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August 31, 2011

Happy Birthday Dani!

Dani was born on Labor Day weekend.  
I remember the weekend so vividly for two reasons.  The first is obvious, of course, since Dani was born.  Even though it was the last day of August (Sunday) it was Labor Day weekend since the first Monday of September was on the 1st of the month.

But the other reason I remember it was that weekend was because it rained from night time Friday night through Labor Day that weekend.  As a matter of fact, it rained so much that weekend that it rendered all the watering WE had done on OUR lawn ALL SUMMER completely irrelevant.  You see, before that weekend, we still had green grass that we'd cared for all summer by watering religiously and all the neighbors had brown grass because they had let theirs die.  It rained so much that weekend that when we returned home from the hospital on Tuesday, everyone's lawn was green.

I worry that I sometimes overlook Dani, or don't pay as much attention to her as the other children.  Whether it is with the blog, taking pictures or bragging...sometimes I worry that I easily forget about my Dani-girl.  

I don't like to do that, though, so I am going to tell you all about my fantastic, second-born girl.
She was my fastest labor and delivery.  I went in to be induced (because I am always induced).  In Dani's case, the late term ultrasound (38 weeks) showed that I had low fluid levels.  My doctor gave me the option that I could drive down to his office for NST's every other day until I had her, or I could be induced.  He said I was favorable for induction and he wasn't opposed.  So, 11 days before her due date, we entered the hospital on a Saturday night after attending Sunday Vigil Mass, receiving a blessing from our dear priest friend and dropping Sarah off at Grandma's.  

The nurse placed the Cytotec and by 2:00 a.m., I was having regular and real contractions.  By 6:00 a.m., they were coming fairly hard and the nurse offered that I could take a shower or a bath.  I opted for a bath and when that was over, they checked me and said things were progressing.  I remember around 7:30 a.m. or so that the contractions were getting more intense.  Around 8:00, I asked for an epidural.  The epidural was in place by 8:20 (you see, when you have a baby on Labor Day weekend, you get crazy-fast service!)  Doctor showed up around 9 and checked me and I think I was around 7 cm dilated.

Craig and I were talking and hanging out watching the contractions on the monitor.  The nurses came in around 9:50 a.m. to check me and said I was getting really close to complete.  The rest is kind of a blur.  Doctor came in and they were telling me I could start pushing (I started pushing at 10:06).  He noticed that the baby was coming pretty fast, so he hurried out to scrub up and returned.  I pushed twice.  My Danielle Christine was born at 10:11 a.m.  She had a small little bruise on her face that the doctor said was a result of "rapid pushing" but she was perfect.  She had flaming red hair and screamed from the minute her lungs were clear.  She was 8 pounds, 10 ounces and 19 inches long.

From the beginning Dani preferred her Daddy.  At first this bugged me, but Dani and I grew to have our own relationship, too.  

Dani was my first child that had to have surgery.  Her tonsils and adenoids were removed just 2 weeks after her 3rd birthday.  But it made all the difference in my little girl.  She had adenoids so big they limited her ability to breathe properly and get adequate rest while sleeping.  Once removed, it was like I had a completely different girl every morning!

Dani lives in the present and it's a quality I have always loved about her.  Dani is the sort of child who has never tried to be older than she is.  No matter what Dani's PRESENT STATE is...she has a blast in it.  She has such a sweet and unassuming disposition.
I remember towards the end of First grade last year, I heard Dani telling Helen and her cousin, Mary, what was planned for the month of May.  She said, "I am going to have the most exciting May in 1st grade.  I have a couple of days that I don't have to wear my uniform.  And we get to go to a day at the K and the Royals game.  I am just SO excited to be in First grad in May!" And she had the most excited, happy face.  

When Dominic was born, there was an instant connection between Dani and him.  To this day, I have to be on my toes and stop Dani from doing things for Dominic (so that he can learn to do them himself).  They play all sorts of games together.  Dani has been Dominic's biggest fan while we've been potty-training him.  Dani was the first family member's name Dominic said and recognized.  They have a very sweet relationship.

Dani often thinks of others.  When there was a severe storm that blew through our area during the day last spring, it was the first time such a thing happened when I was away from my children (I was at work, they were at school).  That evening, Dani came to me and said, "Mommy, there was a storm today.  I was very worried about you.  I was worried that you didn't have a safe shelter to go to in the storm."  After assuring her that I had a safe place to go while at work, I gave her a big hug and told her how it had pained me to be away from them during the storm.  I was glad they had a safe place to be, too.  But I was very touched by her innocent projection of her fears and her concern for me.   She often takes care of Helen like a good big sister :)

Some other braggable bits:  Dani is a speed-reader.  I have been amazed at how many pages per day the child reads.  When I questioned the reading log entry of 87 pages the other day, Dani informed me that she reads when she gets done with her work at school (while waiting for others to finish), she reads during D.E.A.R. time and she reads when she gets home from school.  I decided that until she starts having trouble with the comprehension questions, I won't doubt her ability!  Dani's a terrific speller and loves math, too.  She has a blast in Music and she's quite an artist.  When Dani was in first grade, she checked out a library book that taught her how to draw cartoon characters and she taught herself how to draw three different cartoon characters with no guidance or assistance (that I knew of) from any adults.  Incidentally, Dani is my left-handed child...I love seeing evidence of the left-hand/right-brained creativity thing going on!

I pray that she will always have her sweet personality and her desire to put others first.

And, of course, I hope she has a wonderful 8th birthday today!

August 29, 2011

Monday Mumbles - 6

I like to do Monday Mumbles.  Why?  Because it forces me to put SOMEthing up here on this blog on Mondays!  :)  Go visit TOOJE if you are interested in reading more Monday Mumbles.

1.  First of all, why is it that every time I import pics from my camera-that-is-not-my-iPhone, I get all kinds of pictures of my sweeties that I did not take?  I'll tell you why.  Because I am mother to a bunch of hams.  They HAVE to get their picture taken.  I think they are addicted to being on film. I think some of these photos need to get printed with a Walgreen coupon code and into a photo album.  I have created a bunch of monsters!  :)

So, I am going to give you today's completely un-edited (other than adding my blog name) sampling:
 My beautiful 10-year-old

 Because ONE photo is NEVER enough!!

 Dominic - including background messy dining room and baby doll-crib!

 My Helen...Is this a variation of a Marilyn Monroe pose you think?  Or am I flippin' my lid?

2.  I have started following a couple of new blogs recently.  One is written by my friend, Beth, and is called Faith Forward.  I have enjoyed her first few posts.  Another is Bad Catholic.  I was drawn in first by the name.  I was further intrigued by the content.  Finally, what put me over the edge (to follow) is that the author is a teenager (for now...as we know, people do grow older :)).  Very cool blog, check it out!

3.  Friends, I have begun the mammoth task of preparing Helen for my return to work.  Yes, it is going to take more effort and encouragement aimed in her direction leading up to the day I return than for myself (and that is saying A LOT!!)  I have begun, though.  As I mentioned here, Helen's and my relationship takes a lot of attention and this instance is no different.  So, last night as I tucked her into bed, I said "Helen, start preparing yourself.  Mommy goes back to work in four weeks."  And then, realizing I wasn't being FULLY truthful (on a technicality), I said, "Well, it's really three weeks and four days.  So, understand that it's coming and I can't have you crying all morning when I leave for work.  We'll try to have extra cuddles and snuggles before bed, though."  And I commenced extra cuddles and snuggles.  

Yes, she plays me.  

Yes, I let her.

Moving on.

4.  Do you want to know WHY I didn't get this post up until middle of the day today?  Here is why.  This adorable baby boy was not being so adorable last night!
No, he was screaming his head off and didn't go to sleep in his crib until about 12:15!  I need to get a photo of that sometime.  The screaming his head off part.  Not the 12:15 a.m. part. 

This is decidedly NOT COOL for me.  I had Vincent on this schedule where he was getting in the crib asleep anywhere from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m. and sleeping until 7:00 the next morning.  We need to get back there.  Pronto.

5.  The college football season begins this coming weekend.  I will grant you, *my* team isn't the best football team out there, but I get excited every year anyway.  GO JAYHAWKS!!!

6.  This weekend is also the Irish Fest in Kansas City.  My kids have been talking about it for weeks.  I think we'll have to go on Saturday though because my niece is getting baptized Sunday and I think we ought to go to that.  Anyway, at the Irish Fest, maybe we can get there to watch some of the local Irish dance schools perform. 

7.  I just realized that Dani was missing from today's sampling of pics I didn't take.  Well, she didn't have any this round, but here are two from a couple of months ago not taken by me:

And, yes, she can go from one mood to the other...swiftly!  I love my Dani-girl.

8.  Okay, I'm having to force these now.  So I'm going to stop!  Have a great Monday!

August 27, 2011

Helen Plus Mommy Equals Crazy Intense

Having five children is very eye-opening into the kind of person I am.  Things that have been easy with one child have been difficult with another one.  They are their own little people and require different things from different people...even their Mommy.  This has been shown to me in the most drastic ways through parenting my third daughter, Helen.

She's a "Momma's Girl."  She always has been.  Truth be told, I'm shocked it worked out this way, even though I prayed for it.
 You see, when I was pregnant with Helen, I already knew she would be a "Momma's Girl."  I told people how independent Sarah had been while she was still a baby (!!) and that she had this strong, enviable bond with her Grandma.  I told people how Dani seemed as though she couldn't care less if I was around and that she always wanted her Daddy.  So, I figured, that meant that my third child would want me since my arms would most likely be open much of the time.  

Honestly and fervently, I prayed that I might experience a bond with this child that was stronger than other bonds the she would have with any other person.  I wanted to experience what it was like for my daughter to always want me to be her anchor when things got tough and her comfort.  

I don't know if that's a normal or a crazy thing to want to experience.  On the days when Helen wants to cuddle and doesn't whine my ear off, I think it's very normal.  On the days when Helen fusses and doesn't want me to go in to work and cries because she "just wants her Mommy close", I think it's very crazy.

Because of our intensely close relationship, it stings more when I have to inflict discipline or enforce boundaries.  But then I'm more pleased than anything when Helen has success and when people tell me nice things about Helen.  I'm often very proud of Helen and enjoy that she is "my" girl.

Helen and I have a true roller coaster relationship some days.  My heart swells with love for this daughter of mine who is sweet, gentle, cute, smart and all around just a big hunk o' love!  Then my heart breaks when she hits her brother, screams at her sister (or at me!), refuses to go to sleep on a school night and then reaches for me when she's disciplined and rebuffed.

I don't think I love Helen any more or any less than the others.  I do believe that our relationship's intensity requires much of my attention.  I know that Sarah and Dani are often jealous of the attention I must pay to Helen...even when it's not the kind of attention they themselves would like to receive.  I can't say that I blame them for being a bit put-out with Helen because sometimes her behavior (and my dealing with it) puts me in a bad mood.  Sarah and Dani never try any of the things Helen does, so while they get some "bad" attention it's mostly for slight infractions (comparatively speaking).

When I combine the energy I spend dealing with Helen along with the energy needed to get Dominic potty-trained and learning to be a "big boy" on his way to age 3 and top it off with the energy needed to take care of Vincent, some days it leaves me wiped out. 

I wish I didn't have to include "exhausting" as one of the adjectives I use to describe my relationship with Helen.  Sure, there are lots of positive words I can use, too, like "close" and "affectionate" and there are less-positive words like "contentious."  I find myself wondering if it will always be this way and what that means in future stages of our relationship.  For example, I find myself trying to deny that we'll ever hit age 15 with Helen because I'm not sure I can handle it.

But then I remember that I need to live in the present.  

Right this minute, I love Helen with all my being...even as she is crying herself to sleep, crying for her Momma, in her room after I have done all I think I can do to get her ready for sleep.

Right this minute, even with the trials laid before me, I enjoy Helen's spunk and her feisty nature.

Right this minute, I'm grateful that God answered my prayer even with the growth it requires.

Lord, I pray that I won't wish away these moments, for they will be gone all too quickly.  Having a child just-turned-ten illuminates for me that childhood indeed is fleeting.  I only get so much time with them at home.  

And when they are gone...when Helen has grown up and is no longer here to cry for me at bedtime or flash me her million-dollar-smile and joyfully embrace me upon my return home from work...I will be sad that it went by so fast and I might regret that I didn't enjoy it more.

August 23, 2011

My Thoughts on "Tiger Mother"

I read Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother almost a month ago.  I had heard of the book because of this article that was posted on an internet forum with a discussion that followed.  When my husband brought the book home from the library, I kind of raised my eyebrows, but figured...oh well, if he wants to read it, okay.  I wasn't interested in reading it.

Craig read most of it while I was in labor with Vincent (yes, that little stinker who wouldn't be born until 10:37 PM!)  He told me about parts of it that day.  He told me the author lived in Durham, NC (working at Duke University) because he knew I lived there for a couple of years (finished high school there).  And he said, "You need to read this book."

I'm not sure why I NEEDED to read it.  Having read it now, I can safely say that my life would have been just fine if I never read it.  But it was interesting.

The book is written by Amy Chua, a Yale law professor who grew up in the United States as a child of Chinese immigrants.  The book is about the Chinese way of raising children and why she thinks it is better than Western parenting.  I think some of her experience is exclusive to being raised by immigrants.  But quite possibly much of it is a Chinese parenting thing.

There were times I was shaking my head while reading the book and thinking, "This isn't a cultural parenting thing...this is an insane woman thing."  There were a few times I stopped reading, looked at my husband and said, "I think this woman is just crazy.  I don't think it has anything to do with her being Chinese."

But then there were times when I sat back and I thought about it and realized, "Maybe she's not crazy.  I suppose I see it that way because I could not imagine raising my children this way."  And, since I was born and raised in a "Western" cultural parenting model it is comfortable to me and as we say around these parts, "Well, I turned out all right..."  And maybe that's what Chua doesn't like about Western parenting in that we're all okay with our children turning out "all right" instead of expecting our children to be elite musicians or attend Ivy League schools.  I'm not saying I wouldn't be ecstatic for one of my children to achieve the things she wants her children to achieve, but I'm not sure the price she pays is worth it relationship-wise to push it and try to MAKE my children achieve these things because it is I who wants the achievement and my kids couldn't care less.

It's been about 4 weeks since I finished the book.  I forgot that I was going to blog about my thoughts on it until I came home from volleyball practice to hear Craig discussing something with my sister in which he all but accused ME of being a "Tiger Mother."  I wonder what woman he was thinking of when he made that comment.  I suppose my expectations of my children (which admittedly are far below Tiger Mother's expectations for her children) seem quite lofty to my husband.

Based on this book, my kids have a cake-walk of an existence.  I don't force them to practice a musical instrument 6 hours a day in addition to their schoolwork and I haven't required they learn a foreign language yet.  They ARE allowed to have play dates (actually they are encouraged!)  In the United States, I think it's established that we like to let our kids be...kids.  This is frowned upon by the Chinese parenting model as put forth by Chua in her book.  

The best way to really understand the book, though, is to read it.  I found myself doubting that the way Amy Chua was raising her children was really the way ALL Chinese parents raise their children.  Part of that feeling was probably a result of my inability to comprehend anyone wanting to do that to their children.  Part of it was probably my own opinion that most people can't (or won't) be told HOW to parent their children.

I think the way the book rounds out is interesting.  The family is on a vacation in Russia when tensions hit a boiling point and one of Chua's daughters tells her that she hates her and she hates the musical instrument which she has been forced to play for hours upon hours per day for years.  After the blowup, Chua has some time alone and resolves to approach her children differently.  The remaining chapters describe what changes in the way she interacts with her children and then also what changes regarding how they spend their time.  Chua is to be commended for her ability to recognize when she'd gone too far and to change course before alienating her children completely.  

Maybe THAT is really what the book is all about anyway. 

August 22, 2011

Monday Mumbles - 5

Reading TOOJE's Mumbles last week, I got the impression that I don't do these right if I'm not grumbling about something in my mumbles.  Maybe I missed the memo :)  Either way, I'm not particularly unhappy with Mondays right now as it means I have a day with just my baby boy (girls are at school and Dominic is at the daycare on Mondays) so it's fairly quiet around here.  If you would like to read another mumbles post, head over to Circling the Square Table and read TOOJE's.

1.  Do you have an irrational fear of anything?  Well, I guess fear might not be the right word.  You see, we have ceiling fans in every bedroom.  Now, when they are on the high setting, they are going pretty fast and powerful.  And, sometimes this thought pops into my head, "What if they get going so fast that they just fly off the ceiling and onto the bed and what if I am (or my children are or my husband is) sleeping?"  

I wish thoughts like that wouldn't pop into my head.

2.  I've been thinking a lot this weekend about whether I try to fit my children into boxes I have planned for them personality-wise.  I have always thought of my children as extroverts.  I don't know why.  It's not like I was the most outgoing child.  I think I behaved a lot like Helen does:  In a new situation, I would just kind of lay low and get a read on the environment.  When I became more sure of what I was dealing with, I could adapt and be more outgoing or keep to myself whichever seemed most appropriate.  I've always assumed that since Dani makes friends easily, she's my 'social butterfly' and honestly, what I've witnessed with Sarah is that she is very much like her father and can strike up (and carry out) a conversation with pretty much anybody.  But, I think I'm going to pay a little more attention.  Mostly because of this article I read over the weekend.  It's a good read...check it out.

3.  Time out.  Do you use Time out with your children?  Do you have any special twists you add?  Of course, you realize that I am now going to share my special twist, right?  Well, I have to give my mom credit and I'm not sure if she came up with it herself or if she had it used on her as a kid.  When we were kids, if we fought, we would have to stand facing each other and hold hands for the duration of the timeout.  It was really funny because we often would end up giggling and somehow the fight would be long forgotten by the end of the time out. 
So, I finally had enough of Dani and Helen fighting on Saturday and decided to use this form of time out on them.  It had pretty much the same effect it had had on my sisters and me growing up.  Giggling and the end of fighting.  

4.  Remember that giveaway from Maggie at From the HeartThat one that I won?  Well, she and I met up on August 13!  She and her family attended Mass at our parish and then came over for a bite to eat.  It was great to meet and visit with Maggie, my kids enjoyed Joe and I think my husband enjoyed the conversation with her husband, too.  The great news is they have moved to the area, so this is most likely the first of many (I hope!) get-togethers for our families.  

Here is a pic:

5.  Finally, Vincent is 7 weeks.  Oh my, these first few months are flying by! I am actually surprised at how well Iphones at Best Buy take some great photos.  Vincent smiles a lot more regularly, but those smiles all but disappear at the site of a camera (or my iPhone) trying to catch it!  This is as close as I've gotten and it looks like he is giving me a smirk...

I really don't have anything to grumble-mumble about, so this is it for now.  I'd love to hear any feedback you have regarding my posts on schooling...seems like maybe the posts lost steam after the first one.  Or maybe there was nothing really to say.  

Hope you all have a great Monday!!

August 19, 2011

Finding Our Home in Catholic School

 This is the third of a three part series on our choices regarding schooling our children.  You can read the first two parts here and here.

I started thinking about Catholic school on the periphery in October/November of the year Sarah was in Kindergarten.  It was at that time we moved to our current parish.  I was acquainted with a mother of 6 (at the time) who had her children enrolled at the school there.  She and I had talked about their schooling decisions.  Theirs was one of the first large families I'd encountered in some time that had chosen Catholic school as opposed to homeschool.  I had been curious about that.  She explained that she and her husband had considered homeschooling, but that through prayer and discernment felt called to educate their children in a Catholic school.  This family sometimes attended the same Rosary prayer groups we did.  And I realized that this was another family we could look up to.  We could learn how to be a holy family.

This mother invited us to visit her parish on a Sunday because they always have donuts after the Sunday masses and we would be able to meet other families with their children in the school.  She spoke highly of the pastor and about availability of Sacraments to the children.  She spoke positively of all the teachers and other families and of the principal (at the time, a Religious Sister).  When describing the tenor of the parish, she used the phrase "faithful to the magesterium" a couple of times, and based on my experience at our first parish, this was important to me.  She encouraged me to check it out and to see, as she knew, that my children would be in an authentically Catholic environment every day at school.

We began by attending Mass.  Our decision not to put our children in the school of the original parish had been made by attendance at Mass at that parish.  The Mass at this parish was...well, it was Mass.  Nothing added, nothing taken away.  The Tabernacle was front and center on the altar (even though our current one is a vast improvement over what was there when we first attended) and not off to the side, or down the hall or anything like that.  The hymns were traditional, which we preferred.  We attended for a few months before deciding to talk to the pastor about joining.

We didn't plan to send Sarah to school there, though.  For one thing, it was quite convenient that a bus took her and brought her home every day.  And she had made friends already at her current school.  Uprooting her after just attending Kindergarten didn't shout out as the right thing to do.  But even though we weren't going to enroll Sarah, we changed to this parish as it was closer than the parish we'd been attending.  

Part of my reluctance to research Catholic schools was based on the idea that I doubted we could afford the tuition.  However, I found out that the parish school was truly parochial (meaning: parish supported) and decided not to let that be a deciding factor at that time. 

After we'd been members of the parish for about 6 months, we were having donuts after Mass when I started to look around the Parish hall.  I looked at the things they had up on the walls.  I noticed the kitchen area.  All of a sudden it hit me that this must be where the school children ate lunch.  There was a big sign up on the door that listed "rules" for the lunch room and it included "We pray before and after the meal."  

Just as I noticed this sign, Sarah piped up and said, "Look Mom, they pray before and after they eat lunch here!"  I looked at her and asked her what she thought about that (keep in mind...she's 5 at this time).  She just said, "I think it's a good idea.  We pray before we eat at home."

Yes.  Yes we do.

On the way home from church that day, Craig and I discussed and agreed to look into our new parish's school as a viable option for educating our children.  The first pleasant surprise was the parochial status of the school.  We were already tithing.  Tithing had been a staple in Craig's and my faith life from the time we had become more serious about our faith.  Nothing would have to change financially for us to move Sarah to the parish school.

When we inquired about the school with Monsignor and the principal, we found out that all the teachers were Catholic, the children prayed throughout the day, religion class was taught daily, there was a weekly all-school Mass, the children (all grades) attended Adoration weekly and YES! they had room for our daughter in the first grade.  :)  

They had a computer lab (very cool), the classrooms had Smartboards (state-of-the-art), they taught all the basics -- Readin', 'Ritin' and 'Rithmatic--along with science, social studies, music and P.E.  The school was less than 10 years old and there was also a preschool.  It had at least as much (academically) as the public school and sometimes more.  But the main things for us were:  Mass (we'd prefer daily, but we're grateful for weekly), Adoration, frequent opportunities for confession, daily religion and frequent prayer.

After the tour that summer, my serious and sweet girl, Sarah said, "Mom...this is nice and all, but I want to stay at my school."  Aww, of course she did.  All of you probably understand how difficult it is to be unable to give your child any and every thing her heart desires.  The decision to uproot Sarah was not an easy one.  But it was the right one.  And now, it is almost like she'd never attended another school.

Of course, I was nervous.  My daughter would be the new girl.  What if she didn't make any friends?  What if teachers and other parents didn't like us?  It was a leap of faith to take the plunge and move Sarah. Besides, most of my worries had nothing to do with our "main things."

Yes, the transition was a little rough.  Sarah was new and she joined a class where just about all the girls had been together since preschool.  Thank God for the wonderful parents of the other children in her class, though.  Seriously.  As nervous as I was trying to get to know them and learn about their children (and expel some of my own demons regarding my childhood in Catholic school), several of the moms extended a lifeline to me and smoothed the transition.  By the start of the second semester, I think we were all feeling "at home" in our new school.

We continue to support the school and now have three children who attend.  It feels like a family.  Some changes were inflicted by the Diocese almost two years ago that were difficult to take and very sudden.  Some families chose to leave the parish and school.  We thought about it, albeit fleetingly.  But in the end, the "main things" were still in place.  

Mass, Adoration, Sacramental Life and Prayer have always been and continue to be a central part of our children's Catholic education.  As long as that's the case, we'll keep them there.

Every so often, when I allow myself to think about high school and whether we will send our children to the Catholic high school in the area (incidentally, named one of the top 50 Catholic High Schools in America), I can feel myself slipping into considering other things like Academics and College Prep and whether it's on the list of the top 50 Catholic High Schools in America and I have to stop myself.  Because even if a school comes highly recommended for academics and even if it supposedly does the best job of preparing kids to go to college and even if it is on the list of the top 50 Catholic High Schools in America...even if it hits all of those marks -- if a school does not satisfy those "main things" that drew us to Catholic education in the first place, then it won't be THE RIGHT environment for our family.  

It is here that I feel I should state my philosophy on education.  I believe that probably as much as 90% of education happens at home no matter where the child attends school.  Yes, the kids learn things at school, but they learn 90% of most things at home.  I think they learn that school is important based on whether school is important to parents and whether it's made a priority at home.  I think kids learn that reading is important when they see their parents read.  

Kids learn their faith at home, too.  As a matter of fact, I think the biggest influence the children have with regards to faith are parents regardless of where they are spending their schooling hours.  A kid can be taught a belief system by their teacher, principal, a sister or a priest over and over again...but the child will usually carry on the faith he sees modeled in the home.  

This is why we're open to public school again, should the "main things" not be met by a Catholic school environment.  Even though the kids attend weekly Mass, Adoration, partake frequently of the Sacraments, at school...it really wouldn't matter much if Craig and I were not supporting that at home.  Conversely, even if the kids were to attend public school and NOT have weekly Mass, Adoration and Sacraments (at school), they COULD still have all of that because Craig and I would work to provide that.  (Before we switched parishes, I had been looking into finding a place to take Sarah to Mass once a week before school.)  Craig and I can ensure our children have frequent opportunities to go to Confession and Adoration, too.  

All things considered, it's a huge bonus that we're able to find a Catholic school environment that helps us so freely with raising our children in our Faith.

Our environment is not without it's problems.  Every school has them.  But this isn't about the problems, that can be a post for another day.  I think it's safe to say that every parish and every school (like every family) has its positives and negatives and everyone has to find the right environment for their family.

In the end, even though we didn't put a lot of thought into it before the first day of our first child's schooling, we ended up in the right place.  In general, my thoughts on schooling haven't changed all that much...however much they might have changed on the details.  I'm thankful that we're blessed with our school and I pray we'll maintain this environment through all of our children's schooling.   We feel like we ended up "at home" with Catholic school.

There must be someone out there praying an awful lot for our family.

August 18, 2011

The Dignity in Diapers and Spit Up

I'm going to tell you a story about an acquaintance who was/is a work-outside-the-home mom:

This woman at work was saying she was not Stay At Home Mom material.  She used some unfortunate language (something about how SAHM's don't do things as important as what she does at work...)

She told the story of her 8 months home with her baby (now in his 20's) and how unhappy she had been.  She told the story of how she had begged her husband to let her go back to work.  

And then she said, "I mean, all I did all day is change diapers and wipe spit up.  Where's the dignity in that?  I wanted to do more important things with my life!"


Vincent is 7 weeks old.  I have 5 weeks before I report back to work.  Besides recovering from childbirth and bonding with my new baby, I have been filling the role of Stay-At-Home-Mom these past weeks. 

On a typical day at home with Vincent, I change around 8-12 diapers (some poopy, some not) and I wipe spit up quite a bit (we are just now switching formula to a "gentle" formula because we have determined that Vincent's tummy must be sensitive to regular milk-based formula).  

Today, for some reason the story of this woman popped into my head as I wiped spit-up for what seemed like that gazillionth time.  I was frustrated wiping that spit up.  I think most of the frustration came about because it had gotten all over my shirt (really...it was a LOT of spit-up) and shoulder and face.  So, I was blotting my shirt and shoulder and face with the burp cloth and then wiping Vincent's mouth and trying to keep it from getting on his clothes...all the while bemoaning the smell of the spit-up.  

And I thought about whether it was important that I wipe the spit-up.

I think it's important to Vincent that I wipe the spit-up.  

I also think it's important to Vincent that I change his diaper.

Those things might even be...dignified.

40The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’--Matthew 25:40

I'm currently beginning my 8th week of a 12-week stint as a stay-at-home mom.  This is the longest I have taken for maternity leave since I had Sarah (most of the time I've taken 6 or 8 weeks) so I'm getting a little more of a taste of what life might be like if I were to be a stay-at-home mom.  

I've pondered the importance of doing laundry, mopping floors, washing dishes, changing diapers, wiping spit-up, potty-training toddlers, changing sheets, scrubbing toilets, giving baths, carpooling to various activities, making and keeping dentist and doctor appointments, etc, etc, etc (goodness, stay-at-home moms do A LOT of stuff!!!!!)  I haven't even listed all the different kid-specific stuff I've had to do!

I've come to realize that it's all really important.  As a matter of fact, I get exhausted knowing that soon I must start working 40-hour work weeks back into my schedule.  Yikes!

It's also comforting to remember that I'm here to serve my children and that's what I am doing.  I try to honor God by being a good wife and mother.

And that's all very dignified.

August 17, 2011

A Dalliance in the Public School

This is the second of a three part series on our choices regarding schooling our children.  You can read the first part here.

With homeschooling definitely off our radar, we needed to figure out what we were going to do.  Probably part of our journey to our current school wouldn't be complete without discussing our journey to the parish.  We attend the church whose parish boundaries we lived within for about 2-3 years after moving into our first home.  It was very large.  And, since Craig and I were typical cradle Catholics who weren't as well-catechized as we now feel we should have been, that parish sufficed for about 18 of those 30 months or so.  Sarah was baptized when we'd attended Mass there for almost a year.

As I've mentioned, Sarah's baptism is really the launching point of Craig's and my reversion/renewal of our Catholic faith walk.  We remained at the parish where she was baptized for about another year or so.  We became increasingly uncomfortable with some of the Mass practices and as we read and learned, realized there were a few actual liturgical abuses occurring.  In the end, I watched with a heavy heart some of the things I just felt were "off" and knew I didn't want my children attending the school there if that was how Mass was.  We have attended on occasion since and much has changed.  I might still be unhappy attending the parish if it were an option, but it seems the liturgical abuses are now a thing of the past.  Praise God!

We decided to attend the parish where Craig and I were married...the one in which he grew up.  They had a couple of orthodox priests (pastor and newly ordained associate) and we witnessed nothing that was "off" or anything remotely close to a liturgical abuse.  We joined that parish and remained there until Helen was about 9 months old.  Both Dani and Helen were baptized in that parish.  I have fond memories that include Craig's and my wedding, both of their baptisms and several other happy parish events.  It was a good "resting place" so to speak as Craig and I grew in our faith and tried to figure out how we were going to raise this family we were having.

During this change, Sarah attended preschool in a daycare center environment.  We lived down the road from a daycare center and found out that she could attend preschool "part-time" which actually meant three full days per week (M-W-F).  I can't press the point enough that we never really thought all that long and hard about something like half-day preschool vs. full-day preschool or T-TH mornings vs. M-W-F all day.  When we started sending Sarah, she had just turned 3, Dani was turning 1 and I thought it would be nice for Craig to have a little "break" from having two children at home and I hoped he'd have time to work with Dani the way he'd worked with Sarah on things like letters, numbers, pretend play, etc.  Then, when Helen came along, it was good for Sarah to have a routine that included preschool.

The daycare fed the public school where Sarah would attend.  We thought we were in luck because Sarah's enrollment in Kindergarten would coincide with the opening of the newest school in the district and she would attend that one.  Therefore, her school was the newest, biggest, brightest thing.  The daycare advertised "Kindergarten Roundup" for the schools into which it fed, and the timing kind of sneaked up on us.  

In Missouri, a child must be five on or before July 31 to attend Kindergarten.  That spring, when Sarah was 4, we attended Kindergarten roundup because Sarah would turn 5 on July 16, and she was ready to go to Kindergarten.  Now, it never occurred to me NOT to send her.  I never thought about the fact that she would be the youngest in her class and therefore would spend her life doing everything "last" in her class (things like turn 10, turn 16 -- drive) and it didn't really phase me then that Sarah would graduate high school while still 17 and if she went to college would be taking off so shortly after turning 18.  I only mention this because it's something I've had to consider with Dani in that her birthday was in August and she is going to spend her life doing everything "first" in her class as well as basically have another year under her belt before she might fly the coop.  And of course, my dear baby boy Vincent is another mid-summer baby with a June 30 birthday and I'll be considering these things with him.  It now kind of freaks me out thinking of Sarah, just a month after turning 18, leaving home to attend college or something like that.

Kindergarten Roundup sneaked up on us, but we went and got Sarah enrolled for school.  We really liked her teacher in Kindergarten.  Matter of fact, we really liked the school, the principal...everything.  I thought that for a secular environment, they did the best they could to support the values we were trying to instill in Sarah...but of course, there was not an environment of prayer involved.  They said the Pledge of Allegiance every day (in which they included "under God") and they had another sort of pledge they said that was kind of like a secular Morning prayer.  The recitation of this other pledge included things like "respect myself and others" and to "do my best"...kind of stuff.  It was carefully worded without any reference to a faith or God and I didn't object to it.  Sure, I wished she were able to pray an "Our Father" or "Hail Mary" in the morning or something, but I also knew that wasn't going to happen at public school and accepted it.
We lived in a terrific school district known for excellence in academics, so I didn't have a problem there.  And the school bus was convenient.  Craig didn't have to worry about loading up the kids to go pick up Sarah at school...he only needed to walk to the end of our street to wait for her to get off the bus.  And she was attending the same school as all the neighborhood kids, so that was a plus, too.

One thing that I didn't like was how little interaction and involvement between parents there was at the public school.  I never knew most of the kids' parents' names.  When Sarah had trouble with one (older/bigger) child on the bus, I had no idea how to find out who the child was and how to contact the parents should the problem get any worse.  Thankfully, that issue happened close to the end of the school year, but I remember being a little distraught that I didn't know how I could handle it.  

And due to the fact that I didn't really know the parents of the children, I didn't know what kind of values other kids were being raised with and what sort of behavior was seen as acceptable.  

Additionally, there was a smal amount of pressure for Sarah to attend non-Catholic, yet faith-based activities...like AWANA or other denominations' Wednesday night church activities.  Of course these weren't sanctioned or promoted by the school.  However, other kids that Sarah became friends with were in families that did these activities.  Sarah was invited to these things.  I allowed her to go once, but it felt very strange to me.  I was concerned that Sarah wasn't old enough yet to be able to handle learning about Jesus in a non-Catholic environment.  I didn't want her hearing anything contrary to what we taught her about our Faith.  I worried about whether anti-Catholic themes would be presented to her or if she spoke up and participated in the activities, that she might show her Catholicism and what reaction she might get.

I was ready to be on the lookout for anti-Catholic concepts in the school work, but since she was just in Kindergarten, there really wasn't any of that yet.   

One of the biggest things that took me by surprise in the public school was how the boys and girls interacted with each other.  It was already considered normal for girls and boys to claim boyfriends and girlfriends.  A lot of the parents laughed it off or pegged it as "cute" and "harmless."  I think I may have done so outwardly myself (I wouldn't want to be that "weird" parent uncomfortable with kids expressing themselves or their feelings, right?).  But I worried about this with Sarah.  There was a social "pizza night" at a local place that did fundraisers for local schools and when one little boy walked in one night, Sarah turned into a different girl.  She looked out the window, when this boy said, "Hi Sarah" she got red in the face, clammed up and didn't say "hi" back.  Craig made the point that perhaps she was embarrassed or shy.  I came to find out that this boy "liked" Sarah and she "liked" him, too.  The teacher and everyone aware of it thought it was "cute."  However, I remember being very surprised by this and a bit worried by it.  It's not that I thought crushes weren't something kids have at that age, but I think it was the tolerance...or even encouragement by adults...I found it very uncomfortable.

I was still having some nagging feelings that this wasn't the right place for our children.  Just a couple years before, I had been thinking it would be best to educate my children at home so that I could be sure and bring my children up in the Catholic faith in the best way possible.  And now, I had my daughter in an environment five days a week where she couldn't learn ANYTHING about her faith.  

I started tallying up the time she was exposed to family and Catechesis vs. the time she spent in a secular, public school environment and I started to get very uncomfortable about where we were headed.  I knew I needed to get Sarah into some form of religious education.  We'd stepped up some things at home:  at the time we were doing a family rosary most evenings, we had always prayed before meals and at bedtime, and I was diligent in attending regularly scheduled Rosary prayer groups/Catholic fellowship outings with the children.  Of course, we still attended Mass every week.

I think I might have been up for doing catechesis at home, but I was worried that I wouldn't have the time to devote to it in order to do it solidly.  The last thing I wanted was to catechize my children at home and fail at it.   

So I began considering that the public school route might not be the way we wanted to go...

Read Part Three...

August 15, 2011

The Decision on Schooling of Children

This is the first of what will be a three-part series on our choices regarding schooling our children.  (Part Two and Part Three)

I've written before about the fact that when Craig and I embarked on this journey of parenthood, I didn't really think all that much about things like labor, delivery, breastfeeding, etc...we've always settled into what seems to have worked for our family

When it came to sending our children to school, I had some pretty strong opinions on some things and not on others.  Those opinions are still strong today, however they have changed a bit.

Background:  I attended a Head Start preschool program.  Then I attended public school in kindergarten and half of first grade.  I attended Catholic school from first grade through eighth grade.  I attended public high school.  My husband attended Catholic school first grade through high school.

I don't remember Craig's opinion on school before we began.  I know that we've acted together and have been equally committed to each of the decisions we've executed with regards to our children's education.  But I can't remember if he had much opinion one way or the other before we had any kids in school.

My first thought about educating my children was that I didn't care whether we sent them to Catholic school.  My experience in Catholic school wasn't something I looked upon all that fondly.  To be fair, my life turned upside down with the separation and divorce of my parents in second/third grade and growing up without a father present in my day-to-day life was bound to take its toll on my happiness meter.  I can't blame Catholic school entirely for the fact that my childhood is not something about which I reminisce.  However, being in Catholic school didn't particularly help me out in that department either.

Kids are kids.  And they are that regardless of whether they attend Catholic school or not.  Kids can be cruel.  And they can be cruel even as they have been raised in a family that would be mortified to learn of their cruelty.  

My attitude at first about educating my children was pretty much this:  At least at a public school, I wouldn't have to heal hurts inflicted by other children who were supposedly being raised with the same value and faith system with which my children were being raised.  

For some reason, it seemed to hurt me more (so I thought) to deal with other Catholic kids in a Catholic school ridiculing me than it would have to deal with supposedly non-Catholic kids in a public school environment doing the same.  I'm not saying I was right to make such an assumption and I'm not saying it makes perfect sense either.  All I knew was that I went to Catholic school where I was on the receiving end of some perceived injustices and life would have been better (in my broken opinion) if I wouldn't have been at a Catholic school receiving such treatment.

Of course, when Sarah was first born (and then Dani), school wasn't the first thing on our minds.  But it became something we began considering as we learned NFP and, for the first time, came into contact with families that educated their children at home.

I was fascinated by the idea of homeschooling.  It was so foreign to me.  Sure, I knew of one or two families growing up that took their children out of our Catholic school to homeschool, but I never got to see those kids again.  I was, after all, in Catholic school and when you're a kid, you see other kids (not in your family) at school and that's pretty much it.  I have a picture of me with a very good friend named Kristine at my First Holy Communion.  I think the next school year, her family (they had 9 children I think) began homeschooling and I never saw her again.  

Anyway, the couple that taught Craig and me NFP homeschooled.  I also worked with a man who, with his wife, had 8 children and I knew they homeschooled.  Just so happens the man I worked with and the man in the teaching couple were very good friends.  So, through the process of learning NFP, we became friends with both of these families.  Our lives have been blessed beyond measure to know these holy people.  I wanted our family to be just like their families.  I wanted my children to be just like their children.  I thought the way to do that was to homeschool.

I had an experience while at Adoration one fall evening in which I thought I heard the call clearly that Craig and I needed to get to a position where we would homeschool.  Craig was working part-time at the casino, waiting for a chance to go full-time.  I was in a job I enjoyed but that had stagnated with regards to opportunities to advance.  I wanted very much to find a way that we could homeschool.

I thought homeschooling was the way to get my family to be a truly holy family.  I thought it would help my family be like the two families I mentioned.  We could have a complete and authentic Catholic curriculum.  I wouldn't have to worry about anyone telling my child one thing and doing something completely different in the context of their personal life.  Craig and I were learning so much about our faith at this time and I was bound and determined to ensure my children grew up knowing what I was now learning.  

If I homeschooled my children, they would never wander away from the Church because I thought I would be able to protect them from influences that would lead them away.

Looking back, I see an awful lot of pride and a lack of humility in my intentions.

I feel compelled to state that many of the homeschooling families I know are very humble and not prideful.  My statement there is truly about me and where my heart was at the time.  Back then I wouldn't have thought myself prideful...but I know I was.

Three main issues came up that kept us from homeschooling.  

First, my level of education (MBA) was an obstacle to what I wanted for the first time in my life.  My salary, let alone my earning potential, was larger than my husband's.  I had a strong desire to be the main teacher for the children, however there was no way I could become a stay-at-home mom so that I could educate my children.  We busted our budget over and over again.  Yes, we removed lots of luxury type things -- cable, dance lessons, volleyball for me and golf for Craig -- but no matter what we did, there was no way we were gonna make it on Craig's income alone from being a dealer at the casino.  It just wasn't going to happen.  I have student loans (written in present tense because I am still paying on them).  We had some other debt (written in past tense because we no longer have any other debts).  It was all too much to just say "buh-bye" to my income.

Secondly, Sarah needed a traditional school environment.  I couldn't see it so much when she was three and four.  But as she neared school age, I couldn't deny that Sarah's brain is wired for a traditional school environment.  She loves routine.  She loves goals.  She loves to read.  She loves to excel.  She loves to be recognized.  Yes, she loves to be recognized by someone other than her mother and father.  She likes to perform.  She loves to make new friends.  She loves the extra-curricular activities that go with school.  At first it was Girl Scouts (we don't do scouts anymore, but Sarah enjoyed it).  Now it's Challenge Club and Volleyball and Choir.  Seeing Sarah now, I can see that she would feel suffocated and stifled in a homeschool environment.  And now I see that all my children (so far) thrive in a traditional school environment.  Dani enjoys the social outlet that the traditional school environment supplies.  Time will tell with Helen, but so far, school (she's been in preschool) has provided an environment that tames her wild heart a little bit.  Where I fail to teach her things as her mother (because Helen knows how to push my buttons and I haven't figured out how to deactivate my buttons), the teachers succeed.

Perhaps I see things this way because we've gone the traditional school route, but I have to say that I'm glad I didn't test those waters.

Finally, Craig and I needed the school environment.  What I should say is that Craig and I needed THE RIGHT school environment.  I've come to see that just any school environment wasn't going to cut it.  As I mentioned, even at the beginning, I wasn't sold on a Catholic education for my children.  The fact that I am now in the camp that I will sacrifice to continue to provide a Catholic education for my children through high school is testament to the fact that we've found THE RIGHT environment for us.  Ultimately, God led us where we needed to be to have the school environment that brings us the most peace.

With the pass on homeschooling, we didn't immediately go the Catholic school route.  

Stay tuned...

Read Part Two...

August 12, 2011

7 Quick Takes (8)

Sometimes it's just easier to slap up 7 Quick Takes, you know?  Thanks to Jen at Conversion Diary for hosting!

We are a week into potty training Dominic!  Woo-Hoo!  Seriously, I was resigned a couple of weeks ago that he may get to be the age of 3 before we got around to really doing this, but I'm pleasantly surprised that I think we're on our way now.

You know, I had two babies in diapers when Dani was a baby.  But Dani potty-trained four months before Helen was born and Helen potty-trained 2 months before Dominic was even conceived.  So this business of buying two sizes of diapers and changing two boys' diapers regularly got old really darn fast.  :)

School starts on Tuesday.  I have three school-aged children this year.  Wow.  Let me say that again, I have three kids in real life full-time school this year.  I know it means we are busy, but it also means my family is growing up.  It's happening so fast, but not so fast.  (I know you people who have kids whose ages span 0-10 years will know what I mean.)

So, back to potty-training.  When we were making a big deal and partying for Dominic Sunday night when he had success going in the potty, I called my Dad to have him make a big deal (we were calling everyone).  And Dad says, "Oh we're just trying to make them grow up as fast as we can, aren't we?"  See...I don't want to rush the growing up process, however, I DO want to stop changing a 2.5-year-old's diapers.  And personally, I don't want to completely rush the baby process...but at the same time, the goal IS to get the kids out of my house someday, right?  And the first step seems to be independent potty-ing.

I won a giveaway!  Maggie, at From the Heart, reviewed the book, The Invisible World, and had a giveaway of a copy and I won!  How awesome is that?!?  That is TWO (count 'em, TWO!) giveaways I won in 2011 (so far).  I never win stuff like this, so I'm more than excited.

Speaking of Giveaways...

My parish/school does a fundraiser each year called the Guardians Gameday Giveaway.  The fundraiser happens throughout the NFL football season.  A person could buy a raffle ticket for $25.  You hold on to your ticket for the 17 week NFL football season.  Your ticket has three-team combinations each week and you want to watch and see how many points each of your three teams scores each week.  After all the football games are played, there are payouts as follows:
  • Highest Three Team Total     $500
  • Second Highest Total            $250
  • Third Highest Total               $100
  • Fourth Highest Total             $75
  • Lowest Three Team Total     $50
  • Second Lowest Total            $25
  • Third Lowest Total               $10
That's a total of $1010 cash prizes paid out each week.  Are you interested?  Please email me or leave a comment and I can respond (if your e-mail is turned on in your profile) and I can get you a ticket.  The best thing about this is you can play it no matter where you live (I'm assuming most people reading this who would be interested are living in the United States or Canada).

I won last year!  One week I had the Fourth Highest Total so I got $75.  Better yet...LOTS of my tickets won prizes last year (you know, because I'm lucky like that).  So, let me know if you want to buy a ticket from me.

One more thing about it...You can buy one ticket for $25 or 5 tickets for $100.

Okay, I'm done.

I never posted any pics from my Aunt Bea's 100th birthday celebration.  Well, here is a picture of Aunt Bea holding Vincent.  The oldest member of our family holding the youngest.  I love it.  Of course, Vincent has a cousin who is due in October...but for now, he's the youngest.

I have to take our van in for some work today.  Boo.  Our automatic sliding door hasn't worked for awhile, so we're going to see how much it will cost (and will probably) have it fixed.  I hope it's not too terribly expensive.

I hope you all have a great weekend!  Be sure to visit Jen for more Quick Takes!