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Monday, November 30, 2009

Calling all Mothers..and those who Aren't.

Recently after Mass, I was chatting with some friends of mine who happen to be parents of a few children, who naturally exhibit their childishness in very dramatic ways characteristic of their littleness.

There was a woman nearby who was somehow engaged by one of the children, exclaimed over them, and then, from where she stood, was clearly speaking to the parents of the children, admonishing them with great joy to "Have more!"

Certainly I agree with the sentiment, especially given our culture, wherein the default condition is to kill the child and lament later,  but I have to admit, a directive to "Have more!" actually rubs me in much the same way as the admonishment to "Stop having kids!" does from the polar opposite side of that spectrum.  Truth be told, I was a little offended on behalf of my friends who ARE having children and don't find it necessary to consult anyone other than God as to how many they should produce.

So I chose to just ignore the woman who clearly wasn't speaking to me, anyway, considering that I don't HAVE any children and I'm just the local spinster-in-waiting who happens to have a lot of friends with big families.

Oh, but wait....

As I was standing next to the father, I didn't initially realize that the woman in question was actually speaking to ME, and so I didn't understand why she continued speaking as the mother stepped away either in order to chase one of them down or to speak to someone else. In any case, I suddenly became aware that Ms. Admonishment was looking at ME and telling me to "Have Faith!" from what I could ascertain (from what I could hear), and to "Trust in God and His timing!" and all that.

I seriously could not figure out why she was looking at ME while saying all these things, considering that I clearly was not a mother, nor married, nor a parent of any kind. I couldn't figure out why she was continuing to lecture even as the father of the children wandered away looking for one of them.

It was the ongoing lecturing that got my attention as she raised her fist in the air in some form of encouragement to have more children and trust in God and have faith.  I was trying to figure out exactly WHO she was talking to considering that the children who had enamored her were all over the place, their parents were chasing them, and I was standing in one place just waiting for it all to come back to center again.

After a minute or so of me looking at her strangely, wondering if she was somehow trying to communicate with someone, I finally realized that she thought I was the mother and she was TRYING to talk to ME!

Oh, dear, and,

While I thought it flattering that she assumed the adorable children at hand were MINE, when I finally realized she was directing her commentary towards me, and, in response to my very strange looks in her direction, was interpreting said confused countenance as a return expression of hopelessness and denial, I realized I had to set the record straight.

I sincerely had no idea what she had been saying before that but for those few quoted phrases, for she was standing too far away, speaking in a low tone, and since I wasn't the mother, I honestly hadn't paid much attention to her since obviously she could NOT have been speaking to me.

As it was, I did finally explain to her that I was just PRESENT in that particular space and had NOTHING to do with the presence of the children themselves. It was my great honor to point out their true parents.

This woman apparently was on a "CHILDREN!" kick, though, and apologized for her mistake as she patted me on the shoulder and repeated some of her previous litany of  "God is faithful!" and "Trust in Him!" but to this she added, "Maybe soon!"

"Um...NO. I don't think so."

She interrupted to encourage me further in what she assumed to be my future Vocation, that being to get married and have as many children as she deemed appropriate.

I thanked her but said calmly that no, I am not called to marriage.

She seemed to be completely SHOCKED by that statement. I actually reached out to hold her up because I thought she was going to fall over.

Quickly, though, she recovered herself and I held my breath, waiting for her to switch to the other extreme of exclaiming over the idea that I'm going to be a nun, and how wonderful is THAT!?

Thankfully, she made no further assumptions, apologized profusely (which was totally unnecessary given our low-key exchange) and in fact, I patted her own shoulder as I dismissed her apology as unnecessary. I was actually quite amused, and even flattered that she thought such beautiful children could have come from me.  It was very sweet.  :-)

I am who I am, though.

Simply put, I am a woman trying to find my way in the world, neither chosen nor having been chosen, only in waiting, in preparation, knowing there is more....but not knowing what that means yet.

It is a grace simply to know what it ISN'T.

We all have a calling. While I love children and of course, the ones in question are very dear to me, as are their parents, that love doesn't change the sense of knowing it isn't my Vocation.

Whether male or female, those who are not called to marriage often have assumptions made about them. On the extreme end, many assume that we hate children, hate families, etc.  Nothing could be further from the truth!

I have to admit, though, that before the recent exchange, I hadn't ever considered how certain people, in wanting to encourage life, really come across to mothers as, in their zealous love for the pro-life cause, almost DEMAND more children in exactly the same way the culture of death people try to DEMEAN the idea of more children as abhorrent and detrimental to society.

It has given me even MORE respect for larger families, and perhaps any mother, for the demand made upon them comes from all sides. Not just from the pro-death side that thinks children should be omitted in any way possible, but from those who are over-zealous and also forget that children come from God and that parents who are happily having children don't actually need pressure to have more. Aren't they already doing everything right?

Isn't GOD really in charge of life?

I have to admit I had a mad desire to compliment the woman on her interest in my reproductive system, but managed, for once. to hold my tongue. Of course she meant well, and of course she was paying me a compliment in what she thought was my motherhood...which it wasn't.

This very short, innocent exchange, though, revealed a few things to me that maybe I hadn't previously understood:

1. Firstly, that people often cross the line in their interest in very personal matters that belong only to a married couple and God. tell people to have MORE children or LESS belongs to the same category of rude presumption. One never knows what people are suffering or have suffered.

(Lest someone come along and suggest otherwise, I am not speaking here of dissent against Catholic teaching on contraception and the horror of abortion. I am speaking here of someone personally ordering another person to stop having children or to start having more when that couple is clearly living in such a way as to seek God's will in their marriage, and happen to be blessed with a few children!)

 2. Secondly, that single women are STILL looked upon merely as future heifers and the very statement that we are not called to marriage is sufficient to cause a heart attack, or at the very least, a syncopal episode.

3.  Even those who are zealous for married life and children don't actually consider religious life to be the obvious alternative (WHEW! I'm SO glad I wasn't going to be the cause of TWO syncopal episodes in 30 seconds!)

4. Some people don't know how to handle the fact that you might actually KNOW you are ore AREN'T called to something, and so the calm revelation that their pet project isn't in your discernment process is sufficient to stop the spiritual assault.
Now, lest some of my commenters get huffy and think I am not being charitable, realize that I DO think the best of this dear lady who clearly was very interested in the number of children she assumed my reproductive system could handle. I further recognize her concern with regard to wanting to encourage me in finding my alleged future husband, even though he does not exist. These are laudable things. They are false, but the intent is laudable. I was not offended and she was not offended. Therefore, none of you should be offended, either.

I do find it humorous even as I see the serious points, and realize that we have a LOT of work to do to educate even the best Catholics about the reality of Vocation.

Yes, I continue to seek mine. I know I am not called to marriage. That isn't a bad thing, as some want to assume. It doesn't mean I'm about to don a habit. It doesn't mean anything right now. It means only that I am seeking God's Will, His timing, and coming to know myself through knowing Him.

And dammit, it's a painful process, at least for some of us.

I'm seeing more and more, though, that it's hard even after the reality is discerned...because those who are married and do all they are supposed to are STILL subjected to random public opinion.

You know...the Church would be GREAT and we could all be so Holy...if it weren't for all the people around us......(1 Corinthians 12: 7-10) 

...Just making an observation..... ;-)


shadowlands said...

Had I been next to the woman at Mass, I would have questioned her intently and intensely about her own reproductive habits! If she had said she couldn't have children, I would have suggested adoption of one, two, three, TEN children! If not adoption, then short term fostering leading to semi permanent arrangements. Or get a job in a crèche in a maternity hospital! I wouldn't have given up until she got the point, or shot herself.(I'm jokin!)
My point is, her motives were not Holy Spirit led for sure, He doesn't operate like that.

Adoro said...

shadowlands ~ Well, no, I don't think that's fair to say. She was truly trying to be complimentary, and her motives...simply that. People often speak without thinking, or don't realize how their sentiment may seem overbearing to others.

Moniales said...

When I was a teenager a well meaning woman asked how many brothers and sisters I had. When I said an older sister she looked reproachful and actually ASKED ME why my parents didn't have more children and if they believed in birth control.
I was so mad. I looked at her straight in the eye and said, "My parents CAN NOT have children. My sister and I were adopted" and walked off.

This taught me not to judge these things by externals and I began to understand what my mother must have felt many times.... and what Elizabeth and Zachariah must have felt!

Easter A. said...

Adoro, I've enjoyed this post! It gave me a lot of giggles... thanks! :-)

shadowlands said...

OK maybe I was a little over the top..........

Melody K said...

" tell people to have MORE children or LESS belongs to the same category of rude presumption." I totally agree!
People really have no idea of someone else's circumstances; and even if they did it would still not be their business.

Mary333 said...

I am glad you took this with a good sense of humor. I only have one child and over the years have been the on the receiving end of comments such as these. What they didn't understand was that I suffered from infertility and the comments often hurt me because I really wanted children. The Lord in His goodness blessed me with one child after years of not being able to conceive [except for miscarriages]. I knew that people meant well but it still caused me pain. I guess when you think about it I actually have a few children, just not on earth.

Adoro said...

Monalies ~ That's awful that you'd be subjected to such a thing as a child! And great response!

Melody ~ AMEN

Mary~ The only reason I could have a sense of humor is, I suspect, BECAUSE I am not married, am not a mother. It's easy to see humor when it's not my own pain at stake. I'm so sorry for your own suffering, and especially that it is so extended because of the thoughtlessness of so many. :-(

To all:

My best friend in childhood was adopted from Korea. And my Mom was told she could NEVER have children...and there appeared my brother an I! To her, we were miracles. To some, we should have been aborted (she has only one hand). To others...she didn't have enough children.

Over and over again, it comes home to me that while we support life, we can't DEMAND it, and while we might assume something contrary to our faith going on, so often it is just the opposite. We can't assume anything of anyone, and we certainly can't know another's pain...unless they express it to us. And when that happens, it's often in confidence, which allows us to suffer with them in their solitude, knowing that as long as we are there to support them, they are not really alone....nor are we.


Vianney1100 said...

If I may offer a male's point of view on this. I would take these comments more as compliments toward the cuteness of the children or the fine parenting of the parents. My wife had a hysterectomy years ago and her brother kept asking me when we were going to have more babies until finally I told him that we couldn't and not in a snarky way either. He had no way of knowing and it didn't hurt me in any way. Maybe this is a guy thing but a lot of times when people say things I assume the best only to be asked by my wife later why I didn't pick up on it.
It seems that females are apt to percieve these things but I believe many times there is nothing there and it only leads to dissention.
Please be nice and assume that I am well intentioned with this post.

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

This is such an incredible post on so many levels! You have touched upon the very essence of feminist thought--the assumptions made of what women SHOULD be, while melding it with what is sacred about each vocation.

I am not Catholic, but I so appreciate what you have written here.

Adoro said...

Hi, Katherine, thanks for your comment. This really isn't feminist at all, for it applies to MEN, too, for fathers are ALSO told they should be "having more kids". The woman in question was really talking to both me and the person she thought was my husband.

Indeed, marriage is for procreation, but of course, that is left up to the married couple and to God within that beautiful sacrament of Marriage and those who are living it well have no need to have others presume upon them.

Same goes for those who maybe CAN'T have children, or...well, just check out the other comments. They say it much better than this spinster can!

God bless!

Hidden One said...

Exhibit Q:

See comment #30 and following.