Friday, May 30, 2008

Tips for Helping Your Child Cope with Stress

This week at, I recount a story about Christopher. The stressors of his world ... his school work, his piano lessons, his home work, and the changes that are part-and-parcel of the end of the year... were creating a short fuse.

This post is short and sweet, because I'd like to open it to you, my readers. Have you ever been through a particularly stressful time with your grade schooler, and what did you do to help him or her through it?

Also, if your child has been taking music lessons, what do you do to help your child get practice time in -- and balance his other responsibilities at the same time?

Any and all advice welcome!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Thanks, Julie ... and Lisa ... and Colleen!

Julie Davis (at "Happy Catholic") posted her review of Raising Up Mommy ... and a bonus review of one of my other books, Let Nothing Trouble You (about Teresa of Avila). Thanks, Julie, for making me such a "Happy Catholic" today!

Today Lisa Hendey also posted her interview with me on her "Catholic Moments" podcast. Thanks so much, Lisa, for a wonderful interview!

And for your daily dose of adoptive parenting inspiration, I'd like to alert you to this article about the Caviezel's adoption -- I hadn't realized until reading the article that their two children had such extensive medical needs! I found the link to this article on Colleen Hammond's blog ... thanks Colleen!


"Sex and the City" A Microcosm of Real Life?

Today on "Catholic Connection," Teresa Tomeo was discussing "Sex and the City," the new movie based on the hit television series starring Sarah-Jessica Parker and company.

Teresa mentioned a study that was conducted on young women (not yet married) about how "Sex and the City" influenced their own dating life. Perhaps predictably, the effect overall was a negative one ... and some felt that it glamorized the ultra-feminist perspective that "a gal should be free to 'have fun' and do everything [including bed-hop] a man can do."

The thing is (having watched the show a time or two myself), I can recall several story lines in the show that would suggest that this is not a case that even the author of the series has been able to pull off convincingly:

* Carrie (SJ Parker's character) gets her heart broken NUMEROUS times with her compulsion to secure the lasting affection of her favorite "Bad Boy" (Mr. Big). Although judging from the movie trailers she does manage to get her man in the end ... what lasting happiness can she expect to find with a serial philanderer whose previous marriage she was largely responsible for ending -- and who drove away the one man (Aiden) who was clearly far better suited to marriage and family? The Parker character is not a strong, confident, centered individual who wins Mr. Right after a careful evaluation of his suitability as a life partner; her heart is a tatter of scar tissue, held together by an obsessive fear of winding up alone.

* Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), a strong corporate lawyer whose career is derailed when she becomes impregnated by her on-again, off-again lover Steve (David Eigenberg), chooses life for her son Brady (yeah!) ... and (give or take a few bedhops as the child is passed back and forth like so much baggage) finally winds up with Steve and his crazy mother. In Brooklyn (which appears to be a Manhattan career gal's version of purgatory). The thing is, the live-in housekeeper, weekend brunching in the city with the girls, fabulous house, overly accommodating boyfriend/husband, etc etc. is so far removed from the life of most single mothers' experience, I find her storyline more than a little implausible. And irritating.

* Charlotte (Kristin Davis), obstensibly the most "traditional" character looking to secure a husband and family. And yet she, too, is a fragile soul. Her first marriage to a well-monied doctor dissolves when her baby obsession wears holes in her marriage big enough to drive a triple stroller through (a story line that provides food for though for those of us who yearn for a child). Weeks after her divorce, she converts to Judaism to snag Harry (who initially repulses her because of his back hair and eating habits), husband #2, and like everything else, she dives into the trappings of her new faith, braiding challah and making matzo balls with gusto ... but with little thought to the God behind it all. Finally, she and Harry adopt a little girl from China.

* Samantha (Kim Cattrall) is the uber-feminist with the most "manly" (from the feminist perspective) appetites. And yet, you don't have to watch more than an episode or two to see how guarded, broken, and desperately lonely her heart is. She keeps up with the "men" she beds ... by sacrificing everything that makes her most womanly. It takes a bout with breast cancer to wake her up and make her evaluate her life with her boy-toy "Smith." Sure, he shaves his head in solidarity when she loses her locks to chemo ... but will he still be around twenty years from now, when she's well into her sixties and Charlotte's daughter is back from college?

I'm not suggesting that we should all run out and see the movie ... frankly, I've already seen more than enough of these four women to realize how much the young women around us NEED the friendship of women like us (instead of talking amongst themselves). Women who have navigated the relational minefields and are working to build a stable, secure family despite our many mistakes.

On the other hand, these story lines do raise questions that young women do well to consider, if only in their own hearts: Are their own dating habits, acquired over decades of "no strings" encounters, going to mellow into, in the words of Sam's friend Carrie, "... ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can't live without it love"? Love that keeps the husband gazing warmly at his wife's photo on his desk instead of the perky new secretary's caboose? Love that trusts (with good reason) when an "old friend" blows into town for a week? Love that perseveres when one or both lose that six-figure income and they need to start paying for college and/or a triple bypass?

Now, the fact that I am a happily married woman with two children, in some circles, disqualifies me to ask these questions ... They are dismissed as the prejudicial rantings of a smug and sexually straight-laced religious fanatic. It doesn't matter that I was thirty-five, with my own share of heart scars and regrets, when I married (having moved across the country at least partly to escape the toxic tango with my own "Mr. Big"). It doesn't matter that I actually know enough about SATC from having WATCHED it that I can point out these tell-tale story lines that (let's just say it) were not of MY making. I just calls them as I sees them.

Some of you may be reading this and mentally (or even physically) be taking me off your blogroll because I am more in touch with the secular culture than any good Catholic should be ... or bringing up issues that are totally irrelevant to your lives since you would no more watch SATC than force-feed your family from the compost heap. I understand that ... and I freely admit that there are many of you who are much farther along the trail to perfection than I am (and who write primarily for others who are similarly advanced in the spiritual life).

And yet, it is my sincere hope, my earnest prayer, that someone will see themselves in this post and ... make a different choice. Because the scars are real, painful, and lasting. How much better to avoid the wound altogether! And how good to know that, even if we make the wrong choice and find ourselves bleeding, we have not necessarily consigned ourselves to a lifetime of damaged relationships.

We can choose again. Make different choices. Smarter choices. Choose to break the toxic relationship patterns. Choose to stop, just stop. Choose to stop dating until our own issues are resolved and we are in a healthy place to start looking for the husband God wants to give us. Choose to stop obsessing about pregnancy, and invest in our marriages as they are RIGHT NOW. Choose not to put a child's life in jeopardy with IVF experimentation. Choose adoption.

These are real-life choices you will never regret.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Sheep and the Goats

Putting together my VBS program for my church, I came across this and thought it was a powerful reminder of how important those corporal and spiritual works of mercy are.

Ironic, since Keith Green was not exactly the most pro-Catholic Christian on the planet. But now that he's had a chance to gain a more heavenly perspective (he died in 1982), I feel confident he'd be pleased that some Catholics love him, too!


In her post "Scarred for Life," Antique Mommy Tina shares with the world (via Good Housekeeping magazine, you go girl!) the reason why, in her own words, "You can keep your Mederma, I like my scars. They tell the story of who I am...."

Today, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, I had an opportunity to reflect on the significance of such scars in my own life ... and in that of my children.

It has been three years since we celebrated Christopher and Sarah's baptism (the adoption papers were actually finalized in August, but we celebrate their baptism day as the day they officially became part of our family, and God's as well). Memorial Day weekend may seem like an odd choice for this celebration, since it is usually a holiday associated with death. And yet, it is also a time for memories .... and as any foster-adoptive family knows, our lives are defined by the memories. (The one to the left here is one of my favorite early memories of Christopher ... I think it was one of the first times I heard him laugh out loud.)

Memorial Day Weekend ... when we remember loved ones who are no longer with us, either because they died (like my husband's sister and all our grandparents), or because they are no longer a part of our everyday lives (like their birth family and my extended family). They are gone, and yet the slate is not wiped entirely clean ... these people continue to touch us (for better or worse) each time something happens to bring them back, if only in the mind's eye.

After church today we visited a place that has big memories for Sarah, the "brown park" with the big red swing she used to ride for what seemed like hours when she was just a year old, kicking her feet and waving her hands. She loves that baby swing, though she is getting much too big for it now.

Tomorrow will be another big memory day as we go to the Toledo Zoo ... We went there for Halloween 2002, about three months after we first got the kids. Baby Sarah in her little cow outfit, Christopher the bee, and Cheyenne the fairy princess. I have this photograph sitting on my desk, and occasionally Sarah will come up and put one grubby finger on it. "This was when Cheyenne was living with us."

"Yes, it is," I agree. Then she'll go off and draw a picture of herself holding hands with her big sister on the white board I keep in the corner of my office for just such an occasion.

Someday we may have to answer questions about why we didn't try harder to keep their siblings with us. Nor do I doubt that some of the scars my kids carry have to do with losing so much, so early. The only question is what form those scars will take.

I'm hoping that if we love them enough, are patient enough and open enough, their scars will turn them into compassionate individuals. I hope they will give us the benefit of the doubt, and trust that we made the best decisions we could, given the information we had at the time.

On this Feast of Corpus Christi, I'm offering a little prayer, that the scars my children have received over the years -- some inflicted before they came to us, some the result of our own inexperience or simple human error or even my own sinful impulses -- will not be the memories that define them.

Body of Christ, purify and sanctify, heal and preserve, and keep us in our woundedness from drawing away from one another. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

In Memory of Maria Chapman (aged 5)

The Steven Curtis Chapman family was devastated by the accidental death of Steve and MaryJo's daughter, Maria, who was killed when struck by the family car.

The family has posted a poignant tribute to their daughter, who was adopted from China, here:

Please pray for the Chapman family.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

In the Company of God ... and Mary ... and Mom

My parents were visiting with us this week. Dad put in the dog fence (thanks, Dad!) ... and Mom roped me into one of "those" conversations. You know the kind: high in drama, low in resolution.

This time, the subject was Catholicism ... my practice of it, to be precise. I've had six years of intensive formal faith formation ... but because in her mind I've rejected everything she taught me, she can only conclude I've been "brainwashed." She accused me of considering her a pagan going to hell because she's not Catholic (where she got that, I have no idea). Yet clearly believes that the only reason I have any chance at heaven at all is because at one point in my childhood I prayed the "sinner's prayer." Not because I'm a Catholic Christian ... but despite it.

*Sigh* "I never said you were a pagan, Mom. I never even thought it."

"You say it all the time, with your actions! You wouldn't even go to church with us at Easter!"

And there it was. For her, the fact that I won't take my kids to their church when we visit them, or at the very least insist on finding a Catholic service that we can attend in addition to theirs, is proof positive to them that we consider ourselves better Christians than they are.

"It's not that we're better Christians, Mom. It's that I need all the help I can get to stay spiritually strong ... and the Catholic Church is the only place I can receive the Eucharist. It's the only place I can be part of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church founded by Christ."

She rolled her eyes. "By what you do, you are teaching your children that Grandma and Grandpa aren't real Christians."

"Actually ... by not taking them to your church, especially when you have a communion service, I avoid having them asking questions about why you aren't Catholic. They notice stuff, Mom. They see that you don't make the sign of the cross when we say grace. They wonder why you aren't as excited as we are about Christopher receiving the Body and Blood of Christ. They want to know why Jesus isn't present in the tabernacle at your church, as He is at our church. They notice everything. I tell them that you are Christians, but not Catholic Christians, and we pray for the time when we can all go to church together ... in the Catholic Church."

"So you DO think you're better Christians than your father and me."

"Not better Christians ... just Christians who have access to graces that right now you do not. I'd be so happy if one day you would look more into the history of the sacraments, and let yourself consider what Jesus meant when He said, 'Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life within you.' I know how much the sacraments have changed my life ... and I think they would bless you, too."

"I don't need sacraments. I have my faith. I can read the Bible for myself. I didn't raise you this way ... and I'll never understand why you felt the need to forsake your spiritual roots."

A light hit. "Mom, how did Grandma feel when you decided to stop going to the church you were raised in?"

"It's not the same. I didn't have a personal relationship with God until I was in my thirties. I was baptized in Grandma's church, but I didn't know God."

"I met God in a profoundly personal way in my thirties, too ... through the Church. I came to know my brothers and sisters in faith -- all the saints in heaven. I came to understand that I have a spiritual mother who loves me and prays for me in heaven, just as you do here on earth." (I knew I was treading dangerous waters here, since Mom has told me how hurtful it is that I consider Mary my mother.) "And just like you, Mom ... I'm trying to raise my children to love God and serve Him with everything they have. That, I got from you."

She sniffed, considering this. "I do get a kick out of watching you lead VBS and doing all the arts and crafts I used to do when you were little."

"You were a great Sunday school teacher. You understood how important it is to be consistent with kids, to keep things simple and straightforward until they get older and can handle more complex issues. You brought us to church every Sunday, because Sunday is God's day.

"And that is what I'm doing with my kids, too. We go to church ... to our church ... because that is the faith we are practicing. We go to that church because, as Catholics, we are obligated to go ... and, because I want to be there. It's not that I don't want to be with you during that hour. It's that I have a higher responsibility, one that I take very seriously.

"Mom, I want you to know that I understand that you don't feel entirely comfortable at Mass, and that if you decide to go to your old church when you're visiting us, I won't be at all offended. If it means that much to you, I'm even willing to go with you to your church, by myself, on a Sunday when your church isn't serving communion ... so long as you don't give me a hard time about going to a second service to fulfill my obligation to God."

This was how the conversation ended. It's not ideal, when issues of faith divide families. God intended religion to unite people, to draw them closer together as they approach transcendent reality together, on their knees. And I suppose if we were all completely rational about it, and worked hard to understand each other's sensitivities and needs, the differences wouldn't hurt so much.

As it is, I could relate to what Moses said to God in today's first reading:
Then he said, "If I find favor with you, O Lord, do come along in our company. This is indeed a stiff-necked people; yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own" (Exodus 34:8-9).
"Oh, Lord ... come along in our company. Even when at times that company is divided. Even at times when we can't understand each other. Even when at times we find it impossible to get past certain hurts, certain realities, certain conflicts. There comes a time when we have to make allowances whenever possible for the feelings of others ... but we cannot allow those feelings to deter us from doing what is right. And so, today I'd like to offer this prayer for those of us who have family on the other side of the Tiber ... close enough that we can see their tears through our own.

Lord of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob,
God of Sarah and Rebecca and Rachel,
From the beginning You created family.
From the beginning You ARE family.

One and holy Triune God, unify with bonds of love.
Soothe angry hearts and enlighten blinded minds.
Make us forgiving, consoling, kind.
Render us family, just like You.

Mother Mary, Queen of Sorrows,
See our pain and pray for us.
We are waiting for a miracle ...
Send out a miracle of love today.

This column may be reprinted with the following credit line: "Copyright 2008 Heidi Hess Saxton ( Used with permission. All rights reserved."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Tips for Saving Money When You Travel

I just stumbled on this post from "The Green Life" that offers useful hints on how to make your gas dollar S-T-R-E-T-C-H. As Sarah and I get ready to head for Atlanta (Catholic New Media Celebration ... yeah!), we're both looking for ways to minimize the gas pinch.


Incidentally, if you're planning to be at the Eucharistic Convention in Atlanta on January 21, or the Catholic New Media Celebration (like Sarah and me) the next day, keep that Saturday night slot open ... We're organizing a Canticle/CatholicMom/CatholicExchange ladies' night out! Stay tuned.

"I Will Not Be Broken": The Book by Jerry White, Survivor Corps

I have not read this book ... but this looks like a worthwhile read for those who are struggling to rise above circumstances from their past or present. So I wanted to pass it on to you!

In his website, White offers five steps to turn "survivors" into "thrivers":

1. Face Facts. One must first accept the harsh reality about suffering and loss, however brutal. “This terrible thing has happened. It can’t be changed. I can’t rewind the clock. My family still needs me. So now what?”

2. Choose Life. That is, “I want to say yes to the future. I want my life to go on in a positive way.” Seizing life, not surrendering to death or stagnation, requires letting go of resentments and looking forward, not back. It can be a daily decision.

3. Reach Out. One must find peers, friends, and family to break the isolation and loneliness that come in the aftermath of crisis. Seek empathy, not pity, from people who have been through something similar. Let the people in your life into your life. “It’s up to me to reach for someone’s hand.”

4. Get Moving. Sitting back gets you nowhere. One must get out of bed and out of the house to generate momentum. We have to take responsibility for our actions. “How do I want to live the rest of my life? What steps can I take today?”

5. Give Back. Thriving, not just surviving, requires the capacity to give again, through service and acts of kindness. “How can I be an asset to those around me, and not a drain? Will I ever feel grateful again?” Yes, and by sharing your experience and talents, you will inspire others to do the same.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Happy Mother's Day ... to Extraordinary Moms!

This week's Catholic Carnival is up at "Organ-ic Chemist." Be sure to check it out!

Every woman on the face of this earth has been called to be one.

Oh, yes ... even you.

The job description of an extraordinary mom has a bit of "give" in it, like your favorite pair of jeans. For some, it involves childbirth ... many times over. Stretch marks and sore nips and the kind of pain that makes a bad case of cramps seem like a walk in the park.

For some, the call involves sending several children on ahead of you to heaven. Or bearing with courage infertility within marriage or life without a spouse. And yet, even we have been called to spiritual motherhood.
We can be godmothers, adoptive or foster mothers, or favorite aunties that always materialize to relieve exhausted parents at just the right moment.

The only requirement, you see ... is a willingness to be open to nurturing life wherever we may find it. To invest ourselves in the lives of other people. To come alongside those who are struggling. And to shine the light of faith so that others might know a truly abundant life.

Extraordinary moms see opportunities to exercise faith where others see deprivation.

We see opportunities to love when others see despair and aggravation.

We see opportunities to hope when others see only what can never be.

Lord, in Your mercy, make me an extraordinary mom.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me that I might be more like you!

Friday, May 09, 2008

"Don't Be Weird, Mom!"

(This is a continuation of the series of articles reflecting on Come Be My Light and the spiritual motherhood of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, patron of adoptive and foster families, which I began earlier this year. For the original post, click the title.)
Sarah is an extraordinary walking paradox. She will parade around the house (and in public as often as I let her) with a mind-blowing array of fashion statements:

I applaud her budding confidence (insofar as it does not exceed the bounds of propriety). What puzzles me is that if I do anything the least bit unconventional ... breaking into an impromptu chorus of "Sunrise, Sunset" and a little softshoe while I'm washing dishes, say, Sarah will invariably give me her stock response:
"Don't be weird, Mom! People will think you're weird!"

To which I respond, "Let them! The only thing that really matters is what God thinks of me, what I think of myself ... and, to a different degree, what my family thinks about me."

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not someone who typically flouts social convention on a whim. I love high teas and ballroom dancing and all manner of things traditional (it's part of why I'm Catholic!). But when it comes to deciding standards of personal conduct, I learned a long time ago that "going with the crowd" is not always the wisest course of action.

This has a particular application to foster and adoptive parents. More than most parents, our children are going to have special emotional and other challenges that are going to make other people's eyebrows go up with alarming frequency, especially in the beginning.

It happened the time my son punched the priest in the breadbasket for reaching out to bless him at Mass. And the following week, when my son (who had been hearing about his friend "Father Will" all week) greeted the elderly priest by patting the front of the man's vestments as high as his two-year-old hands could reach. Come to think of it, it was right around the time of the scandals, too...

It happened the time my daughter drew a picture of her daddy in bed with her for the counselor (Craig has a nightly ritual of laying down next to her to read a bedtime story; the book was strangely absent in the picture). The next time it was a picture of mommy and daddy brandishing a L-O-O-N-G a whip (I still don't know where that one came from, except maybe a horse scene in "Beauty and the Beast").

It happened when my son's first preschool teacher informed me that I was obviously neglecting my 4-year-old son's needs because he didn't use a napkin properly, and because he kept using words like "dead" and "kill." (I wondered if the word his classmates had taught him -- stupid -- was so much better.)

It happens. And other people -- those who don't know your family -- ARE going to judge you for it. Get ready for it ... the disapproving looks, the heavy sighs, the hesitance to accept playdates. Get ready for the tons of unsolicited advice from grandparents, social workers, and total strangers about how you need to be "controlling" your children better.

I'm not saying don't take the advice. Some veteran parents might give you some truly useful information with regard to managing stress, or potty training. But don't expect them to understand, and don't try to live up to someone else's idea of perfect parenting. As a foster parent (or adoptive parent of an older child), there are going to be times when you need to march to another tune. Make a different choice. Try an unconventional method.

Don't worry. If it's a mistake, you can usually correct it mid-course. If the advice givers are real friends or if they truly love you, they will still be around years from now when the fruit of your labor ripens, and that wild little creatures is transformed into the radiant young man or woman who loves God and does what is right.

It's OK to be weird when God takes you along a different path. Trust Him to give you the wisdom you need, exactly when you need it.

Let nothing trouble you,
let nothing frighten you.
All things pass away,
but God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
She who possesses God, has everything.
For God alone suffices.
Teresa of Avila

"Dusting" ... a new reason for parents of teens to lie awake at night!

A friend of mine sent this to me ... At first I thought it was one of those urban legends that sometimes makes the rounds. Sounded too bazaar to be true. A kid, dead from inhaling air in a can?

But I did a little checking, and it appears to be legit. (Note to husband: Skip the "air in a can" keyboard clearners. Dirty keyboards are WAY better than dead teenagers.)

NOTE TO PARENTS: If your kid complains that his tongue hurts, it might be frostbite from "dusting."

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Day in the Life of a Foster Mom

This is my final installment in the series about Come Be My Light, on the spiritual motherhood of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and why she is the perfect patronness of adoptive and foster families.

The final point that I took from this book was the idea that we need to be prudent in deciding what we are -- and are not -- able to do to meet the overwhelming need around us. When our kids came to us (initially with their older sister) we learned the hard way that there was only so much that we could do. It broke our hearts when we had to walk away from their older brother, who had been placed in a group home and who every time we saw him cried and begged for us to take him with us. We couldn't. We knew that. But that knowledge didn't make it easier to walk away.

In Come Be My Light, I was struck by the boundaries the Sisters of Mercy -- bombarded by unrelenting need on all sides, the sick and the dying and the dirty and the orphaned -- responded to those needs with true grace. They understood that they would be of no use to anyone if they did not tend to their own spiritual and physical needs ... and so they kept their sanity by setting up a daily regimen of prayer and meals and rest that fit the needs of their community members.

We who have a heart for the children of the world who do not have families must take a lesson from these holy, courageous women. We shall be no good to anyone, including those God has entrusted to us right now, if we do not settle within ourselves what we have (and have not) been called to do.

We must also resign ourselves to the idea that the time will come when we need to accept a hand from others, too. In the story that follows, I recount a time when that hand came from a stranger ... and yet, there are those all around us who are willing to lend a hand, if we are willing to let the need be known. It's humbling, all right ... but God created us in community, to help one another all the way to heaven.

Cleaning out my drawers the other day, I came across five large envelopes of photographs that, judging from how little Sarah was in the pictures, are at least three years old. I spent the better part of the morning racking my brain, trying to remember the events of that year. Even with photographic evidence in hand, so much had slipped away from conscious memory.

Happily, I still had my computer journal. Even during those wild first months as a mom, I always made a point of sneaking away every few days to record the highlights for another time. Sarah’s wide-eyed encounter with the camel at the petting zoo. Christopher’s love affair with kosher pickles. Sarah’s preverbal efforts to imitate my bedtime crooning. Christopher’s uninhibited delight in fighting “Daddy monster” clad in nothing but a diaper and his Superman cape (Christopher, that is. Daddy was fully clad.).

It was also one of my primarily creative outlets those first six months or so. One hapless editor asked me to write a series of devotions based on the readings for that month … only to reject half of them because the reflections centered around my newfound vocation. “Enough with the kids, already!”

But I couldn’t help it. Those dirty-faced, shrieking, clinging little insomniacs had become … mine in a way that I had neither anticipated nor planned. Given that I was “only” their foster mother, it was arguably unwise. But it was too late; I was hooked. Which was a good thing, because we needed every pheromone our bodies could summon up in order to get through each morning … From the journal:

Day Four of our first week together.

4:10 a.m. Sarah is crying. Again. Craig feeds her to give me a few minutes of desperately needed sleep. (We were told she sleeps through the night after her 11 p.m. feeding, but she has not yet slept more than three hours at a time.)

5:05 a.m. Craig crawls back to bed just as the baby monitor erupts. Christopher. “I’ll get it,” I tell Craig. “You get some rest.” Apparently Christopher couldn’t remember where he was. I lay down next to him, my cheek pressed against the two dozen stuffed animals on his bed, until Chris goes back to sleep. When I finally get up, there is an unmistakable impression of Bob the Builder’s tool belt on my face.

5:38 a.m. Sneak out of Christopher’s room and back to my own bed. Sarah stirs in her crib, and I freeze, imploring heaven not to let her wake up again. Gentle snores
resume. Weak with relief, I stumble downstairs.

5:45 a.m. Passing by the kitchen, my stomach rumbles. Remembering that I didn’t eat until 2:00 p.m. yesterday, I grab a glass of milk and a handful of Goldfish crackers and eat them on my way back to my room.

5:52 a.m. Craig does not stir when I crawl back to bed.

6:30 a.m. Chienne knocks on our bedroom door and wants to watch PowerPuff Girls. We tell her to go back to her room, that it is not morning yet. She counters with an offer to watch Bear in the Big Blue House instead. When this, too, is refused, she howls.

6:35 a.m. Heidi gets up to put on Bear in Big Blue House, sets up Chienne’s nebulizer with her morning asthma meds, and stumbles back to bed.

6:40 a.m. Chienne is back. Wants to know if her asthma meds are done yet. (They’re not… she has managed to spill most of it on the machine). She wants breakfast – scrambled eggs and toast. Settles for sippy cup of juice – after her meds are completely done. I refill the nebulizer and sit Chienne on my lap to make sure she takes it all.

6:45 a.m. Sarah wakes up and wants to be changed and fed. Craig stumbles out of bed for the day.

6:50 a.m. Christopher wants out of his crib. I seat Chienne on the couch and tell her to stay there until I come back. “Spider,” Christopher says, pointing to the flowery paper on the wall. I change him and we rock for a few minutes. Then he grabs his sippy cup and joins his sister watching Bear.

6:55 a.m. Chienne announces that she has to go potty, then calls to be wiped. She then wants her hair “detangled,” brushed and put in a ponytail.

7:05 a.m. Bear is over. Winnie the Pooh begins. I go downstairs to the kitchen, wiping up last night’s dinner and throwing a load of clothes in the laundry. Sit down with Sarah to give her an asthma treatment and hear wails. Someone has hit someone.

7:10 a.m. Older two kids are hungry. Christopher eats a plate full of grapes. Foster
mother said they always eat eggs and toast. Kids refuse eggs. Don’t want toast either. “I’ll kill you,” Christopher adds for emphasis. It unnerves me, hearing such awful words come out of such a sweet little face. Finally, Chienne settles for salami and cream cheese, Christopher takes dry cereal. I eat Christopher’s toast, and wash it down with Chienne’s orange juice (which she has refused as well.) Sarah is cooing from her bouncy seat.

7:20 a.m. Christopher sees me playing with the baby and decides he wants to be held. “Bunny book!” he coaxes.

7:22 a.m. Chienne sees me reading Christopher the bunny book, and throws herself into my desk chair 10 feet away. She wants me to teach her to read. Right now.

7:30 a.m. Time to get dressed. Chienne wants her PowerPuff t-shirt, which I cannot find in her bag. Put on pink shirt (over loud protests). By the time Christopher is dressed, she has ditched pink t-shirt and dived head-first into the clothing bin, pulling each piece of clothing out for inspection. At the bottom she finds a red velvet dress that is three sizes too small for her, which she insists on wearing. When I refuse, she runs out of the room and slams the door. Three times. I bite my lip and count to twenty.

7:50 a.m. Everyone but me is now dressed. Older two children are drawing with crayons and markers. Christopher finds a permanent marker in the “washable”
can. I explain that the marker isn’t really “magic,” and that unless we get washed up pronto he will go to his wedding with pink knuckles. “No!” he exclaims (the one word he uses with any regularity.) My request that we wash up is greeted by temper tantrums.

8:00 a.m. Christopher is screaming for no apparent reason. Screams again when Craig tries to pick him up. Wants Mommy. “He certainly seems to have bonded to you,” Craig comments mildly before going to get changed.

8:01 a.m. Chienne demands to sit on my other knee. “When are we going to the park?” she asks. I wrack my brain in vain to recall any such promise. We settle for a trip to the neighbor’s swing set – after Mommy has her shower.

8:05 a.m. Christopher pitches a fit when I leave him alone with Craig to take a shower. Bangs on the bathroom door despite Craig’s best efforts to lure him away. Craig gives up and goes to clean up the breakfast mess.

8:12 a.m. I come out of the shower to find Chris in a full-blown crying fit. Snot and tears everywhere. It takes five minutes just to get him to stop crying.

8:17 a.m. Chienne starts yelling because we have not yet gone to the swing set like YOU PROMISED! Craig takes the older two next door for a three-minute swing.

8:20 a.m. Sarah whimpers. Needs a change.

8:30 a.m. Now Sarah wants to eat. I hold her off fifteen more minutes with her binky.

8:45 a.m. I feed Sarah. Craig escapes to work. It’s not even noon yet, and already I am ready for bed. Mother’s group meets at the church at 9:30, and there is no way I’m going to miss a free hour of babysitting. Time to get the show on the road.

9:00 a.m. Still not on the road. Have stuffed a large backpack full of diapers, changes of clothes, sippy cups, crackers and fruit snacks, crayons, toys, Diet Coke and Excedrin Migraine. You’d think we were leaving for a month instead of an hour. By the time all three kids are in their car seats, the older two have managed to kick
off their shoes and socks and are screaming for snacks. I shove the stroller into the back end of the van, put on Elmo’s Greatest Hits, throw a handful of animal crackers into the backseat, and mentally tune out the din.

9:05 a.m. Sarah starts screaming. The car seat was not installed correctly, and tilted to one side as I rounded a corner. One hand on the wheel and one eye on the road, I reach back to push the seat back into its upright position. There is no place to stop the car, and no way I can get to the seat without releasing the other two little ankle-biters into traffic.

9:20 a.m. I pull into the church parking lot, shove the shoes back on the kids’ feet, and grab the giant backpack. The door is locked. “I hafta go potty,” announces Chienne.

9:22 a.m. A puddle has formed around Chienne’s ankles. Christopher suspects a babysitter is on the horizon, and goes into a full-throttle wail. Sarah sees the other two crying, and joins in. A sympathetic mom finds me weeping on the sidewalk, and helps me usher the kids inside.

9:30 a.m. Children safely in the nursery, I pour myself a cup of tea and find a seat. The speaker today is giving a talk about how important it is to find time to pray
each day. Heads are nodding, eyes avoiding contact. We know, we know. Now if we
can just convince our kids...

A few days ago, a writer friend of mine said that she was finding it hard to write now that she had three children under the age of five. “Don’t worry about getting published right now,” I suggested. “Just keep up your journal … It’s amazing how quickly the memories disappear if you don’t get them down.”

Then again, looking over that particular journal entry, maybe it’s a little like labor: The mind naturally blocks out the really painful stuff, just so you remember the joy.

Blessed Mother Teresa, Mother of the poor,
you see the poverty of our nation,
and are praying even now for courageous
men and women to step forward and enrich it.

Blessed Mother Teresa,
Patroness of Extraordinary Families,
pray that we might follow your example,
and take to our hearts those who do not know love,
welcome into our homes those who need family,
and feed with our own hands
those who are starving for the Bread of Life.

Blessed Mother Teresa, Mother of Calcutta,
We need not travel to India to see
the impoverished spirit of a nation.
Pray for us, that we might be ready
to shine with the hope that is in us.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

My Husband, the Knight!

Last night my husband (who had nothing better to do with the 2.3 nanoseconds he has left over after sleeping and working and practicing his piano lessons loud enough to wake up our little insomniac) joined the Knights of Columbus.

I'm glad he did that ... really. I'm delighted that he'll have an opportunity to make some meaningful friendships outside his own family. It's great that I have a husband who wants to serve God and the Church. I'm not complaining about that, honest.

What irked me (don't tell him I told you this) was the way he came home looking like the cat who ate the canary. And when I asked him, "So, dear ... Did they teach you the secret handshake?", he burst out ...


Then he grinned some more. Then, just for good measure. "I'd like to tell you. Really. But I'm not allowed." Pause. "It's ... secret."

Honestly, I haven't seen this kind of carrying on since ... breakfast, when Christopher does his level best to vex his sister into a screaming fit.

"OK, honey. No problem," says I.

"I'd really like to tell you ... no big deal, really," he insists.

(Insert eye roll here.) "I'm glad you enjoyed yourself."

I wonder how long this "don't speak outside the meeting" thing will last when they figure out that Craig is even more calendar-challenged than I am, and that if they need him to be somewhere or remember to do something for longer than five minutes ... Well, they gotta speak to ME!

And they'd better remember my secret handshake. (It involves copious quantities of chocolate.)

Special announcement! Be sure to check out this review of Behold Your Mother at "Just Another Day of Catholic Pondering." Then order the book here ... It's not too late to send "Tea with Mary" for Mother's Day!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Called to be God's "Skin"

This story appeared on Kate Wicker's blog recently, about a little girl who longed for a mom. It broke my heart to read about this little girl, so vulnerable and lonely. So many people, crushing in all around her ... and yet, she did not have a mother's love to warm her heart.

My friends, one does not have to go to India to experience this kind of heartache. There are children right here -- very likely, right in your own backyard -- who need a mother's love. Jesus promised that whoever ministers to "the least of these," in fact is ministering to Him. The reason for this is simple, as Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur points out her her blog: We are God's "skin" in the world. Sometimes that skin is soft and tender ... sometimes it is deeply wounded.

How can you, like Kate's friend Rose, be "God's skin" to a hurting world today?

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Have you ever considered foster-adoption?

Today I came across this report from the Dave Thomas Foundation, which promotes foster adoption of the more than 114,000 children in the U.S. who are currently available for adoption.

Highlights of the report include:

* Nearly half (45%) of Americans believe that children who are wards of the state are in the system due to delinquency ... When in reality the vast majority are in the system out of no fault of their own, having been abused, abandoned, or neglected.

* Nearly half (46 percent) of all Americans mistakenly believe that foster care adoption is expensive, when in reality adopting from foster care without substantial cost and there is financial support available for adoptive parents after the adoption is finalized.

* The average age of a child available for adoption is 8-1/2 years of age. Each year, close to 25 thousand eighteen-year-olds "age out" without ever having found a family. Many children wait 5 years or more to find a family.

* Two-thirds (67 percent) of those considering adoption are concerned with being sure that the biological parent will not be able to take the child back. In reality, once a child has been legally made available for adoption, birth parents can not claim a child or sue for their return.

For more information about the foster-adoption process or the Dave Thomas Foundation, click here.

Has Your Child Been Abused?

It's a sad reality of life that many of the children who go into the foster care system have been exposed to horrific kinds of abuse and neglect. In some cases, the abuse is "passive" -- such as being allowed to see pornography on television. In many cases, however, the abuse takes far more sinister forms.

Children who have been abused have scars that make them vulnerable to subsequent abuse. So sorting out the real threats from the fears is very important, and often requires the help of a trained professional. However, it is usually the parent (adoptive or foster parents included) who first see the signs that the child has unresolved trauma. Signs include:

* Child acts out in ways that are sexually suggestive or physically aggressive,
* Child has persistent nightmares or bedwetting (age 5+),
* Child touches self or others inappropriately and/or compulsively,
* Child is suddenly fearful or overly compliant around another adult (80 percent of molested children know their abusers – family friends, teachers, extended family members, etc.)
* Child is suddenly fearful of changing clothes or venturing outside home (to school or babysitter’s)
* Child draws disturbing images (or reenacts these stories with dolls),
* (In teenagers), child suddenly loses interest in her appearance, and/or alienates him or herself from friends and family.

Additional information may be found here:

As adoptive parents – particularly parents of older adoptees with a vague history of neglect and/or abuse – we must steel ourselves for the possibility that the time may come when we are asked to participate in the painful process of redemption for our children. We may find ourselves having to re-direct our children again and again, and get for them (and ourselves) the help needed to resolve and receive healing for the violations they received before they came to us (or even, God forbid, at the hands of a third party while under our care). These wounds go deep, and leave a scar that may make them unwitting targets for subsequent abuse.

What should you do if you suspect your child has been abused?

First, pray and seek counsel so you can think clearly and react calmly. It is crucial that you can be spiritually strong for the child. You are being called to model authentic love for a child who has suffered at the hands of the counterfeit. While you are getting help for your child, go to daily Mass if you can; pray the Rosary and have others do the same on your behalf (though be careful to protect the child’s privacy as much as possible when you make your request known).

Assure your child that you love him or her, and that you are going to help him or her. Nothing he tells you will make you angry with him, or make you love her less. Be careful not to react with anger or disgust if you witness an “acting out” episode – see it for the cry of help that it is. For your own safety and that of your child, carefully document in writing how, when, and where you encounter signs of abuse.

Second, consider the safety of the other children in the family. Children who have experienced sexual abuse frequently abuse younger children. You may need to install door alarms or other safety devices, and take other safety precautions (such as not bathing the children together or allowing them to be left alone in a room together). Children can and do heal from all kinds of abuse … However, such healing does not occur overnight. It may be necessary to have the child placed temporarily or even permanently in a home where no other children are present, for his own good and for the safety of the other children in the home.

Third, get professional help for the child. As a parent, you must find the truth and get your child the help he or she needs – the sooner the better. Catholic therapists who specialize in sexual abuse may be found at If no qualified Catholic counselors are in your area, Pastoral Solutions ( offers telecounseling.

Fourth, protect the child’s privacy as much as possible without endangering others. If you have a social worker, consult with him or her about what you have observed and get his or her recommendations for next steps. Again, be sure to make careful records of when, where, and what you have observed. This information is too crucial to entrust to memory.

If your child has been “acting out” with other children in the home, make an appointment with the school counselor and/or teacher to discuss the importance of supervising children closely, especially in the bathroom and on the playground. By acknowledging that you are aware that your child has a history of abuse, you safeguard your own child’s well-being as well as that of other children.

If you suspect your child is being abused by a third party, it is absolutely critical that you trust your gut and do whatever is necessary to keep your child safe. If another child is the source of the problem, alert that child’s parents; if the children must continue to have contact with each other (such as siblings), they must be monitored continuously and closely. If you suspect your child is being abused outside the home, changing babysitters or even schools is a small price to pay for peace of mind. Once the child is safe, you may then need to file a formal report with Child Protective Services (CPS), for the sake of other children.

Suzanne Baars adds: “Eighteen states require by law that one must report suspected child abuse. Once a child is in counseling and this information is shared with the counselor, either the counselor or the parent will be required to report the matter to Child Protective Services.” Adult perpetrators will be required to leave the home – or the children will be placed in protective custody. When the perpetrator is a child, that child may need to be placed temporarily or even permanently in a home where there are no other children present.

Fifth, do not waste time in self-blame or self-doubt. You love your children, and want them to grow up to be strong, healthy Christians. You may have ambivalent feelings about what has happened – questioning whether you could have said or done anything to prevent the abuse. You may be angry with yourself for having unwittingly endangered your child, for having put him in this school or her in that daycare situation. You may be harboring hateful or even murderous thoughts about the individuals who did these things to your children, wanting more than anything for them to experience the full consequences of their actions. This is normal … but it is also harmful to hold on to these feelings.

Talk with your priest in the sacrament of reconciliation; seek out a professional counselor who can help you work through these issues so that you might be able to forgive yourself and (ultimately) the perpetrator. It is important to release yourself of that burden, so you can be free to help your children. God has entrusted a special cross to you; He is asking you to help your child find healing, and to model forgiveness. Not for the sake of the abuser, but so that those who are touched by the abuse might find peace. God bless you!

Heidi would like to acknowledge the valuable assistance of Suzanne Baars and Dr. Gregory Popcak, who both reviewed this article prior to publication. Suzanne was especially helpful in describing the legal responsibilities of one who suspects abuse has occurred. You may contact Suzanne through “In His Image Christian Counseling Services” (

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Jim and Kerri Caviezel adopt two Chinese children

Catholic Carnival #170 is now up and running at "Book Reviews and More." Thanks for hosting this week, Steven!

This is my favorite part of a story about Jim and Kerri Caviezel's adoption plans, which ran on CNE ...

Caviezel recalled that he was “completely terrified” at the possibility of adopting a child with a disability, but deep within his soul, he knew that God wanted him to do it.

He compared the fear he felt at the prospect of adopting a child to other “fearful” times in his life. Caviezel explained that in some of the “most important decisions” in his life, he has experienced a “huge fear” and found that he needed to trust God through his faith.

All parenting has a certain amount of ... butterflies ... associated with it. But adopting older children has a kind of long-term uncertainty that is not for the faint of heart. Only God can make you that strong.

In the words of Blessed Mother Teresa: "God doesn't call the equipped. He equips those who answer the call."