Gone are the days of “my dog ate my homework” and other lame excuses. As a mother with young children, I find that my excuses in everyday situations are thoroughly believable because they are way too far-fetched to have been made up:
“I’m sorry we can’t return the Transformer toy that you let us borrow yesterday. Spiderman apparently trapped him in a web (the chain that opens and closes our radiator vent) and there’s no way to untangle him. As soon as we can get our hands on a pair of wire cutters, we’ll return Optimus Prime.”
“I’m sorry I don’t have dressing to go with the salad I brought. I forgot that my kids had reappropriated this cruet as a jar for collecting nature specimens. I brought it, thinking it contained homemade Italian dressing, but now I see that it’s filled with pond water, gravel and drowned ants.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t answer or return your phone calls yesterday. My toddler changed the ringer to “silent”, set the phone’s alarm clock, and then hid the phone (after downloading $19 worth of new ringtones). We finally found it in the oven at 3:28am when the alarm went off.”
“I’m sorry I was in the bathroom for the first 10 minutes after your family arrived for dinner (after you drove two hours to get here). I dashed in to comb my hair as you knocked, but the comb got stuck in some syrup that I guess my daughter massaged in my head at breakfast. It took me a while to find the eyebrow scissors in the bathroom and cut the comb out of my hair.”
“I’m sorry we’re late. I allotted 45 minutes to get three children dressed and out the door, but (fill in the blank with endless possibilities; here are a couple):
(a) Everyone was dressed, jacketed, and ready to go on time, and I was helping my three year old learn to zip his own jacket. In the blink of an eye, my toddler disappeared into the bathroom, took her hairbow out, and flushed it down the toilet. Cleaning up the overflow set us back a few.
(b) It wasn’t the digging the car out of twenty-something inches of snow that delayed us. Actually, my four year old daughter stepped into a mound of loose ice and cracked her Cinderella dress-up heels into several pieces. She made a valiant attempt to offer up the cold and the humiliating wardrobe malfunction for the needs of poor children, but a mile down the road her sweet sobs from the backseat compelled me to turn the car around and go home for her backup pair of Sleeping Beauty heels and dry socks.”
Amazingly, our family is getting ready to welcome our next little bundle of joy any day now, and by Thursday for sure. As always, the date has crept up on us and we are just so excited to finally meet this little one! Our 5 1/2 year-old can't wait to meet his little brother or sister, although the idea of an induction is perplexing to him, and our 2 year-old is very clingy and seems to know that her life is about to change big-time!
As Fat Tuesday drew to a close this year, I could not deny the overwhelming sense of gloom I felt. The next day was Ash Wednesday and with it meant forty long days of suffering. Really long ones.
A MOST blessed Ash Wednesday to you!
Have you observed the phenomenally high attendance at Ash Wednesday Mass? It blows me away every single year. This morning, the pews were packed at the 8am Mass, in a parish that echoes with empty pews on Sundays. This afternoon at the noon Mass (when I was getting Bella from school), the same church parking lot was a lawless traffic jam, incapable of accommodating all the mass-goers.
It's not only the sheer number of attendees that catches my eye; it's the demographic. There is no other Mass all year with such a high turnout of young single adults, coming to Mass alone (not with their parents like perhaps at Christmas), wearing everything from business suits to grungy workout clothes to scrubs.
They come to get their ashes.
Some come ONLY to get their ashes. In the survival-of-the-fittest parking lot today during noon Mass, there was a large exodus of people halfway through Mass, leaving with ashes on their foreheads but before the Liturgy of the Eucharist had begun.
It's beautiful, the way they come in droves on Ash Wednesday to be reminded that "you are dust, and to dust you shall return", or to "Turn away from sin, and be faithful to the Gospel."
It's also beautiful, this desire by SO MANY MORE than usual to be visibly identifiable as a Catholic for one day, wearing the ashes on the forehead.
How do you explain this? What is so compelling about the message of Ash Wednesday? Especially when we live in a culture that is obsessed with ignoring the reality of sin and the inevitability of death.
Last year we added the Jesus Tree to our Lenten family activities and greatly enjoyed it. Having daily lessons on Christ and his life very beautifully added to the season and made it more meaningful for our young children. Might I say, this project is not for the weary! The initial work is a good bit of effort--a little sacrifice for your Lenten journey. Every week I would set out to make that week's ornaments and find myself behind and rushing to make the ornament right up to the lesson. Now that I have a year under my belt, though, everything is made and we are ready to go with greater ease. The time invested is well worth it.
Recently my father and I were having a conversation in which he mentioned a local news story he had seen. He paraphrased the coverage and explained that the producers predicted that the recent economic downturn will create the first generation of North Americans whose living standards will be lower than their parents' material living standards. In other words, the home you make for your adult family will not be as nice as the one in which you grew up as a child. Until this point in U.S. history the name of the game has always been, to "give my kids more than what I had" or to "make it big." Now, however, we have seen the macro-effects of a country who got heady with their spending. It all popped. The housing bubble popped, people trying to outdo their parents by buying more were humbled by the crash of credit.
The economic shift hit everyone, not just the irresponsible spenders. I read several articles in our alumni magazine about how 30% of the most recent graduating class has accepted unpaid positions after graduation, 40% work for NGOs and scarcely any are headed to Wall Street. What a change! What a departure from the big days of Goldman Sachs hires and six figure 22 year-old salaries of just six years ago.
Our country has been collectively disappointed by the fleeting nature of material wealth, but I also find myself wondering about the micro-level of these changing expectations. What is going on inside each family, rather than in "the Sun Belt" or the "inner cities?" What is important to us as adults? When Dad mentioned that my generation would be "worse off" then our parents' generation, my mind immediately snapped to my immediate family. We fit the generalization. We provide "evidence" for this local news story's headline! My parents were both career naval officers. Yet, my husband and I are living on one Army officer's salary, we will have a much larger family and he does not intend to make a career of the military. There is little mystery in the world of government salaries. We don't get Christmas bonuses, nor unexpected promotions, it is all laid out in a little chart that gets approved every year on the floors of Congress. Therefore, it is fair to say that my family is living at 50% the standard of living of the home in which I grew up.
"But, wait," I thought, "no way, this news story is garbage. You can't measure my quality of life by the figures that plink into our online bank accounts on the 1st and 15th of every month!" Rather, I think there is something much more profound going on here. Could it be that some members of our generation have made the educated decision to live off less? Is it possible that some graduates of 2000 and beyond insulated ourselves from the economic depression by limiting our expenses before it was a national mandate. Our frugal spending is proactive rather than a reaction to the crisis of a job lost or a mortgage foreclosed. We spend only on necessities to teach our children the way to live rightly rather than shocking them with less spending because one parent lost a job that was needed to "make ends meet."
So, to that local news team that drummed up a story about our generation's "lesser expectations" by looking at lower starting salaries or lower family net-worths - I challenge you to look a little deeper. Perhaps there is a cultural shift going on here: led by children who were raised and educated to know what is important and who have, consequently, set out to live our lives with these much changed, not lowered, expectations.
We five have become quite comfortable here in our Philadelphia suburb--as comfortable as we can be in a small two bedroom apartment! It took a very strenuous move and a couple years of disorientation and loneliness, but four years later, we are thriving:
(1) I have met several lovely friends of the soul whom I can call on anytime, to drop the kids off and go to a doctor’s appointment or just to get together for some cheer
(2) I know all the shortcuts by car and walking in each direction from our home
(3) Our health insurance is excellent and affordable, our phone and internet plans and other services are just what we need, we have a great car mechanic, great babysitters, great pediatricians and midwives
(4) We have a handful of favorite restaurants, some family-friendly, others romantic, where we can always get an impressive meal at a great value
(5) I have figured out how to use the stores and markets nearby to prepare meals efficiently, healthily, and on a tight student budget; in fact, I’ve figured out through trial and error how to work our area inside and out to get the most and the best for our money
(6) We have found the little classical Catholic school of our dreams just one mile down the road, and our almost-5 year old daughter is thriving there
(7) We have regular confession and means of formation, and great parishes with convenient daily Mass times and holy liturgies
(8) I am using the resources nearby to establish healthy and happy daily routines for my sensitive 3 year old and my energetic toddler
(9) Socially, we are edified constantly by our new friends here, both Christian and non-Christian, with whom we share family life
(10) Our life has been simple, inexpensive, and rich in fellowship and discovery and the joy of young family living
And now this chapter comes to a close, as easily as that! We will be back for a year or so as my husband completes his writing, but in a different apartment and neighborhood next time… and then we’ll be on to his first teaching position, which could be just about anywhere.
This minor earthquake will require me to wean myself from the comfort and regularity and trappings of daily life as I know it. We’ll store all our worldly possessions except a few suitcases of clothes and head to unfamiliar places surrounded again by strangers. We don’t get to keep our things or our home or our friends.
But we do get to keep each other.
In August of 2004, the day after our wedding, my husband and I headed to the airport for our honeymoon—and until that day, the airport had always been a place for our goodbyes. After five years of courtship, it took my breath away to realize that we would never have to say goodbye again (barring extraordinary circumstances or death). I got to keep him now, in fact, my new vocation was not just to keep him but to love him above myself and give myself completely to him.
In May of 2005, my first daughter was born, and our two days in the hospital seemed like a hazy dream—the intensity and reality of new parenthood didn't quite sink in inside those hospital walls. But I’ll never forget my grateful exhilaration when we left the hospital and strapped her into her brand new car set. I got to keep her now, and not only keep her but bring her along with me to show her the way to Jesus. She would go wherever I went, at least for now.
I get distracted by the great responsibilities of serving and shepherding, and the more mundane responsibilities of feeding and diapering and clothing and providing. But what a gift to savor, the gift of getting to keep them all, for now. They are my love and my purpose and are polishing me into who I long to become, in Christ. Family life is glorious!
Homeschooling is not for everyone, but one of the things that makes it a great fit for our family is that we have the luxury of time together. Though there is often lots to be done, our days are rarely rushed. On these snow day, when our neighbors were also home, we did our regular school seat work and still had plenty of time for shoveling, sledding, baking, popcorn, cocoa and lots of reading aloud. The thing is, we all admit that children learn as much from those last things as they do from the school work. The seat work my children do is pared down to the essentials, and we get it done efficiently becuase we don't have to spend time commuting, lining up, or taking roll. Yesterday felt like a vacation day to me, the snow made us joyful and added a cozy feeling to everything we did, and that is one part of the snow day that I really want to hold close. It encouraged flexibility, for me -- lessons were dropped when friends came on a sledding call, and resumed at a later time, and that is just fine. It also reminded me of something very important -- while I am happiest and most calm when I have few obligations outside my home, my children really look forward to time with peers. I need to work hard to balance these two things to create the best homeschool environment for us.
Another storm is coming, the 3rd big storm of the season. I posted about a huge snowstorm back in December, we had 28 inches last Saturday, and they are calling for another 1-2 feet tonight and all day tomorrow. And since 3 times is a charm, I think I have finally mastered how to survive a blizzard with many young children:
1. When they are calling for snow by the foot, rather than by the inch, plan ahead and buy some snacks and great food at least 48 hours prior to the storm. Do not under any circumstances go to the food store within 36 hours of the storm. No matter how badly you need food (and even if it is your regularly scheduled food shopping day!), you will not come home with milk or eggs, and you will be lucky to get out of the store alive!
2. Get the kids out of the house prior to the storm. We rescheduled gymnastics (usually on Wed.) for today, and I am so happy I called first thing yesterday to get my kids into a make-up class.
3. Get yourself out of the house prior to the storm--I'm hoping to go to the gym tonight for a good run. I will feel better about being a couch potato tomorrow if I get a good run in tonight.
4. As a general rule, young children will spend about 1/2 the time outside that it takes them to get on their snowgear. In our house this means about 20 minutes of prep, and 10 minutes of outdoor play!
5. Your house will be wet and muddy and covered in mittens and hats. It is far better to put wet items in a laundry basket and then throw them in the dryer for 10 minutes than to leave them strewn about waiting for them to air dry. Chances are the kids will want to go back outside before they dry and you will have to put them in the dryer anyway! In the meantime the pile of clothes in my kitchen area drives me bonkers.
6. Watch small children carefully when they go out into deep snow. Charlie has pointed out to me that with another foot, the snow just might be over his head!
7. Do not shovel during the storm. It does not make things easier, but only leaves you exhausted and tired of shoveling.
8. Definitely watch the local news. I never watch the local news, but there is something about the weathermen outdoors in a blizzard, telling me again and again not to leave my house, letting me know just how hazardous and bad the conditions are, that I find amusing and enjoyable.
9. Make sure the shovels (usually located in a detached shed) are brought near your door, and the sled isn't left lying in the yard. A snow-buried sled will not be found until the snow melts (when it will be useless), and it is big pain to trek through several feet of snow to retrieve shovels necessary for shoveling.
10. Take lots of pictures of your baby, because she is growing up so fast, rolling and giggling and smiling. She will never be 4 months old again. (I know, I know, I'm shameless!)
to Oprah today--as crazy as that sounds!
These lovely ladies will be featured on the show. When we lived in Ann Arbor, their Motherhouse was located right up the road from our apartment. They are an awesome order, and I hope that shines through on today's show!
check out this link.
We will be celebrating all things pink and lovey-dovey this week!
We will be making some cookie hearts using the sugar cookie dough that I froze at Christmas (just ran out of time to decorate them, and I made a blessed decision not to try to squeeze it in).
We will try out a new recipe for Frozen Hot Chocolate, and I am going to serve it in glasses rimmed with pink and red sugar.
We will be reading Saint Valentine by Robert Sabuda. This dovetails nicely with our ongoing mosaic work, and we will also be making glue and paper heart mosaics.
Right now we are making Valentine Dots, which have become a tradition. My favorite is to use the caramel hershey kisses!
For our Valentine's date, we are looking forward to an afternoon of recollection at our parish on the subject of God's love, complete with child care! What a blessing and a treat to be able to spend some time together in prayer and adoration, what a beautiful way to support and affirm our love! I can't wait.
What does your family have planned?
Check out these New York Times videos which detail the science behind aerial skiing, my kids had great fun watching them this morning, what a way to make physics exciting. It looks like the times will be posting more videos like this in the next few days.
Even in the great state of Texas we have cold, rainy weeks. While I feel like curling up under a blanket with a great book, my boys usually prefer bouncing off the walls, the furniture or each other, which doesn't usually end well.