First, thanks to all of you who sent so much love with my big announcement last week! I’m floored by your support and can’t wait to share my “baby” with you very soon.
Second, I’ve been getting lots of questions on the details (apparently cryptic reflections on liturgical feasts aren’t enough to satisfy your curiosity?) so I wanted to answer the questions I’ve been getting via email and social media.
What’s the title? What’s it all about?
The book is called Everyday Sacrament: The Messy Grace of Parenting.
I call it a spiritual-memoir-meets-parenting-memoir with a twist. It takes the seven Catholic sacraments as a lens for looking at life with little ones in a whole new light. So it’s a sacramental theology from the ground up – the sticky, Lego-strewn, does-anyone-ever-mop-this-floor? ground zero of parenting.
But the book can perhaps be best summed up by this hysterical – unofficial! – trailer that my brother made me. (Ok, actually it’s nothing like this, but I can’t stop laughing when I watch it.) If anyone can catch every single pop culture reference upon first viewing, I will send you an autographed copy of the book:
Who’s the publisher? When is it coming out?
I’m delighted to be working with Liturgical Press, and the book should be out by early fall 2014. Will keep you posted!
And finally, the #1 question I seem to get regarding the book:
How did you find time to write this???
People always want to know how I do this. (I know I’m far from the only mother-writer who gets these baffled looks.) My guess is that it’s the same way any of us make time for the passions we love: stealing spare moments and carving out corners.
But here are five ways I able to write this book (while raising two young kids, working part-time, and surviving a challenging pregnancy or two in the past year):
1) I slacked off elsewhere. I cancelled my gym membership after our second son arrived, and I’ve felt guilty about the lack of exercise ever since. But something’s gotta give in every season of life, and in this stage with little ones underfoot, working out is what I let go. Physically? Not so healthy. Emotionally and spiritually? I’m much happier if I spend my free time on writing. I know someday I’ll have time for regular exercise again, but for now chasing preschoolers and squeezing in yoga will have to suffice.
Also, housekeeping chez nous took a sharp nosedive in early 2013 when I started seriously working on this project, and it has barely recovered. Don’t look too closely at the bathrooms next time you come over. Trust me.
2) I had lots of help. Being blessed with a supportive spouse who sees my writing as a calling makes this work possible. I took a lot of Saturday mornings to write at coffee shops, and he regularly took on the boys’ bath/bedtime routine solo to give me extra hours to write at night. I couldn’t have done this without him.
But I also asked for help from others when I needed it: I paid for a few extra hours of childcare with our sitter when my schedule allowed it, and I leapt at my parents’ offers to watch the kids whenever we were visiting them. Writing a book is a team effort.
3) I learned when I work best. Once I started paying attention to the natural rhythms of my mind and body, I figured when the best times are for me to do creative work: before dawn, between 10 am and noon, and after 9 pm. Now I don’t try to force myself to write during other times of the day, and I find that flow comes much easier.
Of course, my life doesn’t always align with my creative energy. So I stock up on caffeine and chocolate to work during naptime when I’m home with the kids, or I stick to editing tasks during my “off” hours. But knowing when I find flow helps me stop banging my head against a wall when things aren’t going well: I check the clock and decide when to start again later.
4) I organized against my nature. This might contradict my own advice in #3 (know thyself). But I am not a type-A person. I’d much rather enjoy a lazy day, go with the flow, and act spontaneously. Most of the time that doesn’t jive with running a household or raising kids. So over the past year I’ve forced myself – with gritted teeth – to develop some type-A habits.
I methodically meal-plan every week so I never have to come up with dinner ideas at 5:00. I charted all our household chores and made a weekly/monthly schedule so I don’t have to remember what needs to be done. I still bristle at sticking to these uber-organized systems, but they’ve freed up enough precious moments for writing every day to make it worth it.
5) I stuck to a schedule. This is what happens when a humanities major meets an engineer: one person delights in work plans, the other rolls their eyes. But when I got serious about finishing this book in one year, my husband sat down and helped me make a weekly calendar that would allow me to write and edit every single chapter within the allotted months. (I guess this combines #2 – team effort – and #4 – unnatural organization.)
Bless his heart, he hoped I’d track every hour I spent on the project so that I could know exactly how much time it took to write the book. But I will say that knowing exactly what I needed to work on every week, rather than following inspiration’s whim as is my fancy, made it possible to pull off pregnancy + book in a way that surprised even me.
So there you have it: what it is and how I did it. And what a gift this opportunity has been – I am so humbled and excited by how everything has worked out. I can’t wait to see what this year will bring…
Yesterday I made a shocking discovery.
(For a book-lover, that is.)
I was rummaging through my bookshelves, trying to find something for work. When I suddenly realized that I had completely failed myself.
I hadn’t organized a single book I’d read since I became a mom.
Allow me to back up for a minute. Of course I’ve shelved all the books I own. (It took us months longer to get settled into this new house when we moved with two teeny kids, but I did manage to get that essential unpacking done in short order.)
And of course, the book geek in me did find time to arrange by genre: all the theological tomes together on one towering bookshelf in my office, fiction on another, poetry and art history on a third, and old French paperbacks (and even a few of my husband’s books I let him sneak in) on the fourth. Perfect, right?
Because here’s the full geeky truth: the only way I really want my books arranged is autobiographical.
(When John Cusack whispered that same line about his record collection in High Fidelity, I swooned.)
I’ve done this ever since I was a little girl. I kept books together on the shelf that I read at the same time (because of course, true book lovers are always reading more than one book at a time). And as I finished each book, I filled up the row.
I loved looking back and remembering the serendipitous connections I’d made between books – the novels I read during that winter, the poetry I dove into after that breakup. My life made sense through books, and my shelves told the story.
Fast-forward a few years? I’m lucky if I find a home for the stacks of books that (still, to my husband’s dismay) steadily enter our house year after year. Now when I finish something, it sits on my nightstand for six months, then on the floor of my office for a few more weeks, and finally – in the last-minute flurry before visitors are coming over – I shove it thoughtlessly onto the shelf where most people would assume it belongs: novels with novels, non-fiction with non-fiction, and so forth.
So since I became a mom, I have no record of what I’ve read. Fail.
It’s not looking good for my housekeeping skills to improve any time soon, especially not with #3 on the way. But I realized that I could still chronicle my reading adventures if I only wrote them down somewhere. This combined with the fact that I’ve gotten some of my favorite recent reads from other bloggers’ suggestions means that I’m inspired to pull together the list of what I’ve been reading lately (or rather, what I’ve read since the beginning of this pregnancy, because – let’s face it – pregnant women are obsessed with documenting the passage of those long weeks till the due date.)
And because I’m always eager to get new suggestions, I’d love to know what you’ve been reading lately, too! Make no mistake: we’ve got many months of winter to go in Minnesota, and I need all the good reads I can get while the wind howls through the blizzard outside.
So without further ado, here’s what I’ve been reading. The beginnings of a virtual, chronological bookshelf of reading through maternity (five years after this journey started):
What I read to make myself feel better at the beginning:
Let’s start serious. Pregnancy after loss is hard and dark. I needed help and hope to boost my spirits during that tentative first trimester. Roxane recommended After Miscarriage: A Catholic Woman’s Companion to Healing & Hope, and I was so glad I took her advice. This small book is a comforting collection of stories and suggestions, gentle and healing, about grieving and opening yourself up to the possibility of another child. I’d highly recommend to any mom who’s suffered a miscarriage.
Moving on. (My sense of humor is too twisted to stay in the melancholy forever.) When I was sick beyond anything you’d want to imagine in those first few weeks, I could barely make it out of bed some days (and every evening). Curled up with my trusty Kindle, I tried to find any offerings from our library’s e-collection that would take my mind off the gut-wrenching reality that is me in the 1st trimester. And I came across this – riveting? harrowing? choose your clichéd but true adjective here – story of a catastrophic climb up Mt. Everest in 1996. I flew through Into Thin Air, grateful for every awful description of altitude sickness and toes lost to frostbite, because it reminded pitiful, pathetic moi that things could be much, much worse. Always a good lesson.
Anyone who knows me in real life knows I never care if I’m late to the party. Even if I’m years late. I Don’t Know How She Does It was so hyped when it came out a decade ago that I was too annoyed to read it then. But – returning to pathetic, pukey me confined to my comforter – I came across this one from the aforementioned e-library offerings and decided to find out what all the fuss was about.
I hated this book. The narrator’s frenzied descriptions of her life as a working mom stressed me out just reading them. And yet I made myself finish it, just to see how things turned out. (Which proves to you how desperate I was for distraction.) But it’s still worth remembering on my chronological shelf since it does define one image of motherhood our culture is wrestling with today: the woman who tries to have it all.
What I read when I started feeling 2% better:
For me, the second trimester doesn’t bring so much relief as sheer annoyance at how long I’ve been feeling sick. So once I made myself get out of bed for good, I stopped reading solely on the Kindle and started dipping into real paper books again. These three were perfect to read in short snippets (even while pretending to hide in the bathroom – let’s be honest about how mothers of young kids sneak in their reading time).
I adored this book. Katrina Kenison’s writing is beautiful, and I’d long admired it from afar. These short pieces in Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry felt like deep breaths in my frenzied days, like sitting down with a dear friend over a warm cup of tea. Katrina is wise and real and thoughtful and inviting, and when I reluctantly finished the last essay, I started scheming which book of hers to read next. I wish I could buy this for every mom I know.
I doubt I would have ever read this book if a dear friend hadn’t literally dropped it in my lap. I’d heard of Nadiz Bolz-Weber in the blogosphere and appreciated some of her radical Jesus-thoughts as an edgy Lutheran pastor. But I’d never spent any real time with her writing until Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint. And I thoroughly enjoyed it: thought-provoking, challenging, laugh-out-loud hysterical at points.
This memoir-ish collection of essays made me think hard about bad habits it can be easy to fall into as a person of faith – I especially loved her notion that whenever we draw a line between ourselves and another group to declare ourselves in the moral right, Jesus usually winds up looking back at us from the other side – and I’m so glad I took a chance on a book I probably never would have picked up otherwise.
Another book I wish I could give to every parent I know, new or experienced. On a rare bookstore jaunt at summer’s end, I found this volume tucked in the back of the poetry section. I tend to be wary of poetry collections (too often full of the schmaltzy and sentimental), but I was drawn to flip through this one and immediately I ran up to the counter to buy it.
Morning Song: Poems for New Parents is a wonderful collection of poems celebrating everything from conception and birth to sleepless nights and first steps. But the poems chosen so thoughtfully by its editors resonate far beyond the first year and the first year. These are classic and contemporary poets reflecting on the deepest truths of what it means to bring new life into the world. I’m still savoring this one.
What I’m reading now:
Eowyn Ivey’s incredible novel The Snow Child almost convinced me that the frozen north is a beautiful place to live. I’ve rarely read such vivid, poetic descriptions of the land as a character (1920’s Alaska, in this case), and her creative spin on the traditional fairy tale versions of a heart-breaking story about a childless couple and the fantastical child that changes their life was simply a gem to read. One of those where you let out the long sigh when you finish the last page, wishing it weren’t over. This book was brutal and surprising and nothing what I expected when I started reading, but I won’t soon forget it.
A few years ago, I started noticing a pattern in my favorite essays from Notre Dame Magazine. They were all by Brian Doyle. Then his words started showing up in reflections in Give Us This Day, and I read his words again in the National Catholic Reporter, and I started wondering why I’d never sat down with a good stack of this man’s brilliance?
This book is incredible. I’m savoring it in small bites, like one of those delicious restaurant desserts you want to make last, and I’m elbowing my husband in bed every other night to make him read one of the zinger reflections in Grace Notes. This will assuredly not be the last book I read by Brian Doyle. (Here are a few teasers to convince you.)
Sarah Jobe’s theological reflection on the joys and pains of pregnancy is the other book vying for my attention on my nightstand these days. In a bittersweet way, her book’s title – Creating with God: The Holy Confusing Blessedness of Pregnancy – rings even truer for me today than when I first bought it for myself, back in late July when I was delighting in the prospect of baby #3. When we lost that baby, the confusing become much more real. For months I couldn’t pick this book up, remembering how excited I had been to buy it, my treat to myself to get through that first trimester of blech and burden. But just a few days ago I came across it again (at the bottom of a stack in my unorganized office – see, dear reader, it all comes full circle!). And I’m so glad I decided to jump in.
The author writes in such a thoughtful, unsentimental way about the power of pregnancy as an experience of co-creation with God, of bearing the marks of Christ, and of embodying the practices that draw us closer to the Spirit. Much more to say about this in weeks to come; she’s really got me thinking about pregnancy in a whole new light. (Every other page is underlined or dotted with exclamation points, so you know it’s good stuff.)
So there you have it: nearly 22 weeks of reading. What will the next 18 bring? Only the library and my Kindle can tell… But I want your suggestions!
What are you reading these days?
We went to church on Saturday evening instead of our usual Sunday morning. The promise of good gardening weather and the weekend’s plans all pushed us towards the deviation from the norm.
But the boys were even squirrelier than usual, wrestling out of our arms, racing towards the altar steps, squawking during the consecration. One innocently inquired after communion whether there would still be church donuts since it was Saturday, and I seethed through clenched teeth that No One Was Behaving Well Enough For A Donut So It Didn’t Matter Anyway.
So Sunday morning found me instead at the park with the boys, whom I soaked up like perfect angels in the bright sun, cringing at my own Mass-time behavior of the night before. We laughed on the slides and ran down to the river and chased each other on the playground paths.
Which is when I noticed: we weren’t alone.
The park was full of families enjoying the clear June day – biking, fishing, walking, jogging. I’ve never seen our favorite haunt so crowded. But it made perfect sense: Sunday can feel like a Sabbath moment whether you go to church or not. A time to pause and play together before the busyness of another week begins.
I have a new piece at Practicing Families on the struggles of Sunday services with little ones, so I’ve been pondering questions of church and family lately:
Each Sunday I eventually discover that I’m grateful we’re there, again. Even when we’ve flunked the Time Trials, botched the Nursery Negotiations, caved on the Bribery Battles, and stand ready to lose the Donut Debate, I still find that God finds us there.
Some small moment arises – a line from the priest’s homily, a stranger’s smile at the sign of peace, a favorite song that makes my boys clap their hands – and I fall in love with church all over again.
It’s good to be here, even when it’s hard to be here.
Click here to read more about our Sunday Morning Fight Club…
Weekends like this one, I start to wonder if the park was the place for us to find God and celebrate together as a family.
But I also know that when my kids grabbed each other’s hands to say grace at dinner tonight, I remembered how they had grinned at each other for the Sign of Peace at Mass on Saturday – how they kept shaking each other’s hands and wouldn’t let go, how their happiness was contagious and made even the most curmudgeonly adults around them (ahem) stop and smile.
Church has a grip on me like that, too. I want to be there, even when it’s hard to be there.
How do you choose to spend your Sundays as a family? What brings you the most joy together?
I once wrote that childhood is full of tears. And it is.
But while I watch my two boys grow and see their sense of humor stretch each day like little spring seedlings sprouting out of the earth, I remember how childhood is full of laughter, too.
We laugh every day in this house. At funny faces and silly words. At goofy games of peek-a-boo and chase-to-tickle. At jumping on the bed and running down the hall and hiding in the curtains and banging on the table and singing in the bathtub.
My favorite moments as a mother are when the deep belly chuckles of boys still too young to hold back squeals of glee bounce off the walls and echo in my ears.
What a gift to have all this time and space to laugh. Childhood’s magic reminds us – we who live in the grown-up world of deadlines and to-do lists, of death and taxes – what it means to delight in life’s simple joys.
Today I’m posting over at Lydia’s lovely blog, Small Town Simplicity. Her beautiful, wise writing on motherhood is some of my favorite stuff on the Interwebs. As she and her family “babymoon” with their latest addition, I’m delighted to share a few thoughts on humility and humor at home:
Watching them take their first steps towards the art of humor not only makes me burst out laughing every day, but also teaches me about the important place of humor in our relationships.
Often it is when we relate to each other on this most delightful level that we learn what humility really means: that we are all grounded in the same “humus,” the same earthy joys and basic desires to be in right relationship with each other.
Read the rest at Small Town Simplicity, and be sure to check out the rest of Lydia’s blog while you’re there!
I could tell the story of my week like this:
For the first time since I became a parent, I spent the morning cleaning vomit out of the crib.
(At which point I would pause while the Interwebs finished laughing at me. “Seriously?”)
And that would be true.
Because in some strange stroke of luck, we’ve never had a stomach bug tear through this house in the almost-four years since we’ve had kids.
Sure, we’ve had common colds and croup and thrush and other typical childhood ailments. And we’ve got at least one boy who’s prone to car-sickness, so we’ve wiped up car seats and coats aplenty. But never before had our doorstep been darkened by the Evil 24-Hour Stomach Virus, as sponsored by Lysol and the sanitizing cycle on the washing machine.
I know this sounds naive. And trust me, ever since I became a mother I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop, the quintessential moment when I would wind up catching some kid’s puke in my cupped hands and realize, while choking back my own gag reflex, “So this is motherhood. Huh.”
And yes, that happened. Exactly as you’d expect, exactly as I’d always expected. One frantic knock on the office door from the nanny while I was working mid-Monday, one boy throwing up in the bathroom, one brother felled by the same bug the next day, more vomit on my sweatshirts than I care to remember, more hot water loads in the washer than I care to count.
You know the story.
Or do you?
As I pondered the wretched (wretching?) events of the past few week, I realized that I could spin the story any number of ways.
It could start like I did above, that I’d never been puked on before, so four years after first giving birth, I felt like a newbie parent all over again. And behold: a tale of maternal rite of passage.
Or it could take another twist: after my youngest had his 18 month check-up on Monday, and his doctor was closing the door to say goodbye, she called out, “Great to see you! It’s been so long – I can’t believe you’ve never had this kid in for anything but well-baby visits since he was born!” And behold: a story of sour irony.
Or it could travel down this road: at the beginning of birthday week, all I dreamed of was a weekend away with the beloved spouse who
stole shares my natal day, but by week’s end I was reduced to begging divine intervention to please just keep my kids from puking today so that we can salvage some shred of the celebration slipping away before my eyes. And behold: a reminder of reversed expectations.
All of these tales are true. What matters is which one I pick.
The more I ponder the intersections between parenting and spirituality, between mothering and writing, the more I realize how the lens through which see the world matters. And how the tales we choose to tell matter, too.
Whether or not we recognize it in the moment, we choose to narrate every experience according to certain scripts or slants. Here’s my Tale of A Terrible Day; here’s my Glowing Reminder of Life’s Beauty; here’s my Gut-Punch Reminder of Fleeting Mortality. The same day spun six different ways.
In her book Composing A Life, Mary Catherine Bateson explores the various versions of our life that we create – when we introduce ourselves to a group of people at a meeting or make a new acquaintance at a party, for example. She claims that our self-introductions, our autobiographies, even the everyday stories we tell each other all have multiple versions – and this is not only good, but necessary:
What I want to say is that you can play with, compose, multiple versions of a life.
There are advantages in having access to multiple versions of your life story. I am not referring to a true version versus a false version, or to one that works in a given therapeutic context as opposed to others, or to one that will sell to People magazine as opposed to ones that won’t. I am referring to the freedom that comes not only from owning your memory and your life story but also from knowing that you make creative choices in how you look at your life….
The choice you make affects what you can do next. Often people use the choice of emphasizing either continuity or discontinuity as a way of preparing for the next step. They interpret the present in a way that helps them construct a particular future.
The art of composition and improvisation has the power to reshape our world as we reshape our point of view.
Pondering this truth mid-sick-week helped me to remember that I still held a teeny bit of control over all the situations slipping out of my hands. My perspective on the pukefest mattered, and the lens I chose to view the vomit could color the way things turned out in my mind and in my memory.
Because I could have spun this week as woe-is-me, worst-possible-timing, what-could-be-crappier. Or I could choose to see it as minor-inconvenience, mostly-manageable, much-lighter-than-burdens-others-bear.
Or maybe, just maybe, I could focus all my energy and hope and even prayers that the story of this week might end up being the one I wanted all along: the perfect prelude to a weekend without kids.
The story of the stomach bug that almost stole our birthdays.
I loved you truly, madly, deeply for three and a half years.
And now you’ve abandoned me.
It wasn’t an abrupt breakup, not the kind that knocks the wind out of your chest by its utter shock and surprise. No, you snuck away slowly over time. Disappeared for a day or two, then returned again, feigning faithfulness, smiling slyly as you assured me you’d stick around this time.
But as the weeks wound by, you grew more and more distant till you slipped away completely, only a fleeting glimpse of the stranger we once knew. And your leaving for good was just as harsh, just as cruel as any heartbreak I’ve ever wailed to mourn.
I’m left to learn how to live without you.
I tried to fling myself at the imposters and suitors that sometimes sauntered round to fill your void: Catnap, Car Nap, Quiet Time. But none of them could take your place, the beautiful hours of sweet silence we used to share together.
Oh, Nap. Dear beloved Nap. You were my standby, my stalwart, my savior. Some days, you were my everything.
So what now? How do I fill the ache left by your absence?
Each afternoon we mourn your loss, each in our own way. I whine to anyone who will listen; he wails and whimpers to the four walls of his bedroom where he’s been banished, where he waits without your soothing presence.
ALL DONE! he laments in loud protestation.
Me, too, sighs my sanity. Me, too.
Book a girls’ weekend. Forty-eight hours of kidless wonder to reprieve your college days and give a last hurrah for the final bachelorette. Only casually consult with your husband; remain utterly oblivious to necessity of his solo parenting after an arduous week at the office. Count down t-months, weeks, days with your girls instead.
Stubbornly ignore the acrobatical logistics required to absent a nursing mother and primary caregiver from her two young children for two nights and two days. Cram all necessary packing into 45 minutes.
Marvel at one small suitcase to carry on. Deliberately forget Cheerios, sippy cups, board books, and back-up outfits for plane. Chortle with delight at the airy weightlessness of your purse.
Kiss babies and husband goodbye in a flurry. Ignore heart’s momentary flutter as two adorable boys bounce up and down in one crib giggling as you go. Fly out the door, roll down the windows, crank up the music, squeal out of the driveway. Audibly whoop as you sail towards the interstate with nary a car seat in sight.
Thrill at the ease of security without a stroller. Slip off only one pair of shoes. Happily raise your arms in the new x-ray screening machine that must be avoided while pregnant or dragging small children in tow.
Rediscover the freedom of choosing anything you want for dinner. Choose junk food. Grab only one napkin instead of the usual just-in-case-they-spill-everything stack. Silently apologize to acres of forests your offspring must have clear-cut over the years.
Go to the restroom unaccompanied. Deliberately ignore the availability and location of changing tables. Flush the toilet without coaching anyone about the potential loudness of the potty.
Easily locate a single open chair at the crowded terminal gate. Discover with amazement that human race has become even more addicted to gadgets since the last time you had five free minutes to notice. Cease all judgment with realization that you have your own gadget and can now read any of the 17 novels you’re been meaning to catch up on. Settle into uncomfortable plastic chair with large grin.
Ignore presence of small children at the gate. PARTICULARLY CRYING CHILDREN. ESPECIALLY CUTE CRYING CHILDREN. Steal page from stereotypical male response by thinking about baseball instead. Baseball baseball baseball baseball.
Watch formerly-adorable crying children dissolve into tantruming terrors while exasperated father wrestles them into a stroller. Shudder. Forget baseball.
Pick a window seat. Share view with no one. Enjoy ease of take-off without nursing a screaming, sweaty baby. Close eyes. Pretend to sleep. Love life.
Contemplate ordering wine with beverage service. Refrain with sigh when you remember you still have to pump before going to bed. Baseball baseball baseball.
Dive into new book to celebrate sheer quietness of airplane cabin. Discover 15 pages into story that plot line suggests tearful transformation of main character from angst-ridden new mother to wise sage weathered by tragedy that befalls her child. Baseball baseball.
Read heart-wrenching line about realization that mothering love is the fiercest, deepest love. BASEBALL.
Instantly recall cherubic, chubby grins on bouncing brothers. BASEBALL.
Unsuccessfully ignore overactive imagination’s flash of sentimental snapshots of adorable boys enjoying weekend at home with daddy, undoubtedly achieving adorable and significant milestones that their absentee mother will never get to revisit. BASEBALL!
Curse overactive imagination. Set down book, stare out window. Miss them. Gnawingly.
Remember, once again, for the umpteenth time.
That a vocation isn’t something you can leave behind.
That a calling isn’t as easy to set aside as the contents of a diaper bag.
That mothering is a way of being in the world, no matter where in the world you go.
That you can still enjoy a perfectly wonderful weekend with your girls, though all the while your heart will keep reaching back to the pieces of itself you left behind.
That even when you’re back with the ones who knew you before, it’s impossible to forget who you’ve become.
A Prayer for Wrangling Small Children at Church:
God of infinite patience,
Help me not to lose my mind at Mass today.
When my son falls off the kneeler for the umpteenth time and howls at me indignantly, let me not say I told you so! but I love you.
When the baby gets so fussy during the homily that no one within six pews can hear the priest, let me not sigh with irritation but distract him with smiles.
When I spend communion time pacing the floor of the gathering space, or trying in vain to nurse the baby in a corner of the cry room, or taking the toddler to the potty for the tenth time, help me to see that this is Eucharist, too – the gift of self in love.
When that older couple behind us, the ones I worried about the whole time – that we were annoying them and distracting their prayer and giving them reason to think the future church is going to hell in a handbasket – when they tap me on the shoulder after the final song and tell me we have a beautiful family, help me believe them. And even thank them graciously.
And when we’re tempted to skip Mass next Sunday because it’s just so hard in this crazy season of life, and it throws off nap schedules for the rest of the day, and what are we getting out of it anyway, let me remember the importance of coming. Because children are part of the Body of Christ. Because I need community and they need me. Because much of what is important about parenting isn’t easy anyway.
God, you promised that wherever two or three are gathered in your name, you are in their midst. That means our pew, too. The one covered with spit-up that two boys are trying to climb over.
Bless my hyper, healthy kids. Bless our diverse, dynamic church. Thank you for the weekly reminder of what matters most.
With gritted teeth behind that laughing smile,
A mama in the third row
A few days before Lent, I sat my son down for a serious conversation over crackers.
“So buddy, Lent starts on Wednesday. Lent is a time when we get ready for Easter. And during Lent we don’t sing Alleluia. So we’re not going to sing Alleluia for a while.”
His sea-blue eyes sparkled up at mine. His milk-smeared mouth turned up at the corners, and he cocked his head full of curls to one side.
“Should we sing Alleluia?” he cooed.
“No,” I replied patiently. “I just said we’re NOT going to sing it for a while. Because it’s Lent. And we don’t sing Alleluias during Lent. We save our Alleluias for Easter.”
“Should we sing Alleluia?” “No.”
“Should we – ” “NO.”
“Sh-” “NO! I SAID NO ALLELUIAS DURING LENT!”
Snack and failed attempt at liturgical catechesis both met an untimely end. The cherub scampered out of the kitchen and raced up the stairs, warbling as he went: “AH-AH-YAY-YOO-YA, AHHHH-YAY-YOO-YA!”
The rest of Lent? You guessed it. Our house has been filled with Alleluias. Cranky Alleluias and cheerful Alleluias. New lyrics sung to Alleluia tunes. Alleluia lyrics slapped onto nursery rhyme songs.
You would think we were already stuffing our cheeks full of Easter chocolates the way Alleluias are resounding round here.
I was annoyed for a while. Ok, I foisted my Lenten disciplines on my child and it failed. I tried to teach a two-year old about the somber tenor of a solemn season and it was a total flop. I realize now that if I had never uttered the A word on Ash Wednesday, I probably would have had a Alleluia-free Lent. I get it.
Silly, silly new mama.
But in the dusty midst of spring cleaning last weekend, a piece of paper fluttered to the floor as I swept a pile across my desk. I picked up the small scrap, its edges taped and retaped, remnants of a journey from childhood mirror to dorm room wall:
Let nothing so fill you with sorrow that you forget the joy of Christ risen.
(Dear Mother Teresa. That little lady had a gift for summing up the Gospel.*)
I thought about the stubborn persistence of joy.
Scraggly green shoots that push up through concrete cracks. Bandaged children who squeal with delight as they play in bombed-out buildings. Cancer patients who crack jokes with their nurses.
Something small and resilient within the human spirit seeks joy at any cost. Alleluia is a stubborn word to purge from our vocabulary. Our tongues ache for it during Lent: the forty days seem too long, and we’re cranky and tired by the end. We need more joy. Which is precisely the point: to do without so we remember how to do with.
This year, we’re plagued with an abundance of Alleluias, courtesy of one cheeky toddler. But I’ve given up fighting with joy. I figure God thought we could use an extra dose of delight in our days, and I’m done complaining. Aren’t all our Lents supposed to be lived in the light of Easter joy?
*For a little Lenten inspiration, check out these quick reads from some great theological minds on the Gospel in seven words or less.
And if you want my spin?
“See those people?” God asks. “Love them.”
(Coincidentally, it also applies to parenting.)
2:00 am (after a night of naps):
My head is going to EXPLODE. How is that baby screaming again?
I cannot handle his yelling. I’m going to lose my mind.
Didn’t I JUST get up and feed him? Sigh.
I could sleep for weeks and still not get enough.
God as my witness, I am never going to have another baby.
How is his brother in the next room waking up, too? I wish they would grow out of this phase.
I can’t believe how this time drags on and on and on. These days are so dang long.
8:00 am (after a shower and a cup of tea)
My heart is going to explode! How can the baby be grinning like that?
I cannot handle his laughing. I am going to lose my mind!
Didn’t we just bring him home from the hospital? Sigh.
I could cuddle him for days and still not get enough.
God as my witness, I want to have a zillion babies.
How is his brother in the next room going to preschool soon? I wish they would stay little forever.
I can’t believe how the time flies. These years are so short.