Friday, August 31, 2012

Why I'm Nervous About the Start of School

Tim: When is high school orientation?

Me: Tomorrow at nine o'clock.

Tim: That's nine o'clock in the morning?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012


So we spent a week high up in the mountains. Among my reflections come a few thoughts on the wired world in which we live and an iron-clad realization that I am a child of the first world, wholly accustomed to pampering, comfort, and ease. Especially ease.

Let me list our "privations":

1. Limited cable.

2. No cell phone coverage.

3. No Wifi in our unit.

4. Dicey GPS coverage.

Now, we had potable water, electricity, and a land line. This was not primitive camping. A pool, hot tub, and tennis courts were a five minute walk from our front door. The resort had a small office with Wifi.

We had a stunning mountain view out the back door, for the love Pete.

But we didn't have use of our gadgets. And we are so accustomed to our gadgets.

Dave would go up to the office every day or two to check our email. I made it up there once or twice. Dave casually mentioned that he had a message he thought he should have answered. And it all made me think about days gone by when people would go out of town, and Planet Earth would continue to rotate on its axis with or without their input.

Dave and Kelly? They're on vacation.

I love our gadgets. We passed a Robert Toombs' Bridge, and I thought, "Wasn't he the Confederate Vice President? Or was he a Civil War general?" And if I had been home, I would have Googled Robert Toombs and given the kids a brief lecture on the Civil War. (And they're probably de-lighted we were Wifi free.)

I don't hoard brochures like I used to. What's the point? You Google the place, head over to Mapquest for directions, plug in the GPS and you're good.

Except when the GPS goes all squirrelly and flashes images of your car on the middle of a grassy knoll and everyone starts to laugh about the seven-passenger van with no pick up morphing into an All Terrain Vehicle. But then you start to worry that it's right and you're wrong and though you're fairly confident you're not actually tearing up a grassy knoll, you couldn't prove it a court of law because Oh! My! Gosh! you didn't pack an atlas.

On this trip, we bought a map, an actual paper map, one that you read and fold and don't expect to speak the entire length of the trip no matter how badly you need to make a u-turn.

Then there are the gadgets of entertainment variety. When in-car DVD players became all the rage, I was the hold out who was having none of it, no way, nope.  Dave bought ours without asking my opinion on the subject. That was the year torrential rains turned our fifteen hour drive from Detroit into a seventeen hour drive from Detroit. That would be the year I was ten weeks pregnant with John, the year that I was vomiting before we pulled out of my sister's drive way.

Let's offer a moment of silence for my late electronic friend that gave me seventeen hours of sanity during a trip that would otherwise be described as nothing short of heinous.

The downside of these devices  -- and this holds true for electronics of all varieties -- is that you come to rely on them.  Before the DVD player, we packed coloring books and crayons, matchbox cars and playing cards. We played car bingo and Twenty Questions. We still do some of that, but truth be told, we rely much more on the electronic babysitter than I would like (which is one of the reasons, I was so reluctant to get one in the first place).

And you shouldn't really rely on them because there is a further downside -- these portable DVD players are cheap -- in price, yes, but mostly in workmanship. They weigh about two pounds and can withstand very little in the way of jostling. But you use them in an over-stuffed car with four kids and -- guess what? -- jostled they get. And suddenly they aren't working. And you're counting on the DVD player to provide a little diversion and the diversion goes belly up. And the cards and crayons and cars? Well, you didn't pack them.

Before cell phones, we had back up plans for communication. If we get separated, we'll meet in front of Cinderella's castle at 9:15. Now we can talk or text 24-7 except when we can't and then we're left scratching our heads about what we ever did without them.

I'm glad we had this little reality check on our three hour drive weeks before our -- gulp, cringe, grimace -- fifteen hour drive which looms before me.

To my family up North: You better fully appreciate how much I love you.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Seven Quick Takes

1. Ainsley was feverish a few weeks back. When she wanted to be held in the middle of the night and I was well over my Dora quotient (which is, admittedly, low), I searched for something both of us could stand and stumbled upon old, old episodes of Jon and Kate Plus Eight. This was back in the day when the sextuplets were toddlers, and Jon was still in the picture.

Ainsley was mesmerized. She couldn't take her eyes off the screen that showed herself times six running around the house, the cornfield, the zoo.

2. Yesterday, Ainsley wanted a show and kept saying "Kay plussing! Kay plussing!"

Apparently I speak fluent toddler. I eventually deciphered that Kay Plussing was Kate Plus Eight. Not content with just any old episode, Ainsley had her sights set on the episode about potty training -- clearly a subject near and dear to her heart.

John took in about thirty seconds of six toddlers running around in pull-ups and said, "TMI, Ainsley! TMI!"

3. On a subject related to potty training . . . I emailed my friend Rachel to see if she wanted to split the shipping on a Hanna Andersson order. Let me just say that for two women who waited a l-o-n-g time for girls, Hanna is unquestionably the near occasion of sin and/or financial ruin. But they have awesome sales! They also carry great tights and underwear.

Rachel wrote back: Did you end up ordering from Hannah? Anna sent me the cutest underwear (panties?) for Isabel from Gymboree, so that might be a good option as well!

For the record, Ainsley is emphatic that she wears panties, NOT underwear.

She reminds me of an old Army buddy of mine who married a woman with four daughters. He and his wife then had a boy who one day informed dad that he was putting on his panties. Dad donned his best Army voice and said, "Son, we're men, and we wear briefs!"

Whatever you call them, I'm glad my daughter is finally wearing them and keeping them more or less dry and clean.

5. I spoke too soon.

Ainsley just now woke from her nap and said, "I'm super wet. I need a new bed. I want a purple bed that's not peed in."

Can't blame her for that and from the look and scent of her clothing, she may not be exaggerating about needing a new bed..

6. If I wind up stark, raving crazy, you can blame it on two sources: an Optimus Prime Voice Activated Helmet and an Indiana Jones Sound Effects Whip.

Cruel and unusual punishment, both of them. And when the kids are distracted for just a minute -- maybe watching another episode of "Kay Plussing" -- back to the attic they'll go!

7. And it's good to laugh about all the crazy antics in life because -- you know what? -- suffering, hopelessness, and grief lie all too close at hand. I would covet prayers for a friend who desperately needs healing -- physical, spiritual, and emotional healing.

Have a blesssed weekend. Kiss the people you love. Call the lonely. Pray for the hurting.

(And head over to Jen's to add your Quick Takes before it's too late).

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Church History Through Film

Three of our friends were ordained as deacons in June. As we celebrated their ordinations, my older boys (ages 10 and 14) raised a number of questions about deacons. I explained that our friend Tom is a now a permanent deacon, but that Jacob and Kevin are transitional deacons who plan to be ordained as diocesan priests. This led to questions about the differences between diocesan priests and ordered priests, among brothers and fathers and sisters.
I pointed out that our family friend, Father George, is a Dominican priest, that our bishop is a Franciscan, and that one of the other guests is a Jesuit.
The boys got the gist of this, but the whole conversation led me to consider the fact that my children are growing up in a different era and in a different environment than the one in which I was raised. I spent twelve years in Catholic schools. This was the late sixties and seventies, so many orders were in a state of flux, but I certainly knew what a nun was and what a religious brother was. My boys? They’re a bit fuzzy on all this.
As summer afternoons have brought scorching temperatures and a sleeping toddler, I have decided to use our down time to introduce the boys to some of the great saints of our faith. We started out watching Brother Sun, Sister Moon. It’s a bit like Godspell meets the Middle Ages and there’s a nude scene, but the boys came away with an understanding that Saint Francis wasn't just that guy in the brown dress singing to the birds, but a flesh and blood human who loved God without reservation and rebuilt his church on earth. Now when I tell them our bishop is a Franciscan, they have some understanding of what this means.

The next week, we recognized the feast of Saint Thomas More by watching A Man For All Seasons. This feast coincided with the Fortnight of Freedom we recognized here in the United States.
Because I’m a former history teacher and think timelines just rock, we’re assembling one in our hallway.
The history teacher in me is all about people and places and dates. The Catholic in me wants to crack open the lid that is the treasure trove of our faith and stand in awe at the work God has done through ordinary men and women throughout the ages. I hope all of us come away with a deeper understanding of the communion of saints, with a broader view of different spiritualties that all fall under the umbrella of Catholicism, and with an appreciation of how a single life lived wholeheartedly for God can change the face of the earth.
Here’s a list of movies titles I’ve gathered from around the ‘net. I've included comments on the ones we've recently watched.

Which films are worth watching? Which are forgettable? What other recommendations do you have?

I haven’t found anything about Saint Dominic, Saint Benedict, or Saint Ignatius Loyola. Any suggestions?

The List:

Molokai: The Story of Father Damien - Great movie. There is a brief scene when a doctor suspects Father Damien has syphilus rather than leprosy.
Brother Sun, Sister Moon - Godspell meets the middle ages. Brief back view nudity. Very well made film.


A Man for All Seasons - Excellent film.

Ocean of Mercy

The Passion of the Christ


The Scarlet and The Black
Something Beautiful for God

The Passion of Bernadette

Saint John Bosco: Mission to Love

Pope John Paul II


Diary of a Country Priest
Black Narcissus

Into Great Silence
Passion of Joan of Arc

Maximillian: Saint of Auschwitz

Padre Pio: Miracle Man - We watched an ancient VHS copy of this. It tells the story, but is very low budget. The kids' attention flagged.

Karol: A Man Who Became Pope

The Reluctant Saint

From Ignatius Press: Saint Rita, Padre Pio, Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Bernadette, Saint Therese (the Little flower), Saint John Bosco, Saint Paul, Pope John Paul II, Saint Francis of Assisi, Mother Theresa

The Shoes of the Fisherman

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

All Joy and No Fun?

We are snuggling down for the night.  I take holy water and make the sign of the cross on John's forehead.

"Jesus, bless John," I pray. "Watch over him, protect him, and keep him safe . . ."

"And give me a pistol," John adds.

I move over to Ainsley who is prattling away with that stream-of-consciousness chatter that an almost three-year-old girl can produce effortlessly.

"You're big, Mama," she tells me. "And when I'm big again, I'm going to hold Timmy when he's little again."

If this confuses you and me, it all makes perfect sense to Ainsley. She then changes the subject.

"Why were you crying in that picture," she asks for the twenty-third time.

That picture.

When Ainsley was in pillaging mode a few days back, she stumbled upon that picture, the first picture snapped of me and Tim. Tim is red-faced, stiffly bundled in his hospital issued striped blanket. I am red-faced in my hospital issued night gown.

And I'm wailing.

It's not one of those sweet, touching cries, a tasteful Hallmark moment. No, this was a twenty-one hours of labor, failed epidural, rough delivery, oh my gosh here's my baby, wrinkled mouth, swollen face, dripping nose, ugly cry.

The kids, of course, don't get that this was also a happy cry, the happiest cry of all.

I've never posted that picture, first of all, because it's a print not a digital photo but, secondly, because it's almost too personal, too intimate.

We continue winding down. I hug my now five-year-old boy and my almost three-year-old girl. And I thank God for their sweetness, for their energy, for the girl with the squishy cheeks, for the boy with the Coppertone tan.

If you follow the mainstream news outlets, you'll find more headlines linking children with discontentment, marital strife, even depression. New York Magazine explains Why Parents Hate Parenting: All Joy and No Fun. Click here to read their rather grim and dour report.

Commenting on this article over at CNN, Amitai Etzioni writes:

Like the annual outbreaks of flu, every year brings a new round of attacks on having and raising children. Some years, it takes the form of articles pointing out how expensive children are. You could buy a fully loaded Porsche for the $250,000 a child costs you these days, we are told.

Etzioni, a father of five and now a grandfather, continues:

We need to return to a precept that social philosophers and religious texts have long extolled: that a good life is not one centered around squeezing as much pleasure out of life as possible. Pleasure of the kind celebrated by those who would rather go out for dinner than stay home with their infants, watch TV than change diapers and gamble than attend a PTA meeting -- is Sisyphean. No sooner does one gain this kind of pleasure than one is lacking it again. No wonder it has been called the hedonic treadmill.

Read the rest here.

(True confession: Though I taught a mythology unit eight years running, I had to look up Sisyphean. I'm fairly sure I can't pronounce it still. Definition: actually or seemingly endless and futile).

It should be no shocking news to anyone that parenting is hard, hard work. I shared my thoughts on this subject here.This evening spent luxuriating in my youngest children followed a day that had its trying moments. John spent the pre-dinner hour running up to Ainsley and yelling "zombie!" and watching her scream. If her shriek didn't threaten the lead crystal, it certainly put both my ear drums and my nerves at risk. After dinner we dashed to the pool to cool off and chill out but arrived just as the thunder did. Pool closed. The rain meant that we wouldn't fit in a swim and that the grass wouldn't get mowed. But the double stroller we left out back? It's now soaked.

It's life, real life, not a Sunday night Hallmark special, not a sanitized episode of Little House on the Prairie where both joy and grief are orchestrated and all loose ends are neatly tied up before the final credits role.

There were other blessings of this day, I'm sure, and other trials as well.

Some days my job does seem Sisyphean in that my tasks seem endless; never, however, do they seem futile. Okay, so refolding the previously folded laundry? Yeah, that one probably rates somewhere on the futility chart. Sisyphean!  But investing my time, talent, and treasure in these eternal souls is a far cry from a pointless.

Is my life all about seeking pleasure -- fun, really -- or something deeper? The Greeks might have called it purpose. Contemporary Christians might call it vocation -- a divine call -- or apostolate -- the mission of an apostle. Whatever its dubbed, it's hardly futile.

CNN's column ends on a positive, if sobering, note:

I must admit that recurring references to the indignities of changing diapers and boring children surprise me. I was much more taxed when I had to hold my kids down while they were getting stitches in the ER, when they took the car for a spin for the first time on their own, when they did not come home on time late at night, and when one was diagnosed with juvenile melanoma and it took awhile before I learned that it was not the type of cancer that ended the life of his grandmother.

All this pales in comparison to when I lost a son and had to live with the fear -- which many parents share -- of what fate had in store for the others.

Nevertheless, my children were and are the greatest source of contentment in my life -- one that stands as other fortunes ebb and flow. My children have provided boatloads of joy and grief and meaning. And now they have given me a whole slew of grandchildren. What fun -- and no diapers to be changed (by me).