Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Journeying to Bethlehem (or around my house)

It's probably no surprise that I'm no fan of the Elf on the Shelf. We don't "do" Santa in our house (we tell Nate that he's a fun story based on the real Saint Nicholas, but we don't try to convince him that Santa really lives at the North Pole or brings him gifts on Christmas).

I don't have any big problem with Santa Claus as a fun Christmastime tradition. We decided to forego him only because our faith will require that we ask Nate to believe a lot of seemingly unbelievable things, and we want him to know that when we do tell him something, he can always count on it to be the truth. There are ways to deal with this, obviously, and I don't begrudge anyone their Santa fun.

But I do get pretty annoyed at people who use the man in red as a threat against their children ("You'd better be good or Santa won't bring you any presents!"), and I get particularly annoyed at people who tell my child that Santa isn't going to visit him if he's naughty. (My neighbor last week. Ahem.)

And that's why the Elf annoys me. Although many families (maybe yours!) who have bought Elves don't use them as an all-seeing eye for jolly old Saint Nick, according to the product website the entire point of this purported "Christmas tradition" (dating back to the good old days of 2005!) is to tell your children that the Elf reports their behavior back to Santa, thereby inspiring the kids to be good for at least one month out of the year.

Rosie over at Like Mother, Like Daughter has a rant on this topic that had me nodding my head in agreement. I want Nate to learn to want to be good and do good, not due to threats or punishments, but because he loves other people and loves God and wants to please Him. The Catechism tells us that "The New Law is called a law of love because it makes us act out of the love infused by the Holy Spirit, rather than from fear . . ." (CCC 1972).

It's like that scene in The Break-Up when Brooke tells Gary, "I want you to want to do the dishes!" (Bad language warning on that clip.) It's not, contrary to his response, that she expects him to enjoy doing dishes; rather, she wants him to love her enough that he wants to do things that make her happy. We all have that innate sense that grudging good behavior isn't the same thing as good behavior motivated by love or kindness. So even though there are times of desperation when I'll take good behavior from Nate motivated by anything at all--hence my relentless use of the iPhone to keep him happy during restaurant meals--I don't want to bring a toy into our home that teaches him year after year throughout his childhood that the reason to be good is the fear of a gift-less Christmas morning.

I also think that the Elf looks vaguely creepy.

However. I recognize that it's lots of fun for children to wake up each morning and wonder where they'll find their Elf hiding out that day, and I have to appreciate the creative vignettes that some moms are coming up with for their Elf each day. (As long as those vignettes don't involve the Elf doing things we wouldn't want our children to do. I can't understand why this is encouraged! Why would you want the Elf to show your kids that making messes is funny?)

So in the grand tradition (dating back to waaaaaaay before 2005) of taking the good from something and adapting it to fit your needs, in our family, Mary and Joseph are journeying around the house this Advent on their way to Bethlehem.

This morning they showed us the importance of good dental hygiene.

And yesterday they took a little puzzle break on their journey.

Now, our Mary and Joseph--which come from this lovely and child-friendly nativity set--aren't poseable, so I'm a bit limited in what they can do. But Nate and I are both enjoying his looking for them each day, and they give us a nice opportunity to discuss the real Christmas story. It's a win-win, I'd say.

(And now I'll be hiding from everyone who thinks I'm a Grinch for hating the Elf.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

The limbo week

Years during which the first of November falls on a Thursday are the weirdest years. Thanksgiving, always the fourth Thursday of November, falls as early as it possibly can, and Christmas falls on a Tuesday, making Advent almost as short as it can possibly be. And so there's this weird in-between time, this limbo between the start of the secular "Christmas season" and the season during which Christians traditionally prepared their hearts for the actual Christmas season, before retailers and consumerism hijacked all of December and most of November, all the better to ply their wares.

Man, do I sound like a Grinch. For my next trick, I'll start shouting at people to get off my liturgical lawn or something.

The problem, if we get right down to it, is that I like--really, really like--the flurry of festivity and bustle that leads up to Christmas Day. And so even though I could put my foot down and refuse to listen to Christmas music or put up my decorations until much later in December, I don't want to. Because if I forced myself and my family into liturgical purity--anticipating and preparing for Christ's birth during Advent and celebrating it only during the liturgical Christmas season, we'd all miss out on a heck of a lot of fun. And seriously, I don't want to be the stodgy, dour Catholic church lady who refuses to let her kid attend pre-Christmas Christmas parties or watch Christmas movies when they air on TV or whatever. Our faith is a faith of joy, and it just feels like there's no joy in taking holiday counter-culturalism to that extreme.

(Also! Also! Have you ever tried not listening to Christmas music during Advent? If you do, you'll notice that almost none of the secular Christmas songs make any sense once Christmas Day has come and gone. They're all forward-looking: "Soon it will be Christmas day." "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas." "Santa Claus is coming to town." Religious Christmas music is perfectly wonderful all through the liturgical Christmas season, as one would expect, because it celebrates rather than anticipates the day itself: "Joy to the world, the Lord is come!" "O come let us adore Him." "Born is the King of Israel." If I shun all Christmas music until Christmas, it's impossible to really enjoy anything but the religious music--and I love the secular stuff, too.)

And so every year, I find myself fretting about how to properly balance the spiritual needs of what is supposed to be a penitential, preparatory season (less rigorous than Lent, but penitential nonetheless) with the understandable desire to enjoy the fun while everyone else is celebrating.

I'll post our Advent plans later this week. (Frankly, I'm exceedingly pleased with myself this year for having actually purchased Advent candles early. I'm typically scrambling to find them the Saturday before Advent begins.) If you're a Catholic or a Christian who observes the liturgical seasons, I'd love to hear how you balance your spiritual preparation for Christmas with the multitude of fun activities that occur throughout December.

For the moment, during this in-between week, I'm stubbornly leaving my fall pumpkins on the front porch and burning my Harvest candles in the house. I'm trying to get as much Christmas gift shopping done as possible, so that Advent is a little less stressful and a little more spiritual. And I'm taking a deep breath in these waning days of Ordinary Time, preparing for the Preparation, and enjoying the quiet moments before the hustle and bustle begin in earnest.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Heart in a Box

Y'all, the amount of kid stuff we have accumulated is giving me hives. I don't know what to do with it. And my son isn't even three years old.

I'm not sure that my problem is a problem that very many people have. I mean, we all know that typical American families with kids acquire a lot of stuff, much of it large and plastic and decked out in obnoxiously bright colors. I think we're doing better than most in that regard, actually, because we have very few large-ish toys, and we don't have any area of the house where toys and kid clutter have taken over.

But this isn't a post about clutter or organization. It's more about having perfectly useful and lovely outgrown baby and toddler items that we should either keep or give away, and I can't figure out which to do. I get the sense that most families either (1) keep having kids and therefore keep getting use out of all that kid stuff they've acquired, or, probably more commonly, (2) come to a decided-upon end point for having more children, at which time they divest themselves of the various child-rearing accoutrements.

So what happens to the folks who want more children, when the additional kids just aren't happening? What's a reasonable amount of time to wait before selling/donating/handing off that pricey baby swing, or the stack of bibs, or the mountains of outgrown clothing?

Right now we just keep on accumulating, boxing up the outgrown and praying we need it again. We've been able to lend big items like Nate's bassinet, swing, infant car seat, Bumbo seat, and the like. But, one by one, each item has found its way back into my garage. Those kids, man. They just insist on growing up so quickly.

Letting go of the baby stuff right now feels like giving up hope. Like admitting defeat. Which is ironic, because in most ways I feel far, far more at peace with our situation than I have in a long time.  Truly, I do. And I've jokingly said, more than once, that we'll probably hold onto this stuff for years, finally give up and give it away, and then end up with a surprise miracle pregnancy. Which would be great! We'll take a baby any time! And we'd laugh about God's sense of humor and sense of timing and would rest assured that we really didn't need all that stuff, anyway.

Because, in the end, it really is all just stuff. It's not as if God would withhold another child because we had the gall to sell the Jumperoo. My head knows that fact just fine. But my heart's hope still feels wrapped up in boxes of tiny clothes packed away in the basement.

I'm not ready to let them go just yet.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Oh, kid.

As we entered Nate's third year, there were two looming parenting tasks that I'd been positively dreading. The first was transitioning him from a crib--where he'd always been perfectly happy--to a bed, and the second was potty training. And suddenly I find myself having completed both of these tasks with essentially no drama at all. (Well, it's a huge overstatement to say that potty training is "complete," but aside from inevitable regressions, I'd say the worst is behind us.) I'm left sort of shaking my head and waiting for the other shoe to drop, because, seriously, that's it? But here we are.

We never had the baby-on-the-way pressure that forces many parents to move a kid out of a crib, and Nate had always been very happy in his. He did learn back in February how to climb out of a Pack-n-Play, which made our trip to Arwen's more eventful than I would have liked, but we handled it. (Also making the trip too eventful? Linus's many days in the hospital and Nate's overnight admission there. Boo.)

He'd never tried to climb out of his crib at home, even after he climbed out of the Pack-n-Play, until one day in May, he did. I promptly panicked, because what were we going to do?????, and we had one napless day and one rough night during which David slept with Nate on a double mattress on the floor beside the empty crib. The next morning, the crib came down, child-proof knob covers went over his bedroom and closet doors to keep him in his room and out of the closets at naptime and bedtime, and . . . that was kind of it. We started with the double mattress and box spring right on the floor, but put them up on a bed frame when it became clear that Nate wasn't a roller. And aside from some inevitable messes in his room when he's fighting sleep--I've replaced all of the books on his bookshelf more times than I'd care to count--it's been a total non-event. He just . . . started sleeping in a bed. Huh.

Ditching the diapers was something I figured had to be a challenge. Nate had used the toilet or a little Bjorn potty on occasion ever since we vacationed last August with some friends whose daughter had just potty trained. For months, he's been able to run around the house for hours naked or pants-less with his potty nearby, and always manage to avoid accidents. Put him in pants or underwear, though, and all that self-control went out the window.

I foresaw weeks or months of frustration and messes, and so while we occasionally let Nate wear underwear around the house as an exercise in hey-let's-see-how-this-goes, I had no real plan for making the switch full-time.

Last Saturday, though, he somehow figured out, on his own, how to pull down his shorts and underwear at the necessary time, and so David and I decided to just go with it. He's been in underwear all the time since then, except when he's in bed, and has had fewer accidents in seven days than I can count on one hand. And he's been out, too--to the National Mall, to multiple restaurants, to a museum, and to watch fireworks on July 4th.

Mostly, we've been watching him like a hawk when we're out and asking him ad infinitum whether he needed to go. Today, though, I took him out to lunch, and he told me when he needed to use the bathroom. What started as sort of a random experiment to see whether he could do okay, sometimes in underwear has--through practically no effort on my part--turned in to an essentially-potty-trained kid. 

And it's the "kid" part that's got me flabbergasted. Suddenly the last trappings of babyhood--the crib and the diapers--are basically gone, and there's no question that we're the parents of a full-fledged kid. An amazing, bright, funny, sweet, bouncing-off-the-walls kid.

It's pretty awesome.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sometimes I just need a reminder

When you're Catholic, and you regularly hang around with Catholics, you see families with a lot of little kids. I feel like it's somewhat less prevalent in my area, because so many couples get married on the later side and have less time to have really big families, but it's still not uncommon to see families with four, five, six kids around here.

It sometimes makes me feel like a bit of a fraud. I only have experience with this one kid. I only know how to deal with his sleep, his moods, his food preferences, his behavior, his little quirks. By the time moms have three, four, five kids, it seems like they've seen it all. They handle kid phases with relative ease--or at least without freaking out completely--because they've handled them before. In my mind, they've built up this vast supply of Mommy Street Cred, and if we're being honest, I sometimes feel inadequate as a mother by comparison.

So I think it's important to remind myself that this lady, Our Lady, the model of perfect motherhood, had one child.
The Holy Family? It looked a lot more like mine than like those big families in my parish directory.
And this guy? He reminds me that only children are nothing to sneeze at.
Now, I'm not comparing myself to the Blessed Mother or my son to Our Lord or my family to the Holy Family. Not by a hundred thousand miles. Nor am I criticizing big families. To the contrary; I think they are beautiful witnesses of generosity and openness to life.

But openness to life doesn't necessarily equal a big family, and that can sting. So when I'm surrounded by the big families, where children and love and evidence of God's blessings abound? When I feel less like a mother than the woman in the next pew expertly wrangling five children? It helps to remember that there's no shame in Just One.

No shame at all.

{Images from monasteryicons.com}

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Sad, still.

Every time I think about writing something here, I tell myself that I should wait until I have something happier to say. Who wants to read that you're still upset that you can't get pregnant? That somehow, nearly a year later, you're still reeling from a miscarriage at only six weeks along? Do you know how many people have it infinitely worse than you do? Do yo have any idea how many people would give their right arm to have your life?

And so a month goes by--more, even--and the blog sits neglected, because I can't manage to pull the words of happiness out of my brain and get them onto the screen.

* * * * *

Like seemingly every thirty-something woman in America, I watched season two of Downton Abbey earlier this year. Between swooning and then fretting over Bates and Anna, rooting for Mary, and rolling my eyes at Thomas, a brief exchange of dialogue punched me in the gut:

Will you be happy?

I have no right to be unhappy, which is almost the same.

I have no right to be unhappy. This is exactly how I feel. There's this voice in my head positively screaming at me to buck up, count my blessings, and move the hell on with life already. 
Arwen talked the other day about failing to give herself credit for handling difficult things, because there's always someone else out there who has it worse. She's always willing to give me a gentle reminder--as did A'Dell, last night--that the things I'm dealing with actually are hard, and that it's okay to cut myself some slack and just be sad.

It's one thing, of course, to acknowledge that one's sadness is legitimate, and I feel like I'm making progress on that front. Yes, life with one child is infinitely preferable to life with no children. Yes, a miscarriage at six weeks isn't as devastating as a second- or third-trimester miscarriage, or a stillbirth, or the death of a born child.** But infertility and miscarriage are heavy burdens, nonetheless, and it's acceptable--understandable, even--to grieve.  

Still, it's another thing, a harder thing, to find a way through the grief and back to a place of joy. This is where I have to admit that I need some help, and that gratitude lists and mental pep talks aren't going to cut it. Why does it feel like such a failing to seek for myself the kind of help that I'd recommend to anyone I love? 

Part of it may be that I manage to get through my life just fine. My son is well cared-for. My refrigerator is stocked. Dinner gets made. Laundry gets done. My house is clean (enough). I get up and get showered and put on makeup and decent clothes, and I'd venture to guess that no one who saw me out in public would suspect anything was amiss. It's just that I feel like I'm wearing this heavy blanket of sadness. I actually feel it, the weight of it pressing down on my shoulders, my arms, the top of my head. Tears well up in my eyes without warning, in unguarded moments when I get too quiet. David will call me from work and ask how I am, and too often I have to tell him I have the "can't help-its," our shorthand for feeling sucker-punched on what should by all accounts be a perfectly fine day.

I guess there's a part of me that thinks people who really need help are those who can't get up off the couch, or who can't enjoy their children, or who in some obvious, external way are completely falling apart. I don't know that I'd ever be one of those people. What I do know is that if I were a person who loved me--and shouldn't I be?--I'd tell myself to get some professional help.

Seems like good advice.

** Devastating in comparison from an emotional perspective. Of course I believe, as a moral matter, that all life is sacred from the moment of conception. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mid-winter Monday

The sun is shining brightly today, and at Emily's suggestion we bundled up the kids and headed to the National Zoo for what turned out to be my favorite zoo experience ever.

The national zoo is spread out over a gigantic hillside, and in warm weather it's incredibly hot and crowded and generally annoying, especially when you're pushing 50 pounds of kid and stroller up that hill. Today, though, it was cold enough to be practically deserted, and it was so great to give Nate some freedom to run around and look at the animals without worrying that he'd get lost in the crowd. We took it easy and didn't try to see too much before bailing for nap time, and it was just so great to be outside for a little while. We've been too cooped up.

* * * * *

February is going to be a challenging month, in some respects. David will be traveling several times for work, which always puts Nate on edge. I'm going to give myself permission to eat junk food and buy a couple of On Demand movies, and I'm going to be sure to set up lots of play dates. 

I'm a little worried that being on my own so much will throw a kink in my dinner-making streak. Y'all, I have been kicking dinner's rear. But it's one thing to bother cooking for myself and David, and quite another to bother cooking only for myself. (Unfortunately, Nate hardly eats what I cook.) I think I might scrap the regular meal plan when David's gone and just make really easy things for myself, like loaded baked potatoes and spaghetti with jarred sauce.

Nate and I are also planning to DRIVE to Michigan to see Arwen and Bryan and the kids. It sounds a little insane to propose that driving by myself with a two year old might be preferable to flying by myself with a two year old, and maybe it won't be. But I'm pretty intimidated at the thought of wrangling his car seat onto a plane and setting it up alone, and I'm convinced he's too wriggly to stay put in his own seat with just a lap belt. 

When I initially thought about driving, I'd thought that if he's loud in the car, at least I'm not getting death stares from other passengers. And then I realized that Pittsbugh--where my in-laws live--is exactly halfway between my house and Arwen's. And suddenly it dawned on me that two five-hour legs with a grandparent visit in between seemed infinitely do-able, and that driving would provide a lot more flexibility in the event of a snowstorm or something. (NOT looking likely with the 50-plus degree weather we've been having on the regular around here.) It also helps, of course, that driving is a lot cheaper than paying for two plane tickets plus the inevitable baggage fees. So we're going to go for it!

* * * * *

The biggest thing I'm worried about both with regard to the trip and to David being away is Nate's sleep. He's gone from being a kid who consistently slept through the night to one who frequently wakes at least once. He often ends up in our bed for at least a little while, though he rarely falls back asleep there. Instead, he wants one of us to go and rock him in his room until he's good and ready to go back into his crib . . . which sometimes takes quite a while. 

I've read that there can be a sleep regression somewhere during age two, and often around 27 months, which is right where he has been during this recent hiccup. Last night he woke up around 1:00, fussed a bit, and put himself back to sleep, only to wake again just after three and spend the rest of the night in our bed. (It would be sort of sweet if he didn't force both of us to pretty much hug the edges of the mattress.)

It's NOTHING like when he was an infant, when I positively dreaded bedtime, not knowing how quickly and how often I'd be roused from sleep. But it's reached the point where I lack any confidence in sleeping uninterrupted. 

Let's hope he sleeps well tonight, friends.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


We got the tree and all the Christmas decorations down on Sunday afternoon, and I immediately felt better about the State of my House. It's not that it was truly messy or cluttered with the decorations up, but we had reached the point where all I thought about when I looked at them was the fact that the task of taking them down still loomed ahead of me, and dread is not the feeling one should experience when gazing upon the Holiday Cheer.

Plus the tree goes right in front of one of the windows in our great room, where I spend almost all of my time, and between the light it blocks from outside and the fact that David likes to unscrew the recessed light above the tree, it was feeling a little dark and closed-in. (Which is difficult in our house. We have a LOT of windows. A LOT.)

Now it feels to me like January Proper, which means it's time to think about all the things I'd like to improve or accomplish this year. The thing I'd like most out of 2012--to have another baby--is pretty much completely out of my control, so let's focus on things I can actually manage, shall we?

Eat dinner at home more often. And I don't mean takeout at the kitchen table. We spend an absurd amount of money on restaurant food, and it's just unnecessary. Although I don't hate cooking, I do hate thinking about what to eat, making grocery lists, and procuring food. (What a freaking first-world problem, right?) To combat my inherent tendency to freeze up like a deer in the headlights when confronted with the question of what to cook in any given week, I've eliminated the weekly planning part completely. Instead, I've made myself a Google doc with two charts, each with four weeks' worth of meals, five meals per week. One of the charts is filled with fall/winter meals, and the other with dinners more appropriate for spring/summer. Between leftovers and still allowing ourselves one restaurant night per week, I imagine I'll really need to pick only four out of the five every week. But the planning? It's done--for the year. A four-week rotation seems more than sufficient to avoid boredom, and I already arranged it so that there aren't, say, three soups or three Mexican-type dishes in the same week. 

I am far too excited about my meal chart, and it has already made the grocery list-making so much easier.

Read the entire Bible. I've been meaning to do this for years, and for some reason just never got around to it. I even bought one of those one-year Bibles (organized into daily readings, so it's all out of order), but it didn't work for me. This year, I purchased a Bible for my Kindle and found a Catholic Bible-reading plan (it has to be Catholic, because a Protestant plan wouldn't include all the books we use). I just printed out the plan and folded it up to keep in my Kindle cover. (The plan is available here partway down the page, if you're interested.) It's been really easy so far to just read the chapters for the day when I happen to pick up my Kindle, and I get some geeky satisfaction from being able to check off the day's readings on my list when I'm done.

Those are my only two real "resolutions," I think. I don't want to set myself up to fail. But there are, of course, other things I hope to do in 2012:


More exercise. We joined a local gym last year and hardly ever went. For me, there was the brief pregnancy and then the miscarriage and then being bummed about the miscarriage and then just not being in the habit of going and then being on fertility meds . . . and it just never happened. It was CRAZY, CRAZY cheap to renew for this year, though (seriously, I think it was something like $215 for BOTH of us for the whole year, at a gym with tons of equipment and TVs on the cardio machines and a pool and classes and whatnot), so we did it. I've already been five or six times this year, which is saying something. I've been doing Couch to 5K on the treadmill and not worrying about making myself try to take advantage of all the intimidating strength training machines; it's better to just go and do SOMETHING, even if it's just walking/running on the treadmill. So there's that.

More books, less television. I already do a pretty good job of not watching television mindlessly. We record every show we want to watch, or I watch on Hulu or Netflix, so we don't really do any channel-surfing just to have something on. I still feel like we watch a lot of TV, though, and I'd prefer to rein it in. The Kindle that my parents got me for Christmas works with our local library's e-book lending system, which should help; I've already read Born to Run and am most of the way through The Night Circus--for free! If I could read a book a week, I'd be hugely thrilled with myself. (I can't even imagine how Elizabeth read 180 books last year while raising two kids. Amazing.)

House projects. There are a bunch of things we'd like to get done around the house, from finally getting some furniture in our front room (right now it houses a random collection of Nate's larger toys) to replacing a leaky faucet to getting someone in to diagnose and fix the water stain on our kitchen ceiling to planting vegetables in the backyard. Furniture in the front room is the big one.

Care less what other people think. This is an ongoing struggle for me. I mean, obviously I want to be kind and considerate of other people, and hopefully they will, therefore, find me to be kind and considerate. But I don't want to fret over others' opinions of me, or make decisions for myself or my family that aren't right for us because I'm afraid of what someone might think. This is a toughie, honestly, and I've failed massively at it so far this year. I need a thicker skin, I think.

Blog more. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting something written and hitting "publish." Like now.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Thoughts on a Saturday, and a wonderful surprise

I once heard of a woman who always took down her Christmas decorations on Christmas day. Christmas day! I was appalled when I heard it, although someone quickly explained something about a life tragedy occurring on or just after Christmas that, understandably, cast a pall over the season for her. Under those circumstances, perhaps I'd also want to pack away the cheer as soon as the presents were opened and the dinner dishes cleared.

In my house, it was rumored that it was bad luck to leave the decorations up after the new year. And even though I don't believe in luck, I'd think this ridiculous even if I did. The actual Christmas season, which, of course, pre-dates shopping malls and Santa Claus and stockings and twinkle lights, doesn't even start until Christmas day (well, Christmas Eve night). The Twelve Days are just over, and with Epiphany transferred from January sixth to this Sunday, and the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord bumped to Monday, we technically still have a couple of days of celebrating ahead of us.

I feel a bit ashamed, then, that I'm currently lamenting the continued presence of a fully-decorated tree in my family room, and of assorted adornments scattered through nearly every room of the house.

I hate putting away Christmas.

I feel obligated to leave everything in place through at least the last weekend of the liturgical season, but there's something shiny and new about January that almost always makes me want to shuffle everything red and green back into the closet as soon as possible and eradicate every stray pine needle from my hardwoods. There's the desire to get the task behind me, of course (why is it that decorations so enchanting to put in place are so tedious to put away?), but there's also an impulse to get things back to normal, to make space in my home and in my head to just breathe. Ordinary Time isn't so bad, it turns out.

* * * * *

Something out of the ordinary, though, was the sixty-plus-degree weather we enjoyed today. Such a glorious day positively required time spent outdoors, and we spent ours down by the river, feeding the ducks. (Well, the gulls and geese are more plentiful this time of year, but don't tell Nate that. "Feed ducks" is his refrain whenever he sees a bag of crackers.)

* * * * *
I know quite a few people who aren't comfortable with social media, with blogs, with people choosing to open their lives, to varying degrees, to complete strangers. I suppose I'm just the opposite. I've seen too much of the good that can come from these threads woven through cyberspace, beginning, for me, back when I was an anonymous blogger brokenhearted by infertility. That blog led me to my dearest friend, to her incredible parents, her amazing two brothers and three sisters, to other friends online who have prayed for me and supported me for years now. This blog, started two years later, led me to all the ladies from The Blathering, many of whom were my cheerleaders through pregnancy and a c-section and the sleep-deprived haze of Nate's first year before I ever even met them in person. When I have a parenting conundrum, I ask Twitter, and I know that friends across the country (and in Canada!) will chime in with their best advice. 

Still, though, I'm humbled by the outpouring of support I've received over the last few days just by posting here in my little corner of the internet about a bad experience. In addition to the more than seventy comments across two posts (only two of which were negative, and I think we can all agree that a Catholic who says taking a child to Mass is "bad parenting" is simply a person who cannot be taken seriously), there have been phone calls from family members and college roommates and law school classmates, emails from friends far and near, and a note from Arwen that made me cry (in a good way) (and on stationary that Ashley designed!). 

The most surprising thing, though, arrived on my front porch today.

The package was from an address in California, from a city I'd never heard of before. There was no name above the address, just a message that "Arwen thought you might like this."

It was an entire box full of brightly wrapped, be-ribboned presents, Crappy Day Presents, to be precise, to be opened whenever I'm having, well . . . a day like the ones I had this week.

Turns out that Rachel, a blogger from the other side of the country, read my story and sent a message to Arwen suggesting that I could use a Crappy Day package, and would she mind sharing my address? Rachel has gifted other bloggers, like Swistle, with Crappy Day Packages before, but I'd never heard of such a thing until Arwen explained it to me today. A box of presents to open whenever you're feeling blue! Has there ever been a more genius idea in the history of the world? Others might argue with me here, but on this day, to this girl, the Crappy Day Package feels like the best invention ever. And the fact that it came here, unexpectedly, from another mother who doesn't know me from Adam, just because I was having a hard time . . . . Well, it proves to me the power of this space where we dare to share our lives. There might be a lot of bad out there in cyberspace, but there's kindness and beauty, too.

I couldn't open one today, of course, because today the mere receipt of the Crappy Day Package made it a non-Crappy Day. But, oh, knowing that these little beauties are here, waiting for me when I need them, really and truly does make me feel loved.

All the kindness poured out on me this week reminds me that I'm loved, and that I'm not alone, and that there are amazing, generous, thoughtful people all around me. It reminds me that the good really and truly does outweigh the bad.

So thank you, Rachel. Thank you, everyone. It all means more than I can adequately say.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

It gets worse

Oh, y'all. Thank you so much for the kind and supportive emails, tweets, and comments. They mean so much to me.

Unfortunately, things today have gotten even worse.

I really did have to psych myself up to get to Mass this morning. I tried to do everything I could to make sure Nate would be as calm and quiet as possible: feed him a good breakfast (challenging, because often he'll just refuse to eat much of anything in the mornings), keep him away from any screen time before Mass, and get out the door with plenty of time. I blessed us both with holy water before we left, asking for special graces for good behavior, and on the drive over we prayed (well, I prayed) aloud, including praying for the woman whose unkind comments made yesterday so awful.

And Mass was fine! Good, even, with the exception of the moment walking back to our pew from Communion, when Nate full-on screeched. I made a beeline for the door, but he was quiet by the time we reached it (of course), so I hesitated for a moment to make sure he was really done and then went back to our pew. He was quiet for the post-communion prayer and the final blessing.

I even took it as a good sign that the gospel reading today was John's account of Jesus calling Nathanael to be a disciple.

I didn't see the woman from yesterday, and figured she had been one of a number of people attending with a new priest who was saying a votive Mass for his recently-deceased father. (It's actually a very touching story, which you can read here. The new priest had been a transitional deacon at the parish where I attend daily Mass, and the votive Mass was during the usual weekday Mass, resulting in a mix of jeans-clad daily Mass-goers and black-clad guests.)

I will freely admit that Nate was noisier during yesterday's Mass than he usually is. In fact, I took him out into the vestibule for the entire consecration and through the peace. I have no problem removing my child from Mass when it seems called for. The difficulty, though, as any mother of a young child can attest, is determining when a sudden cry or moment of chatter will disappear as quickly as it came on, in which case a retreat to the vestibule or cry room is counter-productive and actually more distracting. I mean, unless I'm going to spend the entire Mass outside the sanctuary, there will inevitably be some moments of noise that other worshippers will have to endure. It's a matter of discretion, and of balance, and there isn't a linear improvement in day-to-day behavior. It's unpredictable, and it's hard. Unless we want to flat-out exclude children from the Mass, though, it's inevitable.

I would expect that the pastor of this parish** would understand all of this. This parish is absolutely teeming with kids, and has both a preschool and a K-8 school. And so when the pastor pulled me aside after Mass this morning and began with the words, "I'd really like to encourage you," I honestly thought he was about to say something, you know, encouraging.

I was wrong. "I'd really like to encourage you to make use of the gathering space," he said instead, referring to the enormous hallway that surrounds the sanctuary on three sides. We used to sit out there all the time, and Nate sees it as an invitation to run around like a banshee. (Most kids do, it seems. On the rare occasion we've attended this parish on a Sunday, the "gathering space" is an absolute zoo.) He is so much better behaved inside the sanctuary, confined in a pew, that I eventually gave up on the gathering-space-cum-cry-room.

I just stared at him for a moment, stunned. I was actually stunned. I think my mouth might have dropped open. Was I actually hearing him right? I must have been, because he continued to explain that that's what the gathering space is for! And that he would make sure his microphone was on so that we could hear! And that when he was a little older, we could come back in!

When I finally composed myself enough to speak, the words that came out of my mouth were, "We won't be coming back." It's one thing to have a random layperson make an unkind comment about my two-year-old's behavior. But when the pastor of a parish is telling me to my face that he'd prefer that we sit at the back of the bus, so to speak, that's it. I'll find another parish for daily Mass.

He immediately jumped in that that wasn't the solution, and that it's just that he had complaints from "our visitors" yesterday (unkind lady, I assume), and that it can be distracting from what's supposed to be a prayerful and spiritual experience, and all I could hear is, "You're not good enough. Your child isn't good enough."

I couldn't say anything else. I didn't want to break down crying again. He finally said he'd pray for me (the charitable part of me will accept prayers from anyone who's offering; the uncharitable part wants to ask him if he'll Turn on his microphone! So I can hear it!), but then he just turned his back and walked away.

I just feel like it was all handled so badly, that if he really felt it was necessary to speak to me to "encourage me to use the gathering space," he at least could have (1) asked me to go somewhere more private to speak, instead of ambushing me by the greeting line, and (2) truly said something encouraging to me first, to soften the blow.

And now, I don't know what to do. David is furious and wants to go to the bishop. I'm unconvinced that it will do any good. Different parishes and pastors have different attitudes toward cry rooms and "children's liturgy" and nurseries and kids in Mass, and I have a feeling the bishop might just think it's okay that this particular parish relegates families with small children to the gigantic vestibule for Masses. I'm more inclined to speak to my own pastor, who sees Nate regularly and knows he's an energetic kid and sees all the efforts we make to improve his Mass behavior. I don't want my own pride to get in the way here if there's something that I really need to be doing differently, and maybe he has some genuinely constructive ideas.

Right now, though, I'm truly heartbroken. I started attending daily Mass last spring as a way to encourage better behavior on Sundays, even jokingly referring to it as "Mass Boot Camp," to family and friends. Since then, though, I've come to depend on the grace it offers me, even on the days when it's challenging.

What would you do? I honestly need some advice here. Just be kind, please. I'm feeling fragile.

(Posting this without proofreading, because I just can't look over it again without crying. Please forgive any typos.)

**Not our home parish, which only has daily Mass at seven a.m. Eight-thirty is enough of a feat, thank you very much.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Memo

TO: Myself, when I am old and my child is (children are?) long grown
FROM: Me, mother of a rambunctious two year old boy
DATE: January 4, 2012
RE: A Reminder

I know that you're getting on in years now. Perhaps it doesn't feel like there's much to look forward to. Perhaps you have aches and pains that are getting the best of you. Perhaps you are lonely.

Perhaps you will still attend daily Mass sometimes. Perhaps your hearing isn't what it used to be. Perhaps it makes it difficult to concentrate.

Perhaps there will be a mother sitting in the back row, day after day, wrestling with her small child. He might be a chatty little thing, no matter how frequently and fervently his mother shushes him and how many times she retreats to the vestibule.

You might be tempted to say something to her. Not words of encouragement, mind you, but words of criticism. You might be tempted to admonish her that her child's joyful noise is a distraction, that she should take him away before he can disturb other worshippers. Before he can disturb you.

Should you feel so tempted, think back to this day, and remember how deeply a few unkind words can cut a mother struggling to rein in a toddler's exuberant energy. Recall how you worked, day after day, to get yourself and your child up and dressed and fed and to Mass on time. Remember the careful balancing of priorities with every service. (Nave or vestibule? He treats the vestibule like playtime; will he learn to calm down out here? How loud is too loud in the nave? Is carrying him out the bigger distraction? Will he settle down in just a second?) Consider how you always worried that the other Mass-goers were silently judging your parenting with every noise your child made, and how it felt when, in a matter of seconds, one old woman confirmed your fears.

Remember how the tears came, hot and stinging, as soon as you realized what she was saying. How you tried to keep yourself calm enough to eke out a feeble defense--we're doing the best we can--and to genuflect in front of the tabernacle before rushing out. How you choked on sobs as you buckled your little distraction into his car seat, while he looked up at you with confused eyes. Remember sitting in the driver's seat, unable to see through the tears, making desperate phone calls to anyone who might be home, anyone who might let you come over, anyone who would tell you you're a good mother.

Remember how you considered not going back tomorrow.

Remember how you had to steel your resolve that one unkind woman wasn't going to drive you away from the Eucharist, wasn't going to deprive your son of his Lord's very presence. Recall how you told yourself, over and over, that he's the Lord of the little ones, too.

"Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them. For to such belongs the kingdom of heaven."

Should you feel tempted to criticize, think back to today. Remember how you felt.

And bite your tongue.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

On ice

I'm not sure whether I've mentioned it here, but my son is currently obsessed--completely and totally smitten--with hockey.

It started innocently enough. We have a one-fourth share in two season tickets to the Washington Capitals, and the pre-season tickets are pretty much thrown in for free. We decided to take Nate to an afternoon pre-season game, figuring that if he was squirmy and fidgety and otherwise refused to sit in our laps, we could leave without being out anything. This is, after all, a kid who's not exactly known for his ability to sit still, and our expectations weren't too high.

He was mesmerized. He sat still; he was enthralled; he watched and clapped and generally had a terrific time. And he's talked of little else since.

We're in a bit of an odd position in our house; we like both the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins (who, incidentally, hate each other). David is from Pittsburgh and grew up a Pens fan, but he likes hockey enough to want to see it live on a regular basis--hence the season tickets. So in the time since the pre-season game, Nate has acquired roughly double the amount of hockey gear that the average two-year-old hockey fan might, including:
  • Three hockey jerseys (one regular Caps, one regular Pens, and a Pens Winter Classic)
  • One hockey net
  • Eight hockey sticks (six from my in-laws, one from the guy who has the season tickets next to us, and one from a colleague of David's)
  • Two hockey pucks (both from attending Caps practice)
  • Four pairs of hockey-themed socks (two Caps, two Pens)
  • Two Hot Wheels-sized zambonis (one Caps, one Pens)
  • A mini hockey player toy (Pens)
  • A soft toy puck (Pens)
  • An Alexander Ovechkin Christmas ornament
Um, I think that's it? Maybe?

(The Christmas ornament wasn't even supposed to be for Nate. I was in David's stocking, but Nate quickly co-opted it for himself and began carrying "Ovie" around everywhere.)

Now, lest you think that David and I are going crazy buying things over here, I should point out that, of all the items listed above, we purchased exactly one: the Caps jersey. I have an exceedingly generous mother in law who is as big a sports fan as her sons, and whose primary love language clearly is gift giving. Oh, and I guess we did buy him a Blu Ray of the movie "Miracle," after he kept demanding to watch the final locker room speech and final minutes of the movie over and over again on YouTube. He insists on watching "hockey movie" several times each week, usually while wearing one of his [three!] jerseys and swiping at a puck or ball with one of his [eight!] sticks.

Like I said, obsessed.

It was only natural, then, that David would want to let him try ice skating. He can't start formal lessons until he turns three, but the local ice complex has a "Recess at the Rink" specifically for kids aged 2-6 with little or no experience to stake with a parent. So we ended 2011 with something new.

He couldn't stay on his feet, but, man, did he love being out on the ice. Every time an exhausted David would try to bring Nate out of the rink, Nate would clamor back through the gate with cries of "more, more!"

I can see my future, and it involves five a.m. practices. God help me, people, I think I'm going to be a hockey mom.