About a week ago, I went to a baby shower for a first-time mom, a friend of mine who is expecting her son in February. I took Maggie with me, as she received a special invitation too, and as soon as I walked in, I felt completely on display. Not because I was the only other pregnant woman in the house, but because my reputation preceded me.
What is my reputation, you ask? What am I famously known for, wherever I go? How am I introduced to people who haven't heard about me yet?
The one with all the kids.
Seriously, you guys, I am a walking freak show.
Phil and I take our kids everywhere - to the store, to the gym, to Mass, to parks, etc - and everywhere we go, we can see heads turn and people whispering to each other about the number of offspring we have. We just blow their minds.
Now, as I've aged and possibly matured, the looks and comments don't usually hurt me anymore. I understand we are a rarity, and I know I still love to watch other big families in the real world. Some people are just honestly curious, not judgmental, and even supportive of us. So I understand that the gawking isn't always a negative thing (though that's also very evident sometimes), it's just human nature.
We love our family, we are pro-life and hope that we impart some kind of positive example of what a big, happy, normal, Catholic family looks like. I find support in other big families who have shown us how it's done with grace and love and sacrifice, and believe it or not, we adore the beautiful chaos of family life.
That day at the baby shower was just so painfully obvious that the most interesting thing about me was the fact that I'm a mother to many. Not that I have degrees, or a career, or a happy marriage, or like to run and write and cook. I felt like nothing else I did mattered. I am just a baby factory. Here for other people's wonder and amusement. Yes, people, I'm super good at loving my husband, who is super good at impregnating me. What talent.
I knew the hormones were running especially high, and I came home and complained to Phil that I spent the whole time fielding questions of newborn advice from a young mom, held a crying baby because after all, I had "so much experience" (doesn't mean I enjoy holding crying babies), was predicted winner of the Price is Right baby item game we played as I had an "unfair advantage with sooooo many kids", and was asked the most popular question: "How do you DO it?" which was met with my exasperated sighs and "I don't know, one baby at a time" responses.
I was still pondering all of this when we attended the funeral Mass for the son of my friend, Marijanna. As I sat in the pew, crying softly to myself, I felt the pain of Marijanna's mother's heart preparing to bury her sweet, saintly son. I couldn't even glance at Gabriel John's teeny casket for fear of hyperventilating at the tragic loss.
I looked down the pew at my heroic husband and handsome sons and beautiful daughter and realized nothing else mattered more than being their wife and mom. Nothing.
In Marijanna's loss I found such love. The love she and her husband share in their grief, the love they have for their daughters here on Earth, the love they have for their son in Heaven, the love their family and friends have for the gift of life, the love they have for their faith that is the only thing helping them through this tough time. And I have found a renewed sense of love for my family. I have hugged each of my kids a little longer, realizing how short and sweet life here can be. I have rubbed this big old belly of mine and been so thankful for the little kicks while others have such difficulties in conception and gestation.
Today on Mary's Solemnity as the Mother of God, I received the grace to see how lucky I am to be defined by my children. Let us not forget that Mary was defined by her child too, a role that changed the course of history, and one she graciously accepted.
The most important person on earth is a mother. She cannot claim the honor of having built Notre Dame Cathedral. She need not. She has built something more magnificent than any cathedral------a dwelling for an immortal soul, the tiny perfection of her baby's body.
"The Angels have not been blessed with a such a grace. They cannot share in God's Creative miracle to bring new Saints to Heaven. Only a human mother can. Mothers are closer to God the Creator than any other creatures. God joins forces with mothers in performing this act of creation."
"What on God's good earth is more glorious than this: to be a mother?"
------Joseph Cardinal Mindszenty