Monday, March 12, 2007

A Satisfying Answer

An errand this weekend took me to a part of town and into a craft store that I had not been to for some time. Wandering around the narrow aisles, I could not help but remember an incident that occurred the last time I had been there just three years before.

I had taken the three oldest boys with me to replenish some of our craft supplies and pass a dull late-winter afternoon. Because I was in the third trimester of my pregnancy with Zachary, and because the boys were prone to grab at googly-eyes, rubber stamps, pom-poms, stickers, and what-nots unless I constantly reminded them not to, I had placed all three inside my cart together and given them some purchases to occupy them.

As I wobbled down the paper aisle, a woman took notice of me, my full cart, and my full belly. (We were hard not to notice, I am sure) She began to comment and ask questions.

"My, oh my, do you have your hands full. How many are there? I see one...two...three...and one on the way? Are they all boys? Were you trying for your girl? Is the next one a boy? If so, you had better stop."

I ignored her... hoped she would go away. As anyone with more than two children knows, this line of commenting and questioning is all too common. Some people's rudeness knows no bounds and on that late-winter, gray-skied, third-trimester, sciatic-nerve-twanging afternoon, I was in NO MOOD for her rude questions. I was annoyed and humiliated beyond description and my hormonal pregnant self was not going to listen to her. I continued to ignore her and she continued to push...

"They are all so little! How ever do you do it? I wouldn't have the patience."

I could not ignore her any longer as she was standing right beside me and addressing the boys. She asked them questions and they cheerfully responded, enjoying her attentions. Then she turned to me again and asked,

"How far apart are they, anyway?"

I peered out over my Cart-Full-O-Boys and pretended to examine them.

"Oh, " I responded dryly, "About two or three inches, but they move around a lot."

She stood for a moment not understanding and then her face fell as my meaning took hold. She looked dismayed, then embarrassed, and then she turned away from me without a word and went on her way.

You might think I was satisfied. I had silenced her. You might think I was pleased with myself. That was awfully clever of me-- one of the best lines I had ever come up with, drawn up on the spot, perfectly suited to the line of questioning, and delivered seamlessly. But I was not...

I thought about her face the whole drive home, later in the day, and even later in the week. I thought about the way it fell from a smile to sudden humiliation. She was as humiliated, perhaps, as I had been by her line of questioning. How could that satisfy me?

Then, I thought about how it was most often women that questioned me about my procreative decisions and that made sense. Women have keen interest in this topic as child bearing lies at the very heart of what it is to be a woman. In child-bearing, every part of a woman's body is affected from her hair to her toenails. In child-rearing , every part of her soul is tried. She is stretched, deepened, expanded, changed--physically, emotionally-- forever, deeply and beautifully changed. But it isn't all breakfast in bed and butterfly kisses. Motherhood entails pain and suffering and self sacrifice. If we forgot this aspect of motherhood for a moment, society would be quick to remind us.

Everyone knows that parenting is difficult, and raising a large family can be very difficult. But how many women in today's secular culture know how wonderful it can be? How fulfilling? Not many, I'd venture to guess. Many haven't even encountered large families. And what if they do one day and in their curiosity they question and prod, however stupidly and thoughtlessly, and the mother of that large family responds with sarcasm?

What kind of an impression have I made? What have I done?

From that day forward, I made a point to be polite and courteous to even the rudest of questioners. In fact, I've seen it as important work for the pro-life cause. I see it as doing my part, however small, to help change the general impressions society has of motherhood, of pregnancy, of children, and of large families.

Often, the women who question me and make remarks are doing so because they see my family as a statement, often one they oppose. Some women, in their insecurity, have even perceived my large family to be a statement of judgement upon themselves. However rudely they respond to that perceived statement, I am determined to make a good impression.

I don't know how much I can do with a cheerful disposition to change the perceptions of other women or the direction of the pro-life movement in America, but I do know that I am more likely to change hearts with charity than with sarcasm. And I know that when I respond to rude questions with kindness that I am defending my way of life in the best way I can. And that is indeed satisfying.

Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.

Matthew 5: 10


Ladybug Mommy Maria said...

Well-said, Suzanne. Very well-said.

Another submission for Catholic Exchange, perhaps?

Kristen Laurence said...

Beautiful, Suzanne, and so true. And when we think Our Lord and Savior was mocked and spit upon, and said nothing save "Forgive them Father...."

It is a blessing indeed, not only for commenters but also for us receivers of comments like these, when we respond in kindness, for then we are truly united with Christ!

I love this post, dear friend!

Ken Wills said...

A great post. I feel like I have just received a gift in reading another of your eloquent, thoughtful posts.

Thank you.

Jennifer said...

Wonderful post. You are exactly right.

Matilda said...

I agree with Maria---more people need to see this! Excellent. Thanks for the reminder.

Karen E. said...

What a wonderful post, Suzanne. Even with only three, I sometimes get the "you have your hands full" comment, and, like you, I resolved at one point to always try to respond cheerfully. It's the same with homeschooling questions ... I honestly believe that people have a genuine curiosity about it that can sound rude, but isn't meant to be. Answering their questions is a sort of evangelization, just as you are evangelizing for life.

Blessings to you and your "full hands." :-)

Cheryl M. said...

Beautiful post, Suzanne, and I agree with the others....more need to read this. :)

Anonymous said...

Great post.

Somehow all of my "zingers" have managed to backfire as well.

Informing people, in whatever terms, that they should be "done" having children is beyond the pale.

I do find, however, that many people (myself included) really are interested in how women manage big familes, special needs children, homeschooling, etc. Women are practical and like the details. When I have asked "How do you do it?", it's a legitimate question. I want schedules, ideas, books, tricks of the trade.

You are right--the best witness is often when we simply continue to be what God has called us to be.

God bless you.

Ann Youngblood said...

Your second thoughts could be right on Suzanne. Many women are not able to have children, some are only children. I found the places you meet people can tell you something too. I came from a large family and my Mom often said people looked down on her, I only had four children and I never thought for a moment, no matter what was going on or how I really felt, that anyone would get away with negative comments. And now I remember no such instances. Selective memory??!!

scmom said...

I think you're right on when you say that your large family is a statement that many women oppose. I believe it's a symbol of their own laziness, or greed, or lack of love for human life, and they can only make their own decision right by making your decision wrong. Which is why it is so hard to turn around Roe v. Wade. Think of all of those aborted babies--they have mothers who think their decision was the right one--yours must be the wrong one! Very sad.

Melissa said...

This is such a beautiful post. What do you say to people who aren't curious but plain 'ole rude ("don't you know where those come from" and "you two should watch more television" are two comments that come to mind)? I try to just smile and ignore but I wonder if I should do something else.

Mary Poppins NOT said...

This situation occurs to me frequently. I have seven children, and often have to brace myself before going out. It does get easier the older I get, though, to be very confident of myself. It was much harder when I was in my early thirties. Now, at forty, I am much less easily bothered by "being looked down on".

It worst I ever had was when I was holding my seventh baby, she was about 2 months old, and someone asked me how many children I had. When I told her, she said, "That disgusts me!" I was speechless, mumbled that I was sorry for her, and went home. That was THE LAST time I ever felt bothered by people's words. Now, I let people know that my family is my life's work, they are my joy and my life, and what better way to spend my life? I acknowledge that this life can be difficult, but what great pursuit isn't challenging? I tell people that they have risen to many occations when they didn't think they could, and yes, they too could have the patience if they gave it a go. In other words, I encourage all women I encounter not to limit themselves out of fear and doubt.

Or, I simply nod and smile and go about my business. It all depends on the day. =)

Kismet said...

Excellent, excellent post!

You know, when people say, 'You certainly have your hands full' I agree with them, I DO have my hands full! But that doesn't mean I don't want it.

Your reaction and change of heart toward your initial response was so heartfelt and obviously the Lord working there.



Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post! You are truly blessed! I only have one beautiful daughter, and always wished to have a large family, so that is my biggest cross in life. I sometimes have the opposite problem - I have had a priest and some Catholic women ask me why I only have ONE child! I have been spurned a few times by people that I would love to get to know better and by families that I would love my daughter to know and play with, because they assume we only WANT one child.

Again, you really, truly are blessed with your children, and I would trade places in a second to have people make comments like these to me. :-)

In Christ,

meredith said...

Beautiful Suzanne, thanks for shring it! You are blessed as am I and so many others I know who have the courage not to falter.

Suzanne Temple said...

Thank you everyone!

Mary, I am sorry to hear about your cross. I think you might enjoy Karen Edmisten's article on the subject called, "A Good Catholic Family" and it can be found at Catholic Exchange.

mpn, What a horrid remark that woman made to you! Good for you not to let it get under your skin.

mopsy said...

Fabulous post, Suzanne! I am guilty of slinging sarcasm at well-intentioned questions.

Red Cardigan said...

Melissa and mpn, I think Suzanne's example here is wonderful, but I sympathize with the 'What do you say to the horrid people?' question, too.

I've 'only' been blessed with three children so far, though I continue to hope for more. But I'm one of nine, and my mom got lots of the 'horrid' questions, too.

A family story tells of a trip five or six of us were making with her in a downtown building's elevator (I think to a doctor's office, but I'm not sure.) A rude man and the clingy blonde on his arm asked one of those questions (the 'don't you know how this works yet' one).

Mom smiled sweetly and said, "Yes. The way it works is, when I'm old, I'll have all this love and attention from these children and all the grandchildren they'll give me. And you? You'll have syphilis," and she exited the elevator with all of us, leaving the speechless 'couple' behind.