Sherry Antonetti is going to be writing a guest post here and there during August and we’re pretty excited because it gives us more chance to sit around eating Bon Bons and smoking cigars. ( I added cigars because the bon bon thing didn’t seem real manly.) We’re big fans of Sherry who has something like 48 kids and is a real saintly Catholicy mother type. And she’s real funny too. Read her here and check her out over at her place:
“You have how many?” I had seven in the store. “Nine.” The clerk began showing us off to her fellow workers as if they had not heard and could not see the stroller and two toddlers led by two olders and one boy who was trying desperately to figure out how not to be associated with us while his brother posed and preened in the three way mirror.
Yesterday a woman helping us buy uniforms for the school year told my oldest daughter, “Your mother is a saint. You do know that right?” I caught her eyes. She was barely concealing her urge to roll them. This particular teen has a steel trap mind and as she said when she was five, “I never forget anything.” Then and now when I’m reminded of this fact, a deep chill runs up my spine and I know if I ever need to go to confession and am struggling with making a proper assessment of my failings, she can provide an annotated list for my convenience. Even though these words were meant as a compliment, they irk. First, if a case were ever to be opened on my behalf for canonization, the first ones to testify against it would be my children.
Second, I know that motherhood is hard whether you have one or nine. It’s 24-7, it’s without end and there are times when the tasks involved grind you to exhaustion and beyond. I know many mothers I wish I could emulate more; my own for example –she plans. I follow up understanding how much easier whatever it is I am doing would have been if I’d only planned. My mother-in-law is another shining star. She is thorough and thoughtful. I’m fitfully creative and live perpetually with the hope that the thought counts enough even if the birthday card is three days…alright…weeks…late getting into the mail. I know moms who are so present to their children, I’m envious. I try doing it and both the kids and I get bored of each other or one group of kids wants me to be a judge and another, the designated monster or a third, the set home base. I’m an accessory to their play and a refuge, not a colleague or collaborator. I also know moms of one and two with ample dollops of charity for others to spare; charity I think of only after witnessing them. And I know mothers of six that I watch with awe who arrive on time and well dressed and combed and think, one day, I hope I can be that together and know that my current course and speed aren’t going in that direction no matter how much I flail.
But the polished present planning playing careful mother I’m not is not because of the how many I have. It never was the number that has prevented me from being a planner or thorough and thoughtful or charitable or present, for the number has continued changing, but the constant in the equation has been me. Instead, they’ve got this dreamy fitful enthusiastic and sometimes together mom who spends too much time on my computer, doesn’t write things down and when she does, she doesn’t check her calendar. I know because when we got back to the car and loaded everyone in, I asked my daughter, “Do comments like that bother you?” and she shook her head no and said, “Don’t worry Mom. I know you’re no saint.” And rattled off examples of my many failings, all 100% accurate.
She patted my shoulder but somehow that didn’t make me feel better. When you get a reminder of your sins, it’s a cue to at least make sure you aren’t stagnating spiritually so I talked to one of my go to priests about the trials of trying to raise 9 without discouraging any of them from practicing their faith throughout adulthood because of the obvious work load involved.
He told me to pray and remember “You know, some days, just staying sane is sufficient.” I told him I thought that was setting the bar a bit low.
But today, my four year old is dancing on a chair in her swim suit. No one told her we were going swimming, she just felt it might happen and because her mother is an impulsive person, it might. The three year old comes into the room. “Do you want to potty train today?” I ask. “No, I need to color.” And she marches to the table to demand paper for her latest magnum opus. My eight year old comes down to explain she stayed up reading and writing and illustrating a book and my eleven year old triumphantly explains how he beat his dad and older brother last night in an epic hour long magic game. These whimsies won’t get them scholarships and aren’t brag worthy to strangers in the way that “we just got back from the semi-finals in 10U baseball” or she’s performing at the Kennedy Center in the junior orchestra or he’s spending the summer studying immersion Sanskrit, but I wouldn’t change or trade those for this blessed abundant and lavish creative chaos I’ve both promoted and created. They’re my triumphs of ordinary time. And while this work won’t generate a tv spot where one of mine flashes a victorious smile and says, “Thanks Mom.” I can look at them in the midst of their clutter, crayons and music dance and song and feel my heart burst as I whisper a prayer to hold onto this moment and say, “Thanks God for these kids.” And mean it with all my heart.