Friday, January 29, 2010

Broken

I first posted this in March of 2007, before Micah was born. It appeared at Catholic Exchange the following September. I repost it here today in response to several Moms with little ones who have emailed me asking how I manage to keep things orderly.

Short answer: I don't.

Slightly longer answer: Well, it's a constant struggle, but not without its benefits, both material and spiritual. I must say, too, we've come long way since I posted this almost three years ago. The dynamics really do change in family life as children grow older and what seemed all consuming then is more of a side note now...


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. Perhaps more than most too, however, these are sweet, loving, happy, and good natured boys. It hasn't been malicious 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.

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, very 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 their true value. I would not invest myself in them, even in a healthy manner, for fear of the heartbreak at the inevitable loss.

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 weren't real, either. Still, I had treasured it, keeping the pair 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 first heard the binding promise of a life-long love. Then there it was, this earring, suddenly 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, the 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 and the sky was bright with stars, that he first told me he wanted me to be his wife. I remembered his earnest face, his square jaw, his gentle way, "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 the constantly broken things around our 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 very 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 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 need to 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 lost.