Monday, December 30, 2013

How We're Failing Our Children

I'd like you to meet a friend of mine from college. She was a cradle Catholic, born and raised in a Catholic family, very active in her parish. When we met, she was a born-again Christian. Today, she is not a Christian. Here's a description of her upbringing, in her own words:

Catholicism to you is so different from Catholicism to my parents. I definitely grew up in an actively Catholic family: church every Sunday, my mom taught Sunday school. I was in the Teen Music Ministry that played music once a week at Mass. I taught 3rd grade Sunday school when I was in high school. I was my church's, and possibly my county's, only member of the Diocesan Youth Council. I was one of two DYC members to represent the youth on the Bishop's council, whatever that was called. I attended the Christian Leadership Institute, led by my diocese, and then the next summer came back to work on the kitchen crew. The next summer, loving it so much, I volunteered to lifeguard. You really can only attend once, unless you find roles for yourself. I attended the 1999 National Catholic Youth Conference.
I did everything a teenage Catholic could do to get involved, but I didn't really know what it stood for.
When I became a Born Again Christian, I questioned Catholicism. I then learned that my parents didn't follow all of the Catholic beliefs. They used birth control, for example. So, I'm not used to knowing what Catholics actually believe.

Where did we, the Church, go wrong? Could we place part of the responsibility on her parents, for not practicing what they preached? Sure. But look at how many other adults were charged with teaching her the faith. This wasn't an apathetic teen, looking for her earliest opportunity to leave the Church. She loved it. But when questions were raised, she had no answers.

I wish I believed her story was an anomaly, but it's not. I can immediately bring to mind others - from active Catholic families - who no longer practice, some who no longer believe in God. We are failing our children. Certainly parents are the first catechists, but it's reasonable to assume that others have the opportunity to contribute a great deal.

What we are doing is not working. Retreats and songs and inspiring speakers and prayer teams are great, don't get me wrong. But unless we TEACH the faith, it cannot be learned. How to best do that, I don't know. Maybe no one does. But unless we want to continue to hear stories like my friend's, we better start working on answers.

She and I did a clown ministry in college (she's not pictured here)

Friday, December 20, 2013

7QT (Vol. 67): Advent, Toothbrushes, and Reverse Discipline

We don't really do Santa in our home. Peter recently saw someone dressed as Santa and wondered why anyone would wear clothes like that. "Well, he's dressing like Santa Claus. That's one way we remember St. Nicholas and all the great things he did for people. At Christmas, sometimes someone dresses as Santa Claus and gives gifts." "Oh! Mommy, at Christmas, I will dress as Santa and you can dress as... an elephant." I think he thinks it's like Halloween.

Speaking of elephants, we have a shelf of Things Anne Can't Have in our living room. While cleaning recently, I saw this guy on it.
I tossed it back on the floor, since she's not likely to hurt herself with a rubber elephant. Peter came in shortly later. "Mommy! You knocked over my Advent decoration!" "Oh, sorry, put it back up." "Yes. It's purple, for Advent."

That elephant was a gift from our dentist. As you would expect, they also gave us toothbrushes, one for each child even though only Peter had an appointment. They were functional, but cheap, and started to wear out in about a month. When we went to buy new ones, I noticed that Oral-B sells toothbrushes for different ages (that also have Pooh characters, big selling point for Peter!). Generally, I'm skeptical of things marketed towards kids, but... Pooh Bear. So we bought them. Best toothbrushes! The one for Anne has short bristles for her tiny baby teeth and a rounded head that doesn't poke her. Peter's toothbrush has a much smaller head than any other child brush we've used, which has made it so much easier to brush his teeth without making him uncomfortable. We're hooked.

Peter was irritating his sister the other day and absolutely ignoring me. "Peter! Stop it!" "Mommy, do you like it when I scream?" "No." "Then why do you scream at me?" "I wasn't screaming, I was using a louder voice because you were ignoring me when I used a regular voice." "How about you use a nice voice and I will listen." Another good reason to use gentle discipline. He is willing to be gentle with me.

Peter sometimes has a tough time choosing healthy ways to express anger. I've been encouraging him to "sing out the angries" or dance them out or whistle or hug or whatever. Anyway, we were running late recently (a frequent occurrence, if truth be told). Peter was dancing around his room in his underwear, not complying with my requests to stand still and put on pants. "Peter. Come. Here." He scampered over. "Here, Mommy. Here is a nice, sweet hug to get out all your angries. Now do you feel better?" "Yes. Thank you, honey."

Of course, he's not perfect. I was playing with them both earlier this week and Anne abruptly started to cry.
me: Anne, what's wrong?
Peter, in his "squeaky Anne" voice: Peter just bited my finger!
me: Peter, don't do that. That hurts her.
Peter: Her finger was in my mouth.
me: Next time, take it out. Or ask me to.
Peter: There wasn't any time.
Jeremy: There is always time to not bite someone.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas next week. Anne's birthday is also next week, so with all the festivities I plan to enjoy my family and not do much blogging. God bless us, every one.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Shoveling the Driveway

Helping Daddy with a Peter-sized "shovel"

Wearing socks on his hands because mittens were too bulky
When is it my turn?

Monday, December 16, 2013

I parent better than my husband.

I had an epiphany yesterday, one that was far too long in coming. I shared it with my husband and apologized for having been ridiculous these past three years. I realized that I parent better than he does.

It's not that I'm a better parent. He is a fantastic dad. It's that I am more skilled at the actions involved in parenting. Getting children dressed and fed, keeping them out of trouble and happy, completing chores without ignoring them - those types of things.

On occasion, I've gotten frustrated with my husband for not being able to do what I do. How hard is it to have both kids fed and dressed by the time I'm done showering and getting dressed? After all, I do the same almost every Sunday for church. Note my complaint: not that he isn't doing it (he is), but that he's not doing it as efficiently as I do.

Now think about applying that standard to something else. It would be unreasonable to expect equal performance from two people if one puts in at least twice as much time doing it. No one would want me to get up and play drums with worship team on Sunday. I mean, I can keep a beat (usually) and I know the songs, but Jeremy is much better at playing drums (and most other instruments). It's unreasonable to expect equal performance from us.

In addition to being a great dad, he's also a great husband. When I apologized, he simply said, "I forgive you." No blame, no gloating, not even "it's about time." I am well and truly blessed.

Friday, December 13, 2013

7QT (Vol. 66): Tears

Have you heard Belleau Wood by Garth Brooks? I don't care if you don't like country music; you should go find a YouTube version and listen anyway. It is a fictional account (not actually based on the battle of Belleau Wood) of a Christmas truce in WWI. Although the song was released in 1997, yesterday was the first time I'd heard it. I cried. I cried for the ending of the truce, for soldiers ordered to kill, for the loss of humanity. I cried because it is still happening.

More than that, I cried because we scorn God. He gives us the greatest gift of life and we waste it. In war, yes, but in so many other less obvious ways too. "I'm sorry," I whispered.

Tonight, I attended our youth group's living nativity. It was beautiful. The kids faltered here and there with lines, but they portrayed the message of Christmas powerfully. I love these kids of ours. As they sang "Breath of Heaven", I prayed their words would come true for each of them. "Breath of Heaven lighten my darkness, pour over me your holiness, for you are holy, Breath of Heaven."

One young man did a solo of "Joseph's Lullaby" by MercyMe. I can vouch that at least two dads were wiping away tears. I hope and pray that these kids of ours were as touched by what they performed as we were. I want so badly to see them take ownership of their faith.

On a much lighter note, I did wipe away tears today playing outside with the kids. That wind gets cold! I think I spent about 10 minutes getting them both dressed for no more than 15 minutes of playing outside. Then we came inside. Both of them immediately collapsed into puddles of despair that I could not instantaneously remove all of their outerwear. Sigh.


It was totally worth it anyway. Reminded me of something I read years ago. "Why do you spend an hour getting all the stuff together and walking to the pool for less than 30 minutes of swimming?" "Because otherwise I have to think of something to do to entertain them for an hour!"

7 Quick Takes is hosted at Conversion Diary

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas Carols for Children

What comes to mind when you think of Christmas music for children? "Jingle Bells", "Frosty the Snowman", and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" probably top the list, which is interesting. The first two are not about Christmas at all (just winter) and the third focuses on Santa Claus, not Jesus. Also, the second two songs have long verses that are difficult for children to learn.

Most children appreciate music that has a lively tempo, a definite rhythm, and repetition. There are many traditional Christmas carols that appeal to children and lend themselves to singing along. Here's a list to get you started:

Repetitive Chorus

  • We Three Kings 
  • Ding Dong Merrily on High 
  • O Come Let Us Adore Him (Adeste Fideles) 
  • Angels We Have Heard On High 
  • The First Noel 
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen 

Easy to Learn

  • Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus 
  • The Little Drummer Boy 
  • Do You Hear What I Hear 
  • Joy To The World 
  • Go Tell It On The Mountain 

Christmas Lullabies

  • Silent Night 
  • Away in a Manger 
  • O Little Town of Bethlehem 

Be sure to include instruments, too. Bells are a great addition to "Ding Dong Merrily on High" and of course any percussion is welcome during "The Little Drummer Boy"! In addition to this list, Peter really likes "The Friendly Beasts". His favorite part is making the animal noise at the start of each verse. :-)

Anne really gets into drumming

Friday, December 6, 2013

7QT (Vol. 65): Girlfriend Club, Wife Association

When I was dating, there seemed to be a friendly girlfriend club with open membership. The guys would get together, we girls would tag along. Once introduced, we would smile knowingly at each other while our boyfriends talked animatedly with each other about things of no particular interest to us. We'd chat about what we did while they watched sports, how lousy we were at video games, and what things we did that they would never understand. It was fun.

Times have changed. We're adults now, so we're more likely to meet at someone's home or a sit-down restaurant, which changes the conversational flow. We're also not in college, so we have fewer common activities and experiences. It can be super-awkward. Now it's more like a formal association rather than a club. To join, you must be in the same stage of life: casually dating, cohabiting (w/ or w/o marriage), cohabiting with pets, or cohabiting with kids.

If you're not in the same life stage, there is nothing to say. I've had painful conversations that haltingly go something like this:
Wife: So, you have kids.
Me: Yep, there they are. Here's something funny one of them did.
Wife: Wow, kids. We don't have kids.
Me: Yeah.
Wife: We have a dog. Do you have a dog?
Me: We have no dog.
Wife: But you sure have kids. There they are.

We have a couple of male friends whose company I have always enjoyed. Now, though, they have moved to the stage in their respective relationships where it would be odd to invite them without their significant others. I've met both women and think they are very nice - but when we get together, the guys talk while we flounder. See, when just the guy would come over, he and Jeremy would do most of the talking while I did what I like best: listened and chimed in if I had something worth saying. This left the "burden" of conversation on my extroverted husband. I got all the pleasure of socializing without having to do much for it. Now, though, I have my own conversational partner. I feel like I need cue cards.

Years ago, I read that women change friends more frequently in life than men because they make friends for different reasons. Male friendships are based on a common interest or activity. Female friendships are based on a common stage in life. I thought it was an interesting theory. I know my friendship waned a bit when a friend had her first child, then strengthened again when I had Peter. However, I have other friendships that have remained strong despite us being in very different stages of life.

Perhaps a female friendship needs a common life stage to begin before it can endure changes. Once you're already friends, you can talk about interesting things like religion and politics and education and all the other things you don't discuss with people who might find your opinions offensive. But you need to lay the groundwork of small talk first.

Another friend of ours has recently considered the dating scene again. He is pretty fantastic, so (most recent experience notwithstanding) I'm confident he'll find someone he enjoys dating. That makes me a little sad. See, he was originally Jeremy's friend, so I suspect when we hang out as a foursome eventually, his girlfriend and I will find ourselves expected to chat. Maybe we should buy a dog before that happens.

7 Quick Takes is hosted at Conversion Diary

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

I made him a sandwich and never saw him again

In my younger, more foolish years, I was not well-acquainted with hummus. In fact, at the time of this story, I'm not sure I'd even tasted it yet. I did know, however, that it came in a variety of flavors and textures. Also, I had a very stylish white sweater vest with a hood. And with that background, begin.

I was working food service at SUNY Geneseo, making subs. When I arrived for my shift, I noticed we were missing a container from the sub cart, but I couldn't recall what usually filled that spot. I figured if anyone came asking for it, I'd look for a refill.

An hour or so later, a boy came in and asked for a hummus sub. (We counted hummus as a meat substitute; it was spread on about half an inch thick.) That's what we were missing. I explained that I would need to check in back to see if we had any more; he agreed to wait.

I checked where we usually kept it, none there. I knew we had recently switched from a creamy hummus to a grainy hummus, so I asked my manager if it was being kept somewhere else. She suggested taking the container from the salad bar cart, since that was closed for the evening. I grabbed a container, double-checked it with her to ensure it was indeed hummus, and brought it out.

I felt bad, so I put on a bit extra. The boy graciously accepted my apologies for the delay and took his sandwich. Ten minutes later, he was back. I looked up, puzzled.

"Um, hi again. Can I help you?"
"Uh, I don't think that was hummus."
"Oh. What was it?"

Monday, December 2, 2013

Family Photo

Photo from JCPenney, all rights belong to me

We did it! After more than a week of hovering around Anne, we were able to get a family picture taken tonight in which she had NO bruises on her face! No smile, either, but beggars can't be choosers. We had a variety of poses, of course, but not one where both kids were smiling. Peter has chapped lips currently, so in many of the pictures he is licking his lips. Good memory shots, though!

Anne's one year portraits are scheduled for Wednesday. Here's hoping we can make it two more days unscathed. :-)