With my eighth pregnancy, the question that people ask me most often has surprised me. No, not whether I’m rich – to which I always reply yes, I am, because anyone who has children is rich. Nor whether my house is a mansion – to which I reply no, it’s not, because we have a room for the boys and one for the girls, whatever their number. No, the question I hear the most is, “where do you get the patience for so many kids?”.
I reply in a spirited tone, saying that patience comes with the child delivery kit. But the question surprises me no less and seems to worry half the world. Could it be that half the world is really struggling to keep their patience?
It’s true that sometimes I lose my patience. It’s a fact that I shout at the kids more than I would like to – that I give out more than I would like to. It’s true that at times during the day, when they’re all annoyed with each other or they’re having tantrum after tantrum my eldest kids look at me and joke (although deep down they really they mean it), “and you want another one?”
But it’s also true that there’s nothing better in the world than watching a child play make-believe, or seeing the first giggle of a baby, or witnessing the first time a son or a daughter joins three small letters together to spell the word “Mum”.
There’s nothing better in the world than hugging a child, lots of children, in the middle of the afternoon when I collect them from school and serve them a snack as I listen to their amusing stories. Or going in to their rooms at night, tiptoeing through the dark to give them a good night kiss, lots of kisses.
“Mummy, don’t interrupt my snail race”, Anthony shouts out from the garden as he lays there on the ground contemplating three slow snails having a “race”.
“Mummy, do you want to try one of my mud cakes?”, Sara asks, offering me a plate covered with mud and parts of flowers.
“Mum, I’m almost like a professional basketball player already” David cuts in as he shoots basket after basket in the drive.
I answer as usual, somewhat distractedly, but not so distracted that I don’t notice the miracle that is before my eyes.
So when I see a mother of lots of kids who is pregnant again, I don’t ask her about her patience. Instead I ask:
“What’s the best part of the pregnancy?”
“What’s the thing that fascinates you most in a baby?”
“Which do you prefer, the chatter of a five-year old or the defiance of a fifteen-year old? Which do you find the most challenging?”
“Isn’t it amazing to be sitting at the dinner table with a young university student on one side talking about the laws of physics and a child of eight on the other showing us his collection of World Cup stickers?
And then I ask some more practical questions, because I know that mothers of lots of children are wellsprings of wisdom.
“What do you do to stop the younger ones from interrupting the elder ones when they’re studying for their exams?”
“Do you have any secret you could share about how to keep the house tidy?”
Because brining up a child is not a training program in patience. It’s true that we train our patience, but that’s only a “secondary effect”. Bringing up a child is an exercise in the contemplation of the miracle of life. Bringing up a child is an exercise of conscience, more powerful than any breathing exercise, yoga or others in vogue. It teaches us to concentrate on the here and now and to be in awe. Brining up a child is a privilege, an honor, a sharing of responsibility with God Himself. Bringing up a child is a university where you learn to live. It’s one of the most beautiful ways of enjoying life.
So let’s stop sighing with impatience when we return home at the end of the day. And let’s stop wishing that the time of nappies, sleepless nights, tantrums and homework in long division or multiplication tables were done with sooner. Let’s bring up each child with heart and soul and contemplate in them the miracle of Creation. And let us thank God for having given us such a great gift. Every time He gives us one…