Too busy for the falling sky

In Jerusalem.  On our Catholic pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

In Jerusalem. On our Catholic pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

It’s over.  Finally.  Sort-of.

As the pope and cardinals convened in Rome for a heated conversation about issues of the Church and family life, I was at home in Denver changing mountains of diapers and shuttling my kids to and from school and church and horseback riding lessons.  I am fancy like that.  In my free moments, though, I was able to follow along with what was happening at the synod–and oh, things were happening–and I regularly found myself thinking through what I would tell the congregation, were I invited to tell them.  I may or may not have spoken out loud to the bishops in my computer.  Because my opinions are very, VERY important.

SO important in fact that if by some small chance this post makes it to the Vatican and someone wants to pay my way to Rome, I’d be more than happy to show up and tell them, in person, whatever they wanted to know.  Shoot, I’d tell them my entire life story, complete with endearing anecdotes and a childhood song on the clarinet, if that would be helpful.  Cappuccino in hand.  Just sayin’.

Now the first thing I want to point out is really more an obvious observation: people in the mainstream media (and non-Catholics in general) don’t realize that historic Christian doctrines don’t changeBecause God’s truths don’t change.  And yet headline after headline has folks thinking that the Catholic Church has now given the green light on insert-controversial-issue-of-choice, in large part due to the powers that be who leaked an unofficial document that a majority of bishops didn’t even agree with.  So to people on the outside looking in, yes there are progressive bishops who would love to see things change, but they won’t.  Not on a doctrinal level.

The messy reality is that there have been heresies and false teachings threatening the Church since her inception, but still she continues standing for truth like a city on a hill.  Compliments of the Holy Spirit.  Boom.

Incidentally there have also been meetings in years (centuries) past where actual fist-fights broke out–did you know that St. Nicholas punched a guy in the face once?  Apparently he wasn’t always feeling so jolly up on the housetop, click-click-click.

Then there was the time when there was significant pressure from both outside and within the Catholic Church to allow for the use of artificial contraception, back in the 1960s.  People really thought that it was going to happen, and plenty of Catholics were on board (including Catholics in high positions of the Church).  But guess what actually happened?  The recently beatified Blessed Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which of course affirmed the good, old-fashioned Christian view on sexuality and marriage.  And so disappointed a lot of people.  And was subsequently ignored by a lot of people.

So.  For those on the outside (or inside) watching and waiting for the house of cards to fall, for the Church to reverse course on various doctrines, well, it won’t.  If you’re sitting there scratching your head and saying “What a mess!”, you’re right.  If you’re alarmed by people wanting to muddy the doctrinal waters of faith, I am too.  If you don’t get why some people are alarmed because you don’t think it matters “so long as the doctrines don’t change”, well, I disagree.  If you are so alarmed you can’t think of anything else because the sky is falling, take heart and spend some time thinking about happy things instead.  Like gelato.

I’d like to move on now to something I found myself desperately wanting the bishops to know during the synod, and that is that clarity was unbelievably important for me on my own faith journey.  No matter how you decide to approach or phrase something, no matter how difficult a particular teaching is, tell people the TRUTH.  In love and with mercy, but tell them the truth.  I remember the first time I read about the concept of indissolubility of marriage–incidentally one of the hot-button issues at the synod–I found it to be incredibly extreme.  As in, who honestly believes this stuff in today’s world, where remarriage is incredibly commonplace?  But when I looked at the relevant scripture passages and read Jesus’ words, and considered that the Church has historically held this forever and always, well, there was no denying the truth of it.

And people can, I think, handle the truth.  We don’t give them enough credit when we assume they can’t.  Sadly, many just don’t KNOW.

My particular perspective on the Catholic view of marriage is of course informed by the fact that when my husband and I got married, we weren’t Catholic.  And I was using the birth control pill, because we wanted to delay having the two or three children we imagined we’d someday have.  While both of us believed marriage was forever, we clearly didn’t grasp the God-designed relationship between married love and openness to children.

Which led to some problems, because the pill made me sick.  Sick and miserable.  Probably not the best way to kick off a marriage but then, like pretty much every newlywed couple wonders, how else were we supposed to go to graduate school and pay off mortgage debt and, most of all, build a strong foundation of love that can only be crafted by years of alone time and pursuing relationship with one another?

Babies are at odds with a good marriage, or so we believed.

What a mercy that contraception was such a wretched, painful pill to swallow.  A profound grace to walk away willingly, knowing it was for the good of myself and our marriage–and then to conceive our eldest daughter before we had the chance to grow too comfortable with various other types of artificial contraception.  When God stripped away our idols of perceived success, autonomy, and freedom?  We truly began to live.  Love grew in our home, unhindered.  We encountered the deepest of joys in a most unexpected place: openness to life in marriage.  This delightfully unexpected surprise has brought with it four biological children, and four adopted children.

Tell people the truth.

The Church must of course continue to find good and effective ways of ministering to married couples, mothers, fathers, children, and families.  And I would suggest that this ultimately lies (at least partly) in a courageous and unapologetic recovering of the joy and beauty of the smallness of family life.  Waiting to be discovered, if only we’ll open our hands and hearts.  The embracing of St. Therese of Lisieux’s “little way”, and Jesus’ promise of life abundant.  The Christian call to excellence, virtue and a life well-lived, that has echoed throughout the centuries, looks terribly humble and inconsequential within the context of the marriage vocation.  It is a man and a woman mysteriously becoming one and building a life together.  It is a baby birthed in pain, sweat and tears in the middle of the night.  It is the painful cross of infertility.  It is the commitment to remain, stay, keep trying, be faithful, through money problems and temptations and ambivalence and anger and wayward children and miscarriage and fear and illness.  It is waking up to dirty dishes.  It is hanging on by a thread, but hanging on just the same.  It is believing and hoping in the dignity of the vocation of marriage, even when it doesn’t look or feel very dignified.

In order to do this the Church necessarily stands as a gentle but firm contradiction to the culture, boldly and lovingly proclaiming the truth of God’s love for humanity and merciful plan for men and women.  People are starving for love, clarity and meaning.  If Christians do not share this vision for a happy, fulfilling life with the world, who will?

Remember that when I first encountered Catholicism, it was as a Protestant quite accustomed to navigating my own way through the Bible and matters of faith.  Many of the historic Christian doctrines and dogmas seemed completely foreign and, yes, arbitrary to me.  I specifically sought out Catholic sources that were clear, orthodox, and reliable.  I made myself stick with the reading, even when it rubbed me the wrong way–and often it did.  Because I figured that whether I liked it or not, whether it was comfortable or not, I owed it to the Lord to see if it was TRUE.  A lot was at stake!  And so I give thanks for the brave souls down through the centuries that were not afraid to share, unflinchingly, the life-giving message of Jesus.  Were it not for the early church fathers, popes, saints, priests, and apologists I encountered and read during the three years leading up to my conversion, would I have ever encountered the fullness of the faith?

As sad and, frankly, disturbing as it is that a bishop would want to obscure God’s beautiful plan for humankind, I don’t lose hope.  In Sunday’s homily, our priest spoke bravely about how Jesus Himself was willing to share the truth of the Gospel message–even when it was uncomfortable, and even when it left him deserted and alone.  There are many reasons I don’t despair of Catholicism in spite of knowing there are a few bishops confusing and misleading people, but one of the biggest?  The fact that this has happened all throughout the Church’s history, and yet still she stands.

And I gotta tell you, good things are happening too!  Right in my very own parish, if you’ll allow me to brag for a moment.  People are being welcomed, loved, and experiencing radical transformation.  My children are surrounded by men and women who love Jesus and His Church, who bless us with their friendship and openness of heart.  We share laughter and conversation over coffee and donuts every single week.  Our local parish is one of the biggest, most happiest parts of our lives, and I love that we are inspired to greater faith and holiness by this beautiful community of God-seeking people.  We could not ask for more.

So yeah, the synod was controversial, contentious, and a well-known cardinal committed a terrible faux paux against the African bishops, and a bunch of people think Catholicism changes like the wind even though nothing actually changed, and it’s all really kind of a big scandalous shame.

But at the same time my faith in Christ and in His Church remains unshaken. 

Of course you’ll never see me pretending that everything that happens in Rome is awesome–because it most assuredly is not.  But.  We know that is nothing new.  We know things will be messy and difficult.  We know that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15), against whom the gates of Hell shall not prevail (Matthew 16:18).  We know there will always be some number of faithful Christians living out the faith and standing for the truth.  We know that we have Jesus in the Eucharist, and Apostolic Succession and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

So we have faith.  We keep on keepin’ on.  We believe in the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.  We seek to live good lives and make Christ known and point out problems and dangers when we see them.

We stay too busy about the business of love to linger too long over a falling sky.

Why we pray the rosary

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Today is the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary.

The liturgical calendar is far and away one of my favorite things about being Catholic.  Other forms of Christianity have obviously retained some of the bigger holy days (Christmas and Easter, for example), but the vast majority slipped into oblivion.

And of course I really didn’t know much about the Rosary until I began studying Catholicism.  I’d heard of it, yes, because my husband and I are both native Californians and lived in a town for five years where everybody spoke Spanish and had huge stickers of Our Lady of Guadalupe on their cars, but beyond that I really had no idea.

Turns out the Rosary is a prayer (or devotion) consisting of five decades (a decade is ten repetitions) of the Hail Mary, each decade preceded by an Our Father and followed with a Glory Be.  The Apostles Creed, the Fatima Prayer, and the Hail, Holy Queen are also often included, and you use a string of beads to keep count.  As each decade is prayed, you contemplate one of a series of events in Jesus’ and Mary’s life, called a “mystery”.

But where did it come from?  Tradition holds that Saint Dominic (a Spanish priest and founder of the Dominican Order) received the concept in a vision from the Blessed Virgin Mary in the year 1214.  The devotion would go on to spread throughout the years–French priest Saint Louis de Montfort, in the eighteenth century, wrote a still-popular book called Secret of the Rosary, and Pope Leo XIII issued a series of encyclicals and Apostolic Letters in the 19th century noting that the Rosary is a way to participate in Mary’s life, and therefore find the way to Christ.  Mariology, as it is called, is implicit in Christology.  Unable to be separated.

Our own family prays the Rosary around the table after dinner, typically just one decade at this point, and I love it.  My children all know the prayers–even the littlest of them can hold the beads and say the words–and each night we choose a special intention (Protestant translation: prayer request).  Sometimes it’s for someone’s health, or something happening in the world.  Recently it was for my youngest, on the feast day of her patron saint, Saint Therese of Liseux.  We have had the privilege of praying the Rosary in the Holy Land, outside of our local Planned Parenthood clinic, and at the state capitol.

Catholics are often accused of being superstitious or too dependent upon rote prayers.  I’m sure some of them are, but I’m also sure this problem is not unique to Catholicism.  The fascinating thing about historic Christianity is that it really, truly, 100% is based upon the premise that prayer works.  That it does something.  Catholics pray more than any other Christian group I have encountered, and honestly?  It’s challenging!  It confronts my small faith and tendency to assume that God is up there doing what He’s doing independent of me.  It demands I face the reality that humans are created to actively participate with the Divine, that Jesus was fully human even as He was fully God–and that this has implications.  For me.  For all of us.  It boldly asserts that not all is right with the world, that there is evil to be fought and victories to be won, and that somehow we play a role.

Superstitious?  I don’t think so.

The Rosary is, I think, a deep well from which to draw hope.

Did you know that the word Catholic simply means “universal”?  And did you know that you don’t have to be in full communion with the Catholic Church to pray the Rosary?  Go to a Catholic bookstore locally or online, buy yourself a set of Rosary beads and a booklet that outlines the various mysteries, and get started.  Don’t be afraid of Mary.  Christ gave her to us as our mother, to point us back towards her Son.  Her life and role in salvation history are beautiful things, worthy of our attention and love.

So on this special feast day, Our Lady of the Rosary, pray for us!

We don’t have to be afraid

Just a sampling of some of the crazy fun we have around here.

Just a sampling of some of the crazy fun we have around here.

Last night, right before bed, my nine-year-old son Biniam went to put our cat inside our detached garage.  We have multitudes of coyotes here, so we don’t like our beloved Chesterton outdoors overnight–especially ever since Lewis’ mysterious disappearance several months ago, may he rest in peace.

Not too long later, however, Biniam came racing back into the house yelling–apparently when he’d entered the garage, he was greeted by six raccoons feasting on Chesterton’s food!  My son was wide-eyed and breathless as he reported his findings, and no doubt terribly startled, but he wasn’t afraid.

My kids don’t fear much, actually.

Snakes, roller coasters, scary movies, mice, spiders, the stomach flu, bullies–none of these things phase them.  They take it all in stride.  Life, to my children, brings with it the expectation that things will turn out okay in the end.

But grown-ups are supposed to be afraid, it seems.  Of everything.  Are my kids getting enough protein, when will so-and-so learn to read, is terrorism on the rise, how long should my child ride rear-facing in her car seat.  All of the things.

I had a moment of panic yesterday when I saw a headline and thought, oh my goodness, what if there IS a major Ebola outbreak here and we all catch it?  Maybe we should just hunker down and close the shades and hide until it’s FULLY ERADICATED FROM OUR PLANET.  But then I decided that didn’t sound like very much fun.  Nor is it probably necessary.

Shortly after becoming a mother I made the conscious decision that I was not going to pass fear along to my children, that the world is scary and hard enough without me adding my own hang-ups to it.  This has meant that I’ve had to do some things Very, Very Afraid.  (That’s the definition of being brave, right?  Doing things afraid?)  Big things like boarding a plane (I don’t like to fly) for Ethiopia, to experience my childrens’ birth country for myself.  So they wouldn’t eventually ask why I didn’t go, and then have to hear that it was because I was scared.  (Incidentally I’ve been there three times now.)  Little things like standing back and letting my kids climb and run and explore, and risk getting hurt, so they could learn to do things independently and build the confidence that only comes with experience (and a scraped knee or two.)

That’s not to say that my kids have never seen me afraid.  But I try not to be ruled, paralyzed, or driven by fear, an important distinction in my mind.  Because honestly?

These years are short.

Life is such a fleeting, precious commodity!  And when you have children, you can actually see the time slipping by.  Their little faces change and they use more sophisticated language, and they start to have an “attitude”.  They do things like ride horses and make dinner and use Google.  And I will not allow news outlets and hypothetical apocalyptic scenarios to steal the joy of warm conversations around my dinner table, or lazy afternoons spent swimming in our pool.  I won’t permit something happening thousands of miles away to eclipse the excitement of a small child getting to choose her birthday dinner and dessert.  Because all too soon, these children of mine will be grown.

That’s not to say that I pretend that everything in the world is happy.  My kids all know that suffering is an inevitable part of life.  We read the Bible nearly every day, we’ve taken the time to learn about the countless Christian martyrs who’ve died throughout the centuries, and four of my children come from horribly broken situations themselves.  So nobody’s sticking their head in the sand and whistling a merry tune.  No one is pretending that happiness lasts forever, or that we are entitled to a long/good/easy existence.  I regularly tell my kids, in fact, that it is an honor to suffer for Jesus.

But until we are asked to walk that painful road with Christ, so long as we have our relatively simple and carefree life of work and play and love, we will relax.  Enjoy.  Pray for those presently suffering, yes, but we will not take that yoke upon ourselves when it is simply not ours to own.  We will instead laugh and eat ice cream and help little sisters onto the school bus.  We will jump on the trampoline and beg Daddy to let us play Temple Run on the kindle.  We will celebrate happy milestones and beautiful food-filled holidays.

Because ultimately?  In a sense?  Everything WILL turn out okay in the end.  Any mother would fight to protect her family from physical harm, but perhaps we’re living in an age when I must also fight to protect our family’s love for life and sense of hope.  It might not be easy, but it is worth it, finding the beauty and joy in the small things we do.  Amidst the headlines and what-if’s and uncertainties of this time, we can reject the hopelessness of fear.

We can put the cat into the garage at night, and encounter large numbers of raccoons.

And we don’t have to be afraid.

Surprised by good

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Yesterday I had the privilege of being a driver on an all-school field trip for the classical academy four of my kids attend.  We’d received a grant for a golfing workshop at a nearby golf course, taught by actual PGA pro-golfers.  Cool, right?

The night before, my kids eagerly cleaned out our gigantic van (still cluttered with clothes and toys  from a trip to eastern Colorado on Sunday), and my husband installed the extra seats.  The next morning, eleven excited and jumping (yes, jumping) 5th- and 2nd-graders piled inside, including two of my own daughters who could barely contain themselves with glee because MOM IS DRIVING ME AND MY FRIENDS!!! AND WE’RE GOING TO HAVE SUCH A GREAT DAY!!!

Remember how making the initial decision to enroll in this school came with both happy anticipation and, admittedly, a degree of sadness?  We’d been homeschoolers for five years.  Preparing and eating lunch around our table every single day, sleeping until we felt like getting up, taking off to a friend’s or grandparent’s house in the middle of the week just because we felt like it, and participating in our church’s co-op, where we learned about saints and feast days and Marian gardens–pretty much our first foray into the beauty of Catholic family culture.

But still I spent my summer filling out mountains of paperwork, and scouring the interwebz and greater Denver metro area for the uniforms and backpacks and shoes and lunchboxes.  And sent my kids to school.  Because it promised to be everything I’d hoped for in terms of my kids’ education, and I loved the principal and her vision, and there was no waitlist so really, why not?

Why not see if there was good to be found in a classical brick-and-mortar education?

One of the hardest things about giving up homeschooling was letting go of the idea.  The whole BEING A HOMESCHOOLING FAMILY.  Because it’s a beautiful thing and I love all that it stands for, and I’m sure I’ll always be drawn to the pictures that homeschoolers etch through words and photos in blogs and books–so often in such lovely detail–of why they do what they do.

But honestly?  Even considering all of that?  We are loving our school.  My kids are thriving, growing, improving.  Doing things they absolutely could not do before.  The teachers, principal, and secretary are doing an incredible job, looking out for my kids and building a school culture that prizes kindness, virtue and a love for learning, all of which connect quite well with our own family values.

And what’s more, and this has really kind of snuck up on me, I’m learning to love this new lifestyle of ours.  More than a little bit.  I hadn’t realized this until quite recently, but the mental/emotional energy that homeschooling was ever so subtly taking from me was substantial.  I’m not talking about the actual work of teaching a history lesson or grading a set of math problems, because it’s not rocket science nor was it ever something I particularly minded too much.  No, I’m talking about the ever-present “I’m 100% responsible for my child’s education” piece that unfortunately took up more space in my brain than I realized.  I’m honestly kind of amazed by the freedom and peace I’m experiencing, now that I get to simply just enjoy my children and celebrate their accomplishments–versus not only directing their learning but also having to THINK about their learning, and learning STRUGGLES.  Which some of my children have.

I worried a bit over the summer that negative peer influence or a shift in focus from family life to school life would be a significant problem for us, but so far it’s been okay.  The sky does not appear to be falling.  My children remain confident, well-adjusted, semi-normal children.  Who love God and each other.  The end.

And yesterday at the golf course, as I saw them smiling with their buddies and calling out to me to watch them smack the ball, and as I chatted with the other moms and teachers?  I realized that I was, more than anything else, surprised.  Who’d have thought even a year ago that we’d be ”school people”?  That my son would be becoming a half-decent speller?  Or that my seven-year-old daughter would suddenly develop a love for writing, inspired by her sweet teacher?

Who would have known just how good this was going to be for our whole entire family?

If you’re wondering why I’m writing about this, it’s partly because it’s simply what I’m thinking about, but it’s also to humbly offer a bit of a counter-narrative to the sources that paint homeschooling as the *ONLY* possible choice for families who care about raising good kids.

Maybe my silly story about our positive experience with school can offer hope to a homeschooling family who faces the difficult decision of enrolling their kids in a traditional school, for whatever reason.  Because it happens.  And, it’s okay.

If this describes you, dear reader, I’m glad you’re here.  No matter what you decide to do, your family will survive!  I promise.

If you’re one of my many readers who is happy homeschooling, then yay!  Our years as homeschoolers were good ones.  Enjoy those lazy afternoons and snow days where you don’t have to leave the house.  Enjoy your nights free from homework, which is the bane of every traditional-school-family’s existence.

Because no matter WHO you are, you want to be able to enjoy your kids and your life.  And you and I both know there is so much fear out there–and not all without reason.  It was scary dropping my kids off for the first (and, honestly, twentieth) time, I’m nervous as all-get-out about the upcoming parent/teacher conferences, and I don’t know how everything will turn out in the end.  But guess what?  None of us do.

So we do the best we can with what we have, and sometimes we stay the course and sometimes we try new things.  Sometimes we drop out and go back.  Ahem.

And sometimes we’re surprised by good in the funniest of places, like a sunny golf course teeming with hyperactive school-kids, committed educators and parents, and professional golfers.

Parenthood brain dump

parenthoodSo my big kids are all away at school and my house is quiet, so let’s talk about the SEASON PREMIERE OF PARENTHOOD LAST NIGHT.

Also, I know.

The show is by NO MEANS a bastion of good moral decisions and yes, it’s probably a waste of precious time and brain cells when I don’t have either to spare, but oh my goodness–I just can’t help it.  I got hooked watching online last January when I had strep throat, and I’ve gotten all caught up, and I’m ready for the FINAL SEASON.

First?  I’m SO SAD it’s the final season.  Waaaaaahhhhhhh!  Why, oh why, does every good thing have to come to an end?  Dear NBC, puhhhhleeease don’t stop filming this show.  And if you kill Zeke off I’m going to be really upset.  Big-time.

Now, we need to talk about last night’s episode.  NEED to talk.  And let’s just get this out of the way first: was Amber’s baby conceived when Ryan was in the hospital?!  All battered and bruised and bloody and injured?  How romantic.  Ew.

Moving on to less disturbing things, I heart Hank.  Have been pulling for him and Sarah to be together all along.  But the ex-wife coming back?  I honestly felt kind of sorry for her and now I feel torn because of course they have a daughter, and so now I’m thinking, shoot.  Are they going to make us choose here?  This is a real dilemma.  Especially since as much as I love Sarah, she’s a bit self-destructive and maybe she doesn’t deserve Hank.  Ack.

And is it me or does Kristina cry and/or whine every single episode?  PLEASE STOP WITH ALL THE CRYING AND WHINING I want to tell her.  I’m sorry if you love her character or loved her in Patch Adams but ugh.  It’s just too much.

Mini-Braverman-anecdote: did you know the actor playing Adam was the guy in the limo going to the neo-Nazi rally on Seinfeld?  You’re welcome.

Now.  On to the VERY IMPORTANT THINGS.

Joel and Julia.

Why, Julia, WHY?!

Joel is a good guy.  I know he left and all, but in all fairness you DID kiss the guy that used to play Roy on The Office.  Now you’ve taken up with this lawyer at your firm after randomly falling for the headmaster of Adam and Kristina’s school, and apparently have no interest in reconciling with your husband and father of your children.

Boo!  Hiss!

Part of me thinks Joel is TOO GOOD FOR YOU and the other part is pulling for ya’ll to wind up happy again in your cool modern house with IKEA furniture.  Either way, though, you do not deserve to be happy if you’re not with Joel.  Who’s still wearing his wedding ring and remaining faithful to you, by the way.

So.  What I REALLY want to know is what YOU, dear reader, thought about last night’s episode?  Are you Team Joel or Team Julia or Team Joel-and-Julia?  Does Kristina’s personality drive anyone else crazy?  WHAT DO YOU THINK IS GOING TO HAPPEN?

Camping with kids {and friends}

 

glenwoodgroup2

Earlier this month we and several of our closest friends descended upon Glenwood Springs for some camping, hiking, and smore making.

And yes we did pretty much take over the entire campground.  Which could scarcely contain our awesomeness, because really–look at that great group of people!  Every family was responsible for their own meals, which really simplified things, and we all ate together in the big common area.  So.much.fun.

 

088Technically it was “cheater camping”, because we stayed in KOA cabins instead of tents.  But whatever.  Beds, heat and showers make for happy campers.  Cabins for the win!

 

077It might seem counterintuitive but I’ve found camping to be a good vacation option for families with kids.  Why?  Because kids get all excited about the food you don’t normally buy but which is a MUST for camping, they can run around outside and yell and scream and play to their hearts’ content, it’s relatively affordable (especially if you have a lot of kids like we do), and it’s conducive to doing as a group.  See how happy they all are to be setting out on our adventure?

 

083We only stayed two nights, but oh, the fun we had.

 

115There was hiking Hanging Lake.  With eight kids.  Easier said than done.

 

113Taking in stunning views.  With the many pounds I had strapped to me for the entire ascent/descent.  At least she’s cute.

 

110Taking a break from walking.  Tigist’s face is kind of how I felt when we had to begin the long trek back.  :)

 

glenwoodhumantunnelMaking a tunnel for the heroic dads who made it down the treacherous mountain with lots of tired littles.  Best.dads.ever.  Also?  That’s my friend Summer on the right, who hikes when she’s pregnant and always looks so pretty doing it.

 

084Making a mess with bagels and cream cheese.  At least she’s cute.

It was obviously a great trip.  Memories were made and there’s always this deep and abiding sense of relief accomplishment you feel after surviving something with your eight kids that you probably shouldn’t have attempted with your eight kids.  They all had a blast though and hey, that’s what counts.

Next September we’re planning to take this camping show on the road to Philadelphia and Washington, DC!

Yes, I’m being completely serious.

So how about you?  Do you ever vacation with other families?  What kinds of trips and activities have/haven’t worked for your own family? 

The boring domestication of marriage

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Dinner downtown this past summer, amidst the gay pride festivities. Because apparently that’s what you do on your twelfth wedding anniversary.

Why yes, I DID read a Huffington Post article on marriage yesterday that got me all riled up, and which I KNEW would get me all riled up, but I read it anyway.  Then I had some laughs with a friend of mine in a combox about the rabbi author’s use of the term ”erotic friction”, which somehow made it all worth it.  Oh, Facebook.

And while I’m really not interested in deconstructing the entire piece here, I will share the basic gist (because I know you’re just dying to hear): Rabbi Shmuley Boteach suggested that men are secretly fearful of their wives attracting other men, and therefore oppress them and put them in a box and desexualize them–and ALL OF THESE THINGS (read: motherhood) lead to the eventual “boring domestication of marriage.”

Well.

I suppose if women are ultimately meant to be glamorous, flirtatious sex-objects 100% of the time, then sure.  My existence as an at-home mother to eight children and subsequent daily tasks of making oatmeal and changing diapers, along with the occasional cleaning of vomit, render me (and my marriage) utterly and hopelessly boring.

And I suppose if women are so extremely fragile that we can’t help but allow our sniveling selves to be defined by and oppressed by our fearful husbands and, ahem, need men to speak for us in the Huffington Post, then absolutely.  We’ve lost ourselves and our ability to self-actualize.  Sniff, sniff.

Look.  I’m not a marriage expert.  I’ve been married to my husband for twelve years now and we have a happy relationship, but I don’t pretend to understand the inner-workings of anyone else’s marriage.  Relationships are unique after all, and who has time to meddle in others’ affairs when you’re working on your own?  Not this lady!

But I WILL say that married life isn’t boring, at least no more so than any other lifelong pursuit marked by hard work, occasional-to-regular conflict, and sleeping in painfully close quarters with the same person night after night.  Not that I mind though, because I rather like sharing a life and a bed with my dear husband.  When I said earlier that I’m happy in my marriage, I really meant it.  My husband makes me laugh, is a great conversationalist, he reads smart books, doesn’t get mad at me when I fall asleep while we’re watching a movie, and works hard to provide for our family.  He’s a great dad.  Etc. etc. etc.  And we hold relatively traditional gender roles in our home, because my staying home to raise our kids is a huge value for BOTH of us.  Such a huge value, in fact, that we discussed it long before ever walking down the aisle at First Baptist Church that glorious summer afternoon in June.  Yes, First Baptist Church–those were the days!

And see, here’s the thing.

Part of what the rabbi misses in his estimation of women and men is the idea that love encompasses the WHOLE PERSON–not just their sexuality, and of course not excluding their sexuality.  As in, you can’t exactly divorce sex from real life, from bad days at work and that argument you had about spending too much money this month and the five hours you spent in IEP meetings this week.

I did that, by the way.  Five whole hours.  Two meetings.  Two different schools.  Two different KIDS.  I’ll be receiving my “IEP Superstar” medal in the mail any day now, right?

And, the hormones.  Oh, the hormones.  Women do not cease to be sexual, attractive, self-actualized or empowered simply because, in addition to pursuing intimacy with their respective husbands, they are also responsible for putting in a day at the office or dragging a reluctant screaming toddler to the dentist.  All while facing down PMS or PPD or UBI (what I have just dubbed as ”Unspecified Breastfeeding Issues”, in case you didn’t know.)  Because that’s REALITY.

And what about people for whom marriage is NOT a happy thing?  Is it a complete and utter waste of time and human effort?  Um, no.  No, it’s not.  Some of the strongest, most heroic women (and men) are those who are about the long, hard work of love even when things are unpleasant on the home front.  They know that this life is not all there is, and they know that this mysterious act of taking up one’s cross and loving like Jesus will bring more fulfillment and true peace than running off to find someone new to self-actualize with.

Also?  If we can’t somehow learn to embrace this tension?  This give-and-take in roles and responsibilities and demands on our time and affections?  We will be crushed.  Defeated.  Unsettled.  We might start to believe the lie that the work we do as wives and/or mothers really IS intrinsically hurting us or, at the very least, standing in the way of a truly loving and fulfilling marriage.

Which, I would argue, is one of the most destructive ideas of our modern time.

Misguided expectations about marriage, beauty, and love.

Now a little note to the men: if you think the key to a good marriage is the attainment of some sort of ridiculous standard, please stop.  And instead, pursue virtue for yourself.  Love your wife.  Make time for the things you both enjoy and work to understand what an integrated love looks like.  And I’ll give you a hint: it’s nothing like what secular society says love is.  It includes but does not over-emphasize romance, because this married love is most often found amongst the everydayness of errands and parenthood and exhaustion. 

Where you end the day laughing together because your wife got bored with you watching football and wandered off to find some show on Netflix called “I Escaped a Cult”, and watched it alone in the dark, and it’s precisely the weird and macabre sort of thing she’d do.

And you know this about her because you’re married, and the idiosyncrasies and silliness and frailty and joy are all part of the oh-so-predictable deal.

Truth be told,  so far I’m kind of in love with the boring domestication of marriage.

IEP times two

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Yesterday was our very first set of IEP meetings.  Eek!

Our adopted daughters both have Down syndrome, and joined our family three years ago.

And we made the decision early on that Mekdes and Tigist (ages 4 and 2 upon homecoming) should learn to live in a family before boarding a bus and attending school every single day.  They tired easily and their communication was limited, and we didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of them being away from us for 20-40 hours a week.  We anticipated that the day would come when they would join their peers at school, but for the past three years they’ve been home with their parents and siblings, meeting milestones and participating in family life and, ultimately, healing.

Towards the end of last spring though I sensed that it was probably time, that we had reached the place where they could not only successfully navigate and enjoy school but also really benefit from some things that frankly, I was not interested in taking on.  I want to see them grow and achieve and thrive, but I’d prefer to outsource their academic instruction (modifications and accommodations and everything in between) to people who are trained in, and love, what they do.  So I can simply be my daughters’ cheerleader and lunch-packer and, most importantly, mother.

The problem is though that the system is not set up for kids like mine, who come in post-infancy (or post-preschool) with significant needs.  And who, therefore, need to start at the neighborhood school without an IEP.

And this is an extra huge deal because our neighborhood school is not one of our district’s “center schools”, meaning there are no children there with developmental or cognitive delays like the ones my daughters have.  But this is where they needed to go to have their assessments done in order for IEPs to be written–and an eventual school placement to be determined.  The district provided a paraprofessional to help the girls through the day but I was worried.  Because Down syndrome.  And typical classrooms.  And classmates who might be mean.  And teachers who might be frustrated.  And, toileting issues.

And so yesterday was the BIG GINORMOUS TWO-AND-A-HALF-HOUR IEP MEETING.  You know the type.  Where parents regularly hire advocates and argue over “least restrictive environment”s, and where all sorts of people sit around a table and evaluate your kid.  Including an entire team of special education professionals and the vice-principal and school psychologist and my husband and me.

And do you know what?

It.could.not.have.gone.better.

It was positive, enlightening, and friendly.

They gave us what we wanted, and it was what they wanted, too.  Bonus.

There was no arguing or fighting.

They genuinely enjoy my daughters, and our family.

They want what’s best for my daughters, and our family.

Also?

Mekdes and Tigist LOVE SCHOOL.  Like really, really, big-puffy-heart love it.  And they have FRIENDS, kids greeting them every day with huge “hello!”s and waves, and laughing with Tigist on the swings at recess and helping Mekdes choose a book to look at during independent reading time.

When my husband and I finally walked through the door last night, exhausted, at 6:15 pm, I asked him what he’d thought about the meeting.

And he paused and then spoke in a serious tone, “There are some really amazing people working in the schools.”

And I could not agree more.  This is our first year venturing out into public education (our other four school-age children are attending a brand-new classical charter school this year), and we have been touched beyond belief by the warmth, care, and professionalism we’ve seen thus far.  I cannot say enough about the many dedicated individuals who care so very much for the well-being of not only my kids but also our entire family.

So I guess I want to say that while there is so much negativity surrounding the issue of education these days, and while I won’t deny that there are problems, and big problems at that, there are also some fan.tas.tic. things happening in classrooms and on playgrounds.  I’ve seen it.  Pretty much every single day, since my kids enrolled in school.

And the stakes are admittedly so much higher when you have a child with special needs and/or learning delays, because you have to navigate a complicated web of procedures and providers and systems, and there is no shortage of nightmare stories about IEPs that go wrong and parents who really have to go to the mat for their kids.  As they should.  Battling school districts and teachers and administrators.  As they should.

Because we love our kids and we know they are capable, ever so capable, of doing great things.  If only given the chance.

So I get how hard it can be, and that’s why I’m ever so grateful that my girlies have begun their school career with such a great support team.  Mekdes’ birthmother, who wanted so badly for her daughter to receive help and a good education, and who expressed that in no uncertain terms to us, would have been so proud and pleased at that meeting.  And this may not always be the case, but for now?

Everything is awesome.

Back to school

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How is school going, you say?

I’m so glad you asked.

And, frankly, not so well.  Pull up a chair, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and settle in as I proceed to complain about ALL OF THE THINGS.

Less than a week into the school year, we got hit with some sort of horrible respiratory virus.  Think fevers, coughing, yucky noses, coughing, fevers, coughing, yucky noses, etc.  Think all ten of us.  Think early mornings and packing lunches and managing homework and living in a messy house and preparing for a camping trip we’d had on the calendar for months.  With the fevers and the coughing and the yucky noses.

(Disclaimer: I was not sending kids to school with fevers.  They stayed home when they had one.  But they were still sick.)

And think this formerly-homeschooling-mama finally crying uncle after three weeks of this, and declaring WE CANNOT GO TO SCHOOL ANYMORE.  THERE IS SOMETHING IN OUR GENES THAT PREVENTS US FROM GOING TO SCHOOL.  WE HAVE TO DROP OUT OF SCHOOL.

No, I’m not even kidding.  I wish I was.  I emailed the principal of our charter school last week and apologized and told her how great the school was and how much we’d loved it, but that we can’t seem to get our sorry act together and everybody’s tired and sick and dying.  This dear woman was so kind, and offered me part-time enrollment, but I was firm in my resolve.  I signed my kids up for a homeschool enrichment program and our church’s co-op.  I told my friends.  I told my kids.

Who took the news like a boss but they were disappointed.  Really, truly disappointed.  “But I won’t get to go on the fieldtrip to the Butterfly Pavillion!”  “But we were learning cursive!”  “But what about my heritage essay?”  “But I’ll miss my teacher!”  And then they went for their last day and their dear teachers gave them gifts and wrote them cards and the school secretary told them to come visit, and we went camping for the weekend.

I felt terribly sad and conflicted about our decision for the entire trip and especially on the drive home.  As I sifted through their school things for the first time WITHOUT A FEVER and saw what they’d been working on, and in particular discovered the precious family portrait my seven-year-old had drawn in her class, I was suddenly seized with regret.  Suspected we’d not given school a fair shot.  I considered how my sons had performed so well in a highly-structured classroom setting, and how it had seemed a particularly good fit for my son with ADHD.  I saw how my sons were now actually INTERESTED IN READING.  For fun.  And how my eldest’s handwriting had improved drastically in only three weeks.

I realized that we should have taken the week (or two–honestly this thing was awful) to stay home and circle the wagons and get well, as opposed to, you know, UNENROLLING FROM THE SCHOOL.

Rookie, feverish, formerly-homeschooling-mom mistake.

It was like waking up with a hangover where you’re all, ohmygosh, WHAT DID I DO LAST NIGHT?

(Not that I’d know, because I’ve never been drunk or hung over.  Goody-two-shoes, I know.)

So I humbly contacted the dear principal again, apologized again, and asked if we could come back to school.

She said yes.  She is one of the most incredible, professional people I’ve ever worked with.  I am convinced she could fix the entire education system given the chance.  LOVE.HER.

So.  Monday my kids return to class.  We would’ve missed this past week anyway as they were all sick, but we do have to haul all the school supplies back that the school had formerly returned to us.  Oh and I promised everybody that I WILL NOT MAKE ANY DECISIONS EVER AGAIN WHEN I AM SICK FOR AN ENTIRE MONTH.

And because I didn’t get the chance to do it before, I will now introduce you to my precious children, who it is admittedly hard for me to share with other people for seven hours a day, but who are doing so extremely well in every possible way.  I’m a proud mama.

 

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Meet Tigist.  Kindergartener.  She presently attends our neighborhood school but will be transferring very soon to a school equipped to accommodate her needs.  Overall she is enjoying school and is so loved by all of her classmates.

 

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This is Mekdes.  Second grade.  She is in a typical classroom all day long at our neighborhood school, and LOVES it.  She will be transferring soon with Tigist to a school that provides services for kids as awesome as her.

 

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This is Kaitlyn.  Second grade.  She LOVES her class and rocked a couple of spelling games, for which she won a prize.  Also?  Her teacher is beyond fantastic.  SO good with the kids, high expectations, all of it.

 

132This is Biniam.  Fourth grade.  He too is so enjoying school and THRIVING with the structure, routine and clear expectations.  His teacher is INCREDIBLE and expects a lot out of the kids, while being totally realistic about the fact that they are, well, kids.

 

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Yosef.  Fourth grade.  (Yes, he and Biniam are twins.  Of the fraternal variety.)  Loves school and thrives on rules.  Yes, rules.  He loves rules.  He has the same teacher as his brother and she’s great.

 

133Anna.  Fifth grade.  And no, I don’t know how that happened.  She is so enthusiastic about school and was noted by a classmate as being inclusive at recess, which just about made my heart burst.  Her teacher is just the sweetest and Anna loves her so much.

 

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My Alice, and my Mary Lu.  Oh, these girlies.  They don’t go to school, and instead keep me company during drop-offs and pick-ups and of course, in-between.  They cause trouble at Walmart and have lunch with me at Subway.  And don’t say it loud because I’m in total denial about this, but Mary will start Kindergarten next year.

So that is my crew, and I love them so much, and it’s been a rocky start to the year but shoot, we’re pressing on.  And going back to school.  Again.

And now for something entirely different

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Well friends, the rumors are true: my kids are going to real, live school this fall!

Yesterday was their first day!

And yes, it’s kind of exciting, and yes, it’s kind of sad, all at the same time.  Because people, I’ve truly loved homeschooling.  It is very much in line with both my general life values and my rebellious, tea-party-ish, Parental Rights Trump All Things attitude.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if we did it again at some point, because really, who can know?  There are so many great things about it.

Though not when my son writes something mean about his twin brother in his twin brother’s spelling book.  However, do note the irony there.  Ahem.

So why the decision to stop?  For us it’s less about choosing NOT to do something, and more about choosing TO do something.  And that something happens to be enrolling my kids in a new classical charter school that’s literally four minutes from my front door.  Along with a number of other amazing families whom we already know.  Much of the curriculum the school will use is exactly what we’ve been using at home.  They can accommodate IEPs and my sons can get extra help in some areas where they struggle.  (Like spelling, apparently.)  The principal is fantastic.  No common-core.  Mandatory uniforms.  Required cursive writing instruction.  High structure and clear expectations.  Music every single day.

And yet if it doesn’t work out and we hate it, no big deal, we’ll just go back to doing what we were doing before.  My HOPE is though that each of my children will be academically challenged in new ways, and that I can take on more of an encourager/supporter role in their education, as opposed to grouchy and impatient taskmaster.  I’ve always longed for my children to be classically educated, and we’ve attempted to more or less do that here, but this just seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.

**My daughters with Down syndrome are going to a local public school.  And they LOVE it.  My general parenting style is admittedly to say, “Go play!  Go entertain yourselves!”, but they simply need more than that.  They’ll have the ability to thrive and receive services in a positive environment tailored to their needs.  Win-win.**

**My two littlest girlies will be home with me.  Thank goodness.  Lots of cuddles and laughs to be had, and maybe I can take them to Starbucks and pretend I’m one of those trendy moms with a small car and two well-groomed kids.  The opportunities are endless.**

My biggest fear in all of this?  That my kids will somehow lose their close sibling relationships.  Seven hours is a long time to be away from home each day, and I will positively die if my two oldest daughters, three years apart but such good friends, drift away from one another.  Oh.my.heart.

And if my littles aren’t buddies with the bigs any longer?

*Please excuse me while I sob uncontrollably and attempt to regain my composure.*

The transition is going well but I’m definitely feeling the loss of community.  The vast majority of my online and in-real-life “mommy support” has consisted of fellow homeschoolers for the past few years, and all of a sudden I’m silently dropping out of Facebook groups and slinking away from our delightful parish co-op and it’s so, so sad.  Also?  There’s a handful of homeschoolers that think you’re doing something Officially Morally Objectionable when you send your children to school.

Gah!

Obviously this is replete with ALL THE FEELS.

But the thing is that I have never pretended to be a homeschool-or-die, public school hater.  I have never been comfortable with the portion of the homeschooling community that homeschools from a place of intense fear.  I have always taken this thing one messy day at a time.  For better or worse.  Knowing that at any given point, if the right circumstances presented themselves, I’d be open to sending my children to a brick-and-mortar school.

And I’m really kind of thrilled about this new season.  I have kids all over the map academically (some with minor and some with not-so-minor learning delays!), and I’ve been doing this homeschooling thing now for FIVE YEARS–and all of it on top of pregnancies and adoptions and heart surgeries and moves and blogging and semi-regular trips across the world.  I’m ready to shake things up a little and trade some physical energy–getting kids to and from school and waking up early and packing lunches–for the mental energy of BEING 100% RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CHILDREN’S ACADEMICS.  Yes there will now be homework and keeping to a schedule, and I’m sure I’ll want to rip my hair out a little the first time my kid has a science fair project, but you know?  I’ll gladly do it (minus the project because DO YOU REMEMBER THIS) if it means not having to think or worry about the implications of whether or not so-and-so is reading yet, or why, oh why a different so-and-so still has illegible handwriting.  Because teachers!, and positive peer pressure!, while I get to be MOM.

So, that’s our big news.  All kinds of mixed-up feelings, a lot of excitement, plenty of anxiety, and some real sadness.  I have SO much more to say about this, and about how homeschooling “support” communities tend to function, but I will save that for later.

For now I will simply say, bring it on, school!  My kids had a fabulous day yesterday, and I’m hoping for more fabulousness to come.

P.S.  I reserve the right to bring my kids back home if things don’t pan out, and you don’t get to say “I told you so.”

P.P.S.  If any of you homeschoolers give me the sanctimonious “Oh it’s okay, homeschooling isn’t for EVERYONE”, while fanning yourself with your collection of Charlotte Mason books and handmade Montessori tools, I am going to flip my lid.  Flip.my.lid.  Thank you for your concern in this regard.