“Wow – are they all yours?” – has been the question I have been repeatedly asked by strangers over the last couple of months. On affirming this fact the most frequent reply is generally – “Gosh – you have your hands full!”…
I do have my hands full. Although my eldest two (5 and 6) are both in school now, this also means I now need to get all 5 of us fed (and breastfed!), dressed, and out of the house by 8.30 every morning to walk to and from school and then back out again in the afternoon. The time in between these school runs is spent entertaining my nearly two year old while breastfeeding the new-born. When the children are all at home with me in the early mornings and afternoons, I spend most of these feeds with the boys on either side of me watching TV (Netflix and Cbeebies have been my saviour over the last few months, I’m afraid to say), and my little girl sitting on my lap trying to kiss the baby while demanding I read her another book. She has reached the stage now where she wants to be by my side at all times; I’m lucky if I can sneak off upstairs for more than two minutes during the day, to put away some washing, before she turns around and discovers I’ve gone, my heart sinking as I hear the cries of “Muuuuuummyyyyy! Where aarrrrre you?!” from the living room, as I rush to pair as many socks as I can, before she finds me.
I’ll admit I was kind of dreading the new baby’s arrival – the thought of adding an unpredictable new-born into my life again (which I manage pretty well, but only by having quite a set routine) terrified me. During the weeks after he was born and while Lance was still home, I’d be pacing up and down a dark room trying to calm a screaming baby while he made the dinner for the children, wondering how earth I would manage a situation like this on my own, when he goes back to work.
I have now survived nearly 3 months of this new way of life and my response when friends have anxiously asked me “So how are you?!” has been “Surprisingly ok actually!”. I’d say the best way to describe how I feel at the moment is ‘content’. On reading the above paragraphs I can imagine that “content” is probably the last thing most people would feel being faced with what I am doing day in and day out. And don’t get me wrong – I have certainly had a good few moments of desperation when the house has been a tip, the baby is screaming and won’t go to sleep, the toddler has just been sick all over her cot and all I have been able to muster to make for dinner is plain spaghetti with a fish finger (probably one of my less “content” moments to be honest). It has taken me a while to work out how I can possibly be feeling like this.
It struck me a week or so ago when I read this brilliant blog post by Jennifer Fulwiller. In it she describes her slow realisation that actually it is only really through living for others, embracing the hard times as something to offer to God, and throwing ourselves into our “vocation” (if we have found it) that we find true happiness. Being open to what God throws at us; accepting and welcoming every joy, but also every trial, with open arms is the only way to deal with life. This is something that secular society today (where any pain, suffering, and sacrifice must be avoided, if possible, at all costs) finds hard to understand – life is based around endlessly scrabbling for more money, more holidays, more clothes, new relationships with new partners, but no one is ever truly satisfied. Forever waiting for the next stage in life – “when I’ve finally got that promotion…”, “when my children have left home…”, “when I’ve got the new kitchen…” – everything will be better. As Jennifer so beautifully paraphrases: “what you think is out there, ain’t there!”. As Christians we are taught and continually reminded to embrace trials, suffering, and pain – to use the lessons we learn from them to be grateful for the goodness we have in our lives, iron out our flaws, and to strive to become better people for the good of others.
Having children is possibly the most perfect way to live out these ideals – as parents we live our lives almost entirely for our children and have to embrace any hardships, or inconveniences that come with it. Being a mother is my vocation. Yes, I miss working on some days, but would I give up meeting my children at the school gates every day, so that I can go back to work? Heck no.
I honestly think that the aspects of my faith, which I mention above, have helped me enormously in accepting my life as it is now and to just get on and embrace it. I’ve made a conscious decision to try to stop waiting for the next stage of their development, when they’ve grown up, and when things will be better and easier. Instead I am living for the now. This is it. Family is what life is all about. Take the hardships and offer them up to God; use them to develop myself. I’m surrounded with work that doesn’t give me bonuses, holidays, and a bigger house; but that is real hard graft – often mind bogglingly monotonous, soul sapping and exhausting, and gives me something that nothing else can – maternal love for the four most beautiful, irreplaceable children. A recent study found that parents with four or more children are the happiest – and I am starting to see why: the more children you have, yes, the more you have to give, but also the more you receive. It’s as if every child gives you a 100% pay rise.
Last week was half term – I had been dreading it, as it was going to be the first real length of time that I would spend on my own with all the children. I was surprised at how smoothly the week went and on the Friday decided to take the children to a playground in Oxford and then visit a café that they enjoy afterwards. After being surprised at how well my week had gone, the idea to take two small children, a toddler, and a new-born baby to a café, alone, for lunch, was likely born out of over confidence in myself. It ended with me breastfeeding a screaming baby whilst trying to manage an overtired toddler, who refused to eat her food, was only happy standing in her high chair, and sloshing my hot coffee with a teaspoon whilst crying. I then realised I didn’t have a muslin cloth with me, so had to try and catch the inevitable baby sick with a stack of tiny square napkins. I stood in the café with sick dripping down my back, two boys asking for a wee and the toddler crying to go home to bed, looking mournfully at my untouched coffee and I could have sat down and cried right there. We finally left (much to the relief of the table behind us, who were apparently having a very important business meeting), and I was stopped by a lady outside who looked at all of the children and asked “Wow – are they all yours?!”. I sighed exasperatedly at the question, expecting the stock responses I usually received, and replied to the affirmative…
“Gosh, you’re so blessed!” she replied.
I was so taken aback by her reply that I stumbled a ‘Umm, yes…thank you!’ and carried on walking. It took a while for what she had said to sink in and I now wish I had run back and given her a hug. It was like God had shone his light down on me right there, in the midst of my turmoil, and reminded how lucky I am. Her reply has stayed with me ever since and I don’t think I will ever forget it, where ever my life goes from here.
Yes. Yes, I am blessed.
Thank you God.
Happy mother’s day everyone…