Friday, September 13, 2013

Are You Done?

(Hop over to Catholic Exchange for the original column.)

I looked askance at the well-meaning lady in the Target checkout linebeaming her possibly over-caffeinated morning smile in my direction.
Am I done? I wondered, looking down at the pile of crap winging its way down the conveyor belt to the accompanying tune of dollar signs being sucked out of my bank account. I shrugged and wondered if she was being philosophical. Is one ever truly ‘done’ shopping at Target, after all? Is one ever fully done becoming the person she was created to be? Works in progress, those.
Suddenly I realized she must be talking offspring, the two precariously balanced blondies in the cart and my burgeoning belly, specifically. Ohhhh, am I done? Thaaaat’s what she’s wondering.
“Heh, we’ll see.” Was the best I could muster. Other encounters have yielded more or less confrontational answers:
“God only knows.”
“I sure hope not, they’re kind of fun.”
And once, when I was feeling particularly socially engaging: “Nah, we’re just getting warmed up!”
I generally tend towards the vague, less-is-more answer with strangers, however, realizing that they’re just trying to make conversation and probably feeling the need to comment on my amazing and obvious ability to produce children. I try not to dwell on the reality that we’re basically discussing my sex life, these strangers and I, and that what they’re really wondering is whether and what kind of birth control I’m using, and if I realize it isn’t terribly ‘effective.’
Who knows, maybe they’re just hoping to run into the next Duggar family.
This encounter could have been any of the dozens of similar encounters I’ve had since birthing bebe number two last year and, frankly, what used to incense me in theory hardly even elevates my blood pressure in practice these days.
If only these well-intentioned (or even malevolently-intentioned) observers could see into my heart, and into the depths of my selfishness and struggle, they’d know without a doubt that I am nowhere close to being ‘done.’ Not with mothering, and not with slowly, painfully, incrementally growing in patience and experience and – please God – holiness, in the gritty pancake batter-encrusted day in and day out of it all.
I wonder if anybody realizes what a weird thing this is to ask someone, whether or not they’re ‘done’ having children. I guess if motherhood and marriage were recognized more widely as ‘vocations’ rather than current occupations, it wouldn’t be such a common mistake. Imagine how weird it would be to ask your pastor after Mass one Sunday if he were ‘done’ preaching homilies. Or asking a couple celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary whether they were ‘done’ being married.
Motherhood, at a fundamental level, is not just something you do; it’s something that you are. And just as priests preach and confer the Sacraments and married couples live their vows and pick each other’s wet towels up off the end of the bed, mothers have – and mother – children.
God, in His Divine generosity and possibly, Lord forgive me, foolishness, has seen fit to give me three beautiful babies to mother so far. Who am I to assume that He won’t give me more, or even worse, to presume that He will eventually, and try to manipulate my present circumstances in such a way that best suits my preferences and conveniences.
This is my take on the contraceptive mentality that is so prevalent in the West today: it’s about selfishness. And not obvious selfishness, either, like the grabbing and hoarding kind. Rather, it’s about a kind of creeping, meticulously over-planning and profoundly limiting selfishness, the kind that says to itself, “Hey, things are pretty good the way they are, let’s not rock the boat here…let’s not pile any more on this plate.”
And so we suffocate, quietly, slowly, and perfectly according to plan. Rather than allowing God to breathe new life into our ever-changing situations, we wrongly presume all things to be static and unchanging, and so we stubbornly insist that we know best, that we can see the future, that we are ‘done’ becoming what – and who – we are.
So no, Target shopper. I’m not done. Thank God I’m not, because I’m a hot selfish mess right now. And I have a sneaking suspicion that, thankfully, you’re not done either, no matter what you might think.
Life is full of surprises.


  1. It would be weirder to here "are you done" if it weren't so common place for people to offer, loudly, to anyone listening in on their conversation "whew! we are DONE, my hubbie just got the big V, thank goodness!" So many times this happens, in public, and I am always shocked. Nothing is sacred anymore, not even your willingness to sterilize yourself. I think people ask because they don't feel at all as if the question is private and they are just making conversation. When did that happen, when did these decisions, very serious life changing decisions become playground chit chat? That's what's weirdest to me.

    1. Such a great observation, Olivia. I've had so many people ask me this too, and we only have two. It is precisely because others loudly proclaim they ARE done. Great great point...

  2. P.S. I once had a Target check out lady ask me "why would you want more when you already have these?" This was during pregnancy #4. I wasn't sure what she was expecting me to do with #4...return him?

  3. Such beautiful perspective of the gift of motherhood and it's sanctification for us all! It's so unfortunate that we as a society (and specifically, so many women) have lost sight of the amazing miracle that life is! And the gift that we have in being able to participate in such a profound experience!

  4. great article Jenny! I especially love the priest anaology, that's perfect!

  5. Spot on, very well said. I can't even tell you how many times I've been asked this question with twins, many times when the times were in utero. The gall of some people! I am still in the "incensed" stage when I get these questions. I sometimes comment, like you have about, being open to God's plan. One time I said, "Oh, I have 5 more at home!" just to play with the unsuspecting nosy person. (Is that terrible?)

  6. Love this. We are pregnant with our second, so I haven't gotten this particular question yet, but we have gotten the "was this planned??" question, which hurt too. Its too bad that people don't see babies as blessings anymore a lot of the time. Hopefully our familes will help to be a testimony of that.

  7. Trying not to dwell on the reality that you're basically discussing your sex life ... hehe. See, in my head, I am always looking for ways to smartly (maybe snarkily) say "You DO realize you're asking me about sex, right?" But the checkout line is probably not the best place to reeducate people about manners and privacy. ;)

    Great, great post!

  8. I think the most cringe-worthy is when people react, with GENUINE excitement and happiness, when a couple finds out their having a boy after a girl or vice versa,
    "Oh, good! You'll have one of each!" ... presuming that there's no reason to keep going unless you want one of a new gender, because obviously that's the only way it would be fun anymore...

    *I may have begged God to send me another boy for #2 citing my desperate desire to NOT have to deal with this ignorantly well-intentioned response lol.

  9. Really needed to hear this right now. I keep wondering whether we are "done," and while my heart knows it is all God's business, my planner wants to know if we keep the crib or not! ;) Thanks for your insightful and beautiful reflection on the vocation of motherhood as ongoing rather than a task to be "done." Loved it. :)

  10. Great post. I totally agree about the weirdness of the casual questions about others' sex lives. The wet towel comment made me smile :-)

  11. Love, love, love this.

    And I have actually said to people, "Well, I plan to continue having sex with my husband, if that's what you're asking." More than once. Once in church. It's especially effective I find, if said very earnestly, while smiling, and ideally with the toddlers standing right there.

  12. I got that a lot after having my 3rd child (a boy after having 2 girls). When having my 4th, no one asked anymore. I think having 4 kids puts you square into crazy big family land and people just assume you will keep going.

  13. My not very observant neighbor just asked me if we were stopping at 3! I just said with a laugh, "probably not!"

  14. So sadly typical. Ugh. Love your responses you have given on different occasions. I need to get better at being more quick on my feet and saying some of those!

  15. This is the MOST beautiful response to that question that I have ever read. I love it!

  16. I so enjoy your writing and perspective on these topics. And really, on almost anything.

    We are only engaged and have already gotten questioned about when we plan to have children.

    Why oh why do people feel like it's ok to ask these questions? (And I'm praying and doing a quick mental review, that I've never been one of them.)

    I want to say things about marriages needing to be consummated and asking if they want me to tell them when I'm ovulating. Yes, still in the irritated stage and I haven't even gotten to motherhood yet.

  17. I appreciate this post various reasons. I've got Protestant friends who continue to ask me how many and when will we stop and why haven't we chosen a magic number yet. Each time I get all hot and sweaty and can only manage a Smile and say who knows. Thanks for an "answer" -- the idea that this motherhood thing isy vocation and I am so so so not in control. Let the boat be a rockin'.

  18. "Thank God I’m not, because I’m a hot selfish mess right now." <-- Yup. That right there is the whole point. And I think about it all the time, every time I feel a whine coming on about how long it's been since, I don't know, I got my nails done, or spent a day doing whatever I wanted. These little people know how to beat the selfishness out of you.

  19. Thank you so much, Jenny, for sharing your post at the "Let's Talk Motherhood' link up. I loved reading again....and oh, how I can relate, especially since #6 is on the way! When people tell me sarcastically, my, you have your hands full, I always say, "full of love!" It makes my boys smile so big! Happy Mother's Day!


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