These are my babies, Si and Ren, at our church on Easter.
On the one hand, I love this picture. My boys look like their handsome, irrepressible selves on a beautiful spring day in a place that means so much to us. On the other hand . . . my sons also look like Daddy dressed them. And they look like it because it’s true; when it was getting dressed time at our house, I was busy doing other things. Churchy things.
The things, and the place, that used to bring us together as a family now, increasingly, mean that my husband and I are running a “divide and conquer” offense. And it seems unlikely that this is going to change; if anything, we are in for increasing disruption around, and because of, our church life.
These changes are the third item in the mental list I can’t help but keep about my seminary decision. It’s a sort of tally sheet; I could call it “the high cost of insanity.” The top three items are, in slightly shifting order, “I really might fail at this; Everyone I know is going to think I’ve lost my mind; Ultimately, after all of this, we lose the church home that has brought such depth, meaning and joy to our lives.” If that last point is true–and I don’t know yet whether it is–the beloved community in question does not simply leave your life quietly. On the contrary. First it loves you. Then it eats you.
I have written here about the demands life makes of us to balance that which cannot be balanced, but until now, I was speaking academically. These past few weeks, on the other hand, the equation seems much closer to home. As I wade through papers and plan team meetings and stare into a future that contains community and congregational internships, I wonder how–and sometimes if–I will successfully wear all of the hats I’m being given, and how, succeed or fail, merely attempting it will affect my home and family life.
Have you seen this cartoon? It’s true, but not to worry: I gave up the clean home battle long ago. That ship sailed around the time we added a second child and the first one started getting into everything. The cartoon is funny and, replacing “clean home” with “seminary” or “a career” or even “a passion beyond my family,” also a bit scary. For one thing, my children are getting older. Not yet in the way that may eventually mean that they need less of my help. Older in the way that they notice who’s taking care of them—and who isn’t.
Fortunately, I have a blessing of a husband: a man who was himself raised by a devoted, involved father, and who regards parenthood as a joy and a privilege. This is a gift to our children, an inspiration to me, and comes with some serious perks–I literally did not change a diaper for either of our kids for the first month of their lives, and C does night duty with Si even now. (Our second son, God love him, is one of those children who at three still doesn’t quite grasp the sleeping through the night concept.) C has never been a stay-at-home Dad, but from day one, he’s been at home as a dad, and pity the misled person who suggests that my husband is babysitting when adventuring with our sons.
Add to this a great sitter—a salt of the earth, Jesus-praising 69-year old who drives in from a neighboring town to “take care of my boys”–and you might understand, a bit, the loving village who are helping us to raise our children. Our lives as they currently exist would not be possible without Judy, and we love her dearly (though she did teach Si to say “thread” as a two-syllable word, and Ren to use “Like ah say” as a key introductory clause).
In short, my kids are in good hands. And it’s not like I was doing a Donna Reed impression before now. I’ve been in school or working (usually in school and working) for every year of my children’s lives. My family is used to April and November as lost months–midterms, papers, mommy with her nose in a book or gazing with consternation at the laptop screen.
I feel worried now, though, in a way that I didn’t before. Perhaps it’s that my children are bigger, more articulate in their demands for my time, my attention, the entirety of my heart. Maybe it’s that this call to ministry feels entitled to speak to the same things, to make the same claims [Must those be competing? Please don’t be competing.] Or maybe it’s just that I have always viewed this reading/writing/learning process as a path to a finish line . . . and have suddenly been given to understand that there is no race, and no end. In different contexts, with varying subject matter and stakeholders, there is just this. Read, write, listen, learn, repeat . . . forever and ever, amen.
This isn’t unfamiliar territory, and in some ways, it’s a comfort and a relief to simply acknowledge what is. And yet. There is just something about the shift from “until” to “always” that changes things utterly. It’s perhaps like getting married after living together for years, discovering that things you could put up with before—the things you assumed would pass, somehow—are now suddenly just your life. And they are Not Funny Anymore. And so, if you happen to be loving and lucky enough, you get your shit together. You make a new vision.
I need a new vision now. My whole family does. And it needs to involve connection and balance, along with the passion that my husband and I both feel for the amazing work that we get to do.
What’s happening in its absence is this: I am leaving town momentarily, missing the weekend with my family (for the third time in four weeks). It’s for something I am so excited about—but my excitement is tempered by some real mommy guilt. On another of these weekends, Ren lost his first two teeth and the tooth fairy came. I heard about it on the phone, and smiled—and then I cried.
And then there’s THIS week. Where to even begin? Mid-travels, post-Easter, paper and outlines for final essays due, things at my house have sounded like this: “Mommy’s working!” “Mommy’s writing!” “Mommy has a meeting!” “How was your day—I’ll be home from class at 9!” “Seriously, you’re awake now? I got FOUR HOURS OF SLEEP.”
And in the meantime, this happened.
And also, something I didn’t get a picture of, but which I can simply describe as a scene that might have immediately preceded the Bonfire of the Vanities. It was staged in my living room, and involved my husband’s beloved art and architecture books and a montage of CDs, photos, DVDs—all oversprinkled with twine, ribbon, and about 15 small metal crucifixes from my blog photo prop bin.
I haven’t yelled. I haven’t killed anyone. I did take the opportunity to introduce the concept of “sin of omission” with Ren, who apparently sat calmly on the couch while Si took the Harold and the Purple Crayon concept for a walk. And all the while, I am of course thinking about my own sins of omission, of absence, of distraction . . . and wondering what it means to be a PK. And about what it means, in the interim, to be the kid of a potentially crazy, passionately in love, sometimes wildly overscheduled person in seminary. To be the child of a person who loves them so very, very much, and loves their daddy, and loves her life and her house with the mostly neutral but also red-in-places walls.
But who is also a person for whom that–this big, beautiful set of blessings–isn’t, hasn’t been, will not ever be enough. These kids will have to share their mom’s heart. Always.
Friends, HOW do you do this?*
from the bottom of my passionately crazed heart,
*feel absolutely free to talk to me about Jesus if you feel so inclined. It’s going to take something more than magic eraser to clean up these walls.