Wednesday, September 30, 2009

He works hard for the money...

Every morning my husband showers and shaves, puts on a good looking suit, has a bowl of granola and takes the train into the city. Twelve hours later, he walks back in the door. His collar is open, his tie is loose, but his pomaded hair has not moved a bit.

Until this weekend, that was about all I knew about what my husband did all day.

Just like I can work 12 hour "mom" days without complaining, I can do it 5 days a week on my own -- no help with bedtime routine, laundry, nightmares. When my husband has to work on the weekends, though, it gets ugly.

I was so grumpy and complaining on Saturday that I really am ashamed of myself. We were entertaining on Sunday and Monday (birthday week continues) and I count on weekend errand time to get stuff done and have a bit of a mental break. I also count on this time to reconnect with him, and to enjoy watching him spend time with the children. His working all weekend was not in my plans. By Sunday morning I was so fried that I made one of the worst parenting decisions I have ever made (imagine the opposite of my triumph last week).

Then, I went to Mass. I fumed for a while, and then begged for help. Well, we get what we need, not always what we want. I slapped a smile on my face while he missed most of the family birthday party because he was working. At 10 pm, when I collapsed into bed, he was sitting at the computer. Sometime around 4 am he came to bed himself.

He offered to move to another room, but I think we both needed the company more than I needed sleep, so he worked at the desk in the bedroom. While I slept on and off, I heard typing faster than I knew was possible. Sometimes I looked up and his head was in his hands as he thought, hard. He created spreadsheets and did all sorts of funky math. He called his boss and talked him through the math. I was half asleep and did not understand anything that was going on, but at one point I heard the boss say "Yes! Good!" Later, another boss called and apologized for interrupting him because he was so busy. Later, all of the spreadsheets which he had been up all night creating got cut from the document. His blackberry buzzed with "high priority" messages.

He did not yell, he did not cry, he did not throw his pencil across the room. He did not fall asleep or complain.

At the end of it all, he slept for 3 hours and then got up, showered and shaved to do it all again.

So, now I know. It is not like this everyday, but now, when he doesn't return my phone call for six hours, I'll understand. When he comes home at the end of a long day and collapses, I won't think "you've been sitting at a desk all day while I have been here working."

He is at a place in his career where this will be worse before it gets better. We had a reprieve because of the economic downturn, and while that was a relief for our family it meant that some others lost their jobs. It is hard to convince oneself to be thankful for all these extra hours, but truly, if he doesn't work we will not eat.

I am so grateful for this glimpse at what my husband does all day. I pray that it helps me understand and support him better. I pray that I can learn to stop complaining and keeping score.

Yesterday, when he mentioned that all of his dress socks have holes in them, I rearranged my day and took six kids to the men's department of Lord and Taylors to buy socks. I thought about how blessed I am to be married to a man who is so selfless, and so dependable, that he wore out his work socks. He gets up and does what he has to do every single day of the week, and sometimes on the weekends.

Buying new socks was a practical help, which is the kind of gift that means the most to him, and a sign to me, and to the children, that we appreciate his hard work and we will help where we can because we are all in this together. I hope I get to launder these new socks for five years and I hope he works until they are worn through at the heels. I hope that while it is all happening we can remember to be kind, patient and mostly grateful.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Just to Clarify...

Hi ladies ~
After some of the comments from yesterday's post, I felt the need to clarify a couple of things that I wasn't very specific on.
First, Christopher likes school (and I daresay he is even excited about school sometimes!!), he just doesn't like the process of going to school. This holds true for many other activities: he likes the playground, but doesn't like going to the playground; he likes the swimming pool, but getting him out the door to get to the swimming pool can be like pulling teeth :) The list goes on and on - he's just a kid that's hard to get out of the door. The reason that I've focused on the particular transition of him starting Kindergarten is that I would like to make sure that I'm sending him off for the day with a loving attitude - it is a longer day than he's used to, and I want him to feel happy and supported as he leaves in the morning.

Second, Christopher has been in school before, just half-days 3 days a week as many of you mentioned. He has told me that he likes Kindergarten better than he liked any of his other preschool experiences, so that is definitely a positive! Getting him to preschool was also always hard, and that was at 9 or 9:30 a.m. and only until noon, but once he was there he enjoyed himself. He's never been one to be melancholy or sad at school - he's found lots of things that interest him - and now that he is in Kindergarten it seems like there are even more activities that are interesting to him and engage his creativity.

Third, we did prayerfully consider every schooling option for our son, and for now, this is the conclusion that both my husband and I have come to. Perhaps God will lead us in a different direction next year or in the years to come, but for now we feel confident in our school choice.

Lastly, thanks to all of you for your morning suggestions! The reason that C is riding the school bus is because he really wanted to - all of the little boys on our street ride the bus, and he couldn't wait to ride with them! We actually live less than a mile from the school and I would have been happier walking with the kids for drop-off and pick-up, or driving in the car on rainy days, but he does seem happy to be riding with his friends. Driving/walking wouldn't give us extra time, but there may be mornings when it seems best for me to take him myself and I'm totally up for that.

Thanks for all of your comments, and God bless all of you and your little ones!

Random musings of a very pregnant builder


So I'm wondering why so many friends and family have forwarded me the link to this story? Is a 19.2 pound baby going to make me somehow feel better about my tendency to have very large babies? Or maybe this is just funny and I fail to see the humor because my due date is 11 days away and I'm rather anxious about my baby's size. I have a hope that she will be smaller than my last (10 pounds 13 ounces), I'm praying she won't top 11 pounds, and I'm really praying for a healthy delivery free of any broken collar bones. But I am frightened that a woman's body could grow a child THAT large. I'm praying my body is not capable of this feat. I don't have gestational diabetes, so that's a start.

The last days of pregnancy seem to be a real emotional battle for me. One day I'm optimistic that it will soon be over, the next moment I can actually convince myself that I will be the first woman to be pregnant forever. In the last weeks, as the sleepless nights increase, my ability to view my situation with a level head practically disappears. I start dreaming about robbing the local pharmacy and injecting myself with pitocin. I scour the internet for labor inducing techniques and I actually start believing that eating pineapple will put me into labor. In my more sane moments, I remember MaryAlice's wise words, "If chinese food or spicy mexican food or pineapple actually put women into labor, there would be no need for pitocin." I realize how irrationally I'm behaving. Suddenly, I feel trapped, hopeless, and depressed. I then think about my baby, and I feel guilty for having any depression--how lucky I am!

The insanity continues, day after day, sometimes for several weeks, and then it happens. Labor begins and in the time it takes to watch a football game (or at least I hope that's the length of my labor!), I have a beautiful baby in my arms. The babymoon ensues, and most of my suffering is soon forgotten.

The end of pregnancy is so hard precicesly because it is so unpredictable. The wait, the uncertainty, the what if's dominate those last weeks. I am reminded each day, and often each hour, that I am not in control. For a type A control freak like me, this lesson is hard to swallow. I pray for the grace during these last days to trust in God's plan, and in his perfect timing.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sending Him Off with Love

My little boy is a homebody through and through. Yes, he loves to play with the boys in our neighborhood and is always asking for play-dates, and yes, once we arrive somewhere he usually has a pretty great time. But his tendency is, and has been for the 5 1/2 years of his life, to stay home and play, create, read, and generally just BE at home. I've grown to appreciate this part of Christopher's personality: he can occupy himself and become absorbed in creative play, he is happy to sit on the couch and read stories all morning, and he loves it when our family has a "special breakfast" on mom and dad's bed. Yes, it can be hard to get out the door for activities, but these transitions have become somewhat easier with time.

One transition that has been somewhat difficult recently is getting Christopher off to school in the morning. Now that Christopher is in Kindergarten, the school bus picks him up at 7:43 a.m. and drops him back home at 3:23 p.m., quite a long day for a 5 year-old! His preference would be to wake up, play in his room for half an hour, eat a leisurely breakfast, and watch a show on PBS Kids. Then, I think he might be ready to head to school :) The reality is that my mornings are often spent trying to move my little guy along from one task to the next: making his bed, getting dressed, and eating breakfast, not to mention the dreaded task of putting on his socks and shoes. The idea is that C would do all of these tasks by himself, and if he moves quickly enough he should have enough time to play for a little while before the bus arrives. However, because he is reluctant to head out the door in the first place, C often drags through each task and we're usually rushing out the door just in time to meet the bus.

As a mother, I would like to send my child off to school with lovely, positive thoughts, and some days I've been more successful than others. I've found that it helps to stick to a morning routine and to be organized and cheerful myself. On the mornings when C still says, "Mommy, I don't want to go to school today, it's such a long day," I've learned to say "That's okay, buddy, some days we all just wish that we could stay home. But I hope you have a good time once you're at school, and I hope you'll tell me about it when you get home."

How have you wonderful mothers dealt with sending a reluctant child off to school? I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences! Thanks, and God bless on this Monday!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Burnout

Great post on burnout at Conversion Diary.

Read it, then go get some sleep.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Simplicity of Early Childhood Education

The most wonderful and most fearful fact of early childhood development is one we’re all familiar with: the fastest brain growth occurs between birth and age three, and children are capable of learning the most and the most capable of learning between birth and age five. Something like that, right?

Every pop early childhood education book I've read has exploited that fact as its selling point and cornerstone. Do our “x, y and z” plan (and buy our CDs, DVDs, flashcards, workbooks, and equipment) to be sure you’re maximizing your child’s most acute learning years.

It’s often difficult to know what we’re supposed to be doing “educationally” in these preschool years. It takes remarkably little time to teach a four year old basic phonics and beginning math. What else do we do with all their brain power? Get them reading chapter books alone and doing pre-algebra? THAT is a lot of work to teach to a four year old, especially for a not-particularly-skilled teacher like me.

Frankly, I’ve been left desperately afraid that I’m stifling my children’s curiosity and squandering their brain power if I don’t pump them full of information, skills and experiences. The window closes with each passing day. How exhausting for everyone.

Reflecting on this, I’ve started to wonder whether God wired the youngest children with the greatest learning capacity for an entirely different reason, mostly unrelated to academic learning. Ages newborn through five are naturally the years they’re closest to home and under the full-time care of parents, not yet in a formal academic environment. The brain is growing and working hardest in the first five years as the child learns the basics of interacting with his physical environment... but, more importantly, as the child, prior to leaving “the nest” for larger parts of the day, rapidly absorbs and begins taking ownership of family values, family spiritual practices, and all the loves, virtues and priorities modeled by his parents. Trying to take this to heart as my children approach school age has given me great peace.

I think that the most worthy and only necessary “educational” goal in these first five years is to instill in my children that they are children of God, that He loves them with divine love and only He can satisfy their souls’ longings. Accompanying this naturally is consistent training in virtue in their relationships, decisions, and behaviors. These five years are not a laboratory for teaching children the most things; rather, they are a window of opportunity to train children in the most important things. When I listen to their questions, there are a hundred daily chances to talk about the Christian life, about God's creation, God's great plan for us, loving our neighbors. Family life and community life provide ample opportunities for them to practice virtue in little ways, with some parental guidance. Their amazing brains, unquenchable curiosity, and clean souls are fertile ground for Jesus’ love to enter and imprint their hearts permanently.

What a gift, too, to spend our days pointing the souls of children to Jesus, without fanfare and as we go about daily life. By their inquisitiveness and purity, my children keep the presence of God in our home and in my heart, if I follow their lead.

To Sigg Fans...

We have been Sigg fans for awhile. My kids carry around their bottles like security blankets and we don't leave home without them (see wagon cupholders). If they are hurt or sad they sob, "I want my water bottle." When Jack-Jack left his when out with his Grandma, we paid to have another yellow one shipped from Canada, the only one left in North America. Which is why I was so sad to see that the liners contain BPA, precisely what we were aiming to avoid. There is a voluntary exchange program until the end of October. For us returning their water bottles will be like taking away a cherished blankie or teddy bear. I'm not sure if it's better for them to ingest chemicals or to have their hearts broken!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

teachable moment

I used to tell people that I am a great mom for 12 hours a day -- I can work non stop from 7 am to 7 pm. If my day with the kids starts before that or ends after, however, it gets dicey.

Well, bedtime has floated to 8 o'clock or later over the summer, and I find that I am at my worst just when, in some ways, my kids need me most. Today was a particularly rough day for me, short on sleep and long on sugar, an entire plate of food and glass of milk were dropped on the floor during dinner, but still I managed, by grace and effort, to keep my cool until bathtime.

Then came the big test:

My oldest walked into the room where I had three little boys in the bath. "Mom, the light bulb in my bathroom broke."

Me, testy: "What do you mean, it broke?"

"Uh...I was spraying it with my water bottle and it exploded."

Deep breath, quick call to the Holy Spirit.

"That was a poor choice, buddy, please go clear up the dinner table while I get these guys into bed, and then I will come in and talk to you."

This was amazing -- I bought myself time to regain some composure. He went off to do something that would help me, but also time to think about what Mom might say or do and how he felt about it.

When I came out, the first thing he said was "is there anything else I can do to help?" I asked him to sit down in Dad's big chair. He looked terrified.

In a totally calm voice, sitting right at his eye level, I said "I think you know that it is really dangerous to play with water and electricity, or to touch light bulbs at all. I don't know if the fixture is going to be damaged as well. I suspect you knew that this was a bad idea when you were doing it, and now you see that there are consequences to your actions. You made a good choice, though, to come and tell me right away, and to tell the truth about how it happened. I am going to clean up the glass now, and then you can take your shower. I don't feel safe replacing the light bulb in a wet fixture. Dad will take a look at it over the weekend. Until then, your bathroom will be a bit dark."

After I had cleaned up the glass I sat with him while he, with my prompting, cleaned up his entire dressing area and bathroom, which had gotten a bit out of control over the last few days.

Once he was all cozy in his pajamas, he came to me and quietly said "Mom, thanks for helping me sort out my stuff, and for not being mad about the light bulb."

I gave him a big hug and I said "P, you are going to make some mistakes in your life, but I want you to know that you can always tell me the truth. I will try hard to control my temper and to help you sort things out."

This was a significant victory for both of us.

P is about to be 8, and I see that we are coming in to a different phase of our parenting. Slowly, he will have more freedom in order to learn self control. He will be tempted. I remember in those pre-teen years how tempting it was to "experiment" by melting crayons on the radiator, falling out of my bunk bed, all kinds of stupid stuff. The truth is, they are testing themselves, they are testing boundaries, and they are testing us. If I come to Mom with a problem, will she explode? I want to be strict with my kids, and there will be consequences for not doing your work or chores, for lying, for sneaking around, but I want them to know that I am here with love if they want to talk something out, or if they arrive at a place where a really bad choice has been made and they need help getting out of danger. I want them to learn these lessons before the teen years, when the natural consequences get too big, too fast.

This is a balancing act, and temperament comes into play as well, I am quick to anger, and this particular child takes things really hard, so I have to be very careful with him. In the next few years, I think we'll both have a lot to learn.

We've come a long way, babies...






Five years old today!

Monday, September 21, 2009

When this is happening...




...in your backyard, and in full view of your school room, school for the day is canceled. It is completely IMPOSSIBLE to get any formal schooling accomplished under these conditions.

Instead, we are talking about trees, ropes, climbing, chainsaws, and physics--and I will say, even as an adult, I am amazed at what these tree guys are able to accomplish with a few ropes and a chainsaw.

The excitement from last months lightning strike on our 150 year old tree seems to never end. I just wish the cost of tree removal were a bit cheaper. From a financial perspective, today might be one of the most "expensive" lessons of our entire year.

It's Monday

We have 3 rules in our house--

1. Love God
2. Love People
3. No Whining

Several months ago, Mr. Red hung this sign next to the upstairs bathroom--



I have since wondered whether this was for my own benefit, or that of the children. Either way, we can all use the reminder on a Monday morning.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Early Christmas Shopping?


What could be better than supporting a Christian-based business (Tegu) that creates these amazing wooden magnetic blocks as a cool plaything for kids? Being a part of a mission to change the world.

Tegu's altruistic mission is an impressive one--to support and encourage a depressed city in Honduras, Tegucigalpa. The company employs workers there to make the blocks and also donates part of the proceeds toward sending town children to school or planting trees within the community, your choice.

Today I checked a Christmas item off my list, supported a community in Honduras, and planted a dozen trees, all in one fell swoop. I feel pretty good about that.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Our Daily Bread

During this day, Lord, stand beside us
Let us think of You often and Our Lady with you.
Let us think of others often with love and gratitude.
Let us take this day as coming from You to give it back to You with Your Will complete.
Dear Lord, let us be kind, let us never feel discouraged or feel sorry for ourselves
Because you stand beside us every day.

Every morning before my husband leaves for work, our little family gathers to say this prayer. The kids attempt to recite it, but often are distracted. Still we continue.
The prayer has history and was handed down by my husband's family through his father and through his father's mother. It is a special tradition that we are honored to continue.

Just as with the Lord's Prayer, taking the time to write it out is always so gratifying and allows me to extract more meaning and all the messages it provides and encourages as my family looks ahead to the day before us. They are simple lessons and promises, but ones I don't meditate on enough.

It reminds me that Christ walks with me throughout the day.
It asks that I acknowledge His Presence and the intercession of His Mother.
It encourages me to be mindful of the 2nd commandment to love my neighbor as myself.
It says that the day does not belong to me, but instead to the Lord. I need to be more aware of how I honor Him with all that I do in accordance with His plan.
The most important lesson for me, the mother, to hear (and it gets me every time) is that I CANNOT fall into the quagmire of self pity. There may be rough moments in my day, but I am not a victim and my family dysfunctions when I behave like one. When this happens, I have taken my eyes off of Christ and have directed them inward, where I cannot even hope to sustain all that is necessary to walk the straight and narrow.
I have to rely on him and He promises to stand with me as I do it.

A friend passed along this quote today. I needed to read it and perhaps you do too...
“I am overwhelmed, caught up in how challenging my vocation is. Then I realize that it is no more challenging than any other vocation. It is just more challenging for me, because this is God’s call on my life.”

Kimberly Hahn
Chosen And Cherished: Biblical Wisdom For Your Marriage, Servant Books

Tipping and Digging toward Reading


Parents, if you are looking for a great family reading experience you must get this book.

I just witnessed the most touching reading of this book by my eldest daughter. Her wide-eyed 20-month old brother was so enamored of the pictures that he was willing to sit through her slower speed of reading and everyone felt enriched and empowered at the end of it. I hope you can get your hands on it. Our small overseas library had it, so I am hopeful. Happy Friday.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

First Days

Is there nothing better than the first day of school?
(Especially with a bag around one's neck, threatening to choke the life out of you before you even arrive?!)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Grateful

Today, I am feeling grateful. Grateful for my wonderful husband, who smiles and asks me about my day when he walks in the door. Grateful for Christopher and Maria, who are full of life, giggles, and curiosity, and healthy at the moment :) Grateful for our little saint in heaven, Lucy Rose, whose intercession we ask for every day in our family prayers, and whose intercession I evoke very often for the intentions of those who I know especially need it. Grateful for friends who have offered to help my pregnant self if I ever need it, and for my great, super-helpful in-laws who are coming into town this afternoon for a visit and to help me take care of Maria.

I am in a lot of pain today - I can hardly sit or stand up, bend over or lean forward, without wincing in pain, and I must admit that I'm a bit anxious about what this means for the remaining 23 weeks of this pregnancy. But in this moment, I am just feeling very grateful for my many blessings.

Isn't it funny how sometimes, in the midst of pain (be it physical or emotional), we can be so acutely aware of the many gifts in our lives? It's a gift of our faith, I believe, and I remember being struck by it at other painful times in my life: when our daughter, Lucy Rose, was diagnosed with a fatal birth defect, after her birth and death when I missed her so much that it hurt, when our family moved and it was so very difficult to say those good-byes. During these times and others, I am aware of both the great suffering and the great joy that often exist most vividly when they exist together.

I'm sorry to be so melodramatic on this Tuesday afternoon - you can blame it on the pregnancy hormones :) - but I appreciate that here at Building Cathedrals, we can share little pieces of our experiences in this way. This morning, I was moved to pray the Memorarae, a beautiful Marian prayer. Perhaps you will feel moved to do the same:

Remember, O Most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence I fly unto thee, O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother. To you do I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

EuroTrip

Slacker Builder reporting in. You all know that less blogosphere time usually means more real-life insanity, and that has definitely been the case here. At 33.5 weeks of pregnancy, my prenatal "must-do" anxiety has taken our family of four on trips through 3 European countries in the last month. After all, we are only stationed in Germany for three years and any trip would be easier with two children than three, I assured my overworked Army husband. Most recently we returned from a weeklong beach vacation on the Spanish island of Mallorca. Visiting the Balearic Islands has been a dream of mine for years, and their beauty did not disappoint. Nonetheless, I cannot count the number of times that my husband and I looked at each other (over the head of a twitching, gaggling 19-month-old boy in a plane seat) and swore "no more traveling for a long long time."
This trip was difficult. Foreign travel with young children is always difficult and expensive and exhausting and rewarding. That last adjective is the tricky one. Whenever we were tempted to look at the latenight paella-eating, Sangria-drinking couples and think that maybe the next time the kids should stay home with neighbors we would do a 180. All it takes is to hear an enraptured 4 year old girl describe a stalagmite in an underground cave as "the world's hugest wedding cake." Then you realize that you could never leave them home. Traveling as adults it would all become a rush of itineraries and shopping and dining. Whereas, with our insane little ones in tow we are forced to axe many of the sites we would have visited, but watching Daddy explain the significance of a Michelangelo statue of Mother and Child being housed outside of Italy to his daughter is worth the price of admission to all 4 other museums we didn't visit. Thus, our conclusion was that a romantic weekend away in some Euro-city will have merits of its own at some time in the future, but we are glad we pushed through these last few big ones with both children along.

Sidenote, in the T.M.I. category - I think all my walking and lifting and what not caused Baby Brother to descend further into my pelvis. You know, to lighten? My hips feel way weirder than they typically have at this point in the pregnancy and my Braxton Hicks are much more noticeable. Is it ok for the baby to drop this early? Am I still going to make it to 40 weeks? Note to self for future pregnancies -- no travel beyond 30 weeks.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Perhaps we should study a more "civilized" culture!




In our vibrant history curriculum Rome is crumbling. In the Story of the World, the Celts are painted blue, the Huns are eating raw meat, the Angles and Saxons have moved into Britain. My children are running around the house this rainy day grabbing for each other and screaming "I am Beowolf and I am going to tear off your arm!"

I'm hiding the blue paint.

*This picture came from an awesome online history resource by the Woodlands Junior School.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Be Not Afraid!

"Be not afraid!" John Paul II began his pontificate with these words ringing across St. Peter's Square. Yes, he was speaking to those behind the Iron Curtian, but, as always, his words were also personal. He was addressing each of us, every member of the flock of Christ--soldiers, business leaders, stay at home moms and the poor and lonely.

In this Sunday's Old Testament reading, the Lord says, "Be strong, fear not!" The angel addressed Mary in the same way and Jesus, after the resurrection told the apostles, "Be not afraid."

Many of us tend towards fear, anxiety. Babka, my Polish grandmother would call, panicked, if she heard on the national weather that it was raining in Texas. It's a big state. I, too, have been struggling with fear and anxiety recently following a diagnosis for one of our sons. What should we do? How should we proceed? Special education or home education? How are we going to manage? If I let my thoughts run wild, they usually do and I am overwhelmed, anxious and afraid.

Mary was able to respond with her fiat to the Angel Gabriel's "troubling" news. Such peace and obedience! And grace. Perfect grace. As we celebrated her birthday yesterday, we recalled how she was born into the world without the stain of original sin, how her every action corresponded with love for God and others. She allowed grace to flow freely through her. Our Lord desires to shower grace upon us, too, if only we are receptive. If we offer our fear and turn it into trust. If we let go of our pride and are cheerfully obedient.

We need not fear the future. We need only to be open to God's grace at this moment and take courage.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Back Support During Pregnancy: Any Tips?

I'm only 16 weeks pregnant, but for the past few weeks I've been experiencing some major lower back pain. I am prone to experiencing back labor, but I'm not sure if there is any connection or if this is a separate issue. I also realize that this is my fourth pregnancy in six years - not unique among the ladies who read this blog, I know :) - so perhaps my body is giving out on me a bit?

In any case, I would appreciate any tips on back support during pregnancy. Specifically, I'd love recommendations on which "back and belly support bands" you all have found to be effective - I bought one that is made by Medela, but I'm not sure that I love it. I've also started doing some yoga and pilates videos specifically designed for pregnancy, but any recommendations on particularly good exercises would be great.

Thanks so much in advance for all of your advice! I'm okay with the idea that I may just have back pain for my entire pregnancy, but I would like to do what I can to remain as mobile and functioning as possible throughout the next few months. After all, I do have a husband, two children, and a household to take care of!

God bless you all on this Labor Day. St. Joseph the Worker, pray for us!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Just to Lighten Things Up a Bit

video

Courtesy of Tex's sweet boys, my Maria is now making this lovely noise whenever she wishes to greet someone enthusiastically. Most people think it is endearing, but some have wondered if Maria is trying to spit on them :)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Passive Aggressive Wife

MaryAlice's last post is both full of wisdom and a very practical blueprint for aiding our marriages. I wanted to expand a bit on #1 When you want or need something from him, ask for specific things using nice language, because I think many women don't ask for things they want or need out of fear that in doing so, they will not be "submitting" to their husband, or out of fear that they will appear pushy and demanding. Instead of communicating nicely and clearly with their husband, women are often passive, and later aggressive when things don't go as planned.

MaryAlice used a birthday example to illustrate this point. If each year, your birthday or other special day (Mother's Day, Anniversary Date, Christmas, etc.) ends with you feeling disappointed that your husband didn't acknowledge the day in a different way, there is a good solution! Make your wishes clear to your husband in advance. Let him know your expectations, and if he can't meet those expectations, have a discussion about it right then and there. Don't wait for yet another disappointment and express your problems then--this leaves him feeling hurt and defensive. Talk about these things ahead of time, and give the poor guy a break.

For example, last year I turned 30. I was feeling a bit old and over the hill, but I also wanted to celebrate the day in a special way. I talked to my husband about what I wanted for my birthday--a nice day out with just him and a trip to a fancy brunch in the city--and he was more than happy to oblige. In fact, like many men, he was elated to be told what I wanted, and then he made the day happen. For some women, they may want a surprise, and that's great. Let your husband know this is what you want, men are not mind readers! Most husbands really do want to make their wife happy, so if you have something you want or expect, it is important to acknowledge that you are a human being with preferences, and then make those preferences known in a clear and loving manner.

In my experience, there are few men who are really good gift givers. If you happen to be married to one, good for you! But overall, I find that most men are thrilled to be told nicely what their wife wants and expects. This type of communication avoids so many feelings of hurt and anger.

Unfortunately, instead of communicating their wishes nicely to their husbands, many women fear making their preferences so clearly known. They think it romantic to have their husband read their mind, or they want their husband to think about their wishes so often that he just knows what they want and need. I often hear, "if he really thought about me or cared he would know what I want." Unfortunately, such an approach often results in one of two scenarios. Either the wife will 1) not say anything and allow the disappointment to build and slowly affect the relationship, or 2) explode and let their husband know how disappointed she is, resulting in a huge fight. It is rare that we as women will just swallow the disappointment, pray for the grace to forget about it, and actually forgive and forget. Often times we think we are doing this, only to have things fall apart YEARS later. I have known so many empty nest couples where the wife has all kinds of anger towards the husband about these things. Her anger has literally been building for years, and all along she just thought she was doing the right thing by not saying anything. In such cases, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that the husband was acting thoughtlessly or selfishly, but in reality he was just clueless that his wife had any problems.

Now for my disclaimer--Are there things that we should not communicate to our husbands and just let slide? Absolutely! I would say this is a good strategy if it is something small that is not likely to reoccur. In such a case it is often easier to forgive and forget. Obviously no man wants to be married to a woman who has preferences about every little thing, and then communicates theses wishes constantly--who can keep up with that! But if the problem area is one that comes up often, or is of greater importance, good, clear, kind communication is a very important part of a good marriage. Let us not fail to be good communicators under the guise of submission. The result will be a passive-aggressive wife, and a disappointing marriage.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Submission: As Good as it Gets

In the comments of a recent post, we were discussing what "being submissive to your husband" might mean in practical terms, and especially how to live this teaching when it feels like your husband is not the "head of the family" that you might like him to be. The thought was this -- what if my husband is not a bad guy, but just sort of "ok"? It might be easier to be submissive if I felt like he was actively taking the lead and steering us in the right direction, but what if your husband is lukewarm in his faith, or lacks solid Christian formation, or is just a little burnt out himself? Does submission require that you just allow the family to drift? Well, the Kennedys have got me in a sailing mood, so my advice is this: trim the sails and get the boat moving, and you may well find he takes the helm in the very best ways.

I am going to give some specific, practical advice. Because it is specific, you will probably find that at least some of it does not apply to your situation. Take what is useful and disregard the rest, or take these things as babysteps a little bit at a time. What I can tell you is that my husband is a wonderful man, which is why I married him. When I have struggled, this advice has come either from the builders, spiritual directors, or my mother and grandmother, and when I follow it, my marriage is terrific.

1. When you want or need something from him, ask for specific things using nice language.

Sure, we all wish that our husbands could read our minds, or were just so sensitive that they knew what we wanted, but this kind of attitude is unfair and unrealistic. If your husband is a decent guy but doesn't take out the trash, tie up the trash bag, and ask him to please carry out the trash. While he is doing that, replace the trash bag. If he stinks at celebrating your birthday, you can say "my birthday is next tuesday, I am arranging a babysitter, would you please make a reservation at LeCirque." He will do it.

For a real life example, this principle made a huge difference in Red's recent family beach week. She got all the bags ready, and then told Mr. Red "It is important to me to leave before 8:30 because sitting in traffic puts me in a foul mood at the start of the vacation. The bags are all ready, so would you please pack the car the night before and plan to get an early start?" It was a reasonable request, she asked nicely, he is a reasonable man, and they were sitting on the beach at 10.

2. Don't give negative feedback as soon as he has done something.

This is a toughie. If you are asking for help inside the house, or with anything to do with the kids, he might not do it the way you would have done it. His way might be different, or it might be just plain wrong, but either way, bite your tongue. If you ask him to dress the baby for church and he comes out with stained overalls, let it go. Keep this in mind: the fault was yours, you should have been more specific and asked him to dress the baby in clean clothes. If it really matters, next time lay the clothes out, but in most areas it doesn't really matter, so accept that if you are going to get him involved you are going to have to let him do it his way.

3. Praise and say "Thank You"

Let's face it, everyone loves to hear how great they are, and if you thank your husband for the great job he is doing in certain areas, there is a good chance that he will try even harder. Also, in looking for opportunities to thank him, you will have a chance to notice for yourself all the great stuff he is actually doing.

4. Don't Compare

It does not matter which one of you is working harder, and it also does not matter what is going on in anyone else's marriage. The truth is, you just don't know what goes on behind other people's walls, but more importantly you have to live within yours. The last thing someone wants to hear is how much better someone else is, and really, it doesn’t even help to think it.

5. Cheer for his team

I grew up a Yankees fan, but I have recently realized that embracing my husband's hometown team is an important part of "leaving and cleaving." One way in which he is the head of the household is that he gets to pick what team your sons are going to fall in love with. Now, I am not a football fan at all, but I learned last year that football was not going away, so I had a choice: it could unite us, or divide us. Going back to #1, I told him that I would happily make game day food and let the kids wear jerseys, but that we could really only dedicate one weekend day to football, and this compromise seems to have really worked out for us. Now, I am happy to watch part of the Phillies game, then do the dishes or fold laundry while he watches, happy to have him shout to me when there are exciting plays, happy to have a household that is obsessed during the playoffs.

Recently, some guy friends were complaining to my husband about their wives hating sports, and he was so excited to say that I love watching the game with him. Now, Red can testify that I am not a true Philly fan and that I know very little about sports, but the key words here are “with him.” The reality is, football is his "man zone" so I am just glad that he wants me in there at all. I think of it like dating – you would try to find out a little bit about his team before you went to the Monday Night Football party at the fraternity, so give yourself a shot here – order some hot wings and get in on the fun.

Please note: If you are yourself a die-hard sports fan and you can cheer for a different team in a flirty-friendly rivalry sort of way, then by all means, keep your loyalties.

6. Find common ground

Of course, I don't want to watch sports all the time, and my husband has no interest in scrapbooking, so it has helped to find some things that we have liked to do together. This can mean compromising. I ski on easier ski slopes because I enjoy skiing with him, we DVR'ed American Idol and watched it every week, even though it is cheezy, because it was something fun to do together, we go to the driving range and he watches me do a terrible job hitting golf balls, and I let him show off as he does a better job, and we have fun. These are all things we would have done when we were dating, and they are an important part of maintaining the relationship.

7. Hire help

JM is laughing because I got all negative when she suggested this, but the truth is, she is right. If you are overwhelmed and burnt out, you need help, and if he can't or won't give it, you have to hire some to get over the hump. If there are areas of major contention in your marriage, like house cleaning, yard work or child care, hiring help may ease the tension. I have had a revelation recently, becuase our budget is tight, that hired help can come in the form of a frozen pizza and a DVD on Friday nights. Seriously, I don't have to cook dinner and kids are glued to the TV for 90 minutes, what a way to start the weekend!

8. Lay off the in-laws.

Of course his parents annoy you sometimes, even your own parents annoy you sometimes! Try hard to let it go, because no one wants to hear nasty comments about their family, and it is just going to lead to bad stuff. He loves you, he chose you, but he loves his parents also and he, and you, owe them some respect. Nobody's perfect, and they do things differently than you do. It is hard to blend families together, but this is another important part of "leaving and cleaving." You can follow #1 and set reasonable boundaries about the role they play in your life, how much you see them, etc, but err on the side of generosity and remember, you will be someone's mother in law someday, too, and no matter how much better you think you will be, you will still drive her a little crazy.

9. Respect him

Do not insult or belittle your husband, especially in the area of "manly" things that he is not good at. Do not list off all his faults to your mom or your girlfriends on the playground. We all need a good vent now and then, but do this with a trusted friend who will, at the end, tell you something wonderful about your husband and encourage you to get right back to loving him. Most of all, encourage your children to treat him with respect and do not enumerate his faults to them. There is nothing so inspiring to a man as being his little child's hero, and if you pop that bubble you also lose all the chance for growth that your husband might have had in that role.

10. Exercise

Everything is better when you exercise. If your husband needs to exercise, too, leave that aside, and just worry about yourself. I often leave for a run with a list of grievances, but I always come back in a much better mood. I have come to realize that it is so important for me to take care of myself in this way. If your husband wants or needs time to exercise, make that as easy for him as you can, he will be better for it, in health and disposition, so the time is very well spent.

11. Pray

Pray for your husband, your marriage, and your family every day. Go to the sacraments. Seek out a good priest for Spiritual Direction. Have faith that marriage to this man is your path to sanctification, but that does not mean that if your husband is not dragging you to prayer you do not go yourself. I spent a lot of time on "if only" -- we would pray a family rosary if only he would take the initiative, we would stop falling into certain sins if only he would take the lead. Well, that will get you nowhere. First, get yourself right. Next, feel free to invite or suggest, but stop nagging and let him come to it in his own way and God's own time.

I hope at least some of these suggestions are helpful. All I know is, this is what works for me, and my marriage is as good as it gets.

For more on men and prayer, you might check out the podcast at Faith and Family Live. Episode 20 has a great comment from a married man about his growth as the spiritual leader of his family.


An important disclaimer:

This advice assumes that neither you or your husband have underlying mental health, substance abuse issues or other reasons for needing therapy. If you do, or he does, there is really no amount of friendly advice that is going to help you, you need to seek professional help. If you are in an abusive situation, tell someone you trust and make a plan for leaving as soon as possible. It is not your fault, it will get worse, and it is not up to you to "be nicer and work it out."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Nesting

Last weekend we set out to rearrange the upstairs bedrooms in preparation for the arrival of our little girl. Augustine (19 months) moved from the nursery into our guest room, which required assembling an additional crib and cleaning out many of the items we were "storing" in the guest bedroom. It was somewhat time consuming, but thankfully the upstairs of our house is now very organized!

The nursery was painted in a sky blue, perfect for a baby boy. I wasn't in the mood to paint anything, so I opted instead for a few quick changes, and I'm pleased that these few things transformed the room into a girly nursery.

First, I cleaned and ironed Gianna's old pinked checked valences, and I love the way they look on the windows with the sky blue paint. I then cleaned some of Gianna's old baby blankets to add a nice touch to the crib and chair. I purchased a new changing table cover (pink polka dots). And finally, Gianna helped me decorate the room with butterfly and flower stickers. I was a little worried that these wall decals might look tacky, but they added a great touch, transformed the room, and will be very easy to remove when we want to change things around. We still have a few pictures to hang, but overall this nursery redo took about one hour, and cost under $20!




And I should also add that I sorted, washed, and folded all of our baby's clothes. In the process I a came across this adorable dress, and had tears in my eyes as I remembered our baby Gianna getting her first set of baby pictures taken in this dress.



And then it all hit me. We are having another baby, another little person will soon join our family. My pregnancy has been so difficult that I have been counting down the days until our baby's birth, all along thinking of the birth as an event that will make me "unpregnant!" But seeing this dress brought me a lot of joy. I sighed, I got nostalgic, and I was suddenly excited. Our baby girl is arriving soon, and in the end, THAT is all that matters.

At my midwife appointment yesterday, after discussing my latest aches and other health ailments, my midwife looked through my chart and commented that I have really had a rough pregnancy. After this comment, she handed me a form for my birth plan, or as they like to call it, "Birthing Hopes and Dreams". I laughed and said, "In all honesty, I only have 3 goals for this birth. I want a healthy baby, under 10 pounds, and I don't want a c-section. I'm sorry if these goals are a little lame for you and this all-natural birthing center!" She looked at me and said, "with what you have been through, I think those are GREAT goals." And so they are.

And I will keep this little dress out to remind me of my baby girl, and my very simple birthing hopes and dreams.

Our Family Verse of the Week

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building others up..." Ephesians 4:29

Isn't it great to be backed by The Almighty as we battle whining, backtalk, sibling arguments, etc.? This verse was just posted in our kitchen and will be referenced daily, if not hourly!