Friday, October 26, 2012

7 Quick Takes on October: Halloween, All Saints and Shakespeare

1.  I have written on some personally intense topics this week; we have all been ill; I am at this moment  drained, teetering on the precipice between a cold and a sinus infection.  Please indulge me as I put my feet up and write a mostly chatty Quick Takes about the procrastinations and the blessings of the week.  To start: I have a working dishwasher!   My amazing renaissance man of a husband installed it himself, thereby saving us over $150.  Life would have been far more arduous this week without it.  Kindly ignore the cluttered counter top and messy floor and bask in the reflective glow of it:  Isn't it lovely?

 2.  I just realized that we’ve entered the last stretch of October.  Aside from having purchased four sugar pumpkins, I am completely unprepared and decidedly unseasonal.  Typically the kids and I would have by now chosen and  planned their costumes for All Saints Day and Halloween.  At this point, I have not even brought the necessary bins up from the basement.  This is what happens when a homeschooling family all falls ill with the latest seasonal bug.    I am crunched for time now; not only do the kids dress the part of their saint, they rehearse a riddle-like speech for us from that person's point of view... I don't want to let go of that tradition.  I may overhaul Monday's curriculum to get this done.

3.  One of the things on my “Halloween” to-do list was to re-create the milk jug skeleton I’d made a few years ago, which I’d finally had to part with last season from too much wear & tear.  We'd loved ours.  We even gave him a pirate hat and dubbed him “Captain Morgan.”  I have a garbage bag of 8 plastic milk containers which I planned to use to this grand purpose.  I am not sure that I’m feeling the motivational push to make a new one though...  Hopefully that will change.

 The other October event I am unprepared for is Gianna’s sixth birthday, which officially strikes before Halloween.  To buy some time, I have scheduled her party for the first weekend of November. Even still, I don’t feel the same impetus to craft anything remotely like the double- pinata pirate I’d made for her third birthday.   Now there was a theme party!

In hindsight, I wonder if I was just in a manic period that Autumn...

4.  Allow me to correct my earlier statement that we have not enjoyed any seasonal observances. Yesterday was the Anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, also known as St. Crispin’s Day.  My Shakespearean scholar friend in England was kind enough to remind us of this via Facebook that morning.   Inspired,  I immediately found this clip from Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Henry V on Youtube.  The kids and I watched it several times, and discussed the scene, the battle, the time period.  I guess we managed some impromptu seasonal-themed schooling after all.  Yes.  I am that much of a geek to include a Shakespeare-themed St. Crispin's Day in our traditional October Observances.  (Bonus: no baking or decorating is required!)

5.  When I explained the importance of the English longbow to the Battle of Agincourt, John Paul made a mental connection to the project he and Daddy completed while we were camping last summer.  I’d completely forgotten about that bow-making project, which Emre had found in the Dangerous Book for Boys.  As I recall, there was some historical info in that about the English Longbow as well.

6.  My children love Shakespeare.  I used to teach high school literature for a living, so this has become a point of pride for me.   Now that my curious kids are getting older I am brazen enough to have shared the plotlines to Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet & Macbeth.  (I figured they deserved a context with which to appreciate the Veggie Tales' ongoing Shakespeare references.)  The kids and I were thrilled to find a picture book version of Hamlet and another of Macbeth at our local library.  They have also listened to the case for Shakespeare’s Catholicism over the course of myriad car rides last Spring.  I'm not saying that they comprehend all of it, but some of it does stick!  It is really exciting to see, and another reason I am thankful that we homeschool and have this much time to pursue these types of interests.

7.  Since we'd checked out the St. Crispin’s day speech from Branagh’s version of Henry V, I also had to also search out this scene, which I consider one of the best and most moving scenes in all of cinema.  This hymn is amazing.  The children loved this as well.  How about this for a Friday anthem?

I think Jennifer Fulwiler's mind is on Halloween as well...
For more Quick Takes, visit her at Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

More on That Topic I'd Been Avoiding.

I have suffered two miscarriages.   The first occurred when my oldest living child was still a baby.  The second occurred when my youngest child was two or three.  I can't tell you the months or exact dates, and am fuzzy on how far into that first trimester I was, because for years I aggressively avoided processing these experiences.  One hallmark of Codependency is the "avoidance of feelings," and I was Queen of sidestepping or denying any negative emotion.  I thought doing so made me strong; in truth it nearly made me crazy.

To lie in a doctor's darkened exam room, excitedly look up at the monitor on which you expect to see a tiny growing baby with a heartbeat, and instead find there a lifeless form with no heartbeat, is to know how incongruous expectation and reality can be. The prior ultrasound had shown a little bud of a baby, with a blip of heartbeat; I'd looked forward to that second ultrasound to reveal the arms, legs, and human shape of the infant growing in me.  Instead of looking as Anna had looked at ten weeks, this second baby was misshapen, without a beating heart.  The doctor was quiet, so I spoke first:  "That doesn't look right."  My husband was with me in the exam room, and a college friend visiting from out of state waited outside to take us to dinner.  Leaving the office I was more concerned about what to tell this friend than I was about what I had just found myself in the middle of...  The awkwardness for everyone was more real to me than the sudden death of my baby.  After all, I reasoned, a lot of women miscarry in the first trimester.  I have not been pregnant that long; it is not that big of a deal.  

 The second time, my five-year-old daughter was with me in the exam room.  You would have thought I'd know better than to bring a young child along after that first miscarriage, but I didn't want to leave my mother-in-law alone with three kids, and I'd thought lightening wouldn't strike twice.  Anna settled into the exam room with her crayons and coloring book, expecting to look up and see the baby, small as a peanut, on the monitor.  This time around it was little Anna who was the first to break the silence with the question we each grappled with: “Where’s the baby?  I don’t see a baby.” 

 “Neither do I, Anna.”  

The doctor: “I’m... not seeing one either.”  

Here we were, eight weeks in, finding nothing but a flat and empty womb.  I felt like someone kicked me in the chest.  Walking back to the car, Anna asked, "Why did Jesus take our baby?"  

I left each appointment wearing a brave face for the benefit of the people I was with.  In the case of having my daughter with me, I needed to protect her from my mistake of bringing her to the appointment.  She had so many questions, and I didn't want her to be emotionally scarred from seeing mommy have a break down.  Even once that stream was forded, however, my mask remained.  The Polish stoicism of my own grandmother, and the guarded privacy of my father, the ingrained idea that we should never show or admit how weak we are, rose up like protective battlements around me.  Don’t show pain.  Better yet, don’t feel it, either. 

We had planned to attend a summer cocktail party the night I’d learned of the second miscairriage.  My husband expected we’d cancel; I didn’t want to stay home with my shock or grief.  Instead, I assuaged myself with the idea: “Hey!  Now I can drink at this thing!”  So we went.  I had a lousy time; I felt painfully out of place, foolish, rejected.  I kept telling myself what great things I could do now that I wasn't pregnant, like eat sushi and go on a diet.  I slapped on a smile, made conversation that I immediately forgot, and told myself to get over it and enjoy the moment.

As that year continued, several of my friends became pregnant with their third,  or their fourth children.  I stood apart from them and stuffed what bubbled up in me.  I was annoyed that I couldn’t muster the same inner excitement for these pregnancies as I’d once naturally felt.  Instead, I was removed, numb, not wanting to get too close to these mothers or their children.  Why was that, I wondered?  Envy?  Not exactly, although the temptation to that vice was there.   Looking back, I was afraid.  I was afraid to feel my loss.  I also grappled with a sense of shame.  I couldn’t relax around these friends or their babies, until I’d started therapy for myriad other issues and realized (duh!): people are often depressed and sad after miscarrying.  That isn’t weird.  That is normal. It is fact.  It is healthy. Feelings, even the negative, unpleasant, and ugly ones, are normal.    

When I got down to it, I saw that I harbored a crazy idea that these other women were equipped and worthy to mother larger families, where I was not.  I might fool the world, I thought, but God saw me for who I really was; he had shaken His head, and said to my willingness to mother more souls: “No.  Not you.  Thanks for applying.”  This Puritanical idea of mine was reinforced by well-meaning family who said things to comfort me like, “If its meant to be, its meant to be,” or “This must be God’s will.”  My now estranged (for myriad other reasons) father-in-law, knowing we eschewed artificial contraception, went so far as saying, “Maybe God is trying to tell you something.”  The still-sane part of me recognized that latter comment to be passive aggressive, but a growing part of me had lost touch with my self worth, and so I internalized those words, especially as later attempts to conceive remained fruitless.

(For the record, God does not will suffering for us; it is a result of the fall, and was never a part of His plan for us.  He allows suffering to occur in the sense that he does not remove the natural consequences of mankind's Original Sin.   He did not put the suffering there. He walks through it with us; He has suffered and continues to suffer with us.  To believe that God wants a child to die, inside of the womb or outside of it, or to believe that God wants a woman to suffer for any reason in any way, is to believe in a pernicious and non-loving deity.  Such a deity should not be confused with the Christian God, who is all-loving and self-sacrificing, to the point of dying on a cross Himself so that we can attain salvation.) 

The truth was that even as I tried to don a secular-scientific, rationalized and detached view of each loss, at my core I ached for a soul that had briefly shared my body, only to be yanked away before I could get to know or embrace her.  On one hand I felt crazy:  How could I grieve a featureless someone I didn’t know?  On the other hand, I felt numb.  Barring a couple of private break-downs in the arms of my husband, I had shut off my emotional response. When colleagues and friends offered condolences, I worked my hardest to put them at ease that I was OK, that this was all normal and just one more thing women endured.

Allowing myself to think of these tiny souls as real, to remember the children I had wanted to hold and to rear with their sisters and brother, and so missed having in our family, has admittedly brought on an occasional private sob-fest in my post-therapy years.  This is good; it points to my no longer living in denial of these experiences, or of their impact on me.  It points to my trust that God does not "favor" or love me less than anyone else.  It is a lifting of self-imposed shame.  In embracing the suffering I had tried to outrun, I have paradoxically found peace.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

7 Quick Takes: Seeking What Suffices

Gianna (age 5) surprised me by copying this 1Corinthians verse.  It is a lovely reflection for days like this.

1.)  It is 10 am and it is pouring rain and quite dark outside.  I am not yet showered, still in my jammies, and the kids -- all of whom are ill and each of whom had a turn waking me up last night (along with my clumsy cat who knocked the alarm clock off my end table at 1 am) are watching another t.v. episode on Netflix.  This is a Bad Mommy morning.  This is the kind of day the anti-homeschool crowd would crow about.  I am swilling coffee while I sit here, hoping that the back-lit computer screen will initiate some interior “wake-up-motivation” sequence in my brain.  Still waiting...  Ah well.  

2.) Along with lack of sleep and the usual backload of laundry, I have been living without a working dishwasher since February.  Because I went out after dinner last night to shop for popsicles, ginger ale and clementines, the dishes and pans were forgotten on the table.  I realized this when I finally dragged myself off the couch to get a bowl of cereal, only to find there were no bowls...  This is no way to wake up.  The temptation to have an inner tantrum is strong in me.  I resist.  I give this to you, God!

3.)  I hadn’t planned on going this long without a dishwasher.  After learning that the cost to repair the old one would equal the cost of a new one, I’d embraced hand washing dishes as a Lenten sacrifice.  My husband wanted to buy a bow on eBay so that he could take the last bowhunting course before hunting season; I was happy to hold off on a new dishwasher so that he could fulfill his wilderness dreams. In fact, I was thrilled to do it.  It was so much better than giving up wine or chocolate...

 A few months later his car broke... twice.  Our submerged well pump died in August.  A week later I realized that my five-year-old didn’t fit in her toddler bed, and I realized: she isn’t a toddler!  Having royally botched the paint job on the free bed we’d gotten, we broke down and went to Bob’s for a factory painted new one...  

Long story short: Lent lasted longer than I’d anticipated.

4.)  These are the days that I ask myself: what would I do with these kids if I had a career?  Seriously!  I know other women do it, but how?  Do they bi-locate?  Do they have a magic elixer that gets the kids school-ready at 6 am?  I am mystified.  It is hard enough to wrap my mind around a healthy brood habitually pouring out into the world at the crack of dawn, but sick kids tend to slow one down.  

I bet those women all have working dishwashers.

5.) I just gave the boy a bath.  He’d eaten four popsicles this morning and was sticky as flypaper.  OK, now I feel like I’ve redeemed myself a little.  I mean, its only 11:00 am now.  The entire day is still ahead of us!

6.)  My husband tweets that he looks forward to sitting in a tree stand tomorrow.  I’ll admit that I am tempted to say, “No way!” to his hunting impulse, but he stayed home to visit with my family last weekend, and he has his myriad work week stresses, and he does spend time doing chores and kid activities when he gets home.  Just last night he decided to make water bombs with John Paul.  (I would have been perplexed by this activity, except for the fact that folding the paper is pretty complicated; the kids can’t replicate this on their own.  Yet.)  Daddy then released the paper water grenades onto the kitchen floor, to many squeals of delight (again: I would have been very put out by this activity, but the floor was a little cleaner once the puddles were wiped up.)

Anyway, we ordered a new dishwasher on Columbus Day, and Emre is installing it this weekend.  One good turn deserves another.  Happy hunting, honey.

7.)  I am still in my PJs, the dishes are still in the sink, my kids are still watching Netflix, and now I need to think about lunch. I'll admit the temptation to stress out/feel bad over child illnesses, a messy house, my unfinished to-do list.  I'll try not to give into such wallowing, though.  Instead:
Let nothing disturb thee;

Let nothing dismay thee:

All thing pass;

God never changes.

Patience attains
All that it strives for.
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.

"Poem IX", in Complete Works St. Teresa of Avila (1963) edited by E. Allison Peers, Vol. 3, p. 288

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I'd Dug Myself a Hole...

The problem I have as a stay-home-mom who teaches her brood here is time.  There never seems to be enough time for everything.  Six years ago, I’d thought leaving a career would give me all the time in the world to write The Great American Novel while I was home with the growing family, but in truth it has only been the last two years that I’ve journaled with regularity, and only this month where I have committed to crafting work with any regularity. 

 Already though, my husband and children can tell when I’ve been successful at blocking off time and writing; no one can find clean towels or underwear for days; I burn or otherwise disfigure dinner;  The dining room floor remains crunchy with crumbs even longer than usual;  I am tired from being up too late into the night; I accidentally doze when the kids read aloud to me.  

This is all true,  and I have been oddly rejoicing in it.  As long as no one drops in unannounced, this life is fine.

I used to sell books online, which was a fantastic way to generate the money we needed to fill in between my husband’s salary and the fiscal needs of our family.   My posting items on Amazon Marketplace kept us from going broke, saved us from having to charge groceries, and at times helped to pay down some debt.  I was  pretty proud of this contribution, of the morning rhythm of reading and entering SKU numbers, checking against the lowest prices posted, filling and shipping orders.  

Yet six or so months ago the endeavor began feeling like a weight on my chest,  keeping me from breathing.  Even over the summer months, when homeschooling slows and stops, I could not get my motivation to navigate the changing Amazon seller website and post items for sale.  My inventory posted for less and less.  What I earned barely broke even with my seller fees and shipping costs.  I had to admit to myself that posting books for sale on Amazon was not worth the time and energy I was putting into it.  This was wasted time, a distraction that left me further burned out, snippy with the kids, anxious and bitter.  

If emotions are gifts from God (and they are) then I wondered whether these feelings were communicating something.  I decided to listen more closely.  I asked, “Why am I bitter and anxious about this business?”  What dawned on me, beyond the pragmatic and practical changes I’ve mentioned, was that I needed this precious time.   I burned with the knowing that I should be doing something else with it... but what?

After wrestling with the guilt of quitting what was my own financial contribution to our fiscally strapped household, an odd thing happened: my life-long writers block ended and I started this blog.  

What does that mean, if anything?  It has been only two weeks; I have no idea.  I just feel as if finally, finally, I have enough radical trust to answer a call God put in me when I was in the third grade and wrote my first poem (A leaf falls from a tree/It lands on the ground without a sound...)   This Plan was indicated to me throughout grade school when teachers and peers said, “You have a talent for writing,”  or whenever I submitted work and had a feeling in my gut that this was good, and this was what I was made to do.  

Becoming a “Writer” had been a plan and dream of mine until half way through college, where I consumed and did well in writing classes, but where I developed a strong sense of doubt as my idealism met the real world.  Alongside my peers and professors, I was overcome with the sense that I had no idea what I was doing.  My mean interior voice hit me where I live, altering my sense of purpose and replacing it with: “I’m not worthy.  I have nothing important in me to say.  Hardly anyone ever makes a living at this; everyone says so.  I can’t do it.  I will fail.”

What does it mean that I am now writing for no pay?  That I call myself a “Writer” because I post on the blogosphere?  For one thing, it means I am crazy.  No worries, though. This is in fact a stroke of good fortune, as insanity apparently meets a prerequisite for creative talent

 It also means that I am approaching middle age, I am recognizing -with a start!- that  I am not young anymore, that I don’t have all eternity to "break in", and if I don’t start living as a “Writer” now, I will never have embraced my truest self.   If I died without stepping out in this way,  I would have dug a hole and buried a God-given talent out of fear.  I suspect I would have to answer to Him regarding that decision.  

I have always known that writing isn’t glamourous.  It is a sacrifice, a cordoning off of time from necessities of everyday life (checking voicemail, paying bills, cleaning the bathroom) and from enjoyable activities, too (taking longer showers, reading good literature, checking out Facebook).  It is a self-consuming discipline.  There is a pouring out and a vulnerability inherent in this craft, and an aching that ebbs without ever completely flowing away.  It is a desperate feeling that is not fully satisfied.  To write is to suffer.  

To willingly enter such suffering, and not fearfully hold oneself back, is joy.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

In Remembrance of Loss

I glean a lot of information from my Facebook news feed.  For instance,  I learned that today was "Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day."  

A day for recalling miscarried babies?!  There was a time my own pregnancy losses would have made me uncomfortable enough to recoil from such an idea.  Not so now; I can admit that I have a lot to process on these life events still; I will post on them here eventually.  A day like this helps to remind me of the healing I still need;  I appreciate there being one.  Thank you Feminists for Life for hipping me to it.

While I have a lot to share about my experiences,  it is too late for me to sort all of it out this evening.  For now,  I'll share this "poem" I wrote several years back, when I was touched by another mother's loss.

Delivered  (for Stephanie)

Forgive me;
 this infant’s non breath
stills my own.

Her silent face sculpted in flesh still as stone;
her body rests,
         devoid of soul
             yet warm
                 in the crook of a mother’s arm.

Why this child for no one
         to hold or know       
(save the mother)
inside whom she stretched, kicked, and grew until    that heart

  its blip-like beat,
           stilling her limbs
                     for all?

Should God,
enigma even to saints,
  grant insight,
that glare-filled glimpse can not be long grasped;
like a sun- glint dancing on a pond’s rippled surface,
it is a wink in the memory,
             too quickly gone;

  a token from the Creator;

just enough
for the soul to remember
and later prompt to cry by turns:

Jesus I trust       in You,

            Lord I believe;

                    help my unbelief.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Return to the Cliffs of Insanity

1.)  What has propelled me up the Cliffs of Insanity this week??  First: the usual financial strain of moderns trying to make it on only one salary.  We are not rich.  This often translates into headaches, anxiety, or panic as we hold our breath and wait to see what breaks next (i.e.-dishwasher, car, well-pump), and whether or not we’ll have the funds to cover it.   In the event of really bad timing between necessity and deposited paychecks, a sinister interior voice calls out from within me: “Do you SEE!? You can’t win! You’ll never win!!  You will be a slave to debt forever!!!”  Every career option I had ever thought of and not taken is then paraded about my psyche, with running commentary from aforementioned voice about the happier financial ends we could’ve had as compared to that which we currently plod through.   

These are the moments I appreciate St. Peter, who awoke from his impassioned Christ-focused reverie only to realize what safety he’d left in that boat moored behind him.  Can you imagine his thoughts as he looked down at his feet? ‘What the @e&$!  There’s a vast ocean beneath my feet!  And I am... standing on it?  Where was I going?  Why was that again?‘    With regard to the Christ inspired life-choices in our marriage, I can totally relate.  People don’t usually do this kind of thing; it could end badly. And Voila: Doubt!  I start to sink, sink, sink, finally calling from a panicked heart, “Help us, Lord!!”

 Oh me of little faith.

2.)  Tuesday is trek-across-the-state-and-back-day:  My son’s Occupational Therapy, Anna’s piano lesson and her dance lessons all occur in 3 different cities spread throughout the course of one afternoon.  Every Monday night I swear to all that we will “do school” in the morning before leaving, but every week the Tuesday Motto becomes: “Schoolwork?!  We don’t need no stinkin‘ schoolwork!”    (The aforementioned evil voice then returns: You. lack. standards!  They will fall behind their grade-level peers. Forever!  You only think you’re preparing them for life!  They will be 33 and living in your basement!  You’re all DOOMED!!! HAHA! HAHA! HAHAHA!

3.)  Ahem.  Yes.  Tuesdays:  Its just the open road and me (and my crazed interior voice) and three little bickering siblings in a really messy mini-van.   They argue until they call a truce and unite in common purpose to Get Mom Annoyed: they are by turns hungry, bored, or both.  Or thirsty.  Or needing to use the bathroom 5 minutes after I’d asked everyone to use the potty at the last stop.  This is not a bland cliche, people; this is life.  Real.  Minute.  Excruciating.  Life.

4.)  At Occupational Therapy, the therapist says things like, “Yeah, he’s really weak in his core,” “ his hand muscles still need strengthening,” “he could use more practice with mazes to improve his visual perception,” and so on.  After two years I still have no idea what is causing these fine motor delays but of course it’s your fault!  You were supposed to be this phenomenal woman, this giant of motherhood, but instead you fail!  You had a glass of red wine in his third trimester and  you didn’t breast feed him because  you returned to teaching when he was only 6 weeks old!And you let him watch too many Baby Einstein DVDs!!

5.)  As I paid Anna’s piano teacher for her lesson (red-faced because last month’s check bounced.  See Take 1), my youngest girl giggled maniacally, seized one of the over-stuffed couch pillows from behind me, and whacked the back of my head with it, hard.  I felt like a Bobble head.  (You see!  Those Un-socialized home schoolers!)  

6.)  I know other Catholic mommies have written about this self-defeating,  evil sounding inner voice being none other than that of the Enemy.  I totally agree.  It is too brutal and consistent to be anything other than that guy.   But even knowing who it is, I have such a hard time shutting him out, if only because the evil interior voice sounds so much like Wallace Shawn as Vizzini:  

7.)  It occurs to me that my Friday post is stuck on Tuesday time.  Gee... can anyone guess which day I dropped my cross and grumbled on my quest for Peace in My Heart?  Tune in later; this will go better, by God’s grace.

Party at Jen's blog!  (She is talking wine and chocolate!)

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Reflections on My Father's Death and Life

My dad was not Catholic.  He was a non-church-going Protestant who neither disclosed a denomination, nor quoted from the Bible.  Although he was the parent to drive me to C.C.D. every Saturday, the only religious instruction I received  from my Dad was his pronouncement, “I read the whole Bible once! You should read it, too. Forget your soap operas;  there’s some far-out, racy stuff in that Book!”  He often said he went outside “to walk my little dog and talk to Jesus,” but his tone was such that I never knew if he was kidding or serious.  Although he had quit drinking when I was thirteen, he told the best man at my wedding how he envisioned heaven: “I’ll be sitting on a cloud with a bottomless keg of Coors.”  

This is why I could not bring up heaven or God or prayer with him as he was dying.  Given the fact that he’d never trusted Holy Rollers and I had pretty much recently transformed into one,  I feared offending him and becoming a barrier between him and Christ at that critical time.  He couldn’t eat, he looked like a skeleton, he had constant excruciating pain, but he wouldn’t even admit to himself that he was dying!  He was diagnosed in October and he died the following January, and really, he’d always thought he’d get better and have another year or two.  He never asked his doctor to tell him a prognosis.  In light of his denial, to suggest or ask if he was prepared for the next life would have been the Ultimate Violation of Trust.  

Yet I knew dad’s physical suffering was intensely compounded by fear, regret and anguish as he faced his End.  It seemed he doubted entrance into heaven... or if heaven would even be there.  

I believe in the Divine Mercy.  I wanted Dad to have the comfort of that knowledge, too. I  ached with my awareness that he thought he suffered alone, that his suffering counted for naught, that it was a sign of his failure...  While I did not think my dad’s soul was somehow destined for hell, I saw how his purgatory had already arrived with a fury; I wished to lift him from despair, to direct his gaze to the One in the room who loved and forgave and was waiting to bring him peace.    

Dad and I had rarely talked about our “feelings”; anything too personal was just embarrassing.  We loved through our actions for one another, through our mutual respect.  Yet I felt in my core that my weakened, dying dad needed to know he was a good dad, that he was my hero, that he was not a failure.  He needed to know why I was able to do so well in school when mom was drinking and raising hell every night before passing out on the couch;  why in spite of the chaos and financial uncertainty in the wake of his debilitating accident, I could still feel safe or happy or be successful; the reason why was because I came home to him.  

Every afternoon after school, I’d find Dad in the kitchen, grilling a cheeseburger just for me, timed by him to be piping hot as I stepped off the school bus.  This was how my dad provided for me.  He did not earn a salary or have a job because of his disability.  He relied on an embarrassing social security benefit to supplement my mother’s secretary salary to raise me. 

I called a priest I knew, and unloaded this all on him.  When I finished, Padre assured me that God is Love. To sit by dad’s bed and tell him how much I loved him would suffice in witnessing to Christ, without ever uttering His name.  My prayers for our blessed Mother’s intercession did not need to reach Dad’s ears, only hers.

Right then I decided to take the next day off from work, and drive to Massachusetts to see my dad;  I knew it was time.  

In the hospital room, I trembled all over as I smeared cold cream on his dried-out fingers, and dabbed some vaseline on his cracked lips, and worked myself up to what needed saying. I reminisced about those burgers and moments like it.   I told him that I wanted to be the kind of parent he had been for me...that I’d decided to leave teaching because I wanted to be home with my kids, full-time for them, like he had been for me.  I thanked him for accepting and loving my husband like his own son, when Emre’s own dad had abandoned him.  I told my dad that I loved him and loved him and loved him forever.  

(I did, and I do.  And my dad was so proud of me.  I will never in my life make anyone so proud as I made my dad. ) 

I held his hand and I sang to him.  Actually, I hummed, because I have a fairly lousy singing voice and it wasn’t a private that would just be weird.   But all that Autumn and Winter, I’d woken up thinking of my dad and praying for him, secretly depressed that I wasn’t with him.  And in those private moments when my husband and babies slept, as I prepped coffee and lunches for our work days in Connecticut, I imagined being in Massachusetts with my dad, singing a hymn I’d heard at church.  I fulfilled that odd fantasy as I hummed for him, while he drifted in and out of sleep, unable to talk:

O Lord my God!  When I in awesome wonder,
 Consider all the works Thy hands have made;
 I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, 
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee;
How Great Thou Art, How Great Thou Art...

Was my desire to share this hymn with Dad my subversive way of bringing him to Christ?  I’d thought it was at the time.  Six years later, I understand my compulsion to do so more fully.

On the darkest days of my mom’s drinking and my parent’s financial stress, my dad at times exuded a kind of peace.  He had such a gratefulness for simple things: walking his little dog around the yard, sitting on the front steps with a cigarette and his newspaper.  Eating a greasy, pan-fried linguica on squishy white bread.  Grilling Cinnamon Swirls, in butter, “until they look crisp and warm like perfect little sunshines.”  Eagerly appreciating every episode of The Cosby Show.  Teaching me to tie my shoes, to play checkers, to string up lights on a Christmas tree.  Each of these moments was entered into fully and celebrated by my Dad.  

While I desired to remember Christ to my father; I also needed to signal to dad that he had -already and always- brought me to Christ.

Dad in relationship to me now: still present, just outside my field of vision.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Seven Quick Takes: Running, Writing & Inner Peace

I.  I ran ten minutes this morning,.  This doesn’t sound like much unless you know me.  I lived out my youth claiming “unathletic” as part of my identity.  As with many things in life, there is no such animal.  My non-aerobic activity resulted from a lack of discipline and major avoidance behavior, not a lack of aptitude.  No pain = no pain, right?  Plus the exertion made me vulnerable; I felt like an idiot because I am not the best out there. In first grade a buck-toothed boy told me I “ran like a cow.” Those words have hung about my neck like a bell ever since.  

Writing is the same way with me.  I’ve always felt a call to write, but the adage that to write is to “open a vein and bleed” strikes a bit too close to a major artery for me. A.) The process hurts.  I’ve stuffed a lot of pain on issues major and minor.  If I unpack what I’ve buried, will I be able to get it back together again?  Avoiding this inner strife is more comfortable than a psychic bleeding.  Besides, there is the laundry to do.  B.) Mid- stream-of-thought I stop what I’m thinking/writing, go back, and try to make it look good.  Such self-consciousness is an obstacle to writing; I become focused on my own heavy foot fall, and lose my impetus to write.   I might dub this my “cow bell principle.”

I will write for ten minutes today.

II. I am trying to keep peace in my heart.  This is a lovely Hallmark type thought which parents, particularly mothers, more particularly homeschooling mothers, agree is a great virtue and necessary to have in order to SUCCEED in raising happy, loving, confident and unafraid children who won’t grow up to live in the basement and rage at the world.  Moms must model good behavior and all of that.  One can not model what she truly does not have.  Hence: I am trying to keep peace in my heart.

III. Can I just say: This peace in the heart bit is hard.  Such inner peace is notably absent when your children are bickering and (you think) you hear your own worse self in each one as he and she escalate their argument over whether or not to watch Babar the movie or Babar the television show on Netflix (all the more excruciating because you have a dozen acquaintances who do not even own a television, and the American Academy of Pediatrics told you how terrible for your children this t.v. watching would be; this is what you get for not listening to experts! This is what you get for getting on board with the status quo extended-family expectations!!  This is what you reap now baby, when you knew better and did not stand your ground!!!  ACK!!).  

IV. I am sorry if I burst the bubble of any atheist who thinks faith is a mere salve, or to tarnish my image amongst the other Catholic home schooling Mommies I know, but honesty demands that I ‘fess up: Calling myself a Christian, breaking out Bible memory verses and following the liturgical seasons for craft time have not alleviated my inner insanity.  I have been at this for 5 years now.  I think my problem here is my reliance on externals to prove to myself as “doing this right” or “Being Super Solid” or looking like the type of mom others would want to be like.  I have come to a profound realization: all of these reasons to build a Domestic Church are very messed up.  There exists a better motivation.

A beautiful homily I recently heard offered this advice/reflection:  remember why it is that you do what you do.  Christians, at heart, should do everything from that place of loving and serving God, of responding to His invitation for relationship.  What a comfort to remember!   When I answered the call to dump a career and stay home, this was my motivation.  That motivation, to love God so radically that I literally wanted to give everything I have back to Him, needs to be remembered at the start of every day. This isn’t a “one-time-only” deal.  

V.  To feed and drive you, each day needs a purpose.  So in angst ridden moments, or even upon waking, I am learning to ask myself:  What is my purpose in being home with my kids today?  My purpose is to love and serve God, by teaching them of God’s profound and perfect love for them.  In so doing, my purpose involves allowing that dying-to-self bit to actually occur within me in myriad small, sometimes painful, often profound ways.  Ultimately, my purpose is learning what it really means to see Christ in another: namely, my children when they have alreay had baths, broken toys, boo-boo’s, anti-school work rebellions, snacks, lunch, and yet still return to my side after I've just sat down, because they need something more from me.     My purpose in handling these moments is to recognize and embrace Him  (or at least not drive the nails into His flesh again myself). 

To agnostics and non-believers I again repeat: There is a lot more ripping away, and far less salving,  in this process.  

VI. Peace in my heart means accepting that the sufferings of those I love were not all issues which were caused by me, nor are they issues that I am responsible for erasing, curing, or putting the lid on.  Misery is a human condition; we all bear some form of it.   Peace in my heart means letting go of my own Messiah-complex; I am not Christ, so I can not “fix” or “heal” others, no matter how much I love them. Christ is the One who saves and redeems.  With regard to my husband, my mother, my sister, my brother, and even my own children as they grow: not one needs anything so grandiose and impossible from me.  

VII.  Peace is accepting my place as Simon of Cyrene at the side of Jesus.  Peace is allowing myself to fall and skin my knees and look like an idiot as I help those around me to shoulder their burdens (which is different than trying to take their burdens away).  Peace in my heart requires that I once again surrender my desires to look cool,  my ache to achieve material success like some badge of honor, my embarrassment at not being "the Best," and instead take this uphill walk: with my own family, with the Church, with Christ, with my heart embracing its purpose.

Last weekend we brought the kids to Abbey Memorial Chapel at Mount Holyoke College.  
 Emre and I were married here on Aug. 1, 1998.