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When I was a little girl, I hated going to Mass.

My father wasn’t Catholic, and we all know how hard it is to take little kids to Mass.  So for the first six years of my life, I mostly stayed home on Sundays with Daddy.  Sometimes we’d drop my mother off and then go out for waffles at Krystal, or drive around the cones in the parking lot, or visit the Torchbearer statue.  Other times we’d stay home and watch Rocky and Bullwinkle.  Either option was way more fun than church, in my opinion, and I was resentful when it came time to prepare for First Communion when I was told I’d have to attend regularly from then on while my sister got to be the one to stay home and have fun.

So the very first thing I resolved upon having children is that they would attend Mass every Sunday from babyhood on up.  That way, I reasoned, they would be used to it and accept it as just what you do on a Sunday.

We followed through with this, starting about two weeks after each one was born and dressing them in a special “first day at church” outfit that was my husband’s when he was a baby.

baby william

But we didn’t want to be the folks who just showed up for one hour on Sunday.  We wanted our kids to feel like a part of the community.  I joined–and later ran–the weekly Moms’ Group, which we attended weekly from the time I was expecting Jake until Teddy started kindergarten.  So my kids had friends to visit with at church on Sunday, just like I did.  We attended every parish social event.  John became very involved in the Knights of Columbus and our kids came along to Masses and picnics and even conventions.

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When it was time for school we enrolled them in the same parochial school I attended.  With an occasional break for homeschooling, my first three kids were in Catholic school from kindergarten through high school, receiving an excellent religious education, making mostly Catholic friends, and benefiting from the intertwining of Catholic values into every aspect of the school day.

Kids in uniform with baby William

But we didn’t leave religion for school and Sundays! I minored in Theology at Georgetown and our family thrives on continued education, conversation, and debate.  So we discussed the faith, explained it, answered questions.  We owned and used a Catechism.  We talked frequently about the importance of faith in daily life, and how our values should impact the way we live in the world.    I chaired the Deanery Respect Life Committee and wrote for the Catholic press.  John rose in the KOC ranks.  Both of us served long terms on our parish council. And our kids heard about it all.

We said morning prayers and prayers before meals.  We had an Advent wreath and a Jesse Tree.  Our house was Catholic in appearance, with religious pictures and statues in almost every room, complete with a kitchen Madonna on the window sill and a picture of Mary hanging laundry next to the washing machine.

In short, we took the job of raising Catholic kids very seriously indeed.  I grew up hearing about “fallen away” Catholics.  I knew big Catholic families where one of the kids had stopped going to Mass.  I often wondered what had gone wrong with those kids, since personally I could no more imagine leaving Catholicism intentionally than I could imagine willfully ceasing to breathe.

So there you have my tips for raising Catholic kids.  I suppose I could have done more, but most of my child rearing happened before I discovered the Catholic blogosphere.  I thought rigorously celebrating Advent was pretty hard core.  I didn’t know anyone who had in-home rituals for celebrating every liturgical feast.  If I’d known about those celebrations, I would probably have incorporated some of that into our family’s life as well.

Honestly, I’ve written this post in my head for months, ever since I knew this topic was on the CWBN agenda, and I’ve been dreading it.  Because today I have five kids, aged 12, 16, 22, 23, and 26.  From my own experience and that of others I know that young adults are not always regular in their practice of the faith of their youth, for whatever reasons.  Typically this resolves itself after marriage and children if not before.  But without going into great detail because at this age their stories are not mine to tell, there is a real possibility that despite all this Catholic upbringing at least one of my kids will be in that “fallen away” camp, and I won’t pretend that doesn’t break my heart.

Whatever happens, I’m confident that many Catholic values are imprinted on the hearts of my children and that they possess a Catholic worldview whether they realize it or not.

Click below for more personal stories on keeping kids Catholic from the other ladies of the Catholic Women’s Blogging Network.

keeping our kids Catholic

 

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I’m sitting here in my office working on bills as if it were any other Saturday even though a seismic shift occurred in my world less than 24 hours ago.  Because life does, in fact, go on.

Twenty-two-and-a-half years ago, give or take, we welcomed our third child.  This was our second baby in just over a year, and we brought him home to a 2.5 bedroom apartment and placed him in the cradle by our bed, which we hadn’t even bothered to put away between babies.

We named this 12 lb. bundle of joy Richard Theodore because I’d always wanted a boy I could call Teddy, and the name suited him well as he grew from big baby to roly-poly toddler who filled out 4T rompers by the time he was a year old.

Teddy and the Teletubbies 2

Teddy was my baby for six years.  I developed extremely toned biceps from toting around my 75 lb. four-year-old.  He was none too pleased about the arrival of his baby brother, but he was in kindergarten by then and already building a reputation as the smart, academic achiever that he would continue to be all the way through college.

Teddy Zorro Birthday 2

You know the rest of the story.  The days are long but the years are short and all that.

Teddy (or to use his preferred name, Theo) graduated from college in May.  Yesterday I dropped him off at the airport.  Now he’s in San Francisco, where he’ll start his first professional job on Monday.

Right now I feel like posting a comment on every baby picture I see on Facebook saying enjoy them while they can they grow so fast but that’s not a thing that anyone really understands or wants to hear when their kids are fretful infants or whining toddlers or stubborn preschoolers.  I’ve read many a thread and post complaining about the meddlesome old ladies who say those kinds of things.  But here’s the deal:  we aren’t trying to be bossy or irritating or to minimalize the work and stress of coping with small children–we just want you to realize what we didn’t; we want you to fully experience the joy of what you have, because we would give anything just to have one more day of it.

Because twenty-two-and-a-half years ago I brought a baby boy home from the hospital.

And just like that, he was gone.

Teddy Leaving for SF

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Our Notre Dame adventure is about to come to a close.  The day this is published, we will be in South Bend for Teddy’s graduation, and I’m sure there will be stories and adventures to share!

But before that, let’s go back to last February, to Junior Parents’ Weekend, which for some reason I did not write up at the time.

Many colleges have special weekends each year for families.  Spring Hill did, and I attended four Family Weekends, bringing along various family members each time.   Because Emily did not have a car and we had to pick her up for every vacation, our visits to Mobile were quite frequent, and we grew very familiar with and fond of the city.

Our Notre Dame experience has been different.  In contrast to the over 20 times one or the other of both of us drove back and forth to Mobile, we’ve been to Notre Dame maybe six times.

So JPW was a big deal.  It started off rockily, as we were a little late to the big dinner gathering Teddy’s friends and their families–three tables full of them, with Italian food served family style.

JPW 27JPW 28JPW 29 Afterwards, we headed to the Joyce Center for the Opening Gala, but we only milled around there for a bit because we were tired.

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The next morning we attended the Open House at the Business School (Teddy has double-majored in Political Science and Finance).

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We spent the rest of the day walking around campus and seeing sights.

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We’ve visited Notre Dame in summer, fall, and spring, and for this winter visit I was hoping to see some snow, but I suppose I should be grateful that it was unseasonably mild as you can see.

Notre Dame boasts its own art museum, the Snite Museum of Art.   We thought we were going in for a quick look but remained for some time, impressed by the size and quality of the collection.

Of course, I couldn’t pass up the chance to walk around one of the lakes with Teddy.

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There’s no such thing as a special weekend at a Catholic college without a special Mass, so next we headed back to the Joyce Center for Saturday evening services.

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Then it was just a short trip to another area of the building for the President’s Dinner.  Check out the Irish detailing on the dessert below!

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The REAL fun happened after the dinner and the speeches, when Teddy and a group of his friends hosted a party for us at one of their off-campus residences.  Some of dads in particular had a lot of fun reliving their misspent youths.  There was certainly much alcohol, and beer pong was played, but what I enjoyed much was talking to Teddy’s friends and renewing friendship with some of the moms I had met on my last visit.

It was a LATE night, and then there was brunch in the morning followed by the long drive home.  I can’t believe that it was more than a year ago already, but what is even more unbelievable is that Teddy’s four years at Notre Dame have gone by so quickly.

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Mothers are closer to God the Creator

It’s been three weeks now since Anni tagged me to participate in the #RockingMotherhood challenge.  I hadn’t forgotten about the challenge–I was just thinking.

Because it IS a challenge, in a society that’s hell bent on making mothers feel that they are never quite good enough, to focus on the positive.  And it can be intimidating to toot one’s own horn, especially since I just did not long ago.  Plus I am a perfectionist, and am far more likely to be berating myself for my motherhood failures than congratulating myself on my wins.

So to get myself in the proper frame of mind, I decided to ask the people who ought to really know the answer to this question: my family.

My big kids all wanted time to think up a good answer.  I’m still waiting. But William’s answer to the question: “How am I a good mother?” was just what I needed:  “How AREN’T you a good mother?”

Seriously, y’all, William is my biggest cheerleader.

Lorelei said, “You feed me,” but that’s a pretty low bar for motherhood, I have to say.  She did add, “You look at my pictures,” and allowed that I could translate that into, “You support my artistic pursuits,” which I think I can work with.

John had two answers, and since they were the two things I’d already thought of myself, I considered it a sign that I was on the right track.   (I marked those with a *)

So here, without further ado, is the list of some ways I am #RockingMotherhood.

  • I am a good advocate for my children.*  William has an IEP.  I show up at meetings with an intimidating-looking binder full of research/ammunition and an attitude.  Yes, I am That Mom.  I don’t care if anyone at the school likes me and some of them probably don’t, but most of them understand and appreciate parents who educate themselves and are engaged in their children’s education.  I was not always as good at this as I am now, which leads me to my next point . . .
  • I learn from my mistakes.  I am not under some kind of illusion that I know everything about parenting.  In fact, as the years go on I really feel like I know less and less.  I don’t see anything wrong with apologizing when I don’t get it right, or with changing my approach from kid to kid or even from week to week.
  • I have (mostly) figured out the truly important aspects of parenting teenagers.* You can read more about that here.
  • I know how to provide the right kind of support for my adult kids.  I didn’t tell my big kids where to go to college.  I didn’t tell them what classes to take or what to major in.  I don’t pry into their personal affairs or tell them more than once that I disagree with a choice they have made. I DO give advice when requested, feed them when they are hungry, help them with adult things they haven’t learned about yet, and provide financial support when requested if I can.
  • I celebrate and support my kids’ interests, even when I don’t share them.  It’s easy for me to support Emily’s interests in literature and writing, since I love those things too.  It’s harder to remain enthralled by William’s fascination with all things Godzilla.  But I listen and learn.  I consider it a privilege that my kids want to share their passions with me.  And you know what?  You can develop an interest in anything that is loved by the people you love, if you try hard enough.
  • I don’t live a life that revolves around my children.  My kids know that my relationship with their father is important and that he and I will be spending time away from them frequently.  They know that I need time alone.  They know that I have interests and passions and they are expected to pay attention if I want to share about those just as I listen when they tell me about their passions.
  • I model faith, morals, values, and principles.  My kids have seen me go to Mass every Sunday and they’ve watched me march for causes I believe in.  We have conversations about politics, ethics, philosophy, and theology.  They know I am a person of strong opinions and they know what I think about things.  With this foundation, they are learning how to think (not WHAT to think), and the importance of having their own strong beliefs in these areas and standing up for them.
  • I love my children and they KNOW that I love them.  That may sound like another baseline requirement for motherhood–and I truly believe it’s a rare mother who doesn’t love her child–but the second part is just as important.  They have to know they are loved, just as they are and no matter what.  They have to be hugged and kissed and listened to and affirmed, and I am confident that I have done all those things, notwithstanding the impatience and the screaming and the inconsistent discipline and all the many other mistakes that I have made.

Here’s where I tag other bloggers to participate in this #RockingMotherhood challenge!

I am nominating:

Yanique of Kiddie Matters

Kim of This Ole Mom

Kim of Knock It Off Kim

Crystal of So-So Mom

The “rules” are simple:

  1. Thank the blogger who tagged you, and provide a link back to them;
  2. List 10 things (plus, or minus) you believe make you a good mother;
  3. Tag some other bloggers to participate in the challenge.

I picked these ladies because I KNOW they are rocking motherhood–but there’s no punishment for not participating in the challenge!  And if you weren’t tagged, feel free to tell me how you rock right here in the comments.

And here, by the way, is my actual MEDAL for being a good mother–part of a custom necklace that my sister gave me for Christmas, made from an antique French medal still given out to mothers of many kids today.

mother award necklace

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Picture of IC that looks like a painting

I’m blessed to still be a member of the very parish in which I was baptized as an infant.  Most of the past nearly 50 years of Sundays have found me sitting (standing and kneeling) in a pew at Immaculate Conception Church.  And like most Catholics, I’m usually in the same pew–or as close to the same pew as I can get.

Our church is an old one and when I was a little girl there were still some names written on the pew cards–names of folks already long gone by then.  We most often sat in the former pew of Mr. and Mrs. Frank J. O’Brien.  It was about two-thirds of the way back on the left side of the main aisle.

Today I still sit on the left side of the main aisle.  When some crowded event like First Communion or Christmas forces me over to the right side, everything looks new and strange and uncomfortable.  Even the people sitting around me aren’t the people I’m used to!  But I no longer sit two-thirds of the way back.  Instead, my family and I for years now have occupied the second or third pew when available.

You know why? Coats.

When I think back to the Sundays of my childhood, I don’t remember anything much about what was going on up on the altar.  It was too far away and my view was blocked by a bunch of grownups.  All I could see was the back of their coats, which no one took off during Mass during winter because the radiators we had then didn’t do the best job of keeping the church warm.  Sometimes (with permission) I would stand on the kneeler to try to get a better view, but mostly I looked at the people in the nearby pews and waited for Mass to end.

The Masses I do remember quite well were at Saint Joseph School, and I don’t think it’s just because we went daily.  No, I think it’s because we First Graders got to sit in the very first row, where we could hear and see everything Father Henkel was doing.  I can still recall his exact intonations, and I remember clearly the way he tidied up the altar after Communion.  I could see, and so I paid attention.

Nervous about public breastfeeding and a baby who might disturb people with her cries, John and I sat closer to the back on the side aisle when we were new parents.  Early on, though, having read that kids would behave better if they could see what was going on, we made the move the the front and that’s all my kids have ever known.

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Lorelei waiting for Christmas Eve Mass in one of the front pews

This Passion Sunday, we arrived on the hilltop right at 11:30 to see crowds milling about on the sidewalk where no crowd should still have been at that time.  Then I recognized the Bishop in the crowd and realized Confirmation was being celebrated.  The candidates would be in our favorite pew, and their parents and other relatives would have come early to grab the other choice seats.

Sure enough, we ended up (on the left side, thankfully!) in one of the very last pews.

It was a strange experience.  We couldn’t hear the Bishop (who is rather soft-spoken).  Lorelei couldn’t see at all.  William, at 6’2″, fared better, but still opined, “That was dreadful!” Both he and Lorelei said later that they couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to sit back there on purpose.

As for me, I spent most of the time watching the cute little kids around me, because apparently their parents keep them near the back in order to be able to escape with them quickly should they make noise.  And likely because they cannot see anything and are bored and tired, they do make noise.

Sitting so far back, I didn’t feel like a full participant in the Mass.  I felt like a spectator.  “It was like being at a concert,” I said later.  You know the kind–where the performer on stage could almost be anyone if there were no Jumbotron to display closeups.

Funnily enough, because it doesn’t happen often, I had tickets to an actual concert the following week.  Kenny Rogers is on his farewell tour, and my sister Betsy had given tickets to my mother, Anne, and I for Christmas so we could all experience The Gambler’s Last Deal together.

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It was an incredible evening.  Not only were we treated to a behind-the-scenes chat with Kenny’s tour manager (Gene Roy, who’s been with him for 38 years), we got to go up on stage and get our pictures taken in Kenny’s chair, and then later we each exchanged a few words with Kenny before posing for commemorative photos with him.

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And perhaps best of all, we were seated right in front of the stage for the performance.  It was intimate.  It was personal.  When Kenny wanted to make eye contact with his audience, he was looking right at us.  It wasn’t like being at a concert; it was almost like having a conversation.

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We were sitting in the third row.

My sister paid extra for those up-close-and-personal seats.  But you know what?  The front pews are free on Sunday.  They are free of charge, and most likely they are free of occupants.

Maybe sitting way in the back of church is your thing.  Maybe you feel connected and can participate and pray just fine back there.  I’m not here to tell you what to do.

But if you have little kids, I will GUARANTEE you that they don’t feel like a part of things when all they can see is the backs of grownups and while they are distracted by all the other kids in the last few pews doing what kids do when they are bored.

If you want your kids to be spectators at church, longing for Mass to be over so they can get their doughnuts, then stay in the back row.  If you want them to be engaged in a relationship, come on down to the front.

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When our first child was a baby, 25 years ago, I had very specific ideas about Christmas that went along with my ideas about being a perfect mother.

From time to time when I was a child, my mother would suggest we should cut back on Christmas gift giving and concentrate instead on the true meaning of Christmas.  At which point we kids would raise a chorus of protests.  (Never happened, naturally.)

I thought to conquer materialism on the front end, by buying just a few well-chosen presents.  And that first year, it worked.  Between us and Santa, baby Emily received about $50 worth of well-chosen gifts.  My memories of that Christmas are idyllic:  Christmas dishes displayed in the china cabinet, Celtic Christmas music in the background, a baby in red velvet eating apple cinnamon bread, Midnight Mass, a day spent showing off Emily to adoring family members.

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Of course it escalated from there.  And I didn’t count on extended family who didn’t want to get with the program.  Eventually several relatives who wanted the kids to get lots of presents but didn’t know what to buy them started sending me so much money I could hardly figure out how to spend it all, resulting in a veritable mountain of gifts under our tree each year.

That’s not to say that we ever left Christ out of Christmas. Presents were important, no doubt, but I don’t think our kids have ever forgotten the reason for the season.

The way we keep Advent has a lot to do with this, I think.  Two weeks before Christmas, the only signs of the season apparent are our Advent wreath and a few other candles here and there.  Our preparations build slowly–the other decorations will go up next weekend, probably, and the tree just a few days before Christmas.  We hold off on hosting any sort of gatherings until just a few days before Christmas or ideally even afterwards, waiting to start celebrating until the Guest of honor has arrived!

Religious decorations are given pride of place in our home.  Yes, we have Santas and trees, but my favorite Santa shows that he knows his proper place in the celebration.

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Christmas really begins for us on Christmas Eve, when we attend Mass as a family.  Not Midnight Mass, which doesn’t work for us at this point, but an evening Mass which we traditionally follow with a dinner out before coming home to one of my favorite Christmas rituals.

Every Christmas Eve, each child gets one present to open and it is always a Christmas book.  So the last thing the kids do before going to bed to talk and dream of Santa and presents is listen to me reading them Christmas stories, both the new ones and old favorites, most of which relate to the true meaning of Christmas.

Christmas Day is all presents and dinner and family and more presents, but one way we avoid having it turn into a materialistic free-for-all is that in our family presents are opened one at a time, youngest to oldest, until everyone finishes.  The kids are excited to see the happiness of the other members of the family upon opening gifts.  We do this in the morning and then we do it all again after dinner with the extended family–almost twenty people taking turns.  It takes HOURS.  It teaches patience.  And in the exchange of gifts and the love they represent we commemorate God’s gift of Christ to us, always recalling that God Himself is Love.

This post is part of the Siena Sisters’ CWBN Blog Hop.  You can read other posts by clicking here.

 

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I didn’t write anything about how awful people were when the little boy fell into the gorilla enclosure.  I didn’t say anything about how quick people were to judge the poor parents whose child was killed by the alligator.  What finally put me over the edge were the comments on an article about the most recent instance of a baby dying in a hot car, left there by her father due, as usual, to a change in the family routine.

It was an accident, terrible and tragic.  Witnesses saw the father sobbing in the driveway.  His child is dead.  Nothing can change that.  And although it WAS an accident, he will forever believe it was his fault.  He will never stop going over that day in his mind, imagining what he might have done differently and wishing that he could have a second chance.

And yet the comments on this article were vicious.  Inhumane.  Merciless.  People wrote that he should be locked up forever–or in a hot car for a few hours.  They accused him of lying, said he did it on purpose, called him a terrible father.  How could he, they asked.  I would NEVER forget MY kid, they said.

The same hate that has polarized the country over issues like gun control and presidential politics has seeped into every area of public discussion.  We are all firmly entrenched in our little self-righteous camps, unwilling to listen to one another or to extend any benefit of the doubt or God forbid any mercy to ANYONE.

Loudly judging other parents arises from fear.  It’s our way of saying that we are not like THOSE parents and that something like that could never happen to OUR kids.  It’s a way of asserting control but it’s just an illusion because no one can control everything.

Chances are your kid won’t fall into a gorilla pit or be eaten by an alligator.  But let me tell you, at some point a Bad Thing will happen to your child.  Maybe he will break a bone, or be in a bad car accident, or flunk out of school, or use drugs, or shoplift, or get caught drinking underage.  Maybe she will wander away from you in the mall and get lost, or turn into a Mean Girl, or develop an eating disorder, or experience an unplanned pregnancy.  And if people find out they will talk about how you weren’t protective enough, how you weren’t paying attention, how you didn’t raise that kid right, how there must be something wrong with you, how that would never happen to THEIR kid.

And you will probably be telling yourself some of those same things.

Let’s cut each other some slack, shall we?  Let’s accept that we are human and make mistakes, some of them with tragic consequences.  Let’s concentrate on what we really CAN control–loving our kids and offering mercy to those who need it.

Blesssed are the Merciful- Showing Mercy to Parents Who Need It

 

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