Friday, June 12, 2020

A Catechist Learns to Embrace Diversity

"You haven't heard of the pope?!" 

Only 30 minutes into teaching 4th grade religious education, my mind generated one assumption after another about my new students: How have these kids been Catholic for 10 years? They couldn't pray the "Our Father" at the start of class. Their "My Faith" worksheets are still mostly blank. They don't know who the pope is. Have their parents taught them nothing?

I inwardly groaned and patted myself on the back for volunteering to teach. 

20 confused, young faces stared up at me.

Across the room, our teaching assistant, Mrs. Fatima, interjected: "Papa Francisco, niños?" 

"PAPA FRANCISCO!!" they all cheered in unison, breaking into excited chatter. 

I suddenly realized I'd been pushing on a door that said "pull." Worse than that, my first instinct, when the door wouldn't open, was to assume everyone else in the room was dumb.

"Papa Francisco!" I exclaimed with them, scouring my brain for any recollection of college Spanish. "Lo siento! My Spanish is not good!" 

The most effective catechists teach as much through relationship as through coursework. But if I kept mistaking language barriers as ignorance, how could I even begin to form positive connections with my students? I asked the Holy Spirit to make me sensitive and humble in our classroom.

"Open your Bibles to the book of Acts, please. Cómo se dice Acts? I need your help! How do I say Acts en español?" All of a sudden I didn't look so smart, scrambling through a Bible in an unfamiliar language. Thankfully, the kids didn't judge me as I had misjudged them. 

"Hechos!" Several students yelled, proudly holding up their Bibles to the book of Acts. 

At the beginning of the year, as I introduced incentives for their achievements—memorized prayers, verses, sacraments, bringing their Bibles and Catechisms—several students asked, uncomfortably, if it was OK if they brought their Spanish Bibles.

I'm embarrassed to admit I paused before answering. Should the faith they learn at home in their mother tongue be only accessible in English at church? 

After too long a wait, I finally responded: "Yes, yes, of course, bring your Spanish Bibles! Cómo se dice Bible en español? Bring las Biblias!" 

The kids laughed appreciatively at my good-faith efforts in Spanglish. It freed them to search for English words without embarrassment. 

When I called on someone to read during class, I never knew if we'd hear the scriptures in English or Spanish. Each week immersed us in the truth of Pentecost: the Word of God is the same in every language. 

What a joyful class we created. But the year also brought constant lessons in humility. Open Wide Our Hearts, a pastoral letter from the USCCB, describes my interior struggle, realizing how often I jump to negative assumptions about other cultures: "When one culture meets another, lack of awareness and understanding often leads to… attitudes of superiority."1

One time, I asked my class about a part of the Mass. "You know when everyone says, 'Lord, hear our prayer' in the middle of Mass?" 

They squinted back at me, unsure and quiet. 

"What's Mass?" One of the bolder students asked on behalf of everyone.

My Lord, they don't know what Mass is? They're not familiar with the prayers of the faithful? Are their parents not taking them to Mass?! My judgments rolled on. 

"The place we go on Sundays with our families—we hear the Bible, we sing songs, we receive Communion?" Why are their parents keeping them from this fundamental cornerstone of our faith?

"Wait, wait, wait—you mean la Misa!" they responded, nearly in unison. 

"LA MISA! Yes, I mean la Misa!"

Why had my mind so quickly—so automatically, so easily—assumed something negative of my students and their families, instead of recognizing a simple failure to communicate? 

"Racism can often be found in our hearts—in many cases placed there unwillingly or unknowingly by our upbringing and culture," our bishops reflect in Open Wide Our Hearts.2

So much of my own faith formation has occurred—and to be honest, as an adult, still occurs—among white, middle- and upper-class Christians. I'm sure this affects my teaching as a catechist in a diverse parish. Looking back, I think of ways I could have done better. Looking forward, I know I will do better.

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit met us in that 4th-grade classroom; God's Spirit faithfully connected our hearts and our cultures, and deepened our appreciation for a universal church. 

As catechists—but more importantly, as Catholics—may we listen to the challenge of our pastors, to courageously look inward and examine our hearts for "thoughts and actions that we do not even see as racist, but nonetheless flow from the same prejudicial root...Each of us should adopt the words of Pope Francis as our own: let no one 'think that this invitation is not meant for him or her.' All of us are in need of personal, ongoing conversion."3

Lord, where have I allowed the sin of racism, a lack of awareness, an attitude of superiority, to take root in my life? Change my heart, O God. 

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Also published June 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog and CatholicMom.com

1 United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love, A Pastoral Letter Against Racism, 2018.
2 ibid.
3 ibid.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Screwtape Screws With Moms: Operation COVID-19

FROM: Screwtape74@juno.com
TO: Wormwood02@juno.com
DATE: May 1, 2020, 9:37 PM
SUBJECT: READ THIS NOW!

Wormwood:

I don't believe I've had the opportunity to properly welcome you to our America Team in the Motherhood Department of the Logistics Division of Hell. Welcome! 

Perhaps you missed the memo, but prior to any fieldwork, novice demons are required to attend our "Intro to American Mothers" seminar on best practices for modern-day torment"Your Job Is To Make Everyone Happy," "Childbirth: You're Doing It Wrong," "Working Mom Guilt," "SAHM Guilt," and the catch-all classic, "You Just Aren't Good Enough."

Given the unanticipated success of your "Caretakers: Overwhelm-Vex-Isolate-Destroy" (C:OVID) Program, and the interest it's attracted from management, I've transferred all of your work to the Screwtape Drive and added my name with editing permissions to each file. (It's probably best if management believes a project of this scale came from the top of our Motherhood Department. Moving forward, you'll continue with the legwork, of course.)

Finally, to maximize C:OVID objectives in the coming weeks, review the bullet points below: 

Dismiss solidarity. 

As long as a mother believes she's abandoned in her need, she'll undoubtedly despair. Intensify her isolation with inflexible employers and clueless spouses. Even better, let them gaslight her into thinking she's the real problem. Why did she have kids at all if she couldn't single-handedly meet their every need for the next 18 years? And isn't this the life she said she wanted? Mothers, such strange creaturesso intuitive with others, so blind with themselvesever ready to self-incriminate at just the slightest suggestion of, even fabricated, failure. 

Cooking, cleaning, planning, sorting, teaching, washing, shopping, earning, hugging, bathing, feeding, driving, calling, texting, scheduling, comforting, catechizing, exercising… convince her she is solely responsible for all of it. Then stand back and watch her collapse under the weight of the world. 

Be aware, however, if a mother has a spouse who prioritizes solidarity over gender norms or an employer who asks how they can help, our mission might fail. 

Discredit the village narrative. 

Convince the mothers, despite all evidence, that parenting in isolation is biologically, theologically, historically, philosophically, 100% completely normal (and therefore, possible to do well). Even if their rational minds know otherwise, our sham of unachievable normalcy will easily deceive even the strongest parents into failure and despair.

And yet, Wormwood, be aware: should a woman recall the countless positive role models influential in her upbringingcoaches, teachers, priests, grandparents, youth group volunteers, doctors, ballet instructors, babysitters, catechists, friends' parents, neighborswe risk losing everything. Do not let her recognize the extremity of Earth's current circumstances or she'll cut herself some slack as a mother. And that's the last thing we need. 

Insist pride is a virtue and prudence a vice.

We must convince the mothers that every potential good is, instead, an absolute good. The educational games, Bible crafts, STEM activities, kid-friendly cooking lessons, virtual museum tours, family gardens, KonMari'd closets, online book clubs, live-streamed prayers at dawn, noon, and dusk: she must say "yes" to all of it! 

Remember, Wormwood: if a mother, realizing her limits, offers a prudent "no" rather than a tired "yes," she'll put our whole Department out of business. What good is existential torment to a woman who, having discerned the good, shrugs off the rest? 

And then, we simply let societytheir families, their communities, even their churchesconvince these mothers to wholeheartedly pursue unholy martyrdom: to chase exhaustion and death as God-given goalposts of motherhood well-lived. Once they overcommit to every potential good except their own health and well-being, our Department will ensure they're too fearful of judgment to expect or ask for help. 

Let faith bring no comfort. 

If we can convince a mother that the heaviness in her life is a yoke the Creator intended, her experience of faith will only bring rejection and judgment. 

For the sake of our mission, Wormwood, a mother cannot consider anger with God acceptable. She must never hear the words of St. John Paul II affirming the dignity and diversity of women. She must never interpret Scripture as freeing for women.

Stifled, unquestioning, rigid, heartless, inaccessible, irrelevant, punitive… we must define her faith experience by these words.

Destroy solitude.

To my previous point, a mother must never experience true solitude. If we fail in this, Wormwood, if she ever finds herself alone in calm silence, she will hear the voice of her Creator. And then, we've lost everything. 

Make the noise and distractions endless: important call, hungry kid, dirty floor, delayed email, messy room, confusing schoolwork, muddy kid, empty pantry, broken toy, crappy internet, crying child, missed assignment, doctor visit, breakfast dishes, spilled drink, bored teen, smelly trash, Zoom meeting… 

Tease a mother with only scattered moments alonepicking up groceries, quick morning shower, a distracted hour while toddlers napjust enough to convince her it's sufficient, convince her that asking for more would be selfish, unnecessary, indulgent. 

Who the paradise would have thought you'd be so successful at despairing families and collapsing an empire, Wormwood? Don't mess this up. Too often these pandemics lead to accidental personal awakenings on a global scale. But it seems you've stirred things just right. The confusion! The guilt! The isolation! Your C:OVID project makes easy work of our torment.

Moving forward, please outline all future plans in gif-stocked PowerPoint presentations for our team's 7:00 AM daily strategic meetings (starting tomorrow), submit paper approval forms in triplicate to me, the Pandemics Department, and the Global Committee (as well as PDF copies via email with subject line: COVID Approval / Wormwood / America Team / Motherhood Dept / Logistics Division / Hell / ATT), and plan to attend the "Intro to American Mothers" seminar at its next available offering.

Welcome to the Team.

Best regards, 

Screwtape

Please read the rest over at... FemCatholic


Friday, June 5, 2020

Come Along In Our Company: A Reflection for Holy Trinity Sunday

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on the readings for Mass this Sunday, June 7, 2020, via our parish blog.

What goes through your mind before a new friend stops by? 

Our house is a mess! Why is the dog acting so weird? Maybe this wasn't a good idea after all… 

Do you nervously text a warning to your visitor? 

Sorry -- my family is extra crazy today!

Moses had a similar encounter in this Sunday's Old Testament reading. He invites God to visit the Israelites: 

"...O Lord, do come along in our company…" 1

But then, perhaps some of the craziness back home comes to mind, and Moses quickly pads the invitation with a caveat:

"This is indeed a stiff-necked people…" 2 

Sometimes, when we recognize our shortcomings, we might think God wouldn't want any kind of relationship with us. If we're really honest, most of us would have to admit, we are indeed a stiff-necked people. 

And yet, the readings for this Holy Trinity Sunday reassure us that God wants to meet with us, whoever we are, and journey with us, wherever we are.

Moses asks the Lord to stay close, despite their shortcomings:

"… yet pardon our wickedness and sins, and receive us as your own." 3

How can I, like Moses, invite God to stay close to me? 

Our Responsorial is from the book of Daniel. Three young men -- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego -- are thrown into a searing furnace to be burned alive, but God meets them in the fire and saves them. This Sunday, we echo their prayer from the furnace:

"Blessed are you who look into the depths from your throne upon the cherubim,
Praiseworthy and exalted above all forever." 4 

How can I, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, ask God to be with me in the depths, in the hardest places of my life? 

In our New Testament reading, St. Paul tells the Corinthians how to enjoy God's presence in their relationships: 

"Mend your ways, encourage one another
Agree with one another, live in peace,
And the God of love and peace will be with you." 5 

How can I, like the early Christians, live more in peace with others, so God will be present in my relationships? 

Our reading from the Gospel of John reveals God's great desire to be with us, so much that He came as a human to live among us: 

"God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him." 6 

Do I think God wants to condemn everyone? Or do I, like St. John, believe that God loves us so immensely, that He sacrificed a part of himself, his own Son, to be with us? 

This week, may we invite God to meet with us, in our hearts, in our hard places, in our relationships. Acknowledging our shortcomings -- we are indeed a stiff-necked people -- let's still ask the Lord, in the ancient words of Moses, to come along in our company.




*Also published June 2020 at Sacred Heart Blog.


1 Holy Trinity Sunday Readings: June 7, 2020.
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.



Wednesday, June 3, 2020

I Stay Awake At Night: Fears of a White Mother

I can't get the story of that 2yo drowned by an alligator at Disney World out of my head. I compulsively replay the imagined scene, hug my kids tight, and tell myself stories about why it won't happen to my family, even while knowing it's completely possible.

Our family hikes all the time. Free nature is just a part of our family culture. We hike by water with alligators, because we live in southeast Texas, and any body of water might have alligators. I also worry about drowning and venomous snakes and poison ivy.

I stay awake many nights planning all the ways I can protect my kids from potential tragedy. I give them talks about water safety and animal safety and looking out for their brothers.

You know what doesn't keep me up at night? The tragic scenes that don't compulsively play in my mind as I worry about my family?
  • My husband getting killed by 2 neighbors chasing him down in a pick up with guns. (Ahmaud Arbery)
  • My son getting shot by a neighbor who thinks he's acting suspiciously 100 yards from our house. God knows my kids act suspiciously in our neighborhood every single day. (Trayvon Martin)
  • My husband getting suffocated by a police officer's knee for 10 minutes until he dies. (George Floyd)
  • My children being shot as they play with toy guns in our neighborhood, which they do all the time. (Tamir Rice)
  • My son being shot because his God-given appearance scares someone into pulling the trigger. (Botham Jean)
  • My family being shot simply because of the color of our skin. (Charleston Church 9)
And then I feel guilty. Because when I look at the list of worries that keep me up at night, it's nothing compared to the lists of Black mothers in America.

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Gift of Noticing

This guy had ONE JOB. But now, thanks to him, the party's all but over.

Who stops a BBQ before serving burgers? Who cancels fireworks at dusk? Who dismisses New Year's Eve guests at 8:00 PM? 

WHO RUNS OUT OF WINE AT A FIRST-CENTURY WEDDING? (And if your wedding fails this spectacularly, what does that bode for your marriage?)

This guy, though, he lucks out. His party is literally saved by a Hail Mary, as in: "Hey Mary, HELP."

Jesus' mom, a guest at the wedding, realizes they're low on wine before the headwaiter even has a clue. Does she overhear the nervous, whispering servants, vulnerable to abuse if their master gets angry? The anxious vendors, left unpaid if the event ends early? Or maybe a fretting mother-of-the-bride who's only ever wanted a joyful life for her daughter but can't overcome one extenuating circumstance after another? 
“Like Mary at Cana, let us make an effort to be more attentive in our squares and towns," Pope Francis encourages, "to notice those whose lives have been ‘watered down,’ who have lost – or have been robbed of – reasons for celebrating.”1
We've all been here. We see a problem, and we hurt with those who are hurting, but the problem is too big for us to solve alone. From this place, Mary shows what to do with problems beyond our control: she gives it to Jesus. 

"They have no wine," Mary mentions to her son.2 

I often respond like Jesus when asked to do something outside my To-Do List: “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.” (Modern-day translation: I'm doing something else. I can't get to that right now!)

But Mary, unphased, walks off to prepare for a miracle. She knows Jesus' compassion in a deeply personal way, and she knows help is coming.

"Do whatever He tells you," Mary reassures the servants. I imagine she smiles, makes eye contact, squeezes their shoulders with affirmation: Everything's going to be OK.

These are the people Jesus chooses to witness his first miracle: the servants, the people who work while others celebrate, whose labor is often invisible, underappreciated, and underpaid, who are as easily criticized as they are ignored, who serve day after day after day after day. 

As we enter a third month of quarantine from schools, playgrounds, rec centers, daycares, playgroups, and summer camps, still expected to raise happy children innocent to the seismic stress around us, I feel like the servants in Jesus' first miracle: the reserves of joy have long run dry, and I need a miracle to keep this party going.

How reassuring it is when someone, like Mary, notices and has compassion for our struggles. It reminds me that I'm not alone, that others are thinking of us and helping to share our burden. Mary can't change water into wine, but she connects us with Someone who can.

How has this looked for our family? How could other families be blessed by the gift of noticing? 
  • Ordering pizza delivered to our door at dinner time, 
  • Answering my kids' bored Facetime calls 3 times an hour, 
  • Teaching social-distancing art classes from the yard across the street, 
  • Waving through car windows as we pick up milk and sandwiches in the school drive-thru, 
  • Writing encouraging letters, 
  • Sponsoring Starbucks and McDonalds treats with gift cards,
  • Planning graduation parades and social-distancing award ceremonies,
  • Sharing a computer so each kid can keep up with school, 
  • Hosting Cub Scout Zoom meetings (and not judging how weird we all are in the background), 
  • Answering my anxious midnight emails with confirmation that peace in our home is more important than any finished assignment, 
  • Writing "X" in the grade book instead of "0" when we just couldn't get it done, 
  • Mailing a package, addressed to the kids, of shelf-stable food they can proudly prepare themselves (haystack cookies, pizza kits, pudding, tuna-chip casserole, taco casserole, chips & queso, PB&J with dinosaur cookie cutters),
  • Sending board games galore, and 
  • Bribing my kids with money to play happily for an hour and leave me alone. (Seriously, my kids' grandparents pulled this off, and it may be the greatest gift I've received during quarantine).
As days become weeks, months, an extended summer, an uncertain future… may other struggling families also be blessed by people like Mary in their lives, people who notice and intercede. In the words of Pope Francis from a 2018 homily: 
“In the same way, Mary passes through our towns, our streets, our squares, our homes and our hospitals… She notices all those problems that burden our hearts, then whispers into Jesus’ ear and says: Look, ‘they have no wine.’”3
How can you share the gift of noticing today? 

Mary, pray for us. Jesus, work miracles in our families. Please fill our empty jars – our physical, mental, emotional, financial, spiritual neediness – with joy.




Also published May 2020 at CatholicMom.com


1
Pope Francis, Homily, January 18, 2018.
2John 2
3Pope Francis, Homily, January 18, 2018.



Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Gate and The Shepherd: A Reflection For Good Shepherd Sunday

Wally and I were invited to share a reflection on the readings for Mass this Sunday, May 3, 2020, via our parish blog.


Jesus says, "I am the gate" twice in this Sunday's Mass readings.1 

But this is Good Shepherd Sunday. Why does Jesus refer to himself as "the gate" before "the shepherd"?

At that time, the corrals of shepherds at pasture with their sheep "usually consisted of a circle of rocks, with an opening at one end. The shepherd himself would serve as the gate to such sheepfolds, laying across its entrance to sleep... The shepherd himself was the door," Father Thomas Rosica explains.2

And so, Jesus is both the shepherd who guides the sheep and the gate that protects them.

Pope Benedict XVI describes Jesus as "the One who follows us even into our deserts and confusion... the One who took upon his shoulders the lost sheep, which is humanity, and carried it home."3

How is Jesus present in my desert and confusion? What hope does He bring?

We read in today's calming Responsorial Psalm, "The Lord is my shepherd," a good shepherd who brings rest, refreshment, courage, and blessing to his sheep:
"In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul" (Psalm 23). 
How can I become a sheep of the Good Shepherd? Through Jesus and the sacraments He instituted, we receive the Holy Spirit and become part of the church, as St. Peter teaches in Acts 2:
"Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit… Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day."
Yes, I received Baptism; I committed to the vows of my Baptism at Confirmation; I ask God's forgiveness directly and through Confession; I receive Jesus in Communion. Still, how can I follow Jesus more closely?

In today's Gospel reading, Jesus teaches that the sheep "follow him, because they recognize his voice" (John 10). What happens when someone hears God's voice? We read in Acts: when people recognized God's voice in the words of Peter and the apostles, "they were cut to the heart" (Acts 2). 

Is my heart soft enough to hear the Shepherd's voice? Am I listening?

These are difficult and unusual times; we've stopped our daily routines in the hope of preventing illness and protecting the vulnerable among us. Today's reading from 1 Peter reminds us that when we "suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God."

Archbishop Jose Gomez says this is what it means to be shepherds, like Jesus: 
"This is a wonderful responsibility that we all have; as much as possible, try to be 'good shepherds' for other people... beginning with those who are closest to us, in our homes, in our families, in our places of work, in our daily life."4

How can I be a good shepherd to others?



1 Mass readings, May 3, 2020.

2 Father Thomas Rosica, C.S.B. Reflection for the 4th Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2011. 

3 Pope Benedict XVI. Homily, May 7, 2006.

4 Archbishop Jose Gomez. Homily, April 21, 2013.


*Also published 04/2020 at Sacred Heart Blog

Sunday, April 26, 2020

10 Minutes in Quarantine

It's 2:30 in the afternoon. 

Despite a dozen tasks on imminent hold, I'm mesmerized by this ornamental masterpiece of a bowl. Viscid greens swirl into verdant blues. Hatched ochre shadows accent deep, oblong curves. But didn't I just clean this toilet yesterday?

Ten seconds of solitude dissolve untraceably -- were they ever even there? -- as the pleading hollers of my 8-year-old echo from the hall into the bathroom: 
"MOM, CAN I PLAY ON PBS KIDS?" 
"No screens! Play with real toys and real people!" 
"BUT YOU LET THE TWINS!" 
"REAL TOYS AND REAL PEOPLE!"
Halfway through our yells, my 4-year-old, who's retained an eerily strong maternal tracking instinct, patters into the bathroom and sits conversationally across from me on the edge of the tub.
"Mom, what's for snack?" 
After several weeks in quarantine with five young kids, I may as well ask for a private jet as for privacy. 
"You're seriously hungry already?"
He nods seriously.
"POOP!" A 5-year-old chivalrously tromps into the bathroom, announcing his arrival with an indulgent, exclamatory rallying cry: "POOOOOOOOP!"
Only 45 seconds earlier, he was kicking a soccer ball with his twin in the backyard. By my parental calculation, this should be Minute One of a 15-minute break from them. And yet, here he is.
"THERE'S DOG POOP IN THE BACKYARD!" His proclamation radiates both valiance and urgency; if we owned a white horse, he'd surely have galloped in on it.
Didn't I just pooper scoop this morning?
"IT'S NEW POOP!" he trumpets unprompted.
Our 16-square-foot washroom, cavernous in my 10 seconds of solitude -- was that only 1 minute ago? -- crowds like a clown car. 

The conversation expands to four people as my 10-year-old leans in the doorway.
"Mom, remember, I need your help with my reading prompt. I'm writing about Batman's dog. It's hilarious."
Oh, right. This is the second time he's asked for help. I meant to stop at his desk on my way to the bathroom. This kid loves to read, loves to talk about what he's reading, but hates to write. 
"I want to say the book is interesting. Can you help me with that sentence?"
And now we're doing homework in the bathroom. 
"Interesting isn't a good word," I stall, washing my hands. "Can you check the Thesaurus for a word more… interesting?"
The word play only persuades a temperate smile from my oldest son, ever oscillating between the free laughter of childhood and the eyerolls of preadolescence. Hopefully a Thesaurus detour will delay him long enough for me to scoop "new poop," feed the hungry preschooler, and clean our giant petri dish of a toilet before editing 100 words on Batman's dog. 
"JONATHAN," my other 5-year-old arrives to blockade the door while sternly addressing his twin. "Did you tell Mom about the poop?!"
"YES. I KNOW ABOUT THE POOP."
If it didn't happen so regularly, I might marvel how a gallery bathroom fits four kids and an adult so casually. 

The technicolor-streaked toilet and sticky urine floor earn first place on my latest To-Do List:
"Just let me clean the toilet; then, I will pooper-scoop the yard; then, Joseph, I will help you with your book report."
"SNACK!!!!!" My 4-year-old shrieks in justified offense that "first-come-first-served" apparently means nothing in our uncivilized home.
Per normal, in the 20 seconds it took to pacify a 10-year-old about schoolwork and two 5-year-olds about poop, I forgot about the 4-year-old's snack.

This organizational flux, interminably ranking multiple kids' constant needs, depletes me, even with an actively-involved husband. I try to recall the last time I was away from the kids for more than an hour since this quarantine began. Two days ago, I picked up groceries. Last week, I went for a solo walk. Just yesterday, I shut myself in the bedroom to sew face masks. Our state park outing on Friday requires a mask for each person. Between broken needles and dollar-store thread issues, I still gave bubble baths, sang lullabies, and explained the inner workings of a sewing machine to each kid who just wanted to stand inexplicably beside me as I worked.

A couple weeks ago, our leaf blower blew out a lithium-ion battery. With regular use and good care, most rechargeable batteries should last several years. But when drained too quickly -- usually by high-demand devices or high heat -- these batteries succumb to a condition called "deep discharge" and lose the ability to recharge altogether. I wonder the toll our high demand, high pressure days of quarantine will have on the nations' home caregivers.

Before leaving the bathroom with my entourage of kids, I spray bubbly toxic chemicals all over the toilet and leave it to set. I'll scrub it later.
"Mom," my 8-year-old meets us in the hallway, still distressed about the injustice of screen time. "You let the twins play on PBS Kids this morning, so basically, what you're saying is that you don't follow your own rules."
I don't have the energy to duel pandemic-quarantine-mom-logic against the endless depths of 3rd grade wisdom, so I just ignore him and prepare afternoon snacks. 
"Mom! Reading help!" my 10-year-old reminds me from the desk in his bedroom.
"Just a minute, Joe! I'm setting out snacks," I call back.
"You just want the little kids to be smarter than us," my 8-year-old continues to reason. "Because you know it's an educational website, and you want them to get extra time to learn about cool stuff. You just want me to be bored."
"Why don't you guys eat your snacks outside this afternoon?"
"BECAUSE THERE'S POOP!" David and Jonathan protest in unison. Ah, yes, the poop.
I grab the overflowing recycling container from our kitchen before reporting outside to scoop poop. Earlier today, while the little ones napped, I secreted a large collection of priceless kid art into that recycling can, and it will all be for nothing if my transfer to the outdoor bin isn't perfectly discreet.

I pause at the back door as my 4-year-old wails unexpectedly. 
"My can't reach my shoes, and my want to eat my snack outside!" Each vowel extends longer than the one before.
Oh, little one. I don't spend any words correcting his pronouns. Every day confers a miserly conversation budget to introverts, and as a mom of five chatty kids who are currently with me every second of every day, I'm consistently word-poor by 3:00 PM.

Pacified with shoes and socks, my littlest one hustles out to join his brothers' treehouse picnic of animal crackers and cartons of milk from the school lunch drive-thru. How grateful I am for that drive-thru. 

Snacks, shoes, covert recycling, pooper scooping… four missions accomplished in four minutes. I'm doing this.

Into my success stomps a hurt 10-year-old with a crumpled piece of paper, torn through from frustrated erasing. Once more, in the rush of doing all-the-things, I drop the ball on one child's very important thing.
"Oh, Joseph, I'm sorry."
I pull him close, and he leans in, just tall enough for me to lean my cheek on the side of his buzzed hair. Not so long ago, my chin could rest on top of his head.
"PAPER TOWELS! I NEED PAPER TOWELS!" Jonathan rams through the back door and bolts for the kitchen.
Joseph sighs and retreats to his bedroom where more schoolwork awaits.
"Milk spill, milk spill, milk spill," my 4-year-old sings from the swingset.
"NO! NOT THE PAPER TOWELS!" I chase Jonathan to the kitchen and toss him a hand towel instead.
Two days ago, I purchased the last package of paper towels at Walmart, and I'm not about to watch an entire roll of paper gold abscond to the treehouse. "Wet Milk Towel Laundry" mentally scrawls to the end of my To-Do List. 
"Mom, can I look for Owen in the car?" David hops alongside me en route to Joe's homework station.
For days, the twins have organized search parties to track down their lost Lego mini-figure. An excavation through the minivan sounds promising -- a good distraction for David and a quieter few minutes for me.
"Yes, absolutely, go for it!"
"Can you open the car door for me?"
It's such a small task, such a small ask, but these thousand little detours in a day scramble my brain into an incoherent labyrinth. 
"Just let me grab the laundry and talk with Joseph," I enjoin. "Then I'll open up the car so you can look for Owen."
Jonathan swings open the back door and lopes triumphantly across the room, dripping a trail of sopped-up treehouse milk as he comes our way.
"Where should I put this dish towel?"
"STOP!! LOOK WHAT YOU'RE DOING! LEAVE IT OUTSIDE!"
I once eavesdropped on the kids as they ranked our house rules. Never having set "house rules," curiosity heightened my hearing. What did my little ones internalize as ascendant family values? Be kind? Be responsible? Be reverent? Their unanimous consensus tsunami-crashed my sandy idealism: Don't make a mess, they said. A dozen flashbacks collaged in seconds and confirmed my kids' conclusion. Yeah, I overreact at messes. 

Jonathan self-consciously hugs the milky dish towel, accidentally soaking his shirt and squeezing an extra splash onto the floor. 
"Oh Jonathan, I'm sorry for yelling. Thank you for cleaning up the spilled milk. Can you please keep the towel outside?"
The salve of understanding heals quickly. He tosses the towel to the patio and skips off to the kitchen.
"I think I'll do my activity book at the table," he sings lightheartedly.
Flashing him a thumbs up of approval, I finally reach the bedroom shared by my 8-year-old and 10-year-old.
"Hey Joe, I'm really sorry about your book report. How about you stay up a little later tonight, and we'll work on it together after your brothers go to bed?"
His eyes flicker at the extension of bedtime, and he nods in agreement. Maybe all schoolwork should reschedule to late evening, past little brothers' bedtimes and constant interruption. But our kids' collective bedtime is the horizon of my day, and these days, that horizon oasis already feels ever distant.

I wondered yesterday if I might not be here at all, just some kind of doting soulful spirit, wandering purgatory through a corner house in Conroe, Texas. Harmless, of course, the kind of friendly ghost who opens blinds felicitously by day -- light, light, more light -- and clicks deadbolts by night -- once, twice, again, again. If you listen closely, in the creepy predawn hour, you'll hear the tap-tap-tapping of her keyboard. 

Of course it's all a joke. I'm 38 years old. I have a kind, devoted husband. We have five wild kids. Except… except the other day, while sorting, folding, stacking laundry, having reached the bottom of the basket, I surveyed my work of six neat piles, three outfits each, in a line across the couch. But where were my clothes? Would a real person not create any laundry for three days?

Returning to the kitchen, picking up more laundry and the wet patio towel on my way, I stop at the counter to reserve day passes at the state park on Friday, a seemingly simple task on hold intermittently since breakfast.

My 4-year-old brings his snack inside and joins me at the table. 
"Isn't this nice, Mommy? Having a snack together at the table?"
"Mm-hm, mm-hm."
Brazos Bend State Park. Day Pass. Friday, April 24. Two adults, five kids --
"Mom, I need a new pencil," Jonathan calls from across the table. Even a 100-page activity book is useless short a good pencil.
"Can't you just sharpen the one you have?"
He presses the pencil sharpener in response, and its steady "Grrr-rrr-rrr" instantly slows to a useless "rr-r-r-r." I meant to change the batteries yesterday. 
"Just give me a moment to buy our state park ticket, and then I'll grab some batteries. Why don't you use crayons?"
"Mom." David appears brightly beside me from nowhere. They're like specters sometimes. "Did you forget the car door?"
He's a 5-year-old mash-up of Steve Irwin and Indiana Jones: sportish grin, crocodile hat, flashlight, magnifying glass, ready to safari search the minivan for long-lost Owen.
"Uh, yep, I absolutely did forget."
Why do I have to log into my account to book a day pass? My password reset email got sucked into the lint trap of the Internet because it sure as heck isn't hitting my inbox. It's a good thing I'm not on mission control for anything more important than a walk in the park because failure just might be the only option here.
"I'm sorry, David. Yes... here... we... go..."
I force myself away from the screen.
"Let's open up the car for you, little one."
My 8-year-old follows us through the laundry room to the minivan. "I'm so bored. I'm so bored. I'm so bored. Why do you want me to be bored?"
"Son. We have a whole collection of people in this house. Ask someone to play with you. No screens."
As I open the van door, every interior dome light shines on. Mental Note: if you aren't back here in 30 minutes to shut off all these lights, our state park family adventure will transform into a replace-the-minivan-battery adventure. 

At my computer, three unopened password reset emails await. Once I reach the state park payment screen, the system refuses our 7-person day pass request: "No groups larger than five people."* 

Don't tell NASA, but we have a wormhole in the universe squarely under our house. I know because at the end of each day, it shoots me back to the beginning of the same day, absolutely beat from a day's worth of effort but with zilch to show for it.
"You've gotta be f*cking kidding me," I mutter at the TDPW website.
Thankfully no kids are around to sample my adult vocabulary. But wait, that's not right. Where are my kids?

Incoherent screeches, like air sirens, resound from the garage. My 4-year-old -- wasn't he just beside me, pleasantly eating his snack? -- is fighting with his 5-year-old brother over who can slam the car door harder. My other 5-year-old showed up to defend his twin. 

Imagining a purple hand of smashed fingers and a COVID-19-infested ER waiting room with five young kids, I realize, in accord with the world's leading scientists, the only solution is to shut. down. everything.
"GET OUT OF THE GARAGE!" I yell.
"But you said -- " David starts.
"I don't care what I said. We're done in the garage. We're done looking for Owen."
Poor kid. This is why we still haven't found that mini-fig. What's your secret, Owen? How the heck do you disappear for days in this house? Seriously tho, your secret, please.
"But Mom, the pencil sharpener --" Jonathan tries to advocate.
The pencil sharpener will just have to live another day to die again tomorrow because unless it needs a hug and a movie day, I can't meet its needs right now. 
"Everyone to the living room. I'm starting a movie."
The kids come crashing in from all over, sliding across the floor, slamming headfirst into coveted couch spots -- 2, 3, 4, 5 -- and opinions shoot out like an enemy firestorm. 
"ROBOT TRAINS!"
"PAW PATROL!"
"DUDE PERFECT!"
All I really want is to stream "Song From A Secret Garden" (the most beautiful piece of music ever written) and drink weak coffee for the next 40 minutes. Or 40 years. But I need to choose which TV soundtrack will accompany my pre-dinner work in the kitchen -- starting laundry, replacing batteries, emailing in 20 school assignments... 
"Lego Masters. We're watching Lego Masters."
It will doubtless inspire a mess of Lego tomorrow, and probably another fruitless search for Owen, but all the kids approve. 
"MOMMY!"
Where's that 4-year-old? He was just here, on the couch. 
"MOMMY! MOMMY! MOMMY!"
I scramble toward his panicked screams in the bathroom, imagining the worst: Is the toilet overflowing? Did he accidentally pee all over his pants and shoes and socks and floor? Has his butt fallen into the water? 
"What is it, baby? What's wrong?" I'm still catching my breath.
He points across the room with the concerned face of a preschooler who's seen too many of his older brothers' nuclear disaster cartoons.
"The water is blue," he whispers.
Oh, right. Ten minutes ago, I started to clean the toilet. 

Photo by Josh Hild on Unsplash

*When I called our local state park directly, they welcomed us to attend as a 7-person family, reminding us to observe social distancing safety and wear masks while onsite.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Prayer For When You Have Nothing Left To Give

pause

rest 

breathe in, pause, wait, breathe out

rest

listen

listen

peace 

wait

listen

be with you

wait

breathe in, pause, wait, breathe out

rest

listen

listen

a moment

peace be with you

pause

rest

breathe in, pause, wait, breathe out

wait

rest

rest 

listen

breathe in, pause, wait, breathe out

wait

I will 

give you rest

wait

listen

listen

listen

listen

I will give you rest.


“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, 
and I will give you rest." 
- Matthew 11:28


*Also published 04/2020 at CatholicMom

Thursday, April 16, 2020

But Who Should Do The Laundry? Solidarity versus Gender Norms in the Age of Coronavirus

An excerpt from my article at FemCatholic --

In recent weeks, a torrent of new stressors has impacted families around the world -- kids in need of schooling, limited food options, restricted mobility, sharing home work space, loss of resources. 

This influx of work introduces overwhelming logistics: 

Who's planning the kids' schedules, now wide open from dawn to bedtime? Who's overseeing their schoolwork? Who's figuring out what's for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks with a pantry short on staples -- and dealing with the manifold dishes and silverware that result? Who's troubleshooting how to get groceries? Whose coordinating home workspaces? Who has the phone numbers for the pediatrician, urgent care, and county health hotline readily available? Who's stocking the medicine cabinet? Who's clearing the clutter constantly collecting in a busier-than-normal home? Who's vetting contractors' safety protocols for unexpected house problems, like plumbing, HVAC, or pest control? Who's sewing facemasks? Who's in touch with extended family, preparing emergency contingency plans? Who's communicating with the normal caregivers, teachers, and extracurricular leaders in this indefinite interim?

Unfortunately, due to the cultural assumption that kids and households are "women's work," the lion's share of daily stress resulting from this pandemic quarantine has fallen on the shoulders of women. (n.b. not all women, not all families, not all men...) 

In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis addresses the fallacy that household labor and care for children might be emasculating for men: "Taking on domestic chores or some aspects of raising children does not make him any less masculine or imply failure, irresponsibility or cause for shame" (286).

He echoes the counsel of St. John Paul II's Familiaris Consortio: "Family, become what you are" (17). This admonition is followed not by a list of household responsibilities divided by gender but by a call for fathers to actively involve themselves with the daily work of family life, too often ignored as women's work:
"Above all where social and cultural conditions so easily encourage a father to be less concerned with his family or at any rate less involved in the work of education, efforts must be made to restore socially the conviction that the place and task of the father in and for the family is of unique and irreplaceable importance" (25).
For families to grow stronger through this unprecedented challenge, we must rely on the "partnership of the whole of life" to which Catholic marriage commits (CCC 1601). We must commit to teamwork, because it's too much for one spouse to carry alone.

Erin Brigham, writing on the effects of coronavirus on family labor at Catholic Moral Theology, suggests solidarity is the solution: 
"Part of the revolution in thinking about home, work, and gender means recognizing the unique value of this work and allowing solidarity, not rigid conceptions of gender to guide how we organize work and family in our homes and society."
What does this look like, practically?

In our family, it means... 


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash