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All Moms are Inside-Out Nuns

Posted Thursday, Apr. 15, 2010  comments  Print Reprints
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But only if they have a mind to think of themselves that way.

By being a nun, I obviously don’t mean we moms are celibate. I think that’s been pretty much debunked by the evidence at hand, though some husbands would still argue to the contrary. Neither do I mean we moms are Catholic. Some mothers are, but that’s beside the point. And I don’t mean that we moms can sing “Climb Every Mountain” like the Mother Abbess, though that would be an interesting if slightly unnerving side effect of pregnancy hormone. (Dare to imagine the women’s pavilion at Harris Methodist on any given full moon. Then dare to imagine the bar across the street where the husbands are congregating.)

See, it’s like this:

A few days ago I was at a friend’s birthday party. We were having dinner on a rooftop patio like regular Europeans, eating wood-fired pizza and listening to a live band that would talk about your table in the microphone if you looked at all mildly interesting. Which we were. Because we’re hot, duh. But besides that, we were a birthday party which meant we were loud and colorful and without a care in the world, except for all of us with children, of course.

Since I’m pregnant, I was not partaking in the mango-bellini-looking-margarita-type goblets of Heaven like everyone else. I was feeling just a little bit sorry for myself like some sort of second-rate Real Housewife. But I wasn't alone in my maternal peculiarity. Sometime around when we were eating the bruschetta, two friends of mine began discussing the ever-popular-to-those-entrenched topic of breastfeeding and both of them “let down” right there at the table within about 30 seconds of each other. They are both currently nursing tiny babies. And because there’s really nothing you can do about a Public Let Down Episode, they toasted their bellinis recklessly like Thelma and Louise. Not five minutes later, another friend of mine came down to my end of the table to visit. We were talking about the beautiful birthday cake and the next thing I knew, she had run to the bathroom to throw up. She is pregnant and was overwrought with morning sickness. So my end of the table, at least, was an exhibition of hormonal acrobatics and motherly devotion. We were out having a girls’ night, but when you are a mother of any age or stage, you are never REALLY out. In a sense, we mothers have been cloistered in an invisible convent. 

In her wonderful book “My Monastery is a Minivan,” author Denise Roy says the following: “I’m sure that living in a monastery comes with its own set of graces and challenges. But I venture a guess that the holiest and wisest of monks would have a difficult time trading places with us, living in our homes with our kids and monthly bills and car-pool schedules.”

Yes. So true. Mothers don’t have the luxury of hours of quiet reflection or serene views of the Pacific from the stone windows of our cells. We moms often feel we’re missing out on a rich spiritual life because dang it, we have to scrape the encrusted snot from the toddler’s hair yet again (how does it GET THERE?). It must be nice to be a nun, but let’s see her come out here to my hood and retain that pious expression on her makeup-less face for very long once I let down on her habit.

The point of Roy’s book isn’t to pooh-pooh the religious orders. Her point is to challenge us to find glimpses of God and wisdom in the everyday chaos. I was discussing this a few nights ago with some friends. We decided that if a mother really wants to do this —  be hard-core about her spiritual life in the midst of laundry and the car-pool lane — she’s got to be as focused as Jack Bauer when the nukes are in terrorist hands. Or Martha Stewart when she’s working on some appliquéd pillows. Or... whatever.

This means when your child asks for the one-millionth time to throw the basketball, you quiet your heart like a nun at the one-millionth call to prayer, submitting to the discipline of it as if submitting to God himself.

This means when you’ve been inside all day with no contact with human adults, you quiet your heart like the Sister who has not seen her family or friends from her former life since she took her vows, and devote your heart to perseverance as your call dictates.

This means when you find it somehow impossible to communicate to your two-year-old that we will eat dinner in 30 minutes and therefore he may not have chocolate raisins right at this very moment – and he’s screaming bloody murder – that you quiet your heart like the novice who takes a vow of silence and relies on God to give her courage and make her paths straight despite not being able to speak.

Both nunning and mothering mean monotony. It’s just true. That doesn’t mean they are not sacred occupations, and it might actually mean they are more-so.

Nuns are inside convents, shut off from the world. In their cloistered habitat, they pray for us inside the world. We need their prayers because we mothers are as entrenched in the world as any human could possibly be. Politics, the state of the economy, the safety of schools, and the depravity of the culture weighs more heavily on us because our children will soon inherit all of it.

As an Inside-Out Nun, you see your occupation as a high calling. (And mothering IS, whether you happen to see it that way or not.) I realize you didn’t take formal vows, but from the moment you peed on that stick, you put on a beautiful black habit and clipped your fingernails short. You may be outside the convent walls, but if you have a mind to think in such a way, you can consciously place yourself inside the disciplines of attention, discipline and devotion — all to keep the laser beam Jack Bauer/Martha Stewart focus on living your life purposely.

You have something important to do, it’s worth all you can give,
and black is definitely your color, Sister.

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