On School Masses

I went to public grade school, so I never experienced the “school mass” as a child, but I have experienced many as an adult attending daily Mass. In fact I thought I had attended enough to say I never needed to go again. The typical school Mass that I have gone to has included many of the following elements: watered down prayers for children, oversimplified Eucharistic prayers for children, children’s choirs singing off-key, hand motions, children “lectors” etc. To sum it up, one could say not a very reverent Mass experience. It seems that the planners of these “children’s Masses” forget one very important fact about the Mass and that is that it is different from the everyday.  It is Heaven touching Earth. And I am convinced that children can handle much more than the simplified versions of just about everything out there that is for kids. (For example, shortening children’s books that were already made for children and making them into short board books or “readers.”)

Yesterday, my family and I went to daily Mass at our new parish, St. Agnes. Now there is also a school at St. Agnes and when we saw that Mass was in the upstairs Church and not in the basement chapel we knew it was a school Mass. My initial reaction when I think of going to a school Mass is bracing myself to tolerate whatever irreverence may occur during Mass because it is children centered and not God centered. However, the only children in the sanctuary at this post-conciliar Novus Ordo Mass were the altar boys in cassocks and surplices. The priest still said Mass “ad orientem”, that is facing the liturgical East of the tabernacle/Jesus. The prayers were all those of the new translation for the day. The communion rail was used. The other priests in residence came to help distribute communion (All these things St. Agnes does for all Masses whether Latin, English, Ordinary or Extraordidary). And the school children sat still, paid attention, knelt during communion. They understood reverence. They are being taught that Mass is different from the everyday and they can handle it!

I am thrilled that St. Agnes knows how to do liturgies and is not too good to be true. If you want to see their music selections check out the website I linked above.

And while the school children could behave at Mass, my children are a different story…

Two Sisters Moving Together

I have been appreciating more and more the sweet friendship developing between my two little girls. G. at nearly 3.5 has been really relying on her younger sister for companionship this summer and L. at 20 months, as she develops vocabulary and the ability to play more with her sister instead of in parallel play, is doing everything she can to keep up. I am so thankful on behalf of both of them that we had these two girls first. I imagine that a girl and a boy or two boys would be able to have a friendship as well, but there is something about having sisters.

It seems to me that L. is the perfect age for her older sister at this point in our lives as we just moved to a new city and are meeting new people and adjusting to new places. Any younger would have not been as helpful for her. L. is forming her first sentences/phrases these days. Her first was at dinnertime as we were helping her eat and she told my husband who was feeding her a bite (for some reason she is asking us to feed her), “Mommy do it!” The sweetest phrase came from her today as I was rocking her before nap. I told her it was time to go to sleep and her face turned into the saddest pout and she said “Want G—-!” The girls do not nap in the same room since G. only naps about 1/3 of the days.

I am so glad that they have such affection for each other, even if it means they spend too long falling asleep at night because they are talking and giggling. They also fight and pester each other, but they have more fun and games or even cause trouble together than discord between each other. And as we have been transitioning that which has helped the girls the most has been the things that have stayed the same between the two homes from toys, to furniture, to the meals I cook. The most important constant for them has been each other, and I am so thankful that my girls have a life-long friend in each other.

On Helpful One Year Olds

I think I may have been fooling myself recently into believing that L. was going to be The Helpful Child. Especially at 18 months now when she started gathering shoes and bringing them to the proper owner whenever we were going somewhere, trying to put laundry away, gathering library books when G. ignored my request, etc. Then I started thinking about how G. was always super helpful before L. was born, especially with the dishwasher and groceries and is not very motivated to do anything chore related now that she is three. Cleaning up toys is always a fight, no matter which child it is. And sometimes I catch L. purposely drooling on furniture or the floor and then running to get a kitchen towel to dry her mess. So maybe she is not really trying too help at all, but just exploring how to grow up.

So, is the one year old toddler age truly a helpful age or do I have a chance at having a helpful second daughter who might be happy to change diapers in a few years?

P.S. G. is still helpful in some ways, like throwing diapers away or picking up her food scraps off the floor, but not with the same enthusiasm. 🙂

On the Feelings of Toys

G. loses her Bunny and Bear for various reasons based on her misbehavior. Today she was allowed to have Bear, but not Bunny.

When I offered Bear to her she said,”Bunny will be sad without Bear!” They spend their time apart from her in the same spot. I suggested that Bear stay with Bunny then. Normally, she says that she wants him anyway and seems to forget about Bunny’s feelings, but today was different.

“I will give him a hug, and then he can go back to Bunny.”

So, I brought her Bear, she gave him a huge hug, and sent him back to his companion in the taken-away-toy-holding-spot.

I am glad she is learning to share her favorite things, even if it is just with other toys. Though I am pretty sure if it had been one of her friends that wanted Bear, it would have been a different story…

It’s Been Awhile…

Yes, I did drop off the face of blogspot into what is called the first trimester of pregnancy. And the way I approach blogging is if I don’t have something that will impress the whole room to say, than I never take the time to say it. Please compare me to Elizabeth Bennet or Mr. Darcy, or both, in this approach.

Anyway, I am eagerly awaiting the end of nausea and a bit more energy in the next couple of weeks and am going to post because it has been so long, whether I impress anybody or not. The last month has been pretty insane. G, gave up her naptime, but still retreats into quiet time every afternoon, which makes me realize how much I love the quiet of the afternoon. The girls keep each other up for an hour every night instead of falling asleep of late, but whatever, at least they are in their room. And in the middle of the not falling asleep shenanigans that go on, G. bounced out of her bed and broke her wrist. Oh boy! A cast for at least three weeks and she is already sick of it; it’s been three days. Also, I am now married to a doctor of philosophy, which meant that for the past two weeks I was trying to read a 375 page dissertation before I attend my husband’s defense. This lead to strange pregnancy dreams of not finishing in time and that sense of dread I used to get back in school when I was afraid I would not have time to finish my homework. I failed to finish, and did not get to go anyway since I was getting my daughter put in a cast. Plus, there were Easter preparations and trying to find food I can eat without feeling sick.

I found a new thing that makes my stomach turn today: watching my one year old squish up cheese. I am really glad I savored the non-pregnant 15 months I had after L. was born. Babies are a blessing, but pregnancy really does take a lot of energy. I was thinking, if we have twelve kids, I am almost a quarter of the way through first trimesters!

Oh and I am the proud winner of about 15 games of Sudoku on the iPad. I finally braved the game and discovered the way to reason it out. It is addicting. This also means there are 15 fewer blog posts on this blog.

That’s about it. But I promise that I will soon write and amazing comparison between Jean De Brunhoff’s Babar the King and a reading from my husbands Catholic social teaching class. Thanks for reading…

The Imagination of an Almost Three Year Old

I am about to be the mother of a three year old. Three years ago today I was a day overdue with G. She came 8 days late. So, once I realized she was going to be late I decided to read all of Jane Austen’s novels before she was born. I got through 3.5 of 5 novels.

Now, G. has had these animals as her sleeping buddies for as long as she can remember:

The white rabbit is called “Bunny”. He is 3 years and two months old, since I got him at a shower two months before G.’s birth. He has had multiple surgeries. G. likes to chew on him. Yes, those are patches on his feet wear she destroyed the bottoms of his feet so that the beads would fall out and then got very upset about them falling out and needed him repaired. One foot led to the other, since he had to “match”. He has a new mouth and a wrinkled repaired nose.

The blue bear is called “Bear” (yes, we are so creative). I got him as a gift when I graduated high school. In our first apartment her was packed a way in a box of things we did not want to give away yet. When we moved we went through the box, and G. discovered him. He matched a bear in a book we had, and she was amazed. He has survived unscathed except for his ribbon. It used to be silver. I found him after one nap without a ribbon and a long silver thread. When I gave him that new white ribbon I had in my sewing things, Bunny got a ribbon as well.

The latest adventures of Bunny and Bear happened today. They are now babies. G. has a fluffy pink stuffed bunny and a fluffy white stuffed bear that are their parents. G. is very upset, crying tears, whenever the babies are separated from their parents. At naptime, she wanted all of them together. We don’t let her sleep with any animals except Bunny and Bear, so I told her “no”, but if she wished I could put Bunny and Bear in the toys with their “parents.” This was not an acceptable arrangement. However, the two babies continued to cause trouble and were removed from the naptime, which is how I got the still shot above. At any rate, I felt bad suppressing the imagination, but it did seem important to convince her that they were just toys and she did not need to fuss over their “feelings” of being separated from first their “parents” and then from herself. She was out of control crying about them, so I calmed her down, got her to rest, and she is fine now. So are the stuffed toys.

My thought about this however, is that maybe I am teaching her not to be attached to material things and not to get all worked up about them? If it is taught gently and sternly and she becomes peaceful about it, I hope that it will make her a more disciplined and eventually virtuous person. Don’t get me wrong, I love her imagination; it just needs a little of her self control and parental aide to allow her to nap and such so she is not crabby and fussing all day. Any thoughts?

How Liberal Education Can Continue Even When You Are The Mother Of Small Children: Part Two The Intellectual Life

I was the kid who preferred reading novels all day to playing outside or with toys, or even watching tv. I would escape for hours into a novel, and as soon as that was finished pick up another. Most things I read were not great literature, but as my excellent high school guided me in my reading choices, I became more selective. In college I was a part of the honors Great Books program, and slowly learned to become a scholar. My final degrees of choice were theology and philosophy, and through several inspiring yet academically rigorous professors I learned how to do research and write a good paper. My then fiancé and I both decided to take a summer and school year to work on our Masters degrees, I chose theology and he philosophy. That year was very formative. I realized that I truly enjoyed the intellectual rigor of studying the liberal arts, the one I studied being theology. Once I graduated the studying ceased. I discussed prayer last week, here I want to discuss continuing the intellectual life.

The first thing to do is READ. However, since time is so precious, one has to be particular about what to read. I spent much of my first pregnancy immersed in classic novels, and then if you go back a few years on this blog you can see my feeble attempts to “get something out of them.” I was not very good at reading more than fiction after four years of intense study at the university, but I read the occasional history and essay. My husband continually encourages me to read philosophy and theology. It helped that there were several books he wanted me to read. I have read a quarter of his dissertation. He convinced me to start the Summa Theologica during my second pregnancy. I made it a few questions in. I am also reading the assigned readings for his class on Catholic Social Teaching this semester, and am in the midst of a good novel. The point is to make good choices about what you read and take the time to do it. I do most of my reading after the kids are in bed, and sometimes I can do a little when they are playing together (though that time is usually for housework or playing with them).

The next thing I do is TALK. I talk to my husband, of course. It helps that my best friend whom I live with loves great books, theology, and of course philosophy. It did take several years of marriage for me to realize how important it was to him that I converse with him about what he is currently researching and about what I am reading. It is really good for our friendship and marriage when we keep up with each other in an intellectual way. I also am blessed with friends from college who are geeks like me and read classic novels. These we discuss via phone. But having people who share your interests to talk to really helps.

The last thing I do is to write this blog. I am determined to write one more intellectual post a week about some of my reading or based in conversations I have had. My husband likes to write ideas in a journal. He also gets paid to think, so that helps him. But as a stay at home mom, reading, talking, and writing is a big struggle and it is a challenge to make it a priority.

Making the effort to do these three things has helped me find balance in my life, and keeps me happy. The intellectual life is as essential to my life as regular prayer and regular exercise, and it make my husband happy. Knowing these things about myself, I also know that I really have to work at it. It is not easy to develop the habits, but it is possible even while taking care of small children and a home. I know it make me a better mother and wife, and when I get bombarded with questions about God or life by an almost three year old I feel confident in my answer and pleased to be beginning a liberal education for my children.

How A Liberal Education Can Continue Even When You Are the Mother of Small Children: Part One Prayer

I remember how it was my first year out of college; I had just gotten married and had my first child before that first year was up. I was thrilled to read whatever I wanted to read and claimed pregnant brain whenever my husband tried to bring me into an intellectual discussion. I confess that I was jealous for about two days when he went back to school for graduate work in the fall and I was at home with morning sickness. After G. was born and the realities of parenting hit me, I really started to miss my old intellectual life of graduate school, studying in the library, going out after dinner, etc. While I was a pregnant, we continued to go to daily Mass, go to Eucharistic Adoration, frequent confession, and had a full prayer life; similar to college. When I was stuck at home without a car and a newborn on my lap, none of this seemed possible. But, as my loving husband always does, he pointed out to me the ways I was unhappy and the ways I could become better, and I realized I needed to make a change.
I decided to sacrifice ten minutes of nap time for doing whatever I did during nap time for prayer time. I discovered that God can hear me even if I don’t go to Adoration in His Real Presence. Because, get this, while the Eucharist is amazing, wonderful, and so necessary for the Sacramental life, we still have Jesus in our hearts where ever we go. And He is in our children, and our husbands. He is also everywhere, and God holds us in existence moment to moment, constantly sustaining us. During my prayer time I read Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis De Sales. It is such a practical prayer book, divided into short but pungent sections that teach you how to pray always and takes into account every state in life. While I do not follow the advice to wake up and pray for an hour before the household is awake, I have taken up many of the smaller less time consuming ways to pray and be mindful of God throughout my day. Now I no longer use nap time, but just after the kids bedtime, and get this, my husband and I take this time together. Also we try to have one of us go to Adoration every week, so that we each get to go every other week. When you spend the whole day with little kids, the solace of Eucharistic Adoration is pretty amazing.
Another thing I resumed after my first child was several months old, was to make daily Mass a priority. My first reason was that she was up before 8 am everyday, so why not go to Mass? When my second was born and I was not physically capable of going daily, I remember how I felt the graces of all the Masses I had gone to before I have birth sustaining me day to day. And now thinking about it, my reason is not because the kids are up, but because it is God I encounter at Mass every morning (when I get myself up to go) and it is totally worth it to wake up 45 minutes before my kids so that I can take them to Mass most days to experience Christ’s sacrifice extending throughout time and space to the very altar in our church.
The third thing I have been able to do even while having little kids is frequent Confession. St. Francis De Sales recommends weekly confession, and some weeks I wish I did. My husband and I aim for every two weeks; we make this work by going to different churches’ Saturday confession times that are different by 30 minutes. He goes to one church’s scheduled confession time, and when he gets home I have just enough time to get to the other one early. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is by far the best way to learn where you can be better in day to day life, and where you fail to be the best wife, mom, friend, daughter, sister, etc. you can be. This Sacrament is such a gift! In this Sacrament, we can know our failings, be forgiven for them (wiped clean!), and then be given the grace to become holier! What more can a woman want?
The point of this essay is to show how stay at home mothers do not have to give up ate daily Sacramental life of the Church; they just have to discover how to fit it into the new life that is quite different from the liberal arts educational experience.
Next week: Part Two The Intellectual Life

A Song for Mothers (and everybody!)

“Nothing Without You” by Bebo Norman is a song that I have always felt drawn to and it has applied to my life differently throughout my life. I heard it today, and it really spoke to me about the mother and wife I am called to be. You can watch the video below that has the lyrics, but I will also post them below and write about how they affected me.

Take these hands and lift them up
For I have not the strength to praise You near enough
See I have nothing, I have nothing without You

I have always thought of raising hands in praise when I heard these lines, but today I thought of how I use my hands. What I do with my hands is also a way to praise God, and the love I have when using my hands can offer my activities to him.

Everything a mother does for her family involves her hands; praying, holding, changing diapers, dressing, washing children, washing dishes, cleaning the home, etc. But a mother and wife does not have the strength to do all of this without God’s love and grace, and it can wear her down and make her unhappy. God will keep a mother strong.

Take my voice and pour it out
Let it sing the songs of mercy I have found
For I have nothing, I have nothing without You

I can sing songs of praise to God and tell others of his love and mercy, but what I say to others, how I say it to others, what I say about others reflects this even more. The way a wife speaks to her husband, the way she asks him to do something, what she chooses to say first thing in the morning or when he walks in the door from work all are an offering to God and all can bring more love or hurt to the home. The way a mother speaks to her children when they misbehave or do good acts or simply get into trouble all bring glory to God or not. If I am unkind in the way I speak, my voice is not bringing God glory, but if I have patience and kindness in my voice even when reprimanding this is an act of love.

All my soul needs
Is all Your love to cover me
So all the world will see
That I have nothing without You

A wife and mother needs to be covered in the love of God in order to live out what she is called to do. My mother prayed for me yesterday that God’s love would overflow out of me into the way I loved my children; I think this chorus reflects that idea. And when we pour love into our family, the world does see, and the world is given hope.

Take my body and build it up
May it be broken as an offering of love
For I have nothing, I have nothing without You

I think this speaks the most to me as a wife and mother; the daily grind really involves the whole body. And for children, a mother’s body really is broken as an offering of love; in this way we reflect Christ. It is done to a mother when she accepts the call to be one throughout pregnancy, the pains of labor, the giving birth, and then her choices to breastfeed, and nurture her children through naps, bedtimes, feedings, and play times. But still she has nothing without God and his mercy and love.

I also love the line asking God to build up one’s body; it shows the glory that God gives to nature and the beauty in our bodies despite our falleness.

All my soul needs
Is all Your love to cover me
So all the world will see
That I have nothing
But I love You

With all my heart
With all my soul
With all my mind
With all the strength that I can find

And here we remember that our actions are rooted in our heart, soul, and mind. Our actions affect them and they affect our actions. We need God to help us love and serve. And we need to take time for prayer, for praying asks God for His grace, praises him, and keeps Him foremost in one’s heart, mind, and soul throughout the day. I am always happier when I remember to pray while doing mundane tasks like putting the kids down for naps and cooking and washing.

“With all my mind.” I particularly need to spend my time doing things that will help me think about good things, and loving things. What I do during my free time stays in my mind and affects my heart and my soul and my actions. I know I personally want to use my mind for more than taking care of children; and struggle for the discipline to discipline my mind.

Take my time here on this earth
And let it glorify all that You are worth
For I am nothing,
I am nothing without You

I am nothing without God, and my time on earth is for Him. And as a wife and mother, I also am called to help my husband and children glorify God with their lives as well.

On Some Surprises of Motherhood

One of the things that surprised me the most after the birth of my daughter G., was the amount of time it took for me to recover from giving birth to her and the physical change from being to pregnant to being not pregnant. I will not go into to many details here, but the changes consist of pushing a large head through a small opening with a muscle one does not generally use after spending hours contracting this muscle to get the baby low enough and after the child is born their is a complete change in hormones in the mother’s body. So, anyway, I guess I expected to give birth and be as strong and healthy as I was before delivery. After all I had been taking 30-45 minute walks 4 times a week up through the day I went into labor, and had been jogging until my 6th month of pregnancy. I was healthy and fit, so why couldn’t I pop the baby out and go on with life as usual?

I discovered that there is a reason one does not see a new mom and her baby very often after birth. Part of it is the pediatrician recommends keeping the baby away from people who may be sick for the first 6 weeks. Another reason includes that I was not allowed to drive for 2 weeks after delivery, or even take a walk. Really, all I wanted was have my energy back, and I did not have much energy at all. That was what was most frustrating, was that I wanted to be doing things and going places and was not allowed to and did not have the energy to do so. One might think that I would have been happy to sleep all day with the baby, but I was not.

So, finally about 6-8 weeks after delivery, I started feeling normal again. I understand now why it would be difficult for someone who did not think abortion was wrong to choose to have a baby that they were not expecting. It is a huge life change–even if one gave the baby up for adoption there still is the recovery from the labor. (Also, a postpartum body is never the same as it was before.) I am not saying that I support any decision to take a human life, I just think I have a bit more sympathy for someone who is ignorant of the truth of these matters. Further, it shows me how important it is to have children within the context of a loving marriage of a husband and wife. I depended on M. for many things after the birth of our daughter, even the simplest physical needs like getting something to drink. It does take a family to raise a child; parenthood is not easy. (Though it seems that some dads think it is a lot easier than they were expecting.)

Despite all of the difficulty surrounding bringing a child into the world, I cannot imagine my life differently. Children are such a blessing and a joy! It is amazing to see my daughter learn new things, to see her learn how to roll over, somehow maneuver herself a couple feet across the floor through her squirming, to bond with her as I feed her, to cuddle with her in bed, and to see her smile at me or even the stranger across the room. The funny thing is, now only 16 weeks postpartum, whenever I see a pregnant woman, I really want to be pregnant again–I guess motherhood is just as or even more fulfilling as I thought it would be.