Beg, borrow or

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… get a steal and buy at a really good discount. That’s kind of the motto around here for the nonessentials (and the essentials, actually). Richard fortunately still has business in this wacky economy. But the facts are what they are and we—like many in design and construction-related fields—have had to make some major adjustments. And, as much as I dislike it, I’m grateful. I’ve learned a lot.

I’m thankful for how it has grounded us to our home. How we are thriftier with groceries and have controlled impulse buys. I even like the fact that I traded in my leased minivan for a used full-size van. And much to my surprise, I actually find that big thing much more fun to drive.

I like how my son checks the price on everything and says, “That’s not Mom’s kind of price.”

I’ve had to be more creative with our homeschooling curriculum. Instead of spending a lot on books, we bought very inexpensive used laptops on eBay for Henry and MC.  We’ve networked them and are incorporating technology in our daily work and are looking up more facts and educational materials on the internet. Today Mary Claire emailed to me her second draft of her biography of St. Agnes, I made comments in edit mode and sent it back for her revisions and corrections. (I am hoping the novelty of her sending me instant messages from the living room will wear off soon.)

Henry is using his for keeping his schedule and work record, using his online reading program and math drills. He’s also learning how to type. Of course we still had to buy math and science, but we’re visiting the library a lot more frequently, studying Shakespeare, saints of the early church and bible stories. I think it has livened things up a bit. A completely classically focused curriculum was just too much for Henry, and so far Mary Claire is enjoying the change, too. (Even though she has to write a lot.)

With homecoming time for dear Helen, she’s borrowed a dress and got an amazing deal on shoes. (Did you know that if they don’t have your size at Payless they give you an inconvenience coupon for $3 off of the same shoe in your size at another store?) She completely embraced the idea of borrowing and was happy with the shoes (which are really adorable!). A little ribbon and some other accessories and the whole ensemble has become her own. Besides, how many of us women could fill a closet with fancy dresses we’ve worn but once? (I wished I had figured that one out earlier.)

I don’t really know what lies ahead. We’re just plugging away. And if not for faith, I’m not sure how anyone gets through these kinds of times. I count my blessings and am finally remembering to include our own family’s needs in my prayers more often. That may sound odd, but I just didn’t.

I’ve always thanked God for my wonderful spouse and for the glimpse into His amazing miracle of creation by giving us each of these beautiful and remarkable children. I have just always felt others needed our prayer intentions more than we needed our own.I still do, but I know we need them, too. It is through these circumstances we find out who we are and do what we can to pick up that cross and at least get an infinitesimal understanding of what Christ did for all of us … and truly be humbled.

Expect the unexpected

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I know that’s cliché, but I occasionally I need to remember to embrace that sentiment. I’d be a lot more relaxed.

Today we set out for the dentist with Henry. Without going into the gory details of past visits, let me sum it up simply. Henry + Dentist = PHOBIA. (Notice the all-caps emphasis.)

I had originally planned to start the day with mass because for the first time in two weeks, thanks to baby, I had a decent night’s sleep, and Richard was going to drop off Lil. We were ready but then I opted out. I decided that expecting Henry to sit still when he was facing “the chair” was just too much. In my world, an hour with the Lord at mass can do wonders. In this seven-year-old boy’s, it’s not a realistic expectation.

On our way to the office, Henry sat nervously in the back of the van only once asking, “Could you please turn around Mom?” Which was already much better than our last experience. At about the same time, I noticed the car ahead of us traveling rather slowly. It was an old mid-80s model Pontiac Sunbird. The driver and passenger appeared to be wearing hoods. That’s sketchy, I thought. It was a little early on a Monday for casing Mack Avenue, but you know, these times they are a changin’.

With my attention back to my boy, I told him I would not turn around, but I was proud of the way he was facing this appointment. Then I changed lanes, sped past the turtle-paced Sunbird, glanced in my side view mirror to see closer than it may appear that the gangsta ride I was passing were really two older religious sisters. Not casing, but being cautious. Not hooded, but habited. The old car was actually very tidy. And not what I expected.

Richard met us at the appointment, just in case. We said as much of the St. Michael prayer as a one-flight elevator ride would accommodate and then proceeded down the hall to the office. And I didn’t expect this: Henry faced his fears head on.

He asked for an explanation of every tool and every procedure. The dentist and her staff were great. They were there with him at the other appointments. They too were anticipating a different experience.

At one point, when they left the room, I reminded Henry it was all about making choices. He could make the choice to be brave. Of course he quickly reminded me that he could also choose not to be brave. True. But he didn’t. He held on and jittered his way through what just two weeks ago would have been unthinkable for him. He asked Richard to hold his hand, but then let go whenever he felt confident he could handle it. And at the end, while still reclined in the chair with two pairs of gloved hands working in and around his mouth, he gave us a discreet two thumbs up.

Like my surprise with the slow-drivin’ gangsta sistas, I need to remember with my children to look beyond my expectations. Although I clearly set up with them how I expect them to behave, what I expect them to accomplish, I realize it’s not really up to me. I certainly never expected my son to be so afraid of the dentist in the first place. But then, I also never expected him to turn around, face his fear and in spite of himself be so strong. Pretty soon maybe in a G. Gordon Lilly moment he’ll be strapping himself to a tree during a lighting storm or eating a rat or something …

Now I only need to work on a way for Lillian to overcome her fear of loud toilets.

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle;
be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray:
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits
who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls.
Amen. 

 

I’m sharing this story…

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… at the request of the dear woman to whom I origanally sent it four years ago.

We used to care for Richard’s dear great aunt. She lived with us for a time before she required more skilled care prior to her death. We were grateful for that special time with her, and the experience and her presence in our children’s lives has proven to have been profound. Know that she was a funny and exceptionally intelligent woman, for whom my dear spouse always had the greatest love and respect. Because of his love for her, I was fortunate to come to love her, too. We moved her from New Jersey in 2002 to live close by in an assisted living home. When she needed more assistance than they offered, but would have been unhappy in a nursing home, we moved her in with us. She had a stroke on Halloween in 2005 and needed more care than we could provide. She passed away in Janaury 2006.

____________

Aug. 2005

I was going to send you a nice email. But I think Auntie is cutting up a Depends and trying to flush it down the john.  I woke this morning to find a paper towel note on the counter that said

“Please go to the drugstore and get me some Modess. I am menstruating.”

I tried to convince her yesterday that this could not be so. She is 94 and that would be one for the record books. Her response … maybe I’m not 94. YOU tell me I’m 94. Maybe I’m not. Oh. Then I reminded her of her hysterectomy 50 years ago. She says oh yes, I remember that, but could you find a drugstore that can deliver Modess? (Modess?!)

This started yesterday. She was actually in good spirits. Woke up, knew our names without a formal introduction. Had breakfast. Twice. She forgets that she has eaten and usually at around 10:30 corners me with a can’t-a-girl-get-a-decent-meal-in-this-joint request for breakfast. Instead of telling her that she’s already had her Total and tea, I just feed her again. (Telling her opens a different can of worms.) She complains the whole time that I’m waiting on her and if I would just show her where things are she’d be able to get breakfast herself. Hmmm. I wish I thought of that. (When the kids help, she accuses me of securing child labor to wait on her.)

So … we had plans to visit friends in Grand Blanc. Auntie, too. Of course. She got dressed and asked about 30 times what our plans were for the day. I just try to answer as if it’s the first time I’ve heard the question. (You have to in order to remain sane. If you let the repetition grate on you it starts that blood-boiling feeling. Not at all productive.)

Then just as we were preparing to go, the menstrual saga began. She obviously scratched herself or something. She’s on blood thinners, and it takes a little longer for bleeding to stop. Her skin is paper thin. I couldn’t get her out of the bathroom. She kept telling us to go on with out her. Which, of course, we can’t. Finally, I came up with a Depends. Gave that to her, trying to pass it off as a pad of some sort. She didn’t quite buy it because there was no belt. She finally accepted it but not without major complaint. An hour after our planned departure time we finally piled in the van and headed north. 

A few minutes into the trip she asked where we were going, because apparently the first 30 times wasn’t quite doing it. I answered (with glee, mind you). She began this whole monologue about she wished she had been told where we were going, how would you feel if you were not told. She doesn’t know these people and they don’t want her there and when we get there they won’t like her because they will have learned about her from me and … (this goes on and on and on and on). The tone in her voice was this kind of rambling monotone. Just loud enough to be heard but not conversational. For an hour. I tried to ignore it. I started singing. Put on music. Whatever I could to avoid being sucked into the vortex. Richard and I would look at each other and occasionally (silently) laugh … because there was nothing else we could do.

We got to our destination. She was entirely cordial. She puts on an awesome game face in all social situations. She went to the bathroom several times. Not a mention of menstruation. Whew! She was the perfect guest. We had a lovely time. It was time to go, and we piled back in the van.

Thus began the journey home. It started all over again. The monotone complaining. She had requested a Ricola from her bag, which was in her walker in the back of the car. We stopped for gas and Richard got one for her. Once we were on the road, she asked for her whole bag of Ricola — which was still in the back of the car — so she could offer them to everyone. I assured her it was unnecessary because Richard, Helen and I didn’t want one, Henry couldn’t have one, Mary Claire was sleeping. She was outraged. By us denying her the opportunity to offer Ricola she would now be perceived as a skin flint. (huh?) She’s never been perceived as a skin flint! On and on. Then she said she should go back to the American House. They said she was welcome to visit ( — not live) any time. On an on and on and on. Occasionally she would reach forward and tap on my shoulder to try to get my attention. Richard put on some classical music and if you could picture this … it felt like I was a captive in silent movie with the racing piano music and this comical old-lady character with the bony fingers reaching from behind to scare the heck out of me every few minutes.

When we pulled up the driveway we had to have words to get her out of the car. By words I mean I was raising my voice more than a little. (Which, by the way, is not my favorite approach but sometimes the only successful one.) Then we got in the house and the Modess talk resumed. Not missing a beat. I convinced her to get ready for bed. Told her I was done talking about it. Gave her her meds (with an extra-added bonus of a Tylenol PM) and hoped we would wake up refreshed, renewed and requiring reintroduction.

Richard and I put the kids to bed then sat in the family room in front of our pathetic 13-inch TV to catch up on the day’s news. When I heard Auntie’s bedroom door open I panicked. I knew I’d had just about all I could take for the day, and arguing with her or discussing things over and over doesn’t help secure the point. So I hopped up and turned off the TV. And there we were, Richard and I, crouched on the floor between the couch and train table hoping not to be discovered by a menstruating-94-year-old lady without a uterus. She stood in the dining room going over and over her need for Modess and could I get her some. But she wasn’t really talking to anyone. Because as far as she knew, I wasn’t there. This went on forever. Richard and I had to fight off the giggles because laughter is the best medicine (next to Valium). After she finally retired to her room and shut the door, we discussed whether or not that was the right approach. Were we being unkind? But since we’ve been through it with her before, we agreed it was best because there was nothing more we could do to make her feel more settled. And sometimes, like a child, ignoring is the only solution.

To contrast this story, the other day I got her to take bath. Her first bath (or shower) in more than three years. A few weeks ago I began by planting the seed.

“Wouldn’t a soak in the tub be nice? Maybe someday when Richard and Henry are out you could take a nice long bath. Look at this nice handle on the tub so you can get up? Aren’t these soft towels for after a bath?”

Work it girl. 

On Saturday she was in an agreeable-enough state to get her to respond to my suggestion. She really relaxed. Enjoyed soaking in the tub, the warm water, the fresh-scented soap. I washed her back and trimmed her nails. She sobbed at her nakedness but then rejoiced at the care I was giving her. I felt so blessed and humbled. She stayed in her housecoat for hours, truly at peace.

It’s those simple graces that remind me why we’ve taken on what we’ve taken on and help me cope with the lunacy.

This morning, my spouse took the children fishing with my dad and I’m here, waiting for the games to begin. Will we sail on rails like the Millennium Force or have a day of scraping steel like the Demon Drop? Ah the adventures of life. (I thought you’d appreciate the Cedar Point analogy.)

God Bless you dear friend. I hope all are well and you are enjoying this Labor Day weekend. I would have sent this earlier this morning … but I had to feed Tante Yvonne … Twice. 🙂

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the first thing she asked for this morning was for Modess. Oh boy. I hear scraping steel.

The song in my head

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The song lyrics that played in my head for most of the past 36 hours are from the musical Into the Woods. Even without knowing the tune, I’m sure you can appreciate how words from a song or a line from a movie can continually repeat in your head, subtly trying to tell you something. Well, in the quick patter that only Stephen Sondheim can supply, the song lyrics playing in my head are:

What am I doing here? This is ridiculous I’m in the wrong story.

Okay, maybe the message isn’t so subtle.

I think it began yesterday when I heard Henry call out that all-too-familiar four-word phrase: It was an accident!

Or maybe it began when I was straddled over the marinara sauce soaked pile of towels attempting to clean up the “accident.” Or as I was doing my best defensive pose blocking Lillian from the mess as Henry and I tried to scoop up the majority of the sauce with paper plates. Or when I got sauce that had astonishingly found its way onto my forearm on the dress I was rushing to iron for Lillian with the hope that through all this mayhem I could still get her to Montessori school on time.  Maybe it began, when through all of this – that sleepless baby of mine slept.

I do know the song continued today when against everything I know, I trusted that my 12-year-old had specific directions of where we were going when we got into the van heading toward her soccer game. This is of course after I said, “Let me GOOGLE it.” But on her insistence, I didn’t. En route, every phone call I made turned up empty. We got there, but not without an extended hurried tour of the surrounding area.

But … the game was good and the weather beautiful. Even though Miss Lillian woke up on the wrong side of the car seat, and we had to make numerous accommodations, we made it through in one piece and even stopped for Fwurpies at 7-11 on the way home.

I was quickly reminded that in addition to enjoying watching my girl play soccer, I love visiting with the wonderful mothers and fathers who are the soccer moms and dads at our parish. I also appreciated watching my (occasionally accident prone) son Henry do his best to make his baby sister happy. I would glance down the sidelines in his direction, and he’d give me that dimpled smile and double thumbs up to let me know he was handling things. And he was. And so, for now, that particular song in my head has stopped. Or at least changed.

I do know what I’m doing here. I do agree at times it is ridiculous. But I trust in God that I am in the right story — one with His promise of a happy ending.

The beat goes on …

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I’ve been meaning to do this for a long time and am finally taking the plunge. Why on a day when I am nothing short of completely sleep deprived have I served this task on my plate? I don’t know … I’m sure it has something to do with procrastination. I have a mountain of housework facing me and not an iota of physical energy (or inclination) to get to it. Our dear sweet baby boy has decided to put me to the test to see what I’m made of. 13 nights with me getting sleep in two-hour (max) blocks makes for a slap-happy and exceptionally beat mother. But, the beat goes on …

My goal with this blog is to chronicle some of the humor and challenges of raising children, schooling, living and growing in these times as a Catholic mother (and family) in this amazing, beautiful and often overwhelming God-created world. Exhaustion aside, it seemed fitting to do it today on the anniversary of an event that underscores the importance of trying to live a life that’s right with God as we continue our search for faith, hope and love even in the minutia of our busy days.

I was originally going to call this the Post-Consumer Catholic for a multitude of reasons — which I’ll articulate (hopefully) at some time in the future. But instead I name it in honor of my five children here on earth and those five precious little souls who will greet me some day in heaven. That is, if I can do my part while I trudge along here on earth. Lord, increase my faith.

And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to (this) mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Luke 17:5-6