When I was fifteen, I very much wanted to be a nun tucked away in some quiet cloister in the mountains spending a life of contemplation and prayer. But if I did get married, I’d have ten well-behaved children, sew all their clothes, speak to them off and on in multiple languages (because I’d be fluent in like five of them, duh), and somehow still manage to chase my dreams of being a published author and wallpaper designer. And of course, we’d be living in a pretty little cottage in some foreign countryside. And I wouldn’t be frazzled and stressed. I would be the most peaceful and collected sweet dreamboat of a mother. I would actually somehow have my sh** together.
Well those potential futures were fun to idly dream about when time was hilariously ample and I should have been drilling myself on declensions and verb tenses. Needless to say I’m on a fast track to neither of those lives. Today, I spoke to my son half in English, half mirrored baby babble. I found a stain on my shirt that might be chocolate, might be poop. I have yet to change out that shirt. Or put my on contacts. Or get out of my jams. Oh and I definitely haven’t published a thing or designed any wallpaper.
I think if you would have given fifteen-year-old Dominika a real depiction of the mother she would become, she would have gone into mourning over the death of her imagined future self, and said in unison with a despairing Gerard Manley Hopkins, “AND WHAT DOES ANYTHING AT ALL MATTER!” But I’m at peace with all this.
There are certainly days when I’m not at peace with it. Days when it feels like my other dreams and ambitions outside of motherhood are increasingly slipping away. Days when I selfishly get frustrated that I actually have to watch my little adventurer like a hawk when just weeks ago his immobility meant I could get things done. Days when I question my parenting decisions because of all the judgment and expectations that seem to float around. Days when I fear having more children because of the fear of having more of these days.
But there’s a strange way in which this vocation of stay-at-home motherhood, which on one hand is so unlike what I desired, is, on the other hand, very much what I have desired all along. I wrote to a friend while I was pregnant that what I desired most about religious life when I was in high school was a quiet place to grow freely toward the light of God (Hopkins got me then too). And how in being pregnant, I got to be a quiet place for a new soul to grow toward the light of the world.
Since my son was born, more parallels between the cloistered life and this one spring up in little places. Like how being with him, really being with him and not being on my phone or computer, means contemplating beauty in places unlooked for: the grain of the underside of the coffee table or the delicious crunch of a plastic water bottle in his small hands.
Or how he shares with us the joy of simply existing in a community of love. Yesterday, before bed, we cuddled with him in our bed and our usually very uncuddly baby snuggled up to us and laughed and laughed anytime we did anything at all. He couldn’t handle us making faces at him or kissing him or even me just laying my head on his little belly. He just shrieked with the most glorious laughter over being with the two people he most loves and who love him the most.
There’s a wonderful line at the end of The Diary of a Country Priest: “Grace is everywhere.” Georges Bernanos’ novel is about the seemingly mundane and ineffective life of a parish priest, and in the seemingly mundane and ineffective life of a stay-at-home mother, these words remind me of how meaningful the achingly long moments of our days can be.
Grace is everywhere. Not just in religious communities. Not just in the life of the instagrammer whose feed most increases our jealousy. Not just in white washed minimalistic homes. If we look with eyes of love, we might see that transcendence abounds and beatific light washes over the crumbs and the messes and the crosses we carry.
My husband and I hope and pray for more laughing little babies, and with more, the days will get harder (and eventually I imagine easier in some ways), but right now I’m thankful for my quiet life with this one who forces me to be still and grow toward the light of God.