Today’s guest author is Nan. Her three little boys keep her hopping. It is a good thing that she likes camping, Harry Potter, Star Wars and Legos almost as much as they do. Or more. She is always up for an adventure, as long as she remembers to pack plenty of snacks and diapers. Besides doing the stay-at-home-mommy thing, Nan likes to read, write, work on scrapbooks, kiss her husband in the kitchen in front of the boys and cook. She blogs under the name scienceteachermommy at Nomad where neither politics nor religion are taboo subjects.
Years ago we lived in a rapidly growing area of the Church. Less than a year after being put into a new stake, two wards in our area were re-configured to make three. Our neighborhood was in the brand new ward.
The contributions from the original wards could not as have been more different—our section was mostly comprised of families with parents under age thirty, each of us dragging our little stair-stepped broods to church each week. The other portion contributed families fifteen years further along the spectrum. Their data sheets read like so: one grandchild, one married, one in medical school, one in college, one missionary, and one teenager.
Though ages in between were a little bit spotty, there were easily seventy kids in the ward under age eight and fifteen full-time missionaries on the bishop’s brag board. It was an interesting arranged marriage, to say the least.
The honeymoon period was mostly amicable, with one issue continually acting as the pea under the mattress—reverence. I remember sitting in one ward council meeting staring at my notebook, face burning with shame while the well-meaning brethren discussed various complaints from people in the ward regarding the noisy children. I also remember a sister’s comment from the pulpit in a testimony meeting about not having been in such a noisy ward since her married housing days at BYU. She followed her comment with, “I love all these little ones, of course.” I had my doubts. Of course.
But the most vivid of the many uncomfortable comments came during a lesson that was about taking the sacrament. The comments in the class inevitably led us into another reverence discussion, with plenty of well-meaning older sisters offering advice for keeping children quiet. One of these, a well-respected and bright mother of six, undoubtedly thought she was showing empathy for the difficulties faced by young mothers when she said, “I feel so bad for you young moms.” She explained herself by adding that our lives were so busy with babies and the tasks that must be done daily to keep our families running that it was unfortunate we had no chance to prepare spiritually for the sacrament or to ponder the majesty of the Atonement during the ordinance itself.
All around me women young and old began nodding in agreement. I was flabbergasted.
For while it is true that the comment had accurately described one side of motherhood, she had entirely forgotten that the Savior Himself looked for opportunities to be around children, chiding his apostles for trying to exclude them. Yes, Sundays are often frustrating and my weekdays full of routine minutiae, but they are full of other things too: spiritual lessons that I have been able to learn no other way than by a full immersion in the chaotic messiness that is childhood.
To that older sister I wish I could say, “When is the last time a child spontaneously hugged you and said without a trace of irony, ‘I love you, Mommy; you my best friend ever?’ When is the last time you were surrounded by little souls so completely without guile that it reaffirmed your faith in all humanity? When was the last time you heard a child bear his first testimony, knowing it was your influence and teaching that helped make it possible? When was the last time you changed a poopy diaper, smiling and singing to your little one, filled with joyful knowledge that you were performing a service nobody else was willing to do?”
Yes, studying, long minutes of uninterrupted prayer, and pondering are wonderful, even luxurious, things, but could any amount of study teach more true charity than spending your days washing, clothing, feeding, and teaching others who truly need you? I would be lying if I said that I don’t sometimes look forward to a time when sacrament meeting won’t involve taking a screaming child into the hall, taking a toddler to the bathroom or water fountain three times, breaking up various quarrels, or reminding somebody that “just one” when it comes to the sacrament bread doesn’t mean “one handful.”
But, at the same time, I hope I never come to a time when I forget the powerful lessons of this time either.
In a recent fast meeting I had one ear on the testimonies while I colored a picture for my two youngest—they chose the colors and told me where to use them and we created a ridiculous ice cream-eating seal. The boy on the bench in front of us kept turning around to check our progress and offer suggestions. His grandmother kindly and firmly kept reminding him to “turn around, be quiet, sit down, and act reverent.” Finally deciding to be obedient, he settled down to his own coloring. As the first chords of our closing hymn began, our neighbor boy turned in his pew and handed me a page he had torn out of his coloring book—a king colored in a violent shade of orange. “For you,” he said with a disarming and innocent half-smile.
I saw in a flash that I was experiencing the greatest act of spontaneous charity I would probably know all week—a lesson in love that didn’t come through the quiet whispering of the Spirit, but through the generous act of a wiggly, mischievous little boy.
As I pray daily that my children will learn the lessons that their earthly parents wish to teach them, I must not forget to pray that I will learn the lessons that my Heavenly Parents wish to teach me through them.