Saturday, May 23, 2009

Waiting for Change

In general, I was a late bloomer - a late walker, always the shortest in my class, the last to lose my baby teeth, and the last, the very last to ride a two-wheeler. At seven-years-old, most of my peers were already zipping past me on their banana-seated Huffys and I was dying, aching, terrified to keep up with them.  Up until that point, the point of beyond readiness, my fanatical fear of falling had trumped my embarrassment. It took the horrifying prospect of being left behind all summer long and taunted by the neighbor kids to get me out on a Saturday with the intention of mounting, for the very first time, my hand-me-down orange Schwinn, sans training wheels.

 My father agreed readily to help me, his sweet baby girl, overcome my phobia of flying head first over my handlebars and cracking my head open ( Helmets? Car seats? Seat belts? U-m-m, no. In 1981, we still lived dangerously). On a sunny morning in June we took our places ready to act out a touching scene performed daily by parents and kids on sidewalks everywhere. I would pedal and he would run along beside me, holding on for just a minute or two before releasing me and then cheering as I sailed solo around the block, just me and my two wheeled rocket ship. That is what we imagined anyway - he and I both, so excited, so determined, so optimistic.

 My first attempt went pretty smoothly. Dad stayed with me, keeping me steady while I got used to the sensation of riding upright instead of teetering back and forth between the round and rusted crutches I’d become dependent on. On our second try, however, I became a little cocky and yelled to my father, mid-sprint, Let go! Let go! I think I can do it! He obeyed and immediately I leaned sideways. The bike, with me on it, came down hard.  What is the matter with you? I screamed. Are you trying to kill me?!  My stunned father looked on dumbfounded at my bloodied knees, shaking fists and accusatory expression on a face red with rage. You told me to let go, he said, which was true but beside the point. And for the next twenty minutes or so I continued being impossible to please, barking orders and getting angrier with each failed stab at mastering a skill, this long overdue skill, instantaneously. Finally, though, he’d had enough and left me to my own dramatic devices. * It seems like yesterday, dad tells me now. I can remember so clearly watching you from the window all scabbed and furious banging that old beat up bike against the ground.

 My own children are getting older and I am finding that what I’d never imagined possible (while up all night with babies) is totally true: it certainly does get more challenging, more heart wrenching, more everything as their blossoming ideals collide with barriers in the form of financial constraints, our rules, and their own limited capabilities. They get frustrated and then I get frustrated because to be honest, I thought I’d be better at this – managing schedules, meals, consistent discipline techniques and emotions.  Albeit exhausting, it was pretty black and white when the kids were tiny - no swallowing quarters, no running in the street, no sticking your fingers in the electrical socket. Now, oh boy, we are swimming in grey, every day presenting different and unfamiliar challenges. And what I want, you see, is to figure it out NOW. I want to be good, highly proficient, at everything.

 Our home parish’s patron saint is the Grand Duchess Elizabeth, who, fortunately, I know quite a bit about due to biographies, numerous photos and historical documents. I love her so dearly because she was a woman for whom piousness, courage and resilience were earned through hardships. I recognize myself in her expressions of fear, grief and disappointment and I am humbled by accounts of her increasing desire to meet the needs of others, stay loyal to the Church and be a beacon of peace in the face of danger. I imagine that if Elizabeth knew as a young bride what she’d be asked to endure later on, it would have paralyzed her. Only gradually, and by God’s grace, did she find within her soul the wherewithal to transform from an earthly princess to a heavenly bride of Christ.

 A once greedy Zacchaeus paid back all that he stole and then some. A tongue-tied Moses became a spokesman for the Israelites. Paul went from persecuting Christians to unashamedly preaching the Gospel to Jews and Gentiles alike. Clearly none of us is spiritually limited by our deficiencies or immaturity. Clearly all of us are expected, however, to exert ourselves, in faith and just beyond what we feel we can tolerate, for the sake of salvation. I could never keep up with four kids! I’ve been told often at parks and grocery stores. I’ve said the same thing myself to those with five, six or more children. I can’t imagine where the energy and resources to nurture, dress or feed for one more son or daughter would possibly come from. I can’t imagine where I’ll find the time to serve a neighbor or clean our church. I can’t imagine being courageous instead of anxious. I can’t imagine, at this just now starting out point, being able to successfully navigate, without continuously second-guessing myself or losing my temper, the murky waters of adolescence where empathy must mingle with firmness and where being a parent must take precedence over being a friend.  

 This past weekend, on a rare and romantic date, this is exactly what Troy and I talked about over dinner. We are both feeling the reverberations of a sudden shift within our household. It seems like we just got down the logistics of caring for and transporting helpless infants and squirmy toddlers and now BOOM, our kids are out of that phase and we’re all, Hey, slow down here a minute! But nobody’s stopping. There’s no one size fits all formula for protecting your unique and self-willed children physically and spiritually. I can’t imagine having the wisdom to know when to toe the line and when to compromise, when to lecture and when to listen, when to hold them tightly to me and when to liberate them, let them fly. It drives me crazy to have to begin all over again as a mothering novice.

 In 1891, St Ambrose of Optina wrote that, A man cannot correct himself all of a sudden, but it is like pulling a barge - pull, pull, and let go, let go! Not all at once, but little by little. Do you know the mast on a ship? There is a pole to which is tied all of the ship’s lines. If you pull on it then everything gradually pulls. But if you take it all at once, you will ruin everything. When I approach a dilemma by asking for help initially only to then research, fret, and speculate my little head off, I fail to align myself with God’s grace, with His will. All the days of my struggle I will wait until my change comes, said Job. It is hard to wait. It is hard to be content with stumbling forward and backward, or to keep on trusting anyways despite the quiet and almost imperceptible measuredness of it all. Slow and steady wins the race, as opposed to zooming forward unprepared, unassisted by choice, feeling out of control and mere seconds away from a catastrophe.

This evening I soaked in the bath while my husband put the kids to bed. I could hear five distinct voices laughing and yelling; it was a tackle dad, tickle the kids kind of night and it was truly a noise sweeter than most anything on earth. I remembered back on how we wondered if life with children would ever seem “normal,” how I mourned my loss of freedom even while passionately loving my family. I looked at my body, saggy and scarred; I thought of all the countless ways I’ve already been stretched by becoming a mom. I like me better now than before because of it. We must pray together, I told Troy when it had finally sunk in for the umpteenth time that I am useless, utterly clueless on my own. I simply can’t think ahead; it’s too overwhelming. So here I am, warts and all, ready to throw myself and my darling, growing, divinely wrought children, at Your feet. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me today. Be in the words I speak this moment, the limits I set this morning, my reactions this afternoon and in the embraces I offer always, as often as possible. More than answers, I long for patience. Amen.

*I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank my father for only rarely smirking when my own daughters get all irate and over the top flustered by coming of age undertakings requiring persistence and practice to achieve. I am fully aware of how easy and even satisfying it might be to chant liberally and enthusiastically that, What goes around comes around! Ha ha ha!  Your restraint has been greatly appreciated.

The above article is from the Spring 2009, The Truth about Heaven and Hell, issue of The Handmaiden. Click HERE to order a subscription! 


Marfa said...

The joys of parenting...I just posted an interesting blog regarding the government's desire to take care of parenting for us! Come on over:

Anonymous said...

Dear Molly,
I just finished your book lent to me by a dear friend. She and I live live on the campus of an Episcopal seminary while our husbands attend school to become Episcopal/Anglican priests.

We both have 10 month old daughters and share as much wisdom as we can with each other. I am eternally grateful to her for sharing your book with me.

Thank you for sharing your struggles and joys with your family and how they effect your relationship with Christ (and of course how He effects them.)

Christ's peace to you and your family.


Kim Medders said...

I as well just finished your book and found so many similarities, you seem to be a kindred spirit. I too have 4 children the same ages and have recently in the past two weeks been realizing they have grown before my eyes and are no longer babies. I love the prayer in this article and have written it down because I too beg for patience.
Thank you,
Kim Medders

Kelleylynn said...

Here ya on this post, Molly!
So wish we could relate over a cup of coffee--in person--with Paige too :)

::Sylvia:: said...


I agree with Kelleylynn! Wouldn't it be wonderful if there was a conference for Orthodox mothers or writers???? Hmmm...

Beautiful post, btw, as usual!

Sarah Nash said...

I am currently reading Close to Home as well as your blog. We too have 4 children - all 5 and younger - and our oldest has Leukemia. Many days I don't think I can get through the day but your book has been a source of strength and encouragement for me. Thank you.