Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Blue Moon

It can come out of nowhere, and flatten like roadkill. Or it can send out little signals: The chaos, the irritibility, the restlessness, the scalp prickling and pulling tighter than a bongo. Then the tears start falling on the inside ... and (finally, mercifully) on the outside, where they start to do some good.

If you're prone to depression, knowing when and how to get help is imperative not only for your own peace of mind, but for that of your entire family. One book I've found especially helpful is Kathleen Hockey's Raising Depression-Free Children, which offers practical help not only on how to keep your kids healthy, but how to stay healthy yourself. The second half of this is every bit as important as the first, since the stresses of parenthood combined with the intimacy of family life makes putting on a "brave face" next to impossible.

In her book Raising Depression Free Children, Kathleen Hockey identifies four aspects of effective treatment for depression, whether the sufferer is a child or adult: medical, psychological, environmental, and spiritual (p.81). Some people try to treat depression with just one of these -- but, as Hockey points out, the four factors cannot be separated if the sufferer wants to get completely well.

Admitting you need help is the first (and often hardest) step. When I was a kid, my mother used to suffer from (what I now recognize were) depressive episodes and migraines. She battled it alone, afraid to admit that anything was wrong. "I just sing hymns till the blues go away," she'd say. But we all knew better, having been on the receiving end of the effects of the disease. We promised ourselves that when the time came, we would handle it differently. For our children's sake, as well as our own.

If you struggle with depression, it doesn't mean you're crazy or that you're spiritually defective. In the January/February 07 issue of Canticle, Hockey contributed a wonderful piece on St. Elizabeth Seton, who struggled with depression for most of her adult life. (You can order a copy of this issue by calling 800-558-5452.) God gives each of us a burden to carry in this life, which forces us to lean on Him for strength and grace. He also sends points of light and hope, to ease the load when we begin to stumble. Just as Simon of Cyrene helped Him to carry His cross, He sustains us when the load becomes to difficult to carry alone. That sustenance comes in many forms: the healing graces of the Eucharist, the sympathetic ear of a trained professional, or a timely insight from a blog you stumbled on "by chance."

Whether the source of your depression is hormonal (such as post-partum depression), environmental (stress-related), physiological, or spiritual, know that you are not alone in your suffering, and that help is available. Your "blue moon" will pass, and you will see the sun again.

Mother Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, you see your daughters wandering in the dark. Pray for us, that when we are weak your Son will strengthen us. That in our sorrow, He will be our purest source of joy. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

How Sick Is He?

Silly me, before I became a mom I thought you could gauge how sick a child is by the numbers on the thermometer. Once the temp hits triple digits, it becomes time to whip out the Tylenol and juice pops, and let nature take it's course.

"How you feeling buddy?" I kiss his forehead in that sneaky way mothers do ... at once comforting and probing. "OK," he croaks noncommittally. He, too, is no dummy. How he's feeling depends in no small measure upon ...

* Whether I look as though I'm ready to offer him another popsicle or juice box.

* Whether he can get any extra mileage out of my ministrations by driving his sister crazy with the knowledge that, as she is perfectly well, she does not rate an infinite supply of frozen confections.

* Whether his sore throat will cause him to miss any adventures. (School and church are OK, so long as the popsicle supply doesn't run out.)

* Whether by admitting to infirmity he can escape the inevitable consequences for (pick one) vexing his sister, leaving his wet PJs on the floor, trashing his bathroom, or shirking on his homework.

Take that, Ferris Bueller. There's a new "bad boy" in town.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Adventures in Parenting

Last weekend we had breakfast with Christopher's kindergarten teacher. (It seems he has been stopping in to see her every morning on his way to his first-grade class.) I can see why my son loves Mrs. Boe so much; how many other teachers initiate an outing with a former students and his family, on a weekend?

While we were digging into our French toast, Mrs. Boe regaled us with tales of her last camping expedition with her two children (ages 3 and 5). They were going to Mackinac Island for the weekend to a water park.

Since island accommodations can get a bit pricey, they decided to camp at the local KOA in a small tent, and cook over a camp fire. "It was going to be a real adventure!" Sandy said. It would have been, too ... except for two little things. First, her husband was called away at the last minute on a business trip. "No problem! I'll take the kids up and meet you there," she told him.

Then, shortly after they got there and pitched their tent, it began to pour. Cramped into the tiny space with two young children, Sandy spent two days reading stories and trying to keep the kids from touching the tent walls (to keep the water out). Since she couldn't light a fire to cook the food she'd brought ... they ate raw S'mores (marshmallows and chocolate bars) for dinner. She recounted this story without a trace of self-pity or sense of cosmic injustice. She had promised her kids an adventure -- and they got one!

"You do realize," I said to my husband later, "that if it had been me, we would have found the nearest Holiday Inn and ordered a pizza, don't you?"

"Yup. And I wouldn't have blamed you a bit."

Some parents go looking for adventures. I live with mine.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Why I Love My Husband

Today Catholic Exchange is running a column I originally ran in CatholicMom.com called "St. Sassika and the Girls," about how my husband supported my efforts to get my MA.Theo. for the first few years after the kids came to us. Actually, my husband is unfailingly supportive in almost every endeavor I have ever attempted, no matter how much it impinged on his personal freedom.

It's one of the many reasons I love him. The guy was custom-designed just for me. God knew what I needed and *BOOM* ... It took only 35 years for me to find him. (A subject for another time.)

As I return from Tony Benkovic's funeral, my husband has been holding down the fort for three days. It has not been a walk in the park ... but he did it for me because he loves me and because he knows how much I love Johnnette. And so, when I decided to move my "Father's Day Tribute" off the "Silent Canticle" site (since it's not specifically related to Canticle) I decided to put it here because ... Well, just because I could not do what I do, if my husband were not the kind of man he is. And so, without further ado .... My "Father's Day Tribute."

The Valentine's Day of our engagement, I wanted to give Craig something that would let him know just how special I thought he was (and is), and how lucky I felt to be with him. For three days I spent every spare minute at my computer, to come up with a list of 100 reasons why I love him. (The list could have been much longer, but the writer in me wouldn't allow any of them to sound too similar or too trite.)

Seven years later, as I look over that list, I realize how much we both have grown. And I realize that we have Christopher and Sarah to thank for it. Because of them, Craig and I learned to focus on each other and depend on each other in ways we had never had reason to before. And (speaking for myself only) I came to appreciate the fact that, no matter how difficult it is to live with me in particular and in the family in general, he always comes back for more.

That's love. That's a real father.

And so, for my Father's Day gift to you, I'd like to share with the world twelve more reasons I'm glad you're my husband, and the father of our children.

* Because you are so concerned that I enjoy the lilac bushes you bought for me as much as possible, you take three days to find just the right spot before you actually dig the hole and plant them. And you don't tell me to shut my yap when I get impatient after the first day.

* Because you don't take it personally when the kids insist, "We don't want you. We want MOM!" after not having seen them all day -- and for believing me when I say that, on nights you come home late, they get all ornery because they miss you.

* Because you have never rolled your eyes or told me to get a grip when I get a migraine -- not even when it's the third day in a row, and I shriek like a fishwife for everyone to just GO AWAY!

* Because even when you had only an hour of daylight and three other projects going (two of them work-related), you kept your promise to Christopher and took him fishing.

* Because your response to my occasional bout of overspending is not a stern lecture, but a redoubled effort to work a little extra overtime to pad the family bank account.

* Because even though you bring home most of the money, you make sure I have the time I need to keep my career simmering along as well.

* Because you remind me, again and again, to get that checkup.

* Because you look so cute when you nap before bed -- just like your father. And then you get up and do your hour-long ritual to get READY for bed, and climb back into bed so stealthily that only part of me goes airborne.

* Because you let me hold the remote in one hand, and a Mike's Limeade (frozen 90 minutes) in the other after a really long day.

* Because you don't get mad when I rope you into church events without even asking first. (Did I mention you get to wear a toga this year in front of 200 kids?)

* Because when I remind you of the same five items that have been on your "honey-do" list for the past year, you don't retort that I haven't scrubbed the kitchen floor in its entirety since we built the house, and that I still haven't learned to wash pots and pans by hand.

* Because when I'm feeling fragile and/or overwhelmed, you always sound a little surprised when I ask if you're still glad I married you. "Why, I'm the luckiest guy in the world," you say, with that cute little twinkle in your eye. And you pull me to your chest, and wrap me up tight in your arms, and the awful world goes away and I am safe at last. And in that moment, no matter what else has happened that day, I feel like the luckiest woman of all.

Happy Father's Day, Sweetheart.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Where Did I Come From?

Non-traditional (that is, non-bio) parents all experience it sometime: the clutch in the pit of the stomach the day their adopted children look up with big, trusting eyes, asking to know the story of how they came to be... where they came to be.

Depending on their ages, we instinctively shield them from the less palatable parts of the story - especially the parts that are potentially damaging to their budding little selves. A six-year-old does not need to be reminded of the gruesome details that led him to be taken away from his birth parents. And a four-year-old may simply be seeking the assurance that she, like other children, was loved continuously even before we held her in our arms for the very firsttime.

The subject may come up in unexpected ways. Not long ago we were watching a movie that showed the maternity ward of a hospital, and six-year-old Christopher piped up. "Look! It's a baby store!" He was silent for a time, then said thoughtfully. "I guess the wrong parents picked me out the first time. That's why my angel brought me to you."

I couldn't have said it better myself, though I realize that in time he will have to wrestle with the complications of actual biology: How the parents who gave him life were not also the ones who showed him how to live it. At that point, he will have to decide who his "real" parents are.

The temptation, of course, is to do everything in our power to influence that perception so as to tip the scales in our favor. After pouring my heart and soul into these two children for over a decade, I imagine I would be devastated if in the end they decided (as did one of my adopted acquaintances) that biology trumps all, and that they were robbed of their "real" parents. I pray that this does not happen - and yet, the possibility would not justify my unnecessarily "poisoning the well" against the birth parents.

We must resist the temptation to treat our children's affections as a prize to be won, for this is the best way to ensure that everyone loses - especially our children.

Without misrepresenting the truth, we must make every effort to speak of birth parents with respect, knowing that our children will always be profoundly tied with these biological relations, in ways they themselves may not admit or even recognize. "Non-traditional" parents, including stepparents and custodial grandparents, are unwise to disregard or minimize this fact.

Whenever possible, we need to help our children find ways to honor their origins, whatever they might be. Some ideas to consider:

· There are times when it is inadvisable for a child to continue to have contact with his birth family - and yet, he may have strong feelings about breaking this connection that he cannot resolve by himself. We need to find ways to help him work through these feelings. As Catholics, our faith can provide a source of comfort and connection for the child: On Mother's Day (or Father's Day), light a candle at church in honor of the birth parent(s), and encourage the child to ask his spiritual mother, Mary, to watch over his birth mom.
· Have a special family day that embraces the significant milestones of origin: his birthday, his adoption day, and his birthday in the Church (baptism).
· Create a special album with pictures and letters or other mementoes from all the adults who love him - both adoptive and biological grandparents and other relatives, godparents, birthparents, stepparents, etc.
· Each year on a specific day (such as the child's birthday) write a letter to the birthparent, noting significant milestones and memories. You may decide to send the letter, or keep it in a special album to give the child when he turns 18.
· Consider creating an adoption "time capsule," a special box or album with mementoes fromyour adoption trip that is set aside, to be opened when the child is mature enough to want specifics on his adoption story. Include labeled pictures of anyone associated with the adoption (such as the caseworker), and a copy of any journal entries you may have made during the process. In the case of foreign adoptions, include samples of music, recipes, and unique samples of handiwork from the country. Protect irreplaceable documents and pictures in a safe-deposit box.

A Little Life Drama


Baby cussing, we'd call it. My daughter was about eight months old when she first start learned to give her big brother the business. Strapped into their respective carseats, they couldn't actually touch each other -- a good thing, since Christopher was not nearly so articulate, and probably would have clobbered Sarah.

Five years have passed. Sarah can now run verbal circles around her brother -- and is nine times out of ten the one who will pull the first punch. Christopher is far more even-tempered and gentle with his sister than her behavior toward him would suggest. Even so, the drama flares several times a day.

"M-o-o-o-o-m! Sarah's eating caramels again!" (This is a test. If I respond to this with relative indifference, this is his cue to beg for some candy, too.)

"M-o-o-o-m! Sarah took off her clothes again!" (If she had her way, she would run around with tights pulled up to her pits and nothing else, all day, every day.)

"M-o-o-o-m! Sarah's dancing in front of the TV again!" (She waits until his favorite show comes on, then pirohettes repeatedly in front of the screen, blocking his view, chanting, "Aren't I pretty?"

Sarah is far less articulate about alerting me to the cosmic injustices that Christopher inflicts upon her little world. She has perfected a soul-piercing shriek that can be heard for several counties, and either hasn't figured out or can't be bothered to regulate the decibles to reflect the seriousness of the episode. Whether her brother has drawn blood or just a little magic marker on her arm, it's the end of the world as we know it.

Last night I saw something on "Supernanny" that gave me a clue about this, however. The mother on this particular episode was a hyper-perfectionist -- all three girls had to be dressed in immaculate matching outfits, complete with hair ribbons, before venturing outside to ride their bikes. (Me, I'm happy if they're just covered). Her emasculated husband cowered in one corner, knowing that he would be yelled at if he picked the wrong outfit for the girls.

"You need to take some things less seriously, to have fun with your girls. They need to have some time every day when you focus completely on the moment, on what they want to do. Then you may find it easier to manage them the rest of the day." (I'm paraphrasing this, of course -- but that was the gist.)

As I think about it, I realize that there's a lesson for me here, too. Yes, I need to step away from the keyboard sometimes. However, I also need some quality time with my Father if my behavior is going to be managable the rest of the day. Too much drama is sometimes a symptom that a child is not spending the time she needs with the One who loves her best.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Potty Talk

Congratulations are in order. Sarah has learned to spell her first word:


OK, so she had a little help from her (*giggle*) older brother.

"Sarah," I admonish her. "That's a bathroom word, and young ladies don't run around spelling bathroom words." (Man, I sound like such a priss ... but manners have to start somewhere, right?)

She catches my eye, trying to assess just how serious her infraction was. "How about 'toot'? Is 'toot' a bathroom word?"

The girl is only five, and already she is running mental laps around her mother. "Just stop saying 'F-A-R-T,' OK?"

It amazes me, how fast they pick up on the icky stuff -- and how quickly they start hurling it at one another. They love each other, I know they do. (If either of them lags behind more than a few feet as we are preparing to go someplace, the other sends up a howl that can be heard for miles. This, too, I cannot understand neither of them have been left alone for a moment in their entire lives.)

The verbal infractions of childhood:

* Name calling
* Verbal threats (I'm going to hit you/break your ___/not play with you, etc.)
* General abuse (I hate you/I'm not your friend/you're crazy)

Assuming they aren't getting it from us (and they're not) and we're consistently letting them know it's not OK for them to speak this way (we are), what more can be done? Lately I've been playing a version of "To Tell the Truth" -- when one says, "You're stupid," I say, "What's the truth?" And the offender has to say, "You're not stupid ... you're smart!"

But is it enough? And when it comes to simply using language badly (as in the first example), how do you encourage children in their first and most formative years of language acquisition (in addition to reading the "good books" and using proper language in front of them) to speak ... the Queen's English instead of ... Cockney?
Then today as we went for our afternoon outing at Rolling Hills Park, Dad took Christopher around the larger loop (Christopher on his bike, Craig hoofing it). Christopher still has training wheels, and still hasn't figured out the brakes very well yet. Long story short, he wound up going off the path ... and into a patch of brambles. As his Dad made his way toward Chris, to help dislodge bike and boy from the prickers, Chris looked up and said, "My! That was quite a ride!"
It seems the lad has mastered at least some of the subtleties of his mothertongue. There may be some hope yet.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Sometimes I Need a Little More Faith

When Christopher came out of his room this morning for breakfast, he had a little book clutched against his chest. "What's that, Buddy?" I asked.

He held it up proudly. The Holy Rosary. "It's for Show-and-Tell," he said.

"Umm..." Brilliant. Part of me was tickled that my son takes his faith so seriously ... and part of me knows that it could present problems for him to bring this particular book into a school as ethnically diverse and federally funded as his. "Why do you want to bring it in?"

"Well, this is the week that Jesus died, right?"


"And this is the week that Jesus rose from the dead, right?"


"And I want to be sure my classmates know about that."

"Right. Let me just be sure your teacher says it's OK."

On our way to school, I tried to prepare Christopher for the worst. Maybe he could do a report on how people of all different faiths pray, and include the rosary as one example. Maybe he could do a report on different religious leaders, and talk about Jesus that way. Christopher didn't like any of those ideas. He just wanted to bring in his book, and tell his classmates about Holy Week.

Teacher said that as long as Christopher is reading about it at home, he can bring in his book to show his classmates during circle time. God bless charter schools!

I guess I need a little more faith sometimes.