Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Super mom

    It was one of those wonderful moments when all five children were behaving nicely, ironic considering the really rough morning we had had, the second rough morning in as many days.  But, of course, looking at the kids all smiling and sitting quietly the nurse could not tell that when she asked me about them and why they were not in school.  “I home school,” I told her as we went to the scale to weigh the youngest for her one year old well-baby appointment at our pediatrician’s office.  “Really?  You must be a supermom.  I only have one child and I feel overwhelmed half the time,” she said.  Now I have to admit I much prefer this reaction to the other common one I get when I tell people I home school my children, the one where the person looks at you funny and says, “You home school?!?!?  You are crazy.”  But, though I was flattered by her admiration, I was honest and I assured the nurse that I was the farthest thing from supermom.  I was secretly glad she hadn’t been able to peek in my windows that morning to actually see how far from “super” I was as I got frustrated with the whiny older children and the baby getting into everything and finally had to put myself in “time-out” for a while to cool off.  
    The truth is both reactions are pretty off base as far as home schooling goes, at least at our house.  I am not super, nor am I perfectly patient or impeccably organized, like many people assume I must be, but neither am I crazy for choosing to educate my children at home.  And, really, I would like to be super mom.  I would like to be perfectly patient and impeccably organized.  All these things would help me to home school and to parent in general but thankfully they are not requirements for the job.  The greatest requirement, that I can see after 5 years of home schooling, is willingness.  Willingness to be with my children 24/7.  Willingness to learn with them, even those subjects I did not particularly enjoy during my own schooling, and even more importantly, from them, so many lessons that cannot be found in any of our workbooks.  Willingness to be flexible and open-minded, and always on my toes because nothing is predictable in a house with young children, not even with perfectly organized lesson plans.  Willingness to take on this monumental task of teaching four different grades at once to four very different kids (five, if you count the baby who is always learning with us, about everything that is going on around her).  Willingness to keep on trying even when I lack confidence in my ability to do it all as perfectly as I think I should.  Willingness to do the job that God has asked of me in raising and educating my children to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him.  And willingness to depend completely on Him, never forgetting that I am not a super hero, but my God is the greatest super hero ever and He can do anything through me, as long as I am willing to let Him.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

One is such fun!

    My baby turned one last week.  We celebrated with a flip-flop themed pool party, complete with flop-flop shaped cakes and a sunshine piñata .  It was a very fun party to celebrate the completion of a very eventful year. 
   Our baby has changed so much over the last 12 months.  As I did with her sisters and brothers, I enjoyed her as a newborn in her utter helplessness.  I’ve always loved watching my newborn babies as they squirm and wiggle reflexively reminding me of their intra-utero kicks and rolls.  I loved when, a few weeks later, they began to wake up to the world, smiling and cooing and starting to respond to me with delight.  I loved when my babies learned to sit up and had the habit of flopping unexpectedly to one side or the other until they could master the art of balancing on their little round bottoms.  I loved when they figured out how to move their arms and legs in coordination to finally achieve mobility.  It was so cute to watch their chubby little thighs as they crawled away, off to explore the world around them.  I loved watching them pull up on the furniture and “cruise” around and I really, really loved when I walked into their bedrooms and found them standing in their cribs grinning from ear to ear to greet me when they woke up from their naps or first thing in the morning. 
    I love babies and everything about them (except maybe the sleepless nights and dirty diapers).  But as much as I adore little babies, my affection for the baby stage is nothing compared to how I feel about the toddler stage.  My youngest, formerly such a sweet and beautiful little baby is, at one, officially, a toddler now.  She is so busy, so curious, and so darn cute I could practically eat her up.  I love this stage the most.  When babyhood gives way to toddler hood and the adorable little person we have been living with for 12 months starts to really show her personality.   I love that our little one is now toddling around with her crooked little gait, getting into everything and looking so proud about it all.   I love that I can almost see the little wheels in her head turning as she starts to make connections in her mind- “when I hit the tower of blocks it falls with a big crash, every time!”  I love that she is more interested and interactive at playtime.  Tim was playing with her the other night and she was so excited to help him clean up her toys- putting the blocks in the little canvas bag with a look of sheer joy.  She and I have been playing a game at bath time that consists of catapulting her squirty toys across the tub, making us both laugh till our tummies ache- her, at the toys and me, at her reaction.  I love to watch her make new discoveries every day.  She discovered just the other day that if mommy forgets to buckle her and she shimmies herself down just the right way she can escape from her stroller and take off in the middle of the library.  What a wonderfully fun discovery that was!  I love that she is starting to have favorites- favorite toys- for some reason a plastic taco, a plastic antelope, and her new camera can not be beat; favorite books- I have read and re-read Find the Duck, Find the Piglet and Animal Noises (all from Usborne Books) so many times I have them memorized forward and backward; and favorite games- stacking the blocks and the bath toy game are tops these days.  I love that I am, without a doubt, her favorite person and if Tim tries to hug me when she is around she will literally push him away with all her little baby might.   I love her baby babble which is getting much more sophisticated, with sounds like “adooka-dooka-dah”, instead of just ma ma and da da, and real inflection to go along with it.  She is very expressive and though we don’t understand her silly foreign sounding words we definitely know the tone she is trying to communicate with them!  I love that she is starting to imitate us.  During school time she wants to sit at the table with a pencil in her hand, just like the “big” kids do.  I even love that she is getting pickier at mealtime and has the habit of throwing “overboard” the foods she doesn’t feel like eating.  It is all so cute at this stage, even when she “misbehaves”  I’m impressed because it is all new and exciting and a sign of development.  How smart she is to “trick” us by getting rid of the yucky foods so we’ll serve her more of the good stuff. 
    I am all too aware that only a year from now we will be dealing with the terrible twos (and on the verge of the teenage years with baby’s oldest sister!), so I plan to enjoy every minute of the adorable toddler stage delighting in every discovery and every priceless giggle!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Pray For Us

    I have been wanting a patron saint for my blog for a while.  Lots of blogs I read have little pictures of their patron saint on their page and I have always wanted to add one to mine as well.  There are so many saints I admire but none seemed to be the perfect one. 
    The other day as I was driving around running errands with the kids, I heard a little snippet of a segment on our local Catholic radio station.  They were talking about a painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary known as the “Mater Admirabilis“, which is Latin for Mother Most Admirable.  They said that the painting depicts Mary with a pile of books at her side and that copies of the painting are often found in schools.  We were in and out of the car a lot that day and I was only able to listen for a few minutes in between stops, so that is all I heard.   It was maybe two minutes of a segment that likely lasted a half hour.  I am not even sure why they were discussing the painting or what context they were discussing it in.  Furthermore, I am not sure how I happened to hear anything on the radio in the chaos of an afternoon of shopping with all five children during back-to-school sales.  Yet I was intrigued by what I had heard.  I came home that evening and searched the internet for Mater Amabilis, (my spelling was wrong but I had only heard the name that one time, for a second, with five rambunctious children in the car, and though the kids and I have started our Prima Latina lessons several years in a row we have yet to advance very far into it, so my Latin is rusty to say the least).   I found a website for a free online Catholic home school curriculum that I had, ironically, checked out a few years ago and forgotten about.   I found a lovely Catholic blog post by a mother of five who was sharing her thoughts on said home school curriculum.  I did not find out any information about a painting or about Mary being known as Mother Most Admirable. 
    The name and the painting remained in the back of my mind as I went about my very busy week, that included last minute school preparations, and a lot of worry and prayer over our rapidly approaching new school year.   Sunday evening, with only hours left before the kids and I would dive head first into another year of home schooling, I was checking my e-mail and thinking again about how much I needed supernatural help to successfully and peacefully handle another year of home schooling a houseful.  I decided to try one more time to find out more about Mater Admirabilis.  This time I stuck with English, since my spelling is more reliable in my native tongue, and searched for “Mother Most Admirable“.  Already my prayers for supernatural intervention were being answered.  I found what I was looking for. 
    At the story of the Mater Admirabilis fresco, housed in a convent in Rome, spoke right to me, as if Mary was personally whispering it in my ear.   The miracle of the painting itself, the beauty of the peaceful image of Mary surrounded by symbols of all her work and responsibilities, the writer’s personal experiences and reflections-- all of it were God’s perfect answer to my insecurities and fears.  Of course, I know that God has entrusted me with the blessing of my children and that it was He who called me to home school them but I have been so unsure, even with His gentle reassurances (read more here), about my ability to actually do it.  I knew He would not leave me alone in this endeavor and yet I worried.  But in the miraculous image of the Mater Admirabilis, I knew Jesus was entrusting me to the care of His beautiful mother.  And as I gazed at the image on the website I immediately felt her peace within me.  I knew she would be the patron for me, for my children, for our home and our school.  I knew she would be with us through this year and all the years to come, watching over me and my children and helping me to face my work and responsibilities with the same peace and serenity she has.  Right away, I started praying, “Mother Most Admirable, pray for us“.  I repeated those words as I went to sleep, and when I opened my eyes in the morning.  I  shared the story with the kids as we started our first day of school and I showed them the picture, which I am now searching for a nice copy of to hang on the wall of our class room. 
    It may not seem exactly miraculous, but we had a great first day, and the kids are actually excited about the plans I’ve made for the year.  So, I now have a patron for my blog, a new devotion to Mary Most Admirable, and a peace about the upcoming school year that is surely supernatural.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The time is near...

The bookshelves are all stocked....

A drawer for each child...
Full of workbooks and notebooks...

The table is cleared of all clutter and cleaned up...

Onr classroom is all ready for school to start on Monday.....   let's hope the kids and I are just as ready to go.....

Ready or not

    When I was little I sucked my thumb.  And even when I was not-so-little anymore, I still sucked my thumb.  I remember clearly when I finally quit.  I wanted a ten-speed bike for my tenth birthday and my parents said I would have to quit sucking my thumb before they would buy me the bike.   I slept with my hands under my pillow so my thumb would not find its way into my mouth out of habit.  It was hard but I succeeded and got my ten speed.  Though I loved my new bike, I really missed my thumb.   It had been my greatest source of comfort my whole life.  I knew, at ten, that it was time to let it go but if I could have, I would have kept on sucking it forever because it was so familiar and so comforting.  It seemed right to have it there in my mouth as I slept and something just seemed to be missing at bedtime, without it.
    My seven year old daughter and five year old son have followed in my thumb-sucking footsteps.  My daughter actually sucks her fingers- three of them, in an unusual sort of way with her wrist bent back in what looks like a terribly uncomfortable position.  We have an ultrasound picture of her, from before her birth, with her fingers in her mouth.   When she sucked her fingers as a baby I thought it was sweet.  She would snuggle her special pink blanket and slurp on her fingers contentedly.  In the middle of the night if she woke up unexpectedly, she could pop her fingers back in and drift back to sleep comforting herself as I listened to little sucking sounds through the baby monitor.   Though we have since restricted the finger-sucking to bedtime only, she still enjoys the comforting habit just as much as she did as a baby.  My son, like I did, sucks his thumb.  He plays with his ear as he sucks and, like his sister, is comforted and peaceful as long as he has his thumb wedged in his mouth at bedtime, as he has since he was just a baby.
    It has come up between Tim and I that our children are probably getting a little too old to still be sucking their fingers. I have always advocated for them, remembering my own sadness at the end of my thumb-sucking days.   The truth was, in a way, I was as attached to their thumb/finger sucking as I was to my own.  I knew the feeling of comfort they had when sucking and I knew the loss they would feel without it.  Tim never pushed the issue, and so it has continued.
    Yesterday we went to the orthodontist.  My oldest daughter had braces a few years ago and has been going for regular check-ups ever since.  My 5 year old has a few issues with his teeth that concern both me and our dentist so at her advice, he was being checked out for the first time by the orthodontist.   The news was not good.  Not surprisingly, my son’s issues are probably caused by the thumb sucking.  The problems will definitely not be corrected as long as he keeps it up.  So the thumb has to go.   And as long as he is quitting I figured it is time for his older sister to quit too.  So the fingers, all three of them, have to go. 
    Last night bedtime was pretty rough.  The five year old came out a few minutes after bedtime and said he just couldn’t do it.  He couldn’t sleep without his thumb.  The seven year old sat in bed crying hysterically for at least a half an hour.  But, as much as I didn’t want to be, I was firm.  They had to do it.  And, eventually they did.  They both feel asleep, mouths empty.  They woke in the morning, reporting only a few minor relapses in the middle of the night. 
    I don’t know who will miss this last little bit of their babyhood more, me or them but all good things must come to an end… and I guess it really is time.

Monday, August 9, 2010

No turning back

    We have a lot going on at my house these days.  The baby’s first birthday is only days away.  We are having a family party this coming Saturday.  Then, the following Monday we will officially start our next year of home schooling, taking on the challenge of 6th, 4th, 2nd grades and kindergarten all at once.   I have so much to do to prepare.  I have presents to buy for the baby, a piñata to make for her party, shopping to do for the party foods, then of course, preparation of the foods, and finally two cakes to bake and decorate - one for the guests and a “smash“ cake for the guest of honor.  I also have lessons plans to finish up, more school supplies to buy, books to sort and organize for each child, and a few last minute things to arrange in our classroom.  Two weeks ago as I looked at all that was coming up, I thought I had plenty of time to get everything done- even with the orthodontist appointment my oldest daughter and youngest son have tomorrow morning and the meeting I have with a good friend on Wednesday afternoon.  Of course, whenever I feel on top of things life seems to throw me a curve ball. 
    Last week, all my well laid plans fell apart around me and I was forced to abandon my to do lists and deal with a completely unexpected and somewhat disastrous, though thankfully temporary, home emergency.   In the midst of our latest bout of home owner turmoil and knowing that none of the other things that needed to be taken care of were getting done, I was feeling incredibly overwhelmed.  As the mature adult I'm supposed to be, I should have handled it all with grace and responsibility.  Instead, I called my parents to whine. Frustrated, I vented to my dad saying, “If I had known what it would be like to be an adult I would never have moved out.  I would have let you and mom handle all the grown up things forever so I wouldn’t have to.”  He laughed and then said simply, “I’ll have to tell your mom you said that.”
    The thing was, though I said it jokingly, I really did mean it deep down.  There are so many moments in life when I just don’t feel as grown up as my life demands that I be.  There are so many moments when I just don’t know the right thing to do or the right way to handle all the crazy things that seem to come up.  When the kids are fighting, the bills are mounting, the baby is screeching, the laundry is piling up, the dishes are too, the house is falling apart, and Tim and I can’t agree on what to do, I feel so unqualified.  I feel so clueless.  There are times, so many times, I am not sure what is best, or how I should handle it all.  I really do wish, at times, that I could just go back to childhood and let someone else figure out what to do in the face of problems and difficulties.  I wish someone else could tell me the right answers to all life’s uncertain situations. 
    After he was done chuckling at my reaction to my all-too-grown-up dilemmas, my dad quickly pointed out that it was really much too late to go back.  He probably wanted to be sure I did not ever intend to show up, with a moving truck and my husband and five children in tow, at the door of the little two bedroom condo he and my mom now call home.  Or maybe he really was just offering a bit of fatherly wisdom... life moves in only one direction- always forward, never back.   We have no choice but to move along with it, trusting in God to see us through and doing our best whether we feel qualified or not.  After all, they say that God doesn’t ever call the qualified, but He always qualifies the called….

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Should I stay or Should I go now?

It is Sunday morning.  Our Sunday mornings are always the same.  In a little while, we will all pile in the mini-van and set off for Mass.  The girls will be dressed in cute little sundresses with sandals on their feet, the boys will be sporting collared shirts and khakis.  We will bless ourselves with holy water as we enter the church, our five year old sticking his whole hand in the font and dripping the water everywhere as he attempts the Sign of the Cross.  We will each genuflect as we quietly file into a pew about 4 or 5 rows back from the altar, on the left hand side of the church.  The kids will switch places a few times as we line them up with Tim and I in between, in order to find the best possible seating arrangement for respectful, reverent behavior.  The five year old and seven year old cannot be next to each other, though they try to trick us into it every week.  The 11 year old and nine year are best kept apart also, though they really do know how to behave in Mass by their ages.  The baby almost always has to be with me, because if not she is not with Mommy she will squirm and fuss.  Once settled we will kneel down to pray before Mass begins.  It is a beautiful quiet time of reflection as we put ourselves in the presence of God and prepare for the beauty of the Mass…for about a second.
    At some point, within seconds of entering the sanctuary and bowing our heads in prayer, someone, despite our well planned seating arrangement, will poke someone else.  Or there will be a fight over who gets a Missal.  Or someone will start to complain about their shoes being too tight.  Or the baby will decide to screech just for the sheer pleasure of hearing that loud ear splitting noise shatter the silence of the holy place.  Usually, just about the time the opening notes of the gathering song begins, I start questioning whether I can stay in the church any longer or should already set off for my inevitable retreat to the cry room.  As the priest leads us in the Penitential Rite and we pray for Christ’s mercy, I am usually only half praying as I watch the baby walking back and forth on the pew smiling at the people behind us and distracting them, and her siblings, from their prayers as well.  When it is time to listen to the readings I sit down only to find the diaper bag has been emptied of the few little toys we always bring along in the hopes of keeping baby occupied and I have sat on a plastic monkey or pirate or car or whatever.  I remove the toy from my seat only to find the baby is screeching again, or babbling, or fussing because now that we are all sitting she has no clear place to walk back and forth and see what is going on.  Tim and I meet eyes and I silently ask whether now is the time to leave.  But, thankfully the baby usually can be distracted by the Missals or the envelopes placed in the pews for visitors to use for donations at the time of the Offering.  She will happily pull everything out of the shelves on the back of the pew in front of us and except for the sound of rustling papers and books being dropped she’ll be quiet again for a minute.   We stand again for the Gospel reading and somehow the baby will end up back on the pew but this time instead of walking back and forth she’ll find a purse sitting within her reach and start checking out everything the old lady sitting next to us has brought along this Sunday morning.  Mortified, I try to discreetly return the reading glasses, wallet, and various papers to the purse as everyone behind us stifles a giggle without drawing the unsuspecting owner’s attention, and again meet Tim’s eyes to inquire if now is the time to leave.  But as the priest finishes the Gospel and we sit to hear the homily the baby is now sitting happily with her big sister and I, too, will relax to finally get something out of Mass.  But, of course, that doesn’t ever last long.  And at some point during the homily, it will be so obvious that it is time to get that loud, fussy baby out of the church that I won’t even need to glance at Tim to get his opinion on the matter.  I will grab my eleven month old and her diaper bag, just in case, shoo off the 5 year old and 7 year old who think the cry room is something akin to the church playground, and head to the tiny little hallway with the big window and a pew squeezed in, that serves as our parish’s cry room.  Of course, there will be a couple of other families there, with all their toys spread out and their children talking or crying or climbing the pew and I will spend the remainder of the hour stuck in the only free space left, a corner of the teeny, little room completely unaware of what is going on in the sanctuary.  I will, thankfully, be able to escape for a moment to participate in Communion with a squirming baby in hand and feeling like the eyes of the entire Church are on us as we are last to receive.  And at the end of Mass as we are sent off with a blessing, I will feel like somehow I missed most of the Graces of the morning, along with missing most of the homily.  And yet, Christ will be with me and I will be ready, like it or not, to face another week of my beautiful vocation of motherhood.


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