By Muji Kaiser
Last autumn, I sat in the living room with our five-year-old, four-year old, and two-year-old, having a conversation about what they should do if they were ever separated from me while in public. It then dawned on me to ask an important question. “What’s my name?”
“Your name is Mom,” my four-year old replied. It was exactly what I was afraid that he would say. His older sister responded incredulously, “her name is MUJI,” with the self-assuredness and superiority of a sibling 16-months older.
The next afternoon, the kids and I visited the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, located about an hour away from our Ventura County home in Southern California. Taking all four littles on an outing without my husband was always an intimidating prospect, but I didn’t want them to miss out on great experiences just because I was nervous about being out on my own. I would be meeting up with a friend, so there would be additional support, if needed.
We had a fantastic afternoon touring the museum’s various exhibits and decided to wrap things up with a picnic lunch before heading home, when I noticed that my four-year-old had separated from our group. I immediately set out to look for him with the other three kids in tow. We must have been right on his tail because I found him with a museum employee about a minute into our search. She said that my son had just approached her, explaining that he had lost his mom. Protocol called for her to make a lost child announcement in the museum’s PA system, but when she asked him what his mom’s name was, he said, “ her name is mom.”
I thanked her and began my walk of shame toward the rest of our group, embarrassed that he had somehow slipped away. I explained to him how important it was to stay with his group…and reminded him once more of what my name was. I would save the longer talk for our drive home, and Ma would no doubt give him a word or two regarding this “her name is Mom” business.
We said goodbye to our friends and walked toward the museum’s exit. In an unpredictable burst of inspiration, my two older children leapt onto the front of our double stroller that the younger two were strapped into. The stroller tipped forward, tossing them onto the asphalt. Loud tears ensued.
As I consoled them, a woman stared at our chaos from her seat on a nearby bench, shaking her head disapprovingly. The afternoon felt like a disaster and I was embarrassed by how I must have been perceived by onlookers--like a woman with more kids than she could handle. As we drove home, my pity party was interrupted by the sounds of the kids excitedly chatting about how much fun the day had been, with no mention of those mishaps that stuck out so vividly in my mind.
As I told this story to a group of mom friends, they shared in kind some of their embarrassing motherhood moments. I suppose every parent has one or two of those in their back pocket. A common theme emerged during our discussion. Each of us expressed a sense of disappointment because in our attempt to show the world the beauty and joy of motherhood, we had instead shown how chaotic and unpredictable parenting can be--whether it was with one child or multiple children. In our inability to present a composed, picturesque image of motherhood, we felt as though we had somehow failed to “sell” the vocation to onlookers, especially those who may have been discerning whether to have their first child or welcome another.
I’ve since discovered that part of the beauty of the parental vocation lies in the raw, imperfect, yet abundant love for one’s child. It is a love that shines through during chaotic and peaceful moments alike. We shouldn’t feel pressured to present a perfect, von Trapp family-esque image of parenting. Christ certainly doesn’t expect that from us. He is all too aware that He had the only perfect parent in the history of humanity in His Blessed Mother, Mary. He does, however, call us to love and care for our children to the best of our ability, while making any necessary efforts to grow, both as parents and as children of God.
That’s one of the great things about parenting -- it provides us with countless opportunities to grow in virtue. I was so consumed by embarrassment that I forgot how beautiful the majority of the day had actually been. Thankfully, my children’s joy reminded me to put my pride aside and focus on the beauty in front of me. I suppose it’s human nature to view our embarrassing situations in the sometimes judgemental eyes of the world. But, as people of faith, we are called to see ourselves through the eyes of Christ who recognizes our loving efforts, as imperfect as they may be.
Muji Kaiser is a Catholic wife and mother living in Southern California. She is also the founder of the Okaja Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable non-profit that provides aid to Catholic organizations serving orphaned and poverty-stricken children in her home country of Nigeria. Instagram: @mujispeaks