"If you could know then what you know now, but didn't know anything about our kids - didn't have a relationship with them at all - would you do it all over again?"
He's leaning against a rake, catching his breath. He wants to finish the yard this morning to beat the rain, but it is his first day with no fever in five days, and he is worn down. The question sounds a little harsh, like something parents aren't supposed to ask one another, even after a month of endless fevers and decongestants. Even after a night in which the baby nursed and dozed for hours, jerking awake as soon as I put him down, then fell asleep just as the toddler called for me at midnight, with all of the baffling energy of a two-year-old intent on defying sleep. The question sounded harsh, but it is fair. If I had known how physically and mentally exhausting it would be to nurture several lives at once, but hadn't known how much I would love them, would I still have signed up for this?
Yes, I say immediately. Me too, he says, and satisfied, moves on to the next section of the yard. But my mind kept turning it over. Why, I wondered. It's true that children are a blessing, but I knew that was only part of the answer. Why would I choose this life?
The answer came later in the afternoon. I have been rereading Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz. The first time I read it, eight or so years ago, I was most interested in his description of loving others, and breaking out of the Republican mold, so to speak (no offense to my Republican friends). But this time, I related more to the sections on isolation and community, and the importance of interacting with others to keep our selfishness at bay. As he described living with roommates, though, I thought, that's nothing, friend. Roommates feed themselves. If you want to learn how to be less selfish, have a baby.
Mothering is my best shot at becoming more like Christ. This is my chance, my moment in life to really learn how to lay down my life for someone else. Before I had children I loved and served others, but at the end of the day I could always come home, eat a good meal, crash in front of the television. I would step into another's life, then step back into my own comforts. Babies do not allow me that luxury. In parenting I have the opportunity to love someone more than myself at 3 a.m., and then again the next morning. And the more children I have, the more I am stretched out of my selfishness. I would choose this life again because for me, personally, it is my chance to be made more like Christ.
It's not everyone's path, of course. I have faithful friends whom I admire very much who are not parents, and they are able to serve in ways I cannot because of it. I also have friends who have had fewer children specifically so that they could continue to use the gifts God has given them outside of their immediate family, and I admire this decision as well (and often envy their opportunities, if I'm going to be completely honest). There is value and beauty in every path of love and sacrifice, and I can really only speak to mine. I also know my children's lives are not about me. Which is kind of the point, right? My kids are their own people, and their experiences of our life together will be different from my own.
Still. Mothering is my path. It is the way I follow Christ. Even at 3 a.m., I wouldn't have it any other way.