By Dan Clendenin
For all the mothers who have loved us, thanks be to God.
Last Sunday I flew down to San Diego and spent the week baby sitting my seven-month-old grand daughter. After my son and his wife shoved off to work in the morning, it was just the two of us until dinner time.
We “read” books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. She made a mess eating her first solid foods, and flapped around like a fish when I changed her diapers. I loaded her into the huge three-wheel stroller and we cruised the neighborhood. At nap time I hovered just outside her door and out of sight to make sure she was okay. Bottle time was the best, when she made those most contented of all sounds.
My week of caring for my grand daughter coincided with the calendar and Mothers Day. It was also a blast from my past when I was a Mr. Mom to my own children. From the time that my oldest child started the fifth grade in 1995 until my youngest child graduated from high school in 2009, my wife was the primary wage earner who worked outside the home and I was the stay-at-home parent.
By “Mr. Mom” I mean to draw attention to what’s still an unhappy state of affairs — that, as a friend put it to me, “it’s considered normal and mundane for women to juggle both worlds of work and home, but it’s not (yet) considered normal for men to do so.”
I taxied the three kids to the dentist and soccer practice. I did the laundry — a task I still like because of the immediate and positive reinforcement: success! I planned meals, shopped, and had dinner for five ready at the end of the day. Wednesday nights was youth group — should I do a drop off, return home, then come back, or just sit in the church parking lot for an hour?
When I took my pre-school daughter to the park, I was the only dad there. I’m not sure why, but those were the times that I felt most socially and culturally “invisible.”
I shouldn’t sound like a martyr, as if I did something special — millions of moms serve their families with far more self-sacrifice than I did, and without any expectation of extra credit. Besides, my wife still carried a lot of the load at home, and I had my campus ministry at Stanford. Also, I became a Mr. Mom not out of some principled choice, but because of financial necessity — my wife was the employable spouse and we needed the money.
Nonetheless, in my own, limited way, for fifteen years I experienced the life of a stay at home mom. It was a formative experience that has given me food for thought.
In my better moments, I was proud to be a Mr. Mom. It felt deliciously counter-cultural. It lent some reality to my feminist rhetoric. In my heart of hearts, and despite other voices to the contrary, I knew I was doing something good and important.
But there were also lots of “buts.” Living in Silicon Valley, I sometimes felt small and unimportant. I’ve thought a lot about what it feels like to live on the periphery of what society values as important — things like power, prestige, and money.
I had no sexy job or title, no year end bonus, no fun business trips at company expense, and no business card with a hot address. In my experience, and despite all the talk about liberation and how important taking care of kids is, if you want a nice conversation stopper at a party, consider this:
“Hi, Dan, where do you work?”
“I’m a stay at home dad.”
“Oh.” Then he leaves to find a more interesting conversation with a more important person. I’ve seen this social dynamic many times when people learn that my wife is “only” a second grade teacher (they wouldn’t last a week in her class room).
Across the years, I’ve changed the way that I think about my own calling and vocation. I take some satisfaction in knowing that part of my vocation was, and still is even in our empty nest period, to support my wife’s vocation. She’s a fantastic teacher in our public schools, a sacred gift to civic life, in my opinion — and I help to make that happen by holding down the home front.
I’ve also tried to learn that, as the Spanish mystic Teresa of Avila put it, “God is found in the pots and pans.” There are lots of places to find God — in nature, in art, in reading and meditation and music, in church. I tried to find God in the holy chaos of home life.
In her book Mujerista Theology (1996), the Latina theologian Ada María Isasi-Díaz described this intersection of the sacred and the mundane, the unexpected and the unexceptional, as lo cotidiano, “the daily thing” or “sacred ordinariness.”
The Celtic tradition is famous for its simple prayers by ordinary people about everyday life. The Celts would concur with the wisdom of Teresa. They specialized in sacred prayers for the mundane matters of life. God was present everywhere and in all ways.
The Celts had prayers for getting dressed and going to sleep, for waking up and for lighting the fire. They prayed for birth and death, healing and protection, hunting and herding, the farming and fishing. They prayed invocations to bless the loom and the land. Here, for example, is a “Milking Prayer.”
Bless, O God, my little cow,
Bless, O God, my desire;
Bless Thou my partnership
And the milking of my hands, O God.
Bless, O God, each teat,
Bless, O God, each finger;
Bless Thou each drop
That goes into my pitcher, O God.
These simple prayers are sacred acts. They’re tender and profound.
Gregory Popcak writes that while we meet God in the Daily Mass at church, we also meet him in the Domestic Mess at home. God’s grace “allows us to be transformed by doing little acts of family life with great love; wiping noses, drying tears, drawing pictures, playing games, calming fears.”
At the Vox Veniae church in Austin, parishioners have written their own Celt-like prayers — for driving in traffic, doing the laundry, brushing teeth, and washing dishes. I can imagine prayers for Little League and the lawn mower, for the Girl Scouts and the piano lessons.
Popcak concludes: “We don’t need to escape our homes to find God and sanctity. We don’t need to run away from home to pray. We need to follow Christ’s example, and empty ourselves, entering more deeply into the mystery of the domestic mess and finding the wholeness and holiness that waits for us there.”
So, thanks be to God for my grand daughter and three kids who reminded me of these realities, my own mother who raised six kids, and for the millions of moms all over the world who live them every day.
Image credits: (1,2) Dan Clendenin.
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