Early to Rise

Last year for Lent I was working on learning to forgive and let go of some deep pain from my past.  It was a powerful and healing experience for me.  For the last couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about what I will do this year.  I want to offer God a sacrifice, and I want to do a better job of living out the mission He has given me:  leading my family to heaven.

With those two goals in mind I have decided to get up earlier, and I mean actually hop right out of bed when my alarm goes off and get my day started.  Instead of lying in bed for twenty minutes or so, half dozing and half praying, I will jump out of bed, kneel down to say my morning prayers, and then get myself ready to tackle the day by showering and getting dressed before it’s time to wake up the kids.  With 15 or 20 extra minutes in the morning, I could have breakfast organized, the dishwasher emptied, maybe even makeup on!

You never know, this plan might just force me to stop making excuses about why I can’t get to bed on time.  I could actually start getting a better night’s sleep by getting up earlier!

Of course, if this is for Lent, the most important thing is that it has to be a sacrifice.  And believe me, it is.  I love to lie in bed after I wake up.  To me the ultimate luxury is being able to stay in bed without any need to rush at the start of a day.  After Easter, I’ll be sure to post an update on how I did and if I’m managing to keep up my good habits.

Photo by Erik-Jan Leusink on Unsplash

By the way, I also signed up for a program called Best Lent Ever that sends daily video reflections by email.  I participated in this program last year as well, and it was amazing!  You can learn more about the program or sign up here.

Open to Life

For the last six months or so, my kids have been asking for a baby brother, and it just melts my heart.  How sweet that is to ask for another person to love and play with!  They specifically want a boy “to make things fair” since the girls currently outnumber the boys in our family.  When they ask, I tell them that God sends babies, and it’s up to Him if He wants us to have a baby boy.  They don’t realize that their parents are a bit older than most of their friends’ parents and that another baby is unlikely for us.  If I were a bit younger, I’d be hoping for that baby right along with them.  Rose is two and a half now, and sometimes I find myself longing for a little baby to snuggle on my chest.  But I’m also tired.

When I was expecting Rose, my doctor never seemed to let an opportunity pass to bring up my age.  I wanted to tell him that I come from a long, direct maternal line of healthy women having healthy babies later in life.  My great-great-grandmother had 13 children (all girls!), giving birth to her youngest at the age of 51.  My great-grandmother gave birth to the first recorded triplets in Syracuse, although one of the little girls died after just a few minutes, and then had my great-aunt Betty nine years later when she was well into her thirties.  My grandma (one of the triplets) had five children, all but one of them born after her 35th birthday.  In fact, she had my uncle Ed when she was 47.  She always said that when God sends a baby, you accept a baby as a gift.  Then there’s my mom.  She had her fourth child, my sister Emily, just a couple of weeks before her 40th birthday.  All this means that I know it can be done, and I trust that I would have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.

One night when Rose was an infant, I was rocking her to sleep and, at first, thinking about how tired I was from taking care of an infant, a three-year-old, and a five-year-old all day.  Then I started to think about two of my cousins, who had each recently buried a young daughter.  All of a sudden, it hit me hard how blessed I was, and I realized that there were much, much worse things that could happen in my life than having another baby in my forties.

My children will probably continue to ask for a baby brother, and I will continue to smile and tell them that the decision is in God’s hands and mean it.  I may not be asking Him for another baby at this point in my life but if He wants to surprise me, I will accept His gift as my grandma did.

Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash

My Slower Paced Christmas

I had plans this year for simplifying Advent and Christmas, and I was going to write a post all about how much more peaceful my preparations and celebrations were this year.  Well, the past three weeks sure did move at a slower pace than usual, but it had nothing to do with my plans.

In the first two weeks of Advent, I had done most of my shopping and some heavy duty housecleaning.  My plan for the third week, which was actually the last week before Christmas this year, was to complete a big grocery shopping trip and then focus on baking.  Instead, the next three weeks went like this:

Sunday, December 17:  Kathleen woke up with a sore throat and a cough.  We kept her home from religious education and Mass, hoping she would feel better the next day.

Monday, December 18:  Kathleen stayed home from school.  That evening she developed a rash on her face and chest.  We gave her an antihistamine because it looked like an allergic reaction to something.

Tuesday, December 19:  Kathleen’s rash was worse.  At the doctor’s office I learned that a rash is a common symptom of strep throat.

Wednesday, December 20:  Kathleen stayed home from school while her amoxicillin got to work.  I still hadn’t made it to the grocery store, so every day I was emailing Dan a shopping list with items to prepare a simple supper that night and specific baking supplies for the next day’s batch of cookies.

Thursday, December 21:  Kathleen went back to school, and Rose and I finally went shopping in the morning.  I managed to put together beef stew in the crock pot, and then we had a busy afternoon with Daniel’s kindergarten Christmas concert and 2:00 and Kathleen’s Christmas dance preview at 4:00.  (She looked pale, but she was determined to dance!)

Daniel’s concert
Our ballerina

Friday, December 22:  Daniel woke up in the wee hours, crying because he couldn’t open his right eye.  It was unmistakably pinkeye.  Dan was off from work that day, so he took Daniel to the doctor.  My brave parents actually agreed to come into our home and babysit as planned so Dan and I could finish our Christmas shopping.

Saturday, December 23:  Once upon a time I considered December 23 to be my favorite day of the year.  It used to be a day to bake cookies and wrap presents and anticipate the joy of Christmas.  Not so much this year.

Sunday, December 24:  While I took the girls to church that morning, Dan and Daniel headed to urgent care with sore throats and coughs.  Although they informed the doctor that they had been exposed to strep, he told them he thought it was a virus instead and didn’t even do throat cultures.  Yet, he gave them each a prescription for amoxicillin just in case.  Does that make any sense?  That afternoon, the girls and I got dressed up and went to Christmas Eve Mass while the boys stayed home to rest.  We had our traditional seafood casserole for dinner and got to bed, hoping everyone would feel better in the morning.

Healthy enough to dress up for Christmas Eve Mass

Monday, December 25:  Although neither Dan nor Kathleen nor Daniel were actually healthy, everyone felt well enough to celebrate with presents and good food.  My parents and Dan’s mom and sister joined us.

Time for presents . . . and some vitamin C!

Tuesday, December 26:  We went to Dan’s sister’s house for the second day of Christmas.  I didn’t realize how lousy Dan was actually feeling.

Wednesday and Thursday, December 27 and 28:  We had quiet days at home.  Dan’s mom had come to stay with us, and the kids were enjoying their new toys and crafts.  Kathleen finished her amoxicillin, and Daniel finished his eye drops.

Friday, December 29:  I woke up feeling stiff and achy, but I blamed it on spending several hours sleeping with Daniel in his twin bed.  I managed to make blueberry pancakes for breakfast.  After lunch, Dan drove his mom home to Rome, New York, which is about an hour and 15 minutes down the road from us.  As the afternoon went on, I felt worse and worse and couldn’t wait for him to get home.  I had a seriously sore throat.

Saturday, December 30:  It was my turn to visit urgent care.  I was so hoping it was strep throat so that I could just take amoxicillin and it would start to feel better quickly.  No such luck.  The nurse did a throat culture, but it came back negative.  The doctor told me I had the same virus everyone in the waiting room had.  The nurse let me know that my sore throat would last five days, and then I should expect my cough to last another seven days after that.  They sent me home with directions to rest and take Tylenol.

That afternoon when Rose woke up from her nap, we noticed that her eyes looked pink, and she had some “eye boogies”.  We thought we were going to be heading back to urgent care the next morning.  That night I prayed one of the sincerest prayers of my life.  I offered to accept my sore throat and nasty virus with as much patience as I could muster if Jesus would please heal my little girl’s eyes.  I just couldn’t imagine how we were going to administer eye drops to a two year old, let alone keep her from touching her eyes and then every single item in the house.

Sunday, December 31:  I heard Rose wake up that morning and play happily with her stuffed animals.  Her eyes were completely clear.  Thank you, Jesus.

Monday, January 1:  I had hoped that by New Year’s Day I would feel well enough to make goulash, frozen peas, and crescent rolls for a super fancy holiday dinner.  Instead, we had canned soup.  Again.

Tuesday, January 2:  Dan, Kathleen, and Daniel all went back to school, and I managed to keep Rose alive while I was alone with her.  I even managed to make the goulash that evening, but then I was so worn out I couldn’t eat it and went to bed at 7 o’clock.  Putting all the kids to bed himself that night was one of the best gifts Dan has ever given me.

Wednesday, January 3:  Just after midnight, Daniel woke up with a terrible cough.  I gave him some cough syrup and slathered his feet with Vicks VapoRub, and he settled into a peaceful sleep for the rest of the night.  But Kathleen woke up about two hours later with the same cough, and Dan tended to her.  I knew that neither of them would be going to school.  The problem was that I had an appointment for an eye exam that afternoon.  I was more than a year overdue for my exam and desperately wanted to go even though I was still feeling lousy.  On the other hand, I knew I couldn’t ask my parents to babysit with all the germs we had at our house.  God bless Dan.  He arranged to have a sub for the afternoon and came home so I could make my appointment.

Kathleen and Daniel hadn’t acted particularly sick all day, so I thought they’d be going back to school on Thursday.  Then around suppertime Kathleen started to complain that her ear hurt.

Thursday, January 4:  Kathleen threw up in her bed.  Twice.  I let her sleep in and put Daniel on the school bus at 8:35.  At 9:30 I sneaked up the stairs to make sure Kathleen was still breathing.  At 10:30 she came down the stairs, looking pale.  When I asked her how she felt, she said “tired.”  Her ear didn’t exactly hurt, but it was “bothering her.”  Her temperature was 99.8.  I wondered if vomiting could possibly be a symptom of an ear infection.  Google quickly informed me that it was.  At least this time we got to see the nurse practitioner at our family doctor’s office.  She confirmed the ear infection, and we headed to the drug store to pick up more amoxicillin before the weather got bad.

Friday, January 5:  School was closed because of snow and subzero temperatures with wind chills around -20.  I am so glad my husband is a teacher and doesn’t have to go out in weather like that.  We hunkered down for the weekend.  I was starting to feel better.  Kathleen was doing better with a few doses of antibiotic in her, and Daniel and Rose only had the sniffles.  However, Dan started to talk about how his sore throat had never really gone away.

So, yes, we moved at a slower pace this Christmas.  Because we didn’t really feel like getting out of our beds.  Today is the Feast of the Epiphany.  I had hoped that maybe with the end of the Christmas season, we would also see the end of our illnesses, at least for a while.  But today Dan is in bed.  As I write this around three o’clock in the afternoon, he has gotten up twice to use the bathroom, but he’s had nothing to eat.  He says his stomach is upset, and he feels as if he’s weighted down with lead.  I can’t wait for that to spread to the rest of the family!

 

 

Wonder and Gratitude

The Christmas shopping season is upon us once again, and again I am struggling with the expectations for gift giving.  I wrote on a similar theme last year, and you can read that post here.  This year I am specifically worrying about giving my children too many gifts.  I talked to my husband about this a few nights ago, and his biggest concern about cutting back was making sure that our children experience the magic of Christmas.  That’s a legitimate concern.  We all have magical memories from our childhood Christmases, and as parents we hope to create memories like that for our little ones.  The day after that conversation, I actually had a quiet hour to myself, and I used part of it to reflect on why I want to reduce the number of gifts my children receive.

Saving money is one reason, and it’s a good one.  My family has just been through a very difficult year financially.  We have recently received some relief from that and should not have to struggle to pay our heating and snow plowing bills this winter, but that doesn’t mean we can buy our kids anything they ask for this Christmas. Yet, that’s not my main reason for wanting to cut back this year.

Reducing the clutter in my home is another good reason.  Physical clutter produces anxiety for me.  When I am surrounded by piles of papers I don’t know what to do with, and toys are scattered across the floor, and dirty socks appear in random locations, I shut down mentally.  I feel trapped, and I don’t get any cleaning done because I am overwhelmed.  But that’s still not my main reason.

My main reason is that I want to cultivate the virtue of gratitude in my children.  It’s hard to appreciate what you have if you’re always getting more.  As I was reflecting on this, I remembered a scene from the book Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  I recently read this book to Daniel, who loved it.  The Ingalls family has moved to an isolated homestead 40 miles from Independence, Missouri.  With no snow for a sleigh and a flooded creek cutting them off from their nearest neighbors, little Laura and Mary doubt that Santa Claus will be able to reach them on Christmas Eve.  To their surprise and delight, their neighbor, Mr. Edwards, arrives on Christmas morning, having swum the flooded creek with a pack on his head, and tells a story about how he met Santa in Independence and agreed to deliver the girls’ presents for him.  Ma tells the girls not to peak and puts the presents in their stockings as Santa would have done.  When they are allowed to look, they find that they each have a new tin cup, a stick of peppermint candy, and a little heart-shaped cake dusted with white sugar.  This is what happens next:

Laura and Mary never would have looked in their stockings again.  The cups and the cakes and the candy were almost too much.  They were too happy to speak.  But Ma asked if they were sure the stockings were empty.

Then they put their hands down inside them to make sure.  

And in the very toe of each stocking was a shining bright, new penny!

They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny.  Think of having a whole penny for your very own.  Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny.

There never had been such a Christmas.

Those girls hardly had anything, and the small gifts they received were deeply appreciated.  That just makes sense.  But what really stands out to me when I re-read this chapter is the wonder and magic that they experienced.  Santa didn’t forget them, and with help from their kind neighbor he found a way to get those gifts to them.  And they never wondered why Santa, who could make anything at his workshop, didn’t bring them a rocking horse or a porcelain doll.  They were thrilled with a shiny, new cup.

After I thought about that scene for a few minutes, another scene from a children’s novel popped into my head.  This time it was Dudley Dursley’s birthday from Harry Potter and Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling.  Dudley, of course, is Harry spoiled cousin.  The scene begins when Harry enters the kitchen for breakfast:

The table was almost hidden beneath all Dudley’s birthday presents. It looked as though Dudley had got the new computer he wanted, not to mention the second television and the racing bike. 

After Harry finishes cooking breakfast, this is what happens:

Harry put the plates of egg and bacon on the table, which was difficult as there wasn’t much room. Dudley, meanwhile, was counting his presents. His face fell.

“Thirty-six,” he said, looking up at his mother and father. “That’s two less than last year.”

“Darling, you haven’t counted Auntie Marge’s present, see, it’s here under this big one from Mummy and Daddy.”

“Alright, thirty-seven then,” said Dudley, going red in the face. Harry, who could see a huge Dudley tantrum coming on, began wolfing down his bacon as fast as possible in case Dudley turned the table over.

Aunt Petunia obviously scented danger too, because she said quickly, “And we’ll buy you another two presents while we’re out today. How’s that, popkin? Two more presents. Is that alright?”

Dudley thought for a moment. It looked like hard work. Finally he said slowly, “So I’ll have thirty … thirty …”

“Thirty-nine, sweetums,” said Aunt Petunia.

“Oh.” Dudley sat down heavily and grabbed the nearest parcel. “Alright then.”

Uncle Vernon chuckled.

“Little tyke wants his money’s worth, just like his father. Atta boy, Dudley!” He ruffled Dudley’s hair.

Dudley is at the opposite end of the gratitude spectrum from Laura and Mary.  He also has no sense of wonder or magic.  What does he need with a second television of his own?  Obviously, the scene is meant to be absurd.  Dudley is more spoiled than any child the reader might meet in real life.  But Dudley is also miserable.  He will never be happy because he will always be looking for more.

It is unrealistic to expect my children to be thrilled with a cup and a stick of candy, but I know that they don’t need piles of expensive toys or electronics to believe that Santa has worked his Christmas magic.  Yes, seeing the presents under the tree on Christmas morning is a moment of wonder, but the wonder will last only if our expectations for what’s inside those boxes and bags isn’t too high.  The magic we experience at Christmas comes in direct proportion to our ability to feel gratitude for all that we have and all that we receive.

Besides, taking a little focus off of the gifts that come in brightly wrapped packages helps us to keep in mind the greatest Christmas gift of all.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

43

Yesterday was my birthday.  I’m 43.  Boy, did that get here fast.

For a long time beginning in my twenties my age bothered me because my life didn’t look like the image I had in my head of where I wanted to be.  I thought I would meet my husband in college.  I wanted to be a mother by the time I was 25.  I wanted a big family.

Life didn’t work out like that for me.  I didn’t meet my husband until I was 31.  We got married when I was 33, and my first baby arrived when I was 35.  I feel so blessed that God sent me three babies even though I got a late start.   I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that my life hasn’t followed my plan because I believe that I am where I need to be right now.

When I met Dan and got to know him, I suddenly saw all my past experiences in a new light.  My life up to that point made sense to me.  I saw how it had been preparing me for Dan, preparing me to appreciate such a good man and create a family with him.

So, here I am now.  Some of my friends are sending their children off to college, but my oldest is in second grade, and my youngest is still in diapers.  C’est la vie.  I have a little extra wisdom from life experience to bring to my marriage and my parenting.  I had 12 years of experience in my career before I stepped aside to focus on raising my children.  I know I’m going to blink and find that my youngest is in kindergarten, and then I will figure out what’s next for me.  Until then I will ease into my mid-forties, enjoying my little ones and savoring the motherhood I yearned for as a young woman.

A Day in the Life

I thought it might be fun to write about a typical day in my life right now – as if there is such a thing with three young children in the house!

On school mornings my alarm goes off at 5:45, and I usually drag myself out of bed by 6:05.  I am really not good at getting right up, but I excuse myself because I’m praying as I lie there, even if I’m half asleep instead of on my knees.  I shower and dress and try to get a household task or two completed before the kids are up, usually emptying the dishwasher or sorting a load of laundry.

Seven am is wake up time for the kids, and you just never know who is going to wake up early and who is going to need 20 minutes to ease out of a deep slumber before sitting up (like me).  Our mornings are crazy because my kids are daydreamy and struggle to focus on the task at hand, say, putting on their left sock.  I love that my kids have vivid imaginations, but the downside is that they need 15-20 minutes to get dressed.  I’ve tried making up rhymes about “get done what needs to be done, and then there’s time for fun,” but it’s just really hard to keep them focused.  Also, both of my “big kids” want me to be with them as they wake up and get dressed.  They are deeply hurt if I suggest I ought to go start breakfast or change Rose’s diaper while they put on that right sock.

This year I’ve tried to improve our breakfast routine by limiting their choices and instead making something different for each day of the week.  Mondays we have scrambled eggs and toast; Tuesdays we have oatmeal, etc.  Their favorite day is “Smoothie Wednesday.”  I like not having to decide what’s for breakfast each day, and it is so much better than the old days when I used to let them each choose what they wanted so that I might be making a yogurt parfait for one, toast and a clementine for another, and a bowl of Cheerios with banana slices for the third.

Smoothie Wednesday

Once the big kids are on the school bus, “Rose and Mama Day” begins.  We might have errands to run, or we might begin a morning of trying to balance entertaining a toddler and actually accomplishing something concrete.  Last year Rose would help me start the laundry and then want to dust every day.  This year she’s more likely to ask to watch Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood or whine.  She also really, really likes to play with Kathleen’s princess dolls.

Off to library story time with Princess Rose

After lunch Rose takes her nap, and now I have to balance between getting all the items on my to do list taken care of and having a little time to myself.  I’m an introvert, and it has surprised me how draining it is to have little ones at my hip all the time.  Introverts need alone time to re-energize.  When I was teaching, I used to take a couple of minutes during the day to hide in the bathroom and know that nobody could reach me for that brief respite.  I can’t hide in the bathroom from my toddler; she comes right in with me!  And there’s no more going home at the end of the day to get away from my job and the people there.  I’m so drained by mid-afternoon that I just don’t have the energy for all the projects I was hoping to complete.  I might fold and put away the clean laundry and wash the breakfast and lunch dishes, but then too often I zone out with Facebook or some other mindless activity instead of using my time for something that actually makes me feel good, like working on my blog.

Rose usually wakes up between 3:30 and 4:00, and pretty soon it’s time to head outside to get Kathleen and Daniel off the school bus.  They come in, dropping backpacks and coats and shoes everywhere, full of stories and hungry for a snack.  It feels like chaos as I try to empty their lunchboxes and look at their school papers and listen to their stories and start dinner and wonder when Dan will get home.

By the time dinner is ready, they’ve usually settled into something fun with Legos or markers or Barbies, and they don’t want to come and eat.  Getting everyone to the dinner table might just be the hardest task of the day.  Nobody wants to wash hands, or suddenly both potty-trained children desperately need to go at the exact same moment (we have one bathroom), or Daniel remembers a cut on his finger that requires a Band-Aid before we can say grace, and then, of course, Rose also has an invisible boo-boo in the exact same spot that also requires a Band-Aid immediately.  Once we are all seated at the table, Rose will take a bite of her food and then throw a fit because she’s chewing and not ready to say grace.  After a few deep breaths, we manage to pray, and then the complaining and bargaining begin as Dan and I try to eat our cold food.

“I don’t like broccoli.”

“I don’t like rice.”

“This macaroni and cheese is too cheesy.”

“How many bites do I have to eat to have some of my Halloween candy?”

“I can’t eat all that.  How about 5 bites because I’m 5?”

Taco soup is usually a hit at our house.

After dinner comes bath time.  Dan and I have established a routine in which we takes turns with baths every other night.  Whoever doesn’t do baths puts Rose to bed and washes the dishes.  Once Rose is asleep and Kathleen and Daniel are in their jammies, we pack their lunches for the next day and do a final sweep of the house to clean up stray toys.  A few weeks ago we established a new system for packing lunches that is working out well.  We have separate bins for proteins, grains, fruits and veggies, and snacks or sweets.  The kids fill their lunch boxes by picking one item from each bin (two from fruits and veggies) and then one bonus item from any of the healthy categories.  Sometimes they ask for a sandwich, and Dan will make those in the morning.  They are eating much better lunches and saving Dan a lot of time before work.

Packing lunches

When these tasks are done, Dan and I divide and conquer by taking turns reading, praying, and snuggling with either Kathleen or Daniel.  Once all the kids are asleep, I either crash into bed myself or stay up later than I should for some me time.  I’m making an effort to spend my me time praying and reading the Bible instead of scrolling through Facebook.  It’s a much more relaxing way to spend my evening, and I go to bed with a sense of peace.

At 5:45 the next morning it starts all over again!

 

 

Newark

By the time I graduated from high school, I had lived in 11 different homes in four states.  I remember going off to college, and everyone was asking, “Where are you from?” as an ice breaker.  I didn’t know how to answer such a simple question, but if I rephrase the question as “Where did you grow up?” I would answer, “Newark, New York.”

Newark is about halfway between Syracuse and Rochester.  When I lived there, the population was about 10,000, not too big and not too small.  My family moved there when I was seven, and we moved away when I was 14, so I figure that’s where I grew up.  Here I present a list of things I loved about Newark.

  1.  My teachers.  Not all of them, of course, but frankly I never had a warm, caring teacher until I started second grade at Perkins School.  (I make an exception for Miss Ann, my nursery school teacher, but I should mention that I went to three different schools for first grade and never had a pleasant teacher.)  Miss Cyr, Mrs. Shouey, and Mr. Haak were some of the best teachers I ever had.  Honorable mentions also go to Mr. Howlett and Mr. Wood, who both seemed like gruff old men, but actually cared very much about their students and gave me strong foundations in grammar and pre-algebra, respectively.
  2. Hoffman Park.  It was just two blocks from our first house in Newark, so my sister Heather and I could walk down there by ourselves to play on the playground.  We spent a lot of time on the teeter totter.
  3. Friends.  I lived in Newark long enough to get to know all the kids in school with me.  I made friends that I was able to keep for years (even after we moved away!).  I was so used to leaving my playmates behind after a year or two that it seems pretty amazing to me that I was still friends in eighth grade with girls I had met in second and third grade.
  4. Orbaker’s.  This was my family’s favorite ice cream stand.  Occasionally we would go there for burgers or hot dogs, but we were definitely regulars on hot summer nights.  My favorite treat was a mint milkshake.  No need to wait for March to roll around at McDonalds – I could have mint milkshakes all summer long at Orbaker’s!
  5. Emily.  When we moved to Newark, we had five people in our family:  my parents, me, six-year-old Heather, and 11-month-old Noelle.  On March 12, 1986, we added Emily, and our family was complete.  I was 11 when she was born, and it was pretty amazing to have a baby sister I could help take care of.  I have two favorite memories related to her birth.  First, I remember going with my dad (and Heather and Noelle) to Fay’s Drugs while my mom was still in the hospital.  We kept running into people we knew, and Dad would say, “Have you heard?  Four girls!”  The friendly acquaintance would inevitably say, “That means four weddings!”  And Dad would answer, “Four ladders!”  The thing was, even though he was joking about not wanting to pay for our weddings, I could tell he was thrilled to have another daughter.  My other memory is from visiting the hospital to meet our new sister.  A nurse was holding Emily in a rocking chair just inside the doorway to the nursery.  She told us to talk to our baby sister because she would recognize our voices.  That blew me away – my baby sister already knew me.
  6. Our houses.  We lived in two different houses in Newark because we outgrew the first one when Emily was born.  I loved them both – maybe because we were so happy in them – but I have to say that our second house is my all-time favorite.  First of all, it had five bedrooms, so none of us had to share.  My bedroom was at the back of the house and had a purple carpet.  I was right across the hall from the bathroom, which was handy, and I was the closest to the back stairs.  So cool!  The house had a big L-shaped front porch with a pretty vine growing up a trellis along one side, and we loved to sit out there on summer nights.  And if that’s not enough, we had an inground pool.  Yes, for four summers we could go swimming pretty much every day in our own backyard.  As an adult, I don’t envy my parents the time and expense that went into maintaining that pool, but as a middle-schooler, it was the best thing ever.

    Noelle’s third birthday with Colleen and Jimmy.  (I’m on the right, wearing glasses.)
  7. Extended family.  This was the first time we had ever lived close by any relatives.  We moved to Newark at least in part because my Uncle Bill and Aunt Kathy and cousins Colleen and Jimmy already lived there.  Soon after we were settled there, my maternal grandmother moved to Newark too so she could be close to all of us.  The rest of my relatives on my mom’s side of the family were all in the Syracuse area, not too far away.  Now we could have holidays and special celebrations like First Communions with lots of aunts and uncles and cousins.  But even better, we could just go over to Colleen and Jimmy’s house to play on a Saturday afternoon. We could walk down to Grandma’s apartment after school for a visit.  Grandma taught Heather and me to do latch hook, a popular craft in the eighties.  I learned to ice skate on Colleen and Jimmy’s pond.  I could write a whole post on my fond memories of growing up with family close by.  In fact, I had to pause in the middle of typing that last sentence as so many of them came flooding back to me.

I could go on about Newark and all the people there who still mean so much to me, but I know that my posts tend to be on the long side.  I’d love to hear about where my readers grew up and what made it a great place.

Gym Class

Ah, gym class, the bane of my school career.  I have only the vaguest memory of gym class in kindergarten, but my mom tells me that my gym teacher, whom she remembers only as “Ted”, once complained to my classroom teacher that “Julie couldn’t hit a target with a ball to save her life.”  My teacher told him to give me a break.  After all, I wore glasses and a patch over my good eye.  This is the same teacher who once yelled at me for coloring outside the lines, but, hey, nobody’s perfect.  At least she stood up for me that day.

I can’t remember gym class in first grade at all.  I spent two years in first grade at three different elementary schools in two different states, but I have not one memory of P.E.  Maybe that means it wasn’t so bad.

Just after I finished first grade, my family moved to Newark, New York.  The summer stretched before us, and my sister Heather and I didn’t know anyone except our cousins Colleen and Jimmy, so my mom signed us up for a co-ed t-ball league at a park just two blocks from our house.  It seemed like a great idea.  Everything started off fine, but one day my team  was practicing (i.e. playing catch) when my partner threw a ball I couldn’t catch, and it hit me in the mouth.  My coach sat me down at a picnic table and gave me his handkerchief to soak up the blood.  When the bleeding stopped, I handed him back his bloody handkerchief and joined my team on the field where they were practicing catching grounders.  I started to feel a little woozy and was glad when it was time for a water break.  I started to lose my sense of vision but managed to stay in line with my team on the way to the water fountain.  Have you ever fainted?  If so, you know how I was feeling.  The world had gone dark, and sounds seemed to be coming from far away.  When I reached the front of the line, I told the coach I didn’t feel well, and he sat me under a shady tree.  I don’t think I completely lost consciousness that day, but I stayed under the tree until my mom came to get me.  She’d been at the other field watching my sister’s game, and, of course, she felt awful for not being with me.  I didn’t go back to t-ball after that, and I spent a good part of the summer with swollen, purple gums.  I never again really enjoyed playing any kind of ball game, although I might join in a backyard game with my family.

I started second grade at my new school and didn’t have any problems with gym class.  At that age we weren’t playing basketball or volleyball yet.  I mostly remember relay races and gymnastics.  I liked my teacher, Mr. Binggeli, and everything was fine until I moved on to the intermediate school for fourth and fifth grade.  Now we were regularly playing ball games in gym class, and my teacher, a Miss Aubrey or something like that, was not nearly as warm and fun as Mr. Binggeli had been.  I was reluctant to participate in these games, and I started to identify myself as someone who just wasn’t athletic.  That’s interesting because at home or with my friends I absolutely loved riding my bike, jumping rope, and swimming.  The very worst thing about gym class was Knock-out, a game similar to dodge ball.

We continued to play Knock-out and all the other games in middle school, and the teacher there, Mrs. Hood, was even worse.  Finally, when I was in seventh grade and Heather was in sixth grade, my parents had to meet with her and the principal to discuss her unkind treatment of us.  Her solution for me was to put me in the modified gym class, the one that was mainly for kids who had broken a limb or had some other temporary injury that prevented them from participating fully in regular physical education.  I appreciated the relief from the games I dreaded, but I felt like such a loser.  My fear of being hit in the face again was now a “disability”.  Mrs.  Hood asked me if I wanted to continue in the modified class in eighth grade, but I decided I’d rather be in class with my friends.

He’s probably better at soccer than I am.  Photo by Daniel Hansen on Unsplash

My family moved again just before I started ninth grade.  At my new school they didn’t play Knock-out; they played the classic dodge ball instead.  In co-ed classes.  Yeah, that went well.  I was suspicious of the teacher, but I have to say Miss Whitely wasn’t so bad.  She actually taught me how to serve a volleyball so that it would go over the net.  That was definitely my biggest accomplishment ever in gym class.

I switched to the local Catholic high school for tenth grade, and somehow they got away with providing us only one semester of phys. ed. the whole time I was there.  I never had to take gym in eleventh or twelfth grade.  It was awesome.

Then I went off to college.  During my first week there a group of girls from my dorm was heading down to the fitness center for a freshman orientation, and one of them invited me to join them.  I said no thanks, and she asked if I was planning to work out at all in the fitness center.  Such a thing had never occurred to me.  Why would I want to do that?  I just mumbled something to her about not being very athletic.  I did, of course, have to take P.E. in college.  Two 2-credit classes were required for graduation.  Most of the students who “weren’t very athletic” like me chose badminton, but I wasn’t interested in trying to learn another game I would be no good at.  Instead, I took cardiovascular fitness and cross training, two classes that just involved working out on the machines in the fitness center.  So, I did get there after all.

A few years after that I was established in my career, and I attended a workshop for English teachers entitled “What Good Readers Do”.  We reviewed strategies that good readers use to make sense of a text so that we could explicitly teach these strategies to struggling readers.  The instructor asked us to think about the class that had been hardest for us in school and how we felt as we walked into that class every day.  She told us that was how our struggling readers felt walking into our English classes.  I believe I have always been a warm and caring teacher, but this was a jaw-dropping moment for me.  I hated to think that anyone felt as anxious and hopeless walking into my classroom as I had always felt as I entered the gym.  Suddenly, I had such deep compassion for my students.

I am not the perfect teacher, but I care about doing my best, and I care about creating a classroom environment in which my students feel comfortable.  I hope that I have helped some kids along the way to improve their reading and writing skills, but I know that some of them will never feel like they’re “good at English”.  I hope at least that they will remember me as a teacher who tried to make class pleasant like Mr. Binggeli or a teacher who gave them individual attention that helped them make progress like Miss Whitely.  That kind of success gives a purpose to my school-day sufferings.

Be Healed

When I tell people about this book by Bob Schuchts, I have the hardest time explaining why I think they should read it.  All I seem to be able to say is, “I wish every person on the planet could read this book.”  That sounds so goofy, but I mean it.  Schuchts opened my eyes to how much God loves each and every one of us.  That means you, and it means me.  Yes, me, the 42-year-old woman who still feels like a scared, shy little girl inside.  Me, even though I don’t always stand up for what’s right because I’m so scared.  Me, who makes so many selfish choices every single day.  He loves me, and, get this, He wants to heal me.  He wants to heal me of my sinfulness and my anxiety and maybe even my restless leg syndrome.  He doesn’t want me to feel tired and discouraged all the time.  Jesus is a healer.  In the Gospels He heals people everywhere he goes:  blind people, paralytics, lepers.  They open themselves up to Him in faith, and he heals them.  We all know the stories, but how many of us believe that this kind of healing is available to us?

So, how does Schuchts open his reader’s eyes?  He shares his own weakness and failures and his own story of healing.  He shares stories of healing in his clients (he’s a licensed marriage and family therapist) and miracles he has witnessed on mission trips.  He points us toward Scripture passages we may have read dozens of times without considering what they mean for us.  He asks his readers to pause and think about the questions he poses to us.

The first time I read this book, I rushed straight through it in about a week.  I didn’t want to put it down because I had such a beautiful, warm feeling inside as if someone who loves me more than I know were hugging me the whole time I was reading.  Now I am slowly working my way through it again so that I can take time to write out my answers to the reflection questions Schuchts poses throughout the book.  I am almost done, but I feel as if I am still missing something in my experience with this book.  And that is someone, or lots of someones, to share it with.  I want my husband to read it, and I want to buy copies for my parents and my mother-in-law.  And I want all of you who are reading this blog post to find a copy.  If I had the money, I would buy lots of copies and spread them around, give them as gifts for every occasion, leave them in Little Free Libraries around my community, do whatever I could to get this book into the hands of as many people as possible.  Because the healing that it offers can change the world.  One person at a time.  You can find Be Healed here.

So, I hope you’ve already clicked on the link and ordered your copy, but I realize some of you out there might click on it and read the description, and say to yourselves, “Oh, this is a Catholic book.  I’m not Catholic, so it’s not for me.”  You’d be wrong.  I am convinced that any Christian would benefit greatly from this book and if you’re not Christian, I would still recommend reading it.  This is a book that points you toward a God who loves you and wants you to have peace in your soul.  I don’t think you have to be Christian to be drawn toward that God.

I can also imagine another group of people who might hesitate to read this book.  These are people of faith who have prayed sincerely for healing for themselves or someone they love, but the healing didn’t come.  I can imagine all different kinds of hurt a person would feel in this situation. If that’s you, I think you might need this book most of all.  Schuchts has been in your place.  He prayed for healing for his brother who ultimately died of AIDS.  Read his story and know that God loves you as much as he loves the people who receive miraculous physical healings.

In my post about Something Other Than God I wrote about my mission to guide my family on the path to heaven.  I also feel as if God is calling me to spread the word about Be Healed.  Schuchts recognizes that we are all wounded, and he believes that true healing comes from treating the whole person – body, mind, and soul.  Here’s the link again so you can read for yourself what he has to say.

 

Subverted

Subverted is another book I’ve read recently that has made a deep impression on me.  The subtitle of this book is “How I Helped the Sexual Revolution Hijack the Women’s Movement.”  How’s that for  provocative?  The author, Sue Ellen Browder, earned her degree from the prestigious University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1969.  This book is a combination of investigative journalism and memoir.  She lived through the women’s movement, and she believes that in her career as a magazine writer she helped create propaganda that derailed it.  For this book she thoroughly researched historical records, such as the minutes of early meetings of the National Organization for Women, to understand how the women’s movement turned away from a focus on educational and economic opportunities and toward a focus on contraception and abortion.

Browder knows from personal experience how much women needed a movement to demand equal rights with men.  She married her husband, Walter, while they were both still in college, and she was fired from her first job when she became pregnant.  Not long after that, she lost out on a job at Baby Talk magazine (of all places!) because she mentioned in the interview that she had a baby at home.

Ultimately, she landed a job at Cosmopolitan and felt her dream of writing for a significant magazine had come true.  She soon learned that she was expected to write stories that promoted the editor’s philosophy and imitated her writing style.  Helen Gurley Brown, the editor of Cosmo, had published her book, Sex and the Single Girl, one year before Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique.  Browder sums up the difference between them:  “Whereas Betty Friedan’s message to women was ‘Creative work of your own will set you free,’ Helen Gurley Brown’s message to the single woman was ‘Hard work and sex will set you free (as long as you don’t have children).'”

Brown had a vision in her mind of a sexually free single woman with a successful career, and she used her magazine to sell that image to her audience.  Browder explains that Brown “had even written a set of guidelines suggesting it was fine for us to make up ‘experts’ to quote and to invent anecdotes about ordinary single women.”  After about ten years, she says, it was no longer necessary to invent the anecdotes because so many women had started living the “Cosmo lifestyle.”  The propaganda had been successful.

It is interesting to note that while writing articles like “When He Doesn’t Want Sex,” “What to Do about Those Ubiquitous Vaginal Infections,” and “Just How Neurotic Are You?”, Browder was blissfully married to her beloved Walter and delighting in her young children.  That’s not to say that her personal life was easy.  She and Walter, who dreamed of being a novelist, often struggled to make ends meet, and they did face tragedy together, but they loved each other, and they loved their family life.

This book opened my eyes to the struggles of women today.  Why is it still so hard for women to have children and a career?  Why do women still earn less than men?  Why don’t we have paid maternity leave?  Why is it often hard to find quality, affordable childcare?  Browder makes it clear that all of the passion of the women’s movement turned toward a focus on avoiding motherhood instead of making it easier to raise a family and pursue a career.  Browder’s book contains a heaping platter of food for thought, and I recommend it to everyone:  women and men, liberals and conservatives, agnostics and people of faith.  No matter who you are or what you believe about women’s rights and the sexual revolution, Browder has worked hard to provide accurate historical research and to open up her wounded soul in an effort to bring us all together to see how we can truly improve the lives of women.

Here’s a link if you’re interested in reading more.