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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.

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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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And the Survey Says- After Three It Just Gets Louder

When it comes to kids, three is the magic number… for stress.

Mothers of three children stress more than moms of one or two, while mothers of four or more children actually report lower stress levels

At least that’s what a survey from Today.Com claims, about which more right here.

More recently, you might have read this:

Parents of large families were found to have the most life satisfaction, according to a study by Australia’s Edith Cowan University.

Read all about it right here.

These articles provide welcome validation to those of us with larger families, who are more used to hearing things like this:

Boy, you have your hands full!

Don’t you know what causes that yet?

Better you than me!

 I don’t know how you do it!

Are they all yours?

Do they all have the same father? (yes, someone did actually ask me that once!)

I don’t happen to think that five kids is that many because I grew up knowing many families of nine or ten.  But it’s more than twice that 2.3 kid average, so it’s not the norm for most people.

Do I agree with the studies? Yes, for my own reasons.

For me, the most difficult parenting transition was from one to two kids.  Once you find out that yes, you CAN love two kids, and you CAN split your attention between them, adding the third is not that hard (although waiting more than 12 months to do that might be good, not that I would know).

Going from two to three, the main change is that you are outnumbered.  Once you are outnumbered, it doesn’t really matter how outnumbered you are!  After three, it just gets louder.  Really.

Three little kids was hard, though.  Most of that first year is a blur.  But since most of us don’t have kids in a litter, by the time you have four kids the oldest one can help you, probably quite a lot.  I was on bedrest when William was born.  Emily was ten, and made her own and her little brothers’ lunches every morning before school.  By the time Lorelei was born, we had an in-home babysitter whenever we needed to get away.

Having lots of kids frees you from having to do All The Things, because it’s impossible to do all the things.  Taking care of four or more kids makes you supermom without having to volunteer for everything at school, keep a perfect house, and do Pinterest-worthy crafts in your spare time (spare time–LOL).

Illusions of control are shattered as well.  If you have just one kid, and he’s a brat, you think you are a terrible parent.  Likewise, if your kid is perfect, you think you deserve the credit.  Trust me, with four or more you are going to learn that kids are the way they are and it has a lot less to do with how you parent than you thought it did.  This is immensely freeing.

As for life satisfaction, it’s not like I don’t crave personal fulfillment and viral blog posts, but it’s hard for me to imagine anything that could provide more satisfaction in the long term than helping to create ACTUAL HUMAN BEINGS who are all different and interesting and separate from you and who will be around remembering you (fondly, you hope) after you are gone.

 

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What NOT to Say to the Parent of a Picky Eater

You know, I’m not really a big fan of all those “what not to say” posts.  Because I think that most of the time people mean well, and the people who don’t mean well are going to keep right on saying whatever they want to anyway.

But hey! There’s a first time for everything, right? And today I feel like ranting about What Not to Say to the Parent (that would be me) of a Picky Eater (that would be William).

So what should you not say?  Probably pretty much anything you are thinking of saying.  Just don’t say it.  Because William is 14, and you can be pretty sure that whatever you are dying to tell me I already know about and it won’t work.  If you want a list:

  1. Don’t tell me he won’t grow or that he will be malnourished.  He is almost 6 feet tall, he’s had his blood checked, he takes a vitamin every day, and I cannot remember a time he had to visit a doctor for an actual illness.
  2. Don’t tell me that if I just don’t give him the food he wants he will eat the other foods I want him to.  There are things that William will NEVER eat.
  3. Don’t tell me to force him to eat vegetables or else.  See above.
  4. Don’t tell me that I’ve spoiled him by not making him eat whatever you think he should eat.  When you have a child who is this picky, you feed him whatever he will eat because he needs calories, even nutritionally inferior calories.
  5. Don’t tell me what YOU would do if you were me.  Let’s make a deal, okay? You do what works for you with your kids, and I’ll do what works for me with mine.

How picky is William?  He won’t eat any vegetables except baby corn cobs.  He won’t eat any fruits.  He likes pasta with salt and pepper, but only angel hair (spaghetti under duress).  He won’t eat hamburgers, pizza, or macaroni and cheese.  He likes crab, canned tuna, most chicken, rice, Asian food, ice cream, milk, some juice, bread, and most (but not all!) sweet things.  This isn’t a complete list, but you get the idea.  William’s pickiness is difficult enough that it has an impact on his life and his family’s.

William has ALWAYS been picky.  This is not my fault.  I did not do anything different with him than I did with my first three kids, who are now grownups who eat pretty much everything, and who were not particularly picky as children.  Shortly after I introduced William to solids, he started spitting out his baby food.  In would go the spoon, then squash (or whatever) would spew through the air.  It didn’t matter what I tried.  Even bananas! What baby doesn’t like those?

It’s a good thing that he was breastfed, because that continued (no lie!) to be his main source of nourishment until he was about two.  For a long time the only things he would eat were butter and sugar sandwiches and he wouldn’t drink cow’s milk unless it was sweetened too.  So really, I look at what he eats now and feel like we’ve come a long way.

I realize now that William wasn’t just going through some kind of phase like I assumed back then, and that this isn’t something that he is growing out of like I’d hoped.  He has actual issues that cause his eating difficulties, and had I realized this back when he was a baby there were likely therapies that could have helped.  But I cannot beat myself up for what I did not know, and now William is an adolescent who can try new foods himself if he decides that he wants to.
NaBloPoMo November 2015

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