As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

In Secret

As I reviewed the readings for Ash Wednesday with the kids this morning, the familiar words of the gospel didn't hit me much differently than they usually do.  It's the one about praying in secret, not drawing attention to yourself so that others will esteem you, but with a contrite and honest heart.  "And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you."  (Matthew 6:4)

I didn't think too much about it as I explained it to the kids, other than that it is good advice heading into Lent.  It is a time when Catholic everywhere are organized in their fasting, and I guess it could be tempting to find out what everyone else is doing, to see who is making the bigger sacrifice.  I just won't do that, I'll keep between God and I.  Lesson learned.

Only later in the day did I realize that God was speaking to me on a much deeper level with this reading.  Because while I don't often find myself tooting my own horn looking for praise, I do on far too many occasions expect the kids to somehow realize how hard I work, and to offer some kind of reward (like say, not tearing apart the family room for the third time today!)  Too many times in my anger I find myself listing all the things I do every day to them, expecting that maybe if they just knew how hard I work, they would be happy to lighten my load.  Anyone who is a parent knows that this doesn't matter - they can't understand it.  They are not grownups.

I remember one time when I was in my teens, and my poor exasperated mother was having a similar conversation with me about my less-than-stellar performance on my chores.  "I just want you to care about keeping this house clean," I remember her saying.  And my response in all my teenaged wisdom was, "I'm sorry, but I don't care about it as much as you." I wasn't trying to be smart, just to explain that to me it really didn't make as much of a difference as it did to her.  I did, however, promise that I would try harder for her sake, because I loved her and didn't want her to be so distressed by my lack of effort.  Now as a mother myself, how can I expect my little ones (seven and under) to have more enthusiasm than I did in my teens?

So, my personal challenge this Lent is going to be to carry the burden of endless and repetitive housework quietly, and offer it as a prayer to God.  I will, of course, continue to hold the kids to high standards when it comes to cleaning up after themselves.  But I will not try to justify my day to them.  Instead, I will turn to my Father - who sees in secret, and will reward me.

Happy Shrove Tuesday.  May your Lenten journey towards Easter be a blessed one.


Matthew 6: 1 - 6, 16 - 18
1"Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2"Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,
4so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
5"And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
6But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
16"And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.
17But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,
18that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Settling In Just Fine

Last year, 2011, was a year of change for me.  We had just welcomed our fifth child six weeks before the new year, and I was trading my full-time job outside the home for full-time homeschooling.  I began the year with so many questions - can I really handle all this?  Will I do a good job teaching my own children? Can I keep up with all the demands of running a household with one more little one?

With more than a year under my belt, I am happy to report that things are going just fine.  In fact, better than fine.  I feel like the luckiest woman in the world.  You see, I never wanted to work outside the home once I started having children.  But it was just always a reality in our family, and a sacrifice that I made for the sake of everyone.  I don't regret those years, as I know I made the best decision I could, prayerfully begging God to make another way for us, and walking on the path before me when I could find no other alternatives.  I believe He blessed me through those years of sacrifice, and there are many skills that have come from my time of working that have proven invaluable to me in this new season of my life.

Nonetheless, I did get used to going back to work once each of my babies were one year old, and so I never really had the chance to experience this stage of life at home.  To be honest it frightened me a bit, because I always sort of felt that just as I was at the peak of chaos, I would head back to work and take my kids to someone else's house, to make messes, eat meals, play and fight with each other.  And I would pick them up at the end of the day, bring them home to a clean(ish) house, feed them supper, and get them off to bed.  While I was overjoyed not to have to juggle such a complicated schedule anymore, it did force me to face one thing - that I was now 100% responsible for all of this.  And a newborn.  And school.  Could I really do it all?

I knew it was going to be a tremendous amount of work, and so I prepared myself (like a football player getting psyched for the big game).  But I never could have imagined the incredible blessing this life would be.  It is work, of course it is.  But the payoffs are a million times better than I ever could have expected.  I have spent the last eight years of my life working with injured workers, employers, executives, doctors and patients, and I have to say that my kids are by far the most wonderful (and merciful) of any stakeholder I have ever worked with.  There is such a rhythm to my life, and there is so much comfort and security in it.  Not only am I able to be here for the big milestones in the first year, I get to be a part of everything throughout their childhood - when they learn to read and write, add and subtract, think critically, and do projects on their own - I am part of that.  I am not just looking on at some grand life that is happening without me, I am living it - walking each step with them.  It is glorious!

And so, with a little over a year under my belt, I look back with tremendous gratitude for where the Lord has led me, and where He is taking our family from here.  I waited a long time to be here, and it is worth every bit of work it requires.

World's best bosses!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Love Of My Life

It's true that I am madly in love with my kids.  But sometimes in my swooning over these precious little ones, I may neglect to talk about the one who came first, the first love of my life - my husband.  This eve of Valentine's day has me feeling particularly grateful for the man who loved me first, and whose constant love and faithfulness make this life such a joy to walk through.

A few weeks ago a friend and I were talking about marriage, and particularly the state of marriage in our culture.  She was commenting on the number of unhappy marriages she sees around her, and when I told her that I was happy in my own marriage, she asked if I was in love.  You know how sometimes words leave your mouth, each one of them striking you to the core?  Mine were as follows:  "Yes, more than ever!"  And I really meant it.

After eight years of marriage, I would be lying if I said we have never had our struggles.  But when I look at who we are as a couple, we are happy.  Of course we have disagreements, but they don't colour the whole of our relationship.  As I talked to my friend a little more, I realized that probably has a lot to do with the kind of person my husband is.  While men often tend to keep their problems inside and pretend nothing is wrong, Jeff is never shy about letting me know exactly where he is at, whether he thinks I'll like it or not.  He may not volunteer that information, but I can be certain if I ask him a question I'll get an honest answer.  It is the quality I was first attracted to, and that I most admire in him - he lives with such integrity.

He is also good at being the first one to say he that he is wrong, which actually makes me wonder if maybe I shouldn't grow more in that area, because while I don't mean to wait for him to say it, more often than not he is the first one to apologize after a disagreement.  There is nothing pretentious about him - he is who he is whether we are home by ourselves or in a crowd; whether he is having a beer with friends or talking to our parish priest after mass.

And boy, does he know how to love me.  This is another area where, when I think about it, I really need to do some work.  He showers me with affection and words of praise, and tends to me like I am a princess.  He is so appreciative of what I do at home, and he is quick to draw me a bath if I mention I need to relax.  He makes me feel like I am the best person in the world, which makes me want to be - for him.  At the same time he is good at calling me out on my faults, so that I can grow more into the kind of wife and mother I need to be.

In short, he is my everything.

Happy Valentine's Day, my love.  I am eternally grateful that God has lead me into your life.  No words could ever convey the gift you are to me.  I love you more than anything!

Jeff and I, back in 1998
I think he might be the love
of someone else's life too!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Our Lady of Mothers

I have been a Catholic all my life, but never really felt a great affection for Mary until I became a mother myself.  I had been taught, of course, that she was the mother of Jesus, and that when He was dying on the cross He gave her as a mother to the whole church when he said to John, "this is your mother," and to Mary, "this is your son."  I knew that was why we prayed to Mary and asked her intercession, of course never to replace praying to Jesus, but to commit our prayers in a special way to His mother as well, the same way we ask dear friends to pray for us when we are going through tough times.  When I had my conversion in my late teens and began to embrace the Catholic faith as truly my own, Jesus became such a powerful presence in my life - but Mary, I just didn't relate to her as much.  And I can remember the moment when everything changed for me.

We were approaching our first Christmas as parents and I was watching TV with my five-month-old son.  Someone was on a talk show singing Mary, Did You Know? in honour of the Christmas season.  If you've never heard that song, it's a beautiful reflection of Mary as a mother of a brand new baby, pondering the mystery of the little life she was holding and what she was going to go through as His mother.  You see as the mother of Jesus, she knew something no mother knows when she gives birth - that this child would endure tremendous suffering.  She knew exactly (or mostly) what was going to happen to him, that it would be horrific and terrible, and that she would watch all of it with a bleeding heart.  As Simeon said to her at the presentation, "a sword will pierce your own heart as well".  And she still said yes.  I looked at my baby boy, my own heart hurting thinking about him suffering in even the smallest way, and imagined what that must have been like for her.  Tears streamed down my face, as I truly didn't know if I could have been strong enough to say yes the way that she did.  And how did it not completely break her?  In the face of all of it, she remained a pillar of strength and comfort to Jesus, the true calling of a mother.  Wow.

Katie, on the feast of Mary, Mother of God (January 1)  

Mary has always held a special place in my heart since that day, and particularly in those trying times when I don't seem to have what it takes to comfort my children, I will pray to her.  She has seen me through many a late night with fussy babies, as the rosary becomes my yard stick for how long to stay patiently rocking my children back to sleep.  And it never fails that when nothing else works, they settle back to sleep once they hear the familiar words of the Hail Mary's recited in repetition, while I think on the mysteries of Jesus' life.  And when I finally lay them back into their beds, I pray that as my hands leave them in their crib hers would come behind mine to soothe and comfort them through the rest of the night, and bring them rest.

My second son was a particularly fussy baby, and I remember at one point lamenting that Jesus probably never cried the way my babies do, because being perfect, He was probably a perfectly behaved baby.  I will never forget the challenge when I realized that Jesus probably didn't act any differently than any of my babies, because babies don't cry out of manipulation or bad behaviour - they cry because they need something, and there's nothing imperfect about that.  I realized that in fact, my children were probably very much like Jesus as a baby, but that I was very far from the kind of mother Mary was, and I knew that my call was to be more patient and gentle as she was in the face of this behaviour that is perfectly normal and acceptable for babies.

I find in Mary not only a model for how to respond to my children, but also comfort for myself.  When I have trouble getting to sleep at night I will say a rosary.  I used to feel bad about falling asleep during such an important prayer, but now I think it's probably not so bad.  I imagine Mary must take some comfort in being able to bring me rest when nothing else seems to work, and what better way to fall asleep than in the loving hands of Our Blessed Mother.  As a mother who has been there countless times with my own babies, I know there is nothing better than the feeling of a baby who has been fighting sleep finally resting on your chest, deep in slumber.  Few things in life satisfy my soul the way bringing comfort does, and I believe this is the truest honour of Mary's position in the Church - to be a giver of comfort not only to our Lord during His life, but to the rest of the Church forevermore.

Today, on the feast of our Lady of Lourdes (where St. Bernadette first received the prayer of the rosary to share with the entire church from Our Lady) I am so very thankful for the rosary, and the powerful prayer it has become in our family.  I am grateful for our Blessed Mother and the comfort and guidance she gives to me, as I try to imitate her in leading our family to Jesus.  And I pray that many will come to know her love, and in so doing will find Jesus, which is her truest joy.

Our Lady of Lourdes - pray for us!

Aaron getting an early start on the rosary

Friday, February 10, 2012

What My Home Says About Me

Every now and then, I like to dream about the things I'd have to for my family.  In a perfect world, we would have a huge house with more than enough living space for our still-growing family.  We would have perfectly designed and stylish rooms, that were kept perfectly clean by my perfectly responsible children.  I'd like to indulge myself for a moment, and show you what this looks like in my mind:

Think of how well we could put all this space to use!
Many happy meals could take place around this table

Functional and stylish for a large family
Tastfully boy!

Until I win the lottery however, this is what I have:

Modest four-bedroom in the country (that needs a bit of work)
Dining room with handed-down furniture, finish scratched from many happy meals enjoyed by many children over the years, walls cluttered with school supplies because it also doubles as a classroom.

Living room with stuff in every possible corner,
because it also doubles as a classroom
This room is boy all right.  We'll leave it at that.

To tell you the truth, it doesn't bother me.  There was a time I wished we had done a better job of paying off our debts before we started having kids, maybe had a bit of a nest-egg so that we had more disposable income to put towards a mortgage on a bigger house.  And there was a time I was mortified to have anyone pull up to my house and see how desperately unfinished it is on the outside, or how messy the yard is.  Or to have anyone step inside and see the knicks and dents in the wall, where the white drywall underneath almost seems fluorescent peeking through the paint.  

I will confess that for me, the living room was the most difficult to surrender, particularly when we started homeschooling.  For a while I thought I could relegate all of the "school" material to the dining room.  It was a bit foolish, as desks were shoved into any space they would fit, and we all bumped into furniture anytime we tried to move (the poor kids were elbowing walls when they tried to write!)  I desperately wanted one space - just one space - that was grown up, and the living room was it. The problem is that, being a "living" room, it is where most of the living happens.  After Christmas I did a massive re-organization of my upstairs, and finally moved some desks into the living room where the kids had more space to work (and freed up some much-needed space in the dining room).  I especially hated the desk in the corner by the TV, which I have no way of hiding, and just doesn't seem to fit traditional living room decor.  But then again, there isn't much "traditional" about us.  Or maybe there is - and maybe that's beautiful.

These days, if you enter my home, you will see signs of the life that takes place within it.  A life that has too much work to be completed in the run of a day (or several).  A life that embraces faith, family, and education.  A life that is full of children and the wonderful joy (and sometimes, destruction) that comes with them.  A life where parents works hard to maintain some order, but also strive to spend time with each other and focus on the important things.  A life where we take each day one step at a time, walking together, working together, and living - together.

I like my dumpy little house.  But if I ever win the lottery, I might upgrade just a little.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Keeping it Together

Sometimes I fall into the trap of thinking that I have things together.  I'm far from a seasoned veteran at the stay-at-home-homeschooling-mom thing, but I think I'm starting to learn a few tricks to make things run a little smoothly.  But just when I start feeling too proud of myself, I have a morning like this morning.

My daughter had a last minute doctor's appointment for a nasty cough that's been bothering her for several weeks (which as it turns out is finally on the mend - thank goodness!)  Normally I would schedule appointments for the afternoon so that we have enough time to get through school in the morning without too much fussing, but as I didn't have the luxury of being picky this time around, I decided that a little planning on my part would make this no problem at all.  In fact, since we were going to be in town anyway, why not pack a lunch and do something fun?  No problem!

The kids were beautifully motivated, and breezed through all but their catechism lessons, which I had saved for the drive to town (I have to take a ferry, which gives me time to read with them, and driving is a perfect time for family discussion).  By the time they were eating their morning snacks, I was slapping some PB&J sandwiches together and sticking home-made granola bars in a back.  Even when I thought we were running behind as we were pulling out of the driveway, to my delight the clock in the van showed we were right on time.  Success!

And then, I noticed the check-engine light flashing on my dashboard.  This was kind of unnerving, but not as much as the low rumbling sound that my van made when the engine slowed down.  When I got to the ferry, I texted Jeff to let him know what was going on, and to find out what I should do.  And just to be safe, I turned the van off (thinking maybe once I turned it back on, the light would magically be off).  He called me straight away and while he was on the phone, the ferry arrived and the line started moving - all except me, because I couldn't get the van started!  I let out a heavy sigh, and could help but feel a wave of self-pity.  Can't I once - just once - be on time for an appointment?  

Luckily I was able to coast to the side of the road, out of the way of the cars behind me.  I put on my four-ways and walked down to the ferry, hoping the attendant had something to boost me.  He did, but said he couldn't leave the ferry.  "Do you know how to use it?" he asked of the machine they have on the ferry for boosting cars.  Needless to say I do not, and feeling rather badly, he said he would try to radio the crew on the adjacent ferry (which was down for service) to see if someone could help me.  I sulked back to my car, trying to keep a good disposition, and waited for a few minutes for the other ferry attendant.  He never did show up, and as it turns out it's probably better, because when I gave it one last try to start my van, it turned on without a problem!  I realized that when I was waiting in line I had turned the van off while it was still in drive, and that's why it wouldn't start (and also likely why I coasted so easily to the side of the road) - I put it into park when I stopped, before I got out, not thinking to try it again while the ferry was actually still in front of me.  So now, not only did I have to watch my on-time ride glide across the river without me, but it was all my own stupid fault.  Sigh.

Today's catechism lesson was to review the mass readings for this Sunday, and as I mentioned, I had brought the missal with me to read with the kids on the ferry.  But I was too anxious and upset to read them at that particular moment, so I turned on the music and waited a bit.  I send Jeff a lamenting text message about my foolish error, ending with something to the effect of, "...lest I think I'm anything super". After about ten minutes when the ferry was almost back to me, I was feeling calm enough to give it another try.  As I read the words of the second reading from Corinthians, they spoke right to my heart:

Brothers and Sisters:  Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.  

Everything.  Even when things don't go your way, despite all your planning.  I laugh at how often my life becomes the lesson of the day, and spoke to the kids about how we were going to have a good day even though things were so crazy - and as it turns out, we did.  And we did all of it that much more grateful to God for seeing us through, and for the fact that while a little embarrassing, things were not as bad as I first thought they might have been.  We made our appointment, we ate our home-made lunch, and we spent a lovely afternoon in town without spending a cent.  And I realized that when I pray for patience and perseverance, it is not so that God will take trials out of my life, but so that He will give me what I need to walk through them.  And also that the doctor will not hate me for being late yet again, and I should just relax a bit.

On my way home I received a text from Jeff in response to my frantic message earlier in the day:  "I think you're something super."  God bless him for knowing exactly what to say when I need to hear it most!

We made it!  Hurray!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Return on Investment

I have a confession - I am one of those parents that, if you saw me on Supernanny you'd shake your head at me.  You'd go have coffee with your friends and say, "you wouldn't believe how frustrated she was getting with her's just so obvious that they're kids, and that's the way they act.  She needs to get a grip!"  I appreciate the kindness of those who say, "there there, it's understandable".  But just let me indulge my inner Dr. Phil and tell it like it is: I have a temper, and sometimes it's bad.  And the only people that see how bad it really is are my kids, and occasionally my husband.  

There are days when it is more of a trial than others, and today was one of those days.  I texted Jeff and asked for prayer, and in the middle of sending my message wrote something that was like an opening of my soul, and I didn't even realize it until after it came out.  This morning's gripe was with my almost three-year-old (which I have always found to be the most challenging age), and I wrote to Jeff, "It requires so much more of an investment of me into her, which is beautiful, and telling of where I am at now that I'm having such a hard time with it."  Kids are needy - especially little ones.  And the age between three and four years old can be particularly demanding, because it's the age when their little wills start to appear, and they are just learning that can exercise that will whenever and however they (not Mom or Dad) choose.  And while I can be reasonably sure that I can tell my older kids to do something and they will, or impose a consequence and they will listen without screaming and shouting, it's not the same for a preschooler.  They are learning about boundaries, specifically how to push them, and it takes a lot from me to be available and gently guide them through that process.

I can say thus far that my investment into Katie in this area (as, I am sad to say, has been the case for each of the other other boys) has been rather limited.  It's easy to invest yourself in the things that are pleasant with kids (reading, playing games, making crafts, watching movies) but it's a whole different story when the terrain is so rocky.  I always feel like I just don't have time, but then again, what mother does?  On the other hand, the results speak for themselves.  She is, by times, a screamy and frustrated little three-year-old.  And I don't pretend to think that if I just made more time for her she'd never do this.  However I do think that if I invested more time and energy in being patient with her, I could see her through these times of frustration with love, and maybe it would result in a little less screaming (on both of our parts).

I was very grateful the other day to stumble upon the prayer of St. Francis with the kids.  As a Catholic, I have been familiar with this prayer for a long time.  But this time, the words hit my heart with such profound meaning, that I knew it was the Lord calling me to step it up, and be a bearer of peace to those around me.  As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, right?

Lord, help me to invest myself lovingly to my children, and to be an instrument of peace in their lives.  Deliver me from the desire to be understood by them: they are children, they don't know how taxing motherhood can be at times (nor should they).  Help me not to look to them for comfort when I feel spread so thin, but instead to look for opportunities to comfort and love them.  And in so doing, may I see the return of healthy, well-adjusted children, fully formed in the proper use of their wills for the glory of your kingdom.


Lord, make me a channel of thy peace
That where there is hatred, I may bring love
That where there is wrong, I may bring the spirit of forgiveness
That where there is discord, I may bring harmony
That where there is error, I may bring truth
That where there is doubt, I may bring faith
That where there is despair, I may bring hope
That where there are shadows, I may bring light
That where there is sadness, I may bring joy.
Lord, grant that I may seek rather to comfort than to be comforted
To understand, than to be understood
To love, than to be loved
For it is by self-forgetting that one finds
It is by forgiving that one is forgiven
It is by dying that one awakens to Eternal Life.
- St. Francis of Assisi

Saturday, February 4, 2012


I enjoy a special bond with my baby (who at 15 months old is actually more of a toddler these days).  He is really independent (as all my children have been, except my one girl which is kind of nice, and the subject for another note, another day!)  But occasionally, for reasons unbeknownst to me, he will display uncharacteristic neediness.  These moments are usually weeks, if not months apart, and often come at times when he would usually be sleeping, either in the night or during his daytime nap hour.  With each of the other kids, I remember these times of unexplained wakefulness to be particularly stressful, and I remember being not so patient with my children, who as yet were unable to communicate what was wrong and what they needed.

As I relive these moments for the fifth time around (I am a slow learner!) I am starting to realize that they probably just needed comfort.  I am saddened that it took me so long to be able to just give them what they needed as little babies selflessly, and am so grateful that God gives me another chance to get it right with Aaron.  Far from thinking, "oh no, he's awake..." I find myself almost celebrating these cherished times of extra comforting with a boy who will typically not willingly sit still with me for more than five seconds at a time.

Naptime in our house normally goes off without a hitch.  He loves sleeping, and doesn't take a bottle, so when the appropriate time rolls around it's generally just a matter of tucking him in and giving him his snuggly blanket, and he's a happy little boy.  Today he showed no signs of anything different, until about five minutes after I had left him in his room, when he began crying.  I sent Jeff, who was on his way to catch some shut-eye, in to snuggle him for a bit and tuck him in again, thinking this would do the trick.  Nope.  For the next hour we took turns rocking him, singing to him, keeping him in his room, bringing him out, putting him down to play, and feeding him - all to no avail.  Nothing seemed to make him happy.

I noticed in the midst of everything, a profound sense of grace and gentleness that I knew what not from myself.  And I was so thankful that as he squirmed on my lap and viciously fought what I knew he needed most, that I was able to remain calm and peaceful.  I regret the many times before that I have not been able to see as I was today.  I looked into his face, which was screaming with frustration and sleepiness, and I just felt an outpouring of love for this little child.  And it occured to me that babies are no different than anyone else - they are needy.  I am needy.  I have times when I cry for no reason, and I just need someone to hold me.  It doesn't matter that I don't know what's wrong with him, or what to do to make him feel better.  I can just hold him while he cries, for however long that is, and tell him I love him, and it's okay.  He needs me.  I need him.

As I look into his little face, I can imagine this scene repeating itself many more times over the course of his life, over situations of varying degrees of importance.  And I can only pray that the Lord allows me to look at him (and at my other children) in the same way that I see him now - with compassion and love, and a desire to just make him feel better.  

After a long afternoon of crying, my dear little boy finally settled himself to sleep on my chest.  These are among the greatest moments of motherhood for me - not the ones where I have taken a problem away, but the ones that I have stood through my children with, and helped to feel safe enough to rest.  To walk with them through despair to peace, and to see that they made it, we made it, and that we were never really alone.  

Praise God for moments of clarity, when we see life (and our place in life) for what it truly is.  If I can't stop their crying, may I always have the strenght to just be with them through it - never feeling that I am less of a mother for not being able to take it away, but rejoicing in the tremendous honor of offering comfort to someone who needs me.