Endurance, Grace, Openness to Life

It was a long weekend... going down in the family record books for top ten super tough mama endurance tests.  Toddlers and youth sport tournaments just don't mix. I am exhausted and waiting for my back muscles to stop seizing up. But my fingers work so I'll post a recap while I just... sit down for a while. Incidentally, I made a lovely list last week of things never to forget when leaving the house with multiple small children (posted here) and forgot about half of it. Duh. For example, while the Chief and Professor were out of town, I ventured out of the house with all the children to a new destination and no GPS. Double duh.

My camera was low on batteries but I managed to capture some moments for the purpose of remembering the weekend with light-heartedness... and identifying moments of grace...

Day #1 
5:30 am and time to make breakfast for the traveling Professor. In another few hours, it was Cookie's turn to leave for her games. The hectic tournament schedule was complicated by our weekend mass obligation. "Fit mass in"... as if it's an afterthought. *sigh* But we fight against the insanity and try to cling to faith and to each other.

The photo above was taken from the choir loft of a church close to the tournament site. (Doesn't it look like Noah's Ark?) Tournament schedules are extremely unfriendly to church-going Catholics. In this case, we were able to find a Mass to attend during a long break between matches. The rest of the team (most of whom are Catholics) had a cake and pizza party. We were in our tournament-enduring clothing and I was grateful for my blue jeans and sensible shoes since I would be spending the next hour crawling on wet carpets and tile and running after Cub. The vestibule was under construction and there was nowhere - I mean NOWHERE - to go with a fussing, yelling 1-year old. Except the choir loft. But he didn't like the choir loft and the people in the choir loft didn't like him (or rather, they didn't like his verbal expressions). So...

... we sat in the stairwell. And climbed up. And slid down. And fell down. And spilled our emergency M & M's all over. And took pictures just for a short-lived distraction...

That's a papal flag at the top of the stairs on the right. I know because my darling cherub tried to knock it down. I almost cried at mass. I really almost did. But I was so proud of my other children who sat all by themselves so nicely. 

As I waited with aching arms for children to use the bathroom after mass, I admired a statue of Blessed Mother and fancied that she was laughing a little at me. Don't worry, she seemed to say, you won't be standing here forever. Just a little longer, dear. You're doing fine.

I returned to the gym with Cookie and Cub (after handing off the other littles) to find that the concessions had run out. To try and simplify the evening, I had actually planned (against my better judgement) on buying some concession garbage to keep our motors running. With no food, the remainder of the evening became a painful test of pure endurance.

Mercy Moment of the Day:
Shortly after arriving at the gym from mass, an older gentleman approached me and said loudly in front of the staring parents of Cookie's teammates: Are you the mother of five children? Well, six children... but I'm probably the one you're looking for. I cringed and waited for whatever horrible thing was going to come next. Instead, I heard this: I saw you and your children at mass half an hour ago. I wanted to tell you what a joy it is to see families making time for mass in the midst of a busy schedule; and that your kids were so well behaved. Your oldest daughter was wonderful with the little ones. It's hard. I know it is. You just keep putting one foot in front of the other and doing what you're doing and loving God and each other. They are all beautiful.

I laughed out loud. I had just come from one of the most challenging masses of my motherhood and this guy spots me among hundreds of people at a volleyball tournament... and gives me words of grace. God's ways are wonderful.

I was much consoled as I sat on the bleachers with Cub. The man's words had given me new energy. The other moms admired my sweet little guy and we talked about family, volleyball and school. I don't know how you do it, they said. Your kids are so beautiful, they said. And then a mom turns to me with a sly look and with a bitter tone says...

Sooo... are you and your husband done yet?

I've had the exact same conversation a hundred times. It is incredibly uncreative and dull. Small talk, modern family style. Dull and offensive. I smiled and gave her my dull and standard answer and walked away.

Day #2
I awakened at 5:30am to again make breakfast for Professor before his travels to Pennsylvania. After the guys left, I shoveled the driveway in the dark and thought about the 2 hours I had left to try and sleep. But the activity made sleep impossible; so I started my day and then began the second round of breakfast and packing up food and supplies for another long day.

I tried to take pictures but I couldn't figure out how to change the setting on my camera to "action." I used to know how to do this. Cookie is the blur in red.

There was nowhere to sit except bleachers, on which Cub wouldn't stay. I finally found a cold corner in which to give him a nap. The above photo was my view of one of Cookie's games. The following photo is my view of Little Cub...

He was warm and cozy while every one of my limbs went numb. He awakened too soon and spent the rest of the day (several hours worth) on the verge of total breakdown. He wouldn't sit in the stroller. The only place of respite from the yelling and commotion was inside a stall in the bathroom. I perched as far on the edge of the toilet seat as I could and we talked and calmed down and nursed. Every once in a while, he'd wave a hand or foot and set off the electric eye on the toilet. SWWWOOOSHH! And my jeans would get sprayed with incoming toilet water. 

He didn't want any more of his snacks (even the emergency goodies) and lost interest in the toys I brought. He had no interest in sitting with me in the bleachers or on the floor. He didn't want me to put him down. And then he'd find some trouble to get into and wouldn't be picked up. He kept pointing to the bathroom, preferring the ugly stall to the screaming mass of humanity in the gym. I was sweating and flustered when a perfectly coifed volleyball mom asks me:

So. Are you going to have any more?

I laughed... and fondly remembered the good man from the previous day who had been such a gift of mercy. 

It was dark when we arrived home and my aching body hit the bed with tremendous gratitude; feeling grateful, strangely, that the next day was Monday.

Day #3
Monday. The Chief came home from work feeling terribly ill. I had counted on him taking Cookie to her practice and my heart sank as I realized it was not to be. Gear up, kids. Let's get out of here and let Daddy sleep. 

During practice I changed a soiled diaper, kissed a boo boo, nursed Cub, cleaned up spilled water and fish crackers, watched the children play under the filthy bleachers, hit the ball around with Professor and enjoyed a little adult conversation. 

20 minutes into practice a woman with whom I'd been conversing asks: So, do you think you're done?

40 minutes into practice, her husband (not being present for his wife's question) asks: So, do you think this is it for you?

After practice, one of the coaches asks: So, you having any more?

Because I guess that's the one thing that people just really want to know about me. 

Day #4
St. Valentine's Day. A music lesson. A celebration with friends who actually have more children than we do. A lot of kids. A lot of joy. A puppy dog. Grace-filled conversation. A little bit of Wii. A bunch of sugar. Blessing on top of blessing. Exhausted. Undone dishes that will wait until tomorrow.

The last few days have been a challenge... but it is not the goal of my life to escape challenge. I know plenty of highly challenged, unhappy people with fewer children than I have. To be honest with you, I would be much happier spending an exhausting day with my large and wonderful family than with any fashionable, well-educated, sociable adult who cannot manage to keep themselves from asking...

...Are you done? 

At the tournament, my hands were not free to take stats and compare figures with other parents. Not free to fuss with an ipad or phone... but they were full of one of the great joys of my life. It is an honor to care for Cub.

My voice was not free to scream at the ref and hurl profanities at 13-year olds like some of the fathers were doing. It was free from the temptation to gossip and complain with some of the mothers. It was free to be occupied whispering the sweet nothings that a toddler needs to hear from his mama in a strange and noisy place.

My eyes were not free to take note of every single point or error of my child and the children of others. I saw enough to take delight in Cookie's efforts and successes... but needed my eyes to ensure the safety and well-being of Cub.

My arms were not free to relax and be idle. My burning biceps and aching joints instead bore the blessed burden of my squirmy toddler. There could hardly have been a better use for them.

All in all, my occupied hands, arms, eyes and voice kept me from the temptation to many vices while giving me the opportunity to do some serious loving. Difficult? Wow. Yeah. You betcha. But I do not regret one moment and recognize the gift of grace throughout. 

Are we done? If the questioner means to ask if we've ruined our healthy reproductive organs in order to ensure that we will no longer have children... then, no. Are we having more? If the questioner means to ask if we know whether or not we know for sure if more children are in our future... then, no, we don't know the answer to that. If the questioner means to inquire whether the Chief and I intend to discuss the intimate conversations and discernment of our married life with anyone who asks... then, no... it's absolutely no one's business but ours. But if they must know (minus details and definitive answers)...

We will never say never. Never close the door completely. We love our children and know that having more, challenging as it might be in some ways, would only increase the love and joy in our home. This is not an easy life but it is mighty good. 
Posted on February 15, 2012 .