It began with a temper tantrum. I suppose toddler tantrums are common, but this was an all-out, irrational meltdown of an 18-month-old. We were in my classroom at the time. 

School was out, but as the teacher, I was deep cleaning and locking up the room for summer vacation. Our four young children accompanied me that day, not necessarily to “help” but since the sitter was not available I hoped they would at least behave for a few hours while Mommy finished her work. 

In the midst of the toddler melt-down, my oldest, who was 10 at the time, turned to me and said, “Mom, I don’t feel so well. My throat really hurts.” It occurred to me that the toddler may be feeling sick as well.

A mother of four knows when to call it quits. I gathered my brood together, promised them ice cream on the way home, and made a quick tidying up of the classroom before turning in my keys. With the kids all buckled in the van, we took off for the nearest ice cream shop. 

Then it happened. We were waiting at a stop sign when another car tried to make a right turn at a very high speed and crashed into the front of our van.

The children were shaken, but physically were fine. The van, on the other hand, was not. The front end was caved in and my driver door would not even open. I waited with the kids at the roadside for the police, the tow truck and the friend who came to take us home.

Two hours later, when we finally got home, the three-year-old buried her head in my arms crying, “Mommy I’m sick! I’m really, really sick!!” And so she was. Over the next hour the kids dropped like flies, including the little boy about to celebrate his seventh birthday. 

Daddy came home from work, a very long wait at urgent care followed, and some $200 in co-payments and prescriptions later, we were told that not one, not two, but all four children had strep throat.

We hunkered down for a week’s worth of sore throats and fever and temper tantrums. 

The tantrum in my classroom was just the tip of the iceberg. These were very sick children and this particular illness made children miserable. I was stretched to my limit, physically. Our kids, normally sweet-tempered and easygoing, were especially whiny and cantankerous. Every time they would crank up the crankies, the phrases “for better or worse” and “in sickness and in health” would pop into my head

“But I’m not married to them,” I’d protest to myself (sleepless nights tend to lead to talking to myself). 

“Ahhh,” my inner voice would reply, “but they are the fruit of the vows you made. They are part and parcel of the package.” 

Actually, the entire “car-accident-strep-throat” scenario was covered by both the commitment and the grace of the sacrament of matrimony.

Commitment to promises

How long has it been since we’ve heard those vows, since we’ve taken a look at what we promised and what was promised in return? How long has it been since we’ve committed ourselves again to the promises made and asked for a renewal of grace?

On Valentine’s Day, St. Mary School in Palmdale celebrated marriage. In a new tradition that our school began last year, all parents married in the Catholic Church are honored at our St. Valentine Mass. As the couples stood facing each other and renewing their vows to one another, I couldn’t help but think what their children must be thinking. Of course they smiled and some of them giggled, but deep down I think they understood what a blessing it is to have their parents together and living their vows. 

In our country, marriage has fallen on hard times. It is not many children who are able to witness their parents renewing the promises they made to each other on their wedding day. Looking around the church that morning I saw parents who have lived their vows through the toughest of times —- through miscarriages, military deployments and critically ill children. Parents who struggle to keep a roof over their head and food on the table and who work very hard to keep their children in our Catholic school. 

But through all those tough times, they were able to look at each other, with love in their hearts, and with full knowledge of what they were promising, they could still say, “I do.”

Traditional Catholic wedding vows might be, “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” The words are so simple, yet the promises are so big. They are certainly bigger than the individual who makes them.

A Catholic wedding takes place in front of a community of Christian witnesses. The witnesses, the Church, are called to support the bride and groom and the family that is created that day. That support should extend well beyond the wedding day. Not too many couples need support during the honeymoon. The challenges come later.

A community’s support

The morning after the accident, a friend offered to arrange for the estimates for the damage to our van. He later waited out front for the tow truck so I did not have to go outside while the children were sick inside. 

Another friend offered to drive my husband to work so I could have the only drivable car if I needed it. My sister-in-law arrived with Otter-Pops and popsicles to soothe the children’s sore throats. Another friend dropped off Disney videos that were new to my children. 

I know it was the Holy Spirit who inspired these friends and family to help us. Our family was supported by our Christian community. Because of that support, it was easier to live our vows. 

We make a promise on a beautiful day filled with flowers and lace and candle light and music, but we live out that promise in ordinary time. We face weeklong bouts with strep throat and much longer battles against cancer. We face devastating job lay-offs. We have happy times, sad ones and everything in between. We commit and we promise to be faithful through it all. More than that, we promise to love through it all. God honors that promise every day of our lives. 

And when given the chance, we have the opportunity to stand before our own children and say, “Yes … in a heartbeat … I would do it all again.” TD

 Therese C. Corsaro teaches at St. Mary School, Palmdale.