Sunday, May 29, 2011

From big hair to mini-vans

      It was their bedtime and I went to their room to tuck my 8 and 12 year old daughters in and kiss them good-night on Saturday evening, while Tim logged into the computer for his work-at-home night job.  I only intended to stay a minute in the girls room but I ended up talking with them for a while.  Things got a little silly as girl talk sometimes does and, though I can’t quite remember why exactly, I was inspired to pull my high school yearbooks out from under my bed.  When I was a kid, I always loved flipping through my parents' old yearbooks and laughing over the strange hair styles, old fashioned outfits, and especially the funny way my parents looked in their black and white school pictures.  So young and so different.  So, my “big” girls and I sat on the floor of their bedroom and together we looked at one of my yearbooks.
    They could not believe the “big hair” we all sported back then or the funny eyeglasses people wore (they should see the horn-rimmed glasses from my parents era if they want to see funny looking glasses!)  They were kind and insisted I did not look funny or strange but they could not believe how different their uncle, my sister’s high school sweetheart, looked all those years ago.  Or that he had once sang and danced in our school’s “Pure Gold” jazz choir.
    My little walk down memory lane with my daughter was, in our silly state of mind, a ton of fun and bedtime was postponed for a very long time.  But, eventually, despite the lingering giggles, I tucked them for a second time and bid them good night.
    Of course, my night was not over yet.   I still had to clean up the rest of the mess from dinner and prepare for the upcoming Memorial Day pool party we are going to on Monday.  I weighed my options.  I had just gotten a few new swimsuits and needed to choose which one to wear at the party, but the table still needed to be wiped off, the sink was full of dishes, and the baby’s high chair tray was a smeary mess.  I figured the untidy kitchen would wait though, and I might as well try on the new suits while Tim was working, the kids were all in bed, and I could have my privacy.  What I was thinking trying on bathing suits after looking at my high school yearbooks, I don’t know.  I went from my memories of being skinny, young, and cute to looking at my mid-thirties-mother-of-5 self in a swim suit and, well….  fast forwarding 18 years and 15+ pounds in a matter of minutes can really be quite a depressing shock!   I should have just cleaned up my kitchen.
    I tend to dwell on things and think about things way too much.  So for a little while, as I finished up my nightly routines and sat down to pray before bed I found myself wondering how I had gone from there (young and cute and skinny) to here (older and not nearly so cute or skinny) so quickly.  I missed my young, cute self and wished I could go back and appreciate it all more.  I tried pushing my thoughts aside so I could pray, as I always do before bed, but my mind kept returning to those old pictures of me, before my current life of changing diapers, grocery shopping and driving a mini-van.  I struggled to clear my mind but instead I kept agonizing over the loss of my youth, my cute-ness and skinny-ness.  But then, looking over again at the yearbook on my dresser, I remembered the rest of my high school experience.  The insecurities, the desire to fit in and the feeling that I never quite did, the fears over my future, the worries about which of the young men I was interested in liked me back(or rather didn’t like me back).  I thought about it all and realized that really I am much happier today, living my mid-thirties-mother-of -5 life, with my messy kitchen and my Saturday nights spent giggling with my  daughters, my mini-van parked out in the driveway, knowing that here and now, I am completely loved and accepted just the way I am.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Journaling our way to good health

    My kids are pretty healthy.  A runny nose here, an ear infection there but they really don’t get sick very often and when they do, they seem to get over it relatively quickly.  Still, a sort of plague has hit our house recently.  A plague of monumental proportions and it has been infecting everyone in its path. 
    We are suffering from a serious outbreak of complaints around our house.  It seems there is some sort of unwritten law that if someone is unhappy about something, anything, they must make sure that everyone else knows about it.  If the dinner is not to their liking or their school assignment is too challenging, or too boring for that matter, or their sibling’s piece of cake is bigger, or they don’t like the volume of the radio, or the good pencils are all taken, or someone said something they didn’t like, or they did not get to play with their friends, or we have to leave the park before everyone else, or they are staaaarving, or they are thirsty, or it is hot, etc., etc., etc….   I could go on, the children seem to.  All day long it seems, there is one disappointment after another.  And everyone feels the need to voice them all.  I never realized how contagious complaints are but around here they seem to feed off of each other and the negativity just grows and grows. 
    The antidote to all the complaining, of course, is a dose of gratitude.  Since our case is so serious, so deadly (to the happiness of our home), we are going to need a steady diet of gratitude if we are to overcome this ailment.   So, fed up with it all and knowing that complaining about it was counterproductive, I decided to take decisive action.  With Tim’s help, I located a few blank notebooks.  As a sort of spiritual prescription, I thrust one into the hands of each of my 3 older children and told them to fill them. 
     I read about the concept of a gratitude journal years ago.  I have kept one on and off since then.  The idea is to write down, before bed, a few positive things about your day.  The hope is that it will change your perspective, not only at bedtime, but throughout the day.  If you know you must come up with a list of blessings at night, you inevitably start looking for them all day long and, before long, you find less to complain about and more to rejoice about.  Less complaining and more rejoicing is exactly what we need around here!  And in my experience, gratitude journals really work, but only if you truly put your heart into them. 
    So having given them their notebooks, I instructed my children to write down five things they are thankful for.  The did so dutifully, if not happily, for the first time tonight.  We will do this each night at prayer time and they will share their lists with us all.  I have stipulated that each day’s list must be different and unique to that day.   I will not accept “my family, my friends, my house, my toys, and dessert” every night because that takes no thought, encourages no real gratitude.    My hope is that they will put their hearts into their journal entries and that hearing their siblings lists will open their eyes to even more blessings than they originally saw. 
    Gratitude is one of those virtues that seem to overflow into every part of life.  Gratitude brings us closer to God.  It fills us with peace and makes our lives truly joyful.  Gratitude really does make us healthier, in mind and body, and even more importantly, in our souls.  A negative attitude may be contagious and, in our case approaching critical status, but it is certainly never incurable and for that, I am grateful. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Adding it all up

    We have 5 days of school left until summer break.  As usual, I am anticipating our two months off as much as the kids, especially this year because we did not take time off for spring break and have been going since January without any significant break.  I know you cannot really quantify education.    Learning and knowledge cannot really be measured in numbers but I was thinking about it all, and at the end of the day on Friday it will have added up like this:

  • 1 teacher/mother, 4 school-aged students, 1 always-curious toddler
  • 183 days
  • Approximately 732 math lessons
  • 49 counting bears (pretty sure we’re still missing one red one), two protractors, three rulers, quite a few tears
  • Approximately 179 spelling tests
  • 100 10-step study sheets, 2 1/2 levels of Spelling Power mastered
  • 3 kids reading at the beginning of the year, 4 kids reading now
  • 1000’s of words slowly, tediously sounded out 1 letter at a time
  • 4 beautiful science notebooks busting at the spirals with information about every sea creature imaginable
  • Approximately 549 journal entries
  • 38 Sunday Gospels studied on Thursday mornings in preparation of Sunday Mass, so that 8 little eyes could meet mine as the familiar stories were proclaimed the following weekend at Church
  • 1 history/geography fair project that we worked hard on for 6 weeks
  • 11 “Five in a Row” books studied and loved
  • 11 literature books read aloud together (list to follow)
  • 35 “thinking skills” games
  • Approximately 256 art projects
  • 7 pencil sharpeners that broke on us throughout the year (3 of them expensive electric ones)
  • 3 fun field trips with our friends, countless field trips on our own
  • 5 parties with our home school group
  • 8 packages of loose-leaf paper, at least 3 reams of copy paper
  • Approximately 50-60 trips to the library, with about 25 books checked out each time= about 1,375 books borrowed
  • 5 days of the "Iowa Test of Skills and Achievement" 
  • 17 workbooks completed
  • 26 letters learned in loopy lopsided cursive
  • 5 inches of height my oldest daughter gained since her birthday in September
  • Our history/geography fair project- a group effort, all about Russia
  • And finally…. 5 million times hearing the word “ma-ma” as my toddler tried desperately to coax me away from the school table to play with her.

My list, of course, does not really reflect what my children and I learned and experienced over the last 9 months, the conversations we had, the discoveries we made, all the hard work we endured.  Still, I think it adds up to a pretty successful year over all….

Working on one of the 256 art projects

Our Literature Selections--
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Spring
s by Betty G. Birney
St. Paul the Apostle by Mary Fabien Windeatt
The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong
The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
JRR Tolkien: Master of Fantasy(a biography) by David R. Collins
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
Arabian Nights ~various authors and translators
Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary
On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Monday, May 16, 2011

A lonely existence

        Does anyone else feel like, somehow, the most significant moments of life have been reduced to Facebook statuses, twitter “tweets”, or text messages?  In the past, my family was great at calling each other for birthdays  We’d all crowd around the phone and sing “Happy Birthday” and tell the birthday boy or girl, in our own voices, how much we love them and how we were wishing them a special day.  It wasn’t quite the same as being together but with 1000 miles between us it was the best we could do.  When new babies were coming we would anxiously await the phone call that baby had arrived safely.  We would ohhh and ahhh at the newborn baby sounds in the background as we spoke with the new mother.  Again, a real live visit, complete with snuggling and kissing, would have been better but at least the phone call was personal, time consuming, and conducive to sharing joy and excitement.  We used to celebrate victories, triumphs, and even loose teeth with phone calls and conversations and time spent together.  Nowadays, no one sends birthday cards, no one calls to talk to each other, no one takes anymore time out of their busy schedule than it takes to type a few abbreviations into their cell phone (probably while simultaneously driving their car or grocery shopping) to share in the lives of loved ones.  It really upsets me, though I, too, have taken the impersonal, “easy” way out by wishing happy birthday through Facebook, and congratulating successes by “writing on the walls” of those I care about.  
    What is wrong with us that we cannot make real communication a priority?  Why do we settle for “soundbytes” instead of heart-to-hearts, and cryptic initials (think bff, lol) instead of heartfelt words of love or encouragement?  Relationships are suffering and families are distant and I think it has a lot to do with all the great tools of communication we have at our disposal.   Relationships take time, communication is not supposed to be quick and easy.  Talking to those we care about should never be seen as an obligation or a chore.  If we cannot take the time to tell our family and friends that they matter to us than we cannot expect to have any strong ties in this world.  Loneliness is inevitable if our only means of communication involve cell phones, and notebook computers, and the other person need not even be present. 
    I am so saddened by the loss of real communication.  Conversation is an art and we are losing it!  I recently “quit” Facebook.  I took a few weeks off to re-assess the place it holds in my life.  I found it quite freeing to be away from the world of cyber-“communication”.  I liked not feeling like I had to check my page every few hours and see if anyone had anything to tell me or ask me, or see if anything monumental had happened in the lives of my friends.  I did not miss Facebook.  But, I did miss people.  I did miss my friends and I realized that, unfortunately, without Facebook (I do not text or tweet) I had no communication with many of them.  So I went back.  I decided to settle for status updates and brief comments rather than real conversation because it seems it is the only option available these days.  But, though I am back, I’m  still sort of missing my friends and family….

Thursday, May 12, 2011

My thoughts on long skirts, muu-muus, and blue jeans...

    I live in jeans and tee-shirts.  My favorite jeans are old and worn in and almost as comfortable as my p.j. pants (though they are not the new pajamajeans they are selling these days).  They have holes in both knees and are faded and frayed.  I love them.  They feel good on me, comfortable and familiar, and I feel good in them.   I have other jeans too, of course, newer ones and neater ones, and most days you’ll find me in one pair or another.   
    A few weeks ago, I was sitting around with some friends just chatting about our kids and home schooling and how to live a life pleasing to God, when the subject of modesty came up.  One of my friends had been told that wearing jeans was immodest and inappropriate and she wanted our opinions on the matter.  I have to say the whole conversation was quite eye-opening for me.  I had just never heard or considered that jeans were at all revealing, or at all inappropriate.  I wasn’t even sure I understood what the problem could possibly be.  One of my other friends who was there, explained that some people believe jeans “show off everything”.  That because they are close fitting, blue jeans leave little to the imagination, revealing the shapes of our bodies to all the world.   She said there are many women she knows who will only wear skirts and dresses, because they consider them much more modest.  I, too, know women who wear only skirts and dresses.  I was aware it had something to do with modesty, I suppose, but I never gave it a lot of thought.  I have to admit that what thoughts I had had were that some of these women (though certainly not all) tended to choose frumpy unflattering long skirts and seemed to have “let themselves go”.  It did make sense though, when she went on to further explain that skirts and dresses were also more authentically feminine than jeans or pants. 
    As I mentioned this conversation took place quite a few weeks ago.  Between the four of us present, there were varying opinions on the matter but the general consensus was that whether one wore jeans or not, was not really a huge issue of morality, despite what some might think.  Nevertheless, I have not been able to get the conversation out of my mind.  I look into my closet much more critically lately, and have driven my poor husband crazy asking over and over, “Do you think this outfit is inappropriate?”  I still wear my beloved jeans many days but I always feel a little less comfortable in them.
    In my agonizing over the subject these last few weeks, I have come to a few conclusions….  
  • First, my jeans probably are a little more revealing than I originally realized.  They do accentuate curves and hug tightly in certain areas. 
  • Second, jeans, and pants in general, are not very feminine, while skirts and dresses, obviously are.  Skirts and dresses are pretty, they are girly, they are softer- both in their feel and in their look.
  • Third, I actually enjoy dressing nicer sometimes.  I am just as comfortable in dresses and skirts, as I am in my jeans and I feel better about myself in many ways when I dress more feminine.  I feel prettier and more positive.
    With all that being said, though, I also have realized that:
  • Jeans may show off our shapes, but in relation to many fashions out there these days, they are harmless.  I dress to blend in and not to stand out and, really, in my jeans and tee-shirts I’m sure I attract a lot less attention than in my skirts. 
  • I am pretty sure I have not led any man to sin by going out (with my five kids) in a pair of jeans, no matter how tight they may fit.  Not, when the road to the library or grocery store or shopping mall is lined with billboard after billboard of almost-naked women advertising plastic surgery or body wash. And the woman standing in front of me in line is likely wearing a low cut shirt and super short shorts.    
  • I do want to look nice everyday.  I want to look nice for myself, but most of all, for my husband.  He, too (unfortunately) is seeing the fashions of the day and I would hate for him to come home to find me dressed in a muu-muu and cease to find me attractive.  It would not be fair to him to let myself go.  
But above all else, I have figured out that we’d all be a lot better off if our focus were on living a life of love and kindness instead of on judging what others are wearing or worrying about our own clothes.  We should never dress in ways that are inappropriate, and it is right and good to be aware of how our choice of dress may affect others but, really, it is not the most important thing.  What Christ wants most is our hearts, and not our closets.  If we are truly focused on serving Him each and everyday and pleasing Him in all that we do, our appearance is going to reflect His light shining through us.  No matter what we wear, the love of God within us should be what shows forth first and foremost.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Our second home--and our first...

    Thursday evening we all piled into the car and headed to church.  Tim has his middle school youth group meetings on Thursdays and it is always a huge treat when he allows us to join him.  It was a “game night” and I was his volunteer so our kids had the privilege of participating in the fun.  It was not a holy experience but they had a great time playing capture-the-flag in a large field by the church and hanging out with Tim’s fabulous youth group kids. 
    Friday was “First Friday” so the kids and I went to Mass in the morning.  The homily was thought-provoking and inspiring, and after Mass we were photographed together for a Mother’s Day poster one of the parishioners was putting together.  Then we found ourselves back at church that evening for another youth group event.  Pizza and a movie-- The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.   Again, it was not exactly a spiritual event but the movie was impressive and the company was great. 
    Saturday morning we went to Mass once again, this time as a family, to be part of the jubilee celebration of two of the religious sisters from our parish.  It was beautiful to see them renew their vows and rejoice in 50 years of serving God as Sisters of St. Clare.   The pews were full of priests and religious sisters and I hoped my children could feel the peace and holiness that permeated the church.  We came home after Mass and changed our clothes quickly because we had a First Communion party that afternoon.  Our good family friends were so kind to include us in the celebration of their son’s special day and seeing his genuine joy at receiving Jesus in the Eucharist for the first time was really wonderful. 
    Today, of course is Sunday and Mother’s Day and what better way to start the day than at church again?   It was even more special than usual today because the May Crowning was this morning and our 8 year old daughter, who will be making her First Holy Communion next Sunday, was chosen to place the wreath of flowers on the statue of Our Blessed Mother.  She did a beautiful job crowning Mary and then reading a special Mother’s Day prayer with the other children and our pastor. 
    Many memories of my own childhood are of time spent at church.  I remember running around with my friends during “coffee and doughnuts” and the church festival weekend when we would play games and eat junk food while my parents worked a booth.  Of course, I remember sitting in the pews for Mass every Sunday surrounded by family friends and neighbors and watching my parents help out as Extraordinary Ministers of Communion.  I remember hearing about my mom’s faith sharing group and the kids in the C.C.D. classes she taught.  Our Church, growing up, was our home away from home. 
    My children are so blessed to have the same experience.  They’ve spent so much of their childhood at our church they might consider it their first home and our house, the second.  At least, I hope so.  I know there are no guarantees and when they become adults they will all make their own way in this world, but I hope that like me, their childhood memories of the joy and community at church will remain with them.   I pray that no matter how old they get and where life might take them, they will always consider the Catholic Church to be their home.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Not "mine", but close

    Our youngest child is not yet two.  She will not be two for about 3 more months.  Right now, she is at that toddler stage where her language skills are improving daily and she is exerting more and more of her independence.   She is not quite to the terrible point of pitching temper tantrums and screaming “NO!” or "MINE!" …but she is definitely getting close. 
    Our little one talks all the time and some of her favorite subjects are her siblings.  She can say each of their names pretty clearly.  When we ask her name, however, she answers, “beebee”, which means, of course, “baby.”  We really do use her name most of the time and rarely refer to her as simply, “the baby” and yet she calls herself “baby” every time you ask.  Now, her impending two-dom is showing itself more and more lately.  We have noticed that when she is reprimanded for not sharing, climbing furniture, throwing food, or any other ordinary toddler misbehavior she quickly responds by screaming, “BEEBEE!”  If we tell her, “no” she tells us, loudly, “BEEBEE!”  If she wants a toy that someone else is currently playing with, she demands, “BEEBEE!”  Sometimes she explains things further by saying, “I BEEBEE!”.  We are pretty sure that ,“I BEEBEE” means, “I am the baby and I should get anything and everything I want”.   Where she got this idea, I have no a pretty good clue. 
    She may still be a few months shy of her second birthday but I fear our little one is on the fast track to the terrible two’s.  And her big brown eyes, adorable little chubby cheeks and four doting older siblings, aren’t helping matters any.  Luckily, she is a lovable little “BEEBEE”….  and I’ve survived the terrible two’s before…..


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