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

Monday, December 16, 2013

To Search

This is a quick collection of my thoughts in the minutes when I am supposed to be starting school, but I wanted to get them down while they were still concise in my head (and besides, we're not going anywhere today, so I can pull off a bit of a late start and work a little later into the afternoon.  It's all good!)

I did morning prayers this morning on iBrievary, something I had eagerly taken up a couple of weeks ago, and then promptly lost ferver with.  It's been a few days, and I was out of the habit.  But as I scrolled through my facebook newsfeed and checked my favorite blogs for updates, the time for school fast approaching, I remembered - I should pray.  And so I did.

This morning this beautiful psalm was part of the morning prayers.  It is a psalm dear to my heart because of a Praise and Worship song we used to sing based on its words.  I can remember the fire of a young heart newly converted to the Lord, for the first time in her life really understanding what it means to choose to love God for herself (and not out of duty or habit), shouting out those words and meaning every single one of them:

My soul is longing and yearning
Is yearning for the courts of the Lord
My heart and my soul ring out their joy
To God, the living God

These many years later, I read these same words, but with an attitude of repetition.  I often lament the loss of my youthful ferver, but I think in many ways it's not a bad thing that I've grown beyond it.  Those are some of the best memories of my entire life, and have laid a firm foundation that I continue to depend on every day.  But I was not meant to stay there, I grew up.  Faith became something that didn't come easy, that wasn't all flash and excitement, that took work.  It is the zeal that springs us forth, but it is the steadfastness that causes us to endure.

And yet, I couldn't help but feel a pang in my heart as I read those words.  It has been a long time since I longed and yearned for the Lord.

Advent is a season for searching.  I often talk to the kids about what that first Advent must have been like. The people had waited many thousands of years for this Messiah, this promised one - and now all the signs they had been taught of were coming to pass. They knew this was it, He is coming!  They must have been overflowing with anticipation.

But - here's the thing - it's not over.  He hasn't already been here and gone, and we don't just commemorate something that must have been really cool, but is so far removed from us.  Because we are all making our own journey to Christ, to Heaven.  In a very real way, Advent is the story of us.  And yet, for me, it seems I have forgotten.  I take each day as though I already know Christ, that He has already been revealed to me.  I do the things I need to do, but lacking that joyful anticipation.  Or maybe it's not even joyful, because sometimes a search is desperate too.  One thing it's not though, is complacent.

This is where the wisdom of the Church's liturgical seasons is so profound for me.  Because while we spend most of our time in Ordinary Time, we really are an Advent people.  If however, we never changed seasons, it would be too easy to forget that, to stop searching, to become mundane.  And so, in Her wisdom, the Church sets aside four weeks ahead of one of the most important feasts of the year for us to really enter into the search, to remember that we are not just coasting along aimless.  We too have a journey to make.  This is not just a history lesson, it is the drama of our whole lives.

Like the Magi who studied for years and readied themselves to know the signs of the Lord's coming, and the Shepherds attentive to the messages from the angels that the Lord is near, may we be both studious and attentive to the ways the Lord makes Himself known to us each day, so that when He does enter into our lives we find ourselves ready.  We can only long and yearn if we have been active in the search.  May we make ourselves ready.

We see so little, stayed on surfaces,
We calculate the outsides of all things,
Preoccupied with our own purposes
We miss the shimmer of the angels’ wings,
They coruscate around us in their joy
A swirl of wheels and eyes and wings unfurled,
They guard the good we purpose to destroy,
A hidden blaze of glory in God’s world.
But on this day a young girl stopped to see
With open eyes and heart. She heard the voice;
The promise of His glory yet to be,
As time stood still for her to make a choice;
Gabriel knelt and not a feather stirred,
The Word himself was waiting on her word.
(Malcolm Guité, The Annunciation)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

My Advent Bubble

There was a time when Christmas for me was as harried as it was for the next busy Mom.  And yet as I think upon the last couple of years, it has not been so.  Not since I began homeschooling three years ago, well, actually, three years ago in January.  Three years ago at this exact point in time, I was home with a very new baby boy, an excellent reason to bow out of the Christmas craziness.  My dear husband, who has always loved shopping and picking out the perfect gift for everyone, took the lead that year, and it seems he has kept it ever since.

Not long after that, we did away with television. Not even in the least bit on purpose.  I wish I could say we had some grand piousness that caused us to sacrifice that which I depended on so greatly in my house (and bitterly, bitterly resisted any suggestion of its limitation!)  But the truth is, we disconnected our satellite to replace our roof one summer, and went a full month without it.  And we noticed something strange - not only could we survive without it, in the summer, no doubt! but we found we were better off.  So we decided since we had foolishly already paid for one month we had not used (no reason in particular, just that we kept forgetting to hook it back up) that instead of reconnecting the dish, we would disconnect the service all together.  And just like that the media's reach into my home plummetted.

Those two facts are important because they help me stay sane in the midst of a busy time of year.  In my house, we are not bombarded with Christmas marketing.  Because my kids don't attend public school there's no talk of which new toy to get this year, or making Christmas lists a mile long.  When the Sears wish book arrives on my driveway in September, I promptly toss it in the trash.  No disrepect to the fine folks who paid for it to be assembled, printed and delivered, but I am really starting to learn that I am the one in control of my immediate surroundings.  I didn't make it this way, but it just sort of happened - I found myself in a bubble.  And you know what?  I kind of like it there.

Don't get me wrong, I love Christmas as much as anyone.  But I have always been about the waiting, the anticipation. Growing up I was the child who never snooped for gifts, except that one time I did and discovered a pair of shoes my Mom bought me for Easter, and I felt so guilty I told her about it!  Never again did I want to spoil a surprise.  Waiting comes naturally to me.  And so Advent makes sense. I'm not over the top, I won't get mad if you wish me a Merry Christmas, nor will I correct my children if I catch them singing a Christmas tune (even if it's not about Jesus).  Our game plan this year is to just go with it, to be attentive to the rhythm of life at this season.  We are getting ready!  Getting ready for winter, for Christmas, for Jesus.  There is so much to do, and so many things we could never prepare for, that to plan away this season I feel would only be asking for disaster.

And again, lest you get the wrong impression of me, I have not set out to do this.  It just happened.  Not because I planned it this way, but because I didn't. I didn't plan to go to this event, or decorate on this day, or go shopping on this day.  In fact, I didn't really do anything out of the ordinary at all.  We went shopping one day last week, because my husband had a vacation day and his mother had kept the kids overnight, leaving us with a rare free day together.  We put the tree up this weekend, nearly three weeks after the start of Advent (we normally try to put it up the first week of Advent) because that was the first opportunity we had to do it.  We're keeping gifts simple this year, and we've just about finished all there is to get ready, save maybe putting up a few decorations and doing some baking.  But there are no plans for those either, I'll do them when I can, and trust the Lord to provide a time sometime in the next ten days.  It's all good.

I've been trying to do some extra reading.  I recently downloaded Steve Bell's e-book, "Pilgrimage/Advent" on Snippet (an app for iPhone/iPad) and it has been really great.  I have long been a fan of his music, but it is his storytelling that first drew me to him, and this book is a wonderful collection of stories, reflections and music.  It has been a real blessing.  Today I read these words, which really rested in my heart:

"During Advent, when Christians encourage the world to 'Keep Christ in Christmas,' we may do better yet and encourage each other to keep ourselves in Christmas. It is my sense that Christ really doesn't need our defense. It is we who have not understood our place in this astonishing story. We might ponder deeply, and internalize profoundly that this season is not just about revealing the truth of God, but the truth of humanity as well." (Steve Bell)

I had never thought of Advent in this way before.  And so, as we begin the third week of this season of preparation, I pray that the Lord will help to keep Christ in me as we approach the feast of the Nativity.  Christ born into the world, as a baby and through a person, what an amazing thing.  But it can't end there.  Because He's not just a person who lived and was born once, and died and went to Heaven.  He continues to live in each one of us, in me.  Christ born so long ago in a stable in Bethlehem - Christ born, at this very moment, in ever moment, in us.  How beautiful!

This Advent as we approach the Nativity in our Lord, may it be not just as a solemn event marking a holy day many years ago, but as an event taking place in our own hearts right now.  He is coming, He is coming, He is here!  Glory to God in the Highest!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Oh Boy!

We were at the grocery store yesterday, and the cashier commenting on our large family looked the kids over and said, "well at least you got two girls, that's good."  I smiled and responded, "yes, but I also got four boys, and they're pretty great too."  I get that reaction all the time, and I never really know how to react.  A passing moment seems too little time to affirm to a perfect stranger what a gift my boys are to me, and yet, I always feel the need for the sake of their listening ears to make sure they hear me rejocing in them just as much.

The fact is that when I dreamed of my family, I never considered the scales would be tipped in favor of boys.  I never thought I'd have more girls either, I guess I always just thought there would be lots of kids in equal numbers.  There was a time, particularly after my first two boys were born, that I really pined for a girl, but I underwent a real conversion during my pregnancy with my third child, who was blessedly also a boy, and who solidified the fact that my heart was made for little boys.  When he was born I felt so full, so complete, and for the first time in my life I felt as though if I only ever had little boys, that was okay.

Of course, I did have girls, two of them.  And they are wonderful.  But, so are the boys.  I attended a birthday party recently where some of the Moms were sitting back watching one precarious little boy.  My eyes were shining for this boy, the glimmer of mischief in his eye, his unmistakeable curiousity and energy that is completely boy, and as the other Moms talked about how spirited he was and how they could never handle it, my heart exploded.  Boys are so full of life, and it manifests itself so much different.  Yes, sometimes (most times) it's crazy!  But it's also beautiful.

Don't get me wrong, there are times when they drive me absolutely mad.  I wish my walls were a little less dinged up, and that my basement didn't constantly sound like a herd of elephants was trampling through it.  But having boys has changed me too, it's helped me to loosen up a little bit.  I was out with some friends one day and a group of boys (including my own, and a few older boys) were playing around, and one by one several Moms came out to wonder if maybe they were being too loud?  They probably were, and I apologized that under my watch they had gotten so rowdy, but I really didn't hear it.  What I saw was a group of boys, laughing, playing, and having good boyish fun.  It didn't seem loud to me, because it wasn't any different than any other day.  In hindsight they were being quite loud, so we quieted them down, and I joked about it with the other Moms, because it's so funny to me that I can be in the midst of all of that and not hear the noise of it all.  Before you get a picture of a blissfully content Mom patiently allowing her boys to experience the full joy of everyday life to the best of their boystrous ability, think again.  I am overcome by it far too often.  But that day, I wasn't.  That day, the Lord allowed me a little glimpse into the joy that is boyhood.  It causes me to look at my life, my vocation, my unique circumstance, and be grateful for the way it has changed me for the better.  I don't know why God gave me so many boys.  But I do know one thing - I am infinitely blessed for it.

Being a parent is not like winning a lottery, you don't keep trying and trying until you finally get the child you always dreamed of.  Every child is a unique and joyous gift.  Don't feel sorry for me that I didn't have more daughters, and don't feel like things are alright because I finally got my girls.  The Lord knows me better than anyone, and He has personally chosen these people to share my life with.  How could I be anything but grateful?  They have enriched my life in more ways than I can count.

Whatever your family composition looks like, be assured that God had a specific plan in mind when He chose those children for you. And rejoice in the gift of each one of them, as your Heavenly Father rejoices in you.

Monday, December 9, 2013


Telling your kids the truth is not always easy, but it's something I've always vowed to do from the time my first born took his very first breath.  As they get older and ask harder questions, that's not always easy (and I'm sure it will become increasingly more difficult as time goes on).  I'm sure there will be plenty of discomfort along the way, but I'm doing it for one reason and one reason only - because I want them to always trust that when they ask me a question, they will get an honest answer.

This time of year, there are plenty of articles swirling around the blogosphere about the morality of Santa Claus.  In particular two good ones I've read recently are this post in support of his inclusion at Christmas, and this one arguing against lying about Santa (or greatly exagerating his role).  I'm not going to take a stand on either side of this issue, as I've already mentioned that I think there are good and holy ways to have a Christmas that includes Santa, though this will be our first Christmas with all of our children knowing him only as a member of the Communion of Saints, and not as a jolly red elf who flies around the world on Christmas Eve.

On one of the above posts however, a commenter left a note that really left me thinking.  She listed the words of Santa Claus is coming to town:

He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake

And she said this sounds an awful lot like God.  She was not saying that we are equating Santa with God, but rather that if we say these things in the name of a person who is not God and our kids believe it over many years, and then come to find it's a lie, will they think then that all the same things we've told them about God relegate him to the same category we've kept Santa in - something that is fun, teaches a good moral, but ultimately at the end of the day is grossly embelished?   Could that in turn cause our children to question God?  I don't know the answer.

But it did bring me back to the real reason I want my kids to always trust my answers to them will be true.  They need to know that when life presses me into a corner, no matter what I will not lie to them.  No matter how difficult it is.  Because all those things I'm teaching them about God, I want them to know that it's true. Sure they will inevitably still question, in fact I hope they do.  I hope they wrestle with the truth, put it to the test, and come to own it for themselves someday.  What I don't want is for them to throw it out all together because they did not have confidence in my words.  I don't want them to relegate the bigs things in life to a category that is only for childhood, to be packed away when they grow up and only returned to when they have children of their own.

Whether you celebrate Santa at Christmas or not is irrelevant, I think.  It does not alter the truth of Christmas.  What is most important is that my holiday traditions, and in fact my every day life, is lived in a way that is truthful.  I must always prepared to give my children an honest answer even if it's hard, and even if the answer is, "I'm sorry, but I can't answer that right now."  Whatever your celebrations look like, let them be deliberate and truthful, not what the world says they must be, but what you in your heart believe to be the best reflection of the truth.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

We Got This

This morning I attended Mass with all six of the wee ones by myself.  While I do attend weekday Mass with them on occasion, I think this is the first time I ever remember doing so for a Sunday Mass.  My poor husband has been down with a miserable cold all weekend, and could not attend with us.  And so, I braved the chaotic frenzy that is Sunday morning in our household by myself.

I was afraid from the beginning.  I told the two oldest boys (7 and 9) that it was their job to be Dad during Mass - which to them meant they could correct their siblings' behaviour at every turn (one even informed me that his little sister needed a time-out when we got home because she didn't listen to him!)  To me, it just meant stay still.  I knew I would be busy with the littlest ones, and I didn't want to be worried about what my older boys would be doing when I wasn't looking.

We sit in the very front pew at our small country church.  Not because that's where we prefer to sit, but generally because it's the only space large enough to accomodate us that is still empty by the time we arrive.  From these seats we could litterally reach our arms out and touch Father as he is reading the gospel, it really is that quaint.

Sometime during the Gospel reading my three-year-old decided he wanted to stand with his older brother at the other end of our pew.  I let it go for a bit, but when he started rolling around on the floor I asked my second-oldest son to switch places with me, so that I could be beside the little one.  Right as our priest walked down the step to stand, as he always does, in the very front and center of the church to give his homily, my dear little toddler began to sceam at! the! top! of! his! lungs! because he had wanted to follow his brother, and I (mean mother that I am) was trying to make him sit still.  Our dear priest is so patient with us, but I would not subject him to the sort of tantrum I knew was just beginning while he stood a few mere feet away from us!  And so I, baby on my hip, ducked around behind the priest and headed out to the foyer, cranky three-year-old in tow.

I marched him right to the bathroom, about fifteen feet away, hoping that the congregation would not be able to hear his screams.  Frazzled and feeling as though everything might fall apart at any given moment, I angrily sent my toddler to sit against the wall for a time-out.  He screamed, and I walked out of the bathroom and closed the door.  I stood next to the door and waited for him to stop yelling, which only took a minute or so. Then I went back inside and told him that if he screamed like that again, I would take him out to the van, that it is not okay to yell in church.  Only on my way back did I begin to wonder what I might see when I re-entered the church and glanced over at the pew where the rest of my children were waiting.

Not wanting to cause further disruption, I slid back into the first pew I could get to, which (since the door is in the front of the church) turns out to be directly across the aisle from my other four children.  The first few minutes were tense.  Would my little boy listen?  Did the time out work?  I looked at Fr. John trying hard to pretend like I hadn't just needed to make such a harried exit.  I exhaled.  I heard a bit of his homily.  And then, I glanced over - and wouldn't you know those four little Mazerolle children were sitting just as still and calm as anything?  I couldn't believe how good they were being without me directly beside them.  Knowing there was an entire aisle and a priest standing in between us, and therefore that I could not have done anything to stop them, they were all sitting there being good.  I'm still amazed!

And it was in that moment that I realized how God uses imperfect instruments to bring about His glory.  I wish I could tell you they are good because I am a good parent, and because I am always consistent and firm and patient, but it's not true.  They are not good because of my perfection, but in spite of my many imperfections.  If I had a nickle for every time lately I have second-guessed a discipline strategy I was in the middle of, or thought myself too inconsistent, thought myself too hard (or too soft), I'd be a rich woman.  The truth is that I try my hardest, and yet I am often any one of these - far too often.  And yet, on this glorious second Sunday of Advent, there they were.  Almost like God Himself was patting me on the back and saying, "cut yourself some slack, you're doing better than you think."  Of course, I know there is still plenty I could be doing better, and I am a very (very!) long way from perfect. But after the last few weeks, I really needed the encouragement.

Thank you to my very dear children, for behaving well beyond your years at the exact moment when I needed it the most.  May the Lord continue to mold me into the Mother He has destined for the raising of each one of your precious souls, and may you be infinitely blessed for the gifts you are to me.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Make Haste to Help Me

My parents got me a banjo for my birthday last month, and I have been relishing in the joy of learning a new instrument.  It has been a good many years since I took up a new instrument, but my Dad being something of a musical prodigy I like to think that it's in my blood.  I have been having so much fun learning and seeing the slow beginnings of a new art.  Mostly though, I am completely drawn in to the beauty of music, and how it mirrors the beauty of life.

I am learning bluegrass banjo, which is made up of roll patterns of the thumb, index and middle fingers playing the strings in quick succession.  Learning these rolls at first requires patience. I am using a youtube series of instructions (Mark Wardel, if you're interested - he's awesome!) and he highlights how important it is to get every note right before picking up speed.  "Go as slow as you need to," he says, "speed will come with accuracy."  And so that has been my focus.  I couldn't help but think about how life is like that, that we can't rush through anything without first being accurate and deliberate, or the result is a jumbled mess.

When it came time to learn my first song I was slow and steady.  I was happy when, after a few steady days of practice, I could speed it up little by little.  When I got to the point that I was pretty good at that one, I decided to learn another.  This one used a different roll, and I approached it with the same steadfastness.  With song number two under my belt I tried to play my first song only to discover that I was not as good as I had been the day before.  That learning a new song made me have to think harder about what I thought I already knew. The rolls that came so effortlessly a mere day before were now confused with the new one I had learned, and my fingers and brain struggled to make the sound come out clear.  As a musician, I hated it!  I had to go back to basics, "speed comes with accuracy," but slowing down was so painful knowing how quickly I had once played it.

That was a surprising lesson for me.  And yet, I am living the same thing in my life.  Isn't it funny how the more you learn, the more you need to revisit those things you thought you had perfected? 

Phew, where to start?  I have hit a wall with my day-to-day.  Perpetual frustration, unmotivated students, whiny-whiny-whiny children, batty from being inside all day long as the winter weather looms, and cranky, cranky mother who really should know better by now than to let these circumstances get the best of her.  Haven't I been here before?  Haven't I learned this lesson already? Why am I not as good at this as I was yesterday?

Because I am not the same person I was yesterday.  I have lived just a little longer, and my experience requires me to go back and keep working at the things I already knew. I'm not checking things off a list, I am developping an art.  For as long as I walk this earth, I will be a work in progress.  I must never consider that turning a page means I can't revisit its content.  Sometimes going back to an earlier point in the story helps to make our present a bit more clear.  Sometimes before you can build the structure any higher, you must cement and firm up the base, because what was adequate before may need reinforcement.

And so, last week after a particularly bad couple of days I found myself in the van with my children, on the way to somewhere that was just a small portion of that busy outing week.  I always find being in the van with the kids helps me to clear my head, and evaluate my day in a different way.  Something about driving away from the house and leaving my problems behind coupled with having all the kids in a small space and focused on me makes for a good time to pour my heart out.  And so I told them I knew something wasn't working for me.  I knew full well what it was, I had lost the habit of regular and frequent prayer. 

My husband is fond of praying the liturgy of the hours, a beautiful series of Catholic prayers that are attached to specific hours of the day (morning, mid-morning, noon, mid-day, evening and night). You can even get an app (iBreviary).  He would carry his iPod with him through the day and pray as often as he thought to.  He said that it centered him, and helped him focus more on God, that if everything in his day was taking him away from God, the more he made the concious effort to orient himself back towards God throughout the day, the more chance he stood to end the day not as far from the Lord as he may have otherwise been. He explained it like this:

It was becoming painfully clear to me that I had allowed myself to become too much like the first diagram.  I decided to start using that little app on my phone.  The kids were inspired too, and offered (on their own) that they should find more time to pray as well.  And so together we journey, the slow, steady work of becoming accurate and deliberate with our prayer life as a family.

The daytime prayers begin with God, come to my assistance; Lord, make haste to help me. And every time I pray them it is not lost on me how much I need God's help.  I need it - I need it now!  It is good to say that prayer often through the day.  The words of the prayers are often so personal to me (Make me grasp the ways of your precepts, and I will muse on your wonders.  My soul pines away with grief, by your word raise me up.) At other times, they are so far away from me that I almost feel like a hypocrite reading them, and I pray that the Lord will help to make them true so that one day, I won't feel like I'm lying (To prove my innocence I wash my hands, and take my place around your altar, singing a song of Thanksgiving, proclaiming all your wonders.)  

I had been so consumed with the busyness of life that I had let my devotion fall to the wayside, and just like banjo rolls that are fast but not accurate the result was a frenzied, offensive mess that could not hold a candle to the true beauty it was meant to be.  A good musician knows when the time has come to slow down and get back to basics.  You have to be willing to step down, to lower yourself even to a level you thought you had surpassed, for the sake of your craft.  Going on in stubborness only gets you further away from where you want to be.  But making time to do it right, consistently and frequently, is what leads to true greatness.

May I learn to love the constant work that is growing in faith, so that I can truly become the artist you have called me to be.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Jolly Old St. Nick

Advent has barely begun, but already the conversation about whether it's okay to teach your kids about Santa has started.  (Likely because feast of St. Nicholas on December 6 is fast approaching!)  As a Catholic family raising children in a mostly secular world, it's a logical question.  Can we enter into the magic and wonder that is Santa Claus, without having the real meaning of Christmas completely railroaded?  Can we be straight with our kids about where their gifts really come from without crushing their spirits or destroying their innocence?  Once again, as with Halloween, the Church has issued no clear directive on what good Catholic families ought (or ought not) to do about Santa.  In her wisdom, she leaves it to us to discern and pray about what is best for our family, with the hope that we will come to a devotion that truly honors the solemnity that is due this joyous day.

Santa was outed this summer in our house by my husband, after I encouraged him to come clean about the tooth fairy (after three nights of not putting money under someone's pillow - poor kid!) I had been struggling with the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny for a while, because they don't have the same nice Catholic roots as St. Nicholas. Truth be told, I was quite happy with our efforts to let St. Nicholas point to Jesus, and since we don't watch TV or listen to radio we aren't bombarded with media to the contrary this time of year, so it worked. I felt like Santa was in his proper place in our home. So I was disappointed when all of my kids ran in one day and said, "Mommy, Mommy, we know that Dad's Santa and that you're the Easter Bunny and that there's no tooth fairy!!" And I was like, "Whaaaaaat??? This is not what we talked about!" 

We have six kids ranging from ages 1 to 9, so they are still pretty young. But as we approach our first Christmas with them knowing we are the ones who buy the gifts, I have to say that it's been really freeing. The kids are not disappointed in the slightest, there is still plenty of magic in this season for them to enter into. They still talk about Santa, and I let them get into it because he is based on a real person, who lives forever in the communion of Saints, and left a real legacy of selfless giving. The letters to Santa hoping against hope that he will come through with that one big gift Mom and Dad have said they just can't buy are what have stopped, which is a real blessing. I can be straight with them and say, "look, don't ask for that, it's too much" and I don't need to worry about them being disappointed on Christmas morning because they were really hoping Santa would bring it anyway. We have talked very little about what they want, but a whole lot about what they are going to do for each other, and I think that is what St. Nicholas intended.

In our home, despite our best intentions, Santa was always about the gifts they were going to get.  And so this year, as one boy wrote a letter to Jolly St. Nick (which I did not discouraged), he informed me that he was asking for a drum set - a gift he had already asked for, and I told him "No," because we had just bought them violins, and they also take piano lessons, and even if I had the money to actually buy a drum set (which I'm not going to lie, is enticing, because I love the idea of being a musical family!) I think it's important for them to slow down, and get good at what they have.  That just because they have a budding desire for music (maybe because their toddler brother got a toy drum set for his birthday last week and big brother is eager to be the expert of everything?  Who knows!) does not mean we should run out and spend ridiculous amounts of money on instruments they may or may not ever use (who knows?)  In any event, he was heartbroken.  Even though he knows we buy the gifts, not Santa, and even though we had already been clear with him that he was not going to get anything so extravagant, he asked for it anyway, and was dissappointed.  I told him that this was not what Santa had intended, and that I'm certain he would be so sad at what we're doing with his name in today's world.  He went into people's homes at night, in secret, so that when they discovered their gifts they wouldn't know who left them, and would thank God for His goodness.

Of course you can still teach this lesson without giving up Santa's secret all together, and you can do it really well.   You can continue in the spirit of anonymous giving by not telling your kids it's you, and teaching them about St. Nicholas so that they will thank God for His goodness, and not enshrine Santa.  But you don't need to make a case for that.  What you really do need to defend is why you would tell your young children there is no Santa.  Since making this decision, we have encountered so much shock from people who really can't imagine how we could do such a thing.  I don't blame them, that was my first reaction (Why, Jeff!)  It's so counter-cultural, and we've been raised to believe that Santa is the core of the magic of Christmas, that if we take them out there's nothing left but that boring religious stuff that the won't even get until they're much older.  

I'm not against imagination, or myths, or fairy-tales. I'm not against playing along to kids' fantasies, especially the ones that foster goodwill.  But the real debate here isn't whether to keep or ditch Santa, but what to tell our kids about him.  Because the fact is he is a real person.  And we have never once told our children that he isn't.  We simply are no longer telling them that he's the one who delivers their gifts on Christmas Eve.  The magic is still there, he is still a legend whose story is worth telling over and over again.

There is nothing wrong with encouraging fantasy and imagination, especially with the intention of teaching a good moral lesson (think Chronicles of Narnia). But when you read those stories to your kids, they know it's a story. If they ask you if Aslan will come bounding into their world through a wardrobe in their room, you'll tell them "no". It does not diminish the experience, the story or the lesson, but I am truly coming to see that it sets everything in its proper order. Aslan does not save, but teaches a story about the One who really does. Similarly, Santa Claus does not shower with gifts well beyond the means of the family, but Jesus lavishes with graces well beyond what we have. Is it wrong to teach your kids about Santa? I don't think so. Can it be done in a way that glorifies God? Absolutely. But in my experience it is also true that kids can be just as imaginative, have just as much wonder, and enter into the season of Christmas just as much if they know that their parents are the ones buying gifts, and that Santa is not sailing around the world on Christmas Eve. People worry that we are making our kids grow up too early, or that we are robbing of them of their innocence, but I have seen the very opposite. I have seen children delight in the simple truths of giving, and in the birth of a little baby, in the life of a Saint who really did amazing things, and in whose name we continue to give today, always pointing to Christ as he did.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Right Formula

My oldest son just started algebra.  It's a concept that, so far, is coming pretty easy to him.  If you have one variable and one number and you know the answer, there's only one value the variable can be.  Of course it will become more complex as he advances in years, but the basic principle remains the same - A + B = C.

I'm starting to realize that I too have a formula.  It goes a little like this:

(Things that must be done) + (things that can be done) = Happy Mom and Kids.

Each day is made up of things that must be done, things that can (but don't need to) be done.  If the result is to be a happy household, then the value of things that can be done cannot exceed a certain amount, or else the answer will change.  And in my case, it goes downhill.  No matter how good the things in question may be, if they exceed the amount of what we can do, the result will no longer be true.

Case in point, at the beginning of the year some homeschooling families organized a co-op.  As we tried to find a day that worked best for everyone, I took a hard look at my schedule.  We had been taking the kids to a gym class at our local Catholic school with my oldest son's grade, and as another year had passed, this meant that class met on a new day - Wednesday.  If I attended the same class we did last year, the kids would all be a year younger than my oldest, and I wanted so badly to keep him with his peers (especially since he attended Kindergarden and half of grade one with all of them, and has many friends in that class).  But there was just no way to squeeze it into our schedule. We have our piano lessons on Wednesday afternoons, which I could probably change, but not without throwing our whole week into more chaos than it is.  I didn't want to change it to Monday, because I find after the weekend I always need a day in the house to get caught up on things.  Tuesdays the older boys have Cubs and Beavers, and we need to have supper early (making it not a good day to be out for the afternoon).  We have nothing on our agenda for Thursday, but with co-op being every second Friday, that would mean that every other week I would be out three days in a row (Wednesday for gym, Thursday for piano, and Friday for co-op).  I've organized our week to have one free day to allow for outings, but with three days out in a row there's no possible way I could take that much time off - meaning not only would I have extra curriculars to get to, but school days on top of that for at least two of them.  I know my limits, and if you ever saw me on a morning when I have to get everyone out (even if it's not until after lunch) you would understand real quick why doing that two days in a row is something I avoid with everything I can.  Three days?  Just not an option to me.

Gym class with my son's peer group is a good thing, sure.  But at the end of the day, there's only so much we can do.  When A+B=C, A+2B just will not work.  We could not do the older gym class.  There is, as I mentioned, a gym class for grades 2-3 which meets on Mondays, that I plan to attend on Mondays during the weeks we don't have co-op.  It's still a good option and, more importantly, does not put me in a position where I am trying to do too much.

The longer I do this, the more I become aware of the things I just cannot do.  Sometimes we get so caught up in all of the things we wish we could do or think we should do, that we burn ourselves out.  For me, I'm becoming keenly aware of what certain circumstances are likely to do to my disposition, as well as my lack of discipline in handling that disposition.  The flaw is mine, to be certain, and something I hope will not always be the case.  But for now, I can't thrust myself into a situation of high stress without accepting that I will likely lose my cool.  I am working on it but I'm not there, and for now I find it best to be realistic about what I can handle. For example, I do my best to get my kids to weekday Mass whenever an opportunity reasonably presents itself.  I also try to take advantage of opportunities for Eucharistic adoration when I can.  But if I ever tried to do both in the same day, I know I would lose it.  The stress of keeping my crew of little ones still for one of those most certainly means that I would enter the next one a bed of nerves from having to fight through the first one.  And that's not how I want to be before the Lord, nor do I think it's fair to ask of my children.  Adoration and Mass are two very good things, but at this stage in my life they are not something I can add together in the same day.  So for now I build my strength. I take all the kids to one or the other when I can, do my best to muster the most patience I can, praise them for good behavior and try to be merciful and understanding of their poor behaviour.  When I can be reasonably confident that we can attend either consistently in relative peace, maybe then it will be time to add them both together.  But for now I believe this is where I am.

Which leads me to another thing about formulas, sometimes we don't know the answer right away.  Which means that it needs to be worked and reworked, to figure out what's right.  Isn't that so true of family life?  My earlier example of A+B=C really is overly simple, in that it doesn't take into account how external factors like the ages and maturity levels of the kids, the changing seasons of life, finances, relationships, or just about anything you can think of affects our overall happiness.  Which means that we should expect to be working at this our whole lives.  We should never assume that we have everything figured out, because that is when we run the greatest risk of being blindsided.

I don't believe we will ever have the answer figured out, but I know the One who does.  And I know that, as with the best teachers, He doesn't spare us the struggle of searching for ourselves.  As with anything worth knowing in life, when we follow the right guides with the information we know is true, and we never stop working, we will inevitably find ourselves with the answer.  May the Lord always be our guide as we search for true happiness in Him.

My favorite accompaniment

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Good Doctor

I have to take the kids to the doctor today, and I'm dreading it a little bit.  Not because of the appointment itself (routine vaccinations for my girls) but because of my behaviour at the last appointment.  That one was also for vaccinations, the flu shot to be specific.  For all of us.  My oldest has always had a fear of needles, and always needs extra coaxing to get through it.  I never try to hide it from them, or take them by surprise.  If we're going for needles, I tell them we're going for needles.  I figure it's better to let them process it on their own, and to trust that if they ask me a question ("Why are we going to the doctor?") that I'm going to give them an honest answer, even if it's not easy.

He seemed okay with it.  "I know it won't hurt," he said, "because it didn't hurt the last time. So even though I'm afraid, I'll do it."  I was proud of him for being so reasonable.  But then came the appointment.  One by one each of the other kids and I got our shot.  Not one of them cried, not even the two littlest ones.  Surely this was enough to show him there's nothing to be afraid of.  He stood beside me and the nurse rolled his sleeve up.  He asked us how long we thought it would take and we both said less time than it takes to count to ten.  And then, it happened.  He panicked.  Like full-on, meltdown.  My nine-year-old threw the biggest tantrum that any of my children has ever thrown in public. "NO NO MOMMY, I'M NOT DOING IT!" he screamed.  The nurse tried to tell him he needed to anyway, because Mommy had brought everyone in and it was a lot of work, and she shouldn't do it again.  She wisely tried to remind him (and me) that she remembered one time when he was nervous, how we said the Lord's Prayer together, and that helped.  I should have heeded her advice.

But I didn't.  I made the fatal mistake of trying to reason with him, to get him to make his own decision instead of telling him what I wanted him to do and not giving him a way out.  You see, I am slowly starting to realize with this boy that when things get tough, he always looks for a way out.  So when I said to him, "you don't have to get your shot, but if you don't you're going to the van and we're going straight home and you're staying in bed for the day," that was good enough.  Off he trodded.  Flustered, and knowing full well I had no intention of leaving without getting his flu shot, I left the poor nurse with my five other children (including the baby) and chased after my boy, who was halfway across the parking lot by now.  I knelt down, grabbed him by the shoulders and with gritted teeth said, "You are going to come in and get your flu shot NOW!"  As he screamed and flailed in protest, I picked him up (all four-feet and seventy pounds of him) and carried him, thrashing, back into the waiting room.  I put him down and he continued his panicky protest, and I spiralled even further down.  "If you don't come now, you're loosing screens for a month!" I threatened.  "And we're throwing out the Wii!"  Nothing. Not even his favorite things could deter him, which from experience I should have known.  I should not have made empty threats that I had no intention of following up on, but I did.  I should not have tried to bully him into making the decision I wanted him to make, and I should not have given him the illusion that he was in control when I was not about to give that control to him. Add that to my tally of mistakes for the day.

So I picked him up again, and started back to the room, determined to get this over with.  But my doctor just changed offices, and I, being unfamiliar with the new setup, unintentionally opened the door on my doctor with another patient!  I apologized profusely and crawled into the examination room with the nurse, who was waiting with the rest of my children, and did not try to hide my frustration any longer.  When my doctor came in, I apologized again and expected her to be (rightfully) upset at me for intruding on the privacy of another patient, and causing such a spectacle.  But she wasn't.

She gave him his shot while the nurse and I held him still, and praised him for doing such a good job when it was all over.  As she was handing out suckers and stickers, he, avoiding my glaring, mumbled, "I don't think I deserve one."  She and the nurse were both so positive with him, and told him that he did get the shot, and he did deserve his reward.  I couldn't muster gentleness just yet, I was so mad at him!  It was only when mercy was shown to me that my heart started to change.

My doctor, very matter-of-factly, told me that when kids become anxious about something, it doesn't do any good to try and reason with them.  She told me that the fear just becomes bigger and bigger, and that the only way to get through it is to just do it and get it over with.  She spoke objectively and generally, and was never once accusing of me, even though my behavior was well worth a reprimand. She was kind and positive, and managed to allow me to leave with the dignity I had sacrificed in my own poor attempt to handle the situation.

We spent the first few minutes of the ride home in silence.  When I was ready to talk, I told my boy how I didn't know what to say to him, and that I had never had any of my children melt down like that.  I told him how it hurt me that he didn't trust me, and that he thought I would do something to put him in danger - that he had to take a stand against me.  I told him it was worse that he didn't trust himself, and what he knew to be true - all the things he had said to me before he left.  And thinking about how bad it is to make empty threats I added, "of course I can't throw out the Wii, but you can't have any screens for a whole month."

There was silence again for a long while.  We stopped at a light and I looked at my boy, whose face hung low.  And it hit me just how stubborn I was being. I was the one who was misbehaving, throwing out wild threats in an attempt to coerce him.  I had the calm but authoritative affirmation from my doctor that this was normal behaviour for an anxious child - that it was not disobedient or defiant, but a simple response to his fear.  On the one side I had my own self-imposed expectations, the so-called "experts" who tell you to never back down from what you've said."  But on the other, the calm, reasonable, gentle opinion of a professional. In the end it was her treatment of me that allowed me to give up my stubborn pride, and to let go of the threats I had made in error.

I apologized to my boy, and told him it was wrong of me to try and bully him into choosing what I wanted him to choose.  I told him that next time, he would have no choice - immunizations are important, and we have to get them.  I hoped that it would not be such a fight, that he could use this experience to know that he can trust his own judgement, and mine and the doctor's, and not let fear take over, but I couldn't be certain.  I realized that by pretending he was in charge, what I was doing was making that fear even bigger.  Because if I offer him a way out, no matter what it is, he'll take it.  This boy can take whatever comes his way, and I know that's a very good thing. I just need to be prepared to let him handle the situation at hand.  Because if I trust him to handle something he can't change, he will almost certainly rise to the occasion.  But if I offer him any way out (real or perceived) I'm denying him that opportunity.  I'm playing up his fear even more.

I decided not take away screens for the month, but instead to have him to say the rosary once a day for a month instead.  I would get him his own rosary and leave the time up to him, but that once a day he would need to get his rosary, find a quiet place, and pray, asking the Lord to help him when he is afraid.  That instead of punishing him for my own foolish handling of the situation, it would be better to help him deal with his fear on an ongoing basis.  To know that he is not alone, and that it is okay (and normal) to be afraid, and also to walk through that fear instead of running away.  This is a task far bigger than me, but not bigger than God.  And maybe that's the point. Maybe God allows this situation to show me that I can't be my son's saviour, that I can't spare him from every trial he will face - and that's not my job.  My job is to point him in the direction of God, who helps each of us walk through any of life's circumstances with peace, no matter how difficult they may be.  That focussed on the Lord, my son will grow strong in the face of adversity.  But focussed on me (as I so ungracefully demonstrated that day) he will not.  If I try to be the answer, I will cripple him.  It is only by encouraging him to stand on his own two feet that he will grow, and that the only way I will be a strength to him is if I am pointing him to Christ, who does not internalize his struggle the way I do, but sees the whole big picture of his life.

Thank you so much, Dr. Humphrey, for helping me to see the situation with a clear head.  For your calm and gentle encouragement that allowed me to let go of my own stubborness, and to see things from his perspective instead of my own.  I have always been grateful for the care you have given my family the many years you have been my doctor, but never more than I was after that appointment.  You truly are a hero.

Never a dull moment

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

No Pinterest Category for Me

I received a very generous gift of a like-new couch the other day.  I debated a bit on whether to take it, because we had a matching set (a chocolate brown leather love seat and couch, and a tan-colored co-ordinating chair and a half).  But it was too good to pass up.  Our love seat has many tears in it, and since the purchase of new furniture is nowhere near on the horizon, I knew it was either speak now or forever hold my  peace.  Not to mention the fact that, as a family of eight (including six growing little ones, and quite possibly a few more in the next few years) it just makes sense to have more seating space.  I knew if I said no and then went into someone else's house seeing it looking all good, and coming home to my tattered and torn (but matching) loveseat, I would kick myself.  Practicality won out - we took the couch.

And I must admit, it is very handsome.  But - it's also big.  And it adds a third color to our living room, and means that all three pieces of our furniture are now different.  I spent a ton of time moving and swapping things around, not really feeling great about any room configuration I could come up with (and driving my poor husband crazy in the process!)

I decided to take to the Internet for inspiration. To keep it simple, I just searched "room configuration two couches" first (I figured I'd never find anything that had two large cabinets, a desk and a piano!)  The results pulled mostly huge rooms (and likely budgets) that I could not match.  I tried again, this time with "room configuration two couches small space", which still ended up being pretty useless to me.  I sat and stewed for a good long while, torturing myself about creating the perfect space.  I went over and over ideas in my head, coming up empty every time.  "That darn piano," I'd think, or "that desk - if only it were smaller!"  But it was no use.  This is the space I have, and these are the things I have to fill it up with.  There is no Pinterest or Houzz category for me, because my life is just as unique as I am.  Having new (or new-to-me) furniture made me wish for a split second that I had more - more space, more decorating abilities, more flair.  But in the process of trying every avenue and realizing there were no others, I came to an important conclusion.  This is my life, and it's beautiful.

It's beautiful that my family is so big that it takes two couches to fit us, and to make our home more welcoming for guests.  It's beautiful that I have generous people in my life, who will give me a couch they are no longer using.  It's beautiful that our living room also doubles as a classroom, and that I get to spend my days with all of my little ones surrounding me.  It's beautiful to have the gift of music, and instruments to play on.  There is no Pinterest category for this because you can't make this stuff up.  This kind of life is not planned in perfect detail, it is carefully crafted, moment by moment, lovingly revealed by a God who is just waiting for me to say yes.  Maybe someday my home will look like the pages of a magazine.  But for now, this is what I have.  And it's lovely.

"All the wealth in the world cannot be compared with the happiness of living together happily united."  (Blessed Margaret d’Youville)

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Family Schedule

Managing exra curriculars can be a tricky thing, especially when you homeschool.  Whereas working outside the home makes it necessary to pare down outside activities, homeschooling (at least for me) often gives the impression that we have more time than we have.  Not to mention the added pressure of "socializing" the children (so at least when well-meaning people raise concerns, we can indeed mention that our children do interact with the outside world on a regular basis).  It wasn't too bad when the kids were really young.  We enrolled the oldest two in Beavers a couple of years ago, which was one night a week.  No big deal.  Then when the third boy became involved, I started searching for something for our girl to do, because I felt bad.  Ballet was offered at our community school on another night of the week, and last year I enrolled her.  That meant we were now committed to two nights out a week.  Add to that our piano lessons which, though during the day, still fell on a different day (and required a stop by the babysitter's, making an extra-hectic outing day) and a gym class we attend at a Catholic school in town on a different day, and all of it together made for a crazy week around our house.  Fun, certainly.  Wonderful opportunities for our kids?  You bet.  But exhausting.

This summer I took a hard look at the things I wanted to do with the kids.  I was thinking of checking out the orchestra programs in the school system, but alas we just did not have any extra time to devote.  I decided in the end to buy violins and books, and see what I could teach them on my own.  Homeschooling is so empowering that way, in that it encourages you to just give it a try.  So far, things are going pretty well.  And I'm happy I was able to find a way to encourage them in a new instrument, in a way that doesn't take away our precious (and rare) family downtime.
Well look at that - we can have violin lessons at home!

I was less than thrilled when I received notice that our girl's ballet program wasn't being offered in our neighboorhood this year due to lack of enrollment.  My husband and I were pleased with the classes she took last year and she loved it, so we began the search for a new ballet school.  Turns out there was one just as close (albeit across the river) that was offered on the same day as piano.  Could we do it?  Could we cram one more thing into the craziest day of the week?  Here's what happened - if we could pull it off, it would free up the ballet night.  It would be busy, but we'd still manage to be home by supper.  I decided to give it a shot.  I am also forgoing the sitter this year (since we have a third boy in lessons and I now have time to drop them off and come home for a bit before I need to pick them up again).  I end up having an hour with the littles at home to get supper ready and tidy up, so that when I get home after ballet all I have to do is put supper in the oven.  I have to say, two weeks into the new schedule, I am happy that things ended up working out this way.

First piano lesson of the year - so happy to be back at it!
Somehow, completely by accident, we happened upon a schedule that allows us to do everything we did before and only be committed to one night out a week.  Which is good, because the school of community group that was meeting at our place is going to be moving in town, and to a weeknight.  My first heavy objection to this was that I couldn't go, followed by the sad realization that if my husband were to attend (and he would) it would mean another night away, which at the time meant three nights we would be apart.  I am so happy that the Lord made room in our lives to accomodate this.  More on how it came about in another post perhaps, but suffice it to say that I felt from the very beginning that this was something the Lord is asking of me, and while I was doing my best to lay it down, it was with a certain amount of begrudging. And yet, even when I am sulky, He is forever faithful to the desires of my heart.

Thanks be to God who cares so intimately for our every need.  May I be open to the things you are calling my husband and I to do, trusting that if you lead us on a certain path, you will give us what we need to walk it.

My little ballerina

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Peace be with you

I had the most uncanny experience on Friday.  I was at noon Mass with all of my kids and they were - good.  Like, stellar.  Complete, out of worldly, what-have-you-done-with-my-kids good.  The grace was tangible, and the whole time I was sitting there fully aware that this was nothing of my own doing.  That the Lord sometimes gives you these little moments of peace to encourage you, to affirm you that the work you are doing is worth it, that this is possible, and to keep going.

Let me back up a little bit.  I belong to a wonderful Catholic homeschooling group who has a co-op meeting every second week.  We begin our meeting by attending noon Mass, which the kids at the small adjacent Catholic school also attend.  There are six homeschooling families (including mine), about sixty kids from the school, and other parishioners who fill the church on those days, and of all of the little people in the church, mine are the only ones who ever make noise. The other Moms and school teachers meet me at the back of the church to sympathize, because they've all been there, and I take so much comfort in their experience because I see them now, and I know that it is worth it.  But still, every week I leave thinking, "Someday I won't be the noisiest family at Mass."  This week, I wasn't.  And it felt so good.

I have the most trouble with my babies.  When I'm alone with the kids, I need to wear the youngest, one-year-old, in a baby carrier, to keep my hands free for the toddler, who is almost three. The baby is okay so long as she doesn't get an inkling to get moving, but when she starts to wriggle and realizes she can't go anywhere, she's done for it. And my toddler is going through a "baby" phase.  Kids (at least the ones in my family) don't tend to get jealous of new babies - the jealousy seems to set in when the new baby is around one.  And that's exactly where we're at.  He always wants up, and protests loudly and without reservation when I refuse.  He throws himself all over me and the baby, oblivious to the fact that she is on me, pulling and clawing to get what he wants.  He throws himself down on the pew or worse, onto the floor, all the while screaming like he's being tortured.  Have you ever tried to squeeze yourself down underneath a church pew with a twenty-pound baby strapped to the front of you (all while trying to be the least distraction possible?)  It's not easy!  Or he'll make a run for it.  I have to be on my toes with this guy, and it's mentally exhausting.  If all of this is going down at the same time my baby is fussy, it's all I can do not to self destruct.  So sometimes, Mass is frustrating.

Which is why the gift of last Friday was so badly needed and gratefully received.  As we approached the peace of Christ my toddler began to get fussy, but I felt like I had the grace I needed to handle it with dignity.  The encouragement of a good beginning to Mass helped me see that this is a good thing, and that my patience would maintain the family's peace, even if the toddler didn't stop throwing his tantrum. I went through a little book about the Mass with the kids a few years ago, one that explained on a child's level everything that we we do in the Mass, and I remember getting to the section on the sign of peace.  The book explained that the sign of peace was right before the Eucharist because we cannot receive Christ if we are angry with our brother.  We have to first make peace with our brother, and then come to Lord after reconciling with them.  That is so pertinent to family life!  How often by the time I reach this point in the Mass am I ready to pull my hair out!  And then I have to look at those little faces and instead of offering a disapproving look of discipline extend a gesture of peace?  Some days its harder than others, but that day, filled with the encouragement and grace that was abounding in our family, I looked right into my little boy's eyes and told him how good he was, and how much I loved him.  And his mood instantly changed.  While I couldn't pick him up I let him stand on the pew and hugged him close, and he was happy.  This is the wisdom of the Church.  Because that day I came to the Lord with gratitude, and peace resounding in my heart.

This Saturday we went to Mass as a family, and things were not so peaceful.  Supper time Masses are the worst kind for a family with little ones, and our toddler screamed the entire time.  But I was able to look at him with new eyes.  When I see his behaviour not as some act of disobedience towards me, but as a manifestation of emotions he can't control (it's supper time, it's dark, I've had a long day, and I want my Mommy and can't have her) then I get it. I can see his unformed humanity expressing itself in that frustration. Those cries are not meant to get back at me, they are an expression of his confusion at what is going on.  And so, with my arms still full of baby (who would not go to anyone else because she also was sleepy and hungry), I tugged my little guy close. I tried not to loose my cool, to tune out thoughts of how much people may have been disturbed by his screaming.  I comforted and soothed him. And when it came time for the sign of peace, I kissed his head, leaned into his ear, and told him how very dear he is to me.  I thought of myself, and how tender the Lord's love is for me when I am so often like a screaming toddler.  How the Lord's affirmation of love and my dignity even at my worst are so life changing for me.  And I knew this was the best thing I could give to my struggling little boy, to love him where he was at.  Not to make his behaviour be about me, but to let it be about him.

I struggle so much with three-years-old.  But on this day, I felt like I was starting to get it.  Like slowly, after four children before him, I am starting to get it.  And full of the peace of Christ, my boy and I approached the altar together to receive Jesus.  What a joy and a blessing the Mass is for family life.

It is so, so worth it to bring your kids, even the littlest ones to Mass.  Even when it's harder more often than it's peaceful, bring them anyway.  God is working, even when you can't see it.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Is It Possible to Live This Way?

For the past few years, Jeff and I have been following a group called Communion and Liberation.  People ask me all the time what that is, and I struggle to articulate it properly.  My husband gave the best description of it this past Sunday at our church, when he made an announcement inviting parishioners to attend a retreat we are having this week.  He said that it is an ecclesial movement within the Church that proposes a way to encounter Christ that the Church has found to be beneficial, and that we have found to be beneficial, through the sharing of our personal experience.  Officially, Communion and Liberation (CL) describes itself this way:

Communion and Liberation is an ecclesial movement whose purpose is the education to Christian maturity of its adherents and collaboration in the mission of the Church in all the spheres of contemporary life.
It began in Italy in 1954 when Fr Luigi Giussani established a Christian presence in a Milan high school with a group called Gioventù Studentesca (Student Youth), GS for short. The current name of the movement, Communion and Liberation (CL), appeared for the first time in 1969. It synthesizes the conviction that the Christian event, lived in communion, is the foundation of the authentic liberation of man. Communion and Liberation is today present in about seventy countries throughout the world.
There is no type of membership card, but only the free participation of persons. The basic instrument for the formation of adherents is weekly catechesis, called School of Community.

We became involved in the movement (as CL is often referred to) quite unintentionally.  It began out of a friendship.  A dear friend of ours found himself unexpectedly (and unwillingly) back in Saint John, after his plans to live and work in America were dashed due to problems obtaining a work Visa.  Frustrated and missing the community he had been a part of in the US, he reached out to us.  We were in a similar boat.  We live in the middle of nowhere, and had a very difficult time being part of any regular community.  Friends came and went, but few really invested themselves in us.  Having come from a place in our youth where community abounded and in which our faith came alive, we felt we were spiritually starving, and longing for more.  When we did manage to attend community events, we found ourselves to be so superficial, not at all like we were in our youth when faith was so easy. And then came our friend.

We began a journey of friendship where he opened his life to us and we to him.  He decided to start coming out once a week, on Saturday, and he would spend the day toiling at yard work with my husband, or entertaining the kids with me, sharing in our family meal and evening prayer.  After the kids went to bed he would stay late into the evening, and talked about everything.  More importantly, we talked about the most important things - what is life?  What does it mean to have faith?  What is the purpose of my life?  And not in a superficial, fluffy, "everyone loves Jesus" sort of way.  We tried to go to the deep places of our souls, to the places where the answer was, "I don't know", and to seek it out.  It was, and continues to be, a real work.

Our friend is really well-read, and would often send articles for us to read (which my husband is always better at reading than me!) The two of them would read these articles and sit and talk about them over beer late into the night.  I loved listening to them, and learned so much from their insights, things I never would have delved into on my own.  There were of course many differences of opinion and many arguments (and still are) but I think that's what makes our friendship so strong - the courage to question one another, and to provoke each other.

He was reading a book called, "Is it Possible to Live This Way?", and he would mention it often during our discussions.  I was intrigued right away by the title, which was meant to ask whether living a life of faith really is possible and realistic in the world today.  I borrowed the book when he was finished, and related immediately to the way it was written.  It is a series of talks given to university students, and having come into my faith under similar circumstances, through retreats and conferences, I could picture the people I love and admire so much speaking these very words.  I wish I could remember off the top of my head some of the great things I took away from that book, but I encourage anyone who is interested to read it.  I definitely will be reading it again soon.

So it came to be that we were meeting once a week, studying articles we had read throughout the week and discussing them together, talking about what it meant in our everyday lives and how it helped us to find Christ, when our friend suggested we align ourselves with CL.  A school of community is essentially that - a work that a group of friends undertakes together with the purpose of helping each other find Christ.  Following the movement meant simply that we would read what they were reading, and operate in the way they set out.  While we have struggled trying to implement the style into our meetings, the most fruitful gatherings we have are when we dedicate ourselves to the study of the readings of the movement.

CL was established by Msgr. Luigi Giussani, who is the author of this book that causes me to go so much deeper.  People are always hesitant when I refer to "the movement", and I'm not very good at explaining it.  But Msgr. Guissani is.  In Is it Possible to Live this Way? he speaks very simply of a faith that is born very much the same way that mine was born.  Someone who lives in such a way that causes you to say, "I want to know more about what you do". And then in learning, in friendship, you find that you want to be around them more, to hear what they have to say, because you see something of value. Their witness causes you to see life in a way you never had before, and in such a way that you know you never could go back to the way you were. What begins as a relationship of curiosity develops into friendship and mentorship, with Christ at the center, such that being around this person makes you want to be a better person, makes you want to know God even more in your own life.  By engaging in this work together, we challenge each other in the same way, in the hopes of pointing each other to Christ.  This is the work of the school of community, and reflecting on it in this way makes me think it is incredibly accurate to describe it as a movement, because that is often how the Holy Spirit is referred to.  And for me, the Holy Spirit has definitely moved very deeply in my heart since I became involved with CL.

On a daily level, it causes me to question everything.  To not let my life sweep me away but to really seek Christ in reality, here and now.  In particular it changes the way I see the difficult things in my life, because while I had tried to "look on the bright side of things", now I am encouraged to be in those difficult moments, and to seek Christ.  More and more I am realizing that my own brokeness, manifested in the things in which I am most insecure, is the very thing I need to dive into, because more than anything it reveals how much I desire God.  After the birth of my sixth child (and my most difficult delivery) last year, I was talking to my husband about my experience, in awe that something I had been so afraid of both before and during now seemed to have faded away into the background, completely taken over in the euphoric happiness that is bringing home a new baby.  And he commented that the ressurection causes you to see the suffering of the cross in a completely different way.  It's so true!  And that's what the movement does for me.  It causes me to see my own crosses in a completely different way.  Not to run from them, not to look for the quick answers, or the quick ways out, but to really embrace them.  To dive into my woundedness and search for the Lord.  Often I don't find Him, often I am struggling.  But a struggling person is an alive person.  And that's how I want to be.  That is how I want to live my life.

Thank you dear Lord, for not allowing me to remain still.  As Saint Augustine says, may my heart remain restless until it rests in You.

If you are in the Saint John, NB, area, and are free on Saturday, November 9 at 1:30 pm, I encourage you to attend our Beginning Day event, whose theme is, "How is the Presence of Christ Born in our Experience?"  You can email for more information.  If you would like information on our weekly school of community, please feel free to contact us at the same address.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Our Little School

When I first started homeschooling, I scoured the internet in search of homeschooling blogs seeking wisdom in helping me get started on this journey.  My oldest was in grade one at the time, and I was looking for the veteran Moms, the ones who've done this for years (and who could provide pictures for me).  There are many blogs by veteran homeschoolers with large families and many grades to teach at a time, but the ones I found were more focussed on life in a large homeschooling family than they were in documenting their classrooms. I did find another category of Moms who were just starting, whose kids were in pre-K or K, and who seemed to have tons of money (and handy husbands) who could diy their own private classrooms that were the homeschooling equivalent of a jackpot.  Where were the pictures of what homeschool in a house like mine (on a budget like mine) looked like?

I've only got three years in, so I'm kind of in the middle when it comes to what I blog.  I don't have a lot of money, and while my husband is high on handiness he's pretty low on time so diy-ing doesn't happen too often around here (no Pinterest classroom for me!)  And I'm not living a life with teenaged kids going here, there and everywhere (or the life lessons that accompany that, which I'm sure will be filling my blog in the not-to-distant future).  I'm working out the kinks and our needs change from year to year, depending on who's in school.  But I thought that, for the sake of anyone else who might be questioning like I once was, I would document what our learning environment looks like today.  And more importantly, to show that you don't need a ton of money or loads of space to make homeschooling work well in your home.  You can set up individual workstations that don't completely take over your home, but that allow each child their own space without being confined to the dining room table.

The bulk of our schooling happens in the living room.  I have struggled with having desks in this area that don't look like school desks, because realistically school is only a few hours of our day, and the rest of the time this is a family space.  Making a room do double-duty is no easy task, and at first I resisted having anything school-related in the living room.  But our dining room was just too small for individual desks, and I needed the kids to have their own workspaces - a little to help them concentrate, but mostly to keep them from playing together and driving me nuts!!!  For a while I had old school desks in the corner of the living room, but I never felt like they really worked in there.  And then, I found this great cabinet on Kijiji that folds out into a desk when in use, and tucks away neatly when not in use.  It was perfect! Since I do some freelance work from home, I am able to keep a computer and printer tucked away inside for me, and my oldest uses it as a work station for school.  I paid $150 for it for the light colored-wooden one (which I thought was a steal) and then this summer was delighted to find a second one, this time in a darker finish, for only $60.  We use that one to store extra school supplies.  My brother gave me a desk my uncle made for him growing up, that works nicely under our TV, and even though it still looks like a desk and is the only thing I can't hide away, I'm okay with that.  I like the sentimentality, and the fact that what my brother used growing up my kids can use now (and hey, what homeschooling Mom can refuse a free desk?)

Here's what our living room looks like:

And that oldschool desk still gets some use in the basement.  Mostly for recreational reading, but occasionally also for tests.

The dining room is still where the bulk of the teaching happens, and is the room that screams "homeschool" as soon as you walk into the house.  I don't mind that though, I actually kind of like it.  The littlest ones do sit at the table to do their school work and that works okay, since it gives me plenty of space to sit with them.  The big shelf on the wall that holds all our books (which I love love LOVE!) was on another wall when we first moved in, and badly unused.  We took it down when we painted and it sat in our shed for a year, until my husband and a dear friend succumed to my incessant requests to put it up on the wall for me.  It is just perfect in our dining room. We have the kids books organized in banker's boxes with their names on them (an idea I got from a friend) which keeps them from falling over and makes them easy to grab.  Here's what it looks like:

I struggled for so long wishing to have something I didn't when it came to schooling - namely money and space to do something fantastic - when all along everything I needed was right under my nose.  This entire journey has been an exercise in making what we have work, and with two more little students ready to join our classroom in the next few years I have a feeling I'm not done squeezing, searching, and making things work. I don't like for every inch of our house to look like a school, but I do think that it's okay for some parts of it to look that way, because our house should be representative of who we are.  Our little house continues to burst at the seams with the life that lives within it, and that is what makes it beautiful.

"A good school provides a rounded education for the whole person. And a good Catholic school, over and above this, should help all its students to become saints." (Pope Benedict XVI, St. Mary's College, Sept. 17, 2010) 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Through The Years

2006 - Bob the Builder and the Cutest Little Tiger

  2007 - Percy and Thomas

2008 - The Three Musketeers

2009 - Pirate, Spider Man, and Toddler? (Can't remember what Stephen was that year, and I don't have any photos)

2010 - Mario, Kitty Cat, Wario, and Mickey Mouse

2011 - St. Luke the Evangelist, St. Edward, St. George, St. Peter, and Mary, Mother of God.

2012 - St. Michael, St. Elizabeth, St. Stephen of Hungary, Pope Leo the Great, Mary Mother of God, and St. Francis

2013 - St. Nicholas, St. Clare, St. Elizabeth, St. George, St. Josephat, and St. Francis

Happy Halloween!  All you holy men and women - Pray for Us!