Wednesday, May 21, 2014

I Am a Parenting Fail.

I was pregnant with Calvin when I realized how quickly becoming a parent goes from being the most exciting and scary thing ever, to the one thing at which you will always fail.

That first trimester was glorious though: it was of course a roller coaster, but there was joy and anticipation. After the announcement, the questions and opinions never stopped.

If you are a parent, you have made yourself available to judgement from anyone and everyone. Just when you think you are safe and not around anyone with a child, you end up sitting near the judgy non-parent that will tell you what you are doing wrong.

All the ways you can fail are super obvious to everyone except you. You need to give your child a sibling. You spoil him. Why would you have more than two? Don't you know what a decent education costs? Don't you know how that happens? Don't you know how unfair you are being to your older children? They should not have any responsibilities for their younger siblings, and you are taking away important parent time from them. If you are worn out, maybe you should have thought about that before you had so many kids. Above all, you can never complain or have a bad day: you asked for it. You should (not) be breast feeding, bottle feeding, giving solids, using an affordable car seat (correctly or incorrectly), using pacis, using a stroller, wear your baby, sleep train, co-sleep, circumcise, peirce your baby's ears, sleep in, take a shower, go outside, allow your child near an electronic screen for any period of time, feed your child something fun, use a Bumbo, take your child in public, stay at home or work outside the home. You also cannot, under any circumstances, be poor. Got that?

Here are some of my parenting fails just this month: (CW from TL) electronic gadgetry, MORE electronic gadgetry, letting my daughter sleep by the cat bed but not on it, and Sonic slushes. This was a double whammy though: sweets for only two of the kids. Favoritism.

Parents that are trying to raise their children in a religious home have additional judgments. Obviously you are brain washing them with morality and teaching them to hate. Isn't it convenient after all, how God always answers our prayers with the answers we want to hear? Your family size is up for further scrutiny, whether you have a small family (Don't you trust God?!) or a large family (They are raising their own cult.). If you are religious with children, (or religious at all) you damn well better be perfect and have no faults or else you are obviously a hypocrite for trying.

It feels as though the list is endless. There are moments where I wish I had known all the ways I would obviously fail as a parent before having children. It is as though the entire world believes that parents do not realize they are responsible for raising a generation of people. I get that there is a spectrum of parenting capabilities. I get that there are some people that are terrible parents. Shouldn't we assume that is the exception rather than the rule?

I am just a Catholic woman/wife/mother. I like good music, good food, good TV and movies. I don't like big groups of people. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I am pretty awesome. That does not mean that I am perfect. I make mistakes on a daily basis. I also do my absolute best to own up to those mistakes with the only people that my parenting mistakes effect: my children. They of all people know my faults, but I apologize and keep trying to do better. I also do many things right, and we have tons of fun as my children learn to be people. As I am tasked with being their primary educator in life, I simply do not have the time to tell you about all the things that you are doing, will do, or have done wrong as a parent. Can we all start giving each other that same courtesy?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

My Faith Life: Part III

Whatever it was that had propelled me through my life as Catholic, would certainly not be enough once college came around.

I tried. I attended a state university and immediately tried to get as involved as possible with the Catholic student center. I went to daily Mass, and confession often. I tried to stay close to youth group friends I knew there. This brought me to the actual, real life application to teach Totus Tuus. The prospect of choosing between living with my mom or my dad over the summer was not ideal. Constantly traveling for eight weeks was, so I applied. I was surprised to find a former teacher was now heading up the program, and the interview was cake. I used to talk about forming a team to teach with friends in high school. I could not believe that I actually was given the opportunity to actually be a Totus Tuus team member. It was incredible and yet the hardest thing I ever had to do. The structure of the program has an incredible prayer life built into it. If not for the daily Christian prayer, the rosaries, daily Mass, weekly confession, those eight weeks would have swallowed me whole.

My first year teaching, I was also put on camp team. I was given the important task of addressing modesty at the high school girls camp. I was nervous. I did not want to give them a speech about duct tape. I wanted to bring a new perspective, and talk about modesty in a different way. I spent most of my limited free time preparing for the talk.

My teammate and I posing with a high school student.
Yep. He's mocking the modest talk from the previous night.

The first week of teaching, I ran into an unfortunate situation. I had this really great, orange, sarong-style maxi skirt, and a purple shirt I had packed to wear on Sundays. At the last minute, before the first high school session, I changed into jeans, but grabbed the wrong jeans. They were lower-waisted, and I have a long torso, so when I sat down I had to almost constantly adjust to pull down my top so there wasn't a gap. It was a complete accident. At the end of the night, my team leader pulled me aside because a former teacher told him to talk to me about my inappropriate wardrobe. I was in tears. The other female on my team had already been dubbed the modesty police because of a talk she had with a teen that had been overheard, so the camp director asked us if we would switch talks: she was clearly in a better place to address modesty, and I could take over her talk about Mary. He let us have a few days to talk about it.

I avoided the conversation like the plague. I was insulted, and felt as though I had already failed at my dream job. The two of us went shopping one night and we finally discussed it. I remember blurting out something like, "I don't want to change talks please don't make me!" and was relieved to hear her share my sentiment. She felt as though she was being told she was not intellectual enough to give the Marian talk, and felt as though I was being told I was not cool enough (or modest enough) to give the modesty talk. We stood firm in our decision.

My time as a Totus Tuus team member brought me many great memories and friends, but it also taught me how to use the resources of the Church, and how to be a catechist. It taught me that not understanding something means I need to spend more time trying to understand. I also learned that the teachers I had looked up to when I was younger, were just like me. I did not have to be perfect or know everything there was about the Church to teach others or to engage others. I just had to want to know the truth.

Now that I am "all grown up" with a family of my own, there are still things I learned while teaching that apply to my daily life. I am constantly trying to rearrange my days to include Christian Prayer. I take deep sighs and wrestle children for 90 minutes every Sunday at Mass in the hopes that my efforts allow them to get something from Mass. I try to tell myself that the graces I receive from Mass during these years are still there, even if paying attention is impossible. I don't have any A-Ha, GOD! moments these days. It feels more like following logic than faith.

I pray that my children experience God in simple moments the way I once did.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

My Faith Life: Part II

Sometime during the latter half of middle school, the parishes in town began to alternate hosting a Totus Tuus team during the summer. The first time I went was a game changer for me. It was the most intense religious education I had ever had, and I was in awe of the faith that seemed to radiate from the team members. None of the men in my family attended Mass on a regular basis, and only some of the women. We had four young adults willing to answer any questions that we had about our faith. We learned about the mysteries of the rosary, talked about daily readings, lwe had lessons straight from the catechism, we went to daily Mass, and had the opportunity to go to confession. We even were given tours of the church. Time spent inside the church that was not dedicated to Mass, and it was beautiful to me.

One day, I had a pocket filled with sunflower seeds. (It was softball season after all.) I had been mindlessly eating them most of the day, and then I realized that we were all walking to Mass and I had consumed some of the seeds within the fasting hour before the Eucharist. I was incredibly sad. I wanted to receive the Eucharist, and I didn't want someone to think I had some awful sin on my soul! I was preoccupied throughout the Mass. I was kneeling in front of a statue of Mary, and I kept asking for permission to receive. I kept asking for a sign. I looked up at the statue during the Eucharistic prayer, and for a moment, her lips seemed to move. I heard a voice coming from within me that told me to receive my Lord.

I instantly felt torn. I didn't know if I was imagining it or if I had truly been given permission. My rational self weighed the severity of the situation: it was a few small sunflower seeds, so I was probably in the clear anyway. I stopped worrying over that matter either way, and felt as though Mary had patted me on the head and smiled at me.

My desire to know more about the Church, the saints, and God was only fueled from this point on. I never missed a week of Totus Tuus. I had innocent crushes on the male team members at times sure, but they had a passion for Christ that excited me. I was very much a willing participant in youth activities in high school as well. It is a hard feeling to describe: it was not so much that I was "on fire" with my faith as it was that I was bursting with questions, maybe envious of those youth that seemed to have close experiences with Christ, and filled with the desire to have it in my own life.

In retrospect, I wanted the fireworks. I wanted the dramatic experience of seeing God. That desire calmed down over time, but my interest in Catholicism did not.

Our Lady of Guadalupe hosted Totus Tuus the first year I attended.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

My Faith Life: Part I

When I was in the second grade, my family was still mostly attending church services at my mother's Methodist church because my father didn't really go to church then. I was preparing for my First Communion, and tried to reconcile this fact in my mind. I didn't like asking others for help understanding Church teaching, even at seven. I felt that I went to a Catholic school, so if I couldn't find the answers to my questions, I was not using my resources. One Sunday, my mother's father told me to go up to the front of the church to receive communion. I told him I had not had my First Communion yet, and that I would not be going up. We argued back and forth a bit, and I grew more and more defiant. I attended daily Mass in school and knew the difference. I knew that there was something different in the Eucharist and the Mass and I did not feel it in that church. I held my ground, and I could tell it angered him. He was the first person that taught me about the resentment felt towards Catholicism.

I don't have many practicing Catholics in my family. I truly do not know how I have managed to stay Catholic. I certainly have doubts, and teachings that I struggle to understand. I have also certainly experienced the resentment and misunderstandings that others carry concerning the Catholic Church. In the words of Stephen Colbert:

"I love my Church-- warts and all."

There were two events in my childhood that lead me to seek God and to understand Church teaching. These events might not feel like anything special to anyone else, but they were comforting to me. They also stood out. There was something happening, a feeling, that was different.

The first involved my fifth grade teacher and my grandma. I had a hell of a year in the fifth grade. Fourth grade had been hard, and I only made it through because my teacher cared about me. At the end of the year, there was some sort of a test we were all given, and I was placed in the Extended Learning Program upon entering the fifth grade. It meant that I would be spending time in the sixth grade classroom for Literature instead of Reading class. I was introverted, maybe a bit shy. It was incredibly hard to leave the comfort of the students I had been in school with since Kindergarten, even if it was just for an hour or so. My fifth grade teacher was a little nutso, I soon discovered. She was an elderly nun, and lived on the property. She would often talk about the children she had taught in the past that she loved, would leave us alone in the classroom to work independently while she went to lay down, and she would get physical with me if she felt I was out of line. So, despite my introversion, getting to leave her classroom was a blessing.

Some time after Thanksgiving of that year, I was told that my grandma had breast cancer. I was terrified to lose her. My relationship with my teacher was not improving. It was then announced that she would follow our class to the sixth grade. I fell apart. Another year with her? I didn't know if I could take it. My parents gave me the option of going to public school. I am not sure which scared me more. So, I decided to bargain with God. If He let me keep my grandma, I would stay at my school. I repeated this pledge constantly. I stayed and she is still with us. I've known for some time that my pledge probably had little to do with my grandma surviving, but that pledge is what started my prayer life. It sent me on my way to know my faith.

My forever home parish.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Poor Dead Horse.

I really feel like I am maiming the horse here, but I really hate it when I like something and then end up let down by said thing. Let's talk McDonald's boy/girl toys.

I won't lie: there are times when the choices for toys at McDonald's are spot on. My Hattie loves her some My Little Ponies for instance, and Calvin was more than happy to get a bad ass Cobra shooting thing. Hattie may have ripped all of Rainbow Dash's tail hair out but I PROMISE it was out of love.

Don't judge. Road trips and busy weekends happen.

So, when the toy switched to Spiderman toys for girls and boys, I was actually impressed. My kids love Spiderman. Hattie plays Baby and Momma Spiderman with all of the action figures and Calvin plays along, because it's still Spiderman. Calvin picked up a couple cool Spiderman toys this last road trip, and Hattie did too, only she may have been doubly impressed because her gear was pink and purple. Yes, I know: colors are for everyone. Yes, I am the same woman that does everything in her power to ensure her children do not fall into the gendered marketing pit. I am also the woman that swallows her distaste for pink when her daughter clearly has a fondness for it. 

Then I got super pissy when I saw the difference between the girly notebook and the boyish notebook.

Instead of endlessly ranting on how lame it is to handout journals for girls and puzzle/activity books for boys, I just offer this: