I don’t try to hide the fact that I have a larger than average family, but I don’t usually volunteer the information, either. It’s not that I am ashamed. I am just tired of having to either defend my choice or explain personal details of my life to an openly hostile or friendly but overly-curious public.
I am also not usually offended when people ask questions, even those they would never ask someone with one or two children, because in general I think people are just curious and want to know how others live.
This is a good thing because it builds our empathy as a society. It is my job to be kind to people and decide on my own personal boundaries for what I will and will not share.
This week I had an unusually negative encounter. I helped to chaperone a field trip for my 5-year-old’s kindergarten class. After touring the museum, we went to a park with the kids to eat lunch and let them play a while. A few of the parents and grandparents were talking around a picnic table when the conversation turned to pregnancy. I let slip that I was expecting our tenth child. I’m not sure why I did that, but it came tumbling out of my mouth. After clarifying that I did, indeed say “tenth” an older man told me, “You know, the Pope said you don’t have to breed like bunnies.”
I confess that I have been expecting this “helpful” advice since the Pope made those statements and have read some well done blog posts about the context of them in preparation. I still wasn’t ready. All I could stammer out was, “Those remarks were made in a much larger context.” He replied, “I don’t even know what that means.”
My cheeks were feeling hot, and I wasn’t thinking all that well. I just told him that there was a lot more that the Pope said about families during that conversation and the ones that came before it in the Philippines. And then I just waited and hoped that the subject would die there.
Maybe I should have been more ready to evangelize, especially since this man had just been talking about sending his granddaughter to a Catholic school next year. But I was tired, slightly nauseated, and had just spent two hours helping to keep track of a group of 5 year olds in a crowded museum.
The conversation didn’t die there. It got much worse. He then asked me something I have never been asked by a stranger before, “But don’t they hold you back?”
My mind reeled. Hold me back? How dare he suggest such a thing! I said, “Of course they don’t. My family is my life.” And I could almost feel him thinking, Silly girl, children have to grow up sometime, and you have to do other things besides raise children. Or maybe that was just the echo of my own thoughts. I excused myself from the conversation then, and went to help round up the children.
The problem with what he said wasn’t just that it was rude and intrusive, it was that I had that exact thought when I found out I was pregnant this time. Everyone was potty trained. Outings usually didn’t need any kind of stroller or special gear. Bedtime was a constant thing and I could expect a time every night when the little kids were all in bed, giving me time to read or unwind.
I had several mornings a week when everyone was in school and I could work on writing, shopping, or catching up with the general work that needed to be done. I didn’t have to pay for babysitting when I went to the women’s group at a local parish. My family is big and complicated, but suddenly I was finding a little space for myself to breathe and to get caught up on sleep. Not being sleep deprived is a wonderful feeling!
As I stared at those two pink lines that morning, I saw all that slipping through my fingers. My plans to spend the coming year writing and building my Etsy shop began to evaporate. I would wait a little longer to lose the baby weight. I was being held back.
I spent some time pouting about this and praying for a better attitude. Mixed into all this was the fear of another miscarriage. I knew I didn’t want that at all. A baby may be complicated, but it is not a time of physical and emotional suffering like a miscarriage. It was all tangled in my heart and mind.
The idea of “Holding Me Back” became like a rock in my shoe. It poked me, it irritated me. It was always present, and I didn’t like it. Finally as I began to revise the goals I had for the upcoming year, I decided it was time to let it go.
My family is indeed my life here, my marriage is my vocation. They have been my path to God and to the discovery of what I was put here to do. How could I then say that was holding me back? Could that possibly mean that these other ideas were holding me back from truly serving my family wholeheartedly?
This isn’t a new lesson for me. It seems I need to be retaught this one every few years. My heart gets restless and the mundane, repetitive parts of my life begin to drain my energy. I start to look around for ways to use my talents that can be seen by others, that are worthwhile to talk about among adults who have jobs. Then I am reminded that those others aren’t the ones I was put here to serve or impress.
This time my lesson came in the form of a beautiful book that has been instrumental in changing my heart: Into Your Hands, Father by Wilfred Stinessen. This book has been helpful in pointing out when my thinking starts going in circles.
For example, when I start trying to figure out exactly how something is God’s will and what He intends to use it for in my life. It is not my job to figure those things out. I can look into the past and see how He has used other events, both positive and negative, to bless me and guide me closer to Him.
That conversation threw me back into turmoil for a few hours, but I was able to remember why it wasn’t a problem. I will still pursue outlets for my talents and interests, but I will be more careful now of letting them hold me back from my family, especially from delighting in this precious new baby who is truly a gift.
My family does hold me back, mostly from my own very selfish heart. I hope that I can learn to not hold myself back from them.