Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Touch of Heaven to Hold Onto

On Monday morning the three older children returned to school and I took my three-year-old ice skating at our favorite outdoor rink.

The outdoor rink at Port Jefferson Harbor Park is built next to an old boathouse, which was converted into a community center, a few hundred yards away from the actual harbor. I much prefer the outdoor rink to an indoor one, with its cold, stale air and lack of scenery. While we skate, we can take in the endless view, occasionally disrupted by the departure of the huge, white ferry, which we occasionally board to visit the cousins in Massachussetts.

Last week, during winter break, I had let the children all stay up every night until midnight watching the Olympics. My three-year-old attempted the figure skating moves on the living room rug, often blocking our view of the routines. She wants to be an ice dancer like one of her favorite literary characters, Angelina Ballerina.

She has been skating on the sandbox-turned-ice rink in our backyard on a regular basis, and when I can take them all to the rink she is able to skate independently. So we really enjoy our time together on the ice.

When we arrived, there was one couple with a girl her age; they soon tired of the effort and left. That left us two and an elderly gentleman, who quietly skated around and around the perimeter.

Although she knows she can do it, she always starts off by clinging to me. Then I hold her hands and skate backwards with her, until she decides to let go and skate towards me. Then she starts to mimic my moves. As the ice gets more and more scuffed-up, her confidence increases. During this session, probably the last of the year, she learned to skate backwards as well as in circles. I promised her a cup of hot cocoa if she would smile for a few pictures.

They let us stay on the ice longer, because there were no more customers for the next session. We just kept going and going until we were both utterly exhausted. We put a dollar in the beverage machine for a hot cocoa and another in the snack machine for a bag of Goldfish.

We brought all our stuff out onto a bench at the harbor’s edge and just sat there, sipping our hot cocoa and snacking on Goldfish, and watching the stillness and beauty of the cold, quiet water, glistening on this sunny, forty-degree day. It was truly a touch of heaven to hold onto.

Chapter 18
The Eternal is the judge of all things without exception; the LORD alone is just.
Whom has he made equal to describing his works, and who can probe his mighty deeds?
Who can measure his majestic power, or exhaust the tale of his mercies?
One cannot lessen, nor increase, nor penetrate the wonders of the LORD.
When a man ends he is only beginning, and when he stops he is still bewildered.
What is man, of what worth is he? the good, the evil in him, what are these?
The sum of a man's days is great if it reaches a hundred years:
Like a drop of sea water, like a grain of sand, so are these few years among the days of eternity.
That is why the LORD is patient with men and showers upon them his mercy.
He sees and understands that their death is grievous, and so he forgives them all the more.
Man may be merciful to his fellow man, but the LORD'S mercy reaches all flesh,
Reproving, admonishing, teaching, as a shepherd guides his flock;
Merciful to those who accept his guidance, who are diligent in his precepts.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

After Midnight

The kids are convinced that they scheduled the Olympics to coincide with President’s Week winter break, or visa versa, to allow children everywhere to stay up late and watch the games. I have been allowing them to stay up until midnight so that we can enjoy the figure skating competitions together. Although the routines are taped, the television station chooses to torture us by stretching it out from 8:00 PM through midnight.

We are used to having the kids to bed between 8:00 and 9:00. They all go to bed at the same time, with the occasional exception of my eldest if she has a big school assignment to work on. Then my husband and I have the evening to ourselves.

I dislike it when he allows them to stay up for a ballgame, so I have to see his point of view when he complains about my letting them stay up this late for figure skating. He’ll go upstairs to watch High Stakes Poker, and occasionally come down to laugh when a skater falls.

Last night my son fell asleep in a chair around 11:55. I put our three-year-old to bed and flopped on top of my own. My two preteen girls somehow found their way to my bed and we wound up lying there, chatting and laughing, for another half hour.

We talked about school, and funny things that teachers and other kids said. We talked about their friends. We talked about Lent, and why we are supposed to give up meat and other things. And we talked about softball.

Over the weekend we were approached by our coaches with the option of splitting the girls onto separate teams. Last year they were in different age divisions but this year they are back in the same division and I had been looking forward to simplifying my schedule by having them on the same team.

However, it has recently become apparent that having to compete with an older sister is not necessarily good for the younger one’s self-esteem and development as a ball player. I had been wrestling all winter with how to deal with this. When I found out the coaches had come to this same conclusion on their own, I was very encouraged. My husband was in agreement and the girls suddenly became very excited about facing off against each other on the field.

I did this to myself, and some may think I’m insane; I also have to fit my son’s baseball games in there. But the truth is that I love being on the field everyday (even though I am allergic to pollen and rely on my Claritin or Zyrtec to survive), and love watching my kids do what they love to do best.

People are always telling me that they are sad to watch their children grow up. Maybe I don’t feel that way because I still have a little one at home. But God gave each child a purpose for being and a gift to be fulfilled. So when I see my children blossoming and coming into their own, it fills me with great joy.

Sirach has some wise words on disciplining children so that they may bring joy to the parents when they grow up…

Chapter 30
He who loves his son chastises him often, that he may be his joy when he grows up.
He who disciplines his son will benefit from him, and boast of him among his intimates.
He who educates his son makes his enemy jealous, and shows his delight in him among his friends.
At the father's death, he will seem not dead, since he leaves after him one like himself,
Whom he looks upon through life with joy, and even in death, without regret:
The avenger he leaves against his foes, and the one to repay his friends with kindness.
He who spoils his son will have wounds to bandage, and will quake inwardly at every outcry.
A colt untamed turns out stubborn; a son left to himself grows up unruly.
Pamper your child and he will be a terror for you, indulge him and he will bring you grief.
Share not in his frivolity lest you share in his sorrow, when finally your teeth are clenched in remorse.
Give him not his own way in his youth, and close not your eyes to his follies.
Bend him to the yoke when he is young, thrash his sides while he is still small, Lest he become stubborn, disobey you, and leave you disconsolate.
Discipline your son, make heavy his yoke, lest his folly humiliate you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Review of Sarah Palin’s “Going Rogue: An American Life”

As one would expect, Sarah Palin’s book “Going Rogue: An American Life” is political in nature – and yet, regardless of your politics, I think any woman with American Judeo-Christian morals would enjoy this book immensely, especially if she is a mom. Men will also enjoy her messages of ethics over politics; dealing with the political machine; and balancing family with work.

Sarah Palin wrote this book to clear the air on a number of issues. She writes about how the media turned around her actions and words to portray her badly; the GOP campaign advisors did nearly as much damage; and the people of Alaska and her own family wound up suffering as a result. This book clears her family name where it was smeared; outlines the non-basis of ethical charges leveled at her and her office; and explains why she felt it was in the public’s best interest for her to step down from her position as Governor of Alaska.

The book tells quite a great deal about Sarah Palin’s life and character. She is driven to serve the public. She is amazingly balanced. She is a mom first at heart and loves America.

Sarah’s description of her family life is awe-inspiring. As a mom who is busy with her own volunteer work as well as children in travel sports, reading about all she does makes me think, “If Sarah can do all this and also serve in public office, surely I can do this!” She has a great relationship with her husband; although his work keeps him away from home for weeks at a time, they are able to coordinate their complicated schedules so that the children are always taken care of. She is very involved with all aspects of her kids’ lives, acting as a high school girls’ basketball coach and traveling the wide reaches of Alaska to get her children to their various sporting events.

As a public servant, her ethics are unaffected by party affiliation. She personally keeps down her living and travel expenses that are paid by the public. She is not afraid to stand up to the establishment to get her job done properly. Her honesty in answering questions during the McCain campaign is what inspired the title of the book: her “handlers” were complaining that in going off-script she was “going rogue”.

Early in the book, Sarah bares to all her feelings as she discovered she was pregnant with her fifth child; then again, as she received the news that he would be born with Down syndrome. Not wanting the news to affect her job in any way, she kept the pregnancy quiet until her seventh month; she never got the chance to prepare her family properly for the special challenges they would face. Later in the book, she will talk about her “grizzly bear mama” feelings as her children, including the youngest and most innocent, are unfairly attacked by the media.

As a person, Sarah is very “real”. She does not care about high fashion; she hunts; she runs; she personally handles fish guts. Sarah pays due respect to mothers everywhere, whether they are full-time stay-at-home moms, working moms, work-at-home moms, or professional volunteer moms. Whatever your call in life, she believes you should listen to your conscience and follow it.

Some notes on where Sarah stands on some issues, which will affect how some read her book. Sarah was baptized Catholic but is a practicing Evangelical Christian. She is pro-life in all circumstances. She believes in contraception, which has put her at odds with some pro-life groups. She believes in free competition, small government, and stream-lined budgets. She admires the Republican Party of the Reagan years but does not align herself completely with either political party.

I have heard people say that they thought this book was “ghost-written”, but I could hear Sarah’s voice telling her story throughout. In the Acknowledgements section she thanks Lynn Vincent and a number of assistants for helping to get her words on paper. While she evidently did not personally write every word, it is apparent that the meanings of the words are hers and that she was involved in the book process from beginning to end.

Sarah loves Facebook, which puts information in the hands of the people. You can find her fan page here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

Find her website "Sarah Palin for America" here.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The World is too Slow for Me

Being involved in a sports organization is so exciting when I can contribute my ideas to help make it run better for my children. However, being just one wheel on the train I have to wait for all those other wheels to turn along with me! For me to do my job I have to wait for people to return my calls or emails and get me the information I need.

Patience is not a virtue I was born with. Like I teach my girls in Little Flowers, the virtues must be perfected by practicing them. If you don’t feel cheerful, start with an outward smile, and you are on your way to perfecting the virtue of Cheerfulness. So every day I pray for the patience I need for dealing with all the challenges of motherhood. Even when I feel impatient, I try to act patient; at the very least I give the outward appearance of calm, which is contagious to those around me.

As the week progressed, I was feeling rather dubious about presenting the virtue of Piety to my Little Flowers group. With all my pent-up feelings of impatience, I felt like I was the last person to be representing this virtue.

On Friday morning I brought a softball flyer down to Staples to be copied. It sounds like a simple task but I was surprised at all the complications: (1) getting approval from the school district to distribute it in the classrooms; (2) finding out how to pay for the copies through the treasury; (3) about 20 minute questions from the photocopying manager before she could get me a quote on the cost. I brought the flyer down and thought I was done. Then she asked me if I want plain white or the league color (green)?

I had to agree that my flyer looked lovely in green. But I didn’t know what the rules were for handing out flyers in the school; would a colored background be acceptable? My cell phone had lost its charge. So I told her to hold the order until I could get confirmation from my supervisor. I went home and emailed him the question.

An hour went by and I became increasingly impatient. Staples had enough collators that morning to get the job done before a big snowstorm came in; and I was planning on taking my kids ice skating when they got home from their half day at school. “He’s probably busy at work and doesn’t want to be pestered with this stupid question about green or white”, I thought. So I put in a call to the school district and found out that background color is fine.

I emailed him again saying, “School district says color is fine. I’m going with green unless you tell me otherwise”, waited five minutes, and called the lady to say we had decided on green. “That’s great,” she said, and I hung up.

Then I got the reply to my first email, “White”.

So I called her again. “I’m really sorry, but I just got the reply from my supervisor. We will have to go with white.”

“Don’t worry about it – I didn’t start yet,” she said.

Then I got a reply to my second email, “Green is great.”

We finally confirmed the decision through a telephone conversation. “Green would be nice, but if you don’t want to call her again I understand,” he said.

But I really liked the idea of the green flyer, so I called the lady one more time. “I promise you I’m not crazy,” I pleaded, “But I just got permission from the district that I can use green. I promise you I won’t change my mind again.”

“Well, we’ll see about that,” she replied, but with a good-natured tone.

With an hour to go before the kids got home, I sat down to go over my lesson plans for Little Flowers. I opened up the book and was pleasantly surprised…

I started my lesson by asking all the girls what they thought piety was, or how a pious person should act. The picture they all seemed to have was of a really serious, straight-faced person who prays and talks about religion all the time. Then I told them that that was what I thought too, and that I had thought I was the last person who should be presenting this lesson. I shared with them the green-or-white story. Then I told them what piety really is.

From “The Catholic Girl’s Guide”, edited by Fr. Francis X. Lasance:

“The genuine flower of piety is no mere sentimentalism and does not consist in a multitude of pious practices. If you would be truly pious, do everything you have to do as a service done to God. We see true piety to be an interior frame of mind or disposition, a love which comes from within and gives life to everything which is without. Or it is the active love of God which makes men eschew evil, do good, and endure suffering. An unmistakable mark of true piety is that it makes its possessor cheerful and merry. How indeed could it be otherwise? Who has more reason to be cheerful than a truly pious young girl? Who can look up to heaven with more confidence?”

I said that because I was acting out of devotion to my children, which springs from the love of God, my actions of the week could be seen as actions of piety. Whatever they are called to do on a given day, if they do it out of the sincerity of their hearts and through love of God and neighbor, they are practicing the virtue of piety.

I got home to an email from Staples. She had gotten the order done in half the time she had estimated – either she was nervous about the snowstorm or she didn’t want to give me a chance to change my mind again!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

High Demand

As the kids continue to grow older and more independent, I have had more time to spend on other projects. While I avoided volunteer work during the newborn stage, I started last year to start saying “yes” to more things, and to sometimes even throw my hat in the ring just because I knew my kind of talent was needed. I always make sure I am putting my time into an interest that will also benefit my children – teaching their religion class, coaching their sport, or putting my organizational skills to work in their sports organization.

For the first time, I allowed my children to take part in winter sports this year, and I am still wondering if that was a good idea. I always liked to take a little time off from all that running around; to enjoy Advent, and my daughter’s birthday, which falls around Christmas. I usually read a nice long book in January, and then do some serious writing. This year I have not had the leisure to either read or write at any great length.

Although we have quite a busy schedule, when we are all together in the house sometimes it feels like I am no longer needed by them in a direct manner. Then suddenly one of them comes to me for help and I am very pleased. The only problem is that this always seems to happen to all the kids at the very same time.

Today my eldest daughter, who practically taught herself while we were homeschooling and catches on to math skills quite easily, came to me for help with her algebraic inequalities. It took about an hour to explain things to her. During this hour, my three-year old daughter continually came asking for me to play a game for her; my eight-year-old son kept asking for advice on a picture he was working on; and my eleven-year-old started crying for no apparent reason.

Done with the primary task at hand, I went on to my second daughter, asking yes or no questions to try to get at the cause of her crying. I finally got at it – she had come home with a C on a test about primes and composites and was afraid to tell me. Note that this is the same teacher who had not properly explained things to my older daughter. So I explained to her that if she didn’t get the math concept it wasn’t her fault, and we worked on understanding the test together.

My son didn’t really need my help; he was just responding to the high needs of everyone else around him and demanding his own piece of me. My three-year-old gets more than her fair share of my attention and needs to learn to wait her turn.

During this time, somebody ate all of my husband’s oatmeal cookies and all of the apples that were supposed to go with the lunches for tomorrow. My husband arrived home, ate the dinner plate I had prepared for him, and asked how I could allow that to happen!

“I don’t know. It’s my writing night,” I replied, and took my laptop upstairs to write this little piece.

Chapter 131
A song of ascents. Of David. LORD, my heart is not proud; nor are my eyes haughty. I do not busy myself with great matters, with things too sublime for me.
Rather, I have stilled my soul, hushed it like a weaned child. Like a weaned child on its mother's lap, so is my soul within me.
Israel, hope in the LORD, now and forever.

Painting above: “Lotte (Werther’s Leiden)” by Wilhelm Von Kaulbach