A Day in Catholic Marriage

by Catherine Fournier

5: 30 a.m. EHN - EHN - EHN. The alarm jolts me awake. I cross the bedroom and tap the snooze button on the clock. I stumble back to bed, grope for the thermometer and stick it in my mouth. My movements awaken Peter slightly. He reaches across the bed and shakes my shoulder gently, "Time...take your temperature, Cat." he mumbles. I don't answer, my mouth is already full of thermometer.

It has taken us a long time to become this comfortable with NFP, to share the responsibility of it. For years, we struggled with an undercurrent of tension over who would 'run' our fertility; I driven by a need to control every aspect of my life and a fear of pregnancy, Peter by a fear of rejection and a wish for greater intimacy. Now, he participates by reminding me each morning, asking me about other symptoms in the evening and studying the chart intensely every month beginning about Day 16. Every month we learn to trust, love, and live together a little better.
Thank you Lord for Your Peace, help us continue to be open to each other and to You.

5:48 a.m. The alarm goes off for the third time. Peter gets up to turn it all the way off. He comes back to the bed, "How are you feeling this morning, love? Do you want stay in bed a bit more?" I stretch cautiously, feeling my joints protest, "Just a few more minutes." I answer.
Thank you God, for the gift of my husband, keep me aware of the things he needs.

6:30 a.m. I wake up when Peter comes back into the bedroom. He climbs back into bed for a quick hug. These morning hugs are important, they help us stay aware of each other through our long busy day. Then we both get up. While Peter gets dressed for work, I get a cup of coffee and make Peter's lunch. I hang the lunch bag on the front door knob. This is the only way to make sure his lunch goes with him when he leaves for work. I leave everything else on the counter, and set breakfast food on the kitchen table.

When the children are finished their breakfast, they make their own lunches. Even Jonathon, who is seven, manages to make his own, he only needs help with filling his juice thermos. I stopped making their lunch two years ago, when I finally got fed up with finding bruised apples and squashed sandwiches at the bottom of their school bags. They make and take what they want now.
Guardian angels - wake up! Guard my children today, keep them from harm.

6:45 a.m. If I'm quick and lucky, I can beat the teenager rush and have a shower. I glance at the card of Our Lady of Combermere stuck into the switch plate as I turn on the light in the bathroom. It reminds me Who this day belongs to.
Lord, take all of my thoughts and works and intentions of this day and use them for Your purposes. I offer the pain of today for Your priests.

7:00 a.m. On my way out of the bathroom, I look in on Tina (16), Robert (4) and Jonathon (7) to be sure they are awake. On my way downstairs to where our bedroom is, I check that Sarah (11), Matthew (9) and Andrew (14) are awake too. This morning I need to shake Andrew and speak very loud. He is fourteen, growing fast, and always tired.
Grant me patience Lord. Help me to keep smiling, even when I'm frustrated.

7:10 a.m. Peter calls "Good-bye, everyone!" The smaller children come running for a hug. He pats his pockets to be sure he has his rosary, his wallet, his ID. badge, his cigarettes, gives me one last kiss and goes out to sweep the snow off his car and start it. In a moment he is back inside, tracking snow on the floors, "Has anyone seen my keys?" he shouts, pacing a circle through the living room, dining room, kitchen, down the stairs to our bedroom, back up again and out the front door to check in his car again. I remember that he sat on the couch to put his boots on, (putting on and taking off his outside clothes in the living room is a habit I can't break him of so I've stopped being annoyed about it) and check there. His keys are barely visible against the bright pattern of the fabric.
Lord, I'm sorry for all the time I wasted being annoyed with my husband. All the time I thought that if I worked hard enough, organized well enough, everything would run smoothly, nothing would go wrong. I used to think everything was my fault, my responsibility, had to be on my terms.

I'm glad I finally realized that You're in charge, for one thing I don't get my feelings hurt when little things go wrong. I'll do my job and leave the rest to You. Help me remember what my job is.

8:00 a.m. The children leave to catch the bus. "Bye, Mom, have a good day!" they call. "Bye, guys!" I answer, "Be kind to your teachers!"

While I clean up the kitchen and eat my breakfast, I plan what we'll have for dinner. Today is Monday, so it's beans night. Last Wednesday was chicken night and I have chicken stock, so I could make Hot and Sour Soup with lots of tofu. Last week I made baked beans, and there's a meal's worth in the freezer ready but I'll save it for a busier Monday. I find that a loose meal schedule: Monday - beans, Tuesday - left overs and so on, makes grocery shopping and planning dinner easier. Some days it's suddenly 4:30 and I have no idea what to do for dinner.

Panic is not good for a peaceful home, and neither are late meals. One of our main priorities is meals on time. I still need to remember to start the soup at 4:00 p.m. but at least I will know what I'm doing.

You know my biggest failing Lord, that I'd rather spend the day reading a book than working. I forget everything else; the time, the laundry, dinner, everything. It's selfish and a misuse of my time. Help me remember what my time and my work is for, before I pick up a book.

8:30 a.m. Time to start the morning tidy. Organization is my defense against incurable scatter-brained-ness. I always follow some kind of routine, to be sure that I don't forget a job.

I do a tidying sweep through the house twice a day. The house is organized enough that everything has it's own (usually labeled) place, and it runs fairly smoothly when I make sure that everything is in it's place. Peter gets frustrated if he can't find his socks, hairbrush and shaving stuff in the morning, he grew up in a house where it often took longer to find a tool than to use it. Making sure his things are where he can find them without looking is a very little thing I can do for him.

I pick up the children's books, clothes and dropped papers and deliver them to their rooms. It used to make me angry - I worked so hard to make a pleasant home for them and all they did was mess it up. I resented tidying. Then I noticed that everyone made a mess whether I was angry about it or not, so I decided that all being angry did was make our home an unpleasant place.

I also realize that it's selfish of me not to tidy. When things are untidy, I still know where everything is because I'm here all day, but the rest of the family can't find anything. They can't help me if they can't find things. I'll have effectively shut them out of participating in the life of the family, by preventing them from being able to help with work in the home. So, the sheets and blankets are on bottom shelves, the beds are on wheels so that they are easy to move, everyone has a laundry basket in their room, toy and book shelves are at kid's eye level, the cutlery is in the second drawer down, the dish drainer and garbage can are on a pull-out easy to reach rack, and there is only one thing in the whole house that they are not allowed to touch - the table saw.

I once saw tidying as an imposition, a boring maintenance job that I had to do before something more interesting, like baking or sewing. Slowly, You've showed me that it's a way to love my family while they're gone.

Tidying has another purpose. Besides making our home a more comfortable pleasant place to live and work in, it gives the children an example of how to work. If I am conscientious about my work, doing it as cheerfully and completely as I can (even if I don't always manage that too well, remember - I'd rather be reading) the children will learn what I have learned, that all work can be performed as an offering to God, that we can take pride and satisfaction in any job done well. Housework may seem an endless succession of insignificant little jobs but I've found that if I neglect just one task for too long the whole atmosphere of the home changes.

This work is one of the ways I have to serve You, Lord. You made housework, just like You made every other kind of work, so it must be important. Even if I don't always see it's value. Help me to remember to do all my work with love, care and attention. Especially when I don't see its value.

Next, I start the laundry. I don't have much to do today, just one load of wet bed sheets. I used to do three or four loads of laundry a day. I got clothes mixed up between kids and of course socks always went missing. So I decided about a year ago that they were old enough to do it themselves and needed the responsibility. I assigned a day for each bedroom and now I only take care of the youngest boys, and Peter and myself. The kids are learning to do laundry, organize themselves and take responsibility for their own lost socks.

There's such a balance to make, isn't there Mary? Between doing things for your children, and doing too much. Between letting them be responsible for themselves and still being responsible for them. I chose you for my Mother, help me to be the mother my children need me to be.

When I go downstairs, Robert (4) follows me. He likes to help me hang up the laundry in front of the wood stove. His conversation is a constant stream of questions; is it tomorrow? how do buses work? what are raisins? when is Dad coming home? could he have a cookie now? After about fifteen minutes, my brain aches.

9:15 a.m. Now that we've finished hanging up the laundry, it's time to tidy the bedrooms. I go down the hall, look into Matthew and Andrew's room, tiptoe in to turn off the light and the radio and leave again. I shudder and close the door. Sarah's room - same thing. What I don't see, I don't itch to clean. We've agreed that they have to tidy and take care of their rooms themselves. To learn to plan and organize themselves. This will also teach them responsibility and self-discipline. Eventually. I hope.
Lord, grant me patience. Now.

Am I doing the right thing? Is it right to allow them to be territorial about their rooms? Is it right to let them be so messy, will they learn this way? In this and so many other things, my children are really in Your hands, not mine.

9:30 a.m. Some mornings, I go into town to do errands. When I get outside, after dressing us both in three layers of warm clothing, I find that Peter has plugged in my car, and it is warm and easy to start. He is so good to me, in so many little ways.

It is a beautiful drive into town, even though the roads are icy. The tree branches against the sky, and the different colours of blue and white in the snow, the millions of individual snowflakes piled on the ground, every little detail is a work of God. There is a curve in the road that makes me think of a hymn I sang when I was a child every time I see it.

"Then sings my soul, my savior God to Thee, How great thou art, how great thou art."

The last time I was in town, I witnessed something wonderful. There are quite a few developmentally handicapped adults in our town. Some live independently and visit up and down the main street during the day. When I was in the drugstore, a man named Mike came in,

"Mike, Hi," said the pharmacist.
"Hi," said Mike.
"Beautiful day, cold though," said the cashier. She was moving around the store stocking shelves.
"Cold though" said Mike.
"Bet you wish it was spring, so you could play basketball." the pharmacist said, as she filled a bottle.
"Play basketball." said Mike.
"Mike, do you need something, or do you want to sit for a while?" asked the cashier.
"Sit for a while" said Mike. He sat down.

That was when I left the store smiling, impressed and humbled by their patience. Two friendly ordinary women, making the time in their busy day to make Mike feel welcome and safe in their store. I think of all the times I've been embarrassed by the presence of someone different, or been uncharitable in my thoughts, and I feel ashamed.

Forgive me, Jesus. Next time, I'll remember the pharmacist, the cashier and Mike, and I'll do better.

10:00 a.m. I don't have any errands to do this morning. Instead, I turn on a children's program for Robert to watch and go into my office. I turn on the computer and sit down to write. I love writing. Beside raising children it is the most difficult yet the most satisfying thing I've ever done.

Writing involves sacrifices for the whole family. I always feel a little guilty about Robert watching TV instead of doing something more educational. I don't have time to clean any more, we all houseclean on the weekends instead of me taking care of it through the week. The time I spend writing I don't spend baking, sewing, and fixing things around the house, all the things that help us to save money and live on one salary. We've had to scrimp a little harder since I started writing.

Holy Spirit, guide my fingers. Let what I write be Your message in my stories.

11:59 a.m. Sesame Street is over and Robert comes into the office. He is growing so tall, his eyes reach my shoulder when he stands beside my chair. "Mom," he says, "D'ya know whaat?"

"Oh, hi, honey," I answer, suddenly realising the time and that I'm hungry. Robert must be hungry too. I reach out and curl my arm around him. "What?"

"I love you." he says softly, his eyes twinkling.

"I love you too," I answer, hugging him harder, "You're my very favorite Robert." I kiss his cheek, feeling the delicate bones beneath his soft, soft skin.

"And you're my favoritist Mom." Robert says.

Oh God, what did I do to deserve this? Surely it's not just by being a mother that I've earned this painful joy? My children are so much of me, and so much themselves at the same time. They fill my day, pound on my ears and tug at my arms with needs, demands, questions, wishes and dreams, with fun and laughter and joyful purpose too.

I feel so sorry for all the mothers who choose not to be mothers. Through abortion or lack of attention, they forfeit these incredible feelings; the happy trusting delicate boned embrace of a little child, the laughing twinkle eye-level grin of my oldest daughter, even the finally seeing behind a sullen scowl a glimmer of understanding of what I'm scolding about. Lord, help me always be the mother they need.

I go into the living room to turn the TV. off. The news is on. The first announcement is that Sue Rodrigeuz died by a doctor-assisted suicide this weekend. While I and the children were visiting with friends at a Nazareth Family day, this prideful woman took her life in a terrible act of cowardice. It hurts me. "Oh, you poor silly lady," I say and switch off the TV.

God, forgive them, I hope they knew not what they do.

I root around in the drawer under our prayer table, find the votive candles and light one for Sue Rodrigeuz. Our prayer table, or family altar, is a small wooden cupboard that stands in the corner between our living room and dining room. During Advent, our Jesse tree stands there, where it can be seen from anywhere on the ground floor. Other times of the year; a statue of Mary, a plaque of the Holy Family, our Rosary book, the bible, a votive candle holder and vases of flowers crowd together there. I hang our banners on the wall above it; our saint's day banner, our advent banner, our Easter banner.

Lord have mercy on us. Have mercy on all the confused, the misguided, even the deliberately ignorant when they come to face You.

12:30 p.m. The 'phone rings. Peter has called to say Hello. This is something we've done for as long as he's been working, either I call him or he calls me. Our morning hug keeps us aware of each other, our 'phone calls keeps us in touch as a couple, and as a parent team working together to raise our kids. There's always something to discuss, or decide; celebrations, appointments, plans for the weekend, which child needs a little extra attention. It's nice to have a marriage that is such a partnership. We're working together even when we're apart.
Lord, help me to be the wife my husband needs, to never take his presence, help and support for granted.

1:00 p.m. Once we've finished lunch, the afternoon passes quickly. Robert and I wash dishes, make some cookies for after-school snacks, then he plays with his blocks while I work at the knitting machine on a sweater I'm making for Peter. I try to rest in the afternoon before the kids come home. Sitting down to knit is a good way to rest.

4:00 p.m. Before I know it the afternoon is over, and the dog is barking frantically as the school bus pulls away. A torrent of snow covered children pours into the house, hungry and full of news. Sarah has the mail, Tina tracks muddy snow across the kitchen floor again, Jonathon proudly announces that he has homework.
Help me, Mary, this is the most difficult part of my day. You know I hurt, you know the children are tired and hungry, you know how quickly tempers can flare, how quickly I can lose patience. Help us all feel your peaceful presence, and help me be the mother my children need.

While the children have a snack and do their homework, I cut up vegetables, mix the seasonings for the Hot and Sour Soup and put a pot of rice on to cook. Suddenly, there is shouting and thumping downstairs, I can hear Sarah and Andrew's voices. This one sounds like it's going to get out of control (and I think I know what it's about anyway), so I hurry downstairs. A shoving match has developed over a computer catalogue, they've been discussing and arguing about which program to buy for about a week now. Sarah is always so sure that she's right, and Andrew hasn't learned to control his temper very well yet. They are close to hurting each other.

I find fights and rudeness very hard to cope with, sometimes keeping my own temper is difficult. With practice, it's getting a little easier. I suddenly know exactly what to do. I separate the children, and deliberately rip up the catalogue. I calmly tell them they can order another one when they think they can stop fighting about it.

I know I haven't solved their disagreement for them. I also know that fighting is a necessary part of the complicated job of growing up. All I can do is steer them towards the discovery that fighting is remarkably inefficient, and not very Christ-like either. To be happy, productive, faithful adults, somehow they must learn that people are always more important than things. From that, they will learn in time, that family is more important than job, that smiles are more important than labels, that poverty of body is a trifle compared to poverty of spirit.

But I always wonder - is knowing this myself enough? Do I teach this by words, or by example? Is allowing them to fight at all a good example (but how could I get them to stop?) In this and so many other things, they are in Your hands.

5:00 p.m. I go back upstairs, just in time to save the rice from burning. Now dinner is ready and all we have to do is wait for Peter to get home. I'm very tired so I go to lie down on the couch. Robert bounces into the living room and lies down on my stomach, Jon curls up against my feet, Matthew is lying on the floor drawing a fox. Tina is still at the dining room table finishing her homework, I won't be able to help with her math for too much longer. Jon reads us all a story. When he's finished, he gets up and lays his head on my chest. He has lovely thick honey coloured hair that lies smooth and neat against his skull, and he is the only one of my children that has my father's nose.

"I love you, Mom," he whispers. Seven year old big boys need to be shy about expressing such things, "You're a good Mom."

"Thank you, honey," I answer, patting his head. "You're a good Jonathon."

Again, I feel that delicious stab of painful joy. Thank You Lord for the tremendous gift of my children.

5: 59 p.m. "Dad's home!" Sarah shouts, coming up the stairs. "Daddy, Daddy!" a thunder of feet to the front door. I get up from the couch and join the hug line. Peter and I won't have time for anything else until the little ones are in bed.

"Jonathon, would you please set the table, maybe Robert can help you. Matthew, would you go and tell Andrew that dinner is ready, please? How was your day, Peter?"

Matthew plays a game every evening at dinner. While everyone is talking, telling us about their day, answering our daily question; what did you learn at school today? , and mildly bickering about who used up all the milk, Matthew doesn't say anything. His private game is to see if anyone will notice. He's a very quiet hidden child. I sometimes worry that he feels lost and left out in the bustle and tumble of a large family like ours. So I ask him; "Matthew, did you learn anything interesting at school today? is there anything you want to talk about?"

He looks at me. "No," he says and begins to giggle. I noticed, and he thinks it's funny. What an special child, he doesn't exactly keep his light under a bushel, but he definitely shields it.

I wonder what his vocation will be. Help him always be so happy and peaceful.

Tina and Andrew want to talk about euthanasia and suicide, the Sue Rodreguiz story has been discussed at school. Most of the children at school apparently think that people should have the right to suicide. Peter and I glance at each other, take a deep breath and start.

"Well first of all, let's look at that word 'right'. What is a 'right'? What would make people think suicide was a right?" We appreciate these opportunities to talk with our kids, we feel thankful that our children bring these concerns to us. One by one, the younger children ask permission to leave the table. I remind them to wash their faces, brush their teeth and 'pajamanize' themselves. This always makes them giggle.

8:00 p.m. Dishes are washed, stories are read, homework finished and put away. Time for prayers, it's so much of a tradition now that the children won't go to bed without prayers. They make baby-sitters do prayers if we're out. We pray a decade of the rosary, a Hail Holy Queen and finish with a prayer that Peter invented.

My Guardian Angel, thanks for keeping me safe and helping me be a good N all day long. Help me pay attention to Mommy and Daddy and whoever's looking after me all day tomorrow. Amen.

After an hour of talking about our day, it's time for me to go to bed. I read for a little while, then I turn out the light and think. Peter and I call this our 'alone time', and it's just as important as hugs in the morning, midday 'phone calls, discussions at the dinner table, and talks in the evening.

There is so much that I didn't do, so much that I could've done, should've done. I need to pray more, alone and with Peter, not just evening prayers with the children. I need to read better books, lives of saints, Scripture, meditations. I make these resolutions every night, yet I only seem to be creeping towards accomplishing what I know I must do for the good of my family and myself. Well, what did I do today?x

What some people would think of as another ordinary uneventful day, (some ideologies would even call it boring and demeaning) has gone by, full of enormous events, sparkling with teaching moments. I know I've done more than tidied, scrubbed pots, wiped spills, listened to stories and questions. I've spend the day building our family.

I didn't know that it was possible to be so content.

Good night Jesus

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