Because It Never Was About Just Being Mom, Anyway

A six-part fugue from The Musical Offering, in...
A six-part fugue from The Musical Offering, in the hand of Johann Sebastian Bach. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of the time, my brain clicks along like a 6-part Bach fugue on steroids, all angles and gears turning, pushing forward without a pause for breath.

What I aspire to is a brain that works more like a Gregorian chant, or one of those “music from the hearts of space” pieces with long, sinuous lines that slow you down and soothe you to peacefulness.

In reality, I think I’d settle for a brain like a two-part invention.

There’s so much going on these days. So many different motifs to catch and develop: the sharp forward thrust of Alex’s interest in science, the straining tenor of Nicholas’ desire to be bigger than he is. The dissonance of Julianna’s delays, which add color to the mix, the earthy rumble of Michael beginning toilet training. Plus there are the work threads: the steady rhythm of nonfiction assignments, the crazed treble of book publicity and all things that spin off it, and of course the soaring, otherworldly lure of novel publication.

Sometimes I think I surely have to drop something altogether, rather than just pick up and drop motifs  in turn as time allows. But when I talk to my friends who are staying home with their kids, not working, I hear the same sentiment:

Just spent 1 full hour combing through emails, writing things in the calendar, and making a shopping list. All for my two big kids’ activities in the next two weeks. Lord, help us. (from a friend, on Facebook)

It would be nice to think otherwise, but life is picking up and dropping threads, and weaving them into the tapestry of something larger than the threads themselves. This just the reality of life–especially life with kids. It’s easy to go looking for a reality in which this is not the case, but it’s a chase after wind. There is a constant tension between the kids’ needs, our needs as a couple, and our personal needs. Between our responsibilities to them and our responsibilities to other things–and to ourselves.

Working mothers often feel guilty, as if we are choosing wrongly to do anything other than raise children. I didn’t used to feel this, because I used to consider myself a stay-at-home mom. Now that I’ve recognized I am a “work-at-home mom,” I feel it all the time. Surely I’d be holier, a better wife and mother, if I didn’t do anything else.

But even in the days when all moms stayed at home, they did other things too. They volunteered at church; they grew gardens and made jams and canned vegetables. There has never been a time when mothers were only mothers. And that’s as it should be. God didn’t put us on the earth to raise kids and bury every other talent He gave us. We all have gifts the world needs.

I can’t work in the parish nursery or volunteer in the school kitchen or at the food bank, because this is what I do: I write, when I can, what I can. Some of you do prolife work, some of you do ministry to mothers (or fathers); others teach Sunday school or clean the rectory or mow the neighbor’s lawn, or watch someone else’s kids so they can work at the art museum or teach dance or keep the library open.

And you know what? We need all these things. Life is poorer without them. We need each other, because no one person can do it all. The tapestry of the world would be much different if we all did nothing but raise children. Its timbre would be duller, the texture coarser. Yes, it’s a precarious balance, requiring constant adjustment. But it always was, and no matter what we do it always will be, world without end, amen.