Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Broken rules, mended relationships

I worry about my children...A LOT. In these days of 24 hour news channels, hundreds of parenting books, and sensational tabloid magazines informing us constantly of all the dangers the world has to offer, it is hard not to worry. Parents are so much more aware of child predators, chemicals in our environment, and rare but deadly diseases than ever before. Being the informed mother I am, I do everything I can to keep my children safe. My baby sleeps on her back, my older children wear helmets when riding their bikes, we all wear sunscreen when spending time outside, we filter all our water before drinking it . The list goes on...
I am usually overly cautious and careful as can be, but recently I knowingly broke an important safety rule. It was one of those days, the kind that starts with bickering children and spilled cereal. After breaking up fights and crunching through my kitchen my patience was waning when the children and I set off on a few errands. The kids were continuing their earlier disagreement as they buckled themselves into our packed minivan like a bunch of little sardines. The van, which seats 7, left no spare space for our family of 7 and the children were sitting shoulder to shoulder without even an inch between them. In a moment of weakness, impatience, and perhaps incredible irresponsibility, I invited my 11 year old daughter into the, previously forbidden, front seat. I know the guidelines say that children under 12 are safest in the backseat but I needed a bit of peace in my car and I knew I wasn't going to get it as long as the kids were sitting practically on top of each other.
A most unexpected thing came out of this chaotic spur of the moment decision. My oldest child, who tends to be a lot like her father and keeps to herself much of the time, started to talk to me. She was not asking for a snack or complaining about her math work. She was chatting with me about her thoughts. In my busy, sometimes crazy household of 5 children, I struggle to find an uninterrupted minute to spend time alone with each of them to just talk and hang out. I am, many times, distracted and preoccupied at home. My oldest daughter is quiet. She does not always want to share her thoughts and feelings with others and I have found the more I push her, the more she withdraws. At times, I have worried about our relationship, wishing she was more comfortable coming to me and talking to me about anything. I have prayed, in the past, that God would show me a way to grow closer to her.
I never would have thought the answer to my prayer would be to break the rules but sometimes God does work in mysterious ways. It was a few weeks ago when I first invited my daughter into the front but ever since, she has remained my talkative travel companion as she rides shot gun. In this time, she has shared with me many stories, ideas, and opinions. I have had the opportunity to listen, relatively undistracted, and to see her get excited about sharing things with me. I have enjoyed the chance to spend more time with my daughter who, for the first two and a half years of her life was my only child, my constant companion, and my favorite little buddy. I am so impressed with the young lady she is growing up to be and I am so grateful she is willing to share her thoughts with me. Though the experts may not say it is safe, our new travel arrangement is working wonderfully. My daughter and I are once again growing close and our van is now a more peaceful place to travel...except, of course, for the younger children whining from the backseat, "why does she get to sit in the front?!?!?!?"

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The failure that haunts me still....

Growing up I was always a good student. I did well in reading, math and art class. I got good grades in science and social studies too. The only thing I really struggled with in school was P.E. class. I was just never very athletic. I remember dreading my class’ weekly hour in what we called gym class and wishing I could somehow get out of it.
I could never get a hit when we played baseball. I could never make a basket during basketball. I could never serve the ball over the net when it was time for volleyball. The only time I did not completely embarrass myself was on the rare occasion we would enter the gym to find stations set up with different activities to do as individuals. There would be hula hoops to play with, stilts to walk on, mats to tumble on, and my sister’s all time favorite-- ropes to climb. Then there was that other station. The one I most clearly remember. It consisted of two plastic crates, one full of colorful scarves and the other small plastic balls. This was the juggling station. The idea was to practice juggling the scarves and, once that was mastered, move on to the balls. Now, in all honesty, even on individual stations day, I still did not excel at P.E. I was not great at the hula hoops, I could only stay on the stilts for a minute or two. I could hold my own with somersaults and cartwheels but never progressed to any fancier tumbling. I did okay on the ropes but always got very nervous the higher I went. But the scarves, well, that was actually a little bit fun. I enjoyed tossing those colorful scarves and than quickly trying to catch them all again before the gently floated to the filthy gymnasium floor. I could keep up with two scarves at a time and eventually graduated to three. Because this was something I was okay at, I did not want to ruin it by pushing myself too far. I never even attempted to juggle those little plastic balls. I steered clear of the second plastic crate and stuck to what I was most comfortable with.
The good news, all these years later, is that failing at P.E. has not held me back in life too terribly much. As a 34 year old mother of 5, I cannot tell you the last time I even had the opportunity to play basketball or walk on stilts, let alone the need to do it well. But the juggling station...well now I can see it would have been well worth the effort to have truly mastered the art of juggling. The truth is I do wish now, that I would have tried so much harder to really succeed at the juggling station. How I would have benefited from trying my hand at keeping several of those small plastic balls up in the air all at once, instead of concentrating on the scarves which presented no challenge to me at all.
As a home schooling mother, I could really use those juggling skills I had the chance to perfect so many years ago. These days, I feel our home classroom is a lot like a three ring circus. I have a fifth grader, a third grader, and a first grader to teach and instruct, all while caring for a 2 month old infant, and all of this, in between drop off and pick up at my 4 year old son’s preschool. Juggling my life is a whole lot more like the hard plastic balls, which would sting if they fell on your head, or would roll away if you let them drop to the floor, than like those lovely bright scarves that just floated in the breeze.
I guess this experience just goes to show me that every opportunity to learn in this life is worth taking! Now, though, it is time to sign off, because my children are demanding my attention. And since I am not a very good juggler, I guess I need to concentrate on one thing at a time!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Basking in the Son

I have lived in Florida longer than I've lived anywhere else in my entire life. Tim and I moved here over 12 years ago, just because. My parents were living here and after visiting them we fell in love with the beautiful scenery, the breathtaking views and, of course, the tropical weather. We visited them for a week in early July 1997, and literally two weeks later packed up all our belongings and moved here ourselves. We have been enjoying our life in the Sunshine State ever since.
When we first moved here we appreciated the mild climate, the bright blue skies, and the beautiful coastline so much that we spent every Sunday afternoon basking in the sun on the white sand of Clearwater beach. The beach had such an allure we started going on Friday evenings as well. After living up north for our whole lives we were truly grateful for the warmth of the south. We loved our Florida home and the lifestyle that came with it.
Over time, though our love for the Sunshine State did not really diminish, we stopped going to the beach every week. Life got busier, and we got more and more used to the beautiful sights all around us. We started taking it all for granted. The beach would always be there next weekend if we just couldn't get there this weekend.
Every once in a while I am still reminded of how lucky I am to live here though. Recently a missionary priest visited our church. He had spent 17 years serving the poor of Kenya and shared many stories of his life there. He told of people, who were so poor they had only one meal a day, walking up to two hours to attend Mass on Sundays. He went on to point out, that after the two hour walk and the hour long Mass another two hour journey was required to then return home. I was struck by the dedication of a people who, though probably weak from hunger, so appreciated their faith that they were willing to go to great lengths and great sacrifice to take part in weekly Mass. I found myself thinking about their plight and even more importantly, their faith. It struck me that perhaps, though I have plenty to eat, I am the one who is truly weak. I realized that my own faith, or at least my own appreciation of my faith and my Church, seemed to be greatly lacking when compared to theirs.
I am so blessed to live here in Florida, here in America, not only because the sun is always shining but more importantly because the Son is always available to me. I can, at any time, walk to my own church in less than 15 minutes time. I can make it there in only 2 minutes time by car. I can sit before the Blessed Sacrament or attend daily Mass and receive, into my own body, the Eucharist every day! Yet, like the sun shining in the sky above me, I have come to take the Son, shining forth His love upon me, for granted. If I don't make it to Mass today, there is another one tomorrow.
Every once in a while I look at the magnificent views around me and wonder how I can ever get too busy to appreciate it all. Yet, I am even more often too busy and distracted to appreciate the beauty and magnificence of my Catholic faith. It is so easy, in my life of ease and comfort, to lose sight of the greatest blessings in my life. It is so easy, knowing the Church is right around the corner, to put off visiting it. How sad it is that the greater our opportunities to meet God, in our Church and in the Sacraments, the less we appreciate Him. I pray I will learn from the poor how to be really grateful for the riches of faith that I have, and I pray I will not take the ability to bask in the Son for granted again.


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