Thursday, April 16, 2015

Motherhood Has Not Robbed Me Of Myself

I read this article the other day entitled Motherhood didn't Ruin Me, It Made My Life Better and in it the author writes:

Now I am writing the novel that I never “had the time” to write when I was too busy living for myself. In a way, it’s a paradox. With Sofia by my side, I am no longer free to do whatever I want, whenever I want, however I please. But, instead of that idea of freedom, I now possess a clearer focus of my true passion—writing. Somehow, in a way I can’t fully express in words, I am more alive as a mother than I was as a happy-go-lucky girl who traveled the world and reveled in freedom.

The entire thing is worth a read, but I've been thinking about the insights this young mom has gleaned in the short amount of time she's spent parenting.  The idea that she gave something up to become a mother, yet found a greater part of herself is truly profound.  Although the world sees motherhood as a complete imposition on a woman's freedom, the reality is that motherhood has allowed this young woman to discover a freedom she didn't know possible. 

It wasn't until I reflected on the author's words that I realized this has been my experience in my vocation as well. When I was a young mother with a bunch of toddlers running around, I was often bored with my at home duties.  The monotony of filling sippy cups and doing laundry and changing diapers came as a surprise to me.  Yes, I was hopelessly in love with the child who grinned at me while I wiped his dirty bottom, but I didn't realize motherhood would sometimes be so....boring.  I didn't realize I would not be intellectually challenged like I was for some many years in college and graduate school or when I worked professionally.  At school and at work, I was recognized for my contributions and successes, but at home, so much of what I did was hidden.  When John came home from work, it wasn't unusual for me to regale him with a list of all I did.

"Did you see I organized the pantry, John?"

"I folded all the laundry!"

Or my personal favorite, "Guess what?  I showered today!"

How was he supposed to respond to those Mount Everest feats?

"Ummm, that's great, honey?!"

I quickly realized if this whole at-home motherhood thing was going to work, I needed to find something to do outside of taking care of my family.  I needed a hobby or an interest to engage me while I fulfilled my main responsibilities.

So I took an inventory of Things I Might Like To Spend Time Doing So I Don't Lose My Mind (or something like that) and one of those things turned into a blog for family and friends.  For the last nine years, I've been writing on this little online journal, telling funny stories or sharing spiritual insights I've had.  I have written some really, really bad stuff  (my apologies to those who read these early pages) but I kept the morning, late at night, during nap time, and while I burned dinner.  I wrote and wrote and wrote and over the years, my writing got better, not New York Times essay journalist better, but substantially better.  I joined a Writer's Guild, went to a few conferences, read some writing books, made some contacts, and was even able to publish a few things online and in print.

Friday, March 27, 2015

7 Quick Takes: The Funny Kids Stories Edition

Did you think I had gone away never to return?  I thought about it, but then I wouldn't remember any of these funny stories from the kids, so I'm pressing on with this here neglected blog. Linking up again with Kelly for 7 quick takes.

1. Six year old, Christopher discovered a small insignificant toy of Camille's, on which he had designs.  I don't know where the stupid thing came from or how we got it, but as soon as he saw it, he wanted the spotted animal.

So he asked Camille to trade toys and the ensuing conversation between the two of them convinced me that Christopher will never have a chance when it comes to negotiating with calculating females.

There are only a few things in life Christopher loves and they are as follows:  Cupcake the Bear (which he sleeps with every night and Deedoe gave him when he was a wee lad), his Legos, and his toy sword found in the Narnia books.  Camille, who knows her brother well, is aware of this fact.  She knows these are his most prized possessions and she decided to use that to her advantage.

When he asked her to trade toys, she immediately responded,  "Sure, I'll need your Legos, Cupcake the Bear, and your sword then you can have the giraffe."

He left the room in tears because parting from those things was impossible for him.  Camille knew this.

I'm considering submitting her application for a seat as one of the Sharks on ABC's Shark Tank.

Camille will eat you for breakfast and then ask for more. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Three Good Catholic Reads

During the last week of January, when the grey had permanently settled in the sky and all I could see out my windows was a world painted the colors of a penitentiary, I received a late Christmas package: a box of review copy books.  

When I tore into the brown UPS package, my heart leapt with joy because although it was dreary and cold outside, there is nothing like a delicious stack of new books cure mid-winter blues (or in this case, greys).

Since it’s Lent and because I’ve plowed through a few of the titles since I received them, I thought I might suggest a book (or three) that might be of interest to Integrated Catholic Life readers.

Read the rest at Integrated Catholic Life.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Lenten Lessens

Every Wednesday morning at the two-day academy my children attend, the students host a bake sale.  I often slip a few quarters into the kids' lunch boxes so they can grab something "special" during their lunch break, but during Lent I've told them all my children we are going to try to skip extra treats.
The news that he was going to miss out on Wednesday bake sale for the next forty days was particularly devastating for my six-year old, Christopher.

Upon this whopping realization, he stood in my kitchen, his uniform shirt untucked and his school shoes on but the laces undone, red-faced and sobbing.

"I hate Lent!" he said.  "Everyone in my class gets bake sale but me!  Why does it have to be Lent?  It's stupid!"

Meaghan, adopting her best motherly persona, jumped in to try to talk him off the ledge.

"Toph, this is what we do as a family during Lent," she explained.  "After Easter, you can go back to buying bake sale.  This isn't forever."

"Yeah," Patrick followed, "It's not that big a deal."

Patrick's additional commentary was not helpful.

"It's a big deal to me!" Christopher wailed as water faucet tears rolled down his face.

I listened to the discussion as I made pork loin sandwiches and stuffed them into zip lock baggies.  

Frankly, I identified with Christopher's pain.  I don't know why, but this year in particular, I'm struggling with my own small Lenten penances. I'm tempted daily to throw in the towel, to indulge in to the one small sacrifice I've given up for Christ, a thing that is so small it's laughable, especially when you consider Coptic Christians are being martyred on beaches because of their faith. 

Saint Paul wrote the spirit is willing and the flesh is weak and I swear he was talking about me when he wrote that line, so I understood Christopher's intense reaction to missing out on the bake sale.

I wanted to say, "Me too, little buddy.  I want a chocolate cupcake too."

If the whole abstaining from sweets thing isn't bad enough for Christopher, when you consider there ain't nobody who likes food as much as he does, this "small" sacrifice is really a gigantic one for him. 

(He had to make a poster for his religion class this week.  When I asked him what  he would like to include in his list of favorite things, he asked me to print off a picture of steak.  So yeah... food and Christopher are simpatico.)

One of the worst things parents can do, I think, is to be too heavy handed in the way they present the faith to their children.  Instead of inspiring children to chose the good, the parent--in their well intentioned but over zealous desire to "help" the child develop--is too controlling, too harsh, and too rigid when it comes to all things Catholic.  The parent forgets the age of the child with which they are working and expects behavior that is unreasonable or even impossible. 

This temptation is even more severe during liturgical seasons like Lent, when we want to pull out all the stops to help our kids grow in their ability to sacrifice and love God.

John and I are very aware of this tendency and we both agree about how important it is that our children experience a sense of spiritual freedom, an ability to choose the way they desire to practice their Catholic faith. 

We've encouraged the kids to give something up individually for Lent, but as a family we give up sweets.  For my little kids, the no sweets thing is a really big deal, so that's all I expect them to sacrifice, but I see that this penance is especially difficult for my Christopher.

As he was still crying about the bake sale, I said,

"I know this is really hard, Topher, but you get to choose.  No one is making you abstain from bake sale.  You can use your own money to buy something sweet, but I also want you to remember that this the sacrifice is a good thing, even if it is hard."

My words were no consolation because he reminded me again that he thought Lent was stupid.

I coaxed him out of his dismay with some breakfast.

After the morning routine of searching for missing shoes, lost books, and forced breakfasts, we piled into the hooptie and I delivered everyone to school. When I returned to collect them all that afternoon, Christopher got into the van and promptly melted down again.

He stood in front of his car seat his back as rigid as a soldier ready for battle, his fists clenched in a torrent of passion, and he yelled,

"I hate Lent! It's stupid!  I hate it!"

His outburst took me off guard.  I turned around to look at him and said,

"Topher, what is wrong?  Are you still upset about the bake sale?"

"No!" he responded. "I got to pick a prize from the prize box today and I had to pick raisins!  I hate raisins!"

"Why did you pick raisins and not something else?"

"The only other thing to pick was candy and it's Lent!  I can't have sweets!  STUPID LENT!  I hate LENT!"

I started to giggle and had to turn around so he wouldn't see me. 

Also, I was amazed he had abstained.  He could have picked candy and I would never have known, but he didn't. I composed myself and then lathered great praise about his good decision.  When we got home, I pulled out a bag of lolly pops I had hidden in the back of the pantry.

"You see these, Christopher?  You get to give everyone one of these lolly pops on Sunday because you did the right thing.  You chose the better part."

He looked down at his hands and tried to hide his smile.

It was hard for him to skip the momentary gratification, but he did it.  His struggle was valuable and valiant.  As his mom,  I am so proud of him.

The whole event helped me see how happy God must feel about my ability to successfully withstand temptation.

He's rooting for me, just like I'm rooting for Topher.

He wants me to do hard things out of love for Him, just like I want my children to do hard things out of their love for Christ.

God sees me trying--and failing--and trying some more, and He's pleased.

And you know what?

That's a Lenten lessen I really needed.

Thanks, Toph.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Chasing Grace


I sit on the bed and pull on my compression socks. The socks are a recent addition to my running routine as six pregnancies have caused the veins in my legs to forget how to clot.  The socks are uncomfortable and difficult to put on, but I do it anyway because dealing with the puffy, purple ankles is worse.

I search the bed for my phone, grab my ear buds and walk to the machine.  Taking a few deep breaths, I spend a moment in motivational self-talk before I hop on the treadmill, adjust the settings, and start to move.

The first mile is the worst.  I think only evil thoughts:  how my calves ache from the socks, how I would rather be devouring a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey, how the music pumping through my ear phones is doing nothing to mentally motivate me to continue with this ridiculous task. 

But I press on.  I try not to notice the trickles of sweat or the heaviness of my breath. 

After awhile, the first mile is complete and I realize I haven’t died.  This no death from running is a victory because I was sure a few minutes ago someone would find my mangled body at the foot of the machine.  And while I don’t want to romanticize this whole physical exercise business, I also can’t ignore the fact that not only has the running not killed me, I also have found something while my feet pound in rhythmic motion, something that feels like grace.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

It's Between Her And God

Mary Bernadette, my second grade daughter, and I were nestled in the church pew listening to the instructions on how to proceed so that all 150 children might receive their First Reconciliation in the most efficient and effective manner possible.  We were there for Mary, as she was one of the 150 children, and as I sat watching the setting sun dance across the walls of the church, the light colored a buttery yellow I found comforting, I couldn't believe we were here and now was her time.

"Do you remember what you say when you go?"  I whispered.

"Not really," she said, and shrugged her shoulders.

I immediately thought about my oldest two children, Patrick and Meaghan.  In the weeks prior to their First Reconciliation, I reviewed with them ad nauseum the proper Confessional techniques.

But Mary?

She's my middle child, and like a typical middle kid, my proper First Reconciliation prep work with her had slipped through the cracks.

I tried not to panic.

"What?  You really don't know?  Didn't your teacher review this?"  I asked.  "You've been studying the Act of Contrition.  You know that, right?"

She shrugged again, not at all daunted about the task before her.

"I know the prayer, but I don't know what I say when I go in.  Can you tell me?"

"Bless me Father for I have sinned.  This is my first Confession," I said in hushed tones.  "Can you remember that?  It's easy.  Bless me Father, for I have sinned."

She looked at me, nodded and turned her attention back to the altar.

"Are you nervous?" I asked, while the lady continued to give instructions.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Evangelization Is Not Just A Protestant Thing

Last spring, my husband and I signed up to take a nine-week class on financial management held at a local Protestant church.  We chose a class at this particular place because they offered babysitting for our five children, thereby removing the largest obstacle to our commitment.  Without the worry of what to do with our brood while we were off goal planning and budgeting, we could comfortably make the commitment to attend.

  At the end of the evening, the adults always thanked us for coming and encouraged us to come back next week.  They communicated in many different ways that they were glad we came.  

Each week, after we loaded everyone into the van and started the drive home, my husband, John, would comment about how well versed his Protestant brethren were at personal attention and hospitality.

“I would never leave the Catholic Church,” he said, “we have the fullness of the truth and there is no replacement for it, but those Catholics who don’t realize what the Eucharist actually is might find the warm welcome at the doors of the Protestant church very attractive.  The Protestants are really good at building community; at welcoming strangers and making them feel wanted.  They know how to evangelize.”

Read the rest here.

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