Tag Archives: kids

And a Little Child will Lead Them

Everyday, I continue to be amazed by what I learn from my children.

A few days ago, one of my girls told me, rather matter of factly, that for over a few weeks now, she’s been “sitting alone” at lunch. From that, I understand sitting with other kids, yet relatively invisible to them. Apparently, she moved to the other end of the table from the girl she once felt her BFF to see if the girl would notice she was gone. The girl apparently, without even noticing herself, had stopped talking to my daughter at lunch sometime ago, in favor of talking to someone else.

Big deal right? Right. Don’t feel sorry for her. My child, strangely, doesn’t seem to have an issue with this at all. When I asked her who she sat with now, she calmly laughed and said, “no one.” I could feel the tears stinging my eyes. Most mothers probably would, too. After all, what’s worse than being a tween with no true triends? Not much – I’d been there done that. She wanted to know why I cared so much when she really didn’t.

My daughter is something of a rare bird. Unlike nearly everyone I know, at 11 years old she knows who she is. Other kids aren’t interested in what she’s interested in. But she doesn’t care. Her thoughts, ideas and activities may not be “cool” with the other kids, but she keeps at them. She doesn’t need to engage in “attention getting” antics. She’s moving out of what’s supposed to be “cool” to doing stuff she’s good at. To a point where she is becoming amazingly talented. 

I’m in my mid-forties, and only now am I learning to live without caring what others think. I’m trying to do this by basing my life on my Catholic faith. I suck at it. But I keep trying, using my 20 years of Catholic education and a recent return to the study of my religion, to keep me going.  Ironically, I feel outcast among the very Catholics and faith community I grew up in. I’ve been labeled judgemental for reminding people what our religion says and requires of us. At the same time, I’m being terribly honest about my own sinfulness. (Want to know something? Just ask.) NOT a good mix. 

My 11-year-old daughter is my role model. It seems she was able to hear what I was telling her when we talked about not fitting in. She heard “Do what makes you happy.” “Know what you won’t accept.” Yet I never heard myself telling her. My other child, who has taken more than her turn in the barrel of bullies, gets what the older one has done. Now, she’s healing.

It’s mom who is struggling to put her faith in God and trust him. It’s all part of that dying to self thing I blog about so often. I made a life out of pleasing people – being an apologetic for corporations and organizations and anyone with a public relations “issue.” It’s funny to think that back in college when I started that career path, I promised God I would use my powers of persuasion to do his work. Be careful what you promise! It seems these days, the only one less popular than me is God himself.

So I’m turning my eyes again to my daughter – the one I prayed for when God didn’t see fit to bless me with a child. The one I begged for over five long years. The one who showed me anything is possible with God. Is it any wonder she’s named “Sara?” It’ll be hard, and I’ll likely keep losing friends as he uses me, and I’ll continue to cry, and pray for those who reject me and him. 

But as my beautiful Sara reminds me, who else do I truly need approval from but him?

Me Second!

Some of you might remember an old commercial for the US Army. “We do more before 9 a.m. than some people do all day.”

I know a woman like this. I met her back in the eigth grade at an all-star cheerleading event the Diocese of Pittsburgh used to do for Catholic schools. Later, we went to high school together. But we never really loafed together, as my mom would say. 

Today, this woman and I are Facebook friends. And she is high on my list of mommy idols. 

My friend has eight children. Yes, eight. Ranging from twenty-something to elementary school age. From what I understand, from people other than her, they are some pretty amazing kids. Involved in helping others through their Church, serving at Mass and so on.

My friend is not divorced, an addict or irresponsible. These kids have a stable, if financially tight, home. She is a true Mama Bear – every ounce of energy, every waking moment, every cent in her pocket goes to raising those eight. Don’t try leaving one of them out, bullying one of them or mocking their situation. You’ll regret it. 

In the sense we often hear in scripture, or our priests discuss at Mass, she has died to self as Jesus did, and lives her life for others.

That’s what inspires me. If anything has challenged me as a parent, it’s the need to step away from my own desires and live my life for my family. I know that’s an old fashioned if not out dated idea to some. But I’m pretty sure it’s how you raise quality people. 

This belief, founded in my faith in God, is much at odds with the person I once was. Even now that I’m striving for this ideal, my personal selfishness often raises its ugly head in my parenting. I was a career woman once – ambitious, driven and some say talented in my field. I left my career because it didn’t want my girls along for the ride. I miss it sometimes, and more than once I’ve had to catch myself in moments of frustration from asking my girls if they actually realize what I sacrificed for them.

Not exactly an attitude of dying to self and allowing God to guide me so I can guide them.

Added to the general loneliness that comes with being a stay-at-home mom and kid taxi driver, I’m miles away from being the parent my friend is. Maybe she can’t give them all the stuff I can give, but she has truly given them herself. I push myself to that ideal, but there are times when I pull myself back from my family, and I want them to acknowledge what I do so that I can feel some type of achievement that I felt when my opinion was sought out and my work defined me.

And then I think of my friend – a true angel on Earth for her children. Not with wings and a halo, but as a protector and provider of love. Up at the crack of dawn getting her kids to various schools (all Catholic by the way), toiling at fundraisers, driving her youngest to weekly appointments for Lupus treatments and finding new ways to sustain their family. 

That’s when I realize I need a smack in the head for not being more present with my own family. For ignoring them sometimes when I don’t want to deal with their crises or would rather watch the X-Files than Supergirl. Or whenever I choose myself over them. My friend, who could use some downtime, likely does little of that. She doesn’t have time. Yet what she does is so much more important and rewarding than my career ever was.

She makes me want to get up early to watch cartoons, cook breakfast and play video games. To be there for every moment until I can’t be anymore. Like God has been wanting me to.

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.

Giving it Up

My daughter announced this morning on the way to school that she was giving up ALL video games and tv for Lent. My younger daughter countered with chocolate chip cookies.
They wanted to know what I was giving up. But first, I thought it was important to discuss their choices.
Last year, oldest daughter gave up Disney Infinity. And she was successful, even though this was her favorite thing at that time. It may still be, as Grandma just produced a Jasmine character. She is a gamer at heart. X-Box, Infinity, Kindle, you name it. And she also loves tv (I know, this makes me an awful parent.)
I told her I didn’t think it was wise to set herself up for failure (and a month+ of moaning and trying to get me to buy her some video thing she didn’t give up.) So she began to qualify. She wasn’t giving up America’s Funniest Videos, cause that’s on Sundays. I told her to think about paring it down a bit more.
As for the other one, I asked when she last had a chocolate chip cookie. She didn’t know, but she told me she wouldn’t be able to have one at Max & Erma’s Free Cookie Wednesday. We were once regulars for that…..not so much since they started running on Wednesdays last September. Seemed a little too easy for her. So she suggested M&Ms. Which aren’t even her favorite candy. Let’s face it. She wants it to sound hard,but not really be hard. More thinking about what Lent is about.
I have to admit, I was like the younger of the two as a child. I was good at doing things that can’t be measured, like helping my mom or giving up gum, which I wasn’t really into anyway. These two have challenged me this year to give up my one vice. Diet cola. I think this is a good idea in theory. I have been working on cutting back, and I have, significantly. (It’s difficult and probably disgusting to discuss just how much I drink.) I’m fearful I cannot go without it.
My other idea was to give up naps. I’m pretty sure that’s impossible, since I take some meds that make me sleep. So, slight problem. (I’m convinced docs and pharma are in cahoots to produce drugs that make people rest, since we never really do. But that’s another blog.)
In my mind, I’ve always believed one of the most important parts of parenting was leading by example. I know this is true when I watch my beauties pick up on my stupid bad habits. Or, less regularly, when they pick up on the good ones. (I do have some.)
So, it looks like my beloved Diet Pepsi will be taking a little vaca. (I started boycotting Coke when they hired Michael Sam to represent them – not because he’s gay, but because he proposed to his partner on top of a Vatican building.)
This year will likely be the most challenging Lent I my lifetime. I know that sounds pathetic, but when you don’t drink, don’t do drugs and have diabetes, diet soda can become your only indulgence. (That and chocolate.)
I’m sort of excited about this. I know I can do it. I don’t know if I actually want to do it, but I think real sacrifice is the next step on my road back to the arms of God. I’ll let you know in 40 days.

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.

“I’m most happy about Pope Francis, Mommy.”

The reply I got from my 7 year old daughter when I asked what she liked best about 2013. Give¬†kids a chance.¬† They’ll amaze you.