A few days ago, we returned home from the library to find the neighbor children keeping vigil in the driveway. It was past dinnertime, but the older girls raced off to spend an hour or so with these friends in the yard next door. The sun was just beginning to set, and the air smelled muddy and cool as I struggled to get the little ones out of their car seats. (Rarely do I do this job, with Agnes, Theresa, and Margaret always on hand to open latches and unfasten straps.)
With the others off playing, the little three naturally paused to linger on the path in the front. Patrick checked on our Praying Mantises, while Marie gathered wildflowers, grown tall and tempting at the edge of the lawn. Baby Maureen tramped about the bare garden, peering down to probe the prints her worn-out little moccasins were pressing in the smooth, soft earth.
I too was content to remain outside, smiling to hear the boisterous shouts and merry laughter of my older girls mingling with birdsong in the distance. Digital camera in hand, I began clicking photos, starting with an image of little Maureen's muddy march:
My mind wandered to The Cottage Garden weblog, and I began photographing burgeoning spring blooms, including the rosy spray of cherry blossoms above, noting with admiration the way each new floweret showcases a tiny yellow windowbox of its own.
Marie and Maureen strolled through the cool, moist grass hand-in-hand, pausing in the shadow of a bare Oak. I took their picture, but regretted not adjusting the lens to get a better shot:
Meanwhile, Patrick had rediscovered the small opening under our rhododendron hedge, just the perfect size to grant admittance to a boy of four. I snapped his picture, dreaming of the pink profusion nestled amongst those leathery leaves, wondering whether our hulking hedges would bloom in time for the May Crowning this year.
Turning an eye toward the girls, I woke from my reverie to witness Marie, usually the world's most sensible six-year-old, with Maureen in tow, tramping straight toward the road. They were about eight feet from the edge when I called out, "Marie, what are you doing bringing the baby so close to the street?!" My sharp and sudden cry shattered the springtime serenity and surprised Marie, surpised her so much in fact that she dropped Maureen's hand and bounded a beeline back to me. I gaped at the scene in disbelief, shouting, "No! Don't let her go! Maureen, come back!"
Now Maureen had just spent the afternoon leading me on a merry chase through stacks and shelves in the library. The moment she heard my desperate, "Maureen, come back!" she grinned roguishly, roared her laughter to the evening air, and raced directly toward the road. I bolted after her, my heavily-laden, expectant form not catching up until we were both standing in the dead center of the street. I listened numbly to her squeals of delight as I hefted her off the road, marching straight for the door of the house with a bewildered Patrick and shaken Marie trailing along at my heels.
Our street is not especially busy, although this in itself is a danger. Drivers, not expecting many pedestrians or bicycles, have a tendency to speed down it. Landscapers, tree specialists, and workmen of all sorts are kept busy this time of year, often careening past at breakneck speed, little expecting a small toddler to flit from out a massive hedge. It was also rush hour, the time of day when weary working people race for home. If any of these drivers had happened to be coming at that moment, our Maureen--the "Treasure"--the spring blossom of our hearts, would have been killed.
Just like that.
Talking it over with Marie later, she explained that more flowers were growing a few feet from the road and she was bringing Maureen with her to help pick them. Her innocent and artless account reminded me of the classic images of children playing near streams and other imminent dangers, protected by an unblinking ethereal Guardian. I have always wondered where the parents were in those pictures. Now I know all too well.
This incident has left me pensive the past few days. Each time Maureen makes one of her amusing babyish remarks, like the "prayerful countenance" story, the thought of not having her passes darkly through my mind. The night this happened, she was singing a composition of her own, marching a merry circle around the den:
"This is Mommy! This is Marie! I am Baby! I am Treasure! And I am very, very HUN-gry!"
Watching her tousled head keep time to the music, I shuddered to think what a dark night it would have been for all of us if circumstances had been different. I was filled with conscious appreciation for Maureen, and indeed all our children, and the ordinary, unwaivering, unremarkable simplicity of our lives.
It struck me later how much I take for granted these calm and commonplace days parading past unnoticed, each with its hopes and dreams, cares and concerns, delights and disappointments. Why is it that I let trifling challenges or inessential ambitions exhaust my energy and occupy my mind?
St. Gianna Molla once said that, when faced with death, the troubles and aspirations of the world seemed to her nothing but vanity. Perhaps this is what Our Dear Lord meant when He instructed, "do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day." (Mt. 6: 34.) This is not only an exhortation against futile fears--it is a call to the virtue, the gift, of Contentment.
For years now, each of our children leads one special prayer at bedtime. Their roles in prayer evolved gradually as, one by one, our toddlers became old enough to participate, and I have often supposed that these prayers hold a specific spiritual significance for each child. Agnes says the Memorare; Theresa leads the Prayers for Our Holy Father; Margaret recites the Prayer to St. Michael; and Patrick does a fair job delivering the "Now I lay me down to sleep."
Every night, since right around her third birthday, Marie has sung for us the Prayer to her Guardian Angel:
Angel of God, My Guardian Dear, To whom God's love commits me here. Ever this day, Be at my side, To light and guard, And to guide.
I am thankful to Marie and Maureen's Angel Guardians, who, as Our Lord promised, "always behold the face of [our] Father who is in heaven." (Mt. 18: 10.)
And I am deeply grateful for our lives exactly as they are.