It’s no secret that parenting is one of the most, if not the most, rewarding jobs on the planet. It’s also well known that the role of mommy or daddy is also at the top of the list for jobs classified as demanding, exhausting, and requiring 24/7 on-call status. I thought I had a good idea of what life would be like after becoming a mother, but if someone asked me what one thing I’ve learned that I didn’t anticipate before becoming a parent, I would say that I had no idea the level of sacrifice involved in bringing children into this world. I knew, or thought I knew, there’d be a certain degree of surrender but I honestly didn’t realize how much I would have to forfeit (I also had no idea that this forfeit would simultaneously allow me to gain so much from my role as a mommy). It’s a sacrifice of free time, time with my husband, time with my friends. Any sense of spontaneity goes out the window (although The General will argue that I possessed not one ounce of spontaneity to begin with). You’re required to put things like sleep, household duties, and work-related issues to the side to tend to the immediate and long-term needs of your kids. And let’s not even get started on the financial sacrifice children bring. Goodbye frequent trips to Chili’s on Saturday nights; hello, leftover meatloaf.
My dad just returned from five day mission trip to Galveston, Texas and the surrounding areas ravaged by Hurricane Ike. Let me ask you a quick question. When was the last time you thought about that area of the United States since the hurricane passed through there over two months ago? Have you given any thought lately to how the residents of those affected communities are faring? I’ll admit that since news of Hurricane Ike has fallen off the national radar I’ve not given the people of that region much thought. Life goes on and bigger, flashier, “more important” issues take the forefront in terms of news broadcasting and print. I guess I’m guilty of the old adage, “out of sight, out of mind”. I have the luxury of living my life that way seeing has how all those closest me to are located hundreds of miles from the still struggling residents of the Texas coast. Unfortunately, being that removed from the situation also fosters ignorance. I had no idea the conditions that the people of Galveston and the surrounding communities are still dealing with on a daily basis. Thousands are still not able to return to their homes. Schools remain closed. There are parts of the region without water or electricity even now. Those that do have the luxury of running water and electricity may be living like one family my dad met, a family who is living out of coolers because their appliances were ruined during the storm and they don’t have the means to purchase new ones.
In terms of a “new perspective,” these stories alone were enough to jolt me into a reality that others live with every single day. How lucky – and selfish - we are to take for granted running water, working appliances, a functional and safe home, the health and well-being of our loved ones. My problems, those issues that bring me down after a hard day at work or a stressful evening at home, are so small. I am so very blessed and this conversation with my dad made me realize how others are struggling in unimaginable circumstances, not just in Galveston but in all areas of our country and world. Shame on me, and anyone else, who forgets to honor those struggles with our thoughts, prayers, donations, or physical presence.
But back to sacrifice. Dad told me a heartbreaking story of a woman he had a short interaction with while on this trip. This woman is seventy-plus years old. She was unable to leave her home when the hurricane hit, and her home is in ruins. She shouldn’t be living there, but she doesn’t have many other options. Not only is she dealing with the heartbreak of possibly losing her home and many of her possessions, but she is also the sole care giver for her profoundly disabled adult daughter. This woman is caring not only for herself but also for every need required by her 55-year old daughter. Sacrifice. I was embarrassed to even think about the times I’ve complained about not having any time to myself or griped about just wanting five minutes of uninterrupted conversation with my husband. This woman’s adult daughter is like an infant – she’s unable to feed herself or even sit on her own. Although he didn’t expand, I have no doubts her daughter is unable to verbalize her wants and needs, something any parent will admit is a frustrating aspect of dealing with sick or ailing child. As my dad went into this woman’s home to pray with her he found the woman sitting on the couch, her daughter draped over her lap, feeding her daughter her own birthday cake. Sacrifice. How easy it would have been for her to just give up, to say “I can’t do this anymore, I don’t want to do this anymore”. But this amazing woman, according to my dad, complained not one time. He said that was true of all the residents they encountered during their time there. She loves her daughter intensely, fiercely, and fifty-five years ago made the decision that she would care for her come, literally, hell or high water. And that’s exactly what she’s done.
We have family friends who live their lives in a similar situation. Although they are not living in an area devastated by the effects of a hurricane, they too have - without second thoughts - cared for their son the entirety of his life. He is profoundly handicapped and requires constant care much like the woman my dad met in Texas. Tommy and I are the same age, separated by only a few months. I’ve grown up my entire life knowing and loving Tommy and his parents. It’s only since becoming a mother myself that have I been able to fully appreciate and marvel at the level of sacrifice that his mother has put forth in the love and care for her son. Her dedication to her son is like nothing I’ve ever witnessed before. She is one of the strongest, most giving people I have ever had the honor and pleasure of knowing.
These two mothers, a stranger in Texas and a close friend in Illinois, don’t ask for recognition. They don’t expect praise or ask for handouts. Neither woman thinks she is extraordinary. But they should be praised, and they are so extraordinary. These woman – and so many other moms and dads like them - simply live their life as it has been laid out before them, giving all they have and all they are to their children. If this is not the definition of sacrifice, then I don’t know what is. And if I think that what I’m required to give up in this short time of my life as we’re raising our daughters is anything close to what either of these woman have given in their lifetimes than I am sorely misguided.
I realize I need to be more conscious in the interactions I have with my own daughters. I need to be more aware of how lucky I am to have the healthy, thriving children we do. I need to slow down and savor every moment with them because it won’t last forever, and I do not want to live my life with regret when it comes to my girls.
Hug your kids tight tonight. Give thanks that they are here, and healthy, and as amazing as they are. Take a moment to be so very grateful for all the good fortune that surrounds you. And pause to think about those who surround us who have so much less yet are able to be thankful for those very same things in the midst of tragedy and destruction.