Thursday, December 20, 2012

About last Friday.

I've written, deleted, rewritten and redeleted this so many times because in the end what is there to say? Writers all over the internet (here for one that helped me to think about how to talk to my kids) are discussing this more eloquently then I could ever hope to and I find all my writing ends up being about me me me...when of course this is not about me at all. In the end, however, I found some peace in the writing of it, so here it is anyway.

I am in stunned disbelief as the news unfolds on Friday. At first I get bits and pieces of it on the radio in the car, then more when I get home and turn on the TV.  I watch as the newscasters, as our president, fight to keep thier composure as they discuss what has happened.

I give my 11 year old son a big hug at pick up on Friday. He eyes me like I am crazy. "What was that for?" he asks, doing a quick check to make sure no other 5th graders are in the vicinity. "I just needed a hug," I tell him as he gets in the car.

I put the 4 year old to bed after a long day and he asks for one more book. An obvious delay tactic...probably the oldest in the world right after "I need a drink of water." It doesn't usually work.  I think about the glass of wine waiting for me downstairs and the chance to put my feet up.  He is all snuggled in his bed, his blanket and stuffed animal next to him, looking so small, trying to put off the moment when I will leave him alone to go to sleep.  I pull one more book from the shelf.

My 7 year old son wants to teach me to play Minecraft. He's been asking me to do this for weeks and even though there are several other things I should be doing and at least a few other things that I want to be doing, on Saturday I announce, "Today is the day. Get me set up and teach me!" For a full hour I sit there and listen to the seemingly infinite details of the game and it's intricacies and in the end I still don't get the point of it but he is so happy to be the expert, to help me play. I made his weekend.

My husband walks in on me wrapping those Christmas pajamas on Sunday afternoon and I'm crying. What if one of them wasn't here to wear them on Christmas Eve? What if, what if, what if....

I sit in adoration, praying a rosary for the victims. With each new decade of Hail Marys I have to breathe deep to keep the tears at bay. As I sit in silence after I'm finished, however, I have the image of Mary gathering the children in her arms to comfort them. I know it sounds a bit cheesy, like a bad paint by number (and I certainly know how the me of 20 years ago would have rolled her eyes and mentally dismissed someone else admitting such a thing) but it wasn't like that at all. It was beautiful. (It was the same after my parents died. During  the darkest, lonliest parts I felt like Mary was with me, standing right there beside me, holding me and loving me unconditionally as mothers do). The image is so warm and comforting and I'm just so so grateful for it that the tears I've been holding back come out anyway. I know that the loss of a child is so much more then anything I am feeling, and that my understanding of what that must be like is so mercifully incomplete. How could I or anyone have enough faith to get through it? What could possibly be enough to comfort those mothers? Even God's Grace, His infinite can there be enough?

I'm having a really hard time dealing with this. Like a lot of people, I'm sure, I feel like I should do something...something. It is hard to know what. Obviously something is wrong in our society. This kind of thing shouldn't be happening, and yet it is. President Obama said, "We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law - no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. But that can't be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this."

And that's the thing. Some people want to paint this as just a mental health issue, a gun control issue, a violence in society issue. Their hurt and anger and fear are leading them to try to boil it down to one thing, one thing that can be fixed or solved. One thing that if we could just change it we wouldn't be broken anymore. But of course it is never that simple.

Which is the other side of the coin. We cry, "It is too complex, too complicated, too late. How can we fix this? What can we do?" I understand this feeling, but we must not give into it. If there is any country whose whose citizens should know how to balance rights and responsibilites, individuals and communities, it should be us. It isn't always easy to live here, to balance our right to independence with out responsibility to each other, but I have to believe we are up to the task. If not us, then who? Change is difficult but we can no longer afford to take the easy way out, to throw up our hands and complain that it is too hard like some stubborn, petulant child who wants someone else to solve their problems for them.  Our society must change, our laws must change, our mental health care options must change, and it is up to each and every one of us as members of this society to see to it that it happens. Our leaders have thier part to play and it seems at this early date like maybe they are stepping up. I hope so. As a member of this society, however,  I'm called to do my part too.  Most likely it will be a small part, something right in front of me. I just have to recognize it, step up and act when called.

Meanwhile I do what I can.  I hug my children, even if they don't want me to right then. I read the extra book. I take time to listen to what they think is important to tell me even if it is mind numbingly dull (what-is-up-with-minecraft-the-people-who-came-up-with-this-were-high-what-do-you-mean-I-have-to-build-a-torch-out-of-sticks-and-coal-there-are-too-many-details-for-anyone-to-play-this-stupid-game-gah!)

And I pray. I pray for my own children. I pray for our society, for our leaders, for the wisdom and the compassion and the fortitude to take what will be the more complicated and difficult path to make things better. I try to pray for the gunman and his family because so many things must have gone wrong to get him to that point (I am not very successful at this. It may take a better person than me to do it...I am still so angry).  I pray for the victims and thier families even though I know that every bit of God's love and compassion and mercy and grace that could possibily be given to anyone is being given to them already. It doesn't really feel like enough but it is something.

"Listen. Put it into your heart, my smallest child,
that the thing that frightened you,the thing that afflicted you is nothing:
Do not let it disturb you...
Am I not here, I who am your mother?
Are you not under my shadow and protection?
Am I not the source of your joy?
Are you not in the hollow of my mantle,
in the crossing of my arms?
Do you need something more?"

-Our Lady of Guadalupe, 1531

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

This is an unusual amount of crazy, even for me.

Every year on Christmas Eve my kids get to open one gift, the "First Gift of Christmas!!!" if you will. It is always the same thing: Matching Pajamas for all three boys. Hey...I like me a good tradition, I like practical gifts,  and I like a good photo op. This covers all of the above.

Each year around Thanksgiving I say to myself, "Self? This might be the year it all falls apart." There are seven years between my oldest boy and my youngest boy, you see, and eventually I am just not going to be able to find affordable matching pajamas that fit all of them. The big one will be too big and the little one will still be too little and I will have to move on to plan B. I am not looking forward to plan B. Plan B involves one of the following: Paying a premium online for matching pajamas (would it kill retailers like Target to carry matching pajamas in big boy and little boy/toddler/baby sizes? There is a market for this I promise...if you offer it we will BUY!), buying matching t-shirts and sewing pajama pants myself (I don't know how to do this), or giving it up altogether (which is unacceptable!).

This year I was especially worried. The older boy just keeps getting older, and the youngest one is still in toddler sizes. As the mom in a family of all boys I feel like it is important for me to keep these traditions going. I need to give them something to remember fondly/chuckle about/tell thier therapists/do with thier own children when they grow up. So when I approached the task of looking for this year's pajamas I was already in a state...I'm not saying this excuses the insanity that follows but maybe it EXPLAINS it a little.

Stage 1: The Beginning. Monday Night, 11pm

An online retailer with very expensive pajamas is having a cyber monday sale. I have never ordered from them before but my friends who have love their stuff. It is a pretty good sale (40% off with an additional email code for 15% off which makes me feel better about shipping because I really hate to pay for shipping. HATE IT). Thinking that I don't want to spend all of December searching for pajamas that I may not even be able to find anyway, I buy them. I like them (although I don't love them)  and it feels pretty good to have the job done so early. And, with all those discounts and the rave reviews of this brand, I must have gotten a good deal. Right?

 Total cost for Stage 1: $88.00.

Stage 2: The Grass is Always Greener: Tuesday Morning, 10 am

While at a mall I find pajamas for the boys that I love. LOVE. The smallest size might be a little big for the 4 year old and the largest size might be a tad small for the 11 year old but these pajamas are really cute. There is only one in each size that I need. PANIC! I call and cancel the online order while standing in the store holding the new pajamas in my hands, just in case someone with the very same idea might walk in at that exact moment and snatch them up. I then go to purchase the new ones which I think are on sale (there are signs all over the store proclaiming 30% off this and 50% off that!) but SURPRISE! these ones are not on sale. Of course. I talk myself into buying them anyway because a) I have already cancelled the others and b) They are really cute and c) If I wait for a sale they will run out of the sizes I need for sure and d) she has already rung them up.

Total cost for stage 2: $140.00

Stage 3: Regret: Tuesday Night, ALL FRAKIN' NIGHT LONG

I do not sleep well Tuesday night. I have shady, unspecific anxiety-ridden dreams that wake me up several times. I can't remember the dream and I am just awake enough to know I am anxious about something (Did I set the alarm? Do I have a dentist appointment? Did I lose one of the children?) but not awake enough to figure out that everything is actually fine (at least everything important) and after some  half-asleep fretting I lay back down only to wake up an hour later and do it all over again. ALL. NIGHT. LONG. The first words out of my mouth upon waking are "I"m still really tired" followed immediately by, "I've got to take those pajamas back". My husband (who did raise his eyebrows at the amount spent in stage 2 but is willing to indulge me in my need to MAKE CHRISTMAS MEMORIES! FOR THE CHILDREN!) suggests that if I'm having trouble sleeping he can help with that...if I know what he means.

Total cost for Stage 3: One good night's sleep

Stage 4: Where the Crazy Sets In: Wednesday Morning, 8:30am

I call expensive online retailer back to reorder my less than 24 hours ago cancelled order. The lady on the phone is super nice and assures me that this kind of thing happens all the time. I have no idea if this is true or not but it makes me feel better so God bless her for saying it anyway. We get throug the ordering process and my total is more than it was on Monday. The 40% off sale is still going but the 15% off part was a cyber Monday special and she can't honor it. This takes away the feeling that I am getting a really good deal and "free" shipping. Still the new price is less than the $140.00 worth of sleep deprevation I am currently paying so I go for it.

Total cost for Stage 4: $105.00-ish...something like that. I was pretty tired.

Stage 5: Total Insanity but SO WORTH IT!: Wednesday morning 11am

I head back to the mall to return the expensive pajamas. I can feel myself relax as soon as they hand me the receipt for the refund back to my card. Whatever it is in my psyche that can't stand to pay full price (and over-priced at that) settles down. On my way out to the car I stop by another store and there I find a third set of pajamas. The sizes are right, I have bought that brand  before so I know the quality is good, I like them less than the pairs I loved but equally as much as the ones I currently have ordered and the total cost for all three pairs (they are 50% off)  is CHEAPER THAN ONE PAIR FROM FANCY ONLINE RETAILER.

Yeah. I called online retailer back AGAIN and cancelled the order AGAIN and they were very nice about it AGAIN. Seriously, they get points for nice over there. I then bought the pajamas for this year and I slept the sleep of the bargain-finding-just, yes I did. I also took all the tags off and washed them because I have had enough of thinking about this thank-you-very-much.

Total cost for Stage 5: $36.00. Boo-ya!

Monday, April 16, 2012

I have a friend whose child's middle name is Tiberious. I didn't go THAT far.

Kirk: Captain of the Enterprise, huh?
Picard: That's right
Kirk: Close to retirement?
Picard: I'm not planning on it.
Kirk: Well let me tell you something. Don't! Don't let them promote you. Don't let them transfer you! Don't let them do anything that takes you off the bridge of that ship, because while you're can make a difference.

Star Trek Generations 1994

I am going to geek out right now. I am going to talk about Star Trek and teaching and churchy stuff. I have never claimed to be anything but a nerd and I'm afraid today it is really going to show.

I love Star Trek. Love. Before my husband and I were burdened (blessed!)with these children and their constant need for food and clothing and supervision, we used to go to Vegas often and stay at the Hilton because of Quark's Bar. (Side note: When they opened the Star Trek Experience there we went with several other friends that were fans of the show and one friend who was indifferent but was just along for the ride. She says one of her favorite memories of us is the look on our faces when we stepped onto the bridge of the Enterprise for the first time. "Pure dumbstruck joy", she called it.) I have named my pets after characters. I have downloaded apps to make my electronic devices sound more like tricorders. I have a favorite captain (Long Live Picard!) and have to been known to order my tea, "Earl". We have Star Trek uniforms (which we only wear on Halloween, swearsies!). I do not go as far as some (I know no Klingon) but find it difficult to pass up the stray episode or movie when flipping channels no matter how late it is.

There are several quotes that have stuck with me throughout the years, one of them being the quote above. It seems to sum up how I feel about education. Truly great teachers can be almost miraculous forces in the lives of their students, and while we always need good people higher up I always felt the loss of the truly great classroom teacher who got promoted quite keenly. It was on the bridge (as it were), in the day to day reality of the classroom where those teachers really made a difference. I can't claim to have ever been in the "miraculous" category, but did always feel that it there was no other place I was called to be in education but in the classroom, face to face with the kids. It was there that I felt I could do the most good, where I could make a difference.

I am sure this is true with other jobs. Nursing? Police Officers? Priests?

Yup. Priests. You guys, our parish priest is one of the great ones.

When we first moved here I was new to Catholicism. Well, that's not true. I had been a Catholic all my life but had taken a taken a leave from it for a good long while. I had spent most of my adult life with a hefty portion of doubts. I was suspicious. Uncertain. Jaded. It wasn't until my children were born that I had started to reconsider Catholicism, to re look at things I had dismissed previously and see them with a new light. I had just celebrated the sacrament of Confirmation before we moved, just started to feel like maybe there was something here that was real.It is more accurate to say that Catholicism felt new to me.

And then we came here. To a faith community that is welcoming and encouraging. I've made friends here that have listened to my doubts, to my questions and shared with me their own. I have felt supported and loved and my faith has grown and solidified from something that was slippery, precarious, something that might disappear under too much scrutiny or trial to something strong, steady, almost tangible. Father Steve was a big part of that. The honesty, humor, faith, and love he brings to each Mass (and to all the other things he does as our parish priest) are truly inspiring. He has helped to create a community here that is unlike anything I've ever been a part of. He is only a part of this, of course, we are all responsible, but he is an important part. He is loved by parishioners and students of the school and has touched the lives of so many of us. More than just talking the talk (his homilies are good y'all!) he walks the walk. He has helped create that feeling of "home" in our church, helped us all feel welcomed and loved on (at least) a weekly basis. He is an excellent parish priest.

And they went and promoted him for it. We are heartbroken. And yet:

"Change is the essential process of all existence" -Spock

And so. As much as I am selfishly sad for our loss I am happy as well. Because he is going to be really good at what they want him to do. Amazing actually.  I know he will make a difference there as well. It would have been hard for us to let him go for anything less. Change is hard but necessary. We are called as Catholics to love each other. Even more than that we are called to go forth and find new ways and new people to love. We are called to be not just ordinary and comfortable but extraordinary and amazing, which can sometimes be uncomfortable. We are, all of us,  "on the bridge" as well...on the front lines of our faith every single day with every interaction we have with another human being. If our faith is truly strong, if we can remember to walk the walk, it can weather fact it can bring us closer to the extraordinary and amazing then ever.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The New Year

The past two weeks were nice. Really nice. I would even say that I just had one of my best Christmas breaks ever.

I'm sure that seems strange to those of you who know me well since this Christmas was the first since both my parents passed away. Last Christmas, six months after the death of my dad, was so hard. Watching my mom's health take a steep nose dive while taking the brunt of the rage she felt over my dad's death (well, my sister got her fair share of that too) made last Christmas break one of the most difficult two weeks of my life. I feel guilty for saying that this Christmas was better than last, than when my mom was with us, but it was.

This year, while I missed them both, the sadness was sort of an undercurrent and what I felt strongest was just...calm. Everyone here had colds...just passed it right around the family. Nothing serious but just enough to slow us down, keep us home. We hung out in our pajamas until lunch, we threw out the usual schedules and just went with it. This is not like me, I LIKE ME A GOOD SCHEDULE, but it was a nice change. We took a four day road trip to walk around the mission the 4th grader was assigned (we live in a town with a mission but no...that would be too easy) and the kids were just so easy to travel with. They slept well, for the most part they got along, no one needed diapers or special food or a special bed. We were able to see things and eat food that all of us could enjoy, not just the short set. I was relaxed and dealt with inevitable bumps that came our way in a calm and pleasant manner. If the three year old wanted to spend breakfast looking at the giant fish in the hotel pond instead of eating then whatever...I just gave him a banana in the car later. Even though the trip brought another round of colds to the family for the new year, we used that time to put Christmas away and putter around the house in sweats and get ready for real life to start back up.

Real life.

The kids went back to school this morning and it is almost 10 am so that means I've been back to my real life for all of 4 hours and I can already feel my sense of calm slipping away.

Wait! Come back! Come back magic bubble of calm. Come back the relaxed me who had perspective, who could go with the flow. Come back version of me that didn't say things like " Go brush your teeth. Seriously, you need to go brush your teeth. Brush. Your. Teeth. BRUSH YOUR TEETH WE HAVE TO LEAVE IN FIVE MINUTES ARE YOU KDDING ME WHY DO YOU MAKE MY VOICE GET LIKE THIS GO BRUSH YOUR TEETH AAARGGGGGHHH!!!"


I can't do anything about real life. It is what it is. There is (almost) always going to be someplace we have to be or a dozen things that need to get done. So my goal for 2012 is to hold onto the calm relaxed me...even just a little bit of her. Real life being what it is, our need to be at school by 8 isn't going anywhere. My only option is to change things about myself and the way I view the situation. For two weeks my voice didn't get LIKE THIS ARRRGGGHHH! and it was nice. I look at this list of resolutions not so much as a list of things I have to do or should do but as a list of tools to help me be that lovely mother and wife I was when I was calm. I WANT TO BE THAT LADY...SHE WAS NICE. My family probably wants her back too.

(Before #1). Focus more on God: I am adding this in later from my phone because I can't believe I forgot it. Christmas is all about God and we spent more time than usual praying and talking about God. Maybe that had something (everything) to do with the calm! Duh.

1. Be purposeful about how I spend my evenings: Over break I did not automatically have the TV on after the kids went to bed. I turned it on if there was a movie or something I really wanted to watch but fairly often I chose to do something else instead. I got a lot done. It was quiet. It was productive. It was relaxing.

2. Listen to more music: I listend to a lot of music while we were home during vacation and rediscovered Pandora. I don't always remember to turn on music but I should more often. There is not a better (cheap, legal, non-addictive, healthy) mood altering substance out there than music unless it is #3...

3. Exercise. It is a cliche, I know, but it works. Go to the Y...which leads me to #4...

4. Leave the house in the evenings:. In the winter when it gets dark earlier I convince myself that if it is dark it is too late/not worth it to leave the house. Untrue! 7pm in the winter is the same as 7pm in the summer, just darker. Go out. Go to the Y, go to a movie, go to adoration, go to a bookstore, go meet a friend for coffee...just go. Over Christmas break I had to go out in the evenings when I could leave the boys with thier dad to do some holiday shopping and it was a good break to be out on my own. Keep doing that.

5. Come home after preschool drop off: I have such a limited time alone that often I feel I have to run all over town to get stuff done while they are at school. If I spend some time at home focusing on things here, however, the rest of the day and the rest of the week go much better which leads me to #6...

6. Plan: Dinner is not just going to happen so stop being surprised every afternoon at 5 when nothing magically appears (same goes for breakfast and lunch, by the way). That feeling of "Shouldn't someone have thought of this earlier and defrosted some chicken or something?"...the answer is yes. Yes, YOU should hae thought of it earlier.

7. Plan for the fun stuff too: Plan vacations, big ones and long weekends, with the girls or with the family. Plan date nights. Plan Girl's Night Outs and Girl's Night In and play dates and to have friends over for dinner. Do not fail to plan them and then be grumpy that I never get to do these things. They are almost as much fun to plan and look forward to as they are to do. Always have something in the works!

8. Drink more water.

9. Write.

10. Practice random good deeds when the opportunity presents itself: I got this idea from Swistle.

11. Always have a book to read. I am an introvert. I live in a family of five and someone almost always needs something from me. This is the best way to escape into my own head that I know. When I don't have a book to read I get very grumpy.

12. Christmas shop all year long: One of the reasons that our break was so relaxing this year was that most of the mandatory Christmas type stuff (like heavy-duty shopping) was done and I could concentrate on the more fun things that I like/wanted to do (stocking-stuffer shopping). I'm hoping that this will help make next Christmas break relaxing too, minus all the colds this time.