Last week in my rantings about impersonal social media and the vile temptation to permascroll, I may have insufficiency highlighted the upside. But the upside of the digital age – and there are substantial benefits – is that I do have honest to goodness friends I’ve only met once, or never, from all over the world.
Take my friend Christy, who hails from the wilds of Canada. Sure, we did meet once in real life summers long ago in Texas at Edel: ground zero. But besides that it’s been all Voxes and emails. And one, thoughtful Amazon-flung package of amazing lipstick and one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. And which I would perhaps never, ever have picked up but for Christy’s urging.
I’ve found myself in tears, agonizing over this or that character’s backstory, and flipping eager pages well past an appropriate hour in the night, just to see what the girls would do next.
And, wait for it…It’s about nuns. Cloistered Benedictines in 1960’s England, to be exact. Sounds riveting, right? But oh, it is. Such poignant studies of human nature, such incisive observations on sin, on personality, on life and politics. If you can sleuth a copy on Amazon or eBay, you’d be a lucky dog with the first good read of the summer in your paws.
Speaking of summer, today’s the last day of school here, and it’s 53 degrees and raining, which means indoor children and indoor problems and I’ve got 99 of each.
I was thinking abut the good sisters of Brede while I was folding the one millionth pile of laundry for the week this morning, and I was so done.
Even after a fresh purge, spurred by this week’s conversation about decluttering and spartan living. Grumpily I folded an especially ratty t-shirt, imagining that it would probably still be a house favorite when boy #3 is old enough to have opinions about wearing something with a guinea pig dressed up as Spider Man morning noon and night. Also, it should be noted, Peru lacks any apparent licensing or copyright law. But “Spider Cuy” is a beloved wardrobe staple (thanks, Uncle Handro!) and shall remain so, I supposed, until my back goes out for good and my hands are crippled from decades of careful folding.
It doesn’t help anything that my kids are still basically incompetent at household chores, groused I. And the downward spiral descendeth. Never mind that my friend’s little boy is in the hospital awaiting his first round of chemo, or that a fellow Catholic blogger buried his tiny son this morning. I was going to be disgruntled over laundry.
But there’s so much of it. And while I can weep in solidarity and offer small, pitiful sacrifices in the hard nighttime hours of wakings and rocking and fetching water, it’s harder to see the beauty in the beast(ly) grind of housework.
While Sister Colette thrilled to the task of mending and creating rich vestments to suit the liturgical seasons, marveling over how her work kept her tied to the rhythm of that “great wheel of prayer” that is the liturgical year of the Church, I was – am – less than enthusiastic about the dishwasher I just unloaded. The freshly-mopped floor splattered with applesauce. The decomposing (I wish this were hyperbole) lunchmeat I fished out of the coach section of the mini van this morning.
But couldn’t I be just as connected, in contentment, to my daily work and the constant offering-up and offering back as a kind of prayer?
If marriage is really a vocation, and I believe that it is, then there are day to day responsibilities that aren’t just annoyingly “there” as the result of it, but maybe they’re actually for it; the means of continual sanctification and for sure mortification, by which I perfect my selfish and supremely-irritated-by-poop-on-the-floor soul.
Or maybe it’s less meta than that. But it definitely got me thinking.
“Benedictae!” the “waker of the week” would intone, rapping on the cell door and swinging it open at like 4:30 am. I doubt the sister on the receiving end of the salutation would growl “GET OUT GET BACK IN THE BASEMENT” in a terrifying rat growl in response.
Instead, no matter how exhausted, how overwhelmed, how chilly, how overburdened…she’d probably swing her legs over the side of her cot and get up. Because 4:30m am wakeup calls are part of what she signed up for.
I did not. At least, I didn’t know I did. I didn’t think a lot about sleepless nights, discipline heartbreaks, behavioral issues, traumas, and tantrums. When I was a besotted fiance planning my wedding and eagerly anticipating a Hawaiian honeymoon, I figured children would turn up within the year or so. But even after growing up in a family with 6 younger siblings, I found myself arrestingly unprepared for the ravages of sleep deprivation. And incessant touching.
I think it’s probably my fault if it’s anyone’s “fault,” per se, because I was an exquisitely selfish teenager and must have been blind to my own parent’s sufferings in this realm. But, whatever the case may be, here I find myself elbows-deep in a vocation I’m ill suited for at best, spectacularly unqualified for at worst.
And yet, it’s mine. And these kids and their tears and tantrums and smiles and sticky sticky so so so sticky fingers and their tiny souls begging for love and formation and security…are mine. And this daily litany of laundry and diapers and filthy floors and another – yes, another! – load in the dishwasher or the sink, is mine.
I don’t hear bells tolling at Nones, at Sext, at Matins. I hear screaming from the basement at 1 am. I don’t practice “The Great Silence” (AS ATTRACTIVE AS THAT SOUNDS, HINT HINT FOR NXT MOTHER’S DAY), but I can still my frantic pace for a divine mercy chaplet at 3, or for the Angelus at noon.
And I don’t lovingly lay out vestments in a candlelit sanctuary before an early morning Mass, peacefully arranging flowers and flipping open the missal to the right pages. But I pack lunches. I scrub the same disappointingly-aroma’d bathroom … at times. Which will remain unspoken. I change an astonishing number of dirty diapers in a day. And none of that need be surprising to me.
I mean, it really shouldn’t be.
And I’m really hoping this entire essay isn’t reading as some sanctimonious my vocation is love story. Because while I adore St. Therese enough to name my daughter for her, and while my vocation is, indeed, love, I’m kind of a mess still. And I’m sure Jenny in the future will look back on present day Jenny’s whining over dirty laundry (literally), she’ll maybe smile in compassion or recognition and remember how hard it is to get unselfish. Especially when the desire to do so isn’t terribly strong most days.
Ding, dong. Maybe that’s what I’ll hear when the 4 year old is in my room at 11 tonight, weaving me a tale of bedtime woes. Time to get up and serve my vocation. That’s my call to prayer.
Or maybe I’ll roll over and let daddy deal with it. The flesh is particularly weak on Friday of the last week of school.