Monday, September 8, 2014

how I (almost) ruined Mary's birthday

When I opened the pantry this morning, there wasn't enough flour. I could have used a boxed mix, but there wasn't enough milk left after breakfast to make the frosting, anyway. 

I texted George to bring home some dessert. You can't really have a birthday party without dessert. Under my breath, I told Mary I was sorry and trusted she would understand.

After all, she is a mother. The Mother of Mothers.

I should have been more prepared, I thought, but I forgot until yesterday at Mass, when I remembered it was coming in early September and made a note to check the date- what day is today, anyway?- as we straggled in to find seats during the first verse of the opening hymn. We ended up in the overflow, in the daily Mass chapel, just under the watchful gaze of Mother Mary. She stood tall, holding her smiling Son, the picture of competent Motherhood.

I thought she looked a little disappointed in me.

As my kids flopped around in the pew, kicking each other and repeatedly dropping their books, I tried to keep myself together. It had been such a long week- the kind of week where everything just feels too hard, like forcing pieces into places they weren't meant to fit. Tears pressed and pricked the backs of my eyes. 

What am I even doing? I asked her, pulling Lucy out from under the row in front of ours. I'm not cut out for this.

Then suddenly, today was here and it was Monday again, and I had forgotten to remember that today was her birthday. As I picked up the dirty clothes and hoisted a crying child onto my hip while patting the fussy baby in the sling with my other hand, I felt it again.

I'm not doing a good enough job at this mothering thing.

The crying child, who turned out to have a fever, was clingy and weepy all day. She couldn't hide her frustration that I had a baby and two other children to tend to, also, and told me, "I wish you only loved me for your baby." The first-grader resisted all requests, refused to help clean up the books, and wouldn't sit in his chair at lunch time. I bounced around the house, singing, rocking, cajoling, encouraging, sweeping, wiping, and generally trying to keep the chaos from getting out of control. 

There was no chance of bringing order today. Today was a survive the chaos kind of day.

I tried to remember the me of a year ago, the one who wrote thank you notes promptly, ran lots of miles during nap time, and blogged about her family's humble celebrations of liturgical feasts. Now it was Mary's birthday, and we were having spaghetti with sauce from the jar for dinner and I couldn't even bake a cake.

Forget cake. I couldn't even get the dishwasher unloaded.

George got home with the box of spaghetti and the store-bought cupcakes. Sam painted a birthday picture for Mary "with her symbol and her color," he said, and solemnly taped it to the wall. I jiggled the baby and cleared away our school day and threw together a salad, and we gathered around the table. It was Nora's turn to choose the blessing, and our voices all joined together in her favorite: "Bless us, O Lord..." 

I studied all of their faces, and I was grateful.

I wasn't magically less tired or less overwhelmed.

I didn't instantly feel hopeful and bright about tomorrow.

I wasn't suddenly enthused about the potentially sleepless night ahead of me with the fussy baby and the feverish girl.

But into the back of my mind crept a friend of mine- a friend beloved of Mary, who says that Mary always gives you a gift on her birthday. Although I didn't remember asking for anything, I realized that I had already received it.

I had been sustained. Somehow, I made it through this day. I didn't yell at anyone. I kept everyone fed, changed, wiped, soothed, and safe. I made food and served it and cleaned it up. I washed and folded some clothes. I taught and read and sang and prayed. It wasn't perfect, and the bathrooms didn't get cleaned again, but I survived.

This feels like a gift....maybe a gift from a mother to her daughter. 

Thank you, Mother Mary...and happy birthday. Maybe I didn't ruin it, after all.