Domestic Bliss Report

Motherhood is hard work. If we don't stick together, we'll all fall apart.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What does it mean to be a Little Boy?

     My fearless adventurer, my Kamikaze Kid. My heart-healer from the first miscarriage. The brother for the first son, my perpetual motion machine, the penny swallower. The treasure I was terrified I'd lose when I had that episode of costochondritis when I was about 7 weeks pregnant with him.
     He wears out the knees of every pair of pants that come his way despite manufacturer's guarantees otherwise. It is virtually impossible for him to stay clean outdoors unless it is a direct line from door to vehicle. Even then, detours to dirt or puddles happen.

     He laughs, he forgives, he never stops moving. He asked his 15-year-old cousin, "Do you know who you're going to marry?" It wouldn't have surprised me if his next question had been, "If you could have a dinosaur as a pet, which one would you choose?" followed by, "What is your favorite kind of ice cream?"

     This is the little boy who hated, was terrified of, the swings. His whole body would go rigid and he'd scream until taken out. He would panic whenever he'd see his baby sister in one--not because he wanted it but because he was afraid for her. Now, though, he helps her in and out and even will push her.
     He takes her bug-hunting in the back yard and once stepped in when a game of "chase" got too rowdy for his taste. Never mind his sister's playmate was within a month and pound of her; he still felt it necessary to put himself between them, fists on his hips to say, "That's MY little sister." His tone implied that this interloper had better not take liberties--he was being watched.

     He is exhiliarated on his bicycle (now that the training wheels are securely attached, of course). He wanted to join his big brother, 5 years his senior, on the soccer field. He wants to play baseball and maybe he will.
     There is no "middle ground" with Louis, no "second gear." It's full-tilt. I've said that it's either Seal Team Six or 25 to life for him; he'll grow up to do something death-defying and noble or, well, he'll end up incarcerated in the effort. A desk job, architect, attorney, engineer? No way. Not enough adrenaline there. Fire fighter? Absolutely.
     This is the child who made me understand those backpacks with leashes. He is my "picnic bathroomer" even when he's in his own back yard, or the park full of other families, or at the soccer field. No shame or modesty in that one. This is the one who, when he goes missing somewhere like a park or museum, I just throw up my hands and pray for. To panic is useless.

     He exhausts me, charms me, entertains and infuriates me. Like all my children, I love him more with every breath.

     And he's signed up for kindergarten at a Montessori school this fall. He can already read, so why do I feel the need to send him? And why him instead of anyone else? Am I sending my "problem child" off for someone else to deal with? Is that why I feel guilty? Or is it because I feel like I haven't tried hard enough to figure him out, to provide what he needs? Or am I just tired, or lazy, and can't bear to do kindergarten again? Am I misjudging things, putting academic expectations on him too early, seeing a problem where none exists that would be solved simply by time regardless of location?
    While I realize millions of children start kindergarten every fall, and both they and their mothers live to tell the tale, I am agonized over this. He, on the other hand, is excited. He gets a backpack! And lunchbox! He can't wait to go every day! I'll have to be sure he doesn't see my tears on his way out the door.

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Poverty, chastity, and... what?

During one of those endless tedious chores that occupies a minimal part of the active brain, I found myself thinking about those three virtues espoused, to a greater or lesser degree, by vowed religious. I'm trying to work out a Rule of Life for myself; yeah, I know, there's the one by a more famous Catholic homeschooling moms but... I'm not there. I heard her speak at a conference and I don't recall her having much more advice for those with littles than "Try to teach while they're napping." The reviews for her book weren't inspiring enough for me to actually purchase it, so I'm working it out on my own.

Back when we started homeschooling, I went with "Reading, Writing, 'Rithmetic, and Religion." That was our framework as we tried it on. Pretty basic and it worked for kindergarten. It's expanded since then, but on a gradual basis that I could follow.

So, I'm going pretty basic on my Rule: Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. Okay, then. That's the easy part. What do each of these mean in my vocation?

Poverty I think I get. For me, it doesn't mean starve yourself and let your clothes have holes until you may as well be wrapped in newspaper. I have children to consider, one of whom is an 11-year-old daughter who would be mortified if I wore ill-fitting or obviously well-worn items in public with her. So it means keep costs and value in perspective, and remember what's truly valuable. Don't purchase Every New Novel Item advertised for homeschooling; consider whether you'll actually use the item (do I really need more math manipulatives for the little ones to scatter on the floor and feel like LEGOs when stepped on? Can't I use the Little People animals in discussing classifying instead of ordering fancy-schmancy photo cards, guaranteed to get destroyed by the toddler before the second use?). I have tried to spend my life in that mindset, so it's not difficult.

Chastity. It's not the same thing as abstinence, people. I'm a happily married woman and I aim to stay that way. I did my share of romance-novel (and worse) reading long ago, and frankly, I'd rather live the tale than read it. That's all I'm going to discuss the topic outside of a Tim Horton's after 11 PM, and if you don't get that reference I'm not explaining it.

Obedience is the hardest one I've got. Whom do I obey? I'm the mother, the matriarch of my household, queen of the castle. I don't have a "mother superior" to obey; I didn't say "obey" in my wedding vows. If I start "obeying" my children, we'll eat nothing more than macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on a table littered with Play-doh and paper towels, left behind after yet another milk spill with a medley of Spongebob, Phineas & Ferb, and Dora the Explorer blaring in the background. Down that road lay madness.

If I just follow chores and do what needs doing from minute to minute, I'll run from one metaphorical fire to the next, washing dishes minutes before I need to start dinner and hoping everyone will be able to find clean underwear in the morning. Exactly the opposite of what I'm hoping a Rule will bring about, which is order from chaos.

Not the kids and not the chores, then. My husband isn't one of those knuckle-dragging types I hear so much about; many's the time I bring an idea to him about the kids, the home, or the like and I get a "That sounds good. Okay, go for it." He'd probably say something about a dog needing to be obedient, not his wife. Not exactly a big help.

 If Poverty is a correct ordering of material goods, and Chastity is a correct ordering of *myself* (ahem), it follows that Obedience is a correct ordering of Time and Effort. More reflection on this next time I'm pairing socks, washing dishes, scrubbing floors...

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Friday, February 22, 2013

St. Joseph, pray for us.

I watch my children and revel in their individuality. I teach them, read to them, figure out what makes them tick. I talk with my children's friends, or at least their parents on what they do, discipline techniques, hobbies, activities. My own children are not the first ones I've observed; between substitute teaching, summer programs, and full-time teaching, I had almost a decade of experience before my first was even born.
I've noticed some trends in all of this. It's going to drive the gender deconstructionists nuts, but I've lived it. Here's what I've come up with: Boys and girls are different.
There. I said it.
Boys have more energy and require more direction. They are paradoxically more easily distracted and more tunnel-visioned; have you ever tried to talk to a male of any age while there's a screen in the room? Extremely focused on the screen, less so on the person. Sitting at a table or desk with a book? Not so focused.
Girls, on the other hand, will sit and follow printed directions. We will color, or decorate, or scrapbook for hours without leaving our seat. Hence the depiction of women tatting lace, or quilting, or doing needlework. I haven't quilted but frankly, I can't imagine it's a terribly strenuous activity until you're putting all of your squares together to finalize the project.
"Boys need something to muck," states a friend of mine with six sons. "Boys need something useful and physical, and if it's not useful then competitive," say I. If they don't have that, they get... squirrelly. Random examples that have stuck with me are Edward Lewis' (that's Richard Gere's character) observation in Pretty Woman: "We don't build anything. We don't make anything." All of the work Almanzo does in Farmer Boy. The prevalence of men who have come to my house to fix the furnace, the washing machine, the electrical system; those who fix my car, tear up and rebuild our street, resod the lawn.
Where did this come from? Well, I'm reading Matthew Crawford's book and it just makes sense. So many occupations now involve marketing in ideas; it reminds me of Douglas Adams and his comments about moving "little green pieces of paper"--"on the whole, it wasn't the little green pieces of paper that were unhappy." Or something like. Even books now can exist entirely electronically--typed on the computer, emailed to an editor, published and downloaded to one's Kindle or Nook or phone app. There's something vaguely wrong about that, not having a product you can hold in your hands.
Boys, and by virtue men, when they make something it has to be useful. They're goal-oriented. They'll make you a bench, and while it may be beautifully painted or have artistic carving on the side, you'd better be able to actually sit on it. The shelf better be able to hold something when it goes on the wall. Even the art they make must have some greater purpose than decoration--it must tell a story, symbolize some greater event or idea.
They want to do something they can hold in their hands.
Girls will put a vase of flowers on the table for no reason besides to make it look pretty. We will cross-stitch a sampler of the alphabet, put it in a frame, and hang it on the wall. Everyone who sees it will already know the alphabet; it will not be covering a hole in the wall. Its sole purpose is to look pretty. Men rarely will do such a thing.
Sure, men buy flowers for women, but if you think it's just because they think the flowers will look pretty on the table, and have nothing to do with the woman's attitude, you're kidding yourself. Like I said, goal-oriented.
I believe this trend away from such activities, for all of us, is a loss. And yes, I do believe it is happening.  How it is affecting our culture, my children's education, and what to do about it is another entry.

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Thursday, February 07, 2013

Lenten observance?

I don't even know where to begin.
Facebook and its immediacy and consequent, constant novelty took some of the luster away from blogging, as did Elizabeth. She's now 3 and decided, after much coaxing on my part and contrariness on hers, that she'll use the toilet.
She has not had an accident, and has had very few false alarms. I suppose waiting the additional year was worth it if she's going to make it that easy.

Since I was regularly blogging, we've added Thomas to the mix. As you, Gentle Reader, probably read my husband's blog as well, you know he's 16 months old and just a riot. He's a sweet kid who if we're not careful will end up quite spoiled; with 5 older siblings, some of whom dote on him, it's a wonder he walks and talks. He knows the easy mark, that's for sure. Elizabeth being closest to his age is immune to his tricks. She's no fool.

I'm not sure what to do for Lent this year. I can't bear to give up Facebook. Yeah, yeah, it's supposed to be a time of sacrifice and penance and I did survive for most of my life without it, but now that it's there, it's akin to giving up flush toilets. It's just too useful, too practical. I use it to keep in touch with friends who are far away, those I don't see often enough, or those whose children get along with my own. I would not be the only one making a sacrifice, so it just doesn't seem fair to them.

So instead, I'm going to try to limit how much time I spend on it. I tried last to have a cleaner, more organized house. From Ash Wednesday until the first Sunday I did pretty well. Then the kids got sick, five trips to the pediatrician in six days, several on antibiotics, one on a nebulizer, really nice weather giving the recovering a healthy dose of spring fever... That would take a week or two to recover from, and then we were at Palm Sunday and it was over.

I'm going to try to get back to blogging instead. Longer thoughts, revisions of writing process, opinions on the state of things on the micro (read: my own kids) and the macro level. I have some thoughts on the books I'm reading, what I see in modern society, my own personal understanding of things.

So I'm still here, and I'm going to try to be more so. I'm interested in participating more in what's been called the Great Conversation.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Keeping my head above water

I started this Lent with lots of enthusiasm. If that makes sense, that is. I had the schedule I was going to work on, I'd figured out some adaptations for my own household, it was gonna be great. I'd have the house clean(er) and (more) organized come Easter--yay!
Then five visits to the pediatrician in six days; nebulizing ever three, then four, then six hours; four kids going on antibiotics twice daily and two of them with eardrops four times daily; unseasonably warm weather making everyone want to be outside (and thus slack off on chores); so we got behind and haven't caught up.
I'm feeling overwhelmed by STUFF. We have more books than we'll ever read, more movies than we'll ever watch, more toys than they'll ever play with, more clothes than we'll ever wear out... I don't think we'll have more food than we'll ever eat but that's only because we regularly consume quantities of that. Maybe it's because I watched an episode of Hoarders last night but I'm really feeling this glut of abundance that can only happen in First World countries.
Like forgoing vaccinations, by the way. Here in the US, we can debate shots versus ill effects, government conspiracies and autism risks, mercury poisoning and ethical production. In places where children still die from polio, they don't have that luxury.
Back to my original thought, such as it was. I look around my house and think of so many things I want to do, and wish could happen, and even could get rid of and simplify... then the baby cries, or a diaper needs changing or bickering needs refereeing or someone needs help with their school. Repeat ad infinitum until the end of the day when I just want to crawl in bed.
Even on my Kindle where entire collections of classics can be found for free, I still feel that in my head. Carrying it around. Perhaps that's my own little neurosis as they don't take up any physical space.
Purging doesn't take any money, just time and effort. And the motivation to do it.

So today is a fresh morning. Perhaps I will be one bag of donations lighter at the end of it.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Simplicity

The noise is sometimes unbearable. Not just the juggling of six children, their conversations and questions and requests and disputes and... The other noise. The one that never goes away and starts with, "I really should be doing..." or "After I'm done with this, what can I start next?"
Multitasking can be both a lifesaver and a route to insanity. The washer, dryer, and dishwasher running; the littles napping; the big 3 doing school or chores; folding laundry and mentally planning what to do next, or writing the shopping list or dinner that night. It's the standard of my life and it's become second nature. But where is my silence?
Yesterday, when Husband was home ill but not contagious, I went with just Thomas to pick the Big 3 up from art class. I arrived and luckily saw a familiar mom; she told my kids I was outside waiting. So there I was. Three kids safe and involved in an activity I'm not leading, two others home with their father, the youngest asleep in his car seat behind me. Instead of simply sitting still, contemplating the quiet, saying a prayer, what did I do?
I pulled out the girls' handbook and started looking over badges we could do. I could have prayed a decade (God gave us 10 fingers for a reason), I could have said something spontaneous, instead I started looking for more work to do.
It's a sickness.
Saturday, when getting Elizabeth down for her nap, I lost my temper. For some reason, yelling "Lie down!" is counterproductive when dealing with a 2-year-old. After she finally wound down, I went and got my Rosary. She was drifting off when I hugged her for a moment; she started to say she wanted to get up and I shushed her. "Mama's going to say her prayers. You go to sleep," I told her. Her eyes slid shut.
Despite my many distractions on what should be done to tidy their room, I managed all five decades. It was almost penitential which tells me more than anything it's been too long.

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Saturday, March 03, 2012

So now I have a patron saint?

     I've written about this before--the insignificance I feel sometimes when I compare myself to certain others. Those who get mentioned in my alumni bulletin, for example. There are kids younger than I gallivanting around the globe bringing potable water to obscure villages in developing nations, or making huge scientific breakthroughs related to various plagues. (I'm not exaggerating. One of my former students is currently in the Peace Corps working with his wife in South Africa.) Or they're making these thoughtful and generous philanthropic donations or improving literacy rates in Appalachia.
     Whatever. I'm just trying to keep my baby happy, my school-age trio on-task, and preschooler and toddler alive. Monumental global accomplishments and curing cancer will have to wait.
     Will the small acts of kindness I do ever amount to much? Will my kids even remember? Will she remember how I tried every week to make sure she had tights for ballet, or he how I made sure his uniform was clean? How I would try to serve one of her favorite dinners the same week I made her least favorite to please her brother?
     In the one episode of Leverage I've watched, one of the characters said something like, "One child is a human interest story; a thousand is a statistic." All of those tiny acts are statistics that get lost.
     I was thinking about this some weeks ago. We'd arrived early for Mass and the ambulatory kids were walking around looking at the church--something they still do even though we've been there many times now. I contemplated the painting above the altar of the church's patroness, St. Veronica. I think she's one of those early saints that got "grandfathered" in before the Church started getting official about who was or wasn't and thoroughly examining miracles, kind of like St. Philomena or St. Christopher. Did you know the saint referred to most certainly wasn't named "Veronica"? She's called that from the translation of true image--I'm not up on my Greek, but I think it's vera ikon. According to Catholic Tradition, she wiped the face of Jesus as He carried His cross. An image of His face remained on her veil. Her act of kindness isn't even mentioned in Scripture, but is part of the Stations of the Cross. What else she did in her lifetime, whether she had children, even her real name is lost.
    That kind of humility, to be remembered two millenia later for one simple act, is a saint that understands motherhood.

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