Mom is the Heart of the Home

The girls and I have been listening to the Little Women audiobook during our car rides.  We are about a quarter of the way in, and let me tell you, I am hooked.  I’d like to say that I fall in love with books sparingly, but honestly, I’m reckless.  I’ll give my heart away to just old any book with strong characters and beautiful phrasing.  I’m a book harlot.  I admit it.  But there’s something about this book that is catching my heart in a way that I haven’t experienced in awhile.

I already knew the story as I’m sure you all do.  I’ve watched the movie a few times.  I read a children’s abridged version back in the day, and I’ve picked up the book and have read bits and pieces of it throughout the years.  But I never took the time to sit down and really dig into it.

As I do, I realize that the March household is exactly what I thought life would be like with four girls.  They are imaginative.  They are kind.  They have their spats, but in the end, they all sit by Marmee with their heads upon her lap listening to her wisdom doled out in her ever patient and loving manner.

And in some ways, that is what our life is like.  My daughters are imaginative and kind.  They do come together in the end.  But there’s not a whole lot of sitting around listening to wisdom or quiet stories.  In fact, there’s not a whole lot of quiet.  Ever.  If I try to say, “Now come my little daughters…” they laugh at me.

Actually, as I get into the story, I find myself wishing more and more that I could be like Marmee.  If I could just be like her, my logic goes, then my children could learn to grow up to be kind and holy and patient and wonderful.

But I’m not like her.  I’m more the crazy scattered mom that might show up in a Drew Barrymore Romcom or the crazy sitcom mom who never quite fits in with the more posh and dignified members of society.

This started to bother me.  I was listening to a podcast interview a couple of days ago by a woman I admire.  She was talking about her family and how she keeps God at the center.  And my goodness did I feel longing.  And jealousy.  And frustration.  How ever am I going to instill that in my girls when I don’t have it in my own heart.

But then I read this article in To Jesus, Sincerely.  In it, the writer discusses how the mother is called to be the heart of the home.  Her overall argument is that the way the mom goes, so goes the family.  If the mom is patient and peaceful and holy, the family and the children will be as such.  If the mom is curt and cruel and selfish, she will see that reflected back at her in her children and in the culture of the family.  The mom sets the tone.  It’s just how it is.

And honestly, this idea made me angry.  That might seem like an odd reaction, but the parts of me that hear the messages all around me got all righteously indignant.  After all, why should a woman have to be the heart of everything?  Why is it her job to be the example?  And why should I have to donate my whims and emotions and authenticity to the cause of creating a positive family culture?  None of that is very liberated.  TJ and I are partners.  He sets the tone too, gosh darnit.

Seriously, I got very mad.  And then I had to laugh.  Because I was so, very wrong.

I’ve been realizing over the last year or two how much I have started to value authenticity.  I think I’ve always valued it, but it has become more and more important to me over the years.  And that’s great.  It’s important for us to know how we feel.  It’s important for us to utilize our strengths.  It’s important for us to express ourselves and allow ourselves freedom to touch and impact the world.  Realizing this has been crucial in me overcoming my anxiety.  It’s not something I really want to give up, nor is it something I think I should give up.

The problem, I think, is that my idea of authenticity was a bit immature.  To me, it meant always letting my feelings be heard.  Always validating my own ideas and thoughts.  Always following my bliss as they say.

And that can be problematic.  That’s the logic of the child.

No, I’ve realized that mature, responsible authenticity requires us to acknowledge what is within us and then to take it and use it in service of our values.  Not all anger needs to be expressed.  Not every whim should be followed.  Not every feeling heeded.  Not every word uttered.

The more I realize this, the more I realize that I have it within my power to create the home culture that I want to.  If I want my children to learn patience, I can work really, really hard to be patient.  If I want kindness and generosity and charity to guide our works, then I need to manifest kindness and generosity and charity.  Even when it’s not easy.  Even when we might not really feel it.

When we have babies, so many of us (myself definitely included) read all the books about sleep and feeding and discipline and cognitive development.  Half of us sound like encyclopedias rattling off study after study.  And all of that is very important in raising children.  But we also have to look farther and realize that we are actually raising future adults.  And as such, the best thing that we can do for our children is to cultivate the character of their primary role models, ourselves.

At Mass this morning, our priest was talking about friendship.  He quoted someone as saying that no matter where we end up, Heaven or Hell, we will bring others with us.  As mothers we have the responsibility of knowing that those little souls who surround us day in and day out are at our mercy in terms of what they will learn in their youngest years.

And it might now sound very liberated to say that I sometimes have to sacrifice my own whims and the expression of them in order to be a good example for others, but it’s true nevertheless.

And so I’m taking up the challenge.  I am going to assume the responsibility of being the heart of our home.  I’m going to set the tone.  And I’m going to do my best to do it well.  What greater vocation is there?

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Word of 2018: Family

My girls are getting older.  Luckily they are spread out and not doing it all at the same level because let’s be honest — that would be overwhelming.  But still, they are growing up.

2018 will see us welcoming in a 10 year old, 7 year old, 5 year old, and a 2 year old.  All of those are big ages.  All of them mean we are leaving stages behind.

And it’s an honor.  It is such an amazing honor to be able to help these little ladies become little women.

I don’t know about you, but I find myself fluctuating a bit as each enters and leaves stages.  I’ll discover new joys with one, recognize new stages with another.  Silly clown faces become inside jokes.  Some of them are able to tell real jokes that make me laugh real, full blown belly laughs.  We get to discuss ideas and books and goals and values.

And with my little two – they aren’t quite at those stages yet – they are so full of becoming.  Tessie is saying new words every day and Mae’s little bubble of life is so full it’s almost bursting most days.  And she’s asking new questions and she’s making astute observations.  Her mind is growing faster than her little body is

Life is beautiful, and it’s loud, and it’s so very, very full.

Each year I try to come up with a word of the year.  I realized a few years ago that resolutions carry with them a lot of pressure and not a whole lot of success.  And they are usually limited to one area of life.  But if you choose a word to focus on, it can inspire us in many different ways.  And there’s no success or fail.  It’s just always striving.

But I had a hard time this year coming up with a word.  I had a lot of different ideas and a lot of different directions.  One day I would find a word and decide that surely that was it.  But then the next, I would come up with another that I was equally convicted about.

And then the word, “family” came to me.  And I thought about my changing family.

It would be an understatement to say that I am overwhelmed about leading little girls into womanhood.  Perhaps that is because I will be 40 years old in a couple of weeks, and I still do not have the slightest idea of how to be the woman I want to be.  I know how important a role model is for little girls, and I know that I am, for better or worse, the largest role model they will ever have.

That’s a lot of pressure.

One of my biggest worries is the world around them.  Our American culture was dangerous for little girls back in the 80s.  Today, it’s downright toxic.  As a culture, I think we have learned our lesson about telling girls that their gender limits them.  That’s a big victory.  But we still haven’t developed a culture that teaches little girls that they have dignity, and we haven’t developed a culture that teaches little girls how and where to find their dignity.  We haven’t created a culture that gives them space to be their own imperfect selves.

And so we can’t look to the culture.  For that, we have to look to ourselves and to our families.

And so this year, when I find myself worrying about how I am going to lead my daughters or when I find myself getting stuck into the toxicity of the culture or my very own brain, I’m going to focus on family.  I’m going to remember that the best thing I can do for them is to create a strong bond within our walls.  A bond that keeps us together.  A bond that makes them feel a part of something larger.  A bond that is joy and peace and understanding and acceptance.

TJ and I need to create an atmosphere of holiness and respect for the dignity of each and every person.  We want to instill a desire for service in them, but we have to remember that to go out and serve effectively, we must first be whole ourselves.  And that wholeness can be nurtured in each and every one of us by having a stable and a joy filled and a respectful and a comfortable place to land at the end of the day.

And the more I feel the enormity of the burden and feel myself not big enough for the task, I remember these words, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8)

This reminds me that I don’t need to know all the answers.  When I feel lost inside my own head, all I need to do is watch what I am putting in it and watch what I am focusing it on.

I’ve been scared to have little girls my whole life.  They always seemed so fragile, so malleable, so breakable.  Never did I feel like I could lead a daughter into a full and complete and dignified womanhood.

So God gave me four.

Like the cliche goes, it’s a trial by fire.  And I realize through the years (almost a decade of parenting!) that the more I help my daughters grow into themselves, the more they help me grow into myself.

Leading this family with TJ is the joy and the honor of my life.  When things get tough this year, as they inevitably always do, I am going to look in.  I’m going to fortify my walls, and I am going to focus on my family, and I’m going to make us the most solid unit that I can.

2018.

Family.

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2017 Gratitude

As 2017 draws to a close, the memories come back more and more strongly.  The closer we get to January 16th, the more vivid the memories of that day last year become to me.  The day TJ collapsed at Urgent Care.  When we drove behind the ambulance in the snow, me trying to explain to four crying, scared little girls why Daddy was lying on the floor in the waiting room.  When he spent a week in the ICU and I spent a few days wondering if I would have to live this long, crazy, scary life alone.

I thought all of those memories had left me once I stopped shaking every time I saw an ambulance or lost my breath any time I saw the stoplights by the hospital or heard the word sepsis or looked at TJ’s leg and realized what it could have taken from me.

They said it was PTSD.  It probably was.  It’s gone now.  But the memories and the fear sometimes still remain.

When I think of those first nights, those terrifying nights, the only nights I have known since 1999 that didn’t have TJ conscious with me, I think of fear.  But that quickly fades and I am left with one feeling.  Gratitude.

During the time he was most critical, I learned quickly that I needed to ease the terror some how.  And i decided at the time that I would do that through gratitude.  So every time they sent me out of the room so they could do a procedure or every time his blood pressure wouldn’t rise or every time he told me that breathing was too hard and he couldn’t do it anymore, I kept thinking “gratitude.”  Be grateful that he is here.  Be grateful that they said the odds are in his favor.  Be grateful that things worked out precisely as they did because otherwise we may never have made it to the ICU and the doctors and the medicine that would help him.

I knew other people that night were getting worse news.  I was determined to hold on to what I had.

And I prayed.  A lot.  I prayed to Mary most of all.  I prayed for her to be with me.  I prayed for her to mother him in his semi-conscious state… where ever he was that night.

In my years leading up to that point and in the months since, I have never believed in God or in Mary’s love as strongly as I did that first night in the ICU.  I wasn’t standing on my own.  They were holding me up, Mary’s mantle wrapped tightly around us both.

God doesn’t promise us all happy days or even happy endings here on Earth, but he does promise us that he will never leave us alone.  And I knew that deep in my bones that night in the ER and then the ICU.

I clung to gratitude those days in the hospital and now in the months since, I still find myself overwhelmed with thanksgiving and love whenever I remember all that surrounded us at that time.

I think back to my family who came out immediately.  In the middle of the night.  In the snow.  When there really was nothing much they could do for him as they couldn’t even go in and see him.  I think of how I told them all to stay home because I was worried about them driving in the snow  And I think about how I thought I would be fine there alone.  And how utterly absurd that was.  Surely I could not have handled being alone that night.

And I think of TJ’s dad and sisters who came.  How they did get a chance to go in and see him.  He wasn’t really conscious enough to know much of who was there, but I know it meant a lot to him in hindsight as we talked about who came to visit him.

And I think of how my mom spent a large part of every day at my house that week.  How she was literally the only one in the world who could have stepped in and watched my girls when they were so scared and vulnerable.  How even though Tessie was only three months old, I knew she would be absolutely okay in my absence because aside from a parent’s love, nothing compares to a grandparent’s.

And I think of our priest who came to give TJ Anointing of the Sick.  No phone call in my entire life was more surreal than the one to the parish I go to 3-5 times a week, asking them to come and give Annointing to my husband because there was a chance…

And I’m grateful that it was our priest who was able to come.  Who knew Terry.  Who brings peace where he goes.  Who it felt like brought the mercy and love of God with him.  Who brought a little of the familiar into that very unfamiliar situation.

And I have gratitude towards my grandparents.  They both passed away a few years ago.  When they died (the first people I was truly close to who died) I learned the lesson that death isn’t as far away as it seems.  That we can feel people who have passed and that that love really doesn’t die when our bodies die.  People may laugh at me or scoff at me when I say this, but they were there with me.  Perhaps they rode with Mary on the wings of angels down into the hallway of that hospital ward.  I could almost feel their touch, their presence.  They never left me alone.  I heard words in my head that only my grandpa would say, and I felt the light in that dark hallway that always comes to me when my grandma is near.

Christmas Eve Mass often gives me the tears, even moreso now that Magoo sings in the choir.  I love the joy and the glory of it.  The feeling of love and togetherness and triumph and warmth.  But this year, the tears were a bit more poignant.

Prior to this year, I never really understood the concept of a church family.  I always thought it was just a wishy washy term that people used at bake sales or something.  But as I looked through the pews, I saw row after row of families who helped me stand during that week when I could not stand alone.  I saw people who brought me meals.  People who drove my children home from school.  People who welcomed my children into their homes.  People who came into my home.  People who gave me hugs.  People who talked to me into the night offering companionship when I desperately needed diversion.  People who texted me at 2am when they would have been better off sleeping to see if I needed someone to sit with me at the hospital.  People who prayed for me.  People who loved me.  People who stood in the spaces that were empty and filled them and filled us and lifted us up.

And I sat there as the choir sang “Joy to the World,” and a whole rush of emotion overtook me as I realized that all of these people – the people in the Church, the people at home, my family, my friends, neighbors and acquaintances, they all held me and my girls up when we couldn’t have stood on our own.

And I realized that even though I have an almost epic ability to feel lonely that I am never actually ever alone.

Our cup is fill.  God had provided.  And I was so very, overwhelmingly, mind bogglingly grateful.  At that moment and in this one too, it feels like in all the world perhaps no family was luckier or more blessed than mine was when we most needed it.

So to 2017, I say you have taught me many lessons.  Many I hope not to have to relearn.  But I close out this year knowing that things could have gone very differently and my world could look so much more barren than it does tonight.

And for that I have all of my people to thank.

I am so honored and blessed to consider you all among my people.

May your 2018 bring you happiness and joy and may God as always hold you in the palm of his hand.

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It’s a Beautiful Journey

 

Honesty, the last couple of months have been rough.  Nothing dramatic has happened.  To be honest, I think it’s mainly because I hadn’t been sleeping well.  Not sleeping well eventually led to me not perceiving and processing and dealing well.  It made everything look more negative than it needed to be.

I guess the real truth is that being a mom to littles can be hard.  It can be chaotic.  It can be exhausting.  It can try your patience.

And I’m not alone in that.  Sometimes I feel like my children are the only ones who are disrespectful.  I have this idea in my head that all the other children in the world joyfully (or at least quietly) pick up their toys because they have an honest desire to respect their treasures.  I tend to believe that other children don’t want to go on technology too much and don’t roll their eyes when they are cut off from the television.  I imagine that they all joyfully eat their veggies and don’t try to sneak cookies.

And I think we can all have these delusions.  We can see the grass as being greener in someone else’s playroom.  That is, until we listen to the stories of others.

After almost a decade of parenting and (almost) four decades of living, one thing I’ve learned is that community and sharing are the only true ways to break out of the mindset that other people have it better or easier.  Honest conversation is the great equalizer because it teaches us that our stories are all very similar and are struggles mirror one another even when our circumstances differ and our strengths and weaknesses are varied.

I had the opportunity to have a long talk with some wonderful women a few nights back, and I was reminded of this fact, and I almost had to laugh at how very easy it is for me to forget that we are all stuck in the mud some days and we all feel like we are struggling.

I was also reminded by a friend of another idea.  The idea that a lot of our struggle comes from our expectations.  I expect my children to act like little adults, and as such, I get frustrated when they don’t.  I expect calm in a chaotic world, and I wonder what is wrong when it doesn’t happen.

And the problem with living in a world of false expectations is that it robs us of our ability to react because instead of problem solving, we are sitting in the middle of a mess, screaming “why?”.

I’ve been reading On Pilgrimage by Dorothy Day.  She reminded me that to focus on these struggles is to obscure the whole picture.  Because you know what?  Parenting is hard.  But it’s even more beautiful.

I got to stay up late last night with Magoo watching Harry Potter — it was her first time watching any of the movies.  She was wrapped in a blanket, and she was so very excited.  She thrives on personal time with people she loves.  She is exquisitely kind and thoughtful.  She’s helpful.  She’s responsible.  She’s beautiful.

And then there’s my Goose.  She’s still a little bundle full of passion.  She’s missing her two front teeth and that’s about the only thing in the universe that could make her glowing smile even more adorable.  Luckily she’s not missing adult teeth like some of her other sisters because it seems to be her mission to get every tooth as wiggly as possible.  The Tooth Fairy may go broke.

And there’s my Mae.  She’s been struggling a bit lately, but she tries so very hard to make people happy.  She spent yesterday making a crochet chain for “the mean boy” she knows to try to make him happy.  She is very uncouth and unrefined, but she is one hundred percent heart.  She has a voice, and she is not afraid to make it heard.

And then there’s my little Tessie.  She’s becoming a trouble maker like her sisters were at this age.  And they are eating it up.  Every single thing she does is hysterical to them.  A first child has two parents gushing over their every move.  A fourth child also has three adoring sisters who thinks everything she does is new.  She’s snuggly, and sweet.  She smiles freely, and she’s very, very smart.  Deep in the night, she’s my lack of sleep as well as my solace.

Right now they are planning a concert.  One is wearing an Easter dress two sizes small, one a Hufflepuff gown.  One is in her Christmas jammies and thinks it’s hysterical that Grandma might come over when she is still in them.  They are scrambling for instruments, planning their songs.  My ears are practically bleeding.

And yet the sound (noise ha) is beautiful.  It comes from youthful enthusiasm and a desire to perform.  The sound is joy and chaos and passion and not yet enough musical lessons.

The sound is real.  It’s the sound of my people.  My beautiful little girls who bring the life into this house.  My girls who are the reason for so much that I do.  The little women who watch me and learn from me and who deserve the very best of me.  The people who also have to see me struggle to learn that it is okay and it is normal and that the trick is to always stand back up.

In absolutely zero ways do they make life easier.  But they make it infinitely more beautiful.  I am so honored to walk this journey with them.

 

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Christmas Stress

Hi friends.

It’s the week before Christmas.  A week where school goes up until December 23.  A week after we have had 5 of the 6 of us with stomach flu.

A week of chaos.

And I hate chaos.  I don’t handle it well.  My mind spins as fast as the events surrounding me.  The more I have to do, the less I am able to do.  And that doesn’t work well because I have approximately 36 seconds each day in which to accomplish everything around the house that I have to accomplish.  When I’m panicking for 34 of those seconds… well, you can guess how things go.

And this always happens.  And everyone says it’s because of my own standards.

And I guess it is.  It is because I want a clean house on Christmas and Christmas Eve.  I want everything in order.  I want to be able to sit down in the middle of my family and watch them open presents without having to shoo away cobwebs and trip over Little People.

Every year.  Every year I want this.  Every year I stress out the whole week before Christmas trying to attain this, and *almost* every year Christmas Eve comes around and I don’t have my cleanliness.  I might have an approximation but not the real thing.

And I think all of this might be fine if the clean house was just a want.  But it’s also something I need this time of year to feel peace.  When I don’t have it, I look around, and with every misplaced shoe or rumpled up pair of shorts in a corner, I see failure.  In my mind, I see my children looking back on Christmas and thinking it wasn’t magical enough because the state of our house did not match the magnitude of the holiday.

Silly?  Probably.  Panic inducing.  Yes.

And I try to enlist help.  But let’s face it, asking people to help just requires me to supervise and then people pout and I get frustrated and lose patience, and then I feel guilty again for ruining their run up to the holidays.

And then I try to put it all in perspective.  We decorate our houses for Christmas because we are nesting.  We are preparing for the birth of Jesus.  And so it shouldn’t be stressful.  It should be a joyous event.  It should bring us peace and a sense of anticipation.

And then I see the dirty socks.

And so you can see, I try to minimize the stress of this week.  I try to talk my way out of it.  I try to put it in perspective.

But honestly, people.  All I really want is a clean house.  One week.

Is that too much?

Maybe our elf could surprise me one night…

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On Loneliness

Do you ever get lonely?

I do.  In fact, if I had to list one pervasive feeling that has followed me for as long as I can remember, I think it would be loneliness.  It seems to stick to me regardless of my state in life or the number of people around me or my overall mental or physical health.

My one constant companion is this loneliness.

And I’ll be the first to admit that this might seem a little bit silly.  I have my four girls who are always, always with me.  And they are always talking.  And they are always wanting me around.  They are very often all within a fingertip’s distance from me.  Morning and night.

And I have my husband.  My husband who does not work crazy hours.  My husband who does not go out to bars or clubs or sporting events.  My husband who is always around to talk or to listen even though talking is not on his short list of favorite activities.

So how could I possibly live in a full house and feel so alone?

I think, for me, my loneliness stems from a desire to have someone step into my space.   Someone who also resides in that space.  Someone who knows these struggles and understands the trials and can commiserate with the difficulty that this particular life brings.  Regardless of what my particular life looks like at the moment.

Sure I share my physical space with people.  But my mental space is different.  The girls have different priorities.  And they are children.  Their job is to be self-centered.  Their job is to care about their own lives and states of mind.  Their job is to really not, at these ages, pay all that much attention to my personal life and thoughts.  And my job, honestly, is to keep those grown up spaces separate from them.

And TJ could not reside closer to me.  We share a home and a family and a life.  We are happy.  We laugh together.  We have jokes together.  We try, constantly, to gross each other out.  He’s my other half.  But his life is so very different.  His days are spent providing for the physical needs of our family.  My days are spent focusing on the emotional needs of our family.  Sure our lanes cross, but still they are separate.  He knows what it is like to parent these children, but he does not know what it is like to mother anyone.

And so I found myself today sitting on a park bench, bracing against the cold Autumn wind wiping tears from my eyes.  How could this world be filled with so many people, and yet I find myself alone?  I find myself desperately searching for people who could understand and who will listen.  People who have the time and the space.  People whose struggles are similar to mine.  People who can commiserate and understand.  People who know the joy and the pain and the trial and the triumph of this station of life.  People who can just sit there and hear and listen and laugh and cry.  People willing to listen to the dark parts.  People who won’t run away.

And I don’t know.  Is this an experience unique to me?  Or unique to mothers?  Unique to stay at home mothers?  Part of the modern, suburban experience?

Or is it all of us?  Is it part and parcel of living these unique lives in this fallen world where we yearn for so much more than we can ever have?  Is it an inevitable part of the exile or is it a state I could transcend if only I could find… well, whatever it is I need to find?

I don’t really have any answers.  I just have this feeling of loneliness that can be so deep sometimes that I fear I might fall in and not find my way out.

And I hesitated to write this today.  I had an anonymous commenter a couple of months ago state that my writing is heavy and there’s not much levity there.  And so I tried to keep that in mind and I waited and waited to write until I had something lighter to post.

But the simple parts don’t inspire me to write.  They are there loud and beautiful and so easy for me to see.  They don’t help me connect with people.  Or with myself.

So I apologize if this is another heavier post.  For me, it’s just honest.

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To Tess as You Turn One

Oy vey, Tessie.

This is a hard one. In less than four hours, you will turn one. Technically you won’t be an infant any more. Those days will probably be behind us forever. And we will be entering into a new stage as a family.

Magoo has the hard job of entering us into each new stage. That’s a lot of pressure. You have the hard job of closing us out of stages. I presume that is a hard job as well.

I remember when I found out I was pregnant with you. I didn’t know what life would be like with four kids. Our house felt so full. What would another little person be like.

I couldn’t dream you up. I couldn’t envision who you would be.

And I think that’s a good thing. Because never ever could I have dreamt up you.

You are my sweetheart. The itty bitty little mascot trailing along at the end of a long line of sisters.

You are sweet. Oh so very sweet. And you are patient. And you are calm. And you smile nearly any time anyone looks at you.

In a way I’m a little bit proud of that. The last year has been a bit tumultuous. But from where I stand, it seems as if you are oblivious to that. As you should be.

I want to sit here and gush. I want to tell you how nearly every day you take my breath away. I want to tell you how very often your gentle little soul brings tears to my eyes. I want to tell you how you were and are my little rosebud after the long winter.

But my heart is so fragile right now.

So instead I will just say this.

I love you, Tessie. I’m so proud of you. And my life is better because I know you.

(That was the last picture I took of you as a 12 month old. It’s a perfect depiction of you.)

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To My Girls

To my girls,

I have a quick note for you.  My hope is that it some day finds you when you most need to hear it.  When you are looking for yourselves.  When you are feeling lost.  When you don’t know where to turn.

What I want to say is that you are loved.  You have dignity.  You have worth more immeasurable than the stars.

Our world will not tell you this.  Our world will tell you that you need to jump through hoops and pass tests and dance on a tightrope just to prove yourself.  And when you have passed these tests and climbed those mountains and you feel like you have finally won your worth, you will find that still you do not measure up in the eyes of the world.

But please do not despair.  Because what the world doesn’t tell you is that the world doesn’t matter.  The world cannot judge you.  It cannot determine your value or your worth because that has already been determined well before you were even created.

Even the most wicked and vile and ugly and dull and imperfect among us is worth more than the stars and the moon.  And you most surely are not wicked or vile or ugly or dull or any of the millions of other labels flying around looking to land somewhere vulnerable.

I would love to be the one to teach you the dignity of a soul.  I would be eternally honored to be the woman to model for you the assurance that can reside in a soul secure in its worth.  But to be honest and as usual, what I want most for you is what I lack the most and where I am most deficient.

So while a model is the best way to learn, I hope that maybe my words will be sufficient while I wait for the rest of myself catch up.

Today you ran and you leapt into piles of leaves, your giggles filling the entire yard.  You were not self-conscious.  You were not restrained.  Your laughter was not tamed.

Surely growing all the way up won’t always be easy, but my hope is that you remember these years and you hold them in your pocket and one day when you are feeling low, you will take them out, dust them off, and remember that you are still that same little girl who was worth the world.  You always will be.

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Err on the Side of Mercy

It was a rough morning today. We had a bug incident in the car. For any of you who don’t happen to travel with four little girls, bug incidents can be big incidents.

There’s drama. Lots of drama.

I would go into the whole story, but it didn’t end well. Magoo got out of the car in tears. I’ve never had a child get out of the car in tears. I have a rule that I never break. I make sure that even if we have an awful time getting out of the house, our car ride to school is peaceful. We say “I love you”. We say “I’m sorry” if necessary. And we always, always end on a good note. I call it my Sandy Hook rule.

We did said the “I love you” today, but it wasn’t enough. It didn’t outweigh the drama.

And I felt awful.

I have a guiding principle for myself – always keep the respect. I can have my rules. I can enforce them. I can expect things of them that they may not want to do. But I treat them with respect.

Yes I break this rule at times, but I always come back. About the only thing I know about raising tweens or teens is that some way or another, I need to keep the relationship with them strong. Even through the boundary pushing and the hormonal flares and the inevitable disagreements, I need to keep that relationship strong. They need a shelter from the storms. They will find that shelter somewhere. I need to make sure it is with me.

So I had all of this and the guilt weighing on my mind as I left the drop off lane today. I decided to drown my sorrows in a latte before I had to drop Mae off at preschool.

So I sat in the ridiculously long line berating myself ceaselessly. And then I got up to pay, and I found out that the person in front of me had paid for my order.

I was shocked. How could this possibly happen to me today? In what world do I possibly deserve this?

And it seemed so out of order that it felt like it had to be a message from God. I shot up a quick prayer. “God, what do you want me to learn from this?”

And the only answer I could come up with was mercy. Reckless, free flowing, abundant mercy.

I had already forgiven Magoo. I had forgiven her before she got out of the car. I already had plans to catch her on her way out of Mass and apologize and try to make amends. My feelings towards her were of love.

It was to myself that I needed to extend the mercy.

And it’s hard. It’s an hour later, and I’m still feeling upset and guilty. But when my children express remorse to me (and even when they don’t) my forgiveness is immediate. I’m quick to ask their forgiveness if I do something wrong. They freely give it.

Mercy and forgiveness are flowing so freely in our home. Until it gets to me – that’s when it gets stuck inside and won’t budge.

I don’t really know how to grant myself the mercy. All I know is that Magoo did and God did, and I’m the only one left stalling the train.

But I also know it’s important that I do – if for no other reason than because I want my girls to learn to show mercy towards themselves.

Again I’m reminded that maybe the hardest relationship in this parenting gig is that from ourselves toward ourselves. And yet it’s so important because it is the model our kids use to determine how they should treat ourselves.

I wish it were something easier.

But as I walked up to give Magoo a hug, she got a huge smile on her face. She gave me a hug and I think she felt at peace. That’s what I needed to know.

Today I will pray for mercy. That we are all able to show it more frequently to others and to ourselves. That we learn to wrap ourselves in the mercy of God and feel the weight of it and the presence of it so strongly that we can’t help but show it to others and to ourselves as well.

Will you pray with me?

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Mom Stress

I had quite a few jobs before I had kids.  I was a college writing teacher.  I tutored.  I worked in media buying and marketing research.  Prior to that, I waited tables and worked at a retail store.  I was a day camp counselor, and I spent a truly awful few months as an advisor at a far less than reputable company.

Some of those jobs were stressful.  Some were fun.  Most were a combination of the two.

But none of them compare to the pressure I sometimes feel as a mom.

When I was teaching, I would put a lot of pressure on myself.  I really cared about my students, and as their instructor I felt a legitimate pressure to help them improve their writing.  They would come to me at all different skill levels and all different levels (or lack thereof) of motivation.  My job was to help them get from where they were to where they wanted to be.

With their writing.

With my kids, however, my job is to help them get from where they are to where they want to be… in only everything.

I have four little girls.  I desperately want for them all to feel loved.  I want them all to feel special.  I want them to all feel like they have a piece of me all to themselves.  I want them to feel my presence.  I want them to know that I am interested in their activities and their goals and their friends and their school.

I want to give them a lot.  They deserve no less.

And so this year I started volunteering a bit more with their activities.  I’m helping coach Magoo’s softball team, and I’m leading her scout troop.  I led Goosie’s scout troop last year, and next year I’ll lead Mae’s first year.  I’m helping out with some prep work at home for Goose’s teacher.  I want to volunteer at Mae’s preschool at times when I can bring Tessie with me.

On top of that, I try to give them all one on one time with reading nearly every day.  I try to do special dinner dates or book dates with them one on one.  I try to work with each of the older two on badges by themselves.  I try to foster inside jokes and make sure that they all know that they have a part of my heart that is all their own.

I try to help them with homework and with completing chores.  I try to get them each what they need for activities and to practice with them or watch them practice.  I try to attend all the choir practices and violin practices and morning Masses.  Not because I’m required to be there but because they like it when I am there, and I think they like knowing that I want to be there with them.

And man does this stress me out.

It’s not the time commitment.  I have a lifetime of experience being overbooked, and in some ways I thrive on it — it definitely holds me accountable for time management.

No, what stresses me out is the kids and not disappointing them.  Not embarrassing them.

I’m planning a doll activity for scouts on Friday.  It’s a badge requirement, and I have spent hours researching different dolls and how to make them and their histories.  I have spent time shopping and cutting and gathering supplies.  And tomorrow I have to finish up my samples.

But then the overanalyzing comes in.  The worrying if the kids will like it.  If it will seem too childish.  If the craft will be too easy or too hard.

What if we run out of time?  What if we finish in 15 minutes?  What if no one will listen to me?

What if they roll their eyes?

And I’m reminded that college students are a lot easier to teach than 4th-6th graders.  At least they are better at hiding their disappointment.

I just want to make my kids proud, you know?  I want them to know that I am doing this because I love them.  I want them to feel my presence in their lives.  I want them to look back on their childhood and say their mom was always there and involved and excited.

Even when I was terrified.

And so now I’m having panic attacks like I’ve never really had before – the kind where my heart starts to pound and my breath gets short and I start to get dizzy.

And I guess I just have to remember what I always tell my girls – you can only do the best you can.  People might love it or hate it, but you can’t control that.

And maybe I have to remember that whether they love it or hate it, they will at least be able to say I showed up.  And I tried my best.  And I loved them so very big.

And maybe I should remember that they are kind girls.  And they appreciate effort.  And that they don’t expect perfection from me.

Oh well.  I hope you are all having a calmer start to your school year.  I hope you are looking at all you do for your kids and your families.  I hope you are enjoying the things you excel at and are wise enough to recognize the areas you need work in.

I hope you are teaching your children that mistakes happen and that we don’t have to be amazing at everything.  I hope you are taking some of the pressure off of yourselves and remembering that the most important thing isn’t to do everything right for your kids – the most important thing is to let them know that you love them and support them and will never ever leave them.

I hope you remember that hugs are more important than the perfect words and that a kind look or a pat on the back can be more reassuring than setting them up for every single success.

I hope you remember that they won’t remember what you do for them.  Rather, they will remember how you make them feel.

And I hope you remember that you are awesome.  Because despite all your failures and weaknesses and deficits, no one can love those kids as much as you do, and because of that, you are the best and brightest person they could ever have in their corner.

We put a lot of stress on ourselves because we want to do right by our kiddos.  But perhaps the best thing we can teach them is that showing up is more important than being a star.  And it’s a whole lot more doable.

God bless.

Wish me luck.

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