Holding Me Back

Holding MeBack

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

Five Favorites: Gus’s Favorite Books

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This is my first 5 Favorites. I feel a little shy contributing to the link up here, but what the heck, why not? I want to get my writing and blogging juices flowing after taking an extended break while we bled money and fixed up a house. I’m afraid I’m not going into any cool beauty products today, because this topic was just so much easier. (And funner!)

So here are Gus’s (age 2.5) favorite books:

1. Where the Wild Things Are

6196EufH+uLWe have actually bought at least two copies of this book per child, it just gets so well loved. They carry it around, sleep with it, tear it apart, leave it outside. I can recite this whole book without any trouble, and I still think it is precious. To people who are offended by book damage, I am truly sorry. Just make sure you never lend me a book. I love books just as much as my kids do, and by love I mean I break the spines, underline, dog-ear, and everything else needed to just really enjoy the book. I allow my kids to do the same. “Where the Wild Things Are” has deserved every carefully applied piece of tape it has received. We will buy another copy soon, I am sure of it.

2. Pumpkin Soup

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This one surprised me. The copy we have was one we got for free somewhere, and it just got shoved onto our bookshelf and forgotten until Gus found it. This is a truly adorable book. The pictures are beautiful and the story is engaging, without too much focus on a moral. (It seems to me that children’s books have gotten entirely obsessed with teaching a moral in every story and have forgotten what a really good story can be.) The only moral to this story might be something along the lines of “Let your friend be a jerk sometimes”, but it’s still not a bad story.

3. Zed and the Monsters

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By Peggy Parish – you know, the one who wrote Amelia Bedelia? I have to admit, I am thoroughly tired of Amelia Bedelia, but this book is a nice change. It is a little on the long side for a bedtime read, but like Pumpkin Soup in #2, it has an actual story with a plot that goes beyond jamming a lesson down a child’s throat. You’re probably starting to think that I hate teaching my children morals at all, but that is not the case. I think children can learn from stories without having morals spelled out so carefully for them. Give the little buggers some credit! They are paying attention. Go ahead and try to tell me that your child hasn’t called you out on doing something wrong before. Leave the heavy handed morals in Aesop, where they fit so beautifully into an engaging story, and let the kids just fall in love with plain old stories too.

Anyway… Zed and the Monsters is about a lazy little boy, who runs out of money and goes to find a job. He stumbles upon a mayor with a monster problem and uses his wits to help him get rid of the monsters and get paid in the process. It’s a little gory in its ideas (one monster pokes his own eyes out) and it does have monsters who want to eat Zed, so a sensitive child might be bothered by it. But the illustrations are very cartoony and there is no blood, so if the child can handle Wile E. Coyote, he could handle Zed.

4. David and the Giant Goliath – Tess Fries

I don’t have a picture for this one, because it was a cheapy my husband picked up at Walgreen’s or something when he was out of town one time. It is cheap looking. But the adaptation isn’t terrible and it has swords in it, which are Gus’s favorite things. If he had a 5 Favorite list, he would probably list 5 different swords.

5. Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

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Pete the Cat is a big favorite. This is another one we will have to replace soon. My personal favorite Pete story is “Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons” but Gus will have no other Pete book read to him now that he has discovered this one. There are predictable responses in all the Pete books, so the child can complete some sentences. When the book asks, “Did Pete Cry?” Gus loves to call out “Goodness, no!” The Pete books are just all around fun reads with good phonemic awareness and other goodies like counting or color recognition. See, I don’t hate ALL educational books.

And now, as a special bonus, Here is my sweetie-pie, Gus:

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Next time I promise to post some fun Mama goodies, my daughter works in cosmetics, so you can be sure they will be good ones!

Go see more Five Favorites at Mamaknowshoneychild.com!

7 Quick Takes 2014 vol 13: What I’m Reading and an Easter Picture Dump

Jumping right in…

1. I already posted about how Lent is over, Hooray. So I won’t extend that whininess here. I am happy that we are in the Easter season! So many flowers! So much to be happy about! Jesus is risen!

Oh, and we get to wear new clothes to celebrate too, so that is extra awesome. I don’t have pictures of my outfit for Easter, but I have to say that I may make my whole outfit entirely out of coral colored items from here on out. I was all in coral for the Easter vigil, or mostly so. Bright coral drapey cardigan, white cami, the same bright coral for a pencil skirt, and even coral shoes. And I tell you what, I never have gotten so many compliments in one night. Even my two year old said, “Momma you’re so pretty!” (I even went all out and wore jewelry. Whoa.)

I’d tell you about the kids’ clothes, but I don’t want to spoil the next Take.

2. I had all kind of fun taking and editing photos on Easter. I am trying to teach myself Lightroom and Photoshop, so forgive any egregious errors. Some of these turned out great.

This one is maybe my favorite picture I have ever taken, it really didn’t need any more editing than the exposure and cropping.

A Little Easter Photo Bomb

The 5 Youngest

The 5 Youngest

I had some other great ones, but the upload from my computer is being a little weird, so those are the ones I posted on Facebook. For some reason the ones directly from my computer came out looking really green – same uploads that I used for Facebook. I dunno. I guess you just aren’t supposed to see them. I’d work harder on getting them on here except…

3. Time is limited. An amazing thing has been happening in my household lately. The 4 and 2 year olds have been napping at the same time at least a few times a week. I have a whole hour to myself some days! (They still aren’t very long nappers, but at least they are doing it at all!) Annnnndd…. there they are. Only 45 minutes today. Time for the electronic babysitter to do her work.

4. Where has this book been all my Catholic life? Our wonderful priest has a recommended book each month, posted in the bulletin. When the same book stayed on his list for three months running, I figured it was time to check it out. (I’m not one for subtle hints.) I love this book!

Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry A. Weddell is an excellent book about all the things I have been missing as a Catholic. When I was protestant, it was so easy to stumble into any church and plug into a group of people who were on fire for Christ and were eager to support you in your own spiritual journey. It is so hard to find that kind of community in a Catholic parish – at least in my city. The people are there, they just aren’t very expressive or easy to find. The group of friends I found who are helpful in my own spiritual walk are a wonderful support, but we are a tiny group and generally not advertised. Because of the changes in my own schedule, I haven’t been able to be as much a part of that group anymore this year. (Oh, how I miss it!) But this book isn’t just about what is wrong, its focus is on how to fix it, and how to become an intentional disciple yourself. I look forward to seeing how this book effects our parish, I know a lot of people have read it so far.

5. Speaking of “My Catholic Life,” this year is my 20th Easter as a Catholic! I came into the Church at Easter 1994. How can that possibly be 20 years ago?

6. Intentional. I keep running into that word. When I picked my word for the year, that one wasn’t even on my radar. The word I picked was “Presence” meaning, for me, to be present to my family and to dwell more consciously in Christ’s presence. So “Intentional” isn’t too much of a departure, but I feel a little guilty just switching words in the middle of the year. I mean, that isn’t supposed to be how it works. But then that’s me getting locked into my own expectations and plans for what *I* decide God will be teaching me next. Maybe I will just have two words this year.

7. It seems we are not moving. Yet. We had a truly nasty surprise in our taxes this year. Our first year as business owners has had a lot of lessons to learn but this one was by far the most painful. We ended up needing to fork out more than 4 times what we had planned on, which wiped us out and then some. It was a little financial spanking, let me tell you! We will recover, and Thank God that we had nearly enough to cover it, when that particular amount would have crippled us in the past. So instead of moving this summer, we will be struggling to catch up on our taxes, and planning ahead for when we can move, sometime… soon? I hope. It was a depressing reality to face up to in the days leading up to Easter. But I’m calmer now, trusting that God has another plan for us. I’d truly like a peek at what it is, though. <Hint, hint.>

Brought to you today by Conversion Diary. Go see Jen for more Quick Takes.

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On Getting Older

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I’ve been feeling kind of used up lately, like I am past my expiration date. Wilted, not fresh. I look at all the new young mommies whose children go to school with mine and I feel… I hate to say it: old.

I’m not old. I hesitate to even use “middle aged” because 1. I hate that term and 2. That just seems to make me officially an unfashionable age.

I’m 42. My body doesn’t do some of the things it once did like lose weight or have a coordinated pattern to hormones or stay awake past 10pm.  But, like I said, I’m still not old. There are a lot of people older than me who I still think are young and thin and vital.

Still, when I go to a playgroup or a library story time with other mothers of small children I am not a part of their social circle anymore. I am the older, wiser momma. Which I guess is okay, but I still long for the days of being the young, thin, hip momma.

It hasn’t been something I have given a lot of thought to, these feelings have just been an undercurrent in my mind lately. It took me surprise when I found the words to flesh out some of these feelings in an unlikely place.

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I have recently been rereading “The Once and Future King” by T.H. White. I had read it years and years ago, and was feeling nostalgic for a King Arthur story so I picked it up again. Within it’s rambling tale are woven a few threads of wisdom about getting older as a woman.

In this first passage, Guenever (as spelled in the book) is 22 and it discusses for the moment how she is a bit older and wiser than she was as a young bride. Then there is this paragraph, which seems to discuss how she will mature in the future:

There is a thing called knowledge of the world, which people do not have until the are middle aged. It is something which cannot be taught to younger people, because it is not logical and does not obey laws which are constant. It has no rules. Only, in the long years which bring women to the middle of life, a sense of balance develops. You can’t teach a baby to walk by explaining it to her logically – she has to learn the strange poise of walking by experience. In some ways like that, you cannot teach a young woman to have knowledge of the world. She has to be left to the experience of the years. And then, when she is beginning to hate her used body, she suddenly finds hat she can do it. She can go on living – not by principle, not by deduction, not by knowledge of good and evil, but simply by a peculiar shifting of balance which defies each of those things often. She no longer hopes to live by seeking the truth – if women ever hope to do this – but continues henceforth under the guidance of a seventh sense. Balance was the sixth sense, which she won when she first learned to walk, and now she has the seventh one – knowledge of the world.  – T.H. White, The Once and Future King: The Ill Made Knight, Chapter 13

It does get a little depressing after that, but after reading this paragraph, I realized that I choose where I am. I do not want to be something I am no longer fit to be. My life has changed me, in some ways good and in some ways not so good, but if I had a choice between then and now, I choose now. That is am important distinction to me, to realize that the grass is indeed greener right where I am standing. It takes the sting out of things like a used up body.

The Once and Future King is a funny book. Funny, strange, I mean. It has lengthy passages about history, chivalry, and even fashion or other things that could easily be left out and tend to weigh down the amazing story of King Arthur, Guenever, and Lancelot. But there are also passages like the above when he just talks about how people are in their deepest hearts. He has a beautiful insight into people and it has been a part of the book that I missed entirely when I read it as a teen.

The next passage I wanted to share about getting older is much more personal and poignant. Guenever is older, 42, and is clearly struggling with the contradiction between what she looks like and how she feels. The scene is Lancelot’s return after a long quest.

Guenever had overdressed for the occasion. She had put on a make-up which she did not need, and put it on badly. She was forty-two.
When Lancelot saw her waiting for him at the table, with Arthur beside her, the heart-sack broke in his wame, and the love inside it ran about his veins. It was his old love for a girl of twenty, standing proudly by her throne with the present of captive about her – but now the same girl was standing in other surroundings, the surroundings of bad make-up and loud silks, by which she was trying to defy the invincible doom of human destiny. He saw her as the passionate spirit of innocent youth, now beleaguered by the trick which is played on youth – the trick of treachery in the body, which turns flesh into green bones. Her stupid finery was not vulgar to him, but touching. The girl was still there, still appealing from behind the breaking barricade of rouge. She had made the brave protest: I will not be vanquished. Under the clumsy coquetry, the undignified clothes, there was a human cry for help. The young eyes were puzzled, saying: It is I, inside here – what have they done to me? I will not submit. Some part of her spirit knew that powder was making a guy of her, and hated it, and tried to hold her lover with her eyes alone. They said: Don’t look at all this. Look at me. I am still here, in the eyes. Look at me, here in this prison, and help me out. Another part said: I am not old, it is an illusion. I am beautifully made-up. See, I will perform the movements of youth. I will defy the enormous army of age.  – T.H. White, The Once and Future King: The Ill Made Knight, Chapter 32

I have felt that; what Guenever felt there, what T.H. White so heartbreakingly described, that desire to be seen and loved for what I am, but of not knowing exactly what I am anymore because I don’t recognize myself. I miss the simplicity and beauty of being very young, but I cherish the dignity that years have brought to me. I want it all – to be the same as I was and to be different too. I am still me, still a frightened little girl much of the time, but my appearance and vocation belie that. There is a balance between trying too hard to care how I look and not trying hard enough and fully surrendering (prematurely, I might add) to being – not old, but older. To lean too far either way is to become older than I am and to make myself a bit of a joke.

How all of these feelings and inner conflicts found their way into a King Arthur story is a mystery, but I am thankful for these little glimpses from Mr. White, because they show me that I am not alone. No one really talks about how it feels to watch your body, brain, relationships, and outlook change. Or I suspect that maybe they do, but you can’t hear the conversation until you can properly understand it, like whispers in a different language.

As I age and change it is not just my own perception of myself that must adjust, but I have to put my faith in others to know me on a deeper level than just the number of my age or how I look on a particular day. There is a disdain in our culture for women who have passed their 30’s. People say things like “woman of a certain age” which I may or may not qualify for, but it is dismissive of the person it is being said about. It seems to define that person into a stereotype, a joke. I read one book of stories from an emergency room and it talked about defining people as “3F” which meant female, fat, and forty. I thought, that could just as easily be me. But I don’t want to be taken lightly just because I am older or might have an attitude or sickness that is “typical” for one my age.

Dustin Hoffman discusses this eloquently when he talks about his role in the movie “Tootsie.” He explains that he expected to be beautiful when they dressed him up as a woman, but that wasn’t how things worked out. He realized that even as a woman that wasn’t traditionally attractive, he would still have been a valuable and interesting person. He was sad to think about the people he had missed out on having a relationship with because he had judged them on their looks.

I see my young daughters, who are in their simple and beautiful stage of life, and I miss that time. I hope that I can look beyond age and my own expectation of people and see them – truly see them, as I hope to be seen. In spite of my fears and insecurities, I will go out boldly, trusting that I am unique and not reduced to a stereotype or example of others; I am only myself, and I choose to be who I am.

 

Pursuit of Proverbs 31

prov31I just finished the book Pursuit of Proverbs 31 by Amy Bayliss. I used it for my morning Bible study the last couple months on the mornings I wasn’t doing the Sunday readings. This book had its ups and downs for me, but it was mostly good, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to another mom. It surprised me a bit in that it wasn’t so much about the actual scripture of Proverbs 31, as it was about the idea behind it – the drive to be a godly wife and mother. And to that end it was very good.

I did get a little annoyed at a couple of chapters in the middle when she goes into detail on organizing a home, but I do see why she included them. They are just a little bit of a distraction from the actual bible study parts of the book, which is what I wanted to focus on.

This book is not a fill-in-the-blank style bible study, which I liked. She covered a topic that is relevant to a wife and mother, sharing some of her own experiences, then she recommends a bible chapter or two to read and take notes on. When read in the context of the topic she is covering, it allowed me to see where my motivation really was, and how to pray and listen to God to move closer to Him. She lists verses for memory work, and has even written out a few prayers to help make that connection with taking our vocation to God in prayer. I used my Topical Bible Study Sheet to take notes on this book and keep my focus.

Some of my favorite highlights:

  • On the outside we look like we have it all together. We roar while standing on top of a basket of freshly folded laundry when on the inside we are meowing and begging for someone to see us, to take notice.
  • ask God what He would have you do and ask Him to provide what you need to accomplish it.  God does provide. He does still bless.
  • “I give up, God. If you want me to be like this woman then you will have to show me exactly how to do it.” In my spirit I heard Him giggle at me as if to say, “Finally”!
  • A child cannot be disciplined by us until we first learn to discipline ourselves. They will follow after our example. When it comes to our children it is vital we follow through with punishments, admit to it and apologize when we are wrong, and show our children the proper way to live by living properly ourselves
  • To accomplish these things we must put God first before everything else. Success for our family will also be different from success of others. Why? He did not call us all to do the same things.

This was written by a protestant lady, but as a Catholic I didn’t find anything to argue with. There were a few times when adding in the sacraments was the natural follow through, for example: “No matter how many steps you take away from God, it only takes one step to come back. Ask God to purge your heart and begin restoring you.” and I would add – and get yourself to confession! There were a few others like that, but they weren’t problematic for me.

 

My Morning

Since early last summer, I have been waking up early. Well, with all these kids, I have been getting up early for years, but this year I made it an intentional time of bible study and prayer, as well as planning my day so I could act on it instead of falling into a pattern of reacting to whatever life threw at me. It’s an idea I have tried many times in the past, but the book Maximize Your Mornings helped me find a way to make it work this time. Summer was easy. I set my alarm and even if the kids woke up, they could just play while I had my time with God and planned my day.

When school started I tried to have my time at nap time. But since real nap time is a rarity around here, that fell flat quickly. Morning was chaos, since the baby would wake up as soon as I got out of bed. Finally, desperate to find the time, I asked my husband if, when he didn’t have to work super early, he could handle the kids until 6am. He was happy to help!

When I first read Maximize Your Mornings, I dismissed it as something that just wouldn’t work for me. She just had no idea what my life was like. But slowly, I was able to integrate some her ideas into my day in my own way. I changed some things, because nobody else’s plan is going to completely fit someone else’s life. My plan probably won’t fit yours. But that is not a reason not to try something. Maybe you do far more than I do, and my plan looks like preschool to you… no matter, we are all on this path, trying to grow closer to the heart of our Lord.

Here is how my morning goes (or tries to):
5:20am – My alarm goes off, I put my thermometer in my mouth and head to the bathroom. I get my coffee, say my morning offering, and sit down at the table with coffee, notebook, kindle, and bible.
5:30 – I’m all set. I start my bible study, depending on the day I am working either on the Sunday readings or a topical bible study. Read, underline, pray, make some notes… I try to fill one half sheet of paper with notes, using some worksheets I made to keep me on track:  SOAP/Topical Half Page .
5:50 or so – Planning time. I check my Weekly Overview and fill out my Daily Page. I put my daily page up on my clipboard on the wall, so I can read it and check things off through the day.
6am – Start getting the kids up are ready for school. I aim to get my shower in between 6 and 6:30, but it depends on how much help the kids need at this time.

One thing this plan hinges on is that I have filled out my weekly overview ahead of time, so my planning time in the morning doesn’t involve really doing the planning so much as reviewing it. I fill out my weekly overview on Fridays for the upcoming week. I confess that I am addicted to that little piece of paper. There are always mornings that, as I do my planning, I know that something is going to have to change – I might need to schedule a doctor appointment and not know when we will get in for example, but when I plan, I know to leave plenty of space for possibilities.

And then it is busy, busy, busy the rest of the day. But having this time in the morning gives me a little more resilience to make it through and helps me to keep my focus on God and making my work a prayer.

I’ll tell you more about what I do with my bible study worksheets in another post. I’m also working on a page to list all these resources and others I use as well.

Grace Cafe

With an in-the-trenches feel to it, this book is giving me practical ways (recipes for life) on how to live my vocation as a mother and still grow closer to God. 

I started it originally about a year ago and set it down about half way through.  I picked it up again the other day and with it, a pen.  Now that I am scribbling my own notes and underlining like crazy it is really beginning to sink in .  My first task has been to initiate a regular morning prayer time.  I was encouraged by her quote from the Catechism “But we cannot pray ‘at all times’ if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it.”  (CCC 2697).  This is a Catholic mother of 5 who has been there and managed to live the vocation of wife and mother while bringing God’s grace into her home.

Now, on to chapter 2!