Friday, March 27, 2015

Ben and Charlie Party, High School Drama, and a Trip to the E.R. ~ 7 QTFriday

Oh, Friday, how did you get here so soon??? 

Maybe, it's because Monday and Tuesday were party days in our house, and party days always go by much too quickly. Then, Wednesday, all of the fun and games came to a screeching halt when a hefty combo of stomach pain and heart ache hit our house all at once. Thursday was spent recovering from the whirlwind whiplash, and Friday, well, TGIF!!

Let me break it all down for ya with a little 7 Quick Takes...

{By request, a Barnyard Dance themed cake.} 
On Monday our sweet lil' Charlie graduated to the rank of four year oldness.  I really love writing long, loving posts of each child's birthday, but since the time and energy I have to blog has been seriously derailed over the past year due to family circumstances, I'm going to have to settle for squeezing all that love in right here.
What a fun day we had with our little prince.  He must have asked me a hundred times.  "Is today my special birthday?" To which I would respond with a very enthusiastic,"Yes!" To which he would shout with glee, "Oh, thank you, Mommy, thank you for my birthday!" He slays me with his sweetness every day.  Speaking of sweetness...Red, red frosting blob on the chandelier, how you git up dare??? (Toddler parties are wild 'round here!)

{Concentrating on the wish.  You're never to old to make one, right?}
On Tuesday, we "celebrated" Ben's 14th birthday.  I say "celebrated" because, really, while I'm good at dishing out heaps of hugs and cake and ice cream with a smile, my heart is really curled up in a sobbing ball of denial. You are NOT 14, you are NOT 14.... If our children could stay little forever, I'd be okay with that (I think?).

Nothing yanks you out of a post-party high like the wrath of a kidney stone.  Wednesday morning, just as I was about to caffeinate myself for the sake of the rest of the family, I found my poor husband doubled over on the bathroom floor, pale, sweating, and gripping his right side in terrible pain.  Seven years ago he had a kidney stone and everything about the present situation was a repeat of his first experience, so I knew exactly where we were headed....straight to the E.R.

Thankfully, Steve's mom was able to rush over and take care of the kids so that I could get Steve to the emergency room. I prayed over him the entire way, offering up his suffering for every single intention I could think of.

Suffering is never easy to accept, but always a great opportunity for grace to abound.  Later that afternoon as I was caring for him at home, I shared with Steve how, as we were traveling to the hospital, I sensed that he was too weak to pray, that the pain was too intense for him to focus, so I was praying for him. When I expressed to him that I had asked the Lord to grant him the courage to suffer like the saints, and that I called upon a litany of saints to pray for him, he just looked at me with disbelief.  He had been praying for the grace to suffer like the saints, like Christ, too.  And, he had especially felt a strong call to ask for Padre Pio's intercession. We learned, later that evening, that Padre Pio suffered frequent kidney stones as well.

Throw the intercessory prayers of the Church Triumphant and a little Percoset at those stones and it's all good! Hallelujah!

If watching my husband suffer the agony of kidney a la stone wasn't enough to fill my cup of anxiety, seeing Benedict enroll in high school really topped it off.  Holy cow, I was not expecting a little class schedule paperwork to make me so emotional! I have wished so many times in my life that I wasn't such a blubber pants.  At one point during the enrollment lecture Ben actually asked me if I was crying. Why do boys do that??? They KNOW we're crying.  It's like asking your child after they haven't eaten for 7 hours, "Are you hungry?" DUH. Of course I'm crying! You're practically 30, and I do. not. like. it!

Because I can be a very unrealistic person sometimes, and my family lets me carry on like that until reality slaps me in the face, I tend to experience mountains of failures in life.  For example, I'm "training" for two half marathons in May (the quotes are necessary, because really, pretending to train would be more accurate). Squeezing in daily training runs to our crazy schedule has been challenging to say the least.  And, I wish I were a 5 a.m. runner, but with Joseph still trying to sanctify his mother with random middle of the night rah-rah's, I haven't a pulse before sunrise.
Over spring break, I took the boys to see McFarland U.S.A. If you haven't seen it already, go.  Take your kids.  You will love it.  They will love it. When I head out the door on Saturdays for my long run, barely alive, the troops cheer me on with, "McFarland, baby!" or "If Danny Diaz can do it, you can do it!"

/6. & 7./
In the past, I've always tried to write a little something in honor of the season of Lent, but this year I haven't written anything. Over the past few weeks, I've discovered a deep, yet quiet strength during the difficult days, especially while caring for Steve, in three things:
1.  The sacrifice of the moment. 
Instead of giving up things for Lent, I've tried to be more aware of what I can offer up moment-to-moment on a daily basis.  Sometimes it's the cream in my coffee, watching television at night, or refraining from speaking my mind, or even willing a little cheerfulness when I'd rather grumble over the menial tasks that I dread tackling from day-to-day.  Whatever it is, there's always some small sacrifice to be made, and those frequent, spontaneous offerings are, for me, stretching my capacity to love.  
2.  This book.  
3. This song:
Have a blessed and beautiful weekend, friends!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Don't Miss Out on the Oranges, Moms. Trust Me On This One...

HELLO SPRING BREAK!!  We are three days in, and I must say how delighted I am that the laundry and k.p. duties are significantly less challenging to my emotional well-being, since I don't have to conquer them while trying to teach at the same time! Yippee! (It's the little things.)

I'm also delighted to have our oldest son, Benedict, home for the week. I can hear him entertaining Joseph in the living room as I type this. I love to hear them laughing together.
{Ben is Steve's right hand man during our deck building project.}

Steve and I refuse to believe that our biggest boy is going to be in high school next year.  We were in denial until yesterday when his acceptance letter to our school of choice came in the mail. Paper always makes things seem so official.  Dammit.  

As a mother I can look at Ben and, in seconds, see every beautiful stage of his life up to this point. It's a super-power, really.  I'm sure you have felt the same about your own babies.

I wish, so very much, that I could click my heels together and go back to the early years I had with him, especially the days before school and sports began.

What a treasure those days were....the ones that began with, "What should we do today?"

I remember having so much more energy back then! I felt like I could do all of the crafty-exploration-story-time-playground-games-and-snack stuff and still tackle all of the chores during nap time.

Good golly.

I squirm with the discomfort that comes from confessing this hindsight is 20/20 truth:
I wasn't just doing the normal things that every new mom does (hello, homemade baby food).  I was doing everything I thought I should be doing (mostly) for the sake of proving 

You know, in case the check-out lady asked what I was up to today, I could nonchalantly rattle off something Martha Stewartish about organizing the house, weeding the garden, crafting x10 with the kids and topping it all off with a little five miler around town with the boys in the jogging stroller.

Something in my pea-size brain thought that proof of productivity was also proof of motherly competence, or worse yet, motherly love. 

That is a lie.  If you are a mama at home with little ones, do not fall for that big fat falsehood. Love isn't always demonstrated by doing.  To a child, love is most sincerely communicated through being. When we take an undistracted moment to be with them.
Listening to them.
Watching them.
Holding them.
These are the little BIG moments that count.

Even though my list of responsibilities, when it comes to the care of my family, is longer now than ever, I feel not one bit compelled to prove to anyone just how productive I can be.  Circumstances often dictate a necessary obedience on my part to responsibilities and chores.  Neat. What mom in America isn't in the same shoes?

What I do find myself wanting to share with others are the moments in between productivity.

Moments like this, for example:
The other day, I waded through trails of Legos and cracker crumbs just to sit and watch Charlie peel an orange.  It was quite an accomplishment and, even though he mastered the process a while back, it's one that he's very proud of every single time.

He proudly uses his three year old muscles to maneuver a chair over to the fridge, crawls up upon the seat, swings the door that is twice his size open and reaches in for his favorite snack.  I could watch him do this all day.
I pulled up a chair beside him and listened intently as he explained just how to peel the orange.  You have to pull off the stwings, mom, because they are too chewy.
I really admire how children do the simplest things with such great intention.  They take their time and are not hurried or rushed.  He was just so proud of himself. The delight in his eyes, in his smile, said it all.
What a joy to experience, on a daily basis, the spectrum of ages in our family. While the oldest is sinking threes on the court and typing research papers, this guy is pretty happy to be peeling oranges.

What a joy.

Don't miss the oranges, moms. You know, we'll never get this special time back with our children.

Trust me when I say, you will one day long to live these precious moments with your little ones again.

Savor this season while it's here.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Mr. Blue Eyes and His Latest Wonders ~ Joseph is almost Nine Months!

While the boys sit at the table, grunting and whining in cranial agony over the final pages of copywork I assigned them (copying poetry is my punishment of choice when they assault my nerves with relentless fighting before I've finished my morning coffee), I thought I would bask in the glory of the one child who is all love and peace.  Behold:
I know, I know, his innocence is only due to the fact that his vocabulary is limited to drooly babbling, but that's beside the point. Joseph really is so beautifully gentle and cute, and because he's basically a sweet lump of sugar, I BELIEVE he will stay sweet and gentle forever, and he will never (like his elders) drive his mama to the brink of insanity (fingers crossed).

Anyway, back to the sugar! In less that two weeks, Joey will be 9 months.  Can you believe it?
{I spy a tater chip. Prepare to army crawl into the kitchen.}
{Head and shoulders buns and toes, buns and toes...because knees are boring}

It seems like yesterday that these pages were splattered with all the self pity of my overly emotional, overly squishy state of expanding pregnant being.  Thanks for hanging in there with me through all of that, because hello, isn't every single baby worth the swollen toes and, well, other unmentionable pains? YES! Yes a thousand times! I mean, just look at this little love!
If by any chance you are one of the rare and precious gems who actually loves being pregnant (jealous, jealous, jealous) then, you're probably wondering what in blazes I'm even talking about. Pain, sacrifice, stretch marks and hemorrhoids, what? If that's you, please, feel free to ignore the verbiage and scroll through the delicious photos of Mr. Blue Eyes!
So do you wanna know what's up with our littlest man? Well, beside the fact that he officially has four pearly white chompers and is completely over rice cereal, preferring to move on to more exciting noshings such as pizza and chips (who can blame him?), he's also crawling at the speed of light and loves to pull himself up anywhere and everywhere to get a better view of the world around him.

I wasn't going to let you guys in on this, but Steve and I are detecting some pretty serious supernatural gifts in him as well.  We believe he has the gift of omniscience. Not kidding. Those big blue eyes can see all things at all times, all things meaning, me.

No matter where I am in the house, he can find me. I seriously cannot hide from the boy.  He's Daniel Boone. Not that I would want to hide, I mean, look at those blue eyes, would you run away from those? His brothers, maybe, him? Nope!

I know what you're thinking.  Maybe he just has a keen sense of smell, right? Well, given the fact that, ever since his birth, I'm sadly only averaging about 2.1 showers per week, so I wouldn't bet on the fact that he's drawn to the faded scent of my tropical shampoo or lavender lotion.

We can also confidently rule out a super-sharp sense of hearing, because after all, he is of the male species and, well, you know where I'm going with this.
Thus, I conclude that his gift must be supernatural in nature.  Even if I'm scurrying around the house trying to keep life in a somewhat ordered state of being, he just follows me around like it's his job. Just yesterday, I was quietly picking up dirty laundry behind Charlie's bedroom door, and just as I turned around, boom! There he was, staring right up at me!

Unfortunately, one of these days his little "gift" is gonna throw a wrench in my chocolate sneaking schemes.  But, for now, his desire to keep an eye on his mama adorable, and so is he!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

How *Doesn't* She Do It? ~ The Question We Should Really Be Asking

*Resurrected from the archives of All Things Bright And Beautiful, where my blogging journey first began. Though written four years ago, the words mean as much now, if not more, as they did back then.*

This post is for all of the young moms out there who faithfully wake up every day and give everything that they have to their families.  And, it is for all of the mom's who have said to me over the years, "How do you do it??" Those little words have placed a great weight on my heart.  A weight of worry, that we are waking each day perceiving other moms to have perfect homes, perfect kids, perfect husbands, perfect lives.  We all know those "other moms" who never struggle, can handle the many messes of life better than we can, breezing through the diapers and soccer practices and homework with a fit physique and culinary talents that could easily make her a star on Food Network.

This post is also an invitation for you to come into my home.  To see how little merit perceptions really have in the face of reality. To give you encouragement, so that you may know that we are on this journey together. A journey that does indeed have a purpose, a really deep, divine purpose.  Wherever you are, whatever your state in life, it is possible to be happy and to find joy in the midst of the muck, the mundane, the madness.  

In fact, I'm not sure that you can find authentic joy, authentic happiness anywhere else...
In The Beginning...
I have to admit, up front, that when Steve and I were first married, and had two little ones rolling around at our feet, I enjoyed the challenge of making our small apartment homey.  I loved keeping it ordered and decorated, filling it with the comforting scents of freshly baked bread and cookies.  It was easy to do in a small space, and within the schedule of feedings, naps, daily Mass, and play dates, I still had time to study, read, run or work-out almost every day. 

Then, came the blessing of more children and a bigger home and Steve traveling more with work.  Soon, the slow-controlled pace down life's scenic slopes suddenly sped up and and the whole "controlled" part of the pace was the first to crash.

That's when I had to let go of so very many things.  Yes, things or, better yet, ideas and ideals.  Ideas of what I should be doing, wearing, who I should be being, where I should be going, and the ideal of making everything just right, or at least appear to be just right.  Motherhood from day one (I'm talking conception, here, after all once the baby is conceived you are a mother.), was not easy, it's never easy, it's not supposed to be easy, but the sleep deprivation and ten thousand diaper changes were all catching up with me.

As the messes and laundry and bills piled up, I was out of breath and out of time every day. Time to do something for me, something I enjoyed. And, suddenly the dial of sacrifice was being turned up and I squirmed fiercely with discomfort wishing for it to end. This vocation was just too hard at times, and I didn't like it and I didn't want to be in it.

I really had to hunker down inside my soul and get eye-to-eye with our Lord and tell Him, "Only for You, can I do this, can I be a wife and a mother.  And, only with Your help can I do it well.  But, you have to show me how, and then give me everything I need to do it, to be it, to live it.  And please, when I stomp my feet and fall on the floor and cry, please, please don't give up on me, don't go away.  Stay beside me, close beside me."

He heard me.  He always hears me, He hears you.  And, because His love for us is perfect, He wants us, all of us.  Not just pieces of us, our projects and our problems. He desires for our souls to be perfect,  not our homes, nor our yards, not our Christmas cards or clothing, just us. And, the way that we get there - to that place of perfection, of holiness - is not going to be through a long list of accomplishments.  It's going to be from a long list of "Yes's."  Yes to the moment, to the late nights and diaper changes and teaching and disciplining and forgiving and accepting how very weak and fragile we are. Yes to help, lots and lots of help.

Life in a box, Kids in a box, God in a box...
I've always had this special affection for monastic life.  The rhythm of work and prayer, silence and song, attention to detail and order, beautiful, beautiful order topped off with joy is so attractive.  At first, I tried to run my home and my school like a little monastery.  The boys were my little monks.  Then the lightening bolt struck and I tried to imagine 100 little boy-monks in a monastery, and realized that they would still pick their noses, miss the toilet and bounce off of the walls there, too. 
I also found the Madeline series of stories hopelessly irresistible: 

“In an old house in Paris 
that was covered with vines 

Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines 

In two straight lines they broke their bread 

And brushed their teeth and went to bed. 
They left the house at half past nine 
In two straight lines in rain or shine- 
The smallest one was Madeline.” 

And, I wanted to move to Paris and have a home full of girls so that they could show the boys how to make straight lines and brush their teeth. 

I was putting my life in a box, the box of my imagination - perfect, tidy, just as I think they all should be.  So, God in His wisdom gave me five boys and a farm.  And, nothing in my home is straight and they sometimes forget to brush their teeth, and Paris is very, very far away....

Sometimes at the end of the day and in little moments throughout the day I look for lovely things and realize that I still have ideals, doesn't everyone??  I would be lying to you if I told you that I don't long for this:

A table perfectly set for a beautiful feast, everything in it's place.  But my reality is this:
A dining table covered with heaps of laundry that I fold while reviewing for a history test with Andrew.

If only I had the power of Mary Poppins to snap my fingers and tidy up my children's room for them, I would (my little imaginary room from Pottery Barn.) . 

But, I must be patient with the oldest four as they figure out how to share a very small space. 
Blankets hang from upper bunks, boots and books litter the floor.  I know I cannot hover - they must learn to be good stewards of what they've been given, and yet live in their space, and enjoy their little treasures.  I try to remind myself as I'm winding through the maze of toys scattered over the floor that their mess is evidence of creativity, constructing, dreaming, creating.  I can teach them how to clean up, I cannot teach the former.
Desiring order and beauty in itself is not a bad thing, it points toward the highest beauty the highest order, which is Heaven, and desiring Heaven is the whole point of our existence.  Keeping an orderly home is a daily endeavor always at the forefront of my mental list of tasks. The truth is we all function much better in an ordered space.  But, the boys are looking to me to show them the balance - the prudence to know when to do the dishes and when to run outside to catch the first snowflakes of winter on our tongues, when to organize the toy room and when to close the door and instead read our pile of library books or make something that will explode or take a nap.
Questions and Confidence...
Everyday I wrestle with the questions of raising our sons:  Am I teaching them in the right way? Are they growing strong in mind, body and spirit? Do they know that I love them? Am I a model to them of authentic femininity and modesty in a world so darkened by lies and deceptions? I fight the temptation of feeling inadequate for the task of forming them in all areas of life.  But, I know deep down that I am adequate if I am willing to cooperate with God's grace. We all are.  No matter how things turn out.
There have been moments where I have been so overwhelmed that I have physically felt the weight of life compressing my chest, sucking the life out of me. Panic and fear settles into my bones and frightens me away from the front lines where I am needed, where I am called to be.

And, yet, I can say with full confidence that it is not my children who have made me feel overwhelmed. It was, and always is me. Me gripping so tightly, clinging firmly to my ways of doing things, to what I think is best.  I am the problem-solver, the check-mark maker.  I can hold my list up like proof that I'm not failing, not a failure, not feeling like a failure.

Oh how beautifully life comes undone at times, like a rope unraveled! Then, and only then, can God embrace our once tightly-wound selves and be the strength that holds us together.  I trust Him.

Breathing in the Beauty...
Then, like the flip of a switch, the light comes in, things become clearer. You cannot describe to anyone how beautiful your life is.  How seeing your child's face light up when you walk into a room brings you to your knees.  How catching one child forgiving another or giving comfort to a hurt allows an experience of greatness to seep into your soul, filling the cracks of doubt, negativity, and resentment with something eternal. How receiving a spontaneous hug from someone so small can soothe old wounds and the freshly felt shame over all of our faults and failures.

It's all so terribly and wonderfully worth it - having children, one two or ten. Don't ever let anyone make you feel or think any different.  And, if you are wondering if you can handle another, the answer is yes.  His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses.
Perhaps the joy - the real true joy that we as Christian mothers often posses - is the decoy that throws others off target.  Perhaps they think that because we are joyful that we must not suffer, we must not struggle, we must not fail, we must not swear and pout and eat chocolate and watch movies.  That's not real. That's not me or you, is it?

Every week the UPS man comes to our house delivering some sort of package for our home or business. I know that he has peered into my home, messes everywhere, and myself, a mess to match, never a stitch of make-up, shoulder soaked with spit up, never mind the hair.  But, he always treats me the same, with kindness, with attentiveness.  That's when I realize that other people, in general, are okay with me.  Maybe I'm just not okay with myself.  Maybe the apologies that gush forth when an unexpected visitor arrives over the messy house and children duking it out in the background are not about the visitor, but about me, my insecurities.  A clean home and polite children say to the guest, "See, I can handle this, and I'm good at this motherhood thing."

Perceptions, perceptions, perceptions.

Eye on the Prize...
What matters, my friends, what really, truly matters is that we recognize that this life and the vocation that we live is not about doing good or being good at anything or looking good while being good and doing good.  It's about the reception of the gift of motherhood, with everything it brings, and the handing it back to God, day-by-day, minute-by-minute and allowing Him to lead us, to help us, to love us. To believe in His mercies and his blessings, and to begin again, and again, and again. 
Express gratitude. Even when your lists of wants seem to overpower any emotion of thanksgiving.  Gratitude helps us recognize that the little boy patiently waiting for you in the wagon for another ride around the yard is the voice of our Lord telling you that this is exactly what He wants you to do today, even if it doesn't look like much.  

It looks like everything to Him.  

Who cares what it looks like to anyone else?