School daze

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And I’m talking about me.

After five years of homeschooling, kids are back in school. Helen’s off and away studying music, Lil in Montessori school. And our lives are drastically different. And I am dazed and confused.

Cherished evening time has become evening rush time. Homework, soccer practice, piano lessons and practice. Today we actually stood around the fridge to pray. Instead of lighting a candle for day one of our novena in lovely nine-candle plate, I ran off a copy of the prayer on a sheet with a table of days so we can check them off. Plunk. Used a magnet and stuck it on the fridge. It felt kind of pathetic. And that made me sad. That’s not what I want.

When we homeschooled, we didn’t have homework. We just had work. We finished and then went on with our lives.  But since we had such a difficult year last year, with Helen’s senior year and all the events associated with that, with college apps and auditions. Not to mention a new baby and (scarily diminished) business. I felt like a homeschooling failure. Or at least inadequate. We didn’t even belong to a group or go on many field trips. I couldn’t begin to contemplate the logistics of any of that. My brain and body were maxed out.

So after lots of prayer and questionable moments of sanity, we decided school would be best.

And I’m not saying it isn’t. Teachers seem great. The kids are adapting beautifully, are well prepared and enjoying their days. But I have to figure out how to cope. If we’re called to be a people set apart, how can we do that when we’re stuck in the throes of all this? Can I still do my very best job keeping faith as the focus in the the lives of these precious gifts from God? How do we add a rosary at night when we’re scrambling to finish dishes, homework and get them to bed on time?

I know we’re only in the second week.

But this is our new normal. At least for now, and we have to figure out how to make it all work.

Prayers would be great. (Ain’t too proud to beg …)

Fighting temptation

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When Helen was a toddler, we instructed her that if she was tempted to touch something that might be off limits, she should just come and get one of us so we could help her through making the right choice.

Our big girl.

One day, while shopping in Ann Arbor, we were in a store full of breakable eye candy. I was busy admiring one thing, Richard another, when above the mellow harpsichord Muzak track, our two-and-a-half-year-old Helen stood beside her stroller, paralyzed, bouncing in place bellowing, “Help me! I’m tempted! I’m tempted!”

Now, soon off to school, we won’t be there to help her through all the trifling and tremendous moments of  temptation.  She surely will face many lures and promises of this world that we’ve tried so hard to balance through our faith and family life.

We’ve all been in the position of confusing a temptation with an opportunity. And the reality is, sometimes by giving in to those temptations we’re bound to make mistakes. But by the same token, we should never be bound to our mistakes, understanding that it is through our mistakes we discover more about ourselves and grow. There are many mistakes in my life for which I am grateful. It is through them that I’ve grown closer to the Lord, with the extra-added benefit of knowing myself better and gaining wisdom through the process. Wisdom that I hope I’ve shared with our daughter.

We can only hope that we’ve done what we can and given Helen the tools to sort things out. We can only hope and pray her decisions don’t paralyze her and that she will do her best to make the right choices. Although we won’t be there in person with her, we’ve taught her that God will.

Our pilgrimage on earth cannot be exempt from trial. We progress by means of trial. No one knows himself except through trial, or receives a crown except after victory, or strives except against an enemy or temptations. — St. Augustine

Who do you say that I am?

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An acquaintance from church asked if we could babysit her youngest daughter in a pinch.

“Of course,” we say. She’s a spunky, strawberry-blond not-quite-three-year-old.

Said acquaintance drops off said child complete with baby-care paraphernalia. Good-bye acquaintance. Hello strawberry-blond toddler.

The big girls and Lil are going to take her downstairs to play dollhouse.  Then big girl number one asks, “What’s her name?”

Oh no.

It occurs to me. I have no idea. None. Can’t come up with a guess. I know I heard it when she was born. But since? Nope. I don’t have that kind of memory.

So, we ask the nameless child. She’s articulate. We know she wants to play. Her answer does not match the question. Again. And again. She’s cute. But nameless. So for little while, we call her a generic Sweetie. Which isn’t very effective. She doesn’t respond to “Sweetie, don’t throw the blocks.” It would be helpful to actually know her name.

Brainstorm. I remember my dear friend is her godmother. I laugh, because I realize it took this particular friend years to remember my name. This little child is only three. I’m not sure that’s been enough time for it to stick. Even though she’s godmother. (But I am confident she is doing her godmotherly duty and praying daily with all of her wonderful heart for the strawberry-blond nameless child.)

I make the call. No one is home. Call her cell. She answered AND remembered. And we are victorious.

And she is Victoria.

There is hope

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Helen didn’t want a graduation party, she wanted a weekend with me in New York. So, I happily obliged. (You know, you just have to give in to their demands every now and then.)

We decided instead though to put the effort it would take to put on a party into a cause. So we chose the Tree of Hope Foundation.

We’re holding a concert Songs of Hope at St. Joan of Arc at 7:30 on Aug. 5. We have some really talented folks with us. It’ll be cool. We’re singing mostly contemporary Christian music. All songs with hope at the theme.

The Tree of Hope Foundation was conceived as a result of a tragedy. In 2005, a young mother in our parish took her own life and that of her five-week-old infant daughter as a result of a postpartum mood disorder. On the day of that tragic event, her family vowed they would do what they could to prevent that from happening again. They began the Tree of Hope Foundation which promotes research, education and awareness of postpartum-related mood disorders. Check out their site to learn more of the good work they are doing.

A few years ago,  I was asked to sing at a prayer service for the foundation. When I arrived, the pianist asked if I had a suggestion for any songs, and I suggested one called O God You Search Me and You Know Me, based on Psalm 139 with music by Bernadette Farrell. It was fairly new to me but spoke so plainly of God’s providence.  As it turned out, that particular prayer was the central prayer of the service. And I didn’t know in advance. And it just seemed so … well … providential.

I was very moved by the service and have been moved by all the work the foundation is doing. This is a way for our family to support their good work in the best way we can. We can’t run marathons and such. But Helen and I can sing. So, there it is. So if you can come on the 5th, please do so.

Freak of nature

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So that’s what I’ll do. I’ll blame nature.

I hate freaking out. But it happens. Although I like to stay sane, every now and then, that thing called frustration just reaches blood-boiling point, and I’m sorry to admit, I loose it.

Yesterday started out fine. Left the kids with The Lists, and took Henry to a swim meet. When I got home, many things on The Lists were yet to be completed. And, I should note, The Lists were neither out of the ordinary, nor were they long. They were our regular Saturday-morning lists. The same old Saturday-morning lists that, for the past few months, my capable children have pretty much been blowing off.

I take some blame for that. I had stopped being so diligent with actually creating the lists, instead just dictating. Therefore the directions were often lost. To the wind, so they say.

But why print them? I would ask. They are the same every week.

But here’s a little known fact: Apparently, some children (namely those who reside in my household) can’t accomplish certain tasks unless those tasks are formally instructed to them on a piece of paper, in full color. In the form of The Lists. And even then, especially recently, completion of said certain tasks can still be illusive. Fleeting. Mysteriously scarce.

So, I blame myself. My bad parenting. I haven’t taught my children to follow through. I say to myself. I haven’t given them the skills they need to succeed in daily life. I shake my head. Or I, you know, on occasion, freak out.

One child suggests I make a whiteboard for the lists. That would help.

What is the difference? I inquire.

Because that’s how so-and-so’s mother does it, and their house is in order. That way, we will always see what needs to be done, the child challenges.

I explain that wouldn’t help. Then I would just have a posted reminder of all the chores around the house that didn’t get done. And that would just perpetuate that lack of cooperation in the house was acceptable. So acceptable that it is displayed on a wall. At least I can throw the undone paper list away, for a moment pretend it didn’t exist, and hope for better results when I print it again (slightly modified) the next weekend.

Then I think: Wait a minute. Maybe my freak out today can be like The Lists. Maybe I can hope for better results for myself next weekend. And I can, for the time being, pretend that I never actually freaked out. I can, throw my freak out away, so to speak. I don’t have to have it staring at me on the whiteboard of my life. But then I thought, oh no, instead it will be festering or decomposing in a landfill or recycle center somewhere.

Maybe I should reconsider the whiteboard. For the chore lists and myself.

Maybe I should be reminded of what hasn’t been done so that I actively seek to do it. And then, when I have, legitimately wash it clean.  After all, it’s not the whiteboard that keeps things in order, but using it to remind everyone what needs to be done or changed.

So, there you are. Apparently, the tools are out there.

We can shove our undone list in a landfill, but it’s still there. Still undone.

Or we can post our failings for at least ourselves and God to see, and strive to change our ways. We can seek the opportunities (and the sacraments) that help wash us clean, realizing that soon enough we’ll have more to-dos on our whiteboards again. But because of God’s grace, we will live remembering what it was like when it was clean and (hopefully) seeking that peace and order again and again.

You don’t say

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Our little baby doesn’t say anything. Okay, he says, “Dada.” But that’s about it.

He spends a lot of time carrying on indecipherable conversations. Talking with his hands, mumbling nonsense as he looks right into you eyes with a you-know-what-I-mean kind of nod. It’s adorable. But the fact is, I have no idea what he means.

That’s pretty much how I feel lately. I have so much I want to write about. So many stories to tell, but the order of my words makes it all indecipherable.

I just lived through the most joy-filled Vacation Bible School week and have so much to tell. But my mind can’t even get around it. The joy was immense. My heart is full from watching and witnessing God’s amazing love and power. And I think the words for expressing all that have been used up. Spent. I can’t find any that can tell of  my experience without sounding like the gibberish of my little buddy.

Here is what I can say: VBS profoundly leads me to see the goodness of God in people. I see His endless generosity through the unbridled joy of the children; the growth and leadership in the teenage helpers, and the positive example and overflowing love of the  adult volunteers. I am ecstatic to witness all that energy coming together for one purpose: to share God’s love.

I’m still feeling like I’m recovering from having one long and wonderful party, at which God was a guest, and everyone (including Him, of course) had a great time.

That said, during the same time, people I know and love are suffering some serious hardships. Profound loss. Serious illness. Complete (not necessarily hoped-for) life changes.

At those brief moments when our  lives seem big, we need to remember we are so small in the eyes of God. And that He calls each of us in many different ways to help us share His love. Whether that be with joy and loud song or with quiet, peace and private prayer. And even if we don’t actually have the words.

Since our knowledge of God is limited, our LANGUAGE about him is equally so. We can name God only by taking creatures as our starting point, and in accordance with our limited human ways of knowing and thinking. (CCC 40)

Three years

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May 24.

Three years ago today, a dear, dear friend died. It’s hard to believe that much has time has passed. But then, at times, the memory feels so distant because of all the stuff of life that has occurred between then an now.

My thoughts went to her all day today. Her smile, her laugh. Her huge brown eyes. Her innocence and understanding. She knew she was a child of God. And I loved that.

I will cherish the time we spent planning vacation bible school the summer before she died.  I was 8.5 months pregnant. She had cancer. What a motley couple. We laughed hard and worked hard. After that, we talked every day, that is, until she lost her voice. An unnecessarily cruel side effect for a woman who loved to chat on the phone.

Her death brought so many to their knees. She was so young, so faithful and so alive.

I will forever hear her voice ring in my left ear saying, “God is good all the time. All the time, God is good.” She was right, you know.

Pray for me, Saint Danalee. XO

LORD, my heart is not proud; nor are my eyes haughty. I do not busy myself with great matters, with things too sublime for me. Rather, I have stilled my soul, hushed it like a weaned child. Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap, so is my soul within me. Israel, hope in the LORD, now and forever.

Psalm 131

Who’s the fairest?

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Well we are. Of course.

It’s time for our parish fair, and the smell of cotton candy and gasoline generator exhaust is in the air. It’s always amazing how the space surrounding the church, school and parish office is transformed into our own little (yet action-packed) fair ground. The rides are major and so is the fun. The kids are running at a fever pitch. Lillian will be so excited to wake up tomorrow and realize that it is THE day.

Good weather predicted. As is a good time. Come on down!

Living in the hood

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Motherhood is a bit like living in Narnia. Parts are amazingly beautiful. Parts are a bit scary and unpredictable. There are strange little creatures all around doing equally strange things, and every now and then you feel like and are treated like a queen.

I truly love being a mother. I know that being a wife and mother is my vocation. I heard the call and listened. And those who know me well know there is a lot that goes into the statement.

I am grateful for having experienced a special (yet minuscule) glimpse into God’s awesome mystery of creation, but I know that giving birth does not a mother make.

I know this especially as I see my friend and her five adopted children. Or when I experience the hope and anticipation of adoption with my little sister. I see mothering in my dear friend as she loves and spoils her nieces and nephews. I mother my spouse when he’s ill or needs my care. I so vividly recall my mother mothering her parents as they advanced in age. And I recognize that I am fortunate to be mothered by many amazing women in addition to my own beautiful and wonderful mother.

I guess that’s why mother is a verb, a noun and in my life a very important adjective (as in Holy Mother Church).

It doesn’t matter how you get here–whether through a magical wardrobe, with an enchanted ring, by birth, courtroom, relationship, friendship or just by chance. You got here. Welcome to the hood.

God bless you and happy mother’s day.

Emanicpation Proclamation

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A few days ago, dear 17-year-old Helen asked me if I would consider allowing her to wear a bikini this summer. An interesting and surprising request. One that follows a long history of discussion in this very household on that very subject.

“I would choose something modest,” my daughter said. (Is that an oxymoron? Modest bikini?)

Apparently my contemplative look was quickly misinterpreted.

She jumped in with, “You know…in six weeks, I’ll be emancipated. I’ll be 18.” I’m not sure if she thought that would give credence to her request.

Emancipated? What does she think she is? An indentured servant?

Then for the cherry on top she added: “You know, then I could run away.” She was joking, of course.

I reminded her that if she indeed was going to be emancipated, then it wouldn’t be called running away. It would be called leaving or moving out.

Then she asked the question that got the “yes” she desired.

“Mom. I guess I am asking for permission to make the choice for myself.”

Yes. Of course you can. Permission granted. After all…she’ll soon be emancipated. As quickly as I agreed, I told her I was sure she would make a good choice. Because she will.

When I shared this little story, I was reminded by more than one friend that I wore bikinis regularly. And I did. I also remember one day at 17 or 18, my big brother stopping me, telling me I couldn’t go to the beach in a bikini.  And that I wasn’t leaving the house. I remember thinking he was joking, but then realized he wasn’t. Oddly, I don’t remember the outcome of that moment, but do very clearly remember the moment. In a split second, I became much more conscious of how I presented myself.  I saw myself differently that day. Now, of course, as a mother–especially of daughters–I see it all very differently. I don’t want them wearing burlap sacks, and I certainly understand the desire to be fashionable.  But I do want them to at the very least consider their modesty and what it means with regard to making choices on how they dress.

To top this off, I was going to put in a Bible or Catechism quote about modesty.  Even though I found many truthful and meaningful quotes … they all were a bit too radical in their wording. So instead, I’ll translate: God wants us to respect our bodies and be modest. And he means it … because it’s in the Bible a bunch of times. Popes have written about it and so have a bucket load of saints. Amen and cover up.