Thursday, January 27, 2011

Remembering Grandpa

    I received a short e-mail almost two weeks ago now.  “Grandpa is in the hospital with pneumonia, not doing well,” was all it said.  My grandfather had not been in good health for years.  He had spent the last three years in a nursing home.  But, this latest illness looked like it might have dire consequences.  I kept up with his prognosis through e-mail and phone calls, and Tim and I discussed the possibility of a visit to go see Grandpa.
    The truth is, I was not really that close to my paternal grandfather.  He was always a very quiet man and my family had not lived close to him since I was three years old.  Though we would go to visit often when I was a child, there were always aunts and uncles and cousins filling the house and I never really had much personal interaction with my grandpa.  He did not go out of his way to hang out with us grandkids and we were much too busy playing with each other in the finished basement to be bothered with the boring adult conversations going on upstairs.  Like my grandpa, I was quiet and shy and so the two of us never knew quite what to say to each other on the occasions when we were all together.  I have many memories of being with my dad’s family, gatherings that would include my own aunts, uncles, and cousins as well as my dad’s at times.  My memories of being with dad’s family are good memories full of talking, laughing, and tons of extended family who were always thrilled to see my siblings, my cousins, and me but in most of my memories Grandpa was not a prominent figure.  He was there, quietly sitting, always sort of in the background of our visits and of my memories.  I have only a few special personal memories of Grandpa.  He always had butterscotch candies in his shirt pocket and he would share them with us whenever we saw him.  I remember he would burn his trash in a fire pit in the backyard every evening and sometimes he would let me throw things in, like my Styrofoam cup or plastic candy wrappers.  I loved seeing how they would curl and dance in the heat before being burned up, neither Grandpa nor I knowing anything of the damage we might have been doing to the environment.  I remember one time sitting on Grandpa’s lap as we watched home movies for what seemed like hours.  And I remember going with my grandparents to a festival where Grandpa was playing his harmonica.  He was a professional harmonica player for years but I was only there to see him play in public that one time.  As I got older, our visits got fewer and farther between and since Grandma and Grandpa were never comfortable traveling we saw little of them in my teenage years.  Once I became an adult, it was even harder to see my grandparents.  I moved even farther away, Tim and I were on a very tight budget (still are actually), and our family was growing quickly, keeping us busy.  Time has a way of slipping by more quickly than I realize and, somehow, nine years passed without a trip to see Grandma and Grandpa.  So I found myself two weeks ago, reading my e-mail, not sure how much time Grandpa had left and not at all sure how I could get to see him, yet feeling in my heart that I needed to be there. 
    Tim and I talked about driving up to Pennsylvania, where Grandpa lay frail and sick in his hospital bed.  We talked about the 800+ mile drive, the time it would take to make the drive, the cold, snowy weather we would encounter, and the cost of it all.  It just didn’t seem feasible to go.  Then my mom offered to book a flight for me, with her and my dad, to fly up for five days.  It would require me leaving my four older children (the baby could fly free, sitting on my lap on the plane).  Tim would have to take time off work to be with them, but it was the only option and Grandpa’s health continued to deteriorate rapidly.  
    My grandfather died before we made it to town.  I did not get to talk to him one last time.  I did not see him before he passed away.  I did not get to introduce him to his youngest great-grandchild, my daughter with whom he shared his name and a definite family resemblance.  Instead of one last visit I would be there for his funeral. 
    The time I spent in Pennsylvania was an emotional roller coaster.  I was surrounded, like in childhood, by aunts, uncles, and cousins.  I got to see family I hadn’t seen in many, many years, including my grandmother, who though she was very sad seemed comforted by the presence of her family all around.  One night my uncle came by to hang out in our room and we sat up until midnight, my parents, my brother and I, listening to his stories and laughing so hard we practically cried.  And then there were the moments we did cry.  Not tears of joy but tears of mourning, tears of loss.  In many ways, I mourned as much for the relationship Grandpa and I never had, as for the end of his life here on earth.  I was sad for the years that he and I never spoke, the visits that went by with little more than a hug and kiss as we came and went when I was a kid, the significant moments of my life that Grandpa was not a part of.  I was sad that I knew my grandpa without ever really knowing him and that he knew me but didn’t really know me, either.  I was sad that my love for him, while very real, was rarely shared as it should have been.  I was so sad that Grandpa had suffered at the end of his life and that I had not had a chance to be there for him in his suffering.  I was sad for my dad who had lost his dad, for the times he had not seen his father for years at a time, for not being able to be with his dad at the end.  I was sad for my grandma who after 63 years of marriage was now a widow, alone and unsure of her future.  The emotions I experienced over the course of the week were raw and varied and overwhelming, at times.  The visit was joyful and sad, comforting and upsetting, close and far all at once.   
    My mom overheard one of my cousins explaining to her young niece, my other cousin’s 8 year old daughter, that some family reunions are happy and some are sad but that what matters most is that we are all together.  I wish my most recent visit to see family had been under different circumstances and that it had come earlier, at a time when  I could still visit with my grandfather before it was too late, but I am glad my extended family was together and that I could be there to pay my last respects to Grandpa, offering my prayers for his soul and thanking God for his life.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

We interrupt this blog for a very important message!

    I am in the bathroom when all of the sudden I hear knock, knock, knock, “Mommy, can I have some chocolate milk!”  I am in the middle of teaching my 5 year old his math lesson when all of the sudden the little one climbs onto my lap and starts trying to push her brother away.  I am talking to my older son about his religion chapter when my oldest daughter starts asking for help with her brand new e-mail account. It feels like my whole life is just one interruption after another.  I could literally fill up a book with all the interruptions I have experienced just this morning.  I am sure I have not started and finished anything in the last 12 years without having to stop for some interruption or another.  Some days I just want to yell, “Enough already! Can’t I just get something done, just once, without being interrupted?!?!?!”
     I, myself, have the very bad habit of interrupting others, which is, I am sure, where my children get it.  I have tried to not interrupt but I get so impatient and excited to just barrel ahead in life that I have trouble waiting.  I always feel like I have something so important to share that it just can’t wait.  My children, clearly feel the same.  They just have to have their chocolate milk NOW.  It can’t wait until I am finished in the bathroom.  They just have to have my attention NOW.  It can’t wait until I am finished working with their sibling.  They just have to have my help NOW.  It can’t wait until I am done talking.  When I look at their impatience and their reasons for interrupting they seem so unimportant.  This is definitely one of those areas that God is using my children to teach me something.   I can see how their impatience makes it harder for me to get anything done.  And how their need to have everything they want NOW, is disrespectful and selfish.  I can see, when I am willing to look at my own mistakes, that my own disrespectful impatience hurts others too.  I can also see how it makes me miss out on so many things I might get to hear and experience. 
    Obviously, the best way to teach my children patience is for me to be more patient.  If I could model patience and peace while waiting for my turn in life what a difference it would make in my own life as well as in the lives of my children.  If they could see me being calm and serene while waiting forever in line at the store while the lady in front of me insists on a price adjustment for every single little item she has purchased and the cashier struggles over each and every seemingly complicated price adjustment she must do to please the demanding, fussy lady, what virtue my children would be taught.  If they could see me wait patiently for the old man in front of me in traffic as he sits at the green light for an eternity then finally starts putting along at 20 miles per hour on a busy road with a speed limit of 45, as we are heading to a meeting that we are just barely going to be on time for if we can just get going at a reasonable speed already, what a wonderful example of patience they would have when we arrive late to our destination.  Wouldn’t the lesson along the way make the extra time it took all worth it?  But, most of the time, I miss these opportunities to model virtue to my children in my own rush to get what I want NOW. 
    Maybe all the interruptions I must endure each day, are one big long lesson for me in patience and respect for others.  Maybe God is sending me a message to just relax and enjoy the ride of life and of raising children.  A journey that even in the best and most virtuous conditions is full of unavoidable interruptions.  Interruptions I don’t mind so much, like baby hugs in the midst of making lunch (even if they are necessary because she has fallen off a chair that she never should have been standing on to begin with) or uncontrollable giggles with my family in the middle of dinner (giggles that have interrupted our meal because we all glanced at the baby and noticed that she was quietly and methodically shoving her peas one by one into her buckle to avoid eating them) or stopping to pray while doing our schoolwork (because things aren’t going so well, and what we really need is not more spelling words but some divine intervention and heavenly peace).  And, of course those less desirable interruptions, like the kids begging me to get off the computer in the middle of typing my blog because they want to play their video games…….

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The richest kids in town

"Any kid who has two parents who are interested in him and has a houseful of books isn't poor."
~Sam Levenson.  
Hmmmm.... a houseful of books?   We have bookshelves in every room.
Some of them neater than others...
We have pictures books, board books, chapter books, and poetry books.

We have school books and story books, classical books and silly books.

Books stacked up high,

and books found underfoot.
Books spilling all over the floor,

Books placed neatly on the shelf (sort of).
and books we just can't put down.
Books everywhere we look!

 This has been one of those weeks when the book shelves are much, much fuller than the bank account.  But that is okay, it is all good, I don't worry too much about money.  With our houseful of books and, of course, love, I am pretty sure my children are among the richest kids in town.   

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

On weakness and utter dependence...

    I had one morning this week when I could sleep in late.  Only one.  Every other morning had something on the schedule requiring an early rise and, no doubt, with it a crazy morning of scrambling around trying to get everyone else up, fed, dressed, and out the door on time.  But today, today there was nothing going on (except our regular schedule of school, laundry, dishes…) , so today I planned to sleep until at least 8:30.  I was hoping for 9.  My youngest had other plans.  At 7:30, I heard her loud, demanding cries from down the hall.  She was up, and she wanted out of that crib.  I tried to get her to go back to sleep.  I brought her into my bed and snuggled her and patted her back and practically begged her to sleep another hour or so, but no such luck.  She refused to cooperate and instead spent the time putting her little fingers in my mouth and my nose and attempting to do some acrobatics while sprawling across my chest.  Needless to say, I gave up pretty quickly. 
    I know she is only 17 months but there are times, brief, fleeting moments usually, but times still, that I wish she was a little more self-sufficient.  I wish she had the independence to occupy herself in the mornings.  She could, at least, play quietly in her crib for a while so that I could sleep until I had to get up. 
    I read somewhere, years ago, that studies of different cultures have shown that parents raise their children to value the things most important in their respective cultures.  For example, in certain cultures, the tribe or community comes before the individual and, in those cultures, children are raised to value the group and to sacrifice personal desires for the good of the whole.  The children do learn this concept and live accordingly from their youth, somehow.  In America, the most valued trait is independence. Children are raised in this country to be independent because, according to our culture, independence is the key to success.  Sometimes I think the things I read and hear about are a little silly but this one seemed to be true.  Look at the world we live in.  Children are put in daycare at 6 weeks old and from infancy start to live much of their days independent of their parents.  Young children start school at the age of 2 or 3 and all of the sudden are expected to conform to the rules and norms of an institution for several hours a day.  If these children have trouble separating from their parents the usual response is give it a couple of days or weeks.  They will adjust.  And they do.  Our children do learn to be independent of their parents and families.  Children have their busy lives and parents have theirs- oftentimes separate from one another. 
    Young women are told they must get a college degree and prepare to support themselves.  Even married women are encouraged to work and make their own money, just in case something happens to their husband, or their marriage falls apart.  Or, maybe it is because being dependent on their husband financially would mean they have had no success of their own and their lives would have no purpose.  It is seen as weak to depend on a man.  So, husbands and wives too, lead busy lives, running in different directions.  Everyone is self sufficient.  Everyone is capable and successful.  But, are our families benefiting from all this great success?  Are our children better off for their wonderful independence? 
    The divorce rate is skyrocketing.  The foster care system is busting at the seams.  Thousands of babies a day are aborted.  It seems half the population is on anti-depressants.  Maybe independence should not be the true measure of success, or at least, maybe it should not be the greatest measure of success. 
    God made us dependent on one another for a reason.  What we as humans desire most in life is connection to others.  What we strive for most is love and acceptance but in our culture everyone is so busy being independent and self sufficient there is little time for connection and little time for love.  Jesus was born into this world utterly dependent.  He was a helpless newborn needing the care of His mother and (foster) father.  Our children come into the world the same way, utterly dependent on us.  I believe that dependence is one of the things that connects us and make us feel fulfilled.  Children are supposed to depend on their parents and parents are supposed to be dependable.  No, I did not want to get up early today and care for my energetic toddler before the sun was up but she needed me.  As a mother, I know that being needed gives my life purpose.  And so, we depend on one another.  She helps me get myself going for the day, she brings me joy with her silly antics while I am trying to sleep.  She stretches me as a person and teaches me the value of sacrifice.  I care for her.  I get up with her and keep her safe from harm as she plays.  I feed her breakfast and change her diaper.  I love her and show her she is lovable. 
    Husbands and wives are supposed to be dependent, as well.  Just as St. Joseph provided for his family, men are to provide for their families today.  Just as the Blessed Mother nurtured and cared for her family, her Son and her husband, we, as wives and mothers, are to care for our families.  The more we depend on one another the stronger our families are, and the more respect we have for each other and ourselves.  Each of us is called to succeed in life but true success is not marked by complete independence.  Ironically, I find I am most successful in my own life when I realize I am utterly dependent on the grace of God.  It is then that I grow as a wife, as a mother, and as a person, in holiness and in virtue. 
    Even as an adult, Jesus choose 12 apostles to work with Him.  Though they were not always as dependable as they should have been (how many times did His closest friends fall asleep on Him during His agony in the garden?), Jesus never threw His hands up and said, “That’s it.  I’ll just do it on my own!”  He depended on His apostles to support Him and, more importantly, to continue His work here on earth after His ascension.  Who are we to think we can live completely independent of others, doing it all on our own?  I am grateful to have a husband who allows me to depend on him and is willing to depend on me.  I am grateful my children have depended on Tim and I their entire lives.  My family, though perhaps not very successful in the eyes of the world, is strong and loving.  We are connected to one another and we depend on one another.  Above all ,we depend on God-- a dependence I hope I never outgrow.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Home schoolers- Missing out

    After 2 weeks off of school we are back into our regular routine.  Even after 6 and a half years home schooling is sill a blessing for our family.  Our first few days back since Christmas have been good, I guess the break helped to renew us a little.  As wonderful as home schooling is though, I was thinking about all the things my children are missing out on being at home with me. 
    I have a vivid memory, from my childhood, of sitting on the end of my mom’s bed early on a cold and snowy morning listening to the radio as snow day school closings were announced.  I remember listening to the long list waiting to hear my school’s name and when they finally announced that we had the day off being filled with immense joy at the gift of an unexpected day off.  The day held so many possibilities.  I could climb back into my nice warm bed and sleep another hour or two.  I could go down to the kitchen for breakfast in my p.j.’s and enjoy my food slowly with no rush to be anywhere.  Or, I could hurry and get dressed and then bundle up in my coat, mittens, hat, and scarf and head out into the frigid but beautiful snow to play with my friends.  No classes, no homework, no work, no responsibility.  It was wonderful!  It makes me sort of sad to think my children will never get a chance to have a snow day.  Of course, I realized as I reminisced about my own snow day experiences, that living in Florida sort of ruled out any snow days for my kids anyway. 
    But then, I thought about field trip days at school.  The fun of getting to leave the school for the day and go someplace new with my class.  It always seemed so special to be at the zoo, or a museum, or a park when everyone else was at school.  It always seemed a little weird to see my teacher outside of school, sometimes wearing jeans and tennis shoes, which back in the 80’s was unusual for teachers.  It was fun to be with friends collecting information about leaves or animals or paintings, working together to fill out our worksheets.   It was always nice to eat our bagged lunches at a picnic table under a tree with the school bus parked not too far away ready to take us back to school just in time to head for home.  Of course, my children do get to go on field trips-- great ones like the zoo or science center or a morning at a local airfield that included sitting in and learning about small airplanes, and less exciting ones like a trip to Wal-Mart to pick up diapers or a chance to accompany me and the baby to a doctor’s appointment for her well child check-up.  Potentially educational, for sure, but somehow I don’t think my children appreciate the treat of being out and about while their “regular” school counterparts are sitting at a desk in a stuffy, old classroom.   For my children, field trips are just an ordinary part of life.
    Another memorable part of my education was the big, yellow school bus.  I remember the thrill of finally getting to ride the bus like my older sisters.  In kindergarten, riding the bus meant waving good-bye to my mom in front of our house and then climbing up the very high steps as the folding door creaked shut behind me.  I’d find my seat and climb up into it while the bus lumbered along to my best friend’s house right up the street.  She would get on and join me for the ride.  We would talk and look out the window and enjoy the bumping and bouncing along as we rode to school together.  As I got older the bus ride was a little less thrilling, though.  In seventh grade, there was the obnoxious neighborhood boy who always stuck his foot into the aisle as I got off the bus in the afternoons, tripping me as I walked by.   He and his friends would burst into laughter as my face turned red and I fumbled my way off the bus feeling worthless and embarrassed.  Seventh grade was a long year and I don’t think he missed one opportunity to trip me and embarrass me the whole year through.  So, maybe the bus ride is not such a bad thing to be missed.  In fact, if any of the stories I have heard in recent years about bus rides to and from school are true, I would be driving my children to school if they attended anyway.
    I guess all of my memories of life as a public school student are not enough to convince me that my children are missing out on anything really.  The chance to learn in their own home, surrounded by their own loving family can not really compare to anything “regular” school could ever offer.  Here they get to pursue their interests to the fullest.  They get to do their work at their own pace.  They get to be helped by their older siblings and be a help to their younger siblings.  And, they get to go to Wal-Mart a couple times a week.  Not a bad way to be educated if you ask me.

I am linking this post to Wednesday's Walk at

Saturday, January 1, 2011

1-1-11 Out with the old, in with the new!

As is our custom, we spent New Years Eve at home, celebrating quietly as a family.  We made homemade mint chocolate chip ice cream, played a few games, and then, went to bed early.  NYE is just not a big deal to Tim and I, we have never been big partiers.  In fact, we bought a bottle of wine to share and never even got around to opening it.  Still, we are excited to usher in a brand new year.
    One of the games we played last night was that I gave each person in the family 5 index cards.  Everyone was told to write down their answers to the following questions, one answer per card…
  • What was the best thing that happened in 2010?
  • What was the most memorable?
  • What was the worst?
  • What are you most looking forward to in 2011?
  • What is your New Year’s resolution?
We were not to write the questions down, just the answers.  Then we put all the cards in a big bowl and picked them out one at a time.  After I chose each card and read it aloud everyone had to guess-- 1.  Which question was being answered and 2. Who wrote it.  The game did not turn out to be very challenging- no one had any trouble figuring out that “I turned 12!” was written by our oldest daughter in response to what was the most memorable thing that happened in 2010- but it was still fun.  So, based in part on our answers here is our year in review….

Top 5 best things--
1. Birthdays
2. Our trip to St Louis
3. Christmas
4. Visits from our family and friends
5. Baby learned to walk and started sleeping through the night

Top 5 most memorable things--
1.  Spending the weekend with my best friend and going to Universal Studios with her
2. Playing soccer
3. Taking an ice skating class
4. Discerning a call to the permanent diaconate
5. The Duck Song

Top 5 worst things--
1.  The A/C died
2. We got a rodent in our house
3. Some stuffed animals got thrown away
4. We did not get many new toys
5.  The baby’s sleepless nights (all those long months before she started sleeping through the night)

Top 5 things we are looking forward to most in 2011--
1. Going camping
2. First Communion
3. God’s next adventure for our family
4. Going to the Everglades
5. Our next birthdays

Our resolutions--
1.  Be more nice
2. Play nicely with my siblings
3. To remember what Easter and Christmas are all about
4. Keep in touch better with friends and family
5. Try to do better in math
6. Remember that God loves me

Happy New Year, may God bless you (and us) this year and always!


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