Sometimes I write posts for myself which is vv old school blogger of me, if you stop and think about it. Online journaling. But this is one such post, a reminder that hey, self, you need to up your game here, and if someone else out there gets something from it, brownies.
Summer is upon us. That glorious, unstructured, unfettered and creative expanse of bliss and memories and popsicle stains on rash guards and sunburns and piles of mysterious wet clothing everywhere. Everywhere.
The first week passed thusly. Me, relieved of carpool duty and much obliged, gracefully relinquishing the remote control for “just one more episode of Nature Cat” (why not?) and the kids, angels all, rejoicing in their togetherness and staying in various states of undress for much of the day. Around the middle of the second week, no schedule or system yet on the horizon, we all began to feel a little…on edge. The constant inflow of Red dye number 5 and the damp cling of neoprene fabric starting to chafe not just at skin but at psyches. I kept looking around waiting for someone to come and give us a shove in the right direction before realizing, as always with a bit of a startle, that it would have to be me.
I don’t know why it’s harder to play the role of competent adult in the summertime, but I imagine it has a lot to do with ingrained pavlovian associations of summer + freedom. But freedom for is a different animal than freedom from. Yes, we are free from the drudgery of carpool and the frantic tap-dance of 6 am lunch-and-breakfast assembly. But we are not free from a nominally appropriate human dress code. Not day in and day out, at any rate.
Pulling myself mentally together, I marshaled my limited interior resources and admitted that the worst part of the current state of affairs was surely mom’s lack of peace and recollection. Sure, I was getting more sleep in the mornings (and the essential nature of sleep CAN NOT BE OVERSTATED), but I had traded away my quiet coffee+scripture ritual in so doing, and failed to replace it with anything much of substance until long after bedtime. We have been attempting with moderate “success” the family rosary/decade for a few weeks now, and that has proven to be a winning group devotion. But it is not sufficient for filling mama’s deeper adult tank, not on it’s own.
Daily Mass was a staple during the school year, to the degree it could be achieved on the days with just the younger two kids home. Daily Mass with all four, in Luke’s current state of nascent two-ness, is … intimidating. The nearest parish is a welcoming and kind place, staffed by earnest and indefatigable “greeters and seaters” who very much want my entire brood to sit in the front row, but is one of those architectural disasters that beckons screaming toddlers to escape at full tilt down the gentle 25% slope leading towards the altar. Don’t ask me how I know this.
So that leaves…a void. A gaping expanse of spiritual nothingness between a quick morning offering, a glimpse at the daily Blessed is She devotion + Mass readings, and a seemingly endless expanse of long, hot daylight hours between me and God connecting.
But when I don’t pray, I am the worst mom ever. (When I do pray I’d still only give myself about a 74% on Rotten Tomatoes, but I digress.) So I have to figure out a way to get more prayer time in. For that, I turned to some more experienced moms and to a priest friend who does a lot of spiritual direction for women. Here are a few of their suggestions, plus a few things that have worked particularly well for me in my current state of mild chaos:
“Pray while you work out.” I have never been a fast runner, and that works to my advantage in this instance, as staying under 5 mph on the treadmill is generally not mutually exclusive to praying a rosary. I bring my kindle to the gym, but I tell myself I can’t turn it on until I’ve said a rosary first. It’s not deeply contemplative prayer time, by any means, but it’s better than nothing.
“Adoration. As often as you can make it, and ideally alone.” I love stopping by with my kids for a 3 minute strafing run on the perpetual adoration chapel at our parish. Most of the other adorers think it’s adorable (I tell myself) when Luke screams “JESUS!!!!!” while clawing his way desperately out of my arms to get to the monstrance, and I know it’s important to familiarize them with the Blessed Sacrament from an early age. But again, it ain’t quality time. When I can go for a half hour or an hour alone, it’s heaven. Even if I mostly just doze in the pew and kind of “sunbathe” in His presence. It used to bother my formerly busy intellect that I couldn’t conjure any decent mental prayer when I finally made it to Adoration as a mother, but now I just accept that He wants to saturate me with graces and allow me a space to rest with Him. It’s wonderful.
“Get up before the kids and spend 20 minutes with the Lord.” Easier said than done, depending upon the season of life. If I’m pregnant or nursing, fugaddaboutit, Otherwise? It’s always worth the effort, even at the cost of sleep. During this past Lent I started doing it as a penance and it quickly became the best and most important part of my day, wouldn’t you know it?
This one from Fr. J: “Make an offering of your daily tasks continuously to the Lord.” Write out a sign and put it up in the kitchen, or wherever you spend most of the day, that says “I offer you this…” and refer to it over and over again throughout the day. “Lord, I offer you these dishes. This meal prep. This diaper change. This admin task. This hard phone call. This parental referee session.” We also talked about the reality of sort of “banking up graces” for particular children during their little years to access during their possibly more challenging later years. As in, “Lord, I offer you this load of laundry for so and so, who wet their bed again last night. I pray for their vocation, for their teen years, for their future spouse.” I loooooove the idea of banking up graces garnered by weathering toddler tantrums and potty training woes for that particular child’s future, and for our ongoing relationship. I’ve actually come to cherish? Maybe too strong a word. But…appreciate those opportunities for grace when a particular child is giving me hell (or not sleeping which is the same thing) and I’m like, “thank you Jesus for the opportunity to suffer a little bit for this child now, please apply these graces when they will most desperately need them.
Puts the stomach flu in a whole new perspective, anyway.
Finally, “go on a silent retreat.” I’ve heard this from so many experienced moms, many of whom have larger than average families and who make an annual silent retreat sans kids. They tell me it is essential to their ability to parent their children, and has become a critical component of maintaining their relationship with Jesus in the midst of the hard investment years of parenting. I’ve yet to take this advice, but I’m eager to put it into practice.
I love that the Church has saints from every walk and station of life, and the longer I’m at this mom gig, the more amazing mother saints I seem to run across. I read quotes like these and I’m like, great, somebody gets it. And it’s not mindless or meaningless, all this domestic duty.
“God walks among the pots and pans” – St. Teresa of Avila
“Sometimes she must leave God at the altar to find Him in her housekeeping.” – St. Frances of Rome
“I long for rest. I have not even the courage to struggle on. I feel the need of quiet reflection to think of salvation, which the complications of this world have made me neglect” – St. Zelie Martin
“Why do you not succeed in doing good? It’s because you do not pray enough” – St. Gianna Beretta Molla