Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why Not Take All of Me

I am passionate about breastfeeding. I mean, really, in another era, I could have been a wet nurse. To me it's one of the easiest parts of those early months -- free, neat, portable, healthy!

Love it, love it, love it.

So when I do my morning perusal of the headlines and spot Does Breastfeeding Cause Divorce?, I, of course, feel compelled to stop. The provocative headline was written to lure readers like me, but I found the author's premise much deeper (and darker) than just another round of ammo in the Mommy Wars. Author Molly Baker begins with government statistics on the potential benefits of extended breastfeeding:

The recent study said that the lives of 900 babies could be saved, along with billions of dollars in lost employee wages, if 90% of American women breastfed their babies exclusively for the first six months. I am not sure which part of that goal stuns me more – the 90%, the six months or the “exclusively.”. . .

But what they haven’t looked at is what these “suboptimal” rates have prevented or gained for American women, children and families. Where are the statistics on how many marriages have been saved by limiting breastfeeding? Or simply what postpartum independence has meant for women’s mental health, and their confidence and trust in their relevance outside the domestic sphere? . . .

In a word, be careful what you wish for. Blue-ribbon breastfeeding goals could -- in the extreme -- lead to increased divorce, depression, and long-term damage to the delicate ecosystem of gender roles in our families, workplaces and society. At the very least, the effort sanctions the message to women that their children and domestic duties come first. For women and researchers for whom long-term breastfeeding is the answer, the question certainly needs to be asked: at what cost?

To any woman entering motherhood with such a cost-benefit analysis at the front on her mind, I say this: You are in for a rude awakening. The author is worried about the cost, and so she should be, because the cost is high, high indeed. Forget about the hours you will spend nursing and wiping poopy bottoms and laundering little sleepers. Forget about the figures news outlets publish citing the cost of raising a child to age eighteen.

Let's just cut to the chase: Motherhood will cost you everything. Yes, everything.

Let me cite the single best analogy I have heard for motherhood: It's a tattoo on your face.

Baker states, “I do resent the expectation that after carrying a baby for nine months, American women should surrender control for six more months.”

Why do I find that line so shocking, so completely out of step with my expectations of motherhood?

Fifteen years ago we announced the pending arrival of our first child, our son, Timothy. My mother-in-law sent me a breastfeeding manual. In it she had written: You’ve now given permission for your heart to reside outside your body. This may seem like a saccharine sweet endearment dreamt up by Hallmark. Mothers know how true to life it really is.

You don’t surrender control for nine months or another six months or eighteen years; it’s gone, baby, gone and gone for good.

When I began labeling my archived writing, I was a tad surprised that most of my writing falls into the category of Real Life. I talk about the struggles and the spilt milk, sibling rivalry and interrupted sleep. I have invested an inordinate amount of words discussing vomit (click here to read Gross) and potty training (colorful details here and here).

I have written fairly transparently about my own struggles ( Losing the bite) and about bad days (So many reasons to have kids). In that piece I wrote:

I wanted this life. I wanted these kids. I prayed and fasted for them. I took fertility drugs! In the face of all that, motherhood remains the hardest thing I've ever done.
By far.

Now, I don't have eight or ten kids, I have never had multiples, and we have not faced physical disabilities. I wake up every morning to the run-of-the-mill start the laundry, sling some hash, load up the van, off to the pool, umpire the shouting match, change the diaper, kiss the boo-boo, read the story, et cetera, et cetera. It is typically exhausting, sometimes mind-numbingly boring, always constant. 

Let me say unequivocally that motherhood is also teeming with moments of grace.

Cuddling a nursing baby. Placing my hand on Ainsley's cheek and feeling her tiny hand rest on mine.

Hearing my two-year-old come up to me and say, "I have a secret," and then lean into my ear and lisp, "I wove you!"

Opening my eight-year-old's writing journal and finding he has written "I love my Mom and Dad" on the inside cover.

Watching my twelve-year-old play with his baby brother and sister and then tell me he hopes we have another one.

My terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day ended. John came into our bed in the middle of the night. I rubbed his soft cheek and felt the warmth of a brewing fever. He cried and then said in his sweet toddler voice, "Dwy ma tears, Mama."

Yes, it can be exhausting, boring, and constant. In its own imperfect way, it is also joyful, enriching, and blessed.

I write this from the perspective of a woman with relatively young children. We deal with the trivial hurts that don't always seem so trivial: watching a son come in dead last in every heat in the Pinewod Derby, seeing another son being the only player who rode the bench for every minute of the soccer tournament, commiserating when a child has missed first honors by 0.3.

Yes, our oldest is just fourteen and to date our frustrations have been mere irritants in the grand scheme of things. But I was once a teenager and one of four teenagers in my home. As children begin to cut the apron strings and venture out into the wider world, the stakes are higher. Teenagers text and speed simultaneously. They spend 6.5 years working hard on that elusive bachelor's degree. They dump the nice girl and take up with the hot girl.

I have watched friends struggle as their adult child made poor choices. It's the unplanned pregnancy or the hint of casual drug use. It's watching a once fervent faith wane and materialism take hold. Other times, adult children face hurdles beyond their control -- cancer or depression or divorce.

You fervently love, but you cannot control. You desperately fear, but you can no longer protect. You persevere in hope and never cease to pray. You ship care packages full of chocolate chip cookies and socks and underwear.

Your heart resides outside your body.

If  we're going to count the cost, let's count the whole count. It will take all of you. It will take all of me.

Monday, January 30, 2012

From the Archives

For a variety of reasons, I was reminded today of this piece that ran at Faith and Family way back, but I never posted here. How thankful I am for the life God has given to me.

My Double Stroller Makes Me Cry
The first time my stroller made me cry, my daughter Ainsley was two weeks old, John a freshly minted two-year-old. My post-partum hormones were raging, but so was cabin fever. I needed to get out of the house.

“Road trip!” I thought gamely. I loaded up and headed for the photo store intent on ordering birth announcements.

Thirty minutes later I exited the store with a shrieking newborn, a flailing toddler, no birth announcements, and a memory card I was sure I had erased.

I headed to the van and buckled everyone in. I attempted to fold the stroller and then attempted again and again. On about the third or fourth try, the stroller gave way and indeed folded nicely, crushing my finger in the process. I cried. I uttered a bad word or two. I envisioned a long interval before I would leave the house again.

Fast forward two weeks. The hormones were better behaved as were the babies. I strolled around the block with my double stroller and reflected on the fact that I now need a double stroller. I need a double stroller because I have two babies. And two older sons. And I still can’t believe it. I cried in gratitude. I cried for prayers answered. I cried for years of waiting and hoping, of disappointment and loss.

How We Began

When I married thirteen years ago, I approached motherhood full of hope. Dave and I wanted a baby and—voila! - along came dear Tim in short order. What a joy he was and is.

When Tim celebrated his first birthday, we began to hope for a second child. Eventually I weaned Tim to improve our chances. And then we waited. And waited. We saw a doctor and then another one and then a specialist. We began tests and novenas and more tests. Three years passed with no diagnosis, but no baby either.

We were in the throes of secondary infertility. In the middle of this season, I attended a potluck at the home of my friend, Bev, a mother of seven. She related a story of her adult children hosting their first Thanksgiving dinner. I pictured the crowd, the laughter, the bustle and started to say, “That’s the joy of having a large family.”

I couldn’t get the words out and started to cry. Bev – kind, wise woman that she is - put her arm around me and said, “It’s not over until it’s over.”

Four years and six rounds of fertility drugs later, we had our dear Kolbe. We were overwhelmed with gratitude. I told the Lord that I would be content with these two souls. Truth be told, I was content. In my heart of hearts, I still wanted more children, but never again would I take for granted the ability to conceive.

Roller Coaster Rides

I was stunned to find myself expecting when Kolbe was just 14 months. We lost the baby early on, only to conceive and miscarry again weeks later and yet again a few months after that.

In October of 2005 another positive pregnancy test sent us on a roller coaster ride of hormones and hope. Unlike my previous three pregnancies, this time I was slammed with the nausea and ravenous hunger so constant when I carried Tim and Kolbe. Ultrasound confirmed a strong heartbeat. My belly expanded, and I donned maternity clothes with joy.

At twelve weeks I awoke in the early hours of the morning to dull, rhythmic pain radiating from my back to my abdomen. “I’m in labor,” I thought.

The next few hours were a blur of confusion and pain as I moved from spotting to near hemorrhage. In a moment stunning in its beauty and searing in its desolation, I delivered a tiny, lovely baby we named Alex. We still feel the loss of this precious soul.

Over a six year period, we lost six babies to miscarriage. We saw many a doctor and tried this test and that drug, but no diagnosis and no baby.

In November of 2006 I found out that we had conceived once again. Fatigue and appetite swings set in for about two weeks and then nothing. I had been down this lonely road too many times before. I waited for the inevitable.

Prayer Power

We called our friend Bob for prayer. Bob is an engineer who travels from Beijing to Brussels on business all the while dealing with debilitating motion sickness. The day after our call, Bob flew to Belgium. He met his co-workers at the airport, and then rode through Brussels at a break-neck pace. Bob arrived at his meeting overcome with nausea. He excused himself from the meeting every hour to vomit. While his co-workers lunched, Bob lay as still as possible on the floor of the conference room.
Bob offered up his suffering for the life of our baby.

Two days later, I was making Christmas cookies with a friend. When we tired of consuming dough, I heated up some Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese – my go-to comfort food- and promptly became ill. Not one to put two and two together quickly, I heated up a little more for breakfast the next morning with the same result. Hope began to stir.

In July of the following year, our precious John Patrick, our third son, arrived. Appropriately, Bob – our faithful intercessor - is his Godfather. We rejoiced in our three boys – our quiverful of souls to love, enjoy, and raise.

Then a funny thing happened. We blinked our eyes, and we were expecting again. Without specialists or novenas, without clomid or charts. Ainsley Elizabeth arrived last August. We call her the “bonus baby” – so unexpected, so unplanned, so very much wanted. I’m 45 years old and don’t know anyone who has become more fertile in her forties.

Drinking It In

While waddling around the pool last July, I struck up a conversation with a dad. Noting my condition, he laughed about all the pregnant women in his church. “Don’t drink the water!” he joked.

I laughed because that’s what you do in these conversations, but part of me wanted to say, “Drink the water. And thank God for the immeasurable gift of being able to conceive and bear life.”

My double-stroller sometimes feels heavy and unwieldy as does my life as our family has gone from small to largish over this short season. As I survey the array of car seats, the boxes of diapers, the burgeoning pile of laundry, I consider all of this a sign of God’s generosity, of His gratuitous love.

And I am deeply grateful.

Me, Me, Me!

So two-year-old Ainsley joins me for an early morning rosary.

Me: Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee . . .

Ainsey: The Lord is with me.

Me, smiling: The Lord is with me.

Ainsey: The Lord is with ME -- me, me, me!

Me, assenting: The Lord is with you!

Ainsey, placated: Oh.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Because I Said So!

Rachel is up over at Faith and Family Live laughing about all the lines parents use -- Because I Said So, Because I'm the Mom, and, one of my favorites, Asked and Answered! A commenter added a link to the post This Hurts Me More Than It Hurts You. That's one hokey line that I've never tried on my kids, but I agree with every word she says.

Oh, the things we say!

As we get the little people ready for bed I find myself saying Jammies, Potty, Teeth just like my older sister, and when I'm dressing Ainsley, I'll say One foot, Two foot, yet another Auntie Kateism. I remember a student who would try to sneak out the door in a skimpy outfit only to hear her father say Where's the other half of that? or, his other favorite, You can wear that on your honeymoon!

Maybe I'm getting old and forgetful or maybe having four kids just like my parents has given me a much more sympathetic view of their parenting eccentricities, but I can't recall any particularly memorable lines they routinely sent our way. When Dad was irate, Do I make myself clear? was thrown out there. I'm pretty sure the correct response was Why, yes, Dad. Perfectly clear! Thanks for clarifying!

Mostly I remember the nicknames my Dad had for all of us. To this day, Kate is Mouse and I'm Bell Tell or simply Bell.

If I was distraught over this or that, Dad had a standard pep talk that began, "You get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and say my name is Kelly Dolin, and I can do this." I think he still delivers a version of this to my nieces and nephews. He's sweet and consistent like that, my Dad.

Though I can't conjure up tried and true lines my parents used, gosh, I'm just sure my kids could write a memorable Saturday Night Live skit with some of mine. I'm fairly sure I wouldn't want to view it. Oh, I have some funny lines, but I also have a few I'd rather forget.

When Kolbe was about two, I opened the freezer door and sent a dozen items flying to the floor.

"Don't be sad, Mama," Kolbe told me. "I'll get your damn it for you."

Sometimes it all comes right back at ya.

John's teacher pulled me aside recently to speak with me about potty talk. Some words come as no surprise to me living, as John does, with two much older brothers. Some words come as no surprise to me living, as John does, with an Irish mother. Then there's the lingering influence of Shreck II, a movie I would condemn in the strongest possible language, but then John just might repeat every word the following day at school.

Kids, here's a simple adage to follow: Do as I say not as I do!

Friday, January 27, 2012

1. As I'm typing, I hear Ainsley employing her best bossy voice with John: Get this leash on you!

When Ainsley fell asleep standing up, John thoughtfully placed an Indiana Jones hat on her head.

2. My annual visit with the dermatologist included that wonderful "full body check" that makes childbirth seem minimally invasive. Gulp. The good news? I'm off the hook for another twelve months. The bad news? Two spots that need to be blasted. If you see me looking like I've taken up boxing, you'll know why.

3. When Ainsley's not turning John into a toy poodle, I can hear her talking to Daddy on the phone. The conversation never varies.

Ainsley: Hi, Daddy. You at work? You come back home? Bye! I love you.

4. Downton Abbey is back again. I'm pining for high tea, a butler, and a lady's maid (though I'll pass on O'Brien). As the reviews suggest, I've found Season II a tad choppy, but I appreciate the fact that characters who seemed so one dimensionally evil now show glimpses of humanity. Few of us are quite so black or white.

5. My in-laws are coming next week, and we can't wait to see them. Their pending arrival has spurred me on in a few household projects that have languished. Really, I should have house guests once a month.  I've finished a massive re-shuffling of furniture. I now have a desk that's serving as a vanity.

These forty-seven -year-old eyes can't handle applying make-up in the bathroom. I need a chair, a flat surface, and a high-powered magnfiying mirror with bright lights. Or maybe it's the Downton Abbey influence? Rest assured, no one is brushing my hair before bed every night.

6. Ainsley has started joining us for the tail end of Sunday Mass. I've identified a direct correlation between the length of the after-Mass announcements and the volume of Ainsley's voice. This past Sunday, she was loud, but too, too sweet. "Jesus loves me, " she said, looking at the cross. "He loves me up dere."

Yes, he does, sweet angel.

7. I hit the library and checked out Middlemarch. Daniel Deronda did not disappoint in either book or film. I'm up for a thick read.

Head over to Jen's place to post your update.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

If You Throw Up on a Fire . . .

Carpool continues to entertain.

Rachel, my carpooling partner, reports that John posed a riveting question en route to school yesterday: What would happen if you threw up in a fire?

We shared a laugh that John had hit on two topics four-year-old boys find fascinating -- vomit and fire. John later posed the same question to me and then went on to wonder would happen if he pooped on a fire. Quite a lark, to be sure. Even if I could set aside the risk of burns in a sensitive area, I'd rather not dwell on this one.

Little boys . . .  so very interesting. With Ainsley I'm discovering that, yes, there are differences. But, you know, with three older brothers, my girl's a bit of a changeling. I'll just admit it here: My blond-haired, blue-eyed ray of estrogen, sugar and spice and everything nice  . . . laughs at fart jokes.

Oh, she loves shoes and gaudy jewelry. She puts on a dress, spins around, and says, "I da princess." But her brand of humor?  Strictly low-brow.

Lego created quite the furor with its recent launch of Lego for Girls.  About a bazillion of us collectively responded, "Legos for girls? We thought those were already on the shelf. We called them Legos." Dorian writes about this here.

Legos are just one of the many, many toys and games that cross the gender divide. Then there are these: The Five Best Toys of All Time. In the parlance of the day, this is SO last month, but I thought of it again as I glanced out the window and saw Ainsley dragging a stick through the mud. Little boys and little girls find such joy in simple things - a pile of leaves, a new box, bubbles, a wiggling worm.

The five best toys of all time?

1. A Stick
2. A Box
3. String
4. A Cardboard Tube
5. Dirt
As we were walking into the gym last night,
John spotted a puddle.

"I just love puddles. I gotta jump in it," he told me. "I love mud, too."

Having two older sons, I know that some of these tastes will (and should) change. While pricey electronics top any teenage wish list, the older crew still appreciates some simple pleasures. Namely:

1. Fire
2. Danger
3. Waves

With all of these, bigger is better. Scouting is a great way to outsource the top two. One day girls and cars will pique the boys' interest. I'm happy to say that that day is not today.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


This day began with:

1. A house littered with grass and dirt as we have had four days of nearly non-stop rain.

2. Ainsley grabbing a cup of coffee off a tall counter and -- you guessed it -- ending up taking a shower in it. Thank be to God, the coffee was cold!

3. Ainsley-- who now loves dressing herself -- coming into the living room in a cute pink sweatshirt and a coordinating pink tutu. And nothing else.

4. Ainsley -- dissatisfied with the first ensemble, and I don't think this was due to the absence of undergarments -- reappearing in a flowered tank top, sporty green capris, still no diaper or panties, and bringing with her a noxious odor.

5. Mom revving up the washer, running the bath, and grabbing the bleach.


Friday, January 20, 2012

Producing High Achievers

The Evidence Based Mummy gives me a reason to feel good about myself:
Quiz time. Which of the following best predicts your child’s level of achievement at school and at work?

1. Your level of education

2. Your occupation

3. The number of books you have in your house?

Believe it or not, the answer is 3. the number of books in your house.

So stacks like Exhibit A to the right are simply a sign of future achievement and have nothing to do with slothful housekeeping or an inability to say no to a book? They are not an indictment of the fact that I routinely cruise through the drive through at Goodwill to drop off a box of books only to then park my van, enter the store, and buy a few more?

And the fact that I could easily produce Exhibits B, C, D, E, and F? It's all good, very good.

But then I have moments when I say, "Forget all those books. Let's just rely on the big screen to pass on core literacy."

I'm hanging the shower curtain -- a shiny, vinyl, highly washable shower curtain -- that sports a map of the world. You can take care of business and pin point the exact location of Fiji all at the same time.

"What state is that," John asks, pointing to the Far East.

"That's China," I tell him.

"China! That's in Kung Fu Panda 2!"

I'm putting together a puzzle with John. It's one of the great monuments of the United States. John quickly recognizes The Statue of Wiberty.

"That's in  Bespicable Me," he tells me.

"That's right," I say. "And Mount Rushmore? You remember that from National Treasure II."

Yes, we are producing high achievers. John's a mere four years old and knows the word Bespicable. Just call me The Tiger Mother.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Alarming Headlines

I click on CNN to catch up with the news, and what do I read?

100,000 Exotic Snakes Loose in Florida

That would be the state just south of us, the state I will be visiting next month.Wholly uninterested in the particulars, I move on to a more inviting headline on this chilly winter night:

How To Brew a Perfect Pot of Tea

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Henry Gives Me The Gist

So my friend Rachel is up north filming more episodes of The Gist. I get an update as I'm driving carpool this morning.

Henry: My mom's at Boston. Hers having a sleepover.

John: Is she sleeping in a sleeping bag?

Henry, after a bit of reflection: I think so.

The boys are jealous.

Let Your Effort Be Your Goal

Ainsley at meal times is a sight to behold. She is determined to master the use of utensils. She holds her Winnie-the-Pooh spoon rock steady and then picks up her chicken in her chubby fingers and carefully deposits a bite on the spoon. Down the hatch it goes!

When we pull into the driveway, she yells, "I do da keys! I do da keys."

She toddles to the front door and wrestles with the keys until -- Woila!, as John is want to say -- she turns the key.

For a pseudo-type A mother who is perpetually in a hurry, all this requires patience. Because the point of it all is To Eat the Dinner! or To Get into the House! On to the next task at hand.

For toddlers the process is the task at hand.

A year or so ago, my friend Janet shared a word of encouragement with my prayer group: Let your effort be your goal. That concept is at odds with both my personality and with the way we as a society measure success. We don't care so much about efforts; we demand results -- of ourselves, of our co-workers, of our children.

Two-year-olds do not struggle to live in the now. They generally shun To Do Lists. They let their effort be their goal.

A while ago, I walked through the toy aisle at Walmart and spotted A Barrel Full of Monkeys. Remember that game? I went all nostalgic and bought it. I brought it home, opened it up, and dumped the monkeys out.
My ten-year-old was unimpressed.

So you dump the monkeys out, pick them up, and dump them out again? And the point is??

His take on this classic game of eye-hand coordination reminded me of my Dad's stories from basic training.

Hey, you! You see that pile of rocks over here? I want it moved over there!

Blowing bubbles, stomping in mud puddles, building towers with blocks and knocking them back down, finger painting -- all of us (including my ten-year-old and his mother) could take a lesson from a toddler and let our effort be our goal.

(The friend I mentioned -- Janet -- has a new blog! Visit here.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

For Peter, For Karen, For Sue

We returned to the atrium last week. I had planned to present The Parable of the Insistent Friend. This is a favorite of mine. Over the last few months I have been struck by the life-altering impact of intercessory prayer, and no parable demonstrates this better than The Insistent Friend.

A man wakens his neighbor in the dead of night asking for bread to feed an unexpected house guest. The neighbor is clearly miffed and turns the man away. But the man persists. And in the end the neighbor caves.

Why does he cave? Because of the man's persistence.

What does he give him? All that he needs.

The Gospels provide example after example of the power of intercessory prayer, poignant testimonies of God's particular generosity when we come on behalf of someone else.

-- Jesus performs his first miracle when Mary intercedes for a bride and groom.

-- The centurion's servant is healed from afar when his superior officer asks for Jesus' healing touch.

-- A paralytic is healed when his friends tear open a roof to lower him into the presence of the Lord.

We have had several weeks -- months, actually -- of distressing news. Friends and relatives are facing grim circumstances, frightening diagnoses. We have lost a beloved aunt and a dear neighbor who was like a second father to us.

Our friend Peter is facing his third bout of lymphoma. Our friend Karen has a recurrence of breast cancer. Our friend Sue is battling ovarian cancer for the third time.

My word for 2012 is fortitude. I believe that fortitude is especially important to exercise in the realm of prayer. How often do I hear about a troubling situation and blithely reply, "I'll pray for you." But do I really pray? Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Tim ended up in the ER Sunday night. He started the day with a mild stomach virus and ending up with what appeared to be another anaphylactic reaction. Hives, puffy lips, swollen eyelids -- potentially serious, serious stuff.  I scribbled down Tim's symptoms and the medications he had taken that day. I pulled out his Epipen with my heart racing a bit as I pondered the possibility of Dave needing to inject Tim on the way to the hospital.

And of course I prayed. I made it through most of my rosary when I started to nod off. I sat myself up and persevered ... and nodded off again and again. But I made myself finish. I summoned my fortitude which can be woefully lacking at 1:00 a.m.. At times like this I fully understand the apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane who failed to stay with Jesus even one hour.

Thanks be to God, Tim is just fine.

From a Bible study I just read:

The Greek word translated as "persistence" means "shameless," suggesting freedom from the bashfulness that would stop a person from asking a second time. Knocking once does not indicate perseverance, but "continued" knocking does.

For Peter, for Karen, for Sue, it's time to be insistent -- even shameless -- in our intercession. Let's dismantle the roof and lower our friends into the arms of God.

Rachel Balducci closed this week's episode of The Gist with a quote from Saint Teresa of Avila: You give God a compliment by asking great things of him.

Let's ask.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


What can I say about croup?

1. Croup is frightening.

2. Croup works the night shift. Croup owns a trusty alarm clock. It's usually set for 1:00 a.m..

3. Croup prefers the weekends; holiday weekends are even better.

4. John has croup.

5. Thanks to croup, Mom has circles under her eyes. We've watched Wallace and Grommet at 1:00 a.m. on Wednesday and Kung Fu Panda 2 at 1:00 a.m. on Thursday.

6. Thanks to croup, Mom has a back in spasm and a neck on fire. We've "slept" propped up on the couch for two nights.

7. Thanks to croup, Mom has spent lots of time reading to John, watching movies with John, rubbing John's head, praying for John, thanking God for giving her this firecracker of a four-year-old.

Even croup isn't all bad.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Dave Barry, How We've Missed You

For years my husband and I had a weekend tradition. On Saturday morning, we would read James Kilpatrick's column, The Writer's Art. On Sunday morning, we would enjoy a laugh courtesy of Dave Barry. Jimbo has since died, and Dave Barry quit his weekly column a few years back. Our weekends have yet to recover.

Today I stumbled on this and instantly was reminded of how blasted funny this man is. Among the gems:

1. On the economy:

The economic outlook is also brighter in Washington, where Congressional leaders, still working night and day to find a solution to the problem of the federal government spending insanely more money than it actually has, announce that they have a bold new plan: They will form another committee. But this one will be even better than the Supercommittee, because it will be a SuperDUPERcommittee, and it will possess what House and Senate leaders describe, in a joint statement, as “magical powers.”

2. File this under Yes, I'm the Mother of three boys:

In Egypt, demonstrators take to the streets to protest the three-decade regime of President Hosni Mubarak following revelations that “Hosni Mubarak” can be rearranged to spell “A Bum Honks Air.”

3. And more on Europe:

… the European economic crisis worsens still further as Moody’s downgrades its credit rating for Spain following the discovery that the Spanish government, having run completely out of money, secretly sold the Pyrenees to China and is now separated from France only by traffic cones.

Dave, thanks for the laugh.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Fight or Flight

Adrenaline assists the human body in mounting a response in times of trouble. Fight or flight -- that's what we're supposed to do when facing peril. But what if instead your innate response is pure paralysis?

I'm about twelve years old. I'm window shopping at the mall. I exit one store and stroll into the mall area to wander through a car show. A man walks up and starts reading a display out loud. He makes some kind of small talk -- I can't remember what he said exactly.

I move on. And so does he. He makes a joke or another comment. I glance at him and realize he's probably about thirty-five. He continues to chat. He's starting to give me the creeps.

I move on. Again he follows me.

I'm starting to seize up internally. I'm not sure what to do. He keeps talking. I continue to panic. Eventually, I move quickly away, cut through a drug store, and out into the parking lot.

He's standing right there.

He starts talking to me about going for a ride in his car. I say no. At some point he puts his arm around me. I ask him to leave me alone, and he does. I bolt through the parking lot back to my grandmother's apartment.

By the grace of God, the story ends there.

I just read this piece by Elizabeth Foss. Every word she wrote resonated with me. I was that nice, mostly polite, fairly compliant girl who didn't know what in the world to do when a thirty-five-year-old man stalked her.

Here's what I didn't do:

I didn't yell, "Get away from me!"

I didn't attract any attention from a shopper, a cashier, or a rent-a-cop.

I remember this event as clearly as if it happened yesterday. I was afraid, and my fear made me freeze. Part of my whole response to this was exactly what Elizabeth hits on -- girls who are polite and concerned about the feelings of others can make poor, poor choices.

Years later I was at a party with my best friend. Her curfew was fast approaching, so out the door we went. I realized she was in no condition to drive. This sort of dilemma is all too common. Do you get in the car and hope for the best, or do you confront the driver? I took her keys and drove to her house where quite a scene unfolded. I grabbed the phone and punched in my home number, anxious to have my dad pick me up asap.

It was late. Dad was tired. He was more than a bit put out by the whole affair. But I never hesitated to call him, not for one second. In the way my dad has, he groused and muttered and then said, "Well, now that we're up, we might as well get a hamburger."

A year or two after that, I was living England. At 1:00 in the morning, I left a friend's dorm room -- alone --and headed back to my room. As I moved through the double doors into the common room, I noticed someone behind me. Not thinking a thing of it, I continued on. I passed the phone booths and suddenly decided to call my parents. With the time difference, I would catch them around dinner time.

As I dialed, I noticed that the man who had been behind me was now sitting off at a table in a corner. My parents weren't home. I headed back through the common room and toward the doors. As I started out, I thought I should try my folks again. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that as I was leaving, the man had started to leave as well. I turned around and headed for the bank of phones. Still no answer. Then I noticed that the man was once again sitting at a corner table.

I'm imagining this, I thought. I'll pretend to go back out and see what he does.

I walked to the doors. He got up and followed me, now for the third time. The building had twenty-four hour security. Do I report this, or do I dash to my room? Feeling a bit ridiculous, a bit paranoid, I walked to the porter's office.

"You're going to think I'm crazy," I remember saying. "But I think a man is following me."

The porter looked for the man who by then was nowhere to be found. He walked me back to my room. The next night I answered a knock on my door to find the same porter standing there.

"Are you the woman I walked home," he asked. "A woman was assaulted last night. The police would like to interview you."

I was interviewed three times. To my knowledge, the rapist was not caught. I knew the victim slightly. She had taken my place as coxswain of a crew when I realized that rowing was not the sport for me. She dropped out of school.

Kindness, manners, obedience -- we work very hard on these virtues. We want daughters and sons who are friendly, polite, and giving. We need to balance this with wholeness, confidence, and boundaries. At twelve I was paralyzed by fear; by twenty-one, I managed to ask for help. I'm so glad that I did.

I look at my four children, still so young and innocent. I want them to grow up to be prudent and smart. I want them to have a healthy respect for their bodies. I want them to have the courage to say No! --forcefully and convincingly -- when No! is needed. I want them to heed that inner voice that shouts This is a bad situation.

I want them to know they can always, always, always call.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Gone But Not Forgotten

I am awakened at about 5:00 with a big, slurpy kiss and a pitiful lament: I want another one pacie. Really, I do!

Friday, January 06, 2012

Life in the Alleluia Community - Augusta, Georgia

The other day I had a series of brief encounters that left me with a profound sense of gratitude for God's provision in my life. As I headed to a meeting, I  passed a group of boys on their way home from our school. Two of them are sons of a friend. They are tall, lanky adolescents, now so obviously young men and no longer boys. I have known their mother since I was twenty-something, and she was a teenager.We recently reminisced about my wedding reception. She was a week or two away from delivering her first child -- that same young man I spied walking down the street.

I turned the corner and spotted this friend's father -- the founding headmaster of our school, the science teacher who has so inspired my oldest son. He waved a funny wave because he's a very funny guy and on he went to deliver the rest of my friend's kids -- his grandchildren -- to her house.

In a split second I was overwhelmed by the layers of relationships and love that are woven into my life.

At twenty-two I joined the Alleluia Community here in Augusta, Georgia. These friends -- their children, their grandchildren -- are all part of the life I live as a member of an ecumenical, lay, charismatic  community.

Ecumenical, lay, charismatic community -- what in the world does all that mean?

Alleluia Community began in 1973. This community -- and scores like it around the world -- grew out of the Charismatic Renewal, a world-wide move of the Holy Spirit that began in the early 1900s. Let me just say from the get-go that I have lived the Charismatic Renewal much more than I have studied it. One day I was rifling through books at  Wal-mart and I stumbled upon The Charismatic Century by Jack Hayford. Chapter one begins:

On January 1, 1901, the first day of the new century, from the Vatican, Pope Leo XIII invoked the Holy Spirit by singing the hymn "Veni Creator Spiritus" (Come Holy Spirit, Creator Blest) dedicating the twentieth century to the Holy Spirit. That same day on the other side of the world, a group of students in Charles Parham's tiny Topeka, Kansas, Bible School, experienced a Pentecostal outpouring when a young woman was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke "in tongues."

In the early 1970s a Charismatic prayer group began to meet once a week at a local Catholic high school here in Augusta. A core group felt called to greater commitment, felt a tug toward community. They read about the New Testament churches breaking bread together and putting all things in common. They sought the support of Christian brothers and sisters beyond Sunday morning at church and these Thursday night prayer meetings.

But how do lay people do community? That seemed the realm of consecrated brothers and sisters, not of married couples with growing families.

The group began to pray and to discern what, in the practical realm, God was calling them to do. They gathered one February night to share a meal. Snow began to fall and fall and fall. This is Augusta, Georgia. We get snow every year of two. Last year we were treated to two "wintry mixes" in the span of a month, a rare occurrence indeed. In February 1973 Augusta got thirteen inches of snow -- the greatest snowfall in the city's recorded history.

Snowed in for the weekend, this small group talked about forming a community. In between romping in the snow with the kids and doing loads and loads of soaked laundry, they drafted a  document now known as the Alleluia Covenant -- a summary of what they felt God was calling them to build.

"We are called to be a people of praise," the Alleluia Covenant reads. "God has destroyed our isolation and joined us together."

Alleluia began with twelve families and over the past thirty-nine years has  grown to around 800 members. It is a lay community, although there are many ordained priests and ministers of various denominations. It is an ecumenical community, meaning members come from  a dozen or so different Christian denominations. It is a Charismatic community, meaning we particularly recognize the third person of the Holy Trinity and the unique graces that comes through the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

But what is community to me?  It is:

- Walking through some trying, trying circumstances one afternoon. Feeling like I would positively suffocate from the pressure. Learning afterwards that a friend set his computer alarm to beep every ten minutes for three hours so that he could pray for us during this ordeal. Being driven to tears when I realized, once again, the depth of love and commitment we share here in Alleluia.

-  Taking ninety minutes out of a busy night to attend a prayer meeting where we sang and praised the Lord. Arriving there feeling overwhelmed and positively spent. Leaving there with a renewed awareness of God's deep love.

- Looking out my back door to see two dozen kids playing Frisbee or baseball or soccer. Seeing a teenage boy push my two-year-old daughter, Ainsley, all over our enormous shared yard in her little jeep. Hearing her chortling with glee.

- Listening to my ten-year-old son, Kolbe, in morning prayers list the fruits of the Holy Spirit -- love, peace, patience, joy, goodness, meekness, and self-control. Knowing full well that this is nothing I've taught him, but something he learned from one of my neighbors who also happens to be his teacher.

- Realizing I'm out of oatmeal and sending Kolbe two doors down to his Godparents' house to borrow some. Laughing when I remember these same neighbors calling three times one afternoon to borrow groceries. The calls went something like this:

Kelly, we're grilling some hamburgers. Do you have a pack of buns we could borrow?

Kelly, um, we seem to be out of ketchup ...
Kelly, we just noticed we're out of hamburgers.

(The last call was a joke.)

- Calling a neighbor at 10:00 p.m. to ask for prayers. We didn't hesitate to call, and he didn't hesitate to come over.

-  Having a friend call to ask about my mom's health nearly every week.

- Gathering with hundreds of friends to bury Bob V, a much loved member of Alleuia who was a father to seven and a second fathers to all of us. Remembering the day I was four months pregnant with Ainsley and overcome with nausea. Hearing a knock on the door and finding Bob V on my front porch with a pot of chicken soup.

- Sitting in a meeting with Protestants and Catholics discussing weighty and potentially divisive issues in an atmosphere of love and  mutual respect. Rejoicing that my children are being raised to know that being passionate about your faith does not require you to disdain someone else's beliefs.

I sat in a prayer meeting one night and listened to a neighbor share Isaiah 55:2: Why do you spend money for what is not bread and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good.

We do many good and useful things here in Alleluia Community. We carpool and exercise together. We coach each other through labor and bring meals after the baby is born. We help the elderly and care for the sick. We run a school! We camp together and consume far too much Mexican food. Good, good stuff. I love it all.

But to me all this is the icing on the cake.

"Our hearts are restless, " wrote Saint Augustine, "until they rest in you." That was written nearly 1700 years ago and is still just as apropos today. Above all, this life in Alleluia Community continually returns me to Augustine's essential premise  -- that we are created to know God.

In our living room hangs a drawing by Leonardo Da Vinci. Mary is holding baby Jesus. Saint Anne sits with John the Baptist . She is gracefully pointing her finger toward the heavens.

This is the essential role that Alleluia Community plays in my life: It is a tool God has used to point toward heaven, a tool to help me see His face and hear His voice. In the midst of the hurly burly that sometimes is my life, Alleluia helps me focus on the eternal, to the things of the Lord that are lasting and infinitely more satisfying than the earthly alternatives.

It is a finger gently pointing toward heaven. I am grateful I was called to live this life.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

2011 in Superlatives

Favorite Christmas Gifts: Tim's Kindle, Kolbe's Ripstick, Ainsley's new purse, John's Spiderman watch, Mom's ornament.

Favorite Movie - The King's Speech

Favorite Book(s) - Black Out and All Clear. HT: Melanie from Wine Dark Sea.

Favorite Picture: You can't take a bad picture of John. The one on the right is a fav.

Favorite post. This one. Because my Dad just continues to rock.

Favorite Quotes:
John, barricading the doorway: What's the password?

Tim: I don't know.

John: It's love, you idiot!

John, to a snoring Dave: Dad, quit making all that noise so I can sweep.

Captures Life with Three Brothers: Photo to right.

A Bad Day: Read all about it.

A Good Day: Described here.

Best Captures Age Two:

Me: Ainsey, you're going to use the potty, and I'm going to give you chocolate.

Ainsley: No way!

Best Captures Age Four:

John: Mama, I love your fullness.

Me: My fullness?

John: Of your heart.
Best Captures Age Nine: The note on Kolbe's Valentine's
Day bag: P.S. I don't really love you. You are just my friend.

Best Captures Age Fourteen: Tim: I figured one of us had to be the mature one and it wasn't going to be him.

Another Favorite Pic: Tim, on right, enjoying Social.

The Best Thing We Said We'd Never Do and Did Anyway: Signing Tim up for Social. He loves it.

A Prayer Answered: Aunt Alice, bathed in grace as she was dying.

A Virtue that Grew: Hope

A Virtue I Need to Cultivate: Fortitude

Most Fervent Prayer for 2012: Peter's complete healing from lymphoma.

Hand Prints and Children's Art

Dear Miss Rebecca -

Thank you for making my Christmas. The Christmas doormat is great (but no one's allowed to wipe his feet on it). The reindeer ornament? Too cute. And John's gingerbread house? Well, you teachers must have the patience of Job and a one very washable work area. My friend Rachel and I were oohhing and aahhing over our sons' creations.

Yes, both John and Ainsley produced the mother-lode of Christmas crafts this year.  Wreaths and bookmarks and ornaments and a host of other items that came wrapped and ready for Christmas morning. I squealed when I saw the wreath that Ainsley made.

John made a Santa wall hanging that reads:

Look very closely and you will see
That Santa's beard was made by me
Hang this Santa on the wall
To remember when my hands were small.
I read it and cried. Yes, I cried. The hand print art gets me every time. Mother's Day, Christmas, Valentine's Day -- if it involves a hand print and some over-the-top cheesy sentiment typed by the teacher, I fairly swoon.

Christmas morning I opened a bag with yet another little ornament -- a tiny wrapped box with a tag that read:

I took an ordinary box
As empty as can be
I filled it with a special gift
And wrapped it carefully

But please don't ever open it
Just leave the ribbon tied
And hold it tightly near your heart
Because ... my love for you is inside!
I bawled my eyes out. We have it on video.

You captured a slice of four-year-old John, a slice I will save and treasure. Thank you!

- Kelly