. Baby toes fundamentally need to be kissed, and often.  The entire fate of the world depends on their being kissed adequately, and tummies tickled as well.

2. Little girl curls are the most beautiful thing in the world, and their neglect is a crime against nature.

3. Little boys will always get into trouble of the most serious sort when not properly channeled into trouble that is less destructive to furniture, drapes and other property.

4. Children need to get dirty enough during the day to require a bath before bedtime in order to be well rounded individuals.  Both the dirt and the bath are essential elements of character formation.

5.  Some husbands simply MUST be reminded to eat food on a regular basis, or they will be eaten alive by overzealous furniture, not to be seen or heard from again.  Also, their jokes must be laughed at with sufficient mirth and they must be constantly reassured that they would be just as sexy if they were to go bald.

6.  Fairy tales are the best textbooks, because (to quote Chesterton) “they are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

7.  Home baked goods are the hallmarks of liberty.   To make muffins is to safeguard the republic.

These are not the only convictions I hold, but they are among the most important.

Baby toes are sacred and need to be kissed, and therefore someone must kiss them.  That’s me.  Someone.  Someone who kisses sacred toes, adorns curls, channels boys into appropriate trouble, provides opportunities for both dirt and purification, cooks food for a starving man lest he become one with the sofa, overflows with mirth at every joke, utters prophesies of the victories over dragons, and tends the kitchen flame so that there are enough baked goods for peace and virtue to reign in the republic. There is no calling higher than kissing sacred toes, and no duty more rewarding than standing as prophetess of the eternal truths that are whispered at bedtime while the moon rises in the sky.

And you know what?  I like it.  And now off for another adventure…

As I get closer to 25, I have started getting pretty angsty about where I am in life right now and whether or not it’s the right place (or at least a GOOD place) to be.  A large part of my problem as I can see it is that I feel very guilty and like a glorious “might have been” for being at home with my kids.  This isn’t anyone’s problem or responsibility but my own, and I need to get over it because it’s stupid.  The main arguments I seem to see are that being a stay at home mom is a waste of your own potential, unfair to your husband because then he has to shoulder all the financial responsibilities, and probably not good for your kids because they start to think that the world revolves around them.

  • Am I being essentially a cop out on my own potential by staying at home?  This one I honestly can’t tell, because I had a pretty decent job title during the 6 months that I was working from home and was working with excellent people.    It still wasn’t something that I really looked forward to doing.  I loved the results but the hands on work just didn’t feel like something I was really cut out for.  And if I’m not cut out for work, is that a defect in me or just a variation of normal?  I think I would enjoy nursing, but mostly I enjoy reading and “pursuing wisdom” for lack of a better term.  Unfortunately “living life well” is not a category recognized by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and you don’t get earnings in dollars.  I love what I do, and that makes me feel embarrassed because I feel like I “should” want to do “more” than this.
  • I have so many successful working moms that I know and respect, and I get really unnerved by statements that it wouldn’t be fair to husband X if wife Y wasn’t working to contribute financially to the family.  I want to be the best wife I possibly can be because I love Steve with everything that I’ve got, so statements like that tend to freak me out.  Am I being unfair to Steve by not bringing in a large paycheck?  If it’s fundamentally unfair on an absolute level to not bring in a paycheck, then I’m not being the wife I ought to be.  That’s a very alarming possibility to contemplate and this is one I can’t write off so easily.  Steve would say that it’s utter bullshit and that he doesn’t want me to work, ever.   I don’t know.  I just don’t know, especially since I think it puts too high an emphasis on financial earnings as a sign of self worth.  No one is entitled to affluence, and the lack of affluence is not a moral failing.  But I won’t be able to take vacations, enroll in extra-curriculars, or buy really nice things on a whim just because I want to give something nice to my husband or my kids.
  • Am I “spoiling” my kids by having them at home with me all the time?  I mean, I don’t *think* they’re spoiled.  They’re very well behaved kids, and they’re with their brothers and sister all the time.  They spend time with people who love them, and honestly?  I’m a heck of a lot smarter than your average day care worker, and that’s an extra 50 hours per week that I have with my kids that I wouldn’t have if I were working full time.  Am I just a bad mother because I NEED those extra hours?  Do I just suck at scheduling “quality time”?  I don’t really think you can schedule those moments, and I think that in any other work relationship you’d say that you could do a more complete job of something with 84 working hours at your disposal compared to 34.  Generally speaking, you are going to get more done in 80 hours versus 30.  Is the definition of what is important just different for working vs stay at home moms?  I don’t want to be unfair to anyone.  I just don’t get it, because if I’m spending more than twice the amount of time with my kids there has to be *some* difference there or I’m wasting time that could be better allocated elsewhere.  This reason sounds the most bogus to me, especially since I am pretty sure that if I asked my kids they would rather stay at home with me and with each other than go to daycare full time where they would probably know their classmates better than their own siblings.

I don’t want to be emo here, but this is really grating on me.  College worked well because I had something that has recognized value to the majority of people while I was still staying home with my kids the majority of the time, and there were fewer of them then.  I want to do right by everyone in my family, and I don’t know how to reconcile this.  I feel like that by the standards that suggest all women should work regardless of whether they have children, I am a “pretty clinging parasite” who piggybacks off of her husband’s success.  I also feel like that my kids are being formed every hour of every day, and like it’s my responsibility to be the one ensuring that they are formed well but I can’t do that if I’m not there.

I’m very conflicted and feeling guilty about all of this.  I need to feel like what I do actually has value, and I feel like I’m stuck either saying that working moms are “bad moms” or that I’m doing something that is pointless and wasteful.  I don’t want to feel like my life and what I invest time in has no value.  I think this is my version of a “quarter life crisis.”  I just don’t feel like what I offer matters very much to anyone or is respected, and if it’s not respected either society is screwed up or I am making a gross misjudgment about what is important and it’s to the detriment of my family.

Right now it honestly seems like my only claim to respect is that I managed to give birth to 10 and 11 lb infants in a kitchen, I can bake well, my kids are well behaved and I’m a half-way decent writer.  I think I’ve got a decent perspective on a varied number of topics, but I also think that in general people don’t care about what I care about or about what I think because hey… I just stay home with kids all the time.  What could I possibly know?  Smart women have better things to do with their time than washing diapers and mediating pre-school disputes.

I’m sorry, o blogosphere.  This is just bugging the living daylights out of me and I don’t know what to think.  Please don’t take this as an attack on any of you or your choices.  I’m just trying to muddle through my feelings here and (as you can see) they’re a bit of a mess.

Finding my voice

Throughout Lent, I’ve been making a more conscious effort to pray throughout the day.  The easiest way for me to do this is to sing the formal prayers that I know in Latin.  From the beauty of the Panis Angelicus to the Ave Maria both in chant and the version written by Gounod, singing prayers as I go about my daily responsibilities has kept me grounded in the grace to be found in the simple tasks of every day life.  However, I noticed something interesting while I sang my way through dishes and laundry:

My voice sounds best when I’m not trying to stifle it to keep it quieter.  If I am trying to sing quietly, my voice cracks and sounds off from where it is supposed to be.

Timidity alters how I sing, and in this case how I pray.  When I try to minimize and contain my singing voice, it becomes distorted and a distraction from the words I sing.  It’s only when I sing without reserve that I sound like myself, and my voice faithfully communicates the words I am praying.

Singing is just one way to speak truth about God, and I wonder how much timidity colors the other ways that I try to share the Gospel.  Where else does my timidity muffle and distort the message of a God who loves enough to die for love of His beloved?

One of the fundamental realities of conveying a message means that you have to speak so that people can hear it.  This is something that I have never been comfortable with, but my discomfort with the potential for conflict really doesn’t matter much in light of my obligation as a Catholic to love my neighbors well enough to risk discomfort to share Christ with them.

I know it won’t happen overnight, but for now I will work to speak with my own voice the truth I embrace.  The message is more important than the messenger, and I need to get out of my own way and prepare the way for Christ.