Sometimes I just want to fit in. When I venture out with my gang of eight kids in tow, however, we tend to call attention to ourselves.
Take my son Eamon’s recent baseball game, for example. After occupying some of the kids on the nearby playground, I took the baby and 3-year-old Gabrielle and wandered closer to the field to watch Eamon play. I became pre-occupied with watching him hit and was only vaguely aware of the fact that Gabrielle had meandered a few yards away. I turned to spot her sitting at the very edge of a tall piece of granite that jutted out from the bank of a steep hill — a built-in rock that was a good 10 feet high.
Just as I began rushing toward her, she slipped and began to slide. I arrived just in time to stand at the top beside her older sister Kateri. The two of us watched helplessly — cue the slow motion — as Gabrielle slid feet first, down, down, down, arms reaching out in vain toward me all the way.
“Mamaaaaaaaaaaa!” she called out pathetically as she slowly slid to her hapless fate. And hapless it was. The ground at the bottom was soft. Quicksand soft. She sank in up to her knees.
Since her descent had been a rather gentle one, I was not worried about serious injury. I tried to remain calm. But Gabby made no such attempt. “Help, help, help!” She shrieked, trying to extricate her feet from the muck.
Valiant Kateri rushed into the bog and boosted her little sister by the bottom while I reached — still holding the baby in my arms — to grab hold of Gabby from above. It was like one of those rock-climbing disaster movies.
“Grab … my … hand!” I shouted into the wind as our fingers stretched toward one another.
“I … can’t!” she cried.
Lying on my belly in the grass, I stretched toward her as Kateri gave one final, all-out heave-ho, and then — cue the triumphant music — we connected. By one arm, I pulled Gabrielle to safety. I sat her sobbing, trembling body down on the wet grass and kissed her.
It was only then that I noticed the bleachers full of baseball parents gawking at us. I could almost hear their thoughts about that crazy lady with more kids than she can possibly keep track of. My face grew hot as I struggled to stand and brush dead leaves from my mud-spattered shorts.
Alas, I do not fit in. I sometimes need to remind myself, though, that I am not supposed to fit in. In fact, none of us is. The world “does not know us,” we’re taught in 1 John 3:1, because it did not recognize God’s own Son, whom we follow.
As uncomfortable as it sometimes makes me feel, standing out in public is part of God’s plan for me and my family. It is by virtue of our difference that we can give testimony to God’s beneficence and generosity. I am called to embrace the public role of “mom of many” that he has given me. Even when it embarrasses me.
After a rudimentary clean-up at the ball field that day, my family departed, dignity intact. We gathered our belongings and walked duck-like, single-file, through the parking lot toward our van — grass-stained boys, grubby girls and Gabrielle in her soggy sandals. Lugging a crabby, clinging baby, I brought up the rear with my muddied shirt, uncombed hair and, probably, weary expression.
As we passed a pickup truck parked next to our van, I noticed a young man in the driver’s seat. He watched us pile in with a grin that seemed both amused and admiring. That was the right reaction. After all, we may not always fit in, but by God’s grace we always manage to fit. I smiled back.
Danielle Bean writes from
Belknap, New Hampshire.