One moment many years ago, when my children were small and life was cramped, I sneezed. And no one said, “Bless you.”
I was tired that day, just as I was as many other days. I was also lonely; I spent the bulk of my time in the company of four small people who certainly loved me but didn’t really see me. It didn’t occur to them that I was a person. To them, I was like air: necessary but not something they really thought about.
I poured my energy into them. I taught them to read, used M&Ms to explain addition and subtraction, and sent them on “scavenger hunts” to find various sizes and colors of leaves. I modeled kindness and empathy. When they spoke, I listened. When they cried, I held them. When they gave me something, I said, “Thank you.” When I asked for something, I said, “Please.”
And when they sneezed, I said, “Bless you!”
At ages eight and under, they drew everything they needed from me without any regard to whether I could spare it. Some days, I really wondered if I had anything more to give.
So in that moment, all those years ago, I sneezed. And no one said, “Bless you.” After all, to young children, a mom existed to bless, not be blessed. The tiredness and loneliness rose up until it was over my head, and I cried.
But like so many other moms do—just like my mom did for me—I dried my tears and picked myself up, and went back to helping, modeling kindness, instructing scholars, and teaching manners.
It was an intense stage of life. I found refreshment and friendship in my husband and friends. I made space for myself from the constant demands of motherhood and homeschooling. I turned to God, and like my own children, I demanded, challenged, asked, and learned from Him until I understood who He is, and who I am.
Slowly, over the years, life stretched out a little bit. It became less cramped. My children grew older; they understood more and cried less. They started to say “please” and “thank you” without being reminded. Something new happened in their world, so gradual that they never even realized it: they began to notice me. They saw that I was a person with feelings a lot like theirs, and preferences just as important as theirs. They began to give me the same respect and consideration that I showed them.
My children are now eighteen and under. I’ve officially completed school with my oldest, and my youngest has moved on from M&M math to fractions and long division. They say “excuse me” and know how to take turns.
And today, standing in my kitchen, I sneezed. From four different spots in the house came four different voices: “Bless you!”
It made me smile. I thought back to the mom I was all those years ago. I was tired and lonely, but still faithful—just hoping that the time and energy I poured into our present would make a difference in our future.
So to my past self—and to all you other moms like me, and to my own mother who gave so much of herself many years ago—to all of us, I say, Bless you.
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