Friday, July 31, 2009

The day my daughter hit me!

My oldest child is going to turn 11 in a few weeks. My youngest should be born in less than two weeks. This morning I found myself contemplating my experience of motherhood, and as I looked forward to beginning the journey of a new baby, I was thinking back to the moment I first felt like a mother....
I did not feel like a mother when Tim and I decided, 14 months after our wedding, to forgo our original plan of being married for several years before having children. I had met a woman at work, who was my age and had a two year old daughter. After talking to her I realized I, too, could have a baby if I wanted. Having a baby sounded like so much fun. When I mentioned to Tim I was thinking about it he agreed to try for a month or two and if I did not get pregnant to go back to our original plan of waiting a few years. I felt a mixture of emotions when four weeks after our conversation I was holding a pregnancy test with two pink lines! I felt overwhelming fear, shock and excitement all at once, but I did not really feel like a mother yet.
As Tim and I spent the next nine months preparing for our new baby my excitement grew and my fear faded, at least a little. I worked as a manager at a children's clothing store and I enjoyed choosing little yellow and green baby outfits (we decided not to find out baby's sex ahead of time) and tiny little socks and hats while I was working. I was surrounded by babies and new mothers, and though I talked to them about their experiences I did not feel like one of them yet. Preparing for our baby felt more like playing house. Nevertheless, we shopped for and decorated the baby's room. We poured through baby name books. I counted kicks like my pregnancy book suggested. I talked and read to the baby. My family threw me 2 baby showers, and Tim took pictures monthly of my growing belly. He and I dealt with my mood swings and unpredictable emotions. Though it should have all felt very real, I still had trouble picturing us with a baby of our own.
When my due date came and went without any sign of impending labor it confirmed my doubts that Tim and I would ever really be parents. For five long days I waited for contractions to begin. They never did! On the sixth day past my due date, at about 5 am, my water finally broke. We headed to the hospital and waited some more for contractions, but again they never came! The doctor suggested helping things along with pitocin. It wasn't until about 10:30 am that the labor pains began. All through that day, with the help of more and more pitocin, I made very slow but steady progress. At about 9 pm, the doctor said it was time to push. At last, we were going to meet our new baby. Baby must have been as unsure about our parenting qualifications as I was, because it took another three hours before we got to experience the moment we had been waiting so long for. But thankfully, at 11:49 pm, our beautiful healthy baby girl was born! As I looked at her for the very first time....I still did not feel like a mother! I was exhausted and overwhelmed. I had been convinced we were having a baby boy. And I had pictured, as I had bonded with my unborn baby for so long, a little miniature me, with dark hair and brown eyes. This little squirming baby girl had light brown peach fuss covering her head, and from what we could tell, her eyes were a bright blue. She looked just like her daddy, nothing at all like me, and I felt strangely disconnected from her. In those first few moments, motherhood was nothing like I had imagined. They gave me the baby and I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do.
It was not until a few hours after her birth, when a new nurse came in, introduced herself and said, "I am going to be taking care of your daughter today." that it hit me. I had a daughter! This was my baby. And I think, maybe just a tiny bit of me, understood for the first time that motherhood was not going to be about me and my fun. It was going to be about my daughter. And whether or not I was ready or qualified she was here.
Was it the pregnancy that made me feel a mother? Was it the nearly 19 hours of labor and delivery? Not really. I think, more than anything, it was that realization that I was responsible for someone else. My daughter was going to depend on me for everything- her health, her safety, her education. Her life was truly in my hands and I had to rise to the challenge, even when it was not fun at all.
Motherhood has been an amazing adventure so far. It is almost never easy and, though there are still days I want it to be about me, it never is. Yet, it is an adventure I feel eternally grateful to God for allowing me to take. My oldest daughter is growing up to be such a wonderful young lady, and though I can take very little credit for that, I am thankful that God has blessed with a front row seat for it. Now, as I look forward to welcoming my new baby daughter I pray that God will again, help me rise to the challenge. Though I still feel unqualified most of the time, I thank Him daily for the gift of this latest journey in parenthood...

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pope John Paul II vs. a grocery cart

As I have confessed before, I spend entirely too much time on my computer. I have gotten into the very bad habit of checking my e-mail every few hours and logging onto Facebook, and Twitter just to see what is going on with my friends, at least 5 times each day. I am usually disappointed to see there is nothing of significance awaiting me in the cyber world, yet I continue to visit it day after day, sometimes hour after hour. I have observed, in all my time of "social networking", that people tend to put a lot of time and energy into worldly concerns and almost no thought into their spiritual growth. Most days, I, unfortunately, am guilty of this as well.
It first came to my attention, when a friend posted a status update on her Facebook page about her grocery cart being "stolen" by another customer. She was shopping with her two young children and was hoping for the cart that was shaped like a rocket ship, with a seat that accommodated two. A woman with only one child, who was old enough to walk through the store on her own, had the cart, and did not, at any time, offer to give it up. Now, I am not saying that I would not have felt similar frustration if I were faced with the situation myself. I often let the smallest annoyances in life drive me absolutely crazy, dwelling on them for hours afterwards. However, what struck me wasn't so much the status update but the 15 comments left by others in response to this tiny little incident at the grocery store. It seemed everyone felt compelled to join in the conversation. In contrast, another friend of mine, in an effort to inspire others, had shared a spiritual quote from Pope John Paul II at around the same time as the grocery store posting. No one, not one person, commented on this posting.
It got me thinking. I started paying closer attention to the postings on my Facebook page, and to what most people seemed to respond too. I did a sort of unofficial experiment over a few weeks time. I watched which postings drew the most responses, and which ones were left unnoticed. As it turns out, the grocery cart incident was not an isolated example of everyone caring so passionately for the things of this world, and reacting so indifferently to the things of God. I have noted that worldly posts attract at least three times as much attention as anything of a spiritual nature.
We are all so quick to complain when we feel slighted in anyway in this world. We are all so quick to see the faults and selfishness of others. Yet, when God attempts to speak to us, to find a moment in our busy lives to remind us of His love and His presence, we are too focused on ourselves to even notice! How do we expect this world to improve if we are more concerned with our "right" to the grocery cart than we are with the state of our souls? I can't help but wonder if God gets discouraged that He cannot attract our attention when He is up against the loss of the rocket ship cart.
In addition, I see "social networking" as a form of sky rocketing narcissism. We are not building relationships online. We are not building the kingdom of God through status updates, yet so many of us spend more time playing on the computer than we do in prayer! As usual, I need to start with myself. The next time I feel compelled to open my Facebook page, just for a little peek- I think I will instead open the Good Book and see what is on God's mind!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Crying out in the night

About 8 and a half years ago Tim and I began a hunt. We were hunting for our first house. We had been living in a 2 bedroom townhouse and were expecting our 2nd child. We knew we needed more room for our growing family. As we searched through house after house I was surprised to discover that many of the house descriptions boasted of a "spilt-bedroom plan". This meant the houses were designed with the master bedroom on one side of the house and all the other bedrooms on the exact opposite side, with every other room situated between them. Apparently, this is a very popular floor plan in Florida. I was not exactly sure it held any appeal for me. As we viewed house after house with this wonderful concept of split bedrooms I just kept picturing myself, half asleep and groggy, tripping over the kitchen table, the couch, the entertainment center, and other various pieces of furniture and toys on the way to my crying child who needed me in the dark of the night. I am not at my best when awakened suddenly in the middle of the night! Tim and I knew we wanted a big family and I figured I would be responding to midnight cries from children for a good ten years to come. I think we were the first ones she'd ever heard it from but, we told our real estate agent to find us a home without a split bedroom plan!
Thankfully, after a lot of prayer and a whole lot of frustration, God led us to a perfect house. It was in our price range (though, at the time, on the high end), had 4 bedrooms, and amazingly, no split bedroom plan! The master bedroom was at the back of the house and the other bedrooms were a straight shot down an unobstructed hallway, about 15 feet away. In the eight years that have followed we have filled the four bedrooms very nicely by adding not only one more baby, but three and a half (officially four in August!) more! We have also created a well worn path down that hallway between the bedrooms! Though our oldest is nearing her 11th birthday she still needs her mommy occasionally in the night. Her siblings do much more regularly. So much for ten more years of midnight duty calls- I'm thinking it will be closer to twenty when all is said and done!
Last night as I comforted, first my oldest daughter who was having trouble sleeping at about 11 pm, and then my younger daughter, who had a bad dream at about 4 am, I was reminded of our house search all those years ago. I was immediately grateful that God had given Tim and I the wisdom to see what we would need in our house.
What struck me the most, however, was how amazing it is that when my children are scared and worried in the middle of the night (and at any time for that matter) my mere presence is enough to bring them comfort and peace. Again, I thank God for that, for as I said, I am not at my best in the wee hours of the day and sometimes my presence is all I can really offer!
Perhaps I had these revelations last night because, lately, I have experienced my own middle of the night fears and worries. Many nights I have awakened, and like my children, been filled with trepidation, irrational fears, and unending uncertainties. Like the child I am, when I am scared I turn to my heavenly Father for comfort. His mere presence, as I call out to Him in prayer, is usually enough to calm my worst fears and fill me with peace so that I can rest in His love as my own children rest in mine. Though God's peace is perfect and mine is often groggy and deficient, He has used this ordinary part of life to show me His love in many ways. How humbling that our Lord allows me to share even a tiny bit in His goodness by providing my children with a taste of His love and peace, as He works through me to comfort my children. How beautiful that I can see His completely perfect unconditional love for me, as I offer my unconditional, though far from perfect, love to my children. I may not be at my best in the middle of the night but God is always at His best and He has given me some of my best glimpses of His love at those moments I when I am still a little groggy and half sleep. Even with my eyes half open, I can see His perfection and love!

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Best Church Ever...

Over the past year or so several members of my family have decided to leave the Catholic church. They have found other churches they feel are bringing them closer to God. Though I am happy that they are growing in their faith, I personally do not understand how they feel closer to God outside the Catholic church than they did within it. My children have also asked me why our family members are no longer Catholic. This has sparked many conversations between my children and I about the many gifts and blessings that our Catholic faith gives us. Below is the list of the top reasons I have chosen to stick with my Catholic Faith (and why I hope and pray my children do as well):

1. I love Jesus- and this is the church He started. Though He had 12 apostles, he didn't choose to start 12 different churches. Though He had hundreds of followers, He didn't feel the need for hundreds of churches. He started His one, holy and apostolic church on the "rock" of Peter, the 1st pope, and promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Despite A LOT of effort, they haven't! (Matthew 16:18)

2. The Communion of Saints- if you believe in heaven then you must acknowledge the saints, right? And what kind of saints would they be if we could not turn to them for their intercessory prayers?

3. Our Priests and the Pope- ordained by God to work in persona Christi, they shepherd us, their flock, without the stress of being pulled in one direction by a family and in another by their church. They have truly dedicated their whole lives and their whole selves to serving God, and us.

4. The Sacraments- you want to "SEE" God? The sacraments are outward signs of His grace at work in the world. Go to Mass and open your eyes- He's all around you!

and especially....

5. The Eucharist- I can feel the presence of Jesus as soon as I walk into a Catholic church, any Catholic church. I can feel that He is there, making the space holy and sacred. There is only one Church that can give us the physical presence of Jesus. And we, as the Catholic faithful, are unbelievably blessed to actually be able to receive His body, blood, soul, and divinity in the form of the Eucharist into our own humble bodies. (John 6)

I could go on but, need I say more?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What should we do today?

Every day children should have something (meaningful and worthwhile) to do, something to think about, and something to love. Though this is not my idea (I read it in the book The Charlotte Mason Companion, by Karen Andreola last summer), I agree with it so completely that I have attempted to adopt it as the philosophy by which I am educating and raising my children.
This summer we are continuing our school work, so obviously my children do have something to do and something to think about each and everyday, but I have been very conscious lately of how we spend our time after our school work is completed for the day....As I ponder the way we fill our days I am pleasantly surprised and impressed by how easily my children find things to do, things to think about, and, of course, things/people to love. And I am most impressed that it takes such little effort on my part!
In fact, amazingly, these long summer afternoons have not resulted in unending boredom, at my house, but instead have inspired countless creative endeavors. For example, some of my children's “something to do’s” have included making their own mazes to exchange with each other, pretending to be factory workers with my exercise equipment, playing chess, creating scavenger hunts for each other, constructing forts under the table, and assembling a 1000 piece puzzle. As I type this, my 8 year old is creating "art work" out of dominoes and other household objects (see photo). Now, these activities may not seem very meaningful or worthwhile but the way I see it, they are using their imaginations and getting along with their siblings. What can be more worthwhile than that?
Their “something to think about’s” are evident in the books they read, the questions they ask and the games they play. I have caught my two older children discussing their nighttime dreams, the fun of making pointless loud noises, and the possibility of opening a nature museum in our garage. My younger two sit down together and share their thoughts on our various picture books or imagine they are all grown up with families of their own. We often hear about the antics of their stuffed animal children, who are constantly stirring up trouble around the house. All four children are curious about the world around them and I have fielded questions recently concerning everything from what changes the government is making, to the rules of baseball. They wonder about how their new baby sister will be born (they got a very vague answer to that question!) and whether or not we can make our own candy. It is amazing how, at certain moments, I can almost see their little minds at work in their heads.
Of course, the “something/someone to love” is the easiest of all three objectives to accomplish. They have God, each other, Tim and I, their friends, their pet turtles, and all their various stuffed animal “family members“. There is never a lack of people to love and be loved by.
I know my children are by no means unique in their ingenuity and resourcefulness. In fact, it is one of the reasons I have always enjoyed spending time with children. Every child I’ve ever known has a way of coming up with thought-provoking ideas and undertakings. All children are capable of unending imaginings and originality. That is why there is no reason for any child to have a day without something to love, something to think about, and something to do. Now if only I could come up with an innovative way to keep up with the messes all this creativity creates!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I quit!

I want to be a fabulous housekeeper. I want to be a terrific cook. I want to be a supportive, subservient wife. I want to be a patient, understanding, perfect mother. I want to focus on God each and every moment and serve Him in all I do. I realized today, maybe I am aiming too high. Maybe I am doing a little too much. Not that my goals are wrong but, the reality is, I am no where near reaching them and instead I am living a life of disappointment and guilt and regret.
I am NOT a fabulous housekeeper. I am a mediocre housekeeper. My house is pretty well picked up and I don't always stick to the kitchen floor when I walk across it but it is far from spotless. I am NOT a terrific cook. My family is fed three meals a day. We actually do sit down to dinner as a family most nights, but often the food comes out of a box or is whipped together and lacks a little in the taste and nutrition department. I am often NOT patient, understanding or anywhere near perfect. Just ask my children. I am sometimes short, and grumpy; and there are days I yell an awful lot. I am NOT a supportive, subservient wife. I try to tell Tim how much I appreciate him and I try to be there to support him when I can, but I fall short much of the time. And, I'm pretty sure I have not achieved subservient for even a moment in all our almost 13 years of marriage. I am NOT serving God at all times. I usually focus on my own wants, desires, and weaknesses, stopping to pray only at bedtime and then apologizing for all my sinful moments, only to repeat the process the next day.
And so, today I quit! Though I desperately desire to be perfect like my heavenly Father is perfect, I cannot do it on my own. Though, I would love to be self sufficient, a super mom and super wife, I am only human and as weak as the very worst sinner. And so, I have no alternative but to quit. I quit trying to do it all and especially trying to do it all myself. I quit focusing on what I want to be and what I think I should be. I quit tackling too much and then resenting all I have to do. I quit feeling guilty and ineffective and beating myself up. I quit the pursuit of perfection. Instead I will focus on being the best me I can be, not a perfect me, but the best weak, fallen, mediocre me I can be. I will accept myself for who I am, and who God created me to be. I will invite God into every moment, not so I can feel holy and saint-like, but so He can work through me and accomplish the work that He has chosen for me. I will admit that I am not super mom or super wife, and that I never will be. I will think more about enjoying my family and less about dazzling them with my flawlessness. I'm pretty sure they like me fine the way I am. I will try to do the same.
So, God, I lay it all at Your feet. Once again, I confess my weakness and sinfulness but this time I pray that You will complete Your work in me. I will do my best to step aside, to trust in You, and to let You be the perfect One.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Middle of the night prayer session

I heard once, that pregnancy is the only time when you can assist God in a creating a miracle. I believe it was Erma Bombeck who originally said it. What a beautiful way to describe such a beautiful time in one's life. Why then, does it feel so wrought with fear, worry and discomfort? I suppose bringing about a miracle, even just as the assistant, is never an easy thing!
I am only weeks away from welcoming my fifth child. My entire family and I are so excited to meet our new baby and to have the joy of a new life in the house again. At the same time, I am full of fear and worry that in these last few weeks something will go wrong. I am also worried about the labor and delivery. And, I am not sleeping. At all. I lay awake at night, thinking about all the things that could go wrong. I watch the clock, counting baby's kicks to make sure she is okay in there and praying that God will see us through the last few weeks of anticipation. I am trying to offer my insomnia up to God. I pray He will take my tiny bit of suffering and use it for the good of others, more in need than me. I am also trying to be grateful for the place I am in in life. I am trying to actually appreciate the challenges of pregnancy because, truly, it is such a blessing and a gift to assist God in the miracle of a child. I am so happy to be expecting this baby and I don't want to lose sight of that in the midst of my exhaustion and discomfort. So, if you are in need and have any prayer intentions you'd like to share with me, I will likely have a lot of time to pray at about 3 am, so just let me know!

Friday, July 3, 2009

We're sticking with tradition

At my house, we always have a lot of noise and commotion. We have an over abundance of whining, primarily from my daughters, and an over whelming amount of yelling and chasing, mostly from my sons. Why, I wonder, do my girls tend to be so emotional and my boys tend to be so active? Is it something I have done?
I remember, before either one of us were mothers, my sister, with whom I have little in common concerning our social views and beliefs, talking about the importance of gender neutral toys in raising children. She believed it was vital to expose children to a variety of different play things so as not to pigeon hole them into traditional gender roles. As a mother of two boys and (soon-to-be) three girls, I, respectfully but totally, disagree! (I suspect, now that she has been blessed with a boy and girl of her own, my sister may feel differently as well.)
From the very start my children were very different from each other. Even as babies, they showed a natural tendency towards certain personality traits and, yes, those traits followed along traditional gender lines, in many respects. My girls were more easily entertained and had longer attention spans from the time they could sit up. They enjoyed quiet play like reading books or playing with Fisher Price Little People. They were also more sensitive and emotional, even in infancy. My boys, as babies and toddlers, were very active and focused primarily on developing their gross motor skills. My oldest boy loved to throw things and to climb everywhere, as soon as he was able. My younger son was such a little bulldozer, barreling over anything and anyone in his path, even as a crawler, that he earned the nickname "Buster". These tendencies showed up regardless of the fact that, with both girls and boys in the house, they were exposed to a great variety of toys. In fact, even now when they do choose the same toys they play with them very differently! My sons will hurl Barbie dolls across the room, or my daughters will make the Hot Wheels cars talk to each other about their feelings! So much for gender neutral!
I am actually quite glad for the differences though! I want my girls to grow up to be feminine, young ladies and I want my boys to grow up to be strong, confident men. Our culture does not support traditional gender roles but I am old-fashioned and traditional is exactly what I hope for, for my children. It seems to me that parents, though well meaning I'm sure, have done their children a disservice in encouraging gender confusion. It seems many men are struggling to figure out what it means to be a man. They have been so greatly discriminated against in recent cultural history, that they are unsure of their place and role in society. It seems many women are torn between their maternal instincts to stay home and care for their children and the desire to do something "worthwhile" with their lives. Too many women in roles of authority seem to become bitter and overpowering in an effort to prove their worth. Neither men nor women seem to have much self esteem, neither gender seems to be completely at peace with the choices they make in life.
I have always known my vocation was in the home. I have always desired to serve God as wife and mother but even I felt pressure to choose a career path when I was in my early twenties. Though, I have always felt that God made men and women different in so many ways for many good reasons, I wanted to be sure I was truly contributing to society. I no longer doubt that by raising my children and supporting my husband I am absolutely making the world a better place. I no longer question the validity of traditional gender roles. Now I am not necessarily saying that no woman should ever work outside the home, but what I am saying is that they should never feel the need to compete with men. Likewise, men should have not feel pressured to prove themselves to women. Each of us should see our personal value in light of the gifts and talents God has given to us, and we cannot truly do that unless we acknowledge that boys and girls are created different.
Men and women have different strengths because they are made to work together and to compliment each other, both in society and in the home. There is a place for nurturing and a place for strength. There is a place for emotion and a place for action. When we confuse our children about their gender, we end up confusing their future and messing up the future of the world we live in. So, at my house, we allow our boys to be boys and encourage our girls to be dainty, young ladies. The rest we leave to God. We pray He will guide them in the direction He wants them to go and that, of course, they will have the confidence to follow whatever path that may be.


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