7 Quick Takes: Crazy, Crazy May

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May is always a crazy, crazy month around here. And it never fails to sneak up on me at least a little bit. There isn’t going to be much of a theme to this one, unless random thoughts is a theme, which I guess it is.

1. The baby of the family is graduating. Okay, he’s not the youngest child here, nor does he act babyish (did he ever?) But he was our the baby of the first “set” of kids. If we had not had the vasectomy reversal, he would be the baby of the family. Whoa. Maybe in some alternate universe there is a me whose kids are all grown up. I am very much not ready for that. As exhausting and busy as all these little people are in this house, I am so grateful that this chapter is not over. I get to spend more years savoring them, seeing the world through their eyes, and, yes, ticking off minutes sometimes as they somehow both drag and speed by.

Anyway, this baby of ours, soon to be 19 years old, is an amazing person. He’s just itching to get out into the world and figure things out for himself. I’m pretty sure he will do it too.

I don’t have those mushy saying goodbye kind of feelings right now, since he has no plans to move out. But I am sure they will hit me at some point in the next few weeks and turn me into a puddle.

2. How does May do this to me every year? It sneaks up. The calendar looks all empty. I knew that there were many events lurking, since we have a graduate, but there is this eerie calm that settles over things in April. It’s like those first few bars of the Jaws theme.

Then suddenly, emails, phone calls, invitations in the mail, notes home from school, and more all begin to fly in at once. It hits like a hailstorm. If I get one more email from school about, well, anything at this point, I may lose my mind. But here we are again, white-knuckling it through May. I think I made Google calendar cry the other day as I added yet more items to the agenda. (Thankfully, after next week we will get a bit of a break in the pace of things until the last week of July or first week of August.)

3. All of this would be easier if the baby would just SLEEP. Gwendolyn will be 10 months old on Sunday and is still taking one hour naps during the day and mostly sleeping 2 hour stretches at night. I did get a 4 hour stretch of sleep out of her the other night, but I paid for it the next night in 1 hour wakeup calls. At this point, I just always have a headache from being tired. We tried everything. Every. Thing. She is just going to have to outgrow it.

4. Fun stuff: I’m trying to get back in the habit of daily bible study (which is difficult when the only thing you can think is, “Please God, let me sleep.”) And I found this great thing:

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Here’s what it looks like inside:

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I’m a little bonkers for coloring. Or, at least I love the idea of it, I seldom get to do it. But I try. I even set up a table so the coloring stuff would be available at a moment’s notice. When people come to my house they just love that I have a craft table set up “for the kids.” But this little journal incorporates just a little bit of coloring and a little bit of guidance with what to write. It’s the perfect helper to make that 15 minutes or so count. I really like these pens, you can write AND color with them:
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5. Joe vs. The Volcano. (I told you this would be random.) I love this movie and I was having a tough day a couple days ago, so we had an emergency viewing of Joe vs. The Volcano. It was perfect. The house was a mess, the kids’ homework was shoddily done, and everyone stayed up just a little too late. But we all went to bed happier. If you have never watched it an you like quirky movies like The Princess Bride, this one is for you.

6. My reading challenge. About the only real goal I set for myself this year was a reading goal of 50 books. I’m doing pretty well so far. I’ve finished 19. You can check out my current reads on the sidebar and the books from my reading goal over on Goodreads. What are you reading? Doe have any good recommendations? I know you do!

7. Here we are, finally at number 7, what else can be said right now? Maybe I will conclude by just being very thankful that our kids’ teachers don’t give us a grade for our parenting and follow through with homework and projects for the past year. I am worn out and ready for summer. We’re almost there.

Head on over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for more Quick Takes!

A Year (or so) in Review

I knew I hadn’t blogged in a while, that much was obvious, but I had to pull up my website to actually see when my last published post was. Nine months ago. So now that I have one regular post up, I thought I would tell you about this past year and how things are going. I’ll probably skip some things accidentally, but this isn’t a life story, it’s mostly just a list of excuses – no, just a story about why I let a lot of things slide for a very long time.

Let’s go all the way back to October of 2014, when I discovered that baby number 10 (or 12, including the two miscarriages) was on her way. This was not my idea. I had PLANS. I was finally sleeping through the night on a regular basis and that made me feel so very normal. I wasn’t even carrying a diaper bag any more and had thrown out all my nursing bras. But okay, another baby. We quickly adjusted to the idea and even came to look forward to meeting our newest bundle.

About the time life was moving along swimmingly again, our 20 year old daughter came to us and told us of a new family member brewing. She was pregnant, not in a relationship with the father, and due 3 months after I was.

I have been in her place, although my now-husband and I were together at the time. Now I got to see things from the flip side. I have to say, my parents did an excellent job of adjusting the the news, and I tried to follow suit. We let her know that we were here for her and would do all we could to support her as she went forward. Then, knowing the difficulties and pain ahead of her, we wrung our hands and cried a bit, and prayed a lot.

Being pregnant at the same time as one of my daughters wasn’t quite the picnic I imagined it to be. Since I am, ahem, of advanced maternal age, being pregnant was a little harder on my body and I struggled to keep up physically. And two pregnant women in the house is probably not fun for the rest of the people, but I’m just guessing there. Let’s just say there was a lot of take out eaten.

During the last month of my pregnancy we discovered that Gwendolyn was transverse and I had excess amniotic fluid. I underwent a version to get her into position. She popped right into a head down position. And then popped right back to transverse again two hours later. We shrugged and decided she must have a reason for being that way and scheduled a C-section.

Long (birth) story short: at 38 weeks she turned head down and was born vaginally three days later. I promise, I will put her birth story on my to do list and get that posted sometime before she turns one.

About a week after she was born, we got some strange phone calls and found out that our identity had been stolen. There was no personal financial damage but it was very stressful and took a lot of time and many phone calls to clear up. We are still on high alert.

Next up, I had been having pain in my upper abdomen each evening for a few days when it suddenly became unbearable. Jay was able to come home quickly from choir practice and rushed me to the emergency room. I was admitted, although it took them over 12 hours to find me a bed, and diagnosed with gallbladder pancreatitis. Gwendolyn was 8 weeks old at the time. I spent 5 days in the hospital undergoing tests. Jay ran back and forth from home to hospital with a baby in tow so that she could still breastfeed as much as possible. My gallbladder was removed and I was sent home to recover with the stern instructions not to lift anything over ten pounds for six weeks. How on earth is it possible for the mother of a new baby to go anywhere and not lift more than ten pounds? That meant that I could not carry both the baby and the diaper bag at the same time. And I was told explicitly not to lift the stroller. I did the best I could under the circumstances, and nothing seems to have ripped, as far as I can tell.

Around the time I had fully recovered from my surgery, Elliot, my first grandchild, came screeching and humming into the world. It was kind of weird for me to be on the other side of postpartum issues, I’m usually the one recovering. My daughter Posy had a hard time getting nursing started, enduring a lot of pain and worry in those first days and weeks. But she persevered and has become an amazing mother to this little guy.

In the midst of that struggle, when Elliot was just a few days old, my sister died. It was quite sudden. One day she was living her normal life – doing better than she had in a long time – and then she was gone. It was early November. We found out later that it was a pulmonary embolism. There was nothing they could have done. She passed away at home, where she was living with my parents.

At this point in our story, my own baby was finally starting to come out of her colicky phase. Yes, the preceding few months had mostly played out with a soundtrack of baby screams.

A few weeks later we hosted Thanksgiving at our home for the first time. It was a lot of fun, and a lot of work. I’m happy to do it again this year if I can, but it was a major event with all the other things we had going on. It stretched my introverted self to the limit.

Christmas came and went, and Posy went back to her job waitressing. While she works, I watch Elliot. It has gotten a lot easier in the last few weeks. But at the start of 2016, when both babies were still really little all I could do was sit on the floor and rock one and then the other. Now, they are both mobile, happy to play with toys, and sometimes even nap at the same time. They are absolutely adorable together. What an amazing gift to have two babies in the house!

There are other things I’m sure I have forgotten, but I’m just trying to list the reasons I haven’t made writing a priority. There are also a lot of feelings mixed up in the above list of events, but I can unpack those another day. I’m not sharing this to make you feel sorry for me, I certainly hope you don’t. I love my life, and while it is eventful, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. One thing that I have learned through this is that I have to fight harder to maintain the things that make me, me. I have missed writing, creating, reading, time alone, and running. I had forgotten a lesson I’ve learned few times before; how much those things filled me up so that I had something to give my family.

Cleaning the Mirror

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Last weekend we had the privilege of attending a Called and Gifted workshop given by the St. Catherine of Siena Institute about finding our God given charisms.

What is a charism? From the St. Catherine of Siena institute website: “Charism” is a greek word used in the New testament for “favor” or “gratuitous gift.” Charisms, or spiritual gifts, are special abilities given to all Christians by the Holy Spirit to give them the power both to represent Christ and to be a channel of God’s goodness for people. Whether extraordinary or ordinary, all charisms ought to be exercised in the service of God. (CCC 2003)

I was excited to attend, but found myself in a state of fear as we drove home after the first night. We were given instructions to take a test to help us narrow down the areas to begin to discern our charisms, but we were instructed not to look at the potential outcomes, lest we semi-consciously try to influence the results of the test with what we want to be. I worried that either there wouldn’t be anything for me, or that my charism would be something along the lines of only mother-oriented tasks.

I know that what I do is valuable, but with the stress and intense activity of the last year, I had set aside almost everything I used to do that was not based in my vocation as a wife and mother. It began as a way to give myself a break, to remove pressure, and to reduce my to do list. But as the months ticked by I found myself unable to find a way to reintroduce those activities. Eventually they began to fade from memory entirely.

Even though it was already late when we arrived at home, I dutifully began my test. It took a little longer than the suggested 40 minutes, because I had to do it with the baby alternately sleeping and climbing all over me while I worked.

The test focused on 24 different charisms and had several questions relating to each one. Some things were easy and obvious to me, and some were things I wished I could say I did, but they didn’t characterize me at all. After I finished, I tallied up my scores and the instructions said to circle the 6 highest scores.

It was like I had been looking in a foggy, dirty mirror for so long and someone finally cleaned it. Suddenly I could see who I was again. None of the things were directly related to what I am in relation to others, but they were who I am. They showed the particular tools that are natural to me to use as I encounter others, my work, and the world.

Certainly, not all the things I scored high in are Charisms. Some my be talents or merely preferences. The test reminded me that I am not the sum of my roles in others’ lives. While charisms are other centered – they are meant to be used for the good of those around us – they also show how we are specifically gifted and called to act by the Holy Spirit.

Looking at my list, I saw that the things I do naturally are not just quirks or flaws, they are how God put me together, wound me up, and sent me out into the world. If my very first inclination in dealing with difficulty is to write about it and then read a book (or vice versa). Or if you come to me with a problem and the best thing I can do is offer you a metaphor for another way to look at your situation it’s not because I’m a socially stunted introvert*. It’s because God gave me a hammer and now everything looks like a nail.

*An exaggeration. I hope.

I’m not going to share specifics on the charisms at this point, either mine or in general. I still have a lot of discerning to do regarding mine and I want you to be able to find yours without a preconceived notion of what you want them to be. It is interesting to note that the items I tested high on fit perfectly with my Myers-Briggs personality type, INTJ, the brain in a jar personality.

Photo by Capture Queen, Creative Commons License.

The Privilege of a Wide Age Spread

When my fourth baby was born, my first child had only recently turned 7. What followed was a year of unparalleled turmoil and chaos in our home. I honestly have very few memories of that time, it was just so intense and so much work. Bedtime stretched on for hours every night. Going places was difficult. I’m afraid I yelled at that poor little 7 year old, a first grader, to make her own lunch for school. For that year, the only pictures I have of our children they were either sleeping or in the bathtub because that was the only time I could look at them with fresh eyes and see their loveliness and joy. We spent that year just trying to white knuckle it through, constantly holding on to the mantra that “This, too, shall pass.”

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It wasn’t all terror and tears, but it was a hard, intense year. That year each of the kids had a fun birthday party. Our Christmas was beautiful – with snow flurries on Christmas Eve, in Phoenix! We had lots of great times with friends and family. It was just a very hard working year with all those little bodies to care for plus trying to keep up with what I assumed were everyone’s expectations of me.

Now, 18 years later, I find myself in a similar situation. I have four children under 8 years old. Things are busier now, with older children come larger concerns – college applications, dating and other social drama, and car insurance, just to name a few. But now with these little ones, I find myself saying not “This, too, shall pass.” but “Oh no, this is passing too quickly!” As I rock our two week old baby in the fussy evenings, while listening to the older kids race around the house with the occasional crash of something falling or tears from a collision with a sibling I think back to that endless year when we had those first four children and wonder where the time went.

That baby (baby number 4) will be a senior in high school this year. He still never goes to bed on time, but if he is tired the next day it is his own fault, and not something I have to lose (much) sleep over. I lived through that tough year, and it really didn’t last all that long, even though the minutes within it could drag on forever.

I have been gifted with a do over. Not with the same children, of course. No, the mistakes I made with them that year will stand in their memories or a therapist’s notebook. But as a mother, I get to do this again – a closely spaced group of small children, school days, bedtimes, parks and games and activities.

I am not trying to romanticize this phase. I am just as overwhelmed as the next mom. Last night I heartily congratulated myself for being able to get some of the laundry done and folded when the 5 year old came up and said, “Yay! Clean panties!” My kitchen has a giant pot of mostly gone macaroni and cheese (the boxed kind, nothing pinterest approved) that has been sitting on the stove for no less than three days. But the plates made it into the dishwasher! So that’s a win, too! When the call for volunteers went out from school yesterday, I humbly turned it down. I was looking forward to working the back to school days – it’s so fun to see people again and to feel useful. But I know I wouldn’t actually BE useful, because I would be nursing the baby in a corner the whole time I was supposed to be working. Maybe next year. With my husband out of town for the past few days, a trip to Target is the only time we have made it out of the house and that was purely a rookie mistake on my part, to say I wasn’t prepared for a shopping trip with four small children so soon postpartum is an understatement. The cabin fever is at an epidemic level these hot summer days.

That first time with all the little ones, I felt like I had to keep up with the pace of life in the general population. I don’t feel that way anymore. I have watched other mothers who have had the gumption and the brains to slow down when the kids were young and not try to be all things to all people. There is a blissful freedom there, and those are some of the best mothers I know.

The perfectionist in me cries, “There are still things that have to be done! The rest of the world doesn’t go away because I slow down.” But now I know that I can only do what I can do, not one bit more. So that will have to be good enough. I’m stronger than my inner perfectionist now, and while she can sometimes break out and cause anxiety, I mostly make her sit in a disorganized closet.

In this wild and loud, hush-the baby’s-sleeping time of our lives, I will be ticking off minutes slowly and seeing the weeks go by in a flash, trying to cram it all into my brain: the tiny baby who still feels like a bean bag whose sighs sound like heaven itself, the dimpled knuckles on my 3 year old’s hands and how he looks like such a big boy unless he is peacefully sleeping, the 5 year old who reads so slowly and is so proud of herself, the 7 year old who always does her best to help out and always dances when she goes down the hall. All of this will be gone – sometime between a minute from now and an eternity. Then they will be driving their own cars away, living their own lives that I only know snippets of.

But for now there is this:

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Laundry waiting for hangers. It will be all over the floor the first time someone goes for something at the bottom of the pile.

And this:

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“After” the dishes were “done.”

And this:

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(I rounded them up from all corners of the house and begged them to smile.)

And a whole lot of this:
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I’ll leave you now with a trite but wise poem. I’m sure we have all read it many times but it fits here so well:

Song for a Fifth Child
by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton

Mother, oh Mother, come shake out your cloth,
Empty the dustpan, poison the moth,
Hang out the washing and butter the bread,
Sew on a button and make up a bed.
Where is the mother whose house is so shocking?
She’s up in the nursery, blissfully rocking.

Oh, I’ve grown shiftless as Little Boy Blue
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).
Dishes are waiting and bills are past due
(Pat-a-cake, darling, and peek, peekaboo).
The shopping’s not done and there’s nothing for stew
And out in the yard there’s a hullabaloo
But I’m playing Kanga and this is my Roo.
Look! Aren’t her eyes the most wonderful hue?
(Lullaby, rockaby, lullaby loo).

The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.

{SQT} 2015, vol 32: Too Many Words and Other Reasons not to Blog

Too Many Words

Hey, it’s been a while! Did you think I had quit? Nope, I’m still here, just on a very unscheduled break. It is time for Momma-Hermit to come out again.

1. I’ve been in hiding  – from blogs (both writing and reading), from the phone, from facebook. I hadn’t realized how profound my silence had been until a friend called me and said, “Hey, you’ve been radio silent for a while, what’s up?” And I had to think for a minute because it hadn’t been fully intentional. I remembered that there was a world outside my own walls (and outside my own brain, for that matter), but I had been procrastinating any connection to it. Such is the downfall of an introvert in processing mode.

2. There has been a lot to process lately, though. The end result of this is that there are too many words needed to communicate. Even sitting down to write feels like an overwhelming task because it seems like it will take hours to vomit out all the words, situations, and feelings surrounding them before I have begun to make a dent. So I spiral inward. My husband and I talk through some things, but mostly just kind of look at each other wide eyed and say, “I know! Right?”

3. I’ve learned to look at it kind of like having the flu. I need a little quarantine for a while, until the toxicity has died down a bit, then I am ready to rejoin the living. Unfortunately, this is an alienating process. I have been hurt by friends who are also emotional cave dwellers. You’d think I would learn my lesson from being on the receiving end. The bridges between people fall so easily into disrepair.

4. It hasn’t really helped that I have been actually sick during a lot of this time. Between pregnancy exhaustion and the chest cold that never ends, it’s easy to put off all this people stuff until “sometime next week.” Hopefully a trip to the doctor today will help with some of that.

5. You’ll notice that I am not actually trying to get out all those “Too Many Words” right now. I’m trying to make this Quick Takes actually quick and just stick my toes back in the water. A lot of the stuff going on right now is intensely personal and doesn’t belong on a public blog, at least not yet. My other point here is to begin the process of reconnecting. It’s time to build the bridges back up. All the words will be said, when and where they need to be, but I miss people, I miss my friends.

6. So don’t be surprised if you hear from me soon. Personally. Facebook and instagram are nice enough for a funny snapshot in words or pictures of the absurdity of life. I like those moments and being able to share them. But let’s be honest and realize that it is more like shouting into a public place than really being part of a personal conversation. I challenge myself – no, I resolve – to call or email someone every day this week. Not to vent or complain, but just to connect, see how they are, and begin to build the bridges again.

7. I challenge you too. Can you do it? (I know my extroverted friends think this is no big deal.) Call or email someone you haven’t talked to in a while. See how they are doing. The dishes and laundry will wait – they always do. There is always a reason not to call. It’s a bad time, it’s a busy week, but those never go away. What do you say, are you in? Check in down in the comments and we can follow up next week.

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Go see more Quick Takes at This Ain’t the Lyceum!

Holding Me Back

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I don’t try to hide the fact that I have a larger than average family, but I don’t usually volunteer the information, either. It’s not that I am ashamed. I am just tired of having to either defend my choice or explain personal details of my life to an openly hostile or friendly but overly-curious public.

I am also not usually offended when people ask questions, even those they would never ask someone with one or two children, because in general I think people are just curious and want to know how others live.

This is a good thing because it builds our empathy as a society. It is my job to be kind to people and decide on my own personal boundaries for what I will and will not share.

This week I had an unusually negative encounter. I helped to chaperone a field trip for my 5-year-old’s kindergarten class. After touring the museum, we went to a park with the kids to eat lunch and let them play a while. A few of the parents and grandparents were talking around a picnic table when the conversation turned to pregnancy. I let slip that I was expecting our tenth child. I’m not sure why I did that, but it came tumbling out of my mouth. After clarifying that I did, indeed say “tenth” an older man told me, “You know, the Pope said you don’t have to breed like bunnies.”

I confess that I have been expecting this “helpful” advice since the Pope made those statements and have read some well done blog posts about the context of them in preparation. I still wasn’t ready. All I could stammer out was, “Those remarks were made in a much larger context.” He replied, “I don’t even know what that means.”

My cheeks were feeling hot, and I wasn’t thinking all that well. I just told him that there was a lot more that the Pope said about families during that conversation and the ones that came before it in the Philippines. And then I just waited and hoped that the subject would die there.

Maybe I should have been more ready to evangelize, especially since this man had just been talking about sending his granddaughter to a Catholic school next year. But I was tired, slightly nauseated, and had just spent two hours helping to keep track of a group of 5 year olds in a crowded museum.

The conversation didn’t die there. It got much worse. He then asked me something I have never been asked by a stranger before, “But don’t they hold you back?”

My mind reeled. Hold me back? How dare he suggest such a thing! I said, “Of course they don’t. My family is my life.” And I could almost feel him thinking, Silly girl, children have to grow up sometime, and you have to do other things besides raise children. Or maybe that was just the echo of my own thoughts. I excused myself from the conversation then, and went to help round up the children.

The problem with what he said wasn’t just that it was rude and intrusive, it was that I had that exact thought when I found out I was pregnant this time. Everyone was potty trained. Outings usually didn’t need any kind of stroller or special gear. Bedtime was a constant thing and I could expect a time every night when the little kids were all in bed, giving me time to read or unwind.

I had several mornings a week when everyone was in school and I could work on writing, shopping, or catching up with the general work that needed to be done. I didn’t have to pay for babysitting when I went to the women’s group at a local parish. My family is big and complicated, but suddenly I was finding a little space for myself to breathe and to get caught up on sleep. Not being sleep deprived is a wonderful feeling!

As I stared at those two pink lines that morning, I saw all that slipping through my fingers. My plans to spend the coming year writing and building my Etsy shop began to evaporate. I would wait a little longer to lose the baby weight. I was being held back.

I spent some time pouting about this and praying for a better attitude. Mixed into all this was the fear of another miscarriage. I knew I didn’t want that at all. A baby may be complicated, but it is not a time of physical and emotional suffering like a miscarriage. It was all tangled in my heart and mind.

The idea of “Holding Me Back” became like a rock in my shoe. It poked me, it irritated me. It was always present, and I didn’t like it. Finally as I began to revise the goals I had for the upcoming year, I decided it was time to let it go.

My family is indeed my life here, my marriage is my vocation. They have been my path to God and to the discovery of what I was put here to do. How could I then say that was holding me back? Could that possibly mean that these other ideas were holding me back from truly serving my family wholeheartedly?

This isn’t a new lesson for me. It seems I need to be retaught this one every few years. My heart gets restless and the mundane, repetitive parts of my life begin to drain my energy. I start to look around for ways to use my talents that can be seen by others, that are worthwhile to talk about among adults who have jobs. Then I am reminded that those others aren’t the ones I was put here to serve or impress.

This time my lesson came in the form of a beautiful book that has been instrumental in changing my heart: Into Your Hands, Father by Wilfred Stinessen. This book has been helpful in pointing out when my thinking starts going in circles.

For example, when I start trying to figure out exactly how something is God’s will and what He intends to use it for in my life. It is not my job to figure those things out. I can look into the past and see how He has used other events, both positive and negative, to bless me and guide me closer to Him.

That conversation threw me back into turmoil for a few hours, but I was able to remember why it wasn’t a problem. I will still pursue outlets for my talents and interests, but I will be more careful now of letting them hold me back from my family, especially from delighting in this precious new baby who is truly a gift.

My family does hold me back, mostly from my own very selfish heart. I hope that I can learn to not hold myself back from them.

 

Originally published 2/5/15 at CatholicStand.com
Photo by G. O’Beirne courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

15 Tips on Surviving Mass With Young Children

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I have been sitting in mass with small children since I became Catholic in 1994. There were times when it was more difficult and times when it was less difficult, but it is always an exhausting experience. Rewarding at times, but still a workout.

Many times people have come up to me and told me that I am “just lucky” that my kids behave so well in mass. That is not true. I work really, really hard to teach them how to behave from the time they are babies. I do admit that one of my children was amazingly good in mass, she was just a naturally compliant child with a long attention span. When people would try to compare their children to her, I would tell them that this is not what normal children do, and not to compare their child to her. A compliant child has their own set of problems, it’s just that sitting in mass is not one of them.

My husband is a cantor at our parish, and has been in the choir since I met him in high school. He generally sings two to four masses a Sunday. While one of our options is for him to accompany me and the kids to a mass when he is not singing, it has been easier on our schedule to attend a mass when he is singing and for me to sit with the kids. He can always come help me in an emergency.

Some families choose to split up the task and have one parent stay home with the little ones while the other one attends and then switch. I know some kids who were brought up in families who did that, and they turned out just fine. This is a good option, just not the one we chose in our family. Some families attend a parish with a nursery and use it often. That is also a great option. Some families make use of a cry room and that works well for them. This article is not saying those things shouldn’t be done, it is just about how to deal with having small ones with you in mass.

Some of these suggestions are practical advice, and some are more motivational. With all parenting advice, take what works for you and toss the rest.

1. We are not teaching them to sit still and be quiet in mass, we are teaching them to worship God. If you don’t read anything else in this article, I hope you will remember this one. Sometimes it feels like mass is a behavioral training ground for our children – and it does help with that – but that is not really what it is all about. Mass is a soul training ground.

2. Don’t make more of a spectacle than the kids do. They will wiggle. They will drop things. They will whisper. They will find things to do that you never even imagined. There is a certain level of activity and noise that has to be acceptable for children to produce in mass. It’s like leaves rustling in the trees. But parents, it is also easy for us to make a big deal out of small things to the point that we are drawing more attention to what is going on in our pew than the children would by their childishness. Before you respond to a behavior, ask yourself, Can this wait? Can I deal with this as a teaching moment after mass? Will my interfering draw a lot more attention than just letting it go?

3. Stop misbehavior at the step right before it happens. If you don’t want your child to crawl away under the pews, don’t let them sit on the floor. If you don’t want them to run down the aisle, don’t let them get to the edge of the pew. If you don’t want them to try to play with the kids behind them during mass, don’t allow it to happen before mass starts. You can explain that they can visit the child after mass. If you don’t want to have to leave to go to the bathroom during mass, get there early enough to take everyone to the bathroom before mass and warn them that they will not have another chance until mass is over. (This, of course, does not apply to children who have a messy diaper in mass or to potty training toddlers, who need to be taken to the bathroom at every possible inopportune moment.) This method doesn’t work for everything, but it helps to start thinking one step ahead. Once a child is around two, you can begin to explain what your expectations are for mass. They may not get it right away, but the reminder helps all of the family to focus. I find myself still telling my nine year old what I expect of him in mass. He just kind of “forgets” otherwise.

4. Sit up front but have an escape route. I find that people in my family, myself included, can sit better in mass when they can see what is happening. Your ability to do this may depend somewhat on the layout of your parish. I am lucky that our has doors near the front of the church, and to either side. Even though I sit up front – usually in the third of fourth pew – I can have a child out the door while they are still drawing in a breath for that ear piercing shriek after they have bumped their heads. (It happens.) We also always, always sit at the outside end of the pew. I don’t want to have to worry about plowing over people if we have a head injury or a major spit up to deal with. It just takes the pressure off.

5. If sitting up front stresses you out, sit in back. The kids will pick up on your stress and act it out. You might have to help them understand what is going on when they can’t see. Mass is mass, no matter what part of the church you are sitting in.

6. Keep the ones who are having the most trouble right next to you. Right now we sit in this order: 4 year old, me with 2 year old on my lap or on one side, 9 year old, 7 year old, then older kids. My 9 year old has a harder time behaving in mass than the 7 year old, so he has to be closer. Then I can easily reach out and touch his arm, which is usually enough to remind him of what he is supposed to be doing.

7. Make your corrections loving and praise them when they are doing well. A light touch on the arm works wonders if you have already reviewed your expectations. A whisper of “Psst.” and showing a child your folded hands can tell them what they need to be doing. Keep it light. Keep a gentle look on your face. Do not whisper-yell. They can tune that out as easily as a real yell. It also increases the commotion in your pew. On the other hand, give them a thumbs up when they are doing well, or a little hug and tell them you can see how hard they are trying to be good.

8. Breathe. It can get tense there in the trenches pews. Don’t forget to take nice, long, deep breaths.

9. On the subject of toys, books, and other distractions. Every family seems to have their own policy for this. I think the first general rule should be that if you throw it on the floor and it makes a big racket, it needs to stay home. I try to have some simple religious books for them to look at. After never being able to find a missal they could follow without my constant interference, I wrote two myself, one for toddlers and one for preschoolers/elementary students. A couple of the older kids have a MagnifiKid to help them follow the mass. I am a big fan of fidget toys. I think that they enable listening. I also allow my children to doodle on a small notepad for the same reason. I believe it opens their ears.

10. Little touches and whispers. When kneeling near a child, I will often hold them close and whisper simple prayers into their ear, or talk about some of the things in mass or the decoration of the church. With a child next to me or in my lap, I can trace the outlines and wrinkles on their hands. The effect of both of these is very calming and the hand massage is a special treat they look forward to.

11. It’s okay if they say, “I hate mass.” You are not failing miserably as a Catholic parent. You can’t make them like it. This is the time to spend some time (outside of mass) talking about Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross for us, and that sometimes mass can be hard to sit through, but we do it because we love Him. Most especially point out that it will get easier for them. Let them know that they don’t have to like it, but that instead of saying “I hate mass.” they might say something like, “Mass is difficult.” or “I don’t feel like going to mass.” You can probably even identify with those feelings yourself sometimes.

12. Get there early. I know. I know how hard it is just to get everyone out the door. Try it, though, and see if it works for you. My children tend to need some time to settle into a space, to sort of change hats. We arrive and go to the bathroom and get a drink, so someone always has a water fountain wet spot in my family. Then we meander slowly back to our seats. We sit down and look around. The kids stand up and look around. They pick their spots (or I assign them) and arrange their worship aid, hymnal, or anything else they want at hand. Some parents think this just prolongs the time their child has to sit still, but I find the giving my kids a little elbow room to adjust enables them to sit still better.

13. If you have to take a child out, don’t make it a reward. There are still those times when the child just can’t make it through mass. Sometimes it is a fussy baby or toddler, sometimes it is a child who is just a little bit unglued that day or who had a little too much sugar in their breakfast. It happens. Our policy has been that if we have to leave, the child has to sit on our lap, on the floor next to one of us, or stand by a wall. There is no running around or talking to other people. Their behavior expectations remain the same, we just won’t be bothering other people when they are having a hard time with it.

14. Don’t expect to get a lot out of mass. You get the Eucharist. Read the readings ahead of time so that you are familiar with them when you catch little snippets of them or of the homily. Make arrangements to go another time for a peaceful mass. I know I don’t do this often enough, and I can always tell when it has been too long – when my patience with my little ones has stretched to the breaking point. A teacher of small children can’t expect to do a whole lot of learning while she is in the process of teaching her class, so why expect yourself to do that? I love the verse: Isaiah 40:11 “He will feed His flock like a shepherd, He will gather the lambs in His arms, He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.” Take the pressure off of yourself to come away from mass “fed” by anything other than the miraculous grace of the Eucharist.

15. Yours is a Ministry of Presence. Your children see the importance you give to mass. Others see that you often struggle and you don’t give up. By your very presence in mass, you make a difference, one that is very important. Don’t ever forget that. On the days when I wish I could just go home and crawl under a table because my kids are being so embarrassing, I remember those little words, told to me by a friend years ago: Ministry of Presence.

First published on 9/18/14 at CatholicStand.com

Confessions of a Former Anti Vaxxer

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This post is a little embarrassing and frightening to write. I generally try to stay away from controversial topics, but in light of the recent increase in disease, I thought I should speak out.

My History with Regard to Vaccines and My Children

I started out doing everything by the book. My first daughter got her shots on schedule, so did my second child, for at least his first year or so. Around that time, I became involved with a certain breastfeeding organization. I studied hard, and eventually became a co-leader in a group.

As we led the group, we were careful to give good information about breastfeeding and not to allow any group discussions about off topic medical subjects like home birth and vaccines, but in the play group that spawned from the group… we were free to talk about anything. A close friend loaned me her copy of DPT: A Shot in the Dark by Harris Coulter and Barbara Loe Fisher. To be honest, the book scared my pants off. It is full of heartrending anecdotes or parents watching their children scream for hours, have seizures and become brain damaged.

This was still the pre-internet era, so my research from there on was done through talking to natural minded friends, reading more books and articles, including How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor by Robert S Mendelsohn, MD. Even then, with just a public library and advice from friends, it was easy enough to confirm my growing suspicions that vaccines were unnecessary and even unhealthful. Graphs like this one didn’t help at all:

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The seed of doubt in the medical community had been sown early in my parenting in my pursuit for an unmedicated birth. That doubt bloomed in full when I had my third child at home with a lay midwife. She received no vaccinations, had no crib, lived in the sling, breastfed on demand… the whole bit. And I wasn’t afraid to tell anyone I talked to all about it. (I’m so glad I didn’t have a blog then, I would have been obnoxious!)

I am thankful that through all of this I had an understanding pediatrician and nurses. They listened patiently to my concerns and did their best to answer my questions. Still, I remained distrustful and would not vaccinate. They continued to care for my children anyway. Had they sent me away, I am sure I would have found myself and my children in the office of a doctor who agreed with me.

Babies 5, 6, and 7 were born at home. During this time, we had stopped homeschooling and put our children in school so the vaccine thing became a real issue every year. I had a lot of children to keep healthy, and decided to take a leap of faith. Looking around me at all the normal, healthy, and intelligent children, in our school and far beyond, I decided that maybe I had been manipulated – emotionally milked by anecdotal stories – for too long. My 7th child was vaccinated on schedule (with a few exceptions, like the newborn Hep B) and I began to get the other children caught up as well.

I guess it wasn’t entirely a leap of faith. I had witnessed long, drawn out debates on parenting message boards and had talked to friends with advanced degrees in different types of science (chemistry for one and biology for another) who had also researched and had a fuller understanding of some of the things they read about vaccines than I did. I had been quietly processing this information and letting my fear die down a bit.

Then my 8th child was born, at home, with a more traumatic birth. This and other situations at the time left me emotionally raw. When she reacted strongly to her 2 month shots, I was scared all over again and resolved that I had been wrong to trust in vaccinations. She received no further shots, nor did any of the other kids.

Parenting is a scary thing; having your heart go walking around outside your body unprotected. I reacted out of that fear. Thankfully, we were spared from the increasing levels of outbreaks that seemed to be popping up more in the media.

I listened quietly, I read, I sought out opinions, facts, and studies from both sides of the debate, instead of just trying to back up my own opinion. Slowly, I calmed down and started catching the kids up again.

Things That Changed My Mind

If I had to pick one thing that was a turning point for me, it was the comparison of some of the graphs. I think the first time around, I had just taken them at face value, the ones I saw were like the one above, comparing the death rates of diseases. Of course the death rate dropped before the vaccine – we were finally in an era of modern medical care, with understanding of germ theory and antibiotics! Death isn’t the only bad effect to come from these diseases. There were graphs like these, which show cases of disease, not deaths:

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There are other contributing factors. My mom told me one day recently about her own experience with the measles at age 12. She told me of friends who suffered through whooping cough, and even had a child die from it. She had told me before, but I had been of the mindset that the diseases weren’t really all that bad. But they were that bad. My mom had no long term effects from the measles, but it was long, severe, and painful. And she was one of the lucky ones.

One day when my daughter got her polio shot, she asked about the disease it was preventing. We came home and did a little research, and found that maybe death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person with polio.

Yet, those people won’t be counted on that graph of deaths from polio.

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I’ve recently read some books that told the story of the fight against disease: The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson, and The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History by John M. Barry. These helped me to see the development of our medical system, complete with its mistakes and rabbit trails, as one that still has the cure of disease and the helping of people as its goal.

I began by mindlessly doing what I was told to do. Then I wrongly assumed that was what everyone who vaccinated was doing. Now my children are vaccinated and my eyes are open. My purpose in posting this is not to debate the issue, but to encourage each parent to continue educating themselves and understand that changing your mind is not failure or defeat. In each year of parenting we do the best we can for our children with what we have available to us. We have to forgive ourselves past mistakes and move on the best way we know how. I also want to let people on both sides of the fence know that their voices are heard, often by people who aren’t audibly participating in the debate. Be reasonable and respectful, check your sources, and you will be better heard by others. Many who do not vaccinate make this choice out of fear or distrust of the medical profession. It takes more than arguments to move past this.

I want to thank my pediatrician’s office one more time in this post; for caring for my children even when you didn’t agree with my decisions, for answering my questions honestly and respectfully. There are many offices who send non-vaccinaters packing. I’m glad you are not one of those.

{SQT} vol 31 – All About the Belly

1. I suppose that if I am going to talk pregnancy this time around, I owe a belly shot. Here you go: (Excuse the dirty mirror, please.)

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This is me, almost 16 weeks with number 10. It is especially fun to see first time mommies who are this big when they are due. But, so far no one has said something like, “Getting close?” because I would have to hit them. I am big enough though that people are comfortable assuming I am pregnant. Which is okay that they don’t think I’m just going overboard on the oreos.

2. Comfort Level: Overall my comfort level is pretty decent right now. The heartburn is controllable, the nausea has ebbed. I’m not big enough to waddle yet or to have my altered posture cause pain in my back. I get out of breath walking from one end of the house to the other. Forget running to answer the phone! Still, one of the non-fun parts of having a lot of babies means that my stomach muscles quit. They rip apart (I feel it when it happens, it’s like buttons popping off a shirt.) and I have to be super careful not to engage those muscles after that or I spend hours in pain. Getting up from laying down is always interesting.

3. Fluffy Mail! What happens when you donate your entire stash of bumGenius diapers to charity? (Hint: See belly shot above.) But I was able to find a nice lady to sell me her stash of various diapers for a very good price. So I’m stocked up again. It’s not that I don’t like disposable diapers, it’s just that when I have to spend $10-25 at a time one future trash I start to think, How many good books could I have bought with this money? I would rather do more laundry and have more books, even if it doesn’t always work out exactly like that.

And they are just so hopelessly cute! See? (This is just a small sample.)

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What are your favorite cloth diapers?

4. I guess I should come out and say it then since the diapers made it obvious:

It's a

Which means our boys will be outnumbered 6 to 4, and that the bathroom arguments will only increase as time goes on. The two smallest girls are super excited, and 3 year old Gus really couldn’t care less. So it’s all good.

5. Name discussions are in high gear. We have narrowed it down to a list and are experimenting with those names… yelling them out into the house, seeing what rude phrases they might rhyme with or be turned into. You know how it goes. The kids are involved in the process, but not the internet or the extended family. In fact, we have decided to keep the name under wraps until the baby is actually born. It just minimizes the negative comments and the people thinking that they have a say in the matter. We realized this time that we have a pretty specific set of guidelines for our girl names. (We have a completely different set of rules for our boy names.)

  • Feminine sound, we generally don’t go for unisex names
  • Mostly soft sounds. Our other girls are Paisley, Mariposa (Posy), Therese (Tessa), Lily, and Molly. There aren’t many staccato sounds, except for at the beginnings of the names.
  • Either a short name or a name with a nickname that we like. For example, Veronica was ruled out for lack of a nickname that I could live with. Lily was almost Cecilia, except that I couldn’t stand Cece as a nickname.
  • Nothing in the top 100, and the lower down on the list of popular names the better. I broke this rule with Lily because we didn’t know any other Lilys at the time. Her name is now #15 or so and we are running into Lilys everywhere.
  • A Saint name for either the first or middle name, we are flexible on this. There has to be a first Saint for a name to be a Saint name, right?
  • Nothing that ends with /k/, although this was mostly covered with the soft sounds one, it’s worth mentioning. Since our last name starts with a hard /g/, it just makes pronunciation difficult.
  • No creative spellings.
  • Can’t be the name of my or my husband’s siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, or our children’s cousins. This eats up an awful lot of names!

I had no idea that we were this defined and picky, but as we have eliminated names, these rules have surfaced. Did you find you had any specific rules with naming your children? What were they?

6. I think I found the perfect stroller. I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself. I’m such a junkie when it comes to strollers. But this one has everything. It is lightweight, can hold a carseat when needed, (although I rarely use that feature), has a seat that can face forward and backward, reclines, has a huge canopy, (Arizona sun, you know…) and a tall seat for tired bigger kids to ride in it. The only thing this one is lacking is a bottom basket big enough for a diaper bag. This is a serious downside, but a stroller with all these features and a big enough basket adds a lot of weight and bulk to the stroller.

I present to you, the Baby Jogger Vue:

Isn’t it awesome? Here’s a video review too, just in case you love baby gear as much as I do:

7. Now I’m bored with pregnancy and baby talk (and you probably were about 5 takes ago) so let’s see, what else is going on around here? We have a nasty cough making its way around the house. It hangs on for weeks and has made me very thankful for our nebulizer and nonstop supply of asthma meds. It hasn’t made anyone really sick, it just keeps them up at night.

They are all glad that I feel well enough to occasionally cook dinner and do the laundry. Even I was starting to get sick of pizza. Nah, just kidding.

Tomorrow is my parent’s 45th wedding anniversary, so Congratulations to them and thank you for being such a great example!

That’s all for this week, go see Kelly @ This Ain’t The Lyceum for more Quick Takes!

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{SQT} AKA 7 Quick Takes, the first of 2015 (For me, anyway)

Here we are, 2015. But then I already had a whole post about new year type of stuff, so I will try to keep off of that topic. Let’s see, what is going on this week?

1.  I’ve been inching my way through an amazing book. Seriously, by the time the 4th friend of mine recommended this one to me, I knew it was time to pick it up. And I have not been disappointed. Into Your Hands, Father: Abandoning Ourselves to the God Who Loves Us is a teeny tiny book, packed with so much, I have been reading 1-2 pages a day and just stopping to journal a little, take some notes, and process it.

into your hands

It has pointed out to me (one more time) that I am still the same self-absorbed control freak, but instead of just making me feel bad and “decide to change” (with no idea how or what exactly to do about it) this book gives such a simple and beautiful way of looking at things. It is a complete change of paradigm from what I am used to. For now, at least it is sinking in and helping to transform my thinking. My favorite quote so far is this:

There is no need to distinguish carefully between what God Positively wills and what He merely permits. What He permits is also a part of His universal, all-embracing will. He has foreseen it from the beginning and decided how He will use it. Everything that happens has a purpose in God’s plan. He is so good that all that comes in contact with Him becomes in some way good. (p. 17)

Oh and one more I just can’t not share with you:

We often flee from the concrete, apparently banal reality that is filled with God’s presence to an artificial existence that corresponds to our own ideas of piety and holiness but where God is not present. (p. 24)

I am so good at fleeing from banal reality. It’s a special talent of mine, really. Dishes and laundry? Pushing a child on a swing? Those aren’t very holy or full of the presence of God, right? But this is the reality that God chose or allowed for me, and He means to use it for my good. Even the boring parts. They are not obstacles on the path to God, but the very path itself. More on this in #5.

2. And on the subject of trying harder to control my attitudes, I’ve been reading A Little Princess to my 7 year old daughter.

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I know it is fiction and the characters aren’t real, but I am learning a fair bit about self control and thankfulness from little Sara Crewe. Here is an example:

She was so far away from the school room that it was not agreeable to be dragged back suddenly by a howl from Lottie. Never did she find anything so difficult as to keep herself from losing her temper when she was suddenly disturbed while absorbed in a book. People who are fond of books know the feeling of irritation which sweeps over them at such a moment. The temptation to be unreasonable and snappish is not an easy one to manage.

“It makes me feel as if someone had hit me,” Sara had told Ermengarde once in confidence. “And as if I want to hit back. I have to remember things quickly to keep from saying something ill-tempered.” (from Chapter 6)

Uh. Guilty as charged. A few moments before I read this passage, Gus (age 3) had jumped on my bed and fell on my legs. It hurt, but not that bad. I responded in an ill-tempered manner, I’m afraid. Snapping at him to get off my bed and go out of my room.

I have a thing or two to learn from fictional British nine year olds.

3. A Little Bit of Bravery: Molly, age 5 has a natural fear of dogs. I don’t think one has ever done anything bad to her, other than the fact that some dogs are bigger than she is. I have seen other kids who are scared of certain animals, and they just try to stay away from them as much as possible. Not Molly! She is determined to like dogs anyway. I’ve seen her in one situation trying to get to know a dog, one who particularly liked to lick. Molly had her eyes closed and her body tense and was saying to herself over and over, “Licking means kissing, licking means kissing!”

Lily also did a brave thing the other day. When a classmate challenged her to jump off the monkey bars, she told her, “No, I don’t think that is safe.” I think it takes some guts to not be pushed into doing something like that on the playground. But then it probably helps to grow up in a house with a lot of older siblings who would trick a gullible younger sibling into doing something stupid. Except that never happens at our house. Oh no!

4.  The Complainy Take: I buried this one in the middle so that it wouldn’t set the tone for the list, and so that maybe you would forget about it by the time you got to the end of the list. But I am pregnant,and kind of old, and I’ve done this a lot of times, so I get to indulge in a little complaining sometimes. Bullet form for brevity.

  • I am so tired of being tired. I load half the dishwasher and have to go sit down and rest for a while.
  • Nausea. Blech. I have only thrown up once though, which is some kind of a record for me. (I had hyperemesis my first 6 pregnancies.) But, the one time I threw up was in public, on a school sidewalk, and the office was closed, so I just had to leave it there. I’m sorry. I really don’t know what the etiquette is for that kind of situation. Then I had to go back inside and let my kids finish gymnastic with throw up on my shirt. Aren’t you glad you know that about me?
  • New fun this time. Apparently my thyroid is freaking out, causing me to constantly shake and feel out of breath. And it makes me extra tired.
  • I tried to wean off my nausea meds, and quickly found that I am not ready for that step. All hail the Unisom/B6 combo!
  • Chocolate makes me sick to my stomach. People who know me well will understand the tragedy here.

5. Books I am not reading this year. Before I found out I was pregnant, I had big plans for the coming year. I was going to own my life, be a real writer, get my act together with my etsy shop, and even have a clean house, which would be eventually decluttered. I was going to be involved at school, and in the kids’ activities. I was going to do all the things, because it is amazing what you can get done when you consistently get enough sleep, right? I had a whole list of books to help me achieve this: Start, Who Moved my Cheese, Eat That Frog, The Happiness of Pursuit, and many more were on my little list. I was not going to let that banal mothering-housewifing stuff get in my way anymore. I was going to do real things, things I could talk about at a party with other adults, even ones who didn’t have kids. (Now go back and read that second quote from take #1, I’ll wait.)

But, as usual, God had other plans. So this year, I am not going to read those kinds of books at all. No Selfie-self-self improvement books. (Even though in a moment of weakness I still checked one out from the library.) My focus is shifting back to the banal, not only because I have to, but because I choose this. If I had my pick of a lot of different things, I would still choose this. (Though I might ask for a few more breaks.) And God agreed and chose it for me. This goes perfectly with my Word of the Year: Lean In.

6. Pei Wei and Other Magic Foods. If you are pregnant and in the middle of morning sickness, read this take at your own risk. I know how dangerous it can be to have food suggested to you when you feel bad. My husband has learned this lesson well.

My go-to, lifesaving foods this time around have been Pei Wei’s Honey Seared Chicken, with extra sauce AND hot mustard. Really, it is just a method for eating the hot mustard. For and extra bonus, I can order it online and send one of my kids-who-drive to pick it up for me, with strict instructions to not come home without the hot mustard. Because that will make me cry. I am also addicted to Honeycrisp apples, which are magic nausea killers this time around, but my kids keep eating them all. Sometimes I have a little glass of chocolate milk just to carry me through the nausea so I can eat something real.

7. Ben is going on his Kairos retreat this weekend. It is a Catholic retreat for kids who are juniors and seniors in high school. It can be a life changer. Please pray for Ben!

Now that I have dragged you all over my addled brain, take a trip over to This Ain’t the Lyceum for more Quick Takes!

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