Sisyphus and Motherhood and Coffee

Yesterday morning I woke to a quiet (and sort of creepy) almost three-year-old standing beside my bed at 6:15, silently staring at me. Good morning, Wednesday.

After I got August settled and watching a Thomas show, I moved toward my coffee pot, only to have Brooks begin crying and crying. I bounced him in the kitchen for 15 minutes staring longingly at the empty pot that remained without coffee due to my only having two hands. Finally, Brooks was asleep! I put him down and ran to the coffee pot, got the drip going. And then…he was awake again, crying in his bassinet. I bounced and rocked and swayed.

The minutes turned into an hour. Lay the baby down, come back five minutes later after he’d woken. It was 7:45 by then and my husband was leaving for work. Chris’ grandparents were in town for the day and were coming around 10 to spend it with us. And our kitchen was covered with dishes and remnants of the night before. I had a lot to do.

Here’s the thing: I had cleaned our house fifteen hours earlier: vacuumed, wiped kitchen counters, scrubbed pots and dishes. And here I was looking at the same kitchen again. Plates in the sink, pizza crust on the counter. There’s a reason for this. It’s that my husband hosts his men’s bible study over here on Tuesday nights. Long before I took my Benedictine motherhood vows, Chris and I had already committed ourselves to hospitality. We want our home to be full of people we love who love our kids. We want our door to be open, our kitchen to be packed with voices. So, every week there are fifteen beautiful women here on Sunday nights, a handful of fellas here on Tuesdays and in between, some happy dinner parties. We love that our home is a place people gather. We love what it does for our kids. (Last week, one of the girls in my bible study, Sarah, saw August at church and leaned forward to say hello. As soon as she got close to his face, he puckered up and smooched her on the lips.)

But yesterday morning I was not thinking about my calling to hospitality or the blessing of adult friends in the lives of my kids, or the simple sweetness of an active home. I was bitter about the dishes.

I did what I do best: opened the freezer and watched a plastic tub of frozen chicken stock fall onto the floor and shatter. Then, I stomped around while sweeping plastic and clanking dishes with my free hand (the one not holding a baby) and complaining to Chris about the ridiculousness of needing to clean the house, again. Good grief, there were crumbs on the carpet even though I vacuumed last night. And I can’t even get anything stupid done because my baby won’t stop crying. And can’t he at least take out the trash?

He took Brooks and went to our bedroom to get his shoes on. I finally poured my first cup of coffee and made that “hmmph” noise.

Then I walked into our room where he sat on the bed with our sweet baby, whose eyes were wide and staring up at him. “I’m sorry I’m crazy,” I said. And I sat down beside them.  “It’s just that I’m not accomplishing anything right now. Whenever I have a moment when August doesn’t need me, Brooks is crying and I’m rocking him. And every day I clean the same counters, wash the same clothes. When is anything ever finished?”

Chris said, “I keep thinking that we can’t look at all this stuff as what we have to get through in order to live our lives. The baby crying and diapers and dishes is our life. It’s what we’ve chosen and what we get to enjoy. Micha, you’ve got to get over thinking that what you ‘accomplish’ is everything besides feeding and loving and playing with our kids.”

Turns out he read a quote about Sisyphus the other day (from an essay called “The Myth of Sisyphus“). You know, the mythical figure who is forced to spend eternity rolling a huge boulder up a mountain over and over, day after day? Albert Camus thinks Sisyphus gets a bad rap. He imagines him happy:

“One always finds one’s burden again…his universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.”

What if there is beauty and joy in the monotonous, continual cleaning of our dishes? What if every morning I can’t get from my zombie state to my coffee pot because my crying baby is demanding his own bouncy dance?

So what if I always find my burden again? It’s a lovely burden, isn’t it? Full of purpose and sweetness and monotony, yes. But monotony can also be known as routine and rhythm and practice. (By the way, those are all monastic terms, aren’t they? Hmmmmm.)

Routine and rhythm and practice. And Sisyphus and motherhood and coffee.

Comments

  1. Campbell says:

    Did you see Amy Julia Becker’s essay @ her.meneutics a few weeks back? (not that you were busy having a baby or anything) :)

    http://blog.christianitytoday.com/women/2011/03/the_divine_grace_of_diapers_an.html

    Anyway, great post. I’m so right there with you.

  2. Leah Davis says:

    Hi Micha,

    I’m not sure if this helps at all, but I’m right there with you too. I loved your post about Jesus wanting more for us than just “surviving” each day, but that’s the way I feel a lot. If the kids are alive, fed, and clothed at the end of the day when Jared gets home, then sometimes I have to be satisfied with that. It’s a really hard change from my perfectionistic, super over-achiever self of a few years ago.

    I may have heard of this book from you, because it seems right up your alley, but in case not you should read (or reread) The Quotidian Mysteries by Kathleen Norris. It’s one of the first books I read after having Tabitha, so my brain is a little fuzzy on the details, but I remember it being especially applicable to this phase of life. I’d love to talk to you about it some time, especially to get your mama-monkly spin on things :)

    See you when we get back from our trip!

    Leah

  3. haley says:

    A big fat “YEP” to all of this. And what Leah said about Quotidian Mysteries. Also yep. :)

  4. Friends, I so love Kathleen Norris! She’s the one who first introduced me to the Benedictines. And if all three of you are pointing me to Quotidian Mysteries, then by all means, I will be reading it soon. Thanks!

  5. Kristie says:

    I needed this today! I go through the same thing everyday, except I am a few months in your past- with a 2 year old and expecting a little one very soon. The daily duties never cease and it’s hard to be joyful when the dishes are dirty AGAIN. Thanks for the encouragement and perspective.

  6. Kendra says:

    I dearly needed to read this today. I think you linked to it from a recent post – thank you – God is speaking through you.

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