Catholic Spirituality,  Family Life,  motherhood,  Parenting

I will peel your oranges

The longer I’m at this gig the more humbling it is to find oneself falling far, far short of the mark, not only of housekeeping and public decency, but of basic charity.

Half my kids are sick today. Croup, fevers, tummy aches, the works. The other half are teetering on the brink and all I can think is “how inconvenient. How frustrating. How terribly short my sleep was cut last night.”

But I have to plug in the humidifier. I have to sit on the couch and hold and comfort and apply tissues and administer charity of a general sort, and it is hard.

I am more moved by the beautiful moments of motherhood than the hard ones. Seeing my firstborn son turn a technically perfect backstroke, flipping around to catch the edge of the pool and flash me a hundred watt grin. Those moments enlarge my heart with pride, bringing an easy smile to the surface. As I’ve beaten to death on these pages recently, the harder moments are the ones that bring massive deviations from the planned schedule and derail productivity to zero.

I think that in the upside down kingdom of God, those dull, inconvenient moments are probably more important. Simon of Cyrene stooping his shoulder to bear the weight of the Cross, if only for a few minutes. Veronica pushing past the crowds to wipe a battered brow with her own garments, responding not to a perfectly planned day running errands and being productive, but meeting Christ in the street, as she actually encountered Him, bloodied and repulsive. Needy. Probably not as she’d hoped or expected to.

I desperately love my children, and yet there are days – too many – when I spend massive amounts of energy and time trying to devise ways to escape their neediness, if only mentally. Flip on a show (today there are so many shows, necessary to the illness at hand, there is a time and a place for Netflix), toss a snack, distract with a toy pulled up from the basement. All in the name of buying myself, what, a few minutes to finish an important email or a phone call with a stranger working out some all important bureaucracy? Mailing the energy bill on time? Putting on mascara.

Okay, that last one is important. But you see my point?

I will peel your oranges today. I will set aside my agenda and purge my schedule and watch the dirt grow on the floor and sit with you, and I will respond not to the Christ who comes conveniently in quiet prayer times with lit candles and silent, dark living rooms but in the distressing disguise of the child, coughing into my ill-timed and opened mouth when I stoop to lift him into my arms, needing not the possible plans I’d made for myself today, but my very self.



  • Beth

    Sigh. Thanks, lady. I am in week three of sick baby and toddlers. Croup, fevers, ER, no sleep…solidarity. I have been in a viscous poor me state today.

    • Donna Pioli

      I have read thru three of you dialogues and loved everyone of them. You are right on, a woman after my own heart. I raised six little ones and now that they are grown and have their own, I wish to return to
      The past. Those are precious times. I wish I would have savored more of those times, now that they are
      Keep up the great work and listening to the Holy Spirit I could feel as I read.

  • Nancy Shuman

    This is wonderful. I’ve read your last paragraph 3 times already, wishing I’d had its wisdom when my own little ones (now big ones with their own littles) were needing oranges peeled. I hope I peeled every one with at least a trace of a smile.

  • Bertha

    I’m 60 years old with grown children & i still do the same thing. 🙁
    I see the phone number on my cell when it rings & i think “oh no what now”. On the other line is “Mom! I don’t know what to do anymore my life is a mess…!” or “Mom, brother is on meth, you have to do something!” or “Mom, please can you help me with the gas bill?”. Its different now but I guess we always have to fight our inner need to run away from the crosses of life. Our children will always need us & we will never stop feeling that we have to fix it for them. Motherhood is bittersweet. Hang in there. Thank you Lord.

  • Diana

    Oh I so needed this today. We had such a tough morning, mostly due to a grumpy mom (me) which was mostly due to a few rough nights of sleep (on my end), semi-failed nighttime potty training, and a kid who was up earlier than usual. It was tough and I so appreciate the reminder to focus on what really matters. My own mind gets in my way, way way too frequently.

  • Vanessa

    This. So much. You spoke to my soul today. Praise God I can start fresh tomorrow, right? I can tell you are an amazing mama to your kids. Thank you!!!!!!!!

  • Lauren Montgomery

    You’re speaking to a lot of mamas with this one today–especially in this season of sickness right now. I know I needed it. I will remember Veronica when I am griping about my ever-fussy baby. I will think of Simone when my son asks me for yet another glass of milk, the second I sit down.
    It’s amazing how you touch the very heart of motherhood–the heart that is such a funny paradox. Thank you Jenny!

  • Hannah

    Ugh, I needed this reminder on day 5 of potty training + a newborn nursing all the time, where the accidents are coming fewer & farther between but still happening and the baby doesn’t want to be put down. Bodily fluids make me want to retreat into myself so much more than any other mothering situation…especially on days when I’m already touched out by 10 a.m. Thanks for this, Jenny.

  • Mary

    As a Christmas gift to my husband, I had the children answer questions about him from their own sweet perspectives. When asked, “What is something Daddy always says?” my 2-year-old answered, “Yes, I will peel that orange for you.”

    It may have been funny, but I was thinking the SAME kind of symbolism, MNC. He’s a good dad.

  • jeanette

    You hit it right about “inconvenient moments” being more important.

    My husband did something helpful the other day. I thanked him and he said to me, “You know I don’t like to do this.” And he really meant it, because that is how he approaches life and the every-man-for-himself kind of perspective that sometimes gets trained into people from an early age. But the Catholic line of thinking is quite opposite. So I replied to him, “Yes, I know, but that is what shows me that your love is real, because you are doing something for me, and not for you.”

    That’s it in a nutshell. Love is at its best when we aren’t getting anything out of it for ourselves, but just doing something for the other person. And that is the life of a mom. We can’t get too much of this. It is quite a bit different from just not getting something done because we planned our day badly, got sidetracked, indulged in other than what we should have been doing, etc. When all of our plans for the day go awry because we had to turn towards the neediness of our kids, I assure you that what you are doing has far bigger consequences than what you didn’t get done. Even when not getting things done really throws the whole day/week off track and we feel buried in the things we “should have” done: I assure you, you did God’s will for the day and that suffices in the scope of eternal things, because doing his will always has a transforming effect upon us. Always. We have to keep thinking eternally about life. This is the real journey for us: to be flexible in meeting God’s will where it finds us and letting go of our own.

  • Colleen

    We don’t usually have oranges around in bulk (Why? Not sure, since we are down to TWO in the whole crate that was bought Monday…) With a crew that’s had me behind on teaching deadlines for a home school group and cancelling playdates left and right because of congestion, I have been “getting the orange started” for littles x a million this week. Your title alone had me going, “she KNOWS MY LIFE!” while my 4 year old shouts everything at me (beyond her usual M.O. of mostly shouting; I think her ears are congested). And it’s so true–the most they have relaxed is when I have listened to my gut that they don’t need me scurrying around tidying up or organizing life or planning for my classes…they need my lap and the pile of library books and me singing, and a big sprinkling of movies together. (We hadn’t seen Happy Feet…so that was…music? Study of the Arctic? Just fun, really. With snot.) Anyways, thx for finding time to write to all of us; I have aimed for little goals for the year & one has been to doodle and write a haiku each day. I used to (hand!!) write pages and pages in a journal every day…and now I’m fighting for 17 syllables. But the consistency is part of reclaiming me while not ignoring the kiddos. Off to snuggle and wipe noses and pray for the chance and energy to finish all the responsibilities/commitments in His time…

  • Kaitlin @ More Like Mary

    I also read the title and thought “She knows my life!” And I knew it was gonna be good. It was. Thank you for the reminder. And thank you for writing about it over and over and over again because I need to re-read almost every single day.

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