An Embarrassment of Riches

kids pile

The night before last, our AC went out. Normally in November this wouldn’t be a huge deal, even here in southwest Florida — but this has been a horrifically hot November, with highs in the upper 80’s for weeks. So the temperature in our house quickly climbed to 80, then 85 yesterday afternoon. Then Liam came home from school with a fever. As the temperature in the house made its way up to 87, his temperature shot up to 102.

He was miserable, I was miserable, everyone was miserable. The thought of turning on the oven and the stove to make dinner was appalling, and so was the thought of loading everyone into the car to pick Sienna up from cross country. But then, the Ogre came home for coffee and volunteered to stay home with the littles and grade papers while I went to get Sienna.

Other moms will understand when I say that driving for any length of time alone is pretty much like taking a vacation. I was practically ecstatic at the thought of being alone in an air-conditioned car, and then the Ogre said, “while you’re out, pick up dinner.”

This is something that we never do. Take-out of any kind, even fast food, is neither economically nor geographically feasible. Occasionally we’ll get frozen pizzas when they’re BOGO at Publix, but otherwise, we eat what I cook. Normally “picking up dinner” wouldn’t even be an option, and the only reason it was an option is because of you guys — all of you who clicked on my paypal button in the last week. You bought my family dinner last night, giving me a chance to take a break from cooking and helping to keep our house and a feverish little boy from overheating even more.

As I was giving Liam his second dose of ibuprofen last night, I was struck by the miracle of this sticky-sweet liquid in my hands. For most of human history, there were no effective remedies to lower fevers. Mothers had to sit and watch as their babies burned up and suffered through fevers, or died from them.

I couldn’t do anything about the heat in our house last night, but I could bring Liam’s temperature down with medicine. I could turn on the bath and fill it with cool water, and let him sit in it. I could give him cool water to drink and frozen fruit juice to eat. And I could call the doctor this morning and make an appointment for this afternoon, since strep is going around and he’ll need antibiotics if that’s what he has. Antibiotics that will easily knock out an infection that killed children a hundred years ago, that still kills children in far-away countries today.

I have a friend who grew up without much money, but her mother used to say that a hot shower made her feel rich because they felt so luxurious. I was struck by that, both by how true it is and how much I take it for granted. I think about it every time I take a shower now, though. Luxury has become so commonplace for us, for me, that it seems like necessity.

That doesn’t necessarily make it easier to struggle financially. It still sucks to try and scrape together the money to pay unexpected medical bills, or to get a carseat for the new baby, or to fix the car. But all those bills also mean that we have access to great medical care, that we’re expecting a healthy 5th baby that we can afford to keep safe in the car, that we have a car to get the baby to and from the birth center and the doctor.

I’ve been grateful for every Paypal donation. Truly grateful. And also I’ve cringed a little bit, embarrassed that we need the help, but embarrassed even more by the sheer scale of everyone’s generosity. I keep thinking that we don’t deserve such kindness, that there are better people out there who suffer more gracefully and have more dire problems. I keep thinking of that phrase, “an embarrassment of riches.”

But my life already is an embarrassment of riches. However hard it might be to follow Church teaching, it’s given us 5 beautiful children. However much we might struggle, we still have our basic needs met, not to mention those luxuries we take for granted — hot showers, air conditioning, coffee. And for every person who criticizes us for having too many kids, there is someone who writes me an email, or leaves a comment or a donation, or says a prayer for my family.

Like all grace, it’s so much more than we deserve.

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