I really should stop reading magazines. That might be an odd thing for a magazine editor to say, but it’s true that certain kinds of periodicals are bad for my self esteem.
Take that popular homemaking magazine, for example. What’s it called? Better Homes Than Yours, I think.
I browse through its slick pages, squint at the glossy photos, and search in vain for a sign of peanut butter fingerprints on the glass doors, sippy cups tucked beneath couch cushions, or last week’s fraction worksheets piled on top of living room end tables.
No such luck.
I saw a young family’s home featured in one recent issue. The husband and wife were pictured with their two small children. All of them were seated on a spotless, glowing white couch. A white couch! I squinted long and hard at that photo and came up with the only logical explanation – that the children were plastic props.
It was in one of these fantasy magazines that I happened upon an article about making grown-up bedroom spaces special. A “relaxing oasis,” I think were the words used to describe the ideal grown-up bedroom.
“Keep it clean, keep it quiet, and keep it yours,” the article urged me.
Pillows, candles, and quiet music… it sounded perfectly fabulous. How nice it would be to retreat to an adults-only oasis at the end of each day!
One thing the fancy magazine didn’t mention, though, was what to do if you happen to share your oasis with a two-year-old boy, his clothes dresser, and a basketful of his favorite Tonka trucks. It neglected to mention the problem of a grown-up bedroom being the only room with a lock where older kids can hide to play an undisturbed game of Yahtzee, or sort stacks of precious sports cards during the day. And what about the fact that a soft, high bed with fluffy pillows happens to be the ideal spot for little girls to organize dolly naptimes?
I try to fight it, but it’s no use. By bedtime each day, our grown-up bedroom has been infiltrated. Since we’ve been watching 24, Dan and I jokingly refer to the pint-sized invaders of our bedroom space as the “hostiles.” Really, though, it’s just the kids. And their stuff.
When I finally stumble my way toward the relaxing oasis these days, I usually need to clear a path through a pile of plastic princess shoes, dolly blankies, stacks of story books, and Tupperware containers filled with sports cards before I find the bed. Surprisingly, however, I don’t really resent the invasion.
Before I had children, I used to worry sometimes that I wouldn’t make a good mother. The kind of constant self-giving love that I saw in other mothers felt foreign to me, and I thought I might be too selfish to do the same.
What I didn’t know then, though, was that children take the love they need. By their very existence, they claim it. Parental generosity is something that develops naturally from having children who, with or without our permission, work their way into our hearts, into our lives, and into our personal spaces.
When I entered my oasis last night, after kicking my way past a pile of Playmobil pirates and a partially completed wooden puzzle, I noticed a folded piece of paper perched upon my pillow.
Inside I found a pencil drawing of a small girl with an extra large bow in her hair. Beside the small girl was a mother figure in a full-length glamour gown. Their stick figure arms stretched toward each other, eager to embrace, as a smiling sun shone down on them approvingly.
“WEE LOVE EACH UDDER,” was scrawled in the sky above, and five-year-old Gabby’s unmistakable signature was in the bottom corner of the page.
I don’t need an oasis; I’ve got oceans.
We parents might not always love our children perfectly, but most of us do a pretty decent job of it most days. I don’t think, though, that we can take much credit for the ways in which we become more generous and loving as a result of having children. It just happens. It’s part of the gift of grace that is family life, and its source is the source of all grace. It’s God.
It’s all part of a Divine plan. Our children force us to abandon selfishness simply by laying claim to what is rightfully theirs – which is everything we’ve got.
(This is an old column of mine that originally appeared at Inside Catholic.)