(This is an old column of mine that originally appeared at Inside Catholic. Just like yours, my life is still ridiculous, but some of the details are different from what is described here. The message still applies, though.)
My life is ridiculous. Do I need to tell you this, or can you reach that conclusion all on your own when I tell you that I am a homeschooling mother of eight who also works from home?
Some days, the different roles I play meld seamlessly together.
“Of course I can do this!” I find myself thinking as I take a phone call from the pediatrician while the toddler plays peacefully with poster paints, the 11-year-old memorizes prepositions, the 15-year-old completes her algebra, and the 10-year-old whips up a fresh batch of banana muffins. “Who couldn’t do this?”
But other days? Other days, my seamlessly melding roles collide. They crash, smash, and burn.
I’ll never forget the time I was on the phone with a work colleague – one whom I had just met and hoped to impress with my “professionalism” – when I heard a knock on my bedroom door. One rule I have to keep me sane is that if I am on the phone for work, I can lock my door and that means NO BUGGING MOM.
I knew that the insistent knock meant something important was going on, so mid-conversation, I took a deep breath and opened the door.
There stood my oldest son with one hand over his nose. Blood dripped through his fingers, ran down his arm, and formed a small puddle on the floor at his feet.
“Do you understand what I am saying?” I remember the man on the phone asking me then, “Because I’m not sure at all that you do.”
I mumbled something about a bleeding boy and hung up the phone.
I am not exactly proud to report that the cause of the furiously bleeding face was another one of my sons. An argument over a ball game had turned violent. Younger brother’s fist managed to hit a lucky spot on older brother’s nose where there happened to be a willing vein. To me, the worst part of the whole messy incident was the fact that they were supposed to be working on a geography quiz.
I still talk to the colleague from that interrupted phone call sometimes, and to this day I suspect he believes I am a brainless loon. And he’s probably right about that. But it’s not my fault. It’s the bloody children.
When people on the outside ask what daily life looks like in my home, I think many of them picture me working in a pristine office with a mountain view while my children recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sit in neat rows of desks in our classroom.
We do have a classroom. But like many rooms in houses that belong to men who build, it is unfinished. It has no floor yet, and it is the current home of my washing machine and my husband’s weight bench. It also features a sizable collection of half-empty paint cans. Because we will need them someday.
My husband sometimes has the older children sit in the classroom for math lectures, but they need to kick empty laundry detergent bottles out of the way and brush aside saw dust from the nearby circular saw (did I not mention the saw? The one my husband keeps in there for trimming firewood?) before they can sit down. On the weight bench.
Welcome to our home school. We do and learn all kinds of things all over the house. And the process is not always pretty.
I don’t pretend to be the only person on the planet with a crazy life, though. I know plenty of people who, in my estimation, live even crazier lives than mine. I have nutty friends who have reached double digits in their child count. I know wild women who work outside the home. I know crazy moms who care for aging parents or homeschool children with multiple disabilities.
I think we’re all crazy in some way. Many of us, in our own hidden worlds, are taking on daunting tasks and tremendous responsibilities.
I can’t do all of this, I am sometimes tempted to think – particularly on days where my various roles and responsibilities seem to be in conflict with each other. But what I fail to see at those times is that no one is asking me to “do all of that.” Not all at once, anyway.
I think about this sometimes as I wipe down the tiles in my kitchen. I long ago stopped pulling out a mop to clean this spot that needs cleaning at least once a day. It’s just more efficient to get down on my hands and knees with a damp cloth and wipe the floor by hand. One tile at a time.
Cleaning an entire sticky floor can seem like a daunting job, I always notice, but anyone can wipe one square foot of tile at a time. If I keep working, all those tiles eventually add up to a clean floor.
“Faithfulness in little things is a big thing,” St. John Chrysostom reminds us.
I need to remind myself more often that one small thing at a time is all God ever asks me to do. All the little things – spilled juice, phone calls, grammar lessons, e-mail replies, laundry piles, baseball games, Band-Aids, and sticky tiles – add up to God’s great big will for me every day.
One thing at a time. I think I can do that. And you can, too.