I’m still gestating, quietly, mostly on my side. For the most part, I’ve been adjusting pretty well to the slower pace. But this morning was difficult, mostly because a friend royally spoiled us on Thursday.
Yesterday my friend and her daughters drove over an hour to spend the day with the girls and me. Did I mention it was one of her children’s birthdays? So she came armed with cupcakes to decorate, birthday games to play, and food to serve for lunch and snacks (she also brought us dinner for the night). I’d get up and try to do something, and she’d tell me to go rest and that she’d take care of it.
From my couch, I witnessed lots of giggles. I watched my friend and my two oldest girls help each other sound out words together and read to the little ones during quiet time while my friend cleaned up the dusting of sprinkles and cupcake crumbs on the kitchen floor despite my protests.
When Mary Elizabeth asked for some “mama’s milk,” my friend swooped in and distracted her with a special ducky cup.
At one point, I got up to to join in on the action. (And I wonder why my oldest hates to feel like she’s missing anything!) Not being on strict bed rest means I have the choice to decide how much I can do. Sometimes I wish I didn’t have that choice. My stomach clenched tight within minutes of being upright and then my back started to ache. It was not a my-belly-is-humongous-so-of-course-my-back-is-going-to-hurt-kind-of-ache, but a back-labor-kind-of-ache. (I had terrible back labor with Madeline, so I know all too well what it feels like.)
I’m not sure what I would have done if my friend hadn’t been there. But since she was, I went into my bedroom and rested on my left side, drank water, and breathed slowly. The ache slowly faded and then eventually went completely away.
I don’t know if all these contractions and pangs are actually doing anything. Maybe my uterus – like my nerves – is just a bit irritated with everything. What I do know is every time I try to be up on my feet for more than 10 minutes or so, the contractions start up again. At 31 weeks, I’m trying to play it safe when I can.
But sometimes I can’t.
This morning I knew I didn’t have a babysitter coming for a few hours, and it actually felt good to be up and about. After I got breakfast ready for the girls – nothing fancy, just some granola in a bowl, chunks of watermelon, and milk – I started feeling lightheaded. I’ve been seeing stars a lot the last few days. I’m not sure if it’s because my body has grown accustomed to resting more and getting up abruptly can cause me to feel dizzy, or if something else is going on. If it continues, I’ll put a call in to my midwife. But anyway, I retreated from the kitchen and told the girls I’d be right back. I also had to go to the bathroom. Within seconds of my departure, the screaming started.
I tried to ignore it, but Mary Elizabeth trotted into the bathroom and said, “Maddy fighting.”
Then I heard, “Rae slapped me!!!! Ouch! Stop it! Mommy, help!”
My blood pressure spiked. I ran into the room, raised my voice, and then separated the two girls. I was not very nice, and I shouldn’t have been running like a maniac, either.
Peace was restored eventually, and we decided to look through a nature book until the babysitter arrived. We were all bundled together, and everything was fine until the close contact with Mommy reminded Mary Elizabeth of her favorite cuddle time activity.
“Mama milk?” she asked.
It’s terribly difficult to abruptly wean a child, especially when you can’t distract them by saying, “Hey, let’s go play outside instead,” or by picking them up. It’s always one no for another no.
So there were more tears. I felt angry, frustrated, helpless, and these feelings remained when the babysitter arrived. There was a lot of tension in our home, and I’m the one who put it there.
Now that they’re gone – off to the pool with the babysitter and her sister – I’m once again left with this lonely vacuum. It’s quiet, and I have all this time. Time to think, to pray, to be contrite.
Time. It’s been on my mind a lot lately. Bed rest is one of those circumstances in life that forces you to give up your own itinerary. Time is not your own anymore. And, sadly, your time no longer belongs to your kids anymore, either, and this does – despite all of your best intentions – stress you all out when you find yourselves alone without reinforcements.
So there you are, lounging on the couch and sometimes feeling guilty about it, too, and yet, you’re still pining for more time like you always are but for different reasons. It’s not that you want to cram more things into your day; it’s just that you want your baby to be blessed with more time to grow and gain strength. This means you often have to take time (and sometimes it feels like love) away from your other children. And forgive me for saying so, but it sucks.
You also realize from friends like the one who ministered to our family yesterday that time can be a gift both to our families and to others, or it can be a source of stress, something we just continuously fill and never have enough of despite how organized and efficient we are.
When I’m feeling particularly frazzled during a normal week when life is speeding along and no one is ordering me to take it easy, I’m tempted to blame my overwhelmed feelings on the fact that I just don’t have enough time (or energy) to do all that needs to be done.
But what really needs to be done? I’m thinking I need to be asking God that very important question more often.
I know my friend who visited yesterday is very busy. She’s going out of town this weekend for the Fourth. Yesterday was her child’s birthday. Her husband is a physician who works long and unpredictable hours. Her children share my kids’ sleep habits, which means they don’t always sleep well or at all. Yet, she made time for our family.
We’re all busy – whether we’re moms of wee ones or teenagers or both. Whether we’re married, single, or called to the religious life. None of us ever really has enough time to do it all, but maybe that’s because we’re not always trying to do the right things. Our daily “to-do’s” could all very well be good things – volunteering, taking care of our family, working to pay the bills – but are we doing what God would have us do with our time? Are we allowing Him to have any say in our time management? Even if what we’re filling our days with is good, if we feel anxious or if we’re so tied to our schedule that we can’t make time for someone in need, then maybe just maybe we’re not seeking God’s counsel enough and asking Him what He would have us do with the hours we’re gifted with every day.
We live next to an elderly man who lives alone, was never married, and has no children. He has a sweet cat the color of a gray storm cloud that’s never too far from him, and a friendly nurse visits three times a week, but that’s about the extent of his social interaction.
When the weather is nice, he’ll often sit outside on a plastic chair and read. We park our minivan close to this spot so when he’s outside, he loves to chat with us when we’re supposed to be on our way somewhere. Even when the weather isn’t particularly pleasant, he frequently peeks his head outside his side door to say hello when I’m loading the girls up in the van.
Shortly after we moved in, I had plans to meet with a friend. I hadn’t had a “friend date” in ages, and I was anxious to get to the restaurant where I’d soon be sharing good food and adult conversation. But just as I was about to hop in my car, our neighbor limped out to his stoop on his spindly legs to ask how we were settling in.
I was tempted to shoot off a pithy response, but, instead, I stepped closer in his direction and chatted with him. It was not a long conversation, although I did end up being a few minutes late to the restaurant (and I’m the queen of punctuality and am very, very rarely late anywhere and, in fact, being late stresses me out), and he ended it by saying, “Well, I’m sure you’ve got better things to be doing, but it was nice talking to you.”
Did I really have better things to be doing at that moment?
When my husband and I were first married, we also lived next to an elderly man whose wife was in a nursing home. (Think God is trying to teach me something?) I can remember returning home from work, eager to prepare a meal for my new husband or to lace up my running shoes to go on quick run, and I’d see the gentleman sitting on his front steps just staring at nothing across the street. It never failed. I always heard a tiny voice whisper to me (the Holy Spirit?), “Go talk to him.”
So I would (always smiling on the outside, but sometimes feeling annoyed and cheated by my conscience).
But after we talked, I always felt better, and I usually still had time to cook an edible dinner or squeeze in a quick workout.
In fact, I always feel better when I listen to that voice, but it becomes increasingly difficult the busier and noisier life gets to even hear it speaking to me. Yet, whenever I give up my own agenda to reach out to someone else – whether it’s closing my morning prayer book when a child wakes up very early, crawls next to me, and asks me to read a book or leaving a few minutes early for an appointment just in case my neighbor is out there and wants to chat – I’m doing what we’re all called to do: To love and serve others.
Recently, I had someone, whom I’ve never even met except in Cyberspace, email me about wanting to send a care package for the girls and me. She had a few questions – what were the girls’ favorite colors, etc. I felt guilty answering them because I didn’t feel like she needed to be doing this. She was a busy mom of many. Like my neighbor, I assumed she had better things to do.
But I answered her questions as well as profusely thanked her for her kindness, and she shot me back an email that said this:
“Just so you know, I love doing stuff like this, so it brings me a great deal of joy, too. Life (God) gives us opportunities to reach out, and if we don’t act upon them, they may vanish.”
Now here is a woman, like my friend who visited yesterday, who knows the value of life-sharing. God, not her calendar, is her timepiece. She is never too busy to help someone in need, and she recognizes that in giving we are filled.
When I was in college, I found great joy in serving others, too. I headed up my university’s largest service organization. I raised money and helped build a playground for an underprivileged neighborhood. I did big things that made me feel good.
Now as a mom, I accept that love and charity begins at home, just as Blessed Teresa said, but I’ve realized during this present period of having too much time on my hands that I can’t hide behind my busyness of being a mom of littles as an excuse to not be faithful in the little things – like inviting a lonely neighbor over to dinner or doing something as simple as writing a note to a friend “just because.” (Writing notes happens to be one of my favorite ministries, and it’s something I’ve been able to keep up even as an at-mom.)
My life (when not on modified bed rest, of course) is very busy. I do have to put my family’s needs first and also make sure I’m not saying yes to too many things in order to avoid burnout, but I can never be too busy or too imprisoned by my schedule to ignore the call to love or to act on an opportunity life/God gives me to show kindness to someone else.
Love is action. It’s not just saying we care about others; it’s showing we care.
As I rest with more “free” time than I’d like, I’ve realized God and no one else is ever going to hold me hostage and force me to delete items from my iCal so that I can free up some time to talk to our lonely neighbor or to welcome a new family that moved in across the street with a plate of homemade muffins, but that doesn’t mean He doesn’t want me to do just that. These are little things that won’t even swallow up too much of my precious time.
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse. That there may be food in my house, and try me in this, says the LORD of hosts: Shall I not open for you the floodgates of heaven, to pour down blessing upon you without measure?” (Malachi 3:10)
Maybe this verse applies to more than just financial tithing. If I give God my time first, He will bless it. He will bless me.
I won’t have more time, but perhaps my time will be more.
Put God’s agenda before my agenda. That’s what I’m doing right now for this baby growing inside of me, and I hope I’ll one day learn to do this always.
Try me in this. Go ahead, and test God. And watch the blessings come pouring down.