Yesterday I took the girls to the beach to get away from this heat wave we're having. Though the water is only ten minutes down the road, it is almost always five to ten degrees cooler there, and the drop from 90 to 80 degrees is well worth the short getaway.
Gianna and Madeleine were building sand castles with their shovels and buckets, and as is typical of my little ones they made their fun known to all around them with loud shouts of exaltation, running in circles around me and dancing. Enjoying the sunshine, sipping on lemonade and being spectator to the happy, living miracles before me, I had not a care in the world. Not, that is, until I was approached by a beautiful thirty-something woman who had been enjoying her day on a lounge chair in front of us.
This pretty lady kindly commented, "Your daughters are darling. You have your hands full over here, don't you?" to which I responded the way I always do when I receive this compliment, "Not as full as I'd like." Most of the time people smile at me and go on about their business. But this woman seemed to want more.
In her own words she expressed her astonishment at my wanting more children, and proceeded to explain that she and her husband had a two year old girl at home, and they were "done" having children. I was even more saddened to learn that her daughter was home with a nanny while she took a day off her job to spend alone at the beach. She explained that one was enough because she had given up her freedom already, and the demands of young children seemed enslaving to her. I held back my tears tightly enough that she wouldn't be alarmed by my reaction.
When children enter a family they begin stripping a parent of his attachments. I remember first giving up having my hair done at the salon or having my fingernails manicured. Soon after that my shirt sleeves became accustomed to a daily lacing of spit-up. I remember changing blouses three or more times a day, hence surrendering perfect personal cleanliness. Then my daughter entered toddler-hood and soon there were fingerprints on the walls, dirt on the floors brought in from outside, crumbs under the table and countless drink spills. It was during this stage that I gave up perfect household cleanliness. Since having had a second child I have surrendered a quiet household, time for needlepointing, errands run peacefully and absorbing the Holy Gospel at mass.
But you see, in married life, children are the very secret to freedom. Before I had my first daughter I spent six years living for myself. My hair was done and my nails were manicured. My dry-cleanable clothes were always clean and pressed, my living room walls were perfectly white and there were no sticky substances on any of my dining chairs. I could hear a pin drop in my home at any moment, crochet a blanket on my sofa with pleasant music resonating in the background, and I could go anywhere I wanted almost whenever I wanted. But was I free? Of course I wasn't. I was enslaved by my own attachments.*
Children freed me from worrying about what others thought of me. With my second daughter I learned to wipe the spit-up off my sleeve rather than change my blouse. Before children I would drink my cup of coffee at a certain time every morning, and had that routine been disrupted I would have felt overwhelmed. Now I am happy to savor my cup whenever I get a chance, and I no longer fret over such trivialities. I am now able to relax with guests in the home, enjoying their fine company rather than thinking about a perfectly clean house or a perfect dinner. If the roast is overcooked, I laugh. A few crumbs under the table and I smile, pointing them out to our guests showing what a fun day we had. I don't concern myself with impressing others. I have two beautiful daughters to raise in need of a mother who concerns herself with pleasing God and her family.
Today I can sit with my boisterous girls at the beach soaking in not the sun rays for added blush on my skin, but the happiness and love of two daughters playing and building and learning together. I don't concern myself with how I look in a swimsuit. And at the end of my day I may not have the tan or the physical beauty of the thirty-something lady who goes home to a warm bath, soft music and her child already asleep. I return home to draw a warm bath for my girls and sing them lullabies. And I cuddle with them saying prayers before bed which have the consequence of Eternal Freedom. Truly, every night I fall asleep with soft kisses still on my cheeks from two hours before, little arms wrapped around my neck and two little voices each still whispering in my ears, "Goodnight, mama. I love you." Now that's freedom.
*[Let me just say that I am speaking here of my own selfishness before children. Many holy couples without children sanctify their marriages by giving themselves in other ways and are not guilty of attachment as I was. This post is not for them, but for the sadness on account of many today who see children as a burden and a hindrance to happiness.]