Thursday, August 25, 2016

All the Homeschool Plans!

It's that time of year... New Year's resolution time for the homeschool set. Time to obsess over curriculum and schedules and goals and mission and we are raising saints and scholars here one picture book at a time. Oorah! For your inspiration and my own organizational benefit, offered herewith are my best laid plans.

This year Anthony (age 6) will be in first grade and we'll be trying out kindergarten work with Katie Rose (age 4).  Katie Rose is academically ready for reading and writing, anyway, and she wants to be part of the action. I expect it will be easier to have two official students and they can do school together. Daniel's going to obedience school. We're officially in the toddler testing limits stage. But he's still a sweetie giving everybody kisses.

For our basic subjects, we'll be following Mother of Divine Grace again this year. I liked how simple it was for kindergarten, spending no more than 15 minutes on any one lesson and no more than an hour a day all together. Sounds underwhelming, but it really worked well! Everything in the lesson plan delivers lots of meat for the time invested. First grade follows the same general pattern. Check: Math, Phonics, Composition, Poetry, Art, Music, Handwriting, Religion. It's set on a four day a week schedule, so we will do MODG stuff 10-12 Monday, Tuesday, Thursdays, and Fridays, although I don't expect it will take the full two hours since I'm not expecting Katie Rose to do everything. Some of the worksheets they are able to do independently while I work with the other one, or else take turns doing schoolwork and playing with Daniel if he requires a playmate. Homeschooling is pretty efficient. On Wednesday mornings I meet with my moms' group and they get to play.

One of my ideas for this year is to make up a daily list for each child which will be at their desks* each morning. This will be every day,. It's really just what I do for myself every night already, but printed out, This is more for Anthony, but I can't make one for Anthony and not Katie Rose. He is always wanting to know what's happening every day, and I want him to take a little more responsibility and initiative for doing what needs to be done. In other words, the list will do the nagging for me. Her list will probably be just a sentence to write in her copybook for the day (which she's already started of her own initiative) and a chore I would like done that day. She can't read yet so I can't expect any more. Anthony's will also have which subjects we're planning to cover since we don't hit all of them every day, and a general plan for the day (Speech therapy, grocery shopping, whatever.) Then he can check things off as they happen. He's so much like myself and is really motivated by lists.

The other main feature of our homeschool will be our midday routine. I've heard it called "Symposium" but that sounds a bit pretentious to me. We'll have lunch, cleanup, and recess at noon, and then around 1;00 is Daniel's naptime. We'll have our prayer time then. Mornings will be too variable for that to be an ideal time for us. I'm going to try using the Children's Daily Prayer book, which is a child's version of the Liturgy of the Hours. I really like the idea of praying along with the rest of the Church. It hasn't arrived yet, but it looks like sometimes there's something about the saint of the day and seasonal celebrations for during the prayer time. But it's also short, about ten minutes. Perfect for small attention spans and my not needing to plan anything more elaborate. Then we'll have a more or less rotating loop of habit training (using Laying Down the Rails for Children), teaching folk songs, art or music appreciation (from MODG 1st grade curriculum), and whatever life skills I feel we need to address. Shoe tying clinic is first up. Then wind up with reading aloud from a chapter book or fairy tales while they may color or do Legos. This will be finished around 2:00, then everyone (even me!) goes to rest until 3;00. Daniel sometimes wakes up before this but he plays quietly in his crib until then generally.

After quiet time, we'll have another cleanup and recess, then free time if chores are done. Evenings are mostly free, but Anthony is signed up for Cub Scouts and Blue Knights once a month and I'm still deciding which sport to sign them up for at the Y. Mass on Friday mornings, Speech therapy on Thursday mornings. Library visit at least one afternoon a week. Piano lesson for Anthony on Saturday mornings. I'm teaching, but that seems to be the most convenient time. Practicing will be on his checklist. Field trips will be with some other homeschooling families at least once a month on Saturdays, and we'll still do our own family and Daddy outings. Sunday Mass and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.

I think that about covers it!

*The desks don't exist yet. I have a schoolroom plan too but you'll just have to wait for the reveal post. There's a loft space at the top of the stairs that will be our work and art space, but probably not until well after we've officially started school. I have to paint and find furniture and everything which always takes a really long time when I'm doing everything outlined here and making meals and laundry and teaching Katie Rose to ride her bike and and and...

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.