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Archive for May, 2009

Our New Religion

QAFC games 007As a child raised in the Bible Belt, I understood that Sunday’s were set aside for Church and family.  We would, as a family, wake up earlier than we did on school mornings, dress in our Sunday best (obviously this was before I converted to Catholicism) and head to Sunday School, followed by a two hour church service.  Afterwards we would head to Aunt Faye’s house for Sunday dinner with the entire family.  Sundays were as routine as a school day. Just as we would never think of missing a school day for a family picnic we would certainly never miss church so we could chase a ball around a field.

Which leads me to ask, is soccer becoming our new religion?  I swear I did not convert to Catholicism for the variety of the mass schedule but I find myself being more and more grateful to have the extra opportunities to attend a service.  In our church we have five to choose from, including one on Saturday evening.  Even so, with two children, both playing travel soccer, coaches who insist players arrive one hour early for games and games as much as two hours away, there are Sundays when we just can’t find the time for Mass and soccer.  Sadly, we choose soccer.

We choose soccer over Church even as we pray to God to deliver us safely to our fields or to watch over our children as they play what can be a very physical game.  We choose soccer over Church while we pray for guidance in raising our children.  We choose soccer and still we pray for God’s intervention in our lives.

So, yes, I do think soccer is becoming our new religion and I am ashamed of myself for allowing it to happen.  Each week that I am able to go to Mass I pat myself on the back for making the effort that had once been habit and I vow that I will continue to go to Mass no matter what comes up.  Then Sunday comes around and there is a championship game two hours away and I can’t or won’t let that happen and we, once again, choose soccer.

I think of the saints who gave their lives for their faith and I marvel at their commitment to God.  St. Sebastian was shot through with arrows for refusing to give up his faith, yet I refuse to miss a soccer game for Mass.  I refuse to take a stand for my beliefs and to teach my children to take the same stand and ultimately Soccer becomes our new religion.

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Before I had children I believed that my children should be treated equally, that a parent should use the same methods to discipline each of her children.  That changed as my children were born and I learned that their personalities dictated the type of discipline they responded to.  For my oldest son it took little more than a disappointed look from his father or me to make him change his attitude.  My daughter needed more.  She needed a show of anger a raised voice or the threat of further punishment.  We are still trying to figure out the two year old but we will get there.

In the meantime I have also come to realize that as much as their personalities differ, their moms are also different.  No, I am not confessing to multiple personality disorder.  I am however suggesting that a first time mom is very different from an experienced mom and both of these differ from the mom of a middle child who is still learning but thinks she knows more than she actually does.  These differences are most clear when comparing my youngest son’s mom to my middle child’s mom because Zane’s mom is ten years older than Meg’s and because they are such very different children.

Zane’s mom will carry him whenever he asks her to.  There are even times when she asks to carry him as though it might be the last time she will carry him for the rest of her life.  Meg’s mom spent most of the second year of Meg’s life telling her she needed to walk.  She was too big to be carried all of the time.  Meg’s mom remembers with great clarity the last time she carried her.  Meg was ten and had fallen asleep on the couch.  She picked up her beautiful daughter, carried her to her bed and thought that it would probably be the last time she could do that until after the baby was born.  She didn’t realize how much Meg would grow in those few months.  She didn’t know it would be the last time.

Zane’s mom is patient.  She finds herself standing in a toy store watching him play with the train table, knowing there are things that need to be done and deciding they aren’t that important.  He is enjoying himself and learning how things work and those other things that need to be done will be there tomorrow.  Meg’s mom was most assuredly not patient.  As soon as Meg was old enough to walk on her own her mom was rushing her, hurrying her along because there was so much to do.  Meg was seldom given the time to just play because there was always something that needed to be done.

Zane’s mom is calm.  When he pitches a temper tantrum she watches him and waits.  She doesn’t give in to the tantrum but she doesn’t fight it either.  Because of this Zane wears himself out and gives up.  Meg’s mom was not calm in the least.  Meg would say no and her mom would say yes.  Meg would pitch a temper tantrum and mom would pick her up and tell her to stop acting like a baby and Meg would fight even harder. Meg’s mom would be embarrassed of the tantrum and fight it.  Meg’s tantrums always outlasted her mom’s patience.

Zane’s mom is fun.  She crawls through the house pushing trucks and cars, building towers, rolling the ball for a game of toddler kick ball.  Meg’s mom was too busy.  Meg needed to entertain herself or find something else to do because her mom was just too busy.

These are the differences I have noticed but I am sure there are more.  Part of me can’t wait to talk to Zane and Meg as adults and find out how they would describe their moms but only part of me.  The biggest part has learned that ten years slips by too fast and we all change too much.

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Summer is coming.  I can’t wait.  I love summer days and the fact that with the kids out of school there is very little structure.  I love the idea that we can wake up with no plans and end up at the ocean or on a trail in the middle of the woods.  I love that we can truly fly by the seat of our pants.  The truth is I have been looking forward to this summer since the kids started school last year, more specifically since they started school, religious education and soccer practice last September.

I hate the school year.  I hate that Zane (my two year old and I) are limited in our outings to being back by the time the big kids get home from school.  I hate soccer practice, the hours I spend in a car knowing exactly where I am going and what I am doing which, since I am not the one playing soccer, is standing around doing nothing for an hour and a half then turning the car around rushing home to eat dinner at nine o’clock at night and going to bed. The weekends in the fall, winter and spring are no better, soccer, indoor soccer and more soccer.  There is no spontaneity to those seasons.

But summer is brilliant.  In the summer I can go to sleep with no idea what I will be doing the next day, wake up to find that it is another beautiful day and head out on an adventure.  We can bike in DC.  We can go to the Eastern Shore and have lunch in St. Michael’s.  We can go for a hike in Gun Powder Falls State Park.  There are a thousand things to do and nothing to stop us.  I love the summer.

But, now the kids are getting bigger and the commitments begin to creep.  There are sports camps that are optional – except not really, if you want to make the high school soccer team.  There are running sessions that are optional but again, not really if you want to make varsity cross country.  My husband, who I love dearly, has also started creeping into my summer plans.  He sends me emails about camps, pick up games and training sessions.  He asks me whether the kids are practicing.  I answer as civilly as possible that the summer is the summer.  That it is the one time that even mom gets a break.  That the kids will not become fat, lazy, non-soccer playing losers if they take the break as it was intended.  And then I feel guilty.

Already, I feel guilty and I know that this will be the end of my summer, the summer that I have looked forward to for months now.  I know that I will make it to the pool maybe twice.  That I will spend hours standing beside a soccer pitch.  That the summer will end I will once again miss the beauty of Gun Powder Falls State Park.  But until it happens, I will still fantasize about my perfect summer.

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Checking on the kids

I startle awake and find myself on the couch again. The lights are off. The television still on but barely audible. I remember now, it was a trick I play with myself. “I won’t fall asleep on the couch again but the TV is just too loud,” I tell myself. “I won’t fall asleep on the couch but that light is just too bright. I won’t go to sleep on the couch tonight but it won’t hurt to close my eyes for just a minute.”

But still I find myself on the couch coming back to reality, wondering how it is that I wake up right in the middle of the weather every night. Is it coincidence or an internal clock of some sort? Deciding simultaneously that it doesn’t really matter what it is and that it is probably the music they play to introduce the weather, I slowly sit up and look around making a silent list of things that have to be done before I go up.

First on the list is to clear my head. Don’t think about anything that might wake me up more. Don’t think about the other lists that await me. Don’t open my eyes all the way. That way I can still sleep when I make it up stairs.

Crossing the room to go into the kitchen I realize the dogs haven’t gone out. Dogs with less bladder control than Aunt Sally either go out now or wake us up at five to be let out. Searching the house for the dogs the list begins to grow and spread its tentacles across the room. Pick up the baby’s toys he has strewn across the floor between the time I picked them up last and when I put him to bed. Oh, and there is another sippy cup full of milk. Before I even pick it up I know that means I will clean the kitchen, just a little, before I finally make it up the stairs. Just throw the cup and the other things the older children and my husband have left sitting around into the dishwasher. And I might as well start the dishwasher. Great, the dishwasher is full. Better empty that and if I am going to do that I might as well set the table for breakfast.

With the kitchen cleaned and the table set I rush to the back door to let the dogs in before they wake up the neighbors. With the dogs placed quietly back on their couch in the basement it is time to lock up. This is the when the public service advertisements begin to play in my head. What happens in the middle of the night if there is a fire? Will the path to the doors be clear? Of course not. So I pick up the back packs and shoes and place them carefully to the side of the door. Placing the kid’s coats just on top so they will be completely ready to go in the morning.

With all the lights off and the doors locked I head up the stairs, arms full of things I have picked up downstairs. Two birds with one stone, right? I enter each of their rooms with their things in tow and place them out of the exit path but where they are sure to see them in the morning, kiss them each on the head and move on to the next room.

Finally, fumbling in the dark of my own room, listening to the increasingly loud snoring coming from my bed and trying not to trip over the things that litter my own exit path, I make it to the closet where I dump running shoes, slippers and dress shoes, look at the mess that is my closet and decide that tomorrow I really will clean it out. Heading to the bathroom I brush and floss, brush my hair so maybe it will be less of a rat’s nest in the morning and once again head into the obstacle course that has become my room.

Maybe this is why I fall asleep on the couch at night. Maybe it is my way of resting up for the work of making it up the stairs at the end of the day. Maybe it is the sleep I need because it is the sleep I don’t have to think about and plan for. Maybe.

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SquirrelI stood at the back door, coffee in hand, looking the perfect picture of the composed stay-at-home mom,  relaxing and watching my preschooler play.  This picture lasted for about a minute as serenity is not really the picture of the stay-at-home mom.  As I had been standing there admiring my son’s ability to entertain himself, my dogs had been entertaining themselves.  They had cornered a squirrel and just as I realized what they were about to do Jackson took the squirrel in his mouth and started shaking it around like a rag doll.  Simultaneously, I realized my preschooler had taken notice of the situation.

Zane began screaming, “Mommy, Jack-Jack is breaking the squirrel!”

I took a moment to carefully sit my coffee down before I began to frantically search for something to throw at the dog and jump off of the deck screaming at the dog to “drop it.”  To my utter amazement, he did.  Unfortunately this surprised both Jackson and the squirrel.  The squirrel laid there in the mulch not sure what to do but Jackson quickly recovered from his obvious stupidity and grabbed the squirrel back in his jaws and began his awful game of shaking the life out of the squirrel.

I should interrupt this narrative though to explain that as much as I would never go out and kill a squirrel for the fun of it, I am not the world’s biggest animal advocate.  My real motive in trying to save this squirrel’s life was to avoid cleaning up a dead animal afterwards.  There are a lot of messes I understand I will have to clean up but dead squirrel is where I draw the line.

So I continued to chase and scream and wave the yellow bin I had picked up to throw at the dog.  I became Super Ann as I bounded through the woods and around the playset swinging the bin and screaming at my dog.  To Jackson I must have looked like I was ready to kill him.  He dropped the squirrel again and once again followed a command, returning to the deck to be let inside. Leaving the squirrel lying in the mulch trying to catch his breath, I headed up onto the deck to let Jackson in the house.  But alas, it was a trick.  Jackson leapt over the railing and headed back to the squirrel.  This little dance lasted another ten minutes.  Me chasing and screaming, Jackson grabbing the squirrel and dropping him, the squirrel scrambling for safety only to be grabbed again and Zane screaming at the top of his lungs for me to fix the broken squirrel.

A more together mom may have grabbed her child, taken him in the house and enticed the dog into the house with a treat but I have never claimed to be a together mom.  Being a together mom would certainly give me less material for writing.  I would like to say here that I came up with a wonderful solution, but I didn’t.  In the end I just got lucky.  During one of the times I was able to chase the dog onto deck the squirrel was able to climb onto a low branch and with very little grace, fall over the fence into my neighbor’s yard. I will once again confess here, my first thought was not, “Thank God the squirrel is safe.”  No, my first thought was, “Thank God, someone else will have to clean up that mess.”

Fortunately, there is a happy ending.  After putting the dogs in the house and consoling Zane and setting him up with Blue’s Clues I went back into the backyard and looked over the fence.  I knew there was a chance I would still be obligated to clean up the mess or worse case scenario, put the poor squirrel out of his misery but I did it anyway.  Expecting to see the remains of this poor little squirrel I was very happy to see not a trace.  No animal, no fur and no blood.

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Pure Joy

Father Jo Jo sings.  He sings along with the hymns as he should but he also sings right in the middle of his homily.  I love that he does this but even more, I love that I get to witness it.  Not because he has a beautiful voice or because he picks the most moving songs but because he sings with joy.  And joy isn’t something you witness every day.  I almost always have a nickname for our priests.  Father Tippy Toe couldn’t see over the lectern so he had to deliver his homily on tiptoe.  Father Speedy Gonzales delivered his homily at lighting speed.  But Father Jo Jo is my favorite and thus has my favorite nickname, Father Joyful.

I think a lot about joy these days because at forty and having considered myself to be one of the luckiest people in the world because of the family I have, I found my joy.  I found something that makes me completely joyful.  Luckily for everybody around me, I am not breaking into song, but I have found that piece that you see in others so seldom, joy.

A couple of weeks ago we were watching From the Earth to the Moon, Tom Hank’s series on NASA’s race to the moon, and I once again witnessed that joy.  It seemed that everybody involved in the space program had it.  The geologists in particular really struck me.  These are men who dig for rocks and find an absolute joy in it.  One of the men joked about being crazy and it occurred to me that this joyfulness in people, this pure love of one thing outside of themselves, is sometimes labeled as eccentricity.

People like Howard Hughes, who have an idea that they can’t get out of their heads and pursue all of there lives, often becoming successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, they have a joy, a love.  Often these people stand out in a room because they have found something many people never do.  They have found joy.

I don’t stand out in a room.  But I know I have found a joy outside of myself and my family.  I am not just happy with my life.  In writing, I have found something that I love.  For me it isn’t a grand idea like Howard Hughes’ planes or a faith like Father Jo Jo’s that causes me to break into song but it is a joy on a different level.  It is the same joy I see in my two year old as he runs through the house pushing his cars and crashing into the walls.  Or in eleven year olds who, though they don’t know it, are coming to the end of the time where they will be able to run through the playground with abandon.  It is a joy that comes from doing exactly what you were meant to do.

There was a song we used to sing in Sunday School.

I’ve got the joy joy joy joy down in my heart

Where?

Down in my heart

Where?

Down in my heart

I’ve got the joy joy joy down in my heart

Where?

Down in my heart to stay.

This song plays in my head as I sit here writing this because I know that, whether writing makes me successful or not, the most important thing it bring is joy.

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Lying in the middle of the road, not sure what, if anything, was broken, still holding on to Misty’s leash, I thought, “This could only happen to me.”  It was the price of guilt.  Misty is not my favorite dog.  She is beautiful and sweet and very athletic but she is also completely out of control.  She runs, like a three year old child, with total abandon.  So I never take her for a run.  I leave that to my husband.

Unfortunately, on Sunday my husband chose to go to the gym.  As he headed out the door to the gym, I took Jackson, our other weimeraner for a run.  We ran fast and far.  We ran the trails by our house and every step of the way we were in sync.  Jackson is a great runner.  On the leash he doesn’t pull and tug the way Misty does.  He is controllable.  Misty is not.  Sunday we had a wonderful run.  It was as though the rain had subsided just for us. Everything about our run was perfect.

Afterwards, as I approached the house I began to feel guilty.  I knew Misty would be sitting at the door waiting, hoping for a run.  I hoped against hope that Blaise would be home from the gym and willing to take Misty for a short run.  Of course he wasn’t so I was faced with the sad puppy dog eyes that wrench at my heart and send my guilt gauge into the red zone.  I had to take her.

I put her leash on and explained, as though she would understand, that we were only going to run for twenty minutes.  She could run on the trails but she had to be good.  I swear she promised.  But alas she broke that promise.  Before we had gotten to the end of the driveway she had turned around and jumped on me with both paws pounding into my chest.  She was not controllable.

I should have turned around but the guilt wouldn’t let me.  I kept running.  She wanted to run fast so I let her set the pace.  She pulled and tugged and I tried to control her but somehow as we turned the corner at the front of the neighborhood, in front of a parade of cars she hit me from behind sending me flying five feet into the air.  It is funny how many things go through you mind at moments like that.  I thought about the surgeon in New York who fell off his bike and cracked his head on the curb.  I thought of the marathon I was supposed to have run that morning but flaked out on.  I watched as my feet slowly raised above my head and like a seesaw my head descended toward the asphalt.

I have no idea how I twisted or turned or how I managed to see all of the brake lights before I hit the ground with my right arm/elbow/shoulder contorted underneath me and my left hip touching on the other side.  I have no idea how long I sat in that position assessing my injuries before people started getting out of their cars, suppressing laughter or horror, to see if they could help.  I do know that all I could think is that this really could only happen to me.

As someone helped me by taking my dog and someone else helped me to my feet I realized I had been lucky.  I hadn’t cracked my head open and I hadn’t broken anything.  I was banged up pretty good but I would survive to run another day.  I would love to say I learned a lesson about guilt but I didn’t.  I am sure that one day soon Misty will once again use those puppy dog eyes and I will once again give in and take her for that promised run.  Just not today.

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