Lori was my first friend to have a baby. I looked at this little person in her arms and thought about how blessed Therese was to have Lori and Tim as her parents. She had such a thoughtful expression, this baby girl. I was never one for babysitting, but I could come through in a pinch and struggle my way through reading baby signs that I was never taught (and no, this knowledge doesn’t come automatically with XX chromosomes!). Slowly, as more and more of my friends married and had children, rather than feeling myself more distant from them in my single state, I felt carried along, almost as if I was likewise becoming a mother, albeit not in the same way. I know allllllll sorts of things about pregnancy, childbirth, and raising children now, even though I haven’t gone through any of it myself. I feel towards my friends’ children a fierce protectiveness and a tender affection. I know their temperaments and have seen them on good days and bad days.
I was reading a book by a fountain one day, and a young mother was there with her toddler. The little boy was running around making noise, trying to balance and jump. His mother said, “I’m sorry,” for disturbing me, and I said, “Oh no, it’s fine,” and then caught myself before I said what came spontaneously to mind, which was, “I have a bunch of kids too, I know what that’s like.” As she walked away, I thought about how naturally that came to me and how it explains my attitude toward all children. Once this gift of spiritual motherhood is perfected, I hope that one day I will resemble the woman in C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce:
And who are all these young men and women on each side?”
“They are her sons and daughters.”
“She must have had a very large family, Sir.”
“Every young man or boy that met her became her son – even if it was only the boy that brought the meat to her back door. Every girl that met her was her daughter.”
“Isn’t that a bit hard on their own parents?”
“No. There are those that steal other people’s children. But her motherhood was of a different kind. Those on whom it fell went back to their natural parents loving them more. Few men looked on her without becoming, in a certain fashion, her lovers. But it was the kind of love that made them not less true, but truer, to their own wives.”
Since I never have my own baby on my hip, I’m always there at a party or event to hold one so that mom or dad can eat. Since I don’t have to look around for any mischief my own toddler is getting into, I can give my full attention to someone else’s who wants to show me his latest Lego creation. I have grown so much and experienced such grace even in the midst of the suffering of being the only person in the room who is not married or does not have children, as long as God remains my focus.
One day, that same little Therese, years later, was talking with her mom about vocations. Lori told her about the calling to religious life and the gift of marriage. Then she said, “And some people serve God in a single life.” Therese responded, “Like Miss Sara?” “Yes, like Miss Sara.”
Sara Perla is Program Specialist for the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage