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A Reed Shaken In the Wind

alec vanderboom

Last week, I slipped into pervasive sadness. On Monday night, I messed up on my meekness pledge. On Tuesday, we were out of gas money, so no trip to rosary group. The baby was fussy at nights with her teething pain; my three-year-old needed hourly changes of his Thomas the Train underwear. By Wednesday, I entertained such thoughts as “Next week, I get two five day weekends with Jon! Oh, but what does it matter? On January 2, I’ll be back to this same drudgery.” Not Depression with a “capital D” thank goodness, but a sore, weary spirit nevertheless.

I’ve struggled with these bouts of drudgery & depression before. Yet this time was different. This time, I didn’t have the fantasy of thinking, “just hang in there a few more months and then I’ll get a copy-writing job” or “things will get easier when the baby is weaned.” For the first time, in the middle of an “I can’t BELIEVE this is my life” freak-out, there wasn’t anywhere else I wanted to be. I didn’t want to return to working outside the home. I don’t want Maria to be our youngest child. I know the daily tasks of cleaning sheets, neatening the train toys, stirring the chicken dumplings are vital for my husband, my children, the Catholic Church and the world in general. The collective weight of performing these tasks day in and day out for the next two decades, just suddenly seemed “not fun.”

So I was grouchy. I was touchy. I was not feeling well and giving God a piece of my mind. “I’m doing every thing that you asked of me. Why is this still so hard?”

Thankfully Tuesday’s Advent Bible Study brought an answer. A snip of Sunday’s Gospel reading stuck in my mind. By Saturday, I’d reconciled to sufficiently to make a good confession and received some of the sweetest advice I ever heard from a new priest.
By Sunday’s homily I was primed to hear the words of John the Baptist in a new way.

“What did you go out in the desert to see? A reed swayed in the wind?” Matthew 11:2-11

That image of “a reed swayed in the wind” really hit me. What did I expect when I quit work to stay home and raise my Catholic saplings? My answer is cliché. When I finally reconciled to remaining a full-time mother, Hannah was 2 & Alex was 1, I imagined leading a happy, bustling family of six kids. I thought I’d return to my favorite job as a camp counselor. I’d get to whip the kids from activity to activity, sing silly songs in the car, chop up carrot-sticks into zip-lock bags and whisk the stroller out for long outings. The days would be busy with zoo trips and dentist appointments. Occasionally, I deal with the drama of broken laundry machines or sick dogs. (Camp life was always filled with daily dramas.) Briskness, Orderliness, Efficiency. I wanted to be a woman who “got things done.”

Now, my days with a small child and two, slightly older ones, are anything but brisk & efficient. I transfer the laundry painfully with one hand while jiggling a 19-pound fussy baby on my hip. If I take a catnap at 10 AM after a painful night with Maria, I’ll awake to find all 9 bananas that I’ve just brought home from Safeway have a single bite taken out of them. The Teriyaki chicken gets burned because if I let one throwing offence by the three year old go without an immediate redirection to the naughty chair, I’ll soon be taking the four year old to urgent care after a sharp object hits her face. Etcetera, Etcetera, and So Forth.

“What did you got out into the wildness to see?” Jesus asks me.

If I left the working world, a world of fake glory and brisk to-do lists, what did I expect to find? I should expect to my mothering work to operate the same way as my former law office. My new work is humble. It is plain. It has far more in common with the humble Sisters of Charity in Calcutta than with the CEO of Microsoft. “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is not helpful reading at this point in my life. Thankfully, mediation on the Holy Scripture isn’t just helpful, it’s hopeful.

I feel so comforted that the mighty John the Baptist, the babe who leapt in his mother’s womb at the presence of Jesus, still struggled with doubts when locked up in a prison cell. His human frailty gives me hope. “John had doubts about Jesus,” my homilist intoned on Sunday. “But he had the wisdom to go directly to Jesus to get those doubts resolved.” Like John, last week I struggled with human doubts. Yet I do not wish to remain “a reed shaken in the wind.” I will strive to keep my faith strong & steady even when life’s circumstances seem too rough or simply too monotonous.