It was one of those mornings. My oldest son couldn’t get his act together to start school. My youngest son was in his rebellious sassy mode. My daughter kept taking her diaper off and alternating between going into the refrigerator to open the orange juice carton and climbing into the bathroom sink to do God knows what.
I was raising my voice a little (um, this is rare – must have been a full sun or something), and I was thinking to myself: “Hmm, if anyone saw this fiasco we call our family on a Thursday, I’d become the poster child for every major birth control product on the market.”
I kept asking myself how I managed to become such a crappy mom, how my kids managed to become so… trying, how this house managed to become so messy and smelly.
And for goodness sake, why does everyone else seem to be able to keep toothpaste splatter off their bathroom mirror?
It was around this time when I looked at the clock to see that it was lunchtime. And I had nothing… nothing in the house. Morning sickness has made it hard for me to go grocery shopping or prepare food, so when I discovered that we were out of peanut butter AND jelly, I began to panic.
The natives are restless, and I have nothing to feed them!
So I did what any mother in her not-so-right mind does in a pinch. We jumped in the car and headed for Subway.
This is a dangerous outing – one I must psych myself up for. I know I will have to stand in line with two boys who have to pick up every bag of chips on the rack to ask if they have dairy (my oldest is currently off the cow product) and then occasionally sprint across the store to the high tables with the high stools because anything that is high is something to be scaled. I will have to wait for the guy with the pierced holes in his ears and the zombie facial expression to wander over and take my order, only to tell me that they are out of the bread and cheese I prefer.
I will have to quickly make a decision about what I want on the sandwiches. And all the while, the toddler – unhappy in the stroller – will be standing up with her puckered lips (which tells me she’s not going to listen to anything I say) trying to get out so she can follow her brothers in and out of all the booths.
But the overpriced southwest chicken sandwich was worth the excursion into public.
Fortunately, the boys were actually polite and stood next to me most of the time, managing only twice to ask why we don’t ever buy Cheetos for home. My daughter was eager to get out of the stroller, but she just went and sat in a booth next to her brothers while I wrapped up the order.
Now since having three kids, I’ve calculated that 74% of the time when I’m out with all of them, at least one stranger will throw out this really original comment. Are you ready for it?
“Wow, you have your hands full.”
And so, as expected, while I filled up my fountain drink, the gentleman who was behind me in line said, “You really have your hands full.”
Sigh, there it is again. What creative response should I give this time?
But it occured to me at that moment, he’s right. I do! I do have my hands full. What am I doing? I feel like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life when he comes home grouchy and answers his wife’s question about what’s wrong:
“Wrong? Everything! You call this a home — why do we have to have all these kids?”
So how do I respond to this guy? I feel the pressure from society to have the bigger house, more disposable income, the cooler cars (as if you can get any cooler than a red Kia minivan with a broken taillight).
I sometimes get a little jealous of others. In fact, my toddler turned on the television the other morning without my knowing, and I walked in to see an episode of Caillou on PBS. I watched a couple minutes of the show before I found myself envying the animated mother because her 4-year-old happily walked upstairs to clean his room after she asked. Lucky her, I said to myself.
Really, Becky? Have you completely lost your mind? When you start comparing and contrasting the obedience of cartoon characters to that of your own children — who have DNA AND this thing called free will — you know you’re having a bad day.
But in that moment at Subway, when the man mentioned I had my hands full, something came over me.
Peace. Contentment. Joy?
I’m living out marriage the way it was intended. I’m living out my feminine design as it was intended. I’m answering the call, the real call by God, despite how hard it is. That’s authentic love!
Free, total, faithful, fruitful love.
And that resonates in the soul even when the body and mind are taxed, or the heart is broken. You can’t get that in status or awards or commission checks or fancy automobiles or swanky homes.
I smiled, nodded, and said:
“They’re about to get even more full. We’re expecting number four in the spring.”
I was poking my straw into my drink at the time, so I didn’t actually see his expression, but I imagine his eyeballs popped out a little and his jaw dropped. Also, I’m pretty sure I heard the song playing on the speakers screech a little like a record scratching, but I’m not sure.
“Yes, sir. Children are gifts – every one of them. They fill your hands, but they fill your heart too.”
“That’s wonderful. Good for you,” he followed up.
I then went to sit down with my three gifts, two of whom were covered in marker stripes from having drawn all over themselves before we left.
My three gifts, who can’t sit still at the table and often chew with their mouths open.
My three gifts who get distracted, who sometimes talk back, who wipe boogers on the wall.
My three gifts!
I realized that I wasn’t just making a sales pitch for being open to life; for seeing children as blessings, not burdens; for the beauty of marriage and family; for the importance of living out the sacramental vows to be fruitful in our love. I was actually reminding myself to embrace my own belief.
How often I go through the day frustrated, angry, exasperated, annoyed, overwhelmed. I wonder if it’s all worth it. I wonder, ‘where are the fruits?’ I wonder if I can pull off this insane vocation of motherhood.
But often it’s because I’m borrowing tomorrow’s troubles. Often it’s because I become prideful and start to see my kids as evidence of how I’m doing, instead of recognizing that they are not here to serve me and my ego. They have their struggles, their crosses, their troubles, and my job is to help nurture them through it, not resent how those human tendencies inconvenience my image or pursuit of perfection.
For God knows I’m imperfect – if anything, parenting has highlighted that fact for me. That’s why saying yes to children inspires a desire to be better in ways that not having children simply can’t.
And that’s the point. Getting better at anything is hard. Olympic athletes aren’t standing on the top of the podium because it was easy. This is hard work. I do have my hands full. And that’s good. It’s not something that should be dodged, condemned, or rejected. It should be celebrated.
Amen, Mr. Subway guy, you’re right. I do have my hands full. I’m going crazy. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. And that’s because it’s worth something more than my myopic lens has the ability to see in the moment when I’m prying apart two boys who are fighting over which one gets to press play on the remote control.
So, let us rub our temples and shake our heads with joy, all ye moms AND dads. This too shall pass, and the seeds we’ve been sowing as we toil day in and day out will leave a legacy that is good for its own sake.
A garden tended by very full hands indeed.
Copyright 2012 Becky Bowers-Greene