The Cheerio Incident

Seven years ago, when my oldest son was just a baby, I decided that I would use his naptimes to work on a book. I planned on turning my thesis into something relevant for an LDS audience and writing additional chapters about the other women’s stories in Mark’s Gospel. So each day, after putting down the baby for his nap, I’d drag out all of my books and papers and notes and try to focus. And it seemed that every day, just as soon as I got into the groove of what I was doing, I’d hear “WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” and it would be time to dash up the stairs, grab the baby, and put aside my work for another day.

I was frustrated. And adding to my surliness was the plain fact that my work wasn’t going well. I was trying to write about Mark 7.24-30. (This is the story of the Greek woman who comes to Jesus seeking a healing blessing for her daughter. Jesus tells her “it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.” She replies: “Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs” and he then heals her daughter.) I had the distinct feeling that there was something about this story—something about her interchange with Jesus—that I didn’t understand. I knew that there was more to this story than what I had already gleaned—I just didn’t know what it was.

One day, while the baby was napping, and I should have been writing, I was picking baby-slobber-coated Cheerio remnants out of the carpet. (Another frustration that I was enduring at this point in my life was trying to live with an infant and a carpeted dining area.) I was becoming increasingly irritated not only by the gruesome task at hand, but also by my limited time to write and my mystification at this little story. And then suddenly it all came together. The Cheerios in our carpet were the result of a baby who didn’t know any better. They were there out of ignorance, not malice. Similarly, when the Greek woman tells Jesus that “the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs,” she is showing a prophetic understanding that the Jews will reject the Savior and that the Gentiles, eating the crumbs carelessly tossed out by the children (of Israel), will establish the church. I finally understood what I had been missing about this story all along. Only when Jesus has established that the woman understands how his mission will unfold is he able to grant her request. And I figured this out while cleaning the carpet.

Before that day, I had seen motherhood as an obstacle to the work that I wanted to do. But I could have spent weeks in a library, read everything written about that story by the most erudite scholars, and still not have learned what I did in the context of taking care of my child by picking Cheerios out of the carpet. It doesn’t always work out this nicely, of course: before my book was completed, I would shamefacedly beg a library clerk not to fine me for the green ink a toddler added to a costly out-of-print commentary on Matthew, I would find hideous errors in passages written under the influence of little people, and I’d wonder if CPS had a policy on banishing your children to the backyard in their bathing suits, turning loose the hose, locking the door, and watching them through the window while reading. Nonetheless, I remain convinced that somehow in God’s economy, it is possible to combine your passion and your parenthood, and enhance each.

Happy Mothers’ Day.

7 comments for “The Cheerio Incident

  1. Nice post. I used to have a skewed perspective as I raised my kids, it seems we were always trying to get “done” so we could enjoy life. I forgot to enjoy those moments. I am so grateful to have grandchildren, it’s like a second chance.

  2. Julie, what a great story. I wrote my dissertation during my first child’s naps. I really believe, like you, that becoming a mother has made me a better researcher and writer–more motivated, more diligent, more creative, more organized. I’m not sure that my research has made me a better mother, however, except to give me an outlet that keeps me sane.

    Now that the first child no longer takes a nap, I’m wondering how to go forward.

  3. What a beautiful epiphany about motherhood! I’ve been waiting for one myself, but its just not happening. I’ll just read your’s again and pretend it is my own…

  4. Thanks Julie. I had the spiritual thought yesterday in Bishopric meeting and your insight into Mark Chapter 7 was well received.

  5. This is great, Julie – thanks for sharing your insights. It’s so easy to lose track of all the wonderful blessings we have in our lives. Even the day to day drudgeries of cleaning and picking up Cheerios can give us joy and enlightenment.

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