Monday, 26 March 2012

Stuff Parents Say

I was having a playdate with one of my fave lady friends the other day, and we got on the topic of the crazy stuff we find ourselves saying as parents. Not the usual talk of poop, umbilical stumps, pregnancy cravings or intense labour stories. We all saw that stuff coming (or if we didn't, it became normal so quickly it seems silly to dwell on). I'm talking about the completely random stuff. The "did I just say that?" kind of stuff. The stuff, that when taken out of context, sounds ridiculous at best or gibberish at worst. I've put the word out on Facebook and Twitter to hear a few of your favourite child induced rantings. Here's what I've gotten so far. I'll add more as it comes in:
"When dinosaurs are flying in helicopters it means clean up isn't getting done." from Nichole Bernier (@nicholebernier) [The author of the upcoming novel The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D, which, after reading the previewed chapter on her website, has me very excited that such an intelligent woman can write so well and still find herself saying hilariously non-sensical things.]

"A bellybutton is no reason to be upset!" I said this gem myself. Oldest son was crying at bed time. I went upstairs to check it out and he wailed "I don't want anymore bellybuttons! I want a shiiiirt!" and before I could think of something sensible these words slipped out. That's the last time I put him to bed in just pj pants.

"Apples don't belong in blankets, people! Come on!" There's nothing I can say to make this sound good or normal.

"Stop chewing the table/chair/any furniture!" I can't believe how often I say this to non-teething children.

"I hope that's chocolate on his face. Please let that be chocolate. Did you give him chocolate at nap time? Oh no. It's not chocolate. Oh God. It's everywhere." A messy diaper spreads its grief.
What is it about our kids that they can make even the most reasonable adult sound vaguely out of touch with reality? Maybe it's the sleep deprivation. Or the hormones. Or the coffee high. Either way, keep it coming kids. If we can't laugh at ourselves, folks, who can? Actually, probably the kids. I'm pretty sure they're setting me up sometimes. Okay, time for more coffee.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Lover and Beloved

Recently my husband has been reading sections of the Bible and sharing his thoughts about what he's reading with me. It's one of my favourite things about our relationships. Lots of couples fall in love and then struggle to find a way to make faith work within the relationship. Everyone's relationship with God is different, and sometimes when we meet we're in different places in our relationship with God. One of the greatest blessings in our marriage (besides our abundance of adorable children. Seriously, I'm not just saying that. They gorgeous) is that when we met, we were seeking a way to give our lives entirely to God. As I posted earlier we had both joined the same religious community with the plan to become a monk and a nun. After we left the community and got married, we still had the same underlying hope for the course of our lives: to seek to do the will of God, to love Him and to share His love with others. I feel blessed that in all of the discussions about our lives that we had before we got married, God was never a question, but instead always a foundation. When we got pregnant the first time, the only real discussion we had about Baptism was who should be the godparents, not if we should have our baby baptised.

There have been times when we've been more and less good at accomplishing the lofty goal of living entirely for the glory of God. Sometimes having four kids makes it very hard to take the time to quiet ourselves to hear God's voice. As always, I find my wonderful husband leads the way. His work requires a lot of dedication and thoroughness, but somehow while creating beautiful cabinetry and furniture, he finds a way to use the silence as an opportunity to listen to the still small voice, and also to pray. I often will get little emails throughout the day about these quiet moments. They inspire me and make me want to take an extra moment while I'm completing a task to give thanks to God for all the blessings in my life. I'm usually interrupted from my thoughts by one of those little blessings chirping for something, but that's the reality of having four small children.

When they're in bed at night, we often find ourselves reflecting on the path God is taking us on, and the beauty of the faith we've inherited. Lately we've been talking a bit about the Song of Solomon (or the Song of Songs). Literally it's a poem of love written by Solomon about his bride, but it can also be read as God's love for his creations. Christ is the lover and we are the beloved. We see in the words of Solomon the love story of the ages, the love that leads to God sending His only Son for our Salvation. After my husband read the Song of Songs he found himself reading the words of Psalm 22. The Psalms were written by King David, the father of Solomon. In  Psalm 22, we hear a familiar story. We hear the story of the Crucifixion, and even the words of Christ, suffering on the cross. Somehow reading about the suffering of the Messiah right after reading the Song of Songs gives perfect context to the words "Why have you forsaken me?". Christ took on all of the suffering and torture of the crucifixion for the sake of His beloved. He emptied Himself of all his Godliness because His love was greater than all the sin, sadness and hate in the world. Even though we were full of sin, Christ, always the lover, still saw us as we were intended, the beautiful Bride, and poured out His blood so we could be made clean again.

Perfectly, Psalm 22 is followed by the most famous of the Psalms. The imagery of Psalm 23 is the image of Heaven. "The Lord's my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes lie in pastures green." After the suffering is done, follows the peace of Heaven. As Easter rapidly approaches, I find it fitting that God has led my husband and I to these three passages in the Bible. In all the drama and distraction of our lives, a gentle reminder that God loves us, gave everything for us, and has a plan for our good gives me the desire to keep trusting in Him. Suffering is but a moment, but at the end of all days, He will carry His bride over the threshold of her new heavenly home.

Retro Chic

I've noticed for the past couple of years the things of my youth have become "retro". Every fashion trend, hair style (anyone else noticing mullets are back amongst some celebs?), movie and kids show is making a come back. Often times I find myself rankling at the throw backs that aren't quite spot on. You know the ones I mean, you children of the 80s and 90s. The carefully "updated" re-release of My Little Ponies (why do they look like Bratz dolls?) and Strawberry Shortcake (why is she dressed like a hooker with a pageboy hat thrown on as a diversion?) certainly caught my attention. There was the new Smurfs movie last year and a re-boot of the Star Trek series (okay okay, I totally loved it. LEONARD NEMOY!!). I feel like network executives have set up think tanks dedicated to ways to re-sell my childhood to me now that I have kids.

For those of us who can't quite get behind Dora, Bratz dolls and every other temporary trend designed to sell toys (not unlike the old Hallmark drawings that became a show we know as Care Bears), the mere mention of our favourite childhood shows and toys gets our attention in the midst of all the noise. More often than not I find myself disappointed. My favourite childhood stories twisted and made over into something so strange, I wonder if my memory has betrayed me or if this is just stage of innocence lost. But sometimes, I come across something in the sea of neon, leg-warmers and Blossom jokes on popular sitcoms, that makes me feel like a kid again. Some great examples are the Horton Hears a Who movie (I loved that story as a kid) and the Curious George movie that came out a few years back (the TV show is a killer too. So cute!). Favourite childhood friends came to life in a way that was honest and unique, in a way that made me want to sit on the floor, nose as close to the TV as I could manage without going blind. These were movies I wanted to watch with my kids, without having to censor them.

This week, I finally found another movie to add to our retro throwback repetoire. I kinda love the Muppets. Like, for real. I watched every episode of the show as a kid, every movie, and even the Muppet Babies cartoon. We had toys, puppets, and sheet music. When the Muppets in Space movie came out when I was a teenager, I went with my big brother to soak in the sweet charms of the Muppets however I could get it. My favourite Christmas movie is, without a doubt, A Muppet Christmas Carol (seriously, we watch it year round. It's the best telling of the classic tale ever made). As you can tell, I'm nuts for the Muppets (and Sesame Street too, though in a lesser fashion). The Muppets has always been kid friendly but with a wink and nod to the parents watching. The Muppet Movie from back in the day never had a problem breaking the fourth wall to have a conversation with the audience, even if it made no sense to the plot. Kermit and the gang were masters of the running gag. Fozzie could make even the worst joke funny by simply saying "waka waka". I still laugh like a giddy 5 year old when Miss Piggy starts roundhouse kicking people. So when I saw that there was a new Muppet movie coming out, I was excited. Part of me was nervous because I was afraid that this was going to be a lame re-hashing of old gags just to make some quick cash on the back of my generation.

I did my research and got more excited. The movie was pitched and written by Jason Segel (who I love in How I Met Your Mother), not the brain child of a greedy executive. This is a movie by a fan, for fans. I don't want to spoil any of the movie for those who haven't seen it, but this movie is a tribute to the Muppets and their long history of comedy. A few running gags (I kept expecting a "Have you tried Hare Krishna?" gag, but that's not exactly current anymore), a healthy dose of cameos, an irreverence for the sanctity of the fourth wall, a bit of fan service, and a lot of good old fashioned Muppet fun. Seriously folks, go out and watch it. I'm gushing over here. Part of me hopes they merchandise this movie to death so I can get my kids a few Muppet t-shirts and the requisite Kermit puppet. If the folks in Hollywood could only make every movie with such deep respect for the integrity of the original. I think Jim Henson must be smiling down from Heaven knowing that his creations are still out there, making young and old smile.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Fabric of Our Lives

I'm one of those people that wants to capture the essence of my children, at every age, so that when I'm older I can look back and reflect on their childhood that I was too busy trying to survive to enjoy as fully as I wanted. There are times that I can sit and drink in the delights of their youthful exuberance, wonder, and simple beauty, but those moments are scattered between laundry, cooking and breaking up fights.

I remember when we were waiting for our newest baby, I brought up the boxes of boys and girls clothes to be sorted and prepared. We didn't know which we were having so I wanted a small collection ready because I knew in the haze of new baby I wouldn't have time to sort things out. Two other times I had brought out that box of newborn girls clothes, and two other times I'd quietly tucked them away. This time, however, I couldn't help myself. I unconsciously unpacked every item, nesting it in the little dresser that had only ever been used by our eldest daughter. As I took out all the little, impossibly small items, I was overwhelmed by the joyful memories I attached to each of them. Her newborn scent, which lingered in my memory like the perfume of my Nonna, a familiar friend long gone, rose up from each memory laden garment I pulled out of the box. I felt so silly, grasping on so tightly to the memories of the baby my big girl used to be. She was my first, the child who made me a mother. She was a dream child, the promise of a vision fulfilled in flesh before my eyes, always growing beyond what I could have imagined.

Today I was poring over baby pictures of our newest baby, our sweet and calm little girl. The day we took her home from the hospital, I had dressed her in one of those little dresses her big sister had worn as a baby. A pretty checkered dress that was a little too big for her, which highlighted her littleness. She was a full pound bigger than her sister had been at birth, but still managed to look tiny and helpless. My heart cried out as her scent mingled with the latent scent her sister had imprinted on the dress. There was a newness and an oldness in that moment. I was no longer a first time mother. I had three other beautiful children I longed to return home to. As I held my newest blessing and miracle close, I was still anxious as I had been with each of my three older children, wanting to do right by this little person entrusted to me.

It's funny how something so simple as a dress can trigger those memories. I guess I can't bottle these moments, but in the end the most important moments are woven carefully into the fabric of our lives, in items and photos scattered as guideposts to remind us where we have been, and how far we've come.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Faith of a Child

Today three of my kids asked me a series of questions about Jesus. Why He died, how it happened, what it means that He's alive, is He on the cross still? Man oh man these kids are wild. All of this started because I put on some YouTube videos of Nichole Nordeman songs. The video for "Why" (seriously, go look it up) features images from The Passion of the Christ. They're used to seeing Jesus on the Cross. We're Catholic so we have some crucifixes in our house. I think what caught their attention was that the still images of Jesus were bloody, and looked painful. My first instinct was to turn off the video as quickly as I could, but before I had a moment to turn off the screen the questions started. The song moved on to another but the questions didn't last.

For some of the morning and all of the afternoon (after a nap which clearly reinvigorated their minds) I answered question after question. Some were repeated, a clear request for clarification. I pondered briefly just asking them to drop it, putting on some Sesame Street, and hoping that I wouldn't have to deal with the weight of the task. I have no problem with the kids knowing about Jesus. I delight in their innocent desire to know as much as possible about this man who they already loved, even without understanding the story of Salvation. I was just scared that I wasn't up to the task, that the words I used wouldn't be good enough, that I would confuse them, that they wouldn't understand. For all my fears, I felt a push to tell them everything I could, in whatever way I could, to help them know how much God loved them.

I won't bore you with all the details, but for the sake of clarity, I ended up telling the story of the life of Christ, from the Annunciation, to the Nativity, to the Sermon on the Mount (or at least the important details of God's love in the preaching of Christ), to the Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection of Christ. They sat with rapt attention, peppering me with question, teasing out more details than I had planned to tell them. Their active little minds, taking turns pushing the story a little further, trying to make sense of why a good man would be punished for the wrongs of all.

In the end, I don't know how much they understood, but I know that we have built a bit more of a foundation for their faith. The most incredible thing about any child is that when you tell them something, they'll believe you. Because you are their parent and they love you, they have no concept that you'd lie to them. As they get older I know they'll ask more tough questions, and I hope that I'll be able, by the grace of God, to rise to the task. I would hate to betray their trust by giving them anything less than the absolute Truth. Whatever they didn't understand today they will understand better as they older. They are happy to take the rest on Faith. And it renews my Faith to see what Jesus meant when He said we should have Faith like a child.

Can't Say It Enough

Sometimes I think I get so wrapped up in parenting, I can't see the forest for the trees. There are days when every time I open my mouth, it's only to tell someone to stop standing on something, stop fighting, stop whining, or to do something like clean up, eat, or sit. Time after time there are only corrections and instructions. With four kids, I find myself talking at them pretty much all day. I know that because they're toddlers this is part of the deal. They need boundaries. They need guidance. Still, there are times when I sit back and go over my day and I can't help but wonder what makes me so different from a daycare or a babysitter. Nothing about what I've done all day is so much different from what we could pay a stranger to do instead.

It's in those times of reflection that I realise I need to make time for more cuddles, more laughter, and I need to remember to say more than the "do"s and "don't"s to my kids. Over the past week I've tried to make a conscious effort to interrupt my own constant stream of instructions to pause, take each child aside, and to simply say "I love you" and "I'm so glad you're my child". I'm sure this seems obvious to everyone, but it's something I struggle with. I do love my kids. If anything ever happened to one of them, part of my life would end there and then. Everything I do every day is for them. I gave up my chance to have a career outside the home to be able to be with them, to give them everything they needed.

All my instructions and guidance comes from that place of deep love, and wanting to help them be safe and also to learn and grow, but I know feeling this love for them isn't enough to let them know I feel it. I'm sure when they're older they'll be able to look back and see that all of this is coming from a place of love, but until then I need to say it, as often as I can, when they're being good and when they're being bad. I want them to know that I love them no matter what, and always have. I can't stop setting limits for their safety, but I never want to set a limit on my love for them.

After about a week of spontaneous "I love you"s, I'm still finding the kids crazy, wonderful, a little out of control, and hilarious. They haven't changed much, although my oldest son has started spontaneously saying "I love you" too every once in a while. I really wasn't looking for a change in them, I was looking for a change in me. I know I needed to do this so I could appreciate again my special role in this family, that I'm more than a housekeeper or babysitter. Whether we're at home or working, I think every parent teaches one great lesson to their children: that no matter what, there is someone who loves them unconditionally, deeply and constantly.

Monday, 19 March 2012

St. Joseph's Day

While much of the English speaking world is recovering from the green haze that is St. Patrick's Day (and God Bless that blue wearing Welshman, who was dragged in chains as a slave to Ireland, escaped back to Wales to return later as a Roman Catholic Bishop), we are celebrating the feast of St. Joseph, a favourite patron in our family for so many reasons. First of all, we have a son named Joseph. Secondly, my husband is a cabinetmaker and of course a father. St. Joseph is the patron of woodworkers and fathers. For many years my husband has felt a growing closeness to St. Joseph. With that in mind, I thought I'd share a few reflections on this Saint who is a daily example for our lives.

How can you not feel some love and affinity for this man? He was a hard-working man, the breadwinner for his small family. Carpentry is no easy trade. It can be back-breaking, and requires attention to both the big and the small picture. I love the idea of Joseph leaning over his work with the child Jesus watching on, probably playing amongst the curls of wood falling to the floor as Joseph's well-worn plane glides across the wood. A small act of creation and re-creation, patiently achieved under the watchful eyes of the Creator. I wonder too at what beautiful work Joseph and Jesus made together as the father taught his adopted son his trade. Something so ordinary in those days, but so extraordinary in the light of the Incarnation, the Creator putting a hand to shaping things anew.
God chose Mary for His Mother, and created her, immaculate and without sin. Her 'yes' allowed God to do His saving work from her womb, to the manger, to the Cross. She is there in the background of so many stories in the bible. Meanwhile Joseph is only prominently featured in the story of the Nativity. He is Mary's betrothed. Despite the fact that he could have cast Mary off and had her stoned, Joseph trusts the message of the Angel and joins her with a second 'yes', a 'yes' which protected her and the Child who would be born King of Kings, but brought public shame on himself. After carrying Mary and Christ child off to Egypt to protect them from Herod's murder of innocent children, Joseph fades from view, taking a backseat to his adopted son. The childhood of Christ is known more or less in the few moments shared in the Gospels. Joseph is there, like any father, supporting, loving and teaching, but asking no credit. I believe that just as He chose Mary, God chose Joseph as part of his plan for Salvation. Not every man could take on faith that Mary was carrying the Son of God, and ignore the appearance of scandal Mary's pregnancy brought to their lives. God chose a man who would trust in Him, and then after one great 'yes', spend the rest of his life saying a daily 'yes' to the duties of being a father to his adopted Son.

I'm sure it was no easy task raising Jesus, hearing Him declare He was in His Father's temple, after Joseph and Mary had spent several frantic hours racing around Jerusalem, trying to find Him. I'm sure, like any adoptive parent who hears "you're not my REAL father!", this simple phrase must have been hard for Joseph to hear. Still, he stood by his little family, and continued with devotion to raise up the Son entrusted to him. I think there's a lesson for all of us parents in the works of St. Joseph. Every child, be they are our own flesh and blood or adopted, are a precious gift to be cherished, nurtured, and protected. Be they the Christ child, or our own child, God has asked us to say 'yes' to being parents every day. I hope, like St. Joseph, I can do it quietly, knowing that my true reward at the end of my days will be seeing the wonderful people my children will hopefully become, and that they too will choose to love and serve the God who gave them to us.

St. Joseph, pray for us!

Long Way Home

This weekend we finally did it. We went for the "big" road trip down to the country to see my grandfather's house. My Grampie passed away 6 months ago, and I haven't set foot in his house for several years. He and I had what I can only call a complex relationship. I was his only granddaughter, and despite the fact that he had two daughters of his own he often seemed unsure as to how to deal with me. My Grammie would take me to the kitchen and bake with me for hours, finding little tasks for me to "help". I find myself doing the same with my kids these days. While I was in their old home I found the toddler sized apron I used to wear while I helped her still tied up in the same spot in her kitchen where I left it when I outgrew 20 years ago. Through all my turbulent times with the family, I have a core of sweet memories with my Grammie I can turn to.

My Grampie and I, on the other hand, had a more complex relationship. I remember as a child I wanted so badly to be his shadow. I tried rabbit trapping (horrifying memory here involving a not quite dead rabbit being skinned. We had it for supper that night. Ew.), fishing (my fish were often thrown back, in retrospect probably because he did a lot of catch and release), woodworking (this turned into me splitting wood unattended for their fire place at the age of... 9???) and water sports on the lake (I was just lousy at this. Hands down spazz). I felt so often that I wasn't of much interest to him. My brothers and cousins were more exciting, interesting, and at the very least far less squeamish about all his favourite activities. They had no problem baiting their own hook, understood sports, and had no qualms with hunting and trapping.

As the years went on and we didn't visit their house as often, my memories turn to he and my Grammie dropping by our house when they came to town, usually with small gifts and some sweets. I would do my best to be polite, but would do my best to flee the scene. After my Grammie passed away it was even worse. He would come to town with his new wife, a very sweet lady, and want to talk to me for as long as he could grab my attention. Part of me felt guilty. I knew I should treasure my time with him. I'd already lost 3 three grandparents, never having time to really ask all the questions and hear all the stories I know they had to tell. The other part of me saw him as a sort of anachronism. There he was, exactly the same as I remembered him as a kid (he aged very well), but not in his familiar setting. He hadn't changed, but I had changed immensely. We were worlds apart.

On the long drive (with 4 kids, ninety minutes in a confined space is a long time) to the old family home, I sat in the passenger seat trying to cobble together my memories to make some sense of the man. At his funeral, droves of people had sang, cried and laughed, soaking in their memories of this man. He was a prankster, a father figure, a dedicated volunteer in his community, and the life of any party. Stories of his various mishaps and stunts made the rounds, both during the eulogy and around the over-full tables at the reception. Family and friends co-mingled, impossible to distinguish at his funeral just as they had been in his life. His funeral had been a glimpse at the man I wanted to know, but had found unreachable. The mistakes he'd made with me, and other members of my family, clouded my desire to take the steps to peel away his rough exterior to find this diamond of a man everyone else saw.

As we came in sight of the old house I'd spent every summer at for over a dozen years, the backdrop of so many memories, I felt a lump in my throat when I realised Grammie wasn't spying us from the kitchen, yelling for Grampie to come help us bring in our bags. We weren't coming to stay, we were coming to take one last look. As we walked through their oddly empty house, littered with the legacy of their lives, I stumbled over memories and possibilities. Here were the measuring cups my Grammie used to let me fill for our little baking projects. There was Grampie's collection of tools old and new, still as he left them the last time he'd been healthy enough to go in his shop. As we glanced through the old upstairs bedrooms, we found a stack of letters, tied together with a faded yellow bow. After noting that they were addressed to my Grammie (by her maiden name), I absently tucked them in our bag, along with my old childhood apron and a few oddments we collected from around the house.

When we got home and got the kids to bed, exhausted from their long drive and overfull of snacks provided by my Mum, their Grammie, I settled down to take a look at the thick stack of faded letters, mostly written on White Rose Oil Company stationary. Glancing through it became clear very quickly these were the love letters my Grampie wrote to my Grammie over 60 years ago, before they were married. They were living in different towns because of his work, and would get together every weekend. These letters, from about a 6 month period, were written once and sometimes twice a day. I feel a little guilty reading them, but then I can't resist. He wrote exactly the same way he talked, with all the funny little tics and expressions I can hear slipping off his tongue in his old, familiar voice. In these letters I hear the man, while reading the words of his love, devotion, and humour mixed together seamlessly. Old stories I would have loved to hear, I get to read in his familiar style.

When I thought I no longer had time, I at last have found him. Here in this carefully saved stack of letters I am reading the soul of the man. His hopes for the future, his devotion to the woman he loved until death parted them (and beyond), all mixed in with the kind of humourous banalities he was know to ramble on about in his later life. For example, more than one mentions getting his pants hemmed or his hair cut (less of a concern as he got older and swiftly lost all his hair).  Somehow, after all these years of struggling to find a sweet memory to focus on, I have in my hands a way to keep the best parts of him, the parts I loved and mourned at his funeral. Any time that I miss him, I can take out one of his letters and hear his voice in my mind, wooing his sweetheart and dreaming of a life well lived.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

East Coast Home

Today as I was checking out my social media feed, I couldn't help but notice that all the big Canadian magazines and blog sites are based out of Ontario (with a more or less particular bent for the Toronto crowd). I find it fun to read about the adventures of my Ontario counterparts. They get all the best concerts (without all the controversy we seem to attract here in the east), amazing museums, arts coming out of their ears, not to mention the fact that there is ample entertainment for kids that doesn't quite bother making a tour spot anywhere near my city. That's the benefit of living in a bigger city, I suppose. We've talked about moving out west (yes, Ontario is out west to us!) several times, but I can't imagine transplanting our lives for the sake of being able to see something like Disney's Stars on Ice with the kids. (Although really, if that were here, I'd be waiting in line for tickets or whatnot).

I suppose it's more than convenience that keeps us here, or even our family. Despite the fact that we are lacking some of the really upper crust cultural things here, I feel like there's so much to see and experience in our beautiful province that makes up for the lack of worldly culture. Everywhere you look in our small city there's some history to behold or a song to be sung. We may not get U2 to rock the commons, but we're the home of Joel Plaskett (how many times can you mention Clayton Park?), Chris from Sloan (I used to sing in a choir with his lovely Mom!), Sarah McLachlan, Matt Mays, Anne Murray, and many other musicians of the past, present and future. Our pub scene is crawling with future stars, all singing music on the cutting edge of their style.

Even ignoring the music, an obvious favourite of mine, we also have several world class universities, including NSCAD, which is churning out a new generation of artists as unique as they are numerous. While we may not have the unarguably amazing Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, we're lucky enough to have a city teeming with new art from up and coming talent that has come to study here from all over the world.  There's also our museums, which tell the tale of our rich and fascinating history. How many museums can boast an extensive collection of Titanic memorabilia? Some adorably nerdy folks from one of our local museums live tweeted the morse code messages between the Titanic and surrounding ships at the exact time, 99 years later, of the night she found her resting place on the ocean floor. I don't need to see Titanic in 3D this year (although I might anyway, classic), because I can go to the Fairview Cemetary to see the graves of her victims arranged in the shape of the bow of the ship. Our whole province, and those surrounding us, are littered with history houses turned museums. One of them is even the old family home of my grandmother's family. In PEI, there is the home made famous by L.M. Montgomery in her Anne books, Green Gables, beautifully preserved. We have forts, grand houses, churches built in a day, and so much history we endeavour to share, while maintaining the thriving life of a young and vibrant downtown core.

I think that's what I really enjoy about province and our city. We have the best of both worlds, though obviously on a smaller scale than our counterparts in central Canada. We have history mixed seamlessly with modernity. History meets social media through our innovative museum staff. All the benefits of culture on the backdrop of a truly beautiful landscape. While I would love to be able to experience some of the world-class events places like Toronto can attract, I wouldn't trade our beautiful harbour, friendly faces, and local flavour for them. So while I may seem a little green some days as I read of all the activities I can't share with my kids, I'm thankful to call the East Coast my home.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Faith to Grow With

In case it wasn't obvious by the former nun and former monk getting hitched business that is our life, and our 4 kids in 5 years, we are Catholic. Because our faith is so important to us, we are trying our best to teach our children about the faith they are inheriting from us. Our TV stand has an earthen tone Nativity (it doesn't look Christmas-y as it is in muted colours, so I don't feel ridiculous having it out year round. Plus, I loves me my baby Jesus!), a statue of St. Francis with a deer (a gift from the Franciscans for our baby girl's baptism. A nice replacement for our old statue we bought on our honeymoon that got knocked over and decapitated by oldest boy), and a small statue of Our Lady of Guadaloupe (bought when I was preggers with baby girl. She was with us in the delivery room and was a great focal point). Our house is also littered with a few pictures of our favourite saints (St. Mary, St. Joseph, St. Monica and St. Augustine, St. Padre Pio, and Blessed JPII) and a cross-stitch of the Prayer of St. Francis made by hubby's Mom. Thanks to both sets of grandparents and our friends, the kids also have a large collection of books related to the life of Christ and various Saints. When he was about 20 months old, our oldest son started to ask if he could take a rosary to bed with him, so he could have "his" Jesus with him. I'm not here to give you an inventory of our home, or trying to look holy or whatnot. I'm just trying to give a sense of the daily normalcy of our Catholicism.

To some people who don't share our values or our particular faith, this may look like brainwashing. You might see our statues, relics, rosaries and stash of Christian books, and think that we're forcing our beliefs on their young minds on a consistent basis. From the perspect of faith, of any faith mind you, not just Christian, a faith worth believing in is a gift that is worth sharing. Belief in a benevolent Creator, who has knows us in every way, is a great comfort as we go through our lives.

As those of you with small children know, everything they do feels like life or death to them, including whether or not they get to have another cookie. Given the fact that we as parents are not perfect, I find it important to be able to point them to a holy Mother and perfect Father to give comfort to them in their darkest hour, even if that darkness seems a little, well, melodramatic to us. We need to realise God made them, knowing that they'd be children, and then even in their littleness He knows them and wants to comfort them in all their struggles. Having the presence of God be real to them from birth can be a true gift that can help them in their frustrations and fears. God's Fatherhood can stand alongside our parenthood without getting in the way. His Fatherhood supports us, and makes good of our parenting when our children are small and we're still learning what it means to be a parent.

By the time they are teenagers it may already be too late to start introducing them to God in the authentic way we can introduce Him to a child who is still full of awe and wonder. In my experience with teenagers, their ability to have perspective on their lives is arrested by the thick fog of hormones, peer pressure, and the isolated life of junior high and high school. How many of us spent our teen years filled with anxiety and writing dramatic poetry about what we would consider now to be small problems? While I felt like I was being swallowed up by the drama in my life, I felt I couldn't talk to my parents because they simply didn't, wouldn't, or couldn't understand. I can see now that wasn't true, but as a teenager that's how I felt. It was in those times that my faith grew from the firm foundation of my childhood into something more personal. I was able to take the lessons of my childhood and use them in my own life. It was about this time that I started reading the Psalms. Nobody does drama quite like King David. I joined him in crying out to God in the depths of my despair, wanting so badly to trust that He would carry me through. And carry me He did. If my parents hadn't taught me about our faith, or spoke of God's love and faithfulness, I'm not sure where I would have turned.

I'm not saying that teaching our children about our faith is going to automatically help them face every problem with great fortitude and grace. I just know that some day, one of them will have a problem they are struggling with, a problem they think is bigger than them and than us. When they're faced with that problem I want to know that we've given them every resource we can to get them through it. The first time they need to utter a prayer not of thanksgiving, but of despair and hopelessness, I hope that praying to the God who they already know loves them, cherishes them, and protects them, will make it a little easier for them. If they know and trust in God, perhaps those troubles that come to them won't seem so great. I want to teach my children about God, because I want them to know they are never forgotten. There is a plan for them even greater than they can imagine. They are always loved. If that faith can start as a child, and stay with them through their teenage years and then into adulthood, I will be able to face them knowing that if I failed in all else, I can be sure I gave them one great gift that will be a testament of my love for them.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Ladies Night Out

I should preface this by saying that I don't get out often. Pretty close to never in fact. I'm lucky enough to have a lady friend who knows the value of time as a woman, instead of just as Mommy, and this lovely lady has been so kind as to encourage me to get out. She adds kindness upon kindness by organizing outings and even coming to get me to make it as easy as possible for me to take a night for myself. I even blogged about the sweet freedom of getting out with her before. She is a true blessing, and a saint in disguise (though barely disguised, her holiness emanates like the rays of the sun!).

Before she and I became good friends I literally never got out without the kids. I'm definitely an emotionally attached mother. I find it incredibly hard to leave the house, even when they're all asleep. The world can get really insulated when you let your kids become your everything and don't allow yourself the freedom to take time for yourself. For the past four or so years I've been that woman, the one who's %100 Mom. I thank God for bringing a friend into my life who could lead me by her fine example to become more than a Mom. If not, I can only imagine where I'd be now. Probably a lonely, burnt-out Mama without any energy to give to my children, let alone my sweet husband, anymore. I was nearly there when my dear friend started dragging me out of the house. Now, I'm actually attracting compliments for how easy I make it look to have four kids, which is thanks in no small part to the fact that I've re-discovered the woman who is the foundation of the wife and mother with the help and encouragement of my friend.

As little as an hour at night doing something for myself reminds me that under the spit-up, cooking splatter, and possibly funky smell, there is a woman worth fighting for. If I can show my children that I value myself enough to take care of myself, then hopefully they'll follow that example and remember to pursue their passions and interests even in the middle of life's important duties. I don't want my kids to look at me in 10 years and think that I gave up my entire life for them. I want them to look and see that getting married and having my children enriched my life, gave me purpose, but didn't swallow up all my dreams and potential. If I lose myself in my desire to be everything for my children, I'm afraid when they leave to live their own lives, I won't know how to define myself outside of them. I'm afraid I'll be grasping after the little birds as they try to fly, rather than lifting them up and teaching them to soar. The knowledge that I have a future without them makes me want to make the most of this time with them, because it truly is fleeting, even with four children to enjoy. While I nuture my little blessings, I plan to continue to follow the good example of my friend and I will nuture myself too so I can continue to grow into the woman God intends me to become.

Friday, 9 March 2012

My Plans and Yours

If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans

I like to think of myself as a person who really goes with the flow, and that's at least partially true. Whenever life throws me a curveball I try to run with it. I do my best to follow God's lead in my life. But there's another side of me. The side of me that's a meticulous planner. I get that side from my Dad. He has a wild streak too, and has a long history of making good of what he's given, but for the most part he's the man behind the scenes, bringing an extra fruit tray (just in case) and making sure you've got the right number table settings for your wedding reception. It's an example I'm happy to follow in my own way.

The funny thing about me is that I can get a little carried away by either going with the flow, or organising things to death. Planning wise, you should see our family budget. I have every penny coming in and going out for the next year budgeted in an excel file that I check every day or so. As for meals, I buy all our ingredients on the weekend for set meals I already planned. When we were moving, I had a file where I kept a list of how many boxes we had, as well as what was in each box. I also packed as much as I could weeks in advance and wrote right on the boxes what room they had to be placed in when we moved and numbered each box. (That's probably why we waited so long to unpack the basement. I knew what was in the boxes so I knew we didn't need most of it.) Our day also runs on a very specific schedule, from when we wake up, to when we eat, naps, etc. Some of this is sheer necessity as we have four children and more planning meals less time for craziness to erupt. To guarantee they get what they need it takes planning. I know God made me very detail oriented to deal with the life He had planned for me.

Now on the other side there's the part of me that just goes with the flow. Our 4 kids weren't planned. Not to say they were unplanned either. We were just open to the fact that we could have children. And have them we did. 4 beautiful, wanted, and beloved babies in under 5 years. I also took my discernment with great seriousness, but when I felt that God was leading me in a certain direction, I just let go of my plans and went with the flow. History proves that that served me well, as my trusting in what was clearly a God-sent path led me to my husband via my old religious community. I very rarely find myself saying that something is too good to be true, because God has been so good to me in the most unexpected ways. When it comes to big picture stuff like where we're going to live, how we'll make another baby work, or even who I when I would fall in love, I knew God would give me what I needed to make things work, so long as I followed His lead with as much trust as I could muster.

I think the reason the two sides of my personality, both the detail-oriented list nut and the happy to take it as it comes side, work so well together is that in both cases there's a plan. In the first case it's my plan, working out the little things to make everything flow. In the second case it's God's plan, working out all the little things for my greater good. While I don't always do it perfectly, I'm trying to use my obsession with lists, schedules and details work towards the bigger picture of God's plan for my life. It takes a lot of trust for me, because I'm definitely the type to write out the 5 year plan down to the day. After 5 years of being married, my husband and I are not where I thought we would be. As it turns out, by the grace of God, we are somewhere infinitely better. Most days I look at my life, when I have a second anyway, and find myself in awe of all the good God has made of my attempts to plan out every moment of my day.

Thank you, God, for trusting me even more than I trust in you, and for loving me more than I could ever love you.