Friday, January 9, 2009
Our phone rang at 8:30 last night. A quick check of the caller i.d. revealed an east coast area code and the name of one of my mother's many sisters. A quick calculation ("It's 11:30 p.m. over there!") terrified me. After all, distant relatives do not call to ask how you're getting on when the midnight hour looms.
As it turns out, it was a simple case of checking in. My Aunt Louise had heard a weather-related news story from our area and was wondering if we were o.k. Before turning in for the evening, she picked up the phone and called. It was a small gesture, but one that I will always remember.
Once I convinced her that we were safe and well, the conversation meandered to the happier fields of nostalgia and the remembrances that family members can share. It is a comfortable, familiar thing to talk to my Aunt Louise despite the fact that years float by without our speaking to one another. We are cut from the same cloth, it seems. We both agreed some time ago that fitting in doesn't appear to be our strongest suit. In a family of seven children, she was one of the first to strike out and move not just out of the town she grew up in, but entirely out of state. Her family embraced a form of ardent faith that many relatives consider extreme and unnecessary. Further bucking the family trend, she went on to give birth to five babies in 9 years. Four of her siblings had only one child each; the other two had three (another sister) and two (my mother). I can remember my mother insinuating that Louise was clearly crazy. Or, possibly, stupid. After all, who had five children now that birth control was readily available? Only simpletons who were missing out on the Me First revolution.
My last phone call with my Aunt Louise was prompted by a note I'd included with our Christmas card a few years back, thanking her for the gentle way she had shaped my life. Without any real effort on her behalf, I told her, she and her entire family had made an impression on my heart so deep that it resonates still. I told her how I can trace my love of old houses back to them, and even my desire to have a large family. Without saying a word, I was impacted by the true joy and very real faith of my aunt, uncle and their five children. They never preached, but their love of Jesus was in every hug, every door held open, every silly tickling session, every sing-along beside their piano. As a hurting, lonely little girl, I saw this family, and I wanted to be folded into their warmth forever. My aunt was stunned but pleased that she had blessed me, and gave all of the glory for it to the Lord.
I was not surprised.
Now I am the one with the five children and the family far away. I am in my mid-thirties and well into the stride of my marriage and my life. I can look at my aunt in a whole new way, and with even deeper appreciation. My heart is ripe for the wisdom that can be passed on by a woman who laced up these same boots a generation ago. We talked for nearly an hour. I gleaned nuggets of truth from her experiences that I know will carry me for a lifetime. I thought I would share some of her questions, comments and insights as a way of passing on the blessing:
*First and foremost she asked about my marriage. Are we treating each other well? Do we talk about things other than our children? Do we have something that we enjoy doing together, just the two of us--like reading aloud, or collecting something meaningful. Don't listen to people who seem miffed that your husband comes first, or that he's the one you'd rather spend time with. This relationship is the one that will carry me into old age. "My children are grown and moved out years ago," she reminded me, "but my husband is just down the hall."
*Parenting isn't as hard as society makes it right now. Parenting is only a piece of the job of a woman. Don't let it take over the whole pie. God created you so to be a wife, a mother, a housekeeper, and a talented individual in your own right. If you think your full-time job is "mom," then you're out of balance.
*If you're "too busy" to make dinner, clean your own house or fold your own laundry, you've either missed the boat on training your children in how to be a part of the family or you need a serious shake-up in priorities.
*Activities for kids are elective, not necessary. "People think that kids have to always be in something or on some team or having some sport," mused my Aunt Louise. She noted a long list of children in her life who have not had what she called "nothing time" in their whole little lives: seasons of no sports, no gymnastics, no dance, no camp, no Bible Club, no nothing. While the children seem to be enjoying the smorgasboard of activity and experiences now, she wondered what bigger thing they were missing out on. "The Bible says, 'Be still and know that I am God,' but nobody wants their kids to be still."
*The expectations of others--how you should spend your time, what is most important, how much you should invest in them and their pursuits--is not your problem.
*Don't feel bad for "trading" a larger family for a smaller family--the "cost" is worth it. My aunt noted that they never took grand vacations, had money for fancy ballet outfits or clothed their kids in the latest styles. But they still have plenty to talk about when they gather for a Sunday dinner, and only one of her children has ever expressed that she felt she was missing out in her childhood.
*This is your family. Cut apron strings are not the sign of poor relationships, but the sign of maturity and true leaving and cleaving. Your mother and father shouldn't be paying for your vacations, couch or kid's soccer fees. We're not talking about stubborn "I won't ask for help even when I need it" mindsets or one that refuses gifts. We're talking about the natural order of things as described by the Lord--one man, one woman ... a new family, connected to the roots of the past, but blossoming in new ways.
*Children truly are a blessing. Embrace the gift and be content in your heart.
Isn't my Aunt Louise a breath of fresh air? In a world where children are either worshiped or maligned (depending on the worldview of the person speaking), where woman are judged by what they can get done in the course of a day, where families will do whatever it takes to come out on top, it's so nice to hear from someone who rejected the trend ... and not only survived, but thrived.