. . . she had so many children she didn’t know what to do.
How many children did she have, anyway? One of the picture books we have shows her with dozens of children. Enough that even the Duggars might well feel overwhelmed. But others I’ve seen show her with much fewer children. Perhaps too few. Isn’t that a knock against big families? Doesn’t it suggest that those of us who are open to life to accept three or four children are fool-hardy? Like the recent criticism of David and Victoria Beckham for having a fourth child. How many children is too many?
But I’m getting off of my original point. She has so many children she didn’t know what to do. Tonight I realized that I am the old woman in the shoe. I have reached my limit so many times I couldn’t count them. I don’t know what to do. Daily I hit a wall: I don’t know what to do. Two or three or even all four of my children are crying, clamoring for my attention. Every day I have to triage. Which one do I help first? Which one do I let cry a little longer? Every day I have to choose, make the hard choice. At least once a day I get to the point where I don’t know how to choose. I don’t know what to do. I freeze like the proverbial deer in headlights. I cannot decide to ignore one cry in favor of another. I don’t know what to do.
Last night before I got into bed Ben woke up again. He’d fallen asleep on the floor in his room and I planned to move him into his bed but waited too long. So I ran in and scooped him up and took him to the living room before his screams could wake his sisters. And when I tired to sit he just got worse. Screaming and arching his back. A sudden inspiration and I took him out the front door and stood there in the cool of the night and held him. The shock of being outside surprised him out of his tantrum. And I bent my head and whispered in his ear: Look at the stars, Ben. Look at the stars. He leaned back and gazed at the heavens. He stayed that way until his tired eyelids began to flutter. And then the mosquitoes started to snack on my ankles and I took him back in and he relaxed into me. He’d probably have gone back to bed after than but Anthony woke and started crying and I couldn’t get Ben into his bed and he refused to share cuddle time with me. Dom tried to hold Anthony and walk with him but just hearing Anthony crying was making me tense and keeping Ben from really sleeping soundly. It became a big mess. Ben finally gave up on me and went crying to Auntie Tree and slept fitfully on the couch the rest of the night. I’d have been fine with cuddling both boys; but Ben will have none of it. He will not share me. I don’t know what to do.
And as we’re discussing this dilemma my sister points out that sometimes even one child can be so many we don’t know what to do. Even with only one you can hit that wall where you just don’t know. That helpless feeling when your child is hurt and you can’t make it better or you just don’t understand the baby talk or they have come head to head with the fallenness of the universe, face to face with the brokenness of the human heart. And you just don’t know what to do.
It happens to all of us. To the best of parents. In fact it almost seems to be the central mystery at the heart of parenting. Take teething for example. Why oh why does teething have to hurt so badly? Why does it have to happen at such a young age when the child is too young to understand what is happening. What parent hasn’t had that moment of holding the inconsolable child as he screams in pain and there is nothing you can do but hold him as he looks at you accusingly: Why don’t you make this go away? If it isn’t teething it’s gas or colic or an ear infection. What child gets through infancy unscathed?
And then there are the bruised knees and bumped heads and banged fingers and stubbed toes and pulled hair and burns and blisters and cuts and scrapes and splinters and scabs and black eyes and sprain and strains and broken bones. Oh this is truly a vale of tears! And what can we do but sob along with them as they wonder why we have failed them?
So she gave them some broth without any bread
And spanked them all soundly
And sent them to bed.
Some days I feel like all I have to offer is thin broth and no bread. Some days end so badly that I feel like all I can do is spank them all soundly and send them to bed. Throw up my hands and give up on the day.
I don’t know what to do with it all. I guess that’s the point. It can be so hard to simply dwell in the unknowing.