I don’t know many parents who like winter. With the grey skies, cold fronts and morning frost comes the annual onslaught of fevers, snotty noses and the trademark familiarity with bodily fluids I’d rather not reacquaint myself with.
All that talk about parenting being the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do is really hard to appreciate when your throat is on fire and you’re trying to soothe a baby with bronchiolitis or you’re up at 3am rinsing bedsheets again and wondering what will freeze first as you wrestle with the washing line – you or the doona cover. I confess that I momentarily questioned this chosen vocation when, after having just closed my eyes after a long day of battling my own illness and quite literally carrying my children through theirs, I was awoken with a weary mumble of, “Mum, my tummy hurts,” and then the presence of vomit. In my hair.
As parents, we experience a daily litany of bodily grievances; sore necks from the strange positions our little people take up in what we thought was our own bed. Mangled organs, stretchy ligaments and unreliable pelvic floors from the space little babies take up in that you thought was your own body. Tears and excruciating yelps from breastfeeding mums whose babies want to test out their new teeth. Stifled, silent yelps from dads whose kids like to run into or throw toys at their most sensitive of organs.
Oh, and the one that mum and dads the world over are all too familiar with – the unmistakable foggy brain and weary eyes that come with chronic fatigue. About a year ago I came across a UK study that found that staying awake for longer than 17 hours had the same effect on our alertness as someone with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05. It’s been at least a few years since I’ve managed to get anywhere near 7 hours of sleep on a regular basis. So, basically I’m raising kids with the same mental capacity as someone who’s almost always drunk. That actually explains a lot, now that I think about it.
Fast-forward twelve months, and, like many parents I know, I have a house full of sick kids. As one settles down for sleep, the other wakes up, resulting in several completely sleepless nights for me, which, according to the same study, makes me as alert as someone who’s got a BAC of 0.1. My muscles are tired, my eyes can’t focus, my brain has basically turned to mush, and all I want is a bacon and egg roll (best cure for a hangover) but I don’t have any fond memories of a nice night out to thank for it. Just sick, snotty kids.
Don’t get me wrong, the love I have for my sick, snotty kids knows no bounds, and I wouldn’t trade this parenting gig for any other job in the world. But let’s just say the words “This is my body, given up for you,” have a completely new meaning for me now.
As a mother, those words rang true in pregnancy, as I gave up so much of my autonomy and comfort to carry my babies and bring them into the world. As a breastfeeding mother, my children have grown because of what my body has created and given for them – my food became their food, my antibodies became their antibodies.
As they grow, our bodies continue to give, serve and sacrifice. We carry them even as our arms and shoulders ache; we stay awake to pat them and hold them, even as our eyes and minds grow weary; we sing another song or read another book even as our voices grow hoarse; we feed another meal even as ours get cold or forgotten; we sacrifice our recovery as we nurse them towards theirs.
“This is my body, given up for you.”
I’ve lost count of the number of nights I’ve wandered through our dark house feeling isolated and forsaken after settling the baby for the umpteenth time, or coaxing my 5 year old back into his bed. It’s comforting to know I’m far from alone.
Our giving goes noticed, and each time we do it, we can choose to join Christ in His sacrifice. As we give all we that we physically, mentally and emotionally can for our kids, we can choose to give as Christ gives. And when we feel like we have given all we can and have nothing left, we can ask for his help and humbly receive His body and His Sacrament, to carry through. That magic that manifests as our bodies pull our kids down their road to recovery is a product of the grace God provides when he gives himself to us in healing and comfort.
By that same grace, we can rest assured that somehow – in our unglamorous, snot-soaked, quasi-drunken mental states – we grow in holiness. Somehow, in the small churches of our homes, there is virtue to be found amidst all that vomit.