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, April 30, 2013

Singing to Survive

One of the greatest fruits of my lenten penance to give up grinding my teeth was my coping mechanisms.  Things started off great - there was so much grace and I knew the Lord was lifting me up.  I went a few weeks without grinding my teeth (and losing my temper) even once, and the whole time was very aware that this was not of my own strength.  But the time came for me to stand on my own two feet, and as the Lord slowly lowered the burden of my struggle back onto my shoulders, I began to feel its weight once more.  One particular morning, as I was getting ready to be out bright and early (a particular challenge with six children), I could feel my emotions simmering.  As I tried my best to maintain peace in the middle of the storm mounting within me, I was inspired by the words of a psalm I had heard so many times:

Praise the Lord my soul, praise the Lord!

I sang aloud as I scurried about, trying with all my might to hang onto my inner peace and keep my focus on the Lord.  And when I could feel myself slipping, teetering on the edge, my two-year-old chimed in:

The Lord is my light!
The Lord is my help!
The Lord is my salvation!

Praise God for the wisdom of children!  He kept me sane that day, but it remains a battle that I often lose.  And today was one of those days.  Somehow, my toddler seems to remember this lesson when I forget, and at my lowest low today broke into psalm once more:

The Lord is my light!
The Lord is my help!
The Lord is my salvation!


So I thought about this, the comfort the psalms I hear at Mass bring to me in times when I need it most.  And I decided maybe I ought to start reading more of them.  So I opened my bible to Psalm 1:

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked
Or stand in the way that sinners take
Or sit in the company of mockers,

But whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither
Whatever they do prospers.

Immediately the words "in season" leaped out at me.  The idea that you can't pick a fruit until it's ripened, and that it takes time to grow - that a tree can be beautiful even before its fruit is ready.  I think I was trying to reap a reward I had not yet grown - the reward of perfect patience.  And every time I felt myself bubbling over, I thought "here it goes, I've lost it again".  But I've really never had it (those I love most will tell you that!)  I haven't take the time to grow it.  My branches can still be beautiful, my leaves green but the fruit - that takes longer.  That has to be grown.  These days, they have to be weathered patiently, and with great care. 

I'm not justifying my temper.  I still hope to get to a place where I don't grind my teeth, where I don't yell so much (or maybe not at all).  But I recognize now that it is a journey, and that good fruit takes time to grow.  May I be a patient and diligent tender of the garden of my heart, so that the fruit that is born of this family life is sweet and lasting.  May my leaves not wither as I try to snatch at that which is out of reach, but prosper in the knowledge and peace that comes from living where I'm at right now, pruning and tending the leaves of my heart so that they will be capable of bearing beautiful things.

Little Psalmist

Sunday, April 28, 2013

It's not so bad

Lately, I've come across a few blogs talking about the havoc that pregnancy and childbirth wreaks on a poor Mom's body.  I get it - I've been there a few times.  I know these women are not entirely serious, that they're exaggerating for comedic effect.  And we fellow Moms, we have a good laugh and eat it all up, because we've been there and we know what it's like.  I'm certain some of my favorite bloggers have written posts like this.

That little fact notwithstanding, I'm sensitive to them.  I feel like glorifying the horror stories does such a disservice to what motherhood really is.  To give an example, shortly after my daughter was born I read a celebrity blogger talking about how since her baby's been born she walks around in a haze, in sweatpants all the time, and only takes a shower once a week.  I didn't even finish reading it, I swear it was 2,000 words of "this-is-so-horrible-but-at-least-I-have-a-cute-baby-but-still-I'm-going-to-die".  I remember thinking, "Why don't you just take a shower?"  It struck me because I remember someone telling me that when I was pregnant for the first time, and it stuck with me that no matter what, I was going to make it a priority to shower regularly after the baby was born.  I get that sometimes Moms are busy, and I even get that some Moms would rather spend their time with their baby and leave the shower until the next day, and that's cool too. But why whine about it, if that's what you've chosen?

More recently I've read two separate accounts of women talking about their bodies post-baby, and describing things I've never seen on any woman ever, and it made me wonder, where are these Frankenstein Moms?  Because after six babies, I've never experienced any of that.  And I don't know anyone who has.  Sure there are changes that happen, undesirable ones even. I just don't get how putting those on a pedestal is a good thing, especially for people who don't have children yet - what kind of an image are we giving them?  That motherhood is the same as throwing yourself in front of a bus?

All I have to offer to this debate is my own experience, and so - here it is.  I would say that having babies for me was a 20/80 thing, 20% not cool stuff, 80% awesome.  I'll start with the unpleasant stuff to get it out of the way first.  I didn't have varicose veins, and I didn't get stretch marks (in fact, I got more stretch marks when I was going through puberty than I did during all of my pregnancies).  My stomach, stretched out as many times as it has been, has gone back to its rightful place on my body (with the help of a girdle postpartum).  The most obvious mark that childbirth, or rather child rearing, has left on my body (obvious that is, to me and my husband) is on my breasts.  During pregnancy and nursing it's great, but once the babies are weaned they are a little deflated. But that's a problem that's easy to fix with a good bra (and subsequent pregnancy!), so I don't loose too much sleep over it.  Oh, and in my last pregnancy I developed a small umbilical hernia, which will need to be surgically repaired (though it can be done in day surgery while I am awake, with local anesthetic.)

I think that's probably it for the bad stuff, now let me get to the good.  Having babies made me love my body.  And not just the way that it looks, although that's part of it.  But what it can do.  I don't know any new mother (especially a first-time mother) who isn't eager to share her labor and delivery story as soon as she's given birth.  I'm always so excited to ask new moms what it was like, because I can never wait to tell everyone my own story after childbirth.  There is something so incredible about growing a human being inside your body, and getting him out.  And nursing takes that even one step further.  I remember so many times turning to my husband when our baby wasn't on solids yet and saying, "all she needs is me - everything she needs to sustain her physical life is inside of me."  It really is incredible.

But then, there is the physical as well.  To that, I say that almost everyone I know who has had babies looks as good or better post-baby than they did before.  Having babies gave me a woman's body.  Before that I had a teenage-girl shape, kind of girly but still kiddy.  Now I have curves, and a much more feminine shape. When I got married I was in the best physical shape of my life, I worked out several times a week (I was marathon training).  I cut my training short to have my first baby and ran a half instead of a full marathon, and have not been able to stick to a regular workout routine (unless you consider keeping up with six kids to be a workout routine, which I guess it could be) since then - and yet I'm in as good shape now as I was then.  And I feel like having babies is the fountain of youth - think of the women you know who are still having babies in their thirties or older, and look at the way they're living, the things they're doing, the kids they're keeping up with!  Look at the smiles on their faces, the light in their eyes - everything the world covets and holds up as beautiful is brought to fulfillment in motherhood, not destroyed by it.

I'm not saying not to be honest.  I know so many people who say, "I wish someone would have told me insert-pregnancy-childbirth-horror-story-here".  But please, just keep it in perspective.  It's not good enough to write ten paragraphs grossly exaggerating your poor mangled body (which of course, is neither poor nor mangled) and then to end it with "but little Susie is such a delight and I would do it all again."  Moms who've been there, we get that.  But people who've never had babies might decide that little Susie just isn't worth it to begin with.  And just like that we'll send a whole generation of girls running away from the most beautiful thing in the world, which I know is never the intention of the writers of such posts.  There is so much pressure on women to look a certain way - let's show them that motherhood is beautiful.  And maybe treat ourselves to a day at the spa, to help unwind and see how beautiful we still are (or maybe even, how much more beautiful we have become.)

Not a Frankenstein Mom

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Character and a half

My fifth son Aaron is a handful.  Much bigger than the rest of the kids.  There is no amount of childproofing that can keep us ahead of this guy.  He's the one that I fear someday coming around a corner to discover he's fallen out the window/stabbed himself with a knife/pulled the refrigerator on top of himself/insert-every-mother's-worst-nightmare-here.  Keeping up with him is mentally exhausting.

This afternoon I was bathing the baby, and he was beside me. He kept getting his arms in the tub and, being two, no amount of pleading from me would keep him from it.  Knowing full well my hands were occupied gave him the perfect opportunity to keep on doing what he wanted, and he did.  And before I knew it, he pulled a soaking wet towel out of the tub and drenched himself, me and the floor with water.  I was less than patient.  My husband ran up the stairs to see what was the matter (and, to his credit - God bless him - did not mention the fact that I was clearly over-reacting).  He let me vent about how I can't keep up with this boy, how I've never had a child who caused me so much trouble.  But after a few minutes of clarity, I began to feel guilty.  I thought about little Aaron, and what a joy he is, how he makes everyone happy, and how he is fearless and bold.  I called to him from the nursery (where I was dressing the baby) and began tell him all of those things.

"Aaron," I said, "I love the person that you are, and I'm sorry for saying you were the most trouble I've ever had. I love you exactly as you are, and when I get upset it's because I'm not holy enough to deal with your personality the right way..."

And then he danced into the room.  And he was buck naked.

Seriously...this child is going to get me to Heaven.

And I love him so much for that, and so many other reasons.  My little fire cracker!


I realize it's been a while since I posted anything, and every night I crawl into bed and think, "shoot!  I should really write something!"  But time has been sparing these days, and having the stomach flu pass through our house a couple of weeks ago didn't help matters.  Nor did it help that it happened during a birthday week for one of my boys.  Lucky for him however, he got the flu first and was better by his birthday.  Even luckier still that his grandmother had planned to take him for a birthday sleepover, so when he woke on the morning of his birthday he had a full day of fun planned, and was not greeted with the "I-feel-like-death-I-can't-do-anything!" state of his mother.  He joyfully declared to his grandmother on his way home that day (after shopping, and bowling, and lunch out) that "this is the best birthday ever! Except that Mom is sick..." He then went for another sleepover at his other grandparents, went to the movies, had a birthday supper two days later, and a birthday visit from his uncle and cousin the following weekend.  All the other kids are now talking about how they want two sleepovers, bowling, and movies for their birthdays.  As they say, all's well that ends well.

In the meantime, I am eternally grateful for our parents (both sets of whom got sick after being exposed to us).  As hard as it was not being able to dote on my boy the way I normally do on all their birthdays, it was such a comfort knowing that he was having the time of his life with people who love him as much as anyone else ever could.  It really struck me the whole saying that it takes a village to raise a family, and how once upon a time this was just the norm.  And yet I know that these days, it's not.  More and more (for whatever reason), families are spreading out, and grandparents are not able (or worse, not willing) to be the kind of presence that Jeff and I have had from day one with our parents.  We are truly blessed, and our children (and us) have been given a treasure in the families that we have.  Whenever anyone says, "I don't know how you do it," I always think of them, and know that without them, we couldn't.

May we never take for granted the many blessings of our lives that come because our parents still continue to be our parents long after we've grown into adulthood. I hope and pray that someday I will give my children this same beautiful gift.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

April 2, 2013 - Snapshot

When did April get here?  I can't even wrap my head around how fast this year is going.  We had a great Easter weekend, and have been really loving the nice, springy weather. Here's a glimpse into our life over the past week and a half:

Timothy lost his first tooth!  It was on a roll-up-the-rim cup, of all things.  It didn't actually come out, but he sure got things started when he tried to pry the rim up with his teeth.  He was a little unnerved at first I think, because his mouth started bleeding really bad.  But when I convinced him that this was in fact a good thing, he said, "I need to get Grandaddy to put me in a headlock!"  (My oldest son completely babied his first loose tooth, wouldn't even wiggle it.  Then one evening at my parents' camp the boys were wrestling with my Dad, he put Joseph in a headlock, and the tooth just popped right out!)  Next morning, it was out, all on its own.

We live within walking distance of a small beach.  It always makes me so thankful for where we live.  It's a bit of a drive from the city (and the ferry can be a pain) but man, it's worth it for days like this.  Nothing breaks up a long day like a few minutes near the water.  I bring the dog, strap the babies in the stroller, and head on down.  We're pining for spring around here, and I was perhaps a bit too stubborn to admit that it maybe is still a little cool for the beach?  If I had any doubts, the kids confirmed them when they announced, full of glee, "look Mom, an iceberg on the beach!"  Coupled with the impossible rule to keep of "don't get your feet wet" (they got them soaked) and this Mom has learned her lesson.  Beaches are best when weather is warm.  We did have a blast though :)

This baby is rolling around like nobody's business.  Which means that I don't have much time until the baby gates have to go back up.  I have enjoyed having an open stairway (something that comes around once about every year-and-a-half for us) but with the way this girl is moving, I'm certain she'll make her way in that direction in no time.  Whenever I put a blanket down, she rolls over and over and over, off the blanket within seconds.  And she's starting to scoot herself forward on her belly, so close to crawling! What a joy it is to see new life growing and learning each day.

I took the baby outside with the kids in the yard for the first time today.  It was more for the sake of my two-year-old.  The weather was so beautiful, and he looked so sad watching his brothers and sister run around outside, but he's still too young (and far too bold!) to leave outside unattended.  So I dressed myself and the baby, and we took to the outdoors.  That's how we ended up down at the beach - I got bored of wandering the yard, and couldn't find any work that could easily be done with a baby strapped to my chest.  We even picked up a neighbor's boy along the way, and I, my six kids, dog, and neighbor hit the road.  We were only gone for a few minutes, but it was worth it.  A nice break in the day, and a perfect first day outside for the baby.

These kids make my life.  We seriously pared down our Easter haul this year.  My husband did the shopping, and when he put everything out I had a secret fear the kids would be disappointed.  Especially the big boys, because the things they got (a card game each) were so much smaller than the big coloring pads and crayons the three younger kids got.  I knew they were the same value, but to a kid looking at his sibling's  pile that was probably six times larger than his, I was worried it would seem like they didn't get as much.  And we only hid eggs in fifteen places, two eggs each.  Which, if you do the math, amounts to about twelve eggs each.  They were done the hunt in two minutes flat.  But they were just as happy as every other year, when they got so much more.  Their faces were so full of joy all morning, and I realized (as I have many times before) that it is us who put the huge burden of expectations on ourselves, not them. The day is special because of what we celebrate - Christ's Resurrection - and the treats are meant to help us celebrate that, not to take over.  I think they get that.  I'm the one that needs to learn.

I don't know if I've posted a picture of Aaron and his blanket, but man - he loves that thing!  We have to take it away until bedtime, or it causes some serious problems.  But as soon as that thing comes out, it's instant comfort.  He's getting good at giving it to us at breakfast time to be put up until bedtime, and I don't try to hide it or sneak it away from him (because I think that can make it worse).  And when he wraps himself up in it, and makes that little face, it just melts my heart!

This is a little girl being loved up by her big brother.  You can't tell of course, because he's not in the picture. But she loves to be made a fuss over. And she was just beside herself with all of the Easter celebrations, and treats, and special things that were just for her.  In her Disney Princess coloring pad, there was a cutout to make a keepsake box, and my oldest son decided to put it together for her.  It's just paper, but she treated that thing like it was made of gold.  She doesn't realize just how lucky she is to have brothers who dote on her the way they do, but it makes me so happy to see the boys so caring to her.  I know they learn how to treat women well by the way they love their sister, and that makes my heart so happy.

And this.  I know that babies love their Da's, but every time I see a new baby with him I imagine that no other baby ever looked at him the way they do (in fact, they all did).  It's just like I'm seeing it for the first time, watching the drama unfold before my eyes, this deep love story between a father and his baby girl where she knows that no matter what, where he is, she's safe.  Maybe I'm reading too much into it.  Or maybe I'm just thinking of the way my dad makes me feel.  Either way, I love these moments.  Because I know what that little girl is feeling.  And it's awesome!

Cheers :)