Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Evangelization

Why do Catholics go to church every week?

December 12, 2018

Alternate title: Aw mom, again?!

This past weekend we had a double whammy of obligatory worship: a holy day of obligation on a Saturday and then the regular Sunday obligation of Mass the next day.

My kids whined and squirmed and demanded to know whyyyyy we had to go baaaaack when we had just been there the previous morning. There were some sniffles and a lingering hacking cough, involved, too, so, in total, we actually ended up attending 4(!) separate(!) masses(!) to get all the healthy-ish people where they needed to be.

I was thinking about the feat we accomplished and the juggling required, and grateful that we both have jobs that don’t typically require weekend work and free us up to attend pretty much whatever Mass time works for us. We also live in a major city and have a laundry list of different times and locations to choose from, which is a luxury I don’t take for granted.

I explained that having to go to Mass is a privilege and a gift, not a drudgery and a drag. I also admitted that yeah, it’s not always entertaining. That even adults struggle to pay attention and to sit still, and that I don’t leap out of bed with joyful expectation on Sunday mornings and run to Jesus.

Still, the reason we go has less to do with God commanding us and more to do with God giving us what we need to flourish.

God gives us our Sunday obligation to meet our needs, not His. He gives us Himself in the Eucharist to sustain us.

While it’s true that our obligation to participate in communion, receiving the Lord in His Body and Blood, is only annual according to canon (,), our presence with Him at Mass is required on a weekly basis. (And if we are in a state of grace and properly disposed to receive Him –  recently confessed/not in a state of mortal sin – then He gives Himself to us willingly, over and over again.

This is what is known as the Sunday Obligation, and it requires a Catholic to attend Holy Mass every week, either as a vigil Mass on Saturday night, or on Sunday itself. Missing Sunday Mass intentionally with full knowledge of the gravity of doing so is actually itself a mortal sin.

Crazy, right? Of course, there are circumstances beyond our control that might keep us from church: sick kids, a serious injury, a deployment, a career as a first responder requiring shifts that would all of Saturday and Sunday sometimes, etc. But to miss Mass intentionally for a soccer tournament, while on vacation, or out of a desire to sleep in or hit up Home Depot bright and early?

Nope. Not sufficiently grave reason to excuse the Sunday obligation.

What a demanding God we Catholics worship. Couldn’t He lighten up a bit and given the frenetic pace of most modern family’s lives?

Let me put it another way. I feed my children every night. I am richly blessed to be able to do so, and I want to nourish them as well as I am able. (Some nights the level of nourishment is more apparent than others, but for our purposes here, the analogy is sufficient.) I invite them to the table and fill their plates every night because I love them and because I care about their health and wellbeing. I could feed them less frequently, but it wouldn’t be best for them. I could also excuse them from sitting down at the family table and toss a granola bar their way while they engaged in some other activity, but it wouldn’t serve them well long term. It wouldn’t build our family relationship the way a meal around the table does (or is meant to, anyway. Fingers crossed for better behavior from the preschool set at some point, eventually)

They need real food that nourishes their bodies, and real connection as a family to nourish their hearts.

God didn’t have to leave us a tangible, fleshly reminder of His presence. Didn’t have to pour Himself out, literally, as physical food and drink to be consumed.

But He did. He chose to give us more than could be reasonably expected. He lavishes us with the physical gift of Himself because He knows it will meet our needs – physical and spiritual – more completely than anything else in this world.

Even if we don’t fully understand it. Heck, even if we don’t fully believe it. Even if we feel utterly unworthy to approach it. There is a reason we recite the words of the Roman Centurion just before we approach to receive Communion: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

There can be any number of reasons for our unworthiness. Doubt, fear, anger towards God, apathy, lack of faith…the list is as endless as the number of faithful in the pews. But He still comes. And because He knows how good it is for us, He requires us to come back again and again, every week, for as long as we draw breath.

God doesn’t need our worship. But we need to worship God.

We are created beings, externally oriented toward the Creator. We can turn away from Him, of course, and we do so over and over again, sometimes permanently. But it hurts. We were made to be in relationship with Him and with one another. When we turn away from that for which we have been made, we fracture something essential to our happiness, to our wholeness.

This imperfect nugget of “why” is something I’m trying to give to my kids. Trying to help them frame their understanding of God as lavish Father, not demanding dictator.

Catholic Spirituality, christmas, Family Life, liturgical living, motherhood, Uncategorized

Motherhood + Holiday Magic

December 10, 2018

I love this time of year more than any other. I look forward to this particular stretch for months, such that when it does finally arrive most years, I’ve perhaps overplayed my enthusiastic hand just a tad.

This year, being that I am neither nursing, pregnant, nor newly postpartum, I’ve had the chance to look around and take an honest inventory of where we’re at as a family and come to the conclusion: I can try adding in some little extras this year.

We were talking customs and family traditions as an office the other week and I maintain that mine was the weirdest and least liturgically sound: my siblings and I would gather in the family room on Christmas Eve after the littlest kids had been put to bed, and we would crowd around the newest non-believer in Santa and let them in on the secret. Wrapped in an unfortunate poinsettia apron and knighted with a roll of wrapping paper, we would solemnly induct him or her into “the Christmas club,” making them promise to protect the secret of Santa for the little ones who still believed, and just generally making a big fuss over their entry into adulthood. There was a real oath we made them swear and everything.

Were my parents even aware of our antics? Did they model the Christmas Club for us in any way? No. No, I really don’t think so. If memory serves, they were probably crashed out upstairs with a newborn, my mom exhausted by the previous month of effort to find, buy, and wrap presents for everyone.

In fact, a significant focus of the Christmas club in future years would come to be our procurement of trinkets and the stuffing of all the stockings, the last-minute late night wrapping of some – and eventually, most – of the family’s presents, and of course the careful gnawing of reindeer carrots and the splashing and nibbling of Santa’s milk and cookies.

So my expectations for holiday season 2018 are … modest.

I can plan and execute the perfectly curated holiday scenario, but I can’t select which memories will make their way down into their little hearts.

That’s part of the beauty of childhood, I’m coming to find as a mother of slightly older kids. There are so many sensory experiences to choose from, especially as a Catholic, and different things will stick with different kids. And the things they’ll stubbornly choose to hold onto? Totally not my call.

One might remember the sticky wax dripping from the Advent candles we’ll light every night at dinner, singing a verse of “O Come O Come Emmanuel (yes, again, put your fork down and stop eating until we’re done) Another will just remember that mom didn’t really seem to cook for the entire month between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and gosh, we ate a lot of crock pot chili that time of year.

Like, a lot.

Which I’ll totally present to them as a our small effort to scale back and simplify and make the little sacrifice, and not solely due to maternal holiday fatigue.

Some of the tried and failed activities of years gone by: making personalized Christmas ornaments, and homemade Jesse tree + ornaments crafted lovingly each morning as the corresponding Scripture passage was read aloud. We got 17 days in before everybody’s enthusiasm evaporated, mine first. Now we have a ziplock bag of tattered yarn and construction paper creations that has spent 4 years in Advent decor exile, and this year I’m giving myself permission to toss the thing and admit Jesse tree defeat.

My sister and I were recalling our childhood advent calendar – a quilted fabric banner which hung on the fridge with numbered pockets for each date, a traveling star moving from space to space until finally arriving at the top – baby Jesus! – on Christmas eve.

I can’t believe mom made that, my sister recalled with awe, shaking her head in wonder.

“Mom didn’t make that, she bought it at that weird craft fair held at the high school every year.”

We regarded each other solemnly and laughed. Our memories, too, are tinted rose by the beautifying and forgiving mists of time.

Absent are the Christmas mornings filled with wailing and gnashing of teeth over awful presents or unfairly distributed loot; the indignity of being prodded and brushed and stuffed into itchy tights to suffer through a long, cold Dan Schuette-fied liturgy in the gym, exiled to the overflow crowd of which we always seemed to be a part, shifting our feet miserably in puddles of dirty melting snow as we stood on the edge of the basketball court.

I dreamily recount my own fond memories of “the Christmas club” which, at the time, was almost certainly born of necessity, my mother tossing up her hands in exhaustion and flinging rolls of scotch tape and dollar store wrapping paper at her adolescent children at 9 pm on Christmas eve. Which, if you’re reading, mom, is deeply comforting to your now thirtysomething daughter who is exhausted by the prospect of providing your grandchildren with all the comfort and joy this holiday season.

When I say I can do more this year, what I mean is that I can be somewhat intentional in my direction for our family celebration. But I can’t guarantee that the highlight of the season won’t be yogurt tubes for breakfast, lunch, and every snack between.

“Remember when mom used to give us Go-gurts to help us enter into the penitential season of Advent? So we’d always be a little bit hungry and think of the Holy Family journeying to Bethlehem, unable to find shelter?”

I can imagine my extremely literal 6-year-old pointing out to his brother one December night in the future, perhaps over beers, that “mom was probably just really tired and all she bought was yogurt that year.”

Touche, future John Paul. You found me out.

Some plans for executing said intention?

More family time doing spent nothing more than snuggling on the couch with candles lit. Maybe we’ll pray a decade of the rosary. Maybe we’ll just stream the James Taylor holiday station each evening.

More nights where I surprise them with thermoses of hot chocolate and we jump in the car for an impromptu drive through the fancy neighborhood for light peeping.

More focus on little details like candles always lit, Christmas jammies worn for a month straight, the occasional daily Mass as a family, and tiny fake Ikea Christmas trees in bedrooms.

I want to sit back and enjoy this season, in order that they get to really enjoy the season. Less planning, yelling, and scrubbing, and more saying yes to marshmallows and requests for movies and my participation in coloring time. Letting them touch the nativity scene figures if they want to, the real ones from Italy, and smudge up my perfect holiday decor.

They’ll still probably choose to remember fondly, during Christmases to come, the butt joke we weren’t quick enough to bleep out from the beginning of Home Alone instead of a charming homemade craft their loving mother slaved over, and that’s okay. This time of year was never about me, after all.

Motherhood is nothing if not a slow suffocation of the ego, the self annihilating and oddly liberating realization that you are not, after all, the center of your own universe.

No better time to put that knowledge into practice than the most wonderful time of the year.

coffee clicks, Culture of Death, deliverance, feast days, keto

Coffee clicks: viral illnesses, a keto update, visiting fortune tellers, and the Immaculate Conception

December 7, 2018

Ciao to my internet people. I’ve missed you guys. 9 days of stomach flu + fevers + a side of croup for the baby, and it feels like we’re crawling to the finish line of this week.

We had a miraculous 30 hour window this past Friday sans barf during which my younger sister (one of 5 girls, only 1 single sissy to go!) got married to the man of her dreams in a beautiful church on a perfectly cold November afternoon. Their reception was in an honest to goodness log cabin – well, lodge – and it was lovely and sparkling with Christmas lights and good cheer and the best part of it, aside from their beautiful sacrament, is that nobody barfed for 12 hours on either side of the blessed event.

(If you’re reading this mom, hi, sorry we kept it from you. You didn’t really need more stress last week though.)

Suffice it to say the house is kind of wrecked and Advent has been nice and penance-y so far, without my having to do too much extra in order to achieve it.

Oddly enough, I’ve been relatively calm. This time last year, if you’ll recall, I was 59 weeks pregnant and everyone was barfing and I spent all of December wildly swinging between despair and nonsensical anger at, I don’t know, germ theory, I guess. And toddler hygiene.

For a keto update, things are moving along, albeit slowly. I only lost a couple pounds in November (cough Thanksgiving cough) but I’m still trucking along and still feeling really great when I stay away from sugar and carbs. But especially sugar. I’ve also been doing a fun barre class (without a lick of yoga in it, happily) at the gym down the street on Saturday mornings and it is so fun and hard. So maybe I’ve gained like 6 ounces of muscle and that’s slowing down the weight loss?
I’m going with that.

But enough about me: onward and upward to your good clicks for the weekend:

I really admire this lady’s spunk. And I have to wonder whether her mobile home park is somehow miraculously free from all inflatable holiday decorations? Otherwise I’m not sure the property management company has much of a case against her. And I mean at least we know who painted her, right? Viva la virgen!

This was fascinating, heartbreaking, and really informative. How many researchers and people responsible for crafting public health policy are asking these kind of smart, necessary questions?

I will probably write my own thing in response to this one. I completely agree that raising kids is a major sunk cost; and I also completely disagree that said cost is a reason to avoid having them. Our civilization is perishing for lack of courage/selflessness/delayed gratification/a bunch of other things CS Lewis would smack us upside our heads for.

What kind of financial security does a young person expect to achieve before they have children? How about owning a home? The ability to travel? The capacity to finance braces for each kid? A new car that comfortably fits everybody? An all organic diet? The freedom to pursue a career outside the home which necessitates expensive daycare?

I could list many more. These are all examples of extreme privilege, to be sure. But they are also some of the most common things that people cite to me in public encounters over the size of our family. “We could never afford x,y, or z for more than 2 kids”

Well, lady at Costco, neither can we. But there’s no gospel imperative to ensure your kids get a college education, which I tend to hear shades of frequently in many Christian personal finance circles.

Have you ever visited a fortune teller? Watched a performance by a medium claiming to be communicating with the dead? Guess what: the reason the Church forbids us from dabbling in the occult is because some people who claim a knack for clairvoyance really are communicating with someone, and it sure as hell isn’t someone you want to be chatting with.

Are you listening to CNA’s new podcast yet? Here’s a teaser for the latest episode: Starbucks, Disney Princesses, and porn.

Hey, don’t forget to go to Mass tomorrow for the Immaculate Conception! Or tonight, if you’re lucky enough to find an anticipatory celebration. No Mary, no Jesus. It’s no wonder He would point us frequently to His mother during the Advent and Christmas season.

Uncategorized

Great gifts for Catholic kids {gift guide}

December 6, 2018

Happy feast of St. Nicholas! We’ve landed on a pretty decent Santa/St. Nicholas hybrid in our family that leaves me satisfied that we’re walking the fine line between outright lying to our kids and destroying holiday magic. This morning found every member of the family awake before 6 AM; suffice it to say the combination of boots + chocolate for breakfast has cemented a deep devotion to St. Nicholas in their tender souls. (I’ll report back in a decade or two and let you know how well smooshing together Santa-from-the-North-Pole and the pugilistic bishop from Myra worked out spiritually for my darlings.)

Each year as Advent approaches, I tell myself I’ll get all my shopping done and then spend the liturgical lead up to Christmas reflecting in somber silence and quiet hope.

Then I remember I have 5 kids, 11 nieces and nephews, 3 godchildren, a smattering of December birthdays in the mix, along with a limited budget, and I snap back to reality.

We are doing a simpler Christmas this year, just a few gifts apiece plus a bigger family gift for our kids to share. We’ve always tended toward this model of Christmas, but I will admit that when I am pregnant during the most wonderful time of the year, I tend to go overboard. Not bike and pony overboard, mind you, more like“one more trip to Goodwill ohhhhh, look at that new-in-box-still-has-Target-tags!” overboard.

This year I’m feeling much more hormonally stable, and so the presents accumulating in my various caches throughout the house are modest in number and kind. But a simple Christmas can still be really lovely. Here are a couple gifts I’ve either scooped up/am contemplating pulling the trigger on/ have given in the past.

(FTR: my kids are almost 1(sob, how??) 3, almost 5, 6, and 8.)

Tomkin and Blaise, the brave cowboy and his faithful steed

I introduced my 3 and 4-year-olds to this little guy via his EWTN Youtube channel after being tipped off by the wife of the creator. They are great sort of Gumby-esque short episodes perfect for tapping “autoplay” on and slipping away for a quick shower. Three-year-old Luke is getting the stuffie for Christmas and, I suspect, will be thrilled.

Ignatius:

I was thrilled with the stack of 4 new children’s books Ignatius sent over for us to review. I was less thrilled when Luke found the defenseless package on the porch and freed them all before I could spirit them away to be gifted. Counting on his still developing short term memory being spotty when I reintroduce these beauties under the tree, though I’m holding back one for a new nephew:

Mary Stories from the Bible: my favorite of the lot. Sweet,  reverent and engaging imagined accounts of what Mary’s childhood and motherhood might have been like, drawn from Scripture, history, and Catholic tradition. Earmarked for Evie.

The Gospel Told By Animals: a fun, beautifully illustrated retelling of the greatest story ever told from a furry, four legged perspective. Luke is going to love/has already loved this one.

Watch Over Me Little Angel: Sweet and simple explanation of the Catholic understanding of guardian angels.

My First Prayers for the Whole Year: Of the list of 4 books, this was the one I was most excited for, if only for the illustrations. It’s going to my little nephew, and I suspect his big sisters will be the ones to enjoy it. I’m completely smitten with Maite Roche’s illustration style; we have half a dozen of her books already on her shelves. A board book featuring her art is my go-to gift for baptisms/baby’s first Christmases. This title is my all time favorite.

My Catholic Kids

My kids have been playing nonstop with these Fishing for Saints and Fishing for Bible characters card decks. They use all 3 decks (there are 2 different sets of Bible characters) to play Memory with, mostly, which the 6-year-old especially loves, and it has been cool to familiarize them with more obscure/Old Testament characters. One of them piped up in Mass a couple Sundays ago when they heard the name Elijah, which was really cool.

The Jesse Tree activity has been a bit fraught with sibling fisticuffs, so maybe next Advent I’ll order more than one…

Catholic Crate

A sweet gal from to our parish started this gorgeous subscription service that you can customize depending on the liturgical season, your family size, and the price. (They’re sold out of the Advent crate, but this would be a very cool gift from grandparents or godparents which would delight on a recurring basis throughout the year.)

Blessed is She

I have a beautiful, hand lettered poster featuring a different Catholic prayer (Hail Mary, Magnificat, Our Father) in each of the kids’ rooms. We also have the grace before meals print in the dining room. Dave says I’m cut off from any more lettered wall art, and I promise, I’m done. I think. Unless we have more babies….(psst, you should totally order yourself a liturgical year planner while you’re on the site. I love mine so much.)

Formed subscription

Our parish actually purchased a subscription for the whole church, which is awesome, so we have a treasury of Catholic content for kids and adults at our fingertips. My personal favorite is the library of CCC movies (80s and 90s kids represent!) and the Br. Francis movies. Bonus: you can watch Nicholas, the Boy Who Became Santa tomorrow and feel like a liturgical boss.

Cat Chat CDs

We first encountered Cat Chat when someone swiped a CD from a back of the church kiosk and turned up with it in the car (sorry, whatever parish that might have been. I’ve put $3 of reparation into a random kiosk for our sins) and my kids, from the toddler up to the 8-year-old, are all obsessed with them. 2 summers ago I think we listened to The Mass Comes Alive more than 50 times. My only complaint is that there are only 4 episodes in CD format! Help a minivan driver out, Cat Chat.

Wee Believers

We have the “what’s in church” magnet set and the St. Joseph apron + tools, both of which I love, and both of which my 3-year-old have tested to the breaking point. I would reserve the magnet set for older kids in the future, because a certain someone may or may not have bitten the head off of magnetic Fr. Juan Pablo. Which will make for an excellent story at his ordination party one day, should that day come… (p.s. He didn’t swallow it)

I hope this is a helpful jumping off point for someone! We definitely don’t limit our gifts to Catholic themed toys and books, but I do like to have a smattering of faith based presents under the tree or in the stockings in addition to what I pick up thrifting or from Amazon.

Wishing you a blessedly peaceful and healthy Advent.

(Because a mom can dream, can’t she?)

abuse, advent, Catholic Spirituality, Culture of Death, current events

The “smaller church” is already here

November 30, 2018

Yesterday morning over coffee I sat down and read a news analysis piece published on our site, and a report from the National Catholic Register.

Both left me with a roiling stomach and an aching head. I fired off a message to a coworker thanking him for his excellent reporting and also confessing that I would very much like to commit murder after reading it.

Just when I think I can’t be shocked any further by the level of depravity and corruption within some leaders of the institutional Church – within the human soul – I am naively shocked anew.

I was raging about this to my husband this morning at the breakfast table and he asked me, kindly but frankly, “did you really not think this existed? Does this really surprise you?”

No. And yes.

And each time I read about another child’s life destroyed and another diocese or parish deceived by and forced to endure a predator in their midst, the rage bubbles up anew.

“You have to understand,” I began frustratedly, “that for an almost pathologically self-disclosing choleric like me, this level of duplicity is unfathomable.” I made the point that to live a similar level of deception would involve, for example, my obtaining regular secret abortions and having an IUD while continuing to publicly blog about the sanctity of life and the immorality of contraception.

“Give me,” I said dramatically, “all the gay pride marchers in the Tenderloin over a single, closeted gay bishop committing child abuse or sodomizing seminarians. At least they’re living in reality.”

How someone can preach the Gospel on Sunday and destroy a young boy’s life on Monday is beyond comprehension. I feel such impotent maternal rage. Dave made the comparison to Mary Magdalene; I snapped back that she wasn’t masquerading as a Pharisee while making her living as a prostitute.

Give me all the St. Mary Magdalenes throughout all of history over a single Judas. (Also, aren’t you glad you’re not living in a household headed by two adults who both work for or around the Church right now?)

I have no idea the point I’m making here, just that every time I read a new report or hear about another facet of the scandal, the rage boils anew. I made my long-suffering husband list off with me the number of good and holy bishops we knew personally. Maybe there are lots more, we don’t know all that many in the larger scheme of things. It was a modest list.

For all my adult life I’ve imagined that then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s infamous line about “a smaller, holier Church” would involve social collapse and government persecution. Now I feel quite certain that here, in the US at least, the smaller Church has already arrived.

It consists of Catholics who profess, believe, and live out the teachings of the Catholic Church. And who get their asses to Confession when they fall short, again and again. Clergy and laity alike.

It’s tempting to stay here, in a self righteous pique of rage. Every time I read another story of a cover up, a failure to act, a man who was entrusted with representing the fatherhood of God acting like another satan instead, I want to throw in the towel.

I won’t.

Especially considering this: that even within the embrace of holy Mother Church, I am still basically a miserable human being. I would be dead without the grace of the Sacraments. Spiritually, yes, but possibly physically too. I was reflecting on this as I was alone in my car yesterday afternoon, a rare moment of solitude. I turned off the radio and forced myself to reflect in the silence; there is precious little of it in my life in this present season.

I’m being a hypocrite. I was Catholic in name only in college. I was a miserable, wretched, pharisaical sinner.

I’m still a sinner. But back then, if somebody held me and my selfish, sinful, degenerate lifestyle up as a model of what Christians are like, my God, they’d lose their faith in an instant.

It’s not a perfect comparison. I never took vows of chastity or poverty or obedience. I wasn’t presenting myself as the public face of the Church. Not institutionally, at least. But I was, just the same, a public witness to the person of Christ.

What would someone who encountered Jenny of 2003 think of Catholicism? Of Jesus? Of His Church? It makes me acutely nauseous to consider.

And yet in my wretched poverty, He didn’t turn His back on me.

People within the Church who were pursuing lives of holiness and integrity welcomed me with open arms and refused to be scandalized by my sin.

Who am I to judge now, then? (And I’m not saying that the sinful and illegal actions in each of these cases should not be judged and prosecuted when they do come to light – just that perhaps it’s not my particular job to do so.)

I have to put aside my natural rage and the deep, deep desire for justice to be served and submit these impulses over and over again to Christ. Everything I’ve dragged to the confessional for months now has been this, and almost only this: that I cannot stomach another abuse report, cannot stand to read about one more instance of inaction from Rome, struggle mightily to rein in my imagination from making leaps to judgement.

But I must not leave. We must stand firm no matter how dark the days become. And I do believe they will become much, much darker.

I read this piece from Elizabeth Scalia this morning with tears springing to my eyes in public, hardly caring if the guy on the treadmill next to me saw.

Yes, Lord. It felt like I was reading words from the depths of my own heart, spilled out in someone else’s words.

Strengthen my faith, Lord. Don’t let me turn away when it becomes even darker.

Maranatha, Lord Jesus.

Culture of Death, Family Life, guest post, Parenting, Pornography, reality check, social media, technology

Screens, tweens, and teens {guest post}

November 28, 2018

Last summer I reached out to my internet buddy and running-mom extraordinaire Colleen Martin and beseeched her to impart some of her wisdom as a seasoned boy mom in the tech era. She’s not super seasoned as in old, mind you, but she is super seasoned as in holy 6 boys, batman! And one sweet girl sandwiched in the middle.

I’m bookmarking my own blog here to reference in a few short years when my kids reach phone hankering age (let’s be honest though, despite attending a low tech classical Catholic school with zero screens permitted among the student body, our 8 year old is already badgering us for a phone. Oy.)

Colleen, thanks so much for sharing how your family handles screens:

Jenny asked me to write this post awhile ago, before summer had even started, but I think having waited this long and made it through another summer (aka screen season) has given me more food for thought to write this now. So I guess procrastination does pay off sometimes!

But not when it comes to family rules about screen times.

It’s never too early to discuss expectations, set rules, and enforce them even if it means being the mean parent. I recently came across this quote:

Scary, isn’t it? These times we live in are full of screens. (Screen time, just to clarify, for us, is tv, movies, video games, tablets, computers and phones…anything with a screen.) It’s called social media because it’s literally how kids (and adults) have social lives. Gone are the days of bike riding through the neighborhood and ending up sleeping over at some friend’s house. We may feel like we can’t let our kids be kids like we were because of all the terrible and disgusting stories of abuse we hear from the people we trust most, that we have to keep them safe and a lot of time that means indoors … and if your kids are anything like mine, indoors = boredom = asking for screens. That’s the hardest part about summer, I think, the perpetual boredom unless we take them somewhere to do something. So we are a little more lax on the amount of time our children can be on screens, as long as they have been active for most of the day. Phil and I like to relax at the end of a long, busy day by watching a little TV, and I’m fine with my kids doing the same. We all need some downtime, ya know?

We have some great (pretty strict) screen rules during the school year for our kids:

  1. Any school-aged kid gets ZERO screen time during the school week.
  2. On weekends, they can have individual screen time during the baby’s nap time and then at night, we will let them watch a movie/tv show together.
  3. The little preschool guys get a half hour show each evening, after dinner and bath time, and it’s something completely preschool appropriate.

The bigger kids can usually be found watching this with the little kids, but I’m cool with letting them all sit together if they want to see the same episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse for the 17th time. We always say it’s time for a “little kid show” and make sure it’s nothing any of the school-aged kids would ever choose for themselves, though I often hear them trying to convince the 2 year old to pick Spongebob or Power Rangers. Umm, no, but nice try! We are not monsters and do allow exceptions to every rule when it comes to things like important sports games on tv, etc. The kids know what the standard rule is and enjoy the occasional treat.

Little kids are easy to deal with when it comes to screens. Just don’t give them free access to it. Be in control and get them into a good routine. Decide what you want to do for your family and that becomes the norm. There are going to be seasons in family life when the kids have more screen time due to whatever else is going on at home (illness, sports schedules, travelling, new baby, etc.) and as much as I have wanted the ideal screen time rules, flexibility is key to not feeling discouraged. There’s not one right way for every family, and little kids = little problems so they are a good “trial run” for what comes ahead.

Tweens and Teens, that’s what comes ahead. (And they are awesome!)

The hard part of policing screens in our house comes when they are tweens and teens. Our kids all go to school and are involved in tons of sports and lessons (which is also helpful in keeping them active and off screens). Because of this busy family life we lead, once a child reaches the age of 13, they become a babysitter. Since we have no home phone, this also means the 13 year old gets their own cell phone. With this phone comes a whole new set of rules (I swear we are fun parents, we just are really trying to get these kids to heaven!) We buy them an inexpensive smartphone but then make it dumb. Ha! We want our kids to be able to call, text, and have some apps on their phone, but we don’t give them any data so that they can only have internet access while at home on Wifi and we don’t give them our Wifi password. We also make all phones “live” on the kitchen counter, and they are never allowed to bring their phones upstairs.

My kids are far from perfect (like their mother) and get their phones taken away for any violations. The removal of individual screen time is actually a go-to punishment in our house, that way the kids lose the choice of what to watch/play but the parents aren’t punished because we can still put on a family movie when everybody just needs some chill time and forced family bonding.

Once our kids go to the Catholic high school, they are required to have a laptop because most of their books are electronic now. So not only are they reading textbooks online, but they are also writing their papers online, using Google Classroom, taking notes in class on their laptops, and communicating with teachers via the internet. It’s a whole new world and a whole new set of worries for parents. I can’t say “You’ve been on your laptop for three hours, get off!” because he is just doing his homework and studying. (But also fooling around and watching a dumb youtube video here, googling a sports score there, you get it.) As it is with adults, it’s hard for teens to stay focused on the task at hand (homework) when you have the whole wide world at your fingertips. So how do we try to watch everything they’re doing online?

I’ve written about why we started using Covenant Eyes before, but it has been a real lifesaver for us. It’s a tool that allows parents oversee what their children (and each other if desired) are doing online without actually having to stand over their shoulders. t’s a tool that opens the door for communication and also blocks dangerous sites. Kids just log in to Covenant Eyes before they can get online, and it tracks their usage, and sends a weekly report to the account user (the parents). Sometimes I dread opening the report on Tuesday morning to find out my teen has been watching dumb YouTube videos at 9 pm when he said he was studying, but honestly I’d rather know about his mistakes then have no clue what he’s doing online. At least this way, he knows he’s being checked in on, and that alone is an easy way for him to avoid temptation.

I definitely dragged my feet on this for too long, not wanting yet another issue to have to think about, but when one of our tweenage kids googled an inappropriate word on the iPad, we knew it was time to take the plunge. The monthly subscription for a family is $15.99, and even less for an individual or couple. It’s so much easier to never get hooked on pornography than to try and break the habit, and we want to give them their best chance at fighting that battle. Covenant Eyes gives them the freedom to be online while also helping them make good choices, and that’s priceless once you have kids on screens so often. Perhaps I should work in their Sales Department because I love them so much!

I feel that just like every parent, we are constantly trying to evaluate the new social media tools and keep up with current internet trends while also helping our kids get to Heaven. We don’t allow a few things that we feel can easily cause trouble, like sleepovers, hanging out at people’s homes we don’t know, and being online without supervision. We’re just doing our best to keep them safe and happy and holy, and our screen rules are part of the process. Like I said before, starting with screen rules when they’re young is easy, but it’s important, because it sets ground rules for the rest of their lives. Will they binge on video games while at a cousin’s house? Yup. Will they find disturbing images online when they’re at college. Of course. I can’t worry about all the possible scenarios that might occur, I’d go crazy.

I know they are human and all I can do is try to make them the best humans I can while they are under my roof. Lots of love and fun and freedom comes alongside rules and chores and boundaries. Communication is key and the ability to have fun together is huge as well. We try to be Yes parents whenever we can, so that our Nos are serious enough to be understood.

You need to decide what is important in your home, and start setting the ground rules now.

Don’t be afraid to go against the culture if it means raising quality adults, that’s literally our job.

Screens aren’t evil, so find a system that works for you and hopefully I’ve been able to share some good tips and tricks. I don’t have all the answers (I haven’t even had a college kid yet!) and I don’t pretend to. I’m just over here trying to raise good kids to survive this present world and to one day make it to heaven in the next, same as you.

 

Culture of Death, current events, Evangelization, Homosexuality, Parenting

A transitioning culture

November 26, 2018

It started out as a little nugget of an idea, born from a series of quiet alarms going off in my head. Little things at first: a questionable book about penguins here, a little boy in a tutu, lipstick, and sparkly high heels at the library there, innocent encounters with my own kids where I’d gently redirect their wishes to marry their father, their same sex sibling, the family cat, batman, etc. to the reality of love and the gift of marriage and the truth which God has written into our hearts in creating us to – and for – love.

I remember vividly one such incident, explaining to my then two-year-old son that he can’t marry daddy or his big brother when he grows up because boys marry girls – if marriage is indeed the vocation they are called to – and glancing furtively over my shoulder to see if anyone at the neighborhood pool had overheard my bigoted explanation. Also, incest is not culturally appropriate. Yet.

Insanity, thy name is trying to parent in 2018.

That I, a seasoned mother of 5 and no stranger to the weirdness that is the little kid stage, would give pause to wonder – and worry – whether another parent might overhear me in a conversation with my toddler about what marriage is, is ludicrous. Should I pause with the same social trepidation when explaining to him that Batman isn’t real? That he can’t become a dog when he grows up? That he can’t marry his own sister, either?

We have become positively unhinged in our efforts to embrace anything – and everything – in the name of diversity. “Diversity month!” our local library cheerily announced on rainbow colored display boards, featuring pictures of, among other personalities, Mother Teresa, a kid in a wheelchair, a black female scientist, and a drag queen. Because the unifying factor in each of these unrepeatable images of God is…what, exactly? Since when is having a differently abled body or a call to serve Christ in the distressing disguise of the poor or being a woman of color advancing in the sciences on par with a man dressing in women’s clothing?

We are being slowly and steadily numbed to the oddness and the illness that is gender confusion. In the name of tolerance and marching under the banner of progress, we are being fed a diet of media and public policy proclaiming the end of the gender binary.

Progress! Select male, female, or other. Write in your own answer, depending upon what suits you. Encourage your children to think outside the biological box if they’d rather play with dolls and wear dresses, or prefer kicking a soccer ball to ballet lessons. Your penis is incidental, son. Your breasts are an aftermarket upgrade that we can easily have removed or modified to suit your taste, darling.

A human being is, after all, a blank slate, a tableau rosa upon which we may in this brave new world inscribe an identity of our own design. In this ultimate expression of materialism, the body itself becomes mere matter to be manipulated at will, a physical apparatus to express the inner self.

And it’s so close to true. It’s almost reality. Satan is never far from the truth. Indeed, his trademark is to manipulate and twist and tweak until it looks pretty darn close to the real thing.

A body is, after all, the incarnate expression of the person. Jesus Christ took upon Himself a human body in order to mediate the salvific love of the Father to fallen humankind. Christ’s body is an outward sign, a physical image of a spiritual reality. God became man and dwelt among us as a Son, a brother, a man. But His body was not insignificant to His incarnation; indeed was essential to the Incarnation.

Materialism would have us be masters of our own reality, manipulating the flesh at will like one more technology to be mastered. Bodies are reduced, in this vision, to incidental flesh-prisons that propel us through our earthly existence.

If my body has no meaning, no intelligent design, contains no intrinsic value endowed by its Designer, then why should I not manipulate it as I see fit?

There are real people who really do suffer from gender dysphoria. And some people are born with genetic deformities that render their secondary sex features unintelligible. Disease and dysfunction plague us on our earthly journey, reminding us that this side of eternity will always fall short. That this world is not, ultimately, our home.

But because a thing such as blindness exists does not justify us in gouging out our own eyes.

We are a culture infatuated with progress. We celebrate the destruction and reconfiguration of every cultural edifice, every possible human institution, figuring that if it has always been done one way, a new way is surely better. But the human person is not an iPhone. We shouldn’t approach our bodies as material to be upgraded and adapted to suit the latest trends. We have a Creator, and His design is intelligent, not incidental. When we forget that we were created by a loving God, that we were made for love and by love, then we begin to lose our bearings in reality.

And that is where our culture sits, in the West, in the year of Our Lord 2018.

We have forgotten who we are, and Whose.

If we are random creations of a chaotic universe, what does it matter if we want to mold and sculpt and reject and revise any part of our material selves? If life is meaningless and random, and humanity a stroke of dumb biologic luck, what harm in a little tinkering?

But we know better than this, as Christians. We know that we are not the random offspring of an impersonal universe, balls of genetic material that happened to lurch out of a primordial sludge at the right moment.

We are the willed, known, and loved children of a loving Father. Created to be sons and daughters who, in our sexual diversity as male and female, uniquely communicate some aspect of God’s nature to the world.

God is glorified in my femininity as woman who seeks justice and does not flinch from confrontation. These historically “masculine” characteristics do not suggest that I am a man trapped in a woman’s body, but that history has been incomplete in portraying the full human diversity exemplified by members of both sexes, as anyone with a fleeting understanding of how history came to be will concede.

Was Joan of Arc actually a trans man who donned armor and led armies into battle? I’m sure there are revisionist “gender theory” experts out there who would say so. In an ironic attempt to foster diversity, our culture ends up reinforcing the most stereotypical aspects of both sexes. Sensitive boys who prefer quiet activities and shun athletics might be gay, or might actually be in the wrong body altogether!

Or they might just be…sensitive boys. Men who have a broader spectrum of emotional awareness than the average male. Still fully male, and still uniquely and intelligently designed.

Rather than slavishly conforming to the narrow 2018 view of what constitutes our maleness and femaleness, we ought to push back and boldly proclaim the truth. That we are wonderfully made, and utterly unique. That each of us are personally willed, known, and loved by God. And that we live in a fallen, broken world that has been redeemed by Him and continues to be redeemed as we conform more and more to His nature, not to this present world.

If my 3-year-old unearths a stack of five (5!) copies of “I am Jazz” at the local library, you can bet those puppies are going straight to the bottom of the circular file. Because yes, I am intolerant of children being indoctrinated by a culture that would have them at odds with their very selves, questioning the goodness and the intention of their own bodies. I am bigoted against sin, which eats away at the human heart and separates us from the One who made our hearts. And I am positively rigid that children not be abused by their own parents, even at the expense of their very pressing wants and needs. My child believes that he can fly, use matches, and ride in the front seat of the car. I resist him on all fronts and continue to mentor him in reality; I don’t surrender to his capricious demands because he persists in them.

It’s not a matter of tolerance to allow poison in our children’s diets, no matter if the clamoring mob decides that arsenic is the new kale. We are called to fight for our children and to fight against the rulers and principalities of this world, those who seek to enslave and to destroy, to disfigure in any possible way the living image of God.

All that is necessary for this evil to continue to flourish is for good men and women to do nothing, to continue to turn away in discomfort, to keep the cable subscription or the streaming service with all the questionable content, to push the book back on the shelf and say nothing, to shrug our metaphorical shoulders, rationalizing “you can’t fight progress.”

Walking the wrong way into oncoming traffic isn’t progress. And sitting back and allowing the culture to continue plunging, unchecked, into debauchery and delusion is no progress either.

The time for going along to get along is long passed. If your kids are in public school, you can guarantee they’re getting schooled in the finer points of transgenderism on a regular basis.

The books that so disturb me when I encounter them in the library? They’re being actively circulated into school libraries and curriculums by forces with a vested interest in communicating with your children early and often, encouraging them to question reality and undermining their philosophical foundations. It is worth asking the question, why are some adults so invested in encouraging children to question their identities?

And why are adults who know better not rising up, en masse, to resist the insanity?

Because we have been steadily numbed to the onslaught of culture “progress” made in the past decade. Because what was unthinkable and illogical for all of human history has suddenly become possible and is therefore passably normal in 2018.

Human nature has not changed. God’s design for the human person has not altered. What was good in the beginning – male and female, He created them – is still good, even now.

And if reality appears to be moving away from that fixed point of reference, it bears asking, are we moving in the right direction? Not all movement is progress, after all.

(Thoughtful discussion and civil comments welcome on social media, though I won’t be there to read them)

coffee clicks

Coffee Clicks: Black Friday shopping + thoughts on social media

November 23, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving American readers! We had a Kiwi and 4 Peruvian transplants at our feast yesterday, and it was kind of hilarious to hear people explaining the origin of the holiday and the real meaning. Then my father in law gave a brief and impromptu historical context before the blessing of our meal which was impressive and touching. “Human beings,” he said, “are made to give thanks. It is in our nature, so let us give thanks to nature’s God.”

We forgot to bring the cranberry sauce, so it wasn’t a perfect meal, but nearly so.

Thanksgiving always marks the real beginning of the marathon Christmas season in my own family of origin. My parents have been stretching the yuletide to Candlemass since before liturgical living became cool again, so it was not uncommon to see our house decked from stem to stern from the weekend following Halloween till well into February. Over 9 years of marriage (as of this past week!) I’ve slowly worn Dave down to the point of stringing lights on Black Friday, which I would much rather celebrate with Christmas decor than consumerism.

Far be it from me to begrudge anyone the pursuit of a good deal, but if your idea of a good time is standing in the Best Buy parking lot at 8pm on Thanksgiving Day, I do wonder if you’ve taken time to question your choices in life. (confession: I caved to the destructive pressure of the Amazon algorithm and snagged a little something yesterday. But just one thing! I promise!)

1.

If you are in a shopping mood, might I suggest combining the best of both worlds that are Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday and consider patronizing some of these small shops and ministries before hitting up the big A?

  1. Blessed is She: Free shipping on all orders over $100. I have and love their academic year liturgical planner, but the calendar year liturgical planner would be a great buy this time of year. I also have their beautiful hand-lettered prayers all over our house.
  2. Not a crafty mom, so vv grateful to be able to toss this Jesse Tree sticker activity to the wolves next weekend and say that I thought ahead this year. My big boys (6 and 8) love their “Fishing with the Saints” and “Fishing for Bible Characters” card decks, which they mostly use to play Memory with.
  3. How sweet are these? I honestly want one of each of them. Looks like she’s sold out for now of everything but St. Francis.
  4. This print of Our Lady is breathtaking. Leaving this link open somewhere for my husband to see…(so maybe don’t buy one until he orders mine)
  5. Maybe you’re trying to get out of debt this year or get your finances in order. Wallet Win is an online course + community and coaching support to help you hit your goals.
  6. Catholic Crate has some really adorable Advent mini crates left – looks like they’re sold out of their bigger options, but the minis are more affordable + Black Friday deals (looks like 30% off first crate subscription and free shipping on non subscription orders over $40). The gal behind this goes to our parish and the content is really darling and solid.
  7. I bought these as our big family present a couple weeks ago when they were on super sale (I got them for under $50 bucks.) So wait till they’re 50% off – apparently it happens frequently. And some reviewers prefer this brand to the OG magnatiles.

2.

That’s all I got for shopping. We’re having a super simple Christmas this year along the lines of “we paid the mortgage kids, you’re welcome!” so we’re keeping presents to one or two per kid plus stockings, and we’re still flying high from our trip to Rome in September where we joked (but not really) that each night out at dinner was celebrating a different event. So Christmas, our anniversary, my birthday, Mother’s Day, Christmas, check, check, check, we hit them all! Very efficient 😉

3.

This made me tear up. All those holiday feels.

4.

Really thought provoking read. I took on a little penance/fast beginning last week with a friend to kind of free up some whitespace in my brain and in my day. Apparently in the Byzantine rite this period is known as the St. Philip’s fast, and it encompasses the 40 days leading up to Christmas. My own modified fast includes all social media (but I’ll still drop this link on Facebook) and all news aside from our homepage, CNA. I’m also not watching anything during the day or listening to music or talk radio in the car except for the Christian station and, for now, the Christmas station. I’ll buckle down once Advent officially kicks off December 2, but for now I’m binging on all the Bing Crosby and James Taylor.

I have to say, as I do every time I pull back from my media consumption, that I feel AMAZING. What was taken up as a penance has ended up being such a life giving gift, especially this time of year. I’m so much more patient and present with the kids, and honestly a lot happier. I feel less frantic, more grateful, and a whole lot more hopeful about the state of humanity in 2018. And that’s in just a week!

I know social media can be an immense force for good and for authentic community, but it is not without its significant problems. And I think the dangers and downsides are more significant for certain personalities than others.

5.

Gosh, you think?

We had two back-to-back suicides at our neighborhood high school this fall. Our neighbor is a principal there and explained they don’t allow the kids to memorialize the deceased or hold any kind of vigils because the behavior has become so contagious. Chills to the bottom of my soul, y’all. But it’s true, the attention and the outpouring of sorrow and the temporary fame is literally an enticement for struggling adolescents, a temptation to suicide. And it’s not necessarily the kids you’d expect. These two local deaths for example? Attractive kids, well liked, athletically and academically accomplished, and no history of depression.

Talk to your kids. Keep them off social media, grounded in family life, and focused on something bigger and wider than their own experience. The human soul was made to stretch towards the infinite. Our materialist culture (and I don’t just mean that in the consumerist application) cannot satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart.

6.

What frightens me the most about this is the lack of public outcry and, indeed, the hailing of this as a positive advancement in reproductive and genetic technology. I wonder if inviting people to consider the negative ramifications of GMO food would spark an intelligent debate?

Hey, enough negativity, Jenny!

Gosh, you’ve probably got a cold dish of stuffing in the fridge calling your name, and I’m keeping you from it. Me? I’m back on the keto bandwagon this morning after a late night incident with said contraband, and I couldn’t be happier that I a. Allowed myself to eat normal thanksgiving food yesterday and b. Have something pleasant and effective to go back to now. No holiday slide for me this year. As fun as it was to eat carbs yesterday, I felt awful by bedtime and woke up shaky with low blood sugar. Not worth it. (Well, except for the stuffing. That was worth it.)

Happy Thanksgiving weekend to you and yours!

Evangelization, Family Life, Parenting, toddlers

Thanksgiving acts of service with kids

November 20, 2018

This is the first year where we’re feeling like we can creep past bare minimum mode – just a single toe over the line, honestly – and attempt to do a little something extra for Thanksgiving.

I’m not hosting or even cooking all that much this year, so no doubt that inflates my sense of wellbeing. If you have a nursing baby who is under 6 months old, are pregnant, are postpartum to any sort of baby at all, have a child with special needs, a husband who works 120 hours a week, etc etc etc, then just stop reading and look away, you’re already maxed out on awesome acts of service.

If you are a mom to older kids and have this thing down already, then won’t you tip your hand and let us freshman have a peek at what you do to help your kids connect with the deeper meaning of this special holiday?

In years past, our friends who live closer to downtown Denver have bundled up early in the morning and brought Starbucks to the homeless people who congregate near the cathedral. I love that idea, but we’re a little far out in the suburbs to execute it. We do have some homeless people around, but no specific concentration where we could seek them out. It’s more like you’ll see someone at an intersection here or there. Our parish food pantry hosted a frozen turkey drive…yesterday. So that’s a miss for us, too.

I conducted a casual poll of mom friends asking for ideas and came away with some good suggestions: bringing treats to homeless people, passing out coffee, delivering donuts or sandwiches, handing out breakfast burritos, going to a park with hand warmers, hats and mittens, assembling blessing bags, etc. to distribute to panhandlers at intersections and freeway on ramps.

Some businesses will donate their products if you ask. A few businesses my friends said they’d had success partnering with:

  • Jimmy Johns: will sell day their day old loaves for $.50 a piece
  • Starbucks: will sometimes donate coffee with advance notice; will provide creamer, sugar, cups and lids at no charge when you order a coffee traveler
  • Dunkin Donuts: will sometimes donate with advance notice
  • Krispy Kreme: will donate day old donuts with advance notice  

I’m guessing many fast casual chains and coffee places would be willing to donate, especially bread places like Panera, etc, where if they don’t sell that day’s offering, they aren’t able to sell it the next morning.

I love the idea of giving food at Thanksgiving, especially since it tends to be a time when we as Americans overdo it in the consumption department. I also think it’s a super relatable way of doing charity with kids. Kids understand being hungry. Kids understand having an empty tummy, and the immediate gratification of someone handing you something good to eat because they love you.

If the idea of serving on Thanksgiving itself is overwhelming, I think taking back Black Friday as a day to serve instead of shop is pretty awesome.

I’d really like to take our kids to a nursing home or retirement community to visit with the residents and provide a little comic relief. I worked at a nursing home while I was in grad school, and it made a lasting impression on me. Most of my residents just wanted someone to talk to, and would light up whenever a child – especially a baby – came onsite. Many lived far from their families and had visitors only once a year, or even less frequently than that. It was so life giving for them to just sit and visit with someone, even if it was only me or one of the other staff members. I will never forget the kind of relational poverty I witnessed there. Now here I sit with a bumper crop of my own children and I’ve yet to make good on my vow to return and visit nursing homes one day when I became a mom. Maybe this year’s the year.

Finally, I don’t want to rule out serving within the home itself. Especially where little kids are involved, I’m forever underestimating what they’re capable of, and they’re forever surprising me with their competence. (Well, and other things. There are other surprises, too.)

Inviting them to set the table, peel potatoes, peel and cut apples for pie, fill a pot with water, use a pitcher to fill water glasses at the dining table, etc are all valuable and super #Montessoriandyouknowwhat ways to let kids participate in and contribute to the family economy, and not just for the holidays.

So I’m all ears guys, what does your family do that has become a tradition? What are you hoping to try out this year? Have you had any memorable flops, like taking toddlers to the soup kitchen and violating food safety standards (ahem Luke cough cough)? Anything you’d do again? Anything you’d advise against, at all costs?

About Me, toddlers

Luke is a verb

November 16, 2018

Lately I’ve been taking a little journey back to the period called “inexperienced motherhood.” It usually happens in Trader Joe’s or somewhere else in public, where I’ll look down next to my cart and see that someone has taken a massive bite out of a raw zucchini and then stashed it on the lower rack.

I make sure not to look down for too long though, because if I don’t keep my eyes on the whirring blonde ball of energy that is our resident three year old, he will be behind the counter and elbows-deep in the free sucker bucket, much to the consternation of whichever Trader Joe’s team member is lucky enough to be our cashier that day.

“Hey buddy,” the Hawaiian shirt clad stranger will begin, “you can’t be back here!” or else it’ll be the arched brow and the “Hey, mom, can you get him back on your side?” with a knowing look that plainly says “you’ll get the hang of this sooner or later, lady.”

Little do they know, these innocent bystanders who stand witness to our public displays of destruction, that Luke is not my first rodeo, or even my second, but my fourth.

I’ve had the opportunity to confess that to a few well-meaning good samaritans who stop to help me disentangle him from the climbing net at the park where he is hanging upside down, dangling from one leg, which he somehow managed to thread through 4 different squares of cargo netting.

Or at a splash park last summer when I would march him back naked (again) and unashamed from the edge of the pop jet fountain, white buns blazing under the hot Colorado sun for all the general public to observe. “Sun’s out, buns out!” the neighbor kids shouted gleefully all summer, watching Luke streak across the yard having freed himself once again from the shackles of swim trunks or his pull up.

I thought it would abate with potty training, but alas, he is now more naked and I am wiping more things off of more surfaces than I was before. At least diapers were a contained, albeit expensive, environment.

When Luke’s true nature first began to show itself around his second birthday, we told ourselves he was bidding for attention. Acting up because a new baby was coming. Having a hard time adjusting to all the big kids being in school some days.

Nope. Turns out this just is Luke. Or else he is having the longest and most persistent case of the terrible twos in recorded history.

He’s not terrible, though. He’s actually really sweet and funny and really, really smart. He tells strangers he is 7, that he is the oldest in his family, that he is going to learn how to drive soon. He tells anyone who will listen to him that he “used to live in Italy” (no, he did not) and that when he grows up he is going to be a daddy and a garbage truck driver. (lucky gal the one who scoops him up.)

He is always dirty, usually naked, and has single-handedly inflated our grocery bill by at least $150 a month. A typical breakfast might be 2 eggs, a bowl of oatmeal, and maybe a strip or four of bacon if there is any lying around. He eats like Gaston, he has the manners of Gaston, but he is much kinder than Gaston.

“Mommy I just love you! Come here, I’m going to kiss your mouth. Mommy when I grow up I’m going to live with you and come home every night for dinner (nope). You’re a good mommy, you do a good mommy job.”

It’s hard to stay mad at a guy like that, even when he manages to extract himself from his carseat and OPEN THE VAN DOOR WHILE WE’RE DRIVING THROUGH TRAFFIC.

Yesterday someone posted a viral video from like, home security cam footage and it showed a toddler hanging on and being lifted by the opening garage door while mom’s back was turned and I was like, “yep. That is for sure going to happen to me.”

When I meet boy moms with grown or older sons, I beg them for reassurance that he is going to make it safely to adulthood. Last week we thought an upstairs toilet needed a professional snake job, but then lo and behold, daddy’s amateur snake job turned up AN ENTIRE GREEN APPLE and we all looked in fascination and horror at the child who assured us “Mommy told me it was okay to flush apples down the toilet.”

Nope again.

Next fall Luke will start preschool in our sweet little Montessori atrium. And as much stock as I put in the great Maria Montessori’s methods, I do wonder if Luke might accidentally eat the class pet, punch a hole in the ceiling tiles with the red rods, or squirt his classmates in the face with the spray bottles they use to gently mist their succulent collection during the zenlike period known as “plant work.”

Also, he knows how to use matches.

I feel like we’re playing some strange new game in the raising of this child – one that doesn’t include a rule book – so we’re making them up as we go along, to varying degrees of success.

He wakes us up some mornings by dropping a shoulder into our slightly sticky bedroom door and flipping on the overhead light while bellowing out IT’S MORNING TIME I’M HUNGRY before turning abruptly and thundering down the stairs towards the kitchen. Thanks to DST reveille has been nudged forward to 5:50 am but who’s counting?

Other mornings he will creep around the side of the bed to find daddy and wiggle his still-saturated pullup-clad butt in between our sheet and and comforter, and let me tell you, the person who brings to market an aroma-based alarm clock is going to make some real money.

One memorable morning around 3 am earlier this Fall, I awoke in the midst of what I assumed was a home invasion when he’d pulled a stepping stool up to the bed and stood, 2 centimeters from my head, yelling WAKE UP MAN. (?????) I awakened. And spent the following hour trying to get my cortisol levels back down to sleep-able range.

We love our crazy Duke, don’t get me wrong. He is hilarious, loving, super personable and very, very good at getting his way with his 3 older siblings and 3 older cousins.

I recount some of his antics here for posterity’s sake, and also to demonstrate that no matter how many kids you’ve had, you might not be fully prepared for the immensity that is one of their personalities in particular. (Or maybe more than one! I’m looking at you Blythe). You never know what – or who – you’re gonna get. Which is part of the fun.

(And by fun I mean the kind of fun that you feel on a roller coaster ride, just to be clear.)

I’m curious – do you have a verb in your family? Is there one – or more – in every family?

oldie but goodie (gosh I’m glad I painted that kitchen…everything)