It is 5 am.
A breathing machine. Early morning headlights. The neighborhood rooster. All sorts of mundane thunders. Not a one has disturbed my slumber.
Yet, the silent shuffle of a scared seven year old wakes me like a cold glass of water thrown in my face. It’s amazing really. How is it that I just know she is there, without a word, without a sound? The door to our bedroom has been open to children for 17 years, and in all those years my husband and I have comforted each of our five wild and crazy-eyed kids through unthinkable childhood nightmares. Kids can dream up some twisted stuff.
It is a wolf this time.
I part the covers and she crawls under with me. I feel her. Her body fits perfect next to mine, a sure sign that very soon it won’t.
A few words about how to deal with imaginary fears, this wolf nonsense has to stop. I squeeze her and kiss her. Meanwhile daddy, who has been silently assessing the situation and is returning from a trip to the bathroom, begins to remove whatever is piled on one end of the futon at the foot of our bed. I hear the items hit the floor with blunt thuds, sounds like laundry. I thought I put all the laundry up from there this afternoon. Slade assures me it’s not much of anything, mostly pillows. A comfy spot is made, and I lift the covers, a signal that Elinor needs to make her way down there. She knows the routine. We all know the routine.
Elinor joins her brother, 3 year old Sam, he’s at the opposite end. He started out the night in that spot, unwilling to sleep in his big boy bottom bunk alone. I worry that their feet will touch and war will commence. It’s happened before.
I try to settle back into my pillow. My lower back is stiff, and my feet are hot. I roll a few times, but it is no use. I am awake, no going back. I hear my husband, already relaxed. I envy his sleep skills, singularity is such a luxury.
I am still thinking about the wolf. Elinor said the wolf was trying to eat her. What does that mean? I resolve that the kids are watching too many cartoons. I wrestle with how existential cartoons are these days. It is so cruel to lay such heavy societal burdens on our babies. That’s it, we are taking a break. No more cartoons for awhile. No more wolves, no more unnecessary burdens.
My house shoes and a new robe are on by this time. I close the door on my sleeping brood and head to the kitchen, consoling myself with the quiet opportunity to sip coffee, pray, and write. I am already planning an afternoon nap.
Standing at the kitchen sink, filling my old-fashioned coffee pot, I look across the road and see that my neighbor’s kitchen sink light is shining, one square light in an ocean of black. I wonder if it is LeAnn, my friend and mother to seven children. Is she up too? It could be anyone in her house, a kitchen sink light at 5 am could be anything. The possibility that it is LeAnn comforts me. I say a prayer for her.
Prayer. The thought comes that a single prayer prayed with attention is better than lengthy prayers said in distraction. When I push the button on the coffee maker I make my way to the icons. A single prayer with attention.
Our Father who art in heaven hallowed be Thy Name…
When I finish I return to my coffee and pour a cup.
And now here I sit at my desk, attempting to write about my role as an Orthodox mother. As I read over what I have written so far it occurs to me that not much more needs to be said. The story of my morning is the story of my life as an Orthodox mother. The melody changes, but the drone note remains…my heart bound by God and my family.
It’s hard to tell whom I love more, my family or God. The two loves are so connected it is impossible to distinguish where one begins and one ends. I do not think this is a wrong path for an Orthodox mother. How can the humble love of either compete with the other…together they work as one.
How love works on us.
Perhaps some will assert that those who speak about the role of an Orthodox mother should be more specific. I myself love to snoop on the details of the daily lives of Orthodox mothers. Hello Instagram! However, I feel that while I glean much instruction from others, the real heart of Orthodox motherhood is unseen, wrapped in a mystery that makes it beautiful and strange and infinitely diverse. There is nothing more fearsome for me than to look upon the humility and love of an ordinary Orthodox mother. I try to mimic, and in some ways mimicking has been my lifeline as a convert. In other ways it has set me up for major failures.
When we converted seven years ago I sort of had a crisis in my mothering- major plot twist. The first wave of conversion brings with it a romance that is akin to falling in love, the second wave is like homesteading; establishing new routines, new traditions, new disciplines, new recipes, new everything. I am currently in a third wave of conversion; I call it remaining. At some point, I have to stop converting and be Orthodox, be a Christian. I have to accept that there is no such thing as an Orthodox mother, at least not in a singular or static form.
It is not Orthodox mother- it is Orthodox mothers. There is not one definition, only a million experiences.
We are different, you and I. Different stages. Different circumstances. Different husbands. Different children. Different everything. And yet, we share so much. We share in our love of God and family. We share in our need to repent and dig deep and lean heavy on the strength of our Father.
Like modern cartoons, I believe that much of the modern spiritual writings, commentary, and opinions stir up existential angst…like a wolf come to eat us. Perhaps if I gave one piece of advice, one humble instruction, it would be this- pray. Stand before God with an open heart and pray. In prayer, God provides. If books and blogs have failed you, even if your priest cannot help you- God can. As mothers we can pray. Pray always.
My heart’s desire is to encourage you, to connect with you in the struggle. If you are weary be refreshed in knowing that the Orthodox way is the way of love. Let that love wash over you and break your heart and fill you up.
The sun is up now, and I promised my chicks pancakes. The house is churning with arguments, math lessons, and PBS. I have a to-do list that’s long and my back is still tight. You understand. Somewhere in all of this there is life, the life of an Orthodox family.