Thursday, October 25, 2012

Thriving at Home During Ordinary Time

I asked friends to send me blog topic suggestions since I was in a writing rut.  A friend sent me this:
"Write about the struggles of being a mom, a stay at home mom. We...meaning I, have been having a rough week of it and as sad as it sounds, would like to hear that I am not the only one that struggles with being at home all day with (insert number) kids who seem bent on doing nothing but fight and scream at each other and destroy every last bit of patience you have."
Instantly, I remembered a post from my favorite blogger, Simcha Fisher, on this very topic.  She called it, "Escape from Babyland."  (Forgive me for including such a long excerpt, but Simcha is too good to only share a sentence or two!)
What's the one thing frazzled young moms always hear?  "These years go by so quickly -- enjoy it while you can!"  Which is sort of like getting a severe sunburn and hearing, "Summer will be gone before you know it -- enjoy it while you can!"
Oh, settle down.  I'm not really saying that spending time with your nice little baby is a blistering agony.  As the proud owner of a schnoogily, schnoogily little baby girl who has two pearly little teeth and the cutiest, wootiest style of scooty crawling that any baby in the history of ever has ever invented because she is brilliant, believe me when I say that there is nothing nicer than babies. It's true:  Babies do grow up incredibly quickly, and the special joy of the baby years melts away like fog in the midmorning sun.  I'm not looking forward to the day when my kids will be gone.
Still, there is only so much joy a person can stand. I can remember, for instance, having three children, all in diapers.  When my  husband came home in the evening, and I would feel confused, unsure of how to deal with something that wasn't a bottom.  I knew he had many wonderful qualities, but my favorite thing about him was that he could pour his own juice.  All day, every day, everything was up to me, me, me, and even though I loved my work, it was unrelenting.
In short, I was stuck in Babyland.  Babyland is a wonderful place, where all the voices are squeaky, all the clothes are adorable, love and affection flows freely, and where mothers often go to lose their minds entirely, and would trade their immortal soul for five minutes of adult conversation and an uninterrupted cup of coffee.
So when I see a young mom struggling wearily through the day, I don't tell her, "These days go by so quickly," even though this is true.  What I say is, "The years go by quickly -- but the days sure are long, aren't they?"  And then I say,  "Don't worry -- you won't always be stuck in Babyland."
As a family, we have plenty of anniversaries, birthdays, memorials, and other traditions to celebrate together.  In between those special celebrations, there's plenty of the ordinary, too--especially the long days in Babyland.  

This got me to thinking about the changing seasons, winter looming ahead, the upcoming holidays, and the liturgical calendar.  Just like our family calendars, the Church's liturgical calendar also has plenty of Ordinary Time.  The Church doesn't call this time "Ordinary" because it's somehow humdrum or boring.  I can't possibly explain the meaning of Ordinary Time better than Catholic Culture, so I'll just copy and paste their summary:
Ordinary Time, meaning ordered or numbered time, is celebrated in two segments: from the Monday following the Baptism of Our Lord up to Ash Wednesday; and from Pentecost Monday to the First Sunday of Advent. This makes it the largest season of the Liturgical Year.
In vestments usually green, the color of hope and growth, the Church counts the thirty-three or thirty-four Sundays of Ordinary Time, inviting her children to meditate upon the whole mystery of Christ – his life, miracles and teachings – in the light of his Resurrection.

If the faithful are to mature in the spiritual life and increase in faith, they must descend the great mountain peaks of Easter and Christmas in order to "pasture" in the vast verdant meadows of tempus per annum, or Ordinary Time.

Sunday by Sunday, the Pilgrim Church marks her journey through the tempus per annum as she processes through time toward eternity. 
Check out the 2012 Liturgical Calendar below.  The purple is Advent and Lent, yellow is Christmas and Easter, and do you see all of that green?  That, my friends, is Ordinary Time. 

In between the feasting and fasting, Mother Church gives us a chance to live out the Truths of the Faith in the Ordinary.   Ordinary Time is our opportunity to follow along on the path of obedience as disciples of Christ.  There is so much to learn, practice, and implement in our daily lives.  The word disciple came to us from other words meaning "pupil, student, follower," "to learn," "to grasp," "to accept."  If we're going to be disciples, we need to be a pupil willing to learn, grasp, and accept what it is that God asks of us on a daily basis--especially in the ordinary.

For the average stay-at-home mom, there's plenty of ordinary, and a lot of our days are cyclical.  In fact, in my less than grace-filled moments I've complained that some days I feel like Sisyphus, pushing that boulder up the hill only to have it come rolling back down, or like a hamster on a spinning wheel.  

Make a meal, serve a meal, clean up a meal.  Repeat.  

Wash clothes, dry clothes, fold clothes, put away clothes, wear clothes.  Repeat.  

I'm sitting here, thinking about all of the things I do over and over again on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.  It would be mind-numbing and depressing if I believed what the world told me about my job.  The world wants me to believe that I'm wasting my brain, I'm acting like a slave, I'm unfulfilled, and that I'm not supposed to be happy at home.  At the right event, I might even be tempted to believe all of that when I consider the questions people ask when they find out I stay at home. 

"What do you do all day?"
"Don't you miss work?
"How can you stand it?!"
"What do you do to keep your mind from going to mush?" 

Couple those negative voices and outside pressures to hate being at home with, say, a family bout of the stomach flu, a child's decision to go on a hunger strike, a broken furnace, and a beloved family heirloom memento being smashed to smithereens by a toddler, and the temptation to say, "What in the world am I doing?!" can seem overwhelming.    

Fortunately, the ample ordinary time at home forces me to face my vices head-on and, hopefully, do something to combat them.  I don't necessarily smile with every dirty diaper or swipe of the dust rag, but the ordinary days provide me with countless opportunities to make an essential choice:  Will I choose to give my life in service of those I love, or will I resist self-sacrifice and give in to my vices? 

I've noticed a pattern.  When I'm keeping my priorities straight (God, husband, children, extended family, everyone and everything else), it's a lot easier to resist my vices, and I'm much more productive.  When I abandon my prayer time because I'm "too busy," don't spend quality time with Philip, or focus on the housework more than the children, I'm unhappier, the days don't have direction, and the pity parties happen on an hourly basis.  Those are the days when I give in to the temptation to throw my hands in the air and say, "I give up!"

Two months ago, I had what should have been one of those "I give up!" days.  Philip was in the midst of his month of working night shifts, and after three weeks, it had lost its novelty.  It had been an especially long day, and I was tired.  Just as I had put the babies down for bed and sat down on the couch, Philip called to check in.  I started to tell him that it had been a long day, that we missed him, but that it was going alright, when I heard Walt make a strange noise.  I told Philip that I would call him back and opened the nursery door to discover that Walt had thrown up.

The poor baby was covered from head to toe, as were his crib, sheets, blankets, and surrounding wall and furniture.  I gave him a bath, cleaned the wall, crib, and carpet, changed his sheets, rocked him back to sleep, and washed his bedding.  

As I came upstairs from starting the wash, I heard Walt getting sick again.  I opened the door and took a deep breath as I turned on the lamp to take in the scene.  It was deja vu.  Walt and his surroundings looked just as they had forty-five minutes before.

I picked up my poor, sweet baby and let myself cry for one minute.  Then, from seemingly out of nowhere, I heard myself say, "Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in You.  Blessed Mother, please help me!  Make me patient, gentle, and loving."  Of course, that prayer didn't come out of nowhere.  Despite it being a stressful month, I had been keeping my priority of relationships straight, and my prayer life was strong.  I know the Holy Spirit was helping me in that moment to make that choice that I make countless times everyday:  Will I choose to give my life in service of those I love, or will I resist self-sacrifice and give in to my vices?  With some extra grace, I was able to pray and make the right choice instead of saying, "I give up!" and throwing myself a pity party.   

I was even able to laugh when I realized the washing machine was still filling from the first load, so I had time to throw in the second set of dirty bedding and pajamas!  Now THAT is looking on the bright side! 

I don't share that story as a pat-on-the-back moment.  I know it wasn't me that got me through that night.  I share that story because I believe it illustrates that we need only ask God for the graces to get through the "I give up!" moments that fill the ordinary days (and nights!).  He's our Loving Father, and He wants us to come to Him in our time of need instead of being prideful enough to think that we can handle it all on our own.  

When we maintain the proper order of relationships, take the days in stride, keep our sense of humor, and reach out to our husbands, family, and friends to lovingly correct us when we've gone offtrack, the ordinary days are full of "my cup runneth over" joy instead of "how am I going to get through this day?!" despair.  We don't have to love every moment or drop to our knees in thanksgiving for every opportunity of redemptive suffering, but we do need to figure out whether our presence is lovingly advancing our family's mission or if we are derailing it with doomy gloomy negativity and self-absorption.  

It's good to admit when you're going through a difficult phase and do something about it--ask for help, ask for honest input, and, when necessary, seek out spiritual direction or professional counseling.  What's not okay is living each day as a martyr, building up resentment, not communicating with others about problems, just getting through the day.  

God didn't give us His Son so that we could get through the day.  Jesus "came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly" (John 10:10).  Just as the liturgical color of Ordinary Time is green, the color of life and growth, our ordinary days should be marked by daily growth and advancement of our mission as disciples.