Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Homeschooling Honeymoon

Our first week of homeschooling….check!

I know many people have a lot of questions as to what our days and weeks look like and I feel much the same sense of 'it's impossible to describe' feeling I get when people ask what it's like to be a stay-at-home mom.  It's just too much to try and describe without spending five hours over coffee.  Thus, the  blog.  I hope to just give you guys a week by week description of what our days consist of and hopefully that will answer many of the questions at some point.

First things first, I am LOVING this whole classical education/Classical Conversations thing-a-ma-jig.  When I first read The Core, written by the founder of Classical Conversations, I liked a lot of what she said and agreed with most of it but I still found myself overwhelmed by how "different" it was from your typical modern education, and the education I had and was used to.  It really takes a whole mind shift to get this.  That's why when I tell people about the memory work, it can sound so boring and seem so mundane for little kids and it's anything but.  (Side note: This is not meant to be a whole explanation of the classical model.  If you are really interested in that, I would suggest reading Leigh Bortin's book (The Core) or Susan Wise Bauer's stuff like The Well-Trained Mind.  Fascinating, I tell you.)  Anyhow, I'm just giving you the lowdown on how we are doing our own version of a classical education.

For this current blog post I'll just tell you what class is like each week for Katherine.  So our week basically starts on Thursday, when Katherine has class.  Her entire campus consists of about thirty-five  4-12 (I think that's around the ages) year olds, divided into classes of not more than 8.  Now that's a class size I can get excited about ;).  There are other campuses in the greater New Orleans area, some smaller some bigger.  There is a trained "tutor" for each class that leads the parents and children in the classical method.  The parents sit at the back while the students sit at tables of two students per table.  Basically, the tutor runs the class and the parents help out when needed and get ideas of how to reinforce what is learned at home.

First, the tutor introduces the new memory work for the week.  This is what our Week 2, Cycle 3 memory work looks like:

The basic idea of the first three years of a classical education, called "the Grammar Stage", is to essentially take advantage of a child's natural strong memory at this point to fill their heads with the facts of our world.  The next stages, the Logic stage and then the Rhetoric stage, are meant to go deeper with these facts.  But most important at this young age is to give them "pegs" of a basic framework of knowledge from which they launch a more comprehensive education.  Again, I'm a newbie at this so if you are really interested, go to a more experienced source :)

Class for the Grammar Stage is from 9-12.  First, the students learn the new memory work for the week.  Katherine's favorite is the "Timeline" song.  By the end of the year, she will hopefully be able to sing 161 of the major points of world history- and her mother will, too, God willing. Lol.  Daddy loves this part as well.  When I first listened to the entire song (it's about 12 minutes long), my first thought was there was NO WAY she was going to be able to do this.  But now, even only two weeks in, I can see how it's possible.  Mostly because, get this, JAMES can sing it so far.  Haha!  We listen to the song maybe two or three times a day and it has hand motions with it (complete with accurate American Sign Language) to help cement it in their little brains.  All I have to do is complete the sign and James starts singing it!  Fascinating!  And there is nothing cuter than a three year old with speech issues saying "Indus River Valley Civilization".  I'll even hear him playing with his trucks and he'll say, "Mycenaeans!"  Omgosh, I could die.  And the kids think it's just a big game.  They like the song and Katherine already loves sign language so this is definitely scratching an itch.  She is so proud of herself.  James can also tell you the four types of tissue in the human body.  Lol.  That kid.  But it has shown me how incredible their memories are at this age.  

An important part, too, that needs to be understood is that it's not most important that they even understand the full context of what they're saying.  That comes later.  Right now, it's just get it into their brains where they can access it at any point in the future.  A very brief understanding of the material is given to the students, but there are no tests, no assessments.  It's just supposed to be fun.  So, for example, Katherine knows that one type of "epithelial tissue" is the skin.  But she doesn't know everything about epithelial tissue.  The first three years is a basic introduction.  

Another important note is that the memory work is broken up into 3 different cycles, with 24 weeks per cycle.  It looks like this:

Taken from the Classical Conversations website :)

We are currently on Cycle 3.  Next year, we'll be on Cycle 1, etc.  The ideal is to introduce the student as early as possible so that they get more rotations of the same material and are thus able to dive deeper and deeper with the material.  When they get older, it's more complicated and I'm totally not up to speed on that level.  Clueless.  I know they stress excellence in writing at the later grades and I think it's in 7th grade or so where they are challenged to draw the entire globe by freehand by the end of the year.  Awesomeness.  Again, I'm like 'How could someone do that?" but then in the curriculum guide they give you examples of students who have done it and the same old, 'Okay, I guess it's able to be done!' runs through my brain.

Okay, so back to class :)  After the memory work for that week is introduced, the kids do an art project.  Last week they studies the basic shapes and drawing.  This week they completed a "mirror images" project.  Such cool stuff.  Later, they'll study a famous artist each week and then replicate their art style. And then they'll have I think about 12 weeks where they learn the tin whistle.  

Next, comes the class presentations.  Every week each student is expected to give a brief (no more than five minutes) presentation on a topic.  The first week was introducing yourself, this week they were supposed to give a book summary of a book they liked.  Each week the tutor presents them with public speaking tips that hopefully will begin to sink in with more practice.  This weeks "tip" was to focus on volume, projecting one's voice so your entire audience can hear.

Then comes my favorite part! The science project! Each week a very simple science project is completed by the students.  This week's science project was studying the difference between convex and concave lenses in the form of water.  First the students, wrapped a piece of wire around a pencil to form a place where water could gather.  Then, they dipped their wire into a cup of water, getting a drop to stay in the middle.  Finally, they used the drop of water as a magnifying lens of sorts (convex lens) to read a card with tiny print that had a different inspirational quote on it.

Katherine wrapping the wire around a pencil.

 "It makes the letters bigger!"
 "My hypothesis was correct."
"Can I bring this home to show Daddy? He would love this."

After the science project, they have a review of the memory work. This week the tutor led them in a game of "Zap!" where she divided the class into two teams and then reviewed the memory work from the past two weeks.  Katherine loved it.  So fun.

After class, the whole school is invited to the playground where they eat lunch together and play until they're tired and want to go home.  Katherine has made such good little friends and I've met some amazing people who are so wonderfully normal and they just want the same thing I want- an education that is rigorous but not time consuming, an enforcing of Christian values, a lot of playtime for their kids, just an "adventure" in education.  It's going so well.  Obviously, though, we're only two weeks in.  Lol.  We'll see, but I'm just glad we're at least starting out on a positive note!  Next week, hopefully I'll have time to tell you what we do the rest of the week.  If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments section below.  I feel like I jumped around a lot, but like I said, it's so much information.  Sorry!  Blessings upon your week.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

School Daze and Other Radical Life Choices

      'Tis the days of school- freshly pressed uniforms, neatly bound notebooks, smudge-free book bags and the like.  According to her age and according to the system of education, Katherine should be knee-deep in all of the aforementioned.  And yet, here she is, still at home.  Why oh why have I not taken advantage of the fact that I could at least set one of my birds free to attend a local institution for close to 40 hours a week and have more time with the other fowl I find myself surrounded by one a daily basis?  The answer, my dear friends, is we have chosen to homeschool our oldest chick for this year.  Now, before you go all "that's crazy" on me, hear me out.  I'm no crazier than anybody else out there, I just choose my crazy differently.

     Actually, I have trouble remembering how all of this started.  I will admit I never quite had peace with starting Katherine in one of the local schools.  It isn't because they're bad (just stop it), or dangerous, or anything else of the sort.  I think I've gotten better at listening…..especially to other moms.  And I've been listening the past couple of years, to what life is like in elementary and beyond.  And to be quite honest, I just felt we weren't ready for that yet.  Wouldn't that be enough of a reason?  I find myself questioning this taken-for-granted mentality that every child is ready for formal schooling at age 3, 4, 5, or 6 or whatever.  Or that every family is ready for it.  The funny thing is, I'm typically quite traditional in my beliefs.  Most would probably consider me socially conservative, strongly Catholic and the like.  And yet, there is a very real part of my personality that is fiercely independent in thought. I usually have no trouble going against the flow if I'm convinced it's not the best for me or my family.  And so, this whole elementary school decision kept creeping closer and closer and I just never felt like it was the right move.  Enter the camper.

The "what", you say?  The camper.  You know, this baby:

Except it would be a little (ahem) shorter, without a tiny garage, and it would actually be small enough to be pulled by our minivan.  Haha.  Yes, perhaps I mean this:

    Can't you just see it?  The fam in the back, Cory pedaling us to freedom in the woods… Asia.  You guys, jump on the bandwagon of non-traditional living.  I swear, this is the golden ticket to modern bliss.  But, in all reality, it's kind of where we're headed.  I mentioned my misgivings about starting Katherine in kindergarten and how I just wasn't ready to be saddled with so much schooling for the next fifty years of our life.  Isn't there another option?  So Cory said, "why don't we homeschool her for a year and buy a camper and travel."  And I said, "I love you and you must be getting more sleep than me to come up with something so brilliant."  Because, you see, it's conversations such as this that led to Cory and I even starting a dating relationship.  We're both have an amazing ability to be slightly….off.  We dream about living in other countries; we dream about the unconventional; we dream about doing something different!  And it's where we click.  There is a part of both us that thrives on the "to hell with it! let's break the mold and try something new!" and apparently we're passing it on to our children because when we mentioned homeschooling and a camper to Katherine, she seemed to believe it was the most astounding idea ever.  Not that she has much of a clue about any of the options.

I'll also admit that the first couple of months of leaning towards that choice were fraught with doubt and questions of sanity.  Not only did we find out soon after that we were expecting another baby bird to be due right smack in the middle of the school year but I realized I have no earthly idea what homeschooling was all about.  So I messaged all of my homeschooling friends and asked questions.  And listened.  And gradually, a vision of sorts started appearing.  We've decided to join a local community called Classical Conversations that is part of a much larger national program.  The children meet for class once a week and this program helps parents teach their children in the classical method of learning.   I hope to continue blogging regularly to give people more of an idea of what it's like so that people can see for themselves because, honestly, it's overwhelming to me to try and explain what our lives will be like this year (as if I even had a clue).  I do know that we've ordered math books, history books, spelling, language arts, drawing, started Katherine in piano, and narrowed down our camper search to one beauty that we're salivating over until we take the plunge hopefully next month or October.  It's all so…..EXCITING!!!  And that's where I feel the presence of God in all of this.  Sometimes you have to follow your gut and trust that God will lead.  And He has.  In so many wonderful ways.  To the point where Katherine and I can't wait until class starts and we journey together to learn about this incredible world He has created.  

Here's the thing, though.  Many people are HIGHLY uncomfortable with the idea of homeschooling.  And I say, I'm HIGHLY uncomfortable with the choices some people make about traditional schooling and their kids.  I'm tired of hearing about the perpetual diagnosis it seems every kid in America is receiving in first grade.  And the medications, and the tutoring on top of seven hours of school and an hour or two of homework.  And the rush, rush, rush.  And the no time for play, and dream, and create because everything is so over-scheduled for a seven year old that he or she has no time to just "be bored" which I think is one the healthiest things in the world.  And I say…it can wait.  I say no right now.  I'm not saying that would be Katherine.  I don't know, and I don't even want to find out.  I just want more time with her.  I want more time as a family.  James will be in preschool and I will have a one year old and a new baby.  And it will be alright.  Or it won't and we'll start school next year.  Either way, it will be on our terms and not because everybody else is doing it or the school system says it's time.  And, think about it, say we homeschool Katherine for one year.  She will still have TWELVE more years of Catholic schooling.  I think that would be sufficient.  Even if we had a blast this year and decided to do it through 3rd grade (gasp!). She would start in fourth and have NINE more years of formal schooling.  Plenty.  Doesn't that put it into perspective how long kids go to school?

Here's the last little thought I wanted to leave you with:  just because we are choosing this route for this year, doesn't mean I think YOU should.  Get it?  I don't think people that send their kids to school are making a mistake, I don't think you don't like your family or that you're pushing your child too fast too early.  Actually, I don't think about your choices much at all to be quite honest.  I have enough choices to make for my own flock.  I think sometimes when you choose something non-traditional for your family, people can sometimes get their feathers all tangled up.  As if we're saying something about other people's choices.  And we're not.  I actually think most people should send their kids to school- it's a system and it probably works best for most people.  So let's just be okay with your decision and ours.  Nobody's trying to hurt their kids or hold them back.  We're just living and that takes on many forms for all the different kids and families out there.  And, you know, it's all okay.  


Thursday, January 23, 2014

So You Want to Be a Stay-at-Home Mom

I haven't blogged in about 100 years but I think this next post deserves more than a paragraph.

So my precious cousin texted me the other day and asked what it's like being a stay at home mom because she doesn't know many!  I never really thought about it because I know lots of them (because I'm one of them) but I realized that many people may be curious as to what it's like to stay at home and raise your children full time.  So here goes nothing.

Let's start off with a whopper of a disclaimer: It's different for everyone.  I cannot emphasize that enough.  There are as many variables to your experience as a stay at home parent as there are stains on my carpet.  Plenty.  It involves your temperament, your spouse's level of support, your number of children, the ages of your children, the size of your house, how much money your spouse makes, how many friends you have that stay at home close by, your neighborhood, etc., etc., etc.  There are just so many things to consider that it's an almost impossible question to answer.  But what I can do is tell you MY experience.

I started to stay at home when I found out we were experiencing my second child, so almost four years ago.  Without a shadow of a doubt, that first year was the hardest.  But isn't your first year of any new job usually the hardest?  This is no different.  It takes time to get used to staying at home and finding a rhythm.  And then that rhythm will be thrown off kilter a million times after you've found it, but I digress.  I look back on that first year and I could rattle off a ton of mistakes I made, but it really doesn't matter what they were because if I told you, you would just make different mistakes ;-)  There were many a day I found myself googling a local university's schedule of classes or part time work because I was worn out and frustrated and wanted an escape.  It was extremely hard transitioning from consistent adult conversation at work to the constant jabbering of an albeit adorable toddler.  Then there was the whole "difficult" ("spirited", "challenging", "drive you to drink") newborn phase to get used to full time.  My second child is the funniest kid on the planet.  But he wasn't a very funny baby.  O my dear….no.  This was definitely the phase (having a toddler and a difficult baby) that I struggled through the most…at least, so far (please Jesus, don't send me another difficult baby).  There's just no way around it, it was hard.

But I will tell you what kept me from accepting a lucrative position at the local Dairy Queen- I am 100% committed to the idea of a stay at home parent.  And that, my friend, is what I think is the singular most important quality in a stay at home parent.  I have always and probably will always believe that staying at home is the best thing for my kids and so, come hell or high water (or another difficult baby….please Jesus, no), I'm going to do it.  But see, this is my thing.  Some people are die hards about breastfeeding (pass me the bottle), some people are diehards about organic food (pass me the fries), but I am a diehard stay-at-home mom.  You see what I mean?  I know this is not everyone's thing and that's okay, but it's my thing.  I will do anything I need to do to make this a reality for my family.  And I honestly believe that conviction has brought me through the difficult phases and days of stay at home parenting.  Now, hear me out, I'm not saying every stay at home parent has to be a diehard about it but I do know several parents who weren't really convicted about it being the best thing for their kids and they didn't last very long.  Because it IS hard.   No, it's not brain surgery, but your job probably isn't brain surgery either.  But it has it's share of difficult moments and difficult personalities (heh heh) and it's all-day, everyday baby.

Here's another disclaimer: A lot of what I talk about in regards to what I love and what is hard about being a stay at home parent will be experienced by working parents as well.  I just experience it more often- the good and the bad- and possibly more intensely given the amount of time I'm around my children and they are blessed to be around me (haaaaaaaaaa).

I absolutely love what I do.  That's the crux of it.  I have my bad days, my difficult phases, my cranky child here and there, and loads upon loads of housework….but I absolutely love it.  There is not a day that goes by that I daydream about being at a job.  And that's just being honest.  See, here's the thing, though, I was never much into a career.  I was not your ambitious student who had dreams of shattering the glass ceiling.  Um….no.  And I won't sell myself short, either.  I'm smart and I dare say I probably could have become anything I really wanted to, but I always wanted to be a full-time wife and mom. True story.  Which I think is part of being called to a vocation…'s always deep within your heart.  I became a teacher, which I loved in the early years, until I got married and had kids.  We were not in a realistic financial situation for me to quit early on and so with my first child I worked full time for a year and then part time the second year.  And I had no peace.  It was a sweet gig, too.  The daycare was located at the school, excellent adult/child ratio, awesome setup… but I knew it wasn't what I wanted.  I started to resent all things work-related- staff meetings kept me from seeing my daughter, I didn't care as much about teaching because I was constantly thinking about how my daughter was doing- was she happy?  was she crying? is she okay?  was she sick this morning and I was too much in a rush to really pay attention?  Stuff like that, it just drove me nuts.  Finally, I was able to quit working when my husband got another job.  Sweet relief.  I was finally able to devote myself 100% to my husband and family.  I am also the type that if I do something, I want to do it the best I can.  Being split apart by housework, husband, children, work, schedules, etc. was making me quite anxious and, again, never at peace.  So here, my friends, is a run down of what I love and what is most challenging about being a stay at home parent:


I love that when my child is sick I don't have to worry about work- they are my work.  That was such a stressor for me when I worked- not to mention my daughter was constantly sick in daycare which was a whole other stressor.  Ugh.  My kids don't get sick as much now that they are not in daycare which makes our quality of life sooooooo much better.  They feel better, I'm not as stressed, my husband's not as stressed because I'm not as stressed (haha), we don't pay a gazillion dollars to the doctor every other week, etc.

I love that I get to play a big part in their early education- so much so that I've even flirted (read it, flirted, definitely haven't married the idea) with the idea of homeschooling because I honestly love teaching them (I was a teacher for ten years before I quit work so it's in my blood).  I get giddy over teaching them and there is no satisfaction greater for me than seeing my own kids learn.  Love, love, love it.  And we do it all day every day- not formal schooling- but fun learning.  I teach my kids to cook, I teach them how to clean, when we press the elevator buttons in Target I work on number recognition with my three year old, I read books every day with my five year old while the little ones nap, I fixed a wagon with my three year old this morning, etc. They love learning from me and I love teaching them.  And here's the best part- I can teach them whatever I want.  If I wanted to teach them sign language, I would get a book and teach them.  If I wanted to teach them a new language, I would get an age appropriate book and teach them.  If I want to teach them about animals, you get the idea.  The world is an open book for all of us and it has re-awakened a love of learning in me, too.  And just to reiterate, working parents do this as well, I just have more time to do it and possibly more opportunities.

I love that my kids see my face the most out of anyone in the world when they're young.  This might sound narcissistic but it's not.  Why? Because I honestly believe, along with their dad, that's the face they want to see more than anyone else in the world.  They see my good and bad, I get frustrated and then I apologize, they experience life first and most intensely through me.  And I wouldn't have it any other way.  I love watching them grow.  They're so predictable and so unpredictable all at the same time.  I love to read child psychology books and see it play out in their lives each day.  And I have time to actually read child psychology books because I don't have to do reading/research for work.  Yay!  When I was working full time, I really felt like I was missing a whole chunk of their lives- and actually, I was missing most of their awake time every day.  That made me really, really sad.  It just did.  Just being honest here.  I just didn't have peace with the fact that I birthed this beautiful gift from God and, in all honesty, they saw someone else's face the most almost every day.  That just didn't sit right with me and made me sad.  Doesn't make some people sad, but it made me sad and that's what counts.

I love that I am able to make choices that are best for my child and not what fits into my work schedule.  Okay, I could see how working parents may take offense to this but I really do think this is pro in regards to staying at home.  I've just seen a lot of parents that make certain choices because it's easier to fit into their work schedule instead of really being able to ask what's best for the child.  For example, I started my second child in preschool a little before he turned three (I usually start at three) because he cried every day that he wanted to go to school like his sister.  Here's the thing: If he didn't like it, I could pull him without a major change in schedule.  I'm home anyway, not a big deal.  I love the flexibility staying at home offers- I can make most of the decisions be child-led instead of possibly pushing them into something too early because I need them taken care of while I work.  Again, in my life this turns out to be less stress on me and my kids and that is one of my priorities in raising little ones- as little stress as possible because I think stress brings out a lot of negative behaviors, sickness, etc.  Don't get me wrong, my kids are learning how to deal with frustration and anger and the rest of it but we purposely do not live a rushed life.  It's why we're not involved in a lot of extra-curriculars, high maintenance schools, tons of play dates, etc.  My children thrive on down-time, playing in the backyard, taking walks, you name it.  I love that.


Another disclaimer: I'm almost four years in, so most of these were struggles in the past.  Right now I don't have any major, consistent struggles.  I have bad days, of course, but not really any constant struggles related to staying at home.  So most of these are from the past.

One of my main struggles early on was not knowing how the heck to be a stay at home mom.  Haaaaa. That's just the plain ole' truth.  I didn't really know WHAT TO DO all day.  Remember, I was pregnant and had a two year old.  There was a lot of boredom and not knowing how much I should play with her and how much I should clean and feeling guilty when doing either that I should have been doing the other.  I know, such big decisions.  Haaa.  But really, it was hard transitioning from an extremely hectic pace to what felt like almost too much free time.  Of course, looking back, I keep asking myself what the heck the problem was.  Really? Too much time?  Cry me a river.  But in full disclosure it was a bit of an issue.  And it's just one of those things you go through as a SAHP.  It takes a while to really learn your role as wife, mother, homemaker, cook, etc. and develop an idea of time management.  It'll come, you just have to be patient with yourself and ask your spouse to be patient when he comes home to a dirty house but a two year old that played for hours with her mom! Haha.

One of the other issues that took time was the whole play date saga.  Geez Louise…drama for your mama.  Here's the thing: When you first start out, and you don't know a lot of stay at home parents yet, sometimes you can get bored to tears and want to schedule a billion playdates with people you don't even know and you don't even care.  You're just dying for adult interaction.  Just go through it, people, it's part of the process.  You may get a reputation as a play-date "playa"- just do it.  Haaaaaa.  No seriously, this is a personality thing, too.  If you're an extrovert you may overdo scheduling playdates and wear you and your poor children out.  Plus, it can sometimes be stressful going to other people's houses to play if you don't know them very well (especially if you're potty training a child and they poo on your new friend's floor- NOT that this happened to me or anything- no way, Jose.  Never. I swear it wasn't me.)  Helpful hint: schedule all playdates at the park/Chick-fil-A/neutral site until you feel comfortable enough with the person to poo on their floor.  For real.  And if you're an extrovert, you might start seriously regressing from lack of necessary adult interaction and start talking to yourself, thus opening wide the doors to mental illness in your children.  You heard it here first, people.

Um, let's see, what else?  Ahhh yes….finances.  Okay, here's the down low- everyone has a certain financial level they're comfortable at and that's important to note for you and your spouse before you go down to one income.  Now, if you're spouse brings in some serious dough this might not be an issue for you (good for you!) but for most this is probably an issue.  I recommend trying to live off of one income before you quit just to make sure you're not going to get yourself into a pretty deep hole.  A financially stressed marriage will lead to a very stressful stay at home experience.  And that's not good for anyone.  Now, here's the kicker: A lot of people (read it, A LOT) say they don't have the money to stay at home when, in all brutal honesty, they just don't want to stop living a certain lifestyle.  They don't want to downsize their house, trade out their car for one a little less fancy, stop buying name brand clothes, etc. And that's okay, my friends, but just be honest.  It helps me out that I have absolutely no desire to be fancy or rich.  A lot of money makes me nervous- I'm dead serious.  I read that whole passage about Lazarus and the Rich Man in the bible and I swear to you- I get a complex.  I even feel like we don't give enough away right now and we ain't livin' the high life, y'all.  That's a whole other post.  We live a very comfortable life but I shop at second hand stores, try to eat meatless once or twice a week, have never gotten professional photographs of my children done, get my hair cut once or-if I'm lucky- twice a year, etc.  You get the idea.  I'm not stressed about money but I have to be smart about it.  Sometimes I do this better than others :-)  Figure out how much you want to stay at home and if you're willing to make the sacrifices for it.  Some people honestly can't swing it and others could if they made it more of a priority.  It's all about what is most important to you.

The only other main issue would probably be your spouse.  I lucked out (actually we talked about this a lot before we got married- marriage prep- highly recommend it!!) and married someone who 100% supported me staying at home.  That was our plan from the get-go.  We always saw eye-to-eye on this and that IS HUGE.  If your spouse isn't fully behind it…uggggghhhhh….you may have a serious problem.  Because, my friend, you need a lot of support.  In the early years, Cory would come home and- during some particularly difficult phases- I would need a "breather"(read it- take the kids or I'm driving to Mexico and you won't be able to find me.  Stuff like that.)  It's not technically hard stuff a stay at home parent does- but it's unbelievably draining.  Making sure tiny lunatics don't swallow a penny, fixing food and helping the little ones not choke, cleaning up the consistent spills, being dedicated to discipline, loving each of them intensely, giving special time to each of them, being patient when your little one wants to help you cook and it takes them forty five minutes to stir the rice in, etc.  You know?  No, again, it's not brain surgery- but it does take heroic patience and a heck of a lot of love.  And here's a gigantic kicker:  it doesn't take much to be a bad stay at home parent, that is quite easy.  But to be a great one- it takes what feels like your entire heart and soul.  And that's what I try to do.  I want to be great  for them.  I want them to look back at this time as one of the greatest times of both their lives and my life.  Yeah, I could do this totally half-ass (pardon the language) but I would live with a whole lot of regret.  If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it right.  And doing it right takes more energy, more attention, more devotion than anything I've ever done.  And they are worth every last drop of effort.


There's no way I could address everything I love and every challenge about being a stay at home parent, but I do hope I've given you a small glimpse.  If you have ANY QUESTIONS, just fire them my way.  I will do my best to be as honest as possible.  Again, a working mom is better than a bad stay at home mom any day of the week.  But if you give your all to staying at home and love it, I can think of very little more beautiful than that.  These years fly and I intend to not miss beat.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Musings of a Mother With a Dirty House

     This is my official declaration stating why the house is never clean when Cory gets home.  That way, if he ever decides to make a comment about his abode in disarray, I can lovingly shout,  "Read the blog!".  No, really, it's important to gather my thoughts on this subject and write them down in a memorable way so as to remind myself, when I get frazzled about cleaning, why I seldom pick up the mop or swing the broom.  I'm sure many moms can relate to this, and if you can't, well shut it.  I will only accept comments such as, "You are sooooo right!" and "Brilliant! Just brilliant!".  Because I'm the dictator here at Poops and Poodles, so if you don't fall in line and agree with me on this, you are not a welcome member of this community-- in a loving way, and all.
     See, when I used to daydream about getting married and having a family, the completely idiotic musings went something like this: I would picture my cute little kids (usually about four of them) in cute little outfits playing so cutely together while I looked downright amazing in some trendy outfit giggling over the stove, preparing some gourmet meal to make anyone with a mouth count down the minutes until dinnertime.  It was all vague, you know, I didn't go crazy overboard with the fantasies, just imagined what having four kids would look like.  And, well, you seldom daydream about nightmares and I never pictured horrible tantrums and getting hit in the face with flying food.  I conveniently left out diaper rashes and burned beans, too.  Isn't this proof that I'm a ridiculously optimistic person?  Of course it is.  And when I pictured me playing with these super cute kids, the house was always very clean, except for the errant toys we had just played with because you don't want your house to look un-lived in, for Pete's sake.  The great thing is, I think I subconsciously told myself that the house was clean in all of these dreamings because I had cleaned it.  I never saw a maid, so I must have cleaned it.  I gave myself a lot of credit.
     So, due to the fact that I at one time imagined what life would be like being married with several kids, I set the bar stupidly high for myself.  I thought this would be....easier.  And it's so not.  SO not.  When we found out I was pregnant with James, I quit working and became a stay-at-home mom.  And I love it, even while I'm having my weekly meltdown.  But here's the thing, I thought staying at home would help in the cleanliness department.  I thought, "Well, gee, if only I could be home all day then I would have time to mop and dust and fold the millions of shirts we seem to have..." and, once again, I thought wrong.  Because it dawned on me, about three weeks in, that I was a stay-at-home MOM, like, there are people here with me all day.  Incredibly needy and dirty people, I might add.  Now, I realize you would have to be a stay-at-home WIFE if you want the house clean.  Hubby runs off to work and you clean the baseboards.  See, that would work.  But it's not the deal-e-o right now.  No, I have two little friends who accompany on nearly all of my daily chores.  I call them Dirty and his pal, Filthy.  Or Cowboy and Sassafras:

    And here's what cleaning up looks like with Cowboy and Sassafras:
- I try and clean the dishes around mid-morning, when I've finally gotten over the trauma of waking up and fixing breakfast with Cowboy acting like he hasn't eaten since the Alamo.  This is not so bad when Mr. Big Stuff is here to help.  But, you know, he leaves to go to work and I'm left at the barn with my friends.  So, I start to clean up and they suddenly are hit with an INSANE desire for a snack.  I try and resist but it always gets worse if you fight it.  Cowboy comes over and starts rummaging through the silverware (and its always the knives he goes for first), Sassafras sees a sippy cup and it reminds her she hasn't had anything to drink in hours, Cowboy climbs on top of the open dishwasher door and starts jumping up and down and I resist the urge to take the spray on the faucet and hose them out of the kitchen-- because then you're looking at MORE work. So I give up doing dishes.
-I head to the playroom and start picking up the mess that always is.   Cowboy and Sassafras follow and realize it is light years more fun to play in the play room when I'm in there.  So it becomes a game of trying to pick up faster than they can take out- but, let me remind you, there are two of them and one of me.  This never works.  Plus, they take out toys in a frenzy.  It takes time to sort through the mess and put it back in its correct spot.  I tell Sassafras she better help me clean up the playroom or she won't get to watch a show before her nap.  This sounds like it would work.  But it doesn't.  Because she gets in clean up mode and her clean up mode is INTENSE.  And she gets herself all worked up because Cowboy continues to ruin the playroom and she thinks this will infringe upon her TV watching capabilities, even though I've tried to explain a gazillion times that it doesn't matter what he's doing.  So it seems to always end with Sassafras knocking Cowboy down with the swing of a bat, or Dora, or his truck, or whatever she can reach and is strong enough to use as a weapon.  So I end up with a hysterical Cowboy with a welt on his head and a hysterical Sassafras who laments the loss of her TV show and a time-out.  This is just wonderful and puts everybody in a good mood.
-So then I try laundry.  Sassafras loves to fold washcloths and feels like a "mommy" when she helps me, which I love.  The only problem? Cowboy apparently likes to fold washcloths, too.  So I give them their own sets of washcloths to fold but Cowboy won't accept this and inevitably reaches for Sassafras' neatly folded stack.  Can you say ROYAL MELTDOWN?  In her eyes, he has just destroyed her very motherhood.  She has beautifully created a gem of a washcloth with no wrinkles and he threw it on the ground with the swagger of a gunslinger.  POW.  He has crushed her maternal instincts and he knows it.  So he runs.  And she chases him and either pushes him down, pinches him, sits on him (my personal favorite) or some other physical torture and calls him something with "poo poo" in it for a dash of verbal abuse.  You know, like, "poo poo head", "poo tee tee-er" or some other name that denotes disgust.  Naive little me thought that kind of talk only came from boys.  Heh heh.
-So I move on to the vacuum.  Sassafras has a love/hate relationship with the vacuum.  She either hates it and thinks its "too loud!", which she always manages to scream louder than the vacuum itself, but whatever, or she loves it and wants to vacuum herself.  So the whole time I'm trying to vacuum, she's following me either yelling that its too loud or doing the Chinese water torture version of: "Is it my turn? Is it my turn? Is it my turn?" until I'm ready to stick the vacuum attachment down my throat and suck out my own beating heart (it seems less painful at the time).  Cowboy loves the vacuum cleaner.  So much so that he follows me around with the goal of pressing the on/off button repeatedly until I'm near certain the vacuum is going to explode or the electrical current in the house is going to go haywire and we're all going to go up in smoke.  So every time I turn to tell Sassafras it's not her turn to vacuum, Cowboy presses the button.  And every time I lean over the pick up a random shoes off the carpet, Cowboy presses the button.  Drives me BANANAS.
-Finally, I just try and pick up.  You know, the clutter.  The debris.  The little sprinkles of love that let me know that little people live here.  And it's chaos.  If I'm not entertaining them, then they are entertaining themselves which many times is far worse.   As in, Cowboy will climb anything and everything, including the pantry shelves if he has decided it's time to eat.  Never mind that there is essentially concrete underneath him.  If a cookie is in sight, its apparently worth the risk.  Or he'll find a stick of some sort and go after Boo Boo.  Or he'll dump Boo Boo's food into his water which makes me want to throw up.  Or he'll start digging in the trash, or turn on the oven, or climb the chair that is next to the computer and start banging.  You know, innocent little stuff like that.  And Sassafras will make a train in the playroom with every single toy she can get her grubby little hands on.  Or she'll go exploring in the refrigerator for something to eat, leaving the door wide open.  Or she'll get into my makeup because she wants to look like a mommy. So I end up picking up only what they've managed to destroy during the time I tried picking up the rest of the house.  SEE WHAT I MEAN?!?!?!
    So that's my story and I'm sticking to it.  I try.  Really, I do.  Because if I have a messy house, that means I have to look at it all day long.  Its the failure that's always in my face, if I choose to look at it like that.  Which, by the way, can drive you clinically insane.  So, I try to focus on what I did do during each day.  Like how many times I colored a picture with Sassafras.  Or how many books I read to her.  Or how many times I pushed her on the swing.  Things like that.  And I remember that I did actually find time to teach Cowboy where some of his body parts are and what the chicken says.  And I prevented him from dying a couple of times, too.  From falling off the slide, to eating a penny, to getting eaten by Boo Boo for taunting him.
    So, in the disheveled world of the mom, it can be hard to be proud of what you're doing on a day-to-day basis.  It's not exactly brain surgery.  It's waaaayyyyy more difficult.  Doctors get years and years of schooling to figure out how to operate on a bum brain.  And here we are, entrusted with forming typically several tiny brains into effective machines that govern smart, well-behaved individuals who thrive in a dysfunctional world.  With usually NO schooling.  We don't go to school to be parents.  We get tossed about in the world of tradition, trends, and try again.  And we get beaten down- often by the kids- and get back up.  There is hardly any glory in the momentary mom triumphs that go unnoticed in a busy world.  When your husband gets home and all the kids are alive, how many of us get thanked?  Even though we are usually life-savers on a daily basis.  When the children are miraculously well-behaved during a dining out experience, we sometimes chalk this up to them finally "growing up" instead of being due to the fact that we have drilled manners and correct eating habits into them on a daily basis.  And when they start to get older and show real compassion and affection to other people, sometimes we can forget that we had a hand in that.  That each kiss they give out was once a kiss given.  Clean house or not, I can think of no better legacy than that.
Happy Mother's Day.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

On Suffering- For Tripp Roth

Just in case you're tempted to slash your wrists during the first part of this post, keep reading, I swear it doesn't end on a depressing note. I swear.

    So my little friend Tripp died on January 14th.  My little friend that I never met.  I'm just getting around to blogging about it.  It took awhile for me to process it.  He died, and I cried myself to sleep that Saturday night.  I moped around the house and faked smiles playing Legos.  I went through the motions of fixing dinner, crying into the peas, sniffling next to the turkey.  And then, lo and behold, I noticed something.  Something beautiful started pouring out across the internet.  The love people had for this little boy.  Thankfully, I was not the only hysterical person on the earth over this.  I felt comforted.  There were a ton of other people bathing their pillowcases in utter sorrow.  And boy, did this make me happy.  Not happy because we were all miserable but happy because we all loved so much.  A little boy we never met.  A mother who we all admired more than we could put words to.  A grandmother who essentially stopped her life to take care of her daughter and her first grandchild.  The endless rocking.  The endless, tortuous baths.  The unending, unconditional love.  It was all too much for us humans to bear.  I've never seen something, been a part of something, so darn heartbreaking, but so darn beautiful all at the same rotten-wonderful time.

    ABC ran a news story on Tripp about a month before he died.  The story generated many comments.  SO many of them were infused with love and support, sending love and prayers their Ponchatoula-way.  There were the occasional hard-hearted, why-don't-you-put-him-down-like-a-freakin'-dog comments.  They pretty much got ripped to virtual shreds by the rest of us.  I don't tolerate people comparing a little boy to a dog very well, apparently.  Gulp.   People from all over the world poured out their hearts to this little boy and his family.   So many cried.  So many prayed.  So many hoped.  It didn't end with a miraculous healing and a chorus of hallelujahs.  It ended with reality.  Not everyone is healed.  Tripp wasn't healed of EB on this earth.  All the saints intercessions we implored.  All the Hail Marys.  All the Our Fathers.  Were they heard?  It appears, "Thy will be done" was heard loud and clear.
     Even when Jesus, GOD, walked this earth, not everyone was healed.  Isn't that hard to bear?  That he didn't heal everyone.  Sometimes we only focus on the ones in the bible who were healed, you know?  We know them all- the man at the pool of Siloam, the man with the withered hand, Peter's mother-in-law, the bleeding woman, etc. etc. etc.  But you know what?  He didn't heal everyone.  There were sick people left when Jesus died.  There were paralyzed people left when He died.  There were still lepers when He died.  He obviously didn't come to cure everyone's physical ailments.  I don't know, maybe part of why He came was to make sure that those who suffered could know that it gets better.  Maybe to make sure that those who suffered knew that they were loved.  Fiercely.  That there is a place where there is no suffering.  That even though He doesn't heal your son's EB blisters, even though He doesn't take away your daughter's cancer, even though He doesn't shrink your husband's tumor, that He loves you beyond words.

     Physical cures are NOT evidence of God's love.  Merely existing is evidence of God's love.  Physical cures do not ensure that you go to heaven.  You could be healed of cancer and lead a terrible life and end it with a terrible death.  Therefore, being physically cured could not possibly mean you are loved more than those who are not healed because God wishes all to be saved.  Not to throw a dagger at those who have been healed, no way.  But they received a gift and what they do with that gift is what counts.  Those who were not healed received a gift too.  The gift of an early entrance into paradise.  Maybe not what they were hoping for because we don't have a flippin' clue how great heaven is.  Maybe not what their parents or loved ones wanted because we don't get to peer into the window of heaven and see them so freakin' happy that we're actually jealous they got cancer.  But it's a gift just the same.  I'm sure Tripp feels sorry for the rest of us down here.  He's probably playing the drums and chewing on a cherry Twizzler while I'm sobbing uncontrollably with snot running down my nose over him.  Really?  Actually, he's probably like "Who the heck is that lady with the snot all over moaning and groaning about me?"  I'm sure Tripp Roth feels very sorry for me at the moment.  That's okay, Tripp ole' buddy, just keep praying for the snot lady to be where you are one day.
     It's bitter but it's true, sometimes this is a valley of tears.  Bad things happen.  Sad things happen.  Every prayer is not answered in the way we want.  Every pleading of the heart is not met with earthly consolation and a "everything's okay".  No, sometimes everything is not okay.  I guarantee you Courtney is not thinking everything is okay at the moment.  And good for her for being honest.  I'm sure she heard a million times at the funeral the phrase everyone uses when they don't know what else to say- "he's in a better place."  And it's true.  He is.  But it's still not okay.  It still hurts like the dickens.  It still rips my heart out and punches me in the gut.  And if suffering people can be real with God and say, "I know my boy is in heaven, but this hurts like hell," then maybe we reach acceptance a little quicker.  Even if we're saying it ten years later, that's alright.  Even if we tell God that this world He created totally bites,  that's okay.  He knows it's true more than anyone.  That's why He doesn't leave us here.
      The day Tripp died I let myself be crazy with sorrow.  I didn't even try and drum up every thought I could to make me cheery.  I was mad at God.  And I think I even told Him off a time or two with one of these zingers: "Maybe the atheists are right!  Maybe You don't care!"  I'm thirty-four years old and, yes, sometimes I yell at God like a two-year old.  But, as a wise priest once told me, "You can keep yelling, just make sure you never walk away."  And I didn't.  I didn't walk away from Him, even though I was so sad and He broke my heart.  Because, as St. Peter once said, "to whom shall I go?"  Where else would I go with my tears?  I realized a little bit later that, no, the atheists weren't right.  Because the only thing worse than Tripp Roth suffering like he did would be for there to be no heaven.  No reward.  No purpose or meaning to it.  Yes, sometimes God hurts us in the moment, but He never walks away.  So I begrudgingly told Him I was sorry for yelling.  For like the hundredth time.
     I swear, though, people can be amazing.  Oh the love I saw for this little two year old, blistered boy.  People gave to that family like the world was coming to an end.  Love oozed out every pore of people's bodies as they read Courtney's blog.  Isn't that a miracle somewhat?  Maybe we read about and see and experience a lot of cruelty from others in this world.  But that blog was a place where love ruled.  That boy stole a million hearts and those hearts beat stronger because of him.  Tripp created a situation where, just by existing, love flooded hearts and people were more generous, more prayerful, more compassionate.  In a way, Tripp Roth didn't receive a gift of healing.  He gave the gift of healing.  To us.  To those who don't have a clue.  To those who don't deserve it.  The little suffering boy became a sort of vessel of grace.  It's how suffering works.  It's why it's so powerful.  Those who suffer open our hearts.  To the realities of this world.  To the grace that is flowing.  To the very heart of a God who once suffered terribly, too.

     So, I thank Tripp, Courtney, Grammy, Paw Paw Carey and everyone else I feel like I know now.  You went through the fire.  The fire so many of us spend so much energy  avoiding (with good reason) our entire life.  But this fire fell into your lap.  You can't control what happens to you, only how you respond.  Well, gang, you hit this one out of the park.  You inspired thousands of people and made sure your little boy only knew love on this earth.  You couldn't control the blisters from forming on the fragile skin of your son, but you succeeding in not letting your hearts be blistered- with anger, with despair, with bitterness.  Congratulations.  I know this probably doesn't feel like a celebration, but I celebrate just the same.  Your son died, but Love won.

We can't do anything about Tripp, but you know who we can do something about?  Bruce!! Yay, Bruce!  Take a look at this stud muffin:

Check him out on Reece's Rainbow: - we don't want Bruce to be friends with Tripp just yet.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Yo Quiero Ser Hispanos

     Okay, so, I thought for today's light-hearted post, I would give a complete analysis of my views on immigration.  I mean, why blog if you're not going to make people squirm and squeal and call you names?  I love controversial issues.  About as much as I love going to the dentist and having them say "Nah, I think we can do this without anesthesia."  Um, what?  But, you know, I also have trouble shutting up.  So it's inevitable that I have to give my opinion about everything, and the limiting status update space available on Facebook just wasn't cutting it.  So, yes, immigration.  Here's what I think when I hear a debate on immigration:  I want to be the immigrant.  How's that for a fresh perspective?
     I think my infatuation with all things non-American came when I lived in Central America for seven months.  I applied to go and live and teach at an orphanage called Farm of the Child outside of Trujillo, Honduras.  Here, let me show you on a map:

Notice it's on the Caribbean, but that had absolutely nothing to do with why I chose to go live there.  I swear.  Okay, maybe a teeny tiny bit, but definitely not a major factor.  My original intent on becoming a sort of "modern missionary" was to get out of America.  I know that sounds, well, drastic.  And quite unpatriotic.  But I was tired.  Tired of being asked when I was going to get married, or for that matter, get a boyfriend.  Or when I was going to get a boyfriend who actually went to Church.  Or when I was going to start to be attracted to men who went to Church.  It was complicated.  
    I was also tired of talking about poor people and ready to, um, actually meet some.  Teaching religion I had many opportunities to talk about social justice, to spell out the Church's teaching, to try and rev up some sympathy for those who had little.  But it became redundant.  Empty.  And yes, I had gone on week-long missionary trips and volunteered at homeless shelters and all the rest of it.  But I didn't really know those people.  I tried to help them for a minute, a day, a week, but then I went home and very easily and quickly forgot about them.  I wanted to challenge myself on a new level.  To see if I really could hang with people from a very different background and culture for an extended time.  To build real friendships.  To come to better understand their plight from the inside and stop talking like I already did.  

    So I did it.  I took the plunge.  And it was really hard and really wonderful all at the same time.  But I left after seven months with an undeniable love of all things Latino.  And I still don't know whether the terms Latino and Hispanic are interchangeable.  Not a clue.  But what's really important to know is that I was entirely jealous of those with the pretty olive skin, big brown eyes, and fluent Spanish speaking skills.  I know its their primary language, but still.  I was jealous it was their primary language.  The women cooked easily over an open fire, laughed heartily with a sweet glint, and their plight of poverty became just that much more intriguing.  Truly, I was not jealous of their struggles and I was despondent over their lack of basic healthcare and good education, but they were so beautiful in the midst of it.  The food, the language, the celebrations all held its own mystique and I fell in love with "other".  With that which was so different than what I had known.  I loved cooking baleadas and tried my best to thrust my hips to the earthy beat celebrating a quinceanera (with very little success, people.  I do NOT have Latino hips.  Never have and never will.  That I have accepted.  It gets ugly quick when I try and fight it).

     Some of the people were intent on coming to America, sure that it held the key to their prosperity.  It was difficult to witness that because in many ways I knew that to be true but in other ways I wanted to shout: "No! Keep what you have here.  This is wonderful.  I haven't heard Beyonce's name in weeks and this is good."  But sometimes it's just not.  America holds many opportunities that some of these countries just don't right now.  In some of these countries where people flee, corruption has a firm grip and getting out from underneath all of it will take a lot of time and lot of really good people to step up (and then I look at the corruption in our own government and think, "We're the answer?!?!? Good Lord.)  But we are in many ways.  And so we have an immigration issue.  
     It ain't easy and I got NO answers.  I listen to the Democratic argument and I'm like "Yes, definitely" and then I listen to the Republican argument and I'm like "Oooohhh, good point."  Totally confused.  And I just want to switch places with the immigrant and say, "Here, you can have my spot."  Not to glorify the places in which they come from, no, I know it's not that simple.  But to acknowledge that no country embodies every dream.   Everybody deserves a safe place to raise their family and food and clean water and education and.....the list keeps growing.  But you can have all that and still feel very needy.  Still feel very disconnected.  Still feel very alone and confused.  Happiness takes on a very perplexing landscape when you really sit with it.     
     It's my dilemma.  I meet the Hispanic mother in Wal-Mart who only speaks Spanish and I want to be best friends.  Amigas beunas, por favor.  And I want to follow her around with my cart and get the same ingredients as her, sure that she is making some delectable item tonight- from scratch, of course.  Some would call this stalking.  I call it intensely admiring.  Big difference.  And I lose the ability to even be able to process my infatuation.  Why am I obsessed with these people?  It's lost on me, but I am.  And get this, it's not even just Hispanic people!  I know, this is getting juicy.
    We have neighbors that are from China and, don't you know, the obsession has crossed over to them.  Scary.  They just happen to have two little girls the same age as our kids and so it's just impossible to not be friends.  And to not get a swing set so that they'll keep coming over and Cory and I can keep bombarding them with questions about all things Chinese.  And get so excited to tell them that we watched a documentary on rural China and it was awesome.  And to practice "Ni hao!" because it's the only flippin' Chinese word I know and I got it from a cartoon Katherine watches.  So embarrassing.  Ugh. I'm telling you, it's exhausting loving other cultures.   


    Katherine, James and I were over at their house not too long ago and the always gentle, always wonderful mother offered my kids a snack.  A snack that looked like chocolate covered birdseed.  And I was like, oh no, this is going to get awkward.  I was sure Katherine would eye it suspiciously and James would throw it in the grass.  But, no.  Held out with a gentle hand, my kids took to it like little hungry hummingbirds.  Of course they would eat birdseed if it was offered by the lovely Chinese mother.  See?  Even my kids want to be Chinese.  From the mouth of babes...or in the mouth of babes.   And I cringe when all I have to offer her two cute kids is a Twinkie and aging Easter candy.  What is wrong with me?  
    This is all said in a spirit of sincere awe, and a tad bit of envy.  I am consistently amazed at the beauty this world encompasses.  Yes, I know, many Central American countries are in horrific battles against poverty and corruption and the like.  And yes, I know China has a one-child policy that forces many women to do the unthinkable.  And then there's a tiny little issue called Communism.  I get it.  This is a blog post, not a doctoral dissertation.   It's just that sometimes I want to move to El Salvador and sometimes I want to move to China.  And sometimes I want to be Amish.  Don't you ever get tired of the American culture?  Of Brangelina and People magazine?  Of reality shows and obvious plastic surgery?  And I'm sorry ahead of time to all the high school and college girls, but don't you even get tired of the hand on the hip pose and aviator sunglasses?  Cause the good Lord knows that I do.    
     I do know we have incredible beauty right here.  No need to lecture me on that.  But one seldom seems to appreciate the surrounding terrain when it's all you've ever known.  I never knew the unspeakable comfort of a towel that has just come out of the dryer until I didn't have a washer or a dryer for several months in Central America.  In Honduras, my towels and, might I add, my underwear, gave about as much comfort as a pile of rocks.  Dryers do amazing things to cotton.  And I most definitely took for granted my freedom.  I'm not talking about the "land of the free, home of the brave" kind of freedom (although that, too).  I'm talking about the freedom to jump in your car and head to the gas station and get a Coke.  Do we even realize what a luxury that is?  Even as our teeth are rotting out from the sugar, do we realize that not many people are able to choose the way they get their cavities so freely.  In Honduras, about fifty people shared two old cars and the nearest "gas station" was across three rivers.    
     That's when I give thanks for those who have come to live with us from other countries.  No matter the complexities of immigration issue, I try to remember we're talking about people.  People who have a valuable contribution to add to our landscape.  Fresh perspectives, new foods, old customs.  All is well when we see the beauty and vastness of God's creation, from the mountains to the deserts and from the Asians to the Caucasians.  The way we think, the way we live, the values we hold dear.  Everything is more beautiful when it's been challenged.  I'll always be an American at heart.  It's home.    But I have always loved visiting other people's homes, and realizing in all our differences, there is something beautiful there.
Wouldn't you know, I went to Old Navy today to do some birthday shopping and they had all these "Mexican"-looking clothes (I'm not good at fashion labels).  But, seriously, is that a sign or what?  I wasn't able to do too much damage because Katherine kept asking the little boy mannequin to dance with her.  When he wouldn't respond, she'd shout: "Mom!  This boy is being RUDE!!!!".  She always seems to keep my shopping in check :)

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Crazy Cousins

   So just the other day I went to the mall to replenish my dwindling make-up supplies.  I've been needing a lot of make-up lately considering James is breaking in four molars at the tender age of sixteen months and we ain't gettin' no sleep round here, ya heard?  Katherine insisted on coming.  Anything girlie and you've got yourself a friend in that little muffin.  While Cory and James spun the stroller way to fast through the racks of clothes, Katherine and I plopped ourselves down at the counter of Clinique.  A very nice lady (with perfect make-up) was quick to respond to her two new customers.
     As I started to chat it up with my Clinique friend, I noticed Katherine was awfully quiet in the chair across the aisle.  As in, if there is more than a 90 second interval between comments from her pretty little mouth, I know we're in trouble.  All of sudden, she breaks the silence:  "Whoa! Mom, look what I just got!", I hear from my little princess.   As the Clinique lady and I look over, Katherine hoists up one of the Q-tips used to apply trial make-up.  But it didn't have any make-up on it.  No, of course it didn't.  It had a huge ball of golden wax perched atop the puffy white throne.  She's OBVIOUSLY not girlie enough.  No more make-up trips for you, my little princess, until you're twenty-one and I can safely leave you at the Clinique counter without legal retribution.
    Of course, that little scenario ended with awkward laughs from my Clinique friend and a complete brain-freeze on my end.   On the one hand, I was tickled that she would see a Q-tip and start plugging away at her ear canal.  I mean, after all, that is what they're used for most of the time.  Score one for ear hygiene.  On the gigantic other hand, though, we're in the middle of the mall for crying out loud.  So my natural tendency to dive on top of her and stuff the dirty Q-tip down my shirt in the hopes that nobody notices anything that just happened, well it seemed a bit difficult to pull off.  So the next gut response was to just ignore, but I know Katherine and she will demand a response.  So if I don't want the soiled Q-tip shoved in my face thirty more times with "Mom, look! Mom, look!", I'd better give the dog a bone.  So, I did.  I swallowed my pride, looked at my beaming daughter and said, "Great job, K!  That's huge!".  And ordered five gallons of foundation in an attempt to cover my extremely red face.
    Of course, as I thought about this later, I was so glad I gave the response I did.  The temptation to shout: "What on earth are YOU doing????" and roll my eyes was strong but I couldn't bear to make her feel like she really did something wrong.  I chuckled to myself, thinking how confusing it is to be a kid and to try and figure this weird world out.  I could so see Katherine eyeing a huge basket of Q-tips and being so proud of herself for cleaning her ears on her own.  How deflating it would have been for me to have crushed her at that point.  It was most definitely the right choice to allow my ego to take the beating instead.
    Seeing the world through the eyes of children is an experience in and of itself.  I am consistently amazed at the rapid pace by which Katherine is able to process things.  Her mind is so much quicker now, noticeably more so than even a mere six months ago.  On the way to church last Sunday, she came out of nowhere with this whopper: "Mom, where is heaven?"  Ummm..... and I'm a theology teacher.  C'mon, Moll, you gotta be able to answer this one, huh?  After numerous stutters, Katherine tried to help me out: "Is it in the sky?" she asked.  I thought that was interesting that she naturally went to the sky.  It is, after all, where many of our ancestors truly thought heaven was- thus, the popular reference to the sky being "the heavens."  But I was struggling to know whether or not I should just stay simple and familiar ("yes, Katherine, it's in the sky") or try to be a little more accurate without being fearful ("we have no earthly idea where heaven is--- Pope John Paul made mention once that it was more of a state of being than an actual place").  Calm down, I didn't actually tell her that.

     I ended up just saying "Katherine, heaven is where Jesus is, and when people die Jesus comes and gets them and takes them there but we don't really know where it is until we die."  Of course, that satisfied her for about twenty seconds.  Then it was "Does He fly to us or does He walk to our house?  Does He have a car?  How does He know where I live?"   I was on the hot seat but trying not to let it look like I was.  I was slightly overwhelmed with trying to help a three year old understand "mystery" (which, by the way, is pretty much impossible) and yet give her the answers to her questions.  Three year olds are very used to getting answers.  Why is the grass green?  Well, cutie pie, there's something called chlorophyll.  Why is the sun hot?  It's basically a giant ball of fire.  And so on and so on.  But when it comes to Jesus, well, there's a lot that cannot be explained so easily.  And my three year old finds that frustrating at times.  And I'm right there with her.
     It seems like the trend in our culture is the quick-fix, the one-liner, the snappy comeback.  If you can't fully explain yourself in a five minute interview that will be edited down to three, well then you must not know what you're talking about.  You're an idiot.  You're hanging onto archaic beliefs- I mean, this is the 21st century, people 
(No. Way.  By golly, let me go ahead and pull my Laura Ingalls apron off and undo my double braids down the side).  Can you tell that last one makes me want to stick shards of glass in my eye?  Okay, sometimes I want to stick it in their eye, yes, but Laura Ingalls would never.  And I'm still way back in the 1800's, thank you.

     It's where people of faith, people who know Jesus is not the God-Man of the snappy comeback, struggle.  Because it's a whole world-view we're talking about- not just the controversial issue of the day.  And it makes me mad when Catholics get a bad rap.  Like, super mad.  People aim their witty arrows at the various beliefs of a two thousand year old Church and try to mock it with snippets of pseudo-sense.  The deepest one goes in evaluating the moral essence of an issue is "Does it make me happy?" and if the answer is in the affirmative, well then, by all means it's a green light.
    In the frustration we encounter in trying to explain ourselves to a world we are increasingly becoming an alien to, we have to be grateful.  Grateful that we have been to the deep, and it's beautiful.  Grateful that, even though we might lose the battle of witty conversation, we will win the war of lasting value and meaning.  We know, even though its still a daily struggle, that to seek the pleasure and happiness of self is often nothing more than a clever maze, taking you down roads that lead to the familiar dead end.  It's the epitome of the smoke and mirrors.  How could it be wrong to go fully in the direction of personal satisfaction?  Doesn't God want me to be happy?

      And again, on a Facebook status or in the comments status under a Yahoo story about God-only-knows-what, it's hard to put the one-liner:  "Of course God wants you to be happy....sort of" or "God wants you to be holy and to find happiness in that" or some other clincher that will transmit profound theological truths and not bore in the shockingly short process.  It just doesn't happen.  I'm not saying profound things can't be said in a line or two but to deal with complex issues in superficial ways is almost always going to be found entirely insufficient.  But, I'll be damned if I don't try.  I am not exactly known to let controversial issues slide by the wayside, if you know what I mean.  I find it nearly impossible NOT to say something on a raging controversial Facebook thread.  The more cutthroat the posts, the more I feel the unbelievable urge to hoist my neck on the chopping block.  But I'm here to tell you it's insufficient.  It's twisted.  It's the speech into the microphone as the ship is going down, only to lose electricity as you come upon your most important point. Galling, I tell you.
    The mystery remains.  For a three year old.  For me.  Even what we do know sometimes can't be communicated in the most comprehensive of rebuttals.  Whatever.  We'll never have all the answers.  Will Jesus come and get you in His Cadillac, Katherine?  He just might.  I have no idea.  Does He know where you live?  Most certainly.  You're his daughter and He keeps a vigilant check on all His girls.  Does God want you to be happy?  Read up.  It's the best, most concise, answer I can give.  Read the whole Bible and get someone who knows a whole lot about the Bible to answer your questions and then you tell me.  Don't read "101 Bible Verses that Seem to Point to the Fact that Yes, God DOES Want Nothing But Our Happiness" or "Five Thousand Ways to Distort Everything in the Bible to Fit the New Religion You Just Founded Upon Yourself."

 Those are my answers to the hostile crowd.  Confused about contraception?  Read.  Think the Church is anti-science because of its embryonic stem-cell stance?  Read.  Think the Church treats women like trash?  Read.  And after you're done reading everything you can find your hands on, talk to someone.  Someone who knows a lot.  Someone who seems to think deeply and still thinks differently from you.  I'm not saying you'll change your mind.  Far from it.  But you might think we're pretty modern for wearing aprons and braids.  You just might be surprised that we, indeed, are thinking.  We're not idiots.  We're not your crazy cousins that just haven't quite finished evolving yet.  We just take a lot longer to get to know.  We are a people of the coffeehouse, not the Twitter feed.