Friday, May 29, 2009

"Dear New Mom": School Etiquette for Grown-Ups

Lisa Hendey's recent article at Faith and Family Live could not have been more timely. Her advice as an eighth-grade mom to the mothers who were newly joining the school reminded me of some recent drama at my kids' school.

It all happened suddenly, and blew over just as quickly. I'd been wanting to do something tangible to show my support of my kids' school. And so, when I heard that the Boosters were in need of some fresh fund-raising ideas, I decided to run for an elected office. (Boosters is the group that raises money for the school so our kids can have little luxuries like school bleachers and pizza lunches and chess club and a tuba for the school band.)

As I had not been active on Boosters until then, I was unaware that (a) nominations had closed a few days before and (b) it was actually the Vice President's job I wanted. (The VP handles fundraising, the P handles committee meetings, which are not my forte.)

Naturally, I was concerned about who would take the top slot; the leader of any team needs to be positive, encouraging, motivated, creative, and people-smart. I knew the woman who was running only casually; after talking to her about her goals for Boosters I became genuinely concerned about her ability to do the job. But I figured I'd just let things sort themselves out.

They did, though not as I'd anticipated. Next thing I knew, vague insinuations were being cast about regarding "some people" (pointed looks in my direction) who were ruining the nominee's reputation by discussing her private life in a public forum. I fought the urge to defend myself, knowing that I hadn't done anything wrong -- but that making an issue of this would only fuel the fire. I contented myself with the thought that, as people got to know me, they would realize how ridiculous it was to accuse me of such a thing. In the meantime, there was work to do.

Proverbs 27:6 says, "Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are profuse." I thought about this verse a lot in the days that followed, how in the name of friendship we can come alongside someone who is struggling and either give them a hand up . . . or push them farther down. We can allow them to wallow, or urge them to detach; perpetuate the lie, or face the truth. In the name of sympathy, we can hand them the water of life, or a deadly draught. Gossip, like lust, comes in all shapes and sizes, and cuts both ways: Sometimes it is overt, malicious; other times it comes from a place of weakness and desire. More often than not, it takes on a life of its own, striking at the souls of friend and foe alike.

Lisa said it best. "Be friendly, but set the bar high for your kids and yourself. Try to be a role model for the type of positive, uplifting person you hope your children will become." Stay out of the snake pit. Keep busy. Stay focused. Work hard. Seek truth. This is the recipe for the kind of community we all want to build, of which we all want to be a part.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

In Memory: Rest in Peace, Father Roger

There are some priests for whom the title "Father" seems especially apt. For me, Father Roger was "Father" in every sense of the word.
Shortly after I moved to Ann Arbor and started attending St. Thomas (1994), I made an appointment to chat with him -- I wanted to find out what the needs were in the parish, and offer my services if I could be of use. (What can I say? I was a brand-new Catholic, and didn't know any better.) After listening to me for several minutes, he smiled and murmured, "Wow. What an embarrassment of riches!"

Years later, he told me that from that day on, I was on his "short list" of people he prayed for, every day. Specifically, he prayed for a husband for me. He stepped up his prayers when I started seeing a divorced Baptist man I'd met through an online dating service -- and Father invited "Bob" to chat early on in our friendship, much to Bob's consternation. We parted ways shortly thereafter, though it wasn't until a year later -- shortly after Craig proposed -- that Father confessed to me just how alarmed he had been to see my friendship with Bob develop. "He was a nice guy, but he just wasn't good enough for YOU!"

Craig, he welcomed with open arms -- even though he didn't become Catholic until the spring before we married. It was Father Roger who welcomed Craig into the Church . . . and Father Roger who married us the following July. People still chuckle at their memory of Father's homily, when he told the entire congregation that I thought Craig's big tummy was "cute." (Thanks, Father.) And I'll never forget walking down that aisle, and seeing the shining faces of my future husband and my friend, Father Roger, who appeared to be as delighted as we were to be sharing that moment together. (And who didn't even raise an eyebrow when one of my Protestant relatives stormed the confessional while Craig and I were receiving communion just before the prayer service.)

About a year later, I witnessed an act of profound bravery when Father stood in the pulpit -- as he had stood for each of the five services that weekend -- to tell the congregation that he was checking himself in to "Guest House" for their alcohol treatment program. He did not shy away from our questions or concerns, or allow his condition to deteriorate to the point that he was forced to seek help. Instead he embraced his human frailty with courage and conviction. In what seemed like no time at all, he was back home -- a little slower, and a lot wiser about his own limitations.

A few years later, when we welcomed our children, Father did not protest when I told him we had decided to join the parish closer to the home we had just built, which had an active mother's group and had a high concentration of young families. He urged us to come back as often as we could -- like any loving parent whose child moves far from home. Ironically, our new church home was Father Roger's previous assignment, and when we'd heard that he'd contracted the cancer, and soon after moved to South Carolina, I was grateful to be among a group of people who were praying as hard for his recovery as I was.

Father Roger passed away yesterday. I do not doubt that -- even as I am praying for him now, so he continues to pray for me. I'd like to ask you, please, to join me in remembering my friend, Father Roger Prokop.

Eternal rest grant to him, O Lord.
And may your perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul, and the soul of all the faithful departed,
by the mercy of God rest in peace.

Mother Mary, take your dear son now to your heart,
and draw him close to the Sacred Heart of your dear Son.
As we remember him in this life,
may he rejoice with you in the next.

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

Friday, May 15, 2009

Mary Moments: Carnival Coming to "Catholic Pondering"

Have you written something about the Blessed Mother that you'd like to share with a wider audience? Head on over to Sarah's blog at "Just Another Day of Catholic Pondering," and get connected with "Mr. Linky."

Sarah is a columnist at "Today's Catholic Woman" on the topic of Mary. This should be a great Carnival. Check it out!
We had been holding something similar at "Behold Your Mother," but I've had so little time lately to keep that one current I've encouraged Sarah to bring this monthly tribute to the Blessed Mother over to her blog. At least for the time being, I'm going to give BYM a rest -- cause every mother needs a break sometimes!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What Day is it Today? Lemonade Day!

Thanks to my friend Sarah, I've been awarded some Lemonade . . . in a week where there have been a few lemons to squeeze!

Yesterday had another bright spot as well: Lunch with five church ladies, who gathered at my house to consume mass quantities of tea and salad and chocolate pound cake. So civilized . . . and it infused my spirit as well!

One of them commented that she was teaching her daughter about hospitality -- how to set a table, treat guests, etc. -- and her child wanted to know why we practice hospitality. Yes, she knew about the "entertaining angels unawares" verse. But why do we do it with folded napkins?

Personally, I think we do it because the civility of the experience reminds us of the goodness and beauty that can be had in daily life, even when the rest of our lives have bouts of clutter and frustration. (I had been up to four a.m. that morning trying to finish this Bible story book project, and nearly fell asleep in my salad.)

Went to bed at 8:30 - right after the kids were down. Now it's 4:11 (a.m.) -- up with the dog who was scared of the thunderstorm -- but when I counted on my fingers I realized that I still had nearly seven hours of sleep! Woo-hoo!

Think I'll go get another cup of tea to celebrate. With lemon(ade), of course!

Monday, May 11, 2009

My New Favorite Prayer . . .

Today I came across this gem in Michael Buckley's The Catholic Prayer Book (pg 213):

“From the cowardice that dare not face new truth,
From the laziness that is contented with half truth,
From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth,
Good Lord, deliver me.”

(Prayer from Kenya)

Friday, May 08, 2009

Is Justice Color Blind . . . to the Extreme?

Craig and I shelled out a large chunk of cash to allow Chris to participate in an after-school robotics program. He missed last week while we were traveling . . . and today when I went to pick up Sarah, her brother was begging to come home, too. He looked pale, and complained of a stomach ache. He'd had a cavity filled that morning, and I thought his jaw might be hurting. But he was adamant that the problem was his stomach.

No sooner had we pulled out of the driveway, the truth came out: That day a student at the school had cornered Chris in the bathroom, pulled him into a stall, pushed him to the floor, slapped his face and punched his stomach, and threatened him with a "swirley" if he told.

Chris had not told ANYONE at school, including his own teacher (who is generally very patient and kind). Quickly I turned the car around and went to the office with my son. He repeated the story three times -- once to the dean, once to the program coordinator, and once to the vice principle. When Chris was unable to give us the name of the other student, we went through yearbooks to pick him out . . . and it turns out that it was the same boy that had picked on Chris last summer during summer school. Back then, I took it upon myself to talk to the boy's father, and then we spoke to the kids together. I thought the situation was resolved.

Now this. When I realized it was the same angry kid we'd dealt with last summer, I realized that the kid had just waited until he had my son alone, with no witnesses, to get even for getting him in trouble with his (big, angry) dad.

Now, I'm not one of those mothers whose children can do no wrong. (For the record, the other kid's dad didn't strike me that way, either.) And yet, I've seen this other kid in the office MANY times, complaining that other kids are picking on him. He has a BIG chip on his shoulder -- the kind other kids just LOVE to poke at.

Ironically, my son is not a picker when it comes to other students. He's not perfect -- he has attention problems, and frequently "flips cards" because of that lack of focus. But he does not have a mean bone in his body, and is honest to a fault. If he says he was assaulted in the bathroom without provocation, I believe him.

What I found puzzling, though, was what happened the moment Chris identified the other student. Suddenly the vice principle was asking for marks on Chris, or other "proof" that the conflict had happened, and telling me that he couldn't take one student's word over another.

On the way home, an uncomfortable thought came to me: the other student is black. (So it Chris' teacher.) Could it be that part of the reason Chris was reluctant to tell was because of the subtle pressure to deny differences -- and potential animosity -- between races?

Now, prejudice is something no one likes to talk about. It's ugly, it's hateful. No one wants to admit -- especially in a rarified environment like this, where global values like compassion and integrity and perseverance are taught alongside the 3Rs -- that at least part of the problem might be race-based. We like to tell ourselves -- especially now that our first black president is in office -- that the color of a person's skin simply doesn't matter.

And yet, one of the subtler forms of prejudice is the chestnut that "race doesn't matter." Hogwash. There are times when it can matter very much because color is a part of a person's lived experience, part of their heritage, one of the many personal filters a person uses to interpret the world around him. We can grow in understanding of others with different racial backgrounds, but speaking as one of the few white women I know who has ever lived for a period of time as a TINY minority (I'm thinking of the year I lived in Senegal), there comes a time when it comes time to stop denying the differences, and to talk frankly about them.

So I asked him, "Chris, was the reason you didn't want to tell your teacher what had happened because that kid was black, and so was she?"

"No," said my son plaintively. "I just didn't want to get one of my best friends in trouble."

I choked. "Chris, you think this kid is one of your best friends -- even when he did those bad things to you?"

He nodded. I almost cried. "Honey," I said. "No one gets to treat you like that. And if anyone does, he is NOT a friend. You need to tell, so other little kids don't get hurt."

Craig says we need to start sending Chris back to tae-kwon-do, to build up his confidence so he can defend himself. That's a good start. But I can't help but think about the next kid who becomes the target. (Not Sarah, of course -- she would have kicked the snot out of the kid.)

If you think of it, please say a prayer over the weekend, that the situation will resolve itself in a way that keeps everyone feeling safe.

What I'd Really Like for Mother's Day

To be honest, I'm not sure how often my husband reads my blog (can't understand why, knowing how glowingly I always speak of him!). But darling, in case you're reading this, I'd like to tell you what I'd like most for Mother's Day.

* A clutter-free basement. We have more STUFF than we could ever use in this life. Much of it COULD be used by other families. And I'd really, really love to have a basement space where the kids could go and play this summer. The use of a dumpster for a whole day. Maybe we can have a garage sale, and use the money to pay for berber carpet!

* A well-ordered yard. I'd love some easy-care, low-maintenance shrubs in the front garden -- perhaps some cedar chips to keep down the weeds -- around an elevated bed. Plus all the boards and debris from your last building project oh-so-many-years-ago to permanently disappear from the back yard. And the children's pool set up in time for summer. And the dog fence fixed.

* Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, for a whole week. Which means you would have your bedtime routine done, and ready for bed, no later than 10 p.m.

* The rest of my kitchen painted. I think this is going to be my Mother's Day present to myself this Saturday.

What's your favorite Mother's Day wish?