punchy line

...and he (Simon Peter) saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the face-cloth ... not lying with the linen wrappings, but rolled up in a place by itself. - Jn 20: 6-7
-Jn 20: 6-7

Friday, January 27, 2012

Being a Parent Does Not Entitle You To... (A Discourse on [Un]Common Courtesy)

Venturing into the outside world with children is scary.  Some might call it a handicap.  I can attest to this.  Any parent without eight arms is already handicapped.

Errands take forever with kids.  Since their needs are always at highest pitch in public, you often wind up inadvertently inconveniencing others by holding up a line or knocking into someone whilst scrambling to catch a child who's darting around like a blind ferret.  I get it.  I’ve been there. 

Even so, as a parent, I’ve been amazed at how many parents who are familiar with how burdensome accomplishing tasks with children can be, can infringe upon others with children when it comes to their own needs. 

Parenting may be noble but it does not make one above reproach.  Yes, toting the kids around is cumbersome.   Yes, you have a good reason for going slower and taking longer than someone without kids.  But parents, just like everyone else, are obliged to follow social etiquette and common courtesy.  

Let me be very specific. Being a parent does not entitle you to do the following:

Take cuts in line.
This is just plain rude, and actually pretty thuggish.  I’m not talking about asking permission to go ahead of someone to purchase a quick item.  I mean dashing to the front of a line blatantly disregarding the fifty-foot queue of people waiting for the same thing. It’s even worse when it’s a parent with kids.  What message does that send?  That they can forcibly get their way anytime regardless of what everyone else is doing? That the other families waiting in line are less important than theirs?  Rude, rude, rude.   Those people make me pray alot.

Leave your items at the cashier so you can go back to find that one forgotten item.
When I’ve forgotten one crucial item, I finish checking out and then go back to grab what I need.  Or I just *gasp* let it go.  It’s been only recently that I have experienced parents who, realizing they’ve forgotten something, leave their purchase half complete, and take their children on a journey throughout the store to locate it making everyone behind them wait.  Maybe it’s just my belief that if I screw up, I shouldn’t make others pay for it, but this smacks of utter selfishness and inconsideration.  Ditto on what message it sends the kids which is the same as taking cuts in line.

Place too much stock in your kids’ preferences.
As much as we want our kids to practice making choices and forming opinions, there’s a time and place where we can dispense with higher level Bloom Taxonomy thinking, and just go for what we already know works.  Those times include: when others are waiting, or when your kid doesn’t know what they want because their preferences are changing all of the time.  So, don’t put too much stock in kids' wants.  If they’re like my kids they will always want what they that see someone else has.  It’s just the rule of undisciplined desire in kids.

Make a big deal over price discrepancies.
Coupons do make life easier, I guess, but not when you’re the one stuck behind the parent with antsy children, with your own children getting antsier by the second, as they dispute over twenty cents worth of savings.  Some cost/benefit analysis would help parents work out if the twenty cents was equivalent to the salary accrued by the annoyed cashier, the summoned manager, and the errand-running bag boy in the time it took to look up the coupon, verify the price, do a manual override and present the refund.  Be sure to factor in the price per ounce of whiskey that the other waiting parent will have to imbibe at home to get over another nearly disastrous outing.

Leave messes behind you.
I really don’t get this one. Aren’t we parents always picking up messes? It’s like, what we do. So why would we leave messes out in public for someone else to clean? Further, it looks bad on us to leave a trail of trash wherever our kids have eaten.  Other people have to see it and smell it.  Other people have to clean it up.  If everyone adopted the rule to leave a place as you found it (if it was clean to begin with) then everyone would be a lot happier.  I know I would be.

Forgo with returning your shopping cart.
Once the kids are buckled, why not return the cart?  If you don’t, someone else will have to.  It’s easy and you burn calories.  I can only ask again: why not return the cart?

Maybe this post stems from my oversensitivity to not imposing upon others and my having been taught to be courteous to those around me.   In the end it’s just living according to the golden rule, which should be the platinum rule by now for those who have ever embarked out into the world with kids. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

4 Things I Thought I’d Have By Thirty

As I soak up the last week of my twenties, I thought that I'd reminisce about those things I assumed I would have by the time I was thirty.  You know, those worldly trappings which were once ‘guaranteed’ if we worked hard, went to school and married someone responsible (hey, it’s my party and can cry if I want to, alright?).

Don’t worry, you can put away the weeping violins; I’m really very blessed.  I just have a tragic sense of humor.  Even so, here are four things I took for granted that I would have by now:

A House
I know we are far from alone on this one.  We’re part of Generation Rent, along with 38 million other people.  Still, my husband and I deeply desire to give our children what we had: a house with a yard just the way both our parents were able to give us by the time they were thirty.   

But there is a bright side!  We figure that by the time we have finally saved enough for a down payment, we’ll just give it to the grandkids and then we’ll just move in with them (muahahahaha). Until then, we do presently rent for below market rates in a nice area.  We’re lucky and I really mean that.

I often joke that if God loves the poor, then He loves us very, very much.  And He also really loves my generation because having savings and 'moving on up' is considered nearly impossible now.  We are Generation Rent as much as we are also Generation Debt. Our negative balances are one of the main reasons that couples today choose to delay marriage.  Many still believe that one cannot responsibly marry until one is completely debt free (paying off that loan will take fifty years anyway) and so living together seems like the responsible option (though ironically it ends up draining the economy even more).

Thankfully, my husband and I never had such a scruple, and so we plunged into marriage and having kids with gusto despite our student loans.  Yes, my family is poor, but that doesn't stop us from believing with all our hearts that God spoils us with what is important in life.  We have each other, our health and especially, and most importantly, our Faith. That and, as poverty goes, we live quite comfortably.  We can afford to eat out from time to time, buy new clothes and go out to the movies. In any case, God has given us the grace to love Him and we thank Him everyday for how He takes care of us, shelters us from the world's nonsense and fills our lives with His abundance.

My Own Car
I’ve already posted about my Jabba-the-Hut of a van, which is currently on loan to me out of “charity” (you know, the kind that hurts you). We used to have two cars, but we sacrificed the nice one so that I could stay home. But hey, aren’t massive family vans with stick figures of your kids stretching across the entire rear window required to be a Catholic?   If so, woot!  I'm halfway home.  And really, I’ve come to love the rusty bucket.  Really. Wait…really?  No, really!  Wait…

Affordable Health Care
Out of everything on my list, this tends to make me the most bitter because I know how much stay-at-home moms 'work.' We 24-7 child rearing-counseling-cleaning-chauffeuring-feeding-coaching-protecting types contribute to society by raising moral and productive children who will never need a jail cell.  You’d think that that would be enough of an ‘incentive’ for the government to automatically provide free medical care for stay-at-home parents for life!  For me, for now, a generous relative pays for my health care plan because it would be too expensive to add me to my husband’s much nicer plan.

I guess, on the bright side, the saints never had health care, right?  Maybe this is a gift so that I can offer up all my physical maladies for the souls in purgatory.  It's something, right? Sigh.

Looking back over my twenties, I suppose I could have done things differently, and yes, it has been impossibly difficult at times, but honestly, if I had to do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing. I would make the same decisions, because, at the end of the day, I truly believe that I have my what everyone else wants. I married the love of my life and we’ve made two beautiful babies.  Most importantly I have my Catholic faith. I have God, and therefore, in the words of St. Theresa, I lack nothing.

At least that’s how I feel!  Upon turning 30, I can truly say that I have everything, though by the world’s measure, I have very little.  I just pray for the grace to be able say the same when I turn forty.  And hey, things might change.  I still have two days left until my birthday.  Anything can happen.  Lotto ticket anyone?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Yes, Abigail, There Are (Still) Teaching Nuns

Photo credit:shrineofstjude.net
The other day, purely out of curiosity, I looked up the three religious orders that taught the three generations of American women in my family: my grandmother, mother and myself.  I wanted to know what they are doing now. I came away both saddened over what's become of the nuns that meant so much to our family but I am equally grateful to have spent a good slice of my childhood with them. 

My daughter is lucky.  She is one of the few children today who will have the benefit of a teaching order (which is technically a religious institute, though I’m not sure about the difference between the two). The Institute Servants of the Lord and the Virgin of Matara is recently founded, completely faithful to the Church and absolutely exploding with vocations.  They prove that a resurgence of the classic, habit clad, teaching nun is imminent.   They are also pioneers of a new paradigm of religious education as they run the Montessori homeschooling cooperative at our parish. Without orders like theirs, if my daughter had ever asked me if teaching nuns still existed, judging by the dwindling numbers of the older orders, my answer would have been no.  But now, I can safely answer, "Yes, Abigail, there are still teaching nuns."  which my spin on the famous “Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus” coined by Francis P. Church in what is the most reprinted editorial in history.

I mean absolutely no disrespect in comparing religious sisters to a commercialized figure such as Santa Claus.  However, not unlike Santa, both are token ‘symbols’ associated with goodness and giving (keep your jokes to yourself), and their current scarcity of presence in Catholic school system they themselves largely founded, may cause us to question whether or not they still exist.

My mom remembers "the change" during
the 1960s when habits became shortened
Unfortunately all three of the orders I looked up have absorbed certain ideologies which, I suspect, are at the heart of their slow demise. You may think I’m being judgmental, but I saw everything from pictures of women practicing yoga on mountain tops to links to dubious publications on their sites  (of course, I'm not trying to suggest that every individual nun agrees with the decisions made by her greater order).  And I also saw a few other commonalities shared between them.

For one, the photos on all of their sites show a predominantly elderly demographic.  They all stress their dedication to social justice.  Their numbers are very diminished with largest order I viewed presently consisting of 2,000 sisters and the smallest, a mere 500.   And remember, these are teaching orders, but though all hold “education as the key to alleviating many of the unjust issues of our time,” very few of their ranks, if any, still teach in the classroom. 

I compared their websites to that of the completely orthodox Institute to which I linked to above (because they’re awesome) and its like night and day both in content and in feel. One of their first pages has photos of the sisters completely prostrating themselves before the Blessed Sacrament during what I assume is their perpetual vow profession.  Their site is also packed with information about newest foundations, schools and missions around the world, where they, like the poor they serve, also live in poverty. They have links to the next Walk for Life West Coast and a quote from Mulieris Dignitatem in plain view.  Today it is young orders like theirs that are overflowing with vocations, which fills me with so much hope, as well as a bit of sorrow over the older orders.

It's as though the other orders had everything they needed to serve the world: they were steeped with history, talent and the means to do it, but then they traded everything for the world, and we can see now where that has taken them.

We consider ourselves extremely blessed to have nuns based in our parish that are willing to work with homeschooling families.  Perhaps one day religious sisters will again be what they once were: the symbol of Catholic education; pious, counter cultural (and the wearing of a habit usally announces this) and vibrant.  The kind we can believe in, a bit like Santa.

Now I say this because there is something strikingly similar between what Francis P. Church said about Santa in his famous editorial and teaching nuns. A logical substitution reveals this.  Here’s the original text rewritten with the substitutions which are bolded (and my daughter’s name, instead of Virginia):

Yes, Abigail, there [are] teaching nuns. They exist as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no teaching nuns. It would be as dreary as if there were no Abigails. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

How true this description is for the religious sisters who taught me (most of them, anyway)!  I remember the love, the generosity, and the element of Divine beauty and enthusiasm that was ever present in my classroom. They truly did foster that original childlike faith mentioned in the quote, because many of them possessed a similar faith.  Yes, their vocation is romantic in the sense of how willingly consumed they allow themselves to be for our sakes.  And without them, indeed, the eternal light of childhood would become ever dimmer.  

Thank you, to the nuns who filled our childhoods of with love of learning and love of Our Lord.  And thank you to the new institutes who are re-fanning the flame of Catholic education worldwide.  I hope you will stay forever.

Friday, January 6, 2012

This Christmas, Baby Jesus Ate My Toddler

In her book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter, journalist Peggy Orenstein discusses how the childhoods of little girls are literally being consumed by Disney's three billion dollars a year moneymaker as every kiddie thing on the planet, from Band-Aids to beach shovels, now has Cinderella’s or Belle’s face plastered on them.

I sympathize with Orenstein, and with the millions of parents whose lives have been infiltrated by tiaras and glass slippers.  While I'm not anti-princess, I have to admit that it does occasionally irk me when a product has been ‘princess-ified,’ especially when it means that my daughter only zeroes in on those items out of a whole selection of perfectly good (and far cheaper) options. Sometimes Cinderella does eat my daughter, but sometimes, I really don’t mind.

As I’ve previously written, we did a good job eschewing most of the holiday shopping craziness this year, and thankfully my daughter did not ask for one princess related item.  However, we were still unsuccessful at avoiding that one required Christmas toddler meltdown over a material item.  But instead of going berserk over a Disney princess, most ironically, what set my daughter off came in the form of a babe in a manger: baby Jesus.  That can’t be a bad thing, you’re probably thinking, but just wait.

Now I’m one who enjoys witnessing how small children instinctively love and adore little babies and dote on their baby dolls as if they were real. I’m also convinced that there is a rule that the smaller the baby or the dolly is, the crazier the toddlers go over them.

And so when my grandmother set out her antique Nativity scene with every character’s gaze anchored by a miniature baby Jesus so tiny he could fit inside a tea cup, I should have foreseen what was coming next.

When I arrived to pick up my kids from visiting grandma’s, my little girl was already waiting at the front door begging to take baby Jesus home. I tried to be clever about refusing her, not realizing how only two hours with baby J had somehow made turning her down equivalent to destroying her life. 

Within a matter of seconds after cheerfully asking her to leave the baby to “sleep in His bed at great-grandma’s house so that we could visit Him again,” I discovered my gross miscalculation.  My daughter had already attached all prospects of happiness to that baby so that nothing, absolutely nothing could ever give her joy again unless she could take Him home right now.

I then realized what had happened: baby Jesus ate my toddler.

Oh, the wailing, oh the shrieking, oh the unrelenting outpouring of devotion to the Holy Infant from my daughter that then followed probably caused all guardian angels present in the room to weep in profound unison!  I therefore did what any, good, staunchly convicted, sticks-to-her-guns Catholic mother would do: I caved.  Her tears disappeared in a miraculous second and she carried all three centimeters of baby Jesus out like a trophy.  Grrrr.

Yes, I thought, let’s take the fragile baby Jesus, small enough to get lost in a jacket pocket or sucked and chewed up mercilessly by a vacuum cleaner, home.  I can hear the sound of little outstretched arms getting crunched now.  Sure, why not? She’s almost four, after all, and completely trustworthy with heirlooms that carry more than half a century’s worth of sentimental value to them.  Of course we should take it home!

After awhile, though, I began to feel guilty.  What kind of monster of a parent would discourage a child from attaching themselves to an effigy of our Lord?  I consoled myself with the knowledge that, hey, I had a toddler who adored baby Jesus!  

What's more, I remember consciously thinking that perhaps the figurine might have a positive effect on her.  It was baby Jesus, after all.  Maybe she’d start praying more reverently, sharing with her brother and being more obedient to her parents.  Maybe, for once, giving into her frantic pleadings was a good thing.

Was I right?  Nope. She was absolutely horrible when we got home.   Baby Jesus seemed to have had the opposite effect on her! And so, as punishment, what’s the first thing we took away from her (don’t judge me on this… parents of small kids will understand)?  Yep, we took away baby Jesus.   During Christmas time.  Oh the irony is enough to make a full choir of angles wail almost as loudly as she did.

Now, for the record, before you go and accuse me of bad parenting, we took pains to make it a teaching moment, “Baby Jesus wants you to be good.” etc. and we promised that when she was a good girl again we would give baby Jesus back to her.

Did any of it help?  Yeah right.  She’s almost four, remember?  Trying to reason with her had absolutely zero effect on the impregnable hold that the itty, bitty, poorly swaddled baby Jesus had over her.  

For the rest of the evening our household peace was disturbed by a child’s wailings of “I wuv you, baby Jesus,” intermittently erupting from her room with a tone somewhere between tragedy and indignation. It was one of those overly dramatic episodes of grief that toddlers sometimes have, which are so pathetic that you have to bury your face so that they can’t hear or see you laughing.

Just to be clear (before you really start thinking I’m a terrible parent) my daughter wasn’t crying out for baby Jesus because she was being deprived of any access to Him (He’s always with her, and we told her as much) but she was upset because she lost the miniature baby Jesus toy to which she had formed an attachment bordering on mad obsession, and that’s never acceptable behavior in our house. 

The good news is that she eventually came around.  She even forgot about baby Jesus and started being a lovely girl again.  When her father and I gave Him back to her, her toddler instincts to lavish love on babies instantly came out. We wrapped Him in a pink washcloth blanket (because He was cold) but didn't feed Him because we figured that was Blessed Mother’s job.  She then ran around the apartment with Him and made her brother kiss Him a bunch of times.

Christmas is almost over and baby Jesus now turns up in random locations around the house.  So far, no vacuum tragedies.  As of right now it would seem that He survived the Christmas season unscathed from my toddler gushing over Him.  And so did we.