Friday, March 28, 2014

7 Quick Takes: Boys, endless eating, detoxing, a baby swing, and dystopian teen lit

What? Too many and varied topics in one meager quick takes header? Yeah, maybe. . .

1. But I stayed out till 10 o'clock feasting my eyes on the visually assaulting and sensory-overlaoding 'Divergent,' and found myself shoveling salty, unbuttered popcorn into my mouth in a mindless cycle of dig/grab/stuff while the screen exploded in violent, rapid-firing images in front of me. The movie was good, and pretty faithful to the book, but my sister and I both experienced the odd phenomenon of 'dystopian drift,' for lack of a better explanation, where every end-timesy novel we'd read in the past couple years melded together in our brains, rendering the storyline of the film both surprising and kind of confusing.

At several points I was really concerned with where Katniss was hiding in all the wreckage of the bombed-out Chicago skyline, and I also couldn't quiet the nagging fear that this was all supposed to be taking place in the Pacific Northwest, and that nobody was supposed to be touching anyone else.

Moral of the story: I probably need to dabble in other literary genres. But Divergent was good! Go see it.

2. My boys are skinny and on the short side, but they eat like ravenous animals. Joey in particular is like, 32 lbs and the shortest (well, and youngest with a September b-day) in his class but he begs food like an angry line backer on a Sunday afternoon. I can't remember where I read this concept, but I allow them free access to 'cranky cheese' in a drawer in the fridge - either Baby Bells or string cheeses - in the hopes that their blood sugar levels will stay relatively stable between meals. They don't. And, they beg for food and milk all day long, and on the days where I wearily acquiesce, they proceed to boycott their dinners, screaming about how unappetizing everything is.

Then, for his piece de resistance, Joey cries hunger at bedtime. Every night. And begs for food because 'his tummy hurts all around' and he is 'really, really hungry.' And because I'm a sucker, and because how can a mother refuse to feed her skinny child, I give him milk. Or a mouthful of peanut butter. Sleep, rinse, repeat.

Any thoughts? He was actually a much better eater when he was gluten-free (and that's another story for another post). Now he's a picky, bossy 3.5 year beggar. Who orders 'cappuccinos' (a steamed milk, courtesy of our espresso machine) many mornings of the week.

3. Speaking of raising male wolves, any suggestions on how to pry them off my ankles for large portions of the day? I read this fascinating piece in the Atlantic earlier this week, and then Michelle's wonderful post on being a Little House on the Prairie Mom, but I can't seem to convince them to leave me alone. Unless I'm trying to get them into the car and then, you know.

By the by, our backyard looks eerily like the 'adventure playground' featured in the Atlantic article. Complete with abandoned plastic bottles, piles of dangerous looking wood, and perhaps the occasional nail. So man up, boys!

4. Screen time. I had a great conversation with an acquaintance at an Annunciation party this week (envious of our social life?) about how she cut her two boys off from screens, cold turkey, and they turned into amazing readers and creative little souls almost overnight. Almost. Anyway, we're on day 3 and it's kind of killing me, but we've had no Curious George nor any Daniel Tiger in our house for 72 hours and counting…we'll see how long mommy can hold out.

My main motivation for limiting the little monsters' time in front of the laptop is mainly because Joey acts like a crack fiend when his show is over. Even when he senses the story arc beginning its descent towards denouement, he starts jonesing for his next hit and bargaining with me for 'just one more, just one more.' It's sick. And I'm over it. I may be afforded 20 minutes of quiet for a private shower and blowout, but I pay dearly for it in the form of back talk, whining, fighting, and crying the rest of the afternoon. I hate it. So we're experimenting with life in 1994. Wish us luck.

5. I had a couple requests for the pesto recipe I mentioned in Wednesday's post, so here it is, loosely adapted from this one:

-3 cups loosely-packed fresh basil (de-stemmed)
-1/2 cup (ish) fresh parmesan chess
-3-4 tablespoons extra virgin Italian olive oil
-1-2 cloves crushed garlic
-1/2 cup raw almonds
-2 tbs fresh lemon juice
-sea salt and pepper to taste

Dump it all in the food ninja or your food processor of choice and blend away. I have to make it in batches because my ninja is teeny, but eventually the whole batch fits in there. It's just a process of getting the basil condensed. This stuff is delicious and potent and a little bit goes a long way when tossed with pasta or basted over chicken or spread on sandwiches. It keeps in the fridge for 4 days…at least that's the longest we've ever had it on hand. :) I've heard you can spoon it into ice cube trays and freeze it and then pop the cubes out and keep them in a baggie in the freezer. Again, we've just never had leftovers…

6. I'm a terrible mother, and I just pushed both birdies from the nest into the backyard so "Mommy could finish her work." And here I sit, 'working' … also, Genevieve has this swing and I love it. And she sleeps in it kind of a lot. And has a flat spot on the back of her head. Am I the worst mother, truly?

7. I'm starting Arbonne's 30 day detox Monday, (hopefully, if it arrives soon enough. And my bff is a consultant, so I did not pay that price for it.) and I'm really excited to blog it all out for accountability purposes. And because people can never get enough of reading about stupid things other people are doing to lose weight and get healthy, right?

Anyway, after seeing myself on camera (I guest-hosted Heroic Media News this week and I'll return again next week - the show should be live on EWTN by late April) in the edited footage, I had a mini actual panic attack. And I know I'm only 13 weeks out from Evie's birth. And and and…it's still hard as hell to see yourself looking like a complete stranger because of how your body has been ravaged by childbirth. Always hard. Hopefully I'll see some results aaaaand I'll have a fun giveaway up on the blog at the end of it.

Now off to Jen's with you, and a very happy weekend.








Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Five Favorites

So we got a Trader Joe's in town last month. I'd been in one a time or two in college, but I had all but forgotten about it until last summer on a trip to Virginia. Holy free range chicken, their meat is overpriced but everything in the whole.damn.store. is so delicious. And (carnivorous materials aside) surprisingly affordable. Like really, really affordable. Our grocery budget is spot on this month, and all credit goes to TJ.
Yeah, like that.
So without further ado, and because it's Wednesday, and because I'm too tired to think of anything else to write about, here are my newfound heavy hitters from Trader Joe's.

1.


Okay, not food, but seriously amazing. Best shaving cream I've used maybe ever ever ever, it's vegan and paraben free, and it's like, $2.99 in the store. What. Plus it smells like my Hawaiian honeymoon.

2.

This stuff is almost as delicious as homemade, and at $1.19 per lump, it's actually slightly cheaper than making it yourself, by my calculations. Yeast is expensive! Sort of. My boys love "helping" me stretch it out and then loading it with toppings, and we've had it for at least one meal a week for the past month.

3.

See that? That's a big-ass thing of basil. For $2. I almost slapped myself the first time I laid eyes on it, so accustomed had I become to shelling out closer to 5 big ones for a pathetic 2 ounce container of wilted sorrow. After living la vita dolce, I kinda got a taste for fresh basil. And it's kinda not readily available in Colorado unless you're willing to pay dearly. But this? It's like half a pound of basil. And it's delicious. And I can make a pile of homemade pesto sauce and top a pizza and fling some into an omlette and still have a sprig or two left over. Delicious. (Helpful hint: I make pesto sauce using almonds - cheaper than pine nuts, and more pleasing to a kiddie palate.)

4. 

These are straight up laced with crack. I ate 17 of them on Fat Tuesday. I counted. Next time we get pregnant I'm earmarking a special 7 pounds just for Joe Joe consumption.

5. 

This is deliciousssssssss. And it's $7. Which is exactly half the price of our favorite Italian espresso. Trader Joes, I'll love you forever.

Hop over to Hallie's for more favorites in groups of five.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Let's be Done

I so want to throw my hands up and yell 'enough' to the beneficent creator of the universe who has seen fit to send three bouncing bundles of joy our way in a little over 4 years. Especially after days like today. Especially after bedtime pretty much every night. 

Even now, as I sit here convalescing in the family room, I can hear faint wailing coming from the back corner of the house as the boys resign themselves to the cyclical horror of pajamas and comfort objects in their black-out shade darkened bedroom. Evie is also starting to whimper, because 45 solid minutes of nursing wasn't sufficient to quench her raging bedtime thirst.

With no small amount of effort and resentment I heave my weary body off the couch and pad towards the kids' rooms. I hate this part of the day, and yet I am so very aware of how fleeting these frantic years of littleness really are.

It's also moments like these when I most closely empathize with our contraceptive culture. Because dammit, this is hard.

If that were the end game, keeping life relatively uncomplicated versus taking up one's cross and following…well then sign my doctor's name on the dotted Rx. I can completely understand why a couple would choose to limit the madness, to shut the door on the possibility of further complications, and to issue an indefinite 'no trespassing' mandate to the God of the universe, posted in plain sight on their bedroom door.

But that's not the endgame, is it? 

Our mortal toil here on earth is exactly that: work. A lot of it. No matter the circumstances or situation of one's life, nobody gets out without putting in some hard time. And children are a lot of work. In fact, they're kind of the perfect means by which those of us called to the married life can work out our salvation with fear and potty training. 

But they're more than just work, however ardently popular culture - and tired mommy bloggers like me - might try to convince you otherwise. They're also immortal souls. Little images of the Word made flesh, Who dwelt among us. And they deserve to be seen as more than accessories or add-ons to an otherwise 'perfect' and ordered life. 

Children are not something you 'do' in marriage once you've bought the house, landed the job, and signed the second lease agreement for the fancy SUV. They're actually the point of marriage, the other half of the twofold equation for 'the good of the spouses and the procreation of offspring.'

Surprised? Anyone in this culture would be. After all, how many times have we heard otherwise, been instructed otherwise, even heard preaching that insisted otherwise?

Children, our culture would have us believe, are optional upgrades at best, and life-ending impediments to happiness at worst. This is the fruit of contraception, and its evil twin sister, abortion. Children have become, in our minds, the enemy. The enemy of happiness. The enemy of productivity. The enemy of comfort, wealth, and leisure. And in making them so, we have aligned ourselves against God Himself.

"Whoever shall receive one of these children in my name, receives me: and whoever shall receive me, receives not me, but him that sent me."

We can easily forget, in all our planning and charting and discerning, that we're not ultimately in control. Even when science purports to tell us otherwise. Even when our hearts desperately wish we could be. Life, despite our best efforts to manipulate, frustrate, create, contort, and confine, is not entirely under our jurisdiction. To believe and to act otherwise is to live a lie, to mistake a charade for reality. 

Contraception has become one of the greatest charades in all of human history. It offers us the ultimate illusion of control: control of life itself.

Honestly, the Church doesn't condemn the practice of contraception because she wants more butts in the seats. She isn't trying to corner the market on future human beings, and she certainly isn't attempting to chain women to the cookstove with dozens of children, keeping her happily at home and tucked away from the public square. Couldn't be further from the truth.

She condemns the practice of contraception because of what it does to the person, to the marriage, to the potential children in question. It's all for love, and whether or not modern man can wrap his skeptical mind around this, it's the truth.

In his new pastoral letter, released today, Bishop Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska tells us the following: 

"God... created marriage to be unifying and procreative. To join husband and wife inseparably in the mission of love, and to bring forth from that love something new. Contraception robs the freedom for those possibilities."

Isn't that wild? It's the very opposite of what we've been sold by media and marketing and hollywood andinsert blame here. In many cases, it's the opposite of what we've heard at church. 

Contraception doesn't make us responsible adults; it renders us sterile adolescents, unable to grow in our faith or in our relationships

Bishop Conley goes on to quote soon-to-be-saint John Paul II:

In 1995, Blessed John Paul II wrote that our culture suffers from a “hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and… a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment."  Generous, life-giving spousal love is the antitode to hedonism and immaturity: parents gladly give up frivolous pursuits and selfishness for the intensely more meaningful work of loving and educating their children.

What the what? An obstacle to personal fulfillment? Hell, I feel like that every morning at 6:45. My children are deeply, endlessly opposed to my deepest means of personal fulfillment: sleep.

So you see, even my pew-warming butt needs to hear a message like this. Over and over again. And to re-read Humanae Vitae with a discerning heart and open eyes. 

Children are not some kind of marital accessory, a means of 'leveling up' to the next developmental stage of a romantic relationship. They're something new entirely. And at the end of the day, God forgive me for forgetting this over and over again. I am the foremost of sinners in the arena of marital love and charity. It's part of why I'm so deeply, painfully grateful for a Church who helps rehabilitate me daily. Hourly, some nights.

But perfect love casts out all fear. 

Fear of failure. Fear of bodily destruction (hellooooo stretch marks and extra 30 lbs). Fear of ridicule by a culture utterly opposed to what we are doing with our lives. Fear of loss, even…because the more you have to love, the more you have to lose.

Perfect love. It's the antidote to fear. And the antidote to a culture so utterly self absorbed that the very notion of delaying gratification or suffering for love of another is regarded as pathological.

Fear is at the root of our enormous distrust of life and our hopeless misunderstanding of love. We are a culture rich beyond belief, unprecedented in all of human history…and yet we live like anxious paupers, scrabbling around in the dirt for our daily bread when the One Who created us wants to lay a banquet of unfathomable riches.

I am the foremost of sinners. The most anxious pauper, scrabbling around for a scrap of security or worldly regard, worrying constantly about how things look or feel. Thank you, God, for illuminating my darkened intellect with the Truth of Your good plan for human life, for human love. Though I rail against it internally almost daily, my stubborn will consenting over and over again not my will, but yours, be done.

And that's why we never say never. We never declare, with any certainty or advanced knowledge that we're 'done.' Because who knows? We might overcome our deep-seated natural tendency toward selfishness again at some point in the future. And because we're not intentionally frustrating the procreative power of our married love, there might very well be a name to go along with that momentary lapse in selfishness, 9 months down the road.

Let's never be done living God's plan for our lives. Not until the final curtain call. 

(Read Bishop Conley's entire letter here. It's beyond good.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Heinous to Humorous

During our evening prayers last night I believe I hit a new all-time parenting low when I earnestly asked God for the grace to view my children's behaviors as humorous rather than heinous. Dave has now been texting that as a response to my daily smoke signals today, so I think we have a winner.

In all honesty, pre-school and toddler aged boys are varying shades of heinous on a regular basis. There is lots of (naturally, inexplicably present) bathroom humor, there are multiple episodes of public humiliation per week involving somebody screaming about farting in the grocery store, and let me not get started on the colorful language. While I'm hoping, as promised, that my kids are more 'abuse-proof' for knowing the proper names of any and all genitalia, I am also super pumped about all the times Joey has screamed 'penis' in mixed company. (Don't bother praying for humility, just pop out a couple of young male children and let your life circumstances round off your sharp, prideful edges.)
Insisted on wearing a woman's fedora. I don't know.
I was visiting with a friend this morning and she was talking about her childless sister's plans to summer in Paris with her husband and I felt a pang of 'wouldn't that be nice?' and then, upon further reflection, I realized how very, deeply necessary it has been for me to have these children. Because I am selfish, prideful, small-minded and stingy by nature. In other words, I'm a fallen human being.

Redeemed, yes, but not all at once, and not by some magical divine intervention that has rendered me gentle, compassionate, and humble. Nope, not this girl. It's more of an arduous, day-by-day struggle to choose them - and in so choosing, to choose Him - over myself.

At 5 am when somebody is crying to eat. At 6:40 am when somebody is kicking the frigging closet doors hard enough to rattle the house because 'the sun is almost up!' At 10:56 when it's apparently already time for our first lunch of the day. And more than any other time, at 4:00 pm when all hell hath been loosed upon this house and tempers are flaring and patience is wavering and so.much.screaming. Mostly mine. But increasingly, I'm trying to keep my voice out of the cacophony and to just smile and maybe even laugh at them. Because why the hell not laugh at them? They're ridiculous. I'm ridiculous. This life in its present state is ridiculous. I acknowledge this fully. Having a baby every 19 months for 4 years is insane. Staying home with them is a huge investment in time and energy - and at no little cost to my own mental health. But what's the alternative? Summers in Paris?

I mean, we did 3 seasons in Rome. And let me be the first to confess it was less than glamorous. Without kids? It would have been so different. But so would I.

Meaner. Smaller minded. Less fun. Less fulfilled. Maybe a little prettier, but not on the inside.

I'm not saying having children is the solitary path to goodness and holiness. By no means. But it's my path. They're not a means to an end, either, though, these children of mine. They're irreplaceable, incorrigible, immortal human beings with unique personalities, desires, and preferences about public urination. And they are testing the hell out of me.

Heinously, humorously, one awful, triple, 90-minute pediatrician visit at a time.

So if my life sounds like hell, it's because that's surely where I would end up, were it not for all the daily, hourly opportunities for sanctification this child army provides me with. I had this epic revelation the other day while I was wiping a snottysnottysnotty nose for the millionth time and much to the dismay of the nose's owner and, well, maybe I went in a little too enthusiastically, a little angrily even, with my diaper wipe. And it occurred to me, unbidden: you're wiping the wounds of Christ.

Immediately my hand went limp, and I was honestly ashamed of how vigorously I'd been attacking those innocent boogers.

Would I treat Jesus this way? Even when I found Him to be inconvenient, disgusting even? Would I ever use this much force/this tone of voice/this disposition of heart?

Game-changer, that moment.

Even though they don't much look like Him, not when they're covered in ketchup and vomit, anyhow, they are my little, living icons of Christ. And how I love them…it's a direct reflection on the sincerity of my love for Him.

God help me love them better. Help me love You in them. And for Your sake, give me some divinely inspired potty training wisdom. Because there's a heinous shitload of diapers in my trashcans right now.

Pun intended.



Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Year of the "Francis Effect"

One year ago today I stood with my little family under the left arm of Bernini's colonnade, squinting through the rain and craning my neck to keep the solitary smoke stack jutting from the roof of the Capella Sistina in my line of sight. As the crowd continued to surge, Romans and tourists alike pouring in from all directions in the dark night, mounting barricades and hopping over wrought-iron railings to secure a spot, I hushed my wailing 11 month old, fumbling in the stroller basket beneath him for the bottle of prosecco we'd brought along 'just in case.'

I had a good feeling about round 5 of the consistory's vote.

Suddenly a puff of…what was that? Was it black? No, it was grayish…it was, no, no…it was white! White smoke!

The crowd went berserk, us included. My heavily pregnant Italian friend and I shrieked and hugged each other, slapping high fives and whooping over the crowd noise. It was a roaring tidal wave of pure joy as voices in dozens and dozens of languages clamored and shouted for joy. And then there was only one language …in latin we heard those immortal words intoned for all the world to hear:

Habemus Papam.

We have a pope.

And while it would be close to an hour before he made his now famous appearance on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, looking more like a stunned deer in the headlights than the charismatic leader of the world's largest Church, we didn't stop celebrating for even one of those 60 minutes.
Long after the last drops of the bottle of prosecco had been emptied out, and long past the bedtimes of the squirming toddlers we'd toted with us, he finally emerged to a roaring crowd.

And the first thing he asked? Do you remember?

Pray for me.

It was unprecedented. But then, so was his choice of the moniker Franciscus. And while we'd been certain the announcement of that seraphic name meant our boy from Boston, Cardinal O'Malley (himself a Franciscan) had been tapped for the big job, we nonetheless fell swiftly in love with our very first Latin American papa as he haltingly began his papacy from a rain-drenched balcony overlooking a square teeming with humanity…and iPads.


We loved him right away. And we've spent the past year loving him, being challenged by him, being shaken from complacency by him…and falling in love with Jesus all over again, at his invitation.

So one year out under the Francis effect, I say bring it on, Papa. Bring us the Gospel message of poverty, of radical engagement, of discomfort and even, dare I say, suffering? You are a breath of fresh air in an era stifled by selfishness, by sameness, by the tiresome parade of shock and awe trotted out by the secular culture in an attempt to reinvigorate a weary and wearisome world.

Christ  and His Church is more radical than anything you're reading on Huffington Post. And while Rolling Stone may have thought they captured his essence quite nicely with their hatchet job of a cover story last month…they didn't even come close to the real thing.

So keep stirring it up. Keep calling us on. Keep making people, by fits and starts, both insanely elated and intensely concerned. It's so good for us. All of us.

Happy anniversary, Papa.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Middle ages and middle children

I've been sloooowly slogging my way through Kristin Lavransdatter these past few weeks…okay for the past month, much longer than I anticipated taking to plumb the depths of this literary gem, so shame on me for not bowing in the face of an intellectual superior like Sigrid Undset. But more than than anything, it's the fantastical scandanavian pronunciations that have me reading at a 6th grade level trying to sound out the Erlands and Bjorngulfs and Torgrids Ulfssons and the like. That and the raw, gripping power with which the author delivers. Oh my gosh, if I had a dollar for every time while reading this book that I've set it down and choked back a silent sob while looking longingly down the hall at my sleeping babies' rooms…well I wouldn't be sticking to a grocery budget, that's for sure.

The tragic heroine of this epic has 8 sons. 8 sons. And her musings on motherhood and raising little men has me squeezing my little men extra tight. Especially my John Paul, my sweet little chunk-of-an-almost-2-year-old, alternately a baby and then a little boy, seemingly minute by minute.

After reading one particularly poignant passage last night where Kristin merged the memories of her grown sons toddlerhoods with the imagined progression of a dead baby's development into a crawler and then wobbling walker, giggly and enthusiastic over everything the world - and particularly the outdoors - had to offer, it took every bit of restraint not to leap out of bed and scoop my chubby man out of his crib to squeeze him. Hard.

Her reflections on chubby baby cheeks and fat toddler thighs and dirty little hands patting mama's face…oh, it almost brought me to tears. Even now, typing it, I'm struck with the strangest longing to go and whisk him away from his nest on the couch where he's snuggled up beside his big brother watching Daniel Tiger ad nasuem, sucking down a sippy cup full of Emergen-C (rough week on the homestead). But I sit and write instead, hoping to capture for posterity a picture of the intensity of my love for this middle child. This sweet little person who is caught between babyhood and preschool, who is by hours a fierce backyard warrior and then a crying puddle of needs and wants. He is so sweet and so young, and yet sometimes I can see a glimpse of the little boy he is becoming before my eyes, and it is so bittersweet.

Maybe it's the lot of all middle children, to remind their parents of where their oldest was, and to point them toward where the baby is headed. He's such a funny little creature, caught between wanting his paci and blanket and trying to bust through the door at preschool, following his big brother to the ends of the earth.

In some ways he ceased to be a baby the moment the pink lines appeared on that stick, announcing his sister's imminent arrival. In other ways though, he's remained longer in sweet babyhood, vacillating between the poles of independence and neediness he sees in the sibling sandwich he fills.

I hope I never forget his fat, pink, round cheeks…his huge blue eyes blinking in confusion when he does something wrong, and dark lashes dripping tears of contrition when he gets busted. Oh John Paul, you know you're not supposed to fish in the toilet. Don't look so mournful.

I'll probably finish this infernal (and quite excellent, don't get me wrong) book sometime this week. And I'll sigh with relief and pleasure, having conquered this medieval period of Scandinavian history. But I'll probably look at my little men differently from here on out, watching with a mixture of impatience and painful regret as they transition from needy little lap dwellers to bold, wandering warriors seeking their fortunes in the world. One day my lap will be empty. My hands will be idle, no sippy cups to fill and no noses to wipe. No waistbands to hoist up and no tantrums to referee. I do look forward to those days. But I also see the present moments slipping through my fingers and I mourn their passing, as strange as it sounds. Even on the hardest days, and even when the hours till bedtime stretch out in the most impossible manner.

Kristin has given me a glimpse of one possible future, of an empty nest and a broken, thankful heart, and for that I'm grateful, fictional character or no.

Little boys are tiny men, after all, growing not only up but also away from their mamas.

Sniff.


Friday, March 7, 2014

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Case for Siblings

(Cross-posted at Catholic Exchange)

As I sit here with a few stolen minutes to give to my keyboard, my newborn daughter napping in my lap and my two young sons playing soccer in the backyard with the teenager I pay to entertain them twice a week, I can't help but worry that sometimes my children are being shortchanged by, well, each other.

When my husband and I got married in the Catholic Church, we vowed "to accept children lovingly from God" and thus far we've said yes 3 times in 4.5 years. That's a whole lot of yeses, and to be honest, some days I feel the weight of how many "no's" I must say to them each on a daily basis because of it.

No, I can't read with you right now, I'm doing the laundry…want to help me?

No, I can't play cars with you, I'm nursing your sister. 

No, you cannot watch me take a shower.

No, this isn't a good time to go ride bikes in the driveway. I'm giving your brother a bath.

And on and on.

I was thumbing through our city's rec center summer activity guide, and I sighed as I contemplated the cost and logistics of undertaking pre school swimming lessons for our 3 year old.

It's just too much right now. Maybe next summer. Heck, I was a lifeguard in high school, maybe we'll buy a family pass and I'll teach him myself…while trying to keep his brother and sister alive at the same time.

By our culture's standards for raising happy and well-adjusted kids, mine are being seriously shortchanged. They wear thrifted clothes and play with garage sale toys. They don't have iPads. They share a bedroom at night and they share mom three ways by day. Working from home allows me to be more physically present to them, but mentally and emotionally I'm often far away. Even when all the chores are done and the deadlines are met, there is sometimes little left of me by 5 pm other than a docile willingness to be led to the couch for a few mindless repetitions of the Grumpy Ladybug.

We don't do tons of activities because, quite frankly, taking all three of them somewhere more exciting than Costco is just hard. Right now it feels like it has always been hard, and I wonder whether things will change when they are a little older.

Then there are moments like this morning, when my oldest son looks lovingly at his 2-month old sister kicking her legs in the air on the family room carpet and asks me when she will be big enough to play with him, because "he can't wait!"

Those moments give me the strength to keep soldiering through these demanding, physically draining days of herding toddlers and nursing babies. We're in a rebuilding phase, and these are the investment years. I know it, because I've seen it with my own eyes.

This past weekend my younger sister got married to a wonderful man. She is the 3rd of seven kids, and all of us stood at the altar with them and witnessed their vows. We partied late into the evening afterwards, burning it up on the dance floor until we were quite literally the last people to exit the building. When I look at the seven of us together, spanning from middle school to early parenthood, it's mind blowing to see the beauty and the camaraderie that has emerged from the early years of chaos and sacrifice and never-enough-to-go-around.

There was more than enough, as it turned out. And when I think back on our childhood, all I see are the good things my parents were able to give us because of their "yeses" … all seven of them. I have friendships spanning decades that will last all my life long; in short, my parents made the ultimate estate planning decision, and our inheritance will be rich indeed.

So tonight at bedtime, frazzled and exhausted, I resolve to try to savor the sweet madness of two little boys jumping in and out of each other's cribs while a fussing baby demands her after-dinner snack. Yes, it's hard right now…but they're worth it. We're investing in generations, after all.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Lents do it

First off, thank you for the overwhelming outpouring of support in response to yesterday's post. I feel your prayers, and I'm so touched by and grateful for the braveness of other mamas admitting to this struggle. No shame! It's happening to you, not because of you.

So Carnivale. Here we be. I've never felt so ready for lent as I do this year. Maybe it's the combination of postpartum + chaotic schedule featuring 3 crazy babies + this half eaten (purchased yesterday) box of chocolate Joe-Joe's (Colorado finally got a TJ's last month. Amazing.), but I am ready and raring to go.

I was all set to launch into some kind of modern day sackcloth and ashes routine involving early rising, Scripture reading, mental prayer, junk food/social media/sugar fasting + 6 days per week of exercise but then I was like, wait a second Jenny…slow your roll. You're kind of in the throes of a mental health crisis here. And you have a 10 week old, a toddler, and a preschooler. And sleep is already a rare commodity.  So I've … lowered my expectations, shall we say. Plus, I have been guilty in the past (frequently guilty) of making Lent some kind of Catholic New Year's resolution opportunity, and I generally focus on self-improvement and discipline related penances instead of, oh, I don't know, stuff that actually causes me to grow spiritually. No more. Not this year, at least.

As much as I desperately wanted to hop on Steph or Susan's bandwagon and make the gym commitment, I knew it would be for me and also, all about me, so it wasn't the best fit for where my focus needs to be. I'll still try to get to the gym as often as possible, but it won't be for Lent's sake. (And don't get me wrong, these are fantastic ways to grow physically and spiritually and I love the ideas. But for me, right now, they would be distractions, not actual opportunities for growth in holiness.)

Then I read this earlier this morning and I knew I'd found my way. This is where I'm at: taking little opportunities throughout the day to take the focus off me and instead direct it toward Him. So where does that leave us? For starters, instead of my valiant resolution to get up before the kids and pray, I'm resolving to simply … pray. To take 15 minutes each day for mental prayer (not just a rosary, though I do love me some bead time) actual, focused, intentional connection with my Creator. And not necessarily at 5:45 am when I'm dead and useless (and guaranteed to continue being that way for the duration of the day) but during some stolen chunk of time during naps or preschool mornings or while my MH is here when I'm otherwise squandering my solitude on HGTV or pinterest. Ahem.

Which leads me to my next resolve: no social media. Blogging excepted. I don't need to be further distracted, and I should probably be reading actual books (spiritual or no) in lieu of chasing endless bunny trails down the rabbit holes of the internets. Guilty as charged.

I'm also going to commit to only fruits and vegetables as snacks between meals. I know as a nursing mom I'm off the fasting hook, but I'm super guilty of mindless handfuls of veggie straws (definitely not a veggie) and cookies or tortilla chips throughout the day. If I'm really hungry, carrots will do.

And finally, as a family we've committed to forgoing eating out/takeout for the month, and we're using the typically budgeted amount to spend at the store which we'll bring as a gift to our parish's food pantry. We figured it would be really fun for the boys to shop for food and then bring it to give away, or at least that it would make the concept of 'charity' more concrete in their wee minds.

Oh, and how cute is this? Joey's preschool will be fasting as a class from, get this… 5 minutes of recess per day, which they will spend in prayer instead. Whaaaaaaat? Have you ever heard of something so cute or so amazing? They've also been asked to bring in pennies and coins to drop in the classroom jar, which they will march across campus which during Holy Week to deposit in the St. Vincent de Paul box for the poor. I heart our parish, and Catholic schools 4 ever and ever.

So happy Carnivale to y'all. It's not quite Mardi Gras in Rome up in here this year, but it'll do.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Oops, it happened again

Well, I didn't quite make my 7 in 7 goal…but it seems like a lot of us are in that camp.

C'est la life of a mommyblogger, eh?

Speaking of life, and of mommy blogging, how's this for some shit?

I have post partum depression. Again.

Thinking that I had sailed smoothly past the telltale signs and symptoms of this most dreadful of maternal foes, I somehow failed to connect the dots until this past weekend:
  • anger, uncontrollable at times
  • exhaustion, bone-deep, even after 8 + hours of sleep
  • shortest temper ever (think tears and wailing over spilled milk, smeared poop, burnt toast)
  • stalled weight loss/insatiable appetite (hmmm, those two might be more closely related to each other than to an outside impetus. I'll get back to you on that one.)
  • weeping spells
  • feelings of "I can't do this"/"This was a terrible mistake"
  • the unshakeable certainty that I was certainly the most unfit mother in all the land
  • numbness and the propensity to 'zone out' periodically throughout the day
etcetera, etcetera.

I thought it was worth putting it out there, embarrassing and humbling or no, simply because I've talked about it here before and gotten so much amazing feedback from my mom-rades in arms, and also because duh, this is a blog, and what good is a blogger without transparency?

So there it is. I have it, again. And maybe I'm the stupid one for saying "yes" to a new baby 3 times in 4 years, or maybe this is just the particular cross I've been handed to carry at this moment, but whatever the case may be, I don't see any benefit to avoiding it here on the 'ol blog. I'm not asking for commentary from the peanut gallery on how 'stupid' having kids is when you're mentally ill/prone to mental illness (aren't we all, as humans?) and believe me, I've had that kind of feedback in the past. But it won't keep me from speaking out because I know there are other moms out there who are dealing with this, who have dealt with this, and who will deal with this in the future. And it sucks. And you feel totally alone and alienated from reality and out of touch with your past/present/future self…but here's the thing: it's not you. 

I'll never forget something Dave said to me while we were dating, and I know I've mentioned it here before. After I confessed to him my struggle with depression and the embarrassment and sorrow I felt over my illness he wrote me a beautiful letter - in Adoration, no less - and in it he quoted Bl. John Paul II who adjures Christians to remember that "the person is not their illness, and is never to be confused with the condition from which they suffer" … or something to that effect.

"You are not your illness, Jenny" was the specific line that stands out in my memory of that letter from him. I believed it then, and I still believe it now, and that's why I feel confident in sharing this here. Because it's not me. It's something that is happening to me, yes, but it's not the sum of who I am as a person, or as a mother. I've been a good mother before. And I'll be a good mother again. And in fact, I'm a good mother even now, in the midst of the hard times, because I'm still doing it, dammit. Because adulthood. And responsibility. And faithfulness.

Anyway, I'm taking steps to get better. I had some progesterone injections today, courtesy of my fantastic Creighton-trained doctor. I'm in the process of scheduling some counseling sessions to talk it out. I'm working with my Creighton instructor (who happens to be a nurse and a nutrition junkie herself, conveniently enough) to plot a course using supplements and nutritional tweaks. I might even get rilly crazy and toy with the dose on my regular 'ol daily antidepressant (for my regular 'ol depression, not to be confused with PPD. Aren't I a lot of fun?)

At any rate, we'll see how things go. Already after just 2 progesterone shots today I feel as if there is air in the room again, if you know what I mean. Before I could breathe and breathe and still feel oxygen deprived. But now…it's all seeming a little lighter. A little more manageable. 

So that's where I'm at. I'm not looking for sympathy here, but I am asking for empathy, because I know there are enough of us out there who have gone through this, or who know somebody who is going through this. Pray for them. Offer to watch their kids so they can get to a doctor's/therapist's appointment. Don't say stupid stuff to them like "well, maybe you should stop getting pregnant if it makes you so sick." Hi, that's asinine, and it's equivalent to telling cops to quit showing up for their shifts if they don't want to keep getting shot. Occupational hazard and all. Rant over.

I hope this helps someone. Or I hope it helps you understand someone you love.

I do know one thing: she was more than worth it.