Thursday, May 26, 2016

In Response to An Accusation of Selfishness ~ My Thoughts On the Benefits of Raising Teens Alongside Babies

Last week my dear husband exercised his masterful negotiation skills to secure a sweet deal on some new furniture for our living room. Ever since our mold remediation project last winter, we've been furniture-free and, given my current condition, the floor is becoming less and less hospitable to my limited grace and flexibility.

So every afternoon from  2p.m. - 4 p.m., my heart sings the Hallelujah Chorus because I get the recliner all to myself, and it's heavenly!  I pop in my earplugs (if you don't own a pair, you don't know what you're missing!), prop my ten ELEVEN days overdue swollen self up and rexaaaaax while the boys run willy nilly around me.

Yesterday, while reclining, I gazed in amusement at our little Joseph, who stood silently at the front door, his nose pressed to the foggy glass, humid breaths clouding his view of the driveway. He waited patiently for the brother he most adores, but soon the wait was over.  His eyes brightened, ears perked, and a chubby finger rose up to point out the tall figure that sauntered up the sidewalk. Under his breath I could hear him chant, "Ben, Ben, Ben, Ben...."


To the floor fell the big brother's backpack, and with the weight of the day released, his arms were now free to scoop up some love.

I never, ever tire of watching their after school reunions.  It's a marvelous gift, their relationship - tender, feisty, earnest.

A little footage from a recent track meet:
Ooooo yay! Dandelions! 
 Hold still, Ben, while I blow these fluffy white things in yo face.
I'm gonna watch you PR in triple jump just as soon as I get done bwowin' deese  fwuffies off a here.

Sibling relationships truly are a treasure, but they are also something that I think can be so easily overlooked and undervalued in our world today...

I remember it was sometime last fall when a message from a fellow blogging friend appeared in my inbox.  She was confronting comments that had been made to her concerning family size, specifically about how couples, who continue to welcome babies into the family while raising teenagers at the same time, are behaving selfishly, and she wanted my opinion on the matter.

I nearly fell out of my chair.  Having a baby....when you have a teenager in the selfish???

*Please note, before I continue, that the remainder of this post is meant to address the following comments toward raising teenagers alongside of babies.  It is not meant, in any way, to suggest that meaningful relationships and a virtuous life cannot be obtained outside of the home or outside of a large family unit.  Again, I am simply offering a positive perspective on the less-obvious merits of parenting teens and little ones at the same time.

Reading on, the comments she shared with me were this:

  • It's not fair to expect teens to give up their personal time and freedom to help take care of little siblings.
  • Having a newborn in the home compromises the amount of time and focused attention a parent can give their teens, time and attention that is critical to their own development and maturation.
  • Teenagers shouldn't have to give up precious opportunities academically or athletically because parents can't facilitate or afford to support their teens personal growth and interests. 

After my locked jaw and gritted teeth finally relaxed, I decided to postpone my reactive response and instead seek out the perspective of a trusted teen source - my oldest son.

I simply opened our dialogue with this question:

Ben, do you ever feel like you are missing out on certain life experiences or opportunities because you have younger siblings in the home that require our time and attention? Younger siblings that you also are often asked to help take care of?

The look on his face said it all.  But do you want to know what his response was?

Mom, if you're asking if I would rather have golf lessons or that our family could take more trips, or I could have my own four wheeler (which I know he desperately wants), instead of another little brother then the answer is, NO. I could never want any of those things more than Joseph or Charlie or any of my brothers.

While my heart was soothed by his answer, I wanted to press him even further....

Yes, but, you know that you have more responsibilities here at home, since Dad and I often need your help.  Not many kids your age have to change diapers, give baths, or read picture books at night to toddlers, so that I can keep the laundry going and dad can help with homework. And, I want you to know it's okay to tell me exactly how you feel about it all.

He looked me in the eye, and short and sweet said this:

Mom, honestly, I don't mind.  In fact, I think I'm going to miss it when I'm gone.

After my conversation with Ben, I wasn't sure exactly how to respond to my friend's e-mail.  I really believe that the person confronting her was not trying to be offensive in sharing her opinions - in fact, I think most people who agree with her or follow her train of thought really do believe that their points are valid and worth discussing.

So, I don't fault her, whoever she is. However, if she is going to press those of us - all of us - who have babies and teens in the same house, with such opinions, then she must certainly be ready for an honest response, and this is mine:

In a nutshell - we are undoubtedly living in a time and culture where self-centeredness is encouraged and facilitated to such a great degree, that we no longer recognize the value of sacrificing for the greater good of the other above our own self-interests. Social media offers a plethora of evidence to to this truth.

Naturally, any sort of family structure that fosters opportunities for sacrificial acts of selflessness would seem countercultural, and certainly counterproductive by todays child-rearing standards. Because many parents today do not recognize the home as a place where their children might discover themselves through a sincere gift of self (St. John Paul II) to their family (primarily through sacrificial acts of generosity), opportunities for self-discovery and affirmation are typically sought in popularly social venues outside of the home, such as sports, music, and even academic fields.

While these opportunities have their own merit and value in a child's life (our children certainly enjoy participating in all of those things), I don't believe that they were ever meant to become an arena in which parents lives constantly revolve around the potential success and admiration of their children by others, nor were they meant to replace the vital relationships that can only be built through children serving within the family.

"You have been created for the glory of God and for your own eternal salvation; 
this is your end, this is the object of your soul and the treasure of your heart." 
- St. Robert Bellermine

As Christians we believe that our ultimate goal in life, our ultimate end is heaven.  The road to heaven is paved with love, and we recognize this truth most clearly through the example of Christ, whose love was and is infinite and immeasurable, sacrificial and not self-seeking.

The beautiful thing about family life is that God, in his wisdom, has fashioned it to be, in itself, a culture that offers tremendous opportunities to obtain virtues such as compassion, charity, justice and prudence simply through the offering of oneself in the ordinary duties and responsibilities of caring for the home and for one another.

Of course, the challenge of embracing such opportunities is that not only does it require sacrifice on the part of the parents and children, but it also requires some bit of resiliency toward the influences of modern society - influences which promote finding life's purpose through an inward gaze rather than an outward one.

By today's standards, popularity and success, whether it be in sports or music or academics, is held in much higher esteem than being virtuous, and therefore the popularity and recognition is what most kids (and adults) strive for every day.  Daily persistence in such goals naturally tend toward the fostering of a self-centered focus, rather than an other-centered focus.

The weight of society's influence doesn't just affect teens, it affects all of us to some degree.  Social media contains strong evidence that we live in a culture that seeks affirmation and approval for everything and places an unreasonably high value upon that affirmation. Nothing we do and no part of who we are should go unnoticed, unrecognized, or heaven forbid "unliked."

So what does that mean for a teenager growing up in a family where some of their time and energy, by necessity, must be offered for the care of the home and for the little ones who reside there? I can't imagine any teen Snapchatting photos of themselves changing a diaper, or cheerfully picking up toys without being asked. What glory is there in reading a picture book for the thousandth time to a fussy toddler, or delivering a cup of water to a thirsty sibling.  Who among their friends would possibly ever admire such a grand lifestyle?

Ask my sons - there is no glory, no admiration, no public affirmation for such contributions.  And yet, the works of mercy that they participate in every day, the great acts of love and charity that they are asked to offer at present, are the very things that root out selfishness and anchor in their place the everlasting Christ-like virtues that will serve them far beyond any self-absorbed lifestyle which offers only temporary and fleeting comforts and a false sense of satisfaction.

Though such acts of sacrificial familial love often remain hidden, their greatness is not diminished by a lack of recognition or admiration.

In fact, it is the hidden nature of generosity within family life is actually what makes it so beautiful, so transforming.  When we are called to serve, and respond in obedience to that call, our prideful nature (the part of us that desires to be recognized) is less likely to get in the way, making room for humility to blossom.

How can serving others and pride possibly be spoken about in the same sentence? Let me explain...

I find that it is easy to be generous and giving of my time and attention to others when it is convenient, or when I think that it might demonstrate to others that  I really am a caring and generous person, who loves others and longs to be helpful. How about a soup kitchen selfie, y'all? (I can see my grandparents rolling their eyes as I type.)

Darn that desire to be validated and appreciated.  It's a tough one, isn't it? 

As a mom, if I myself am not immune to the temptation toward recognition, it's important that I do not underestimate the possibility that this "doing good when it feels good to do good" might also be a challenge for my teens.

Our two oldest sons will be going on a mission trip to New Mexico in a couple of weeks.  And, while I believe whole-heartily that their journey will be blessed in ways that I cannot even begin to comprehend, I can only pray that their service will be rooted in true humility and not pride.

My oldest children most likely cannot yet comprehend the value in the opportunities that their upbringing offers them to become virtuous.  In fact, they may not even agree with or like those servant oriented opportunities (what teen would?). But, as their parents, it is up to Steve and I to place a higher trust in the Lord's plan for each and every person in our family, and to trust it far above our own plans for them - especially when our personal desires for our children can be so easily influenced by a culture whose loud and pertinent voice often drowns out the whisper of reason within us.

Today Benedict will have completed his freshman year of high school.  Many of my friends, who have raised teens, have told me how quickly time flies once our children reach the teen years.  Sadly, I recognize real truth in their sentiments, as it feels as though I will blink and tomorrow Ben will be gone.

I remember when he was born, how I thought I was ready for motherhood and everything that becoming a mother would mean.  I thought I was generous, but I wasn't.  I though I knew what it meant to sacrifice for another, but I didn't. My children and my husband have stretched me, grace has stretched me toward generosity, charity and greater depths of love.

Flannery O'Connor put it well when she said,

"All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful."  

Change is painful.  But, what if we could raise our children to live their lives in such a way that when they reach their vocation, be it married life, religious life, or mission life, that there be less of a need for interior change, and therefore less pain?

I believe that family life, in it's very sacrificial nature, offers children just that - a wonderful opportunity to gain the virtues that will guide them to live the vocation they are called to with greater freedom and with fewer interior struggles.

The pain of change doesn't just reside in the hardships and struggles that are thrown our way, but rather it emanates from the very process of detachment from our selfish ways, habits, desires and attitudes.

I know this because I have lived it - I continue to live it! Detachment hurts! But, it is necessary for us to become less of ourselves and more like Christ if we are to walk the hard road of love toward heaven.

I didn't realize when Steve and I were first married, and when we began a family, just how many amputations the Lord would have to perform on my infected soul, but He did so, and continues to do so, out of love for me.

He will do the same for our children.

It is my great hope that our sons, who are called today to sacrificially serve one another within our family, will experience a lesser degree of frustration and pain when it comes to interior conversion, because they will have already experienced and embraced the fruits of virtue borne of the sacrifices they have offered to love and care for their family while at home.

If you are interested, these are the highlights of the response I gave to my friend via e-mail...

Is it selfish for me to expect our sons to give up their "personal time and freedom" to help care for a younger sibling or to do chores?
First and foremost, if the Lord is calling Steve and I to have more children, we must trust Him above any confidence we have in ourselves, to provide what is necessary for all of us to thrive and to find joy within the life that He wills for us. It would be more selfish for us to deny our teens the opportunity to make personal sacrifices for their siblings than to offer them every earthly opportunity and comfort, because the long term benefits of doing so by far outweigh the temporary comforts of a duty-free lifestyle. Parents today are masters at serving our children, but are we teaching our children to serve?

Are Steve and I being selfish by welcoming another baby into our hearts and home, because it compromises the time and attention we can give our oldest children?

I think it would be selfish for us to deny our sons the opportunity to mature in independence and confidence by cradling them in a false net of continuous comfort, individual time and attention, only to throw them out into the real world where their professors, employers, friends and spouses will not support the overly attentive self-focused affirmative lifestyle they've been conditioned to feel that they deserve. 

Finally, while I whole-heartily agree that opportunities for our children outside of the home, whether they be academically, athletically, musically, or in other avenues of interest are fantastic ways in which our children can grow and mature in self-knowledge and virtue, they are not the be-all, end-all of their purpose and existence. And, as much as we wish this were true, those experiences will never trump the everlasting rewards that those opportunities, which require our children to sacrifice for the greater good of another, may obtain for us when it comes to reaching our heavenly reward.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Bike Rides, Donuts & Why I Gave Up Nesting With #7

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be the only female in a house full of boys and  87 weeks pregnant and suffering from a severe case of nesting?

No? Well, let me share some highlights...

Do you think testosterone filled humans care if the toaster gets disinfected? 

Would they ever praise you for the hours you've devoted to making sure that the freezer and pantry are stocked, labeled, color coded and itemized on a spreadsheet complete with shiny lamination and stickers? 

Will they really collapse under the weight of disappointment if every stitch of their laundry isn't washed, folded, and neatly organized in their drawers when half the time they prefer a nude existence anyway?

Will they notice the love you've poured into creating the most perfectly sweet and cozy nursery for their new sibling? (Well, I didn't actually do that, because there is no nursery for this baby. I'm the nursery.  He or she will eat, sleep, poop and live on me for the next one hundred eighty days, give or take a few.)

So the answer to all of those questions is a resounding, NO.  In fact, I'm not even sure if the guys around here believe that I'm pregnant (because hello, where's the baby??), which leaves them completely unable to empathize with my insatiable need to suck every dust bunny out of mi casa.  
The truth is, once upon a one or two kid time, I was able to manage the whole nesting thing quite well.  Imagine if Martha Stewart and Mr. Clean had a baby and that baby was pregnant and nesting. That was me.

I'll admit that things took a little dip with babies three and four, and maybe a double dip with five and six, but I still managed to leave the house in somewhat adequate condition for those who would be taking over all maternal duties during my hospital stay.

But not this time.  This time, I've surrendered. Carpe Nesting Diem is ovah.

I threw in the nesting towel last week when I found my toddler shut up in the pantry (that I had just polished and organized) sitting on a pile sweet potato chips that he was delightfully grinding into the hardwoods with his chubby little feet.

Sweet Jesus. Help me.

Fortunately, that was also the time when all of your prayer requests started to come rolling in.  So, I abandoned the crumbs and decided to sit on the porch with my cup of self pity.  While I sipped away at the labor-inducing herbals, one-by-one my domestic failures began to fade as I read each and every intention, humbled by the humility it took for so many of you to share your hearts and your life circumstances with me.

That was just the nudge I needed to reassess life, to consider the supreme importance I was placing on things that mattered.....but not that much.  It was then that I officially decided to tear up what remained of my nesting to do list, and write instead a list of creative activities I could enjoy with the boys before the baby arrives.  

Quality time above quality control.

Since that day we have played games, watched movies, planted a garden, golfed, baked, trekked around the zoo and even made use of my page of crafting pins on Pinterest (including this slime recipe which was a huge hit).  

But, by far the best adventure we've experienced together was when I took the youngest five to town for a bike ride on the trails that encompass one of our local parks, which was deservedly followed by a visit to the donut shop conveniently located across from the park.

Ready to roll out!
The older three took off on their own while I cruised the pavement with Joey and Charlie.
Little legs, little wheels, big heart!
For the entire three mile trek, Joseph (who was working so hard under the shade of his comfy stroller there) kept screaming, "MA! Water!" It reminded me of this scene from the movie Wedding Crashers, which is totally hilarious, but TOTALLY wrong. Don't watch it, just don't.)
According to Charlie, we rode eleven miles that day. I assisted him for 9.5 of them, which is why my face is a tomato.  Pushing a stroller and a neon green training wheeler at the same time should be an Olympic event.
The boys know how I feel about the evils of sugar, so it was pretty much like Christmas the entire time we were in the donut shop.  So much yumminess!
One doesn't just eat a red velvet cake donut with milk chocolate frosting and white chocolate drizzle.  One must first contemplate the radius of it's wicked gooey goodness. 

Post donut sugar crash on the dust bunny free couch with a good book.
(So, so much better than picking lint balls off of the baby blankets....#37 on the abandoned nesting list.)

Still praying for y'all, but hopefully by the time you read this baby #7 has made his/her grand entrance!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The "Offer it Up" Is About To Get Real - Will You Let Me Labor For Your Prayer Requests?

April 28th is the feast day of St. Gianna Beretta Molla, a saint whom I look up to with great admiration and aspire to imitate as a wife, mother, and friend.  On her feast day, this year, a beautiful friend of mine posted this picture of her:

{Cassie Pease Designs}
Love and sacrifice are closely linked, 
like the sun and the light.
We cannot love without suffering, 
and we cannot suffer without love.

With the expectation that our next child will be born any day, I am holding on to St. Gianna's words, because they remind me that, while the anxiety that I feel toward the inevitable pain that comes with childbirth is burdensome, the pain is not without merit, if it is offered up for others.

Before Joseph's birth, I asked you all to share with me anything and everything that I could pray for you about prior to and during the labor and delivery.  Sometimes the physical discomforts we experience in the final stretch of pregnancy, as well as the ache of anticipation the heart endures as we wait for baby's arrival, are an indescribable suffering in and of themselves. Yet, those aches are eased when I am able to shift my focus from self to others in the offering of it all for your intentions. Lifting up your intentions during Joey's birth was such a gift, such a privilege, and I am eager to take hold of the opportunity to do it again.

Please don't be tempted to think that this is some super-stellar act of piety on my part.  It's not.  Just ask my family.  There's no lack of moaning and groaning over being the temporary house of dwelling for the seventh member of our tribe. I complain far too often about being pregnant because, truthfully, I dislike it very much.  And, since the epidural just isn't an option for me, I also struggle daily with the fear and anxiety of labor  and delivery, because people, it hurts like hell, and I. am. a. weakling.

I hope you don't misunderstand me. I really do believe that pregnancy, labor, and delivery are of the most beautiful, and privileged moments a woman can experience in her lifetime. I'm simply confessing that, for me, they can be more of an opportunity for sanctification than for celebration.

Thankfully, God doesn't ask us to pretend, to not feel, to not admit all our worries and fears to Him. But, He also doesn't sprinkle fairy dust on those worries and fears, especially when we're standing and the bottom of what looks like a mountain of crap that we have to climb. He doesn't even own fairy dust (we should get Him some). Thankfully, He does give us every grace we need to face those mountains and to be transformed by them in the process, if we let Him.  I think they call that tough love.

That's what I love about our faith, and why I hold on to it with all my might.  It's not a faith of glistening appearances, or flighty feelings, but one of sincere intent, of sacrifice, of humility, and certainly of trust. A faith of flesh and bone.
I'll be filling up my notebook with all of your prayer requests over the next few days.  Maybe you know of someone else who also is in need of prayers - please mention those needs here, too. I'll take 'em all!  If for some reason you are unable to comment below, feel free to send me a personal message through Facebook or e-mail (

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A 38 Week Belly Peek and A Last Minute List of Mother's Day Gift Ideas

Just a couple of days ago, I sent out an SOS on Facebook to any of my readers who would be willing to share with me their favorite tips on how to overcome the maternity blahs in the final stretch of pregnancy. Next to getting a pedicure and perking up what's left of my shrunken wardrobe with pretty earrings and some new lipstick, my favorite tip was going on a date with Steve.

I wish I could report that he is feeling top-notch, but unfortunately, he's hit another rough patch, so if you could keep those prayers coming, we would both be eternally grateful!  Knowing that his Lyme/mold symptoms are pretty ramped up, I hesitated to even suggest that we get away for an evening, but I'm glad I did, because he was totally on board.

He even agreed to snap a couple of pics of me and baby before we left, since I haven't taken much time to document this pregnancy:
I'm so thankful for maxi skirts and dresses right now, because pants are just evil, and most of my tops have mysteriously shrunk at least a size (or two).  So weird, because I'm sure it's not the pan of Paleo Almond Joy bars that I snarfed down last week.
I'm also hoping that the two dresses I can still squeeze into will not only help me feel more put together, but will also ramp up the grace and coordination factor a bit.  Last week I knocked over three saint statues and a box of rosaries while browsing at my favorite Catholic bookstore, and of course that all happened after giving the boys the don't touch anything, because if you break it we have to pay for it blah, blah, blah speech.

Super. Duper.

I was going to suggest that management consult some pregnant women the next time they consider product layout and floor design, but that might have been a bit much given the fact that, thanks to my rotundness, St. Patrick just lost his shamrock. I just hope that the Franklin I spent on all of the First Communion and Confirmation gifts was enough to make up for my belly blunder.

Anyway, despite the public humiliations, uncontrollable swelling and crazy vein action this baby is cranking up, just knowing that he or she will soon be outside my womb and inside my arms is such a wonderful consolation.

The boys are also getting very excited. It's fun to hear them chat about how cute he/she will be with their tiny toes and sweet smelling skin. Listening to them express with so much joy their great enthusiasm over being blessed with another sibling, turns my fears and anxiety into deep gratitude for the great privilege of carrying another life with me!

Motherhood is indeed a most precious gift!

Speaking of motherhood and gifts, Mother's day is just one week away! If you still haven't found something special for the beautiful mama(s) you may be shopping for, I'd love to help you:
Instead of a bouquet that will only last a few days, give her something that will last all summer! Local, family-owned greenhouses have the best selection of flower baskets and potted plants. Or, put a little extra love into it, and design one for her yourself! 

2.  A Frame Worthy Quote
I love all of the beautiful work my friend, Katrina, offers on her Etsy Shoppe, Hatch Prints.  Put one of her works of art in a pretty frame, and it makes a truly lovely gift.

3.  A Pretty Bottle of Wine
This is your excuse to buy a bottle based on the label alone.  When I spotted this one, I couldn't resist!  Write a toast to your special mom, and attach it to the bottle, for an extra nice touch.

4.  My Saint My Hero Accessories
I'm really loving so many of the pieces from this shoppe.  You'll be sure to find a perfect gift for the spiritual mom here.

5.  Write Her a Letter (On Pretty Paper)
Hand written notes are a lost treasure and, though simple, can make the most memorable gifts.  My sister has sent me a variety of stationary from Rifle Paper Co., and it is all truly beautiful.  They also offer many other gifts such as phone cases, calendars, and personal planners.

You absolutely cannot go wrong with a gift that pampers.  My super-fun and sassy friend, Tara just introduced me to a new line of products called Perfectly Posh. When she told me they are "natural" and made in the U.S.A., I was hooked! You can check out all of their fabulous products here.