Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Can Catholics get vasectomies?

Alternately titled: things that go 'snip snip'

There seems to be a lot of interest in Catholic s-e-x despite the sad reality that few practicing Catholics are actually, um, practicing what is preached (or what too frequently isn't preached in far too many parishes around the world.) So on the heels of this wildly popular instructable on how to 'do' birth control as a Catholic (hint: don't) I thought we could talk about something else really fun and totally appropriate to discuss on the internet with strangers: vasectomies.

Okay, maybe we'll talk about tubal ligations, too.

Fun fact: I was actually offered a tubal at the 'catholic' hospital we delivered John Paul Francis in (oh the irony) when he was about, oh, 4 hours old. It wasn't the first birth control option they threw out there for me to consider but the fact that it was even on the table when I, at age 29, had just popped out my second healthy child was, quite frankly, baffling. I mean sure, I bled a little more than was polite in the final stage of labor but come on, you want to spay me after two kids? I hadn't even 'gotten' my girl yet. Sheesh, people. 

Anyway, back to the riveting topic du jour: bodily mutilation. For that, gentle reader, is precisely what takes place when a section of woman's fallopian tubes or a man's vas deferens are either cauterized/removed/severed. First off I'd like to give a big old shout out to GROSS because hi, when I have parts of my body cauterized, it usually means something has gone very, very wrong.

Secondly, does anyone find it curious that in a culture where infertility is such a mysterious billion dollar industry where few medical professionals care to take the time to examine the root causes, we're more than happy to snip, clip, or remove those perfectly healthy, properly functioning parts once a couple/individual has decided "welp, we're all done using that. So long, bodily system."

I mean, can you imagine if any other piece of the complex puzzle of the human anatomy was simply removed for 'working too well'? I know, I know, spleens...and appendixes. But come on, those are always taken in times of disease or illness. Can anyone name one other instance in which we attack a healthy body part and dispose of it because we're tired of it functioning properly?

So I digress, because that's not the reason the Church opposes sterilization as a form of contraception. I mean sure, it's a part of it, the whole 'your body is a temple' concept and the human person being created in the image and likeness of God, but really, the practice of sterilization is condemned for the same reason any other means of contraception is: it fundamentally damages the relationship between the created human person and the Creator.

It's the same, tired, ages old attempt of man to try to "know better" than God. And in so doing, in trying to 'know,' he ends up self-harming.

Harming his body, harming his relationship to his spouse, and harming his relationship to his God.

Contraception is simply another effort in the long, tired litany of "I will not serves" that seeks to wrest control over life from God's hands into our own.

But another baby would kill me.

We can't afford to have any more kids.

I have a chronic, pregnancy-exacerbated disease.

My husband is cheating on me.

I'm not married.

I'm a college student.

And to all those valid, troubling, serious protestations, there is but one possible answer:

Don't have sex.

Seriously, that's the answer.

If there is some condition or circumstance so absolutely grave that to bring a child into it would be disastrous, then the only conceivable answer is to avoid the act which creates children. Because as with any other form of contraception, things can - and very often do - go wrong. Condoms break. Sperm get through. Pills fail to dispense enough estrogen. And sometimes, yes, even sometimes when surgical measures have been taken...life finds a way.

Life's like that, you know? Miraculous, sometimes. And utterly confounding. And the only realistic answer to the problem of "we definitely can't conceive right now" is "You definitely shouldn't be having sex right now." Because you know what must be available when people who 'definitely shouldn't get pregnant right now' get pregnant? Abortion. Abortion must be available to back up failed contraception. Maybe not for you personally, but for somebody. For a lot of somebodies.

50% of all abortions are performed on women who were using contraception when they conceived.

This is a hard teaching. Almost impossible, by our current culture's standards. Lots of Christianity is hard, though. The Eucharist. Immortality. A God made man, dwelling among us.

It's all had to swallow.

But what's the alternative?

Our culture would have us believe that sex is paramount to all other human experiences, that children are the ultimate inconvenience, that the body is the end all and be all of our existence, and that the only real path to happiness is paved with shiny toys.

And you know what? Our culture is effing miserable. Divorces. Broken marriages and broken families. Kids killing themselves, each other, their parents. Parents killing their kids. Spouses cheating on each other, sometimes with the explicit permission of the other spouse. And on and on.

Ain't none of what our culture's dishing making anybody truly happy. So why take sex advice from such a source?

Just because something is common doesn't make it normal. And just because something is popular doesn't make it right.

For more reading on this topic check out Humanae Vitae for yourself. Seriously. Even if you're not Catholic. Even if you've read it before. Read it again. Then look at the time stamp and let your jaw drop when you do the math.

Fifty years.

(A little post script: Some couples have pursued sterilization without full knowledge of the gravity of their actions -- maybe they weren't properly instructed in their faith, maybe their doctors gave them an ultimatum (sadly common) and maybe their own pastors urged them to take the step (even sadder), and, if this is the case, there is always room for reconciliation with God and with the Church. Even if the procedure is irreversible - which is not always the case! never hurts to ask - the human heart is, amazingly, always capable of true contrition and repentance. So please do not feel condemned by this information. Find a good confessor, make things right, and begin the path to rebuilding your relationship with your Father and with your spouse. It's NEVER too late to make things right.)

Friday, May 23, 2014

7QT: Weight loss after baby and 'the new normal'

Joining Jen et. al. for the weekly.

So I was aaaaaaall set to bang out a couple trite lines today about keeping your nose to the grindstone and sticking to a clean eating plan and letting those mommy pounds roll off your back(fat) but then, but then...I happened to clickity click over to Bonnie's place before I opened my blogger window and bam. Gut check. Reality check. Reminder of what really matters, aesthetically speaking.

So I'll still share my personal experiences with the body after baby...but maybe in a less ascorbic tone? Heck, I'm still working on getting dressed in the morning (this post was super inspiring in that regard) and making a teeny bit of time for daily prayer (mostly fail, but I'm trying.) so this is very, very much a work in progress. End disclaimer.

Lipstick, earring, huge sunglasses. No shower necessary.
My bag 'o tricks for getting back to normal:

1. Walking. Sounds a little disappointing, right? Wrong. I was an avid runner (think 5 half marathons) before I had kids and so far, until this post partum period, I would spend months trying to coax my stretched and taxed body back into something resembling race shape so I could proudly reclaim my identity of 'runner.' This time around, thanks to a healthy dose of reality (I have very little, very needy kids and even less energy and no apparent chunk of time in which I might even attempt to run) I've decided to embrace my inner grandma and ... walk it out.

Plus, while living in Rome during the first 2 trimesters of this most recent pregnancy, I gained almost zero weight until week 21, a feat which has never even come close to being repeated. I chalk it up to the daily grind of 3-4 miles of casual walking which was oh-so-conveniently integrated into daily life there. Plus 80+ pounds of stroller weight to muscle around.

Now obviously I'm not able to exactly replicate that whilst living in far-flung suburbia, but I've been trying to log miles either on the walking trail in the evening or at the gym, and on the days I can hit that magic 3 mile mark...I feel pretty good.

2. Arbonne protein shakes. I attempted their 28 day detox program but then was slightly distracted by a combination of a family-wide stomach flu epidemic and then an impromptu trip to Italy involving multiple days of pasta/gelato/pastries/wine/repeat ... but I've still managed to shed about 12 lbs since I started incorporating their protein shakes and a daily cup or two of their detox tea into my diet. Here's a fun fact: my best friend (that's not her on the splash page; she's hotter than that) is an executive vice president in their company, and she regularly hooks me up with steeply discounted product. Since I'm giving her a little shine here today, she graciously offered to host a giveaway for a bag of my fav: vegan, GF chocolate protein powder ($69 value) `which, when mixed with ice, water, and a banana, tastes about as close to ice cream as I'll let myself come most days. You can enter a couple different ways at the end of this post.

3. The Perfect Health Diet. Bought the book ala Jen's recommendation, devoured it in about a day and a half (it's very, very 'science' soooo...be warned.) and immediately began trying to implement the dietary recommendations. I've yet to get on the supplement train, but on the days when I do eat in the proportions recommended by the authors, I feel really good and my blood sugar is scary stable. (Basic framework: 1 lb of proteins, 1 lb of safe starches, 2 lbs of leafy green things per day)

4. Showering. I know, I know...the irony. But here's the thing: when I make the effort to put myself together for the day, even if it's only in my favorite sweat skirt (I feel dirty just typing that) I make better choices re: food and exercise. And I just feel better when I catch a glimpse of my clean momself in the mirror and don't see a greasy teenager staring back at me.

5. Positive self talk. I know, I know...the worst. But actually the best. And if you can change the narrative in your head about the way you see yourself, you'll start to actually see yourself. Like the way God sees you. And the way your husband sees you. And you'll start to make peace with yourself for looking exactly as you do right now, in this season, instead of longing for some you of yesteryear with a 28 inch waist and a closet full of size 6 jeans. And when you are kind to yourself, you'll actually make better choices concerning food and exercise. It's amazing.

6. Avoid the sugar. I know, I know, it's a bit of a reiteration of #3, but seriously...added sugar is what makes food hit my brain like crack. I've always fancied myself a salty gal, but when I started to really look at the labels of my salt-laden favorites, I realized they were actually loaded with sugar, and since I don't get the same 'buzz' from salted almonds, for example, as from salt and vinegar potato chips, it's probably not just the salt that's driving my fierce need to empty the whole bag.

7. Nine months on, nine months off (or longer, depending on how close together your kids are/how many pregnancies you've had). Horrifying? Perhaps a bit. Realistic? Yep.

Our bodies are doing some pretty heavy lifting (har har) during our childbearing years, and when you couple gestating with lactating, well...some things just aren't going back to 'normal' anytime soon. You have a new normal. No, this does not mean you will forever be 30 lbs overweight and looking perpetually 5 months pregnant, but, there are certain things that make a body hang onto lbs like there's a famine on the horizon, and for yours truly, that's breastfeeding. I'm resigned to the reality that as long as I'm lactating, I'm going to have a good 12-15 lbs of 'backup weight' my body just refuses to surrender. Okay baby, you win this round.

Hope these were moderately helpful and not boring as hell. Back to sipping my espresso and pulling my wild animals off each other's throats. Happy Friday!

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How to take a shower (with 3 kids 3 and under)

I thought in light of all the heavy traffic the topic of NFP is generating round these parts, a practical hands-on style post might be in order.

You know, for actually living with all the fruit of NFP under one's roof.

(Painfully obvious disclaimer: NFP does not necessarily equal a house overrun with children. At least, not always. But it can make you more, how can I put this, open to the possibility? Even though it is actually more effective at postponing pregnancy than most forms of contraception. End disclaimer.)

Without further ado: personal hygiene.

Step 1 (Difficulty level: Introductory)

Showering? Bahahahaha ha ha ha ...

Sweat pants + top knot = who even neeeeeeeeds to chart? Ain't nothing going down in this house tonight.

Step 2 (Beginner)

Hand baby to suit-clad husband at 7:49 am. Beg him to delay departure for office for additional 4 minutes. Run to bathroom. Leave door open to hear screams for help. Rub shampoo into partially dry hair and perhaps add conditioner at the same time to streamline the process. Shave one leg using same shampoo/conditioner mix. Eschew toweling off in favor of the painful wet leg denim shuffle. Retrieve baby. Return top knot to upright position.

Step 3 (Intermediate)

Wait until all children are napping. Slam laptop shut. Run to bathroom, leaving door cracked for (in)security purposes. Plan on at least one intruder to peep upon you during your 7 minutes in heaven. Strategically placed loofahs and/or towels hung on exterior of shower door can delay 'the talk' for several more years, potentially. Repeat shampoo routine as outlined above, but perhaps separate shampoo and conditioning into 2 steps. Shave both legs. You are amazing.

Step 4 (Advanced)

Tuck infant under arm and run the water. Test it for ideal temperature for sensitive baby skin. You're about to dispatch two dirty birds with one shiny stone.

Step into shower, taking care to throw a towel down behind you on the bathroom floor. Leave ventilating fan off, because this is a shower + baby humidifying session, you clever minx.

Hold baby firmly in shower spray, gauging baby's level of discomfort by the terrorized facial expression. (We shower our newborns from day one, so they're quite comfortable in the spray, all told.) Keep the terror at or below 4. With baby firmly clasped to body with a cross-crotch hold, use other hand to dispense hypoallergenic body wash/baby wash onto baby's back. Note: you are about to use your child as a loofah. No shame. Drag baby's soapy body back and forth across your ruined midsection, paying special attention to neck rolls (baby's) and any other milk-hiding crevices. Finish with a quick shampoo (for hairy babies) if necessary. Coo at baby and enjoy this sensory discovery/water play activity with your oft-neglected third born.

When hot water is in danger of running out, carefully open shower door and place wet baby on the waiting towel. Baby will now be happily encased in a warm bathroom sauna to loosen up all that overnight mucus. Shut shower door and begin frantically shampooing own hair. This is your big chance to shave all the things. Don't blow it.

Hot water is waning, but you don't care because you just exfoliated and shaved your pale legs, and your conditioner has been sitting in your hair for the entire recommended 3 minutes. Rinse off, step out, and retrieve baby. If the toddlers are still engrossed with their Curious George episode, you might have time for a quick baby lotion massage.

Step 5: Look up, you're being watched.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

So how do you 'do' NFP?

I got a lot of good follow up questions to my previous post on NFP vs. Contraception and I thought I'd link up some excellent resources here.

First and foremost, Humanae Vitae: Read with an open heart and a questioning mind, and ask yourself, "how have Pope Paul VI's predictions panned out? Does this lend credence to the Church's teachings on sexuality and procreation?

Second, Bishop James Conley's pastoral letter on the above mentioned encyclical (official teaching of the Pope).

Finally, for some practical, hands-on instruction (see what I did there?) in the actual practice of NFP, I heartily recommend Creighton's NaPro technology, great for both the practice of NFP to delay or avoid pregnancy or (and perhaps even more excitingly) to achieve pregnancy in the face of infertility. 
Borrowed from Haley over at Carrots

Seriously, it's twice as effective as IVF? And, um, free-ish. Or at least covered by insurance.

Mind blown.

There's also the Sympto Thermal Method, which I'm also trained in but, um, don't really 'get' postpartum, and then there is the Marquette Method and the Billings Method.

And I think my cousin uses something called a Lady Comp and pees on strips of test paper. Idk, you're gonna have to google that one yourself.

I'll link up some more resources on a permanent page on the 'ol blog, but right now we've got tons of family in town and I haven't showered in...well, I'll never tell.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Isn't NFP just Catholic "birth control?"

I gave a little talk this morning to a group of pretty ladies in a parish north of Denver and I thought parts of it might be re-fashionable into a blog post. If it seems a little more obnoxious than usual, just imagine me speaking it to you in a hyper-caffeinated slur instead of it being the written word, and it should translate juuuuust fine.

I am in no position to talk to you about NFP, because: 

- We’ve had 3 babies in 4 years, the most recent edition being somewhat surprising in her timing
- I forget to chart. Often.
- I frequently say terrible things like “Let’s give them back” or “Let’s never have sex again” … in jest, of course, but still… what kind of a mother/wife/Catholic says those things?
- I have often fantasized about taking a magical pill which will forever ‘free’ me from the burden of motherhood.

And that’s exactly why I want to talk to you about contraception, which is, as it turns out, an entirely different animal from NFP.

NFP does not equal contraception. It is not ‘Catholic birth control,’  however persistently our illiterate culture pushes the notion. Contraception necessitates a step taken, a physical or chemical interference in the life-giving process of human sexuality. 

Delaying conception, on the other hand, or to use soon-to-be-Bl. Pope Paul VI’s phrase, "the intentional spacing of children," does not tamper with the life-giving potential of sex. 

On the contrary, using knowledge of one’s cycle to avoid a pregnancy virtually bows down in the face of Divinely created human fertility and says “I defer to your awesome power” — there’s no funny business about shutting down or circumventing or cutting off or wrapping up and proceeding as if nothing has changed. 

So in this way, fertility awareness aka NFP aka 'birth control' in the real sense of the phrase is about the furthest thing from contraception. A better term for it might simply be self control.

Instead of enabling sterilized, life-denying sex, it summons temperance. Prudence. Delayed gratification. Concepts few couples seem to have room for in their bedrooms or their marriages in our present culture. 

NFP says “I recognize the gift, I am in no position to receive the gift, I offer the gift back to the Giver in gratitude…even when it’s a difficult offering to make.” 

And it's sometimes a very difficult offering -- both the abstaining part and the 'maybe we really are ready to welcome another child' part.

The Church isn't anti contraception because She is anti science or anti technology (couldn't be further from the truth, actually, but that's another post entirely), but rather, because contraception is fundamentally anti-woman and anti-life. And anything that opposes life itself definitely opposes the Source of all life.

It's not a matter of finding a 'natural' way to avoid getting pregnant; it's about coming to terms emotionally, intellectually, physically, and spiritually to the reality that sex and procreation are intentionally, inextricably linked. For a reason.

Contraception says, if you’ll forgive the expression, screw you, Giver…now shove aside so I can screw my partner. 

Too crude? Maybe. But for those of us for whom sex is a daily topic of conversation with relative strangers, it’s probably not entirely shocking to hear a tired mom throw around the term “screw.” 

Or if it is, then you need to spend more time in the checkout line at Target.


Are they all yours?

Are you done now?

Finally got your girl, huh?

Are you going to try to give her a sister?

Oh, they’re NOT twins?

You’ve been busy…

You do know what causes that, right?

Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…until you think you might scream at the very next person who comments on your reproductive activities. 

I actually fairly frequently encounter friendly, non-hostile and curious strangers who are genuinely surprised and happy - if a little confused - to see a youngish mom with so many little kids in her charge. Especially kids who look like they could maybe be twins but aren’t. 

Nobody has kids as close together as some of us practicing Catholics tend to (well, maybe Mormons), and so while to some people it’s repulsive, for most it’s simply … surprising. And I don’t mind being surprising. 

Except when my kids are misbehaving. Or when I’m sleep deprived. Or when I’m in a hurry and I honestly don’t want to talk to you about how you came from a family of 10 but your husband had a vasectomy and you always wondered if you should have tried for a third but it’s a relief to be done with the diaper stage, anyway, and doesn’titalljustgobysofastanyway?

Those are the times when I have to summon my deepest reserves of grace and patience and put-a-smile-on-your-face-and-make-this-look-good attitude, because I, me and my little family, and you and your families, are cultural missionaries — emissaries from another planet — however you want to look at it. And we must send the message that we come in peace. 

I remember hearing about how an acquaintance’s husband would sometimes remind her to smile when they were in public, “so people will know we’re enjoying this.” 

“This” being the teeming, boisterous life with 5 small children in tow.

I recall being mildly scandalized by this, hearing it with only a year or so of mothering my firstborn under my belt (and pregnant with my second born under my belt, literally) and wondering how he could be so callous toward her, because mothering is hard, dammit, and you’re reminding her to smile?!

Now that I’m deeper into it, I realize how right he was. I think about it often, talking myself down when somebody is melting down in the grocery store or trying to crack my nose with their skull while we share a skinny airplane seat or maybe just pew-diving on any given Sunday … I mentally revisit his very helpful reminder to “look like you’re enjoying this.”

Because for as much as our culture professes to hate life, to fear life, to seek its destruction, even…our culture is starving for a little slice of authentic happiness.

Bl. Mother Teresa said that Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.

I think if it’s a painful smile, like the kind you might flash at Costco when a particularly horrific behavioral issue might be rearing its head over the lack of quality of samples that day or the denial of ice-cream from the snack counter, it’s probably even more beautiful.

So, act like you’re enjoying it, mama. Even when you're not. Maybe especially when you're not.

NFP isn't the Catholic solution to the problem of 'too many children;' rather, it is the Church's response to the gaping void of too little love.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Parenting style

Before your blood pressure starts to elevate, I'm not talking attachment versus detachment here (though let the record state, b.), but rather, how do you present your kids to the world? Are you a head-to-toe Baby Gap aficionado (I wish. Someday, Dave Ramsey) or do you let your littles troll in Heathtex primary-colored fleecy separates from the big W?

Me, I'm kind of a hybrid mother dresser. I like a good pair of Striderite sandals as much as the next yuppie child of the 80's, and I'm not above letting my kids sport a little seersucker in dressier settings, but for our daily toil, I tend towards simple denim + knit tops, preferably collared but lamentably often crew necked (boys, they have opinions!) and sensible, weather appropriate footwear. Or no footwear. Because barefooted children learn better, haven't you heard?

Earthing. It's a movement.

Part of the reason I can somewhat control how my children look (and the fact that they sometimes look almost presentable) is that I control the inflow of textiles into this abode. If it's in their closet, I approved it...a sometimes humbling admission when I think of the multiple super hero'd t-shirts and one very embarrassing Chewbacca long sleeve that have snuck their way into the rotation. And believe me, these particular numbers get played frequently.

But wookies aside, my kids usually look pretty good. Thanks to my love affair with thrifting and the seemingly endless supply of Children's Place, Crew Cuts and Baby Gap castoffs at my local Saver's, their closets are preppy wonderlands filled with suitable choices for daily wear. They'll never look as fly as the Patton Clan, but then, we can't all be so fabulous.

All of which leads me to a very troubling and weirdly feminine confession:

Oops, not my confession. Just an adorable baby.
True confession: girl's jeans on my 3.5 year old boy. Hearts on pockets and everything.
Oops. I really need to check labels more closely.

Worse from the front.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Gateway Pets

I'm in a bit of a blogger's rut here, and so I've been glued to my sagging couch, glutting myself in this rare occurrence of all-three-napping-simultaneously at the buffet of the internet's Monday offerings. This, this, and most especially this were all well worth the click. In other news, we have 8 flipping inches of snow on our deck and I have bagged up 4 bags worth of crap in the form of books, toys, clothes I hate on my self/children and random socks, and I'm not done yet.

Snow day in May, punch me in the face.

But I'm not here to talk to you about the weather, or about trash bags full of broken thrift store toys and pillows shaped like Thomas the Train.

I'm here to talk to you about the dangers of gateway pets, and how your happy family can be led down the garden path by dangerous creatures like these:
But think older and with less adorably floppy ears.

This is the story of how we recently inherited, bonded with, and promptly lost a family heirloom pet. Gather round and I'll spin you the tale...

It was a long, long time ago... actually, last Tuesday, and my sister in law dropped by with a very special visitor who we agreed to host for...an indefinite period of time. She's getting married in less than a week, and her newly-wedded lease agreement does not extend to furry tenants. 

So Roo the bunny was to become ours. Roo's original owner, my other brilliant sister in law, had moved overseas and couldn't get a bunny past customs, or something like that, so we were this poor fluffy guy's last chance at domestic tranquility. In other words, the poor slob never stood a chance.

So Roo, his cage, his food and beverage supplies, and his pile of filthy bunny blankets became a part of our little family. And for 5 wonderful days, life was full. He hopped tranquilly around our fenced backyard, nibbling grass and accepting dandelions and strawberry tops from the sticky paws of his new owners, and all was well. 

Until yesterday morning.

Upon waking to a wintery mix of Mother Nature's springtime fury, I thought it wise to check on the little fellow, what with sleet blowing sideways. His cage was covered but I still thought he might be chilly. I tottered out in my church clothes with a fistful of baby carrots and stopped dead in my tracks: his cage was open, and it was empty.

There were no signs of foul play, other than the dangling door, but my heart sank, because here was this 9-year-old bunny (can you even believe they can live that long?) who had weathered multiple cross-country moves AND an entire year of life in the wild, wild west of my little sister's forrest-y backyard and we had lost him in 5. fricking. days.

Even better, his rightful owner, the globe-trotting SIL, was due to touch down on Colorado soil in a matter of days for the aforementioned wedding. And now I had to cop to losing her beloved furry friend in record time.

Barking instructions at Joey to run for some bunny food and a flashlight, I started frantically crawling around the perimeter of my backyard, peering under snowy bushes and crouching to see into the darkest recesses of the space below our deck. 


No blood, no fur, no beady little eyes glaring back at me...the rabbit was/is gone.

And this morning, Joey, after glumly surveying the empty cage, asked for a puppy.

Lord have mercy, it has begun.

If you give a boy a bunny...

I'm not completely giving up hope on our wandering furry friend, but I'm less optimistic after waking up to this on May 12th: 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

There's Jesus

When we’re wrestling our small child army into the pew at mass on Sunday mornings, I usually try to pick an outside spot on the center aisle – best for quick getaways and great for allowing a distractible 3-year-old a front row view of the entrance and recessional processions. Sometimes we sit further up front than might seem wise, but lately we’ve been stuck closer to the back as we creep in, moments after father has already ascended the steps to the altar, late enough to be irritating but not so late that we miss any readings. But that’s life with 3 babies 3 and under, at least for now.

Our boys, ages 2 and 3.5, are prone to the same bad mass behavior in babies the world over: begging for snacks, drawing on collection envelopes with the omnipresent ballpoint pens that seem to always end up on freshly laundered church pants and little hands, smacking heads on pews, dropping kneelers on the feet of unsuspecting adults, etc. Evie, at 4 months, is generally content to simply fire concussive rounds of diaper bombs, carefully timed to correlate with silent, reverent pauses in the liturgy.
In short: we’re in Purgatory for 70 minutes. And the kids? They know it.
I’ve seen a direct correlation between how recollected and peaceful I am at mass and how well-behaved my children are. Unfortunately for all parties involved, while I might enter the sanctuary at a 3 on the stress o meter, I’m generally around an 11 by the kiss of peace. Because naughtiness! And bathroom trips. And near-concussive altercations with the bottom of the pew. And audible expressions of outrage involving lighting candles (no, you may not) and eating donuts afterwards (that’d be a hell no).
So. Mommy’s not usually peace-filled during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And therefore, all too often, my little charges are reduced to little more than squirming bundles of angst and woe, completely undone by the cruel hour of torture we subject them to on a weekly basis.
We’ve tried religious children’s books. We’ve tried bribery. We’ve tried talking up the spiritual highlight of our week as, well, the spiritual highlight of our week. But I’m beginning to think they knew we’re faking it. Or at least, I am.
You see, I don’t actually look forward to mass, particularly mass with our family, the way I really ought to if I truly believed we were going to see the God of the Universe up there on that altar come Sunday morning. I am mostly preoccupied with the logistics of feeding, bathing, dressing, transporting and unloading 3 precious bundles of baptized joy into an open pew at 9:33 am, and quite frankly, by the time we get there, I’m about as far from a recollected state of worship and reverence as could possibly be.
Sure, it’s understandable. We’ve got 3 little kids, after all. And on any given night, chances are the somebody isn’t sleeping through it. But the more I contemplate giving our children a real appreciation for the Sacraments and for their faith, the less convinced I am that I’m setting a good example for them.
I don’t long for the Sacraments the way I want my sons and daughter to; I halfheartedly drag myself out of bed to fulfill my Sunday obligation, and I Confess frequently because I know I need it. But it’s all very businesslike at this particular moment in my spiritual life, very habitual. And I know that’s part of faith and part of living the adult Christian life. It isn’t all feelings. But for the very small people in my care, feelings are a huge part of what motivates them to do, well, anything…and if I can’t instill positive feelings about practicing our Faith in them from a young age, I worry about what kind of roots will put down in their souls.
When we kneel for the beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I try to take one of the two male rascals into my arms and focus their attention on the altar. Steeling myself against the rhythmic slamming of a tiny blonde head backwards into my nose, I wrestle them in silence, sweat dripping down the back of my Sunday best. When the big moment comes I lean in close, whispering in their ears:
“There’s Jesus. He loves you so much.”Yesterday as I whispered into not-quite-two-year-old John Paul’s ear, it occurred to me for the first time how much I needed to hear what I was telling my son. There’s Jesus. Up there, on the altar. In the flesh. He loves you so much.
“He’s really up there,” I found myself thinking. How often do I really reflect on that? Really consider what it is we’re trying to teach our children.
He’s really up there. And He loves us, so much.
That’s why we wrestle them through Mass week after week…and that’s what we hope they take away from all the faith-forming and catechizing we subject them to; His love. His mercy. His presence in their lives.
Because there, up on that altar, in the unassuming form of bread and wine, held aloft in the very human hands of our parish priest who sat around our dinner table only last week…is Jesus.
Heaven help us as we help our children to navigate this sacred mystery: the reality of eternity mingled with the daily mundane. It’s easy enough to forget, grounded as we are in the earthly realities of work and diapers and tears, but it’s no less true.
There’s Jesus. He loves you so much.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Rome-ing with Kids

It was a beautiful, arduous, anxious, prayerful and exhausting 12 days abroad. Mostly it was wonderful, but there were definite moments of "what were we thinking" and "please let me lose consciousness soon."

Mostly to do with air travel, which, I am convinced, will somehow factor into my experience of Purgatory. I actually told Dave whilst sprinting through Newark in hot pursuit of a ridiculously tight connecting flight, pushing a double stroller with a two-year-old strapped to my back in the Ergo, fastened tightly across my floppy mom gut in just the right accentuating way, that if I end up there (in Purgatory, not in New Jersey. Although…) it would somehow involved extreme heat, an airport, public nudity and many, many TSA agents.

I briefly altercated with a particularly inanimate specimen of said agency after my hands were wiped for bomb resin and then wiped again, 15 seconds later, after being pushed through the metal detector with babies falling off my back and front and with my stroller being inexplicably held hostage for 6 long minutes while two of the fine men in black discussed Call of Duty or online poker or something. I felt my blood pressure spiking as the sweat poured down my back and the minutes till our flight began boarding ticked away. As we were re-entering the US, we still had to reclaim our bags, check them again, and then go back through security before we could take a bus to our departing terminal.

Anyway, I didn't get arrested, or even detained, and the brilliant individual in the shiny badge did eventually finish polishing the stroller with a bomb-detecting diaper wipe. Twice. But I am never less Christian or less ladylike than when the TSA is involved. End rant.

Oh, and they only lost 2 out of 3 suitcases en route back to Denver, so I'd say our international travel record is only improving.

But back to international travel with children, which I know is the real reason you read this blog. Even if it isn't, indulge me, because I'm ignoring at least 7 loads of nasty European-scented laundry to accomplish this post.

The kids were moderately well behaved the entire trip, even during the 8+ hours we spent in the Square itself for the Canonization, thanks to a combination of YOUR prayers (I have no doubt), carefully administered melatonin to ensure speedy circadian adjustment to new timezones, and an absolute lowering of standards in my "acceptable behavior" handbook. Some examples: days and days without naps, gelato on demand, tv whenever available, and pretty much anything food-shaped for major meals. We were after calories, not balance.
Gelato at 4 months. Completely responsible.
We also tried to remember (I think Dave may have tried harder than me) that we were traveling with little, little kids with short fuses. Even our kids who are well-accustomed to travel are still small people with short fuses and limited supplies of patience and endurance. Though I'd like to think after these past two weeks they're in a lot better shape, minus the hours of free-airplane-cable-programming, that is.

We tried to include burn-off time in our daily itineraries, like laps around piazzas and visits to fountains that may be capable of producing a cooling mist of spray, however disgusting that is when one thinks too long and hard on the water quality…
Absolutely enthralled by the Trevi Fountain.
We aslo availed ourselves of the several playgrounds we knew of around town, even though it meant trading out time from more enjoyable (to the adults, anyway) sightseeing ventures. And finally, and perhaps most painfully, we spent some nights (and parts of some days) simply sitting in our apartment decompressing and allowing the kids to be, well, kids. It was especially painful on the solitary night we spent in Florence to sit in our beautiful bed and breakfast mere steps from the Duomo from 8 pm on, listening to the city come to life below our window while our exhausted children slept off the train ride and the touristing of the day. But, c'est la vie with little ones, especially on the go.
8 hours in the Square? I'm done. I will lie here in filth, and I shall not be moved.
Would I have traded it for a childless trip abroad? Aside from the one night in Florence…not at all. It was hard, it was messy at times, and it was definitely a level of stress one does not generally associate with vacation, but it was so precious to me to think that we were sharing this moment of tremendous import and historical significance with our children.

I thought frequently about the seeds of vocation this trip might be planting in little hearts (in no way am I saying you have to take your kids on globe-crossing pilgrimages to inspire vocations, just that it struck me as really amazing that they were experiencing the beauty of the Universal Church at such tender ages). I wondered if someday, 20 years from now, one of my sons might be studying at the NAC a few miles away from St. Peter's, and whether they might somehow recognize this experience as formative to their call to serve the Church as priests.

Then again, they might just want to go back for the gelato, the nutella, and the cornetti.

I wanted to let you know how very grateful I was to have all your prayers to take along with us. It felt immensely important to somehow leave them there, in Rome, with St. John Paul, so you know what I did?

After drinking over them, that is.
I waited in line to get into the Basilica to visit my main man's tomb, now freshly inscribed with "Santus" and no longer "Beatus," and, waving Dave over to block me from view of the Basilica guards, I crouched down and slid the little book under a divider in front of his altar. (Where, consequently, a Polish priest was saying Mass over his tomb.)

So there you have it: your prayers and intentions are safely in the hands of St. John Paul the Great, so to speak. I hope it's a long time before somebody discovers and removes my little leave-behind, but either way, you've been entrusted to his paternal care.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have bills to pay and laundry to cycle. Back to reality...