Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Beautiful Life

When I think of a saintly mother, I picture a sweetly smiling, perfectly patient, neatly dressed lady in a well kept house with cooperative children. The family's days surely flow seamlessly from work to play, from meals to bedtime with little complaint and lots of love. For this saintly mother, with her skilled parenting and virtuous demeanor, would cultivate peaceful surroundings, well behaved, smiling children, and a beautiful life. Shouldn't this be my goal too, this beautiful life?

Surely our primary goals involve loving God and bringing this love to our families, and teaching our children to know and serve God and others. If we do these things, won't we achieve this beautiful life we imagine? How can it be then, that in our pursuit of the beautiful life, we compromise our true goals, to know, love and serve God?

We begin to serve the image; we begin to strive for the beautiful life; we begin to insist our families and our homes appear beautiful and well ordered, at least on the outside. We define our selves by our parenting style, by our educational philosophy, by the way we eat or dress, by the choices we make for our children. We decide that we do things a certain way, that we know best, that this is God's will for us, and for everyone. The image is being served.

Can it be that God permits messes and disorder? Can it be that sometimes God calls us to compromise our worthy ideals? Could it be that God may call us to sacrifice some of our well intentioned good deeds, some of our vision of beauty, some of our well crafted ideology?

The answer is yes, and it is painful and confusing. However, it is best to keep in mind that this pain and confusion stems from our disordered service of the vision, our vision of the beautiful life we believe we were called to, the vision that we have put before doing God's will.

For doing God's will may actually lead us to places, to ideas and understandings we never could imagine. God's infiniteness clashes with our finiteness. We arrange our little worlds a certain way to make sense for us, but God calls us to grow.

For it is in the messes and disorder that we demonstrate our patience and virtue, it is with pain and sickness that we reveal love and forgiveness, it is when we encounter frustrations, disappointments, conflict and embarrassments that our true character is revealed. It is during the trials of life, when we fall on our knees, that we gain wisdom and grow. This is where we meet grace. Let us turn our attentions then, away from the beautiful vision, and fix our eyes on God, wherever that may lead.

Peace, Hope

Friday, September 7, 2007

Why Me?

One thing I hear regularly from others when commenting on the number of children I have is, "Oh, you must be so patient." My usual response is, "I'm working on it!" If they only knew how much I have to work on it. I am not a natually patient person. Sometimes I wonder why God would give eight children to an impatient, perfectionist, introvert like me, surely my children do not benefit from this bent I have. Wouldn't a gregarious, messy, fun, creative type provide better mothering to this brood? Daily I have to work to overcome my personality type, while pasting a smile to my face and confronting another mess, something broken, a child screaming and pounding down the steps, or a pile of kids jumping on me each time I sit down for some peace. I know loud, chaotic situations are a challenge to the average adult, but one would think dealing with childish noises and mishaps should come naturally to me.

In the much prayer I have done over this something comes to mind. God loves my children, yes, but he also loves me. This mothering thing, it is not supposed to be easy. My vocation is designed to lead me to Christ. God uses all these challenges to lead me to holiness and virtue, and instead of fighting it or thwarting his plan, I must cooperate. Perhaps an impatient, perfectionist, introvert is just the person to have a large family, perhaps it is the only way for me to be molded and changed into a saint. God loves me, yes he does.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Be All You Can Be

Here is what my husband's day looks like. He get up at 5:30 and leaves the house to catch the 7:00 am train. He commutes to work a total of four hours a day, four days a week. During his train commute he works on his lap top computer. He has a high pressure job, and all day long I know he works very hard. One day a week he is able to forgo his commute and work in his home office, but even these days he barely has time for lunch. He likes his work and enjoys his vocation, but he definitely has a challenging life. I know many others live challenging, productive lives as well. Many men and women have demanding careers that require much skill and responsibility.

I think about this sometimes when I read various parenting magazines in waiting rooms of doctors' offices or while getting the kids' haircuts. It always amazes me how the articles describe the work of a mother as almost unbearably demanding or suggest it is the most difficult of jobs. The articles sometimes suggest that putting dinner on the table, getting the laundry done, or even getting showered and dressed in anything beyond sweats is almost beyond reach of accomplishing with any regularity.

Now I certainly have had some bad days and even weeks when life seemed overwhelming, times when getting the basics done was a real struggle. Of course, we all have, it is part of learning and growing, and just managing the challenges of life. However, when I read the magazines it is no wonder that the employed women and men of the world, who are not home raising a family or keeping a home wonder what we do all day.

The popular notion is that our husbands come home to a messy house, no dinner, and their wives wearing sweats, which begs the question, just what do we do all day anyway? I am sorry to say that even some of my favorite parenting resources, especially regarding attachment parenting and breastfeeding, fall into this mindset as well.

Although we will never escape having "one of those days" now and then, there really is no excuse for not living out our vocations admirably. Being up and dressed and ready for work is not a unique idea, and there is no reason at home mothers are exempt from this task. Having some degree of organization to our home and to our day should be a minimum expectation we have for ourselves. Keeping up with the laundry and preparing dinner for our families should naturally fall to the parent at home, and distractions like attending play groups, cruising the internet, or attending field trips may be keeping us from these important tasks, that when left undone, leave us feeling discouraged and unprepared.

Our vocations, as Catholic mothers, are noble and worth giving our best too. We need to see it as real work and rise to meet the challenges of each day. We need to prioritize and do the first things first, and learn how to better manage our obligations as any professional in the workplace does. God calls us to give our best to every task, every day, no matter where we do our work.

Peace, Hope

Sunday, August 26, 2007

All You Need is Love

I used to think I knew it all. When my children were little and my world was a little smaller, I definitely had some strong opinions about how "it" must be done. Parenting, that is; I was confident I knew the right methods. For instance, it was easy to get my two year old to play a "clean up" game with me while we sang and picked up his little basket of toys. This would lead me to think how simple it is to get kids to help around the house. When my little one year old would say "ta-oo" (thank you) when I handed him a cookie, I would proudly observe what a polite child I had raised, as if the job was done.

I have since had some time to reflect on the issue of parenting styles and methods. I have also observed my children exhibit less that helpful and polite behavior at times, and have seen friends with radically different parenting methods who have delightful children. Although, I do think there are some preferred ways of raising children, I no longer believe that there is only one way to do most things. I am definitely more open-minded and relaxed and less judgemental. I have observed that children are way more resilient than I believed them to be. I also have learned that there are some things that are critical to good parenting, and these things don't always translate easily into a formula, method or philosophy.

Beyond all the methods, the one thing that is paramount to parenting is love. Love of God, love of your husband and family, and love of each individual child. Love that seeks out the will of God and leads us to a life of prayer. Love that makes our husband's needs a priority and brings grace to his life. Love that compels us to serve our families with passion. Love that allows each child to feel the embrace of God. This love will give us the wisdom to make the appropriate parenting choices, and will help smooth over the rough spots. Love conquers all.

Peace, Hope

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Three Tips for Homeschooling

We are well into our second week of school for the new year, and my kids will tell you that it is really hard to crack open the books when the neighborhood kids are skating and biking down the sidewalks. However, we are taking a beach vacation in September, so it will be good to have an entire month of work done before we leave. It will be a well deserved break.

I was recently asked by a friend for some time to sit and talk about homeschooling. She wanted some advice. I came up with three things that have really worked for me in organizing our homeschooling effort that I thought I would share with you.

1. Incorporate some structure in your day. The amount of structure and the timing for things will look different in each family, but having a plan for when meals are, a time for naps, a period for school, work and play, and a time for getting up and getting to bed, are very helpful. A routine allows the children to understand that there is a time for everything. If the important things of the day follow a logical and anticipated routine, it cuts out a lot of nagging and arguing. The kids and I know what to do when and they know if they are responsible with their work they can enjoy their free time later.

2. Have your lessons written down in advance. I found that when the kids had to come to me for what to do next through the day, and I had to figure it out, it was just not working. Having the lessons written out ahead of time allows the children to see exactly what they need to accomplish before the school day is considered done. With their lesson planners, they have been able to learn how to budget their time, and plan ahead for big projects. I give them some flexibility, and the responsibility, for taking charge of their work. They have learned to be independent and self-motivated students.

3. Focus on the basics. The classic reading and writing, 'rithmatic and religion should form the foundation of your curriculum. If you do not have these subjects well established, then there is no use going off on elaborate unit studies in history and science, or anything else, that is unless the lessons incorporate a lot of reading and writing.

So, hopefully, some of these suggestions can inspire you to another successful year of homeschooling. If you are not homeschooling, may you and your children enjoy a good year. I still can't believe another summer has passed us by (almost!).

Peace, Hope

Here I Am!

I have been a bit absent from the blog lately as I have been carried away with real life. We had some travel and various time consuming events, we have started homeschooling up again, and I have survived my first trimester. So, as I attempt to get back into a regular routine again I can hopefully be posting more regularly. Talk to you soon!

Peace, Hope

Thursday, July 19, 2007

How to Clean the Kitchen

I have mentioned before all the lists I have for the children that are hung strategically through the house. I decorate them with a little clip art and laminate them, so they do look decent. The lists serve as reminders to the children for what or how they are to do things. Below is the list hung in my kitchen.

How to Clean the Kitchen

Before Meals:

Help prepare meals as necessary
Empty dishwasher if needed
Set table with plates, napkins, utensils, and glasses
Fill glasses with water
Set out vitamins at breakfast

After Meals:

Clear table
Rinse dishes
Load dishwasher
Put food away, wipe off jars
Wash and dry items that need hand washing
Clean off highchair
Wipe table, chairs, counters and stove
Wipe out microwave
Rinse out sponges and dishcloths
Hang dishcloths and towels
Rinse out sink and run disposal
Start dishwasher if needed
Sweep floor

Additional jobs in evening: trash needs taken out and dishcloths taken to laundry.

Peace, Hope

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Contraception Works!

One thing that contraception has done very well is to separate the connection of the marriage act from procreation, not a big surprise, as that is what it is intended to do. However, I do not just mean that sex and babies are separated in the physical sense, as in if you use "protection" you can avoid pregnancy. I am suggesting this separation has affected our society's very understanding of the purpose of marriage, sex and babies.

A recent poll of married couples suggests that children are perceived as irrelevant to finding happiness in marriage. It is now completely common, accepted, and expected for people who are not married to have babies and for people who are married to choose to avoid having babies. Further, our separation of marriage, sex and babies has resulted in "valid" marriages of same sexed persons, and conceptions without sex (in vitro fertilization, donor eggs, surrogate mothers, and cloning). Perhaps you agree with these cultural shifts, perhaps you do not, but one thing follows another, and the point is that contraception works. We have effectively separated what was meant to be intrinsically joined.

"What God has joined, let no man separate," we hear in the traditional wedding as man and woman are joined as husband and wife. God joins a man and a woman in marriage, with the resultant sex and babies. This is God's design, but in our limited human thinking, we have separated all of the above so that today our cultural understandings of marriage, family, husband, wife, mother and father are confused.

This is not about married couples who do not have children or have smaller families, due to their God given vocations, or because of infertility. This is about the confused, shocked, and dismayed reactions that confront couples in loving marriages when they announce that *surprise* they are having a baby!

For some reason, even faithful Catholics seem to think that married couples who are having babies are simply making a lifestyle choice. The idea is that couples who have been blessed with many children are doing it because...they always wanted a big family...they love kids...they are really organized and hard working...they are trying to "prove" something...they are trying to keep up with the big family down the block...et cetera. There is always some planned reason that must be attached to the excessive procreation in some families, reasons that ignore the simple connection between marriage, sex and babies.

Those who choose to simply follow God's plan for marriage, as the Church so beautifully describes, may find that the babies just come. It really is as simple as that, no further explanation needed.

Peace, Hope

Monday, July 16, 2007

Two Pink Lines

So, there it was, right there on the bathroom counter, a pregnancy test with two pink lines. It was a bit faint, but definitely, there was a second line. Hmm, this with all the other evident symptoms, and I feel pretty confident making my own diagnoses. Wow, pregnant with baby #9. It never ceases to amaze and surprise me. How am I going to do this?! How can I be pregnant NOW? There are so many things I have to do, that I was sure now was not the right time. Things like getting my house decluttered and back in order before starting another school year. Things like a family reunion, a black tie function and my twenty year high school reunion --ARGH, I have to go to all these places pregnant. Oh, the comments! Oh, my body looking so pregnant! Oh, and I'm so tired and nauseous and emotional! How am I going to do this?

Pep talk to self: This may not be my timing, but what do I know anyway? This is God's timing and I can already see some good aspects to it. It is summer break, so I am not having to get up every morning for the busy busy school days. That helps when you can barely get off the couch. I have already had a longer break between babies than I have had in a long time. Right now, my baby is over 18 months, usually I am in my last trimester or already have another in arms by now. The kids are so excited. My 14 year old son leaned over me to give a big hug with a huge grin on his face. Then he picked up the house and got his little sisters dressed. It is good. It's all good. I am just praying that I and my little one stay healthy, and that I start feeling better soon. I pray for confidence, confidence to face all the worldly judgements and questions from strangers and even well meaning friends and family. I am excited now too, and already attached to this little tiny one forming within.

God Bless, Hope

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Ora et Labora

Ora et Labora, Latin for pray and work, is the motto of the Benedictine order, founded by Saint Benedict, whose feast day we recall today. Pray and work, there are two ways to consider this powerful phrase. One view is to make your prayer manifest in your work, the other is to consecrate your work with prayer.

Prayer becomes manifest in work when, through prayer, the Spirit leads you to specific tasks. Perhaps you will feel God's call to perform certain works of charity, helping a needy neighbor or bringing a meal to a family. Maybe your prayer will lead you to new ways to serve your husband or help one of your children. Prayer can enlighten you to many productive activities that enable you to serve your family and community in new or better ways. We must always be attentive to God's tug on our conscience to perform works of love and mercy.

We consecrate our work with prayer when we offer up even the most insignificant, repetitive or aggravating work to our Lord. God calls mothers to many such tasks, the jobs few may see or appreciate. But, if our work is done in a spirit of service, humility, and love, and offered to our Lord as a physical act of prayer, our work is transformed to the supernatural, and we are transformed as well.

Peace, Hope

Mega-Mom Interviews

Jen over at Et tu? did a series of interviews with some "mega-moms," a.k.a., mothers of large families. I thought it was interesting and appreciated the perspective of some of the other ladies who responded. Check it out here.

Peace, Hope

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A Modern Day Noah

Our family went on an outing to a movie theatre last weekend. It's something that's not usually worth doing, but given the heat outside and the exhaustion of my sons who had just returned from camping, it seemed like a fun option. My husband checked out the movie reviews on the Conference of Catholic Bishop's site and we settled on Evan Almighty.

I wasn't sure what to expect as, without television, I remain pretty ignorant of new movie releases. Evan Almighty, though, got me really thinking about how God works in the lives of his people. Strangely (must be hormones) I even got a little misty eyed thinking about it. The movie is about a somewhat self-obsessed and materialistic, but nice enough guy, "Evan," and his wife and three sons. The family moves to Virginia to be near Washington, DC, as Evan is a newly elected Senator. Then quite by surprise, God starts intervening in Evan's life and he undergoes a metamorphosis into a very different person -- a person very much resembling the Biblical, Noah.

Just like Noah, God calls Evan to build an ark. God causes Evan's beard and hair to grow long and white, and clothes him in Noah-like robes. Evan is to build an ark in his modern day, upscale suburban neighborhood. For a person obsessed with his image, this was an unwelcome and uncharacteristic change for Evan.

The movie had some important lessons. One lesson was that God is in control of all things. Another lesson was that he uses failed humans to do his work on earth. A third lesson was that God loves us and everything we are called to is ultimately for goodness. Forth, it is evident in the movie that doing God's will is not easy, but can challenge all of our preconceived notions about what we think is best. Last, the movie shows that to follow God we must swim against the tide, and though our culture may mock us or merely misunderstand us, God's will surpasses all the transient and insignificant things the world has to offer.

I don't really think God is going to call any of us to physically build an ark in our neighborhoods, or transform our appearance into an Old Testament hero, but he does have plan for each of us. God may not appear before us, but we can still hear his voice. God's plan for us is one born of love, the eternal love our Creator has for his creatures. What God calls us to is obedience, this obedience may not always be easy, but the blessings we receive in this life and the next, surpasses the weight of any earthly burden. Pray for discernment, humility and courage, as you carry out the work of God.

Peace, Hope

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Raising Good Citizens

In honor of Independence Day I thought I would share some ideas for creating a spirit of good citizenship in our children. Our faith calls us to active participation in our communities; the Bishops explain civic involvement and participation in the political process as a moral obligation. If parents take on the responsibility of active citizenship, then we can transmit this way of living to our children.

VOTING Voting is a responsibility of all of us living in our free country. The opportunity to vote for our representatives in government is a foundation of our democracy. I do not just mean voting in the presidential elections every four years, I'm talking about voting every time the polls are open. We should be voting in every primary election, each community referendum, state-wide elections, county elections, in city and school board elections. We are to make educated votes too. This requires us to research and learn and talk to others and pray. This is active, responsible citizenship, and it is not always simple or easy. However, it is a duty, even a Catholic duty. Your kids will get involved and interested as you do. They will learn much from hearing the give and take and debate regarding candidates and issues, and they will see your commitment as you take them to the polls.

EDUCATION It is every citizens' responsibility to be educated regarding local and national and international issues. No, we don't have to know every detail, but we must have a working knowledge of what is going on in our local communities and the world. Most of us have some awareness of what goes on at a national level, but do you know on a day to day basis what decisions your local school board is making? Are you aware of your city and county governments' activities? How about at the state level, do you keep yourself informed? It is important also, to not just find information sources that are within your comfort zone, or that just bolster your already formed opinions. How often to you look at news through the lens of "the other side." You will learn a lot if you make this a habit. One key to being truly informed is to eschew television news sources as a primary means of information, including network news, and shows like MS NBC and FOX news --- really, it is mostly sensationalist trash with a few newsworthy items thrown in to make you feel good. Be truly informed --- READ. A good place for kids to learn about current events is through God's World Publications. They put out a weekly news magazine for kids of all ages, from pre-school through high-school. Sometimes, their news weekly for adults is a bit partisan and protestant for me, but it's nice to read something outside the mainstream.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT Get yourself and your kids involved in the local community. Specifically, teach your children Catholic social doctrine, post the corporal works of mercy on the fridge, learn where the local soup kitchen, food pantry, and clothing ministries are located, and volunteer. Our children have been involved in varying capacities in these local programs. We spent one year doing monthly food collection in our neighborhood. The kids would leave a note that we were collecting food for the food pantry, and ask for a donation to be left on their doorstep a few days later. We collected hundreds of pounds of food this way. The kids did most of the work and they really enjoyed it. Now they are working for another ministry that aids the home bound.

The idea is to resist cynicism, work against apathy, and realize that we are all responsible to make our communities, our nation, and our world a better place, and there are tangible ways for us and our children to be involved.

Peace, Hope

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Summer Sunshine and Sunscreens

I have always been a bit suspect of the practice of rubbing chemicals all over my children's bodies each time they exit the house to spend time in the summer sunshine. Although I don't hesitate to use sunscreen when we are in the sun full on for long periods of time, like at the beach; I generally opt for less hazardous means to protect the children. Thankfully, even though I have a bunch of blondies, most of my children have complexions that are fairly sun tolerant, and we have a shady backyard. Another tactic is to avoid sun exposure during the heat of the day. If we go to the pool or beach at all, we try to go in the morning or evening, and we encourage the kids to wear t-shirts when out of the water. Hats are a must too, especially on the baldy babies.

When you must slather the chemicals on, check out this website for recommendations for safe and effective products. It is a very helpful source for making comparisons, when the labels are less than clear.
Peace, Hope

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Little More Than A Servant and Baby Maker?

I was listening to NPR this morning on my way to Mass and briefly heard an interview with author, Lisa See, who has written a series of historical novels set in China, with the primary characters as women. According to one part of the interview that I heard, Ms. See refers to one of the characters in her novel as little more than a servant and baby maker. I have heard this phrase many times before, and unfortunately, it is often used by pseudo-feminists to describe the traditional role of women who tend the hearth and home. Perhaps, Ms. See just misspoke and was not describing her own view of the traditional role of women, I don't know.

It is true that women have been oppressed and demeaned in every time and place, that is nothing new. The sad thing today is hearing those who would consider themselves enlightened disregarding the indispensable role women have in their families. In many places and times, a woman's role in her family is her only source of power and esteem, and some would take even this from her.

I am certain some would consider me likewise, as little more than a servant and baby maker. It is true, I do little more than serve my family and care for my children. But, to consider me "little more than" this is judgemental and demeaning. In fact, it demeans the contributions of many strong, intelligent and virtuous women who have persevered in many cultures, places, and times through history doing the significant and timeless work of raising the next generation.

Can you imagine the phrase being applied to a person in another vocation? He was little more than a janitor. She was little more than a police officer. He was little more than a teacher. She was little more than an author.

Peace, Hope

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Big Family Television

We do not have TV reception, but we do watch DVDs and videos on occasion. We rent from Netflix and can get some fun stuff that's not available at the local video store. My kids have really taken to old TV shows like The Brady Bunch and The Waltons. They love watching all the kids interact with the same sort of issues they experience with all their siblings. I especially like watching The Waltons. Perhaps I am romanticizing the era a bit -- it could not have been that easy to feed all those kids cooking over a wood-fired stove, and it IS a TV show, so not entirely realistic. However, what a quaint time to live. Everything just seems so slowed down and simple with few cars, no soccer practice, and bare feet. Though, I still look at all those kids around the dinner table and think, "now that's a lot of kids!"

Peace, Hope

Friday, June 29, 2007

Happy 5oth Anniversay to The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding

When I discovered I was expecting our first baby, after just one year of marriage and with two years of law school left for my husband, I was nervous and so excited. I decided I was going to give as much dedication to my new role as a mother as my husband did to his future role as a lawyer. So, much scholarship was in order. One of the first books I read ,cover to cover, as a brand new expectant mother was La Leche League's publication of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. In honor of this book's 50th anniversary, I recall the impact it had on me.

My first year of marriage was spent learning Natural Family Planning through the Couple to Couple League. That and my year working in a natural/health food store convinced me of the importance of breastfeeding. The Womanly Art, though, gave me specific and convincing facts as to why breastfeeding is so crucial to mother and baby, and gave the information I needed to succeed. This book helped to develop my framework for all the other pregnancy and parenting books I read thereafter, because I determined that if following some bit of advice would jeopardize my breastfeeding relationship, the advice probably wasn't so great. The book encouraged me to see pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding as part of a continuum of baby care, and that my choices regarding my pregnancy and birth could impact the health of me and my baby, and my ability to breastfeed. The Womanly Art even gives guidance for healthy eating for the whole family, for it's natural to desire to feed ourselves and our babies well while we're breastfeeding and as baby weans from the breast.

So, Happy Anniversary to The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding! May many more mothers, babies, and families grow and learn from your sage words.

Peace, Hope

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Best Prayer

A few years ago my family and I went to Mass and toured around the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. We like to take religious field trips on occasion, and we always have a very uplifting experience. On our visit we ran into a nun, who stopped us to say hello to the children. She was so sweet and loving and just exuded faith and charity. She asked the children if they knew what the very best prayer was, and they guessed the Our Father, the Glory Be, the Rosary, and to each she said, "that's a good one, but there's one even better." After much guessing, she finally shared that the very best prayer is to simply say, "I love you, Jesus." My kids love to say the "best prayer" and I love to hear them say it. "I love you, Jesus" always works.

Peace, Hope

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My Lists

I have mentioned before that I have created lists hung through the house that detail for the children exactly what and how they are to do certain things. One I have posted before is the good morning list and another is the good night list. See below the good-bye list and the welcome home list which outline how to manage a family's comings and goings.

Peace, Hope

Welcome Home List

Pray for peace in your heart
Take shoes off and put them away
Hang up jacket
Place any papers or letters in kitchen in-box
Put away other items: backpack, books, etc.
Wash hands

Good-Bye List

Collect my things for outing

Any books or papers, clothing or equipment needed? Anything to return to
somewhere or someone? Backpack, cell phone?

Have a snack and drink

Go the the bathroom

Wash hands and face

Brush hair
Socks and shoes on

Jacket, if needed

Tell others where I am going, when I will be home, and get directions

Pray for blessing in all I do and spread the love of God

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Philadelphia Gone Mad

Our family has been on a trip to Philadelphia the last few days, visiting the usual Ben Franklin, Continental Congress, and Betsy Ross history. We also got to see King Tut - cool. It has been a fun, but sometimes trying experience. I have been reflecting on how to share some of my thoughts on this trip with readers. Traipsing about with the eight kids through a city, although not a foreign activity to us, still can be a bit of an organizational challenge. A test of patience too.

My kids have had their curiously piqued. My 6th grade daughter, studying Egyptian history next year, can't wait to get into it. My 3rd grade son, studying American history, has excitement about seeing things he will be reading about. My 9th grade son, who has Thomas Paine's Common Sense on his reading list, as well as many other books relating to our nation's founding, wants to start his reading early. All good, and make the trip worth its cost.

However, the kicker was my newly minted three year old showing off her well developed lungs for half an hour, in a room with, like, 100 foot ceilings (think echoes). It was so bad a security guard checked on us and we drew a crowd -- B.A.D, bad. At the end of it -- my twelve year old son gave her gum (that's what worked?), and she stopped screaming, but then I was crying. My husband was really stressed, and got impatient with my fourteen year old, who then started moping about as only a fourteen year old can. Fourteen year old then kicked the six year little brother who was being annoying as only a six year old little brother can be. Little brother got mad and it went on. Dominoes.

I know others look at us and think how perfectly behaved, how beautiful, and if only they had the patience or the (fill in the blank) they would do it too. I know this because people say it all the time. Obviously, we didn't get those comments Saturday at the museum, though. But people suggest that it takes some special sort to care for a big family, or that the family is a special sort that it makes it easy to care for. I would say it doesn't take anything special. God is the one who makes it special, we're just following his call. So, if you feel God's tug on your heart for just one more, think about it. It's not always easy, and it doesn't take a superhuman, but God will use it, all the good days and the bad, to get you to heaven.

Peace, Hope

Children in Church, not always (or usually not always) problem free

Anonymous commented the following to my post titled Children in Church:

Please understand that not all young children are as amenable to sitting
quietly in a pew as yours have been.

To read the entirety of her comments see them here. I think the Anonymous commenter had some good points, and I totally can relate to much of what she said from my own experiences with my children in church. I want to emphasize that my little children do not sit as angels during Mass. It is a struggle each and every time we go. Some of them have had better behavior track records than others have had, and we have had periods where it was easier or more difficult due to the ages of the children at different times. Often too, I am distracted by parenting and miss the readings or homily (it helps to pray over the readings ahead of time). And, I agree, although it cannot be helped to be somewhat of a distraction, it is important to be mindful of others, and take the children out as soon as they are too disruptive.

However, it is worth it. Attending Mass as a family is so worth it. We have always had some medley of baby/toddler/preschooler, and usually all three, presenting some variety of trouble during Mass, so if we decided we wouldn't attend with the troublesome one(s) in tow, we wouldn't be attending as a family, ever. Making the commitment to taking your children to Mass and attending as a family will bring grace and blessings to you and your children. You may not feel it each Sunday, but over time you will see the fruits of this commitment. Further, you would be surprised, my husband and I have walked out of Mass with beads of sweat on our foreheads due to !&%#& behavior, but still people manage to comment on the good (!?) behavior of our children. I think we parents notice much more than the people around us.

And another little help -- practice at home, then practice at church, then move on to practicing at daily Mass (it's shorter). Set up little chairs at home or line them up on a couch and have the kids learn to sit with their hands folded. See how long they can do it, keep adding a few minutes each day, then reward! Take that skill they learned at home to church and have them practice sitting in a pew in an empty church the same way and see how long they can do it. Then try to go to daily Mass sometimes. This training will help, and children can learn, they really can. In addition, this sitting quietly practice will help in all kinds of settings -- the bank, the library, all kinds of places. Sure, it is definitely not always problem free - I'm no fool, but concentrated training does help. God Bless!

Peace, Hope

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Mantra of a Home Worker

I took this quiz some time ago and discovered that I have a full blow addiction problem as defined by Workaholics Anonymous. Actually, it would be difficult to be a competent mother at all, let alone a mother of many, and not answer "yes" to many of the questions on the quiz. The truth is that mothering a houseful is a lot of work -- it is a lot of housework, organizing, meals and laundry, discipline, diapers and teaching. Even when you do get to sit down, there is someone there who must talk or must sit right on your lap. Nights don't necessarily bring much relief either, as the little nighttime visitors start trickling in sometime after midnight.

The question is then, how do we balance all this work and all the needs of the little people around us without getting discrouraged and burned out? One thing I have done is to create priorities. For me, there are a few key tasks that definitly need attention each day. These tasks form the backbone for my daily to do list. Attending to these priority tasks helps me to feel some success at the end of the day, even when it feels like I am not accomplishing much else. Mentally recalling my priorities has become a mantra, for as I think over and over, "what's next?" through the day, I just mentally consider what I have to do with my laundry, dinner, school, and desk work; laundry, dinner, school, desk; laundry, dinner, school, desk -- all day long.

1. LAUNDRY - I have learned by now that the laundry is hardly ever totally done. That would de a major accomplishment. However, I feel free knowing that even if the laundry is never done, I can keep up with it by doing some each day. With this in mind, I don't have the burden of doing the impossible task of finishing it all each day, but am empowered to keep up with some of it.

2. DINNER - Breakfast and lunch just seem to happen easily, and the kids are able to do most of the clean up of these meals. Dinner, though, has been a burden for me. By making it an item on my list of daily priorities, it gets the attention it deserves and I remember to think about it early in the day when I am making my plans. If I know what I am making for dinner before noon, and even pull a few things out, I feel so much better about this daily task. When I have a nice dinner on the table at the end of the day, I feel so much more successful about what I accomplished in the hours before. My kids and husband appreciate it to.

3. SCHOOL - I should have put school first, but having this task on my everyday to-do list is a reminder to me that a priority is to keep the kids on task, to give structure to their day, to be available to look over work and answer questions, and to give my pre-schoolers some one-on-one teaching time. When I commit myself to giving each of my children some focused attention with school work, I feel much more encouraged about my accomplishments.

4. DESK WORK - The requirements of this task vary more than the others from day to day, but it is an important area to give attention to in order to keep everyone and every task organized. Each morning I check over my e-mails, check my calendar, determine what errands I need to do and when, add to my shopping lists, check who I need to make calls to, look over our bank accounts, and make plans for when to pay the bills. Taking some uninterrupted time each morning for some planning enables me to write a list of secondary priorities. Being organized in this way enables me know exactly what I can get accomplished when I have a moment here and there through the day. This is a big stress reliever, as I don't have to worry about what I am not getting done or what I am forgetting because I have already done the thinking ahead of time.

This little system is so helpful and flexible. There are those days where I may make a nicer dinner and give less attention to the laundry, or I may have a laundry marathon and plan for a simple dinner. This works because my priorities are determined ahead of time and as the craziness of the day takes over I can hang on to my established daily routines and my thoughtfully written to-do list to keep me sane and successful.
Laundry, Dinner, School, Desk

Peace, Hope

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

God Put You in Charge

I have been asked repeatedly about various advice I could give on actually having all these babies -- questions about pregnancy, birth, and the early days with a newborn. My baby is 18 months old now, so I don't currently have the "baby on the brain" syndrome I do when I'm pregnant. Maybe I just try to forget it all! No, really, I have been blessed to have fairly easy, healthy pregnancies and births. Although, after 72 months of pregnancy so far, I have done my share of complaining about it. With all this in mind, I will start writing on some of these baby having topics under the label of Nine Months.

My first piece of advice would be to have a pregnancy and birthing philosophy and then to find a caregiver, a doctor or midwife, who understands and supports your philosophy. So, the first part of this is to develop your philosophy on childbearing. There are lots and lots of books to help guide your thinking. Some of the materials I like are available through La Leche League International, the Couple to Couple League, and the Bradley Method of Childbirth. I think Dr. Sears' books are very helpful too; he has books on pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding or parenting.

My own philosophy starts with the fact that I believe that, with God's help, I am the person primarily responsible for my own health and for having a healthy pregnancy, birth and baby. I am not at odds with the medical community, but I don't think they always have the same considerations as I do when making health care decisions for me and my family. Further, it is my family who will have to live with the consequences of any of our decisions, not the doctor or midwife giving advice. I see the doctor or midwife as a professional I hire, whose informed opinion I appreciate and seriously consider, but whose advice is not a command which I have to follow. If I disagree with an opinion, I very respectively share the information I have and communicate with them how I think it relates to me, and then offer an alternative. All this requires a commitment to taking responsibility for educating myself and the courage to advocate for myself and my unborn baby. As I have tried to find like minded caregivers, usually midwives, I have found they usually agree with my decisions and share that their offerings are "just how it's done, but not necessarily beneficial."

I have friends who are really into epidurals and all that entails. I think that is fine for them, if that is what they want. I hear them, however, often complaining about all the consequences of choosing a highly technological birth with lots of unnecessary intervention. For me, I think it is important to use the technology we have judiciously, only as needed. Choosing a natural pregnancy and birth, with little intervention, is a way to safeguard my fertility and to ensure future healthy outcomes.

So, take charge of your own health care, find a supportive caregiver, learn everything you can, and don't be afraid to advocate for yourself, because nobody loves that little baby more than you do.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Children in Church

We always go to Mass. We find somewhere to go when we travel, and it is never in question whether to attend when we're home. A person in our family has to be pretty sick to be exempted. Cultivating this attitude has brought many blessings to us. One, we have great friends at Church. Two, we never argue with the children about going. Three, our family worships together, and God has bestowed many graces for our obedience, and the children have learned where our faith falls in our priorities, it is number #1. Also, note, we always take our children to Mass, from the Sunday when our first-born was three days old, to now attending with eight kids, aged 14 down to 18 months. I write this to encourage others to do the same, so what follows are some suggestions to make your Sundays work more smoothly.

1. Start the evening before. Make sure everyone gets a good dinner, a warm bath, hair-washed, nails clipped, a cozy story and an early bedtime. Also, make sure that Sunday clothes and shoes are clean and ready to go.

2. Get up with plenty of time to get ready. The first thing I do is lay things out for a simple breakfast. Also, I pack what we need to go: sippy cups, small religious books, baby sling, offering, and anything I need for someone I may see. Then I get my shower before everyone else arises.

3. After the kids are up, they know the routine, quick breakfast and straight upstairs to brush teeth, wash faces, comb hair and get dressed. They have designated Church clothes, so they know exactly what to where. They must get dressed to the shoes before they can do anything else. During this time, we usually have dad or a big kid minding the kitchen, making sure the little children get fed and the dishes get done. I am directing everyone to their task of getting ready, while dressing the babies. Lastly, I have a few minutes to quickly get dressed.

4. Before we leave I make sure each child gets a sip of water and visits the bathroom. If I lived farther away, I would do this after arriving and before taking our seats. Unless there is an emergency, we do not allow the children to take trips to the bathroom during Mass.

5. Another rule: find your place and stay seated, no musical chairs. It helps not to let "problem siblings" to sit near to each other. Also, keep little ones on your lap. They learn to be content in firm and loving arms, especially when given some hugs, tender kisses and whispers.

6. We don't take our kitchen and playroom with us. The only exception may be a sippy or a little picture Bible for our littles. It is a distraction to have toys, books, papers, crayons, food, etc.. for kids to drop, shuffle about, fight over and eventually become bored with anyway. It is a good discipline for kids to learn to sit still for this limited amount of time. They definitely can do it.

7. Sit near the front. Although it is tempting to hide in the back for a quick exit, it usually invites trouble for us. One, that's where all the kids with the toys and food are, so my kids are naturally curious and distracted by that scene. Also, the children cannot see what's going on. When we sit near the front they learn so much of the liturgy of the Mass and actually listen to the homily and scripture readings.

8. If we must step out with a little one, baby or toddler, they are not rewarded with a nursery or "cry room" experience. They don't get toys or get to toddle about with friends. They are held in my arms in the back of the Church. I may pace about, rock back and forth, or sit and nurse a fussy baby, but they don't get to play.

9. Lastly, praise and reward. Tell your kids how great they were! Maybe they were super polite to an elderly person, or kind to a younger sibling, or very attentive and reverent. Whatever it was find something to let them know you noticed them trying to be good. Then pull out the Sunday treats! We are pretty health food conscious during the week, which makes the donuts and coffee cake we enjoy on Sunday extra special. We also reserve Sunday as a day of rest and family recreation, so the kids always look forward to spending the day together, especially with their daddy.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Pray Through Your Days

Sometimes I feel inadequate when I picture the perfect Catholic family in prayer. Perhaps the same image comes to your mind.....the image of children and parents quietly, piously, kneeling with rosaries in hand, sincerely meditating on the mysteries, and getting through at least a few decades with little disruption. Of course, this family is able to do the family rosary at a regular time each day, like clockwork. Now, please know that I have nothing, nothing against families who are able to do this, and I certainly love the rosary as a prayer, but around here the rosary is better meditated upon in the car on long trips. Somehow settling everyone down in the hustle bustle of life confounds me.

Still, we pray. We pray a lot. Learning to pray with your children through the day, through each transition of the day, is learning to make prayer for you and your children an integral part of life. We pray when we get up, when we eat, sometimes when we're finished eating too, when we start school, finish school, leave on an outing and return, when we go out to play or the kids are running out the door somewhere, when we pass a church, when we hear a siren, when we're going to bed. We pray. Sometimes the prayers feel rushed, sometimes it's a quick Glory Be, sometimes the prayers are longer and of our own words. The point is to pray, and to make the act of praying a natural and frequent part of the day.

Don't stumble upon the vision of the perfect family rosary, just start offering up your moments to God, and share them with your children.

Peace, Hope

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Renew Your Mind

In the book of Romans we read that we should not be "conformed to this world." [Romans 12:2] We also know from Scripture that we are to consecrate ourselves in truth. [John 17:17] Understanding how this translates to how we live our lives can be transforming. Many would believe that these Scriptures merely call us to avoid sin, but I think that, as the passage in Romans says, we are to totally "renew our minds." It is extremely difficult to live among our friends, neighbors, even our extended family and other Catholics, and not be influenced by worldly ideas and practices. It can be even more difficult to constantly find ourselves swimming against the tide as we live out our lives striving towards holiness.

I think we receive the graces to lead holy lives by filling our minds with those things that are Godly and true. If we are immersing ourselves in prayer, spiritual reading, and partaking in the sacraments, our spirits and minds will be disposed to holy thoughts, wisdom and understanding. If, however, we are filling our minds with junk women's magazines, romance novels, and television, our minds will not be as easily influenced by Godly things. We will be constantly fighting the worldly zeitgeist that sways our thinking.

The truth is that a worldly way of thinking, leads to a worldly way of acting. Maybe it does not lead to apparent or outright sin, as we think of sinful acts, but filling our minds with worldliness brings confusion and an incongruity between what we desire, which is hopefully joy, peace, and holiness, and what we have the courage to live. If we allow our minds and spirits to be weak, through lack of prayer or worldly distraction, we tend to take our cues from the people around us, not from the leading of the Spirit.

So then, dear sisters, I extol you....."Do not conform yourself to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect." Romans 12:2

Peace, Hope

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Routinize Your Schedule

I have tried using strict schedules to manage my days, schedules like the ones suggested in Mothers Rule of Life or Managers of Their Homes. I think formulating a well thought out schedule can be very helpful, but around here, with three kids four and under and big kids with lots of activities and outside work, strict scheduling can be frustrating. What I have found workable is to have a routine where some things are scheduled, meals perhaps, or outside the house commitments, or wake times, or bedtimes, but most things are routinized. By routinized I mean if we are out late the night before, perhaps the kids can sleep a little longer, but the tasks for morning and breakfast remain the same. Dinner and bedtimes can be shifted as needed too, but the routines and tasks that belong to each remain. This way our days follow a predictable sequence of events, but if the demands of life necessitate us shifting some things around, it still works without everything falling apart.

So, roughly, our days look like this:

Breakfast and morning tasks

School time

Lunch and noon tasks

Quiet time/reading time/NAPS

Snack and afternoon tasks

Activities/free time

Dinner and evening tasks

Bed time/reading

I assign particular tasks for each child, and it seems to work to have chores at the same time as meals, some before, like picking up the clutter, some after, like dishes or laundry. This seems to work for us as we can get a lot done, but aren't tied to getting them all done at an exact time, as each day is different.

Peace, Hope

Monday, June 11, 2007

New Perspective on Cooking

I have mentioned before that when I get down about a household task, I think of women with the same tasks, but much less accommodating circumstances. Laundry is one chore that tends to get me down, another is cooking. It seems like there is always someone around here who’s hungry. So, a big boo-hoo to me, as I walk to a full pantry and a new refrigerator to choose the ingredients for the next family meal. I can even turn on my stove with the turn of a knob. Imagine how I’d complain if I had to fetch the firewood before dawn and start a fire to make breakfast. Wow, we westerners are spoiled!

God, thank you for clean, healthy food and water to feed my growing family, and help us to be grateful for the work and sacrifice that went into every bite we take. Be with those who are truly hungry and thirsty, God bless them.
Peace, Hope

Friday, June 8, 2007

Response to Comment, Looking Good for God or Man

A reader commented the following in response to An Authentic Show.

"You are what you are in the eyes of God, and nothing else."- St. Francis of Assissi

I tend to disagree with your statement, "I want to make a good impression and represent big families and my Catholic faith well." We should avoid scandal, but I think it is an error to attempt to 'look good' in the sight of people who are looking with the eyes of the world. Our judgments are based on the combination of our perceptions and our premises. A worldly premise will always lead to a worldly judgment, no matter what evidence is presented.Avoid giving any evidence of violation of the natural law, which you and the worldlings share alike. But even so, do that for God, not for men, and ignore the rest.Will people always make their little comments? Of course. Remember that your life is a standing rebuke to every person living a materialistic lifestyle.

"Let us therefore lie in wait for the just, because he is not for our turn, and he is contrary to our doings, and upbraideth us with transgressions of the law, and divulgeth against us the sins of our way of life." (Wisdom 2:12)

God love you for wanting to make the Faith look good. But that is not a task for you. The appeal of the Faith is not you or I, but Jesus Christ. Let them see Jesus Christ in you, and you have represented the Faith well. So let me ask you this, are people more inclined to see Jesus Christ in you if your family measures up well to the standards of the world, or if their curses and insults are returned only with kindness?

"Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven." (Matthew 5:11-2)

Point taken! Absolutely, my concern should not be for worldly praise. The eyes of men are not the eyes of God. I think, however, the main point of the essay was to work towards the development of virtue. This work towards virtue, done for the love of God, will empower us to present ourselves properly, as ambassadors of Christ.

I think it is important to remember, though, that by virtue of vocation, some have more of a struggle living in the world, but not of the world. At times, for me, I think it would be easier to wear a nun's habit, so that everyone just had an apparent explanation for my counter cultural lifestyle. A nun's dress would satisfy curiosities about my Catholic oddities. As it is, I have to appear to be normal, even with a long string of kids, behaving in various shades of good or bad, depending on the day, while people comment ("How do you do it?" "You must be a saint!" "It's superwoman!" No, I'm just a normal person with a lot of kids) or suggesting I should be turned into Child Protective Services for snarling at a kid (Doesn't every mom do this now and then, even moms of two? I really do love my kids, all eight of them!).

I don't know if all this is making my point, but I guess I am saying that ultimately, yes, all that matters is that we do the will of God, and if that is what we are doing, then nothing else matters. Overt concern with the thoughts of men are sheer vanity and pride. However, it can be a struggle to be cast in the limelight whenever one is in public, just because you have eight kids. Truly, imagine that everywhere you went, every time you went out, eyes followed you and your children around. I do think this issue is worth addressing, just because it is a very real occurrence for big families.

Peace, Hope

Response to Mother of One

I have had it on my mind to comment on a couple of posts found in my comment section. So, even though it has been a few days, I am going to try to get to them both today. Here's the first:

As the mother of an only child, I would like to offer you one piece of advice (in two parts) to help your big family look good to smaller families:a. When a parent of fewer children is complaining about something her child did or feeling overwhelmed, never say, "You think that's bad? Just imagine dealing with that AND four other kids!"b. When a parent is talking about something she does that you don't do, never say, "Oh, that's great, but it's just not possible to do that with a bigger family."I hear both of these surprisingly often, and they strike hard at my general tendency to view moms of many with awe and respect!

Thank you, and I agree, constant references to family size can be tedious. I do have one friend who has several children, and she does tend to frequently refer to the number. I tend to get tired of people always referring to our number of children and making comparisons, just like you. Except it's in reverse! I have friends with small families who reference some challenge with their child or with housework, and it's they who say, "Well I'm sure you have it much worse," or some such comment. My response is always something like, "well laundry is laundry, and it's never fun." I really believe that we cannot know the stresses or challenges of another, and even though a family only has 1 or 2 children, they may be dealing with issues that does make their day to day life more difficult.

However, I would add, that perhaps the mother with many children who is making the comments about the magnitude of her challenges, is truly overwhelmed. Many children do bring much work, and perhaps this lady is feeling the burden. I am very grateful for my friends who have smaller families who offer to give rides to my children to events or take on the brunt of organizing things at Church for all our children.

Your second point is about mothers referring to things you can do that they aren't able to do, given the size of their crew. I may be guilty of this! I don't know what others' motivation is, but I can tell you mine. In fact, this is a topic I have intended to write about, but I'll just touch on it now. I think this may stem from guilt! Often I envy the mother who has fewer children and has time. She has time to go on neat field trips, time to organize home school theatre productions, time to do cool time lines and unit studies and crafts. Perhaps this comment is more of a compliment about all the nice things you do for your child, nice things that a mother of many looks upon with a touch of envy.

I guess, in a way, these comments, and your reactions, is about a perceived divide. A perceived divide between big families and smaller families. I just don't think one really exists. Where there are misunderstandings, let charity reign.

Peace, Hope

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Prayer and Planners

The school year has barely ended and already I have to start planning for next year. My intention is to get all my school planning and book organizing done within the next couple of weeks, then I'll have the summer to relax, without the big black cloud of school planning hanging over my head. I put in an order today for some of my favorite resources and thought I would share.

First is the Children's Daily Prayer book from Liturgical Training Publications. I have used it for a many years, and it is a simple way to bring daily prayer with your children into your routine.

My second purchase is a daily planner for me from Family-Centered Press. It is specifically Catholic and includes a lot of Catholic content. Different sizes are available and it can be purchased spiral bound or whole-punched. There is also the option of having a menu planner and lesson planner included. I like having a calendar that spans the school year, as I don't like a calendar that starts with January, and splits my school year up.

I also really like having student planners for each of my children. These planners from Pflaum, I have used these for a couple of years now, and they have made a big difference in our schooling. Each of my students has their own planner which I write their lessons in a week or two in advance. The children are then responsible for getting their work done fairly independently, as it is all laid out for them. It is also a good place to leave little notes and other reminders. These planners are Catholic as well, and include information on Saint's days, the liturgical year and Scripture.

Peace, Hope

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Ducks in a Row

I hear all the time from people that I am so brave to take my children out in public. I do take them out with me often to do my usual errands and we go on family outings and to dinner a lot. They are not always perfectly behaved in public, but they really are pretty good. One thing that has helped is to practice the behavior that we expect at home and to be very clear, before we even get out of the car, with our descriptions of how the children should behave. We do this every time we go somewhere. I think it is important for the kids to hear where they are going and why, even if it seems obvious, and to explain exactly what they can expect and how you expect them to behave. Then when misbehavior starts, all it takes is a look, a little reminder, or a gentle pull towards you.

One little thing that helps is to pair buddies together, like they do in preschool, where two kids walk holding hands. I often have each of my three big kids in charge of each of my three littlest kids, then the two in the middle hold hands and walk near me. Also, we do the "ducks in a row" where everyone has their place in line, usually the younger ones in the front with me, then the children walk in order behind. It is very cute, and keeps us from taking up a whole aisle in the store or in a crowd. We even practice the "ducks in a row" at home marching around through the house.

When you are carting eight children around and you have to keep your eye on all of them, you can't have them all going different directions -- I only have two eyes! We often tell the children it is their job to stay with us and to keep their eyes on Mom and Dad.

It all comes down to practice, talk and training, as with anything else. Kids usually don't just know what to do, they have to be taught. Good luck on your next outing!

Peace, Hope

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Hand in Hand to Heaven

I was teasing one of my sons the other day, saying, "You belong to me; you're mine." As I grabbed him and hugged him. Of course, he pulled away laughing, then collapsed into a hug, all while asserting his absolute independence from me. "No," I told him, "I helped make you; you belong to me; you're my baby; you are MINE." Nope, not anymore, my young teen reminded me. "Okay, then, how about this one?" I said, scooping up my baby, my one year old, "This one is definitely still mine, she belongs to me!" Nope, not her either, my son says, "You're just her steward."

"You're just her steward." My son was so right. Although I like to think of these kids as mine, and in a sense they are, of course; but no, not really, they're not mine. They belong to God, and I am their steward. Putting my relationship with my children in this perspective really puts a different emphasis on my parenting job. These children are not mine to mold into my own little images of what I think a good person or a good Catholic is. Sure, I must lead them and teach them and provide a good example to them. I must care for their bodies, nurture their souls, and help to enlighten their minds. I have authority over them and even the mandate to guide them, but it is not as a person superior to them, it is as a sister in Christ.

When I first contemplated that my primary relationship with my children and my husband was not as parent or wife, it was as their sister in Christ, I was struck. For one, I felt a freedom in understanding that these children had full integrity as persons, just as much as anyone else, and they had an entirely unique vocation and relationship with God that was separate from me. Knowing this relieved the burden of feeling that it is all up to me. God loves each of them and has a plan for them, in a way which I cannot even really comprehend.

Second, as their sister in Christ who is a little farther down the road, it is my job to guide these children and love them, but it is more as an equal, for we are all equal in Christ. Understanding this equality with them has helped me appreciate each individual as a friend and see our parent/child relationship as one primarily rooted in the virtues of charity and friendship.

In a book on meditations, In Conversation With God, Francis Fernandez, referencing R. Garigou-Lagrange, writes:
Piety towards others leads us to judge them always with kindness, which walks hand in hand with a filial affection for God our common Father.
So, in a sense, our children are the ones God has called us to walk hand in hand with, as brothers and sisters in Christ, sharing the road on the journey to sainthood. We parents are just the ones holding the map -- at least for a time.

Peace, Hope

An Authentic Show

The other day I was talking to a friend, the mother of nine, and she mentioned that when you have a big family, you just can't drop the ball on anything. You know, things like forgetting a school lunch or not having the right soccer jersey or missing a dance recital or being late for a musical. Her comment gave me some pause, and I thought, she's right; I put that same pressure on myself. What it is, I think, is that although everyone is late now and then, or forgets or misplaces things, when a mother of a big family makes some such error, we think that others will believe that obviously we have too many children -- too many children to care for properly. The pressure increases, too, when there are all the more people, places and things to keep track of and be on time for, it can make one's head spin!

I guess that is one of the little things that makes having a big family in this culture more difficult. Just the natural assumptions, biases and misunderstandings people have about big families. I imagine it would be nice to live in a society where big families were the norm, a society where we mothers of many could show up in public, late, with a mismatched toddler, a forgotten permission slip, and a little boy with grubby hands, without anyone thinking that we're not up to the task of parenting.

I have been struggling with this for a while. Where I live, for various reasons, our family has been in the "public eye" of our community a good bit. Of course, I want to make a good impression and represent big families and my Catholic faith well, but how do we find the balance between wanting to give a respectable presentation, which is a good thing, while avoiding the sins of pride and vanity?

I think it is important to live authentically, that's where we find the balance. It is important to teach our children to be well mannered and dress appropriately. It is important that we, as mothers, work hard to stay organized and practice being responsible and prayerful about our priorities. If we're doing theses things during our hours and days at home, it will "show" when we're out --- and it won't be a "show" either, it will be real. However, at the same time, if our littles are displaying their authentic selves with ice cream dripping down their shirts, or a couple of our authentic preschoolers get into a fight in the check out line, or we are late for Mass, we can't get all hung up on these failures. They are lessons in humility. And, let me tell you, it's especially humbling to make these public foibles when you look up and notice all the eyes are on your family, fingers are pointing, and mouths are silently counting 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Ready or Not, Here High School Comes!

I am reading this link on homeschooling through high school, and I can’t believe we start high school here next year; my oldest starts ninth grade, and my second oldest is right on his heels. It truly seems like yesterday that my three oldest were all littles, spending our homeschooling days reading together and doing silly experiments and investigating the outdoors. I guess some families continue with this sort of laid back lifestyle in high school, but for us high school will be much more structured, much more structured. Whew, we’ll see if I’m ready for this. I used to be sort of cavalier about it all -- thinking that, of course, we’d homeschool through high school – easy. Hmm, I’m not so confident now. Not that I don’t believe that God calls us to homeschool, I do; and not that I don’t feel our home is the best place for my kids to learn, it is …..It’s just that sometimes I wonder if I’m really up to this challenge. I mean, it really counts now, you know?

We investigated all of our educational options, prayed, asked questions, prayed some more, and decided to continue homeschooling through high school. What I was once so sure of, I had to pray for peace about. That peace is coming to me now, especially over the last few weeks as we prepared our curriculum for next year, and my student in question turned 14. FOURTEEN! Wasn’t he just four?

I am so proud of my son. Over the last year he has grown taller, then even taller! His voice has dropped an octave, his face started breaking out, and he decided to grow his hair long. He adores his little sisters; he is a gentleman; he works hard and studies hard. He is thinking seriously about the priesthood and is now making getting into the Naval Academy his primary academic goal. He doesn’t spend all his time on his i-pod or instant messaging or gaming or have a “my space” page. He cuts the neighbors grass, works towards his Boy Scout Eagle rank, plays his guitar, and kicks the soccer ball with his friends. He just started his first real job. He's really cute too! No, he is not perfect; I am well aware of that, but he is a great kid!

Amidst all the struggles, I really think that all these years of homeschooling have been worth it, and I am willing to commit to continuing this gift to my children through high school. Thank you, Lord!

Peace, Hope

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Enough Sleep?

Our summer schedule officially starts today. We're a little behind in forming the actual new routine, but one thing I do know is that my children are not going to regularly sleep in late or spend all day on computer games. I told my oldest three that they had to get up on their own when their 7:30 alarm goes off or there are extra chores to do. Surprisingly, they came up with the extra chores part and were very willing to continue getting up at a decent time. With this in mind, I decided to do a little research into sleep recommendations and come up with some reasonable bed times as well. Not that we haven't had bed times and rising times in the past, but I find transitions to be an opportunity to reassess things and re-institute good habits. So, find below the general sleep recommendations for people of all ages from the National Sleep Foundation.

(0 to 2 months): ................10-1/2 to 18 hours*
(2-12 months): ...........................14 to 15 hours*
(12-18 months): ........................13 to 15 hours*
(18 months-3 years): ...............12 to 14 hours*
(3-5 years): ..................................11 to 13 hours*
(5-12 years): ....................................9 to 11 hours
8-1/2 to 9-1/2 hours
7 to 9 hours
Peace, Hope

Monday, May 28, 2007

New Perspective on Laundry

When I start feeling down about various household tasks before me, I imagine having to do the same task in a developing country. What would my laundry situation be like if I lived in a hut in Asia? I imagine I would be the laughing stock of the neighborhood carting our 2-3 daily loads of laundry down to the river. I guess with the ease of merely pushing buttons to do the laundry, we gain LOTS of laundry.

I don't have to schlep the laundry of ten down to a river, just from the hamper to the washing machine, about three feet. I still complain. I have even been known to cry about it. We do have a lot of laundry, but crying about it is a bit dramatic, I know. I can just see God looking down at my spoiled little self and just shaking his head. At the same time, somewhere there is a courageous Laotian woman kneeling on the muddy shore rinsing out the family clothes. I will not complain. Thank you, God, for nice clothes to put on the healthy bodies of my beautiful children, and the simple means of keeping everyone looking clean and neat. Now, back to the laundry room.

Peace, Hope

Thursday, May 24, 2007

First Aid Kit

Each spring I put some thought and planning toward preparing for all of our busy summer outdoor activities. During the warm weather months you will often find our family on the soccer fields on Saturdays, and when soccer is over we spend many weekend days at the river, park, beach, hiking, summer concerts, or wherever we can enjoy the great outdoors. I learned long ago that it makes life much simpler to be prepared for these outings in advance. I pack the car with water and snacks, like granola bars and nuts. I make sure we have some changes of clothes, wet wipes and diapers, maybe a backpack or stroller. Most importantly I restock our first aid kit each spring. I'd encourage all families to keep a well stocked and portable first aid kit. It makes life a lot easier to have everything in one easily accessible place for those times your child presents himself with gushing blood (happened here today) or an unexpected serious allergic reaction while out at a farm (happened to us last week).

I keep all of our first aid supplies in a medium sized plastic tackle box with a handle on top which I found at Walmart in the fishing isle. It works great. I keep it on top of the refrigerator in the kitchen and then throw it in the car for outings. Just thought I'd share one of the things on my own spring "to do" list. So, let's get those first aid kits ready to go, you never know when you'll need it.

Peace, Hope

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Easy Homemade Pasta Sauce

I have mentioned before that I am an imprecise cook. Even so, I will try to share some of my favorite things to make that feed a crowd of kids. One thing is homemade tomato sauce. If you buy jarred sauce because you think it would be too hard to make it yourself, you're in for a surprise. It is so easy, and when you make it yourself you know exactly what is in it -- just healthy ingredients! It is also tastes a’ lot better and is cheaper.

Homemade Pasta Sauce

In a large stockpot, sauté 1-2 diced large onions and lots of minced garlic in a few Tablespoons olive oil on medium heat, stirring frequently, until onion is clear (the jarred, minced garlic makes it simple). As an optional step, you can add more vegetables your family likes -- chopped green pepper, grated carrots, zucchini, eggplant, sliced black olives -- use your imagination, just add harder veggies first and softer veggies last.

Add a #10 can of crushed tomatoes to the onion, garlic, veggie mix, stir and heat gently.

Brown and drain the grease from 1-2 lbs of ground beef (meat is optional, depending on what type of sauce you are going for), stir into tomato sauce.

Add salt and pepper and seasonings to taste. I sprinkle in Italian Seasoning mix from a bulk jar; it contains marjoram, thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, oregano, and basil. Let sauce simmer gently for a few minutes, then turn to LOW. It can be on the stove for a short while, or allowed to cook longer, becoming more flavorful, just stir occasionally.

Use this sauce in any of your favorite pasta creations, and freeze the rest.

Peace, Hope