Category Archives: Faith

And Just How Is This Supposed to Work?

One of the challenges I’m facing as a new mother (he’s 9 months old: can I still claim to be “new” at this?) is figuring out how to respond faithfully and responsibly to the What Ifs that Sam has introduced to my life. While he’s much more hardy and capable than he was last spring, Sam is still so physically vulnerable, and it seems like the world is a maze of dangerous situations and hazardous materials. And I know that children grow, and that some day he’ll have the walking thing down and the reason necessary to avoid most obvious perils. But what if someone bullies him? Or a girl breaks his heart? Or, God forbid, he starts driving?! It never ends.

Most days, I can keep the fear under control. But every now and then we’ll have a close call (none serious–yet) or a troubling incident (which was probably nothing) that shatters my illusions of control over his small, precious life. And then I wonder: Does this anxiety grow exponentially with each additional child? How do parents with large families handle the stress? How does Michelle Duggar set foot outside the house, not to mention deal with attention from the national media and its potential effects on her children?

As a teacher, I’ve seen the kind of damage caused by “helicopter parents”, the ones who hover in the background and swoop in to save their child from any difficult situations or negative consequences. Their children become habitual complainers who cannot handle criticism or deal effectively with disappointment or setbacks. Generally, they’re unpleasant and unhappy.

I don’t want that kind of life for my son: I want to teach my children to handle difficulties with wisdom instead of fear. I want to take the Love and Logic route. But I can’t do that as long as my own choices are based on the worried what-ifs. And, truthfully, I AM free from a lot of the worries that plague other mothers I know: I don’t sanitize Sam’s pacifier every time he drops it, and I don’t require people to wash their hands before touching him. Germ risks don’t bother me. (Much.) It’s the things you can’t calculate, random things like falls and SIDS and car accidents that make me catch my breath.

So, experienced parents out there, how do you handle the risks inherent in raising a child? How do you know when to follow the caution of our Just-In-Case culture and when to (responsibly) let go? More importantly, how do you handle the fear when you have so much to lose?

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Filed under Faith, Mothering, Uncategorized

Happiness

While alone in a quiet house on a Sunday afternoon, sipping a Fat Tire and waiting for my family to return from a walk, I had a startling revelation. Pleasantly heavy with a delicious birthday dinner, (prepared by my mother, who visited this weekend), refreshed from a peaceful nap, and warmed in my heart by messages of love and good will from friends all over, I realized, yesterday, that I am truly happy. And, moreover, I suspect that I have been for quite some time.

I don’t mention it much because I don’t remember it often. Somehow, I manage to avoid the pleasure of contentment by keeping frantically busy washing tiny socks and checking mundane chores off a never-ending list. I seek happiness in the tepid thrill of minor accomplishments, foolishly ignoring the pervading peace already here.

It is not, I’m afraid, very fashionable or even polite to profess happiness these days. People seem to assume that such a blatantly positive attitude betrays hopeless naivete about the myriad problems facing our generation or–worse–a lack of concern for the suffering.  Many also labor under the assumption that if we don’t have a litany of personal problems to share and suffer through, than, well, there won’t be much left to talk about. So we smile patiently, and explain how everything is fine, or would be if the mechanic didn’t charge so much or if this case of the sniffles would disappear or if our bosses didn’t expect us to do quite so much work. Graciously accepting the mild pity offered in return, we rest comfortably on our pillars of martyrdom and quietly dare our friends to trump our set of woes.

But I’m done with replying to the casual “And how are YOU?” with a list of difficulties that temper my happiness: none of the minor problems that crop up in daily life deserve to be first on my list of conversation topics. I can bear testimony to much greater, and vastly more interesting truths.

It’s easy to say that, I admit, when I’ve just received a bunch of lovely gifts and I’m well-rested and my fridge contains over half of a decadent chocolate Kahlua cake. (Cake which I will gladly share: yes, I’m talking to YOU, local pregnant friends. Chocolate glaze. Coffee ice cream. You know you want it.) But the glow of birthday bliss has, in this case, served as a much-needed reminder of the graces I enjoy year-round.

Some of you know that my perspective on aging is traditionally tainted by a measure of distaste and more than a little fear.  The gray hairs sneaking in around my temples and my complete lack of interest in trying on jeggings remind me that I’m slowly becoming decrepit and dead. (I know, I know–just bear with me). But this year I can honestly say that turning 27 is okay with me. Because, for the first time—thanks to my husband, my son, my parents, and my ever-loving friends—I actually believe that this will be the best year yet.

 

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Filed under Beauty, Faith

So They Say…

People lied to me a lot when I was pregnant. Mothers of my middle school students were the worst culprits. “Pineapple will get contractions going for sure,” one said. “Your adrenaline will take care of the pain if you skip the medications!” claimed another. And one of my personal favorites: “You really do get used to smelling like sour milk and poop, eventually.” Lies, lies, and more lies.  Oh, I know they meant well, but that doesn’t make it right.

In my ninth month, when my belly was at its biggest and the swelling and water retention were at the max, women started feeding me this line left and right: “Don’t worry–You’ll get your body back!”

Of all the whoppers I’ve been told, this was the worst.

I’ve been suspicious for a while, but a pre-summer swimsuit trial run last night confirmed it: I’ve got a body back, all right, but it’s certainly not mine.  My hips don’t go out to there, do they? My body doesn’t have those stretch marks, or that tummy, and it’s about fifteen pounds smaller, overall.

Perhaps I misunderstood.  See, when they told me I’d get my body back, I thought they were saying everything would return to the way it was before. Maybe they were just telling me that someday I’d see my feet again. People don’t always say precisely what they mean.

It’s hard, because I’m so used to thinking of my body as a direct extension of myself. If my body is in good shape, then I must be in good shape. If my figure isn’t looking great, then, by extension, there is something wrong with me. I acknowledge that this isn’t a particularly mature or healthy way of thinking, but it’s what I’m accustomed to. I’m used used to being more attractive then I am at present and—trivial, vain, and ridiculous though it may be–I miss how I used to look.  I tried to explain this to my husband yesterday, but I don’t think I succeeded. Maybe men don’t make such a strong connection between appearance and identity. Is this an exclusively feminine mindset?

There is another dimension to the lie about getting your body back. Your size diminishes, certainly, but any mother who nurses her baby knows that you lose even more autonomy after the birth. Sam is nearly twice as big now as he was when he was born and all of his nourishment and substance has come from me. If my body is an extension of myself, this little guy is still, in some senses,a direct extension of my body (save a few ounces of formula and some chromosomes from his dad).  He needs me just as much now as he did before.

And, looking at Sam sleeping next to me–chubby little arms stretched above his head—I wonder if I really want my body back after all.

12 pounds 2 ounces of adorable.

I might complain that I can’t be away from him for more than 3 hours…but, truthfully, I miss him long before I get home. I will cry and cry and cry when he stops nursing. Goodness, I can’t even think about it.  Autonomy isn’t all its cracked up to be. Some kinds of independence aren’t worth celebrating with fireworks.

Maybe there’s something to the appearance/identity connection after all; maybe the physical changes that come with having children are a reflection of some personal growth that hasn’t quite caught up yet. If my body is dedicated to serving my family first, maybe my spirit will follow.

People told me a lot of lies while I was pregnant, but this is the platitude I heard most often: “Becoming a mother shows you just how selfish you are.”

And that one is definitely true.

 

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Filed under Domesticity, Faith, Marriage, Mothering

Bibliophile Break Up

I can see it out of the corner of my eye–cumbersome, yet stately–resting silently on the coffee table. The flimsy front cover curls up at the corner, evidence of my ungentle treatment. The spine, not yet broken, shows a worrisome crease around the fifty-page mark. Its gargantuan mass dwarfs all other volumes in the vicinity. And so it sits, inanimate and imposing, mocking me.

Oh, Boswell’s Life of  Samuel Johnson, why won’t you let me be??

I never should have started it: this whole thing is my fault. Why didn’t I just leave you to spend your days in obscurity on the dusty shelf of eighteenth century British Literature. Sure, Whalen considered excerpts of you important for Victorian Literature, but why wasn’t I content with those tidbits? Why did I think I could tackle you? Your rambling, endless pages?

Samuel Johnson Reading My Dear John Letter

Now I can never escape you. Every other book I read will make sly allusions to your content, bits of wit hidden within your thousand pages of tiny print. Dickens will never shut up about your wisdom. Chesterton will never get over your jokes. All of my favorite British authors love you: why can’t I love you, too? Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, why can’t we ever be together THAT way?

Now you must join the ranks of other prestigious volumes and authors that I have failed  in my career as a reader, teacher, and lover of great literature. Fortunately for you, the very names that make me cringe ought to provide you with good company. You’ll have the entire works of D.H. Lawrence by your side, I’m afraid. And while you may find Rudyard Kipling quite enjoyable companionship, Joyce’s Ulysses might prove a little too radical for your tastes. Virginia Wolfe will not leave one of your traditional sentiments unchallenged, but you might find a kindred spirit in the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne (except the Scarlet Letter, which alone is exempt from this list of rejected geniuses).

Yes, Boswell’s Johnson, (may I call you that?) my failures are impressive and varied, especially considering the four years of undergraduate work wherein I paid thousands of dollars to be told what to read. A fortunate few have escaped the legions of important, yet neglected classics. Moby Dick used to lead the line-up, but he has broken rank: my husband persuaded me of Melville’s merits, over time, and last year I found the will to get through it. (The experience was not unlike Jonah’s three days of symbolic death, but I was a fool in love! Now I’m just in love.) Anna Karenina broke free during my first trimester reading binge lat fall (though, honestly, War and Peace could have easily taken her place). I also avoided Steinbeck’s East of Eden for years, only to discover its brilliance in my mid-twenties.

What I’m trying to tell you, Boswell’s Johnson, is that you should never give up hope. Just because I’m not ready to be with you right now, doesn’t mean that this is forever. Yes, the sight of your poorly designed Oxford World Classic edition makes me shudder today, but I won’t always feel that way. Someday, I’ll read you. But, today is not that day, Boswell’s Johnson.

Today is not….that….day.

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Filed under Faith, Reading, Witticism, Writing

Neophyte No Longer

My term as a neophyte officially ends today.

The past year has been exceptionally rich in sacraments. Last Easter marked my first confession, my confirmation and my first communion. The months immediately following were devoted to preparing for the sacrament of marriage. And this year, on the Monday of Holy Week, we were able to celebrate the baptism of our first born son. We cannot, of course, maintain this pace of sacraments, or we’ll arrive at last rites far too quickly. But they’ve made for a wonderful start.

The ebb and flow of the liturgical year is becoming a more familiar mark of the passage of time than turning over pages on the calendar. I love the intentional focus of each season: the simplicity of Advent, the warmth of Christmastide, the stark solemnity of Lent, and the burst of joy at Easter. With all the solemnities and feast days in between, we never lack for reminders of the hardships and blessings of following Christ whole-heartedly.

While preparing for one of his recent lectures on the tragic Death of a Salesman, my husband remarked that the curse of Eve is not simply pain in child birth (though that one IS a doozy), but more so, the pain of passing on the curse, of seeing our children succumb to sin and suffer the consequences of sin in their own lives and in the community. It’s tempting, as a new mother, to let fear of all the “what-ifs” in Sam’s future overwhelm me: What if he gets sick? What if he becomes a rebellious teenager and hates his parents? What if he doesn’t like to read? Terrifying possibilities.

How grateful I am, especially now, that we have been provided with the sacraments, with these physical signs of the spiritual realities. Seeing my child blessed with holy water and anointed with the fragrant chrism oil was not just a comforting ritual: from that moment, he has been truly free from the curse of original sin. And as he grows in understanding, I pray he’ll come to claim that truth for himself.

Little Samuel, all dolled up for his first Easter Mass

And how grateful I am, too, for the communion of saints! My godmother, Eve, has been so encouraging through RCIA and this whole year of changes and celebrations. And now one of my dearest friends, Amy, has joined our little family as Sam’s godmother. Their prayers, along with those of our patrons St. Francis de Sales and St. Philip Neri and the prayers of all our friends and family, have certainly blessed Zach and I as we’ve adjusted to marriage, and now parenthood.

So, Happy Easter, dear friends and readers. May this joyful season nourish fresh hope and new life in your spirits.

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Filed under Beauty, Catholicism, Faith, Friendship, Marriage, Mothering

He Only Asked Him Not to Leave His Cell

A practical experience of acedia is described by the desert hermit Heraclides, who received a brother troubled by restlessness in his new cell. Heraclides advised him not to follow an extreme regimen of self-discipline but to eat, drink, and sleep as needed. He only asked that the brother not leave his cell…

Simply stay where you are: A small thing to ask, right? But the young brother couldn’t do it. His cabin fever got so bad that he saw demons lurking in ever corner, even under the covers of his bed. Terrified by the vision, he disobeyed the sagely advice of his elder and ran to Heraclides’ door. Though the hermit was displeased and made him sit outside all night, he finally had pity on the weaker brother and showed him the path to spiritual maturity.

In January, I resolved to fight against acedia. Knowing my tendency towards slothfulness, especially when alone for many hours of the day, I’ve been intentional about using my time well in work and leisure.  For the most part, this experiment has gone fairly well. My daily task lists diminished as my belly grew, and now that Sam is here, I am grateful to do two or three things a day in addition to feeding, changing, and holding him.

Yet acedia may loom over the most orderly of days. Restlessness persists, despite the most intentional use of time and resources. Answering a vocation to stay put when you’re itching to move on is just as hard as following a call to some far off mission.  Lately, I’ve felt a certain solidarity with that poor acedia-ridden monk: even though he wasn’t requiring a hard life of himself in his cell, remaining in one place was just too much for him.

I’m accustomed to four-year stints: four years in high school, four years in college, and now I’m wrapping up my fourth year in Colorado Springs. I struggled through my freshman initiation to the working world, got more comfortable during my sophomore year, enjoyed the settled satisfaction of a junior and now….well…I’m ready to graduate, to move on to the next thing.  Is this an acedian habit of mind?

Springtime in Colorado hardly inspires hope for new life: a few bold crocuses peek out of the gravel here and there; early daffodils droop after a cold snap; some tint of color returns to the patches of brown grass. There’s no burst of color, no refreshing rains, no encouraging warmth. A robin might have the temerity to whistle a tune once or twice, but the dry air soon leaves him parched.  (April is the cruelest month, indeed.)

But lilacs blossom eventually, even in these dead lands. We just have to wait until late May or early June for spring to settle in around here. Maybe I need to settle in a little, too.


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Filed under Catholicism, Courage, Domesticity, Faith, Reading

Unlikely Response

Dear Management,

Thank you for your courteous reminder of the impending termination of my lease. Obviously, we still disagree regarding the original terms, and thus the original time frame, of said lease. As previously stated, I shall remain on the premise until I’m good and ready to depart. I trust you will value our excellent tenant/landlord relationship enough to avoid taking drastic steps to evict me.

Regarding your request for feedback, I DO have a few small suggestions about your service to future inhabitants.

– First of all, please keep in mind that it is an honor to secure a reliable renter in today’s economy: off-hand remarks about the inconveniences of maintaining the property are not appreciated.

– Speaking of maintaining the property, try to understand while all men are created equal, the same is not true for all brands of prenatal vitamins. If you can’t keep it down, it’s not helping either of us out.

– Likewise, if you’re not comfortable with the premises being routinely inspected by professionals, you can imagine that the poking and prodding and monitoring involved in the process isn’t enjoyable for your tenant, either. Consider less invasive caretakers next time.

– If you really want to evict a tenant, you really have to commit to the process. This whole bumpy car rides/spicy foods/ frequent walking deal is, obviously, ineffective and, frankly, a little insulting. You can officially induce or you can wait: pick one.

I hope my suggestions are not too indelicate, but considering the circumstances, I feel that honesty is the best policy. I do appreciate your attempts to ensure my comfort during the past nine months. In retrospect, if I weren’t so comfortable here, I might have departed last week! Funny, isn’t it?

See you sooner or later,

Baby

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