(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.