It’s always a wincing moment when you hear your own faults magnified by the echo of them in your children’s voices. So when my daughter began rattling off all the stresses she was holding and how they prevented her from doing something she truly wanted to do and I tried to counsel that the only thing holding her back was her; she gave me one of those looks that set me to thinking. She was imitating one of my worst mother faults. I martyr my motherhood the wrong way; I do not have the gift of offering it up; at best, I’m a very dutiful ant type worker who tries to get all the unpleasant tasks of the day done first; but I don’t have a cutoff point and as such, the whole day can become pure duty and when that happens, I eventually gets annoyed that no one else is working as much or more than me.
As a result, I’m often cleaning when others are playing and then feel almost unable to play myself even when presented with the opportunity. Sitting down to watch TV, I can see the laundry needing to be folded, and so both get done at the same time. It’s my choice to multi-task; but I forget that little fact and as such, start resenting that others aren’t doing as I do. Then there’s the constant vigilance that prevents me from even wanting to play cards unless the kitchen has been cleaned first; and so I often lose out on the opportunity. It’s not that I’m uninvited; it’s that I stupidly say “No.” or at least, put off all the time until later, until the later means never and I stop getting asked. Listening to my daughter rant about how much she had to do before she could have fun, I realized, she is cut from the same cloth.
My husband wisely sees through this and frequently insists that I play first, and then again, and then once more just to be sure I won’t be throwing myself back into crazy cleaning frenzy lady self. He’s instituted rules like no To-do lists over 15 and no work after 10 pm. He also will commandeer the children who willingly agree to clean up after; and he sees to it they comply. It’s helpful. My husband explains, “I want our children to remember playing with their mother.” and he’s right. But my daughter’s lament shows what they see more often. So why do I fight having fun so fiercely that I don’t seek it first or even think of it sometimes first? Why do I keep choosing the worst part? Why have I modeled it so completely that my daughter has internalized it as a norm? I told her we’d have to work on learning to be okay with not getting to everything. I could see her face tighten at the prospect.
She argued that she had to get her homework done. I agreed but suggested she go for a run first; that it would help her organize her thoughts, get calm and distress from the day. She didn’t want to be alone. She suggested I come with her. Now it was my turn to fight the wisdom I was offering. She gave me the look I’d given as I started to indicate how that the dishes and laundry needed to get done and I needed to fix dinner but we both realized, we’d become very good at putting people off with our chores; watering our lives down to duty. Dinner and homework could wait twenty minutes. We went for the walk.
I jokingly told my priest I suffered from the sins of Martha and he reminded me, that no less than Christ told her, “You are anxious about many things.” And to chose the better part. This is what I should be teaching; this is how I should live. I wish I could say I’ve taken those words to heart, but I still struggle with letting myself play and be present when there is so much to do. I still find myself distracted from the beauty of the domestic church by the disorder of the domestic life. But my daughter having seen her own fault reflected in me and vice-versa has taken up the battle cry and now asks me every day, “What did you do for fun Mom?” and if my answer is unsatisfactory, we go for a walk. It’s a start for both of us.
Copyright 2010 Sherry Antonetti