Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Mama Needs Coffee has moved

... so come on over to Catholic News Agency and keep following along!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

He moved me

10 years ago on a cold spring evening in early April an old man died in his bed a half a world away, and a selfish, frequently drunken 22-year old college student fell to her knees in her dingy living room.

Eyes glued to the tv screen, I struggled to make sense of what I was seeing on the television screen and the corresponding ache in my chest for a man I’d never met and for a religion I barely practiced.
I was never the same again.
I spent most of April 2nd in a daze, missing all my classes and breaking into real tears periodically. Eventually the news coverage coming out of Rome lost its pull on me and I ventured from the couch to the front door, destination unknown.
Within a half a dozen blocks I found myself in front of the Catholic church I sometimes attended on weekends, still drawn to participation in the Mass even when the vigil had been spent blacked out drunk with 20,000 of my closest friends on Pearl Street.
I pushed on the heavy bronzed door and was surprised when it yielded to me. It was around noon, and the church was unlocked and completely empty save for an elderly woman sitting near the altar and a younger guy with camera equipment standing off to one side of the sanctuary.
At the end of the aisle someone had erected a makeshift shrine; a single votive candle burned beneath an easel holding the papal portrait of John Paul II. There were a few potted flowers, leftover Easter decor still dotted the stairway surrounding the altar.
Propelled almost unconsciously, I found myself at the front of the church and dropping to my knees in front of his picture. I noticed the red light burning in a lantern hung in my periphery, and I looked past the image in front of me to the tabernacle behind the altar. I knew He was there, too.
I dropped my head into my hand and wept. I had absolutely no explanation for the intensity of my reaction, given the attention I’d given to my Catholic faith for the past 4 years. College had effectively paganized me, at least in practice, and I was Catholic in name only. I knew this, of course, but that morning for the first time it caused me both deep, reflective sorrow and inspired the hope that maybe I could turn things around.
I looked up at the sound of a camera clicking away and the young guy with the equipment shrugged his shoulders and asked sheepishly if I’d consent to having the images used in the paper. The next morning I saw myself under the fold on the front page of the Denver Post. Not many people have a picture of themselves on the day their conversion began in earnest, and even though it’s grainy, black and white, and not terribly flattering, it’s something I treasure. It’s proof that I was there, and now I’m here.
More than that, it captures the essence of my relationship with JPII: penitent prodigal meets spiritual father. Fireworks ensue. Lifelong friendship is cemented.
Later that same month I withdrew from all my college courses and stopped going out to bars every night. As my phone stopped ringing and my friends drifted away, I spent long weekend nights listening to CDs of famous Catholic speakers (Scott Hahn, anyone?) and gradually began to come alive to the mysteries and depth of the Faith.
By early May I had an acceptance letter in my hands from Franciscan University of Steubenville. I would transfer there at the summer’s end and spend the next 3 years in a kind of spiritual, emotional and physical rehab, piecing back together the real Jenny.
Through it all, St. John Paul II (who I never doubted was directly interceding for little old me) became one of my closest friends.
I couldn’t have dreamt it on April 2nd, 2005, but on Divine Mercy Sunday in the year 2011, I stood in St. Peter’s Square with a million other pilgrims, my 7-month-old son pressed uncomfortably close to my chest in a baby carrier, squeezed by Italians on every side, and listened as Pope Benedict gave him to the Universal Church as a “Blessed.”
If that wasn’t sufficiently awesome, three years later I returned to that same square, this time with two more sweet babies in tow and my husband by my side, and we distractedly wrestled toddlers through the long ceremony and misting Roman rain while Pope St. John Paul II was elevated to the altar and proclaimed “Sanctus.”
I smiled because I’d known for years that this day would come, and I cried because I never dreamt I would be there to witness it.
St. John Paul II, I love you. And I owe, quite simply, everything to your intercession. Please never stop praying for me.
“Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.” Pope St. John Paul II

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

It was never about the cake

From an email blast sent to Helen Alvare's "Women Speak for Themselves" network of supporters yesterday afternoon: 
"Indiana has passed a law which balances religious freedom for citizens, groups and businesses, with the state’s “compelling interests” in requiring everybody to obey this or that particular law which might burden religion.  It is not a remarkable law. The same language was passed federally by a bipartisan Congress in 1993 and signed by President Clinton. About 31 states have such a law either by statute or state constitutional interpretation."
Probably you've heard once or fifteen times in the past 48 hours how the state of Indiana is trying to time travel back into the Middle Ages and start hunting down practicing homosexuals and publicly flogging them in the town square for their sins of the flesh.

At least that's the narrative our progressive mainstream media is broadcasting via every available channel, be they legitimate news sources or floundering, illogical op-eds by the very openly homosexual CEO's of very wealthy corporations who are therefore allowed to have  bigger and more important opinions than the average citizen.

And this, y'all? This is crazy.

This is the best example of how public opinion - cultivated public opinion carefully crafted and executed by liberal think tanks, billion dollar corporations, and academicians, is becoming the highest power in the land.

In short: laws need not be based in reason or reality, but must instead conform to popular public displays of outrage and emotion. 

But there's a catch.

Some people - let's call them Christians to simplify the discussion, believe that sex is sacred and, as God revealed in Scripture, is reserved for the exclusive marital relationship between one man and one woman.

Now, Christians believe this to be true because it is true, speaking from a natural law perspective.

God doesn't make arbitrary thou shalt nots: if He says not to do it, it's because it's objectively wrong. So murder. Lying. Stealing. Adultery (translation: sexual involvement with someone other than your spouse).

Do some Christians (and lots of other people) do these things anyway? Of course. Because human nature and original sin and lots and lots of falling down and repenting and getting back up.

But now we have this prevailing cultural trend of not only tolerating a formerly forbidden and immoral behavior - homosexuality - but of openly embracing and celebrating it. 

And I'm not speaking here of the person struggling with (or openly celebrating, as is more and more often the case) the disordered behavior and deviant attractions, but the very act of engaging in homosexual behavior. That's what we're being compelled to clap and cheer for.

And this bill in Indiana? All it is is the reiteration of an existing 20 year old federal law that 31 other states have some identical version of on the books that pledges protection for those individuals and businesses who don't choose to jump up and down and cheer. 

Does it say that you can discriminate against someone because you disagree with their lifestyle? No. Foolishness.

All it offers is the chance for businesses and individuals who are being compelled by prevailing public opinion and an increasingly invasive federal government to protect themselves from directly violating their own consciences by participating in immoral acts.

Because unless the gay couple coming to ask for a wedding cake is planning on entering into some kind of lifelong platonic union of mutual celibacy, that's exactly what forcing someone to cater a gay "wedding" is doing: coercing their participation in the public celebration of immoral behavior: homosexuality.

That's all this law is: an explicit protection for religious citizens who fear (and rightly so) the creeping encroachment of coercive government policies that directly contradict both reality and their deeply held moral beliefs.

But you won't hear that in the media. Because the gay agenda is powerful, purposeful, and intent upon winning hearts and minds, by force if necessary.

It was never about the wedding cake in the first place. It was always about - and will continue to be about - the systematic redefinition of our collective moral code.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Temperamental Parenting

My second born, my sweet little John Paul Francis, he just has the most wonderful cheeks. Top and bottom (too much? Probably. But it was 77 degrees here today and, as they say, sun's out, bun's out.)

He's my snuggler, the child ever in search of comforting arms and soothing words and a soft lap to land on. He also lets me kiss those soft cheeks over and over again, never once pushing me away or fighting the snuggle. He's never done hugging; he never pulls away first.

Not coincidentally, he was also my only "overdue" baby, preferring to hang out for an entire
month longer than his 37 week big brother and a good 3 weeks past his 38 week old little sis.

I'm telling you, this kid is devoted to me.

It's taken me a few years to come to appreciate how deep his little soul is. He thinks about crazy things, and hours later he's still thinking about them, reflecting on joys and ruminating on perceived injustices alike. I can't parent him the same way I parent the other two, which shouldn't be surprising but somehow is, anyway. I have a word for him now though: melancholic. I'll explain later.

It's surprising that each kid requires an entirely unique set of parenting parameters within which to operate, to some extent.

It's surprising to me that my kids don't think and act like I do. Never more so than, say, when I'm frantically herding sleep drunken cats out the door for preschool pickup (late! again!) and somebody is distraught because he didn't get to select his preferred pair of superhero briefs and oh the injustice of somebody else selecting and then helping you into your underwear.

(Honestly, when I write it out like that, it does seem rather troubling.)

And if I were the thinking type, I'd plan ahead to cut my nap time tap tapping short a good 10 minutes early each afternoon rather than burning it down to the wire, choleric style, and then expecting everyone else to jump when I bark "go!"

Yes, that's exactly what I'd do. I'd note my melancholic son's tendency to wake up slow and snuggly and in need of some time to ponder and recalibrate to the waking world, and I'd gently rouse him and rub his little back, waiting patiently for his conscious brain to come back online while not at all thinking about the load of laundry I could be finishing or the dishwasher I could be loading or the emails I could be sending. Then we'd calmly collect his sister from her nursery, process to the minivan in an orderly fashion, and drive at or near the speed limit all the way across town to collect our 4th musketeer.

Maybe tomorrow. Maybe after a good night's sleep and some careful reflection on the children I've actually been entrusted with and not the tiny clones of me that I was expecting to receive...maybe then I can manage a more humane afternoon routine.

I'm really glad they're all so different, even if it is at times completely confounding. And I'm dying to see what the latest addition's makeup will have to offer. So far we have, as near as I can tell, a choleric sanguine who is an impossible 100% extroverted, a mild mannered melancholic introvert, and a phlegmatic sanguine who seems fairly ambidextrous in terms of social preference. Happy in her room alone, happy in a crowd.

I love figuring out what each of my kids "are," temperamentally, and trying to learn ways to better engage them through understanding their unique set of strengths and weaknesses. My choleric sanguine eldest son is my biggest challenge by a long shot, and mostly because his need for human interaction is very literally limitless.

I explained to him the concept of introversion versus extroversion a couple months ago in language a 4 year old could appreciate, and he actually started to cry when I expounded on the traits of an introvert. Tears. I guess of disappointment? Disbelief that anyone could or would need downtime? (mommy raises hand to the ceiling)

Whatever the case, that moment crystalized for me the stark contrast between us, and the lifelong struggle I'll be engaged with (at least while he's under our roof) trying to balance my sanity, which is tenuous in the best of times, with his constant craving for companionship. God was so smart to put us together; I can't think of another relationship that has required more from me in terms of giving of self. Truly. And the days I won't give? Our worst. Hands down.

So all this long winded soliloquizing to say: read this book. I'm not much for parenting books because they all tend to contradict each other, know what I mean? But this isn't really a parenting book. It's more like a code cracking manual, or an instruction booklet (but the good kind, not the IKEA kind).

And if you happen to look up in disbelief at your polar opposite offspring sitting across from you at the breakfast table in a sudden rush of understanding when you're finished...well, you're welcome.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

And the Word became a clump of cells

And dwelt among us.

As I sit here halfway cooked with this latest addition to our little family, feeling the effects of pregnancy with every fiber of my being, I'm also thinking about Mary.

I'm thinking about how her life changed radically with a message from an angel, a shocking invitation  into something so far beyond her own plans that all she could manage was calm and reasonable "Yes, but how can this be?" - going straight for the logical inquiry over the more obvious "why is there a terrifying angel appearing in my room," or the more nuanced "God wants to have a baby with me?!" route.

One thing that didn't seem to have occurred to her?

To question whether or not there was, in fact, a baby involved.

God's proposal to humanity, sealed in the flesh through Mary's fiat, was - and is - a Person.

Not a potential person. Not an eventual person.

A real person. From the moment of His conception, miraculous (note: NOT immaculate. Wrong feast day) thought it was, He was both fully divine and fully human, and Mary became fully a mother that day when she gave her consent and conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Which is why the argument against the personhood of the unborn has always struck me as so profoundly stupid in light of the Incarnation.

He was there, from the beginning. His little cousin John the Baptist knew as much, and he leapt in recognition at 12-week-old embryonic Jesus from his own uterine perspective.

Any woman who has ever been pregnant can attest to the incredible other-ness of being with child. From the very earliest days following conception, that baby is there, growing and changing and developing as humans continue to do over their entire lifespan, but undeniably and irreversibly there. You can kill the baby at any point, of course, but you can't undo what has already been done: the creation of an entirely new human person.

And that's what makes today so special. That's why if you count forward in time 9 months from today in the Church calendar you land on the embodiment of the Incarnation: Christmas. He arrives today in a  real sense, tucked safely in the womb of His Mother and ours, and while He remains hidden for another 9 months of growth and development, history is forever altered because He now exists in human flesh.

So happy feast day, Mama Mary, from one gestating mother to another. Thanks for changing the course of salvation history and loosing the bonds of Eve's disobedience by your generous and unreserved "yes."

We owe you - quite simply - everything.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

House Tour + Insta-gratification

It's been a good long while since I posted an old school straight-up mommy blogger style post. And I'm sorry for that!

I'm still trying to find the right balance to keep you, my faithful old friends, satisfied and entertained without traumatizing my new audience at CNA. Because let's be honest, I'm not going to radically alter my voice or content, but some trauma you have to ease into.

The new blog is almost up and running, the design is going to be beautiful, and I can't wait to show it to you. In the meantime, I'm still "here," and so I figured why not post a little fluff to pass the time?

Oh, also, I finally embraced the modern world and joined Instagram yesterday. Welcome to the 90's, Mr. Banks. (And you all were right: it's the most fun of all social media.)

So something that I really, really love (because I'm a creeper?) is seeing other people's homes. I'm a would be decorating junkie and an HGTV addict, so there's nothing more fun to me than seeing somebody else's style/space and being able to envision them more accurately in their natural habitat when I'm reading their words. (If you're trying to decide if you're disturbed or flattered, go with flattered: I want to see your living room.)

Anyway, do you want to see my house? It's been enjoying a little TLC while I KonMari'd the shit out of my wardrobe/kitchen/bookshelves/decor, and I'm much happier with the way it looks now as opposed to 2 weeks ago. Much.

It's still not perfect, you know, because it's a work in progress. But it makes me happy to coax it along; I get a rush of satisfaction from finding a new spot for a tired piece of furniture or a neglected vase. Cheapest of thrills.

So, here you go, a virtual tour of casa del coffee:

First up, the living room/front entry way.

I just bought gorgeous (and cheap!) long white curtains at IKEA and I'm dying to get them up around that bay window. I have aspirations of hanging them high and wide and framing the gorgeousness of all that natural light that floods into the front of our southern facing house. And since we have a blackout shade we can close at night for privacy and light control, I was free to go with my heart and choose impractical ineffective and oh-so-lovely white. 

The oriental rug was a wedding gift and, while beautiful and expensive, is totally not my taste, but it's here and it's lovely and so I work around it and let it do most of the heavy lifting in terms of pattern/color in this room.

Next up, the family room. The blankest of blank canvases right now because I just spent an afternoon "quieting the space" ala Myquillyn and now it's sitting pretty and plain and waiting for the right touches, not just putting up with whatever I happened to have on hand the weekend we moved in. Not that there's anything wrong with going ahead and throwing something up on the walls, but after a year of not quite right, I'm happy to let it sit semi-undone for a bit while I figure it out.

(I should have disclaimed this sooner, but me + my iPhone 4 are do not a professional photographer make, and I'm not really that skilled on the layout end of things, either, in terms of uploading images. So if this looks like the work of an amateur, at least I'm transparent.)

Most of our stuff is thrifted, and here's the big fat caveat with that: it takes multiple visits to multiple thrift stores over multiple weeks and months to arrive at a "finished" product, at least for me it does. So even though I've found some amazing stuff over the past year and a half since we moved in here, it did take lots of time and patience to get there. Not thrifted: the white china platter (wedding gift), the leather couch (our first repatriation purchase upon arrival Stateside, American Furniture Warehouse), and the round framed mirror (Walmart. Shudder.) Everything else: Goodwill/Saver's/Homegoods/mom and dad's hand me downs.

Next: the opposite of a gourmet kitchen. But whatev, it's a decent-ish size and I have a huge pantry, and my husband is really gifted in the charism of doing dinner dishes before bed. So I've got no complaints. Wait, no, I do have one; the heinous "white" linoleum hanging onto the beleaguered floor for dear life. At least it's not carpet?

Heading down the hall we find ourselves in the master bedroom. It's big enough to fit our king sized bed (the luxury!) but not really big enough to fit anything else, and that's fine by me. I keep it as visually uncluttered as possible because I feel 100% less stressed when it's clean and calm.

(How do I get such amazing shots? I'm telling you, it's the 2 year old camera phone and the steady caffeinated hand. #gifted #blessed)

Oh, I forgot, here's a shot of the basement which contains two semi finished guest rooms, an avocado green full bath with some missing ceiling tiles, and a laundry room and play room. 

That stairwell, my friends, is the reason there's zero toy clutter on the main floor. (That and I'm ruthless with the donations. Ruthless.)

Moving on to the nursery wing.

How cool is the boys' dresser? It weighs 200 lbs and our landlords didn't want to bother taking it with, so we inherited it. Legend has it the original owner/saint decopauger is now happily tucked away in a convent somewhere, none the wiser that her lovely original piece now primarily houses Pull Ups and filthy pajama pants.

And my favorite space in the whole house? (Well, at least until this past weekend's decluttering fest); Genevieve's room.

We don't have a dining room because we're not fancy like that. Actually, it's because I opportunistically transformed the space into my gym/home office while nobody was paying attention. I'm sure if we were trying to fit teenaged boys around our kitchen table we might need this space, but for now I'm super super lucky I can use it this way. Nothing fancy, but it's a happy place that lets me get my work done.

And finally, some random shots of the front porch and our front yard, where the children frolic as I survey my kingdom from behind the storm door or the bay window. I'm sure the neighbors can't handle how hands on my parenting is.

Okay one last shot: Evie can stand! If anyone is still hanging on after this endless stream of blurry cellphone pics, you deserve to see something cute.

What about you? Up for showing a little behind the scenes of your home? Maybe you could throw a little something together and drop a link down below? I'm all eyes, because the only thing better than Pinterest is personalized Pinterest, you know?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

You are my luxury

Sometimes, thanks to social media, the internet feels like a very small place, a limited orbit. I shared this on the blog's Facebook page last night after seeing it posted on another site, but by morning it was everywhere.

Maybe you've read it by now, in which the "luxury" of stay at home motherhood is contrasted with the "necessities" for survival, as so deemed by society at large. 

I thought it was a well written piece that walked the fine line between values statements and judgmental proclamations handily. Not everyone agrees with that assessment, but I think that's more to do with the emotionally charged nature of the debate (mom-at-home vs. mom-at-work), and not any fault of the writer's.

My own impression? I thought it was spot on. And before that gets me in trouble with my working mama friends, hear me out.

I see you, too. I know you must struggle to leave them every day, to put on your professional face and set your primary mom identity aside from 9-5. I know because you love your kids as much as I love mine, and that while I get a thrill of freedom and relief over the occasional half day in the office every other week or so, spent in meetings or working on a special project, you have to do it every single day, and that it probably doesn't feel much like escape to you. 

Home probably feels like your escape when you pull into the driveway at night, because that's where you left your heart when you pulled the door closed behind you that morning. 

And I don't envy you for that. Because I know that no matter how much you love your job, that can't be easy, and that no amount of uninterrupted time in the restroom can make up for the pain of that separation. 

I'm not saying you shouldn't be working outside the home, by the way. You've made your choice and I've made mine, and we're both doing our very best for our children.

But when I contemplate the idea of luxury like the New York Times piece touched on, when I stop to think about what makes life sweet and satisfying and ultimately, worth living, it isn't cars or a beautiful home that come to mind, or honestly, even being able to pay my bills on time.

It's them.

My children are my luxury. 

So in that sense, yes, I have embraced the most luxurious life possible, in choosing to stay home with them, to work a job that fits mostly into nap times and late nights, and in forgoing some of the more typical decisions that might otherwise accompany one's early to mid thirties in modern America.

We're nowhere near buying a house, but that has more to do with me choosing to spend invisible money on higher education more than a decade ago than with the cost of diapers. We drive older, sort of ugly cars. But there are two of them, which sometimes causes me to catch my breath at the sheer indulgence of it. We did the one car thing and then, living overseas, the no car thing. A car is an enormous luxury.

But I'd trade my minivan for the chance to be home with them if it came to it, honestly I would. And I know couples who have made that decision, no regrets.

There's something that only another parent can understand: your child is an unstoppable and ever-changing force of nature, and childhood is fleeting. 

And every time I leave them, even if just for a weekend away with their daddy, or an hour or two at the coffee shop, I long to be with them again. Sometimes I even miss them while they're sleeping, an admission that only hormones can be responsible for. (You know you've made the late night forehead kissing pilgrimage too, don't deny it.)

And I know too, that no matter how far my eyes roll up into my head in Costco when yet another well-intenetioned stranger tells me that I'm so lucky to be able to stay home with them all the end, they're right.

I am so lucky. And I need to do a better job keeping that in mind, day in and day out. Because I chose this life, and we are choosing it daily, as a couple, and there are sacrifices and sufferings and little deaths involved, as there are in any other big decision. But when we add them up nothing compares to the immeasurable luxury of time with our children. 

And I don't have to explain that to a single other person. Besides, they couldn't possibly understand what I do: that these particular kids are beyond worth it for this particular mother, and that no matter what else I could be doing in a professional capacity, it pales in comparison to what I've been asked to do within the 4 walls of my own slightly ill-kempt home. 

And that's not a judgement on anyone else's lifestyle choices. Just the recognition that my own life is, indeed, immeasurably privileged.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bond of brothers

My boys are lying facedown and soaking wet in a patch of sun on our thawed-out deck, relishing the 79 degree Colorado sunshine after a long winter (which, in all honesty, is probably nowhere close to finished, but I don't have the heart to tell them...) and taking turns slapping each other on the back.

"What's happening?!" they trade off shouting, dissolving into giggles as they slap each other over and over again, imitating a character from one of their favorite books. They're drenched from freezing hose water and their rash guards and tiny swimsuits are plastered to their bodies. And they are supremely happy.

Just a week or two ago, down with fevers and ear infections and endless 20 degree days, these same boys were scratching each other's metaphorical eyes out in unrelenting Lego squabbles and disagreements over whose turn it was to open the garage door with the special remote. And to be fair, they'll probably be fighting again in 15 minutes.

But for now they are deeply content and completely engrossed in one another, their 19-month age difference barely a blip on their consciousness except, of course, when Joey feels the need to assert his chronological superiority with every checkout guy, barista, and random stranger in the library.
Then there will be a reckoning of birth order, a rattling off of personal information and an unbidden recitation of names.
RIP, mohawks.
Their personalities are so different, and yet they have a sameness between them that can only be explained by a shared pedigree. 

One is bossy, loud, impatient, slow to see the needs of others; the other more gentle, more reflective, more willing to console and to share. But I see the way they rub against each other's temperaments, one emboldened by the fierce desire to keep up with an adored big brother, the other occasionally gentled by a younger one's needs.

It's amazing the way they were clearly designed to be together. And I'm amazed at how very little I had to do with it. I mean yes, I produced them both, but I couldn't have planned the ways they complete each other, the ways they compete with each other, the ways they force generosity and coax cooperation and unselfishness out of day to day situations.

I have no doubt they'd learn these things eventually, be it in school or the workplace. But I'd rather they learned them here, now, they have as much time as possible to sink deep in, becoming woven into the fabric of developing personalities.

Their baby sister is beloved by them both, but not fully of their world yet. She's been grudgingly allowed into the bathtub after dinner time, and I'm seeing increased efforts to include her in playtime (or at least throw toys in her path to prevent screaming fits), but she hasn't breached their shared imaginary world.

Maybe as she grows she'll be welcomed into the club, or maybe the next sibling, growing now beneath my beleaguered ribcage, will be her match.

But he or she will be so much more than that, too. More than just another playmate or a contrasting personality to add to the crew; a unique and wholly unknown other to enter into the intimate world my kids share only with each other. Sometimes while I watch them play my heart constricts fiercely at the thought that my time with them is limited by the difference in our ages. I might get 50 years with them if I'm lucky. Their siblings might get 80.

They'll grow old together because they're growing up together. I know it's true, because every week on  Wednesday or Thursday night I slip out of the house after bedtime duties and drive a few miles to a predetermined spot to meet two of my sisters and, occasionally, our brother who live nearby. We have drinks and sometimes dinner, too, and we laugh about stuff only people who survived life with the same crazy parents (hi, mom and dad!) under the same roof can.

And now that babies have come and jobs have demanded relocations and friends have dispersed across the globe, we've become, just as mom and dad endlessly reminded us we would, each other's best grown up friends.

I can't wait to see that for my boys. Even though I probably won't be privy to the inner workings of it. Even though I'm already being left behind, imperceptibly, day by day as they grow and change and need less of me, but arguabley more of each other.

I hope when they're sharing beers together one day 30 years from now they can forgive a whole host of my failures and shortcomings as a parent for the simple fact that I gave them each their best friend. And I hope they encourage each other to strive tirelessly to improve their aim, because their bathroom smells exactly the way you might imagine a small space shared by two masculine preschoolers would.

Love you, boys. And I love your love for each other. Don't ever let it grow cold.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sanity hacks for the tired parent

As demonstrated so, um, eloquently? Painstakingly honestly? in my post last week, I'm tired. I'm a tired, washed up old young mom, and I need all the help I can get.

I'm guessing, based upon the overwhelming response of solidarity, that there are a few of you out there, too. 

Jen Fulwiler wrote a great piece a couple years ago that examined the fundamental difficulty we face in modern motherhood, focusing on the way the breakdown of physical community - real community - like the kind that used to be found in neighborhoods (and maybe still is in yours, if you're fortunate) has fundamentally altered our daily landscape.

It's more or less necessary for mental health for most adults to have some human interaction on a daily basis. If it must be virtual, then so be it, and hence, the explosion of social media and the mommy blog movement.

But it's so much better if it's in person.

Even I, a dyed in the wool introvert if ever there was one, will cop to the truth that staying home all day alone with little kids is hard. Part of what makes it so is the isolation. 

Another large contributing factor? Being "it" in terms of entertainment, authority, empathy, etc. for a small army.  Or even for a single kiddo - some of my toughest days of SAHMing were with my firstborn in his infancy, when I, still fresh from a dynamic office environment, found myself suddenly and deafeningly alone all day long, all week long. It was a huge adjustment.

Of course, now I look back on that time and long for uninterrupted stretches of napping potential and housekeeping prowess (though, to be fair, at the time I was probably crouched over the packnplay making sure he was breathing if ever he did sleep), but, c'est la vie, hindsight is blinding.

I'm 5 years into the game now, which isn't a lot of time, but it's long enough to get through college (ahem, just barely, in my case) and so it's long enough to pick up a few tips and tricks of the trade for surviving the eternal winter of staying at home with small children. Here are some of my favorite go-to's:

1. You are not their entertainment (but sometimes Netflix is)

I had really high hopes of being a screen free, hands on Montessori style mother when my first two were very small. I set up little activity corners for them and filled them with objects to sort and stack, and I monitored their consumption of media carefully. 

I still do this, at least as far as piles of toys in the basement corners can be considered "curated content for exploration" and I'm still very careful about what they watch. See me painstakingly select "Netflix Kids" and pull the screen up, inviting them to thoughtfully choose between the Wild Kratts and Daniel Tiger. Watch me scrutinize the clock, calculating the time between now and dinner, and then make a generous dispensation for "just one more" episode. Notice me generously donating additional siblings to the dynamic to make playtime more interesting (and giving our sports teams a deeper depth on the roster, down the road.)

Y'all, this is survival mode. And a wise old mother once told me that the advent of television was God's gift to mothers to offset the decline in childhood mortality in the industrial age. 

(Which is horrible, okay? And a joke! But definitely one that I'm still laughing at...)

Oh, and a painfully necessary addendum to the above paragraph? Nothing against screen free parenting, Montessori schools, or moms who like to craft with their kids. We're all wired a little differently on the inside, aren't we? And that's ok.

2. DVD players are in cars now

When we bought our nothing too fancy 9 year old mini van, it might as well have been a spaceship for all the upgraded features it boasted over, say, a Roman city bus. One of those prominently emphasized by our enthusiastic salesman was the drop down DVD player. I scoffed, because surely my children could enjoy car rides around town in the MIRACLE OF A SINGLE FAMILY VEHICLE and not also be expecting onboard entertainment, but wouldn't you know, the thing does come in handy at times. 

For example, during the 12th consecutive day of light snowfall and temperatures in the 8-11 degree Farenheit range. You know what those days are awesome for? Driving aimlessly around town blasting the Frozen: Sing along! edition for 50 or 60 minutes of choreographed boredom busting. And maybe hitting the drive through at the end. Boom, morning over.

3. Indoor wading pools

At our house, summer is for backyard water play. By 9 am we've got the slip n slide unrolled, the baby pool filled, and a sizable mud pit attracting diaper clad cousins fermenting in the side yard. In the winter when the mercury rises about 50, my poor native Coloradan children who were born without a sense of temperature or a knack for appropriate public attire (geographical disabilities) have been known to strip off their shirts, kick off their shoes and run hopeful into the backyard, searching for the hose. (No, kids, it's rolled up for the season. Please put your Tevas on and curb your enthusiasm till May.)

But there's always the bathtub. I know the trend this week is to breath a deep sigh of relief and admit that your child hasn't been bathed in 2 weeks or longer, but when I read the articles that starting circulating last week on the importance of building up microbes or something, I laughed until the tears came, because not only have we had the most hideous winter of illness on recent record, but my kids take 2-3 baths per day. Yeah. Can't believe they're not immune to all sorts of ailments!

And you know what? I don't care if it has destroyed their delicate immune systems (which I don't believe for a second) because of two things: first, they're just as wet all summer long because of the aforementioned wading pool fetish, and second, we don't use soap. Because it was long ago emptied down the drain in a fit of toddler creativity.

Bam, microbes intact.

4. Costco is a wonderland 

You probably recall that Target and I are on a break right now (3 months strong, and the budget to show for it!) but you'd best believe that the biggest adjustment to life outside the Bullseye was what to do with the children on those frigid days when milk and diapers and morale were all running low. Well, now we go to Costco, the magical land of free samples, giant carts, and comfortable furniture to lounge about on. And maybe a salty hot dog at the end, if everyone behaves themselves.

And you know what else? There are no dollar bins at Costco. Nobody has ever "accidentally" spent $13 dollars on crap at Costco. You know why that is? Because no single thing there costs less than $13 to begin with, so you tend to think through those purchases.

I'm never excited to go, but I'm always glad we went. Because everybody's tummies are full and 2 hours have mysteriously ticked by and I have 48 cans of crisp cold La Croix to stock my fridge for preggie happy hours.

5. Phone a friend

Some days are just beyond redemption. So why not throw reason to the wind and welcome another 2-4 dirty children into your home for some good old fashioned team parenting with a friend or sister? 3 whining kids of your own might feel overwhelming, but when there are 7 of them all clamoring for snacks and thundering through the kitchen in superhero capes, it usually feels more comical than anything else. Some of my most successful "playdates" have resulted from 3 pm phone calls to a desperate friend in a similar situation, only to find us 40 minutes later sipping wine in relative chaos while our beautiful babies trash one or the other of our basements. If you can't beat 'em, multiply 'em ... and pour yourself a drink.

6. The one-hour recharge 

For some days there is simply no other remedy than escape. And so, with dinner made (or not) and kids handed off to daddy, I flee the house at the bedtime hour. This accomplishes the twofold purpose of preserving my mental health for another sunrise, and allowing daddy some wonderful bonding time when the children are at their absolute most precious. Wink. 

Sometimes it's a hot tea at the coffee shop down the road, sometimes it's a solo trip to the grocery store, and sometimes it's a half hour in Adoration, but I swear by these little escape trips that leave me exponentially refreshed and recharged and able to kiss sweet sleeping foreheads and mean it when I return by 8 pm.

So there you have it, some of my most effective trade secrets (and admissions that would have shamed me 5 years ago. You live, you learn.)

What helps you keep your nurturing neurons firing?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The lonely mission of motherhood

If I've learned anything during my transition from mom-plus-2 to mom-with-a-double-fistfull it's this: the culture at large does not understand you, or your predicament.

You know, the one you got yourself into when you got yourself knocked up so far outside the status quo that strangers at playgrounds goggle their eyes at you and actually stutter the number "4" because it's so shocking.

And it is, by the way, fairly shocking.

The average family size in the United States of America in 2013 (the most recent year I could find reliable statistics for) was 1.9, a number that has held steady for at least half a decade. Which means by the time you get your "one boy, one girl" matched set lined up, you're already technically outpacing the national norm.

So when you roll into Costco with a trio of small people riding dirty in the double cart and then have the audacity to cut a maternal profile should you be foolish enough to leave your winter coat unzipped over the burgeoning baby bump're gonna get some arched eyebrows in your general direction.

I'm grateful to be on the receiving end of mostly positive feedback when I've got my small-but-multiplying crew out in public, but make no mistake, it's not an "atta girl, good for you" warm fuzziness that usually greets us, but generally more of an incredulous "better you than me," or "you will overcome, mom" vibe.

But God help me if the day is going downhill, or if anyone has a public display of insurrection.

If there's one thing a culture which is fundamentally opposed to (or even merely apathetic to the existence of) the child is notable for, it is in not knowing in the least how to react to one when encountered in its native habitat of, say, the peanut butter aisle at King Soopers.

Nervous laughter, averted eyes, or, if we're especially unlucky, pursed lips and disapproving scowls.

And sometimes the only thing harder than being a mom to a bunch of little kids is the way the general public reacts to them - to you - when you muster the audacity to take them out of the house.

Listen, I'm not looking for some kind of medal of recognition when I hit up the grocery store at 4 pm with my wild posse, but for the love of all the generic Oreos on the shelf, don't stare at us like we're the 8th world wonder because we're there.

You might be the first adult I've laid eyes on since 7 am, and I'd love if I didn't have to pretend everything was fine fine FIIIIIINE with an unnatural glint in my eyes and a slightly manic smile fixed on my face, because otherwise you might think that I'm not enjoying myself and this little child army of mine.

God forbid you think that.

God forbid I'm allowed to demonstrate, in public, how hard this is, because after all, didn't I literally and figuratively make my bed and lie in it, and then repeat the feat 2 or 3 or 4 more times after that?

Yes, I know what causes this. I know where babies come from. I do have a tv, but it's in the basement and we generally prefer Netflix, but that's beside the point.

I'm raising children in a culture that despises them, for all intents and purposes, both in word and in deed, and indeed, by the very laws of the land itself. And it kind of feels like it despises me, too, most of the time.

Motherhood is already hard as hell, because, yes, diapers and bedtime chaos and ear infections and the crushing isolation of a post industrial society bound up by fiberoptic cables, but fractured of any physical community...but the difficulty is greatly magnified by the public disdain for and incomprehension of our children's - and to some extent, our own - existence.

So what does this mean? Well, lots of the time it means I've got to be the brave little soldier mother, the one bucking the trend and smiling and saying "yes" over and over, not because I'm oppressed or brainwashed or lacking in education or opportunity, but because I chose this of my own free will.
And for that, I have forfeited the right to complain, at least outside the 4 walls of my home or my safe  little corner of cyberspace.

I have abdicated the right to expect a sympathetic ear or an understanding spirit from a total stranger, or even my next door neighbor, because we're swimming upstream in this household and most of the other salmon we're commuting with are not only staring at us in blind incomprehension, but sometimes they're throwing their slippery bodies in our way. Because we might be idiots. And we're clearly not operating out of our right minds.

And some days it's harder than others.

Sometimes I want to not have to pretend that everything is fine while we're out and about only to come home and collapse in a sobbing mess behind the bathroom door once the groceries are put away and the snacks are dolled out.

I want to share with the other moms I encounter that it is hard, that I'm not doing it all, and that even though there are more days than not where I feel like crying by 8 pm, I wouldn't have chosen another life than this one.
Can't it be hard but also worth it?

Can't I confide in some well-intentioned stranger that it is a struggle to be this busy and pregnant again, but that some hard things are worth doing, and that pursuing a life of self-actualiztaion and leisure isn't the only thing we were put on this earth for?

Can I be unafraid of coming across as a stereotype of the tired, overwrought, and oppressed mother who hasn't yet happened upon the wonders of birth control and daycare if I let the smile slip from my face and I make honest eye contact with you while my 4 year old is lying on his back sobbing in the library because his favorite dinosaur book was checked out by somebody else, and his two other siblings are ready to leave now, and we can't spend 20 minutes hunting for an acceptable substitute?

I wonder how much of the hardness of my hardest days is because it is hard right now, and really lonely, too, and I feel compelled to put on a brave face and pretend that it isn't hard, out of fear that someone judge me accurately to be the sobbing, overworked mess of a mother that I really am.

Motherhood is always hard, and it always has been. But motherhood in a culture that shies away from self-immolation and self-denial and radical generosity in grotesque horror is especially challenging. And sure, I'm doing my little part to buck that trend, bit by bit, baby by baby. But it isn't easy.

I remind myself over and over again of Pope Benedict's words (but not often enough, obviously) "The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness."

But God help me if I don't crave comfort, just the same. I just wish I could talk about it honestly sometimes without getting counseled on the latest, greatest advancement in IUD technology.

I didn't say I wanted to exterminate the little darlings, just that raising them is hard, and doing so in a culture that sees them primarily in terms of risk and cost is exhausting. Because I feel compelled more often than not to play along like everything is rosy, lest I be adding fuel to the anti-child fire.

And then, wouldn't you know it, I am myself exhausted by the effort to make this look good, make this look enjoyable and attractive and worth it.

It is all those things, and more. So much more. But I'm so tired. And sometimes I just don't have it in me to pretend otherwise, even when I know people are watching.

Monday, March 2, 2015

What's so wrong with trashy books (or movies)?

Our weekend was filled with runny noses, pink eyes (I die. The second worst of childhood ailments, dethroned only by vomit), and lots and lots of reading.

The kids and I and even daddy all had books in piles around the house, freshly liberated from the library down the street and competing with Netflix for our winter-bound attention.

I must confess I spent the better part of Saturday reading a book I probably should not have finished...and I'm going to tell you why.

But first, a little background. Last week I asked my lovely readers who follow along on Facebook for some literary recommendations. And boy did I get some. You guys are so awesome, you flooded my newsfeed with more than 100 titles.

One evening later that week, after bedtime, I snuggled down with my laptop and my library account and went on a little hold binge, filling my e-cart with close to 50 titles. It was addictive, like shopping without money. Well, maybe like shopping with taxpayer money...but less of a sting than Amazon, for sure. (50 titles was a bit enthusiastic though, I will admit. Especially since 20 of them popped up in my email the next day as "ready for pickup." Oops.)

I trudged through the snow with one small boy in tow and we retrieved about a dozen titles, probably more than I could read in 2 weeks, but hey, a girl can dream. 

Sure enough, the powers of illness and weekend frigidity combined and was stayed inside reading plenty. Enough for me to finish one entire novel and crack into another one, only to be discarded and replaced by a 3rd option.

Here's where things get weird though. You see, the first book I read, while engaging, was ... questionable in terms of content. It was little things here and there at first, offhand references to casual sex. Details about make out sessions. Backstories involving (thankfully) derailed trips to the abortion clinic. And things kind of escalated from there.

The problem was though, I was so engaged in the story line and the characters by the time things got really steamy (read: super trashy) it was hard to shut the book and walk away. So I didn't. I read the whole dang thing and pretty much enjoyed it but definitely squirmed through increasingly larger sections of it. 

And afterwards, I felt acutely that I had betrayed an essential part of myself: my conscience.

For someone who can write confidently about skipping 50 Shades of S&M and has no problem flipping over the top copy of Cosmo in the checkout line, when it came to a book that was already in hand and being enjoyed, I had a more difficult time stepping away, even though I was fully aware that it was bad for me.

And no, I don't think that I committed any mortal sin by finishing a smutty novel, because I was skimming through the squirmy parts and was definitely repelled by - not attracted to - the sins being committed on the pages. But still. I didn't look away.

And I should have. I should have shut the book and played with my kids. Or picked up another title and tried again. Or, hell, painted my toenails or jumped on the elliptical or taken a nice long bath. There are plenty of things a tired mom can do with her limited leisure time that don't involve torrid affairs and steamy sex scenes in the back of cars.

Because here's the thing: every time I expose myself to the glamorization and normalization of evil - be it promiscuous teens losing their virginity, extramarital affairs, premarital sex, period - I lose a little bit of my natural (and supernatural) sensitivity to these sins.

It matters little that I will probably never personally commit them, (and I'm more than aware that there but for the grace of God go I); but when I am granting them entrance into my imagination - and my heart, because it dwells there, too - then I am throwing open an opportunity to grow not in virtue, but in vice. To do one thing with my "real" life, but to play by different standards inside the equally-real world of the mind.

And why invite those imaginary characters to come and live inside of me, occupying space in my brain and my heart where I'm desperately trying to cultivate virtue to impart to my kids, and to overcome the smallness and the very real fallenness of my own interior world?

We all struggle with sin, and thanks to the grace of God, we all have access to the grace to overcome them. Again. And again.

But that is by no means a license to roll around in the mud in our minds, rationalizing away the imaginary teflon divider between body and mind, spirit and flesh.

What we put into our bodies - our minds, our selves - matters. It matters because it becomes a part of us, just as much as the food we eat and the water we drink. It is incorporated into us in a permanent way. And as much as I have the authority over what will become irrevocably a part of me, it is my duty to exhort quality control over the raw material.

That's why it's not okay to go see a porno movie, even if it's mass-produced and wildly popular.

That's why I should probably delete that raunchy rom-com from my Amazon playlist, even though "it's a cultural classic" and "a little smut never hurt anybody." Because actually, all sins start small, and they have to start somewhere.

It's hard enough to cultivate virtue in a culture that is anti-virtuous, the enshrines and celebrates the very things we are commanded to avoid: murder, adultery, gossip, slander. 

Why compound the difficulty by filling our brains with the crap we're trying so hard not to step in ourselves?

Why read stories about characters succumbing to temptations we're striving mightily to overcome ourselves, entertaining plot lines that, if played out in vivo, would land us right in the confessional (and maybe divorce court, or prison)?

The past 6 years of living without cable has made me much, much more sensitive to televised smut than college Jenny ever dreamed of being. So yeah, my standards there are fairly high, but its' because I'm not regularly exposed to it. The boiling frog effect hasn't set in, and I'm instantly repulsed  when I see something graphic on tv that I know is wrong, in part because it's so shocking and so out of the ordinary.

I need to be more careful about what that looks like in terms of reading material too, though. Because just like you can never unsee something once it's flashed across your vision field, it's very, very difficult to divest yourself of the written word, too.

And I'm having an epic enough struggle swimming upstream in this culture. God knows I need all the help I can get.

I'm not going to undercut myself with friendly fire by reading "harmless" chick lit filled with innuendos and sex scenes between imaginary characters. Because they might not be real, but I am.

I'm a real flesh and blood woman with real struggles and real proclivities to sin. And I've also been entrusted with a husband to care for, and 4 little souls to guide back to Him.

My God, I need all the help I can get. 

And when I do need to escape (and I do, very much, very often in these exhausting early years) it ought not be to a place I have no business visiting, even if only in my imagination.

There's plenty of other stuff I could be doing with my free time, anyway. I could paint my daughter's toenails, watch a make up application tutorial on Youtube, write my husband a love letter, curl my hair, shop online for some cute unmentionables, go for a run (or a walk, as this widening load would have it), call my best friend, stare at maternity style posts on Pinterest...etc.

(I'm intentionally leaving out the titles of the books in question, partly because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or embarrass them if they did make the recommendation, and partly because I do believe that different people have different thresholds for what makes them squirm.)

 But I do want to challenge myself - all of us - to be conscious of that threshold, and how we can deaden or attune our own consciences with the choices we make and the company we keep, even in our own imaginations.

Maybe especially there.

Oh, and for the the record, I'm currently reading O Pioneers! by Willa Cather, at someone's excellent recommendation. And loving it. There's plenty of grit, there too. 

Because I'm not looking for an impossibly squeaky clean "unrealistic" universe, but for one that plays by natural law. Think "Les Miserables" ... plenty of sex, plenty of sin...and plenty of realistic consequences for what happens when we fail to choose the good. That's the kind of steamy I can handle.

Or a bath. I can always handle a nice hot bath. If only the kids would all nap at the same time.

Friday, February 27, 2015

The annual Lenten crash and burn

Well, well, well.

We all saw this one coming. At least I presume most of you fine people did, along with my husband and my entire extended family (we're close knit like that).

Bottom line: committing to a radical total-life overhaul is the number one recommended way to screw up New Years... and Lent. And to do it while pregnant? Even better! That way there's plenty of hormonal support for those lofty goals, fueled by prenatal appointments and late-night Pinterest binge sessions on Paleo meal planning and having "the best pregnancy ever."

I lack self knowledge. Let no one question that.

I also lack humility, apparently, and what better way to remedy that than to admit crushing defeat 9 days into 47?

So the Lenten Whole 40. Um, no. It's not going ... well. We're eating decent, low carb dinners and staying away from sugars and dessert, but other than that, I have utterly failed. First it was the occasional spoonful of crunchy peanut butter to supplement that morning banana. Then it was the occasional glass of whole milk "for the baby." And the only thing less impressive than no finishing this stupid endeavor would be to fail to cop to it here. So, my name's Jenny, and I failed my Lenten sacrifices.

At least, I failed at the ones I picked for myself.

Oh my gosh, it's so predictable and it's so stupid, but it's kind of the same way I feel when I go back to Confession time and time again for the same exact sins, the same exact issues.

I can't do it on my own. 

And when I fail to take His plans into account, I fail. Every time.

Oddly enough, the little penances He chose on my behalf, the sleepless nights with sick kids (again! Again with the ear infections! A pox on this winter!), the teeth-gritting Mommy and Me decade of the Rosary in the mornings, the endlessly pleasant soundtrack of an almost-three-year-old's chronic whining...well those sacrifices are going great.

Seriously, I haven't missed a day yet.

And yesterday I even had the opportunity to re-mop a delicately steam-cleaned kitchen floor when a sweet little somebody barfed up her antibiotics over the side of her high chair.

I'm so lucky.

I mean that. Because look, if I had been relying entirely on my great ideas and lofty goals for self improvement, this Lenten season would already be DOA. And it is. My Lent is dead in the water.

But the one He had in mind for me? It's in full swing.

More time spent in prayer, because I'm drowning and I need His grace to make it till bedtime.

Healthier meals and wiser choices in the grocery store. Because my sane and stable husband is doing marvelously well in his efforts to eat clean. And I'm in charge of the meal planning round here.

Growth in the virtue of patience. Because 4, 3, 1, and 16 weeks in utero. And all very needy. (Though all the small one wants is Cool Ranch Doritos, truth be told. Bad baby.)

Tons of opportunity to grow in humility. Literally, tons. Because my pants don't fit now that, once again, the beautiful soul-stretching work of bringing a new body into the world is destroying mine in the process.

Hello, Lent which was meant for me. It's nice to make your acquaintance. Sorry I'm a week and a half late, it's just that I haven't bothered to look up from my plans until now. But I'm chastened and deflated and feeling much more teachable.

And I promise I'm going to try really, really hard and take my own advice in future years and just accept the Lent that has been handily laid before me, custom crafted for my own particular vices and weaknesses, and not try to concoct one on my own that is so lofty, so fantastically challenging that I've literally no hope of seeing it through.

I'm listening now. And, yeah, I'm eating cheese.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Is it really about the children?

There has been much discussed about immigration in the news cycle of late. 5 million granted amnesty, amnesty revoked, bills vetoed, legislative vs. executive branch's a hot mess.

There are millions of young people who want to be living here in the US of A. Whatever your politics, that fact stands. And both sides of the debate seem to have settled on the youth narrative as a good place to start from. Because 45 year old drug runners or convicted felons make less compelling subjects, and old people are boring, I guess? I think that's the line of reasoning, anyway.

So the children. Both pro amnesty and anti amnesty groups point to the kids as the reason we need to fix the system/open the borders/streamline the process, and they're right. The kids are the reason. They have as much dignity as the little people you have tucked up under your own roof each night, slumbering peacefully and securely.

Now, forgive me if I'm wrong, but this piece casts a rather disingenuous pall over the motives of some of those within the Department of Health and Human Services working so earnestly to secure residence for young illegal immigrants. And it smacks of the worst kind of eugenic elitism.

Sure, send us your poor, your huddled masses ... and we'll welcome them and abort their children.

Is there not rather an abrupt break in the narrative, at that point, if it is indeed supposed to appear as though the primary concern in the forefront of everybody's generous heart is the children?

I guess, then, it still boils down to a prejudice of geography. Children running across deserts and fording rivers are welcome, but the stowaways within their wombs will be executed upon arrival, courtesy of the US taxpayer.

And yes, sure, it specifies that the abortion services will be extended to those children who were sexually assaulted during their crossing, but with the amount of trafficking occurring on our borders right now, that casts a wide net indeed. I wonder who decides whether a pregnant 14 year old girl has been assaulted and is therefore "entitled to" (read: has it forced upon her) abortion. Perhaps even against her will.

But then, it's for the good of the children. 

Violence upon violence.

This is the fruit of the assault on religious freedom, on purging goodness and truth from the public square. When we lose our voices and our rights to exercise our consciences, everybody suffers. And government bureaucracy is no replacement for the human heart for determining good from evil.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Sometimes it looks like this

Today was one of the best days we've had at home in a while, for me and the kids. The long-awaited pajama day at preschool was trumped by a snow day, and all three little people spiked fevers sometime after breakfast. No fewer than 7 (seven. SE-VEN) hours of cartoons were consumed by a certain someone with a 103 temperature and an abiding love for the Octonauts, and I was only dressed in real clothes for about an hour, during a brief foray to the doctor's office and the grocery store.

And it was, truly, one of the best days in recent memory.

I didn't yell, I didn't cry, and I didn't stress over what I was or wasn't getting done. The kids were so needy, and I, for once, was so acutely aware of their littleness and their neediness that I just threw up my hands and settled onto the floor in my yoga pants to soothe, cuddle, and read aloud.

Sure, a few loads of laundry got washed, but nothing notable was checked off my endless to-do list. For once I could clearly see their needs, and somehow, there was the grace to meet them.

I wonder if it's always there?

I suspect it is.

I read a piece on a better blog than this one a while back, and one bit of wisdom in particular stuck with me: when your kids are sick, stop what you're doing and take care of them. Don't ask me why that's rocket science to me (seriously, please don't), but it hit me right in the gut.

I do so much in spite of my kids, stepping around them and over them and looking past them - or at least looking past whatever trying developmental stage we might be stagnating in currently - that I've lost countless opportunities to train flabby mommy muscles and hone parental prowess by meeting reality head on. I grit my teeth and get through it, whatever "it" happens to be: pink eye, potty training disasters, sleeplessness, etc.

And I drag them with me.

Today felt different, though. Today, maybe because it's Lent, or because I prayed first thing like I always should but never actually do, or because school was cancelled and my agenda was derailed, I just met them where they needed me, extending my arms and letting them climb all over my slowly shrinking lap and reading Little House on the Prairie until my voice got scratchy. (And yes, hours and hours of Netflix, too.)

I didn't try to escape it, not in the virtual sense or the literal sense. I didn't load them up and force the planned Costco run. And, miracle of miracles, I didn't send a single electronic smoke signal to my homebound husband on the evening commute. I just accepted the day as it unfolded, and for once I played the role of competent, caring adult for a solid 10 hours.

Maybe I'm not giving myself enough credit, but it certainly didn't feel very familiar. I think I spend more time than is polite to admit attempting to escape from this particular season in life, whether it be through exercise or constant, low-grade panic-cleaning or the endless busyness of saying yes to yet another little project or another small commitment, giving away little pieces of myself bit by bit until there's nothing but scraps left for the children.

For my children.

This isn't some kind of self castigating tell all about the terrible state of my motherhood. I'm not a bad mom, and I know that. But I am a highly distracted mom, most of the time. And an overworked mom, exhausted by my own free will more often than not.

My choices and my standards are what keep me there, though. It's not really the kids, most of the time. It's me. My expectations, my plans, my agenda...and my failure to put first things first, vocationally speaking.

I'm not saying mom shouldn't make it to the gym every other night. God knows I need that precious time on the Stairmaster with HGTV blasting through my earbuds. And there's nothing wrong with keeping a clean, clutter-free house that brings peace and life to your family. But there is something wrong, something out of place, when the kids and the marriage and the vocation you chose, of your own free will, become not the means to your sanctification but the burden that tugs at the edges of your sanity.

I am there too often, and I can see where a long string of days and months and years in such a place could lead.

Thank God, then, for little graces wrapped in feverish bunches of damp pajama bottoms and snot-streaked faces. For the bloodless surrender to a day spent reading stories and filling juice cups and vacuuming around clumps of kleenex. He knew just what I needed today - what we all needed.

For mommy to be around, in the fullest sense.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Why everybody loses when we sugarcoat NFP

There's a common thread that runs through so many of the conversations I've had about NFP lately (and, as this belly pops out more and more, I'm guessing those opportunities are just going to start rolling in gangbusters at Costco and the like) and it's the very simple and very often understated reality that it's difficult.

Did you catch that?

There is nothing easy about it, whichever method you practice and however charismatic your instructor and however earnest the smiling couple with 5 mewling children careening about their feet who run you through your introductory session as an idealistic (or perhaps incredibly bored) newly engaged may be.

It's not easy.

It's not easy to choose this alternative lifestyle, to live the practical nitty gritty of the Church's strange and beautiful and salvific teaching on sex and love and human life.

It just isn't.

I doubt it was easy 200 years ago when less was understood about the female reproductive system, and more was left up to a prayer and a chance.

And it's not easy today, for we who are often steeped in and strangled by technology, terrified at turns by our ability to procreate and our inability to control, ultimately, this mysterious force at the center of human existence.

It's heavy stuff we're dealing with, and it deserves a more serious and frank conversation, at every level of engagement.

On the one hand, yes, we ought to be encouraging and enthusiastic in our presentation of the Church's beautiful teachings on sex and marriage, but we ought not do so at the expense of reality.

Nobody has ever pointed to a crucifix and said "look how pretty, look how effortless."

Is it beautiful? Peerlessly.

Is it staggeringly difficult? An incomprehensible level of suffering?

Yes, also that.

There is nothing to be gained from hiding the beauty and the difficulty of living this countercultural reality from those who come to us with questions, comments, or even ridicule.

And there is surely nothing to be gained in failing to advise young engaged and newly married couples, enthusiastic in their love and devotion and early in experience, that the road they are going to walk down is not paved entirely in roses, or rather, that there are thorns, too.

Spouses who practice NFP are less vulnerable to divorce, yes, but not because of NFP alone. There is room in their marriages for charity, for generosity, for communication...but it's an opportunity that must be actualized by hard work and hard choices and constant death to self. It's not a guarantee.

And please, for the love, pastors, well-meaning friends, family members...if a couple is drowning in plain sight, overwhelmed by their present circumstances, or just plain exhausted by the physical and emotional strain of parenthood, do the truly loving thing and lift them up. Offer them babysitting help. Take a meal over. Drop off a gift card. Pray for a multiplication of sleep and energy. But don't lean in in a conspiratorial tone and ask them if they've thought about doing something about all those bouncing babies that keep coming their way.

Yes, they've thought about it. 

And they've either discerned that now was indeed a good time for another new life to come on the scene or they're struggling with understanding their fertility or they just plain made a miscalculation, or God one-up'd them.

Whatever the case may be, they're not morons who've never watched tv, and your suggestions are less than helpful; they're deadly destructive.

I can't tell you how many women I've talked to who have been counseled by pastors/friends/in-laws, well-intentioned Catholics and less-than-well-intentioned Catholics, that contraception was the obvious and only answer to their problems.

When somebody is drowning in plain sight, you don't chastise them for getting in the water in the first place. You throw them a life preserver and wrap them in a warm blanket and hold them until the shivering subsides.

To suggest that living the fullness of the truth of the Catholic Church's teachings on family life is only beneficial up to a point, up to the part where it gets really hard and excruciatingly challenging, empties the authority of those teachings to nothing.

Either it's life giving and soul saving, or to hell with it.

Tell me that from the pulpit and I'll sit up and give you my full attention. Anything less is a waste of my time and an insult to my intellect.

Let's do a better job of talking about NFP. Let's be bold in our conversations with our Catholic friends who are unconvinced. Let's be transparent with our curious (bemused?) family members. And let's be charitable with our incredulous neighbors.

Because there are a whole lot of people searching for real love, and for the meaning of life, and for answers to lots of big questions. Shame on us if we're not willing to offer some answers, or at least start the conversation with an explanation.

Finally, let's encourage our priests and our seminarians to dig deep in their study of these difficult, beautiful truths. There is vast room for improvement, on both sides of the altar.

We live in a society steeped in sexuality and yet utterly illiterate in matters of the heart. People are breaking their bodies and their hearts for want of a little love, and we hardly hear a word about it from the pulpit.

I live in a city populated by some of the finest clergy in the world, and I am richly blessed. Our seminary is peerless, and our parishes are full.

But many are not so fortunate. And even in familiar territory, we cannot assume that everyone is on the same page, that everyone is in agreement and has had the same level of catechesis and instruction.

There is so much room for improvement. And, thankfully, so many opportunities to let Him in, to extend grace and mercy and His beautiful, difficult, life-giving truth.

Let's get to work.

Image source.