A liturgy of laundry
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.
Yes, yes, yes, yes to all of this. We’re are potty training, have an infant with double ear infections, random toddler vomit, and just general ick this week. The laundry is overwhelming, the tempers are short, and the wine is just not abundant enough. And yet I have so much to be thankful for and so many opportunities to work toward sainthood. You have hit on so many things I’ve thought about this week.
Also, have you read Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work”? http://www.amazon.com/Quotidian-Mysteries-22Womens-Madeleva-Spirituality/dp/0809138018
I highly recommend this short read. You’ve basically summed up the thesis in your post — aligning the rhythm of the Church’s prayer life with the rhythm of home life. “Didn’t I JUST change your diaper/feed you/fold these clothes/unload the dishwasher?” Yes, in the same way I would pray the Liturgy of the Hours again, and again, and again.
“Unprepared for the ravages of sleep deprivation and incessant touching”- word.
Haha wow do I relate to this. It’s interesting because sometimes I catch myself embracing being a mom even during particularly crazy times with my kids, which is out of the norm for me. I have a 7 week old and an almost 5 year old who has special needs, a severe speech delay and is developmentally is more like a 3 year old. I hope it means I’m growing spiritually and emotionally! Thank you for posting this, because I often, in the moment, can feel like the only one who is struggling with my motherly vocation. Or feel frustrated because my husband doesn’t “get” how exhausting it is being home all day every day with the kiddos. Finding joy I thr chaos is a process of growth and surrender for sure! 🙂
Jenny: The most distinct memory I have of my mother is that she was always doing laundry. It does never end. So, it becomes part of the rhythm of your day, and that is where your bring in prayer. You don’t just “offer up” your work, but you allow yourself to work in God’s presence and work to be pleasing in His sight. So many other things I can say on that, but that will suffice. Anyhow, many of the parts of being a stay-at-home mother are very routine, especially ordinary domestic chores. Other things are totally unexpected, be it something wonderful like a child surprising you with their latest accomplishment, or something less wonderful like a child screaming their head off and blood somehow in the scene at hand. Anyhow, you made me remember something I read many years ago that I think you will like very much. It is called “The Domestic Monastery” by Ron Rolheiser OMI.
Have a blessed holiday weekend!
I decided to get my act together for the first time in a looong time this morning and start the day off with the mass readings. And then I read “be hospitable to one another without complaining” and ” do not be surprised when a trial by fire is occurring among you as if something strange is happening to you, but rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ” and I was like…for real?? Because stay at home mom-ing can definitely bring out the complainer in me, and so many times I AM surprised by all the trials …but like you so rightly said, I really shouldn’t be.
This resonates so well with me right now, and I certainly needed the reminder of the reality of this life as vocation. I have a sweet two old newborn and 20 month old, and a husband who is starting a completely new career next week which will be a huge change for all of us. It scares me how quick tempered I can be with my toddler, and I despise how whiney I can be around my husband. But this is all an opportunity for sanctification and to grow in greater love as a family! But how hard is it to remember that in the moment sometimes? Also, I love your simple comparison of the Liturgy of the Hours to a mom stopping to pray a Chaplet or Angelus!
*two week old newborn
Congratulations on the birth of your new baby!
This is a beautiful meditation, Jenny. Inspired by one of my favourite books, too! I’m an “older” mom (didn’t marry until I was 41, blessed to have babies at 42 and 44 without needing any fertility help), and tough as it can be with my small needs-monsters sometimes, it’s still true that my worst day as a mom is better than my best day at work. There is much grace to be had in dealing with the endless round of dishes, cooking, laundry and (yes) various bodily fluids.
“my worst day as a mom is better than my best day at work”
Absolutely the truth.
There are many things that become easier and less burdensome as the years pass. As a new wife and then shortly thereafter a new mother I struggled with laundry using a wringer washer and clothesline. Held hostage by the prevailing weather, cancelling washday and then rearranging grocery shopping day due to rain, I soldiered on throughout winter when the wash would freeze in the basket as I pegged it to the line, diapers stiff boards and my knuckles red with cold. Much as I envied my neighbours their modern appliances I was simply thankful we had an electric stove and I didn’t have to cook on the old wood stove! Eventually we bought an automatic washer and dryer and how life changed! Even though the amount of laundry increased up to a point, once the kids were grown and out of the house our world shrank along with our laundry pile. Now it’s just the two of us pensioners reminiscing about those old days, not always so good, not always as planned. Hang in there young moms, it does get easier.
It is so easy to forget that living liturgically as a mom means that making that meal that your kids won’t eat or washing the same pair of pajamas over and over again. Thank you for this lovely reminder. Now it’s laundry time. Again. 🙂
I began In This House of Brede a year ago and then left it on a plane when I was in my first trimester with Thomas. I finally thought of requesting it from the library, checked it out, and then left it there. Today I will pick it up and begin again. Finally. I was in love with it.
YES! I will be thinking about THIS for the rest of the summer. We have 6 little ones and my husband just recently took a job where he is gone Monday-Thursday so it is allllllllll me during the week. I really do love this vocation and while I am laying to bed in the early morning and I can hear the house start to stir with little feet, the 2 year old yelling “MOM!”, and the 2 month old snuggled up to my side, I just pray for God to give me patience, wisdom, and to help me do everything I do each day (poopy diapers and moldy sippy cup cleaning included) with love! Wow this blog post is SO great! THANK YOU.
ps. I found your blog about 2 years ago and I just wanted to tell you what a profound and drastic affect it has had on me. I have been with my cradle Catholic husband since I was 14, but I was raised protestant. I have attended church with him since that time and we were married in the Church 13 years ago….it was always my intention to start RCIA, but the babies kept coming and I have VERY rough pregnancies and I honestly did not know if I was ready spiritually for it. I started reading a lot about the Church and really delving into every aspect trying to understand some of the things that had kept me from joining earlier. Your blog was an instrumental part of that journey for me….here is a woman who can explain all my questions and writes from a mom’s perspective which is exactly where I am right now. I finally signed up for RCIA about 2 months after finding out about our #6 child and was baptized and joined at the Easter Vigil this past Easter (with my 6 day old daughter in my arms!) I actually spent my labor in the hospital reading your past blog posts from years ago! Thank you for explaining and putting things about the Church in a way that is SO easy to understand!
Rachel this comment almost brought me to tears. Thank you for taking the time to write it, and for your yes to God. I’m incredibly humbled to have played a small part in your story.