Wednesday, September 26, 2007

For Souls in Purgatory ... Who Never Expected to Be There

Today as I was reading the latest Catholic Carnival, I clicked on A Catholic Mom in Hawaii:Helping the Holy Souls in Purgatory. This blog is a labor of love on behalf of all souls in purgatory, reminding us to keep these people in our intentions, as part of our family in Christ.

As a convert to Catholicism, purgatory is a relatively new concept to me ... but frankly, one that I never had much trouble with. It made perfect sense to me, that some Christians need a bit of a "spit and polish," spiritually speaking, before approaching the Throne of Grace (like the man who forgot his wedding garment...). I count myself among them (I know my own faults too well.) However, many of those who are nearest and dearest to me are so convinced of "sola fidae" that they never give the state of their soul (at death or any other time) a second thought.

And so, when I heard of a dear author friend who had passed unexpectedly last year, my heart was heavy for Charlie. He was a great soul, Charlie Shedd ... and yet, he was far from perfect (as he himself would tell you).

In his memory, I wrote a "Prayer for the Faithful Departed," which I'd like to share with you here (click on the title at the top of this post). You might consider offering this prayer (or a similar one of your own) on behalf of all those who, because of their particular denominational leanings and theological misconceptions, are finding themselves in rather dire straights ... in the gray town, with no one to pray them "further up the mountain."

(Those of you unfamiliar with the "gray town," who have not read C.S. Lewis' allegory entitled The Great Divorce should run out and grab a copy, if for no other reason than he paints a memorable image -- unwittingly or otherwise -- of purgatory that could make for some memorable conversation at your next study group!)

God bless you!

Catholic Carnival #138: Veggie Tales!

Christine at Domestic Vocations has posted this week's Carnival for your enjoyment.

So go pop "Silly Songs" on the VCR, and join us!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

When Moms Grieve: The Dark Side of Adoption

In I Kings 3:16 we find a story of King Solomon that is often used to demonstrate his wisdom.

Two babies were put to bed one night; the next morning, one of them was dead. The mothers – women of questionable repute – each claimed the living infant was hers. Solomon instructed that the baby be cut in two, and half given to each woman. One woman agreed – and the other immediately begged the king to give the live infant to her opponent. Solomon then handed the child to the woman who was willing to surrender her child rather than see him come to harm.

Many people suppose – as King Solomon must have – that the woman who protested was the natural mother of the infant. In adoption circles, birth mothers are told this story to facilitate relinquishment – that if they really love their child, they will follow through on their adoption plan no matter what, rather than see the child come to harm. You can read one such story here:

The thing is, one need not be biologically connected to a child to love him or her, to want to do everything possible to protect him or her. Nor does the physical fact of carrying a child automatically hardwire a woman with motherly sensibilities – if that were true, abortion would not be the scourge on our society that it now is. If it were true, women would not abuse or neglect their children, thereby rendering CPS obsolete.

Reading the Solomon story with the eyes of an adoptive parent, it seems just as plausible that the bereaved mother would have been more likely – not less – to see to the second child’s safety. Not because she had carried the child in her body, but because she had witnessed the natural mother’s indifference and the child’s need from the beginning, and so had begun to carry that child in her heart.

Post-Adoptive Depression Syndrome: The Silent Story

One of the first questions many people ask an adoptive parent is, “Is it possible to love an adopted child as much as a ‘regular’ child?”

Most adoptive parents will immediately respond, “Of course.” Of course we love our children – just as all parents do. Sometimes that love comes easily – when the child is freshly washed and tucked away in bed, counting sugarplums. In those moments, parenting is one of life’s sweetest pleasures.

But sometimes – more often than we’d like to admit – that love is not a feeling, but a holding-on-by-the-fingernails choice. How could it be easy to love a chaos-creating, snot-spewing bundle of snarling rage? How could you not resent the fact that your efforts are unappreciated and resisted at every turn? How could you not feel as though you are being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the claustrophobic vortex of insurmountable neediness by a three-year-old insomniac and his openly defiant five-year-old sister?

Yes, you love them. But you don’t always like them very much.

These feelings of ambivalence are very common, particularly in adoptive mothers. One study indicates that PADS (Post-Adoption Depression Syndrome) afflicts as many as 65% of all adoptive mothers. For more information on this syndrome, go here or here.

This is the “dark side” most adoptive parents (myself included) find very hard to admit. Who would understand? After all, we CHOSE adoption! The needs of our child must supercede our own … isn’t that the very nature of parenting?

Well, yes, of course we know these things are true. If we didn’t, we couldn’t have gotten this far. We choose the gift … again and again and again we choose, just as every parent does. But unlike every other parent, we must struggle with some unique realities that natural parents need never consider.

We don’t get to experience that child move within us before we have to deal with the super-sized toddler tantrums. We don’t experience the same kind of delivery (natural or any other kind), confirming that the child is truly a part of us. We don’t often get the solicitous interventions and supports of friends and family in those first few days and weeks after a child’s birth (though we get to experience the erratic sleep patterns of infancy, often for years). We don’t get to look into the child’s eyes … and see her Daddy looking back at us.

Each time we find ourselves unable to live up to the “perfect parent” image we promised the agency, part of us dies a little – and worries about the consequences of our failings down the road. Yes, all parents feel inadequate from time to time – but most of them don’t feel an invisible third party in the wings, keeping score.

Four Important Lessons on Adoption

Why am I telling you all this? Am I trying to dissuade you from becoming an adoptive parent? Not at all. There are many, many happy moments in adoptive parenting, and life lessons that you would not be able to learn any other way. God created the human soul to give itself in love, a well that swells and spills over many times, contrasting those dark moments with times of indescribable contentment. Even joy.

But if those dark moments come, it’s better to acknowledge the reality than stuff it inside. There will be times you must put your own needs first, to have the resources you need to tend to your child. You may need to consider arranging for a few hours – or perhaps even more than a few hours – of childcare simply to get the perspective you need to continue on the road you have chosen.

For us, it meant using the subsidy money the State gave us for daycare, so I could keep working and writing. Not because it was immensely profitable (it wasn’t), but because it kept me sane, so I could tend to the children’s needs the rest of the time. I was sometimes criticized for this choice – the harshest critics were people who knew us only casually. And there are times when I have to admit that I still could have been more patient, more giving, more available.

But if I had it to do over again, would I? The answer is, “I don’t know.” What I do know is that somehow we made it through three harrowing years of foster care, until the adoption came through. It took daycare and depression meds, but we made it.

In the process, I learned four important lessons about adoption the hard way:

1. The greatest challenge of adoption is balancing the needs of the whole family.

2. The fact that those on the perimeter don’t understand or approve of your choices, doesn’t necessarily make them bad choices.

3. Mid-course correction is often a better choice than indecision.

4. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. Trust God to make up the difference between what the children need, and what you are able to give.

So What Do You Do?

When you begin to recognize the signs -- the mood swings, overeating, sleeplessness (or inability to get up), the inability to enjoy the little things you used to love -- what should you do?

First, get help. That includes both household support -- let your friends and family know that you could use some help in the form of dinners, household chores, babysitting (so you can take a nap), etc -- as well as professional. Join an adoptive parent support group. Talk with your pastor about the stresses you are feeling. The feelings may not last, but you need to find an outlet for them while you're experiencing the drain.

If the feelings don't go away, make an appointment with your doctor for a physical. If you're in full-blown depression, a course of anti-depressants might mean the difference between a calm and happy home ... or a chaotic, angry one.

Be sure you are eating and exercising regularly. This was one area I really struggled to maintain. There were times when I didn't sit down for a regular meal for days at a time ... just a handful of Goldfish crackers here and a yoghurt there. This is not the time to diet, just to eat well.

Do whatever is necessary to get your rest. That might mean allowing your foster/adoptive child to sleep in a sleeping bag beside your bed (most agencies would frown on letting an older child sleep in your room, but then most social workers don't have to get UP with said child nineteen times a night). I'm not a strong advocate of "family bedding," but the early stages of your bonding time might go more smoothly if you don't have to tred the stairs every hour on the hour.

Don't abdicate your own judgment, and don't let people project their parenting issues on you. God has placed this child in your hands. Trust your insticts; you and your husband are a team -- and God will give you all the graces you need if you ask Him to.

Go to Mass and Adoration as often as you can. Even if the kids are a little rambunctious, do what you need to to get the spiritual reinforcement you need. Yes, even if that means Cheerios and stuffed toys for a while. I know many families have strong opinions about this issue -- but again, they are not the ones God is asking to raise this particular child. I promise that in a few months or, at worst, a few years this will no longer be necessary. But for now, be gentle with yourself ... and with your children.

Repeat to yourself often: "These are kids with unique needs and abilities, and God has given them parents with equally unique needs and abilities. We will take each day as it comes, and trust God to show us the rest."

Now, go and do something that gives you pleasure. Play the piano. Read a novel for fifteen minutes or so. Make a batch of your favorite cookies. Imagine that this was your best friend going through the situation ... What would you do and say to her to help her through it? Give yourself permission to seek out that kind of support from the people who love you.

Remember: You are loved, and you are not alone.

P.S. Today I came across this post from a young woman who says she is "proud" she chose abortion. (She doesn't sound proud so much as defiant and angry.) So if you are a struggling adoptive parent, please offer up a prayer today for Kaya and those like her, whose struggle is only beginning.

Copyright 2007 Heidi Hess Saxton

Monday, September 17, 2007

Catholic Carnival #137: School Daze

Catholic Carnival #137:
Parenting 101: "School Daze"

Two weeks of bed rest is giving me a chance to catch up on my classic movie watching. Right now I’m catching the second half of The Miracle Worker (starring Patty Duke, 1962), the life story of Helen Keller. In one memorable scene, Annie Sullivan (Anne Bancroft) recounts young Helen’s “school day” to Helen’s mother as follows:

“She ate from her own plate, with a spoon, herself. The room is a wreck, but her napkin is folded. I’ll be in my room, Mrs. Keller.”

(Sounds like my house, except for the safe retreat at the end.)

In a very real sense, Annie Sullivan was Helen’s mother – she alone could free Helen from her prison of eternal darkness and silence. However, Annie’s methods would have been little use, if not for Annie’s empathetic heart. Words were useless to the blind-and-deaf wild child. Annie’s heart was revealed through her actions.

Parenting Lessons, Great …

“Actions speak louder than words.” This truism is often used in the context of parenting our children, but they are equally true when applied to our own personal growth. The lessons we need most are best conveyed not through words, but by actions.

At “Catholic Spitfire Grill,” Red-Necked Woman (RNW) confesses her initial resistance to allow herself to be moved by the book of Mother Teresa’s letters … In the end, it was Mother’s life more than her words that moved her. “Mother Teresa wrote with acts of her life more about the Gospel of our Lord and the meaning of the words "Take up your cross and follow me" than all of the Doctors of the church combined.”

At “Heart, Mind, and Strength,” Kevin Miller draws from the Holy Father’s book Jesus of Nazareth to illuminate last week’s Gospel on the Prodigal Son, and to remind us of what we can learn from the Son of the Father’s infinite mercy.

… and Small(er)

As parents, we spend countless hours trying to help our children become responsible, happy, well-adjusted members of society. And yet, it is often our children who teach us to become responsible, happy, well-adjusted members of the Kingdom of God. As Sarah at “Just Another Day of Catholic Pondering” points out, “Sometimes it’s hard to remember that our children are not really ‘ours’ at all – they are God’s.”

At Spiritual Woman, Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur says that the past seven years in the school of parenthood have been fruitful ones. “I am a very different person now than I was seven years ago before they came along. I am less selfish and more patient.”

To Kate Wicker, parenting is about stopping to smell not just the roses, but the dandelions, too.

Pat Gohn reveals the little-known connection between a clean floor and the onset of labor, and reflects on what it is like to “give birth” to three adolescents at “Write in Between.” Heather at “Doodle Acres” adds, “You’ve got to like your children (especially your teenagers) as well as love them.”

… and Spiritual

This Carnival on parenting would not be complete unless we turned our attention heavenward, to our Heavenly Father and the lessons He wants to instill in us. Ebeth at "ACatholic Mum Climbing the Pillars" ( reflects on how important it is for parents to continue learning about their faith – and allowing their children to witness the process.

This desire to teach his children about God – and about all of life – by his own example prompted Matthew at “Play the Dad? No, Be the Dad” to choose to take a direct hand in his children’s education. “This is the place I am called to grow, having to live my faith in front of and with my children. How I treat my children and relate to them forms their idea of God and how they relate to God. My personal growth is formed in my call to holiness inside my vocation is found here, relating to and with my children.”

What is interesting about Matthew’s post is that he chooses to homeschool when an affordable and faithfully Catholic school is already available to his family. And yet, as Christine Schult at “The World … IMHO” reminds us, even shepherds sometimes need a refresher course in Catholic teaching. Christine posts an article about the good Bishop Burke and his recent letter to brother bishops, in which he admonishes them for failing to discipline Catholic politicians who support “legislation … that is contrary to moral law.”

Whether we are the teacher or the student, our task as Catholic parents is a formidable one – made even more difficult by the encroaching influences of the “Culture of Death.” Sometimes we feel like Helen Keller, stumbling through life blind, deaf, and mute. The good news, as “A View from the Pews” reminds us, is that our self-worth is based not on the validation of other people, but in relationship with our Heavenly Father.

“Obedience without understanding is a blindness, too. …” Annie Sullivan

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Mom Alert: Adoption Carnival Ahead!!!

The Adoption Carnival is in town ... right here at Mommy Monsters, Inc! The suggested theme is (drum roll ...):

What I Wish I'd Known About Adoption
(but didn't think to ask)

If you'd like to submit an entry for this week's carnival, here's what you do:

1. Write (or select) a blog post that more-or-less fits the theme by Monday, 9/17.
2. Send me the following information by e-mail:

Your Blog's name
Your Blog's URL (address)
Post name of the article you choose
Post URL of the chosen article (Permalink)
A short description of your article (just a sentence or two)

3. When the Carnival is posted (sometime the first week of November), please post a link to the Carnival to your blog, so others can enjoy it, too!
4. Wanna host? Click contact Suzanne at chndlrs(at)msn(dot)com or click here.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Remembering Generous, Invisible Women

***Catholic Carnival #136 is now UP! Sarah at "Just Another Day of Catholic Pondering" shows her true colors as she draws from the four corners of the virtual universe to compile the best and most thought-provoking posts to brighten your week. Enjoy!

(Here was my contribution ...)

Please note: A Good Samaritan identified the quote that was sent to me, which appeared in the "Invisible Mom" piece I already posted. The wonderful reflection was from a book by Nicole Johnson entitled The Invisible Woman. You can order it through by clicking here.

This week God has been teaching me about the flip side of the original "invisibility" piece I published earlier on this blog. So many women wrote to tell me how much the piece meant to them. I'm delighted -- finally -- to be able to give the author proper credit. The piece was part of a book written by Nicole Johnson entitled The Invisible Woman.

As a writer, I was embarrassed to pass along such gems of wisdom without being able to identify the original source ... and so grateful when a reader helped me make that connection. Of course, an anonymous quote can be a form of invisibility. We can take solace in the fact that the things that we do for which we don't receive the credit, will be most amply rewarded in the next. Right?

Anyway, back to "invisibility." Earlier this week I had an MRI (thank God for sedatives and praying friends). The worst part was the noise, which was only partly blocked by earplugs. My friend Donna O'Boyle suggested that I pray the Rosary while I was engulfed, my arms pressed against my chest, in this medical monstrosity.

Instead I sang hymns at the top of my lungs. Yes, "Be Not Afraid" and every other warm-and-fuzzy number that gives some Catholics the heeby-jeebies. I'm afraid Gregorian chant would have been just too much of an anachronism. (I did finish up with enthusiastic renditions of "Ave Maria" and "Ave Verum Corpus.")

The technician might not have appreciated it, but I'm pretty sure I heard my guardian angel giggle.

The next day, I picked up a stack of books and ... long story short, I've been in the hospital for the past three days with a compressed nerve (the MRI showed a bulging disk in my fifth vertibrae). Three days without loading dishwashers or driving the kids to school. Three days without e-mail or phone. Three days without mounds of laundry. (No doubt most of these are waiting to herald my return.) Three days when my sheer lack of ... invisibility... was all too evident.

The kids have not taken kindly to my extended absence, of course. Every day Sarah walks into my hospital room and casts herself on my bed with the kind of weeping and gnashing of teeth you associate with a much ... hotter place. So we cuddle up, Christopher on one side and Sarah on my one good hip, and we watch cartoons and sip Sprite and catch up on what's been going on at school.

The look on Craig's face, as he watches this scene, is a cross between relief and an unabashed desire to escape. Poor dear. The brunt of my absence has fallen squarely on his shoulders, particularly the antics of our unhappy and disoriented children (who even on the best of days have been known to engage in spirited hijinks). The poor man needs a break.

Enter Aunt Katy. Katy is one of my dearest friends as well as Christopher's godmother. Katy was raised in a family of thirteen children, and regularly volunteers to help me tackle projects I've been wanting to do but never find time for. Painting the living room. Cleaning out and organizing the kitchen. Tonight she stopped by to see me ... and volunteered to take the kids home and put them to bed for us, so Craig and I could spend a little quiet time together.

Katy and her husband have not been blessed with children of their own, at least not yet. And yet, she and her husband Todd are a truly "generous" couple. In Catholic circles, we tend to measure the "openness" and "generosity" of a couple by how many children they are raising. However, it is women like Katy -- and others like her -- who have come up alongside me and helped me to be the kind of loving and generous parent God wants me to be.

So today I'd like to remember the women who are "invisible in generosity." Those who have tried to remain open to all God has for them, and serve Him to the best of their ability, despite the fact that, for whatever reason, their minivan does not exactly "runneth over" with carseats.

Thank you to those generous women who continue to trust God even if it means conceiving and carrying children ... only to face having to send those children on ahead of you to heaven.

Thank you to those whose struggles with infertility means trusting God to open other avenues to practice your God-given calling to nurture other souls; some by choosing foster care or adoption, others (like Katy) choosing to support other parents in their vocations.

Thank you to those generous women who express your spiritual motherhood by taking into your home other people's children, despite the fact that you have not yet received the graces of the sacrament of matrimony (most notably a partner to share the load).

Above all, thank you to those women who continue to feel invisible -- and who recognize the gift hidden within that calling. The most delicate organs (such as the spinal column and the extended nervous system) are not visible to the naked eye. And yet where would the body be without them?

Monday, September 03, 2007

Playing "Rachel Ray" Today

When the boy's fishing trip this afternoon turned out to be more about male bonding than actual fish catching, Sarah and I headed for the kitchen to see what magic we could conjure up out of the pantry. Sarah calls this, "Being Rachel Ray."

Most kids beg for cartoons. She roots for the Cooking Channel, and loves to push a stool up to the island where I'm cooking, to be right at might elbow as I conduct my culinary "expe-weh-ments". And just like Rachel, she insists that I narrate every step.

Anyway, the experiment went better than usual tonight, so I thought I'd pass along the results for the next time you have to have dinner on the table in twenty minutes. And so, without further ado ...

Twenty-Minute Tuna Hash
1 large can tuna (white albacore in water)
1 can garbanzo beans
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large sweet potatoes
1/2 stick butter or margerine
1 tsp cilantro flakes (or more to taste)
1 tsp ground coriander seed (or more cilantro)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
ground pepper
Halve sweet potatoes and zap them in the microwave for 10 minutes. While they're cooking, drain tuna and garbanzo beans and put them in a bowl. Add chopped onion and toss. When potatoes are done (should still be undercooked a bit), remove skins and cube in 1/2 to 1 inch chunks.
Melt butter or margerine in large skillet. Add contents of bowl, then top with chopped sweet potatoes. Sprinkle with spices and saute on medium heat (stirring occasionally) 10 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Serve with applesauce and cornbread.
Makes four generous servings.