I have exceptionally noisy children. Or so, at least, they seem to me. Time was when I'd hop in the car and start fiddling with the stereo before the key was even in the ignition. I had all my favorite stations preset and would flip through them as compulsively as any man with a TV remote. Now I just want silence. If I have a rare opportunity to drive somewhere alone, I do so in profound and utter silence. No babies bawling, no sisters squabbling, no monologues by Maria and certainly no Raffi. Silence. Blessed, blissful, beautiful silence.
So I'm not sure why I turned on the radio tonight as I drove home from Adoration. Usually an entire hour of holy silence only whets my appetite for more silence. But I turned it on as I pulled out of the church parking lot and pressed "scan" a few times until I heard an old Bush song that brought back all the emotion and psychology of my teenage self. Something very, very deep within me lunged almost wildly towards the music. I turned the volume up until my ears hurt and tried to lose myself in whatever strange feeling was taking over. At the same time I was trying to figure out why half of me wanted to pull over and cry my eyes out.
It wasn't until the song was over and the spell was broken that I identified a reason for the intensity of my response to that angst-y piece of music. It was the abrupt juxtaposition of all that had made up the stuff of my recent hour of prayer against all that had filled my life twenty years ago. And that there were already almost twenty years between me and that Kelly.
There's so much responsibility now. The day-in, day-out care of four very young children is heavy, but it is almost nothing compared to the deeper fears, worries and goals associated with raising four human beings in this world as it now stands. There are so many gaps and pinches in our budget that I don't know how we hold it together at all. There are so many appointments - and things to remember - and papers to keep track of. There are Oreo crumbs that need to be unstuck from the toilet bowl (other people have this problem too....right?) and autumn clothes to swap out for six people. There's so much laundry...all the time. My inbox is full of essays I need to look over for the students I am tutoring. My mind is obsessing about the manipulative warnings of the crooked dentist who informed me last week that if I don't do the thousands of dollars of dental work he prescribed, my teeth will all rot out of my head before I turn forty. My conscience is full of all my faults and failings as a Christian, mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend and member of the wealthy Western world. My heart is wrestling with the idea of another child. There is not one yet, but for the first time in many, many months that possibility is again before me and must be again discerned. I want more babies. I am worn out and overwhelmed.
But two decades ago, I was not. When that song came out I was 16, maybe 17. Responsibility meant getting an A. Working at a bakery on the weekends. Getting my college applications in on time. And I was really, really good at responsibility. Those things were very easy. Those things were fun. I had few responsibilities, light responsibilities, responsibilities I found only enjoyable and effortless. I could get in my dad's 1987 Pathfinder carefree and turn up the radio and sing mediocre pop songs at the top of my youthful lungs every single day. And I did.
And I was miserable. In the midst of all that fun, I was deeply unhappy. Utterly self-centered, lonely, filled with longings for things I could barely even name, insecure, angry, unfulfilled and virtually ignorant of all the most important truths about God and His Church....
Today I am nearly crushed by responsibility and the much-ness of life, but I am so, so deeply happy. I was never this happy at seventeen. I wanted too painfully everything I have now - without even knowing it.
Gavin Rossdale's voice overpowered me with the difference that all these years have made. I'm always forgetting I'm not seventeen or nineteen or twenty-one. That's all that I feel like on the inside - a girl. Just a girl. Never a woman. Just a girl trying to shoulder all the responsibilities of a woman. But when I fleetingly slipped back into being a "real" girl again tonight, I realized profoundly that I am so different from her. More importantly, I realized that I would not want to take back any part of her life. I want everything I have now, right down to the Oreos on the toilet. I am blessed.
The cookie crumbs on the toilet, the unending noise, the impossibly small budget - these are the things that have made me who I am now - and are continuing to take me further and further away from that self-absorbed, frustrated person I was years ago. May they take me still further.
Humble Pope Benedict XVI told us that the world entices us with a mirage of comfort. "But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness." And in his interview this week, our beautiful Pope Francis said, “I see holiness in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread....This is for me the common sanctity. I often associate sanctity with patience:....taking charge of the events and circumstances of life, but also as a constancy in going forward, day by day."
I find his words so unbelievably encouraging. I feel like I'm barely hanging on, but Pope Francis sees real, exemplary holiness in the woman (or girl!) who shows constancy in going forward day by day raising children, scraping Oreos off the toilet, doing piles of laundry, settling sibling squabbles, cleaning up spit-up from the carpet, shouldering financial anxiety and flossing obsessively. And Pope Benedict calls it not merely holiness, but greatness. And Gavin? I Googled the lyrics to his song tonight.... he has nothing to say that holds a candle to either pope. That's the whole point.