It all started because I wanted to feel less crazy.
The logistics of daily life with my preschooler and infant twins are not simple. At least a few times each day, I feel my sleep-deprived brain straining to resolve a situation where the best solution would be for me to spontaneously grow two or three additional hands. I always figure it out, but I often have a moment where I think this might be the time that I absolutely can’t find a way to manage. Then the moment passes. I do manage, and I go on.
Between 11:30 AM and 1:00 PM nearly every day, though, I wonder whether I will survive.
This time of day is like running as fast as I can down a steep hill, leaping over obstacles and dodging low-hanging tree limbs while being chased by a pack of rabid wolves, knowing that behind them is a giant boulder, rolling, rolling, faster and faster, picking up speed as it descends. If I stop moving, I will be eaten alive and then crushed to death.
(Perhaps that is slightly dramatic, but you get the idea. I get a bit tense at this time of day.)
To simplify the process, I lay as many things out as I can ahead of time. I reheat leftovers for lunch. I put Cheerios on high chair trays and place books and toys at the table. I try to eat before or after the children so that I can have both hands free to deal with whatever comes up.
Still…there are often two wailing babies both wanting to nurse and eat at once. I try to let one nurse while I feed the other from a bowl with a spoon. Sometimes, it works, but often the one in the high chair is upset. I can’t nurse them both at once because I need a hand free for the hungry preschooler, who wants to eat now. Or, maybe today he doesn’t want to eat at all, or wants juice instead of milk when juice isn’t an option, or has decided he now hates peanut butter, or wants to go outside instead of eating lunch, or changed his mind about having sauce on his spaghetti…
One can never quite tell what a preschooler might decide an hour before his nap. He’s tired. He’s hungry. He admits neither of these things. And he’s aware that I’m kind of maxed out with the two smaller people.
There are still breakfast dishes in the sink (or on the table!), and I’m putting lunch together for all of these people, and all I want to do is make it to nap time so I can lie down.
There isn’t a thing I can do that will reliably calm everyone down at once.
It is a tough moment.
Sometimes, I realize I’m repeating a phrase over and over in my head in an attempt to cope. While out loud, I’m saying reassuringly to my children, “I’ll be right with you,” or “Hold on just a second, Mama’s coming,” my inner voice is saying over and over, “No one is dying. This is not that bad. Don’t panic, this isn’t an emergency, it just feels like one,” or, on the worst days, “I’m ok. I’m ok. I’m ok.”
Finding a rhythm has been a challenging part of becoming a stay-at-home parent. Some days seem to drag on endlessly. On those days, I find myself looking at the clock, counting down until afternoon nap time or until my husband will be home. This time surrounding lunch, though, has always been the hardest.
During the Easter Season last year, I started to chant the Regina Caeli every day at noon in Latin. It’s a traditional practice for Catholic Christians during the fifty days of Easter. I’m not very familiar with Latin. I grew up in a Baptist church that didn’t use it and did not ever study it in school, so it is truly a foreign language to me.
Despite its strangeness (or maybe because of it), there is something so moving, so beautiful, so deeply spiritual about chanting Psalms and prayers in Latin. The words move through me from a deep, hidden place, transcending time and space. It is as if for a moment, my voice is joining innumerable voices past, present and future, weaving a tapestry of prayer that wraps around the universe.
Chanting the Regina Caeli, I communed with God. Even on days when I didn’t stop moving while I chanted, my soul stood still. Each day, chimes rang on my phone at noon, calling me to prayer. I spread peanut butter on bread and heated carrots in the microwave and felt my pulse slow and my breathing deepen as I sang. Observing my new daily practice, my preschooler started chanting, too. Soon, we both knew the prayer by heart and would chant even in the car. We heard the bells- we started chanting. It was our rhythm.
All too soon, the fifty days of Easter ended. A longtime liturgical geek, I couldn’t possibly keep doing the Regina Caeli after its appropriate season and explained this to my son. He just looked at me and said, “Well, what do we chant now?”
That’s when we discovered the Angelus.
When I looked up the text of the prayer, I discovered that The Angelus was more complicated than the Regina Caeli. It seemed completely impossible when I first saw it…I didn’t even know where to begin. I despaired that we would ever get the hang of it, and I missed the familiar Regina Caeli.
After some searching, I found a slide show of beautiful images accompanied by chant sung by the Daughters of Mary. The text appeared in both English and Latin below the images. Chanting along bit by bit, I started learning a line at a time. Unable to keep up in the beginning, I let the beauty of the chant and the images of Mary and Jesus wash over me and my family as we gathered in the kitchen at our most frantic time of day. Little by little, it started coming together.
We stuck with it, and I’m so glad we did. It is truly a prayer now, a moment in the day when we pause, when I breathe more deeply and remember that there’s a bigger picture. This pause is often what restores the balance to the day. It takes the tension out of the air and slows down my heartbeat. The children become calmer. The atmosphere in our kitchen changes.
Why is this working for us? Part of it is the routine. Part of it is the heavenly music. Maybe part of it is just focusing on my breathing when singing the chant.
Part of it, though, is perspective. Every single day, I am stopping to recall a seminal event in the salvation story of humankind…God at work in the world, in people, in a woman, long before Jesus ever showed up. In the Christian story, what it meant for Mary to say “yes” to the Angel Gabriel was that everything was about to change…that God’s desire to build a relationship with humanity through Christ was being brought to fruition. It changed everything. It matters. And so, it restores something to the balance of my universe to remember every day at noon that Mary’s “yes” is what started the whole thing rolling along. Her “yes” meant that there could be a baby, and her baby meant there could be a Savior.
Meanwhile, when I’m finished praying, all I have to do is get three children fed and down for their nap.
Yes. I can do that.
Copyright 2013 Abbey Dupuy