Monday, 28 May 2012

A Question of Faith

This past little while, I've tried to get into the habit of taking the kids to daily Mass. It started out as a mere whim that we should go before attending the parent and tots group that meets on Monday in the basement of the Church. Before I had kids, I used to go to Mass every day if I could. Not out of some expectation or desire to look holy, but because I honestly find so much strength and beauty in Mass, and want to have that deep feeling of what my true foundation is not just Sunday, but every day that I can muster it. Taking kids can be kind of crazy, especially if you're alone with 4 little ones who seem to be auditioning for a part in a "Where the Wild Things Are" play or something.

One day last week when we went, I had what can be described as a challenging experience. I literally had 2 kids rolling in the aisles. And not with laughter. With impossibly loud tears. We were a true spectacle. I was, of course, flustered, flabbergasted, and simply done with it. We had to spend the bulk of Mass in the Foyer, watching through the glass all the action in the Sanctuary. For all the intense wildness that was my kids, when it was time to get in line for Communion, they calmed (slightly) and we managed to walk to the front so I could received the Eucharist. It was in that moment that I remembered why I come to Mass at all: To receive the body and blood of my Saviour, under the simple appearance of wine and little circles of unleavened bread. This little oasis of peace and grace and mystery helped me fumble my way through helping my kids calm down enough to make our way through the end of Mass.

On the walk home, we were stopped by a woman remarking upon the number of my kids. The usual "your hands are full" sorts of comments, followed by how good (and good looking) they are. She asked us where we were coming from and I simply said from church. One thing led to another, and this very kind woman revealed to me that she had been to visit our church for her grandson's first Communion. She was obviously moved by his excitement, but felt fundamentally that she was unnecessarily excluded from our Communion, and that that wasn't precisely fair. Assuming I didn't know, she went on to lecture me about the fact that the reason she couldn't receive the Eucharist was due to the fact that she wasn't Catholic, and didn't believe that our Sacrament was the true Body and Blood of Christ. Explaining that I was aware of this point of faith, I thanked her for her being respectful enough not to "sneak up" and receive as had been suggested by one of her friends there with her. I told her for the same reason I would not seek to receive Communion at her Church if I had an opportunity to attend a service. (I've attended services at many different denominations, and am always so pleased to praise Christ with other fellow believers.) She went on to tell me that her friend, who is a parishioner at my parish, told her that very few if any Catholics really believe that our Sacrament is truly the Body and Blood of Christ, and that we, like many other Christians, simply believe it to be a symbol. I was floored. Confused. I felt my mouth go dry and tears well up in my eyes (luckily I was wearing sunglasses). I managed to explain to her that while that may be true of some, it certainly wasn't true for me and many of my dear friends. I am entirely convicted that the Sacrament that I seek out every Sunday (and any other day I can wrangle 4 kids to go to daily Mass) is indeed Jesus, and not a symbol. Now it was her turn to be shocked. She clearly believed that I was a rare case. I was so overwhelmed by this moment as an opportunity to witness, but something really struck me as odd about the situation.

As I walked away from this incredible conversation, I couldn't help but wonder what had really bothered me about this conversation. I felt so much grace that I could represent my faith with kindness and conviction, and that both of us left with promises of prayers for each other.I think I've figured out what bothered me. It wasn't the woman, who was very kind and open with me. I'm sure many people wonder whether Catholics truly believe in transubstantiation, and I'm sure there are many Catholics that struggle with this mystery of mercy, but it pains me that people would say that Catholics in general outright don't believe. It makes me wonder where the failure lies. Is it in our lack of formation? Or that we fear to speak up lest we be ridiculed? Or that we don't feel like we need to speak up as it isn't important? Whatever the reason, I understood in that moment more than ever why we need a new evangelisation. We need to learn again what our Faith means, what it means to us. We need to be challenged to unafraid to believe with our whole hearts and souls, even if what we believe seems foolish to others.

I reflected on the mystery of the Eucharist, and was left with a feeling of deeper conviction. If God could humble Himself enough to become incarnate in human flesh, why couldn't He choose to incarnate His flesh and blood again in the appearance of bread and wine? In Isaiah 53:2, the prophet describes Jesus: "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." (NIV) God didn't desire that we should seek Him out because He was beautiful, but rather that His Godliness should attract us. This same magnificent mystery draws me to the Eucharist. Again we see God before our very eyes if we are able to see beyond the outward appearance.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

If I Knew Then What I Know Now

Sometimes I find myself reflecting on the person I was before I met my husband and had a zillion kids (okay okay, only 4 so far). I was a girl with great drive and focus (how else could I write a 20 page term paper, 5 take-homes and 2 essays all in one weekend, powered only by orange juice, mac and cheese, and ramen noodles?), with a plan for my own life that, at the time, looked very dazzling. I was well on my way to completing my BA with the intention of doing my MA at the same school and my PhD at a Pontifical University in Rome (dream big or don't bother!). I was going to travel the world, experience new things, teach and be taught. I was going to find fulfilment in a world that was waiting just on the other side of a few more papers and exams. In the back of my mind, I also had a dream of becoming a Nun, and living out all my dreams wearing some sort of fabulous habit, veil and all. Joining a religious order would fulfil my deep religious yearnings and desire to serve others, while giving me a chance to serve my own ideal as educated world traveller.

Looking back, I doubt that if I had been given a glimpse of my life today, I would have said yes, and dived in head first. I'm relatively sure that I would have outright said no! When the opportunity to be part of a new religious community in my own city arose, I said YES before I even had a chance to consider what it was I was doing. I already had a sense of what that life would look like and what my challenges would be. If my 20 something (well, early 20 something) self had any sense of the daily challenges of my current life, I have a feeling I would have been overcome with intense fear and run the opposite direction. Possibly screaming. Back then, I had no idea what I was truly capable of. I had in my heart the desire to be a mother, but along with that I had the deep sense that I wasn't chosen for that life because I wasn't equipped for it. I simply was made to be a nun, solitary and stoic. (And seriously, I really do know that that's not a qualification for a "good" nun. My Sisters from the Franciscans are the most loving, giving women I've ever met. Stoic is not a word I'd even think to apply to those gorgeous ladies!)

When I pictured myself as a mother, it was with a feeling that I had no patience, no knowledge of babies, and that I physically could not endure labour. Being a mother to me also meant being married. And you see, I was not the marrying type, unless you count marrying Jesus. I couldn't picture myself a suitable wife to anyone, with all my solitary habits and eccentricities, my inability to be emotionally intimate with even my closest friends. The women I was nearly 10 years ago would not have been able to answer the call to the life I live now. She would have been scared, and perhaps rightly so.

The truth is that that girl is still there, part of me every day, but I'm also so much more. I'm glad that God didn't give me any real insight into what my life would be. I didn't one day wake up a wife and mother, and certainly not a mother of one preschooler, two rowdy toddlers, and one very sweet but demanding baby. God built me up, little by little. He showed me my talents, and gave me new ones. He gave me a friend, taught me how to share my struggles and emotional baggage with him, then made him my husband. He gave me one child, let me adjust, then another, then another, then another. At each stage, God waited until I was ready, then gave me a little more. Oftentimes it felt like each new pregnancy would be too much, but then I would find myself surprised as I came out of the fog of new babyness that I was not just surviving, but joyful (most days). If we reach out for God's hand, He won't let us sink, even if we feel like we're drowning some days.

I'm glad that I never had a sense of what my life would look like today. God didn't give me a chance to scare myself out of it. I can't imagine my life any other way, nor do I want to. When I gave my life up to God, He took that life and has made more out of it than I ever could have imagined.

Thursday, 10 May 2012


Mother's Day is coming up this weekend. This will be my 5th Mother's Day. My first Mother's Day I was pregnant with our oldest child, and I had no real idea what motherhood meant for me. I was about 5 months pregnant, and was just starting to realise that motherhood was going to be a big part of my new. I was just starting to show (oh the miracle of first pregnancies... I started to show around 2 weeks pregnant every pregnancy since) and my little bump was already making it awkward for me to walk without bumping into things. The nausea had subsided (thank heavens I had it all while working an office job and not my labour intensive job I had from about 5 months on), but they had been replaced with weird food and smell aversions (hilarious now when you think of the half-chewed food I've eaten and the smelly diapers I've changed), exhaustion, and a wardrobe that wasn't expanding as fast as my belly.

In the 5 years since that first Mother's Day, I've learned so much that I couldn't have imagined in those endless days of pregnancy. I've let a lot of worries go, but also have become more militant about others. I've learned it's worth getting smeared in peanut butter (or tomato sauce, or paint) to get a hug or a kiss from my kids. I've learned that giving them every physical they want in no way comes close to a moment of my full attention. I've learned how very aware they are of everything I do. I've been reading articles about this for years, but there's something about the first time your child repeats something you've been saying without thinking that it hits you like a ton of bricks. ("Baby girl is chillin', Mommy. Not illin'." Oh Lord, why did I ever talk like that in the first place??) I've learned that who I choose to share a playdate with can make a big difference in their lives. Friends who are excited to see them, even when they don't know how to play together yet, gives them a sense of self-confidence a million Mom hugs can't. (Also, they can learn cool expressions from their friend's Moms, like "Oh Snap!". True story!) I've learned that you can find out so much about a child by listening to them, even when it sounds like nonsense at first. I've learned TV can be your best friend or your greatest enemy, depending on the day of the week. I've learned the difference between a whine, scream, shrill laugh, moan and straight out purple cry, and how to manage each (most of the times). I've learned that I'm often not right, but that my kids are very forgiving as I figure things out with them. I've learned that love always has room to grow.

I think the thing that surprised me the most is that love, which I've always considered as a kind of abstract concept for me, really is something tangible. Now that I have kids, I realise in a way I never could have imagined that love has a face, well, 4 little faces. There are days when my patience is wearing thing and I lose my temper, but the second I look into their big wide eyes, it melts my heart. I would do anything to make each one of my kids happy and safe. When I hear one of them cry out in the middle of the night, my heart still leaps into my throat, living in a flash a million possibilities of what could be the problem (Did she have a nightmare? Did he fall out of bed? Are her legs twisted out of the crib? Is his blood sugar low? Or something worse...?). They have taught me what real, unconditional, endless love is all about. Love that started before I even had a positive pregnancy test. Love that keeps me up at night. Love that makes me want to be a better person so that when they look at me, they see someone they can love too.

I love the idea that on Mother's Day we chose to celebrate Moms. I'm right there with the world wanting to say my thanks to my own Mom who is, without a doubt, my personal hero for so many reasons. That being said, when it comes to my own family, I think of Mother's Day as a time to be grateful for my children. Thank them for challenging me, inspiring me, and teaching what love looks like.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Baby Led Weaning Fun Times

We do baby led weaning, which is a fancy way of saying I hate buying, making and serving my kids purees. If you do purees, that's totally fine by me. In my experience, I've found them messy, yucky smelling, and simply not the best way to introduce my kids to flavour, texture, and a variety of food. In doing baby led weaning I still try to follow all the basic rules about what order to introduce news foods, except I get the distinct joy of skipping cereals. If my kid is digging sweet potato, there's not need to feed her iron enriched powdered cereals. Don't get me wrong, she's had some of my oatmeal. Mostly because she's a sneak thief and managed to put her whole hand in my bowl. It can be tough trying to eat food with a baby sitting on your lap.

All of this lead up is really just a means for me to tell you how cool of a Mom I am, as I just gave my 8 month old baby a grilled cheese sandwich. Before you give me some crazy sideways eyes (which you may anyway), I make my sandwiches in a little pocket sandwich maker which basically toasts the bread while heating the inside. No butter required. I stuffed two solid cheese slices (not processed, although I'm not above that) between a couple of pieces of fibre rich white bread and toasted it just long enough to melt the cheese. I had half and she had half. No word of a lie, she loved it. 10 minutes later she has completely demolished her two quarters of the sandwich and is begging for some of mine. Today, Mommy is a hero.

I would seriously do baby led weaning with every baby we ever have (4 and counting have been successfully fed with this method) just so that I could see their chubby hands pulling at the unexpected trail of cheese, stuffing every last cheesy bite in their little mouths. I think the only food victory I've enjoyed as much was the first time baby girl ate bacon. I think my next plateau of  food-related parenting bliss will probably be when I make her a bacon and grilled cheese sandwich. It's about the little things, folks.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Adventures in Preschool Land

My kids are tiny dictators. Whether they know it or not, my life has been sucked into the vortex of kid schedule. Utterly. I sleep when they let me. I eat when they let me. I bathe when they let me. And let's be fair, when you have 4 kids the time for anything is slim. Lately though, it seems like that time has been even slimmer. Maybe it's the fact that spring is clearly in the air. We're waking up a bit earlier, napping a little less, and, unlike the days of our long, dark winter, we're going out. A lot. We're walking everywhere, taking the bus to see friends who live further away, joining playgroups, playing in dirt.

I thought for sure that when we started filling up our schedule with constant movement I'd be tired, cranky, and anxious for our days at home in pjs. Okay, I still loves me a good pj day. That being said, I'm finding those pj days to be few and far between these days, and I'm fine with that. To be honest, these pj days are a lot more fun when I feel like we've earned them. Our winter could be described as nothing less than hibernation. When we weren't wearing pjs it was news. I'm pretty sure that by the time the snow melted both the kids and I were ready to go racing out into the wild blue yonder on the first sunny day. And race we did. Into a nearby field, the walking path, playdates in our friends backyard, and, very soon, hours of fun on the playset in our backyard.

Part of me wonders if the catalyst of all of this is the sunshine, or the fact that baby girl is no longer spending every moment of the day in my arms. She's now napping for 2 or more hours a day, not to mention the fact that she sleeps 12 hours at night (before you think I'm bragging, I absolutely recognise that this freak occurence has nothing to do with my parenting prowess). That's all incredibly lovely, but the real kicker for me is the fact that when she's up she doesn't need to sit on my lap feeding all day. She's eating lots of solid food now, and when she's not eating she wants to be on the floor, crawling around and getting into her own brand of mischief. I'm actually getting chores done quickly with both hands rather than at a snail's pace while holding her on my hip. Now that she's more independant in general we're able to pack up and ship out at a moment's notice. Just in time for nice weather, we're finally able to enjoy the outdoors without baby girl crying 10 minutes into our outing for food or unscheduled nap.

It's nice that their needs have shifted from what movie we watch to what outdoor activity we engage in, so I'm going to take advantage while I can. So we're off to ditch the pjs, put on our shorts and t-shirts, and out the door we go at the next whim of my little little dictators.


Our oldest child is about to enjoy the last summer of her life before summer is associated primarily as the vacation from school. This September, at the impossibly young age of 4, my big girl will be old enough to enter her first year of school. I have been dreading this moment for the past 5 years (I'm including pregnancy, folks). I'm not sure she's ready to go. I'm not sure I'm ready for her to go. To me she still seems so little, so young, and simply not ready for that level of all-day learning required at the school she would be attending. Four months seems like too short of a time for her to suddenly become a morning person, and additionally to gain an attention span of more than twenty minutes. She is distractible at best, easily frustrated at worst, when faced with any attempt to learn new things. I look at her face and know that sending her to school doesn't feel right. Doesn't feel fair. I can see in her all the necessary ingredients for the same false ADHD diagnosis we hear is being levelled upon so many young elementary school students. I fear her being bullied as she is small for her age, and in so many ways still very innocent and naive about the cruelty of others.

I don't think I should have to change her, to crush what I love best about her, so that I can prepare her for a school system that is woefully underfunded, understaffed, and overflowing with students at the youngest levels. Through the years I have watched so many of my friends become teachers, working hard to enlighten and inspire the generation entrusted to them. I love these teachers for their enthusiasm, dedication, and fortitude. I respect them for trying to do what they can with what little they are given, making gold out of straw in so many cases. That being said, I look at my daughter and wonder if I can give her more attention here at home. While her teacher could have something nearer to 30 students, I would have just her (plus the distraction of 3 other little monkeys who, fortunately, take naps). I am a university educated woman, and although I don't have a BEd I'm relatively sure I can figure out how to teach my daughter what she needs to know (and some things she doesn't need to know too). I've already taught her about letters, numbers, shapes, colours, phonics, spelling, some french vocabulary, and music. Her reading is coming along slowly, but primarily because she is only 4 and still has a very short attention span. I can see that she knows how to sound out her words, but doesn't have the patience to sit and do it with every word. So we read short simple books, but we do read.

The one thing that had kept me dedicated to the idea of sending our daughter to public school has been that we would send her to French Immersion. Both my husband and I had our schooling primarily in French, and I do feel like it served me in the long run. My paternal Grandpapa was also French, so it was important that my kids learn the language as well. We recently discovered there's a good chance that due to budget cuts the school that our daughter would be attending might be losing its French program over the next few years. There have also been lots of talks of school closures in surrounding regions which I'm sure will be coming to our part of the city too, when you consider the number of schools close to us with the declining enrolment, not to mention the declining education budget.

As we reflected on all this information, we came to the conclusion that, for us, homeschooling was the right path for at least this year. I don't know how many years we'll be able to keep this up, but as long as it's what's best for her (and later on her younger siblings), our home will also be their school. With a bit of guidance from some other homeschooling parents I'm going to dive in head first and do everything I can to give my daughter the best possible educational experience.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Baby Boy

The title is a bit of a misnomer as my baby boy isn't exactly a baby anymore. This past Friday my little man had his second birthday, firmly sealing him as a "big boy" and not a baby, which he reminded us of frequently during the day. So long as he's our youngest boy, I know in my heart I'll always think of him as my baby, but I can't help but reflect on how vivacious and strong he's getting. With every milestone I can't help but reflect on how tough things have been with him, from pregnancy on through his first two years.

Before we were even pregnant with him, my husband and I had been discussing the fact that we would be satisfied if our oldest two were the only children we would ever have, we would still feel abundantly blessed. We had a boy and a girl already, and they were certainly a handful. Around this time we'd moved into a lovely four bedroom townhouse that was former military housing. It was clean, bright, and even had a little fenced-in backyard for the kids to play. In that moment, our life felt complete. We talked about more kids off and on but our youngest was still an infant so we weren't in any rush. At the same time as we were settling into our new home, our car took a turn for the worse. Half of the time it wouldn't even start. We were concerned that it would stall while we were out driving, leaving us stranded with two small children. So off to go car shopping we went. We had our eyes on an old-style minivan (because as most of you with two little kids know, sometimes you need a van just to carry their gear!), but stumbled on a used van that was only a year old with very little mileage, and luckily, the price was right.

We were excited about our new purchase and what it would mean for our family, so we decided to buy a bottle of wine to celebrate the night before we were supposed to sign the paperwork. I joked I should take a pregnancy test just to make sure I was safe to have a drink and bought one as a gag to tease my husband with. Yes, that is the kind of humour I rock out. As it turns out, the joke was on me. After a quick trip to the bathroom to get the test started before I put away our groceries, I noticed that the test showed 2 dark pink lines within seconds. There was no doubt, no peering warily at the test at a faint line like we did with our first pregnancy. There, before my eyes, without a shadow of a doubt, was a positive pregnancy test. I remember in that moment the way I ran the gamut of emotions. My first reaction was to let out one loud laugh (which puzzled my husband who didn't know I was using the test in the evening. I usually do them in the morning, but this was at around 5pm, when the hormone wouldn't be as strong as the early morning). My second was to run down the stairs waving the test in the air like a mad woman. I remember that my husband was elated. He picked up our 2 year old girl and danced her around the room in his joy. There was no thought of regret, only delight for such a surprising and appreciated gift. We had both said two kids would be enough, but I know in that unexpected, unasked for moment, we were so full of excitement, peace and joy that I knew God had something wonderful in store for us.

Even now I think wonderful isn't a good enough word. There really is no word big enough, deep enough, or loving enough to describe what our precious little boy has meant to us. He is our clown, our bottomless pit, our cuddler, our thinker, our brave little man, and, simply, our daily gift. We had some scares with his pregnancy, including an awful fall down a long flight of stairs when I was about six months pregnant. I had bruises down the whole left side of my body but, by the grace of God, my sweet baby was completely uninjured. As I recall, after I finally stopped shaking and caught my breath, I felt one firm kick, like a harried neighbour asking me to quiet down my racket so he could sleep. After it all he came out, a week late, just shy of 8 pounds but full of life, joy, and smiles.

Reflecting on the past two years, I can't help but think about how grateful I am for God's generosity with me. I was willing to stop after two. Willing to have "good enough" instead of trusting that there might be something else worth experiencing for me. As I clutch on to the last remaining parts of my boy's babyhood, I'm glad God didn't listen to me or follow my plans. I could never have guessed how incredible the blessing of three (and then four, and maybe someday more) kids would be. I am reminded again and again how blessed I have been, especially when I don't expect it, whenever I let God do what He wants with my life.