I never liked the idea of New Year’s resolutions, but if I were to make one, it would be to remember that motherhood should be joyful. It is easy in the hectic course of a day to forget what it’s all about and get swept up by things much less important than the children.
I must confess to having roared on occasion, “Get out of here! Can’t you see I’m doing my pro-life work?” “The irony is not lost on me, even in the heat of the moment. Whether it’s time for writing, or dinner, or (in my dreams) a bath, it’s difficult at times not to resent the perpetual neediness of four little kids.
But life has a way of giving one the occasional kick in the pants at just the right moment. For me, it was the untimely arrival of chicken pox into our home just as Christmas planning was underway.
It was the day before our annual ordeal at the photographer’s for a portrait of the children that one-year-old John broke out in spots. We guessed he picked up the bug while at the doctor’s for an ear infection, acquired while everyone was suffering through a particularly nasty cold. That pretty much nixed the portrait, but I reminded myself that traditions should be somewhat flexible.
My bigger disappointment was having to postpone a scheduled shopping expedition with my mother. We’re not just talking traditions, there was the very practical matter of Christmas shopping for a large extended family which I had already left to just about the last minute.
I would like to tell you that I laughed at my fate (never mind poor John’s) and saw it all as a challenge. But the truth is I was miserable as I saw my favourite Christmas activities go up in smoke. Worse, I knew that the three other kids were sure to break out in spots, most likely during Christmas week. My enthusiasm for the season rivaled Ebenezer’s.
By the second day, I was immersed in a ritual of slathering calamine lotion over the baby, alternating with baking soda baths. He was playful, with barely a complaint all day. Nighttime was more difficult, so when he woke, I took him into bed with me. It was there that the aforementioned kick in the pants was felt.
Laying in my arms, he nuzzled in and quickly fell back asleep. I was struck by the power that comes from being a mother. Everything this little person desired was found just by being snuggled by his mom, a deeper comfort than the calamine or baking soda could provide.
I got to thinking about the little secrets of motherhood, the double edge of suffering and joy. The biggie of course is childbirth. As painful as it is (and it is) there is something purifying about it, something that earns us the right to take this new little person home.
On a smaller scale, those wretched two a.m. feedings can be killers, but they also allow for perfectly quiet one-on-one love-ins between mother and baby which are hard to match in the light of day.
And so it goes. The boo-boos and band-aids. The scary dreams. The bad days at school. The good days at school. Oh, yes. The updates on toy commercials and other essential information. But whether a child’s needs are worrisome or tiresome or just time consuming, it is incredible what a mother can do with just a hug and a few gentle words.
I’m sure there will still be days when I play a kind of hide and seek with the kids, trying to get a moment or two to myself. It’s useful to remember when feeling trapped and powerless that this ability to comfort and nurture is really invigorating and powerful. Taking a few moments to look at the big picture can do wonders for both mother and child.
As I write, with just over a week till Christmas, the second wave of chicken pox has not yet struck, and Johnny is feeling much better. I hope to be transformed into a shopper of superhuman ability as I use a window of opportunity before the likely return of this miserable illness.
As you read this, whatever happens, Christmas is over and done with for another year, and just as certainly everyone at the Farrell household had a wonderful time.