My youngest kids are finally getting the idea that there is a baby—not an image, or a concept, or one of those weird grown-up stories, but an actual human being—inside my belly. They can tell it’s true, because they can see what is unmistakably a little baby butt, bopping around about 18 degrees northwest of what used to be my belly button.
“But—” asked my kids, “But how is there room in there for a whole baby?”
Well, I’ll tell you. There isn’t. There is no room. My midwife said today that she thought baby was “maybe a little on the big side.” Hearing that was like passing a highway sign that warns, “LOW FLYING AIRCRAFT.” Thanks for letting me know, but what am I supposed to do about it? Duck?
All I can do is make room when there is no room. An organ here, a vital bodily function there—just shove over a little bit, everybody. We can do this for a little bit longer.
But how about after the baby is born? You’d think I would have thought of this sooner, but where are we going to put a new baby? Well, in our bed, for quite a while—but what about all those clothes? In a house that is already overflowing with the necessary equipment for keeping ten people looking like someone owns them, where in the world am I going to keep onesies, socks, gowns, receiving blankets, and little jackets, hats and snowsuits where they will be easy to find, easy to put away, and not trampled underfoot in the galloping pandemonium which is our normal routine?
I responded the same way I do every time I face this particular dilemma: I cried. I couldn’t help it. So much of managing a big family is making order out of chaos—not even making things clean, but just making cleaning possible. And despite the relative sanity of our lives these days, facts are facts: There is just no room.
Eventually, through my tears, I figured out that maybe the sock-and-underwear bin could go over the heating vent. Bibs, aprons, and tablecloths don’t actually need their own shelf. The hall chest, which holds broken picture frames, an oddly large collection of grout sealant, and (sigh) the previous baby’s baby clothes, could be emptied and moved into the laundry room, in front of a door which will be henceforth considered a wall. And the three perpetually-full hampers of clean clothing could be wedged on top of the chest, where they will surely be in constant danger of tipping their loads into the toilet, which I won’t think about right now.
So, there was room. There was room after all. It’s not wonderful, but it works, and it gets the job done. There was a real problem, and I solved it, more or less, without even dying.
That’s my plan for Advent this year: making room where there is no room. I have a whole other person who needs space in our house, in our routine, in our lives. What to do? A fresh, breezy room full of spacious shelves and empty closets is not going to attach itself to our house overnight; and I will not become a flawless, holy, worthy receptacle for my savior, the Christ Child, when He comes. I can barely get through a Hail Mary without driving off the road from the sheer distraction, so what can I do to make some room?
Maybe when someone’s back hurts, I can resist the temptation to explain about the random fiery paralytic insanity spasms I’ve been feeling in my back—and just be sympathetic. Maybe when the two-and-a-half-year-old is being unreasonable about her graham crackers, I can search around for a speck of patience for her very real, very silly grief.
I can let my 13-year-old win an argument. I can say “Yes” to syrup, even though we all just had baths. I can choose not to freak out over a minor irritation at school, and I can say a prayer before answering some creepy troll in the comment box. I can say to my husband, “I’m sorry, I was being crazy. Can we start over?” I can admit that I’m too tired to make pie, and humbly submit to bringing the mashed potatoes.
When the innkeepers told Joseph that there was no room at the inn, they weren’t being jerks—there simply wasn’t any space, and that was that. So, as parents have been doing since forever, they made room where there was no room. My baby is coming, and The Baby is coming, and we have got to make room. For me, this is not the time for major renovations. This is not the time to overhaul everything about my soul. All I need to do is make a little bit of room.
And you could say (O Magnum Mysterium) that it works out well enough.