Thursday, March 5, 2009

Forming Cathedrals

Last night Karen and I were talking to a lady who adamantly opposed the fact that our children are over 1 and not in Belgian creche (daycare). She couldn't fathom why we wouldn't take advantage of the opportunity to put them there to learn and become multilingual. It is so culturally-expected here that moms send young children to creche nearly full time. I never in my wildest dreams fathomed coming here with Connor and being made to feel guilty over NOT taking her to daycare!

As ridiculous as I know this sounds the conversation did get us talking and thinking. We stand proud of our decision to absorb this time with our toddlers. I mean what a gift! Both of us will have to return to work in the States in a matter of months, so why not use every moment for laughing and snuggling our little ones while we can? Why not engage in activities together and come up with our own curriculum to teach and discover? Why not take them to see the wonders of the world and learn out "in the field" where lessons are alive and the environment is different and we can instill values consistently. I am definitely a firm believer in kids playing and socializing together, but I don't want to send Connor to an overcrowded daycare here - nor is that how we want to prioritize our expenses.

I am not saying there aren't times when I wouldn't appreciate having a few hours to myself. Or there aren't times when I doubt my ability to be engaged and creative with Connor all day everyday. And we have been known to put videos on for Connor from time to time just so Mommy can get a break. But I mean at the end of the day, isn't the time together worth more than having a toddler who can speak Dutch, French, and English at the same time? Not forever one-on-one, but for this fleeting precious time period?

A friend had this story posted on her blog and it was too apropos not to include it here. Sums up what life is like sometimes and rings another note of familiarity given the many, many breathtaking European cathedrals around us. I dislike email forwards, but this one is special. I certainly don't feel "invisible" yet or half of these trials to the extent the author describes, but the stay-at-home mom life is still a radical change for me. Yet it is one I am enjoying; I treasure the foundation building time with Connor. And it makes me love and miss my mom and Carol so much - thankful for the sacrifices they made for us.

Author not given:
"I’m Invisible. It all began to make sense, the blank stares, the lack of response, the way one of the kids will walk into the room while I’m on the phone and ask to be taken to the store. Inside I’m thinking, “Can’t you see I’m on the phone?” Obviously not; no one can see if I’m on the phone, or cooking, or sweeping the floor, or even standing on my head in the corner, because no one can see me at all. I’m invisible. The invisible Mom. Some days I am only a pair of hands, nothing more: Can you fix this? Can you tie this? Can you open this? Some days I’m not a pair of hands; I’m not even a human being. I’m a clock to ask, “What time is it?” I’m a satellite guide to answer, “What number is the Disney Channel?” I’m a car to order, “Right around 5:30, please.” I was certain that these were the hands that once held books and the eyes that studied history and the mind that graduated summa cum laude -but now they had disappeared into the peanut butter, never to be seen again. She’s going, she’s going, and she’s gone!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could find that was clean. My unwashed hair was pulled up in a hair clip and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut butter in it. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said,“I brought you this.” It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn’t exactly sure why she’d given it to me, until I read her inscription: “To Charlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees.” In the days ahead I would read - no, devour - the book. And I would discover what would become for me, life-changing truths after which I could pattern my work.

No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names. These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished. They made great sacrifices and expected no credit. The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything. A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, “Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it.” And the workman replied, “Because God sees.” I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, “I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you’ve done, no sequin you’ve sewn on, no cupcake you’ve baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can’t see right now what it will become.” At times, my invisibility feels like an affliction. But it is not a disease that is erasing my life. It is the cure for the disease of my own self-centeredness. It is the antidote to my strong, stubborn pride. I keep the right perspective when I see myself as a great builder. As one of the people who show up at a job that they will never see finished, to work on something that their name will never be on. The writer of the book went so far as to say that no cathedrals could ever be built in our lifetime because there are so few people willing to sacrifice to that degree. When I really think about it, I don’t want my son to tell the friend he’s bringing home from college for Thanksgiving, “My mom gets up at 4 in the morning and bakes homemade pies, and then she hand bastes a turkey for three hours and presses all the linens for the table.” That would mean I’d built a shrine or a monument to myself. I just want him to want to come home. And then, if there is anything more to say to his friend, to add, “You’re gonna love it there.”

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we’re doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women. "

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