"She felt he was a burden to her....We were a burden."
(Lee Harvey Oswald's brother, Robert Oswald, in 1993, commenting on their mother's attitude toward her children)
It was late at night and we were watching a t.v. special on the Kennedy assasination, with interviews and photos of the never-before-seen type. On hearing Oswald's remark, my heart fell through my stomach like a cold fat rock plunging to the bottom of a murky pond. Oh. Oh. Oh, how awful. What an awful, awful, feeling to have from the person whose love for you is meant to be unconditional in this world. The person who, as I remind my own children when pressing my case for hugging, tickling, or kissing privileges, helped God to make you. The person whose title, "Mother," has inspired everything from epic poetry, to the naming of ships and airplanes, to the giddy grins of grown football players waving into the camera as they mouth, "Hi, Mom!" while dancing a jig in the end zone.
Oh. How awful.
.....yet, do I convey that to my children? That they are a burden to me?
One wouldn't think so. We had hoped fervently for nine years to have children, before we finally woke up and adopted our first one. Ready to begin a second arduous effort of paperwork and travel, we suddenly found ourselves pregnant with #2. And then had four more successive bundles of joy thereafter.
Yet, in an entirely unscientific survey, I quizzed my friends as I brought my now mobile and rambunctious kids to soccer one particularly harrowing afternoon. "Please tell me you yell at your kids," I implored as my munchkins merrily sprinted off and I took a deep breath into the cold wind. The first mom nearly gasped and said, "Oh, my goodness! Are you kidding me? Thank you so much! You, too!? We had such a horrible day today! I feel terrible!"
Another friend with ten children actually snorted with suppressed laughter and readily admitted, "Yes. And anyone who tells you they don't is lying."
Since misery loves company, it was comforting to know I wasn't the only mother alive who had gone off like a grenade at her kids. The greater comfort, however, was in how remorseful each of us immediately felt, how instinctively we knew our behavior diminished our roles as mothers, regardless of how justified we were in wanting to strangle the offending offspring.
A wise priest and former Navy chaplain once gave me two assignments as penance in my confession: 1). find an outlet for my anger management (whether it was daily workouts like his former aircraft carrier commander or the silence of prayer time alone), and; 2). find a babysitter to enable me to get away from the kids for one hour a week (you know, like they say on the aspirin bottle -- "take two and keep away from children").
The merits or misdirection of "me time" is a post for another day, but in this instance the effects of my anger and desire for time alone needed to be addressed.
The Bible clearly says:
children are a gift of the Lord! The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s
youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them; they will not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate." (emphasis added) (Psalm 127:3-5)
"Children’s children are the crown of old men...." (Proverbs 17:6)
"For you formed my inward parts. You knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made." (Psalm 139:13)
"When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has
come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the
anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world." (John 16:21)
"At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, 'Who is the
greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' And calling to him a child, he put
him in the midst of them and said, 'Truly, I say to you, unless you turn
and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.' " (Matthew 18:1-3)
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell
you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is
in heaven." (Matthew 18:10)
(....okay, do I need to keep quoting here?)
And yet, despite the Word of God, the world teaches us differently:
"I've got two daughters. Nine years old and six years old. I am going to
teach them first of all about values and morals. But if they make a
mistake, I don't want them punished with a baby." (Barack Obama, Town Hall Meeting, Johnstown, PA, March 29, 2008)
Which do I convey to my children? That they are a punishment? A burden? Or a blessing? Will my children look back on their childhood with wistful smiles and fond memories of warmth and love and laughter? Or will they cringe and attempt to shake it off, suppressing memories of brusque impatience and yelling to get through the day, just glad they are past that as they try to move forward with their lives, beyond the ill effects of my influence on their early childhood?
Don't get me wrong -- I'm not suggesting I attempt never to yell at my kids again. In a house with as much activity as ours, sometimes it's literally the only way to be heard. And my husband is a huge advocate of the "ATM" method of discipline ("Ask 'em. Tell 'em. Make 'em."), which sometimes necessitates a raised eyebrow, a raised voice, and a raised hand pointing the way to the directed task.
But, the words of Lee Harvey Oswald's brother were heavy in my ears, his voice strong and steady as he nodded firmly, almost emotionless and matter-of-fact:
"I don't know at what age Mother verbalized the effect that she felt
he [Lee Harvey Oswald] was a burden to her. But she certainly conveyed it to John and I at
very early ages. We're talking seven, eight, nine, 10 years old. At what
age Lee started gathering this, or sensing it, or hearing it and
applying it to him, I don't know. But certainly by age three, he had the
sense, 'I need to be someplace else.' Mother would be putting him with a
nanny, or a babysitter, or in an orphan home with us, just to get us
out of her hair. We were a burden."
Out of her hair? Why? What else did she need to go do instead? What possibly could be more important than the formation of an innocent soul entrusted to your care? We all have many other responsibilities, too, but as mothers we have first and foremost a primary priority: the raising of our children.
Do I consider my children to be a burden or a blessing? Without question, I consider them a blessing! But, is that what I show them day to day? Do I hug, kiss, smile at, encourage, listen to patiently, pray with, and appreciate their presence in my life? Or do I relegate their presence to another set of must/needs on my endless home and homeschool "To Do" lists each day -- snarling when we fall behind, growling when we fall short of perfection, and seething when they get side-tracked and fail to see the big picture of what we must accomplish that day?
I'm not Pollyanna and I don't envision successfully comporting myself with the practical perfection of Mary Poppins any time soon. But, I am honest enough to recognize that I need to step back and regain some of the perspective I had as an individual in the Lord's presence before all The Wee Folk arrived. In the words of Venerable Bede Jarrett, O.P., we have no abiding city here, but our actions will bear out our eternity.
And as mothers, we also are training (for good or for ill) other impressionable souls.
"But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin,
it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his
neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." (Matthew 18:6)
"Preach the Gospel always. When necessary, use words." (St. Francis of Assisi)
"Children Learn What They Live" (by Dorothy Law Nolte)
Am I teaching my children, by my example, to be know-it-alls, love the things of this world, and be self-serving? Or am I teaching them to know, love, and serve Him in this world and be happy with Him forever in the next?
A wise friend once said, "the years fly by, but each day is an eternity." Maybe God sometimes lets our days seemingly drag out so that we have as much time as possible to mend our ways, to turn to Him, and to train our children to do so, too. At this point in my life, I
now know mothers whose children have pre-deceased them. From miscarriages to
suicidal teenagers to cancer-striken adults, "How tragic!" doesn't begin to describe
the pain these mothers endure. Any one of them would give her right arm for just one more day with her child.
Will I ever appreciate the presence of my own children as much?
I'm not touting impossible motherly perfection. And it's going to take more than one well-meaning Lent to amend my short fuse, change my habit of sharp anger, grow in Godly patience (actually, 21 days, I'm told), and be the mother I want my children to have.
It's going to take one step at a time. One small step at a time. But, I'm going to start now. Start today. And start small. You know -- a trip to the Perpetual Adoration Chapel, two aspirin, and a hope to at least attain mediumcalifragilisticexpialidocious.
I'll keep you posted in 21 days.
"There was never a child so lovely but his mother was glad to get him to sleep." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
A happy childhood lasts a lifetime!