' I can't get through the day without
spiritual grace' ( Mary Paschall )
By Robert R. Schwarz
How does a married mother of seven children manage life each day ? Mrs. Mary Paschall , an attractive woman of 46 years, answered my question in an interview in her kitchen. She was interrupted a few times by her youngest child, , five-year-old Andrew , who badly wanted one of the home-baked cookies he had just noticed on the table. " Later, later ," the child was told ; mother looked over her glasses and , with tongue-in-cheek and a sincere but slightly strained smile, commented, " Well, a life of mother is not as exciting as a war hero but very similar. "
Mary has dark brown hair and blue eyes and spoke openly about her faith life and motherhood. She credited both to a lot of family loving and praying , effective group communication, and a home that was run 24-7—well, almost—with corporate-like organization.
Key player in all this, of course, is her husband Jim, a 51-year-old patent attorney for UOP, a Honeywell company in Des Plaines, Illinois; its a 20-minute drive from the family's upper-middle class Arlington Heights suburb . Here they live in a four-bedroom, 3 ½ bathroom home with cozy ambience inside and out.
After Mary told four of her children to tone down their play noise in the living room , she gave an updated tally of all the kids : There is Elizabeth , 21, Bridget, 19—both attending the University of Dallas— James, 17, Theresa, 15 , Joseph 11, Maria, 8 , and Andrew—now on the verge of tears as he gave a parting glance at the cookie denied him . All children attend Catholic schools, except Andrew, who is home-schooled. His mother believes that great schools won't produce great kids if parents don't do a good job in raising them . " We really wanted our children to have a Catholic education, though the Arlington Heights public schools are fabulous. Our next-door neighbor had eight kids and all have gone to Catholic schools and they loved it. " I couldn't suppress commenting " boy, that's a lot of tuition !" Mary took a deep breath of regret , as if to blame that expense on an obvious fact that she had no time for even a part-time salaried job to defray it.
I teased her : " You have seven— what about number eight ? "
" The kids would love it, " she said. " When I was holding Andrew's hand the other day during a walk, I asked him , ' What am I going to do next year when I'm all by myself ? ' He looked at me and said, ' Mom, you just have to have another baby !' "
I was curious to hear Mary had handled the daily stress that naturally came from mothering such a large family . To explain the dynamics of a mother's stress, she first recapped her own typical day .
It Begins with a Prayer at 6 a.m.
Mom is up at 6 a.m. and spends her first 30 minutes in prayer and a spiritual reading. " I try to begin my day thinking of God, asking Him help me plan the day," she said. " I then take a shower and come down and start making my coffee. " The kids rise 45 minutes later and might quibble over first of a bathroom. " Most like one particular bathroom , but the little ones come into my bathroom. " Beds are made , and putting on clothes hold to schedule, though occasionally Mom will say to one of the girls, " That's a little low cut. Better put a sweater over that ." Jim and Mary have made sure that items like sorting bins for clothes are centrally located in the Paschall home. Breakfast is a quiet affair; the kids make their own, usually cereal or eggs. Mary has already made sandwich lunches for school and laid them on a counter, along with a banana and another fruit of their choice.
|The Paschall family on "spring break " in Florida|
Getting everyone on time to school and Jim to work requires logistics ; the older son drives his car to high school, dropping off his sixth grade brother and second grade sister on the way. Dad returns from Mass about 7:15, eats breakfast and then takes his daughter Theresa to school near his office in Des Plaines. After school, home-schooled Andrew gets out of the house with Mom to pick up his brothers and sisters.
The real stress arrives for Mom in late afternoon. " I think I can speak for moms that those hours between four and six are the crazy hours, " Mary says , now suspicious about the quiet coming from the living room being too quiet. " Everybody needs Mom then, for homework, for help for this or that. " ( Andrew was at the table edge again for a cookie. "Now go upstairs, and I'll call you in a few minutes, " Mom told him, and then questioned him about a scratch on his forehead that was not there ten minutes ago. ) Mary does all the dinner cooking, occasionally crock-pot style, with Andrew enjoying his chore of cutting up the vegetables.
At the dinner table, Dad says a traditional family prayer. Behind him on a kitchen wall are two dry-erase boards , each note-filled with two months of important family events and chores for each child . Mary showed me a list totaling 18 chores assigned for a particular day. "Dinner time is definitely a stressful time for me , " Mary said. "The little ones want to talk but Jim and I want to hear what the older ones have on their minds. It's the one time the whole family is together and we want to compare notes. " Glancing up at the two note boards, she added, "It's all up there for everybody to know what's coming up. We rotate the jobs weekly. It's all about communication. " Dad lists the chores and, when needed, sees that the kids do them .
There are no serious discipline problems, Mary said ,explaining that when a need for discipline does arise, "the trick is to discipline without anger ." Instead of getting angry when the kids push Mom to the limit, she takes a nap . "Most moms don't do that, " she admitted, and concluded the topic with " kids' whole life is based on the love between the parents. "
After dinner , Mom's clan cleans up the kitchen and then usually says a family Rosary ( " Hail, Mary, full of grace…") . The younger ones are in bed at 8:30 , the older between 10 and 10:30.
How Does Mom Deal with that Stress ?
We talked more about Mom's stress: Some of it comes when Mary is obligated to leave home for a half-day or evening to watch one of the children's sporting events or to attend an important meeting , such as taking charge of planning a mother-daughter luncheon . " I turn to God a lot during the day, " she said. "I can't get through it without that spiritual grace. You know, Mom sets the tone in the home, and that can be such a demand. After all these years, I know that when I'm cheerful, my children are too, and when I'm down and out and having a bad day , so are my children. Somebody once asked me why do you want so many children ? Isn't it hard to divide your time and energy so much ? And I answered no, with each child your heart expands. It's all about love and forgiveness. I think that being a mother is one of the most important and profound jobs created by God. "
What saddens Mary is when teenage children unintentionally turn their parents against each 'But Mom said I didn't have to do that ! ' That's not their goal, but that's how they naturally behave ." Again she stressed the importance of good family communication , a principle Mary advocates at classes she conducts about good parenting. She becomes sad when her kids are ill , and happy when they are happy. The fatal heart attack of her father-in-law also saddened her but also brought the family and her marriage stronger , she said.
|Mary as Mary Poppins and as a mom for all|
seasons (Halloween ) with Andrew and Maria
Anything that Mary had to learn the hard way ? " Well, " she replied with humored self-deprecation, " It kind of runs in an Irish Catholic family, but I can be a very opinionated woman, and so I have to be careful of what I say and how I say it . And I know I need to develop more compassion for those who don't necessary agree with my faith , for those who don't have all of the gifts of faith I have . " She added, however, " We need to practice that faith , for example, by helping these people to understand that it's not okay to live with your boyfriend . Mary and her husband have "very good dialogue " about moral issues of the day.
Milestones in Mom's life include meeting Jim and giving birth to her first child . Mary's father , whom Mary recalls as a faith-filled man who gave her the roots of her Catholic life and who shaped it more than anyone else, had been praying for years for his daughter to find a good husband. During Mary's first two years after college graduation, she lived alone in a Chicago apartment . On this fateful day , she saw Jim for the first time while exiting an legal office after a job interview for secretary. " I was walking down the hall and Jim saw me and I saw him, and I went home and told my sister , ' I don't think I'll take the job, but there was this real cute attorney in the hallway.' " Mary did take the job and six months later , the couple were together teaching an eighth grade confirmation class —and soon engaged.
|Theresa with Mom and Dad on 8th grade graduation day|
When Mary is having a bad day, really challenged, she prays the "Memorare " . It's a prayer she learned as a child and prayed when her son Joseph, then age 3, was being wheeled into an operating room for the first of ten surgeries to save his eye . The youth had accidentally stabbed it with a knife while "clandestinely" opening up a bag of chocolate cookies in his mother's kitchen . The prayer: Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.
People , Mary said, were praying this all over the world because of her and Jim's involvement with Opus Dei ( Work of God ), an international prelature of the Catholic Church compose mostly of laity and secular priests who believe that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity. " I just kept praying it over and over again, and it just comforted me to know that Our Lady was taking the burden from me. " As a child , Mary went daily to Mass , where she "unloaded " her troubles .
Joseph's surgery was successful , but left his eye light-sensitive .
For fun and recreation, the family watches movies on television, goes biking together, and fills their 11-passenger Suburban during the summer for a week's visit with Mary's mother-in-law in Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri. The kids frequent the public library and swim at a Park District pool, where a daughter and son are lifeguards. Mary herself likes to take a neighborhood walk , and currently is reading the classic Russian novel "Anna Karenina ".
Loss of a Baby, a Pivotal Event in Mary's Motherhood
Near the end of our interview, Mary related what she considered had hugely defined much of her life . " There's a hidden sorrow in the world, and it's mothers who have lost a baby," she began. " Jim and I had been praying for more children because we wanted a large family …"
|Cookie time during those "crazy hours "|
In her sixth week of pregnancy with Joseph, Mary was rushed to the hospital with severe abdominal pains that had forced her to bed, not knowing she was hemorrhaging internally. Doctors could not diagnose her condition because being pregnant prevented an x-ray or MRI. But because appendicitis was suspected, exploratory surgery was done .
" My husband, not knowing of this complication, had the presence of mind to call a priest, who came and anointed me., " Mary recalled. " After that, I felt unbelievable comfort, like I could fly . But just before the surgery, I wanted a cross. If I could see one, I knew I'd be fine. There was none, but then when the surgical nurse secured my arms to the surgery table, I suddenly saw that my outstretched arms had shaped me as a cross . And I was on it . "
Two babies—not one baby as Jim and Mary had believed—were inside Mary. One of them was now dead in her Fallopian tube, which had ruptured, causing that severe pain. The other, Joseph, was very much alive and healthy in his mother's uterus. Mary had an ectopic pregnancy, a rare situation where the fertilized ovum has developed outside the uterus, in the Fallopian tube.
Mary believes this experience has made her a better mother and given her a stronger sense that she is " a child of God " and that He loves her. " I am a person who likes to have control , but when I was in bed for several weeks after Joseph's birth and saw how my husband was capable of doing so much for our family , I was able to let go of this need for control . What was a serious sorrow became a joy. I learned that in life we have to take all our crosses and turn them into joy."
One of Mary's goals today is to figure out a daily plan that includes God in all her activities. An artistic rendering Mary has seen frequently of Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, prompted this reply when I asked Mary how she'd like to be remembered when the Lord takes her home: " As a mother and wife who loved much."
|"Mom," her youngest son told her, " You just have to have|
another baby ! "
All comments are welcome.
© 2016 Robert R. Schwarz