Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Parent's Litany Of Humility

I don't know about you, but I have a tendency to nurse some pretty crazy anxieties when it comes to parenting.  If I stop to think about the sheer amount of responsibility I shoulder in  caring for, educating, and raising six unique human beings, I find myself hankering hard to curl up on the couch with my favorite blanket, suck my thumb, and stay in the supine position for a day...or ten.  

I know there are some people out there who are totally confident that they've got it altogether when it comes to parenting.

Good for you.  

I mean it, really, good for you.

But me?

I feel like I'm flailing around in the dark, begging Jesus to help me do the best I can to raise my children with the time, resources, and (limited) emotional IQ He's given me.

I've always loved the Litany of humility and it struck me recently that I could adapt it quite easily into a prayer to aid me when my parenting worries reach their peak.  I share my revised edition below because maybe you are sometimes anxious too?

Let's pray for each other.

The Litany Of Humility For Parents

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart,  
Hear me.

From the desire of having my children be esteemed as intelligent and accomplished in the eye's of the world,
Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of having a perfect Catholic family,
Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of having it appear my family has it altogether (when we often feel as if we are hanging on by a very thin thread),

Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire to shelter my children from anything that might cause them pain,
Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of having my family, especially my children, praised,
Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of having my family, especially my children, preferred to others,
Deliver me, Jesus.

From the tendency to compare my familial situation to another's,
Deliver me, Jesus.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Seven Signs You Are An Imperfect Catholic

1.     You read the story of Jesus’ feeding of the 4,000 people and you get stuck on the fact that the people hung out with Jesus for three whole days on top of a mountain without any food.

2.     Your larger than average family gave up sweets for Lent, so you sneak into the pantry to ensure there are no witnesses when you shove a peanut butter cookie into your mouth.  Sadly, you are caught red-handed by your way more devout and diligent 9-year old. 

“Mom,” she says, horror written all over her face, “it’s Lent.” 

“Whoops,” you reply as cookie crumble falls from the corner of your mouth.

3.     When the kind man your family frequently sits next to at church leans over to tell you what well-behaved children you have, your first thought is, Ha!  Fooled him!  

4.     You go to Confession face to face with a visiting priest and after you finish your litany of sins, the priest takes a deep breath, props his hands up on his knees as he leans in to tell you, his eyes narrow and serious, “You know, no one likes living with a saint.”

5.     You are not only distracted by, but sincerely entertained by the behavior of the children sitting in front of you in mass.  While their parents sing in the choir a few pews ahead of them, they entertain each other with loud conversations and energetic game playing.  You may have even inadvertently encouraged their disobedience with your laughter.  

6.     You can’t bear to part with the one-handed Mother Mary statue your mother-in-law gifted you so many years ago.  A child accidentally victimized her when he played with her when he wasn’t supposed to, but you love that image anyway.  The statue, despite her broken appearance or maybe because of it, reminds you of Mother Mary’s fidelity and love, even in imperfect conditions.

7.     You read this list and judged the author for her lack of “Catholicity “and her poor efforts at Catholic parenting.  You decide to pray for her because you realize she needs all the help she can get. 


Monday, April 11, 2016

Mediocre Parenting Rule # 1: Keep It Simple, Stupid

I hate parenting books.

There's nothing like reading the words of an "expert" to activate my neurosis about the innumerable ways I'm failing and warping my kids. 

While I don't spend time or money reading those expert's opinions anymore, I devoured so many in my younger years, their admonitions and advice just kind of float around in my brain, even when I don't want them too.

I can't escape the rhetoric.

It's terrible, actually.

One of the recommendations from those parenting books that haunts me the most is the idea that spending quality time with your kids, one-on-one, serves to deepen the parent/child bond.

Doesn't one on one time with each kid just sound like a good idea?

What parent doesn't want to have a good relationship with their kid?

What parent doesn't want their child to feel important and special?

If spending a little QT with your kidlets ensures a positive relationship, why wouldn't parents try to make it happen?

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Good News About Imperfect Families

Do we have to go to church?” my five year old, Camille, whined as we readied for the Good Friday Stations of the Cross.  “It’s boring and stupid,” she said, tears dripping down her cheeks and punctuating her overly dramatic sentiments.

“I want to go to the Stations.  Today is the day Jesus died.  I want to comfort Him,” I responded.

“I don’t,” she whined again and stomped off.

Camille had entertained visions of outdoor playtime with her best friend who lives next door, another five-year old named Emmy. Emmy is the proud owner of a motorized Barbie hot wheel and an afternoon darting around in a pink hotrod sounded much more appealing to Camille than our austere parish and the long wait in line for Confession.

A few kids ago, Camille’s anti-Stations of the Cross-attitude would have worried me.  Did she really think church was “stupid and boring”?  Would she ever know the value of her faith?  Would she always see the religious ceremonies we bring her to as pointless?

You know what else would have stressed me out? 

The tense atmosphere in our home as we readied all six of our reluctant kids for the most important Liturgical celebrations of the church:  the Holy Triduum and Easter Sunday. 

Read the rest at ICL.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Four Social Media Strategies To Cultivate Peace As Catholic Writers, Entrepreneurs and Artists

I gave up social media for Lent.

(Hello, Silence, my old friend.)

I didn't miss it much (at least not as much as I thought I would) and when I ended my fast on Easter Monday, I downloaded the Instagram app, my favorite of all the social media fare, back onto my phone.  I wanted to hop online and see all the pretty pictures I had missed during my forty days in the desert.  Instead, when I opened the app, I was met with about 500 requests from people I follow to turn on post notifications. 

(I guess Instagram changed their algorithms so unless you regularly interact--liking or commenting on posts-- with those accounts you most enjoy, there's a good chance you won't see them.)

Sigh.  So much for pretty pictures.

On my first day back to social media, I was met with somewhat frantic requests to like the work of others so that work wouldn't get lost in the fold.

On the one hand, I understand the plight.

My artistic colleagues spend a lot of time developing their craft--photography, handmade products, articles, websites, blog posts, etc. and they want their work to be recognized.

On the other hand, however, I find the constant requests to follow and subscribe exhausting.

(Perhaps it's just me?)

I find the constant, "Look!  Do you see what I'm doing now? I'm writing a new book and I have a new underwater crocheting business and it's all so very amazing! Like my stuff, will you?" overdone and too much.

I'm a writer in the Catholic online world and I would be a fool to think building a platform and audience doesn't matter; It does.  (Every editor I've ever had has encouraged me to grow my audience as much as I can so that my message meets more people.  Also, the amount writers are paid is often tied to the size of your audience.  You want mo' money as an author?  You need mo' readers.   Those are the facts, friends.)

If I want editors to take me seriously as a professional, I need to work like a professional:  I need to identify and build a brand, maintain a website, interact on social media, etc.  Those responsibilities are part and parcel of the entire writing business as it is today.  If I want to be published (and I do) then I need to demonstrate I'm willing to participate in the game.

But how do I play the social media game (maintain a brand, produce good content, interact on social media) without having the game overtake my life?  How do I participate in social media without making the media all about me (perhaps the biggest problem I see in Catholic social media circles today)?  

Clearly, I'm not an expert.  My own blog is followed by a small, but faithful group of readers who have been with me for a long time. (You people know who you are and you are definitely the best out there!)  I'm not an influencer or social media guru, but here are some imperfect tips I've stumbled upon along the way to give me peace about my place in this world of social media and blogging:

1.  It's Not About The Numbers:  I once listened to an interview from Ann Voskamp where she admitted she never checked her stats on her extremely popular website A Holy Experience.  She said the number of people who visited her site didn't matter.  What mattered to her was doing God's will.  Did I mention she's a New York Times best selling author?  She is.

I imagine Voskamp's website, should she desire to monetize it, would allow her family to live comfortably on the earnings from the site alone.  But she's never checked her stats; She doesn't know how many readers she has because for her, it's not about the numbers.  In fact, readers are unable to comment on her posts because she doesn't want to get sidetracked.  She wants to keep her work and her message focused on Christ. 
I frequently reflect on the fact Jesus called twelve men to assist him in his work of spreading the Christian message.   Jesus had twelve imperfect brand ambassadors.  Twelve.  That's it.  Apparently, that's all he needed.

As an artist or writer or entrepreneur, are you worried about the numbers?  Stop.  The numbers don't matter, but souls do.

Once --many years ago--when I was in a full throttle meltdown about whether or not I should shut down my blog (talk about wrestling with my ego, ego, ego), an old friend wrote and told me my blog had encouraged her to go back to church and to start teaching her own children about God.  The timing was unmistakable, yet I still lamented that I wasn't "reaching" more people.

But did more matter?

If my friend was the only person who ever read my stupid diatribes and if she was the only one who was ever inspired to return to Sunday mass with her family, wasn't that one readership enough?

Isn't our goal as Catholic writers or bloggers or entrepreneurs ultimately be to bring people to Christ, not attain a million subscribers?  In the end, the numbers don't matter, but souls?    In the end, the souls are the only thing that count.

2.  Use the 80/20 rule.  My friend, Cristina, educated me about this helpful idea and boy, is she on to something.

Don't want to be a social media hog?

Tweet the good work you see other people doing, post about your favorite Instagram accounts, encourage others in their good work before you talk about your own.  Cristina is an expert at this and she definitely leads by example.  Admittedly, I have a ways to go before I've honed this skill as well as she has, however, in the short time I've implemented her suggestion, I've seen the fruits of it's effect.  When I started using the 80/20 rule, I noticed a steady growth in my own small social media accounts.

3. Trust God Will Guide The Souls To You:  My writing friend, Rhonda, and I were strategizing about branding and building platforms recently.  I was lamenting about my lack of interest in this arena coupled with my lack of time and talent.

 "How am I supposed to do all I'm supposed to do--wife, mother, and write-- and promote myself on Twitter, my blog, Instagram and all the rest of it?" I asked her.

About an hour later, Rhonda texted me the best advice she could have given regarding growing readership.  She wrote:

"Thought:  God is great.  He will-will-show you the platform path.  Focus on praying, focus on where the souls are who need to read your work.  Because it's not Colleen's Manifesto, ultimately.  Who are those souls?  How does He want you to find them?  Pray on that and I will join you in prayer."
 Preach, Rhonda.

My work is not supposed to be about me; it never is.  It's about how God wants to use my words to maybe help another hungry pilgrim like me flailing around in the dark on our search for Jesus.

4.  Practise and have fun!  Do you have three readers, but simply love to blog?  Great!  Keep going!  You don't have to have the most popular Catholic website out there to be gaining valuable skills, insights and experience.

Hone your writing craft.

Blog daily or as much as you can.

Rack up word counts and posts.

Who knows?  Great things might one day happen with those daily word goals.  With all that practice, one day you might have written yourself a book.

It's important your hobby be something you enjoy doing; not something stressful and full of pressure.  If your blog or website or emerging business is a source of unhappiness in your life, examine and readjust your practice, presence, and presentation.

Good luck! 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Some Kids Levitate During The Consecration, Mine Lick The Marble Floors (Subtitled: Someone Start Our Cause Now, Please)


Two-year old Edward entertained himself during Monsignor’s homily recently by crouching down on all fours, meowing softly and then licking the marble floors.  His new “trick” is to pretend he’s a cat, his Aunt Sarah’s beloved feline friend named Ghost, to be exact. Edward embraces his character with such heartfelt sincerity, pretending he’s eating food and purring on cue, that I had trouble on this particular morning dissuading him to stop.  

I’m sure onlookers thought it weird to witness a toddler on his hands and knees, tongue sliding across the marble, but since he had finally ceased attempting to eat the donated food in the bins intended for the homeless, I briefly considered allowing him to continue the cat routine.  The licking the floor thing was less tedious for me to manage, for sure.

Unfortunately, my conscience got to me and I started thinking about germs and saliva-contracted disease and so I squelched his attempt at method acting.  I redirected his behavior by dragging him over to the larger than life size statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who has a super-glued pointer finger (I can never be certain, of course, but I’m fairly sure none of my kids were the perpetrators of the four fingered Jesus.)  In any case, I pointed to Jesus’ heart, a heart on fire with love, and whispered to my child,

“See Him?  That’s Jesus.  He loves you even more than I do.”

“Jesus?” Edward repeated and stared up, wide-eyed, at the huge image.  He grabbed Jesus’ pointer finger.

“Yes, Jesus,” I said, and buried my head in Edward’s chubby neck.

            Resisting my attempts to smother him, Edward wiggled out of my arms and went back to running from eye-catching display to eye-catching display while I spent the remainder of Mass making sure he didn’t pull the fire extinguisher out of it’s glass case. 

(Please, someone tell me, why is the fire extinguisher posted right in front of a child’s line of vision?  Is it to torture parents?)

 I was completely unable to hear what was happening in the body of the Church, but I received Communion and offered a few silent prayers anyway and I had peace my Sunday obligation was fulfilled, purring cat and all.

            What does this story have to do with anything?  There’s a connection, I promise.

I haven’t posted on my blog since October, mainly because I’ve had a blogging identity crisis of sorts.  (Yes, a first world and modern day problem, I know.)  I'm not an overly crafty mom who posts a myriad of ideas on how how to make liturgically correct cupcakes.  I also don't regularly regale readers with information that seeks to expound upon or even explain the Catholic faith.    Mostly?  I tell funny stories or share random spiritual insights.  By and large, what I write is not an instruction manual for the Catholic faith.  It’s not didactic or even partuicularly helpful during really important Liturgical seasons like Lent or Advent.  

So I took a sabbatical and during my break, I had a realization.  I realized I don’t have to be like those Catholic moms who make the perfect cupcakes or defend the faith like a boss, because that's not who I am (though I do love cupcakes and I love our Catholic faith).    I don’t have to run a website with a million subscribers and a social media strategy that makes Donald Trump jealous. (Good thing because a social media maven I am not; I can't even figure out a way to post articles on the regular. ) 

 What matters is that I do me.  What matters is that I  stay in my lane and continue to do what I do as best as I can do it.
And what is it I do exactly?  Good question, I'm glad you asked.  (I wasn't sure myself until recently, hence the long-winded blog post.  I know, get to the point already.)

 The thing I think I do best is share my life as an imperfect mother of an imperfect Catholic family.  I like to tell you about the time Edward spent most of Mass licking the marble floors at the back of Church and how I let him do it. 

Because you know what? 

 Your kid has probably tried to lick the marble floors at the back of the church too and maybe my story telling will relieve some of your anxiety or help you dial down your high standards.  Because, yo, managing toddlers at mass is tough.  (And it's not probably going to kill them to let them lick the floor every once and awhile anyway...)

 Or maybe you have grown kids and you don't need to dial down your anxiety beause unlike the rest of us shmucks, you already know everything is going to be just fine in the end.  Still, maybe you need to laugh and that image of Edward purring like a cat and licking floors will do the trick.  Laughter in and of itself is important and highly undervalued in today's day and age, I think.

            So, I’m back, friends, with the many crazy stories I have to share about living as an imperfect Catholic mom in an imperfect Catholic family. 

        I’ve missed you.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Toilet Bowl Toss

I'm not sure why, but Christopher was smote with the brilliant idea to flush a small water bottle down the toilet while I was homeschooling Meaghan last week.  Camille, his trusty side-kick, completed the disaster by throwing in the family's tube of Crest tooth paste.

You know, for good measure. 

Patrick, who was working in the other room on his assignments, alerted me of the toilet clog as soon as he realized the two criminals children were up to no good.

When I saw what they had done, I went berserk.

Coo-coo for Cocoa puffs.

And then I sent them both to their beds.  For a long time.

John was out of town, so the toilet was out of commission until he returned home from his business trip and could deal with the commode conundrum.  Over the weekend, he used a hangar and some elbow grease to fish the plastic container out of the clogged toilet, thus freeing us from a phone call (and a check) to Larry the Plumber.

I still get annoyed when I think about that clogged water bottle, though.

The thing is, flushing miscellaneous items like water bottles and tubes of tooth paste down the toilet is a very kid thing to do.

Christopher and Camille were probably playing outside at the picnic table, concocting Lego dream houses, when they started talking about the science behind a flushing toilet and "What exactly happens when you put a water bottle down there?"

Their inquiries led to experimentation and well, you get the drill.

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