Poster Child

Image by youngdoo, via Flickr

My whole life, I have been a poster child for Catholicism.

I was a choir baby, which means that on Lenten and Advent Wednesdays, I sat on hard pews and read or did homework while Mom and Dad rehearsed. I started playing flute at church at the tender age of ten or eleven, and by thirteen I was a member of the folk group. At fourteen I participated in discussions about the new document on women in the Church, and I think I was the only one who actually waded through the document, and not just the cliff notes. During college, my “falling away” from the Church consisted of skipping Mass twice. (Maybe just once. I can’t remember.)

My sister used to call me “super-Catholic,” a phrase that implies blind obedience, not mature faith. But I have always sought understanding and wisdom, even if I don’t always achieve it.

These days, the stakes are higher. Christian and I practice Natural Family Planning, which in this day and age is a pretty radically Catholic thing to do. We also teach NFP. As choir leaders, we’re right in the front of the church every week, and everyone knows us. This makes us, as someone joked once, “poster children” for NFP.

For the most part, living life on display doesn’t bother me. But it does lay a certain responsibility on my shoulders.

These days, we look like a walking schoolbus wherever we go. Friends, acquaintances, and random strangers tell me, “Wow, you have your hands full!”

I never know how to respond. I do have my hands full, but I mean, everybody’s busy. Other people have three kids. Other people have kids two years apart. Does everybody get these kinds of reactions? Or is it because my middle child has Down syndrome, that people seem to think my hands are full enough to warrant comment?

It doesn’t really matter, except that as a known NFP user, I feel compelled to present a certain image to the world. If I walk around looking tired and harried and spastic, then I might as well be a poster child for birth control. That is not a poster I want to claim.

Then again, maybe I’m reading into people’s reactions too much…or at least, overrating my importance in the world. The other day at the grocery store, I got in line behind a man pushing two grocery carts full to the brim. “Your total is $489.17,” said the cashier, and then hesitated. “So…just out of curiosity,” she went on, “How long will this last you?”

“Oh,” he said, and as he drew out that single syllable, I could imagine what he was thinking: he was weighing the merits of a smart reply versus the worn-out explanations required by telling the truth. Truth won out. “A week,” he said. The girl’s eyes popped, and he added, “I have a wife and seven kids at home.”

After that, I thought surely my family must have seemed not quite so big a deal. But as he left, she turned and smiled at me. “Boy,” she said, “you sure have your hands full, don’t you?”

I imagine that everyone who chooses to have large(r) families probably feels the same insecurities. We probably all feel like we’re on display—as if we have to justify our family size by appearing to have it all together in public.

Then again, I suppose it would be better if we did have it all together, and who gives a flying fig how it looks to everyone else?