Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Laundry Pile

This morning Sam (age 4) helped me with the laundry. More specifically, he gleefully dumped piles of dirty clothes from the top of the stairs into an unceremonious heap on the floor in front of the laundry room door. But, hey, when it comes to laundry, I'll take any help I can get.

For all of you lamenting your own laundry piles, this will either make you feel better or seem eerily familiar.

The highlight of the morning for Sam came when Tony, haplessly crawling through the hall during this dump, ended up with a pair of Jay's shorts on his head and just kept on crawling, like the ghost of laundry present.

The highlight of the morning for me was when Sam and Tony showed me that when there is work to be done, attitude is everything.

And, no matter where you are and what you are doing, there is fun to be had.

Thanks, boys.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Saint Joseph and Real Estate

I have real estate on the brain.

To be perfectly accurate, it has been difficult to think of much else for quite some time.

We moved to Southern California last August. This past weekend, Memorial Day Weekend, marks the one-year anniversary of the decision we made to make this move. We have been trying to sell our Northern California home for nearly a year now with no success. Needless to say, this has put a financial strain on the family and we have become quite anxious to part company with our old home.

A few months after listing our home I learned that Saint Joseph was the patron saint of real estate. I heard and read story after story of people who had buried a statue of him in their yards and experienced near-instantaneous success in the selling of even their dubious properties. You can read about this tradition here.

To be honest, I found this a little suspicious. Now, I have no issue with asking Saint Joseph for help selling our home (and believe me, I have asked and asked). But burying his statue, and upside down no less? I worried that this crossed the line toward supersition. After all, it was the prayers and the faith that mattered, not the buried statue, right?

I held to this position for several weeks before I succumbed in desparation. In January I sent the "Saint Joseph Real Estate Kit" to our former neighbors to bury for us with the proper prayers. Bury it they did, but not upside down as they, too, worried about the superstition and "voo-doo" like quality of it all. I was fine with this.

Months passed with nothing. Finally, the morning after a particularly poignant mid-dinner family prayer to Saint Joseph in March, we had an offer and opened escrow. Yippee! Saint Joseph finally heard us! But it was not to be. Several weeks later it fell out of escrow.

About three weeks ago I called our former neighbors again and asked them to get the shovel out and reposition him, head down this time as instructed. The were kind enough to do so right away. (Even writing this I feel silly! But I will, at this point, try anything.) A few people at church had told me that the most important word in the Bible is "obey" and since I was not following instructions it simply wasn't going to work. All I could think was, "At what point did Saint Joseph instruct how his likeness was to be buried in people's yards?" I am all for obeying the Bible, but where is this part? Am I missing it? But, just in case I am wrong about this, he is now upside down.

Last week someone told me it isn't working because he is facing the house, not the street (or vice versa, I am now confused since I didn't bury him myself anyway). But enough is enough. That can't possibly be why our house is not selling! Could it?

I am sure that God has heard us, that Saint Joseph has heard us. Hundreds of rosaries have been said for this intention, it has been placed in our minds on the patten several times each week. We are on dozens of prayer chains. God knows how badly we need to sell this house. He is simply saying, "Not yet." Why? I can't begin to know. But I trust Him and know it must be for reasons I can't yet understand.

To combine with our real estate woes, there are three other homes of family members or friends that are similarly not selling. So, I have taken to doing my near-daily "Real Estate Rosary" with the intention of the sale of the four properties. Some days I get discouraged and wonder why I bother. Some days I am at peace and pray for long-term understanding and acceptance.

One way or another, this can't go on forever. This, too, shall pass.

I can't say that I would join those in recommending that a person bury a Saint Joseph in their yard to guarantee a quick and profitable transaction, but I do resoundlingly recommend praying to him and asking for his intercession. Because prayer, even when not answered in the way we want it to be, is never a bad thing.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

I Must Confess...

...that I don't much like going to confession.

It is difficult to find the time to go regularly since it involves finding a babysitter for 5 children. This, by the way, is also true of doctors appointments and hair appointments, so it is not exclusively reserved for reconciliation! However, I suspect that if I enjoyed it more it would be easier to schedule.

So, why don't I enjoy it? I witness the joy and peace it gives many of those close to me and wonder, "Am I doing it wrong?"

I don't generally have a problem owning up to my faults and mistakes (OK, sins). And there are plenty of them, too, so it's not like I lack things to discuss. I do get weary of repeating the same three or four things over and over again every time I go, but I know that is humbling and part of the plan, so even that isn't a big deterrent.

I do feel marginally better when I leave confession, but not more than I do when I say an Act of Contrition on my own at the end of the day. I guess my problem is that I feel I am speaking to a man, not to God through a man. Why am I missing this?

As with all things Catholic, I believe that if I persevere I will "get" it. I advise my good friend, who jokingly refers to the "six sacraments" so much does she avoid confession, that she should continue to go. After all, the church couldn't be right about everything else but wrong about this. And I believe this to be true. But so far I cannot speak with personal conviction on the matter.

So, why write about this today? I happened to go to confession for the first time in awhile a few days ago and had an interesting experience.

First of all, my son, who had his first reconciliation in April, jumped at the chance to go when he heard I was going. He, like my husband, "gets" it. He finds comfort in this sacrament and I am so glad for him. He has already been more times in two months than I have been so far this year. This is humbling for me.

Second, because we have a large parish and several priests, I had never been to confession with this particular priest. He is an wonderful priest. I love his homilies. So, I was delighted to see him in the confessional and hoped he would have some words of wisdom for me. He did not.

I find the experience of confession to be very different depending on who hears it. I like to get a little encouragement and feedback, but this is not always the case. There is one priest in our former diocese that my husband referred to as "the drive by confessor" because of his rapidity. There is another priest that regularly has a line of an hour or more because of his gentle support and uplifting advice. But, if you are truly in tune with the purpose of confession, which is to receive God's sacramental grace, it shouldn't matter who hears it, right? But somehow, to me, it does.

Anyway, after a relatively disappointing confession experience a few days ago, I have noticed something interesting. Something that has been bothering me for months has subsided. My worry didn't go away right then, in the confessional, but the next morning when I woke up I was at peace. And three days later I still am. I have to wonder, are these two things related? Probably.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Friday Family Movie Night: The Parent Trap

Every Friday is "Family Movie Night" in the Di Silvestri house. We began this tradition when we first moved to Southern California last summer in an effort to establish some routine and comfort in a new house and community. I am happy to say that this tradition has "stuck" and, even though we are now settled and busy in our new community, it remains something we all look forward to throughout the week.

Each week it is the same. We select a movie, order pizza and relax the rules about candy and eating in front of the TV. Then we grab our blankets and snuggle into our sectional and against eachother.

The only difficult thing about the evening is the movie selection. It is not easy to find something that children ranging in age from three to eight will all enjoy, doesn't have objectionable content, and doesn't put the parents to sleep! But somehow, each week, we manage to pull it off, with varying levels of success.

This week's selection: The Parent Trap (newer Disney version with Lindsay Lohan).

The kids thought: It was very funny! They were fascinated by the idea of twins and switching places, and they liked the physical comedy throughout. It held the interest of all except the 3 year old, although even she sat still for most of it.

The parents thought: An enjoyable selection. We liked watching the kids laugh and thought it was funny ourselves. It opened up a discussion of divorce and why it is best for families to stay together. We also talked a bit about lying and deception.

Overtly objectionable parts: Few. A brief and single reference to sex as part of marriage which remains, at this point, over the head of our viewers, but might be flagged by an older child.

Bonus: If you ignore the lying and deception that the girls use to get their parents back together, the children in this movie love and respect their parents. I find this lacking in many "kid" movies I see, so it was great to see good relationships between parents and children being modeled.

Overall rating: B+

Happy Friday!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

And the Winner Is...

Taylor Hicks?!

OK, I realize that this news is 24 hours old now, but since I stayed up until midnight last night to watch the finale of American Idol (courtesy of Tivo, of course), I had to save this for today.

Now, don't get me wrong. I like Taylor Hicks just fine. He is fun. He is different. And he really, truly can sing. But is he the American Idol?

Jay summed it up perfectly when he said that Taylor would do better if it was a radio show. This is in no way a comment on his looks. He is a handsome enough fellow, and I like his signature gray hair. It goes well with his "Soul Patrol" persona.

My issue with Taylor is the painful expression he gets on his face and the slightly doubled-over position he assumes when he sings. He appears to be (and forgive me for my indelicacy) constipated. I have to look away because I can't bear to watch!

Oh, and his dance moves could use a little work as well.

Chris Daugherty should have been the American Idol. I really don't know what happened there, but I suppose I am not entitled to complain since I did not vote.

Katharine McPhee was lovely, both in song and in stage presence, but what was with the dresses she was stuffed into for the finale? I don't have a problem with form fitting clothes worn tastefully, but these were so tight that it was evident she could not breath properly (and they were less flattering because they were so tight). How could her father sit there and watch her when vital body parts were in danger of popping out at any moment? Maybe that was why he was really crying!

Yes, I admit that I love American Idol. There is something appealing about the "every man" having a chance to rise above. Plus, it is really fun to take bets on what Simon is going to say next. This is the only show that my whole family can and does watch makes me feel like we are a 1960s family, hunkered down in front of the tube to watch the Ed Sullivan show!

Good-bye, Season 5. It was a good one.

This is one family that will tune in for the 6th.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Not All Are Created Equal

My kids are different. Not from all the rest of the kids in the world, but from eachother.

I try not to label them, I try not to stereotype them, but in my mind I can't help it. They fit their grooves so perfectly!

I am the proud mother of a happy-go-lucky, a peacemaker, a brooder, a comedian and a princess.

This is not to say that my brooder can't be a comedian or a peacemaker or that my peacemaker can't be a princess. But at the end of the day they seem to fall back to their comfort zones of personality tendencies that make each of them the child I love so completely and uniquely.

My children often ask me, "Who do you love the most?" They can't seem to grasp what an impossible question this is. I love them all totally and differently. There is simply no ranking them. They all go in and out of phases, both difficult and wonderful, but I wouldn't trade a single characteristic of any of them, because I love the whole package! And each one fills a different part of my soul. I would be incomplete if any of them were missing or changed.

Within their overarching stereotypes, each houses the details that make them uniquely them. One of my children has a talent for leadership. Another gives gifts of the heart daily. A third amazes me with detailed and enthusiastic observations. A still different one is a natural parent. Another grants smiles from the depth of the soul.

Someone amuses me (and worries me) by sleepwalking. One girl snores like a lumberjack. Another sleeps with her head completely covered up all the time. One can't be deterred from practically suffocating me in my sleep with too-tight-yet-so-precious snuggles. One regularly wakes with bad dreams. One personifies inanimate objects and insists on making beds for them right next to hers. Two boys sleep peacefully all night every night (thank you!)

Just as I have different joys from each of them, so do I have different concerns. I worry that one will be rather self-centered, while another one's kindness might be taken advantage of. One might be the college partier while I worry for the inner peacefulness of another.

Each of them has different needs as well. It is a balancing act to meet each one's special requirements when these things don't always allow for "equal" treatment of all the children. Some simply need more than others. How can I fill those needs without causing the others to feel slighted?

It is my duty and challenge to direct each of them to the path that will be most likely to lead them to God, as different as their needs and perspectives are. If I can succeed in this one (rather large) thing, nothing else I do or don't do as a mother will matter much.

Please, God, keep your children close to you throughout their lives. Make me a channel of your love for them, exactly as they are.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The New Family Member

We have a new member in our family: Skip the Guinea Pig.

I never intended to own a Guinea Pig, but I am guessing that is true of the majority of people who find themselves housing one.

But, really, he is not mine anyway...he is Joey's. Joey turned 8 today (have I really been a mother that long?!) and this was his birthday present from Jay and I.

Joey has been campaigning for a dog for a good year now, especially since our Mastiff died in December. But our new house doesn't have a yard yet and we cannot comfortably host a dog until it is properly set up.

So, we compromised and decided he could get a hamster. A nice, entry level rodent. Off we went to the pet store, where we were immediately won over by the guinea pigs instead. Unlike hamsters, they are awake during the day (a real plus for a boy who wants to play with him at every opportunity) and get to know and love their caregivers. Overall, they seem to be more of the companion that Joey wanted. Plus, Joey had just finished reading me the "Fluffy" books, which are about a guinea pig. So, I relented (although a "giant hamster" was not something I truly wanted) and home Skip came.

He has been with us for two days now, and I can't believe how much I like him! He already seems to know and trust Joey (though he'd reached his limit of handling by 7pm and was granted clemency for the rest of the night) and actually has a playful, fun nature. Joey is completely delighted so, naturally, so am I.

Happy birthday, Joey, and welcome to our family, Skip!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Joy of Reading

Tonight I had the pleasure of listening to my oldest son spontaneously read bedtime stories to our younger children.

I came into the room, ready to read to them myself accoring to our nightly routine, and found the stories well underway. Sam and Julia snuggled on either side of Joey, completely enthralled with Oswald and then Blue. I joined the crowd and watched as he patiently read, hesitating at only the biggest words.

In many houses this may not be an unusual scene. In our house, however, it has been more than rare. So far, Joey has not developed a love for reading. OK, let's be honest: he hates to read. This I have had a hard time understanding. I was an early and avid reader. There is nothing I would rather do than lose myself in a book, and this trait was well developed by 2nd grade. So imagine my surprise when 2nd grade rolled around for my firstborn and he was simply not interested. In his eyes, reading was a chore required by school, and most certainly not something to do for fun.

At first, we assumed that he didn't like reading because it did not immediately come easily to him. But as his skills have progressed (and they have progressed significantly this school year), his feelings toward the activity remain unchanged.

I am ever hopeful that he will discover the joy that is reading. Tonight, as he reveled in being the only kid (i.e. superhero) able to effectively read to the younger ones at this moment in time, I dared to hope that maybe, just maybe, it is yet to come.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Just in Case I Was...

...tempted to act like a diva on Mother's Day.
...irritated that no one unloaded the dishwasher for me today.
...focused on how messy the house was when I got home instead of the wonderful time I had when I got out and went to a movie.

Just in case any of these things were true, I was sent a waitress tonight at dinner who said our family reminded her fondly of her own, except for she had more kids. Ten, in fact. And 25 grandkids. And 4 great grandkids. And yet there she was, waiting tables on Mother's Day, not a decendent in sight to cater to her. Instead, she gave me a flower and catered to my kids.

Thoroughly humbled, I have decided instead to...

...remember that I was awakened by five small bodies crowded into my bed at an unreasonable hour and that, really, there is no way I would rather wake up.
...picture the menagerie of homemade gifts and cards that have come home from school over the last few days and the enthusiastic way in which they were given to me, and be glad that there is no gift I would rather receive at any price. grateful that my family surrounded me tonight at the dinner table (and were reasonably well-behaved), and that both Jay and I got to see and spend time with our own mothers today as well.

It was indeed a very happy Mother's Day.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Converting to the Rosary

As a adult convert to Catholicism, it has taken me a very long time to come to the Rosary. I simply did not feel comfortable praying to Mary, as it felt like a violation of the first commandment. I could not find the line between devotion and worship and was quite worried about offending God if I crossed it.

Having no experience with the communion of saints either, I found the concept of intercession a foreign one. Why would God, to whom I had been going directly with all of my concerns all my life, respond to a spiritual assist? I simply could not reconcile it, so for a long time I just didn't.

After about 5 years as a Catholic, I was beginning to learn that every time I questioned something about my new faith, I found a thoroughly satisfactory answer. But why wasn't this happening with Mary? So, I started reading. Scott Hahn is always a good choice for me when I have academic questions about the church, so I began with Hail, Holy Queen. When I finished, I understood things much better, but I still didn't feel drawn to her.

As is so often the case in my life, it was my husband Jay who set me on the right path.

"Think of Mary," he said, "as God's most perfect creation. Isn't it right that He would want us to admire and respect His best work?"

He then took me word by word through the Hail Mary to see what I might find offensive about it. I had to admit, as he reminded me of the angel's greeting ("Hail, full of grace"), Elizabeth's exclamation ("Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb) and inquiry ("How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"), that it was all right there in the Bible. Nothing radical there.

And yet the last line remained: "Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death." That pesky intercession thing again. Again, Jay brought it home.

"Do you ask me to pray for you? Your friends? The kids?"

Of course I had to admit I did.

"Do you think it helps?" he asked.

Another nod.

"If you think my praying helps you, how can you think that Mary's wouldn't?"

Good question. Got me there.

So, I decided to simply try it out and see what happened. About a year ago I said my first Rosary. And I just kept right on doing it, almost every day. Why? Because something completely surprising happened. It didn't so much bring me closer to Mary, as I thought it would (although some of that happened too). It brought me closer to her Son! Through the meditations on Jesus' life, I have come to know the Gospels in a whole new way. And meditation on these events through a Marian prayer, has uniquely allowed me to see the events of Jesus' life from a mother's perspective, one I can relate to better than any other.

In experiencing this, it occurs to me that this is the very point of Mary: to bring Jesus to us. She brought Him to us physically when she said yes to God, and she brings Him to us still through Marian devotions, such as the Rosary, and through her own intercessions on our behalf.

I can finally understand that Mary herself is not an object of worship. She is a gift from God to us, through whom we can truly know Jesus.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Cast is Finally Off

After 7 long weeks, the cast came off my wrist today.

This is a mostly a good thing. I can take a real shower. I can scratch persistent itches without tools. I can get rid of the tan line splicing my forearm.

As with anything, there are some not-so-good things about this too. I am terrified I (or, more likely, one of my kids) will re-break it with the slightest bump. I still can't really move it back and forth or do anything with it. It's peeling, skinny, and seemingly deformed thanks to muscle changes and lack of light and fresh air. I even miss my kids'signatures and drawings that I carried around with me on the cast.

I am feeling quite in tune with the season right now. Spring is a time of new beginnings, fresh life, and that is what I am experiencing with the rediscovery of my right arm. Weak sprouts pop out of the ground and work on getting stronger with the help of water and light, much as my withered arm is doing now. I have to be careful not to trod on the seedlings by doing too much too soon, but when the kids are dragging a plow around, something is bound to be unearthed. Let's hope for the best!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Is She Catholic, Or What?

Bedtime at the Di Silvestri house.

Sleepy children nestle against their pillows, whispering "goodnight" and "I love you" as they close their sweet little eyes...

Oops, wrong house. Ours generally goes more like this:

Mom: "Time to get ready for bed, kids"

Kid 1: "But, maaaaaahhhmmm, how can it be bedtime? It isn't even dark yet, look outside"

Kid 2: "I'll race you!" (thundering up the stairs follows)

Kid 3: "No fair, he always wins!" (Sobs.)

Kid 4: "Can I fall asleep in your bed?"

Kid 1: (Calling loudly from bedroom) "Sorry, mom, I woke Tony up when I went in to get pajamas, and, really, I only poked him a tiny bit, just to see if he was really asleep. It wasn't my fault."

Kid 2: I threw my toothpaste away yesterday because the top was yucky and now I don't have any, what should I do?"

And on, and on, and on until finally, FINALLY, they are all processed and in bed. At this point I deserve a medal, or at least a good half hour of Tivo.

Tonight was worse than usual because Julia (who will be 3 soon) was in one of her rapidly-becoming-a-habit-and-must-be-stopped-immediately "No, I don't want to" moods. I could hear her and Lindsey (6) arguing as I went downstairs about the light in their room among other things. This was all within the normal bedtime noise level, so I let it go.

About 3 minutes later, Lindsey came running down the stairs, hysterically crying, saying she hurt Julia (which was evidenced by Julia's loud shrieks from above). This is not like Lindsey at all, who is generally the most agreeable member of our family, parents included.

The subsequent investigation netted the following information: Julia was out of bed, in Lindsey's space, insisting repeatedly that something untrue and ridiculous was indeed factual. Lindsey snapped and hit Julia in the face (more like a violent and misplaced push, from its description), causing Julia to bite her tongue.

We didn't have to say anything: Lindsey was positively wrecked over what she did. (Julia was fine, but milking it for all it was worth, bless her heart.) Between racking sobs, Lindsey choked out "I don't deserve to play with anyone ever again because of what I did!"

As I consoled her and assured her that even really good people do bad things sometimes, and that God forgives her, I was imagining her first reconciliation. It is going to be a doozy.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Home or The Parish School

As I awaken to the online community of Catholic mothers (which supports me tremendously, I might add) I am struck by how many of them homeschool. In this world, it seems I am in a minority by sending my kids to our parish school.

I am thrilled with our parish school. Since my kids are in 2nd grade and Kindergarten, I haven't had to deal with any family life issues yet, and I understand that this is the point where many families break with their parish school. For us, though, right now we couldn't be happier with the religious instruction or the academics.

Our school is CATHOLIC. My Kindergartener can name and explain all the mysteries of the rosary and do a decent job with the Stations of the Cross from pictures. While we say daily rosaries at home and have the stations on our own walls, her academic knowledge of these things is from her school.

My 2nd grader knows and can write the Ten Commandments, in order, right along with the Act of Contrition and all other "major" prayers. I'm sure my kids have nothing on the children of homeschoolers in this area, but I am certain that they have leg up on children attending more watered down parish schools which, unfortunately, are all too common.

I have yet to meet another devout Catholic family, outside of our own parish, that is happy with their parish school. I am grateful that we are so happy but also wonder if there is no one else, anywhere, who is happy with theirs. Am I missing something here?

For reasons totally unrelated to the quality of education at our parish school, I am planning to homeschool my oldest, and only my oldest, next year. To be perfectly honest, I am scared. I can't imagine I will give him an experience as rich as the one he is getting now. But, I know with God anything is possible. He will give me what I need to do this, I am confident.

I have read many books on homeschooling, including those by Hahn/Hasson, Mary Kay Clark, Rebecca Rupp among others, and can clearly see the reasons one would choose homeschooling for their families. But the reasons are not as numerous when there is a good alternative, such as I believe we have. I love being a part of the Sacred Heart School community and would miss the "extracurriculars" that our family looks forward to as such. We parents are nurtured by the school too. Special masses with liturgy of the word read by the children, carnivals centering on our Lord, all-school assemblies that feature the Kindergarteners as a living nativity. These things are reverent and good. I would miss them. Of course, I would never allow these to take the place of what I felt was truly best for my children, but at this point I am not certain that is not staying right where they are.

I have a feeling that this is an evolutionary opinion, and one that will vary by child. We shall see.

Monday, May 08, 2006

What Do You Do When A Registered Sex Offender Moves in Next Door?

Good question. Unfortunately, I am about to find out.

Three months ago we moved into what we hope will be our "forever" house. For the first time, we have a house large enough to comfortably accomodate our ever growing family, our piles of laundry, the storage bins of waiting-to-grow into clothing and the overflow of Costco pantry items. We waited months for this house, watching it get built from the ground up, dreaming of all the Christmas trees that would fill its generous foyer and the summers that would be spent playing in the backyard.

Not once did any of these dreams include keeping my children out of the front yard at all times, making sure they didn't run naked in the backyard for even one second, and never allowing them to even run down the street unaccompanied to retrieve the mail. But this is our new reality.

Yesterday, as my children played on the front lawn and I vacuumed a quantity of crumbs from the car that might feed a family of four for a week, our new neighbors approached us, paper in hand, and introduced themselves. "We noticed you have young children," they said, "so we thought you would like to see this." They handed over a page from the Megan's Law website showing that just four doors down lives a man who is registered as having performed sexual acts with a child younger than 14. How can this be? In my neighborhood? On the street where my children will be trick-or-treating? It can't be.

I drove slowly by his house this morning. It is well kept and beautifully in bloom with carefully planted flowers. There are toys belonging to young girls in the yard (his daughters, I am told). What do I tell my children? Something, of course, but how much? I want them to be cautious but not scared, aware but not paranoid. This should be more my problem than theirs, but they also must watch their own backs.

The sheriff will not give further details of this man or his situation. But there is a lot I want to know. How young were the children he molested? Were they boys or girls? How long ago was his offense? Has he been arrested for this more than once? Every detail I get will help me better protect my children. According to the law, I am told, it is enough that I simply know he exists on my block. And, yes, that is something.

It occurs to me, through my unease, how awful it must be for him that every parent in our new neighborhood is aware of his past now. Perhaps whatever this was ocurred long ago and he has successfully built a new life. I hope this for all of our sakes, but when my children's safety is at stake, I cannot give him the benefit of the doubt. I have to assume he is a threat.

Please, God, protect my family, help heal this man, and assist me in acting like the Christian I profess to be while at the same time doing my job as a mother.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Beggar

Today, after mass, my family was enjoying the sunshine and talking to fellow parishoners in the courtyard when I was was approached by a person who was evidently down on her luck. She singled me out and asked me for money to buy a burger.

I hate when this happens, because I never know the right thing to do. I don't have a high degree of confidence that any money I give would actually go to a burger, but when I am standing in front of the church, representing the Christians of our parish, how can I refuse? Would I refuse Christ Himself if he asked me for money to buy food?

I gave Jay some money to give to her. I was so upset about the situation that I couldn't even do her the decency of looking her in the eye to give her the money myself. Why? Because I knew that this really wasn't the best way to help her. But my response was my fault, not hers. I should have looked her in the eye.

What I realized, even before I got to the car, was that I should have sent her to the rectory for food. I know the office staff keeps food for those who ask, and plenty do because our church is in a poor part of town. I wish I could have kept my head and done the right thing. But I didn't.

I am sorry, lady from the church, for not treating you with the human dignity you deserve. I am sorry, and I will try to do better the next time.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Birthday Party Circuit

It seems as if all I do on Saturdays is go to birthday parties. Often, like today, I have multiple parties, either stacked up, overlapping or weaving in and out of one another. Jay works most Saturdays, so the pleasure of administrating all this is solely mine.

It is rare that all of my children are invited to any one party. Figuring out who goes where at what time, whether or not they can be dropped off and picked up later, and what present goes with what child is a social jigsaw puzzle. How often I have found myself at Chuck E. Cheese entertaining the "non-invitees" at a table a discreet distance away from the birthday revelers, doling out tokens to ensure no one feels left out because they don't get a goody bag.

I don't relish this part of my life, but have not yet figured out how to gracefully extract myself from it. With so many children, there are a LOT of birthday parties to go to. I confess that at times I have simply not mentioned the arrival of an invitation, only to be found out later because kids talk. My kids have come home from preschool in tears because they didn't go to so-and-so's party and everyone else was there, blah, blah, blah. This is hard to see. So, off I go on the birthday party circuit every Saturday, muttering under my breath and trying to remember that cheerfully serving my children is a joy to God.

Most mothers of large families I know homeschool, so this is less of a problem for them. The majority of party invitations come through school, and with four children in two different schools, we are exposed to nearly 100 potential partiers each year. This, alone, might be reason to consider homeschooling (another topic for another day, that is).

Week after week we sit there, the other mothers and I, while our children engage in essentially the same party, the same activities, and often in the same locations. We rate the food, the cake, the goody bags. Our own party bars are raised and lowered by the efforts of other parents.

When did this sneak into our culture, this endless parade of narcissistic celebrations? It's all well and good for children to feel special on their birthdays and to celebrate the day they were born, but we have created a monster. The pressure is high for "magical", "one-of-a-kind", over the top parties that ultimately leave kids feeling dissatisfied because they weren't perfect or sustainable. Shouldn't birthdays be more about gratitude for this gift of life we have received? Where is the balance between having a fun celebration for our kids and turning them all, guests included, into pulsating balls of greed?

I'll let you know when I figure it out. If any of you already have it figured out, please share! Until then, I have some RSVPing to do.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Late Afternoon in the Sun

This afternoon I did something I don't do nearly often enough. I simply sat on the floor.

When I station myself in one place, my children come to me (as is evidenced by any trip I have made to the bathroom in the last 7 years). I don't have to do anything at all, just sit, and I get to experience unplanned, unstructured time with my children that tells me a lot about who they are. In and out they orbit around me, sometimes coming all at once, and sometimes wandering by one at a time.

Today I sat in the boys' room because the late afternoon sun was stretching across the floor in the most inviting way. Tony sat by me on the floor, curling his baby toes with the effort of exploring a toy dump truck and all that it can do. I sat, reclined on the floor with my head propped up by my unbroken arm, and watched him. Practicing his new crawling skills, he moved like a rusty engine, forward, collapse, forward, collapse, drool, forward. Stop, smile a toothless grin, forward again. More drool.

As I watched him, I thought that, in most families, he would not exist. Indeed, if I had not read Kimberly Hahn's Life Giving Love, he would not exist in mine. I thought I had my hands quite full with the four kids I already had. A good Catholic, I practiced Natural Family Planning, never once considering that I perhaps I shouldn't. Kimberly's book changed my life and my view on children completely (as well as the lives of the 4 friends I passed it on to who have produced 3 new souls themselves as a result , but that is another story!). Thank you, God, for speaking through Kimberly and sending Tony to our family.

After awhile, Julia wandered in. Ever wishing she was still the baby, she noted with interest the baby activity blanket I had spread on the floor and began availing herself of its many diversions.

In came Lindsey. She peeled off her shoes and socks, dumped them unceremoniously on the floor, jumped on the Sam's bed awhile (hey, at least she took off her shoes--no one can say I am not teaching my children manners) and went off to make a birthday card for her Kindergarten crush.

Sam came next. He observed a used glow stick on his bookshelf and inquired about our current supply of not-used glowsticks and where they might be. Lindsey returned with an array of green markers and consulted Sam, our family expert, on which shade would make the most authentic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Sam decisively made his selection and Lindsey returned to the project table.

Joey tumbled in, saw Lindsey's less-than-fresh socks on the floor and began tossing them at me. Sam quickly joined in the game. I bolted upright and, to Joey's complete delight, stuffed them down his shirt. He ran downstairs, came back up with ice cubes and I quickly put an end to that game.

Joey then proposed that he change Tony's diaper to the tune of $20 (I considered it for a brief moment before I laughed). He consistently worked down his price until we got to a quarter, his final offer. I declined and we did it together, while Tony happily played with a tube of Desitin.

Each child is a unique gift. When I forget to sit and simply observe them, I miss out on a lot. I am thankful for the afternoon sun that beckoned me to lie still today.

Now I'm off to do the laundry and dishes that, unfortunately, did NOT go away while I enjoyed my children.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mother, May I?

Julia, who is not quite three, loves to play the "I'm the Mommy, You're the Sweetie" game. This never fails to be educational for me.

Who knew that I even regularly called her sweetie? Not me, until this game began. In fact, I never knew I did or said a lot of things. When we first began to play, I thought she was taking creative license with her role. I would never do that, I often thought, but I'll humor her.

As the game dragged on through the months, I came to recognize that she often saw me more clearly than I saw myself. Always busy, sometimes exasperated and impatient, I viewed myself sketched out morning after morning from the perspective of my nearly constant companion. Along with the "opportunities" of my personality, I have also happily noted the patient way she stops to explain things to me (I choose to ignore the patronizing tone and focus instead on the gentle and rythmic pat her hand gives me as she explains).

Thanks to an automobile accident, I currently have a broken arm. I honestly believe, after 6 weeks in a cast and seriously limited abilities during this time, that many of my children are completely unaware of this fact. So, imagine my surprise when our game progressed as follows:

"Sweetie, I need some help getting dressed."
"No you don't. You're the mommy and mommies get dressed all by themselves."
"No, I need help."
"I have a broken arm." (She might as well have added "duh!" at the end.)

Hmmm. Why do I doubt the observational powers of any child of mine?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Family Game Night: Did I Forget to Notice We Were Having Fun?

Family game night. Sounds like a good idea, right? The people on the box look like they're having fun, so shouldn't we too?

Tonight we hauled out the game of Life and gathered around for some family bonding time. We placed 5 cars on the board, I organized myself for banker duty and off we went, to college, marriage, kids and debt. It started well. Julia, our 2 year old, teamed with dad while Joey (7), Lindsey (6), Sam (4) and I played on our own.

Before we had all graduated, the trouble began. Subtly, at first, it started with a little migration of the game board, protests over whose feet belong where and how much said feet may or may not stink. Yet, we carried on.

Barely married, we moved on to the next conflict: coersion by the older children that might lead the younger ones to make moves less than optimal for their overall health in the game. Dad labled this cheating (and in doing so protected his own salary card, I might add!), which caused one child to run from the room crying and slam his bedroom door in protest. Ignoring the missing player, we carried on.

On to house buying! Certain players did not have enough money to buy their chosen residences (sounds like real life) so they turned accusatory eyes toward the banker. It must have been my fault because surely I missed a payday or two. My discussion of self-advocation fell on deaf ears so we carried on.

Babies began to fill up our cars. The competition heated up, because when our family plays Life, it's not how much money one has that matters: the person with the most kids is the real winner. The pouting player returned wordlessly and took his turn, so we carried on.

By this time, players were arguing, dad was sleeping between turns, everyone was talking at once, and the banker was ready to throw in the towel. We must be nearly done, I thought. But we weren't even half way through. Could we carry on?

Julia grew bored and began wandering around and sitting on people's money piles over their strong protests. Children yelled "GO!" with outrage at each other without allowing a full 2 seconds for a turn to be taken. Talking was a thing of the past as yelling and irritation took over. No, we could not carry on.

I suggested that we put away the game unfinished, sure that everyone would agree. Clearly, this was fun for no one. The howls of protest I encountered were deafening. "No, mom! You promised we could play!" I pointed out that no one was enjoying the game. "What?!" came the shriek of protests. "Yes we are TOO having fun!" My mistake. We carried on.

It is hard for me to believe that the children will look back at this particular part of their childhood fondly, but I somehow know that they will. Will I, too, sugarcoat the memory and imagine us all sitting companionably around the game board, laughing together and assisting one another? Maybe I will. We all know about parenting amnesia; I, for one, hope mine is an acute case.

So, what are we playing tomorrow?

Monday, May 01, 2006

What Do You Mean, The Daycare is Closed During Mass Today?

We rarely bring our small children to mass. We have weathered some criticism in this area, yet we stand firm.

Now, we are in no way Cafeteria Catholics. If the church says do it, we do it (and gladly). After researching this topic extensively, I have discovered that until a child reaches First Holy Communion, he or she is not obligated to attend mass. Many people think that, obligated or not, it is a good idea for young children to be at mass. This may work for them and for their children, but as for us, we walk this line.

Our young children have plenty of exposure to all goodness that is God. We pray together every day, they know their bible stories and they see their parents going to mass and confession regularly (dad makes mass daily even though mom can't quite pull that off). They know that when they are of age, they will have the PRIVILEGE of attending mass. This is something to anticipate and look forward to.

When our children start Kindergarten, they begin to attend mass with us each Sunday and Holy Day. Until then, it is to the daycare with them. And, believe me, we tip the provider well each week!

Mass is, for me, a spiritual reset button. I need mass to prepare me for the coming week, to remind me of all that is truly important. It is magical hour of peace and closeness to God that sustains me until I can come again. When I have my small children with me, there is little magical about this hour. It becomes something to endure rather than to treasure. There is no reflection on the gospel. There is no deep contemplation of Jesus' sacrifice. There is no singing with joy from the depths of my soul and there is certainly no recollection of the homily. It is an hour of stern corrections, fierce glares, subtle pinches and marches down the aisle with the worst offenders. It is an hour of endlessly replacing ruffled missils and registration cards, chasing the little pencils that roll under the pews and apologizing to the person in front of us for the pulled hair. And did I mention the repeated crashing of the kneeler? The display of little girl underwear? The shoes that get taken off right when it is time to go forward for the blessing? The annoyance of those around us mingled with smiles of pity at the sign of peace? The loud announcements of "I have to go pee!" in the middle of the Eucharistic prayer?

Yes, it is true, that I will do anything in my power to avoid mass with the too-young-to-reason-with crowd. I will call in babysitting favors, even questionable ones, to avoid the spectre. But, inevitably, there are times when we do have to bring them. Unfortunately, these times seem to fall most often on the most important masses of the year: Christmas and Easter. These are times when the church is packed to capacity,it is stifling hot from the press of bodies, and you have to arrive at least 40 minutes early to get a seat. Nothing says holiday cheer like having the children plow through their capacity for being good before the mass even begins!

The worst mass I can ever remember was the year before last, Christmas eve. We did not dare take the children to true midnight mass, so we went to the 5pm children's mass. Not our best hour, generally, but off to church we went with the joy of Christmas in our hearts. We thought we would sit in the front so that the children would be able to see what was going on and thereby be less restless. A large mistake, in retrospect. Turns out, when you are in the front, the whole church behind you becomes a witness to your children's inability to behave.

To make a long story a bit shorter, I was nearly in tears by the time we stood to receive the Eucharist. Holding my 1 year old, I ushered my 3 year old son Sam in front of me. My husband had inadvertantly dressed Sam for church in our 6 year old's clothes. As we ran out the door for church, I took note but did not attempt to correct this. They looked fine, albeit a little big. As we approached the Eucharist, Sam had his little arms crossed over his chest firmly, as he had been taught. Right before he reached the front of the church, his pants slipped off his hips and pooled decisively at his ankles. He was in front of the whole church, and Christ Himself in his underwear. And did Sam pull up his pants and right this situation? NO! He kept his arms crossed and, without missing a beat, waddled all the way to the side aisle and back to his seat with his pants around his ankles. Since I had the baby in my arms and was in front of the Blessed Sacrament, I was powerless to stop this horror scene from playing out in front of me. Something in me snapped and by the time I reached me seat I began to laugh. I laughed until I was crying. My husband and I were both kneeling with our faces down, shaking with laughter. Because what else could we do? There was nothing else. We were broken.

Can anyone really blame us for availing ourselves of the daycare thoughfully provided by our parish? I hope not.