Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Snow Day

Augustans approach prospective snows days with great anticipation, near reverence, in fact. A friend mentioned that Saturday's forecast included a snowflake. Yes, it did. I clicked on the ten day forecast and then clicked on the hourly forecast and then scrolled down to 2:00 a.m.

There was indeed a single snowflake.

I began compulsively checking the weather for 2:00 a.m. on Saturday. Eventually, one snowflake turned into three snowflakes. Snow, it seemed, would be coming our way at 2:00, 3:00, and 4:00 a.m. Pam Tucker, our local emergency preparedness coordinator, issued an ominous warning on social media: Wintry mix expected. Roads and bridges will be icy. Her paragraph long advisory concluded with these chilling words: Anticipated accumulation - a quarter inch.

A quarter inch.

Naturally we were all:

Love this!

Dave takes our community prayer watch at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday. He promised to wake up John and Kolbe if he spotted the elusive quarter inch of snow falling, and sure enough, flakes were in the air. Dave informed the boys. Kolbe rolled over and went back to sleep. John catapulted out of bed, dressed in a jiffy, and built a miniature snowman that Dave found when he returned home at 5:00.

Turns out Pam Tucker was wrong. I'm guessing we had a solid three-quarters of inch of snow. Maybe even seven-eighths of an inch.

It was beautiful.
Our house - 364 days after the move.
And so, so much fun.

John got together with friends Henry and Silas and rolled a laundry basket full of snowballs. Dave offered to drive them around in the pick up truck pelting people. So John ran in the house and asked for Ainsley's Dora tent.

"Why do you need it," I wondered.

"We'll put in the back of the truck. Everyone will thinks it's a bunch of girls."

He always has an angle, that child of mine. He is so boy, so eight, so full of exuberance he makes my heart burst.

Off they went in a blaze of snowballs.

Our last good snowfall - 2014.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Papa, We Will Miss You

We will remember December 8, 2015 for three reasons.

First, it was the Feast of Immaculate Conception.

Second, it was the ninth day of Ainsley's first Novena. She had overheard me praying my first Saint Andrew Novena. What's a novena, she wanted to know. It's a kind of soaking prayer, I told her, a time when we pray with persistence. Catholics traditionally pray for nine days. Novena means nine, and it represents the nine days between the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven and Pentecost.

Ainsley wanted to join in. And she offered up her first ever Novena for Grandma and Papa and Grandpa and Oney. Only, in true Ainsley form, it was forGrandmasandpapandgrandpaandOney run together and said very, very fast.

And that leads to the third point . . . On the ninth day of Ainsley's first Novena, Papa died.

We were sitting in the fourth pew on the right at Mass celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, all of us reeling from the news of Papa's death, minds swirling with To Do Lists and travel plans, hearts grieving, John crying.

Father Jacek began his homily and shared that Pope Francis had initiated the Year of Mercy that very morning by symbolically opening a door -- a door of grace, of healing, of forgiveness, of love, of mercy. And I suddenly became aware that Papa had died around 4:15 a.m. Eastern Standard Time at possibly the same time and certainly the same day that Ainsley had finished her first Novena, the same day that the Pope had ushered in a Year of Mercy.

Nothing is lost.

There are no coincidences.

There are no accidents.

From the archives, here's a piece a wrote about the kind, funny, giving man who was Dad to my husband and Papa to my children:

Papa turned seventy-something this week. From the Deep South, we send a heartfelt Happy Birthday!

Papa is a beloved father, father-in-law, and grandfather to the mass of Dolin males and to the tiny female exclamation point at the end of the line. Ainsley fell in love with Papa on this latest trip and enjoyed nothing more than sitting on his lap playing with a stuffed Charlie Brown. She would alternate between feeding a baby bottle to Charlie Brown and pretending to squeeze hand soap into his mouth. (Note: She did not learn this from me!) Ainsey would erupt in laughter and never tired of it. If Papa tired of it, he kept his game face on. He's nothing if not a good sport.

Papa spent hours watching Ainsley and John jump between the sandbox and the wading pool. He delighted John by catching fireflies with him.

No one gardens like Papa gardens. His tomatoes prompted a friend of mine to comment, "He makes me proud to call myself a Midwesterner!" We brought home a coolerful, and they are absolutely to die for. Papa calls all the grandchildren Punkin. When Tim and Kolbe were small, Papa added pumpkins to his garden and carved the boys' names in them. The names grew as the punkins did.

Papa has a dry wit that keeps me laughing. He has a host of quips. If Dave fails to use a turn signal, I invariably quote Papa: Keep 'em guessing. Keep 'em guessing.

Both of  my in-laws have a remarkable grace to absorb our four children, an astonishing amount of noise, and the seventy-two or so bags we inevitably bring along with us. They are, without fail, patient and generous.

I remember a family trip to northern Michigan. Then seven months pregnant with Kolbe, I looked forward to a week-long break from the Georgia heat. It was not to be. Hale, Michigan, must have set a record as the mercury hit well above 100 degrees. While we struggled to stay cool, I spotted Papa dashing off with a Tom Clancy novel and a cup of coffee to get a moment's peace behind the garage. He caught my eye and said, "You know, we run the risk of this becoming an annual event."

Papa loves to entertain us with stories of his early years in the hollows of West Virginia. His uncle, the bus driver, would give him a nickel if was so bad at school that his aunt, the teacher, spanked him. Tim and Kolbe find this tale flat out hilarious.

Papa talks about alternating between a two-room school house in a rural area and a big city high school in Charleston. He learned to read the F-U-R-N-I-T-U-R-E box that patched the hole in the roof, and remembers delivering blocks of ice when a refrigerator really was an ice box.

Whether it's reading Harvey's Hideout -- a Dolin family classic -- or rocking the littlest punkin in the Dolin patch, Papa is reliable and kind. I am grateful to call him a second Dad and blessed that my children call him Papa.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

Somewhere along the way, pediatricians stop asking Mom about the child's health and start asking the child directly. And so we end up with dialogue such as the following:

Do you wear a bike helmet when you ride your bike? No
What chores do you do around the house? Whatever my mom tells me to do.
How do you get along with your family members? My sister is completely annoying.
Has anyone ever touched you in a way that made you uncomfortable? WellJonah tried to give me a wedgie.

There you have it.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Epiphany - Return by a Different Way

I love Epiphany, sometimes called Little Christmas.

I always struggle with just a touch of melancholy as Santa 104.7 returns to pop music, as the twinkle lights slowly disappear, as the decorative touches get packed up, as routine life resumes once again.

I love that Epiphany gives us one last chance to celebrate.

I love the three layer chocolate cake I baked Sunday night. (I may love it a little more than usual as there will be precious little indulgence in the near future if my Epiphany resolution comes to pass.)

I love this ornament of the wise men, a gift from my dear friend, Anna.

I love nearly every version of We Three Kings and have been pressing Tim to learn it on the piano.

The wise men sought truth, encountered Christ, and returned by a different way. 

I love that expression returned by a different way.

An encounter with Emmanuel -- God with us -- should involve something different.

So what is different? Exhaustion? Weight gain? Credit card debt? Downton Abbey Season 4?

Good memories?  A renewed sense that God came to Earth? A deeper thirst to abide in His love? A desire to be like Mary, to ponder these things in my heart?

Here is something I wrote several years ago:

As Epiphany Meets Ordinary Time
In the Atrium we are getting ready to transition from the Christmas season back into Ordinary Time.

We just celebrated Epiphany. We pondered the long journey of the wise men; we talked about the fact that they fell prostrate in the presence of their savior; we read about how they returned to their country by a different way.

They returned to their country by a different way.

They had had an epiphany. We said the word. We defined it -- a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something,"according to Dictionary.com.

As I looked at the faces of these six sweet children who come week after week, I thought about epiphany. As we move out of Christmas and move into Ordinary Time, I thought it was time we revisited the essential meaning of our faith. I looked over to our sheepfold and thought we would go back to The Good Shepherd and The Found Sheep. I began to pray that as we ponder these foundational parables, the children would experience their own epiphany.

Sofia Cavalletti, the founder of The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd,  took the educational methods of Maria Montessori and applied them to religious formation in children. Through decades of observation, she found that the very youngest children are drawn to the parables of Jesus, most especially to the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd cares for His sheep, knows them, calls them by name. They, in turn, stay close to Him. They won't follow a stranger, but the Good Shepherd alone because they know His voice. The Found Sheep is especially near to a child's heart, as it touches on that universal experience of being lost and then found.

I remember so well my first day of first grade. I stood by the parking lot of Saint Bede's School watching the big, yellow buses pull up. Out of my left eye, I could see my third grade sister Kathy in her brown striped coat. My right eye was trained on Keith, my fifth grade brother, in his blue jacket standing with the "big" kids. Throngs of girls in plaid jumpers and boys in navy pants milled about. I kept my eyes on my brother and sister. Left, right, Kathy, Keith.

Suddenly they were gone. I panicked, eyes darting through the crowd, searching for a brown striped coat or a blue jacket. Kids began pouring onto the buses. I hadn't a clue which one to board. The crowd thinned. No Kathy, no Keith!

I walked to a bus and got on.

The next few moments are a blur, but I eventually started bawling my little eyes out. I was lost! The next thing I remember is sitting on the lap of a long-suffering and very kind bus driver who drove the streets of Southfield, Michigan, asking, "Is this your street, honey?"

Somehow one of the kids (yes, the bus was completely full) told the bus driver that my mother was in the car behind the bus. How exactly this transpired, I will never know. I hopped off the bus and jumped in our red sedan so happy to be with my family once again.

As a mother now, I can well imagine my mother's reaction when her two oldest arrived home from school minus one brand new first grader. I have lost kids, and there are few more frightening experiences. John has proven particularly adept at disappearing as I found out late in my pregnancy with Ainsley.

I was up in Michigan enjoying a little R and R at my sister's house. It's a treat to have so many helpers late in pregnancy, but it's especially easy to lose a toddler because you think someone else has him.  John was outside playing with everyone. And then he wasn't.

We called. We searched. We panicked. We prayed. The search expanded to the next street. I incoherently begged the help of some construction workers. I told my sister to call 911.

And then my niece's voice yelling, "I found him!"

Oh, the relief! Oh, the agonizing "What if? What if?" Parenting is not for the weak-kneed. Toddlers are not for the distracted.

I have been the found sheep, and I have searched for the lost one. How well I can understand the joy of the Shepherd when the stray sheep is recovered. How I can appreciate the celebration that ensues. His desire is that not one be lost. What parent can fail to understand that? Which one of our children would we deem expendable?

In The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, we use the word "essential" a lot. We try to focus on the essential. The Christian faith is about essential relationships; it's about the deep, abiding love we have for God and He for us. We can know the whats of our faith, but it's so much more essential to know the who.

The Good Shepherd and The Found Sheep focus on the infinite value God sees in us. Our Good Shepherd is a source of sustenance, of security, of love. These can remain stories we've heard over and over in church, about as meaningful as a coloring sheet we remember from Sunday school. Or they can become an essential reality, an abiding love, an epiphany.

We will soon begin taking down Christmas decorations, boxing up the glitter that has brightened our world these past weeks. We will embrace Ordinary Time - the largest chunk of our church year - with its cycle of minor feasts and continuous growth in the Lord. But in my heart, in my home, and in my atrium, I hope to hold onto the spirit of Epiphany. I’ll return to Ordinary Time by a different way.