I helped the mom of a family from our parish today. She and her husband have a five-year old boy, a three-year-old girl, and one-year-old triplets. I help them on an occasional basis, usually early in the morning until they go down for a nap, sometime after lunch.
On this particular day I arrived a few minutes early and knocked on their door, but there was no answer. I waited and knocked again. And knocked again. And again. Finally, I texted the mom to let her know I was there, and a few minutes later she called and asked if I was already in the house (I didn’t realize she left the door unlocked). She said one of the babies had thrown up, and her son had a belly ache, and if I was afraid of getting sick, I could just leave. “Do you want me to come upstairs?” I asked. After a few seconds, and tentatively yet relieved, she said, “Yes.”
Today I became a mom. I changed diapers, put on outfits, and watched the mom shake as she tried to hold it all together. “This is my worst nightmare,” she said. “I have a hard time handling it when they get sick.” Her five-year-old son cried and moaned that his belly hurt, and even as she placed the wastebasket next to him, I could see that she was terrified that he might need it. If I’m honest, so was I! But I sensed that, just for today, I had to toughen up and put my own squeamish tendencies aside. She needed me. They all needed me.
I picked up one baby, then another, and carried the two down the steps, asking God to keep me on my two feet. Everyone made it into their highchairs, Cheerios and bananas were eaten, and ginger ale was poured for the boy. In the living room, as we played, I held little L., and before I knew it, I felt something on my hand. It most certainly was not the warmth of love!
Today, I have been sneezed on, drooled on, puked on, pushed, and pulled. I received hugs and smiles and cuddles, sweet giggles, and ear-piercing screams. And I received the tears of a mom who loves her kids beyond measure, but admits (somewhat sheepishly, with a sense of guilt) that it’s hard. She’s supposed to do it all, right? And do it perfectly, without complaint and without a dirty dish or errant toy to be seen.
I stayed with her much longer than usual, because today, as much as I loved on her kids and tried to entertain and calm and soothe them, this mom needed a mom – someone to soothe and comfort her, and tell her that even if it gets rough, it will all end up okay. We talked a lot, and she opened up to me more than she ever had before.
I have cursed the “thorn in my flesh” that is infertility a thousand times. On paper, this mom has everything that I want. The questions I’ve asked (maybe you’ve asked, too), “Why not me, why this cross, why – everything?” may be answered in eternity. But today, for a few hours, the thorn in my flesh allowed me to tend to the one in hers. It’s a strange, paradoxical, wonderful thing.
Ann Koshute is co-founder and Executive Director of Springs in the Desert. She and her husband Keith live in Central Pennsylvania and are Byzantine Catholics who married in 2011.