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Roxane Salonen, Published August 25 2009

Parenting Perspectives: Nuns provide insight to mom

The grounds of St. Benedict’s Monastery in the summertime are a visual spa to the summer-worn mother.

Gardens burst with the fruits of spring labor and flowers dance along pathways. One walkway leads to a goldfish pond, where sitting still and breathing slowly is all that’s required.

For two summers, I’ve been treated to a writing residency at this monastery for Benedictine religious sisters in St. Joseph, Minn. Along with time to write uninterrupted, I’ve enjoyed a reprieve from meal-making and sibling-squabbling.

I’ve also had a chance to observe and get to know the sisters, thereby glimpsing a calling beyond the one I’ve known.

Both years, interesting insights into motherhood have been part of the experience.

At last year’s residency, I was enjoying a conversation with one of the nuns, sharing bits of my everyday life with her, when she leaned in closely and said, “I’ve always thought the life of a mother and wife must be awfully challenging.”

And so it is, I thought, realizing that up until that point, I’d viewed her life as the more challenging one, and mine as the “normal,” saner version of the two.

Throughout that week, as I noted the high proportion of doctorate degrees among the sisters and the freedom with which they seemed to go about their lives, I began to have a curious admiration for those who’d chosen religious life. The simplicity of their world seemed enviable.

Nevertheless, by the end of my stay, I’d convinced myself that for all its challenges, life as a mother was the right one for me.

This year brought another revelation. At some point midweek, it hit me that of the nearly 300 women present, I was the only one who’d experienced physical motherhood. This fact helped me appreciate the gift of motherhood in a new way.

Yes, sacrifice is part of it. From the minute we learn about the lives we’re carrying, we mothers begin to set aside some of our desires to make room for the small beings within us. But most of us also come to realize the privilege of living for another.

I no longer feel compelled to compare one life against the next. We are all mothers in some sense. All women have the capacity within our natures to nurture. We’ve simply chosen different ways of living this out.

I’d no sooner gotten back on the interstate toward Fargo this year when I received an urgent text message from my daughter. Trouble was brewing at home and my long-distance advice was needed. So much for the reprieve. Back into action!

Motherhood is often exhausting, emotionally as well as physically. But I have to say that, upon my return, as I allowed wee arms of love to encircle me, I was renewed all over again; not by daisies and zinnias, but by my own little flowers now turning toward me, soaking me up like the sun.

Roxane B. Salonen works as a freelance writer and children’s author in Fargo, where she and husband Troy are parents of five children.

She also has a blog, www.areavoices.com/peacegardenmama