I would add, however, that Mother Asumpta Long, O. P. of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, MI came to speak at our church not too long ago. She mentioned how it never fails to amaze her that so many people approach her and want to speak with her when she travels. Her full habit is an outward sign of her vocation. It makes a bold statement to the world and it draws people in. I'm sure she gets all sorts of comments and questions, but the thing that struck me was how pleased she was to have a moment in the airport or on the plane to listen and offer people what she could, given the limitations of time and setting.
It occurred to me while I was listening to her that for those of us with large families, our crew is something like her habit. It is the outward sign of our vocation. It makes a statement and draws people to us. So, whatever the nature of strangers' comments and whatever words or tone we choose, I think we should keep in mind that we are representing that vocation when we respond.
* * * * *
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 children 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 and 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 attention. 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 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. I had been as rude as she had been. 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?
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 as a judgement on 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.