Friday, November 28, 2014

Christmas is a BIG deal {and that's okay}

I know the days of being able to wow our kids with a couple of thoughtfully-curated, $20 something Christmas gifts are numbered. Or are they?

I want to keep our family's focus on the real meaning of Christmas: Him. But I also want to really party it up, you know? And to me, party = presents. Not a ton of presents, necessarily, but a decent handful of brightly colored packages strewn under the (absolutely must be real) Christmas tree.

When I was growing up I remember one of the most magical moments of the season being that predawn treck down the stairs to the sight of a figurative ocean of Christmas presents spilling out from under the tree and filling the entry way of my parent's home. My parents knew how to go big.

But not necessarily bank-breaking big. With 7 kids (did you guys know I'm the oldest of 7?) times 3-4 presents each, plus grandparent gifts, we're talking somewhere in the neighborhood of 35-40 packages under that tree.

And it.was.awesome.

There was something about the superabundance of gifts under the tree that communicated, to my childish heart, the significance of the event we were celebrating. And it didn't matter that some of them were from the dollar store, or that inevitably, grandma's gifts were going to be lame pajamas (that I would die of happiness to receive today. Go figure.)

It was the ridiculous too-much ness of Christmas morning that helped me realize that ... this is a pretty big deal.

Now this is not to say that you can't have a lovely, minimalist Christmas punctuated by handmade gifts and baked goods. This is simply my own alternative perspective on the whole "Christmas is too commercialized/we're not doing presents on principle!" line of reasoning that seeks, rightfully so, to reclaim the season for Christ.

I think it can be both/and, though.

I think you can have a meaningful, sacramental, beautiful Christmas filled with bright paper packages and hymns and carols.

And I think it's okay to want to fill the space under the tree with a couple - or more than a couple - thoughtfully chosen gifts for your kids and spouse, never forgetting for a moment that He is the gift par excellence.

Also, we believe wholeheartedly in Santa in this house. But that's another post for another time.

So, without further ado, I present to you our hundred-something dollar Christmas which I hope will wow the crowd appropriately. (And, in keeping to a 3 gift per child limit, I realize that the only way we can really up the number of packages under the tree is by upping the number of butts in the seats. Gulp.)

For Joey, age 4:

This camera, which I fully expect to blow his mind while at the same time preserving my ancient iPhone to live to snap another day.

This collection of Star Wars peeps. Because my little apple didn't fall far from the tree.

This watch. Because learning! And Lightening McQueen.

For John Paul, age 2.5:

This remote control car. He's going to sob with delight when he opens it. And it alleges to be easily controlled by fat little fingers.

This watch. Because Batman.

This liturgically significant catechetical toy. Which will be shared by the whole clan, and will be personally delivered by St. Nicholas himself on December 6th. (My kids write letters to St. Nicholas, aka Santa, and leave them in their shoes on the evening of December 5th. Little do they know they're getting more than gold coins this year.)

For Genevieve, age 11 months:

These sweet little shoes. She's still utterly uninterested in doing anything resembling standing, but I figured these might give her some motivation. Plus, John Paul had a pair of Pedipeds in Italy and I loved them so much.

These adorable knee socks, which I pray can summit her 3-inch long calves and secure themselves above her cankles, staying in the upright position like no sock has yet to do.

And finally, this cool looking thing, which will be her first official "new" toy, not counting a baby doll and a stuffed kitty cat (all my kids have been given a Jellycat stuffie from birth and they are the attachment object par excellence. Do yourself a favor and check them out.)

So that's it. And looking over it in a list like this, it looks like a lot! But it was less than $150 for everything, and it will make for a nice little pile of packages under the tree. 

We also adopt a family equal in size to our own each year at our church, and I have a sort of unwritten rule that whatever we spend on our kids, we spend on theirs. It helps temper my natural desire to BUY ALL THE THINGS, and will be, we hope, instructive to our kids as they grow up and see that whatever we do for them we will match in charitable giving. So they could technically get twice as many gifts, but then the other family would not get their Christmas. 

So that's it. An alternative perspective on the annual introspective about presents vs. Jesus. Maybe He's the big Present, and the smaller ones help little impressionable people connect with that on a heart-deep level. That's my hope, at least.

 Now, onward to Advent!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Unspoken Faith: When Couples Don't Share Beliefs

Today I have the real privilege of hosting a guest writer I think you guys will really enjoy.

During the month of October when I was running my 31 days series on Catholic teaching on sex and marriage, I got a ton of questions about mixed faith or faith/no faith couples, and what it might look like for marriages where one spouse doesn't practice the Faith, or maybe any faith at all.

Here's one answer to that question.

Sarah* has been generous and vulnerable enough to offer a reflection on what life looks like with 3 young kids and a husband who is supportive of - but not actively practicing - her Catholic faith.

I hope you enjoy.

A couple of months ago, my four-year-old son and I were having a conversation about the Mass. I was trying to explain the Eucharist to him when he cut in: “Oh, but dat’s just for girls.”

“No, Communion isn’t just for girls!” I protested. “Your daddy doesn’t take Communion, but lots of other daddies do. You’ll see – I’ll show you next time we go to church.”

I protested, I assured, I tried to tell myself that his was nothing but a silly little remark, but my heart sank. “Oh no,” I couldn’t help but think: “He’s already noticed.”

In my personal experience, believing is left to the women.

My father is not Catholic. Nor is he a religious person of any persuasion. I’ve only ever seen him go to church for the sake of someone he loves: He accompanies my mother to Mass on Christmas, Easter, and some random Sundays when it seems to matter to her; he attends family baptisms, first communions, and confirmations; he goes with my grandmother to her Methodist church on Mothers’ Day. He does it for our sake, not his own.

Of my mother’s large, Catholic family, few devoutly practice the faith. None of her (many) siblings are married to Catholics. Most have raised their children in the Church, but they’ve done so without the help of their husbands. My cousins (and many of my friends) attended Mass like I did – sitting in the pew every Sunday without our fathers.

As normal as this felt, it always bothered me.

It’s lonely to sit at Mass week in and week out with part of your family missing. It’s especially lonely on days when family blessings are given or on Father’s Day, when dads stand up for a blessing of their own. It’s hard to sit there, looking around at the men scattered throughout the congregation, biting your tongue to keep from shouting out, “I have a daddy too!”

So I resolved that when I grew up and had a family of my own, my children would have their father at Mass with them. I wanted to spare them that loneliness. And I wanted them (particularly any sons) to have the example of a father who attends church.

I did not, however, resolve to consider only devout Catholics for a husband – or indeed only Catholics at all. Because – my father. Ruling out non-Catholics felt too much like ruling out my own father. My wonderful, supportive, loving father – who is in almost every way, a beautiful example of what it means to be a husband.

Without a doubt, my parents have the best marriage I’ve ever witnessed. Growing up, I was just about the only child I knew who never, ever doubted that her parents loved each other and who never, ever feared that her parents might someday divorce.

My parents’ relationship just has that one, gaping hole: they don’t share a faith.

When I met my own husband after years of hoping and praying for “the one,” everything fell into place easily. So easily that I couldn’t help but see Providence’s hand in it. My husband is kind and gentle, hard-working, responsible, smart – all sorts of good things. Our values align. We work well together. We hold the same views on how to raise a family.

I was beyond relieved to learn that he was Catholic. But I was made a little nervous by how he said it: “I was raised Catholic.” Not I am Catholic. I was raised Catholic. Past tense.

Still, he harbored no ill will toward the Church (as too many, sadly, do) and he seemed to think it was valuable for children to be raised in a Faith. He attended Mass with me occasionally. He understood that I was serious about my Catholic Faith.

As our relationship progressed and we discussed marriage, he agreed that we would raise our children as Catholics and that he would attend Mass with us. He was happy to be married in the Church. He was fine with the prospect of not using contraception. And he never, ever pressured me to have pre-marital sex. (As far as ‘devout-Catholic-marrying-someone-who’s-not’ goes, I realize that my husband made it pretty easy on me. Many are not so fortunate.)

But though my husband was raised Catholic and though he (now) attends Mass regularly, I wouldn’t say that he and I share a Faith. That hole in our relationship may not gape as far as my parents’ does, but it’s still there.

I don’t know that he believes.

I don’t know that he doesn’t, either. We don’t talk about it. 

Because to be honest, I’m afraid to hear his answer. Actually afraid: I’m afraid of the sadness it might bring me.

So, we go to Mass. We say Grace before meals. We give to the Church. We do a family prayer whenever I can make it seem as seasonally-required as possible (say, over an Advent wreath). We carry on with the motions of the Faith, me hoping that in the doing, my husband will one day come to believe.

I also pray for him. I’m afraid to say, however, that I don’t do an awfully good job of it. I don’t have an awfully good prayer life, period. I pray in fits and spurts through the day, tossing prayers heavenward as I drive or do dishes or lie in bed. It’s one of the many parts of my life that I continuously try, and fail, to improve upon.

It’s easy to blame any number of things for my failure to pray as I should, but the hardest to swallow is the thought that if I had a devout, prayerful husband, he might encourage me in that effort. I hear (or read) from Catholic friends and bloggers this idea that a husband and wife’s primary goal in life should be to help each other get to heaven. And I’m … left short.

What an idea.

I’m sad to admit how foreign it is to me. In my mind, I visualize this space – say, a square – which represents all that a marriage is supposed to contain: things like love, patience, kindness, hard work, compromise, consideration, generosity, appreciation, etc. And I think, “We’re doing pretty well. We check those boxes. We must have a pretty decent marriage.”

But then I read one of my favorite Catholic blogs, where I learn of spouses praying together as they work to come to an important decision, or a husband engaged in a ministry at church, or a father praying over his children – and I start to see a space beyond that square. I see that there can – and should – be so much more to a marriage, to a family.

I see freedom.

I see the freedom to own one of the most elemental parts of who I am – a believer. I see the freedom to be open about my beliefs, my questions, my doubts – and to know that my husband will reciprocate. I see the freedom to accept our weaknesses, to say them out loud and to – together – ask for God’s help in overcoming them. I see the freedom to lean on my husband, to trust him in this part of my life, just as I do in others.

I also see grace.

What grace must come to a husband and wife who pray together. What grace must come to their marriage, their family, even their friends and the community to which they belong.
I wish I had that.

But I don’t. At least for now, I don’t. So I’m left to work on this (very important) part of life by myself. And I wonder: How can I be more open about my faith, so as to expose my family to it and help them to see it as normal and important? How can I provide them with examples of men who believe? How can I encourage my boys to consider a priestly vocation? How can I attract my husband to the Faith without hitting him over the head with my evangelism?

How can I help to open my husband’s heart and mind to God?

A couple of weeks ago at Mass, I found myself standing in the vestibule, looking through the glass at my husband. He was sitting in a pew a few rows from the back, mostly by himself. The baby sat quietly on his lap; there were no squirming, climbing boys to distract him from the Liturgy of the Word. (Our older boys were attending the Children’s Liturgy of the Word – big mistake – and I was standing at the ready in case they caused a ruckus.)

As I watched my husband, I prayed for him. I prayed that those quiet moments, those sacred words, might have some effect on him. I prayed that he would – bit by bit, Sunday by Sunday – someday come to believe. And that he would someday express that belief to our boys.

While I stood there, our three-year-old ran up to me. “I haffa tell you somedin’!” he said with some urgency. “I find Jesus up dayer!” He was pointing at the large crucifix above the altar. My boy was breathless; his eyes were wide. He saw Jesus.

I knelt down next to him, followed his pointing finger to the crucifix, and expressed some of the excitement he was giving off. I smiled and hugged him and said a few words about Jesus.

But the short, sweet moment was soon tempered by worries I’m only now starting to recognize:

“How long will this last? How long do I have before he grows tired of church, of thinking on Jesus? 

How can I help this all sink into his little mind before he chooses others’ influence over my own?” And the most worrisome question of all: “When they’re grown, will my boys believe?”

I have to admit, when I think on the situation much, I’m left feeling quite anxious. But one thought soothes me no matter how grim things seem: 

“Every time I go to Mass, I love my husband more.”

I realized this when we were first married and it’s held true ever since. Whether we go together or I’m alone, whether we’re happy or in the middle of a disagreement, I leave every single Mass loving my husband more than I did when I walked in. I can only attribute this to God and the graces he bestows on us through the sacraments.

 Though my husband may not believe (or if he believes, may not care much), he and I both received the sacrament of Marriage. Though he hasn’t received the Eucharist since our wedding day, I have received it countless times.

These sacraments matter. They matter, and I believe we continue to receive blessings because of them. 

So I hope. 

I hope that after witnessing the Consecration for the 942nd time, my husband will feel moved to receive the Eucharist himself. I hope that my boys will notice the good, believing men of our parish as they line up every Sunday to receive Communion. I hope that I will receive the graces I need to nurture my own belief and to be a convincing witness to my family. 

I hope that someday, we will all feel the freedom and experience the graces that come from sharing a Faith.

*Not her real name.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Talking sex (and marriage) with Fountains of Carrots

(I cannot WAIT to see the google search results for that title)

Hey, I got to do something really fun last month and chat it up with two of my favorite bloggers, Haley from Carrots for Michaelmas and Christy from Fountains of Home. They've recently launched a new weekly podcast, and I think it's going to be really good.

I really love finally hearing people's voices after I've "known" them by their writing voice alone, you know? It's almost always a huge surprise how they sound in real life. So, just to set your expectations nice and low, expect me to sound like a 15 year old girl from Southern California. (Except I'm double that age, and originally from the Bay Area.)

Anyway, enjoy my little brush with celebrity, and have a beautiful wine-drenched and pie-filled Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Jesus doesn't care about your epidural

... At least not any more or any less than He cares about your harrowing trip to the dentist sans novocaine, your half marathon finished under 2 hours with a stress fracture in your tibia, or your heroic push through to bedtime while your better half is away on business and the natives are restless. And pooping in the bathtub.

I've observed an uncomfortable phenomenon in the Catholic blogosphere whereby some moms seem to be trying to out-suffer each other with gruesome labor tales, stories of timing contractions to correlate with each mystery of the full, 20-decade rosary and, my personal favorite, uniting the incredible pain of labor to the mystery of Christ's redemptive suffering on the Cross. Because holiness.

This is right and good. It is what we as Christians are called to do: unite temporal suffering to the salvific passion of Christ.

But, here's the thing. There are as many ways to suffer virtuously as there are human persons on this planet. And there is nothing uniquely efficacious about labor pains and the grueling achievement of birthing a fresh human being. Aside from the fact that in modern day 21st century America, it might be the closest many of us come to true physical anguish for the first time in our lives. And I totally get that. That is powerful.

But there is nothing about labor - particularly labor sans meds - which makes the suffering incurred more holy or more effective than any other cause of suffering. And there is nothing wrong with a woman choosing to forgo or mitigate some of that incredible physical pain with modern medicine. It doesn't make you less of a Christian. It doesn't make you less of a hero. And it definitely doesn't make you less of a mother.

Look, I'm all for a good birth story. God knows I've penned a few in my day. But let's cut the crap and stop trying to one up each other in the delivery room (or in the birthing pool, as it were.) It's not a competition. And you are not more holy than what's-her-name if you did it all without a needle stuck in your back or an incision across your bikini line.

We live in a time where medicine is available to mitigate the pain of labor. And God did not say "though shalt not numb thy nether regions for to give birth is to remove the stain of original sin."

That's actually what baptism is for (the stain removal, not the numbed nether regions. But I digress.)

I love that some women are prepared to enter into the birth experience with a clear mind and veins absent of any controlled substances. My two best friends have birthed 7 children between them using nothing stronger than castor oil. Good for them!

And if that is your story too, then good for you! May your child know of the real sacrifice you made, for whatever reason, to bring them into this world au natural.

But may you never presume that the months of sleepless nights with a newborn, the horrors of mastitis, the hell of postpartum depression, or the pain of recovering from a c-section are somehow lesser sufferings. We each carry our own crosses. And no two look the same.

There's no one way to have a baby. Thank God for that.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The cult of busy (and the tyranny of options)

I have been thinking of the last thing I wrote about, that rare unspoiled hour of childlessness that all too often evaporates during a panic-stricken foray through the aisles of Target, fruitlessly searching for - and failing to come up with - real satisfaction.

At least that's a big part of what I was thinking when I wrote that.

I want real peace in my life. And I want real peace for my family.

What we have now, truthfully, is often very close to military efficiency. Cleanliness, sometimes. Very often my laundry is caught up and our closets are well-stocked with clean options. But we don't have a lot of restorative, fulfilling down time.

I thrive on efficiency. And that is a gift. But I'm really good at abusing the gift. And at confusing the gift for the purpose, if that makes any sense?

So efficiency is a gift. But I have the sense that it was given to me to accomplish great things for my family, and for other people...not in spite of them.

All too often I rush past the people in my life to get to the goal, whether it's the finished laundry, the crossed off to-do list, or the final frenetic burst of productivity that accompanies those blessed 5 minutes when the kids are buckled safely into their car seats in the garage and I'm running back inside, flinging forgotten items into my purse, scooping up returns and library books and pieces of trash and turning off lights and stashing mittens and and and...

I hardly ever really rest. I hardly ever only do one thing. And then when I have the time to do more, I often spend it one of two ways:

Option 1. Utterly paralyzed by the specter of what could be. Thinking of all the myriad options of amazing I could accomplish in the 45/90/120 minutes I've been given, I drive aimlessly from retail outlet to parking lot to school building, accomplishing nothing of real substance and feeling increasingly more frantic with each 15 minute increment that passes.

Option 2. Full on relaxation mode. Suck the marrow from the moments. Drink all the lattes. Paint all the toe nails. Make sure that every.blessed.minute. is tallied and spent according to the gospel of WHAT WILL RELAX ME THE MOST, DAMMIT, BECAUSE I AM SO STRESSED AND I MUST SQUEEZE THE JOY FROM THESE PRECIOUS MOMENTS.

That option never ends well, either. Because I never feel full enough. I never feel relaxed enough.

And I'm realizing more and more, it was never meant to be about how I was feeling, anyway.

What if, instead of falling prey to the lie that downtime can restore me on a soul deep level, I just accepted whatever came to me as a gift from the hand of a good God who knows what I need - and when I need it?

What if I didn't have to suck the friggin marrow out of my red Starbucks Christmas cup like that latte was the closest damn thing I was going to get to a "break" or "me time" in a week?

What if I could just relax and lean in, wherever I happened to be, whether it be a time of leisure or of toil, and accept that if this was what God had on my agenda for the day, it must be just what I needed?

That would be so relaxing.

If I could fold a basket of laundry without simultaneously racing through a mental checklist of what was happening next, while barking out a rosary under my breath for the kids to hear and calling it catechesis?

If I could slip away for a precious 45 minutes on the treadmill and just, I don't know, walk. (Or run. Maybe sort of a moderate run.) What if I didn't also have my earbuds in listening to the news while scrolling through my inbox on my phone. And what if I was fine with that?

What if there was no mental or physical list of feats accomplished and tasks checked at the day's end...but just a sense of fullness, just the satisfaction and gratitude of another day of life drawing to a close. And maybe the house was not so clean, but maybe the kids were happy. Maybe I didn't feel like falling face first into a giant wine glass and escaping ala the internet at the stroke of 7pm.

I'd like to live that way.

I'm really, really trying to open my mind and my heart to the possibility that busyness is not next to godliness, and that trying to accomplish as much as possible, be it leisure or work related, is no way to spend an hour. Let alone 24 hours.

Carpe diem. But gently, and selectively. More like carpe minute. And then the minute after that. And the minute after that.

I can't make any more decisions in a day than I'm already making. But I can choose to make fewer. And I can rest in the knowledge that in letting certain things go, I'm opening up to the possibility of greater peace, greater rest, and greater contentment.

Last weekend's surprise complimentary facial at Macy's. I was 100% freaking the freak out the entire 40 minutes about whatever else I might be accomplishing with every second that elapsed.

Sunday, November 16, 2014


Yesterday I went to Macy's in search of, well, nevermind what I was searching for. What I ended up finding was a frigid little corner in the back of cosmetics populated exclusively by Origin's products, repped by a very enthusiastic elderly woman named Janice.

Janice had a flowing, blonde mane and deep rings of sea green eyeliner, which perhaps should have scared me off, but which somehow lured me into a false sense of security and wellbeing. Before I knew what was happening, I found myself reclining in a spring loaded beach chair, subject to a complimentary mini facial involving rice, tea tree oil, and numerous iterations of ginger.

Ginger is so hot right now.

As Janice worked powdered rice and eucalyptus oil into my dull, lifeless pores, she regaled me with stories of Japanese women washing their tired faces in dirty, standing water after hours of toil in the rice paddies. Wouldn't you know it though, the starchy rice water ended up being miraculously regenerative and had a stunning effect on the complexions of these poor field laborers. I'm sorry to say, I left that department store with a $30 tube of concentrated rice facial scrubbing paste in my clutches.

Janice was aaaaaaalso kind of into the occult, and she had a fairly distinctive facial and vocal tic which may or may not have been supernatural in origin, so I felt well within my rights praying a silent litany of Hail Mary's as she peppered me with stories about Native American healing energy and reiki treatments, all while spontaneously cackling and throwing her head back at a jarring 90 degree angle.

I'm not gonna lie, my face feels amazing, but it was not the most peaceful 45 minutes I've ever spent.

It was, however, fairly pleasant. And aside from the $80 I accidentally spent on products, it was free!

I was thinking of how lucky I'd been to stumble upon a bored aspiring cosmotologist with a "spiritual" side whilst wandering through racks of overpriced, middle-aged clothing when it occurred to me that even this small coincidence, this badly-needed moment of being "off duty" was a complete and utter gift to me.

It might not seem like God could - or would - work through a New Age aficionado of a beautician in a department store to fill a tired mom's cup, but that's precisely what He did for me yesterday afternoon, as the snow fell and the temperature dropped and my darling husband sat at home watching a losing football game and all three kids.

He's good like that.

I often find that when I'm searching and plotting and planning to pamper myself, when I'm actively seeking escape, those are the times when relief and relaxation are most inaccessible.

Do you ever have that feeling, when you've been given an unexpected childless hour to do ... whatever, and instead you fritter away precious minutes agonizing over what to do, how to spend it, where to do, how to squeeze the very most out of it that you can because dammit, you will never be alone again?

I feel that way all the time.

Almost every time my mother's helper comes. Those evenings when Dave graciously pushes me out the door for a solo trip to the gym. The stolen, infrequent hours when all three kids miraculously fall asleep at the same time.

I usually sit there frozen, paralyzed by my own fear of choosing wrongly how to spend this coveted and precious time. And I end up at Target or doing laundry or...something. Something so utterly banal and unfulfilling that even if I accomplish massive sections of my mental To Do list, I still come back home empty, restless, and unfulfilled.

I sound completely selfish and a little bit crazy, but I'm telling you, it's not easy to be "off." It's one of the hardest things about motherhood, for me, that even when I'm technically not on duty, my heart and my head and God knows, the anxiety levels, are still fully engaged in the business of mothering.

I'm trying to do better.

I'm trying to seek out pockets of calm, moments of grace that God wants to give me. Not stolen moments, or experiences carved out of long days with gritted teeth and a heart full of resentment, but gifts given. I'm really trying to see the opportunities He presents for peace, relaxation, and renewal, and to accept them with gratitude and with the expectation that He wants this. And it's okay if I turn my ringer off and just ... close my eyes and settle in. Whether it's for a few silent minutes in Adoration or for a hot peppermint mocha. Just breathe. Accept His invitation to surrender the reins and abandon post.

Even if Janice is rubbing rice powder into my eyes and asking about my chakras.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

How 'A Mother's Rule of Life' is changing mine

I've been getting up before the kids do for the last week or so. And it is good. So, so good.

It all started back in late October when, in a blinded rage, I sat straight up in bed in the predawn light, my sheets dripping with the secretions of multiple preschoolers, and ordered our bedroom intruders out, out OUT.

No more could they come busting through our doorway at 6:40 am, 6:24 am, and finally (damn you, daylight savings) 5:45 am, yelling out breakfast orders and flinging themselves bodily upon our defenseless sleeping forms, bulging Pull Ups oozing overnight urine from regrettable 8pm sippy cup refills.

No more.

Marching the offenders back to their room, I pulled the door shut and slid to a sitting position in the hallway as the prisoners rained punches and kicks down upon it. Their shrieking protests soon woke the baby in the adjoining room, and so at 6:04 am, all three progeny were roused and ready to wreak havoc on the day, and I was ready to give up before sun up.

It feels crazy to write this, but this is basically how the last 4 years of life have been, give or take a few children.

And I didn't know I could change anything about that.

It's stupid, but it was a stupidity born of inexperience and, I think, a lack of discipline on my part. Both in dealing with the kids and, maybe more importantly, in structuring and scheduling my day.

But I honestly didn't know how to fix that.

Every single day I fell onto the couch or our bed after the bedtime antics finally wound down, exhausted to the core of my introverted soul and craving alone time, decompression, and distraction. And soon enough 11:35 pm would roll around and I'd still be up. And from that point on it was just an anxiety-riddled countdown until the first kid woke me for the day, only to repeat the cycle again. And again.

I needed more sleep, and I needed more structured, scheduled time in my day to recharge before I found myself drained and dead to the world.

Enter A Mother's Rule of Life.

I know it's cliche to say a self help book changed your life, but I'm going to say it, nonetheless. It could be a matter of timing and circumstance, but this book got me, and it got me good. I'm about to flip back to page one and start re-reading it from cover to cover, because I need it all to sink way, way in. But it's already starting to effect positive, tangible changes into my life and my motherhood. And in case any of you out there are drowning the way I was, I wanted to highlight some of the best takeaways I've gleaned from my first reading:

1. Order your day to reflect your priorities in life. So it should really look something like this: prayer, care for self, care for spouse and children, care for home and work, and finally, leisure.

My days formerly looked something like this: screaming/shower maybe? probably not/sweeping/frantic scrubbing/yelling/drive somewhere - probably Target/trip to park/zone out on internet/write/work/make dinner/yelling/snuggling/fighting/bedtime/tears/wine/internet/bed. And maybe a rosary somewhere.

2. Make a schedule. A schedule is not restrictive, it is liberating. 

Liberating because you are now free to walk past that full dishwasher and that pile of stuff on the floor because you have scheduled time to address those specific areas of concern, freeing you to hit the gym, the classroom, or your knees for whatever task is presently at hand.

I have resisted a schedule my entire life because I loathe the idea of being trapped in a routine. What I had somehow failed to realize all along was that a routine of my own creation was immensely freeing - it was completely mine to design. I'm having fewer and fewer moments of that panicky feeling when you think you should be doing w, x,y, or z and end up doing NONE OF THE ABOVE because you can't do them all at once, and you have no sense of the urgency of any of them because EVERYTHING FEELS URGENT. And so the opportunity slips away, unrealized.

3. You, as mother, are the CEO, the COO, and the CFO. So you'd better act like it.

And you'd better be spending good chunks of time with your advisory board (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) during the workday, because things do not go well otherwise.

I was fitting prayer into my life rather than the other way around, and wouldn't you know it, it was usually the one thing I could somehow never find time for. Funny how that works...

Now rather than rattling off a 3 minute Divine Mercy Chaplet on the treadmill when I remembered to, I'm spending the first part of my day with Scripture and some spiritual reading (and some coffee) before the kids are even allowed out of their rooms. And it is so life giving. I can say that even now, after only one week. It is giving me new life.

4. You're the boss. Nobody else is going to boss these kids for you. So you'd better learn how to do it.

I'm a little unclear on the origin of this particular heresy, but I somehow got it into my head that somebody was going to come and whip these small hellions into shape for me at some point along the journey of motherhood. I keep looking around and waiting, but so far nobody has come knocking offering solid advice on character formation, training in virtue, and schooling in laundry-folding. So, ahem, I guess that leaves...well, me.

Me. I'm the one. I have to figure out what it is that will get through to each of these small creatures, and then to approach them with my message of peace, love, and unwavering obedience. Because if I do not have the latter from them, our household cannot dwell in the former.

Now, I'm not claiming to have had any big breakthroughs in behavior here, except that we've been trying mightily to do the thing where we say what we mean and mean what we say...and then follow up on it. Every time.

Do you know how exhausting it is to follow up with preschoolers and toddlers? All I can say is, I hope it pays off. I've heard it does. I'm taking it on faith at this point, and so far, all I can show for it is the hopeful trend that for 5 straight days, the man cubs have stayed in their room until their alarm clock went off at 7 am, at which point the 7 on the clock matched the giant 7 drawn on the poster on their wall.

I really cannot say enough good things about this book, and about the effect that not living every day with my hair on fire (if wet hair, unstyled hair could catch fire) and feeling singularly persecuted by my delightful children has had on me. And on us.

Anyone else have experiences like this with A Mother's Rule? Or another life-changing read or piece of advice?

Now I've got to run, because laundry and bathroom scrubbing are actually next up on my schedule. But don't worry, the day ends with some quality wine time on the couch penciled in. Win/wine situation.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Relatively speaking, we have a problem here

As everyone on the planet with an internet connection or cable service now knows, Brittany Maynard took her own life last weekend, on the feast of All Saints.

Everybody has read the story by now, and the web is teeming with predictable banter from all sides.

How very brave

How very sad

She did a noble thing

What a waste

Brittany is no longer here to defend herself, and so her real motives lie with her in her grave, unknown to everyone save for her Creator and His creature. We who hope in a resurrection must commend her to the arms of her Father, seeking His mercy for her life and the choices she made.

But those of us left behind have some explaining to do.

Namely, how can a culture so uniformly horrified and saddened by another very public suicide only a dozen weeks earlier have pivoted so efficiently and entirely 180 degrees?

Simply put, this is the tyranny of relativism, the reality of living in an age where intentions and feelings rule the day, and where my version of reality can be entirely different from - and largely irrelevant to - yours.

Except that's not how it really works. Defy gravity without a parachute and you're still going to fall. Even if you call it liberated plummeting, or something like that.

Swallow some prescribed lethal medication, you're still going to end your own life, even if you're calling it by another name.

When we create our own reality, we write our own rules to live by. And to die by. But rules without the authority of reality behind them are just empty words. I can shout "I am the president of the United States" while standing in my kitchen all day long, but my children are not going to morph into members of Congress.

Since the day Brittany's story broke, the media fell all over themselves christening her as brave and noble, lauding her vulnerability and her heroism. Why? Because she followed her heart.

And in her heart, she believed that a life lived in suffering and diminished by disease was not a life worth living. 

Thus, the media had their new darling of the moment, their temporary "it girl" repping the culture of death. It's always a temp position, because the turnover is so frightfully high. In fact, even now, less than a week after her death, it already feels passé to reference her.

Next drama, please.

That's the problem with a culture so caught up in ensuring everyone has their own interpretation of right and doesn't leave any room for reality.

Ironically, the case du jour is another young, pretty girl with brain cancer. But this girl is fighting and living with her disease, spreading a message of joy and raising awareness for particularly underfunded pediatric cancers. Her name, of course, is Lauren Hill. And once again, the media is calling her brave and showering her with praise and interviews.

But wait...Brittany was also brave. But for ending her life. Now Lauren is brave, but for choosing to live hers to the what gives?

That this stunning contradiction disturbs virtually no one covering the news is a telling sign of how far gone we are as a civilization, that we can wholeheartedly (and in all earnestness) give a standing ovation to a woman who kills herself because she has brain cancer and then turn around, not even a week later, and give a standing ovation to a woman who doesn't kill herself because she has brain's mind boggling.

But, was her personal choice, they say. And it was her freedom to end her life, to end her suffering. And Lauren has that same freedom, and is choosing to exercise it differently, to live her life to the end, enduring her suffering. This is true, of course. But the critically important distinction is that they can't both be right.

It can't be brave to kill yourself and to choose to live in the face of unimaginable suffering. That's not how the universe operates.

Those are what's known as opposing realities. And if we had the collective capacity to think logically and reasonably, the difficulty would be obvious. But because we are, all of us to some degree, enslaved to that spirit of the age, relativism, we are somehow capable of entertaining wildly opposing realities in our addled brains.


It is not unloving to speak of good and evil, of wrong and right.

What is unloving is to pretend that all options are equally weighted, that all choices are equally valid. Do you know what the consequences of that are? School shootings. Child pornography. Domestic abuse. Sex trafficking. Cutting.

But we can't speak of that. We can't speak of the reality that some things are right and some things are wrong, for fear of offending or alienating someone. But then tragedy strikes, and we sputter and struggle to make sense of it, to demand consequences for the perpetrator and compensation for the victims, all the while realizing that we don't really have a leg to stand on, because we're the ones spouting nonsensical buzzwords like tolerance and non-judgement.

We ought to be intolerant of evil. We out to make swift, sure judgments on actions and behaviors which are fundamentally anti-human and therefore, utterly wrong.

To do any less is to reject the fundamental call of Christianity, to love thy neighbor as thyself.

Let's practice authentic, life-giving love. Love that is willing to suffer, to be mocked and scorned, and to be rejected by a society utterly captivated by death.

The ruins of Auschwitz.
(photo credit Katy Senour)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

My fall capsule wardrobe, or something

Just kidding. But if I weren't kidding, it would look something like: stretchy black pants, long tunics, boots or nude flats, Old Navy skinny jeans, scarves, very dirty hair, and very oversized bras. Thanks for nothing, nursing.

So fashion forward. So chic.

I took a nice long breather after finishing out the 31 day series on Halloween, but I'm back, and I'm fresh out of ideas after being so focused on sex, marriage, and Catholicism. While I appreciate the huge spike in interest and the great discussions we had (and the crazy trolls. It's not an internet party without those guys) it's nice to be relieved from the self imposed pressure of posting something every day. Especially something more intellectually stimulating than how much urine has been spilt onto non-toilet surfaces in a single day. Mommy blog, to thine own self be true...

I can be both, though. That was one nice takeaway from October. I can be both the pseudo intellectual teacher type AND the curator of a toddler gossip rag. So that's nice. It's nice to be well rounded, isn't it?

Anyway, just popping in to say hi, I'm alive, and I'm open for suggestions as to what you guys would like to read about!

Maybe you're dying to know how I craft thoughtful, organic meals every night, or how we're trying to teach Theology of the Body to our nudist preschooler. Maybe you're really curious about the arduous 2 year long potty training journey we've been on. Maybe you want tips on traveling or living abroad with babies/young children. Maybe you're just dying to hear a good medicated birth story? Or want some good theological/philosophical titles for your reading list? Or maybe you want me to keep on keeping on with the Catholic stuff, along the same lines as all of last month.

Also, I just spent a not insignificant chunk of time this morning capturing a garter snake with a stick and my bare hands so that Joey could have a close encounter of the reptilian kind. Who the hell is this woman, exactly? Sadly, I have no picture for you, but I do want to leave you with the mental image of me, a 12 inch long stick, and the remains of a rotting red apple (can't make this stuff up) extracting a small snake from a bush at the end of our driveway. The apple made it poetry.