Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Reed Shaken In the Wind

Last week, I slipped into pervasive sadness. On Monday night, I messed up on my meekness pledge. On Tuesday, we were out of gas money, so no trip to rosary group. The baby was fussy at nights with her teething pain; my three-year-old needed hourly changes of his Thomas the Train underwear. By Wednesday, I entertained such thoughts as “Next week, I get two five day weekends with Jon! Oh, but what does it matter? On January 2, I’ll be back to this same drudgery.” Not Depression with a “capital D” thank goodness, but a sore, weary spirit nevertheless.

I’ve struggled with these bouts of drudgery & depression before. Yet this time was different. This time, I didn’t have the fantasy of thinking, “just hang in there a few more months and then I’ll get a copy-writing job” or “things will get easier when the baby is weaned.” For the first time, in the middle of an “I can’t BELIEVE this is my life” freak-out, there wasn’t anywhere else I wanted to be. I didn’t want to return to working outside the home. I don’t want Maria to be our youngest child. I know the daily tasks of cleaning sheets, neatening the train toys, stirring the chicken dumplings are vital for my husband, my children, the Catholic Church and the world in general. The collective weight of performing these tasks day in and day out for the next two decades, just suddenly seemed “not fun.”

So I was grouchy. I was touchy. I was not feeling well and giving God a piece of my mind. “I’m doing every thing that you asked of me. Why is this still so hard?”

Thankfully Tuesday’s Advent Bible Study brought an answer. A snip of Sunday’s Gospel reading stuck in my mind. By Saturday, I’d reconciled to sufficiently to make a good confession and received some of the sweetest advice I ever heard from a new priest.
By Sunday’s homily I was primed to hear the words of John the Baptist in a new way.

“What did you go out in the desert to see? A reed swayed in the wind?” Matthew 11:2-11

That image of “a reed swayed in the wind” really hit me. What did I expect when I quit work to stay home and raise my Catholic saplings? My answer is cliché. When I finally reconciled to remaining a full-time mother, Hannah was 2 & Alex was 1, I imagined leading a happy, bustling family of six kids. I thought I’d return to my favorite job as a camp counselor. I’d get to whip the kids from activity to activity, sing silly songs in the car, chop up carrot-sticks into zip-lock bags and whisk the stroller out for long outings. The days would be busy with zoo trips and dentist appointments. Occasionally, I deal with the drama of broken laundry machines or sick dogs. (Camp life was always filled with daily dramas.) Briskness, Orderliness, Efficiency. I wanted to be a woman who “got things done.”

Now, my days with a small child and two, slightly older ones, are anything but brisk & efficient. I transfer the laundry painfully with one hand while jiggling a 19-pound fussy baby on my hip. If I take a catnap at 10 AM after a painful night with Maria, I’ll awake to find all 9 bananas that I’ve just brought home from Safeway have a single bite taken out of them. The Teriyaki chicken gets burned because if I let one throwing offence by the three year old go without an immediate redirection to the naughty chair, I’ll soon be taking the four year old to urgent care after a sharp object hits her face. Etcetera, Etcetera, and So Forth.

“What did you got out into the wildness to see?” Jesus asks me.

If I left the working world, a world of fake glory and brisk to-do lists, what did I expect to find? I should expect to my mothering work to operate the same way as my former law office. My new work is humble. It is plain. It has far more in common with the humble Sisters of Charity in Calcutta than with the CEO of Microsoft. “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is not helpful reading at this point in my life. Thankfully, mediation on the Holy Scripture isn’t just helpful, it’s hopeful.

I feel so comforted that the mighty John the Baptist, the babe who leapt in his mother’s womb at the presence of Jesus, still struggled with doubts when locked up in a prison cell. His human frailty gives me hope. “John had doubts about Jesus,” my homilist intoned on Sunday. “But he had the wisdom to go directly to Jesus to get those doubts resolved.” Like John, last week I struggled with human doubts. Yet I do not wish to remain “a reed shaken in the wind.” I will strive to keep my faith strong & steady even when life’s circumstances seem too rough or simply too monotonous.


  1. ...and with the little kids you can't indulge your small "d" depression by enjoying an afternoon/evening of wallowing in your melancholy like the old days. Ya know... when you put on sad, slow music and just enjoy the apathy... and then get over it.

    I love the sass of Jesus- he's basically using a good dose of sarcasm with the crowd, "What did you expect...pink flamingos!"

    My mom told me a great quote from St. Frances de Sales (I knew I had something to blog about- I just remembered this quote now) that if want to have roses in your garden you are going to have thorns. Good thought for motherhood. I'll pray for ya!

  2. Oh my gosh, there is so much wisdom here and so much that I can relate to that I don't even know where to start.

    It has been one of the most amazing experiences that my life is so challenging to me these days, and I too have those "this is my life?!" moments...yet I wouldn't have it any other way. It's strange that even on the very worst days I do not yearn for my pre-kid days or wish I had a job.

    Another thing that helps me sometimes when the going gets rough is to remember that women weren't meant to raise kids the way we have to, in total isolation. Women throughout history have almost always had help by virtue of living in small communities where families lived near one another. I think that being solely responsible for little ones all day every day, without even having older children to help yet, is one of the hardest things a person can do. (But I hear that in many ways it gets easier as you have more children and your oldest kids get old enough to help.)

    Anyway, all this rambling is to say that I can totally relate, and I really appreciate you sharing this wisdom. It is such a great point: when we left the world to go "out into the desert" not just to be homemakers but also to undertake the very difficult task of making our faith a priority, what did we expect to see?

  3. I googled the phrase "A Reed Shaken In the Wind" while preparing a Catholic talk and your wonderful blog came up. What insight you give here. I am a mother of two small boys and can relate...I too like the sassiness in Jesus' statement. Here I am a mother, only a year ago working full time as I had done since graduating college, and STILL getting used to the idea of "stay-at-home-mom", and struggling sometimes with just damage control, and that is before the normal cleaning!
    My talk is on Unity of Life; in other words working to fully unite our daily (often mundane) lives with our spiritual life so that (one day!) our life will become so integrated with the love of God in practice so as to almost be indiscernible.
    A lofty goal!!!
    My prayers are with you, pray for me too :)