A friend gave me Stephanie Nielson's book Heaven is Here, which I've been reading lately. It's the story of one woman's triumph over some amazingly difficult challenges. I haven't finished it yet, but you can tell she is going to come through it all still loving, faithful, and optimistic, even though her life has changed forever.
There is more to glean than just the basic message, though. The story has a lot of other smaller stories within it. One of the things she relates really got me to thinking. When she had her first child, she was surrounded by mother, aunts, sisters, and cousins, a network of women who did her laundry, washed her dishes, brought her meals, and nurtured her completely. So her first few days of motherhood were serene.
I have to admit my first reaction, on reading this, was sorrow and a bit of envy. I gave birth to two of my children 3,000 miles away from any family. I had no one to rely on but myself and my husband, who was working and going to university at the same time. I couldn't sleep while others stepped in and magically made everything happen that needed to. I remember, with my last child, lying in the hospital bed knowing I had to go home in a couple of hours and weeping, because I knew all the work and exhaustion that lay ahead of me. For a fleeting moment I didn't want to go home. I wanted someone to step in and say "It's all right, you just lie there and recover and I'll take care of everything." But of course no one did, and so I took my precious new son home, and of course everything turned out okay. I discovered I could get by on three hours of sleep a night, I learned I could juggle a lot of things at once, and...well, I've been doing that pretty much ever since.
My husband was amazing and capable, stepping in to do the work of twenty women, providing meals and cleaning house and making sure I had everything I needed. But he had to leave and go to work and school, and much of the time it was me and three kids, coping. Was it easy? No. Was I the kind of sweet, gentle mother I'd always wanted to be? No. Was I serene? Definitely not. I'm not sure how well I coped, but nobody died, I don't think anyone ended up emotionally scarred, and we're all still on speaking terms, so something must have gone right.
On another occasion, my husband was in quarantine in the hospital because they didn't know what disease he had, and my three little kids and I had a bad stomach flu. To add to the misery, my husband has a ton of allergies and couldn't eat the hospital food, so I had to drag myself out to the car and drive to the hospital to bring him food. This was during the SARS scare, and you weren't supposed to go into the hospital if you had a fever...which I did. I wished so much that my mom could magically appear and take care of me and my pathetic family. I didn't know how we would survive it. The kids and I lay there with "barf bowls" and called to each other, and somehow we all just got through it together. (Though on day three when I was well enough to go back to work in Toronto, I had to just hand my husband a toaster and a bag of bagels and say "Good luck.")
When my older sons were six and eight, my husband was stuck in bed after surgery, and I had to be at work all day. I had to leave in the morning before anyone else was up. My boys got themselves up and dressed, made breakfast for themselves, carried breakfast in to my husband, and got themselves on the bus for school, all without any help. Granted, I'm sure my husband was calling instructions from the bed. But they did it.
Which leads me to what I've learned over the years: I'm tough. I have a deep reservoir of self-reliance and faith within me that I can draw on when I need it. And my kids are tough. We can survive -- and have survived -- just about anything. I'm not sure we would have developed that kind of resilience if we had had family nearby to call on in crises. While I do wish we lived closer to family, I think having to rely on ourselves and each other and God has strengthened us, individually and as our own little family.