Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Why All Moms Really Do Go To Heaven

(Theologically Correct Version)

Do all moms go to heaven? Be careful how you answer – denying this dogma can unleash a hailstorm of anathemas on your head, or at the very least a light drizzle of subtle hints that you’re not being a good sport. Moms wipe runny noses, kiss boo-boos, and chase away the monsters under the bed. How could this not qualify them for automatic entry through the pearly gates?

The problem is that heaven is a needs-based program. Admission is not determined by your ratio of good deeds to bad deeds or the number of gold stars you earn for being nice. That’s Reformation Theology 101 – you can’t earn your way to heaven, not even if you’re a mother. If you’re Catholic, of course, you may still get in on the "saved through childbearing" clause, but only if you’ve got a Papal bull to that effect tucked into your back pocket. For the rest of us, fitness for heaven is determined not by saintly behaviour or even by cash donations to Jimmy Swaggert; the only relevant criterion is acknowledgement of sin.

That’s always been a bit of a problem for me. I tend toward the generous side in my self-evaluations. Even as a painfully introspective teenager I usually gave myself the benefit of the doubt. It was always a struggle for me to find truly hideous evidence of my sinfulness, the kind that would be guaranteed to produce a saving consciousness of my need for grace.

Enter motherhood. I’ve mentioned before that having children persuaded me of the doctrine of Original Sin. Toddlers are gaping maws of selfishness, the purest possible expressions of the will to power. By the age of three, a child has begun to forge a tentative compromise between Self and World, to veil the inner monsters of Greed and Envy with socially sanctioned courtesies, but at two, the True Self is visible in all its awful glory.

My children are not the only evidence of Original Sin motherhood has shown me, however. Oh no. On a regular basis, they call forth my own inner monsters, rip off the masks of kindness and politeness that I’ve been wearing so well since I turned three myself. Children push mothers to the breaking point – they function as salutary reminders of our brokenness. For that reason, rather than listing ten reasons all mothers go to heaven, I think it would be more suitable to name seven:

Wrath: Without my children, I would seriously underestimate my capacity for rage. By this, I do not mean merely the righteous anger that wells up in me when I contemplate the victimization of children or the Stephen Harper day-care plan. I mean good, old-fashioned, unjustified frustration – the kind that makes me snarl to my husband "Get her away from me!" just because my innocent baby cries "Up, up, up!" one more time than I can patiently handle.

Gluttony: There’s a reason I weigh twenty pounds more now than I did before I got pregnant with the Pie. In "Bartleby, the Scrivener," Herman Melville writes about law-copyists who cope with the desperate boredom of their lives by ingesting a steady stream of Spitzenberg apples and ginger cakes. In my case, it’s chocolate. From where I’m sitting right now, I can see a package of Double Stuf Oreos, a Cocoa Camino dark-chocolate espresso bar, a sack of peanut-butter Easter eggs, a bag of ketchup-flavoured chips, and a box of Girl Guide cookies. It’s not like I cope with the demands of motherhood by relying on my inner resources, you know.

Lust: (Insert sigh of relief.) Okay, I get a free pass on this one: motherhood has greatly reduced my levels of lust. But hold on. It turns out that "lust" is really a translation of "luxuria" or "extravagance." Maybe not a free pass, then. From where I’m sitting right now I can see three books I didn’t really need to buy for myself (and could not realistically afford), along with a stack of unwatched DVDs and far more toys than any two small children can feasibly play with.

Sloth: That membership at the gym I used to have? I kept it for a year after Bub was born before I decided that I could no longer afford to pay $120 per visit (based on my once-every-three-months pattern of workouts). That’s minor-league sloth, though, compared to the laziness that prevents me from taking my children outside or roughhousing with them indoors when they’re bored. Even at my best, I can manage only a few rounds of "Ring Around the Rosy" before I flee to the kitchen to scan a few blogs before supper. (Any blog haters out there? Rest assured, before I discovered blogging I found plenty of other ways to manifest my inner sloth.)

Greed: A Pottery Barn nursery. A house with a living room, dining room, and separate play room. A trendy SUV with built-in carseats and DVD player. I do not have any of these things. But I have fallen prey, from time to time, to the urge to acquire them. When we bought our house four years ago, I was overwhelmed at my good fortune; after years of nomadic student-life, I settled expansively into its spacious rooms and felt utterly at home. I still feel that way, often – but when I look at the broken-down garbage-night-special plastic toys littered in my back yard or the cluttered desks and train-tables wedged into my rec room, that old restlessness of desire begins to stir.

Envy: Beside the clear brightness of Bub’s eyes, my own are streaked and bloodshot. My skin is spotted and pitted with pores, hideous in comparison to the creamy smoothness of the Pie’s. Although my adult body is strong and skilled, it is also ravaged by time, and when the Pie compares her sweet little belly-button with mine, I am reminded of the gigantic Brobdingnagians from Gulliver’s Travels. Gulliver describes a nursing Brobdingnagian mother this way:

I must confess no Object ever disgusted me so much as the Sight of her monstrous Breast, which I cannot tell what to compare it with, so as to give the curious Reader an idea of its Bulk, Shape, and Colour. It stood prominent six Foot, and could not be less than sixteen in Circumference. The Nipple was about half the Bigness of my Head, and the Hue both of that and the Dug so varified with Spots, Pimples and Freckles, that nothing could appear more nauseous.

I delight in the beauty of my children, but gazing all day at their trim bellies and radiant skin does not always help me appreciate my own.

Pride: This one may be the hardest for me to admit – those twinges of self-satisfaction I feel when Bub cheerfully obeys my instructions or when Pie chatters brightly at a level far beyond her years. Such complacency is repulsive, I know, but even worse are those inner raised eyebrows that disappear behind my inner bangs when I see a toddler out after nine p.m. I glance at my watch and think of my own children tucked snugly into their little beds. I do remember to be grateful – but only after I’ve given myself a little more credit than I deserve.

The seven deadly sins are kind of fun, aren’t they? But they speak to the reality that motherhood demands more of me than I have to give. I avoid, I evade, I slack off, I snap. Every day, my children drive me back to the arms of the Father, searching to replenish my inadequate stores of love, joy, peace, and patience. Motherhood is paving my way to heaven – but only because it shines a harsh, blazing light on my flaws.

God have mercy on me, a sinner.

36 comments:

Luisa Perkins said...

Oh. My. Good. Grief. I don't know how those "Perfect Post" awards are given out, but this post certainly warrants one. You are an absolute genius. The pain I feel at admitting how thoroughly your writing resonates with my own mothering experience is mitigated by my relief at having that experience so articulately expressed. Good on ya, mate.

Veronica Mitchell said...

Excellent post. Spot on.

Bon said...

okay, wait. chocolate is a sin? i so knew i was damned...

this is a fabulous, clever, thoughtful post. i wish the whole "all moms go to heaven" conversation was half as intelligent...i do get the sentiment, but i far prefer your way of approaching it. motherhood does shine a light on our weak spots in a way nothing else in life ever does...and there's so much to be learnt from that, why glaze it over with saccharine bovinity?

back to my chocolate...

Mouse said...

I really, really want that Cocoa Camino chocolate bar you mentioned.

And, oy, am I ever guilty of so many of the things you mention.

Blog Antagonist said...

Good grief. I thought the whole "All Mother Go to Heaven" thin was just another cutesy little meme. I had no idea it was an actual social movement.

Gross.

Loved your take on it though.

cinnamon gurl said...

Great post! Most of all I am so relieved to know I'm not the only one to snarl, "Get [him] away from me."

Momish said...

I had to totally cringe when I read the Envy bit. It is soooo true. I totally envy the smooth skin and rudy cheeks and sleek, fine hair. It is terrible, you are so right!!! Great post.

P.S. I have the "Raising Girls" book too, but haven't gotten around to reading it yet. So looking forward to it, though (when I get some time - by then she will have girls of her own!)

Beck said...

FOR PETE'S SAKE. Whenever you write something like this, I feel like giving up my keyboard because this is just PERFECT.
But I suspect I'm your polar opposite - I've always suspected all of my motives, even when I'm at my best. Isn't the wrath of motherhood DISTURBING?

Lawyer Mama said...

This post is so perfectly clever! I heart you, B&P.

Pass those peanut butter easter eggs over here, would you?

Aliki2006 said...

Oh god! I never thought of those things quite in that way and this is just perfectly crafted. Well done.

Mad Hatter said...

OH, OH, OH, OH, OH!!!!! Pick me over here!!!! I suffer the sin of envy. I envy a certain other mother's ability to write a blog post that is so witty, winning and spot on that it makes understand anew the great respect I have for Christianity while not being one myself.

Yup, after all these months I still have a blog crush on you. I guess that means envy AND lust. I am a sinner through and through.

mek said...

Lovely post, and true. I relate (today) especially to the wrath and envy parts. For heaven's sake (so to speak), my own baby pushed up my short this evening and LAUGHED at my belly.

bubandpie said...

Cin - I'm glad too. That was the part that was scariest for me to write.

Jenifer said...

I'm with Mad, Envy and Lust.
This is fabulous B&P, just so amazing.

Jenifer said...

Oh B&P we have all (or at least I suspect) have made such statements. I know I have and yes it is scary to say out loud, but it is the truth. And not just once either.

Em said...

Great post! Spot on! Perfect!

You name it :)

Heather said...

Thank you for this. It's absolutely perfect. Very clever using the seven deadly sins.

There is no way I get through even one day without falling prey to every one of these sins. I can also totally relate to the "get (her) away from me!" I feel so thread bare some days.

There's no way I'll ever make it through motherhood without the Grace He gives.

Kyla said...

This post makes me want chocolate. Lots of it. :)

This was EXCELLENT, B&P.

Lisa b said...

Love the seven reasons.
I am willing any of my theological education to come back but no dice. I have a papal blessing hanging in my bedroom. Is that like a bull? I cannot remember if I ever knew what that is.
I must now go focus on the guilt of my gluttony making me a better person. Good thing I have lots of chocolate on hand.

Catherine said...

This is fantastic. If marriage won't do it for you, parenting will. Wow.

bubandpie said...

Lisa - I think it's more like an edict, but now I have to check Wikipedia to be sure.

Okay, I'm back. It's a decree. So you'd be looking for something along the lines of "I, the Bishop, Servant of the Servants of God, decree that Lisa B., being a mother, should be admitted to the Presence of God and granted the blessings of Eternal Life, world without end, amen."

Becky said...

One more echo to add the list. It's reassuring to hear that I'm not the only one who snaps at her child because I wasn't gifted with infinite patience.

And I really really miss ketchup chips. :(

Karen said...

Dear Bub and Pie,
One of the first posts of your I read was about, well, rage - mommy rage. I thought, oh, okay, I guess this is just part of the mommyhood gig, getting all my shine worn off and exposing every bit of raw, pained, me-ness that I've been pushing under the surface. Maybe that's okay; turning around really only makes sense when you know the direction your heading isn't the one you want to keep going in - There's a reason it's set up this way, to let all that we've armored up in ourselves unravel and be free in our need for grace. Now, I have a chance to turn around everyday, and Love is right behind me. Thanks for this chance early in my day!

slouching mom said...

I'm late to the party but no less enthusiastic for it.

Spot on. What everyone else said.

Lisa b said...

My chances of getting one of those are theoretical at best. So I think then maybe it is harder for the Catholics to get in. Hopefully the jewish girls (and C) will let me come where they are going.
Enough ridiculousness. This reflection really does make think differently about how motherhood reveals my weaknesses and allows me to improve them
Thanks B& P.

Kelly said...

brilliant, once again, and what Luisa said...

Kelly said...

oh, and I forgot to say, the wrath...

oh sweet jesus the wrath that would cause me to tell my preschooler to get away, because i couldn't stand being touched any more. oh, the confession booth is calling to me, really loudly, in my ear.

Gwen said...

You know why I love you, B&P? Because everyone else I read takes this particular topic and is flip about it (which is fine; flippant has its place, too), but you choose instead to do the hard work of writing something completely different and touching and valuable.

Just last night, I said to my husband, "Please, take these children away from me. I've been with them all day and I don't think I can stand it anymore." And they were standing right next to me.

nomotherearth said...

Ditto what Cinnamon Gurl said. It is a great relief.

Also good to know that age 3 starts to bring a kid out of the "all about me" phase. I look forward to that immensely.

Becky said...

Somehow, I agree with both you & HBM. Both great posts! We all seem to be in the same frame of mind these days... must be the change in seasons making us all stir-crazy.

Mimi said...

You've taken this up in theological terms, my GOODNESS, how well done. I tend to think more along the lines of the social manipulation in this life, secular-wise.

Great great post. I'm guilty of all those sins, too. Only now it's Pynchon meeting me at the door at 5:20 on those longest of the long days, handing over the baby silently, and leaving the building until he can summon the will to be near her again.

ummmmm .... chololate.

kittenpie said...

I could take that chocolate espresso bar off your hands... you know, just to help you out, make the road to good behaviour a mite easier... Let me know. Any time. It's the least I can do to support another mom.

cce said...

Absolute genius. Bravo.
And I'm so jealous you have a God that forgives you these sins as long as you acknowledge them, shout them out to the blogosphere. We hear you and we share your sinfulness.

cce said...

P.S. I'm looking at the books in your library and can enthusiastically recommend Mark Haddon's second novel which I talk about today over at madmarriage

Mommy-Like Days said...

I'm so glad you tackled this. I didn't particularly want to touch it--I didn't know what a decent response would be. So silence seemed good.
Now, any chance you want to post on the non harp-playing, dressed-in-white, cream-cheese eating, mommy-corner for disembodied angelic beings, nature of heaven? Please?

Moppet's Mom said...

Brilliant post! Just brilliant! :-)