Last night Darwin and I were trying to have an adult conversation of the type that involves discussion of the day's news, philosophical speculation, analysis of current projects, and a bit of innuendo for spice. Unfortunately, our dazzling display of linguistic and intellectual prowess was wasted on the ravening hordes, who tumbled off couches and pushed each other and slid down the banister and interrupted every few minutes to complain that their sister had taken their hat. After the conversation was shelved yet again when a particularly percussive incident resulted in everyone being banished upstairs to take baths, Darwin shook his head and said, "Wake up and smell the vocation."
As the girls get older and more able to occupy themselves, it seems that we ought to have more free time for conversation and leisure. And in some senses that's true. But it seems that our role has expanded now, not contracted. Instead of just keeping babies from hurting themselves, we're finding that we need to keep big girls intellectually and physically engaged. We're not allowed to hoard our free time or our spare energies for our own purposes. We knew, of course, when we started that parenting was an absorbing job, but sometimes the reality of being on call all the time is daunting. It's fine when one can send the older ones off to make their own fun; not so fine is when it succeeds all too well and one finds they've been entertaining themselves with makeup or a pair of scissors.
God provides the grace necessary to handle the challenges of one's vocation. These graces, however, work on His terms, not ours. Having a truly Catholic family life doesn't mean that the children will be utter cherubs and never cause their parents a moment of worry or frustration. It means that when the water pours from the ceiling fan or someone wakes up the baby or throws a tantrum or takes a permanent marker to the carpet that one can step back and take a deep breath and refrain from beating the children or yelling (more than is necessary to make the point) just long enough to pray for that grace. Or even just long enough to let an earlier prayer for grace, said at a more peaceful moment, take effect.
In some situations, a line must be drawn. Take, for example, a purely hypothetical situation in which a five-year-old learns to pick the lock of her parents' door with a penny. It seems to me that the proper response to that sort of hypothetical invasion of privacy is swift and sharp, so that it is impressed upon the child that Mommy and Daddy are adults and need their privacy and that five-year-olds may never pick locks. Ever. Hypothethetically.
That's when you really wake up and smell the vocation.