Tuesday, March 20, 2007
For me, one of the greatest challenges of having small children has been the sheer amount of damage they have done to our property and possessions. Based on experience and conversations I've had with other mothers, I think I've had to contend with this hardship more than most. But perhaps more than most, also, these are sweet, loving, happy, and good natured children. It hasn't been malicious or even wild behavior that caused the destruction, but simple carelessness and curiosity (think Curious George... suds, warped bike, loose swine and all! Ok, now multiply by five). Five times the innocent cuteness. Five times the destruction. Aye...aye...aye.
We have various motivational systems and teaching methods to help the boys develop better habits and the older they get the less of a problem this becomes, but we can't reasonably expect it all to change over night. This is a process-- a long process-- toward responsible and careful behavior, and we have come a long way already.
In the meantime, I've had to learn to cope with the constant and repeated casualties. Just how many times will we repair the banister at the top of the stairs only to see it broken again? The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.
And just how should I feel when my things are broken, fixed, then broken again? Desperate, angry, apathetic? None of these seem right. I have a tendency toward the desperate, and so at first I taught myself to look the other way...
From ashes were ye made and to ashes ye shall return.
You can't take it with you.
Build up your treasure in heaven.
I learned a certain detachment from material goods that I'd have never thought possible. It really pulled me away from seeing my worth in what I had to display. It was humbling and good...to a certain point.
Soon, however, I began to suspect that my "detachment" from material goods had degenerated into a kind of stoic hardness that refused to acknowledge the goodness of material possessions. I refused to invest myself in them, even in a healthy manner, for fear of the heartbreak at the inevitable loss of them.
I realized my hardness one day when I found an earring behind the couch. It was an earring that I had treasured because I had worn it on the day that I was betrothed long, long ago in a Spanish-style chapel far, far away. It was a worthless earring from a monetary perspective. It wasn't real gold and the diamonds were not real either. I had treasured them anyway, keeping them in a special box with a copy of the betrothal invitation and the music program because they had hung from my ears when I had heard the binding promise of a life-long love. Then suddenly there it was--behind the couch-- warped and missing some of its fake diamonds-- and I vacuumed it up. SSsccchlllurrrp... So what? It wasn't worth anything...at all... at all.
Then I sat on the couch remembering the dress I had worn that day and the shorter style of my hair as I had it then. I remembered the soloist chanting, Uxor tua sicut vitis fructifera... (Thy wife as a fruitful vine...) and the way his voice filled the tiny chapel. I remembered the cool stone floor, stucco walls and sweet musty smell that hung in the air. It was to this same chapel that my betrothed and I had come many evenings and prayed a rosary together and walked the grounds around the hacienda, with its ponds and patios and citrus trees. It was on the way to this chapel one evening, when the air was thick with the sweet perfume of orange blossoms, that he first told me he wanted me to be his wife. I remembered his earnest face,"Come with me...Come..." "Hu?" I replied becoming aware again of the vacuum hose in my hand.
How could I be so cruel to memory just because it hurt too much to care? I needed to care, I realized, and to grieve in measure.
And as the boys get older and some of our motivational work starts to pay off, I can step back a little and see benefit to having learned to deal with broken things around the house. It has helped me to know how to approach a similar problem in my soul. You see, much is broken in there as well and breaks again every day--often the same things in the same way-- again and again and again. How should I feel about this? Desperate, angry, apathetic? None of these seem right. It seems I need not be surprised when I fail, despite my best intentions, and a certain collected response to the smaller, repeated failings common to my state of life is required if I am to keep fighting the good fight. But I should also guard against apathy and hardness of heart. I should still grieve and take my broken self to the confessional often because there, unlike material goods, my sorrow and the sacrament really do heal and restore to me what had been broken.