People here in New England comment on our family ALLLLL the time. I can not leave the house without my kids without it happening. Since we homeschool, my kids all come all the time. It happens every single time we go anywhere.
I think people look at me, with my "large" family and say the thing that seems the most... benign.
"You sure have your hands full."
"Are they all yours?"
"You finally got your girl!"
"God bless you."
"Are you all done?"
And I smile and nod and thank them or answer or laugh with them, or whatever seems appropriate while I'm just wishing to survive the grocery store without losing anyone or my sanity and without forgetting AGAIN to buy black beans.
While those short conversations are really nothing is the course of a lifetime, and really what others think does not matter in this whole crazy life, but sometimes I wish I could explain. I wish I could set the record straight, that rather than them assuming that Derek and I don't "know what causes that" that they could SEE the way these children have made me...me.
I am so much better than I was when Henry was born. I'm a better mom, of course, but above all else, I'm a better person.
See, when I started on this path to motherhood, I was selfish. I didn't mean to be, and I didn't know I was. But I was 22 years old. I had two jobs I loved, a little apartment, a husband in grad school, and I knew what I WANTED.
Yes, part of what I wanted was a baby, and I got a cute, squishy one that never slept, I mean not at all.
And it made me angry. Didn't he know that at the end of a long day working, mothering, wife-ing, etc, that I just wanted to sit and watch TV? Or sleep?
It was hard to give that up. Because I was selfish. My time and energy had been mine to give and now it belonged to HIM and that made me resentful, not really at Henry but at the whole institution. But child after child has slowly burned that selfishness out of me. I am a slow learner, I'll admit.
And now? Sleep is for the childless.
I'm more okay with tired days and dreary nights. I'm better with accepting less personal time, less time for interests or hobbies, less time for anything really. It's not about me anymore and that took a while for me to realize (about, oh, three and a half babies, I'd say.)
My selfishness, while not obliterated, has become much less. I'm becoming refined.
I find compassion easier to give, I'm more understanding of what others might be going through, or how they might perceive a situation. It allows me more patience. I used to be terribly impatient.
I worry less. I know bad things can happen, and while I work hard to prevent them, in the end, I can only do my best. The rest I have to let go of. My faith has grown immeasurably over the years. I can control almost nothing. I have to have faith.
I'm more confident in my own beliefs, in my own mothering, in my own convictions that every baby is different, every kid is different and there is no one way to do things. It's so much less stressful to shrug, say, "To each his own," and MEAN it. Oh I was so judgemental back then.
I'm more relaxed about basically everything. Socks don't match? Yeah, I don't care.
You want to eat four apples in a day? Fine. Don't come crying to me when you get the poops.
I pick my battles much more judiciously. Three year olds are not to be battled unless absolutely necessary. Let them run, play, be as free as you can, I've learned. Discipline less, teach more. Read more, watch less TV.
Love more love more love more.
My house? I could keep up with it when I had just two kids. Then there were more and it drove me nuts. Now? I don't even try, That's right, I don't even try. We work together every evening to clean and straighten. I don't stress about it. It is going to be a mess. It is going to be cluttered.
It is going to be a work in progress.
Just like me.
My body is way better now than it was nine years ago. My body has aged, it has grown five babies and is working on a sixth! There is no recovering from THAT. But it's also learned to get by with less food, less sleep and more tension. My ears are better at tuning out noise. My eyes don't see the mess the same way.
My heart has grown so much and still it can barely contain the love, the gratitude and the sheer amazement that is watching these people grow and become who they are going to be.
When I stopped working three years ago, I worried I would be lost, a ship without course. How could I be ANYTHING if I was JUST a mother?
Well. I still have those moments when I wonder why I bother, but overall, the places motherhood has brought me; the realizations, the growth, the potential I've reached are frankly, amazing.
I'm not bragging. I'm praising. It's nothing short of a miracle, what God has done to my life, where He has directed me, those who He's brought into my life to teach and mentor me and to set an example for me. These blessings from Heaven have made me better.
These children have made me better.
So, yeah, I've got a lot of kids, my hands are freaking full. But my spirit? It's finally being allowed to grow. As my body ages, changes, stretches, so does my spirit, and in all that, it's made new.
My perfection is still so far outside my grasp that I can do nothing but spiral upward, hoping to find it in the eternities through Christ, but for now, I can look back on the last almost decade and see how, through small and simple things, it could be possible that SOMEDAY I might, through lots of help and grace, get there.