Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sunday Mornings

One of the best lessons I took from my days as a Totus Tuus instructor was that as a teacher, you are not there to get something out of Mass. You are there to help the children get something out of it. Learning this helped to relieve the stressful thoughts during Mass that often lead to completely unrelated thoughts. One minute I would be telling myself to concentrate. This would undoubtedly be interrupted by breaking up some chattering kiddos, followed by a mental note to ask so-and-so a question, followed by wondering what was for lunch, followed by a reminder to concentrate. Daily Mass for an entire summer with children is exhausting, yet completely amazing. Their tiny voices singing “Lord Prepare Me” and lecturing is just purely joyous. I found quite often that when I let go of forcing the concentration, I got so much more out of Mass and other daily tasks just by following their lead and focusing on what they needed to understand or enjoy things.  One of my favorite parts about the weekly plan in a parish was the church tour. It is amazing to see the difference in how different age groups behave in Mass after learning more about the church itself: the stained glass art, the alter… just getting the chance to explore and ask questions really seemed to invest them a little more in the week’s events; especially the Mass itself.

It is amazing to me that I spent two summers responsible for getting hoards of children, grades 1-8, to behave in daily Mass but at the mere thought of wrangling my 2.5 year old son and my 9 month old daughter for an hour and a half I break into a cold sweat. The squirming, the acrobatics, the outbursts that include the following gems “up, down, up, down, up, down!”, “No mom, those are MY pants!”, “Look! SHAPES!” and on a few occasions an endless stream of knock-knock jokes or the alphabet song… I need at least 5 more hands and 10 times the patience, and these are my own kids! I remind myself through sometimes very clenched teeth that I love them dearly.

Most of the problems we have had occur for two reasons: we moved across the country a little over a year ago and my son is just at that age. Before we moved he was a little wiggly, but there were many more things to look at in church before we moved. He was familiar with his surroundings. We visited a few parishes when we first moved, and I think he had a hard time settling in. WE had a hard time settling in. There is a general expectation where we currently live that toddler age and younger should be in the nursery during Mass, not in Mass. In fact, we have been told this so many times, that I feel guilty going to the main church for Mass at all, and we go to the chapel for the Children’s Mass (I will note that even here we are given snotty looks and told about the nursery and how wonderful it is. They also remove most of the kids for Sunday school once the readings begin until the Eucharistic prayer. These things seem contrary to the concept of a Children’s Mass to me, but I digress.) I do not feel this pressure is coming from the priests. My husband was told that the current priest took out the cry rooms, and on many occasions we have run into him mid-meltdown and he just smiles and encourages us to stay and be a part of the Mass. The pressure comes from other parents. Parents I suspect use the nursery. I have a theory that this attitude could have something to do with the fact that in this diocese, tuition for the Catholic schools is not free, but you do get a discounted rate if you are a regular parishioner that tithes. The public schools are not the greatest in our area, and there is a high demand for private education. It is possible that Mass attendance is slightly obligatory for those that want to give us the stink eye. It is also entirely possible that my children are not as adorable as I think they are (Seriously, what 2 year old tells knock-knock jokes?) No matter the reason, there was a period of time where Mass on Sundays was so exhausting, that it left me in a bad mood the rest of the day. We kept going. I tried to remember all the things about Totus Tuus that made things easier. I was not concerned so much with what I was getting out of it, but that maybe he wasn’t getting anything out of it at all. I worry often about my children being able to enjoy and embrace their faith, and this worry stems from the fact that our prayers at home are virtually non-existent. I asked my Grandma the last time I called her how she handled her kids at this age in Mass. I was shocked to find out she didn’t. My daily communicant grandmother (that I think secretly has the pope on speed dial) left her kids at home when they were young and went to Mass solo. I know that 50 years ago things were very different in regards to vehicle travel, etc. but she lives two blocks from the church. It gave me some things to think about to say the least. I began to evaluate how I wanted to do things with my own family. I wanted my children to experience the Mass in its entirety. I wanted them to feel welcome: to know they are an important part of the laity. I wanted them to be able to calm down long enough to experience it, and I wanted us to go to Mass as a family.

Then one Sunday, he was mildly good. Good enough for us to attempt an experiment: we took him to the after Mass doughnut shin dig. We picked out the biggest, chocolatiest , sprinkliest doughnut there, complete with lemonade. The fact that the gym floor has big paw print decals that look like Blue’s Clues was just a bonus. That was a month ago, and his behavior has only improved. Yes, I shamelessly bribe my beautiful, smart and energetic children with sugar to get them to concentrate for Mass, and it absolutely works. He stands by the stained glass window and looks at the shapes until Mass begins. I have a few minutes where I can talk to him about what is happening in front of us. He knows we go to pray to God. He shouts “AMEN!” at appropriate times. He knows the sign of the cross. He is distracted by candles and the bells. He may not pay attention the entire hour and a half, but he is quiet and easier to handle. Best of all, I do not loathe the experience anymore.

To all those parents out there that have had similar Mass experiences, IT GETS BETTER! What works for one, may not work for another. My kids are not bad kids. My son is energetic and I can barely sit for 90 minutes, so expecting him to be able to do so is ridiculous. Mass is during my daughter’s nap time, and she really likes her space when she sleeps (AKA do-not-touch-me-I-am-tired syndrome. Her mother suffers from it as well.). The doughnut may not work forever, but at least it let me get my foot in the door in regards to teaching him about our faith. It gave me a chance to practice what Totus Tuus was preparing me for. Ignore the snotty looks and comments. You are there to participate in the Eucharist. You are just awesome enough to make sure your children are there to do the same!

Saturday, June 16, 2012

What is Happening?

I am just going to say it: shopping for my daughter makes me sick. Any kind of shopping for her takes hours longer than it does for my son. For him, I can avoid the more violent toys and the just plain gross t-shirt slogans easy enough, (His favorite toy is anything to do with the alphabet and the last shirt he picked out was a talking hot dog wearing a hat. He laughs hysterically every time he sees it.)  but what is happening in the girl arena really should be alarming to more people.

I realize that the gender stereotyping in clothing designs and toys goes both ways. Boys are supposed to ascribe to the hyper-masculine, stud genre (last Valentine’s Day, I kept seeing this Casanova shirt pop up, and many of the toys, video games, movies cartoons geared towards boys push violence and dominance)but what is happening to our girls is really troubling.

I have meticulously shopped for my daughter since she was in the womb. Many of the baby clothes I had on hand were just that: baby clothes. Many colors and prints: practical for what she would be doing. I held on to everything from my first child, but they were not born in the same month, so many of the clothes were off seasonally, and we had moved across country by then, so a warmer climate rendered many of the winter clothes useless. I spend hours scouring stores and the internet for not only deals, but clothing that was not just pink. I had no plans to tape a bow to her head so people knew she was a girl. I do not care if someone cannot identify her sex by her clothes. I look for variety. I avoid clothing that is impractical for a baby. Stores are filled with ruffles, glitter, sparkles and shirts that say “daddy’s little princess” or “I’m pretty and I know it”, and it is nearly all pink. Baby rompers for boys have shorts made for crawling and moving and the rompers in the girls section have elastic bands that ride up and hold tight across the thigh. Why do children this age have such different clothing? Babies eat, sleep, and poop. Then they begin to sit and crawl and stand and walk. They fall down and bounce and move. Why do the clothing options for our girls restrict this? It only gets worse. From thongs and string bikinis for toddlers to other increasingly sexualized short shorts, skirts and halter/tube tops as our girls grow, the market is flooded with clothing that puts the focus not on what is comfortable and appropriate for active play, but what “looks good”.  

If you move on to the toy section though, I am not sure anyone thinks girls participate in active play. If you are not sure where to look for the toys I am referring to, the nauseating flood of pink will point the way. There are toys that are for certain considered “for girls”. I see no problem with toys that aid in the development of nurturing skills (for boys and girls alike) but I truly cringe (mini rant coming) at the thought of buying my daughter or son a baby doll. Turn on the TV and flip to any talk show, and you will eventually find an episode where they are talking to a young girl about how she is trying to get pregnant so she can have a baby that will love her unconditionally. Why are baby dolls the only way to teach a child about nurturing? We play with stuffed animals in our home. My son spent a few weeks rocking his tiger when his little sister first came home. I know they are not all bad, I would just prefer to address nurturing in a different way. We also have kitchenettes, Barbies, Monster High, Bratz and the sickening Disney Princess Culture that has infiltrated our daughter’s “choices” at younger and younger ages. These companies are making quite a chunk off this over-sexualization, or it would not be penetrating the market as completely as it has.

So they are telling our kids that violence and dominance is manly, and that babies and beauty are feminine.  Boys are active, girls are pretty. Boys are Casanova and girls are teases. TV and movies reiterate this often. It is pressed upon our children from the earliest of ages. Is it any wonder that rape is so prevalent?

In summary, I ask this: Why are clothes made for girls tight, restrictive and impractical for play when clothes for boys are active wear? Why are the toys marketed to our girls mostly beauty focused and pinkified? Why are colors suddenly not just colors but boy colors and girl colors? What do we do about it?

I use my buying power as a consumer to the best of my ability. I purchase carefully, and I am always on the lookout for better options. Imagine what could happen if more people began to refuse to limit our children? I like options. When we are shopping, I often ask my son to pick out his own items, and you know what? It is a different color every time: red, blue, green, and yes. Sometimes it is even pink.  For now, I am making all of the clothing and toy decisions for my daughter. I know there will come a day when my children might be less agreeable when it comes to clothing choices, but I am thankful that they get their stubbornness from the master. Just ask my mom.

(***Note: I am linking to a few blog posts from the same person/company. No she did not pay me to do this, but I think she raises some really great points in these posts, and the discussions are thought-provoking as well. I am not condoning or agreeing with other posts. The mission of the company is refreshing though.)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Interrupted Thinking

As a mom, I do a lot of interrupted thinking. A little over three years ago, I stopped being able to complete a thought in one sitting. The result of this has been a new way of processing information that I am still getting used to. In college I used to sit in my art classes with my headphones on and create as I held both sides of a discussion in my head. I would go to the library between classes and research and then go home to my dorm and write with music blaring. My lecture notes were covered with doodles and lyrics as I processed information. Most days I would come home from classes to a roommate’s pleasant greetings and I suddenly was aware that there were other people in the world, and it would take some time for me to rejoin the social world of the living. I had as much time as I needed to think and process. I wrote everything down, never forgot an appointment, and took my planner and Post-it Notes with me everywhere. Now that I have children, four, five, sometimes ten things spring to mind all at once, and my brain carefully (or not so carefully) sorts through them throughout the day. I skip around between ideas and concepts between diaper changes, feedings, playtime and running errands. I research and read while performing chores during naps when I really should be napping myself. I have dozens of half filled out to-do lists, and I forget to write things down. I lose things. I forget words, and sometimes I find myself stuttering a bit as I hit the rewind button in my head so I can find the lost word. My husband finds loaves of bread in the freezer, and I am still looking for The New Amsterdams CD I lost, then found, then promptly lost again when I was pregnant in 2009. My life has changed a great deal since I was 18 and in college. My life involves other people that depend on me, and this has had quite the impact on my critical thinking skills. They still exist somewhere in there, but there are more bottlenecks with every passing day. I stand in awe of parents. To quote a dear friend, “I have a lot of respect for people who are raising functional people in society”.  It is tough work and, to be frank, there is not much support for parents these days.

Despite my newly acquired interrupted thinking process, I know I am capable of raising my offspring in the manner they deserve. I took my time and used my head when I was looking for love. In an early Father’s Day tribute of sorts, I am proud to say that I am raising my children in a loving, two parent household. I know that my husband and I complement each other in many ways, but especially when it comes to parenting. I look down the road at all the stops we have ahead: potty training (I promise I am going to be consistent about that soon!), school, tween and teen questions about sexuality, faith, politics, world news, college… I look forward to those stops and conversations: those teachable moments. I can take comfort not only in knowing I am blessed to have my husband’s partnership along the way, but that I continue to take the time to truly know my faith and love God. I take comfort in knowing that I am well aware of the challenges our children will face, and that I am making informed parenting decisions on a daily basis. There are times I could do better, and times I have to remind myself of my capabilities, but I take my responsibilities as a parent seriously.

So to my husband: pardon my interrupted thinking. This goes a long way in explaining how that loaf of bread ended up in the freezer, and why I blamed you for it. The verdict is still out on whether or not I will find that CD. I will give St. Anthony another try.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Encompassing Not Contrary

Four months ago I purchased a book. It was the beginning of my search to deepen my understanding of feminism slightly separated from my Catholic identity.  I will not reveal the name of the book at this time, partly because I am still trying to get through it and partly because I still am not sure how I feel about it. I am typically a fast reader and this book is a length that should have taken me only a few weeks to get through, but it is a difficult read for me.  It isn’t in me to just stop reading a book. The only book I started and never finished was when I tried to make myself read The DaVinci Code. This particular book is supposed to have been a study of conservative feminists. I was initially excited to read it, but my excitement quickly faded as chapter after chapter the author seemed to have already concluded conservative values are completely contrary to feminism. I am still reading it, hoping to see it conclude differently than I am imagining, but I am not too proud to admit I have thrown it at the wall a few times.  I can only bring myself to read a few pages at a time before I have to put it down, and then I spend the rest of the day mulling over it and mumbling to myself. What mostly concerns me about this book so far (there are many other concerns I will not mention at this time), is that it buys into mainstream feminism as being absolutely good, and views conservative religious beliefs as something that run in contrary to good: often that they are mutually exclusive schools of thought. 

The number once influence in my life is my faith. Who I am as a mother, sister, wife, friend and woman centers on the fact that I am Catholic. My moral compass has been formed around my Catholic faith. I view the world with a Catholic lens always, and it is not an optional lens. An example of this is one of my favorite scenes from the TV series “30 Rock” (Yes, I know. 30 Rock.).  Tracy and Jack are talking about guilt:
Tracy: Hey, did you hear the good news, J. D.? l'm lrish-Catholic now, like you, Regis, and the Pope.

Jack: Oh, no, you're not. The Church already has enough lawsuits.

Tracy: See, l can screw up now and then just go to confession. No longer do l have to throw my parties in international waters.

Jack: That's not how it works, Tracy. Even though there is the whole confession thing, that's no free pass. . . because there is a crushing guilt that comes with being a Catholic. Whether things are good or bad or you're simply eating tacos in the park, there is always the crushing guilt.

Tracy: l don't think l want that. l'm out.

Jack: Somehow, l feel oddly guilty about that.

While I use the term jokingly, Catholic guilt is a powerful thing. Once you know something, you cannot “un-know” it.  For example I am a terrible liar. Terrible. I am not even good at those little white lies we tell each other every day like saying “Oh, that is a cute shirt!” when it really isn’t and you are just clamoring for something nice to say. I am also not so great at exaggerating. Sometimes to make a point with my husband, I will say something like “I told you at least ten times…” for emphasis but then I immediately start to feel the guilt and quickly revise my statement, adding “Ok, maybe only twice.” I know lying is wrong, and even if the lie doesn’t hurt anyone I am a big giant ball of guilt until I fess up.  Catholicism is not something that can simply be set aside, hence the guilt. It is not just a title, and being Catholic does not just manifest itself in guilt.  

Throughout the discussion I posted a few days ago on the Authentically Free At Last series was the concept of being in the world but not of the world.  Christians are called to live in the world and to be a part of the world, but in the end we do not answer to it. Our obligations extend past a political point of view or a feminist point of view. Who we are is molded by our faith and trust in God first and foremost. If these views are contrary to natural law, they are contrary to our faith.
I cannot view feminism and Catholicism as conflicting view points when Catholicism encompasses feminism. Natural law and objective truth nullify some of the positions radical feminism promotes. When these positions are weeded out, there is nothing contrary left between feminism and Catholicism.
Now that this is off of my chest, maybe I can finish that book...
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