Friday, December 28, 2012

Childlike Faith

Let the Christmas season begin!

What??? you may ask. Like it's totally ended! Well, as a Catholic, we follow the Church's liturgical calendar which means that the season of Advent has finished and that the season of Christmas only just began yesterday and will conclude with the Epiphany on January 13th.

I am no theologian and will not attempt to explain the Church's teaching on this, but I will say that I appreciate the elongated Christmas season. After all of the work and preparations during Advent, I'm so glad there's reason to savor the season a little longer. After all of the fun of the past few weeks, I'm not quite ready to go back to regular life. Furthermore, I'm pooped! Thank goodness I am fully justified in keeping all of the decorations up for a while longer.

I love all of the traditions in our faith that are being passed down to our children. Yesterday Veronica had her first turn of putting the baby Jesus into the manger of our nativity scene as we sang Happy Birthday. I remember having that honor when I was a child. With traditions such as this, I have always looked forward to leading our children in their journey of faith.

What I didn't know is that at the same time, our children would also be leading me through my journey.

A couple of months ago, Joshua and Noah said they would both like to start attending daily Mass. This came as a great surprise to me. And internally, I initially thought something like, "Are you kidding me? You want me to get us all out of the house earlier?! Daily Mass is at 8:00 am!"

Furthermore, I have to admit that there was a time when I thought things like daily Mass were only for religious fanatics or something. It has only been in the last few years that I have developed a real, sincere love for Mass. But did that mean I was ready to get three kids up and ready to attend Mass by myself on weekdays in time for 8 am Mass? I thought one of the perks of homeschooling is that you don't have to get out the door so early!

But how do you tell your kids that? How can you simultaneously teach you children that we love God, that He is our best friend, that Church is our special place to be with God but also that we don't want to go there everyday? I couldn't. And now that we have been going and it is part of our routine, my love for Mass has grown and I am so glad when we go. We don't actually get there every morning. We work with our class schedule, other commitments, our health and state of tiredness, and probably get there three time a week or so.

The children aren't always excited about going. And they surely don't always behave. There was one morning where Jason was working from home and Joshua was especially tired. He knew that there was the option of staying home that day and said that he didn't want to go. I said that he needed to come with us and that if he was really tired and grumpy, he could pray about that in Church. He actually got into the car without any further argument, but was obviously not happy about it.

On our drive to Church, I asked him how he would feel if he was expecting a friend to come over and was really excited about it, but then canceled because they were too tired. He answered that he would be sad. I explained that's how God would feel if we blew off going to Church. His response was, "But sometimes it's haaaaard!"

Yes it is. I certainly have mornings that I don't feel up to it. But I think it's important to teach our kids that we don't give up practicing our faith when it gets hard, as it surely will. If we stop practicing our faith when it's hard, when it's not convenient, when we are too tired, when we are frustrated, irritated, impatient, angry or bored with God, then it may be more difficult to lean on that faith and to feel its strength and support when we need it most. Of course, that's much too difficult to explain to a seven-year-old.

Instead, I continued with the comparison of a friend coming to visit. I explained, "What if that friend was so excited about visiting you that they came even when it was really hard? When they were tired and their car ran out of gas and they had to drive through floods and a dragon tried to blow fire on their car and aliens attacked them? What if they still came after all of that, because they wanted to see you so much? How would you feel?"

"Really good," he replied. And in explaining this to my son, not only did he understand a little more, but so did I. Through my children's questions, they are often leading me.

Sometimes faith is hard. But with children, it's often pretty easy. Most mornings when I dress Veronica, she asks, "Church? Church?" She can't wait till the next time we get to go.

I asked the children on Christmas Eve if their hearts were ready for Jesus to come. Had they made room in their hearts for Jesus this Advent? Noah answered, "Jesus is already in our hearts." Well, yes. Yes he is.

Not only do my children provide inspiration when it comes to our faith, but even more often they provide humor. Each time I receive Communion with Veronica in my arms, she curiously asks, "Cracker?"

Veronica knows we are supposed to be quiet in Church, although this undoubtedly doesn't mean that she always is. At Christmas Eve Mass, when everyone stood and began to pray the Apostles' Creed, she glared at everyone, mortified that we were all talking, and whispered indignantly, "Shh! Stop it! Shh! Stop it!"

And when we finished praying the Our Father, she applauded and cheered.We all laughed, but really, it makes a whole lot of sense to cheer after that prayer.

If only we all had such childlike faith.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Yuletide 2012

Another fabulous Christmas. So many blessings. These pictures describe better than I can, each worth at least a thousand words.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Moving Passage

This passage has always moved me, but it brought more tears tonight than usual. From Richard Paul Evans' The Christmas Box . . .
By the time I reached home it was well past midnight. Mary's brother had arrived from London and in deference I had left them alone to share the last few minutes together. Jenna had been put to bed and Keri, not knowing when I would return, had sadly laid the Christmas packages under the tree. I sat down in the rocker in front of the illuminated Christmas tree and lay my head in my hands. Somewhere between the angel and Mary's house I had figured it out.

The first gift of Christmas. It just came. It came to my heart. The first gift of Christmas was love. A parent's love. Pure as the first snows of Christmas. For God so loved His children that He sent His son, that we might someday return to Him. I understood what Mary had been trying to teach me. I stood up and walked up the stairs where my little girl lay sleeping. I picked up her warm little body and, cradling her tightly in my arms, brought her back down to the den. My tears fell on her hair. My little girl. My precious little girl. How foolish I'd been to let her childhood, her fleeting, precious childhood slip away. Forever. In my young mind everything was so permanent and lasting. My little girl would be my little girl forever. But time would prove me wrong. Someday she'd grow up. Someday she'd be gone and I would be left with the memory of giggles and secrets I might have known.

Jenna took a deep breath and snuggled close for warmth. I held her little body tightly against mine. This was what it meant to be a father, to know that one day I would turn around and my little girl would be gone. To look upon the sleeping little girl and to die a little inside. For one precious, fleeting moment, to hold the child in my arms, and would that time stood still.

But none of that mattered now. Not now. Not tonight. Tonight Jenna was mine and no one could take this Christmas Eve away from me but me. How wise Mary had been. Mary, who knew the pain of a father sending his son away on the first Christmas morn, knowing full well the path that lay ahead. Mary understood Christmas. The tears in the Bible showed that. Mary loved with the pure, sweet love of a mother, a love so deep that it becomes the allegory for all other love. She knew that in my quest for success in this world I had been trading diamonds for stones. She knew, and she loved me enough to help me see. Mary had given me the greatest gift of Christmas. My daughter's childhood.
I share this now with you now in prayer. I pray that I may, and that all parents may, truly savor their children's childhood. Bask in it. Wallow in it. Soak it up. Our children are a gift from God and they are on loan. God-willing they will grow up into adults with hands that do not fold so easily within our own. We never know how long we may have with them. Don't rush it. Don't hurry it. For goodness sake, do all that you can to slow it down, for this phase will be gone too soon. Savor all of the joy that comes from parenthood.

Merry Christmas.

With Love-

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Reflection for Tonight

There are no words. But at the same time there are more than I can write down.

I don't usually write about things like this, feeling as though all of my thoughts are inadequate. Who am I to reflect on the events of this day? The sadness I feel is so miniscule to the heartache so many are experiencing on this night. But in honor of those children and in honor of their parents and all of their families, I am choosing to write. It seems better to reflect than to not.

All of the obvious questions run through my mind. Mostly, why? For some reason, this tragedy strikes a chord with me in a stronger, more raw way than others, surely largely due to having young children right now. Christmas time gives the illusion that this violence is somehow more cruel as it has occurred against the stark contrast of a backdrop of bright twinkle lights, romantic mistletoe, Jingle Bells, festive cocktail parties and family celebrations. The magic and joy of the season now somehow feel slightly wrong or at least the cruelest of ironies. But of  course, this would be horrific no matter the time of year.

I can wallow in this sadness a bit much. Or maybe it isn't wallowing. I don't know. I want to be strong and resilient. I want to appreciate as much as possible that I have absolutely no clue what those families are going through right now. But I also want to be a more compassionate person. I want to sincerely feel real joy for others' joy and good fortune. But compassion also brings feeling real agony for others' despair.

In this sadness, my mind slowly stumbles down a long, winding, dark and haunted road. What are those parents doing right now? I imagine them awake in their beds tonight, fruitlessly, fitfully and tearfully trying to get some rest. I imagine the Christmas presents that they'd already bought for their babies, never to be opened.

It's too much.

How do we handle this?

I only have a few, simple things that seem to help me and these are in no order. First, I stay informed, but then I turn the channel. For me, it is pointless and really counterproductive to listen to or read the details of the violence over and over.

Second, I stay busy. Idleness just leaves my mind too much opportunity to stumble down that road.

Third, I pray.

And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I try to cherish and savor my time with my children. I'm sure we all hugged our little ones more often and more tightly today.What else can we do?

Tonight, we went to the Y as a family. I took my anger out on Zumba. Then after dinner, we let the kids stay up late to enjoy a spontaneous walk in pajamas (and winter coats, hats, scarves and gloves) around the neighborhood to see the Christmas lights, drop off some food at the food bank and come home to hot cocoa.

Tonight, as I rocked Veronica, held her tight and sang "Away in a Manger," tears streamed down my face. We are so ridiculously blessed.

It feels strange that when there is so much hurt, the world just keeps on turning. Children still need to be fed. Dishes to be done. Christmas presents to be bought. Time doesn't actually stop, even though it should.

This night, my heart and prayers go out to all of the families in Connecticut. I wish I could do more.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Flower Girl Preview

Veronica's got a cold with a bad cough, making her a little more cranky than usual. In order to try and cheer her up, I thought she might want to try on her flower girl dress. When I asked, she responded, "Yeah. Shoes?" That's my girl :)

Not only did the dressing up cheer her up, but these photos will definitely be ones that I will look at when I need some cheering up . . .

Sunday, November 25, 2012

HTW Days

It's confession time.

I like to think I'm a pretty motivated person. I definitely don't see myself as lazy. For me, as for many of my readers I think, I tend to take on too much and have to really consider another activity or get-together before saying 'yes' to it.

For the most part, I'm very efficient. Jenny often can't believe how much I get done in a day. Sometimes others have communicated to me that they're impressed with what I do, especially when they find out that we homeschool.

What Jenny and the others don't know and what even Jason didn't totally understand until today is that I have HTW days. Let me explain . . .

I have a productivity cycle. (Don't worry. This is completely different than a reproductive cycle. While I am sharing some of my secrets in this post, I will not be heading in that direction. Phew!) In this cycle, I go, go, go without much of a break. This week was like that. As soon as one event or item was checked off the list, I was preparing for the next one. This is how I function most of the time. I like to be prepared and organized; meal planning and grocery shopping for two weeks at a time, getting clothes out and bags packed with necessary items for the next day's events the night before, getting the coffee maker prepped for the next morning at night, etc, etc. My brain seems to always be asking, "What else can I get done? What's next? How can I get more prepared for it?"

But of course I can't keep that up. No one could. So after a certain amount of time, I have an HTW day. What's HTW? Hit The Wall. The amount of time between my HTW days varies, depending on time availability, what my productivity level has been, stress levels and I'm sure, hormone levels. So yes, when I'm pregnant, there are definitely more HTW days.

In more detail, an HTW day looks like this: I find some minute discomfort and exaggerate it to myself and to others. A slight headache becomes so bothersome that I just can't do my life that day. Everything that I planned to get done that day gets put on hold. I watch too much TV; often movies and sitcoms that I've already seen ten times--Harry Potter, Sex and the City, Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Gone With the Wind, Overboard and Everybody Loves Raymond are some of my favorites. I eat crap. I don't exercise. The dishes stack up in the sink. The laundry piles up. Meals consist of the easiest possibility; leftovers, cereal, popcorn, cheese and crackers, whatever. I'm less patient and interactive with my children. I read more. I write more. I'm on Facebook more. Anything I don't feel up to doing, I cancel.

For instance, this morning when the alarm went off, my stomach felt just slightly upset. In my half-asleep state, I exaggerated this to myself and to Jason, saying that my stomach was really upset and I couldn't go to Church. After I took a TUMS, listened to Jason taking a shower and woke up some more, I decided to rally and join the family for Church.

But when we got home, I got back into pajamas and again blamed my upset stomach for why I couldn't take the dog for a run and asked Jason to take Kahlua and the kids out for a walk so that I could rest for a bit.

Sometimes, I'm even a productive rester :) While resting, I got real. I knew that my stomach was actually fine and that I wasn't being honest with myself. I realized that what I was feeling was just that I had HTW. Hit The Wall.

When Jason returned, I explained this to him and more. I often feel guilty for taking the day off like this. It's never planned. So in order to justify it, I will blow up a small headache or some other minor thing as a reason why I can't be productive or do what I had planned. Furthering my guilt is the dishonesty, small as it may be. And what's more, it is so needless. If I just told Jason that I had Hit The Wall, he would completely understand and would offer to help out all on his own.

In the past, I've felt that I needed a better excuse and thus the exaggeration. But after some reflection today, I've decided that I'm going to just skip the excuses. I'm going to just own it and be honest with myself and Jason about my productivity cycle. I work hard. And eventually I need to rest hard.

Today I am resting hard. While I can feel like this is irresponsible and lazy, it really is a good choice. First of all, I can. I absolutely can sit around in my pajamas today without much consequence and get back on top of my life tomorrow. And secondly, it is needed. It is needed because of everything I've done in the past week or so. It is further needed as preparation for the coming weeks.

Am I the only one who does this? It feels like I am. It feels like everyone else lives their productive lives without ever hitting the wall. It seems like everyone else makes wise, mature, healthy food choices all of the time. It seems like everyone else sticks to their exercise routines without fail. It seems like everyone else pops out of bed when their alarm goes off. It seems like everyone else joyfully plays with their children all day and enjoys every moment of it.

I realize that's not true. But it's the way it seems.

So that's it - Now you know a secret of mine. HTW Days. And now I will continue with watching the Kardashians :)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Let the Festivities Begin!

It's been such a great week. Such a wonderful holiday. And this morning was equally awesome.

It has become tradition to go see Santa the Saturday after Thanksgiving while Adrienne is with us. This way, we can get a great photo of the four of them together each year. We are creating quite a collection. 
This is actually Veronica's first Santa picture as I was about five months pregnant with her, taken two years ago. Jason and I had to hop in the picture at the last minute as Noah was scared of Santa. Adrienne wasn't with us because she had to go home unexpectedly.

We parked at Jason's work and took the street car into downtown, an event all on its own as the children and I had never ridden on it.

We walked over to Nordstrom and there didn't seem to be much of line. However, in retrospect I now understand that this was a deception. In the past couple of years, we have gone to Macy's as the line is MUCH shorter. But I do prefer Nordstrom's. It's where my family went when I was a girl. The Santa takes more time with the kids and is, simply put, a prettier Santa. But they no longer take reservations and the line is always ridiculous, hence the switch to Macy's.

This morning there didn't seem to be much of a line at Nordstrom's, so we headed in that direction. Upon arriving, we found out that you have to put your name in and they will text you once they are ready for you to enter Santa's Workshop. The wait was an hour long. We were okay with that and were somewhat committed to going to Santa at Nordstrom's at that point, as the children had all seen that he was there. I wanted to avoid the questions about how he can be taking pictures in two places at once. 

During the hour, we went on the carousel, took pictures in front of the tree at Westlake and shared some fresh doughnuts. It was after we had been texted to come back that I got really frustrated. Once in the workshop, we waited another hour! The kids (and the adults) were very tired of waiting by the time it was our turn. The wait at Macy's is usually about twenty minutes total.

Waiting for our turn with Santa, riding the carousel . . .

"Look how big that tree is!" thought Noah.
 I do have to say that Nordstrom's does a good job of helping parents during the wait. They had free cookies and cider and coloring sheets for the kids. We still may go back to Nordstrom's in future years, but I will anticipate the wait time by bringing more snacks, drinks and activities.

And really, the wait was worth it. Knowing that Veronica may be a little nervous about Santa, this week I have been showing pictures to her of Santa, talking about him and asking her if she wants to give him a hug. Her answer was always 'yes.'

So once we turned the corner and she could see him today, she couldn't wait to get to him. She started wriggling in my arms, I brought her over to him, she said, "Hello," and gave him an enormous hug. Even the staff at Nordstom's couldn't believe it. I explained how I had tried to prep her and they said they might add it to their tips on their web site. The picture was great and without tears, a feat that is not always possible with an 18 month old. Before we could leave, Veronica insisted on giving Santa one more hug. I love that girl so much.

I also got to speak to a five year old girl while we were waiting in line and was amused by her Christmas list of about ten things she was going to ask Santa for, including an iPod Touch and another baby, even though she has about a million of them at home. Wow. When our boys were asked what they wanted, they both answered with their one toy that they would like for Christmas. Even Santa was surprised and asked if there was anything else. They actually said no! I was very surprised and also pretty relieved :)

It's been a great start to our holiday season. Tomorrow Jason takes Adrienne home, which is hard because it's such a short visit. But we will have her again the week after Christmas, so at least the wait won't be too long. And while he is gone for a lot of the day, I plan to relax and read my book after all of our holiday action this week. :)

Happy Holidays!
All dressed up with many fun places to go!

All tuckered out after all of the festivities.