Additional context: This week was a humdinger.
Typically, I spend my time in a state of chaotic constancy. I go forward, day by day, and the sanctity I am afforded through grace is gained by raising kids. There are early morning wakeup calls for my three bleary-eyed boys, lunches to pack, carpools to drive, practice drop offs, and math facts to learn. Dinner should be hot and ready to eat anytime between 5:30-9pm. Text messages arrive while I am in my “office”—a light blue Chrysler Towne and Country—which smells very much like the inside of old baseball cleats. “Mom, I forgot my bat bag. Can you drop it at the school office before 3:30?” or “Mom, Z and I are wondering if we can eat the chocolate muffins on the table for our after school snack?”
There are 3rd grade CYO football games on Saturday mornings which are usually happening at the same time as basketball practice for the older boys. Sometimes, I am called on to help with a research project on Belarus or Azerbaijan, and we try to wrap those up before Sunday morning mass after which the Colts game takes over the family room. It’s a joy filled family life and extremely busy.
However chaotic this week has been, what is has not been is a typical week in the Thieme household. I went AWOL on Saturday and headed to the Windy City to catch a flight to Rhode Island. You see my little sister, Robin, is turning 40. The Dykhuizen family doesn’t mess around with birthdays and so for this auspicious occasion, Mom and I “kidnapped” Robin and we took off to Nantucket for a couple nights of celebration. The sunny little isle might be a tad light on Pinot Grigio and lobster bisque until the next ferry comes to port. But, I digress.
“Kidnapped” is really a poor choice of words. It implies a kind of spontaneity that is impossible for mothers with children at home. You cannot sweep away from reality a dedicated mom. It requires logistics: Willing and able grandparents, a friend (or 3) who have kids at your kids school, and a Pulitzer prize winning four page instructional essay.
This specific week in question, the maternal guilt was ratcheted up for me, the “kidnapper” a notch by the fact that my husband Tom, was in DC with the 8th grade class from St. Louis de Montfort Catholic School exploring our nation’s capital—leaving both parents gone at the same time! Here’s the thing Robin and I seem to both struggle to admit: we are raising a total of 5 bright, lovely children who are quite capable of thriving in our absence.
What’s my problem, anyway? Do I believe I am doing such a poor job that my boys are completely unable to bob and weave, unable to think and do a bit more for themselves than is typical? Am I so utterly filled with pride that I believe I am irreplaceable even for a day? I don’t think that’s it.
“If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.” –Gilda Radner
My instincts tell me all this is really about guilt. There’s a maternal guilt so ingrained in us that it’s reflexive. It’s so utterly acceptable to blame mom when anything goes wrong with a child or a family in our culture. It’s why we mothers are natural Catholics. We have very little trouble with grasping the reality of our own sinfulness and failure. As a result of the unholy and unnecessary guilt, we struggle taking time for ourselves and the other women we cherish. Sadly, we take it for granted that they will completely understand.
So many times when I have gotten busy with my responsibilities and family life, I have let go of cherished time with other women I love. Their personal anecdotes, the nurturing we afford one another as women, it feels like a luxury. It’s not. It’s essential.
“For a lack of guidance a people falls, security lies in many counselors.” (Proverbs 11:14)
Women are especially cognizant of our innate need to hear and be heard. I try to be a good listener myself, in order to build and strengthen my relationships. I need that girl time to gain strength, I desire those words of affirmation and guidance, to do the work that God calls us all to do. In my everyday life, there is joy, but there is jeering, baiting, demanding too. There are swollen egos and plenty of lumps.
“Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter, whoever finds them finds a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth.” (Sir 6:14-15)
From a spiritual standpoint, when I go too long without a few laughs and the counsel of godly people, I am quick to remember my mistakes and very soon I get caught in my unworthiness. Jesus could never use you, the devil whispers. You are sinful and you are useless. I hear his whispers loudest when the wick is getting short.
My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light. –Edna St. Vincent Millay
Around my neck I often wear a medallion featuring St. Matthew. On the back is inscribed “Come follow me”. I bought this little treasure for myself a few years ago after a no-nonsense priest (who I find God uses to teach me about Him) sent me a beautiful photo of a painting by Caravaggio named “The Calling of St. Matthew”. I was riveted. Jesus saw a sinful man, a reviled tax collector, and looked upon him with love and called him to be His own. In the painting, Matthew appears to be placing his forehead in his hands. He makes this gesture as he is being called by Jesus. To me, it has always looked as if the great gospel writer is saying “Oh no! Not me. I am a mess. You don’t want me.” However, Matthew couldn’t refuse Our Lord. He followed.
“I am a sinner. This is the most accurate description. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.” –Pope Francis
It appears I have something in common with this Pope. We are both sinners the Lord has looked upon. I have even heard it said he finds inspiration in the Caravaggio work I have come to admire, even if just via “Google”.
So, this week was a humdinger. There were planes, rental cars, hotels, ferry boats, field trips, babysitters, boarding passes and a big birthday was celebrated with my one and only sister. While my amazing mom, my sis and I lolly gagged in Nantucket for a few days, I would argue we were doing the work God called us to this week.
We were hugging, inspiring, listening, delighting, comforting, questioning, sharing, respecting, understanding, accepting, and zinging with joy because we have each other.
I came home reminded that there is indeed holiness in the chaotic constancy of raising children. There is also holiness in letting God just empty His dump truck full of love all over you for a couple days….and thanking Him for it.
Love you, Mom. Happy 40th, fav sis!
Let it shine this week everyone!!
P.S. Here’s a post script “Hoo Haa!” for Grandpa Jim, as well as Nana and Didai (aka Irene and Bill Beck) for the babysitting love! Thanks also, Nick, Drew, Zach, Maddie and Ellie for being so flexible this week! You guys are all THE BOMB!