Saturday, November 28, 2015

Advent: Unready.

By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace. 
            Luke 1:78-79, NRSV

Tomorrow is the first Sunday of Advent.

I woke up this morning to a sky streaked red and gold from the top to the bottom corners of my bedroom window, and I felt it…a dreadful, heavy sense of not being ready.

I’m not ready.

And because Advent is the new Christmas, the internet wants me to be ready. All my favorite bloggers have been discussing their Advent plans and what books they are reading and what prayers they are using and what crafts they are doing with their kids. There are recipes and book studies and so many wonderful options I can choose to make this our holiest Advent yet.

I could have already hurried up and finished my shopping, my Christmas cards, even have already made and frozen my cookies ahead of time. Today, I could have everything planned and packaged and ready to go so that I could just sit back and wait for the real miracle, the One who is the reason behind all the preparations, the baby Jesus, whose birth is still a month away.

But I haven’t. I haven’t done any of that yet.

All day today, as I continue the slow clean up and take down of our fall and Thanksgiving decorations, I keep telling myself I have a whole month to get ready for Christmas. That’s what Advent is for, right?

But getting ready for Advent? That’s another story. And for who I am, for the person God made me to be, feeling unready and unprepared and not-entirely-on-top-of-it doesn’t feel good. I’m crabby. I don’t handle my own unpreparedness with grace.

On some level, yes, we are ready. I know where the wreath is that we used last year, and I even ordered a box of appropriately-colored candles ahead of time. I hosted Thanksgiving dinner this year, and I knew I’d be ready for a break after that was over (and not ready to launch into a new season of checklists and planning just yet).

Thanksgiving was wonderful. The food was delicious. The company was dear. The post-dinner football game was the first one of its kind ever played in our yard, and everyone had a great time tackling and laughing and enjoying one another. I loved our flowers and the candles and the place cards. It was a beautiful day. And it was fulfilling for me in my checklist-loving, INFJ way- I planned, I executed, and I enjoyed.

But I’m not ready for Advent.

Maybe for some of us, maybe for me, the call to living in rhythm with the Church’s seasons is not about being ready at all. Maybe it’s about being shaped and formed, gradually, into the image of Christ…the image of the One whose Light is coming into the world, the kind of Light we need so much more than all the most beautiful strings of twinkling ones we can imagine.

Maybe Advent is not about having everything prepared ahead of time so I can focus on being holy. Maybe Advent is a gift of days, of time given to focus on how un-ready and unholy we all are, perpetually, and how much in need of grace and Light and a salvation that can never be earned but is a gift from God, so that no one can boast. Whether I am actually boasting about my salvation or just about my exquisitely decorated front door doesn’t matter. It’s shifting the focus in my heart from the One on whom it should be focused.

It’s a good dose of humility for me to realize that I’m not the most prepared, most organized person this year.

My kids are ready to jump into Christmas, to put up our tree and start listening to Christmas music. And I’m not. I’m not expectant, hopeful, or filled with joy. Instead, I’m struggling this year. I miss my Gramp, and I know my Gram won’t be putting up her tree this year, that their house will be vacant, that she’ll be entirely unaware of Christmas at all except when we show up and tell her. I’m brokenhearted because people continue to be killed every day around the world, in bombings and shootings and accidents, and I feel powerless to help. I’m incredulous because people mustered all the moral outrage to freak out about corporate coffee cups but can’t find any compassion for poor ones wandering the earth without a country or a home or a place to lay their heads. I’m weary and worn and sad because our world needs something very powerful to save it. 

Unfortunately, twinkling lights and festive cocktail recipes are not going to improve our situation.

This, this is the world into which Christ came to save us.
We don’t need that grace any less today than we did then.
And that’s what Advent is for, actually.

So, I won’t apologize for the late start over here this year, nor for the much-needed silence while I worked this stuff out in my brain. I’m just going to start Advent on Sunday. And I’m going to use Advent to get ready for Christmas.

Tomorrow, gather up in the dark. Notice how early it comes, how it fills the corners of the room, how it coats everything quietly. Sit there a while. Then, light a candle in the dark. Push it back a little if you can with your tiny ring of light. Sit some more around the light and feel how much we need Christ. And then wait for Him to show up.

Come, Emmanuel. We’re not ready, but we’re waiting.

Ready or not, Advent is here, and I’m going to be posting photo prompts on Instagram again for #HolyLens this year. I’d love it if you joined us. The little community of intrepid photographers seeking the sacred in the everyday as we prepare for Christ’s coming has been such a blessing to me each year. Look for the prompts posted here on the blog on Saturdays during Advent, and join us on Instagram and Facebook. We’re excited to be sharing prompts with the Blessed is She community this year using the hashtag #projectblessed.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Surviving our first lost tooth {#ThemeThursday}

Well, she survived.

I survived.

My little girl is down one tooth, but after the anesthesia wore off, she gradually eased back to her spunky, indomitable self. She even put her princess dress on again.

Her dad says she did a brilliant job at the dentist today, aided by some "silly juice" to help calm her. I was really anxious about the anesthesia, but she did great, and she's fine.

Micaela at California to Korea has resurrected Theme Thursday. For today's theme, "Portrait," I asked Lucy if she'd be my subject with her new, gap-toothed smile.

Sam, ever the helpful older brother, asked if the theme was "Jack O'Lantern."

This was her response.

Fortunately, I did get treated to her new smile after you can see it, too.

Thanks for praying us through this morning. All's well that ends well. I'd say we are going to be more careful in the future, but I honestly don't know how we could have avoided this one!

What's the going rate for the tooth fairy? I think I got a quarter per tooth, but it seems like the rate might have gone up since then. Lucy has already informed me that she knows the Tooth Fairy is not real, but she'd like a visit from her, anyway.

Friday, November 6, 2015

7 Quick Takes: Halloween, The Art Department, and the Quotable Nora Edition

In the interest of keeping you up to speed on the final dressing up choices of everyone this Halloween, here is the official Halloween photo dump:

Felix as Bacchus, the Roman god who knows how to party

Lucy as A Princess, But Not A Disney One

Sam as Scipio Africanus: "Carthago Delenda Est!"

Nora as Laura Ingalls (without braids)

Obligatory Group Photo

I've been overcoming my inborn fear of art-related mess for years now, but finger paint still gives me pause. It seems like just asking for trouble. This week, when the girls asked to finger paint, I took a deep breath and said "yes." Here are the results:

"Felix thinks it's a bird, but it is NOT." by Lucy, age 4
"It's a dragon. But it doesn't eat people." by Nora, age 4

They moved on quickly to watercolor. Turns out part of the allure of finger paint is that mama usually tries to talk them out of it.

Also art-related: Nora drew a real face! With eyes and everything! It was a first.

She's been drawing people's bodies with arms, legs and torsos for quite a while now, but their heads never had faces. I'm not used to that progression- most kids I know do the big heads with smiles and then start adding arms and legs coming directly out of the heads. Nora is on her own track, art-wise, as she is with most other things.

Speaking of Nora, she's been so quotable lately that I often find myself turning my head so she won't catch me laughing. It's worse when George is here- I have to tell myself not to look at him because I know we'll both dissolve into laughter, which would definitely hurt Nora's feelings. She's a serious girl, that one, and she does not mean to be so funny.

This morning, she turned up at my side in her Laura Ingalls costume (her uniform since the middle of last week). I greeted her with a little hug and she tossed her baby doll onto the counter, saying casually, "Well, I've got my kids today. My wife's a ninja, but she doesn't stay here."

Then, over her cheesy grits at breakfast, she announced, "Hey, I guess you're in charge, Mama, 'cuz Pater Noster's at work."

I die. I just hope it doesn't show on my face. (I know. I know it does. I can't help it.)

My first-ever retraction...I've written lots of contractions, some against the better advice of my inner English teacher, Ms. Raines, who always stands inside my head and dispenses advice in her red Reebok hightops. She's never wrong, and yet I persist in my wayward writing ways. Contractions are friendly space savers. I like them.

As far as retractions, though, I haven't had to write one before (that I remember). This is a first.
I must tell you that my reporting of the Time Change-Induced Behavior Episode Involving K'nex and a Certain Boys' Bedroom Ceiling was apparently inaccurate. The child in question did not actually put holes in the ceiling. He removed all the sticky putty from the backs of his posters, smooshed it onto the ceiling in tiny bits, and used it to suspend said K'nex pieces so that they looked like they had been poked into the if some crazy multi-colored porcupine had moved into the attic and fallen asleep with his poky side down.

Let the record stand corrected.

Because some children are harder to live with than others (ahem), there's this amazing reflection by Susan Barico on her blog. You should read it. If not now, later. Say you will- then we can talk about it, okay? I have lots of thoughts.

I have the self-imposed deadline of Martinmas (November 11) in my head as the time by which closets should be ready for fall. That's partially because of Molly at Molly Makes Do (who gives hand-knit things to her family for Martinmas gifts) and partially because of something Kendra at Catholic All Year wrote about extra coats and St. Basil. Basically, it comes down to this- some people don't have enough. We almost always have more than enough. We especially have more than enough size 3T snow pants- they seem to have been procreating in our closet since last winter. It's time to pass some things on.

In my cleaning out, I noticed that my favorite long red coat has once again been a snack for a new crop of carpet beetles. I am beyond sad about this. Those guys were in that closet when we moved into the house, and I've eradicated them four times. They just keep coming back.

I hate carpet beetles. I don't know why God created them. I do not wish for them to be the recipients of our Martinmas sharing of coats. Any ideas?

To wrap things up, here's a picture of the most amazing Friday afternoon surprise from the most amazing mother-in-law I've ever had. Sandra, you really put a big smile on my face!

It's been a pretty difficult week, but how can anyone be frowny with a basket like that on the table?

Happy weekending, all. Now you're all caught up.
For more Quick Takes, go visit Kelly at This Ain't the Lyceum!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

It's not you. It's the time change.

For the third day in a row, my daughter has come out of her room more than ten times during what is supposed to be "quiet rest time." I finally gave up and put the baby gate up in front of her door. She's sprawled out behind it on her floor, singing at the top of her lungs, "UBI CARITAAAAS EST VERAAAAAA...DEUS IBI EST!"

Despite her very noisy serenade, my smallest son is asleep right now. The others seem unable to get back to the place of quiet rest. I hear vocal explosions and projectiles hitting the wall from inside one room, and another voice is alternately telling herself a story about hunting Care Bears and yelling "LA LA LA LA LA LA" in time to the banging of her heels on the wall.

It is anything but quiet. And I'm not sure about "Ubi Caritas" - certainly not from me, not here, not today.

Yesterday, my oldest son spent his nap time boring small holes into his ceiling with parts from his K'nex set. We found them after dinner.

The oldest three crushed up chalk and made it into "paint" with old rainwater that had collected in our fire pit. When that wasn't enough, they supplemented with (unauthorized) water from the garden hose. They wiped their hands on the walls, the couch cushions and the bathroom rugs.

Sam stabbed Lucy in the eye with a stick because she wouldn't give him the shovel she was holding.

Nora bit Lucy in the back because they wanted the same dress-up costume.

Lucy pierced Nora's ear with a pencil because Nora wanted to use that color and Lucy didn't want her to have it.

This morning, while everyone was getting dressed for the library, Lucy lost her shirt. She had already taken off her pajama top, so she was wandering the house, yelling, "Where is my shirrrrrrt? Who took my shirrrrt? I lost my shirrrrrrt!" When we got her another shirt, she couldn't find her shoes. She couldn't find ANY of her shoes. We finally left ten minutes late for story time with Lucy wearing pink rain boots...on the wrong feet.

The levels of irritability, rudeness, hyperactivity and destructive behavior in this household right now are amazing. I've never seen the like. I spent yesterday near tears, wondering where I had gone wrong in my parenting, wondering what business I have homeschooling, wondering if I should do everyone a favor and put them in school or preschool or child care and go back to work, like maybe I don't have any right to be doing this stay at home parent thing if I can't even get them to do something simple, like wash their hands for lunch. I even googled "family counselors" in our area, thinking we were so dysfunctional that we probably needed professional help immediately to avoid a total breakdown.

Today, I asked my friend, "Do you ever think about just quitting?" And she said, "Well, yes, but not right now. You can't judge anything by this week. We just turned the clocks back, so everything is nuts."

I stared at her.

She proceeded to tell me stories from her own life this week, stories of offspring gone haywire just like mine, stories of tantrums and tears and "I hate yous" and sibling fights that made all my chaos and angst this week seem...well, normal.

Thumbs up. All the weirdness you are seeing is happening to everyone else, too.

She's had a terrible week so far.
I have, too.
Maybe you are in the middle of your own terrible week- are you?

If so, please know you are not the only one who feels like rolling this overly-full trash can to the curb and leaving it there. We're all in this together. I don't know why it helps me so much to hear that other people are struggling, but it does.

So in case you, too, are struggling, please know this: It's not that we have suddenly lost all ability to parent to our own standards. It's not that our children have suddenly forgotten everything we ever taught them about how to behave. It's not that we have completely failed at parenting and our children will turn out to be delinquent, angry human beings who burn down buildings and destroy things and hunt Care Bears for fun.

It's the time change!

Standing at the Prime Meridian. Feeling very balanced.
Time is elemental. It might also be totally made up, but it matters. You can't go messing about with clocks without expecting children's finely-tuned, sensitive systems to get a bit out of whack. What we're seeing this week? It's just fallout. It's timey-wimey. It's a side effect. It's to be expected.

Next year, we can even plan ahead for it, if we remember.

Take a deep breath. Everything will settle down again. You'll see. Our children will stop swinging from ceiling fans and crashing into walls when they walk down the hall to the bathroom. They'll go back to normal, and we'll stop holding our heads with both hands and leaning exhaustedly against the refrigerator and staring at them with our mouths hanging open in shock and making extra coffee at 4pm just to get through the evening.

It's going to be okay.

Until it is, please help yourself to the leftover Halloween candy, focus on surviving, and know that you're not alone.

Y'all hang in there. All will be well.

This has been a public service announcement for concerned parents everywhere.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

31 Days, day 27: Perhaps.

Mostly, the word "perhaps" just makes this song start playing in my head:

It will probably be there all day now.
Maybe you'd prefer it in Spanish? This one's really good:

You're welcome.

Now that we have a soundtrack, I have a thought.
Maybe the problem with me is not that I'm not good enough at managing my time, as I have suspected. I keep thinking if I can be more efficient, more streamlined, more productive, more...something...I'll be able to cram it all in. I'll somehow find myself with enough hours in the day and enough mental space to tackle all the things I want to do.

Today, though, I wonder if perhaps this is never going to be true.

Today, I think that if I found myself with an extra hour every day, I would fill it with something. I'd read another book or learn another language (I'm learning French on Duolingo, and it's great- if you're on there, I'd love to follow you!). I'd take up another instrument or start making rosaries fast enough to open an Etsy shop. I'd write that book that's been floating around in my head for three years now,  or polish up some articles and submit them to magazines. I'd mop the kitchen floor more often. I'd edit my photos and learn more about how to take my camera off auto and run more miles.

Perhaps the issue is not a lack of time. I have the same number of hours in my day as you do, as anyone does. Perhaps the issue is my expectations of myself- so high! always aim high! no, a little higher! Perhaps I just don't know how to sit still.

Or perhaps I'm afraid to sit still.
Being busy and productive is the hallmark of mental health, right? As long as I'm moving forward with pep and vigor, I'm not sliding backward into a mire of yucky feelings. I'm not giving anyone a reason to think I'm lazy- least of all myself.


Monday, October 26, 2015

31 Days, day 26: Whisper

At what developmental age do children figure out how to whisper? Is there an age at which it suddenly dawns on them that they can control the volume of their voice? Do they subsequently start to exercise that control in response to parental requests to be quieter? (Maybe in church, for instance, during the consecration or the homily...maybe, for example, when announcing the need to go to the bathroom RIGHT NOW?)

I'm parenting some sound-sensitive kids, people for whom automatically flushing toilets are the pinnacle of terror and electric hand dryers equivalent to torture. The high volume of organ music in some churches and of fireworks from five miles away has reduced them to tears. They cover their ears when we push the grocery cart across the parking lot to the car.

Everything is just so loud.

I understand that part. I'm sensitive to sounds, too.

What I don't understand is how people who are so sensitive to sound can create so much of it.

When everyone else is napping, one child has taken to singing at top volume into a toy microphone with an echo effect. We talked about it. I explained that she was being too loud and that it was disturbing the rest of us at quiet time. She responded, "I like the way it rattles my ear drums!"

Do these two things go together? Do kids who loathe loud noises also love to make as much noise as possible? Or are we dealing with an anomaly, here?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

31 Days, day 25: Crash.

It wasn't just a crash. It was kind of a crashspringinnginng tumble crash bam, followed by an awful silence.

The girls scampered down the hall to their room, barely needing to be told to clear the area, and your dad marched straight down the hall to your room, his jaw set.

The dulcimer lay still, face down after its tumble from the wall. My hand shook a little as I turned it over, but there was only a tiny chip missing from one side. The strings were all still attached, none of the pegs broken.

How hard does a boy have to slam a door to make a dulcimer fall from the wall in the next room? There's probably a way to calculate the necessary force, and maybe one day, you will do the math. Until then, I'll be holding my breath every time you stomp off to your room, waiting to see if this explosion will register high enough on the scale to knock things from the wall.

There's nothing quite like confronting my own shortcomings in my children. When I see you standing there, your anger rising until your hair stands on end, I can almost measure the electric air that roots you to the spot. I brace for the outburst (though sometimes I'm not sure if yours or mine will come first).

Mine shouldn't ever come. Not first. Not at all. I'm the grownup, after all. And I'm sorry you've received a double dose of the bubbly, lava-hot temper from me...there's definitely a genetic part there on my side of the family, but you've certainly seen it in action, too.

Tonight, the sound of a dulcimer crashing to the floor was the sound of generational sin in action, and it scared me. I've got to do a better job helping you get a handle on anger...but first, I need to figure out how to get a handle on it myself.

Lord, have mercy.