FROM GUEST BLOGGER BARBRA BOTTARO
10:47am on a Wednesday. We were enduring the 4th snowstorm in three weeks, and it was the first day of Spring. We were stuck inside; it was too cold to go out anywhere else, but not snowy enough to play in the yard. Elijah and Francesca, 4 and 3 years old, had been vacillating between playing nicely together and trying to kill each other, every 10 minutes telling me what injustice had been done to them at the hands of the other. During the times they played nicely, Gabriel, their 2-year-old brother, was trying to steal any toy they deemed a treasure and smash down anything they had built, leading to screams and growls, and more tattling.
We are leaving for a trip in a month, and at that moment I was trying to order swimsuits online for the kids while Gabriel pulled and pushed at my legs, crying and whining for banana chips. I was desperate for an escape. I hadn’t even been able to grab myself a cup of tea, let alone breakfast that morning, before they all descended upon me begging for a snack. I shut the computer, handed Gabriel a bowl of banana chips and put on the electric kettle. Something had to change. Then apparently changing his mind, Gabriel looked at me with daggers, dumped the banana chips on the floor, and snarled, “No” with such strong defiance you could hear the sound of the period at the end of his very short sentence. Really, dude? That was it. It was past time for the baby to take her morning nap. As I huffed up the stairs, I hoped the bottle of milk I gave Gabriel would distract him long enough for me to put the baby down in silence. As I sat upstairs in the room nursing Avila, I took a deep breath. She was tugging on me every chance she got, stretching her neck to listen to her brother and sister downstairs, who were of course still making noise.
I have been practicing Catholic Mindfulness for a while, but even on my best days, my application leaves a lot to be desired. Looking at Avila, I leaned in and kissed her fat little cheeks. I smelled her sweet baby smell and rubbed my nose against her round little wrists. “I’m going to miss this. You won’t be this little for long. I will miss this sweet little desire in your eyes when you’re nursing. I’ll miss the laughter and the fighting. I’ll miss the way that my children learn about the world with awe. I’ll miss you all needing me. It won’t be like this forever, and when it is gone, I’ll miss it.” I looked outside at the snow falling, barely covering the ground, and I took a deep breath. I am missing it, I thought. I realized I needed to just be with her, in that moment.
What they all need is for me to be present to them; what I need is to be present to them. Immediately, as I accepted the day as it was, I felt calmer. “I know you’re here with me, Lord. Mary, I know you see me trying my best and failing every day. I’m frustrated and angry when I shouldn’t be. I’m unkind, and then I feel guilty. I’m exhausted… I am also so lucky.” The words were pouring in. “You have blessed me beyond anything that I could ever deserve or imagine.” I sat. I breathed in and out. I felt the weight of my body on the chair. I felt the weight of my baby in my arms. I was safe. I was in the presence of my God, almighty. I just sat with Avila, and my Creator, my loving Father who really sees me. The me I feel sometimes gets lost in all of them. I heard all of the noise downstairs. The running, the thumping, the laughing, the shouting.
I am lucky to stay at home with my kids. It isn’t usually hard work, but it can be draining. To do it right, it must be self-less and you must be emotionally stable (Ha!). It can be irritating. It can be thankless and monotonous and isolating. But it is also beautiful, and surprising, and some of the most important work a woman can do. Arguably the most important work. I am raising these little people to be saints. I am breaking my body, and my will, to do His will. It is stretching me and growing me, and I am 1,000 times a better person then I could have ever hoped to be 5 years ago as I stood on the brink of motherhood. For these short years, I am given the grand task of helping them to get to Heaven one day. The task of being patient, and calm; to be solid as a rock for them when life’s inevitable everyday storms sweep them up. To teach them their dignity, and guide them with strength, fortitude, and love. But to do all of this seemingly insurmountable, honorable work, I need to be present. To them, to myself, to my God. To come back time and time again to the present moment; to lean on the Rock, the Anchor of my life. To know it’s okay to feel tired and frustrated, to accept those feelings. To accept that God gave them to me, even when I feel like a failure. To rest in His presence with the beautiful truth that I am loved, and to pass that truth on to my children.
By now Gabriel had finished his bottle and was whining for me as he was climbing the stairs. I laid Avila in her bed and scooped up Gabriel before he could make a sound. Looking into the big brown eyes of my littlest boy, I breathed deeply again and calmly walked downstairs. Everything was brighter. It wasn’t less chaotic, but now I was present and grounded.
And as I came into the room, Elijah, (after first tattling on Francesca for stealing his train), asked, “Mom, is God bigger than Godzilla?”
Yes, my dear, He is bigger than everything.