As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Holy Day

This past weekend we celebrated a milestone in our family - our oldest child's First Communion. We have all been looking forward to this day all year, working and preparing him to receive Jesus: body, blood, soul and divinity.  I am pregnant now and always love receiving the Eucharist while there is a little child in my womb, because this is the closest this little one will be to Jesus until their First Communion.  And this week, one of our children got there - apart from me, all on his own.  What a beautiful day!

For a variety of reasons the weeks leading up to this big day have been hectic, and I have not been able to put a lot into planning a big celebration for my boy.  My husband's siblings were all in town from various cities across the country two weeks prior, which also happened to be the week that we got chickens - ten of them.  The week after his siblings left, his beautiful grandmother who had been ill for some time took a turn for the worst, and passed away.  We were very blessed to spend so much time with his family remembering her beautiful life, and her funeral took place three days before his First Communion. 

My husband (who had been devoting all his spare time to building a chicken coop to house the birds that have temporarily taken up residence in our basement) had some errands to run the morning before the First Communion, and brought our son along to buy a new suit for his big day.  I was so happy he was able to do that!  I thought at least if we can't get him anything else, a new suit is special.  I hoped he would agree, that he would feel special.

The evening before his big day, one of my closest friends was celebrating her birthday.  As we couldn't find a babysitter only one of us could attend, and I was so torn about whether Jeff or I should go.  Grief-ridden over still not having been able to do anything really big for my boy, I chose to stay home and concentrate on preparing properly for his special day (which was also Mother's Day, did I mention that?) - laying out clothes, making a card (because I didn't have a chance to get out and buy one), and preparing gifts for my mother and mother-in-law.  As I got things together, I instantly felt guilty that I didn't have a small something special (a plaque, a rosary, a pin) to include with his card.  My heart sank, and I hoped he wouldn't notice and feel that we didn't care.  I didn't want this to be a day that just snuck up on us - and it wasn't.  In all the right ways, we had prepared.  We had been studying together all year (we homeschool, and catechism is part of our curriculum), we talked often as a family about the Eucharist and what it means to receive the Lord for the first time, met with our parish priest several times, attended the practice run and class with the cathechism kids, and we have been praying.  That evening in a panic, I prayed that was enough.  That all the interior work we had been doing until now was enough to make him feel special.

Looking back over the events of the week, I can really see the Lord's wisdom in allowing things to happen as they did, and I am truly grateful.  Instead of planing a lavish gathering à-la-birthday party (which this clearly was not) we spent the weeks prior to his First Communion living and celebrating life in the very best ways, with the people who are most dear to us.  In the same week that his Great-Grandmother went to be with our Lord, our son received Him in the Holy Eucharist for the first time - and on Mother's Day!  I could not have coordinated a better celebration of such an important day if I tried.  And God knows that.

I am so happy for my boy. And very proud, because I think he gets it. The day was so special for him, not because we lavished him with gifts and momentoes, but because it was special in and of itself. I wrote him a note in his card telling him how proud we were of the young man he is becoming, and his face lit up when he read it. And it made my day. He didn't need presents, he didn't need me to neglect him or our family, or any of the other things that were important in the weeks leading up to it. He needed affirmation, and prayer, and guidance - and those can be given in any circumstance (even if it's not during shopping hours). 

 Thank you Lord for the gift of children, the beauty that is growing up, and blessing of family.  May Your presence live within all of us as we continue on this journey, and burn especially bright within my son and all who made their First Holy Communion with Him.  May they never forget how this day feels, as they continue to become the men and women You call them to be.

So happy for my boy!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

My Girl - How I Love Her!

Everyone makes a big deal about my fourth child, and with good reason.  In this boys' land, she is my one and only girl.  And oh, how I love her.  But not just for the reasons you might think.

You see, she is three years old now.  And three has traditionally been an age that has been, shall we say, trying.  And I have not handled it well with any of my three older boys.  In fact, I barely survived it (I am sure there will be at least a bit of time in purgatory for me over these years, Lord have mercy on me.)  And now I find myself here once more, in these beautifully trying years, with a little girl.  And wow, what a difference!

She has proven so far to be the most difficult for me.  I think it would be too naive (and unfair, to be honest) to blame it on her girlhood.  I think (in fact, I know) that it has as much, if not more to do with me.  Because I'm a girl too, and she reaches me in a way that the boys never did.  At the worst of times with them, I still managed to be mostly in control of how they acted.  I could threaten to take something away and coerce them away from the edge.  I never had one of my older boys throw a public tantrum.  But my girl, once she is going that way there's no turning back.  And I think part of it is because she picks up on my subtle cues, that I think the boys are mostly immune to.  If I'm loosing it inside, a cool exterior does nothing for her, because she knows.  She's in my head.  She's in my heart, and so tremendously sensitive to me.

And while I have weathered some of the worst tantrums in the history of my household over the past few months (and thrown more than a few of my own, I am sorry to say), I can see progress on both of our parts.  God in His mercy is giving me a heart for this beautiful girl, and the way that she loves me so much and so well that she is completely wrapped around my own heart.  There's no putting on a show for her - I can't do this job halfway.  I have to push on towards further conversion that truly allows me to love her through these difficult years, without taking every outburst on her part so goshdarn personally.

Yesterday in particular I could see how this time of trial is really pushing me to grow up, and how good it can be when I actually do.  I had a friend over visiting when my darling little girl launched head on into a full-blown tantrum.  It was late afternoon and she had been up two times the night before, so I knew she was overtired.  Let me say this - I HATE it when my kids misbehave in front of other people (I think most people do!) and I wanted to crawl into a hole when nothing I could do could talk her down from it.  But sometimes having people around is good, because it forces you to act the way you know you should when they aren't around.  And so I took a deep breath and remained calm.  I told myself this isn't going to last forever, this is just a season.  And I am going to love her through it.

She screamed through her entire three-minute timeout.  And when it was over, I called her to me and got her to take a deep breath.  I explained, calmly, why she had gotten in trouble, and that she couldn't keep falling on the floor and crying that way.  And she said sorry, and she hugged me.  And I discovered that there is a sweet little girl underneath all that frustration and confusion, and she just needs me to believe in her.  Just like there is a good Mom underneath all my frustrations - and I just have to allow that to be what comes out in me.  Because I have more time and experience in dealing with myself than my three-year-old does.  I have to be the example to her of how to walk through trying times with dignity and grace.

My little girl is three-years-old, and it's beautiful.  She is beautiful, because she loves me in a way that is so much different than the boys.  She does have a way of reaching right into my heart, and pushing all of my buttons.  She knows how to make me angry in a million more ways than her brothers ever did, and she gets under my skin.  But it's not because she's trying to, it's because that's where she lives, she is so deeply connected to me.  She calls me to be a better person, a holier person.  She calls me to love her unconditionally, with my whole being - the way that she loves me.  And my, how I love this little girl!

Monday, May 7, 2012

On Sunscreen...and Parenthood

Today, after much protesting (and a few days of neglecting) I finally dug out the sunscreen.  It's the time of year when you are just teetering on the days of summer, but the carefree days of early spring when it was so easy to just send the kids outside without a second thought are still so fresh in your mind.  "Oh come on," you're probably thinking.  "What's the big deal about sunscreen?"  Nothing really.  Except that in my house, it takes a good 10-15 minutes to properly apply it to all my little kiddies.  So I've been dragging my feet on it, forcing the kids to play in long-sleeved t-shirts whenever possible, knowing that once the sunscreen bottle was out it would be part of my daily routine for the next three or four months.

When my three-year-old's cheeks started getting rosy, I began to guilty.  It was a beautiful day in the late teens, and the kids were running around playing with water guns, taking their shirts off, and enjoying the sunshine.  I couldn't put it off any longer.  And so, I began the dreaded task.  As I applied sunscreen to each little one, I was aware of their own unique chemical and physical makeup.  "Make sure you get it all over yourself," I said to my fair and sensitive skinned second boy, "you burn easy."  I was careful to get the backs of the boys necks and ears, while my little girl was much easier, since she had her hair down and it covered her ears and neck (a big difference from last summer - how she has grown!)  And with my third boy I was careful to get his ears - we always tease him about how much his ears stick out (it's so cute!) I was sure those puppies would be extra vulnerable in the sunlight!

It occured to me in such a simple way that though each one of these little guys came from me and is being raised by me, each is so different.  As obvious as it is in their physical features, sometimes it can be easy to forget that in every possible way they are their own little people, with their own thoughts, feelings, personalities, and ways of relating to the world.  In this small way today God revealed to me a profound truth that of course I know (most parents do, I think) but tend to forget in the rush of the day - that they are unique, and that I need to be aware of that.  I can't expect to treat them all the same and get the same results.  I have to learn to look at their individual traits and characteristics, and treat them in the way that brings out the best in them, by learning how to relate to them all - one on one.

How beautiful it is, life with kids.  Even in the most meaningless of tasks, there is always something to be learned.

So many personalities - one incredible life!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Love Endures

I attended a friend's wedding last weekend.  The couple had chosen the scripture reading from Corinthians (Love is patient, love is kind) as their second reading, and during the homily the priest gave a reflection about what those words mean to us today.  He suggested that new couple re-read the scripture, inserting their own name in the place of the word "love", and use it as something to strive for in their own lives.  I thought it was beautiful, and as he read down through the scripture using the names of the bride and groom, one part grabbed at me - "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."  Immediately the word "endures" gripped me, as I wondered to myself, Do I endure all things with love?

I am winding up my first full year of homeschooling.  This is a beautiful time of year when we are finishing up workbooks, the end is on the horizon, and I can breathe a sigh of relief that we will indeed hit the benchmarks for this year, and we have indeed learned what we were supposed to.  It has at times been a trial, especially in the early days with so much still ahead of me.  Most of our subjects had a bit of breathing room, but with my second-grader's math there were days when I wasn't sure we would finish in time.  I had budgeted two pages a day in order to finish by the end of June, but when we hit a spot mid-year that took a bit more work and it was evident that two pages on some of those days would have been overload, I worried.  What if we don't finish?  I thought maybe it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if we continued a few weeks after the school year was over in order to finish the book, but I didn't really want to do that either.  With all of this pressure mounting on me, when we hit days (which are very common) where my little student was less-than-focused, I would snap.  "We have so much work to do!"  I would tell him.  "You couldn't tell a public school teacher you don't want to do this today!" I often said.  Sure, I got through it.  And thankfully, we are now on track to finish maybe even a bit before the end of the year.  But did I really endure it with love?  I have my doubts.

The other challenge has been my kindergardener.  My first went to preschool, Kindergarden and half of grade one before beginning homeschool, so he was taught to read by professionals.  My second-born, on the other hand, only had me.  Not only that, but his personality is dramatically different than my first, and where my first is eager to show anyone and everyone what he can do, #2 holds back if he has the slightest hesitation, preferring to remain silent rather than be wrong in his attempts.  There were so many times I felt like I knew he could do a better job than he was doing, that he knew the words better than he was letting on, but I kept that to myself while gently (and sometimes not-so-gently) trying to coax him through it.  It seemed for a while that he was not progressing beyond a beginner reading level, until just recently I started him on some new levelled readers, and now he is taking off!  And after a year of stalling, it is so rewarding to see his confidence growing and now, finally, a desire to move forward and excel.

While I have not always been the most patient and trusting of teachers, I am nevertheless seeing the benefits of enduring with my children.  I could have given up.  I could have handed them back to the professionals, who could surely do a better job, or at the very least wouldn't yell as much as I did.  But there is something to be said about standing on this side of things, looking back and seeing that we made it.  We did it.  We endured - together.  I hope and pray that for the remainder of this year, for every one that follows, and that for every thing I do on this journey of parenthood, that God will give me the grace to endure everything with love.  To cling to the hope and the belief that I am doing this because I believe it is the best thing for my family.  To not just survive these days, but to thrive in them, rejoice in them.  May the lessons of this year and the mistakes I made serve to build us up, as together we continue to walk on this beautiful journey that is our family life.

Bright days ahead with these beautiful boys

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Family Offering

This evening, as most evenings, we got together as a family (those of us who were available to pray and not busy building a chicken coop, that is!) to say the rosary.  Lately I can't help but smile at the way our family rosary has changed over the years, and even offer a prayer of relief that, while we are far from perfect, we have definitely come a long way from the many mistakes we made in the beginning.

Allow me to backtrack...way back to when Jeff and I were first dating in our late teens.  I was new to my faith, and as he introduced me to his community of friends I met many holy families who were raising their children in the Catholic faith.  These families became foundational in the way I raise my own children today, and in the way I approach our own family life, and continue to be a resource of wisdom and faith to me.  One such family had older children around our age, and we spent much time at their house.  At 9:00 pm every evening, they had a family rosary.  No matter who was there, at 9:00 pm everything stopped, and everyone joined in the rosary.  It was beautiful, and I knew as soon as I had children, that's what I wanted to do in our house.

But boy - what a big transition it is from a peaceful, beautiful little idea in my mind, to an actual practice with actual children (small children!)  When our oldest was three we began our first attempts.  We launched into it full steam, all ten Hail Marys, all five decades.  Most of the time it was a DISASTER (I capitalized that for a reason - it was horrendous!)  Tantrums ensued on the kids' parts and on ours, and the children were often sent to bed early while Mom and Dad begrudgingly finished the rosary on their own.  Not sure I get quite so many graces from prayers if I loose my temper, scream at my children, slap their hands and plop them into bed halfway through.  It was, however, what we had to offer at the time.

These days bring new challenges.  Older kids who can sit still and be role models for the younger ones, but who are sometimes fidgety and distracting.  We have opted for a shorter, 3-Hail Mary decade instead of the traditional ten (and if the big boys are not here, like on Beaver nights, I only do one Hail Mary with the little ones).  We do what we can, with what we have to offer.  I used to put so much pressure on myself to be the model of the perfect family from day one - I never stopped to think that the perfect families I saw in my teens grew up from small families like mine.  Their holiness came not from doing things perfectly, but from doing them consistently, even when it wasn't easy, from enduring the tough times and offering what they could.

Step by step we are on this journey, and continue to offer what we can as a family.  Someday, maybe it will be an entire, ten-Hail-Mary decade rosary.  For now, it is a shorter one with fidgety children who sometimes say the words silly.  The trials make us stronger, laughing at our failings keeps us humble, and praying every day helps us grow closer to God.  Please accept our simple, imperfect offering Lord, and help us to always seek new ways to give you even more of ourselves.

Prayer is doubly sweet with an angel sitting on your knee