O, Blogger, Where Art Thou? (and an Advent reflection)

I’m alive. But just barely.

In all seriousness, I saw that a hand turkey was still gobbling away on the front page of my blog, and I sighed. If that’s not proof that I am now officially a blogging failure, I don’t know what is. But I have so many good excuses. Really! Numero uno, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find fodder to write about as my kids get older. I don’t want to embarrass them, and I just don’t want to share too much. I find myself pining for a new baby for myriad reasons, and sometimes one of those reasons, I sheepishly admit is, just think of all the new blogging material a baby brings!

Reason number two I can’t get myself to blog as much: My husband, as long-time readers know, is not all that fond of blogging or any social media for that matter, and always prefers privacy over disclosure. He does, however, understand that it is beneficial for a journalist/speaker/author/someday-hopefully-published-novelist to have an online presence in this day and age, so he supports my endeavors but is definitely glad I am not investing as much time on this space as I once did.

Also, it seems that every single time I begin drafting a new post lately, I start to have connectivity issues, and I start to wonder if God uses modems to give certain people signs that they should be using their time for other pursuits.

I’ve also been struggling with some things that one day I do believe I need to write about as a means of ministering to others, but the time is not right and sometimes I fear that if I might come off as whiny/melodramatic/pathetic if I broached some of my subterranean feelings. Some things are better left buried for a bit so they can pass that embryonic stage and bloom into the light. Perspective does wonders.

Finally, there’s just the busyness of this season of motherhood. Oh, I was busy before with all those wee ones in my midst, but it was a different kind of busy. It was an at-home, exhausted, nursing on the hour, smelling of Eau du Breastmilk, singing the “clean-up time” song, high chair crud removal kind of busy. This new busy takes me out of the house and onto the soccer fields or basketball court or Nativity play rehearsals. I try to keep thing simple. I really, really do. Simplicity Parenting is one of my favorite books, and I have been a fervent preacher to my fellow moms that less is more and that kids don’t need a slew of extracurricular activities, academic preschools, or reading lessons at the age of 4 to get ahead in life. Just call me a hypocrite now because we had a basketball game this weekend, a soccer tournament that involved four games, and play rehearsals (and then there were the four parties we were invited to that we couldn’t make it to this weekend because of logistics and germs). My poor husband was in charge of all of the schlepping this weekend because he managed to dodge the germ bullet that hit me square in the head (more on that in a bit).

But my oldest is a mover and a shaker, an extreme extrovert, a sports fanatic. I worry she will burn out with all this sports-playing. I’ve asked our doctor if her level of play is alright for someone her age. “So long as she’s happy and healthy.” Which she is. I regularly ask her, “How are you feeling? Are you sure you want to keep playing?” She emphatically says yes, yes, yes! Last night my husband and I were talking about how we were burnt out and how, at her age, the fall soccer season should end at Thanksgiving.

“What???” Madeline gasped. “I wish it would never end.”

I shouldn’t be surprised. She looks a lot like my younger brother and apparently shares more than just a physical resemblance. My little brother was (is!) the same way. He doesn’t like to sit – not even on vacation. He doesn’t like to sleep (five hours a night suits him just fine). There isn’t a sport he’s met that he hasn’t liked. He can never be too busy. A night at home – if there isn’t an important sporting event on – is a night wasted. Yet, he’s not one to get frazzled like I would if I never have any downtime. Madeline is so very much like her godfather. So we keep busy with her activities, and the logistics of managing six people (and a dog, cat, and two fish) and a series of renovation projects for our home.  Just keeping our calendar up-to-date is a full-time job.

Plus, my husband’s job is of the feast and famine variety. Recently, he worked three 15-hour shifts in three days. This week he worked several 10-hour days. Next week he works nights. His hours are rarely regular unless he’s off of work entirely. On Thursday I had a temperature of 101.4, which actually felt pretty good considering my fever had been higher the previous day. It was 7 pm, and he still wasn’t home. I was exhausted because I had had a fever since Tuesday.

Thank you, flu vaccine, for being an epic failure.

My 7-year-old and I were officially diagnosed with the flu – or as a friend of mine said, the Angel of the Flu descended upon us. Oh, why oh why, couldn’t it have not been Gabriel?

When my fever flirted with hitting 104, I felt like death might be at my doorstep. A little bit of hyperbole? Perhaps, but I like to think of myself as a fairly tough cookie (with only minor pride issues) and the flu knocked me out. Seriously. My body has never felt more achy and even after wrapping myself in blankets like a huge burrito, I could not stop shaking. No amount of ibuprofen helped with my headache. I felt as if I absolutely could not move. But, of course, I did because by this point two children also had fevers. Regrettably (judge me if you wish), the rambunctious 3-year-old boy was not one of the two to fall victim to the insidious virus and was running around the house as happy  and as loudly as can be. You can imagine my horror when he gathered all of the soup cans from the pantry and a wooden spoon and pulled a Ringo Starr on us. A drumming 3-year-old does not a happy mom with a pounding headache make.

When I finally started to feel a little better, I started to panic. I had lost an entire week of my Advent life. How would I ever be ready for Christmas? Not to mention the fact that we all had bad colds over Thanksgiving, so I lost a few days there as well. I couldn’t help but think that Lent would be a better time for the flu. All Lenten starkness sounded pretty nice as I covered my flushed face with my hands. My stomach has been queasy whether from the virus itself or the Tamiflu, I’m not sure, so staying away from sweets would be a breeze. Lent is a time of contemplation. Advent is a time of action.

Or is it?

The secularization of Christmas has turned Advent into a celebratory season, but really it’s supposed to have some of the same characteristics of Lent. There’s supposed to be penance and reflection and quiet.

As I sat wheezing in the petri dish we call home, I realized it doesn’t really matter if the Christmas cards are mailed out late. Besides, as a Catholic the Christmas season doesn’t even begin until Christmas Day, so I’ve got some time. And so what if presents are tucked into gift bags instead of gorgeously wrapped? Who am I kidding? Flu or not, I am prone to stuff gifts into gift bags, or I ask my 10-year-old to wrap them because she can do a better job than I can.

Like Dr. Seuss reminds us, Christmas comes with without ribbons, without tags. It comes without packages, boxes, or bags. Advent is a time of preparation, but more than party-prepping, shopping, and decorating, it’s about preparing our hearts for Jesus. And what better way to prepare my heart for Love itself than to be confined to my home with sick children who need me, to have more time to read more meaningful books about Christmas, to return to the Bethlehem in my past when babies kept me home and quiet and less crazy-busy, to slow down because physically I have to and spiritually I need to?

By Thursday, even my sick children were running around the house like wild animals. Oh, to be young again! A friend of mine, who survived the flu last year, texted me, “Isn’t it funny how taking care of kids who are getting better is so much more difficult than taking care of sick ones?”

Last week was a lesson in sacrificial love, and that seems like a pretty good way to prepare for Christmas.

Yes, there are trees to decorate, meals to serve, cookies to bake*, gifts to wrap, but above all, Christmas is a time to bring light to others. The infant Christ reminded us that when He was born on a cold, deep night in a smelly stable that there will be light in our lives in the darkest, most stressful moments. The husband who comes home at lunch time, even though this means he will fall behind at work, to help you out. That was a blazing light in my life. The friends who text to see how you’re holding up. The older child who takes care of her siblings so you can rest a bit more. The cat who curls up in your lap and keeps you warm. The dog who sniffs your face and wags her tail in encouragement. The grandparents who call to check on you. There were so many little lights in my life this week.

I feel human again and  have a lot to do this week, but I’m going to keep on the the lookout for the little lights and the bigger ones that start to shine all around me. And I’m going to slow down long enough to let something beautiful and hopeful unfurl deep within me, within my home.

Christ grew in Mary. May He grow in all of you this Advent and always.

*My 7-year-old suggested we make flu cookies this weekend. Don’t worry. We’re not that generous. We won’t be sharing our sweets and our germs.

I’ll be talking all things Advent at 9 am EST on my monthly Relevant Radio Morning Air Show gig tomorrow (12/15).

Well, that’s one way to make a hand turkey

hand turkey e1416832019317 768x1024 Well, thats one way to make a hand turkey

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

And be sure to feed your family and guests well or they might end up like this…

(Thomas once upon a time)

photo160 768x1024 Well, thats one way to make a hand turkey

“Bless the LORD, my soul; all my being, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, my soul; and do not forget all his gifts…” Psalm 103:1-2

Recycled Series: Tough Love

I’ve received a few emails from people – family members and strangers alike – commenting on the dearth of blog posts. I do miss writing more, but I just can’t seem to find the time to blog. I’m still freelancing. I’m still trying to overcome I-don’t-think-I-can-even-call-it-a-running-injury-anymore. I have my monthly radio gig and enjoy occasional speaking engagements. But mostly these days I feel like a glorified chauffeur. My life is all about schlepping, and sometimes I just want to hole up in home and nurse my non-existent baby.

My sister-in-law just had her first baby girl. I now have two nieces, and I am in heaven. I got to cuddle with one at the soccer fields last week. Unfortunately, the newest addition to our growing extended family lives far away, so I won’t be meeting her anytime soon. My sister-in-law is doing great, but I’m sure she’s bone-aching tired. Or, maybe, like I was after my first new-mom-euphoria is fueling her. If this is the case, I’ll pray she doesn’t slam into the wall like I did when Madeline turned six months of age and was still nursing on the hour. No matter how she or any new mom feels, I am careful to not say anything aloud about how I long for those baby days because I know it used to annoy me when I was bedraggled and exhausted and people would tell me to enjoy those precious years.

“These years are precious? Really?” I would think. “There’s nothing precious about chronic, fragmented sleep, smelling like my regurgitated breastmilk, and feeling like a yeti in yoga pants.”

But these days I am wistful that my youngest baby (my 3-year-old Thomas) is nearly as tall as my 5-year-old.

Maybe we always embellish the past. Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe we wouldn’t keep having babies if we remembered the sharp pains of labor or feeling drunk with exhaustion. Maybe we wouldn’t do a lot of things if we remembered how hard it was when we were in the midst of it. I am working on being happy with the now – not dwelling in the sepia-toned past or looking ahead to what is sure to be an easier, brighter future.

Still, I can’t help the part of me that is pining for the simplicity of those early years of motherhood when we stayed cloistered in our little home and only ventured out to go to the grocery story or to library story time. Of course, another part of me is enjoying the hilarity of my older children (and sometimes panicking over the fact that I am soon going to have a child who is a decade old). Truth is, this phase has been the toughest phase of motherhood so far for me. I can’t really say why. I do love babies, and I miss babies (and honestly, I thought I might have another baby by now), but it’s not just that. It’s the feeling like time is slipping by, and I haven’t really accomplished all that much. I fail to see the kids in front of me and how they are becoming such lively, wonderful people, and I am stuck in a weird funk.

Even now I am obviously not putting my feelings to words very well.

I’ll have to mull things over and maybe some day I’ll be able to write something encouraging again that is studded with brilliant insight. For now, I am turning to a something I wrote a long time ago about tough love. One child of mine has been constantly been comparing, and it’s driving me crazy. “You don’t ever get mad at so-and-so,” she bemoans. “Why can’t we do this like this family?” “So-and-so can listen to that song and watch that movie.” And then the refrain comes in loud and clear: “IT’S NOT FAIR!”

Nope. It’s not fair. Life’s not fair. The sooner you realize that, accept it, and be happy instead of jealous of the sister who seems to get more to you in your eyes, the better.

I refuse to keep score and make sure everything is even between my children. I love them all equally, but sometimes one of them may seem to come out ahead. That’s life. I’ve been working on celebrating the fact that other people have more than I sometimes do. Or praying for the multitude of people who have far less. I hope I can help my children to do the same.

Without further ado, my old “Tough Love” essay”:

The other day, I was reaching over to offer my two year old some leverage as she attempted to scale the mountain of our double jogging stroller when she batted my arms away and shook her head, saying in her adamant toddler style, “No, Mommy, no. I do it by self.”

Her tenacity impressed me. It also, I admit, made me uneasy to see my child toil like a turtle on its back when I knew I could easily step in to help her. But I forced myself to resist the urge to save my daughter from frustration.

Like most parents, I don’t want anything to thwart my children’s happiness. I want so badly for things to work out for them that I’m sometimes tempted to take away all their struggles. Other times, it’s difficult to say no when my child asks for another bedtime story while batting those long lashes, or when she asks politely for a toy she’s had her eye on for months.

And don’t get me started on the emotional and physical wounds the world inflicts upon my precious offspring. When I recently heard my daughter’s sharp sobs and saw a trail of blood running down her face after a head-on collision with an unruly Wii remote in the hands of her big sister, I was far more traumatized than my bleeding little one.

My mama-bear instinct is strong. It’s what drives me to safeguard my cherubs from everything from food additives to boogey men. Though I haven’t always been this way.

Before I became a mom, I rolled my eyes at doting, smothering parents and resolved to be more of a no-pain-no-gain hardliner when I had kids. I was never going to be one of those helicopter parents, I told myself, who hovered over their kids and swooped in to provide aid before their children even sent out an SOS. What doesn’t kill kids makes them stronger.

My how things change.

From the moment I conceived my first child, I was overwhelmed with an intense desire to protect my baby and to keep her safe. One day I was on a walk during my first pregnancy, and – preggo klutz that I was – I tripped on an uneven part of a sidewalk. I was headed belly-first for the ground, but somehow I managed to throw my body to the side, and it was my hip that first made contact with the concrete.

Nothing was going to hurt my baby. Nothing.

Only now I see that things hurt my babies all of the time. Sometimes it’s even – gasp! – me who’s doing the hurting, by gently but firmly saying no to their pleas. There are rainy days when it’s supposed to be sunny so we can venture out to the zoo. There are dinners not followed by dessert. There are new, nursing babies who take up too much of Mommy’s time.

One day, my kids will likely face much bigger disappointments – broken hearts, rejections from colleges and employers, backstabbing friends, missed opportunities, and maybe worse.

There’s no escaping it: Pain is a part of the human condition. Welcome to life, kiddos. It’s full of disappointments.

The world is chipping away at my children’s innocent hearts every day. And yet, as tough as it is for a mother who is designed to love her children fiercely and deeply, I know it’s not my job to inoculate them against all the angst of life.

Thomas Paine said, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.” And didn’t God say something very similar when He sacrificed His only Son for us so that we could have life? One drop of Christ’s blood could have saved us all, yet He freely chose to shed every last bit of it. He gave what is beyond sufficient, so that we might recognize the power of sacrificial love.

But we often don’t get it. Neither do our kids. After all, it’s not PC to talk about suffering or sacrifice anymore. Why struggle when there’s an easier way? Why take the moral high road when there’s a quicker detour at every turn?

Counterfeit praise is distributed more freely than candy on Halloween. Standards for competence have been lowered or removed completely. Soccer games with no scoreboards. Awarding a tone-deaf child a solo in the school musical for fear that the truth that she can’t hold a tune might crush her. Eliminating honors societies in public schools so Average Joe won’t feel excluded.

The problem is that an artificial inflation of self-esteem only sharpens our children’s disappointment in the real world. What happens when they realize they have to do more than just show up at work to stand out and get ahead? How will they cope when faced with true adversity, if everything in life has been handed to them? How will they ever learn to embrace “Thy will be done” instead of “My will be done”?

As a mother, I’m here to teach my children to solve their own problems, not to be a slave to their longings. I’m here to gently guide them, not to micromanage their lives. I’m here to offer empathy but not always to take away the pain. I won’t boost their self-esteems by doing everything for them or by not insisting they take personal responsibility for their actions.

Ultimately, I want my children to recognize that we are entitled to very little except for God’s love. I want them to work hard as well as to see the redemptive value of suffering. But that won’t happen if I toss them a lifesaver at the first sign of distress, even when every ounce of my maternal being wants to do just that.

No wonder it’s called “tough love.”

As I watched my toddler wrestle with the stroller over the hard concrete, you better believe I made sure my arms were ready to catch her should she stumble, but I allowed her to struggle. In doing so, perhaps I gave her a small lesson in fortitude as well as a taste of triumph after perseverance. And it was her own glory for the taking.

When she finally clambered into her seat, her smile and proud exclamation said it all: “I did it all by self, Mommy!”

Yes, you did, little one. Yes, you did.

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