This statue of Madonna and Child has helped Catholic Herald reporter Colleen Jurkiewicz through some trying times. (Photo by Colleen Jurkiewicz)
At the end of August, I was staring down the barrel of our second year of homeschooling, and I was feeling pretty desperate.
I had just given birth to my third child five weeks before. The whole family adored our newest addition, but every parent knows that postpartum life can be a hurricane, and the ground beneath our household was still settling after the upheaval. My older kids were struggling to adjust to the sudden decrease in parental attention. My husband was almost out of PTO after taking time off for the baby’s birth. The house was in a constant state of chaos. Most days, the inside of my head felt like that scene from “The Office” where Dwight pulls the fire alarm and blocks the entrances.
Our first year of homeschooling had been a little rocky. Sick and pregnant, I kept falling behind on the curriculum, and my 6-year-old still couldn’t read. I was deeply ashamed of that. She’s a really bright girl, and I felt I had failed her in a big way. When you tell people you homeschool, a lot of them respond by saying: “I could never do that.” That is absolutely fine, because homeschooling is not for every family. But the unsaid part of that statement, at least to my insecure ears, is: “So you think you can do that?”
And just as quickly as I can tell myself, “Well, I can do anything, if God is with me,” the voice of the Doubter snarls: “Are you sure about that?”
I’m sure everyone who has children, homeschooling or not, knows this feeling well. I don’t think any of us parents have ever embarked on an endeavor as important, as daunting as raising up a child in the way they ought to go. No job, no degree, no relationship doubles you over with self-doubt in quite the same way as the helpless gaze of your newborn baby. Everyone remembers the first big crisis of their parenthood: you’re looking around frantically trying to figure out where mom is, because mom will know what to do — until you realize, with a horrified shudder, that you are mom. And you don’t know what to do.
So on the first day of school, I really needed a mom. A statue of the Madonna and Child given to me for my First Communion was in its place on our home altar; I took it and put it on our kitchen table where we do school, and turned the gazes of the woman and her Child to look upon my daughter and I as we went through her lessons.
“Mama,” I said. “I am a mess, so you’d better tell that baby you’re holding that I need some help.”
She has stood on that table since — holding her baby through tearful phonics lessons and angry handwriting worksheets and failed reading assessments and the insufferable tyranny of learning to write the number 8 correctly.
She stood there holding her baby while I deep-breathed through a million moments of the words “you are not enough” rolling around in my head.
She stood there holding the baby as my daughter read her first sentence. Her first short book. Her first long book. The baby kept watch the first time my daughter picked up a library book and began to read for fun while I was cooking dinner.
I look over at the two of them when I think I can’t do this anymore, when I’m ready to shove everything off the table and walk right out of this house I prayed so hard for, away from these children I prayed so hard to have.
But I don’t, because how can you, if you look at this woman, holding this baby as she waits patiently, serenely for the piercing of the sword that was promised to her? How can you, when to look at her is to hear the whisper: “Do whatever he tells you,” and you know that what he’s telling you to do right now is stay in your chair, dry the tears and start the sight word flash cards again?
She’s been there six months. My daughter can read now. She loves her lessons, actually. And I love teaching her — not every moment, but most moments, and even the moments I don’t adore are still the most fulfilling ones of my whole day. And, when the Doubter’s voice finds its way to my ears — as it always does — I look to the Lady and her Baby. The voice does not rattle them as it rattles me. Their confidence in the truth is perfect.
I don’t know when I’ll put them back on the altar, but it won’t be anytime soon. I still need my mom.