I love Latin, I really really do. I love that we have a common language to speak about matters of our Faith, and it’s an absolutely gorgeous language to sing in. But when it comes to philosophy, Latin falls short. Ancient Greek is so much more effective and precise. They fit complex concepts and teachings that we take paragraphs to say in single words!
The one class I took on the Ancient Greeks in college was far too short. We just read little snippets of the Great Thinkers, but those little snippets in that one semester taught me more about the nature of humanity than the four years of psychology study combined.
My favorite concept from the ancients was the concept of “Arete” (Greek: ἀρετή). Concisely translated, it means excellence, but there is so much more to it than that. Arete is living up to your full potential. A person possessing arete is a person of the highest effectiveness.
There was a long piece (I want to say it was a eulogy) I had the joy of reading– and I’m sitting here kicking myself for not keeping it– on the way that the Greeks held arete as the highest human achievement. If anyone knows what I’m forgetting here, please tell me! But when I read it, I remember thinking, “Yeah! This is what I want! I want to be remembered as someone who strove for excellence and leaves behind me a legacy of using my gifts to better creation.”
One of many scourges of the Millenial generation is our tendency to be satisfied with mediocrity. If it’s “good enough”, well, then it’s good enough! Why try harder than you have to? My generation is not an excellent one.
Most of the time, I just shake my head and sound like an old grump as I mutter about “kids today”, but when this satisfaction with mediocrity seeps over into mothering, I get a little more peeved. You’ve heard the saying, “anything worth doing is worth doing well”. What could possibly be worth doing more than bringing new life into the world and fostering that life to enrich the world? Why, oh why, would we settle for “just passable” in that?!
But it’s totally socially acceptable to do! Moms are functioning alcoholics by the droves, and people say, “She works hard, it’s okay.” It’s totally fine to let PBS raise your kids because lots of it is “educational”. Leggings are practically the mom uniform because of how little effort they take. No other mom would dream of criticizing another for these and a million other things because we’ve been there too.
Last week, I was down for a few days with a stomach bug. Netflix was on from sunup to sundown since moving from the couch brought on cramps I haven’t seen the likes of since childbirth. I did wear leggings and a tunic top because real pants hurt my tummy. And yeah, last night we had some friends over and had a couple drinks a piece throughout the evening. I’ve been there and I’ll be there again.
But should we stay there?
And furthermore, why would we want to stay there?
A glory of our Faith is our policy of “all good things in moderation,” and that sometimes those good things can include nigh on extravagant self-care and delicious wine. What’s more, we are actually commanded to rest for one day a week. We aren’t expected to go! go! go! 24-7-365. It would be bad for us to do that; physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Arete to the Greeks didn’t mean what “accomplishment” meant to Mr. Darcy. You can’t be an expert at everything. But you can discern which things are worth your attention and effort and prioritize them. We’re allowed off days. We’re allowed bad days. We’re allowed crying in the closet days. But what we aren’t allowed to do is to give up.
My idea of the excellent mom I want to be isn’t a mom that has each kid in karate, music, football, youth group, and volunteering once a week all at once. It’s a version of me who is actively seeking to be the best mom that I can be with the resources I will be given. What exactly that’s going to look like as the years go by, I don’t know.
Millenial mommas: don’t settle for just good enough when it comes to parenting. This mothering thing is the most important work you will ever do. Don’t overstress yourself over it (everyone needs a little grace now and then), and do use your judgment and discernment, but the gifts, talents, and resources you are given? Use them! I promise you, your efforts will not be wasted.
And who knows! Maybe when someone gives my eulogy someday, they’ll mention how I was excellent. How I lived up to my fullest potential. How I was a person of the highest effectiveness.
(And I would like to preemptively request that they deliver that eulogy in a Toga. Kkthanxbai!)