Last night at 2 A.M. the storm sirens went off. I shook my husband awake to look at the news, and went upstairs to bring down the kids.
The last thing I’d read before falling asleep earlier in the night, was a Smithsonian article about a Russian family who’d survived for forty years in the Taiga without encountering another human being. They’d fled their home due to religious persecution, taking seeds, a loom, and a spinning wheel. As supplies ran out, they became more and more dependent on the environment in which they lived.
The article had subconsciously convinced me of my invincibility in the face of disaster, so that in the first moment of alarm, the thought– this is the end–entered, then exited my mind just as quickly. I half-believed that the storm siren was my call to heroism, like a bell going off at the Justice League. It was time to do some late night parenting.
My kids hadn’t heard the siren, which was disturbing since it was pretty loud, and I’ve always assumed that given a fire alarm, or a loud knocking in the night, at least one other set of ears would pick up on the warnings of disaster.
I’m afraid I’m the only one in the house who is always only half asleep, or else entirely awake in the night. I’d feel resentful about it, that I’m the only sentry here, but it sort of felt like a super power in the moment: I hear everything!
I’ve been experiencing a wonderful optimism since the birth of our most recent baby.
Our plans to add a fourth bedroom and a second bathroom onto our house have fallen through, and somehow, rather than feeling disappointed that all the planning thus far has been for nought, it seems like it’s all for the best (The Taiga people lived in a hovel for forty years!).
I can’t leave the house alone for more than ten minutes, the amount of time it takes to drop off or pick up a few kids somewhere. Resentment may come in a few weeks (Really, after six children, I’m the only one in the house who can calm a crying baby?), but for now, at least, it feels like a super power: I’m the only person in the world who can calm this crying baby! How wonderful to be a lifeline!
The mother in the Smithsonian article died of starvation during a hard season so that her children wouldn’t, and after her death, the family found one remaining rye plant, which they took turns guarding until it thrived, and gradually they were able to replenish their store of grain.
Even in her death, she was a lifeline. How could the children do anything but guard the plant so that their mother would not have died in vain?
This, I suspect is what it means in Psalm 128 “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine in the recesses of your home.” I used to take offense at this particular verse. It sounded so territorial (YOUR home, YOUR wife–fat and stagnant there in the dark recesses of the house. God forbid the vine go out to the movies once in awhile).
I imagined that the vine was weak and passive, that it sat around feeding itself, or else waiting to be sustained, rather than being the source of life and sustenance to others.
Christ also says, “I am the vine, you are the branches…apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) If motherhood is hard at times, it’s probably because it allows us, without going terribly far out of our way, to mimic Christ. Being a lifeline to others usually entails a cost to oneself.
There is never a time when I feel more at peace, more satisfied with the knowledge that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing with my life, than when I am in the active process of mothering. I don’t have fears about wasting my time when I’m pregnant or nursing a newborn. I have complete confidence that my life is being worthily spent, because it’s sustaining someone else.
This is me, the vine, climbing the stairs in the dark to wake up my children, calming the little people into sleeping bags on the floor in our room, nursing the newborn back to sleep. I don’t feel trapped and helpless. I feel infinitely useful.
It took some time for the kids to quiet down once the siren stopped. A tornado failed to produce, and even the thunder storm we were promised fizzled out after just a few low rumbles. The balmy weather blew east, and was followed by much lower temps and a few flurries.
It could be that this radical optimism is some manic post-pregnancy-hormone-high. I’ve been through pregnancy enough times to know now that there will be numerous changes in my emotional altitude in the days to come. I can already see how the baby needs me a little bit less each day as she makes this transition from the womb, to the breast, to the hip. She will gradually move to the floor to crawl, then to walk further and further away from me.
At some point, I will have to relearn who I am without these children, just as I struggled in the early days as a parent to hold onto the identity I cherished before I had them. For now, though, I am so fully invested in this vocation, I take it as a compliment when anyone, even the old men at church, call me “mother.”
It’s a rather wonderful thing to be.