Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Mother's Devotion

The other day at "Heart, Mind, and Strength" Greg Popcak said something that nearly made me drive off the road. A woman had written in, asking how to handle her college-age daughter who let them pay her bills, but otherwise didn't want anything to do with them. It seems that the young woman has weight issues, and her mother was wondering how to get the girl to lose weight.

In a nutshell, his response was, "First, take a look at your own life. Your preoccupation with appearances is getting in the way of your relationship. Remember, not all those who are pious are necessarily devoted. Devotion comes from relationship ... You should be less concerned about your daughter's weight than the fact that she doesn't want to spend time with you."

My mind started whirling, flashing back to my teenage and young adult years when I did everything I could to keep a safe layer of distance between myself and certain members of my family. There were times I remember actually falling asleep to avoid conversation. In the car, I'd whip out a book. At home, I'd stay in my room until summoned to do housework.

In church, it was a different story. I felt happy to be there. People seemed happy to see me, and I had certain musical and intellectual abilities that translated well to church work. When I ran away from home at the age of 10, the church was the first place I ran to. And so, I suppose it's no surprise that Catholicism appealed to me. Same God, but with a safety net: Faith anchored to something more permanent than the whims and interpretations of one or two people.

But here's the thing, and the reason I titled this post as I did. I would feel as though I had failed my kids if I passed my faith on to them on the same terms my faith was passed on to me. I want my kids to experience love-based faith, relationship-based faith, which has been modeled first and foremost within the intimacy of family relationships. I don't want my kids to be afraid to tell me when they are in trouble, or when they're wrestling with a problem. I don't want them feeling as though I love them only when they are doing what I want them to do.

I want them to experience a mother's devotion. Sometimes I worry that I have too much baggage to pull this off. The other day at confession, a priest reminded me that I needed to spend more time enjoying my kids, as this is how they experience the love of God. Today, instead of sending my daughter into her room to stay there until it's spotless ... I think I'll go in there and work alongside her. And I will listen as we work, and if she breaks into one of her special "Sarah Songs" that goes 245 stanzas without a discernable plot, I'll try to join her on the chorus. It's time for me to practice "a mother's devotion."

Do you ever find it tough to juggle "piety" and "devotion"?

Still reading? Come and join me at EMN, where I reflect on the Feast of the Annunciation, and how God uses even negative experiences in our lives as channels of grace.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Creative Mothers...

Today was the annual "Wax History Museum" event at Christopher's school. Each kid had to dress up like one of the European explorers of the 16-17th centuries, and recite a little spiel to parents who circulated through the gym, pushing a little circular sticker "button" on each costume to activate said spiel.

Christopher was John Davis, an English explorer who discovered the Falkland Islands in the south, and the Davis Straight in the north. He and his men slaughtered 250,000 penguins to eat on their way home ... And wound up losing most of the crew to starvation when the meat spoiled partway along the journey. Chris had a little penguin figurine to top off his costume (a Captain Hook re-creation).

Looking around the gym, I was amazed at the creativity many of these mothers showed, fashioning fully lined and trimmed capes, vests, breeches, not to mention a full spectrum of hats. Ironically, the costume I liked most -- fashioned from a yard of brown felt -- was made by a mother who expressed undisguised envy over Christopher's crushed velvet, internet purchased getup. Sewing is not my thing ... eBay, on the other hand ...

As mothers, we are quick to discount our own efforts, and compare our weakest efforts with the most impressive of other moms. I remember years back, when I was still struggling to get a handle on the whole foster parenting thing, when I berated myself for contributing pre-cut veggies and dip for an afternoon snack, when that morning another mother had gotten up at 4:30 to bake homemade cinnamon rolls.

The thing is ... the kids were happy with both snacks! And today, both kids looked equally cute. What mattered is that we cared enough to show up. (Christopher was especially thrilled when I snuck him outside for a few Girl Scout cookies. "Yeah! I get to spend some quiet time with Mom!")

So to all you creative (and not so creative) moms out there ... Let's give ourselves a break, shall we?
Image: Sir Francis Drake, Madam Tussauds at Flickr

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"Little Lord of the Manor":: Adventures In Daily Living ::: older child adoption issues

Today I stumbled on this post by Suzanne, whose child "Dandy" seems to have difficulty distinguishing between "assisting mother" and "assistant mother."

With foster kids (especially fostered sibling groups) it's not uncommon for the kids to struggle between total autonomy and this newly discovered dependence. Actually, it can be one of the tougher challenges of placing siblings together: The older ones still feel they need to be in charge of the younger ones, and find it hard to relax and become a child again.

If you've ever been in this situation, you'll be able to relate to Suzanne's experience!

:: Adventures In Daily Living ::: older child adoption issues: who's in charge?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Thin Mint Winner!!!

Congratulations to Ashley, who won this week's "Win a free box of Thin Mints" contest!

Ashley, please drop me your physical address in an e-mail:

(Thanks to everyone who participated!)

Monday, March 09, 2009

10 Things to Do With Thin Mints: Win a Free Box!

So ... I'm staring at two cases of Thin Mints in the back of my trunk, wondering how on earth I'm going to unload the things. I was a cookie selling champ when I was a Girl Scout, but times have changed. Twice when we knocked on a neighbor's door, they slammed the door in my seven-year-old daughter's face with a curt, "Not interested!"

What in God's green earth am I going to do with all these cookies?!

Let's have a contest! Submit your tip to me for the best, most creative way to use Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies by Monday, March 16. Winner gets ... a free box of Thin Mints! (Offer good in the U.S. only.)

1. Indoor S'mores: Put a Thin Mint on a microwave safe plate. Top with large marshmallow, then another cookie. Nuke for 20 seconds, or until marshmallow explodes. Cool and eat.

2. Thin Mint Shake: Put 1 C milk, 1/2 C frozen yoghurt or ice cream, 6 Thin Mints and a couple drops of peppermint flavor. (Drop of green food color optional.) Whirl in blender, and serve.

3. Crush cookies and sprinkle on ice cream.

4. Tea Party Tasties: Have a tea party with the little girl in your life, and serve TMs on a fancy china plate.

5. Mini Ice Cream Sandwiches: Put a tablespoon or so of your favorite non-fat frozen yoghurt between two cookies, and freeze until set.

6. Minty Parfaits: Alternate layers of chocolate pudding, Cool Whip, and crushed TMs in parfait glasses. Top with a whole cookie. Elegant!

7. Emergency "Snack Duty": (You know, when you were supposed to bring snack to a gathering or classroom function, and forget? Or does that only happen to me?) You might want to put a 10-pack of small water bottles back there, too ... for the same reason.

8. Happy Face Treats: Pipe little faces and hearts on each cookie with royal icing, and tuck them in lunch boxes to remind your kids (and their dad) how much you love them.

9. Hostess Gift: Wrap a box in foil and tie with a pretty green bow for your next St. Patrick's Day party!

10. Freeze, Louise! These things taste GREAT frozen ... stock up in March, enjoy all year round!

"Mommy, Why Does She Look Weird?"

With kids, finding the teachable moment is the first step in teaching them about treating the physically or mentally impaired with compassion (or any other topic, for that matter).

So yesterday at McDonalds, I had a golden opportunity to teach my kids this lesson. In the play area, a dark-skinned toddler caught my eye. She wore a frilly pink dress … and carried a long, white cane.

Sarah waited until we were seated next to the little girl’s parents to ask, “Mom, why does that girl look weird?”

The middle-aged white couple tensed up, and. I smiled apologetically, then turned to talk directly with my daughter. “Honey, that little girl’s eyes don’t work. She uses the cane to help her walk. But just look at her run and laugh!

“God makes each of us with different gifts and challenges. All of us need to share our gifts, and love and help each other with the challenges. That little girl was born in a place where children don’t get good medical attention. So her Mommy and Daddy adopted her – just like we adopted you – and brought her here. She is so BLESSED, and she wants to be your friend. Can you play with her, and share your gift of friendship?”

Her eyes lit up, and soon the girls were playing ring-around-the-rosey. “We ALL have gifts and challenges … I like that!” the little girl’s mother said to me.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of motherly compassion.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Premio Dardos Award - Thanks, "Book Connection"!

Cheryl Malandrinos at "Book Connection" just informed me that "Mommy Monsters" has been the recipient of the Premio Dardos Award. Thanks, Cheryl!

Premio Dardos means ‘prize darts’ in Italian and it is given for recognition of cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values transmitted in the form of creative and original writing.

The rules are:

1) Accept the award by posting it on your blog along with the name of the person who has granted the award and a link to his/her blog.

2) Pass the award to another 15 blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgement, remembering to contact each of them to let them know they have been selected for this award.

I'd like to nominate the following blogs:
Brenda at "Benedict Home" (foster parenting)
Kate and Cathy at "In God's Image" (health and fitness)
"Tucked Beneath His Wing" (on infertility)
Sherry at "Chocolate for Your Brain" (humor and inspiration) Note: Please pray for Sherry, who had a miscarriage on Ash Wednesday.
Sarah at "My Wonderful Life" (parenting special needs children)
Elena Maria at "Tea at Trianon" (history and faith)
Alexandra at "Destinations, Dreams, and Dogs" (Russian adoption blog)
Leticia at "Cause of Our Joy" (special needs parenting and pro-life issues)
Judy at "The International Moms Blog" (transracial family life)
Sarah for her work at "Behold Your Mother", also gets an award for her lovely "Just Another Day of Catholic Pondering"
And, finally, a shameless plug for the blog I'd most like to get exposure for, because it is closest to my heart, the Extraordinary Moms Network!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Domestic Felicity: Precious life

A twenty-three-year-old woman, unmarried and pregnant, discovers that the child she is carrying suffers from a disease that is "incompatible with life." Yet she carries her child, loving her as long as she can. Read about it here at "Domestic Felicity," a blog written by a devout Jewish wife and mother, which I recently discovered from Elizabeth Foss.

Domestic Felicity: Precious life

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Daisy Days

Once every two weeks, I get a reprieve from pick-up duty. Christopher goes to tutoring, Sarah goes to Daisies ... and I don't have to pull into the (empty) school parking lot until 4:30. Since I usually leave the house at 2:30 to get the kids ... well, you do the math. Two extra hours of work/reading/fill in the bliss.

Today was Daisy Day. I have this editing project on the fast track, and I had been planning a marathon session. At 6:00 this morning, I already had the gears turning, ready to put the "Deadline Chicken" in the crockpot. Then I heard it ...

(*Cough* *Cough*) "Mom, I BAR-FED!"

Oh, poop. Making a mental note to discuss the developmental implications of Sarah's habit of dividing one syllable words, I open my eyes and concentrate on being concerned rather than annoyed. "You DID?!"

"Yup." I touch her head. Feels normal. "I don't wanna go to school today."

And there we have it, the bottom line. Trying to ascertain the source of the problem, I break into that monologue most mothers break out at a time like this.

"Really? But think of how much your teacher and classmates will miss you, and how much fun stuff you'll miss out on. And it will be so BORING here, since it's Lent and we don't turn on the TV. And you'll miss Daisies today, too ... And isn't it pizza for lunch at school?"

A baleful look is her only response. "Don't wanna go to school today," she repeats emphatically.


"Okay, you better go back to bed. I'll get Christopher and take him to school while you stay here with Dad."

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Let Dad take Chris to school. I want YOOOOOOOOOOOU!"

Something in the tenor of her whine makes me decide that, one way or the other, this is a kid who needs an at-home day, Daisies or no Daisies. When Sarah gets really sick, the drama level goes through the roof.

"Here, let's tuck you in. Here's your book. I'll be back in ten minutes."

So, I'll have to wait two weeks for a Daisy Day. Today I'm playing SuperMom, dispensing equal parts chicken noodle soup, popsicles ... and good old fashioned TLC. Oh, and a VERY long nap!

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Books of Life

Sometimes I feel as though the decades of my life are not so much chapters as books in a library. Early childhood memories ... the more turbulent teens (when my family struggled through my sister's bout with cancer), the vagabond era of my twenties, the stable "Michigan years" of my thirties, motherhood in my forties . Each layer builds, like an onion that alternately fills my senses with aroma ... or fill my eyes with stinging tears.

Thanks to Facebook, these past few weeks I've been in touch with people from each of my "life books." Most of the time, these strolls down memory lane are pleasant ones. Hearing from old friends -- reconnecting over old memories and new families, and sharing what God has done in our lives -- is a real blessing.

But once or twice, the memories come back with more of a slap than a caress. Two names in particular, belonging to the ex husbands of dear friends. Both men treated my friends abominably, and even now (years later) I can imagine only too clearly what I'd say to them if ever I met them on the street one day.

Yes, I know there are always at least three sides to every story (the husband's, the wife's, and the unvarnished truth), and marriage dynamics can appear very different to those viewing from the outside. Some things are always objectively wrong: adultery, violence, betrayal. When things like these happen, it's hard NOT to take sides -- even (and perhaps especially) when it's family.

What does love look like then? What does "forgiveness" look like, when the person who was wronged is someone other than yourself? Where does loyalty end ... and pointless grudge-bearing begin? Is it okay to say, "Go with God ... far, far away!" And what if the marriage has not yet ended, but is certainly in its death throes? After watching cycle after cycle of lunacy, is there ever a time to look up from your prayers and say, "ENOUGH!"?

Your thoughts? What have you gleaned from your "books of life"?