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In Praise of the Small, Common Life

alec vanderboom

This week has been incredibly dramatic for the Benjamin family. Today, I packed up my newborn in our minivan. I put Frozen into the DVD player. I added a newly repacked hospital back to my car trunk because my son came inches from needed a hospital admittance today. (Preemies are delicate creatures, even the hefty 8 pound and 36 week variety).

Yesterday, I heard about my son's bad lab reports from a telephone call at 3:30 PM.  I started panicking when I thought about going back to the hospital for the fourth time in less than 4 weeks. I was backtracking on all my bold prayer promises last week. "Lord, I know I said that I'd handle anything NICU related if the baby came early, but please, I can't handle another 72 hour hospital admission. Let me off this hook!"

I thought about telling my husband that it was his turn to go to the hospital with our kid. I'd just stay at home, pump breast milk and enjoy sleeping at night with all the lights off and on a firm mattress that doesn't artificially rock like the sea.

Today started out eerily like last Saturday morning. Our son was in trouble. We weren't sure what to expect, but we bravely set out to the ER ready to do anything we needed to do in order to get him better.

In the middle of the wait for the doctor, who would decide if we were going back home today, or spending the night in a NICU room, I sang quietly to my sleepy son.  I thought about how much of routine family life is spent in boredom. Out of love for my sick kids, I spent time in uncomfortable settings. I'm bored. I'm tired. I'm uneasy. Ever since I got pregnant eight months ago, I spend a large part of my day uncertain about the future.

Somehow family life keeps going on, even in uncomfortable settings. My newborn son still needed to eat. He needed to get changed. He needed to be soothed and comforted. My 2 1/2 year old learned the names of every African Safari animal in her plastic toy bucket. Who cares that she learned their names in the doctor's waiting room and not on our dining room table? Toddlers can have fun almost anywhere.

My husband and I got some praise today for our large family. We also got some scorn. We had some hard moments. We had some good moments. My kids amaze me. My kids annoy me. At the end of a long day, 8 people crammed together in my tiny bedroom to watched "Edge of Tomorrow" on my Xfinity TV screen. I'm so grateful for Family Movie Night on Saturdays. It's such a soothing ritual for the hard weeks.

Today was a totally average day, even though we just added a new family member.

Tonight, I read about Pope Francis' remarks after the Synod of the Family. (Thank you Leila!) I didn't follow the Synod reports this week. Instead, I lived out my vocation. I lived the highs and lows of family life intensely. Sometimes, it's easy to feel overshadowed by the other vocations in our church--the call to the priesthood, religious life or the deaconate.  More and more, I'm becoming more fond of the ordinary greatness of married life. I'm called to love this one man for life. I'm called to nurture these specific children. My life is not always calm or predictable. Yet in the center of my activity, I am calm.

My life has meaning.

Today, the doctor told me that I don't have to go back to the hospital with my son. I felt grateful.

I walked out of the ER with my newborn son in his car seat and we caused a scene. Some nurses were staring at us because he was so small. One nurse started talking about us because he's my sixth and I look so healthy after a c-section seven days ago. She looked at the both of us with an admiring smile. Her co-worker said "That poor thing!" without looking up from her computer screen.

"I'm lucky to have six!" I said boldly to the top of her bowed head.

I'm blessed! Everyone who does this marriage thing, and who takes both the lumps and the joys that our individual marriage entails is blessed. It's okay if we never get a chance to address a Pope or Bishop personally about our lives. They each know our story. They are all encouraged by our Hope.