Tag Archives: growing up

Bless the Little Children

Much has been made recently of a Pew report illustrating a decline in Christianity in America, Catholicism particularly. 

The idea that six Catholics leave the Church for every one who joins it troubles me. However, yesterday I experienced something that gave me more than the hope I needed to realize that the Catholic Church I love so dearly will survive well into the future.

I have two daughters that attend a local Catholic school. My oldest was invited to participate in something called the “Living Rosary,” in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Neither of them had been involved in this activity previously, and because the event is held during the school day, my husband and I had never attended before. How I wish we had.

In the “Living Rosary” children from first through eighth grade serve as the jewels on the Rosary, one for each prayer. Assembled around the Church in the form of a Rosary with a student holding a crucifix at the head, each child starts the prayer they stand for, and the congregation of their classmates, teachers, parents and other parishioners answer back. Older children mark each of the holy mysteries of each decade.

It’s quite simple. There are no costumes, no special decor. No musicians, only two girls beautifully singing “Mary, Gentle Woman” acapella. (They reminded me of two girls in my grade school class who often cantered school Masses. They sang so beautifully. I always dreamed to sing with them, but had no such talent!) Just 200 or so Catholic school children leading prayer. 

I’ve been to Mass with these same kids. And they are kids at Mass. They can’t resist chatting with each other, they zone out, some fall asleep, and at least one is usually escorted out for whatever infraction. Yet yesterday, in our quiet, dimly lit Church, they were attentive, engaged and alert. Many held flowers they had brought to adorn a new statue of the Virgin outside the Church in our parish garden. 

With school coming to an end, I couldn’t help but see the growth these children had experienced through the year. Watching the prayers of the Rosary flow from soon-to-graduate eighth graders to just-beginning first graders was a powerful symbol of how we Catholics are obliged to pass our spiritual traditions on to our children, and they to one another.

They’re all kinds of children. White, black, Hispanic, Asian, Indian. Boys and girls. Princesses and tomboys. Athletes and bookworms. Skinny ones, chubby ones. Ones with glasses, some with various spring injuries, others missing a tooth. A few who forgot to wear their special uniform blue polo.  A reminder that God welcomes us all, no matter our differences, to unite in worship. Such a simple thought. Yet so powerful through the example of these children. 

 As the members of the Rosary and their classmates proceeded from Church to the courtyard to honor Mary with a crown of beautiful spring blossoms, they sang “Hail Holy Queen” with an enthusiasm normally reserved for sports and recess. One by one, class by class they laid their flowers before the Mother of God. Picked from gardens, bought from local stores, pruned from flowering trees. It was an amazing bouquet, fit for a Queen.

There are certainly dynamics working on the population of Catholics in the United States. The faithful come and go, often leaving the Church for purely human reasons – relocation of priests, something said at the pulpit, sour grapes over who’s who in the parish. Yet in so many places, these gems – the Catholic elementary schools that welcome all children to learn – still stand strong. 

These children give me hope. I see their understanding of the basis of Catholicism – they know how to love one another, and how to forgive. As they grow into the adults who will lead the Church, I know Catholicism will live on.

Dear Santa, Let’s Just be Friends…

Christmas has had me thinking about childhood a great deal these days. Not so much because I have children, but more because I have children who are on the cusp of no longer believing in the “Big Guy.”
They’ve been dealing with all sorts of tweener issues this year — things like early puberty, friends with hormonal issues, bras, the “talk,” and well, you get the idea. They’re growing up. Much to my horror.
These pivotal moments have me thinking about my own growing up. I wish so much I could explain to my girls what a great time this is for them. Not my dad’s old speech on “high school and college are the best time of your life so have fun, but don’t fail.” I’m thinking more of the forgotten magical time between “your a little kid” and “your a big kid now.” Maybe we rush our kids through childhood so quickly now that this period no longer exists. Maybe the rush to grow up. But I remember some great things about it that I never knew were great. I hope my girls aren’t so busy growing that they miss them.
Particularly, I’ve been thinking about one specific summer. I can’t remember how old I was. Eleven? Maybe 12?
My best girl friend (who I haven’t seen physically in something like 17 years) and I went to every little league game played by a group of boys who lived in our neighborhood. Mostly because my friend and one of the guys on the team were what we thought was a “steady” thing back then. You know, held hands in school at recess, played together after school and on weekends, a rare kiss or two on a birthday and that was about it. If only our relationships since than had been so simple.
It was usually pretty hot outside, and we loved getting junk at the ball field’s little concession stand. Particularly gum and soda. It was the same field where earlier in the year, I failed the Presidential Physical Fitness Test because I couldn’t run three laps around the outfield and through each dug-out fast enough. Puberty, remember?
But my memories of that field aren’t really of my lack of physical endurance, or really of baseball itself. They’re about practicing my middle-school cheerleading voice for the sake of one fascinating young man who had more hits than any other kid on the team. Probably because his birthday fell late in the year and he didn’t make the cut off for the team he should have been on. Not that he wasn’t a good player. He was talented. The best, maybe still, in my star-struck little girl eyes.
As I remember, I did my job well. One of the coaches gave me an award for being the “Most Boisterous Fan.” I wonder of it’s still somewhere in my mom’s garage. By the time the boys won their league championship (I think that’s how it went) my cheering for the quiet blonde was usually followed up with little boy taunts of “ohhhhhhhh” from the dugout or outfield. Sometimes when I remember this I indulge myself by believing a few of those hits and home runs might have been just for me.
My oldest daughter is a cheerleader now. The younger one wants to be next year. I wonder sometimes if there is some special boy she cheers for on the football team. Then I tell myself she’s too young for that, because I don’t want to admit she could feel that way about anyone yet. I tell myself – she still believes in Santa. She doesn’t like boys yet. Then I remembered how long I believed in Santa. Ok, I still do.
I haven’t asked her yet if she still does, but I know she’s suspicious. I think she wants to, but doesn’t want to be the be the only kid in fourth grade who does. I also think she’s holding on because she knows her sister (who is working on her third boyfriend at 8) still believes.
I’m not sure where believing in Santa became my litmus test for my daughters being ready for their first crush. After all, I can still remember the first boy who caught my eye. In second grade.
My baseball boy actually called me on the phone a few times that fall (he was my first crush to take to the phone), much to the concern of my mother who never went to one of the ball games. They were those kind of magical, innocent calls where a boy’s friend makes the actual call, puts the other boy on the phone, boy and girl giggle a little, say hi, ask how school is, and then laugh and give up, having nothing to say.
I’m wondering if my daughter’s new year will include any of those special moments, dripping in innocence, throwing up red flags for her father and I to worry about. I hope then I remember those summertime glances and blushes for what they were — innocent.
And I hope she believes in Santa for maybe one more year.

The Real Test for Parents?

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the New Jersey teen who tried to sue her parents after she, unhappy with the rules of her home, decided to move out and in with her boyfriend.
I have two daughters. One of whom is running toward pre-teen at breakneck speed. The other one is following everything the older one does. So naturally the description of the girl who lawyered-herself up was disturbing to me. Catholic school, cheerleader, good student, nice family, bad-boy boyfriend. Not that they were describing my girls. They were describing me at 17.
I’ve often looked back at the years of my life between the ages of 17 and 22 and realized there must have been an angel on my shoulder. It was probably all that praying my mother did. I was never a bad kid. But a few steps to the left here or a few to the right there, and things could have been MUCH different. Truthfully, not only am I lucky I escaped young adulthood with my life, it’s downright amazing I came away with no more than a broken heart.
All these things digested together give me a stomach ache. They also concern me about the randomness these days of raising girls.
Case in point. I know two young women, roughly the same age. Both come from middle to upper middle class families. Both sets of parents are wonderful, respectable people. Each did well in school, both attended very good schools in affluent districts and participated in extra-curricular activities. Both had/have friends and siblings.
Both girls went to college. I presume both had “fun” – it is college after all. One is a second year surgery resident, starting a period of medical research, and getting ready to marry another resident this spring.
The other, after changing majors from engineering to (I’m not kidding) wine/vintning, dropped out of school, moved in with a boyfriend. On one Christmas break, she surprised her mother with the news she had had an abortion. The next, she brought a small photo album of the child she gave up for adoption. She never completed a degree and is in financial straits.
When I think of these two ladies, I often wonder what the hot button was that triggered their futures. Was it something that could be foreseen? Is there a lesson here that will help me raise my girls? Do I even have a right to expect mine to achieve some standard of success that I think is appropriate? One that validates me as a parent over them as humans with choices?
One of my favorite passages in any book is the section in the Prophet by the remarkable Kahlil Gibran where he discusses parents and children. Gibran reminds us that our children are their own people. That our job is to safeguard them until they are ready for the world, or until the world is ready for them. Then it’s our job to stand back and see what happens. Wait for the results of our most important worldly test.
I’m a big believer in letting my kids make mistakes they’ll remember and learn from. Especially in cases where their father and I offer them advice to avoid the mistake, and they don’t take it. Within reason, of course. They are still young.
But I picture this day when I, like a mother bird nudging her young from the nest to fly, or like a parent letting go of that bike for the first time, release them into the world with my fingers crossed behind my back and a tear in my eye. And I’ll be hoping beyond all hope that they have that angel on their shoulder as well, guiding them from lawyers who tell them I still owe them and the myriad land mines and pitfalls of the first few steps into adulthood.
Like my mother, and I bet like New Jersey girl’s mother, and the mothers of those other two young ladies, I’ll continue praying that God’s paid the electric bill on those lights guiding the way to fulfillment.