Monday, May 21, 2007
The warm weather and blue sunny skies seem like they’re here to stay, the flowers on the trees have been replaced by green leaves, but the wind is still a bit cool–it’s May, which means graduation season! We’ve been to three graduations in the past three weeks: my classmates’ from the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and family, my sister’s at Mason, and Michael’s sister at UVA. (Many congratulations are in order!) Other “May milestones” that have been added to the mix are my first “baby-out-of-the-womb” Mother’s Day as well as Gabriel’s 9 month birthday on May 17. All these piled together have inspired me to reflect a bit on the contrasts between my academic life and my life as a mother.
The graduation I attended at the John Paul II Institute “should have been” my graduation, had I continued along the traditional Master’s in Theology program path. I took a year off after Gabriel was born and will be returning to finish in the Fall semester, so I will be studying with a whole new group of fellow students. The dear folks who were graduating were my classmates during my first year of the program, people who have become the kind of friends who just “get” where I’m coming from, who I don’t have to explain myself to in moments of joy or crisis. As I was sitting there during the Graduation Mass, I did not in any way regret that I missed out on “our” second year together–instead I was realizing how much harder these last nine months have been for me than any other nine academic months I’ve ever had.
In general, I found academia to be quite “easy”–in that starting around 6th grade I pretty much understood what needed to get done and did it, and that continued the same way for the next nine-odd years of my academic career. Yes, it required some amount of suffering, self-discipline, and sacrifice, but in the end, all of that was for the benefit of my own growth in knowledge and skill. At certain points along the way–6th grade, 8th grade, 12th grade, college–I was rewarded and applauded for all of my hard work by graduation ceremonies, robes that made all my striving seem to have come to some kind of official culmination, speakers who shared wise (or not so wise) words about the meaning of it all and exhorted us onwards and upwards, awards, and gatherings of friends and family who commended me for my efforts. Not to mention all those handy lines that accumulated on my resume so that the whole world would recognize all those hours of studying, thinking, and reading.
Motherhood, on the other hand, is something I am doing without that secure feeling that I already know the rules of the game, and without knowing how things will turn out in the end if I work as hard as I should. I have some ideas about how things theoretically should go with mothering, based on my reflections on my faith, what seems intuitively right, and what seems to have worked for others. But there’s a great big cloud of unknowns surrounding all of this, because the results of my efforts are not as clear as getting a good grade on a test, and do not come as quickly. This is difficult for me, as someone who has a record of giving up on things that do not come quite as easily to me as academics. I’d like to hope that motherhood is shaping my personality for the better in this area, since I don’t think I’ll be giving up on it any time soon.
Mothering, while certainly a vocation that has filled my life with an underlying joy and peace, has also filled my life with so many little sacrifices and sufferings that are completely for the good of another. Yes, I have been doing some things here and there for the good of others much throughout all my life, but it’s been sporadic at best, limited to volunteer commitments or spontaneous goodwill towards friends and family. Motherhood, on the other hand, has put this cute (and sometimes not so cute) little person right smack down in front of me, 24-7, and much of the time I’m the only one who can provide what he needs in terms of survival, emotional support, recreation, and mobility. If I don’t do it, no one else will. In a sense, the structure of motherhood creates sacrifices that are more readily, and hopefully, more charitably made because the need is so immediate and so compelling. And for the most part, no one throws a robe around your shoulders and commends you at an official ceremony for all your hard work and dedication to furthering goodness in the world. Talk about a perfect recipe for holiness! (In all fairness, I do have to say that my husband, as well as friends and family, give me a good amount of encouragement along the way–little thank you’s and pick me ups that keep me going in the day to day life of mommyhood. I think what I’m reflecting on here is more the world at large’s recognition of the accomplishments of motherhood.)
I been pondering what a graduation speaker might say to me after these nine months of mothering Gabriel. I decided that writing a graduation speech free of cliche and worn-out sayings is task that I don’t have time for at the moment, and besides, I don’t think nine months after having my first child qualifies me as any sort of distinguished expert, even in giving advice to myself! So I’ve gone another route, in the spirit of one of the graduation speakers at UVA who went through a list of thought provoking statistics. Here are my own, roughly calculated, mommy statistics. In the past nine months, I have:
...changed (& washed & dried) 1,500 diapers
...nursed Gabriel for 700 hours
...walked 270 miles with baby G in the sling or stroller
...put Gabriel in and out of his carseat: 250 times
...watched Gabriel fall asleep: 1,000 times
...run after squirrels to amuse Gabriel: 60 times
...laughed at Gabriel laughing, smiling, or doing something adorable: so many times
...reflected in joy and awe with Michael, “I can’t believe we have a son!”: countless times
Here's to many more!