Friday, June 16, 2017

Seven Quick Takes: Props to teachers, toddler shenanigans, thoughts on body image.

Joining Kelly for 7QT! Check it out!

ONE:

Half my babies are through Kindergarten and I was a blubbering mess about it. The cute Kindergarten graduation ceremony did not help my emotional state. I'm both happy and sad. Where did the time go?
Patrick went last year, and Carter this year. Their 20-month age difference made that kind of tricky. I held Patrick back a year longer than the technical eligibility, and Carter was just over the age of eligibility. It was really interesting to see how they did individually with the same teacher and the same kindergarten program. Given their different temperaments and strengths, I hesitate to compare them, but I come out definitely on the side of later-start rather than early start with some of the things I saw.  I don't think Patrick could have handled the demands of Grade 1 last year, that's for sure.
This brings me to my appreciation for their teachers (who will hear all this from me personally) but wow, somehow they get these kids through the year in one piece. We've been really blessed with teachers who have impacted our kids in a positive way, truly invested in seeing them improve and flourish.

TWO:

We've been biking to school in the beautiful weather.  My two oldest are on two-wheelers, and my two youngest are in a bike trailer behind me. So almost every day I strap 70 lbs of child into a 25 lb. trailer and pull that 95 lbs behind me as I keep up with my other two guys and constantly remind them about traffic and bike safety.  My heart-rate is definitely up by the time we reach school, I'll tell you that much! It feels good to build that movement into the day!

THREE:

As I've worked to get healthy post-fourth-pregnancy, I've come to renewed awareness of the pervasiveness of body-worship in our culture.  The obsession with "getting that body" is infuriating me just a little. Why? Because I don't think playing on people's insecurities about how they look is really encouraging true health and wellness. If you've got a "perfect" body, but you're constantly obsessing about what's in your smoothie, what caloric value your burger is, and people's perception of you, that's not health - that's a problem.  Let me just say, I've never been so secure with my body than I am now.  Looking at me, that might surprise the majority of people.  I am overweight. I have a belly. If you follow my insta-stories, you might've caught me ranting about how I get asked a lot if I'm pregnant (BTW, I don't think you should ever ask anybody that. There are lots of reasons why women don't have flat bellies, and pregnancy is only one of them).

I'm just done with the headache of obsession with certain diets, exercise programs and anything that is based on shame. In this body, I've been fat and I've been thin and I've been in-between, but most importantly, I've been me the entire time. I looked in the mirror one day last week, and I grabbed a large chunk of my belly fat - and I felt... nothing. I felt like the skin and fat that I held in my hand were just there ON my body, but that they were not actually part of my identity as a human being. Maybe in a year, with a good food and lots of movement, and regulation of my thyroid, that part of me will look a lot different. It will feel good not to be asked if I'm pregnant when I'm not - OR maybe I'll feel healthy enough that we'll actually BE pregnant, and I can say "Yes" and let people congratulate me. But who knows what could happen? I could die tomorrow. I could die next week! I just don't want to waste any more time being ashamed of my size or shape, or my enjoyment of certain foods. Discipline for my own well-being is certainly key. Moderation for obvious reasons is necessary. I'm not saying that the pursuit of mediocrity or stasis is at all what I'm desiring, but shame is not the way I need set and achieve goals.

FOUR:



Right now my four guys have popsicles (not in the picture, those are cookies) and are sitting outside enjoying the gorgeous day in our lovely back yard. They'll be such a sticky mess, but my plan is eat dinner outside too, then turn the sprinkler on them, strip them down at the door, and get them ready for bed.  This is the glory of summer!

FIVE:

Rejoicing. My toddler is old enough to be entertained for a short time by his brothers. I thought I'd never ever be here, sitting at my kitchen table, able to type five whole takes with nary an interruption with everyone awake. Until now, I've always had a toddler or a baby and kids not old enough to handle said toddler or baby for more than one minute. And this particular toddler... well, lets just say that before him, I never really had toddlers. I had kids who left me ill-equipped me for the kind of curiosity and sheer determination that this one has. We didn't have doors on our cupboards for all three of the older brothers, so you can forget child safety locks. I just put stuff back and said no. All it took was one or two times of scary "don't-take-shit-out-of-the-drawers" mommy, and those three were done! They did not test me any further on this front. This guy however, must attempt to empty at least one bottom drawer or cupboard per day. It's like it's fun to watch mom re-stack and sort all the plastic containers twice a week. I used to scoff at people who used child locks, because "all it takes is telling them no a couple times."  Lets just go back and slap that version of myself.  She's sorry. She didn't have real toddlers.

SIX:

It's Father's Day weekend, and this year the kids, because of school, are actually aware and excited about doing something to honour their Dad. It's super adorable, because they have actual gifts they made at school that they want to give him on Sunday morning. I told them that the best gift they could give Dad was a day of listening and enjoying each other as a family.  I was just informed however, that since that's impossible, "he'll probably be happy with a picture of us in a monster truck." That's 5-year-old logic for you.

SEVEN:


This little face and three others have come demanding food. It's exactly 5 p.m. and the bellies are evidently rumbling, so that's my cue! 

Have a lovely weekend, and spoil those Fathers!




Saturday, June 3, 2017

Seven Quick Takes: Convocation, education and silly indoor girl moments.

Joining Kelly and the other Quick takers once again.

ONE:

 

This is my "freshly convocated" younger (by 8 years) sister! 
I am just so incredibly proud of this woman! She's earned a BA in Music, which she has enjoyed working at, through a lot of tough courses, and hours of practicing and honing her skills.
My sister is a talented pianist. But her very essence is creativity and adding beauty to the world wherever she goes. She is also an incredibly deep, critical thinker* Since she could speak, I have marvelled at the way that she makes sense of the world. 
Nobody I know is as disciplined in making themselves better with each coming day. She is very much like my our late father in that regard, as well as in her quiet constancy, her enjoyment of beauty, and the way that she leaves you feeling unconditionally loved if you're one of the few who gets to know her well. 
Our Dad would be glowing with pride at all her achievements, and ecstatic that she pursued her passion for music, which they shared.

*An actual critical thinker, by definition (see next take).

TWO:

That said, while we were waiting for my sister to walk the stage, I had a lot of time to contemplate the value of education. 
One of the speeches touched on how their university education has taught the graduates critical thinking. I let my own thoughts spin off from this statement (as one does): "Can a university education really teach critical thinking?"
The thing I've observed is that what many people think is critical thinking is actually regurgitation and application of specific ideas they were taught at university (or read in books or online).
Frustratingly, it seems not many people pause to really analyze the world around them and truly think critically about anything. 
It takes more than just dissemination of ideas to inspire a person to do the work of critical thinking. I certainly had teachers in university who worked hard to make us question, but when it comes down to it, it's up to us to do the dirty work. 
It's a matter of letting the possibility that you could be wrong into your life and doing the work to find the answers. Does anyone actually do that? Do I? 
I'll leave it at that. 

THREE:

Lighter thoughts!
On the way to my in-laws last night, my eldest  took out his rosary that he made at school and began praying it on his own with his little guide. Now maybe this happens frequently with other 7-year-old boys - I don't really know!  But I was a bit surprised, given that we have never prayed more than a decade as a family, and certainly never on road trips with 4 boys under 7. It has not been widely discussed other times either given the loud protests on previous rosary occasions.
Our parish priest had been to the class to bless the kids' rosaries, and had told them that he liked to pray the rosary while driving. 
My husband and I looked at each other and back at our son, before joining his rosary.
"What kind of blessing did father put on those rosaries?!" I whispered,
"I don't know, but we should ask him for more of that!" said Joseph.

FOUR:

My boys like to take my phone and take selfies and other photos. This is some of their handiwork.

 
Silly guy. I love his face! 

 

I love the way kids write when they first learn how.

FIVE:

Biblical games:

Me: "Carter, why are our mini-hockey sticks all broken on the ends?"
Carter: "It was Zachary. He was using them as a donkey's jawbone."

SIX:

There's still those times where I'm not ready to be a grown-up:

In the spirit of having 4 boys and wanting to be less of an "indoor girl" as my husband affectionately calls me, I decided to try to spend more time outside. So here I was, outside, watering and weeding our little gardens (which I actually like, but I've been away from it while caring for babies) when I inadvertently angered a wasp. At least I think it was angry. I kept stepping away, and it kept coming back. 
"Wasp!" I whispered to my boys, who hate the prospect of being stung, and they ran away to the back yard. 
Then that silly wasp landed on my baby (well, 18-month-old).
"I guess I have to be the adult here," I thought. So I swatted it off him, picked up my baby and we ran inside to be laughed at by my big strong Joseph, who flicks wasps dead without batting an eyelash. 

SEVEN:

It's 6:39 a.m. on a Saturday. I got up at 6 to finish these Takes. Not because I'm so dedicated to blogging, but because curling up in a blanket for some alone-time on my in-laws couch was a great gift that I couldn't pass up. Plus, it's peaceful here with no city noise - just the tweeting of birds outside the windows.
We are about to enjoy a day of fun on the farm (and maybe I'll earn some outdoor credibility with my boys). Nobody is awake yet though, so I'm daring to crack open a book and bask in the quiet.

Have the loveliest of weekends! 



Monday, May 22, 2017

Seven Quick Takes: Crazy me and husband love

Joining the Quick takers at Kelly's again, better late than never, right? 

ONE:

Huge breakfasts! May be a solution to the morning snack-begging.
This morning was the first morning EVER where I didn't prepare or get asked for a snack by my boys. No, they weren't gone away... They'd just had a massive breakfast. My eldest (age 7) ate 7 pancakes and a larger-than-normal mound of scrambled eggs. The other three ate a fair amount more than their usual too. And viola, no snack-whining! I'm going to give this a good three day test, but as mom of four boys, I'm increasingly concerned with the amount of time I already spend in my kitchen making sure their growing bodies are nourished.  My time at the grocery store is bound to increase, and I'll eventually have to buy entire animals with which to fill my freezer.  The feeding of what will feel like an army is nigh!

TWO:

Laughing at myself:
"Mom, have you ever noticed that whenever you look in the mirror, you make a funny face?" my eldest said to me one day as I was putting on make-up.
"I don't do that, do I?" I said, mildly embarrassed.
For the next couple days though, I took notice. The conclusion? I am delighted to find that somewhere inside me lurks my inner 5-year-old, and every time I look in a mirror, I either raise my eyebrows, stick out my tongue, wrinkle my nose, or open-mouth grin. I've done it for so long (25 years) that is has become a quirky habit.
I've been told I have a very expressive face, so maybe this has something to do with it!

THREE:

I wrote a post about washing my floor this week. It's funny how we grow up a little with the years, even as adults: I once "got it all together," so to speak. I was about to have my third child, and I was so overwhelmed by the thought of having more children than arms that I thought "I have to take control of my life!" Of course, what I really did was take control of some of the things in my life, like having a clean home. I purged things, I minimized kid's clothing, toys and books. I made a cleaning schedule and stuck to it and started meal planning. Then that third child was born and was a fantastic little baby who mostly just let me keep a great routine of having the house company-ready and the illusion that I was the best mom and housewife around. But life only gets busier, even if like me, you take on a little as possible, you still manage to find yourself lost. But I found myself down on my knees washing the floor the other day, and wrote what I wrote.

FOUR:



On Mother's Day, I had a proud mom moment as I watched my eldest help his Dad, Grandfather and Uncle and Aunt brand some calves at my in-law's farm.  He was a little scared at first and really only held a rope with his Dad, but eventually got down on the ground holding the skinny little calf legs. It's a right of passage in a way.  It puts a bit of an ache in my heart that our kids are not having these agricultural experiences on a daily basis as my husband did. I grew up in town, but was not unfamiliar with farm life. There's just something so poignant about the connection of farmers with the land and animals. I can't quite put my finger on what it is, but I do know that I value it more having gotten to know my husband Joseph, and how it has shaped him.

FIVE:

It's 2 days later (I started this Friday) and I'm sitting in Starbucks free of all children and finally finishing this. 
I just need to share how absolutely loved by Joseph I feel right now. I've had a rough couple weeks "momming" with busy schedules and appointments and difficult situations with each boy, and he's completely come through in giving me space and extra care. Yesterday (Sunday) I was just wiped out in the afternoon so he just let me nap into the evening, fed the kids, tiled part of our backsplash AND made me a delicious dinner (beef tenderloin and stuffed roasted peppers). 
Then today he's sailing with the 4 boys and I'm having coffee with Jane Austen! 

 


 

Feeling like my love tank is full to the brim!

SIX: 

Just the three older boys having a grand old time on the ROOF! (Don't worry, it's not a regular thing, and Joseph was up there with them putting in venting for our kitchen range)

These guys love to follow Joseph around as he fixes and improves this house. They'll acquire so many great skills (I hope).

Aw. Poor Martin below, missing out on the fun.

 

SEVEN:

Just a little superhero, down for the count.

 


Have a great week!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Washing The Floor

 

Today I washed my floor.

An ordinary task, one might think. It's certainly something that falls into the "needs to be done" category rather than the "things I really look forward to doing" category.

But readers, my floor has been sticky for two weeks. Abominably sticky. I think it might be from when my youngest was eating out of the sugar bowl. My feet have made a "shwick, shwick" sound as I walk around, which is the sound of my womanly pride oozing out of my body. Beware leaving sugar in reach of the hands of small children.  As a mom of four such children, I feel like that was a rookie move...

But back to my floor.  This floor that I had washed with a mop twice in two weeks but still could not get the sticky to leave.

I posted a long while ago about striving for perfection - about not listening to the tendency of our world to cut us slack as moms and tell us that you don't have to even try because kids make things difficult, and if things are difficult, they're not worth it. I still believe the difficulties my kids present me with are worth surmounting, but maybe I'm a little softer on myself - in a good way - than I was then.

I wrote about my disdain for this sign that says "Good Moms have sticky floors, dirty ovens and happy kids."

And there I was in 2015, writing that post from some high horse. I had 3 kids then, and I hadn't yet imagined or even fathomed that my fourth child would be more curious and prone to mischief at a younger age than any of the others.  I had no children who had homework, or a school run each day. I hadn't imagined yet that I would be where I was this afternoon, down on my hands and knees with a microfibre cloth and all the power of essential oil and vinegar, cleaning my kitchen and dining room floor (for a third time in 2 weeks) inch by inch. 

I loathed that sign in 2015. Certainly the point of it is that children and their upbringing are far more important than the floor or the oven, or the thousand little tasks that you could be doing if you weren't reading a story, or building a Lego car. But I couldn't, at that point think outside my own image of perfection, which under no circumstances, included a dirty floor.

Experience is the best teacher though, isn't it? 

Something inside my 2015 self took that sign as a challenge: "I will be better than that mom" whoever she was. 

Little did I know. 

So, dear reader, I officially apologize if you're actually that mom a lot of the time.  Sorry for judging you and your sticky floor. Eventually I became that mom I thought I was so far above. For two long weeks, as I "shwick-shwicked" around my kitchen, even after a wash, my 2015 self died a little. All the images of perfection I had morphed into something still reaching for perfection, but realizing that I'll never get there by myself. And you know what? It feels better to have her gone.

Why? Because maybe there's some version of perfection that is on their knees, scrubbing a two-week old mess. Maybe that's okay. Maybe there's bigger things going on than trying to be perfect in the material world. 

And maybe, just maybe, a sticky floor is an excuse to get on my knees and gain some perspective.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Boys and The Question of Fighting in Play

 

"All boy," is how I hear my sons often described.
They wrestle, get really dirty and often run around shouting. They're noisy and rough. They're superheroes one minute, and ninjas the next. They grunt, eat a ton, delight in flatulence... and they're all under 7!

As a woman, I don't understand them most of the time. I have no idea why someone would want to fart in his brother's cereal. I don't understand their fascination with guns, swords, ninjas and ways to fight. I can't fathom their uncanny ability to imitate various motor and gun sounds, or the reasons for over half of the things they need to do. But as I've come to terms with the many sides of my sons, who still cry and snuggle and do really sweet things for their mom, I've noticed a disturbing pattern:

Parents are knocking the fight out of boys.
"Don't fight."
"No wrestling. Someone might get hurt."
"Stop shooting."
"What are you doing? That's not a sword. Stop using that as a sword!"
"It doesn't matter if he took your toy, you don't hurt him."

Sound familiar? I'm fairly certain these or similar words have crossed my lips daily. Things do get a little out of hand. I don't allow my boys to hurt others. However a few experiences have raised red flags for me.

Over a year ago, a mother of three boys got together with me, a mother of four boys, thinking we would enjoy one another's company and that our boys could play. It was a lovely few playdates at various parks, before something changed:
My son picked up a stick and used it as a sword, and her son did the same. This new friend was rather alarmed and went to stop the swordplay. I inventively said that the boys, instead of fighting one another, could make believe a dragon was attacking and fight it with their swords. My friend seemed satisfied, but looked on worriedly, explaining that, "I really don't like violent games. I'm just not up for aggression in my house."
"But, don't a lot of little boys make believe with weapons?" I asked,
"Sure, but a lot of little boys end up aggressive and angry men. I don't want that for my sons. We don't need to express ourselves with violence."
"Well, I get that," I said, "but I don't think all uses of weapons are necessarily violent. What about hunting? Or protecting innocent people, like the police do?"
"Well, that's different. I just think it easier not to go down that road."
She  eventually confiscated the stick her son was now using as a rifle, and told the boys to play something different. I didn't press the issue, but the playdate was our last one. After this occurrence, this lady decided she wouldn't slot us in for playtime anymore, despite my repeated attempts.

One day I was visiting with family members in one of their back yards. A well-meaning mother of one turned around saying, "Whoa. Uh... I don't know if that's okay."
I turned to see my two oldest sons, a tangle of limbs, rolling around on soft grass. Their faces showed concentration and laughter, not anger or malice.
"They're okay," one of my relatives, a brother himself, assured her.

I should have relaxed at that moment. My sons were okay. Both got up eventually, moving on to other things, but the feeling I had at the moment stayed with me. This other mama had no idea what was normal play for my sons. Play for boys often involves fighting and conflict. At least with my sons, their obsession with heroism, valour and protecting the weak is far-reaching. Their physical need for contact and action seems so innate and powerful, that I can't help but think it goes far beyond nurture.

Fighting and conflict are generally labeled as bad. Parents don't want their children to argue with one another, to fight over toys or books or even who gets what spot at the dinner table. It's annoying, time consuming and often, many of us think, utterly pointless. We just want our kids at school and at home to behave nicely and harmoniously with other people, like we must do as adults. Sometimes it doesn't occur to us that it is because we fought with our siblings or other children that we recognize the feelings and reactions we have, and are able to control them as adults. Children learn with a combination of action and guidance. A little bit of listening to trusted mentors, and a lot of trial and error. Fighting, though annoying, can be a healthy part of development.

But play - play is an entirely different thing. Of course I want my sons to be polite. I don't want them to be bullies. I do want to guide their play in such a way that they know their limits, but still enjoy pretending, imagining and emulating the heroes they adore.

"I'm protecting the ship," said my three-year-old when I asked him why he was throwing all of the plush footballs into the yard, "these are cannonballs."

"I'm Luke Skywalker and he's Darth Vader. He's tryin' to kill me, but I'm really strong," said a matter-of-fact six-year-old.

"Don't call me Zachary. Call me Batman! I am fighting bad guys and throwin' batarangs at dem."

"Mom! We built spears with Dad! Now we can be Roman Soldiers!" said an excited five-year-old, carrying his prized new toy.

Around here, often one of these weapons gets confiscated. One simply can't hit a brother or friend out of rage with a plastic light saber and get away with it in our house.  There is much protest, lamenting and gnashing of teeth when this happens, but hurting out of spite or anger is not tolerated by my husband and I. Accidental grazes where both parties are willing to apologize and forgive are treated a little more lightly. Regularly though, our 7- and 5-year-olds accidentally hurt one another and instantly apologize, knowing that their game can continue.

I don't love this part, I'll be honest with you. In the enforcement and direction of weapon-play, sometimes I threaten to confiscate everything and throw it in the garbage. Sometimes my womanly heart is tired of the batarangs and nunchucks and ninja kicks and wrestling and I plead with them, "Can you just play with play-doh or colour? Can you build Lego? How about soccer? Hockey? Play chef and make me a fantastic dinner? (They do these things too, but primarily, their fun is heroes and play-fighting) And it occurs to me that if I just simply banned any sort of weapons or fighting of any kind maybe my life would be more peaceful and a heck of a lot simpler.

I know some mothers and fathers who have done just that, who don't allow fighting or conflict of any time to permeate the walls of their home. The rhetoric here is often that of my friend above, that aggressive behavior is always wrong and leads to unhealthy, angry men. If this is you, we are just not going to agree on this point - that weapons and play fighting, with guidance, can actually help form character. Through play, I've seen my young sons learn lessons about defending the helpless, responsibility, courage, endurance, compassion and even death. Forming early the reasons why one might fight, or why one might use a weapon in a young boy is important and necessary.

What happens when someone who is innocent is being hurt by another person? What happens when a grave injustice is being done and nobody is doing anything about it. This is where we want our children to defend the innocent and stand up for what is right. This is the why. There are real battles being fought by real people, and someday, though some of us hope not, those people might be our sons.

Daily, wars are being fought to protect the innocent. The police cruise our streets waiting for the next call: to a domestic dispute, a robbery, a school shooting - all situations where they may be required to fire their weapon. They are our first line of defense, and we never hesitate to call them heroes.

We want to live in a world where it is not necessary for these men and women to take up arms, but we don't. We simply don't. We live in a world where it has become increasingly necessary for them to do so. So now we are tasked with raising children who will stand up for the innocent, protect the weak and help create peace. We hope they do not need to use weapons to do so. But to teach them that all fighting in any case is wicked, and to teach them that weapons are evil, and to knock the fight out of them - does that rob them, and us, of opportunity not only for boyhood pleasure, but for important lessons? Afterall, is it not the people behind the weapons, and not the weapons themselves that do harm?












Saturday, April 15, 2017

Laying Down My Life: Talking to God about NFP

“Imagine a large circle and in the center of it rays of light that spread out to the circumference. The light in the center is God; each of us is a ray. The closer the rays are to the center, the closer the rays are to one another. The closer we live to God, the closer we are bound to our neighbor; the farther we are from God, the farther we are from one another. The more each ray departs from its center, the weaker it becomes; and the closer it gets to the center, the stronger it becomes.” 


In the onset of restlessness, I tried to sleep. "Why? God! Why is this Your will?"
I turned over and stared at the dark form of my husband Joseph, whose back was to me, and watched the rise and fall of his chest and left shoulder.  I knew he wasn't asleep yet. I had hurt him again. He felt rejected, even though he understood that this was how it had to be, and I didn't know how to soothe him.

I closed my eyes, and eventually my mind stopped accusing, begging and lamenting enough for me to drift into a fitful sleep.

It was light when I awoke, and for some reason unbeknownst to me at the time, I was faced with French doors and a balcony. Curious, I stepped out onto a balcony, overlooking an old city. Coffee awaited me, though my husband slept peacefully in white sheets in the hotel room behind me. The light brown heads of four sons peeked out from cots, placed in a row at the foot of our bed.

On the balcony, sat Him. Taking in the city and the surroundings, I shouldn't have been surprised.
This was not the Him I would throw myself down on the ground in awe of, or the Him I would picture in prayer. No, this was the Him I could sit with face to face. His face earnest and inviting and waiting for me to speak. I closed the balcony door so that my family wouldn't hear and wake up.

He motioned for me to sit down and have coffee with Him at the small table.
"What can I do for you?" He asked, his voice familiar and safe.
"Okay, so this is the thing," I said, getting comfortable in the large wicker papasan  that sat near the table, "he's hurting again, and it's not my fault! I just don't want to have another baby, and the moral thing to do is not have sex."

Boom. Weird. I'd just said "sex" to Jesus in my dreams. But this was Jesus my friend and confidant, so he wasn't weirded out by it.

"I didn't mean to make him feel outright rejected, but I'm ovulating right now, so I'm very susceptible to taking things further than I meant to. I thought I was saving him from pain by saying we should just sleep." I paused, as He raised an eyebrow, looking at me like He knew I had more to say.

"I admit, I could be nicer about it, but he KNOWS the teaching of the Church. He gets it. This is why we only have four kids and I'm not pregnant as we speak! I'm just trying to do what's best for us."

I looked away, partly ashamed that I excused my behavior toward Joseph by blaming him, and partly because I hadn't opened up like this so directly to God himself before.

Touching my shoulder and leaning in, motioning that I should look at Him, He said, "What are you afraid of?"

Taken aback, I just looked at Him, my eyes starting to dampen. Afraid they might spill over if I didn't speak, I said,

"Everything."

Pause.

I'm talking about the teaching of the Catholic Church that says that contraception is immoral. I ardently believe and support this teaching, so Joseph and I practice a Natural Family Planning which is tracking my fertility in order to avoid pregnancy, or sometimes, make a baby. This is something Catholic couples are permitted to do, and it means that when we don't feel we can have another baby, we abstain from sex in times of fertility, which is not always easy or as simple as it sounds. This is a post about how it has gone for us in eight years of marriage with four sons born in that time, and how we're coming to terms with what it means for us in the future. 

"Tell me," He said, sitting back and sipping His coffee.

"Well, I'm afraid to get pregnant again. I'm afraid that we won't have enough time or money for another child. I just feel like if I'm already drowning, how could I have another baby?

"Not to mention that I have hemorrhaged more and more blood with each birth, just cementing my fear of birthing another baby and leaving the kids without a mother, and my husband to care for five.

"I'm afraid that my marriage will fail because of this fear. When it's been three months of abstaining, it is so tempting to just contracept. We know that you gave us reason and free will, so it's difficult to think it could be so wrong when we just want to be that close to each other, but can't foresee caring for another child.

"I want to be able to abandon myself to intimacy with my husband, but I can't, because I'm afraid of what will happen if I do. He's mad that I don't trust him on that front, and I suppose, rightfully so.

"He's also mad that I'm wired so that when I'm ovulating - like prime baby-making time - that's the time when I have the most desire. All other times, it's a little more work to build up that same desire. 

"Come to think of it, I'm mad about that too. Why can I only enjoy sex as much as I could possibly enjoy it, if at this point in my life, I'm almost 100% guaranteed a baby? And he's wired to basically be up for sex all the time. We are so frustrated during this time that we fight, and we argue, even though after eight years, we know what's going on!

"We live in a world where nobody understands this. We get that we need not be holding ourselves to the standard of a "sex-all-the-time and birth control" culture, where so many people are happy to tell me exactly what they think about my having four children. I don't care what people in the grocery store think of me, but it's a reflection of the society.

"I know You want greater for us than our world does, Jesus, but this is so hard to navigate.  I know there are worse things than being fertile and making a lot of children. I know we could be better at communicating and loving each other and our kids, but sometimes I feel like it's too much. The rest of my fertile years are looking bleak, Jesus, very bleak."

I looked from Jesus' face to my sleeping husband's form. I looked at the four sleeping heads - the children we made as a result of our love. Miracles, each one of them. They'd come to us as a result of what I saw as three miscalculations of my chart and fertility signs combined with our desire for one another, and one - the last one - a result of a planned and calculated act.

"Do you trust me?" Jesus asked.

I looked down, sadly shaking my head. Then, when I looked into His eyes, which surprisingly, held understanding, I said,

"I really want to."

"Why do you doubt me?"

I thought for a moment, "I guess because things haven't turned out the way we thought they would. It's just been harder than we thought."

"I know. I have been here all along as you wrestle with this difficult task. I am with you. I know you doubt me, but you know, I never break my promises."

I looked at Him and nodded. He was right. I have called on Him, and time and time again and He has answered me. Maybe not in the way that I thought, but all the same, I've gotten assurance that as long as I stick close to Him, He won't fail me.  I don't regret a single day with any of my sons. I don't regret carrying them and feeling their little movements inside my body. I don't regret being a vessel of life for each of them, the pain of childbirth, or the sleep I've lost. We've been the shepherds of four little souls; our own little flock to guide and nourish and keep safe. My life has been full and beautiful, in spite of the hardships and plans gone by the wayside.

"You, my beautiful friend, have come so far. Don't you see how much closer you've come to me because your plans went awry? It pains me to see you suffer, but it edifies me when you ask me for help. You are weary, I can tell, but in this, your selfishness and your pride are being replaced by beauty and love.

"Your marriage is the cross I ask you to take up. You must carry it for one another and with one another. You must look and see how it sanctifies you and makes you holy. And your children, they are your crown. They make you stretch yourselves beyond what you ever imagined, but they make you reach for greatness."

With tears in my eyes I nodded.

You see, I had forgotten that my life is not mine. I had gotten caught up in the lie that says I deserve all the pleasure and ease and comfort that I could possibly obtain. I had forgotten that the purpose of our marriage was to bear fruit, not simply to consume and obtain and take pleasure and seek happiness. I forgot that in the sacrament of matrimony, I not only bound myself to Joseph but that we bound ourselves also to God.

"I'm sorry," I whispered, "I doubted you. I didn't trust you."

Then, with one last look at His face - His face that seemed to understand so much of what I was feeling - I woke up.

This dream I had is a work of fiction, though I really wish that Jesus would talk to this plainly, and let me rant to his face about all of my cares. I wish He would tell me it will be alright, especially when it comes to NFP.  This Good Friday, Joseph and I were encouraged to take this struggle to the cross.

Our reality is that we are a fertile couple, which is such an extraordinary gift, considering that many of our friends have not been so blessed. We see it as a gift, but sometimes when we are considering each month whether we could have another child and let my fertile time slowly pass by, it is truly a cross.

We know some couples who have not practiced NFP at all.  It seems like it works for them, and I suppose I simply fear I can't handle it physically, mentally or emotionally. In truth, practicing NFP, and realizing our power as woman and man to create new lives has made me more open to the possibility of a fifth, sixth, seventh (and beyond) child. It has allowed me to realize that my ways are not God's ways, and that if I allow Him to work in that part of my life and give Him the gift of a new soul, I am doing the most amazing thing I could ever do. I can't think of something more amazing than giving someone life, can you?

As we brought our four children to venerate the cross yesterday on Good Friday, we walked slowly to the front of the church.  I looked at my four sons, and marveled at their uniqueness. One of them simply laid on the floor, tired from the long time he had been sitting restlessly, and I picked him up.
In these troubled times, whenever I pick up one of my children, I think about how far I might be able to run with them, to save them from whatever harm may come to them.

Yesterday I thought about that, but when we got to the foot of the cross - a crucifix laid on a table for us to touch or kiss or simply revere - I thought only one word: "Life." I also saw how much happiness we have in our marriage, in giving our lives to each other.

We can give life in an abundance of ways. We have the power to help and heal and speak to the hurt of the world. I feel helpless with the weight of our world's troubles to protect my children and carry them away from the dangers that await. I often feel so unimportant in my journey as a mother - but this encounter with the cross reminded me of the life-giving role I have in His creation.  So yesterday, I walked away from the cross full of God's promise to give me life as I lay mine at His feet.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Seven Quick Takes: Moments to savour and other thoughts

I can't believe it's Friday already... linking with Kelly and all the other takers. Check em'.

ONE:

It's grey and rainy this morning, so I called it a "lazy Friday" and decided to let my boys watch TV. Sometimes he (1.5 soon) still falls asleep on me. I often transfer him to his crib then do all the things (especially the ones that his chubby little fingers aren't needed to help with). Today I just let him lay on my lap and enjoyed sitting for 20 minutes, reading and watching the middle two play. I remember the days with just one baby where I would spend an hour sitting with a baby snoozing and let my legs fall asleep, only to have that sweet baby wake up and see his mommy right there, stretch and get ready to play. I felt so useless then but sometimes had the foresight to think that it won't always be this way. Now I'm feeling the "it won't always be this way" more often. Sometimes it's a good feeling, but sometimes, especially in those really good, wholesome, regular moments, I get a sense of nostalgia. I need to take a mental picture (in this case, a real picture) of this moment and store away in my heart, for when I'm old and these kids are busy raising their own little people.

TWO:

My seven-year-old Patrick looked at me the other day and said, "Mom, I love you, but sometimes my love for you just hides somewhere."

He's really good at articulating his little thoughts. I thought to myself, "I know the feeling." Because sometimes my love hides too. It doesn't go anywhere really, but often it's covered by the frustration of having 4 little people needing all at once, or not having gone to bed early enough to wake up daily before 6 a.m. In the moment, I asked him to come in for a much-needed hug - for both of us, I think.

THREE:

Following my yearly pattern, I tend to get moody and pensive the week before Holy Week (the week before Easter). Since childhood, I've done something for Lent, and funnily enough, I usually fail a little at it. This year it was to try to stop procrastinating the necessary daily tasks. I don't know why I have this inner need for a ton of stress after school when the kids are at their worst, and if I'm being real, so am I. Yet day after day I was letting the daily chores pile up till after school. Maybe I hoped that by some miracle, I'd leave the house and fairies would come and clean while I was gone. I do tend to be a bit of a delusional dreamer. Anyway, it's been a good Lent, let's put it that way. Thinking about dinner before 5 p.m. is a good discipline to take up.

FOUR:

This really shouldn't be buried here in the middle of the takes, because it's pretty important, but it's Joseph's birthday today. The man is 33! When people turn 33, I always think of this meme:
Super special, right? Joseph isn't really a big birthday celebration guy, so when I asked him what he wanted to do for his birthday, he said, "Well, we could go to soup and Stations," which is what we'd normally be doing on a Lent Friday! Womp. Womp. But don't worry folks, cake and beer await. Maybe not together, but they await.

FIVE:

Last week was spring break, which really was a break. I loathe the school run, which is silly because it's really not far, and takes 15 minutes there and back.It's just such an interruption to the rhythm of the day. It was so freeing to just live with the ebb and flow of the four boys and their play, hunger and tiredness. The other blessing is that it was actually nice weather. Bikes were ridden, soccer balls kicked around, many light saber battles and games of whatever it is the boys imagined in the moment happened.

SIX:

This post really resonated with me:

Are you raising a future drug addict?

I've been thinking a lot lately about instilling the values of responsibility for our own actions and natural consequences in my kids. I thought it was a very good read.
But I was also thinking on the title: because I know a few people who were raised very well by what I could see but still ended up being drug addicts. I think we can only strive to have good relationships with our kids, and have ongoing honest conversations with them about the things that could hurt them, and our family.

SEVEN:

We are off to soup and Stations of the Cross at our parish.  Three of the kids are muddy and covered in leaves, so no time for anything but herding them in to change and pile them in the mini-van. 

Have a great weekend peeps! Happy Easter!