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A Mother’s Love

SOUTH POINT — Ann Roa is a mother. It’s as simple as that. A caregiver, nurturer, guiding force in the transformation of baby humans into responsible, loving adults.

But she’s not just a mother of one or two or three. No, try the number 10 and you’ll have the size of the Roa household. Ten individuals, from the ages of 20 to 2, for whom Roa has dedicated most of her adult life directing them on the path to a life of their own.

Perfect Life

Why does she do it? Reed-thin with hair the shade of an ashy strawberry blonde, Roa speaks in the staccato of the Eastern Seaboard. She says it’s the work she was born to do.

“The number one job for me is to take care of my husband and the kids God has given me,” she said. “That is my primary vocation.”

It’s a vocation decades, certainly a century or

two, earlier that would have been the norm for a woman. Today, however, the times they are a changin’. And what Roa does for a living isn’t what most women seem to believe they’re supposed to do with their lives.

Roa understands full well the variety of choices the post-feminist era in this country has given women and has deep sympathy for her fellow travelers.

“I think the role of women because of the freedom we know we have and the choices is more complex and requires a difficult balancing act than ever before,” she said. “We have chosen to have a very traditional family. For us that works. It is an expression of a commitment to each other, an expression to live out our faith.”

The “we” Roa refers to includes her husband, Arturo, an ear-nose-throat surgeon whose practice is based out of the Holzer Liberty Circle Clinic in Proctorville. The Roa family has called a farm near South Point home for the past 12 years, where they came following a stint by the doctor at Johns Hopkins.

Fantasyland

Walk onto the grounds of Anima Christi Farm — the name comes from a 14th century prayer — and you’re feel transported to Brigadoon. Only this fantasyland is quite real and won’t evaporate into the mists. Heart-stopping vistas of yellow-green woods and rich valleys that understand the meaning of the word “lush” surround the rambling two-story stone home.

Two of the younger boys turn the side of the house into a jungle gym stretching their arms and legs from stone to stone to clamber up the outside like apprentice cat burglars.

A carotene terrier dogs the steps of her many masters, until she gets bored and dives into a pool of overgrown grass.

And everywhere there are birds of every imaginable color chirping out a Hallelujah Chorus punctuated occasionally by the snorting of one of the horses down by the little red barn.

This is more than a home; this is an oasis.

Her Greatest Satisfaction

The couple met at a regatta race in Philadelphia when both were in their 20s. By that time, Roa was a professional with a nursing degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a resume ranging from work in emergency and oncology departments to performing as a case manager for an insurance agency. The latter was a quick switch to the briefcase and expense account lifestyle that was short-lived.

Yet it is what she does now that gives her the greatest satisfaction, sense of accomplishment, just plain joy, in her day-to-day routine.

“Each of us are individual and have a unique role before God,” Roa said. “These are the 10 children God has given to me. I believe we are given grace for the circumstances we are given. I consider each child to be a tremendous blessing. The choices we have made have borne such fruit.”

No Television

There are seven boys and three girls in the Roa family. The two oldest are away at college. Ricardo Arturo, known as Art, 20, is at Washington and Lee, and his brother, Christian, 19, goes to Virginia Tech — the inevitable reality of growing up that leaves a physical and psyche gap in the household.

“Every time anyone is away, there is a huge hole,” she said.

That leaves home-schooling for the rest — Anna, 17, Therese, 16, Gabriel, 14, John Paul, 11, Isaac, 8, Ian, 6, Joseph, 4, and Mary Catherine, 2. A proposition less daunting when you factor in that there is no television in the Roa household.

“When you cut TV out of your life that gives you automatically time,” she said. “It is not that we are trying to fit our family into the hours from 4 p.m. to bedtime. Our evenings are usually free for family activities.”

Roa’s day starts at 6 when she and her husband join in prayer and devotions. Next comes some moments of exercise in the gym before the children stir out of bed around 7. From seven to 8 it’s the Roa family around the breakfast table. By 8, it’s time for school.

Faith Ever Present

Evenings start with dinner around a nine-leaf oval table, cooked by either Roa or the two older daughters. Then the family retreats to the chapel off the main hall of the house where the parents lead the children in nightly prayers. The family’s strong devotion to the Catholic faith is a tangible presence in almost every room of the house, from sculptures of Christ and Mary in the chapel to a stone statue of St. Francis in the shrubbery to an Infant of Prague tucked away on a desk in the study near bookshelves of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries.

Second to their faith is their devotion to each other. That’s what Gabriel finds as the best part of having so many brothers and sisters.

“I don’t have to go out with a bunch of friends. I have my friends here,” he said.

Standing nearby as he talked about his siblings was his raven-haired older sister, Anna, who has no reservations in saying her mother has done it the right way and she plans to follow suit.

“She’s always looking out for us, making our birthdays and Christmases special, sending my brothers homemade cookies so they aren’t lonely,” she said. “I would just like to be open to God’s plan. That’s what my parents have done, open to as many as God wishes to send.”

For those whose point of reference is incompatible with the concept of a large family, questions abound and if Roa hasn’t heard them all, she’s heard enough to know how to respond with kindness and clarity.

Tapestry of Love

Like a question from a reporter who wants to know how she makes sure each child isn’t overlooked as far as love and attention. Her response is direct and philosophically candid.

“It is not that the love of a parent is like a pie and each needs to get his slice,” she said. “It is like a tapestry and all these lives are interconnected. Everyone is surrounded by love. It is not that all the energy for this family is to come from me. … Every child’s needs are different.”

Then of course, there are the strangers at an airport or restaurant whose curiosity conquers any semblance of good manners quizzing “Are you done yet” or gasping “I could never do what you do.”

“You try not to be rude,” she said. “It’s as if I am already somehow alien. I walk on a path that is so foreign to others; they feel overwhelmed by even entertaining the idea of projecting themselves in my shoes. But they weren’t called to be me. I was not called to be them.”

But there are other questions as well. Questions about how to be a good parent. Those should be simple for a mother of 10, the one who has all the answers, right? Don’t kid yourself. Roa is quick to decline the title of omniscient parent.

“I do not consider myself an expert on mothering in any way,” she said.

“I don’t feel I am an expert in anything. You can have parenting a 2-year-old down and wake up one morning and he’s 3. It is a constant process of growth. … It is my responsibility to not be perfect but do the best I can.”

A Wonderful Life

Her joys may be difficult to quantify, but she definitely can articulate them. They are seeing children’s academic accomplishments translate into scholarships; picking up the phone to hear college sons calling home to wish their sister a happy sweet 16; listening to strangers praising the work ethic of a young teen; looking around the dinner table at night.

“I feel extraordinarily blessed. I have no regrets. I think it is a wonderful life,” she said. “Every day is a new joy, a new adventure waiting to happen. I hope there are some women out there who will say ‘Hey, this is for me.’ ”