Irene scribbled a note on the oversized calendar on the wall in the kitchen.
“Andrew?” she called. “You’re serving at Holy Thursday Mass.”
The only response was the sound of a turning page in the next room.
“Drew?” Irene called again.
She opened her mouth to yell, but took a deep breath instead. She was going to give up yelling for Lent this year. She was going to do a lot of things for Lent this year. A week left, and none of them had stuck. She realized now that she’d considered Lent a do-over for her neglected New Year’s resolutions, and still she’d failed. She shook her head, letting herself wonder for only a second what that meant.
She capped the pen and walked to the living room, where her twelve-year-old son was sprawled on the couch, all lanky arms and legs, two hundred pages into one of the Tolkien novels he loved.
He grunted acknowledgement without taking his eyes from the page.
“Holy Thursday. You and Ben are serving.”
“Uh-huh. Okay.” He glanced up for a second, probably knowing that otherwise she would have asked again if he’d heard her.
“Cool,” Irene muttered to herself, and turned back into the kitchen. She reached into the snack drawer and pulled out an Oreo. It was double stuff, which her husband, Mike, preferred, but which she felt was an insult to the classic American cookie. That made this kind of a sacrifice, right?
She flipped open the notebook she kept on the counter to the page where she’d scrawled Lenten resolutions weeks before.
Yell less. Okay, did that once, just now. So, check.
Listen more. Hmm, maybe not.
Pray the rosary every day. Definitely not.
No meat Fridays. This line had stars around it, as she had forgotten nearly every week last year and served pepperoni pizza or burgers to her whole family. This year, she’d done better, but more often than not, it was because she hadn’t really meal planned, and they’d had to eat eggs or tuna or PB & J sandwiches for dinner because it was all there was.
Walk three miles three times a week. She’d totally forgotten about that one.
No treats. Oops.
She paused mid-chew, and considered spitting the thing into the garbage. She’d stepped on the foot of the trash can to open the lid and started to lean over when Andrew came in, presumably looking for a snack.
“I thought you gave up treats,” Andrew said.
“It’s stale,” Irene answered, inadvertently spewing crumbs into the garbage.
“I don’t care,” he said.
“There’s a cheese stick in the fridge.” She dropped the rest of the cookie and its bag into the garbage, releasing the lid a second later. She swallowed what was in her mouth—it was mostly chewed at this point anyway—and felt a familiar sense of discouragement settle into place within her.
Andrew took two cheese sticks from the fridge and went upstairs, to do his homework, she hoped.
Irene looked back down at the list, but it was only seconds before she couldn’t read it for the tears in her eyes. If she was honest with herself, she couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt the desire to pray or to eat well or to move her body beyond what was totally necessary. It was her handwriting, but it read like someone else’s heart.
Part of her thought maybe the tears meant she desired these things now, but it wasn’t that simple. The last year or so had been a relatively calm period in her life. When people asked what was new, her answer was genuinely “nothing.”
Just the other night she and Mike had been talking about how that was a good thing—no one close to them was dying, there was no house to buy or sell, no job moves, no imminent adult decisions to make.
But while those all seemed like good things, the things you hope for yourself and others, there wasn’t any joy in it. Maybe this calm she’d wanted wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
She hadn’t tried a new restaurant in years. She hadn’t made a new friend in even longer. The books she read were continuing works of the same few authors and the TV she watched was largely syndicated. She hadn’t been challenged in any way in a long time. And when she’d tried, first in January, and again now, to be proactive about living her life in a big way, she’d proven to herself that she couldn’t do it.
“Mom?” Fifteen-year-old Ben came through the garage door, sweaty from baseball practice. “I’m hungry.”
Suddenly Irene wanted everything to be different and to have it all happen right away.
“Sure! I saw a recipe the other day for some granola bars with chia seeds. I think we might have some…” She rummaged through a drawer.
“Uh, no thanks. I was thinking more like peanut butter and apple, like always. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right?” He disappeared into the mudroom to put down his gear.
But what if it is broke? Irene thought to herself. She put the canister of oats back in the drawer and looked at her list a third time.
What do you want from me? she thought. Or rather, prayed. “God,” she put at the beginning of the sentence as she ran it through her mind again. God, what do you want from me?
Drew and Ben came into the room at the same moment, from different directions in the house. After monosyllabic greetings, one went for the peanut butter, the other for the apples in the bowl on the counter.
Her eyes fell on the page once more before she closed the book.
Irene took out a cutting board and knife and wordlessly accepted the fruit her older son had washed in the sink.
The knife thudded methodically as it broke the fruit into pieces to be shared.
She started to speak, to remind the boys about the yardwork they needed to get done this weekend before everyone came over for Easter, but they’d already begun their own conversation.
The boys laughed and she looked up to see pieces of her own face, pieces of her husband’s face smiling into each other.
It struck her how much she’d missed, without even realizing it.
And deep within her, at her core, she knew that this grace was what would bring her back to life.
Lindsay Schlegel is a daughter of God, wife, mother, and believer in the life-giving power ofwords. She’s the author of “Don’t Forget to Say Thank You: And Other Parenting Lessons That Brought Me Closer to God” and the host of the weekly podcast, Quote Me. She has alsocontributed to a number of other Catholic and secular publications, including Verily, Ever Eden,Aleteia, CatholicMom.com, Natural Womanhood, and Blessed Is She. You can learn more abouther work and her speaking ministry at LindsaySchlegel.com or on Instagram, @lindsayschlegs and @quoteme_podcast