Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Sunday of Four Popes

(That's what the Italian press were calling it, anyway)

We're well into our fifth day in Italy (and our nightly bottle of chianti) and I cannot even fathom the amount of things we've done and seen in such a short span of days. I can hardly feel my toes (or see them, thanks pasta) but we've accomplished more than I'd dreamed possible with three bambini in tow.

Before I go any further I have to thank you for your prayers - they were felt! And they have been so effective. The flights over here were absolutely flawless: kind seat-mates, sleeping children, and earlier-than-stated arrivals. And then the big day itself... Pure grace, plenty of Divine Mercy, and a couple of legit guardian angels waiting for us in the Square. After being ushered in through a side gate (along with a stray bishop and a handful of religious) we came down a ramp and entered a cordoned-off area that seemed very like a VIP entrance to St. Peter's Square. The only person who even looked twice at our press passes and three children in tow was a solitary Swiss Guard, but a Vatican police officer convinced him that we weren't worth bothering with.

Once in, we made our way to the obelisk in the center of the piazza, choosing a vantage point just slightly behind and to the left (facing the basilica) and settled in to wait. We arrived around 7:30 am, and the Mass didn't begin until close to 10.

The weather began to turn liquid about 15 minutes into the Divine Mercy chaplet, and we were waved over to a pair of women waving French flags and perched on folding stools. They gestured to a soft pile of sleeping bags and jackets around their feet, indicating that we should lay the kids down there. And then one of them opened her umbrella and insisted on holding over me and Evie, closing it intermittently between showers. She eventually insisted that I take her seat, as well, and thus was I found breastfeeding by a reporter for La Repubblica, Italy's largest newspaper.

Oh yeah, but first this happened:
I don't know, I guess it was a slow news day. Or we were the only family crazy enough to enter the square toting three stroller-sized pilgrims. I'm fairly confidant that might have been it...

We were treated to a lovely and poetically-timed break in the clouds when John Paul II and John XXIII were declared "Santo" and we were delighted almost to tears when Pope Emeritus Benedict appeared with the rest of the cardinali.

Oh, and we got pretty close to this guy, too:

It was a pretty amazing day. There were some rough spots, to be sure, like when Joey broke the reverent silence during the Consecration with a very audible scream of "pee is in my shoe!" as a visible dark stain spread down the leg of his jeans. But other than that, it was a peak lifetime experience for sure.

Even with the screaming children, the aching backs, and the seeming inability to concentrate on almost any of the Mass or really even reflect on the enormity of the moment, and our being there for it. Lucky for us we have a lifetime to unpack it, and a few more days in Italy to drink away the memory of John Paul putting his mouth on the cobblestones of a piazza only partially and recently vacated by of hundreds of thousands of fragrant pilgrims because he just couldn't take another minute of it. And so he licked the ground. And scratched between the cobblestones with his fingernails, looking for God only knows what.

Rome, you never fail to disappoint. And St. John Paul II, my love for you grows and grows. Thank you for this trip, and thank you for loving our family so well.

(This book is so good. A must read for the JPII generation, and all others, for that matter.)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Viva il Papa

We made it, we're here!

Actually we got in Thursday morning, Rome time, and it has been an incredible trip so far, and by incredible I mean that John Paul bit his father in public, and nobody freaked out on the flights.

The Borgo neighborhood where we're staying, just blocks from St. Peter's, is filling up with pilgrims from all over the world - mostly Polish, but from everywhere, really. Last night at dinner with our Archbishop, a priest at a neighboring table took a phone call and then burst into happy tears upon hanging up. He eventually came over to our table bearing a faded image of a young man in vestments being anointed by the Pope.

It was himself, he explained, being ordained a priest by (soon to be) Pope St. John the 23rd, and that phone call he just received was the Vatican inviting him to concelebrate the mass of Canonization on Sunday morning.

That's just the kind of stuff that happens in Rome, and on pilgrimage. So we're cautiously optimistic about tomorrow morning. We're not camping out tonight; we're sleeping snugly in our beds with plans to leave our apartment by 7 am and flash our press passes to as many guards as it takes to get into the Square - or at least onto Via della Concilliazione. Our fingers are crossed and our hearts are full as we prepare to enter into the great feast of Divine Mercy and to give thanks for the Giver of Divine Mercy for His faithful servant, John Paul II.

Sts. John Paul II and John XXIII, pray for us!

(Oh, and Pope Emeritus Benedict is going to be concelebrating! - 4 popes in one day, how craaaaaazy is that?!)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pilgrim Up

We're leaving tomorrow morning at 7 am, so naturally, I'm not quite done packing. Nor are my dishes done, but eh, what are frantic 11pm housecleaning sessions for?

What I am doing right now is camping out on my couch writing out the prayer requests we've received. I bought this adorable turquoise moleskin notebook with 100 pages and thought, meh, overkill…but it's more than half full already, and I'm not even done unloading my inbox. I am honored and deeply humbled that so many people have entrusted us with their prayer intentions. I felt really strongly that we needed to physically carry them with us, hence the notebook. Now I just hope I don't run out of pages.

We just found out an hour ago that we have press passes - journalist credentials, in other words - for the canonization ceremony. Which means access to the press entrance into the Square. Which means WE'RE GETTING IN!!! But if you could throw up a tiny, selfish prayer that the guards, um, turn the other cheek when they see us toting our equipment and three miniature assistants with us? I'm not sure it's totally normal (or even remotely permissible) for the press to bring their bambini along. So yeah.

I've got to go scoop this baby off the floor now but please, please know we are praying for you!

I don't know what kind of interet we'll have at our apartment, but if I can snag some wifi, you know exactly what I'll do with it.

Oh, and pray for a 12 hour nap for everyone in our family under the age of 4 tomorrow. Pretty please?

John Paul II, pray for us!

p.s. The JPII Love Story Linkup is live until next Sunday. Add your stories!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Have Kids, Will Travel

I did not set out to a be a mother who specialized in travel with small ones, particularly travel of the international sort. I don't really like flying, and I probably did it half a dozen times by the end of college. Fast forward to my present motherly self and I've probably logged 50 or more flights, many of them with children, in as many years as I've been mothering them, which isn't all that many. I'll tell you right now, it doesn't get any more pleasant the more you do it, but it does become more tolerable and certainly more predictable, as in, "I predict that one will freak out at 30,000 feet approximately 90 minutes into our 4 hour trip." And then bing bing bing, you're right! And your prize is a 400 calorie deficit and sweat-soaked underwear after wrestling a bear cub on a sugar high in a confined 12x12 inch space.

But it's not all bad. There are some practical tips a mama can employ to make sure the skies are, if not friendly, than at least not prone to profanity laced rants from fellow passengers aimed in the general direction of your offspring. Promise. Sorta.

The first and foremost rule of flying with children is thus: be prepared, be prepared, be prepared. You will lose a paci in the toilet of the airport restroom. Better have another (of darling's preferred brand, or else) ready and waiting in your purse. Cringing at the thought of paying $14 for a chemical-laced cheeseburger at Chili's, Too in terminal C? Load that diaper bag down with string cheeses, rice crackers, goldfish, fruit leathers, and any other low-sugar, moderate-carb portable snacks you can think of. Kids and babies aren't subject to the same idiotic stringent TSA regulations pertaining to food and drink, so pack it in!

Nursing and bottle feeding mamas, you're in luck! You can bring bottles of breastmilk, preprepared formula and formula powder through security with no difficulty. You will be asked to open the liquids and allow a TSA agent to dangle a test strip over the substance to screen for, well, I'm not sure what, but it's perfectly reasonable to bring an entire day's worth of liquid sustenance for your little one though the metal detectors. Which reminds me…

Wear your baby and/or carry your toddlers. If you have more toddlers than arms, form a human chain and (politely) defer the nekid screeners in favor of the more reasonable metal detector/wand waving/crotch grabbing pat down option. Sure, it's a little sketchy to have someone outside your marriage groping you in public, but not as sketchy as putting little baby brains through the big 'ol imaging scanners. At least in my opinion. (Note: if you're baby-wearing you'll be asked to approach the chemical testing agent at the end of the conveyor belt with open palms so they can swab you for bomb-building chemicals. Because baby wearing.)

Does your child have a lovey? Do you fear losing it more than you fear losing an appendage? Good. Bring the lovey, because it will ensure the best possible conditions for sleep during flight, and for all that is good and holy, keep your eye on the bunny. Maybe even tie the bunny to your child's backpack so that he can wear his baby, too. Maybe tie a double knot.

Have each child pick out a treasure trove of $5 worth of crap from the Dollar Tree or Target's dollar spot to fill his special airplane bag with. We use a single toddler-sized backpack which both kids share, but those ubiquitous drawstring bags that seem to multiply like rabbits in the front closet are good options, too. Forbid the child to touch the contents of the bag until takeoff, and talk up the bag like the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus reproduced and the bag is filled with the result of that joyful union. Also, more goldfish crackers.

We have a "one toy in, one toy out" rule on the bag, so there is always lots of trading out and opening and re-opening and guess what, you're already halfway across the Atlantic Ocean!

Which is in a different time zone…

So, melatonin! We adults use this to regulate our sleep cycles almost as soon as we land, popping a pill before bedtime and not taking much of a nap to ensure that the first night of sleep in a new time zone actually occurs at night.

Don't forget to pray for your travel and during your travel, either. Sometimes simply taking my rosary out of my purse and pulling it into my lap is enough to distract a fussy 2-year-old who is over his treat bag, over the laptop, and over this never-ending period of restrained travel.

A few more parenting life hacks:

  • Bring all your children for an ear exam the week before you fly, symptomatic or not. Better safe and on antibiotics than sorry and screaming at altitude.
  • Put your 'potty trained' preschooler in a pull up. Just do it.
  • Bring a spare onesie, tshirt/shorts combo for each small passenger in your carryon
  • Take your stroller all the way to the gate and make sure the airline 'gate checks' it if you'll need it during a connection, during which time you will pile it with children and carryon baggage and race across an unfamiliar airpot in record time.
  • Bring enough snacks. Or a fistful of twenties.
  • Carryon your laptop charger if you have a connection. Trust me.
  • Download some actual movies to your physical hard drive. Netflix don't stream in the stratosphere.
  • Run races up and down the terminal and in the gate area. Choose to board first if you have carryon that needs to be stowed and you're worried about space. Board last if you have nothing but a baby on your hands and you have assigned seating.
  • Let the flight attendant/random old lady/friendly business traveler hold your baby while you pee if you're flying alone. There's nowhere for them to run if kidnapping is your fear, and they are secretly dying to hold that little cutie. 
Finally, relax. Yes, it's stressful to travel with kids, but it's stressful to travel period! And nobody on your flight booked a spa treatment when they shelled out for their ticket, either. Everyone on board is entitled to a safe, somewhat sanitary and (probably not) timely transport to their final destination. Nothing more. If your kids freaks the freak out as soon as the captain turns on the fasten seatbelt light, well, better luck next time…but don't let the anxiety of the opinions of your seat mates distract you from your real task at hand: disarming that inconsolable baby. Remember, if it's not your kid screaming and clawing the setback table this time, then it'll be someone else's. Purgatory.

And enjoy that glass of wine with with your tasteless, sodium rich dinner. You'll need it, comrade.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

That Time JPII Saved Me From Myself

Let's rewind about a decade or so. It's the spring semester of my 'first' senior year (I'll explain later) in college, and I'm living the dream. Sort of. I'm 22 years old, living in a crappy 2-storey victorian house off Pearl Street in Boulder, Colorado with 2 roommates (one of whom is a guy) and a collection of pets and beer bottles. Both my roommates are ROTC cadets and all three of us work part time at restaurants and bars. We party often, and we party hard. Like black out every single weekend night, hard.

Looking back, it still boggles my mind that I somehow skated through most of my undergraduate life without suffering any real violence (I did get tear gassed after a football game descended into rioting once) and without having been sexually assaulted. Truly. I was in such a dark place in my faith and in my life, and I made so.many.bad.decisions. There is no reason I should have been spared the fate which so many of my girlfriends suffered. Date rape. Abortions. Physically abusive relationships. It was a mess of a town, and we were living in the thick of it, happily drinking ourselves into a kind of perpetual numbness that made that sort of life tolerable.

A few weeks before the new semester had started, my little sister was home for a visit from the uptight, conservative Catholic college where she was a freshman, and she thought it proper to have a little "come to Jesus" conversation with me at our parent's house after Christmas. She challenged me to stop drinking for a month, betting that I wouldn't be able to quit the party train, and basically broke down in tears telling me she didn't know me any more, didn't recognize the sister she had always looked up to, and knew I could be doing something so much greater with my life.


Here was this 18-year old freshman who had chosen to attend a private school and who had very little experience with working or with the real world telling me that my life choices were disappointing to her…what did she know? She knew nothing about reality, nothing about the world outside her fairytale campus where she was protected from all the things I saw on a daily basis, and she certainly didn't understand anything about my life. So basically I was really receptive.

She did know me well, though, and was right to irritate my competitive response by throwing down a gauntlet. "I bet you can't…"

Oh hell yes, I could. And I would, just to prove her wrong.

So the spring semester began. And I took a 30-day hiatus from partying. And … it was eye opening. After the first week the novelty of what I was attempting began to wear off, and my roommates started begging me to come out with them again. They reluctantly headed out to the bars when Friday rolled around, convinced that I would join them the following night. Or the night after that.

But I didn't.

2 weeks went by and my phone stopped ringing. I mean really stopped ringing. Nobody called. One friend met me at a coffee shop for what I thought was going to be a nice catch up (and a reprieve from my temporarily leperous social status) and instead proceeded to "dump" me. "I have to focus on school, my internship, work, and my social life right now. I don't have time for lunch dates or other bullshit; if you won't come out with us, we're done."

I was shocked. And most of all, really confused. This was my best friend. And we were done, because I was done partying.

As the one-month mark approached, I found myself staring down the barrel of Lent, a season which I still knew existed, but whose passage I had certainly neglected to mark for several years. (An aside: I never physically left the Catholic Church during my troubled college years, though I ache at the thought of how many times I unworthily received the Eucharist. I somehow couldn't quit the Sunday Mass habit, hangover or not. Thanks, Mom.)

So Lent. Feeling pretty convicted that I was on the right track from a personal growth perspective, I decided to continue my little social experiment as a form of fasting. I gave up alcohol for Lent, and I let the party-less weekends keep piling up. Bored and lonely in the evenings, I found myself on a website I'd heard my mom talk about and ordered a couple of cassette tapes (I am seriously aging myself here, but they were like $1.00 and the CDs were $3.00) and then forgot all about it. Imagine my surprise when a manila envelope from Catholicity.com arrived on my doorstep a week later. Feeling like I was smuggling drugs, I hustled it up to my room where I locked myself in with my roommates' ghetto blaster and put in the first tape I laid my hands on: "Scott Hahn: A Protestant Minister Converts."

I must have listened to that tape 3 times that first night. I just kept hitting 'rewind' and starting it over. My roommates eventually stumbled home from the bar with a group of revelers and people were pounding down my door at 1 am, screaming for me to come out and take shots with them, and I'm lying in my bed pretending to be asleep, tears streaming down my face, listing to this Scott Hahn guy talk about becoming Catholic. And it was just too much.

Holy Week came and went that year and I'm sure I went to Easter Mass, but I don't really remember. I was coming to the end of my little experiment and still debating whether I wanted to reenter 'normal' college life or not. The past 12 weeks had certainly been more peaceful, but I was still in a lot of pain that I was no longer medicating with alcohol, and I was really lonely.

Suddenly the media started cranking out tons of stories about the Pope. John Paul II had been sick for most of my teenage years and young adulthood; I hardly remembered a time when he had been healthy. Fascinated, I watched the coverage coming out of Rome in between classes and before work. I found myself wondering about him and his suffering and racing home to check the news. On the day he died, the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, I sat rooted to my couch, tears streaming down my face and in shock. He was really gone, and the pain I felt was so inappropriately disproportionate for the relationship I had with him (I mean he was some random church leader half a world away) but so raw. I literally felt like I'd lost my own father. Blinded by tears, I left the house and started walking towards downtown. I didn't know where I was going, but it was mid afternoon and I'd been glued to the television for hours. I found myself walking towards the Catholic church north of downtown, maybe a 15 block distance from our house.

When I reached the church I hesitated outside the front door, wondering what I was doing there. I'd never been to church outside of Sunday Mass, at least not for many years, and I wondered if they even kept churches unlocked during the week. I tried the handle and it yielded.

As I made my way into the darkened sanctuary I noticed only 2 other people on the premises: an older woman wearing a headscarf, sitting near the front with her head bowed, and a guy holding camera equipment, lurking off to the side. I made my way down the center aisle and noticed an easel surrounded by candles in front of the altar. As I got closer I could see that it was an image of John Paul II, and I burst into tears. Without even realizing what I was doing, I covered the remaining distance to the altar and found myself on my knees in front of his picture, crying embarrassing, public tears. The camera guy must have smelled them, because suddenly he was right there at my side, clicking away as I knelt there before the altar, sobbing and embarrassed and so overwhelmed by a grief I couldn't understand.

When my torrent of tears had slowed to a sniffle, he gently asked whether he might ask me a few questions, holding out press credentials and identifying himself as a reporter for the local paper. Sniffling, I nodded and stammered out an explanation of JPII being like my father, my grandfather, the only pope I'd ever known…and then gave him my name and occupation. The next day my mom called crying and telling me I was in the Denver Post, and I still have a yellowing copy of the piece filed away somewhere.

After that day I knew with certainty that I couldn't go back to my old life.

Without telling any of my friends or co-workers, I applied for a transfer to Franciscan University of Steubenville, the school I'd mocked my sister for attending months earlier. 2 weeks later I was holding a  letter of acceptance in my shaking hands. The rest of the school year and that summer in between were  hard. I felt like I was living in two worlds, and I was seriously doubting my hasty, sober decision. Nevertheless, when summer came to an end, I packed up my white Kia Sephia and headed east, to a decrepit little town on the banks of the Ohio River, reeking of industrial waste and blue collar pride. And life has never been the same.

JPII, I credit you.

See you next week in Rome.

Monday, April 14, 2014

JPII Love Story Linkup

You guys…I'm so overwhelmed with gratitude and I'm so humbled by all the prayer requests and intentions you've shared - keep 'em coming! We're going to get a little notebook and write them all down so that we can physically carry them with us and pray with them when things get rough 8 hours into the second leg of our flight. You know, like really holy people who offer up specific contractions for people during labor? Yeah, like that, because with travel, there's no narcotic option. (But I think we all know I'd take it if there were.)

This way, you can be there, in a way, standing with us in the Square when he is declared "Santo" … or standing with us .75 miles away near the Tiber, as it were. We'll see how close we can get without fear of "crushing the bambino!" which I'm guessing is more of a real threat when the projected attendance is near 5 million souls and there are triple the number of babies in one's care.

If the past 24 hours have shown me anything, it's how very powerful the intercession of Bl. John Paul II is, and how many people love him. And I know there are stories behind that love, and I want to hear them! I went so far as to design a graphic and will now begin the painful process of learning how to create a link up (what kind of blogger am I? I know.) so that we can remember him together, and celebrate our friendship with him as we lead up to the big day next week. So let me have it, I want your stories of how he changed your life, how he led you to your vocation, how he saved your sorry ass from yourself (that would be my story)…and always keeping in mind (for any of my non-Catholic readers) that when we celebrate the life of a saint it's in the same fashion you might celebrate the life of a loved one at a wake or funeral service. Only happier, because yay, Eternal Life! And to further clarify, we pray with the saints, asking their intercession the same way you might call your mom and ask her to remember to pray for your big meeting/test/heartbreak. It's that familial relationship within the body of Christ that gives us the confidence to say, hey, St. Joseph, brother in Christ, will you ask the Lord on my behalf for such-and-such?

I hope that makes sense. Moving on.

I'll link up my own story here later this week, and I invite you to do the same. Because if there's anything I'm sure of, it's that a whole lotta people love JPII, and I can't think of a better way to celebrate!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Epic Gifts

So we had a great Palm Sunday, and now I totally get why this is known as the mass-which-is-dreaded-by-parents because hello children, please pick up your weapon at the door. So I get that now. But ain't nothing going to bring me down today because eye poking aside, we received some crazy crazy news via early morning text message letting us know that our family - all 5 of us, right down to the petite little miss - will be hopping on a plane 9 days from today and flying across the pond yet again to visit Bella Roma for the canonization of my absolutely favorite holy man in all the land, John Paul II.

Yeah, you read that right; we're going back to Rome, and we're brining the baby.

So by official count, I think the Vatican can now expect 5 million and five pilgrims for the happy event. I cannot even fathom that this is happening, or that we're really flying internationally with the kids again, but when God hands you an opportunity like this, you don't hesitate for a silly reason like stark terror over 13 hours of flying. Nope. You just hop in the car and head to Walgreens for a passport photo shoot and utter prayers of thanksgiving that one of five passport offices in the United States that has the capacity to expedite the application process happens to be in your hometown.

God, You are ridiculous. And this Holy Week is going to be epic.

Can't  wait to tell you the full, crazy story behind it all. And please check out Evie's mugshot.

Happiest of Holy Weeks…may we all enter deeply into His Passion, death, and resurrection. As for me, I'll be reborn over a steaming cappuccino in the Eternal City in a little over a week and a half. (Can I take some of your prayers and intentions with me? Leave them in the comments below, or email them directly. I'd love to pray for you there.)

Friday, April 11, 2014

How to Ensure Your Kids Have an (un)Magical Childhood

(Stupid Blogger disabled my comments, so here's a re-post of today's earlier post. I'm leaving you for WordPress, Blogger)

Have you been seeing those heartwarming posts floating around the internets these past couple weeks about childhood and magic and making moments count? Did you recently create a new Pinterest board specifically for crafts to do on indoor high pollen count odd numbered Thursdays? Do you constantly feel pressured via social media, your peers in the carpool pickup line, and whatever crappy article you've most recently scanned on HuffPo to be a best friend and parent?

Well, you've come to the right place.

I'm here to help you discover how you, too, can ensure that your child has the most unremarkable, mundane, tedious and pedestrian latency period possible*. Plus, craft activities.

Step 1: 

Remove all forms of digital entertainment from their willing paws. Put passwords on all your devices and make up a truly ogre-caliber rule that only Mommy or Daddy can unlock the magic of media for them. When they beg for an episode of Wonder Pets at 3 pm on a Tuesday, smile cruelly and send them outside to their horrific cage of a backyard (it's fenced, after all. Oh the humanity.) and sweetly suggest they dig in the sandbox with their little brother. (The sandbox, remember, is just an area of available dirt in the side of the yard you've dumped half a bag of sand in, and it's filled with broken matchbox cars and metal measuring cups. There is no water table in sight. You are one cruel s.o.b.)

Step 2: 

Speaking of little brothers…Make sure you give your child a sibling long before the socially-acceptable 3 year mark. In fact, have them so close together that they are regularly asked if they are twins. Make them share clothing with their younger sibling, ensuring that neither child every looks perfectly put together in that convenient 'in between' size that kinda sorta fits them both. Make them share a room, and when one insists on moaning himself to sleep for the better part of 20 minutes every night, tell the offended party that it's character building, and to pretend the noise is whales singing deep, deep in the ocean. Crank up the ocean effect on the sound machine just for good measure.

Step 3: 

Never take them to a pay-as-you-visit indoor child amusement area. (I'm looking at you, Monkey Business.) If you do, they'll realize that the soft play place at the swanky mall on the other side of town is actually just a larger than life petri dish swarming with other pedestrian children. And bacteria. Encourage them to mingle with the commoners to build natural herd immunity and exchange helpful microbes which foster each other's unique digestive flora.

Step 4: 

Neglect to plan any kind of meaningful non-Christmas holiday celebration until the day before said event, or better yet, the morning of. Frantically cut out misshapen shamrocks from sheets of plain computer paper while giving an unintelligible explanation of the Trinity and then mix frozen spinach into their smoothies because vitamins. And St. Patrick! Try not to weep when you hear your 3-year-old telling his aunt that Easter means "the giant bunny comes and wrecks your house and you eat chocolate and maybe get a slinky." Resolve to find a slinky for his Easter basket.

Step 5:

Enroll them in zero extracurricular activities. Forgo any attempts at baby sign language for your hearing child. Act excited when your preschooler's teacher assures you during a mid-year 'checkup' conference that they are learning academics in the classroom in addition to control of bodily fluids, but wonder to yourself if numbers really matter. Make a mental note to ask your kid to count to 10. Feign interest when your girlfriend casually mentions soccer practice or swim lessons, but mentally resolve to refrain from said activities for as long as socially acceptable. Pour yourself a glass of wine while your little darling is 'snorkeling' in the bathtub at 4pm and toast your good sense because hey, you've got nowhere to drive.

Step 6:

Step 6: Say no to your children. Often. Sometimes it will be for their own good, but sometimes it will just be an exercise in character building, because honestly Mom, would it kill you to serve yogurt and smiley face pancakes for dinner once in a while? Yes, yes it would. Eat your chicken. When they ask you to read the 14th book of the afternoon, cruelly refuse and then offer them a bottle of non-toxic windex and a dishrag and invite them into the magical world of housework.

Step 7: 

Throw boring birthday parties filled with friends, family, and some balloons and cake. Oh, wait, that's an awesome birthday party…but note, there are no buntings, there are mismatched paper plates and plastic cutlery in use, and the adults are drinking alcoholic beverages and mingling instead of leading the group in guided multi-sensory games and activities. There may be a piƱata, but you can bet that somebody has snuck the good chocolate out of it already. The cake may or may not be homemade, but it is fashioned in the unimaginative shape of a sheet, and the frosting is runny. It tastes amazing. The poor children are left to their own devices for the remainder of the festivities, and there is no commemorative slideshow in sight.

If you've made it this far, congratulations, you're well on your way to ensuring that your little darling has the least magical childhood imaginable!* But on the plus side, he or she will probably develop a rich imagination of their own as an escape mechanism.

(Off to Jen's for more things that come in lists of 7)

*Magical childhoods are overrated. How about getting out of the way and letting childhood work its own magic.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Day in the Life

In the spirit of preserving memories for future generations and because people seem to dig these kinds of posts, I figured I'd give it a go…

(*disclaimer: this may have been the very worst day of my entire motherhood to chronicle, but journalistic integrity compels me onward.)

Let us begin…

7:09 am: someone is snorting and tugging on my shirt. I open my eyes and blink at Evie, lying in a sweaty little bundle under my arm. Oops. I don't really remember pulling her into bed with me, but I suppose it happened at some point in the night. Oblige her by nursing until she falls back asleep.

7:19 am: roll carefully out of bed and watch as Evie stretches out like a teenager, flopping her arms over her head and trying her best to take as much bed space up as possible. Blow gently on her floppy black hair and laugh before creeping out of the room to find…

7:20 am: COFFEE. My amazing husband has an espresso waiting for me on the counter and has already fed both boys. Bless him. I could never breastfeed without the tag team system we have in place, whereby I handle the nighttime parenting and he takes the 6 am - 8 am shift. If I know I have at least an hour of two of uninterrupted sleep coming my way at dawn, I can handle almost any nocturnal shenanigans. Which reminds me…

7:26 am: peek into boys' room. Whew, no fresh vom. Joey's 6 hour stomach flu seems to have run its course, and the dorm smells only faintly of puke and Dawn dish soap. Crack the window open to let in the spring air and flee the scene.

7:31 am: sit down with my egg and Arbonne protein shake. Hear my phone ringing from the other room and run to see a missed call from my little sister. Dang, it's my day for preschool carpool. Slam the shake down and run to pull on actual pants, and a shirt that is not black. I have maybe 3 shirts that are not black, so this is a sign of real effort in living.

7:45 am: breakfast is done and I really should leave, but Evie is 'wolfishly hungry' says Daddy. Dave is going in late this morning because he has a lecture series to emcee this evening, so he agrees to watch Evie and JP while I run Joey and his cousin to school. I nurse Evie for 5 minutes to abate her hunger and scan Facebook for morning news.

7:56 am: oops. We're late. I toss gently place Evie in her Rock n' Play and shout a hasty goodbye to Dave before bundling Joey into the van. He's wearing a retro thrifted Superman t, a Fargo-style fur-lined winter hat with ear flaps, a puffer vest, and his little brother's gray cargo pants. He is a legend in his own mind. After a quick blessing from Daddy, he's in the van and ready to roll.

8:01 am: a minor accident has traffic backed up. Joey is delighted by a firetruck and ambulance parade and reminds me to pray, so we say a quick Hail Mary and inspect the bumper damage as we creep by. He knows about a third of the words to the prayer now…Catholic school FTW!

8:11 am: roll up to my sister's house and grab a nephew. We're gonna be so late…

8:19 am: arrive at school, running to the preschool entrance to beat the timed lock that automatically seals at 8:20 (I think? I've never been late enough to actually miss it). Hustle the boys into their classroom, check their mailboxes, make awkward small talk with their teachers and run back to the parking lot. Remember that for once I didn't do a guilty leave-behind of any other offspring in the van and relish the temporary silence of having no additional cargo for the 17 minute drive home. Mentally recommit to Dave Ramsey's principles as I look longingly at the beautiful houses in the neighborhood surrounding our parish. Resolve to never eat out again or buy any clothing so that we can buy a house sometime before 2019.

8:39 am: Home again. Take a hungry Evie from Dave as he is one-handedly finishing the breakfast dishes. I. Married. Up. Sit down to nurse and read a couple morning blogs.

8:46 am: Dave is asking me if checks and pinstripes can work together. Nope.

8:58 am: Finish an impromptu dusting session of the main floor. Look regretfully at my 2-week-old white cami that I'm using as a dustrag before throwing it down the basement steps to the laundry. Curse our 'new' old top-loading washer that has so far shredded the spaghetti straps on five camis and an embarrassing number of other unmentionables with stringy parts. Try to remember to buy one of those stupid mesh bags to wash delicate laundry in.

9:00 am: strip protective plastic trash bag off of Joey's pillow (under the case; no suffocating allowed in this house) and decide to run through all the bedrooms and bathrooms dumping the small trash cans into it. Arrive at the front door with an entire trashbag full of dirty diapers and thank God mentally for modern conveniences and the good sense to have given away my entire stash of cloth diapers before we moved to Rome. Never again, landfills be damned.

9:01 am: Dave is ready to go and we pray a quick morning offering with John Paul sandwiched between our legs shrieking about 'his monies!' Dave takes the trash bag from my hands and heads off to work and I see that our cans already lining the curb. I have the best husband.

9:06 am: scrub the kids' bathroom down with a pair of diaper wipes. Wonder if my toilet will be any less disgusting when my boys are teenagers. Decide the answer is probably not one I want to know.

9:10 am: sit down to start writing this lovely thing. JP is still screaming for 'monies,' so I dig 33 cents out of a dish on my dresser and line the coffee table with change for him to count. He squeals with delight and finds an old Trader Joe's bag to use as his 'purse.' I try not to be too disturbed.

9:40 am: look up and see John Paul lying in the Rock n Play, cackling to himself and counting his monies still. I'm a little embarrassed that all I've been doing for the past 30 minutes is recalling my day thus far, but not embarrassed enough to stop.

9:43 am: time to switch gears and start looking at headlines for Heroic News. Look at my open tabs from last night and count at least 3 bizarre headlines that apparently caught my attention before bed: "Jesus didn't care about being nice or tolerant and neither should you," "NH Teacher fired for friending students on Facebook" and "How to spot a psychopath." Decide that I probably am one, and get to work.

9:50 am: JP alerts me that "Evie doll is cwyin, mama" Find a somewhat unhappy baby in her swing and get a whiff of JP's 3rd diaper bomb this morning. Carry both offenders into the boys room and set Evie down on Joey's bed (mattress on the floor) for some dreaded tummy time while I address JP's nasty. Mentally vow to find and kill whoever keeps feeding him raisins. Wonder if it was me.

9:56 am: nurse again. Reflect in gratitude for Evie's stellar nursing abilities and my own gift of being able to type while she eats. Lovingly stare into the screen of my MacBook Air and rejoice in its small lightweightness.

9:57 am: JP is trying to put a pull-up on his stuffed monkey and is laughing hysterically. Wonder if it's time to think about potty training him, as Dave insists. Mentally slap myself across the face for even thinking this thought. Think about going to the library and/or Target before preschool pickup. Ask JP if he wants help outfitting his monkey. Help him.

10:01 am: He decides monkey would prefer a diaper.

10:02 am: Evie is no longer pleased with my multi-tasking. Shut computer.

10:20 am: Target it is.

11:16 am: Ooops, Old Navy was closer. $89 later and many spring colors later, I'm now late for preschool pickup, but I no longer look like a haggard recovering meth addict in a facility issued head-to-toe stretchy black uniform.

(School pickup, Lunch, nursing, phone calls, texts answered, bathroom trip with creepy 2-year-old observer in tow.)

1:24 pm: Ahhh, naptime/quiet time. Joey has been fighting this relentlessly since around Christmastime, but now that it's warming up he has relented to lie on a Superman sheet in the backyard with a stack of library books and a handful of roly-polies. I harvested the roly-polies for him. Vom.

1:25 pm: the remains of JP's quesadilla is hardening on a paper plate (survival mode 4ever.) I'm only semi-drawn to it, so this new eating plan must be working.

1:27 pm: they're all quiet at the same time. Evie in her swing and the boys in their respective nap zones. The second best part of my day has now begun.

1:28 pm: Joey is back. He needs a paper bag and a handful of sticks to have quiet time with. He asks me if I'd like to join him. I stare at him, wondering why God thought it would be funny to make my firstborn an extrovert.

1:30 pm: I settle down to write and check some emails. I see one from my editor at Catholic Exchange and I start thinking up ideas for another piece later this week. I never plan posts ahead of time, and I hardly ever write down ideas that come to me, but maybe I should. At this point what I write is 90% spontaneous, though I do have occasional insights in the shower.

1:31 pm: I haven't showered today…

1:37 pm: And I'm not going to. Joey is back and he is "all done with his quiet time." I break his heart by telling him he is mistaken. I wonder if i should start planning dinner, and then I remember the chicken sausages I put on the counter to defrost this morning. I move them to the fridge and, remembering that Dave has a work dinner, consider making salads for dinner for a second night in a row. Joey must have taken me seriously, because he wandered back outside with a sippy cup filled with Pellegrino. I absentmindedly finish the rest of the bottle.

1:44 pm: Retire to my room to hide from Joey for the remainder of 'quiet time.' A friend texted us an invite to come play afternaptime, and I consider waking JP up early just to get us all out of the house. Evie is crying to nurse from her swing. Flop onto the bed to nurse her while browsing for news stories with my free hand. Update the site with breaking news. I love having a baby who loves to nurse lying down.

1:59 pm: I got distracted by the internet. I look up from my reading to see Joey sitting in my doorway with his stuffed animals in his arms. He looks at me guiltily and then sits down on the hall floor and starts reading the atlas. Whatever.

2:03 pm: I can't imagine anybody is still reading at this point. I can't believe how many times each day I am interrupted. Start streaming the new Ingrid Michaelson album (free on iTunes for a week!) and Joey crawls up into my bed and announces "I just want to beeee with you." I send him to wash his ropy poly hands before letting him crawl up next to me. He covers my the back of my arm with kisses and snuggles into our bed. Now I'm a mommy sandwich.

2:30 pm: naps are a bust. Wake a sleepy John Paul and toss all 3 kids in the car for a trip to a friend's house and some magical Vitamin D time in her stay cation of a backyard. Pick up a nephew on the way because YOLO, and my sister has to take somebody else to the doctor.

4:05 pm: Why do I bring them anywhere? Oh yes, socialization…

4:43 pm: cooking dinner. Way too early. Trader Joe's chicken sausages on the barbecue with asparagus and baked potatoes.

4:50 pm: everybody is yelling for something, but I'm happily sweeping through the house and flinging dirty laundry/errant toys/random books down the basement stairs. All our toys and books now live in the basement, and my favorite part of the day is pitching things down the stairwell one by one. Clean house = happy mommy.

4:52 pm: dinner is served.

4:59 pm: dinner is over. Dammit, I've overplayed my hand. I run a bath for the boys and they run screaming towards the bathroom, shedding clothes as they go. The floor is littered with asparagus, but I did make them 'mop' the spilled milk under the table.

5:15-5:46: books are read, diapers are applied, teeth are brushed, and then I sort of lie there on Joey's bed, letting them both jump on me while they yell "fight fight fight!" and proclaim it wrestling time. Wish for the hundredth time today that Dave was home for bedtime.

5:50: prayers. A quick, incoherent story about some pigeons, a penguin, Lightening McQueen and Mater flying to Rome for JPII's canonization. Lots of random words in Italian. Ends with a trip to Old Bridge for gelato. Joey is satisfied. Hit the lights and head to my room to nurse Evie.

5:58: brag on Facebook about having put my kids to bed 2 hours before sunset. Hear banging and shouting from the back bedroom,

6:35 pm: Both boys are watching a double episode of Curious George on a laptop propped on their dresser. Eating granola bars. I'm a sucker.

6:40 pm: fine, one more episode. Evie is asleep in her swing, so I unload and load the dishwasher and spray down the counters and table. Check for new headlines and get briefly immersed in a stupid post on Facebook. Wonder why I came crawling back to my social media habit for the umpteenth time.

6:46 pm: because the internet.

6:50 pm: bedtime for real this time. Good night, sleep tight.

7:00 pm - 8:00 pm: Sit at computer. Think about doing a couple waiting loads of laundry.

8:05 pm: is it too late to take a shower? Evie wakes up and wants to nurse. I don't feel so hot...

8:25 pm: oh, the stomach flu. Now it's my turn. Spend the rest of the night in a prone position on the bathroom floor, returning occasionally to bed to lie there moaning. Please, God, don't let the baby get this.

11:54 pm: PLEASE GOD don't let the baby get this. Dave offers her a bottle and she refuses. Violently. I attempt nursing in between bouts of vomiting. Joey wakes up screaming that he's hungry and Dave goes to comfort him.

Maaaaaybe this was not the greatest day to chronicle…but it's certainly not one I'll forget.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Monday Report

Honestly, in light of last week's doomsday post you'd think I spent the entirety of the past 7 days elbow deep in vomit, but in reality, that was only last Monday and then, surprise, last night. Apparently this stomach bug has a fun 6 day latency period before striking the next victim? Anyway, blue Dawn dish soap covers a multitude of sins, and I am oh-so-grateful for the laundry sink our landlord installed in our basement only last month. So. Grateful.

Today I had big plans involving solo shopping and gym-going, courtesy of my magnificent mother's helper and a freezer full of frozen milk, but alas, I had to be a decent human being and call her off, because the lucky duck is leaving on a Roman pilgrimage for Holy Week, and I didn't suppose she'd want to add projectile vomiting to her Lenten penances.

Anyway, enough about vomit, let's talk about this mysterious 'cleanse' I alluded to weeks ago. The materials came and I started following the plan exactly 6 days ago. And you know what? It. is. awesome.
Unrelated adorable baby photo.
A disclaimer before I go any further: I'm cheating. Big time. About the same time the Arbonne goodies arrived on my doorstep, I happened to tear through Mrs. Fulwiler's handy little e-book in a single setting (it was that good. Do yourself a favor and pre-order her memoir to get your now free copy) and I took her recommendation of the science-riddled "Perfect Health Diet" to heart. I downloaded it to my Kindle and while I'm only 1/5 of the way though it (so. much. science.) I've been implementing the basic recommendations the authors make and it has been nothing short of extraordinary as far as energy levels, blood sugar stability, and (best of all?) weight loss!

An anecdotal account for you: even though my people have been sick and angry and mostly banned from tv this past week, I've hardly been yelling. And even better, I'm actually laughing at them more often than I'm shaking my fist, because now that I'm not in a semi-hypoglycemic coma every afternoon and feeling like walking death even after 8 uninterrupted hours of sleep, I can actually function as a semi-competent mother. Wonder of wonders.

So the Arbonne 28-day challenge (basically a paleo/clean eating regimen + protein shakes, detox tea, probiotics and energy supplements) wedded to the Perfect Health Diet (moderate carbs from 'safe starches' like potatoes, rice, and squash; no grains; full fat dairy; no added sugar; and no seed oils or vegetable oils aside from avocado and olive)  has yielded a brand new Jenny. And…aaaaaannd….I lost 3 lbs in 5 days. Without being hungry. Actually, while eating more fat than I've ever eaten on purpose.

I've also doubled my thyroid medication (I take armor thyroid, a naturally-derived desiccated thyroid formulation) and been super careful to take it hours before anything else enters my system, and it's making a huge difference in the depression and energy department.

So while barf is raining (reigning? Maybe both) all around me, I feel gooooooood. And that might be the best indication of all that I'm barking up the right tree. Over and out: I've got sheets to scrub.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

I have met the enemy

And his name is stomach flu.

Forgive my radio silence over here, but a nasty little bug hath descended upon the digestive tract of my middle child, rendering me impressed at the sheer volume of fluids one small, 25 pound human can contain.

Bravo, my son. And thanks for the organic butt-kick back into Lent.

I'll see you all on the other side.

Don't look at me, Mother. You're the one who leaves me at that filthy daycare at the gym.