Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Are you fulfilled? Nope!

A few years ago I met a brand-new priest. Traditional Mass-only order, about my age, very fired up and zealous. In the course of some small talk it naturally came up that I was a housewife with, at the time, a baby and a toddler. "And are you fulfilled?!?" he asked me. Well, obviously, in this situation, the expected answer was a meek, "Yes, of course." So I said that, he gave a smug smile, and we moved on with the conversation. I wish I had answered differently.

I've met with that question from others over the years as well. All of whom thought they already knew the answer. 

"Are you fulfilled?" From a family member who assumes I can't possibly be after wasting my education.

"Are you fulfilled?" From the incredulous acquaintances who are killing time at the playground until everyone's in school and they can get back to their real life at the office.

"Are you fulfilled? Is it everything you hoped it would be?" From an idealistic young lady who wants to essentially be me when she grows up. Housewife, homeschool, lots of kids. Oh yeah. Living the dream.

This question always bamboozles me. It's like when a Protestant asks me, "Are you saved?" I just don't know what to do with what the asker clearly sees as a simple yes or no question. So I'm going to have a whack at it here where I can take my sweet time answering. My life is necessarily focused primarily on other people. Ask me suddenly for some introspection and it takes me a minute to shift focus.

I didn't choose marriage and motherhood primarily as a means of self-fulfillment. I expect self-fulfillment and happiness to sort of happen as byproduct, a natural result of a life well lived. That's the only way I can imagine it working. Chase after happiness for its own sake, and it will always elude you. Everybody knows that, right? I mean, obviously they don't, but still. Nobody who lives only for themselves will ever be satisfied. We'll take that statement as given. Selfish people will never be happy. So does a life focused on primarily a very few people, my own family, bring that fulfillment? 

Look up "fulfilled," and the dictionary will tell you it means, "Satisfied or happy because of fully developing one's abilities or character." 

Well, the first problem is obvious. I am far from fully developed, in abilities or in character. It's almost laughable to ask this question. I'm still pretty close to the beginning of this motherhood journey. Who asks a marathon runner on mile 5 of the race if they feel successful? Come back when I'm an old lady and maybe I'll have it figured out then.

Much of the time I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing. Mommy meltdowns happen with shocking frequency. I'll take any chance for a break I can get. I feel guilty and anxious about everything. I always feel hopelessly behind, which means failure to my natural accomplishment-based mode of gauging my success. Fighting the feeling of having failed is a daily battle. This is nearly universal among young mothers to some degree as far as I can tell. It's just really really really HARD. So, uh, no. Not fulfilled in the slightest.

Of course that isn't the whole picture at all. I do derive great satisfaction and happiness from seeing myself and my children, and yes, my husband too, all growing. I love that I get to see my son learning to read, or be the one to coach him through his fear of that impossible ledge on the rock wall he loves to climb. I love seeing my daughter willingly give one of her toys away rather than wheedling her into sharing. I feel stronger when I can discipline for the same infraction for the umpteenth time calmly and consistently instead of giving in to the urge to yell. And then the glad surprise when I suddenly realize that particular misbehavior hasn't occurred for a while!

These are all small things in themselves. Little happinesses and challenges like this happen all day every day. My character is the cumulative effect of what I do with each one. It will take a lifetime of these little things for me to fully develop as a wife and mother and human being. So I would not say I am fulfilled. It's far from perfect. And I am not fully satisfied with the way things are right now. I'm always looking to improve. It's a work in progress. But I am being perfected by and through it. When I look for it I can see the progress we've made. It is a fulfilling life.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Ryan and Mary take Manhattan!

I have three sick kids today. But they are all asleep. The bathrooms are cleaned. I managed to shower. The dishes are caught up. So now indulging in a little reminiscing about our trip to New York City last weekend. The first time Ryan and I have taken a trip together since Anthony was born! I know, my life is amazing. Come back when I have another round of puke to clean up. #keepingitreal

Six hours later....

No, no more puke praise be. But they all woke up immediately after writing the above. After taking two of them to the doctor, picking up one antibiotic, and the usual round of dinner and bedtime prep, Daddy's reading stories and I'm back to the ol' blog.

Everybody's going to be fine, by the way. Looks like an enterovirus is the cause of Daniel's astonishing rash, and likely Anthony's fever. Katie Rose gets the antibiotic.

So yeah, Ryan and I had a three-day weekend all by ourselves. That was nice. It's a little bit different traveling when you're a parent, even if the children aren't with you. For one thing, I have to remember to press elevator buttons. I'm really out of practice doing that. We also found it necessary to take pictures of things like piles of trash at the curb, or the Lego store at Rockefeller Plaza, or somebody in a princess costume, because the kids would want to see that. I left those photos out here. :-)

Our Lady of Czestochowa at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Didn't take too many pictures because there was a wedding going on. Many beautiful side chapels. This one also had lovely, slightly modern icons of Polish saints. Also went through the Holy Doors here.

Then went into Tiffany's, just because. :-)

Central Park. Doesn't that look like the Emerald City?

Later in SoHo we got locked inside of St. Anthony's church! We had to take the fire escape. Then we had sushi.

Sunset in Greenwich Village.

Saturday morning. The front of the Statue of Liberty was just swarming with people taking selfies. So we had to get at least one. :-) Lots of vendors selling selfie sticks! We couldn't go inside, because you need to reserve tickets for that months ahead of time. Maybe if we come back with the whole family we'll do that.

Ellis Island. This room is where all the immigrants who were being detained for various reasons stayed while their situations were sorted out. Pretty nice. I found my grandparents' records here. They came on the General Bundy in 1949. Ryan also found some of his Pittsburgh relatives came back through Ellis Island after a visit to Germany!

Saturday night: Les Miserables!!! Wow, what a show. It's leaving Broadway Sept 4, so I'm glad I got to see it! By the way, this is the perfect show for the Year of Mercy. Mercy is so obviously the whole theme of Les Mis. Oh, and Sept. 4 is when Mother Teresa is to be canonized. Coincidence, I think not.

After the show on Times Square.

Sunday morning all the hotels around Broadway had lines of taxis waiting outside.

After Sunday Mass outside Grand Central Station. We went to St. Agnes's, but failed to take a picture of it.

Grand Central Station with the Chrysler Building behind.

We spent a rainy afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Look who we found! Also lots of Degas for me, and medieval art for Ryan.
Then we walked through Central Park again had some really really good Mexican in Hell's Kitchen. Then back to the hotel to collect our bags and catch the train home! We did walk around Ground Zero, and went into Herald Square Macy's, and people watched at the bar in Grand Central Station, but that's a pretty good photo summary. I really liked Manhattan. It was fun just seeing all the people and even window shopping seeing what the new fashions are. And the food was just amazing. I would love to go back someday!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

"It Can't Be That Bad!"

I had a strange conversation today. About family size, naturally. These happen to me all the freakin’ time. I was at the park with the children and an older couple is on the path walking toward us. He says, “You have three, so it can’t be that bad!”

I reply, nonplussed, “No, not at all.”

She says, “Do you think you need two more?!?”

“That would be all right.”

The two of them crack up, “Oh ho! Oh ho!” as if I’d said something kinky.

Maybe they think I don’t know what causes it. It seems to be a common assumption.

Yeah, people are weird. But more and more I feel like the weirdo, because I DON’T have a plan. Even among NFP-ers, it seems like more and more I’m hearing about spacing children far enough apart for optimal physical and psychological health, being responsible for the sake of the environment, how learning NFP should be required before marriage, etc. etc. This feels like buying into the freak-out culture. It all makes babies sound so dangerous. I don’t have a target number of children. Never did. We’ve never charted, but been just fine with a general awareness of how my body works and what it looks like when babies are likely to happen. We never had an unexpected pregnancy or anxiety about achieving pregnancy. Breastfeeding has kept me infertile for at least a year after each baby. When I was really depressed after moving the second time last year, I couldn’t deal with the idea of being pregnant just yet. So my husband gave me a little space during the fertile weeks for a few months. Now we’re back to letting nature happen. It just hasn’t been rocket science for us.

I realize that we are very blessed in this. I definitely understand that sometimes a more, shall we say, technical approach to the marital embrace is helpful for those who struggle with infertility or who really need to avoid pregnancy but don’t have such obvious fertility signs. That said, the way we’ve handled things in our marriage, not micromanaging our fertility, has been the normal way of things for millennia. Now of course it’s super, super, weird. People don’t know how to process the information that I don’t know how many children I want to have.

Here’s the thing. NFP isn’t magic. Contraception isn’t magic. The nature of sex is to make babies. So it can never be ruled out all together, even if one uses some kind of contraciption. That “openness to children” part of marriage is permanent. Neither are we guaranteed a child when we want it. So here we go procreating with reckless abandon. But really, it is highly unlikely that I will have ten kids. I’m almost thirty. I have about ten to twelve years of slowly declining fertility left. I had three children in eight years. So mathematically, I will probably end up with a large family but certainly not Duggar-sized. Financially we can provide much more than most people around the world, even if that might not include a college education.  (I’m a drop out, myself, so don’t try to convince me college is necessary for life!) We are healthy and the first three kids are doing all right thus far! We really enjoy our family. As far as I can see I don’t have any reason to worry about having “too many” children.

But is there really any such thing as “too many” children? Mother Teresa of course famously said that’s like saying there are too many flowers. But really, if we do have that big family and then suddenly become poor, or have major illness strike, or some other calamity, would we regret having them? Is a child something that, by its nature, we ought to resist? Should we be worried about having another one?

That’s crazy talk. And yet here we are. The basic assumption that it’s responsible to avoid pregnancy is just a hidden source of anxiety, to my thinking. Because a child is now by default a *bad thing*. As aforesaid, the nature of sex is to make babies. So the thing that is meant to unify the husband and wife in a profound way is now a source of this *bad thing*. So sex is now kind of the enemy. Sounds like a miserable way to live. And if you read this kind of news at all, you know that American couples really don’t have sex all that much! How can this be good for anybody?

We also avoid the potential for regret that we didn’t have more children. As far as I know, there haven’t been any scientific studies on this, but I have met enough older ladies that have expressed regret at not having grandchildren or wished that they hadn’t prevented having more themselves. (Yes, really! People tell me this stuff!) This regret at what might have been is real.

So what happens when we give up the idea we can and ought to control exactly when we have babies? You might think you ought to avoid pregnancy, then break your leg in a ski accident and discover you’re actually carrying twins. You might have to rely on friends to take care of you when you are on bed rest and then have a preemie. You might end up childless, to your complete surprise and disappointment. All true stories of people close to me. They all have peace in their hearts.

So what if we just acknowledge that some things are just out of our hands? Make our peace with not being in control of the Universe? That we are not gods? 

What if we just entrust it all to the one who is God? Trusting that He will work it all out for our good?


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Breakfast conversation

This may not be of general interest, but I really love these conversations that Anthony and Katie Rose have with each other. This one is pretty typical. Katie Rose is always talking about Heaven. Anthony is always talking about Legos. One for the memory file when they are much older.

Anthony: "How long until Christmas?"
Me: "5 months."
A: "How many weeks is that?"
M: "about 20."
A: "So, which would be faster, saving my allowance for the Lego set or just asking Santa Claus to bring it? ...The Lego set is $200... That would take FORTY WEEKS. Right? I'd better ask Santa Claus for it."
Katie Rose: "Santa Claus is a saint."
A: "I know."
KR: "Does he live in Heaven?"
A: "Yes."
KR: "Does he get Legos from Heaven?"
A: "No... Legos can't come from Heaven. They make some bad Legos that Mommy doesn't want me to buy EVER. Santa Claus would only buy the good ones. Hey, since Santa is bringing me the Lego set I can buy you a present, Rose!"
KR: "A present?!? Can I get princess shoes?!?"
A: "No... Because you would have to try them on before I buy them and that would not be fun to open then."
KR: "Oh. Let's get Daddy a present then."
A: "I don't think Daddy likes presents."
KR: "Mommy likes presents."
A: "Ok but we will talk about it LATER. Mommy we can't talk about Christmas presents anymore right now. We have to talk about something else."
KR: "Is it July? What does July do in Heaven?"
M: "What does July do? It's summertime."
KR: "Is it summer in Heaven?"
A: "On the bottom side of the world it is winter right now so Heaven must have all the seasons at the same time!"
KR: Or maybe Heaven is like Grandma and Grandpa's house! 
A: "Are you done?"
KR; "Yeah."
A: "Let's finish building our Duplo track!"
KR: "Yay!"

Endnotes:  I don't know what bad Legos he's talking about. Daddy, in fact, does not like presents. My in-laws live in La Jolla.

Friday, February 5, 2016

What the CDC Got Right

Everybody's up in arms today over the CDC's recommendation that women of childbearing age either get on birth control or give up alcohol. Rightly so. That's stupid. I'm not going to go on birth control. (Catholic! And I actually want babies.) But I'm not going to give up alcohol until menopause either. (Irish Catholic!)

Many others have adequately rebutted the silliness of this latest proclamation of the Pharisaical CDC, creating heavy burdens for people. One rebuttal, however, needs to be rebutted: Bodily autonomy. I've read this hysterical statement more than once: Dead people have more bodily autonomy than we give pregnant women!

Yup. Pregnant women do NOT have bodily autonomy. That's a fact.

It's not because of the baby.

It's because of sex.

Sex is the total gift of one's self. In a marriage, the man and woman become one flesh. That's not just something that sounds nice to say at weddings. They freely chose to give themselves to their spouses, completely, forever. So a man belongs to his wife and a wife to her husband. In modern parlance, they give up their claim to bodily autonomy. And that makes them more human, not less. This idea is so repugnant to the modern mind that sees sex as something that must be given explicit consent to each and every time. Marriage is the perfection of consent. It is given once, forever, nothing held back.

So some more repugnant-sounding implications: One may not refuse sex to one's spouse. Once you've given the gift you've given it for always. The key is generosity. Generosity goes both ways. Without being overly detailed, there have been times where both of us have persisted when the other was disinclined, and times when the amorous spouse graciously took a rain check. It's a lot sexier than it sounds. And the former cases were not rape! It would be like saying, "Husband, I know you are tired but I really need you to help me with the baby tonight." It would be his duty to say yes. If he refused he's being a jerk. If I would have greatly appreciated his help, but he was really done in and I could manage alone for that night, I would be a jerk to insist. It's a fine line. But that generosity of spirit is part of the total self gift of marriage. There's more to it than sexual intercourse, although that is it's fullest expression.

There's also the fruit of that intercourse: Children, sooner or later, in the vast majority of cases. Now we've got another human involved in this! That gift of self the spouses gave to each other creates... LIFE! (maniacal laugh). And guess what? No bodily autonomy there! Even after the birth. Believe me, if I had bodily autonomy I'd be better rested!

But isn't that so sexist? Yes and no. Yes, because biology. Women give birth, breastfeed, have crazy hormonal fluctuations and all the rest of it. Take it up with God. Men and women are different. But, let's not forget who else is in this project. The husband doesn't just say, "Good luck, honey!" and go sit in the waiting room with a cigar for the next twenty years. His total gift of self is completely bound up in the project of raising this new human person as well. No autonomy for him, either. The gift has to keep on giving.

Now of course our culture completely rejects this idea of sex, and insists on clinging to that illusion of bodily autonomy. What else do we have to cling to when we've torn apart the ideal of Christian marriage? There is nothing left to unite a child to his mother and father, nothing to keep a man and woman together outside their mutual whim. It's a cold, loveless, lifeless, lonely alternative.

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Little Peace to Start Advent

Good morning, and Happy Advent! I'm signing on this morning to share the little pep talk the Lord gave me in my Gospel reading just now for the feast of St. Andrew. (Matthew 4:18-22)

"I will make you fishers of men."

Jesus found Simon and Andrew in and through their worldly work. If they hadn't shown up that day, they would have missed Him! If I wish to encounter Christ, I too have to "show up," and do what needs doing right now.

Forgive me for trying to shirk and hide away from the work you have given me to do, and grant me the grace this day to fight that temptation. Grant me grace to do my work cheerfully and energetically.

The duty of present moment is all God will ever ask of me. Doing what He gives me to do, right now, is sufficient. Even the apostles left their nets. That means they left work undone! Be at peace.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Identity is Relational

                Every person defines who he is for himself. A person’s identity is only from within themselves. It cannot be imposed upon a person, even by biological realities. Every man IS an island. At least that’s the growing popular opinion nowadays. Of course that’s crazy talk. My four-month-old son has an identity. He has yet to discover what it means and he certainly can’t define it, but he has it nonetheless. He has a name. His name is Daniel Louis Keane. The simple fact of his name connects him to his older brother who chose “Daniel,” his godfather who shares the middle name of “Louis” as well as three saints named “Louis.” The name of “Keane” marks him as a member of this particular family of Irish Catholics. He didn’t have any choice in the matter, but that’s who he is. Depending on your perspective that’s an imposition or a gift.

                Even we adults, when we introduce ourselves, we of course give our names but also we might say we’re a mother of three, or we work for XYZ Inc., or we graduated from such-and-such college. All of these components of our identity are likewise relational. Even sexuality only makes sense from a relational point of view. I’m not even talking about orientation, meaning to whom we are sexuality attracted. To form a sexual identity at all, we require the examples of others to even give us a concept of what it even means to be masculine or feminine, man or woman. Entire books can and have been written on the subject, such as Alice von Hildebrand’s The Privilege of Being a Woman. We also derive our identities through our relationships with the natural world and with the Divine. 

When we take away all of the relationships, and we are left with the self alone, what do we have? There is no context for gender, race, or even being human at all. So the question is nonsense, but that’s what we’re trying to do culturally. 

I’m not going to waste your time belaboring the evidence for societal breakdown and the isolation of individuals. Families are divorcing, far-flung, or not even forming in the first place. The strength of religious faith is weakening or even altogether absent from people’s lives. Even time spent out in nature is on the decline. So where does that leave us? We are in isolation and consequently going mad. There is no “culture” to sustain us, in the sense of “culture” as a medium for growth. Human beings cannot thrive without a strong culture to tell us who we are and why we are here.

All the popular identity crises, all the “trans” movements, have this one thing in common. They deny the relational nature of the human person. They wish to reject the identity given them by nature and instead desperately grasp at the possibility of creating some sort of meaning and place in this world for themselves. I can’t even begin to express how dreadfully sad it all is. All of the relationships in that person’s life have failed to give to them a sense that they belong, they are wanted, they are beloved the way they are, that they have an important place in this world only they can fill, that they are who they are supposed to be. An individual like this will look to change themselves because—well, what else is left to them?

As for the rest of us, are we our brother’s keeper?

I can’t give a pat answer here. None of us can fix that kind of existential pain and confusion. I will say we’re not doing anybody any favors by ignoring it and not caring enough to acknowledge the simple truth of that pain and confusion. We must not pretend compassion while we cheer on their self-destruction. Step one to recovery is acknowledging the problem. Step two… I honestly do not know. Pray, certainly. And I don’t mean that to be a sanctimonious cop-out.

What we MUST do, is rebuild the culture. What can we do to keep ourselves and those nearest to us from slipping into deep isolation? How can we strengthen our families and our communities? Most importantly, what about our faith? Of all the relationships in our lives, nothing answers who we are more profoundly than our relationship to God. When we believe that we are made in the image and likeness of God Who loved us so much to send His only Son and we can fully entrust ourselves to His mercy as broken and messed-up as we are… Well maybe the answer is simpler than I thought. Simple, but certainly not easy.