Monday, December 29, 2008
We did not start our school work until about 10 am and the kid's attention had wandered by about 10:30. We couldn't find any pencils but there was paper all over the desks and the floor, there was a ton of bickering and commotion, the girls hair never got combed, everyone wanted lunch a half hour earlier than usual, and there are still toys underfoot wherever I go in the house.
In reality, I did not expect anything different. As usual, it will take time to really settle back in. We really enjoyed our Christmas break free-for-all and, though we do need our normalcy back, it will be a process to get used to work once again. We are taking it slow. Today, we did accomplish a few things. We dug the classroom out from underneath all that paper, found at least a few of our pencils, wrote our Christmas thank you notes, and did some reading together. I spent the rest of the day catching up on laundry. That's not so bad for a Monday, right? My hope is that by next week we will be back up to a full school schedule, and will have the house under control again.
On days like today, I feel so blessed to be able to home school and to have the flexibility to take things at a slower pace sometimes. It is wonderful to be able to take a break when we are feeling burnt out and ineffective, and it is just as wonderful to ease back into our busy life after our break. Home schooling is so very family friendly and suits our family so very well; even when we struggle, at least we struggle together. So today, as I review our first day back from break, I feel very grateful to have this time with my children and especially to have the perspective to be impressed with so little accomplishment.
Friday, December 19, 2008
In addition to the golden rule, Jesus commands us to love God, then to love our neighbor as ourselves. Since kindness is sometimes a bit of a struggle for me I often times don't get around to the 2nd part of the command. I love God, I really do. I pray, I go to church, I read the Bible. Loving God, Who is perfect and Who loves me unconditionally is really not too hard. And I love a lot of others. Loving my friends, my husband, my children, who are all loving and kind to me, is really quite easy as well. But then there are all those other others, the ones who are not so nice to me and the ones who are just plain mean to me, and the ones who ignore me completely. Those are the "neighbors" I have a lot of trouble loving. Jesus knows this. He knows that loving our enemies does not come naturally. He knows we do not usually want to be kind to those others. Yet we are all God's children. We are all His creations. We can only show our love for God if we not only love Him but also all those He created.
When discussing this very topic with a priest recently he asked me how I would explain this little discrepancy to God on judgment day. How will I account for the lack of love I feel towards those who do not treat me the way I want to be treated? Who will I claim is responsible? Oh! Well, when you put it that way, I guess I really do get it. If I am not kind to others, how can I expect them to be kind to me? And will we ever get anywhere if we play that game my children often play- he started it! no, she did! no I didn't, he did- ?
So, though I've tried to find a loophole, there is no way around it. We must live by the golden rule and love our neighbors. It will never guarantee that we will always be treated with kindness ourselves. But on judgment day, I will only have to account for my actions, not for how they were received by others!
Monday, December 15, 2008
Some of our traditions are fun but spiritually meaningless. The kids and I make cookies together every year. As a family, we go look at Christmas light displays in the evenings. We take a Christmas card picture of the kids in their Christmas p.j.'s to send to our family and friends. We always eat appetizers for dinner on Christmas Eve. These traditions, though they are somewhat frivolous, are still always a part of the season for our family.
The things I really look forward to the most at Christmastime though, are the ones that focus on Jesus, rather than the worldly aspects of the season. Starting on the first Sunday of Advent we end our dinners with a family Advent prayer service. It takes only a few moments but we dim the lights, light our Advent candles, and say our special Advent prayers. The children take turns leading the prayers. It is a peaceful way to remember what we are waiting for in Advent.
Another way we make our holiday preparations meaningful and spiritual is by attending two different live nativities put on in our community. One is a walk-through nativity where we become a part of the first Christmas. We experience the city of Bethlehem, with all its busyness and overcrowding. Then, with the shepherds and the wise men we search for and find baby Jesus and his holy family in the stable. We have a chance to adore Him as his first visitors did thousands of years ago. The second live nativity we attend is a drive-through version. Though we are not as much a part of this one we love seeing things as they were when Jesus was born as a poor baby in a stable. We sit in our car and listen to spiritual music and feel the warmth and safety of knowing God’s immense love for us.
My favorite of all our Christmas traditions, however, is our own family nativities. We started collecting nativities a few years back and we add to our collection each year. We are up to ten and my goal is to have them everywhere you look in our house at Christmas. When we decorate our house, in early December, we always save the nativities for last. Right before the children go to bed we sit down at the foot of the tree and read the story of the first Christmas, as we unwrap our holy figures and set up our many crèches. Then we hide away all the baby Jesus’ until Christmas morning. Every Christmas Eve, again right before the children’s bedtime, Tim and I give them our newest nativity. We set it up and re-read the Bible account of the first Christmas. Then on Christmas morning, before we open any gifts, each person in the family gets one baby Jesus to place before Mary and Joseph in his respective stable. The kids get as excited for this as they do for their presents! Though we only take a minute or two to admire the scenes ,before we move on to the presents awaiting us under the tree, it reminds us again of what we are truly celebrating!
We are so blessed to once more be anticipating and participating in this holy time of year. The season of Christmas is perhaps, God’s greatest symbol of hope. And the gift of His Son is, without a doubt, the greatest sign of His love, as alive in the world today as it was all those years ago at the very first Christmas.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
It is Advent, a beautiful time of preparation in our Church. Tim and I had talked about changing the focus this Advent and making the season more spiritual. We talked about all sorts of things we could do to put Jesus at the center of our Christmas celebrations. We had some great ideas. Unfortunately I feel as though my heart is not in it. We are doing a lot of stuff this Christmas but I’m not feeling closer to God through any of it. It is not only busyness that is clouding my spiritual vision, it is selfishness. I am putting my own desires before my prayer time, I am thinking too much about the things I want to do, and the way I want to do them. I am afraid when Tim and I had our talk about making Advent more holy, I missed the point a little. I think I figured it was all about me doing the right things in order to make this season holy. I left God out of the planning. Instead of trying to figure out how I can make Christmas a holy time of preparation, I need to simply turn to God. Instead of focusing on what we are doing to prepare, I need to focus on who we are preparing for! If I invite God to do His will in my life this season, and all seasons, each and every day will be more holy, more meaningful, more awe inspiring.
This Christmas, instead of planning more, I will try to pray more, to invite God to make His plans known, and to listen for His guidance. I will focus on trusting more and letting go of my ideas of what this season should be. I will allow this Christmas, instead, to be an opportunity to see all that God has in store for me and my family. For I know that Jesus is the reason for the sacredness and holiness of the season, not me.
May this Christmas be filled with God’s plans in your life and in mine. May your Advent be filled with preparations to receive whatever gifts and blessings He sends your way this year. May you and your families be abundantly blessed by God at Christmas and always.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
He has been a little slower than his siblings in developing language. He had the right number of words in his vocabulary at the right age, according to our pediatrician, but his words still don’t always make sense. Our oldest child was speaking very clearly, very early. I remember having real conversations with her at 18 months old. I remember her yelling out in the middle of church when she was, maybe two years old, “These books are not cooperating!” Ironically all these years later, she is the quiet one, while her youngest brother talks incessantly about who knows what.
No one knows for sure why children develop at such different rates. I know there have been many books written about the significance of birth order on child development, and on their personalities, as well. I have not read any of them. In my completely unprofessional, untested, and unscientific opinion, the reasons for the difference in development based on birth order is so obvious it is not really worth the effort to conduct a scientific study on it.
Let me illustrate my point. When my oldest was a toddler, I had lots of time on my hands. She was an only child, Tim worked full time, and was in school. We had one car, which he obviously needed most of the time, so my daughter and I were alone together all the time. She not only got my undivided attention, she also provided me with companionship. I knew her personality very well. I , therefore knew what she was capable of, and I held her to a very high standard. If she could speak clearly and communicate her ideas she was definitely not going to get away with baby babble, or pointing and grunting.
Now when baby number four came along......I had a 6 year old, a three and half year old, and a very-close-to-two year old. My life consisted of a changing diapers, doing laundry, back and forth trips to kindergarten with the oldest, meetings at church where I was very involved, keeping two toddlers out of trouble and occupied, feeding them, wiping them, trying to do some housework, and changing more diapers...... I’m not sure I ever talked to him when he was a baby. I do vaguely remember walking around with him on my hip all day and forgetting he was even there half the time. I’d catch his eye every once in a while and then remember, “Oh... baby!” Is it any wonder he is a little slower with his mental advancement?
The thing is, my youngest is such a happy kid. He has always been such a happy kid. I could beat myself up all day feeling guilty that the fourth child has never gotten the same attention from me as the first, but maybe all he really needed was to be with me. It seems that being surrounded by people who love him has benefited the youngest in innumerable ways.
Now, I must go to see if I can get him to explain what he meant when he told me, “you look just like the guy who got fired from Ratatoille.”
Monday, December 1, 2008
Family dinners- all the parenting experts agree it is one of the best ways to strengthen families and raise well adjusted children. Wanting to do all that we can to encourage family together time, we try to sit down to a family dinner every night if we can. Dinner at our house is practically right out of a 1950's television show, I lovingly prepare healthy, well balanced meals while wearing an apron and high heeled shoes. We all sit down to a beautifully set table with the children smiling and scrubbed clean. Tim sits at the head of the table and tells us all about his day at work. It is no wonder family dinners are such an important part of raising children.
A beautiful picture isn't it? But seriously, the reality of dinner at our house goes a little more like this--- I throw together something while tripping over kids, stepping on legos and toy cars, and dodging questions about what dinner is going to be. We sit down to a table with no silverware because I haven't gotten that far in setting the table yet, which is really fine because the boys' hands are caked with mud and they have to go wash them before we can eat anyway. Our youngest daughter usually brings a baby doll to the kitchen and has to set up her baby's meal of plastic pizza and cake before she can eat and our oldest often has her nose in a book and doesn't even realize the rest of us are at the table at all. Once we do finally say our prayers and start eating it is inevitable that someone, or several someones, start in whining about the menu. "I don't like lima beans", "My soup is too hot" , "The casserole is spicy", "There is something brown on my plate", and so on and so on.......
Tonight for instance our three year old had a tiny bit of zucchini on his plate. Rather than eat it and be done with the unpleasantness of vegetables, he sat in his chair and cried for about 20 minutes, at the end of which he was fed the zucchini anyway! If whining and complaining are not enough, the table manners at our house are as atrocious as my children find my meal planning. It is not unusual for the children to be eating with their fingers, even foods like spaghetti or mashed potatoes. They grab food out of the serving dishes and burp repeatedly just to get a reaction. I wonder if this is what the experts are talking about! Can this possibly help my children to grow up well adjusted? Instead I fear it will push Tim and I over the edge of insanity!!!!!
Yet we persevere. Night after night, I prepare meals for us to all sit down together and eat. Night after night, we come together, as a family, and share this time with each other. In the midst of the complaints and disgusting habits there are moments when we really do enjoy each other’s company. There are opportunities to share conversations and re-connect after busy days. Dinner, like most everything else in family life, is often not pretty but it is in these moments our children know they are loved. It is in these little daily traditions and routines that they know they are a part of something pretty special. They are each valued members of this family, and despite their bad habits and grumbling they are welcome at our table. We wouldn’t have it any other way (though it would be nice if they’d use their forks!).
We've had quite an interesting week. We've gotten a lot of news from friends about life changing events in their lives. Two families we know were celebrating their babies' first birthdays. A family in our home schooling group welcomed their sixth child, a healthy baby boy. Another friend of ours underwent surgery to remove cancer and we were overjoyed to hear that the procedure went perfectly. Unfortunately not all the news we received was good news. We found out a close friend had a miscarriage, and lost the baby, her and her family were so thrilled to be expecting. And, just this afternoon I received an e-mail telling me about the diagnosis of cancer for yet another family friend. So many life and death situations... this all coming just a few short weeks after the election that left me feeling very scared and uncertain about the future. At times like these it can be so hard to make sense of our world. It sometimes seems impossible to understand God's will. Why are some people so blessed while others are suffering? I am just naturally a big worrier and it is so easy for me to give in to fear and uncertainty, especially when life seems so fragile and God's will seems so arbitrary. So how can we go on, without being paralyzed by our fear? How can we not give in to discouragement and panic ? Some might even wonder, how can we believe in God when life is so indeterminate and random?
I went to Eucharistic Adoration this afternoon for about an hour. What a beautiful and peaceful experience it was. It always is......when I go. It is an amazing thing to be able to sit before Jesus and spend time with Him in prayer. How wonderful it would be if I spent time praying in front of Jesus more often. So why don't I? I could make a million excuses, and, well... I guess I do. I find countless reasons not to spend time praying. There are always unending distractions that keep me from focusing on God. I could go to daily Mass regularly if I wanted to. Probably even every day if I were so inclined. And I wish I were so inclined. I want to put God first and fit everything else in around Him but most days, I don't. It reminds me of St. Paul's words, "For I do not do what I want but I do what I hate" (Romans 7:15). Why are we so weak and so quick to turn away from our God, even when we claim to love Him with all our hearts? I don’t know the answers but I take comfort that St. Paul also tells us that Jesus said to him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
My children have, over the last three or four days, turned my backyard into a miniature golf course. Yes, all on their own, they have designed and built a golf course consisting of eight holes. The course is quite complex: one hole has a slide, one has a tunnel, several have pits to avoid, and because of the state my backyard is in, all of them have very large sand hazards. I must say I am blown away by their ingenuity.
We recently had a family picture taken. It had been about three years since our last professional family picture and it definitely needed updating. Trying to get everyone sitting still, looking at the camera and hopefully even smiling can be quite a chore. It is not always fun posing for family pictures, but they are well worth the effort. The truth is, it may be prideful, but I really love looking at pictures of my family.
Sometimes the noise level in my house is exhausting. It is not that the kids are so loud it is just that the noise is unending. One can take such a sustained racket for only so long. Yesterday was one of those overstimulating days. The kids were good but my patience was wearing thin all day and it did not help that half the neighborhood kids were traipsing in and out of the house throughout the afternoon. Now don't get me wrong, I really love that my kids are growing up in a neighborhood that is full of kids their age, and that all they have to do is go out in the front yard to find someone to play with. And I really am glad when they are all playing at my house. Then I can keep an eye on things and be aware, ahead of time, of any crazy ideas they may all come up with. But some days I could just use A LITTLE peace and quiet.
I'm driving myself crazy! I have major control issues. I always have. I want to control the world, my family, my emotions- well everything really. This is not really my biggest problem though. It is not my need to control the big things that drives me mad. It is my reaction to the fact that I can NOT control these things. I find the more out-of-control I feel about the big things, the more I obsess about controlling the little things.
I've been contemplating the virtue of mercy lately. I’ve heard so much about what a beautiful gift it is but most explanations of mercy have fallen short of the mark for me. I mean, what is it really? Does mercy refer only to forgiveness? Does it also include love? Kindness? Generosity? Then I heard this definition: mercy is when we are given gifts and blessings we do not deserve. God pours out His mercy whenever He blesses us, because, in reality, we are not entitled to any of His gifts, or even His love. This definition truly helped me to understand and appreciate God's mercy and how I am so incredibly dependent upon it. If I was only given the help and guidance, the forgiveness and patience, the love and kindness, the compassion, peace, wisdom, understanding (etc...) I was deserving of I would be without so much....
I just finished reading Tim's blog on his "place in this world" where he starts out by lamenting our financial situation and our lack of "stuff". He is SO right , we are doing without a lot of things that others feel are important, even essential. We don't have a DVR or even cable television, he and I are both driving old, not-so-great cars, I got new shoes today (a great deal at $10, though they are a bit ugly) but his are probably 4 years old, I've been wearing the same clothes since we got married 12 years ago, our kitchen chairs have all broken so the table is surrounded by mismatched seats... I could go on all day.
We recently took part, as a family, in the 40 days for life prayer vigil going on in our diocese. The idea is to have a prayerful presence in front of an abortion clinic to offer our petitions on behalf of the unborn, as well as to increase awareness of the horrors of abortion.
Now Tim and I have always tried to protect the innocence of our children and have sheltered them, as best we can, from many of our world's worst evils. For this reason, we had never talked with them about abortion. But, the day before our hour of prayer in front of the "clinic", we had a little talk with them. We felt it was important that they were a part of the prayers, and therefore had to understand, on their level, what they were praying about. We briefly explained that some people think it is okay to hurt babies before they are born, even to kill them. I don't remember having to tell them this was a bad thing, they immediately knew. Our children, who are not nearly as far from the womb as we are, knew without a doubt this was horrible, appalling, and the gravest sin. And I was thinking, would any other child react differently? I'm sure ALL children would be disgusted if they knew the truth of abortion.
Our children have seen ultrasound pictures of themselves. They understand that the pictures show them in mommy’s tummy before they were born. Our 5 year old particularly loves the ultrasound picture showing her sucking her fingers in utero. She still sucks her fingers today, and when asked if that really is HER in the picture, HER- the little girl we know and love today, she answers that, of course it is!
Talking to my children about abortion was not an easy thing. I hated the idea of admitting to them that there is such dreadfulness in our world. Yet, as usual, they have amazed me. Their sweet, heart-felt prayers offered, not only during our vigil at the abortion clinic, but each day since then, have humbled and impressed me beyond words. It reminds me of Jesus’ words as he pulled a young child close to him one day, “...the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Our children know evil when they see it or hear of it. May we be inspired by our children and, someday, have understanding and faith as strong as theirs.
Ahhh! Parenthood- what a gift, what a blessing! How easy it is to forget that, in the midst of the exhaustion, the messes, the nagging, the whining, etc, etc, etc........ How easy it is to get caught up in the day-to-day struggle of raising children and housekeeping and to forget that God IS with us. Family life doesn't always feel like a path to holiness but instead often feels like running in circles and getting nowhere but weary!
I have always felt God calling me. I have always prayed and turned to Him with my needs, my fears, and my unending list of worries. I have ALWAYS believed God IS there- listening to my prayers and caring enough to respond (though not always in the way I want Him to). God has never let me down or done anything to disprove my belief in His love and steadfastness. My faith guides me in every day, every situation, every moment. I am kind of a failure in my quest towards holiness but my faith remains strong.
I am a wife and mother. Even before I was a wife and mother I knew I was called to be one. I believe God has given me the gift and responsibility of serving Him in a family. It is my calling and my greatest blessing. It is also my greatest challenge but perhaps that is only because I take it very seriously and want to please God in my vocation. Because I have always known this was what God created me for, my life leading up to my marriage and the birth of my children was truly, in my mind, preparation for this role. As a child I played house with my baby dolls, as a teenager I babysat often, as a young adult I worked in a child care center and as a nanny. I have always hoped and dreamed about a family of my own.
I admit I define myself by my vocation. I do not feel at all diminished as a person to be only a wife and mother. I am proud to have a wonderful family to serve and care for. It is enough for me. It is all I've ever wanted.
I want to share my struggles , my challenges, my failures, and (God willing) my successes so that others may be strengthened in their journey of parenthood, and even more important, their journey to holiness.