Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Saturday, May 28, 2011

And Humble Too!

John comes running into my room wearing a Batman t-shirt and a bright smile ...

Me: John, you are so cute.

John: Yeah, I know.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Coming Soon ... Summer Vacation

The Day of the Black Sharpie demonstrated with stark clarity that I need a plan for the summer, and it needs to be a good one. I year ago I pondered ideas to get summer off to a positive start. Today I have been revisiting a few of those thoughts.

As a mother, I head into summer with a mix of feelings. First, there is the excitement of having vacation stretching before us with promises of swimming, trips to the zoo, long-awaited guitar lessons, Boy Scout camp, lazy afternoons playing cards, our annual trek to Michigan. All good, very good.

But second, there is the inevitable adjustment period wherein I assert with an unblinking resolve that would impress Joseph Stalin himself two basic premises: one, your brothers are fellow members of the human race and will be treated accordingly; and two, summer doesn't equate to a non-stop orgy of electronic overload.

This year, I am forced to add a third premise: I alone am Master of the Refrigerator. My friend Rachel has mentioned a refrigerator lock, and honestly, I'm intrigued. When I view the vast quantities of food flying out of my kitchen, I fear for both our budget and our collective body mass index.

In all my ruminations about summer, I have made a few significant resolutions:

1. Prayer - We will start and finish with it. Without God, we are sunk, sunk, sunk.

2. Water, the drink - We'll be consuming lots of it. Water that is free. Water that does not stain when it spills. Water that does not ensnare the newspaper nor the cover of my new book when it dries all over the dining room table. Water!

3. Water, the pool - We will spend as much time as possible in it and under it.

4. Consistency - We will eat in the dining room! We will put away what we use! We will do our little chores promptly and cheerfully! A mother can dream, can't she? Don't rain on my parade!

5. Variety - We will leave the house as often as possible. Leave the mess somewhere else - that's my new motto!

6. Order - In my latest attempt to wrest some order from this maelstrom of clutter, I am labeling everything that clear packing tape can adhere to. So, the tourist to the upper left is soon to be taped to the bin that will hold her, the flight attendants, the pilot, and the luggage.

And finally ...

7. Gratitude - Our days with all the Dolins under one roof are not limitless. Tim, Kolbe, John, and Ainsey Boo - precious, irreplaceable gifts from God, one and all. I get a brief season with the full complement, and for that I am grateful.

No doubt I will be tempted to waver on these points sometime around Tuesday morning at 10:00 a.m. when we are but 36 hours into this grand adventure we call summer. We will regroup and once again forge ahead.

Happy summer to you!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Where Else?

John: May I pwease have a cupcake?

Me: Sure!

John: They're under the couch, I sink. I was hiding dem dere yesterday.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Groaning Sighing Bleaching

Three words: a black Sharpie.

The Things that Make Us Laugh

From Brewster Rockit:

It's Mothers' Day Across The Galaxy

ET's Mom: You never phone home anymore.

Darth Vader's Mom: I find your lack of visits disturbing.

Jabba the Hutt's Mom, entering a buffet: Whatever happened to that Princess Leia you said you were dating?

A Klingon Mom, reading a mothers' day card: "May you die well." How sweet!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

On Grace, On ADHD, On Dross

I've been reading about ADHD recently, specifically about adult ADHD. I am the daughter of a man alternately known as Rapid Regan or Gotta Go (Read all about him here). ADHD is clearly in the gene pool, and I have no doubt I've inherited my fair share. You know how I freely share about my great love affair with coffee --  Kelly's brand of Ritalin in a steaming mug.

One article I read suggested occupational choices for people with ADHD. Interestingly enough, being a stay-at-home mother didn't make the list. The lack of structure, the article shared, can make being at home a challenge for the ADHD individual. How true that can be!

The demands around here swing from over-the-top busy (that would be two weeks ago) to fairly quiet (that would now). For the moment, we're enjoying the calm before the storm that is the last week of school. I have a window of opportunity to finish a lingering paint job, to complete a decluttering plan in progress.

Instead I accomplish ... precisely nothing. Nothing!

I keep taking care of the basics, of course. Everyone still needs uniforms and meals. The dishes get done; the trash goes out. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Many of the projects I want to do, but don't absolutely have to do, don't apparently squeak.

When I am barely surviving those mad, mad, mad days I too often write about -- when I am moving minute to minute with one nostril barely above water -- oh, how I want a quiet day to just get it all together! On the first quiet day that comes my way, I am a woman on a mission. But by day two or three, I morph into fairly slovenly patterns and simply don't get done what I could (and should) get done.

When I have extra time on my hands (Did I really type that phrase? Clearly, I'm delusional. Someone pinch me, please!), I find myself with undisciplined thought patterns to go along with my undisciplined work habits.

I fritter away both time and mental energy. What a waste, I think to myself.

And then I read this:
She wills herself to breathe so that she can mother her five dear children with all her heart and all her might. She breathes gentleness and joy into their every minute, knowing that every minute matters. She worries about how to allocate breath so that she can accomplish the most important things ... We hold our breath, waiting to know what comes next. What will I do with my every breath today?

And then I pop by school to talk with Tim's principal and see an incredibly fit and active father of five in agony because of compressed disks, a condition that will not change easily or soon.

And then I think of my mother whose bone degeneration makes walking across the room a Herculean effort.

And then I sit in the bleachers at a baseball game making small talk with a fairly young man with advanced Alzheimer's.

And suddenly I am so much more aware of this gift of time, this gift of good health, this gift of a sound mind. And I know there's a source of grace, grace that will help me use and appreciate these gifts, grace that works better than coffee or Ritalin because it alters not just my body chemistry, but my heart and my soul.

And I pray:

Jesus, bring me to my knees, and give me the words to ask for your grace. Shed light on the dark places of my soul, and burn away the dross. Infuse me with your goodness; help me to grow in virtue.                                                         (excerpted from Small Steps for Catholic Moms)

Dross - waste or impure matter.

I take another small step to grow in virtue, to grow in goodness, to put aside the dross.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Tattoo on Your Face

Over the past eighteen months or so, a number of alarming headlines have bounced around the blogosphere linking children and unhappiness. Childless couples report more contentment, these articles seem to conclude.

I’ve read a few and, frankly, I’m a bit skeptical. I wonder what exact questions were posed. I wonder where in the parenting spectrum these parents were exactly. I wonder if the writers queried empty-nesters or parents in the big, thick middle of it. I wonder what had transpired in the fifteen minutes prior to the interview.

I didn’t care for the popular book, Eat, Love, Pray. Short on commitment and long on navel-gazing, I found it to be one long essay on selfishness. The author did, however, offer a memorable and fitting metaphor for parenthood: Having a baby, she says, is like getting a tattoo on your face.

I’ve written before that parenting is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. No question about it. But what worthwhile endeavors don’t require hardship, perseverance, even suffering?

Medical school, law school, business school? Hard, hard, hard. Planning a wedding, remodeling a house? Hard and hard. Running a marathon, opening a business? Hard and harder. Finishing a PhD, writing a book? Both hard.

Is it surprising, then,  that raising an eternal soul to adulthood is trying at times? Does a mother admitting her struggles means she wishes she’d done things differently, that she would reverse course if she could?

 I think not.

While we were dealing with the emotional and physical upheaval of sub-fertility, I found myself growing distant and angry with God. I sat in a confessional with a very young priest and poured out my soul. After going through all my anguish over our repeat miscarriages, I went on to confess my perpetual sin -- the struggles I have with my kids. At this point, I began to lose Father.

“You’re upset about your miscarriages,” he began.


“But you’re frustrated with the children you have,” he continued.


“But you wanted to be pregnant …?” he went on, brows knit, clearly puzzled.


Confusion began to morph into bewilderment. As I said, this was a very young priest. Fresh faced, he even had braces on his teeth. If it wouldn’t have been horribly patronizing, I would have patted him on the back and said, “Trust me, Father. You’re going to hear a lot of this.”

Mothers, of course, totally get this. Completely frustrated with you children? Check. Desperately hoping for another one? Check. No contradiction whatsoever. Friends of mine have laughed out loud when I’ve shared this little exchange with the priest. No mystery there.

So when I read that parents report unhappiness, I wonder if that is the whole picture.

We have had an exhausting year, a year that’s left me convinced I need to lighten the load so that next year isn’t déjà vu all over again. I’ll have to jettison activities I value. I don’t, however, plan to jettison the children. I don’t even plan to jettison the idea of another child.

Parenting demands heroic fortitude. Yesterday – on Mothers’ Day, no less! – a nameless member of my family decided to irritate his brother by yelling, “You’re mustard! “You’re mustard!” over and over and over again.

I mean, where do they get their material?

For my part, on a day that I’m supposed to be celebrating motherhood, I found myself saying, “Stop saying bad words!”

Yes, mustard is now a bad word. This, sadly, is the comical state to which we are sometimes reduced – censuring our children for calling each other the names of condiments.

Yesterday John – who may or may not be the very same child calling his brother mustard – shot a rocket into his cheek and then spray painted his forehead forest green. All this in the span of thirty minutes. While I was home. And supposedly supervising him.

While dealing with John’s mishaps, I was also simultaneously supervising the construction of a diorama (hence the spray paint) and helping a neighbor’s child with a research paper. In the midst of it all, I spotted Ainsley dashing down the hall carrying the keyboard. Finishing a research paper without a keyboard? That would make the hard list as well.

Only God could have anticipated these mind-numbing antics. Only God could have sweetened the whole deal with joys innumerable, joys as unexpected as spray paint on a toddler, joys more profound than any I’ve taken away from other human endeavors.

Jennifer Fulwiller writes that "Life doesn't have to be easy to be joyful." So true, so very true.

I just finished the morning shuffle. I close the van door and carry baby Ainsley into the house nuzzling her cheek and hugging her cuddly self clad in a flannel blanket sleeper that makes her even more irresistible than usual. I hear John's sweet laughter as he sits engrossed in The Brave Little Toaster.

These children of mine have, indeed, tattooed my face and my heart and my memory.

Friday, May 13, 2011

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

Happy Weekend to you!

See Soulemama to play along.

Monday, May 09, 2011

An Unexpected Blessing – Our Moment with Blessed John Paul II

When we arrived in Rome in November 1997, we expected to see the Sistine Chapel, the Spanish Steps, and the Coliseum. We never expected to see – let alone receive a blessing from -- the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II. I had visited Rome several times and had never caught so much as a papal wave from the balcony.

Dave and I had planned to go to Europe the year we were married, but within a few months of the wedding, we were expecting a baby. Tim actually turned two somewhere between Iceland and mainland Europe as we winged over the Atlantic. We spent a few weeks touring Germany and France and then headed south to Italy. We arrived on an overnight train from Innsbruck and met our friends, Father George, a Dominican priest, and Father John, a pastor from a nearby parish. Father John offered us tickets to a canonization Mass.

We arrived in Saint Peter’s square along with 95,000 other visitors. Most adjectives fall flat in trying to capture the size and majesty of Christendom’s largest basilica. The holy water fonts alone are about eight feet tall. Baby Tim loved the ones shaped like angels. He would grab the angels’ toes and yell “piggies!” Oh so pious! We were still working on the sign of the cross.

We were seated in the back third of the church near the wall, which is to say, a l-o-n-g way from the altar and a l-o-n-g way from the aisle. For perspective, many people carried binoculars. In 1997 Pope John Paul was frail but still ambulatory. I heard people murmuring about whether he would be well enough to process in. As the opening hymn began, there he was – stoop shouldered and moving slowly – our beloved Pope. He looked very weak, and his face had a translucent cast to it.

Mass was beautiful. Our first miracle was that Tim was perfectly at peace for the entire celebration which ran well over two hours, if memory serves.

As the recessional hymn began, Pope John Paul moved slowly down the aisle on the opposite side, far from us. Suddenly Father George picked up Tim and made his way to the aisle. Not an easy feat! I think the habit helped part the seas. The Pope turned slightly, caught sight of Tim, and immediately walked over to him. He laid his hands on Tim’s head and prayed for him.

Everyone around us was saying “Bambino! Bambino!” When they caught sight of me crying, they patted my shoulders and said ”Madre! Madre!” Truly, this was all so unexpected.

I came away with two observations. First, I was struck by the love these thousands and thousands of Catholics had for their Pope. I had watched news coverage of the papal Mass at Word Youth Day in Denver, Colorado. I knew dozens of people who had travelled to meet the pope and had heard their accounts of the joy the faithful found in the presence of Pope John Paul and the joy he had demonstrated in being with them. “John Paul Two, we love you,” the kids chanted. The Pope responded “John Paul Two, he loves you, too!” The mainstream media missed this message entirely.

Here I was in Rome, crying in the presence of this great and holy man, the chief shepherd of my church. When it became clear that he was not only well enough to celebrate Mass, but was able to process into the church, the excitement was palpable. We loved our Pope, all of us.

My second observation was the stark contrast I witnessed in the Pope’s appearance before and after Mass. After celebrating and receiving the Eucharist, Pope John Paul looked ten years younger. His smile – partially caught by this photograph – was radiant. He face appeared changed and his gait was livelier. Clearly, visibly, our Pope drew strength from this great sacrament and from the love of his people.

I never expected to meet the Pope. I never anticipated that I would cry in his presence. We talked often about Papa Giovanni in the days that followed. He became Papa Banni to two-year-old Tim. This photo graces our living room wall, a sweet memento of an unexpected blessing.

Friday, May 06, 2011

It's Already a Happy Mothers' Day

Tim and I walked through the big backyard talking about the future. Where we all be in two years, five years, ten years?

It's conversations like this that leave me grateful for the large age gaps among my children. In ten years, Tim and Kolbe will be making their way in the world, but Ainsley and John will still be ensconced in the nest. Of course, they'll be 11 and 13, probably chock full of raging hormones and interesting agendas.

It's a bit intimidating to me that these two youngest will also have -- for better or for worse -- siblings who drive.

Tim and I shared a few laughs and then talked about assembling a time capsule. What would we put in a box to capture Now?

A few ideas:
My rickety rocking chair. It wouldn't fit, but this gift from my dear, sweet father holds memories of rocking and nursing and reading to all my babies.

Ainsley's patent leather red boots. Too, too cute.

A picture of John's excited face as we rode through the car wash yesterday. You would have thought we were riding Space Mountain.

Dave's twenty-year commemorative clock.

A recording of Tim playing Fur Elise, Kolbe playing Alouette, Ainsley lisping "I uv ooh!", and John saying "Wead to me, Mama. Wead to me!"

Photos of Dave and the older boys building, hiking, camping, geo-caching, etc. with the Boy Scouts.

A thumb drive capturing this blog.

Tim's Morse Code sheet.

Kolbe's latest Indiana Jones' screenplay.

Tim's tattered deck of cards.

A picture of the boys all sharing the giant sofa bed in Grandma's basement.

Ainsley's Dolly and 'troller.

A slew of Pinewood Derby cars.

A list of the books Kolbe just checked out of the library. A few of the titles: The Survivors’ Club, The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life, Outdoor Safety Handbook, The Worst-Case Scenario Handbook, Liftoff: A Photobiography of John Glenn.

Tim's robot.

Footage of Ainsley running to greet Daddy every evening.

Tim's Michigan sweatshirt and hat and coat.

A picture of Ainsley's small light-blond head on a pillow nestled up against John's golden-blond head.

A photo of Tim reading in bed.

A recipe for the chocolate cookies the entire family inhales.

Tim's down throw. Wait a minute! That's my down throw!

John's jeans with the frayed cuffs and holes in both knees.

Tim's Civil War poem.

Kolbe's baseball hat.

A photo of all four grandparents.

Last, I would add my heart -- full of gratitude for this quiverful of family God has given to me.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Snatches of Grace

Tim came home yesterday with the best news I have heard in a long time. His research paper? He scored 105 with -- I need a drum roll here -- no revisions needed! O, happy day! I nearly cried. While I was certainly happy about the 105, I was flat over the moon about the no revisions.

The pace of life over the past three months has been daunting. Any little break -- a rained out game, a canceled meeting, a paper with no revisions -- well, the relief is almost palpable.

Over the past few days I've experienced a different and deeper kind of relief -- the relief that comes from God alone, the relief that comes when we live out Christ's exhortation, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

I have been weary, and I have come to Christ.

Why so weary? Part of it is just the time of year. Soccer just finished while baseball is getting into full swing. First Communion is a great joy, but when you work with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, it's also a ton of work. Spring for middle school students means science fair and research papers.

Saturday was one more in a series of over-the-top busy days. We began with a fundraiser race for the boys' school. Tim finished his first 5K! After the race, we hurried home for a quick clean up before Dave and I headed out to the wedding of two good friends.

We left Tim in charge. With the baby napping and a DVD to watch, we figured we were set for success. Apparently we were barely out of the driveway when John woke up the baby and then proceeded to break the DVD. Two hours of pure havoc ensued.

Now, we have this device known as a cell phone. My boys are not hesitant to use this.  I have ambled from the produce aisle to the dairy case and received no fewer than a half dozen calls most of which dealt with popcorn, Star Trek, and other pressing matters.

But the day John goes ballistic? Not a single call. We returned home to utter chaos, and I struggled through the next thirty-six hours.

While visiting in Michigan, my niece asked me if I am happy. Without hesitation, I answered Yes, I am happy, very happy.

We went on to talk about Big Picture happiness and Little Picture happiness. I never wrestle with the big picture. "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord in Jeremiah 29:11, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." I know this. I believe this.

But little picture happiness? This I struggle with. The messes, the moody teenager, the mountain of laundry, the newspaper sticking to the spilled syrup on the table, my often lousy responses to all of the above . . .  I am unduly irked by the mundane irritants that are simply part and parcel of life.

That Sunday morning when I was struggling, I walked past a picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Too befuddled to articulate the formal prayer to the Sacred Heart, I simply pressed my hand to the glass and prayed, "Jesus, help me." And He did. The relief I experienced was nearly instant; the tasks that had seemed overwhelming were done quickly and completely. A little snatch of grace.

A few days later, a friend from my prayer group pulled up to chat. I related a few of our challenges with John and asked her to pray for my family. She reminded me of struggles they had had when one of their children was John's age. To see this child now, you would not guess that he had put his parents through their paces. Her words of encouragement and her offer to pray gave me hope. Another snatch of grace.

That evening we attended our weekly support group meeting. We spent several hours discussing the many ways we can find ourselves oppressed in our walk with Christ. We ended our gathering by praying for freedom. More grace.

If it's the little things that bog me down, it's also the bits of grace from here and there that bolster me, bring me joy, and give me the strength to embrace and to enjoy this full life of mine.

On our first morning in Michigan, my dad and sister whisked Ainsley away for pancakes while I attended therapy with my mom. Our fourteen hour drive required lots of finger food to keep Ainsey-Boo happy. Most of it wound up ground into her car seat. As they left the pancake house, Kate was unable to latch Ainsey's seat.

Later I went out to the car armed with a garbage bag, a soapy rag, and a sharp knife. Cheese, Goldfish, chicken nuggets, unrecognizable bits of chocolate -- we could have supplied snacks for Kolbe's entire baseball team with the contents of that nasty car seat.

Much like the car seat, this long drive we call Life on planet Earth can leave us gunked up and unable to function as we would like. We need our snatches of grace.

During the month of May, Small Steps for Catholic Moms focuses on grace.  I need the grace. I can take a small step to get it.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Longing for a Little OCD around Here

I have written all too often about my ongoing wrestling matches with STUFF. I know I am hardly unique in the quest for order. We live in a time of plenty, excess really. It doesn't come without a price that sometimes exceeds the retail one.

My boys do not understand my longing for order. Granted, these are same boys who wonder whether combing their hair really needs to be accomplished on a daily basis and who inform me that it's okay to skip brushing their teeth today if they did an extra thorough job the night before.

My older boys accuse me of being OCD. Further, they inform me that their friends comment on how neat and tidy our house is. I counter that if I'm OCD, I'm really bad at it and suggest that their friends are long overdue for eye exams.

To be sure, things are not horrible around here. And I certainly do not lay the blame for all our household woes on the kids. My declining ability to keep it all together is a bit alarming.

A month or two ago my American Express card went missing. This is not a shocking event; Ainsley loves to get in my purse. Were I truly OCD, I would have ONE place for my purse, one place far out of Ainsley's reach.

Such is not the case. I waltz in the house, plop my purse on the table, and later find Ainsley rifling through my receipts and depositing credit cards down vents.

In the fullness of time, things usually have a way of reappearing, but the Amex card didn't turn up. The crux of the problem is that the fine folks at American Express will not believe that this card is lost in my own home. Maybe they're OCD and can't imagine a card could float around a person's home for six weeks unspottted. They haven't seen my laundry nook or our vast collection of books or the endless array of toys. So if I call to say "My card is missing but not stolen," they just won't buy it. Add to this the fact that Dave and I have a joint account. Amex inevitably wants to cancel the whole kit and kaboodle which adds up to one big hassle.

Anyway . . .  At the top of today's To Do List was to make the inevitable call to American Express to procure a new card. Well, I was cleaning and straightening this morning and -- lo and behold -- there was my American Express card!

I get to cross one dreary item off my To Do List without doing a thing! No cancellations, just another abject apology to my precious daughter who did not slip the card into a pocket, fold my clothes neatly, and place them on the top shelf of the closet.

Sorry, Boo! Slandered and maligned once again. I wrote virtually the same story not too long ago.

Last week it was a missing lid. After a packed day fraught with logistical challenges that would have befuddled air traffic control at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport, we were scurrying around getting ready for potluck. (Don't you know that potluck with one parent and two toddlers at the end of a hectic day is just what the doctor ordered!) Dehydrated from a scorching soccer match, I decided the beverage of choice would be ice water. I found a pitcher, scrounged up a lid, filled it, and set it all aside. As we were walking out the door, I noticed the lid was missing. I searched. Tim searched. John searched. Ainsley stood around looking guilty, or so I thought.

"Check the bathub," I told Tim. "Look under the couch."

No luck. I went off to potluck grumbling because I sometimes feel that nothing! nothing! nothing! can just stay where I put it.

The following morning I reached for the frozen waffles and found the lid to the pitcher. Needless to say, even with a boost, Miss Ainsey Boo cannot get into the freezer. I am a little frightened to think of the mindless things I do when overly pre-occupied.

Putting lids in the freezer? I think I could use a mild case of OCD.