Friday, June 27, 2014

The Sacred Heart of Jesus

Tomorrow   Today is one of my favorite feast days. With no time to write, I pulled a few thoughts from the archives.

For those of you who have been praying for our parents, thank you, thank you, thank you and please don't stop.

And let me add two more intentions. In the span of maybe seventy-two hours, two people dear to me have had newborn babies placed in their care for adoption.This is the culmination of years of prayer. One of the adoptions faces some legal hurdles. Please, please pray in gratitude, in joy, and in hope for a smooth transition for Mama, Daddy, and Baby.

The Heart

Dave and I enjoyed our weekend getaway.

Through Dave's savvy use of Priceline, we snatched up a gorgeous hotel room for less than usually pay for a dive off I-77. We are more accustomed to big rigs and bad coffee than waterfalls and sleek furniture. This was very nice.

Now at these nicer hotels there are these really helpful folks called bell-hops who handle your luggage for you. Who knew? The bell-hop and I were putting our smaller bags on a cart as Dave pulled the larger cases out of the trunk.

We had stopped for dinner shortly before our arrival. Ainsley had been getting cold, so I had opened my bag to grab a blanket. I failed to zip the bag shut.

Cue ominous music.

So there's Dave pulling out my suitcase. And there are all my personal effects scattering across the streets of downtown Tampa. I didn't take a close look because, I ask you, did I really want to see my unmentionables lying on the asphalt for all the world to see? Not so much.

Humiliation complete and personal effects retrieved, we tipped the good bell-hop and settled into our comfy room and enjoyed the rest of our trip.

On Sunday we walked a few blocks to a beautiful church for Mass. Friday was the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the parish happened to be the Church of the Sacred Heart. Call it the catechist in me, but things like this make my day.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus dates back to the mid 1600s when a French nun, now known as Saint Margaret Mary, had a series of visions revealing the nature of Christ's heart and His deep love for us. I have a beautiful image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus that hung in my grandmother's house throughout my childhood.

In Catechesis of the Good Shepherd we explore why God presents some of the same lessons over and over again. Why are there two creation accounts in Genesis? Why are there four Gospels? Why did Jesus present parable after parable?

Each one, we learn, reflects a slightly different face of God.

So, too, it is with the saints. Saint Francis presents a vision of simplicity, detachment, and love. Saint Teresa of Avila calls us to the heights of contemplative prayer. Saint Faustina helps us understand the limitless expanse of Christ's mercy.

Saint Margaret Mary came to a unique awareness of the nature of Christ's heart. It is this heart that I pray will reshape what is lacking in my own.

The path to wholeness and holiness is not always a simple one. I've heard the saying "Act as if it all depends on you. Pray as if it all depends on God." Sometimes we ask God to do a work in us that we cannot do for ourselves.

In my early twenties I returned to the church of my early childhood. I embraced with a joyful heart so much of what the Catholic Church teaches. There were, however, a few lingering questions and theological issues that I gnawed on for a few years. I developed a habit of receiving communion and praying, "Jesus, I believe in you; help my unbelief." While there was no 180 degree shift, one day I simply found myself at peace.

Sometimes I am confronted anew with the limits of my heart, with my stunted ability to love. I judge others. I am impatient or dismissive with my children. I avoid certain people.

I don't want to be this way. I want the heart of Jesus.

So as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, I continue to seek His heart. As I pass my grandmother's image of the Sacred Heart that now sits on our prayer table, I pray, "Jesus, meek and mild, make my heart as unto thine own."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Road Is Long

I will be forever grateful that my children have known all their grandparents.

They'll remember gardening with Papa and fishing with Grandpa. They'll remember Oney the Scrabble champ and Grandma's incomparable baked beans. They'll remember Papa's colorful rendition of Harvey's Hideout and Grandpa quipping "Gifts are appreciated!" every time they made a wrong move in a chess game. They'll reminisce about Grandma who rode the waves at Hilton Head and took them to the video arcade.

I never knew my grandfathers -- one died before I was born, and one died when I was very young. When my Uncle Jack hit 64 or so, he became the oldest living male Regan. The women had longevity; the men died young. We have modern medicine to thank for the fact that my children continue to build memories with these four special people they call grandparents.

The downside is suffering.

Their grandparents are aging -- facing different maladies, loss of function, cognitive and physical, and it's hard, so very, very hard. Hard on us. Hard on the patient. Hard on the caregiver.

I remember being in a support group meeting many years ago and listening to an elderly friend named Fran describe her last drive. Her sight was failing; her reflexes were compromised. It was time to turn in her keys. She spent the afternoon driving up and down her driveway for several hours. She turned off the car and gave the keys to her daughter.

I was healthy and twenty-something and struck by what a life-changing moment that was for Fran. Our neighborhood has lots of terrific qualities, but you can't walk anywhere from here -- not the store, not the church, not the bank. Fran's wings were clipped.

And this is the path our parents are now on.

God is near to the broken-hearted, and not one bit of our suffering is wasted. And so I am praying for grace -- for frail and failing parents and for their more able-bodied caregivers (who sometimes seem to carry an even greater burden).

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Spoiling for a Fight

Do your kids fight over things that are not even a remote possibility? Mine do. Constantly spoiling for a fight that ain't never gonna happen.

We pull into the gas station and spy a totally cool car -- gold, sporty, souped-out.

"I call that car," Ainsley shrieks.

"No, it's mine," John interjects, "But you can have a Ferrari."

He kindly tosses her a bone, but she's not having any of it.

"I. don't. want. a. Ferrari," she says, clearly enunciating each syllable.

"You can have a Lamborghini," he generously offers.

No, no. She's having none of it.

This morning it was donuts.

"I get all the donuts," Ainsley declares, not realizing we have precisely zero donuts in our house.

"I get the whole donut store," John counters.

Ainsley's at a loss for words, so John just forges ahead. "I get the donut store plus infinity plus infinity."

Ainsley is flummoxed completely, blue eyes rolling into the back of her head. Though she can count and handle a little rudimentary addition, the concept of infinity plus infinity makes her head spin, and Tim, our resident lover of all things Math, is not here to bail her out.

The look on her face reminds me of the scene in A Christmas Story when a kid jumps immediately from Dare to Triple Dog Dare, a gross and unforgivable violation of playground etiquette.

"Well," she says in halting voice, "I get it, too. Me, too."

In a rare act of compassion, John makes no comment on her lame response

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Fun and Games

John arrived home from an epic swim meet with a new skill: He's now an expert at Go Fish. 

For perspective, the kids are at the pool nearly six hours. If John swims four events, he spends well under four minutes actually in the water. They need a few diversions. He and his pal, Max, decided to play cards.

We had a down day today, a wonderfully slow-paced, sleep late, don't do much of anything sort of day that gave us lots of time to play cards. And the game went something like this:

Ainsley, drawing a card: Oooooh! I got an "A".

John, seizing the moment: Ainsley, do you have any aces?

Ainsley, frowning: Go! Fish!

Me, knowing where all this is headed: Sweetie, that's not how the game works.

Ainsley, wailing: I want my "A"!

There's nothing new under the sun. From the archives, I offer you this:

Let the Games Begin

I've always loved playing games. I whiled away the summers of my childhood playing endless games of Monopoly with my best friend, Susan. College evenings with Ami, Kate, and Anne were filled with Trivial Pursuit and nachos from Tijuana Bob's. It's a rare board game I don't enjoy. Vacations with my extended family are filled with hours of Scrabble interrupted by rounds of Uno and Euchre.

We just acquired a new game - The Settlers of Catan. The older boys and I sat down to play this morning.

Playing with kids brings a few challenges I don't typically find when it's my mom or my sisters battling it out. My mom doesn't usually cry when she loses, and my sisters can make the dice land in the vicinity of the board.

Not so with young kids.

We have large age gaps, so right from the start finding the right game is tough. I try to find a game not too banal (think: Candyland), but not too competitive (think: Are you Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?), and, most importantly, not too long (think: Risk).

Game chosen, we then have a few behavioral challenges to overcome.

We may or may not have a family member who can not manage to throw dice in such a manner that they actually land anywhere near the board. If the dice do happen upon the board itself, rest assured we are playing a game with dozens of tiny pieces placed in strategic locations. The dice go a flyin' and so do the pieces. Otherwise, the dice go a flyin' and land under the table, typically within Ainsley's grasp.

You know, when the dice skedaddle once or twice, it's no big deal, but, trust me, by the eleventh time, you want to shriek "Settlers of Catan, be gone!" and get a cold compress and a few Advil. We've learned to throw the dice into a plastic tub. No flying dice, no choking hazards, no pain reliever required.

Other troubles are not so easily solved.

We may or may not have a kid who can never ever remember whose turn it is. Like the flying dice, this gets old fast.

There's the kid who can't stand to lose. We have actually rehearsed good sportsmanship lines. Repeat after me: Good game, fill-in-the-blank.

Then, of course, there's edifying conversation such as the exchange between Virtuous and Kindly that took place this morning:

Virtuous: What's that smell?

Kindly: I thinks it's your face.

At such a point I begin hissing comments about kindness and civility and doing unto others. The message gets a bit murky as my patience wanes, my jaw clenches, and each word sounds like a bark.

I remember suffering through identical trials with my oldest nieces and nephews. CandylandLife, and the mercifully short-lived, Pretty, Pretty Princess. There were tears and fits and clandestine stacking of the deck in favor of the youngest. Today these same folks are some of my favorite opponents and partners at play.

This afternoon we returned from the pool and stumbled upon those serendipitous moments when the dice didn't fly, the youngest didn't get totally creamed, the babies napped simultaneously, and we laughed and played and enjoyed the simple pleasure of each other.

When that happens, all of us are winners.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Blue Ribbons All Around

We are half way through the swim season, and I think awards are in order. The first blue ribbon goes to . . .


Faithful reader Kris said I'd get this swim meet thing down to a science, and perhaps I have. Last week were just about on time, had no mud-wrestling match with Hal (the device formerly known as Printer), lost no swim trunks, dodged no lightning en route, didn't get lost.

I hope I'm not declaring victory prematurely, but we may have arrived.

I humbly offer the keys to success:

1. Do not engage Hal.

I did not attempt to print two-sided heat sheets. I opened the documents and hit print. Eight sheets and no bad words later, the deal was done.

2. Stuff the kids before the meet.

I have begun serving nutritious frozen dinners an hour before departure. My kids still sound (and look) like they're starving, but let the record reflect that this is mere illusion coupled with rather impressive acting skills methodically honed over many years. It's a lot easier to say no to the junk if you know, for sure and for certain, that they've eaten. (Though I have to say there's something about sitting by a pool that makes you want to snack. I do packs snacks, and, believe me,  it's not all rice cakes and fruit.) Eating ahead of time at least takes the edge off.

3. Enjoy home meets.

Not that I have anything to say about this, but not having to worry about directions and parking makes it all go smoother.

4. Enjoy the second year.

I watched a neophyte Mom trying to decipher the hieroglyphics we write in black Sharpie all over our kids' arms (event, heat, lane, stroke). I realized that it's all easier the second time around. We more or less speak the language.

5. Enjoy watching the kids enjoy themselves.

Meet one from start to finish lasted just under six hours. Ainsley came up to me and said, "This was so much fun." What was "this", I wondered. She doesn't even swim. Ainsley sits around on a beach towel chatting with the other little girls. When they all began to leave, Ainsley moves over to the older girls and practices braiding hair.  And she loves every minute of it.

And now back to the awards . . . The second blue ribbon goes to . . .

Kolbe who is swimming faster and better and has a great attitude about joining this endeavor relatively late in life. He's made lots of friends at the pool. I watched a gang of boys take a swim cap and and move it back and forth so fast and hard it stretched to about two feet in diameter. Their goal was to stretch it so far they could get one of the boys inside the swim cap. Why? I couldn't tell you.  Well, the cap exploded. The boys immediately approached the lifeguard.  "Elliot," I heard them call, in voices sweet and innocent, "is there an extra swim cap anywhere?"  Apparently, they pulled this idea from You Tube which offers no end of interesting diversions while at the pool.

Watching twelve-year-old boys be twelve-year-old boys is entertaining in and of itself and reminded me of the summers we invested hours creating amazing whirlpools.

The third blue ribbon goes to . . .

Me again.

Here's the bad news: Ainsley's been blackballed from the swim team. Kindly, gently, sweetly asked to try again next year. Seems no matter what the coaches asked her to do, she tended to shake her head and politely but firmly decline to participate. She did spend quite a lot of time adjusting her goggles. Apparently that has not been shown to improve swim strokes.

But did I freak? No, I did not. For the simple reason that Ainsley is my fourth and not my first. So blue ribbon for me!

The fourth blue ribbon goes to . . .

John who has actually won four blue ribbons and a couple of other ones as well. The boy is fast. For his parents, it's basketball season all over again. We are shaking are heads wondering how this came to be. My sister has always looked at John's skin color and joked that he was switched at birth. His athletic prowess might be the most convincing evidence yet.

(And can I just admit here that it's really fun to watch your kid excel?)

The fifth and final blue ribbon goes to . . .

Tim who couldn't be  prouder of his youngest brother. "You're a shredder, John," he tells him. "A shredder!"

Shredder, I'm assuming, is a good thing? Right?

Tim is away for this part of the summer, working at a Scout camp nearby. He came home for about a day and a half and was so thrilled to see me, I nearly cried. John was happiest of all to have big brother Tim back in the house. Tim is an amazing big brother -- funny, slightly wild, always encouraging.

We're having a great summer.

Yeah, it's hot (though not as hot as it could be). Yeah, the kids say they're bored. Yeah, I've lost the streaming remote so the edifying television I had fixed in my mind has yet to happen.

It's not perfect, but it's been very, very good.

And I am grateful.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Lazy Afternoons And Why Six-Year-Old Boys Rock

My friend and I recently agreed there are few more pleasant things than six-year-old boys.

They have lots of passions -- cars, Legos, money, spy stuff.

They're reasonably independent.

They're blessedly uncomplicated.

They love their Mamas.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Summer Favs

About three days before school let out -- when Tim was up to his eyeballs in chemistry and web design, when every morning demanded a permission slip, cash, and special equipment or clothing -- summer seemed a mirage, a hazy, unreal place slightly out of reach. About three days into vacation, I floated in the pool and remarked to a friend that school seemed two months ago.

It's been good to me so far.

We've had pesky little illnesses pop up, and a few squabbles, an "I'm bored" or two or twelve, but on balance it's been relaxing and enjoyable and not nearly as hot as it could be.

Two weeks in, I'm sharing a few of my favorites:

1. The Best Pool Bag Ever

Holds all the things. Mine's Lands End. L.L. Bean makes a great one as well. This looks the same as it did ten years ago.

2. Matt Maher

So we listen to this on the way to swim every morning, and it includes one of the loveliest litanies I've ever hear. Click here to listen to Matt's Litany.

John, it seems, doesn't quite get that this is a form of prayer.

"We listen to this every. single. day," he lamented this morning as I cranked it up.

"It's a litany of the saints," Ainsley informed him in her most self-righteousness voice ever.

(This from the girl who entertained the moms at the park belting out "Going off of the rails on the crazy train" this morning. Thank you, Megamind! Acid rock, Litany of Saints -- she's well rounded, my girl.)

Our litany began around the time I watched my children learn to dive in shallow water. Things can happen in a pool, and I'll take all the prayer coverage we can get.

Just one more element of Catholic prayer that I love, love, love, and I can get positively transported into the heavenly realms thinking about the Communion of saints and the beautiful link between the here and the hereafter and then Kolbe adopts a mock-baritone and starts singing, "Matt Maher, pray for us!"

And I just have to laugh.

3. Shoe Goop

Have you tossed perfectly good shoes that separated from the soles? You need never do it again. A squirt of Shoe Goo, a few  minutes with a clamp, and presto! Shoes restored to fine form. I bought this at Walmart and have seen it in Kroger as well. $4.

So now  you're wondering why I'd spend $4 saving these. They fit. They're comfy.

4. Solid Goggles

I would hate to calculate how much I have spent on various sorts of goggles through the years. I finally asked our swim coach for advice, and here it is: Buy a brand that is one solid piece across the bridge of the nose. A friend told me Costco offers a three pack of Speedo goggles for $15. You won''t find a better deal than that.

5. Sunscream

That's what Ainsley calls it. Call me paranoid, but I'll take the old-school greasy stuff over the spray any day of the week. If I'm not feeling slathered in slime just on the verge of breaking out, well, I can almost feel the sunburn spreading across my shoulders. Yes, this is from a fair-skinned Irish gal who's been tan once in her life. The kids, of course, love the spray. Thankfully, all but Ainsley have Dave's skin, so they're working with a whole lot more pigment than I have.

Good days. Very good days.

Head over to Hallie's to add your Five Favorites.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Summertime Is Here

Exactly what I envisioned during those hectic last days of school.


Thursday, June 05, 2014

Time Out of Mind

So we have embarked on our humble attempts at "summer school" with predictable results. John rolled his and groaned. Ainsley finished her "work" and asked for more.


Then she stole one of John''s worksheets and constructed a clock.

Love it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Hal -- The Device Formerly Known As Printer

Breathe, Kelly, breathe.

Inhale, exhale.

I think of myself as a realist, but sometimes I am the master of denial. I white-wash all manner of events, especially big events like pregnancy, childbirth, nursing.  I remember all the good about pregnancy. I overlook the exhaustion, the breathlessness, the waddling.  (Except for the nausea thing -- which I recall in technicolor detail).

I look at my friends' tiny babies and ooh and aah and remember those tiny, fuzzy heads and sweet cheeks and gurgly coos. And then Ainsley was dealing with her micro-bout of Croup (much less nerve-wracking than John's uber-bout). I sat on the edge of the bed at about 3:00 a.m. and kept repeating Advil, Advil, Advil and then I'd nod off and shake myself awake and mutter Advil, Advil, Advil. I no longer function in the dead of night. My nighttime parenting is limited to saying, "Come on in, Ainsley. Try not to kick Daddy."

So I was meandering through the grocery store picking up snacks for tonight's swim meet and thinking about how last year's meets were about the most exhausting thing ever and wondering why that was so and chuckling over me of a year ago and oh! how she does go on about things and what was the big deal anyway?

And I came home to tackle item # 1 on a long list of Things To Do Before a Swim Meet. This step was simple one: Print the heat sheets.

I may be a bit forgetful. I may be the master of denial. But, believe me, Printer, my old nemesis, is not.

Printer -- for purposes of this post, we'll just call him Hal -- remembers all too well how important the heat sheets are and how easy, how entertaining, oh, how fun, fun, fun, it is to gum up the whole works.

I've said it before it, and I'll say it again: These things should be easy. Oh, yes, they should. But where's the fun in that? Thirty-three pages and a few choice words later, I have heat sheets in hand. Our browser has a function that invites you to print selected pages. I'm pretty sure Printer, I mean Hal, dabbles in HTML in his spare time and coded these very instructions. Pages 1, 3, 5, and 7 printed so very nicely, oh so very nicely.

And then they printed again.

And again.

And again.

Hal, it seems, doesn't do even numbered pages.

Furthermore, Hal doesn't understand basic English commands: Cancel, Stop, Exit, Escape, Can't You See I Just Pulled Your Plug, Print the Bleeding Even-numbered Pages Before I Donate You to the Kindergarten For Take Apart. 

At one point Hal emitted a grinding noise reminiscent of death throes and then flashed an unreadable message on the badly lighted screen. The flashlight, naturally, was hiding in John and Ainsley's fort down the hall.

But it's all over, and I'm now breathing. Inhale, exhale. I'm sure we have a paper bag around here somewhere.

Thirty-three pages, one massive paper jam, the intervention of a smug -- oh, so very smug -- adolescent techno-wiz, and I have my heat sheets in hand. (And 25 spare sets of pages 1, 3, 5, and 7).

What I don't have in hand is John's bathing suit. While the heat sheets are important, John's bathing suit is critical.

And the time of departure is rapidly approaching. A friend called last night to ask if we really, truly, absolutely needed to be on site at 4:30 for a meet that starts at 6:00. No, no I told her. I'll be there at 5:00. But at this morning's practice I learned that the 4:30 arrival time is not, in fact, an urban legend, and since I'm sort of, kind of in charge of the girls ages six and under, I might need to arrive a few minutes before that.

Maybe we should have spent the night.

It's going to be fine.


Inhale, exhale.

Monday, June 02, 2014


Over the summers I spent serving with The Missionaries of Charity, I logged many an hour in their chapels. Let me tell you, those women pray. And pray. And pray.

Their primary prayer is to radiate Jesus, to be so united to God that people look up and see no longer Sister Paul Jose or Sister Miriam, but Jesus.

One of their oddest prayers is for regularity.

Yes, regularity.

They're not talking about their personal habits, but rather about a life of rhythm and routine. They get up at the same time six days a week (that would early); they eat lunch at the same time; they have recreation at the same time.

They live a life of order.

Of course, I should point out that they are, in fact, an Order. Many of us who have served with the sisters returned to our lives and found ourselves frustrated that we couldn't maintain the rhythm of prayer and devotion that we had grown to love. But the lives of the laity are not structured around prayer and liturgy and service. Though many of us incorporated aspects of the sisters' spirituality into our lives, a simple fact remained: We were not Missionaries of Charity.

But lately I have been thinking about regularity -- to the avoid the giggles, we'll call it rhythm -- and pondering how to bring it into my life to a greater degree.

We have had seasons during which the only rhythm was no rhythm at all. When you have babies in the house, two things seem to be constant: a) inconsistent sleep patterns and b) sickness. Even if A is going swimmingly, if B rears its head, A goes right out the window.

Sometimes rhythm is foisted upon us. When my oldest started school, wow!, what a shock compared to the laid-back days of toddlers.

We have to be there by 8:30?

Like, everyday?

The lunch thing alone seemed daunting. And then there was vacation. You mean I can't up and head to the beach on a Wednesday morning? Not that I really ever did that. But when suddenly  I couldn't, well, I felt my wings had been clipped a little.

I laugh now looking back on all those constraints I felt when Tim started school. Making a lunch -- that would be one single lunch. -- seems pitiful compared to making considerably more lunches while proof-reading a son's newly programmed website and picking up lemons and galvanized nails to make a battery for chemistry class and shuttling people to and from swim team and getting home barely on time for a music festival and then rounding up uniforms for the next day.

A friend of mine asked if I look forward to the end of school.

Yes, oh yes, I do. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.

Mostly because I enjoy a change of pace. (And come Labor Day, I will be delighted to snap a photo of all four cherubs in their crisp uniforms and shiny new shoes heading off to start a new year).

But today, the first day of vacation, I am delighted that Kolbe's spending the night with a friend, that Tim is still sawing logs in the next room.

We attended a high school honors banquet last night, a neat event to cap off what has been, for the most part, a good year. The faculty recognizes achievement in a wide variety of areas -- academics, sports, fine arts, leadership, character, service.

Can I hear a shout out for my friend Rachel whose five boys (five!) all received perfect attendance awards? Forget the kids; I think they should have given Rachel a plaque. Believe me, that says as much about the mother as it does about the boys.

The principal began the evening with a prayer and a scripture passage. It may have been Proverbs 21:5: The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage.

The Bible says plenty about fortitude, about diligence. I love Saint Paul's admonition to run the race set before you and to run it to win.

Last night rewarded diligence: the boy who studied violin for twelve years, the MVP who logged innumerable hours practicing free throws, the girl who maintained a 99% average, the parent who has been a classroom volunteer for fifteen years.

On our recent trip to Disney, my niece was undone by the number of times we stopped by McDonald's on the way in and out of the parks. (Believe me, dear Hannah, I avoided the Golden Arches for about a month afterwards). But, really, it's not the three-day overload of fast food that clogs the arteries and devastates the waistline. Your bones don't grow brittle when you don't run for a day or a week or even a year. You don't become valedictorian by cramming off and on. You don't radiate Jesus by attending an amazing retreat once a year.

No, it's all about diligence, habits, rhythm. The sisters are right to pray for regularity.

1 Corinthians 9:24 -- Run in such a way as to win the prize.