It’s Sunday night, and I’ve just finished facilitating dinner, clean up, story time, tooth brushing, pajamas, and goodnights for my four children. No, that’s not quite accurate. The youngest threw a tantrum so spectacular that I gave up on the tooth brushing battle. And one of the middle two may or may not have decided to sleep in his clothes. I’m not sure, because when the younger two were finally down, I told the older kids I was tapped out for the evening, gave them hugs, and escaped to my bedroom.
The first half of the day was a late to church, everything is ridiculous, why doesn’t anyone have shoes on, “MomMomMommyMamaMomMomMom” sort of morning. The youngest got very upset that I thought it was silly to put his mittens on in the parking lot, just outside the church doors, when it was literally -6° and windy and he had refused to wear the mittens before then.
I did it all on my own this weekend, and I am exhausted.
I did it all on my own this weekend, because their father has spent the last two days running a cold weather emergency shelter for individuals and families, people with nowhere to go when the temperatures dip to these record, deadly lows.
During the week, he has been home with them often, trying to get other work done while dealing with the spectacular tantrums, the “DadDaddyDad” on repeat, the incessant requests for snacks, while I am out working with a similar population of marginalized and struggling human beings.
In church this morning we talked about worship, not the song and prayer kind but the giving to others, laying down our lives sort. At the shelter, Jake and his staff are doing this in an obvious, visible way. They miss sleep, they unclog toilets, they negotiate calmly with scared and angry people, they deal with any number of circumstances one might encounter in a shelter for the homeless and addicted at the coldest, loneliest hours. The managers and volunteers who make this shelter possible each winter are heroes, I honestly believe that.
This morning, picking up spilled crayons and cracked communion cups and abandoned mittens (imagine that) after the service, I remembered - I’m a hero in this too. Because if it weren’t for my willingness to do these parenting tasks solo, Jake wouldn’t be at the shelter this weekend.
In reality, if it weren’t for his dedication, this year there might not be a shelter in town at all.
If I am impressed by his passion for the work, for his tireless efforts and the difference he makes, then I get to be proud of my support for the same. I can recognize buckling all the car seats, brushing all the teeth, tying all the shoes alone, as its own form of worship and service. In freeing up my husband for the work, I, too, am helping to provide shelter and safety for those who need it.
I’m not writing this to pat myself on the back or seek accolades, but rather to point out that there is a group of people whose sacrifice goes overlooked - and to point out that they may, like me, often overlook it themselves.
I remember the Christmases when Jake was a cop, the way we structured our celebrations around when he was off shift. I remember New Year’s Eves when I would get a phone call instead of a kiss at midnight. I remember the year he watched the Superbowl without me, because was I was at a birth.
Those moments were difficult for us both. When I was the one at home, I don’t remember feeling heroic, or like I was contributing to a greater goal. I remember feeling lonely, disappointed, and sometimes resentful.
It did not occur to me, then, to think of any of that as a sacrifice. I didn’t recognize it as something done in service to to others.
But it was. And now, I know I can be proud of that.
So this is for the spouses, those of you co-parenting with police officers, firefighters, nurses and doctors and midwives, soldiers, and yes, social workers. They do the hard work, every day, absolutely, but you are part of the reason that work can happen. Lives are changed and saved by your support and by your sacrifice.
Thank you for all you give.