Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review: Working Mother

It's so offensive to me that a short story entitled Working Mother would be listed as historical fiction. Have Christian authors so little experienced the reality of moms working outside their homes that all they can write is fiction?

With the birth of my first child, I took 6 weeks off from a job that didn't offer maternity leave and then returned to work full-time. I couldn't understand why I was so tired. Plenty of women have babies and continue holding down a job outside the home.

Then I became the full-time working mom of a one-year-old and a baby, and I can't tell you much about those months, because all I remember is a haze of people and places and babies.

When I read the introduction and reviews for Working Mother, I just rolled my eyes at all the Christians saying nice things about what was no doubt a cheesy conjecture of a storyline, probably written like middle school fan fiction. The Virgin Mary working outside the home while the Holy Family lives in exile in Egypt? Oh please.

But this story is stunning. Shut my face up stunning. 

For me, there was something worse than leaving for a daily commute that left kids at the breakfast table, my mind wandering at work about missed first words and first steps, and those awful brief nights punctuated by sleepless children and occasional rest. 


Surrounded constantly by co-workers, babysitters, and kids, working an opposite schedule from my husband, I felt so much alone.

Working Mother is a simple storyline, insightful without being preach-ey or virtuouso. It doesn't reduce "God's Will" to whatever circumstances we hate but can't seem to change in a helpless, Pollyanna imitation of holiness. (There's not a single omniscient third person admonition to "Let go and let God," "Persevere in Prayer," or "Offer it up!")

In an attempt to pull myself out of the depressed isolation of full-time working motherhood, I stopped by our parish to see what small groups were available. There was a subset for "working moms" on the application, and I couldn't wait to meet other moms who would understand this life I was living.

A few weeks later, the church sent me a letter: two apologetic paragraphs informing me that the group I selected didn't actually exist, but they'd be in touch when it did. All my insecurities and frustrations were confirmed.

Erin McCole Cupp's story is so affirming to working moms, and really, to any mom who struggles with the idea that helicopter parenting is the ideal, that anything less than us-at-our-best-24-7 is eternally detrimental to our children.

Mary finds herself in a situation to best care for her family by working outside their home. I easily dismissed the plausibility of this entire premise, assuming Mary's motherhood would somehow be diminished, were she not directly involved in every moment of Jesus' life. But I was underestimating both a woman's role in her family, and the spectrum of ways God works through individuals and families. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Birth Story (for people who like this kind of stuff)

"We brought chocolate!" Wally announced, holding up a large basket of candy bars and Laffy Taffy.

It's not the normal way to announce your arrival at Labor & Delivery, but after several weeks of living at the hospital on mandatory bed rest, I wanted to thank all the nurses for waiting it out with me.

Just before reaching 34 weeks, I was released to continue bed rest at home, after assuring Heather, my nurse practitioner midwife, that I'd return at the first sign of labor. (Pre-term labor had been stopped at 32 weeks with magnesium sulfate, this awesome, terrible IV drug that made me go kind of crazy. From that point, I was already dilated 4 cm, so we anticipated a fast labor when the time came.)

Four days after being released from hospital bed rest, on an early Tuesday afternoon, I felt a strong, definitive contraction. With Heather's advice fresh on our minds, Wally insisted we leave for the hospital. I insisted we unload the dishwasher and fold the last load of laundry.

Months earlier, we'd found out that our baby boys were sharing a placenta, and after the pregnancy was recategorized to "high-risk," we hopefully counted up each day in utero, relieved to make 23 weeks, then 28, 32, and now 34 weeks and 1 day.

I didn't feel any additional contractions, but I did have this weird physiological feeling, the same sensation I'd felt about 12 hours before each of our other kids were born. So with nothing but one good contraction an hour earlier and a vague physical intuition -- which I interpreted as a 12-hour RSVP from the babies -- we dropped our preschoolers off at my parents' house and joined late afternoon Dallas rush hour on our way to the hospital.

After our strangely celebratory check-in ("Hello!" "Good to see you again!" "So you think you're in labor?" "Eh, I don't know, but maybe, so we're here..." "We brought chocolate!"), I spent the night in an observation room on the Labor & Delivery floor.

When Heather came in early the next morning, she said one of the babies had a couple of decelerations of his heart rate overnight, which could indicate a failing umbilical cord. It was David, the same baby who had stopped growing in utero the week before, the first indication of a problem with the placenta or umbilical cord. We agreed it would be best to get the babies out that day.

I was already contracting regularly, if not progressively, so we scheduled induction for that afternoon. Since twins are delivered in the Operating Room, I joined the queue behind an emergency C-section and two scheduled C-sections that morning.

Contractions picked up through the morning, and around 11 am, once I reached a pain level of four, I requested an epidural. I could have held out and grunted through the pain for awhile longer, but the epidural was mandatory anyway (since twin deliveries more often turn into emergency C-sections), so why not keep the whole experience cool and calm?

I'd heard that it hurts to get an epidural. No, it was wonderful. So, so wonderful.

An epidural meant we could watch "How I Met Your Mother" and Wally could eat lunch.
Since the babies needed to come that day, a small dose of Pitocin was added to my IV at 1 pm. By 3 pm, I was dilated to 8 centimeters and on the way to the OR for delivery. Everyone was calm, but getting wheeled into a room with weird lighting and 14 people in scrubs (two NICU teams and a delivery team) felt overwhelming, and I almost lost it.

Heather asked if I felt like pushing, but gloriously, I couldn't feel a thing. God bless that epidural.

"Well, go ahead and push anyway during this next contraction," she encouraged. I let her know that I had no idea when contractions were happening. (God bless that epidural.)

"Ok, I'll let you know," she said, watching the monitor. "Push now."

One push, and David entered the world! Four pounds, crying out with strong lungs, and peeing everywhere. I couldn't have been happier.

Wally was allowed out of his corner in the OR to cut the cord, and then Heather passed David over to one of the NICU teams. She pulled over the ultrasound machine to make sure Jonathan was still head-down, ready to come out next.

At this point, some doctors force the second baby out quickly. Or sometimes, the back-flow of blood into the placenta, from the first baby's cut umbilical cord, causes an overflow of blood into the second twin's system, and an emergency C-section is needed.

Thankfully, Heather just watched the monitors to make sure Jonathan's heart rate was normal, and said we'd wait as long as needed.

While we waited, Heather told the delivery team the story of our last birth experience. And we all laughed and were grateful this time around was going so smoothly. (Laughing during delivery? God bless that epidural!!)

Heather interrupted her own story: "Did anyone check the clock? Do we know what time David was born?"

Everyone looked around, surely someone had checked the clock. Where was the clock anyway?

"Okay, well, it's 3:23 now, so let's just say 3:18 pm. Birth time for David -- 3:18!"*

As we continued to wait, Heather told the story of how we found out it was twins on April Fool's Day. I had thought the ultrasound tech was joking. I told them it was an awful prank to pull on new moms. "Um, Charlene, we're not pranking you. That's twins." 

Since this was Baby #3, Wally didn't skip work to come to appointments anymore. So he missed the ultrasound showing we were getting Baby #4 with Baby #3. So then I had to convince him by text message, on April Fool's Day, with no history of twins on either side of our families, that we were having twins.

At 3:32, Jonathan had dropped into place for delivery. Two painless pushes later (okay, I was a little out of breath, but anyone who's given birth naturally can just laugh at that), and Jonathan was born! Four pounds, eleven ounces, also crying and peeing. He had a little more difficulty breathing consistently, so they put something on his nose to help regulate it.

The doctor on standby for C-section rolled his eyes at having wasted 20 minutes of his life on standby in the OR. The anesthesiologist, on hand to knock me out, gave me a hearty congratulations and said he was glad not to be needed. The nurses all smiled and relaxed and said it was the easiest, smoothest twin delivery they'd ever seen. 

And we were so, so happy to have our babies safely into the world. They spent two weeks in NICU and then came home. 

*David's godmother was praying for us during the delivery. She said she prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy at 3 pm -- when it's traditionally prayed -- and I don't think it's any coincidence that David entered the world just as the chaplet concluded!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Because Everyone (Apparently) Wants To Know

As the admitting nurse in the Labor & Delivery wing of the hospital filled out my paperwork, she casually asked, "Do you want your tubes tied?"

It took me a moment to realize this is a real question, on the admitting paperwork for moms in labor, about to give birth. "Have you had prenatal care?" "Will you want an epidural?" "Do you want your tubes tied?"

WELL, GEEZ! What woman in labor, in her right mind, after 9 months of carrying around baby(ies) and extra hormones, and an inevitable future of no sleep and more budgeting DOESN'T want her tubes tied?! What a terrible time to ask someone to make a life-changing, long-term, irreversible, expensive decision!!! 

It's like asking a marathon runner at mile 25 if they're ever going to run again. It's like asking the winner of Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest if they'd like another hot dog.

Congratulations! Do you ever plan on eating a hot dog again? You know where hot dogs come from, right?
I guess if I'm audacious enough to have two kids at once, I shouldn't take offense to strangers wanting to know about our future family plans. 

And they all ask. Every nurse through 3 weeks of bed rest. The anesthesiologist giving the epidural. All our usual best friends around town -- grocery store checker, post office clerk, other parents at the park, the pediatrician, the pediatrician's wife (whom I don't know, but happened to be at the office during the babies' first wellness visit), and the random neighbor I've talked to twice (the second time about whether or not we're "done.")

After giving birth to the twins, my mid-wife reminded me every single day for four days straight that there should be no sex for four weeks. I heard her on the first day, but I guess I laughed too many times about Irish twins and how funny it would be if we had two sets of twins nine months apart. So I got the "no sex" talk for three more days in a row.

So here's the deal. Since everyone (apparently) wants to know, I will share our future family plans right here, on my blog, for the world to see! 

Today, this 16th day of October 2014, having no assurance of anything for the future (as no one really does), we will uncompromisingly commit to the following as the definitive and right number of children for our family (also with the clear intention that no more of them come as sets):

I don't know. We'll see.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Very Unexciting Update

The whiteboard in my room told me it was "Monday, 9/1" all week, until Thursday, when it was updated to "Monday, 9/4." It currently reads "Friday, 9/5." I think today is Saturday (9/6?). I guess it doesn't matter. 

I think the nurses have a secret chart at their station that makes fun of how many times I think I'm in labor. I buzz the call button at least twice a day to alert them: "I'm having real contractions." You would think after birthing two kids naturally, I could identify labor. Nope, no idea. If we have future kids, at least one will be born in the van on the way to the hospital. Hopefully we can make it to the van, because if I give birth in the driveway, we'll have to move.

I don't know what medications I'm on. Morning and night, I'm handed a medicine cup of brightly-colored pills, and I take them.  

The bed rest crazies started getting to me when I almost lost it over a brownish banana I got on my breakfast tray. Until I realized that every day, someone delivers a hot breakfast to my bedside, after I've been drinking Ensures and half cups of coffee for months, so I should shut up and be grateful. So that's what I did.

Wally took care of checking me in, while I got changed and evaluated upon admission. One of the nurses got annoyed and frustrated when Wally wouldn't list my social security number (because they don't need it, and their systems aren't secure, and stuff happens.) Anyway, all the nurses are super nice to me, except this one. She seems exasperated by stuff like taking blood pressure and temperatures. My Southern instinct is to be super sweet and compliant to win her over, but I'm pretty sure she just hates me. Thanks, Wally, for protecting my identity. 

Picture Source

My "big" kids: I love it when our preschoolers call me at the hospital. But I love it even more that they can't ever stay to talk, because there are more exciting things going on in their lives, like sandboxes, hiking, and Texas high school football games. I think, if Joe and Josh weren't getting such good care from Wally, Mommom & Poppop, I would have to get myself back home to give them Mama love, and just let these baby twins be born in the driveway. 

Last night, after my latest girl-who-cried-wolf-contraction-drama, the nurses gave me Ambien. I hear it's addictive and has crazy side effects, but wow, that was the best sleep of my life. 

And I guess, most importantly, babies: still inside and doing great. 32 weeks on Monday!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

On Hospital Bed Rest

Following 24-hours that Wally and I would be okay not re-living, I'm now on full-time hospital bed rest, indefinitely suspended halfway through labor. The gestating of babies and cocktail of drugs hasn't left much mental capacity, so I'll just describe my current home:

The Bedside Cache

Meds: I brought my own CVS-brand saline spray, but the hospital pharmacy replaced several of the drugs I brought with their own versions. (I guess they missed the self-pay disclaimer on my admissions form!*) Anyway, now I have fancy sea salt nasal spray. I wish I could tell you it's made all the difference. But I can only conclude salt water is salt water.

Phone: Our boys are spending a good amount of time at Mommom and Poppop's house now, a marvelous place of more toys, fewer rules, and the great outdoors, pretty much utopia for preschool boys. Mommom taught Joseph, our 4-year-old, how to auto-dial me at the hospital, so I've enjoyed several stream of conscience phone calls, interrupted by the 3-year-old's one-sentence updates ("I found a rock today!") as the phone gets passed back and forth. 

Laptop: I have found the end of the internet. 

The Stage Lights

Yes, stage lights. Because if you haven't lost all sense of privacy through the birthing process to this point, let's gather an audience of nurses, residents, doula and doctor to the foot of the bed and flip on those spotlights. I felt like I should break into song and dance. 

The Video Camera

I'm pretty sure that's a video camera -- the little black circle between the stage lights. So no matter how closed the partition is, no matter how few people are in the room, I can't get over the thought that a crowd is gathered at the nursing station monitors watching me live out life in a hospital bed.

The Leg Cuffs

Since I can't get regular exercise or blood circulation, the hospital has air-filled cloth balloons that alternate inflation on my calves. It's supposed to prevent blood clots. They don't work well with bed pan use.

The Baby & Contraction Monitors

There is nothing sweeter than the background noise of babies' heartbeats overlaid by kicks and hiccups.  But the little ultrasound discs that are gelled and tied all over my belly can only work as long as the babies aren't moving, which is just not Jonathan and David's style. So the nurses are constantly having to come in and get them back on the monitor. Thankfully, I don't worry about heartbeats when I've got babies rolling around like crazy. 

The New Hobbies

Everyone's biggest concern seems to be boredom. Even the nurse tried to help me come up with a new hobby while I'm here. Honestly, doing nothing is great. The last couple years haven't budgeted enough time for staring out the window. And reality, bottom line: all the reading and crocheting in the world can't replace the only thing I want to be doing, which is living life at home with Wally and our boys. All the other options seem pretty lame.

Things I'm Missing At Home

The Challenge

As mentioned earlier, I don't have the mental capacity to do much more than describe my surroundings, but there is a very serious need in hospitals everywhere that maybe you could help with. I'd like to extend a challenge and a plea to everyone who reads this: design a better bed pan. 

At this point, a coffee cup from Goodwill could be considered an improvement. 

*Don't panic about our self-pay status. We're part of a healthcare co-op that's pretty awesome. They've got us covered.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

#8: An Ebenezer Scrooge Anniversary on Bed Rest

When we found out our surprise twin babies were "high-risk," we were only 21 weeks into pregnancy. I remember thinking, if we can just make it to the Feast of the Assumption on August 15th, everything will be okay.

Eight years ago, on this feast day, Wally and I went on our first date: August 15, 2006. And every year since, we've found a way to celebrate again. 

This year I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge, spirited around to anniversaries past, present, and future, as I lay on the couch, under doctor's threat of pre-term delivery or miscarriage if I do anything more than roll over. And I was quite the Scrooge. Grumpy from lack of sleep and lack of movement, an influx of artificial and natural hormones trying to regulate this pregnancy, and the frustrations of being a do-er relegated to observer status in my own home. 

I watched Wally get up early to eat breakfast, put away the dishes from the night before, make oatmeal for our preschool boys, get them up and dressed, humor them into eating, all the while re-filling water cups, coaching "please" and "thank you," wiping noses, packing lunch, cleaning the breakfast dishes, chatting up next week's first day of school, banking the 4-year-old's pennies for evening Mass, an impromptu treasure hunt for the 3-year-old's rock collection, crisis toddler shoe intervention, and a swirl of chaos as they all swept out the door to play at Mommom's house while Daddy went to work. 

With my body measuring at 39 weeks gestation for a singleton birth (while at 28 weeks gestation with the twins), I really thought bed rest sounded nice. Walks with my kids were already a tortoise affair, house chores were borderline ridiculous/creative, and evenings were pretty much crashed out on the couch anyway. But I didn't realize how important those moments were, until I couldn't jump in to fix a snack or clean up a potty-training accident or run to the store for milk and bananas. Bed rest feels pretty useless, aside from the whole gestating babies thing. 

It's hard watching Wally do everything around here, especially since he does it with such a natural, unassuming attitude. I mean, sure I've taken over care of the kids for a couple days, when he's been sick or in a busy season at work, but I make sure it's proclaimed with a healthy dose of martyrdom and performance theatrics. Wally just does it, and still manages to raise an eyebrow and keep his sense of humor when our four-year-old panics about an empty water cup, finally gets the "please" out to secure a refill, and then wanders off mid-tantrum without a second thought. 

In his late afternoon transition from work to picking up our boys to taking them to evening Mass, Wally surprised me with anniversary roses and Sonic drinks. His few minutes of downtime were spent bringing in the mail, adding automatic cleaner to the toilets, and preparing little vases with roses, so the boys could bring flowers to Mary on her feast day. A quick kiss and he was out the door again, into the craziest part of the day.

Meanwhile I rolled over, used my evening bathroom pass, unstitched all my crocheting from the day before, watched "Shark Week," wondered for the hundredth time if it was labor or just a cramped muscle, re-read the internet, tried to explain to the dog why I couldn't feed her, and hoped Wally was surviving evening Mass with both boys. 

Then there was a rush of hyper, happy excitement as everyone crashed through the front door -- a day's worth of stories in five cacophonous minutes: flowers, lotion, pennies, singing, a playground at the mall, more lotion, fishing, trains, a search for the ever-missing rock collection, and then Wally had the dog fed, and dinner ready on the table, and both boys calmly eating. 

The eighth anniversary of our first date wound down with the boys' impromptu reenactment of Mass in our living room, followed by their ever-lengthening bedtime routine. I re-located bed rest to the floor of their bedroom, grateful for these calm moments together (some evenings not so calm), as we read our Bibles and prayed our prayers and sang our lullabies.

When I came back to the living room, Wally asked what I'd like for dinner, and I said nachos sounded good. Without hesitation, he pulled a hot plate of nachos from the microwave, passed me the dinner he'd just prepared for himself, and pulled leftover pot roast from the fridge to replace it. I tried to protest, but he just passed me another Ensure (flash forward 50 years), and asked what movie we should watch.

Our 3-year-old's ever-missing rock collection (currently in the toy oven)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Signing Out of the Rat Race

Last weekend, for the first time in years -- even including vacations -- I turned off my work email. It was an unceremonious transition, my work laptop passed to the replacement executive assistant, a few final good wishes, followed by the usual commute home. 

For five years, I've been in this rat race of commuting, running late, overachieving, impulsively checking in with work around the clock, shooting midnight and 5 am emails to all the other Dallas EA's, and like a hopeless crack addict, I spent the past weekend logging into my work email, checking on situations that no longer affected me, deleting the account, and then re-installing it again just to be sure. I finally realized that without the laptop, I couldn't accomplish much anyway. 

Leaving my job was a somewhat reluctant and unplanned decision (kind of like getting pregnant with twins). Never one to let go lightly, it took a series of reality checks over several months to realize "Super Mom" is a delusion, and I can't actually do it all. 

Leaving is full of uncertainty. We've re-run the new budget so many times this week, an exercise that usually ends with shrugging our shoulders and saying, "God's got this." (Or, as so many of our conversations end, with shrieking preschoolers calling us to the other room.)

What's surprised me is the joy.

In the last few days, I haven't held up my hand, asking my kids to be quiet while I finish a call. I haven't indefinitely prolonged reading "Thomas the Tank" or a hike to the park while sending a work email.

The opportunity to work part-time from home over the past year has been really great, but in only three days, I can see how work-life boundaries didn't exist (which is why it was such a good set-up for my company). I didn't have the freedom or the discipline to set limits or hours, thinking my physical presence at home with my mental presence at work was enough to satisfy everyone. 

As young kids do, they adapt, make the best, overlook any faults in their parents, and they love. 

But the past few days, sans email and laptop, have overflowed with small moments and seemingly insignificant joys.

"Mama, since we are so happy, I'm going to give you something," my four-year-old said spontaneously, and then reached little arms around my neck to gift me a hug. 

Six months pregnant with twins (both of whom are on the normal-to-high weight range for singleton births -- so much for small babies), I'm slower and more limited than I've ever been. But I'm here, mentally and physically present with my family and beginning to think the work stress has all been for nothing. 

I'm frustrated with myself for chasing the financial "American Dream." I feel like a pawn in someone else's game -- striving for accolades in a system that reinforces wealth and materialism, so I can mentally crash at the end of each day and then wake up too early to do it all again. 

Transitioning to one income might bring us financial crisis. We certainly weren't expecting this turn of events. And the fact that it coincides with the high-risk pregnancy of our unplanned twins is legitimately concerning. 

At the same time, I'm surprised by a calmer peace of mind, a happier home, and re-discovering so many moments with my husband and kids. 

I'm hopeful. 

A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why Doesn't God Just Give Me What I Want?

I've been trying to worship a God who's 70% American folklore and 30% Jewish heritage, the kind of generous deity that drops barbeque pits and picket fences into the lives of good followers, exacts vengeance on anyone I find offensive, and pours Middle Class bounty on anyone who can make it to church 3 out of 4 Sundays a month.

Picture Source
Yet, the Bible shows a God who has no interest in blessing the status quo, or even bestowing blessings in the form of financial stability and social status. He seems far more preoccupied with random individuals --  someone who's lost everything, someone who's physically handicapped, someone who's insecure, someone with no reputable or formal education, someone who's loved and lost, someone who's socially marginalized.

So why in the world am I even interested in this God? All I want is self-sufficiency, a predictable income, good healthcare, nice kids, some social status, maybe publication in a respected periodical, good sleep, a dependable car that also looks nice, a little fun money on the side, some cool travel experiences, retirement security, a safe place to live, a reasonable commute to work, a grocery budget that includes ice cream, a dog, a cat, someone who can come by a few times a week to clean up after us and scoop the cat litter, home internet, and coffee every morning.

I'm not sure how I jumped to the conclusion that God might not be God, because all of my Middle-Class American dreams might change with the arrival of two new babies in just a few months. 

What if there's more to life than what I can accomplish and how much I can collect and how comfortable my life can be? I don't like that idea, because I want to be accomplished, rich, and comfortable. 

Picture Source

And while I'm searching out signs of God's existence in happy outcomes and an easier life, He's trying to condition a soul. He's trying to pour more love and more light into this world, to re-connect this wanderer with her beginning and her end, all while I'm preoccupied with securing finances for another year of cable TV.

I don't know what God's doing, in the world, or even in my own small life. I don't know why He gave us twins, which completely throws off our family planning, career ambitions, and financial goals. 

But I'm a little excited. Because it means God is bigger than my 21st Century American Dream, and Wally and I are a part of an unpredictable and wild, and somewhat scary, life. 

Picture Source

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Why Have Another Kid

Now that I'll be hugely pregnant with twins (surprise!) with a preschooler at each hand, I need to practice what to tell all the people (mostly strangers) who ask about our family planning style:

1. The 2-year-old and 4-year-old are no longer a challenge.

2. We finally caught up on sleep.

3. Our gene pool is awesome.

4. There's nothing on TV.

5. Two kids per room is not enough.

6. The 4-year-old keeps trying to play "baby" with the cat. (Yes, he has a baby doll.)

7. We're training for a survival reality TV show.

8. We want to play zone defense. We're tired of man-on-man. 

9. We haven't gotten our money's worth out of the cloth diapers yet.

10. There just aren't enough Baders in Texas.

11. We're filthy rich. (The 10-year-old Buick and South Carrollton residence are red herrings.)

12. The dog and cat aren't getting enough attention.

13. We need some demolition work done around the house. 

14. We don't trust social security to still be around when we're 65 70 95 100. But hey, we'll do our part.
15. We want it to mean something when our kids say, "Hey, you pick on one Bader, you pick on all of us!"

16. We're tired of NFP charting and are ready for a 9-month break.

17. Our attic is full of baby stuff, and we want to move it all back into the house. 

18. We've heard all the readings at Mass and don't need to hear them again for 5 years.

19. We're still 7 short of a baseball team.

20. The kitchen table seats 4 (when expanded), but we think we can fit a few more.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Um... mea culpa.

When I was in elementary school, my Baptist church had a Sunday morning bus ministry. Retired school buses would drive through apartment parking lots, kids would stream out, fill the buses, and head to Sunday School. All the coolest volunteers were on their team, and the "apartment kids" were pretty much the coolest kids at church. It was a great program, even though trying to pull off a bus ministry today would probably just launch all kinds of lawsuits. (Things like permission slips, waivers of liability, and emergency contact information weren't a big deal in the eighties).

And then there was my family, ho-hum corralling into our 12-passenger van in our Sunday best, scrambling for prime seating after service. I'd watch the bus ministry kids playing outside before lunch, and their church experience always looked better than mine. They had special events, and to my 8-year-old eyes, it looked like monthly carnivals and weekly donuts, even though I'm sure it was something like Hi-C in Dixie cups with peanut butter sandwiches.

I've grown up, crossed the Tiber, and now have my own family that we wrangle into a van for church each week. But it seems like I'm still looking across the aisle, wondering why someone else is getting a better church experience than me.

"We need reserved accessible seating for families with little kids," I grumble, as we arrive 20 minutes early for a seat.

"The church should provide childcare so we can actually attend this stuff," I think, as the lector invites everyone to a new speaker series during the week.

"Why isn't there a playground for our kids to play after Mass?" I complain, as we pull our re-energized kids through the crowd of people leaving and arriving for services. 

It's easy for me to look in the mirror and see the stereotypical Catholic mom with multiple toddlers, basking in the martyrdom of how hard it is to be a parent today, frustrated with the parish for not catering more to families with young kids. Everyone in the church should designate their tithe toward a real nursery, volunteer their time in staffing it, prioritize staff and resources toward early childhood development programs, see my demographic as the most important one in this parish, and go out of their way to serve ME! Um, my family. I mean, serve my family, of course. 

Wally and I laughed as we left church on Sunday: "The Church is dying, if it's not crying!" Josh had been especially fussy, and we were pretty sure other parishioners didn't appreciate little kids throwing themselves on the floor during Consecration. (But his brother knelt where HE wanted to kneel!)

Cruciform church tantrum
Aside from the obvious -- the Church won't die, it will stand forever and ever, even without crying babies at Mass -- the people in our parishes are dying, and it's not just the martyred mommy bloggers. People are weary and tired and disillusioned, coming to the Church in search of rest, in search of the One who exchanges the burdens of this world with rest.

I've been so busy applauding myself for being an awesome Catholic that I missed all the signs that I've actually been a pretty crappy member of the Church, petitioning for it to be a one-issue, one-demographic, 20-minute delivery service instead of a universal call to holiness, universal.

It didn't occur to me that the bus ministry kids might not eat lunch, if the church didn't serve it. Or maybe they'd prefer to come to and from church with their family bickering in a van instead of the organized chaos of a bus.

Or the woman in a wheelchair who always sits by herself in the front half-pew could probably use a handicap-accessible door to the chapel, more than I need a row of rocking chairs across the back of the sanctuary.

I've spent several years asking why the church isn't doing more to make my life easier. But Jesus didn't leave us a fast-food restaurant. He didn't ask the apostles to build Playlands for families to send kids while they broke bread in the other room. Jesus spoke his vision for a Church that would be for all people in all times: feed his lambs, care for his sheep, feed his sheep.

There are parishioners facing end-of-life issues, deportation fears, living in poverty, experiencing daily prejudice, struggling in broken families, looking for jobs, love, answered prayers, an open door.

So, mea culpa, to anyone who's sighed through my mom-blogging-martyrdom about kids at church, full of whiny complaints about the church not being all about me and my super-awesome kids. I'll try to put disclaimers on future grumbling, or at least complain about more than just pre-Vatican II coloring sheets, the lack of kid-size toilets in the bathroom, or the fact that my church experience doesn't make me feel like a celebrity at a 5-star resort.

I'm just beginning to realize these aren't really good spiritual goals, for me or my family.

Jesus didn't incarnate eternity into time 2,000 years ago to establish the first family-friendly shopping mall, and he probably doesn't care whether social events provide real creamer for coffee, Cheerios receptacles in pews, close parking, comfortable seating, or expansive free childcare.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Changing the World One Diaper at a Time: Parenthood and the New Evangelization

When my oldest kids were babies, our diocese hosted a young adult retreat that offered childcare. 

For perspective, imagine if Starbucks offered car washes in their drive-thru. Childcare during parish activities is an unexpected and welcome indulgence. (Perhaps it shouldn't be.) 

If my transition experience from young adult ministry to marriage and family life were a NASCAR race, I pulled into pit row for a tire change years ago and still haven't made it back on the track. 

It's frustrating to feel like I'm missing out.

There is a New Evangelization taking place, and I AM STUCK ON THE SIDELINES!

I deeply desire to join the transformation of parishes from within and a passionate next generation of Catholics.

I want to participate in the think tanks at the heart of program and event planning and to build up the small groups of life sharing within a parish. But I can't even make it to our parish's weekly moms' group more than, well, so far my record is three times a year.

[I can't even make it to our parish's weekly moms' group more than, well, so far my record is three times a year.]

So on a cold, rainy Friday evening, I dropped off my kids -- already in PJs -- at the parish nursery, printed "Charlene" neatly on a nametag, and headed down the hall to the conference. I anticipated a full spiritual immersion: Adoration in the chapel, journaling in the prayer garden, new revelations, new friends, chats with speakers... 

I made it 30 minutes before my cell phone buzzed: your child needs you.

I spent the rest of the weekend pacing the parish hallway, holding my clingy two-year-old who would sooner succumb to repeat asthma panic attacks than play with his brother, new toys, and nice volunteers in the nursery.

I kept overhearing inspirational proclamations from the conference room and wanted to be in there, learning and networking. 

Instead, I paced with Joshua in the church hallway, wondering about the big picture of God's work in the world: how can I be a part of all this, when my family seems to need me on-call and mostly in-person 24-7?

Ennie Hickman was one of the last speakers of the retreat. I sat cross-legged against the back wall as he spoke, with ears to Ennie and eyes on my little Joshua who had just discovered the A/V cables plugged into the floor. (Moments earlier, I was standing with Josh in my arms as he reached over my shoulder to a row of switches on the wall and flicked the conference room lights.)

Ennie declared: "Outreach to our world starts in our city. What is your city?"

He scaled down from evangelizing the world to evangelizing our country, our state, our city, our neighborhood, our homes, our marriages, ourselves -- and then he stopped. 

The entirety of the New Evangelization is not rooted in how loudly I can shout my truths out to the world, but in letting God in to change me, letting God past the prettiness I pull together for Mass each week to see the broken, sharp, disillusioned pieces within.

For the past many years, I've been a little distracted. If I'm home, there's a toddler clinched to my leg (or in my arms, if the leg pull was successful). And if I'm at work, files are sorting to their alphanumeric homes while I wonder what my kids are doing at home -- and in all of it, feeling a constant insecurity that I'm missing out on the greater things God is doing in the world. Did I take a wrong turn somewhere?

I thought joining the movement of New Evangelization in my Church would mean a commitment to being more places, talking with more people, a line up of more babysitters, and a whiteboard of more projects. 

But after a weekend of pacing halls with my little one, I realized that all of my distractions from the holier things in life -- hyper toddler, menial office job, and clingy babies -- are actually a personally prescribed path to holiness. Of course it looks different from what everyone else is doing. That's how God works

Rescuing worms from the sidewalk after it rains: #784 in things to do instead of drinking delicious coffee and talking with people about deep spiritual things

Fifteen years ago, on World Mission Sunday, the Church named the Patron Saint of Missionaries as a new Doctor of the Church. Surprising to many (including me), this wasn't a parish priest, an evangelist, the missionary who had traveled the farthest in the history of the Church, or even someone who had traveled at all. 

The Co-Patron of Missionaries is Saint Therese, a sickly obscure French girl who spent her few years cloistered in a convent, entrusted only with the most menial tasks of community (dishes, cleaning, and cooking -- sound familiar?).

My little insane asylum of life is actually compiled and gifted by a God who's more concerned with making me holy than me making the world holy. And just maybe, if I can get over all the comparing and complaining and questioning, one will actually lead to the other.