Monday, December 31, 2012

LOST: Sense of Humor (On Parenting)

Last seen somewhere along northbound I-35E near Loop 635, between 5 and 6 pm on Thursday.

There's also a good chance it went missing on Sunday morning, between 10:31 and 11:34 in row 2 of the church sanctuary.

It was definitely gone by Friday, 5:48 am, breathing in swear words with a stubbed face at the wall adjacent to our bedroom door that is not, in fact, a doorway to the crying baby's room. 

Whether my humor's lost, stolen, or simply run away to someone else's good times, allow me an indulgent moment to complain about my silly first world problems before asking St. Anthony to please come 'round ("something's lost that can't be found," for the non-cradle-Catholics among us).

In case you can't tell, I drove full-force into the doldrums of part-time stay-at-home parenthood. It's okay if you just smirked a little, recalling my idealistic declarations a few months ago, something about cooking more, dusting, and having perfect kids.

I've been pursing my lips and raising my eyebrows a lot more lately, including as I read the recommendation of a mysterious blogger that I regularly stumble across. She suggests that parishes start an encouragement ministry for young mothers.

I was completely on board until she said it should focus on spiritual and emotional help, and not include babysitting or help with the housework. I suppose this means it wouldn't include assigning your children to the pews and subjective oversight of other random parishioners on any given Sunday either.

In my opinion, the most effective tool the Catholic Church could offer our world in sharing this vision of children as blessings, fertility as a gift, femininity and masculinity as windows into the spiritual life, and parenthood as a path to sainthood, is to get into the trenches of this divine mystery:

  • Apportion part of the parish budget toward quality, free babysitting during faith formation opportunities.
  • Put up some heavy Catholic guilt on parishioners to volunteer for religious education -- and not on the parents whose kids are in the programs. Believe me, they see enough of their kids.
  • Try not to laugh dismissively at parents who complain that cry rooms are literally Purgatory on earth. Don't judge parents who quit showing up for Mass, because they got tired of spending Sunday mornings in a 12 x 12 foot room with a dozen other fussy, wiggly children, and no clear view of anything except kids playing Nintendo DS in the back pew.
  • Offer Mother's Day Out for free. (Oh my gosh, now this woman's just looking for handouts!)
  • Don't be afraid to set up rocking chairs in the back of the church for all the parents pacing the narthex with sleepy kids.
  • Have parishioners serve in the nursery who don't have kids in the nursery.
  • Schedule one service each Sunday especially for families with children and gear the service to capture the curiosity and reverence of kids (not necessarily more flashy or entertaining, just more accessible).

And this is only one mom's late night brainstorming session!

Other thoughts/suggestions?

(And it's okay, if you just want to say, "Get over yourself. Your two kids are NOTHING compared to my life, much less to the bigger problems of the rest of the world." But you'll probably make me cry. And then eat the rest of the chocolate-covered peanuts we made for our neighbors but forgot to pass out before Christmas.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Time to Cut the Hours

A few months back, I caught my reflection in the bathroom mirror at work.

Perfected business casual drone of black slacks and some color of cable-knit sweater, shapeless grandma shawl over the shoulders, and a puffy triangle of hair.

"Geez, you're not even trying," I shrugged with indifference at the unfamiliar morphed reflection of elderly-me in a wrinkled shawl and middle-school-me with frizzy, brushed out curls.

Before babies were in the picture, I remember interactions with coworkers that went something like this:

Me: "Excuse me, [name] is here with [company] to see you. They've just arrived, and I've set them up in the conference room."

But one day, and then frequent days, and then regularly, I caught myself having this conversation:

Me: "Hey, were you expecting someone?"

Coworker: "Um, yes, I think so. At 10?"

Me: "Oh, is that what time it is? Sure."

Coworker: "Did you catch their name?"

Me: "Hm, no. It's a woman."

Coworker: "From Bank of America?"

Me: "Sure, she looks like she could be with Bank of America."

Coworker: "Ok, thanks."

Does it say more about the extent to which I lowered the administrative standard around our office, or the outstanding congeniality of my colleague, that he actually thanked me for the information I provided?

And then there's this excerpt from a reply to an overlooked email:

Hi David,

I apologize for this delay. Your email got pulled into a folder that doesn’t get checked very often.

[...important email request fulfilled...]

Best regards,


Unfortunately, the "folder that doesn't get checked very often," was referring to my inbox. 

When faced with the overwhelming task of refilling paper in the printer, I found myself choosing the "Hm, cancel print" option more and more often.

If it weren't for my mad OCD and impulsive multi-tasking skills, I'm pretty sure I would have received a "thanks, but no thanks" letter of termination from my company.

Delirious months later, filled with laundry, inexplicably adorable kids, novenas, two car wrecks (no injuries) and extensive research on coupon moms and health insurance alternatives, I finally passed a letter of gratitude and resignation over to my long-suffering employers.

To my surprise, rather than taking the opportunity to hire an ambitious, high-intensity, full-time replacement, they restructured the admin schedule and responsibilities, and offered to keep me around part-time.

And THAT is why they get name-dropped in our family rosary each week, with prayers for their families and business success!

As for me and mine, GLOOOORIOUS! Not that I haven't crashed hard into the doldrums of part-time, stay-at-home motherhood, just that I'm finding the dividends of happy kids and a calm(er) home well worth it.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

How I Became Mrs. Wally Bader

Four years ago today, Wally and I were married, and I think we're living the best crazy love story ever. But I hadn't always thought it would be this way...

Six years, three months, and 28 days ago, I was given the best advice I've ever received.

I met Father Eric while visiting Palmyra, Wisconsin, with Ad Deum Dance Company, volunteering at a camp for kids with special needs. I was on top of the world, and in one short conversation, he turned it all upside down.

I had only stopped by his small, rural parish for a moment to pray. Wherever I went with Ad Deum, I always stumbled upon the local Catholic church (okay, Google-mapped the whole territory two weeks in advance for every Catholic parish within 40 miles and then called parishioners to see if a traveler without a car could catch a ride to Mass), and sure enough, in three years of touring and performing, God opened every door, so I could experience Him at Mass each Sunday.

St. Mary Catholic Church in Palmyra, WI

That Saturday afternoon, when I came through the doors of Father Eric's church, he asked about my life. He listened, very keenly, and it felt as if we were old friends, deep in conversation, though we'd just met, and were still standing in the entry way of St. Mary's. I suppose I expected accolades as I summed up the excitement I felt at being a new company member and getting to live out this childhood dream. Instead, Father Eric set a question before me, and though I continued to smile and nod respectfully as we spoke, his question didn't fall safely and innocuously from the air through the slats of the old wooden floor. It struck uncomfortably in my soul, settled in, and echoed alongside similar questions that had been in the back of my mind for some time. 

"But what is your vocation?" Father Eric asked. 

He seemed to imply it was all very nice that I was young and passionate, enjoying life, and wanting to do good in the world, but could I trust God with a commitment the size of my entire future? When the curtain closes, and the adventure ceases to feel so adventurous, and I find myself alone, away from all the excitement and busyness, what is God asking of me?

Catholics play around with the word "vocation" like preschool teachers pose, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Really, it's just three options: single (purposely single to work in a unique way for God in the world), single & consecrated for service to the Church (priests, nuns, monks), and married (joining souls with another to work in a unique way for God in the world). From these three options, a person can be or do just about anything. 

In that brief conversation, both our first and last time to speak in person, Father Eric challenged me to look beyond where I currently was -- only willing to make short-term commitments to various activities and groups, and not really moving with purpose toward any kind of long-term commitment -- and he encouraged me to truly discern what God was asking of me, "and then do it!"

I had already discerned my vocation was to (eventual) marriage, but I wanted an exciting, miraculous love story that would make for a super-romantic retelling.

Father Eric threw all of that under the bus when he reminded me that my vocation wasn't supposed to be the most entertaining story at a party, but an opportunity to live the most fulfilling and meaningful life possible, and it would be the path for my soul to heaven. 

And from there, my life suddenly became really easy. 

If marriage was my vocation, and the purpose of marriage was to do God's work on earth, so we could experience Him here on earth, with the hope of being with Him forever in heaven, then I just needed to find the person who could help me do that. 

I asked myself, "Who is the holiest guy I know?"

As it turns out, God was working on the other side of this picture as well, because even today, Wally says, he has no idea why he asked me out on a date in August 2006. (I know why. It's because I asked God to ask Wally to ask me on a date. Because I was too chicken to ask him myself.)

Six years, three months, and 21 days ago, Wally and I went on our first date. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Kids in Public

I fully expected a "Mother of the Year" award from the manager at Discount Tire Co after holding a somewhat coherent conversation with the technician and only yelling at the boys once. Instead of turning around to an impressed waiting room on the edge of spontaneous applause, I got chastised by a kindly old man who said I have good kids, and I shouldn't get onto them.

In the moment, I really thought the most loving thing to do was call out Joseph for his behavior -- "Hey! Don't stand on the arm of that chair! You'll fall and break your head open on their nice, clean floor!!" -- but maybe I was just underestimating his innate cherub goodness and power to self-correct. 

What do people want to see of parenting in public? I really never know. I field offense if I leave a wake of broken mayonnaise jars and empty banana peels (insert soundbite: "But I want to eat it NOW!"), or if I repeat stern words and slap a few reaching hands.

And yet, if I'm shopping without the kids, I somehow forget all of this. I see loud, crazy kids with a seemingly unaffected parent, and think, "Her kids are horrible! Why isn't she disciplining them?!" Then I see quiet, well-behaved kids getting punished for a seemingly minor offense, and think: "Her kids are wonderful! Why is she disciplining them?!"

I've adapted a kind of subterfuge public discipline approach (when my glaring, you-know-how-to-behave-in-public-now-do-it look doesn't work). Quick glance around, clear the area of observers, and then slap the hand reaching for the mayonnaise jar.

My friend, Amy, has an uncanny ability to put a positive spin on yelling at your kids. If she were in Discount Tire trying to hold a conversation while a kid was standing on the arm of a chair, she would just pull out a catchy song about how lucky the world is to have chairs for sitting, and the manager would join in to sing along, and then a flash mob would stream into the waiting room waving jazz hands, and then Joe would laugh and sit on his butt, beaming at the opportunity to obey this wonderful woman.  

Discount Tire Co employees gathering to present me with the "Mother of the Year" Award

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Helpful List (On Office Protocol)

Everyone has a worst coworker ever list (even the worst coworker ever: #1 - Colleagues with expectations). For most people, it's probably just a mental tally, and not an all-out color-coded spreadsheet posted in the breakroom, like mine. (Is she joking? She's got to be. I'm so glad I don't work with her...)

So instead of sharing that list, I'd like to share a very useful list I put together for offices everywhere (no doubt easily adapted for all work environments with a loosely-defined "assistant" position).

Please note that reading this list is an implied non-disclosure agreement to not blow my cover as the quiet robot secretary.

Another note, I refer to the admin as a "she". Yes, I know there are guys who work in admin. But gender inclusive language is really annoying to read.

Best Times To Ask The Administrative Assistant To Do Something For You*

Don't Even Bother:

1. Is it the end of the month?

2. Is it the beginning of the month?

3. Is she on her way to another colleague's office?

4. Would it take you less time to do it yourself than to ask her to do it?

5. Is she eating her lunch?

6. What if she's already doing something work-related while eating her lunch?

7. But what if she's almost done with her lunch?

8. Is it after 4:59 PM, does it need to be completed that day, and will you be dropping it on her desk as you leave the office?

Give It A Try (if you can answer each set of questions in the affirmative): 

1. Do you need it done within the next 15 minutes? Have you known about it less than 2 hours?

2. Are you sure it needs to be done? Will you actually notice that it is done? Is the probability absolutely zero that after she completes it you'll realize that it didn't need to be done?

3. Did she make a mistake that needs to be corrected? Check again. Are you sure she made the mistake?

4. Is what you're about to ask her to do someone else's job? Are they suffering a major illness, or did a close friend or family member die? 

5. Will she make it home in time for dinner with her family? Did you consider rush hour traffic for a commute to the suburbs, past LBJ construction? Have you ever made a hungry two-year-old wait on dinner at the end of the day?

Ask Her Anything, Any Time:

1. Do you sign her pay check?

Secrets to Beat the System:

1. Drop off chocolates or wine, either with each request or in bulk at the beginning of each week. (True story: I received a bottle of wine for printing a coworker's business cards and letterhead. When they were delayed in completion, a second bottle of wine moved his request to the top of my list!)

2. Make it an obscure enough request that she has to do it right away.** (True story: I received a phone call from a colleague needing me to find a pirate treasure store on the East Coast and get the owner's personal contact information. I didn't even know what to put in the note to future-me on my To-Do list, so I just did it.)

3. Appeal to her out-of-control OCD impulses.** (True story: I'm a total nerd about spreadsheets. Multiplenitude of data entry? Load me up! And they do.)

4. Make it interesting. (True story: Print a topographical map of Southeast Africa, and find out how to pronounce this name: Nyerere. Thank you, YouTube.)

5. Ask her about her weekend (and then don't walk away before she replies).
*Please note each of these are contingent upon the admin's current workload, and less predictably, her mood.

**Use sparingly.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Real Story

Sunday is the one day each week that my kids have to wear collared shirts and shiny dress shoes. I don't know why it's so important to me that we pull off looking nice together as a family on "Church Day." 

I wonder if we're part of the reason that our faith is inaccessible to many. 

When curious guests walk into our churches, hoping to encounter the One, they're welcomed instead by an overwhelming facade of families who have it all together (ours included). And no doubt our hypocrisy seeps onto the pews, and confuses those who come for Truth and Beauty, encountering instead another magazine cover of perceived perfection.

We need to tell a different story. Not of perfection, an easy life, rule-following, or perpetual family bliss, narratives that fill the empty context behind "Good!" when asked how we're doing. I've been sharing that account for awhile now, so here's a true story about our first son, Joseph.

We were supposed to wait until at least one of us had a full-time job that offered health insurance. But this was 2008, and jobs like that just weren't being offered to idealistic student teachers in dying fields and RTVF majors in one of the largest U.S. markets.

We were so disillusioned, after following the advice of Those Who Have Their Lives All Together, going to college and proudly graduating with our Bachelor's degrees. Hundreds of job applications later, meticulous resumes transformed into ill-formatted lists in the early stages of "Apply Online" technology, and we're two depressed newlyweds realizing life doesn't pass out cash, even if you make all the right stops around the board and pass Go.

The housing market crashed, property tax revenues kamikazed out, and panicked school districts everywhere gutted fine arts curricula and cozied up classrooms with 30 kids. I filed my crisp, fresh-inked teacher's certificate behind my diploma at the back of a closet at my parents' house.

When people talk about how lame it is that unemployed people fall out of the job market, the vigilante blood of my Mafia ancestors wants to break their knees. Genuine hard work is pretty disheartening without cash dividends or some sign of future income. And the roller coaster of second interview highs followed by rejection letter lows is hard to stomach. Especially when combined with first trimester nausea.

Yes, into our hopelessness entered our Little Joe.

As newlyweds without health insurance or predictable income, we had the audacity to feel a little excited. This wasn't how we'd planned to have kids, but in our disenchantment with a seemingly unattainable world, this surprise new life was terrifying and fascinating.

Following the well-intentioned advice of not telling anyone about the pregnancy until we were through the first trimester, we said it was because if anything happened in the early weeks, and we lost our baby, we wouldn't have to share it with everyone. (Hello, slap in the face to community love and support, anyone?!) 

In truth, we just weren't ready for the questioning, are-you-stupid stares of friends, and especially family, awkwardly searching their minds for something-anything positive to say. (Not that we weren't giving ourselves this look every day!)

A year earlier, a woman shared her family's story with me, that they had gone through years of joblessness and depression, all experienced through several pregnancies. You never would have guessed it looking at her welcoming home and loving family. To me, she always seems to project extra light, and her kids -- oh my gosh, her kids -- are off the charts in their joy and creativity and craziness. Her willingness to share the reality of their struggle brought me hope in our early, secret months of pregnancy, when most days, I was fighting despair and fear of judgment.

Our young family has made it, because of our government's low-income healthcare program, and then an opened door to stable employment and health insurance, and now, a new healthcare co-op (Samaritan Ministries), which let us exchange opposite full-time shifts with crappy employee health insurance for calmer lives and more time together.

My strong suspicion is that we're not the only ones who didn't follow the "safe" and sanctioned route to family life. At one of our lowest points, God gave us Joseph John Bader II. Our smiles for him brought more smiles for each other, and his calm acceptance of our clueless parenting gave us faith in ourselves and one another.

The Savior we worship had a conception and birth marked by poverty and inconvenience, yet even more, by joy and wonder. 

The God we belong to doesn't have one suburban, middle-class plan for each person, culminating over millennia in the United States' gold standard of 40-hour-a-week jobs and employee-sponsored health insurance. 

I'm not sure why I've been trying to cram our life circumstances into this ideal.

Let's be the diverse Church that we are, not pretending perfection or posing each Sunday for a family portrait in the pew or idolizing a lifestyle that just isn't us. Let's share our crazy, unpredictable, wonderful, heart-breaking, hopeful life stories, and in so doing, share our ultimate Story that Jesus Christ is our Source and our Summit, and every life has purpose and hope by His life, death, and Resurrection!

These words took over our chalkboard when we found out we were pregnant with Joseph. They're still there.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

My First Part-Time Stay-At-Home Mom Half-Day

Yesterday was supposed to be my first day off in a new transition to part-time work. But as work things go, I was called in to cover for a few hours in the morning. Too passive aggressive to Just Say No, and in a casual show of precedence, I bring my two-year-old with me. (FYI: Uptown investment office, hosting high-profile -- re: wealthy -- international financial managers.) Yes, I'll be happy to come in on my day off, any time! This is Joseph. He likes to change activities every 5 minutes, is really good at climbing and running, and doesn't have an inside voice. I make it home by 11 AM. (Guess they didn't need me as much as they thought.)

On my way home, I write up a mental list of ambitions -- like laundry and keeping the kids alive aren't enough to keep up with. Refinish the kitchen cabinets. Take the kids to Adoration every day. Potty train our almost-three-year-old. Make real food.

Influenced by the happily obedient kids in "The Sound of Music," I want us to have a joyful, singing home. After the 10th repeat of me skipping around the table singing "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart," Joseph quits chiming in with "Where?" and just focuses on cutting his play dough. After another 5 minutes, he asks me to stop too. "No singing in house, Mama. Sing at church."

I feel like I should bake cookies. And make an apron. And dust. But instead I spend two hours creating the perfect coupon organizer during the boys' nap time and do three loads of laundry. (Okay, to be fair, Wally started the first two loads, but as Martha Stewart always says, "The person who folds the clothes and puts them away gets credit for the load."*)

Joseph has this habit of drinking all of the holy water around our house. (You're really not supposed to do that.) And since one of my new ambitions was to become week-day regulars at church, we stop by to refill our little plastic bottles. After the third lap around the holy water font (picture a wading pool about two feet off the ground), I finally catch Joe at the back of the almost empty sanctuary, and drag him kicking and screaming into the foyer. We pass Father Michael and Deacon Phil while calmly on our way back to the car, waving and smiling like we hadn't just wreaked havoc on their most faithful parishioners' afternoon prayers.

Wally sends me a text from work: "I have cell coverage in the control room tonight".

He never gets cell reception at work, so this is clearly a providential sign that I should send him updates on our new part-time stay-at-home mom set-up. "Awesome! I'll text you and call you all evening!"

I start to pull up a picture I'd just taken of Joseph helping Joshua walk, when I get his next text: "Yeah, don't do that".

I stop by the grocery store adjacent to the church on our way home, and realize they don't have carts large enough to buckle two kids. I should have left. But darnit, I'm a stay-at-home mom now, and I can do this! In the frozen food aisle, I dump five Totino's pizzas on top of Joe (seated in the basket, since Josh got the child's seat), which apparently, makes his year. "PIZZA!!!!!! PIZZA, PIZZA, PIZZA, PIZZA, PIZZA!!! IT'S PIZZA!!!!!!!" he shrieks. One freezer over, a woman shouldering her cell phone while trying to stack Lean Cuisines in her basket shoots me a dirty look. I hold her gaze. You wanna do this? I'm a stay-at-home-mom now. I own this supermarket. 

Joshua's teething, and my work purse isn't equipped with anything to help him out. Note to self: ditch the purse for a diaper bag, woman. I must have looked like such an amateur. I give Josh the coupon portfolio to chew on. Joseph starts opening boxes in the back of the grocery basket. I try to modestly remove a tampon from his tiny fingers -- "What's this, Mama? What's this?" -- and tuck it back into its box, as I notice pieces of paper all over the tile floor around us. Joshua's shaking the coupon portfolio upside down, and it's snowing coupons, everywhere. I realize we're blocking the milk refrigerators as a crowd forms, and turn the cart, escaping down a side aisle. A helpful man follows me. "Ma'am? Ma'am, is this your coupon?" It's for feminine products, and I hastily push it back into the useless coupon portfolio.

We eat a kid-friendly dinner of hot dogs and rice, followed by the. slowest. walk. ever. We get home later than intended, because I didn't figure in Joseph's tendency to stop for every pebble, bug, and unusual piece of grass along the sidewalk. And he's carrying a piece of plumbing pipe (of course).

At the end of the day, we're wiped out from my overly-ambitious part-time stay-at-home mom agenda, but for the first time ever, Joseph poops in the potty.

I text a picture of it to Wally :-)

*That's not true. She never said that. And I'm sure she'd be appalled at my laundry process.


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Big Question (On Catholics & Mary)

There weren't a lot of questions left. I'd watched Catholics and Catholicism closely for going on four years, and it hadn't yet collapsed under my interrogations. I guess I expected a letter of resignation from Pope John Paul II (or at least the local bishop) with a personal post script of gratitude to Charlene Gibbs of Carrollton, Texas, for alerting the Catholic Church to its ancient irrelevance.

Surprisingly, my inquisition into their repetitive liturgy, bounteous rituals, and eerily quiet chapels didn't suck my Catholic friends out of their Church; yet somehow, even as an outsider, I could see my own life developing a calmer, slower, simpler cadence under the influence of this historic monolith, and the 21st Century cultural irrelevance of Catholicism became my path back to the faith of the early Church.

My scattered and anxious mind found rest in the echoing chapel of a local Catholic parish. (They're usually open to anyone all day, with many open 24 hours a day. At any rate, no one came in and asked the Baptist girl to vacate her pew until she could get the holy water ritual right.*) Overwhelmed by the onslaught of an unrelenting world, my soul slowly absorbed the scripture of the Church's liturgy, and my prayers mingled with the same prayers of Christians over centuries of faith. ...Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy... ...Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us... ...Lord I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed... ...O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner...

Then it came down to the last couple of questions. Mary? I could take her or leave her. Yeah, it was great that as a pre-teen she took on the most miraculous, unprecedented event of all human history to that point by agreeing to be the mother of God in the flesh, gave birth -- without health insurance or a doctor on call -- in impoverished conditions (something akin to using the dog's dish in lieu of a crib), and then willingly suffered the heart-wrenching tragedy of a mother who not only loses her son to torture and death, but is present with him, watching the entire time. But weren't Catholics going a little overboard? My God, they pray to her!

At this point, I fully embraced the Communion of Saints. This was one of my newly-discovered links to the early church; I was no longer distanced from the saints of the New Testament by empty centuries of an untraceable, underground Christianity. I had found a community of people whose passionate faith changed their world for the better -- not just a group of holy people working together in the circus of this century and my life time, but all of God's people, bound together through all centuries, each one a part of the body of Christ. I suddenly had Saint Francis of Assisi as my brother in the faith who knew a world full of distractions and abundant wealth and chose the simpler life, Saint Thomas Aquinas who dedicated his genius to a lifetime of study and research, and even the legendary Saint Joan of Arc became my own sister in her example of following the voice of God, which led to heroically saving her country, and in the same year, being betrayed and killed.

Joseph checking out St. Francis' deer: "I like this dog."

I believed the verse in Revelation, which is St. John's vision of the afterlife, that depicts the saints in heaven offering the prayers of those on earth to God, as golden bowls of incense (chapter 5, verse 8, for anyone with a Bible on hand). Scripture shows that God is pleased by our prayers of intercession for one another (1 Timothy 2:5, for one), and that interactions with God's prophets is far different than the forbidden practices of seances or conjuring up spirits (i.e. Jesus met with Elijah and Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration, and they were loooong since "dead"). And besides, praying to the saints isn't praying to dead people, because to be a saint is to be alive in Christ! (Colossians 2:13)

Jesus meets with Moses and Elijah during his Transfiguration
What about prayer in and of itself being a form of worship, and worship being reserved only for God? No worries, it's not. (See here for a linguistic history of the word worship, including some super interesting Greek and Latin subplots, though not interesting enough to include here.)

I shared with my mentor at the time that I wasn't sure how Mary fit into the picture. I mean, historically, yes, obviously, she's the physical mother of Jesus. But what about now? Is Jesus going to be offended if I ask his mom to pray for me? My mentor gave me the most wonderful perspective. "Don't be afraid of Mary," she said. "Mary will always, always lead you to her Son, Jesus."

It's true. Everything about Mary points to Jesus. The woman in Revelation (chapter 12) is clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of 12 stars on her head (ever seen a picture or heard the amazing story of Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe?), and while being pursued by the serpent, she gave birth to a male son who will rule all the nations. Even as we read through the scriptural typology of the Ark of the Covenant, Mary, and the Church, all things point to the salvation and new creation brought by Christ.

For Juan Diego and the Aztecs, everything about this image would point to Christ: her hands folded in reverent prayer to the Almighty God. She appeared on the day of the winter solstice, and her mantle accurately represents the 1531 winter solstice. She wears a black maternity band, signifying she was with child. At the center of the picture, overlying her womb, is a jasmine flower in the shape of an Indian cross, which to Aztecs, was a sign of the Divine and the center of the cosmic order. This symbol indicated that the baby Mary carried within her is Divine and the new center of the universe. On the brooch around her neck was a black Christian cross, indicating she is both a bearer and follower of Christ, the Son of God, our Savior. With this apparition, 14,000 Aztecs converted to Christianity in 5 days. The fabric of a tilma usually lasts 20 years, but this image remains in tact after 480 years!

Wally and I selected the account of Jesus' first miracle,
where Jesus changes water into wine at a wedding in Cana, to be read as the Gospel scripture at our wedding. There's the immediate similarity that Jesus chose a wedding at which to begin his public ministry, and we, of course, wanted Jesus to be present with us at our wedding too. But it's worth noting, who brings the new couple's problem to Jesus' attention? Mary. She lets Jesus know about the situation, and then she directs those who came to petition her: "Do whatever he tells you."

Don't be afraid of Mary. She will always, always lead you to her Son, Jesus.

*Holy Water Ritual: making the sign of the cross with holy water upon entering the sanctuary, as a reminder of one's baptism; just as water cleans the body, so the soul is made clean by Christ.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Little-Known History of Sleep

Sleep has not always been this corrupt. My great-grandma shared wonderful stories of Sleep; they were the stories of her great-great-grandma, so many years before the dark legacy of Thomas Edison. It was a time when Sleep was honest and hard-working. You could close your eyes at night and rest, because you knew, you could depend on Sleep.
The problems began with the tantalizing theory of electricity, capturing inventors' fancies, swelling and escalating and all too soon giving way to the incandescent light bulb. Then it was only a matter of time before Sleep sold out to big money opportunities.

It organized itself into an impermeable union, guaranteeing less work and higher wages. Funded by shady, under-handed lobbying in Washington, the Sleep Union pushed for legislation that eight hours minimum be the standard for human survival. And yet, at the same time, dirty money slipped through the ledgers of “sleeping pill”pharmaceuticals and home security systems, bribing Sleep to underperform.

Today it’s hard to imagine Sleep as anything other than the selfish, lazy, self-righteous mercenary that it's become. But there was a time, oh for the sake of all that is decent, there was a time, when Sleep gave an honest night's work.

The Union lost control of its constituency, and Sleep simply refused any compromise. No longer would Sleep fill its late night hours with constructive housework. “Clean your own hearths!” went the slogan, pasted up overnight on walls and street signs all over the countryside. (Up to this point, there had been no chimney sweeps.)

Then it was the outrageous compensation Sleep demanded in households with infants. Parents could no longer comply with the steep, requisite "gratuities" for Sleep to rock the cradles of restless babies, and newborns quit sleeping through the night. (This is when nannies became huge in England.)

The errant load of laundry in the washer would never make it to the dryer, and you could no longer drift into dreamland amidst thoughts of forgetting to lock the door, because gone were the protective instincts of Sleep and its diligent night-time routine.

And then, as white collar crime inevitably stumbles into the rougher crowds of back alley dealings, Sleep even sold its soul to the Term Papers, Underbed Monsters, and Roiling Thoughts that it had spent centuries valiantly battling.

Obsessed with the profits of a newfound capitalism, Sleep laid off the Sand Man whose gritty threats had coaxed eyes to close for centuries, and sold off the Counting Sheep for chops and mutton.

My great-grandma would get so worked up in the re-telling that she would solemnly swear at the injustice of Sleep's corrupt ways.

“Just you wait,” she would say. “Just you wait, Sleep, because one of these days, I am going to R.I.P."

"And I’m coming for you.”

Friday, July 20, 2012

Best Purchase Ever: G-BOT

I don't usually buy luxury items. Seriously, we are a stick-to-the-budget kind of family! But I can already say, even with the years that we might be paying this one back, I have no regrets. I would group this with microwaves and cell phones as a necessity, and to be honest, I can't believe the government isn't offering a subsidy for this kind of technology.

I first realized that I was missing a practical amenity while sitting at the DPS office to renew my license. A slow Wednesday afternoon, 100 people from all walks of life, crammed uncomfortably together in 85 plastic chairs, anxious about making it to the next pressing commitment on our schedules, and yet, I noticed, even with all of this frustrated tension in one room, the DPS workers had all the time in the world!

I knew, whatever they had, I needed.

And turns out, it was just a standard-issue (albeit quite pricey) Government Block Of Time.

The G-BOT was such an impulse buy that to be honest, I didn't tell my husband I'd bought one. I could just imagine his response, ”You spent our hard-earned money on some government mass-produced what??!” I figured I could try it out for a few days, and if it wasn't all it's cracked up to be, just resell it on craigslist or something.

There's no going back though. This is the best thing the government has done since Hoover Dam and disposable diapers.

Even just two days ago, I was going crazy with the time crunch of keeping our private company on an insane timeline of clients and managers. I haven't had time to refill my coffee or take a bathroom break in weeks! The G-BOT arrived on Tuesday, and in ONE DAY I have broken down this well-oiled machine! And whew, personally, never felt better!

At one point, my boss even tried the line, "Hey, everyone's paperwork is complete, just waiting on you to process it!” I just sighed loudly, closed my YouTube browser of a dolphin playing with kittens, and gestured toward my new G-BOT as I went on break.

Thank you, U.S. Government!

I took an extended lunch today. but with my new G-BOT, no one could do anything about it!

haha, that was thirty minutes ago!

I'm definitely thinking of purchasing another Government Block of Time for home, pretty sure my husband will love it while home with the kids.

Sorry, Joe, looks like getting your shoes and socks on is gonna be another 30 minutes or so.

Once we get this paid off (or just paid down a little), I'll probably look into getting the Government Box Of Bureaucracy. Now THAT is a piece of work. (But man, you thought the G-BOT was pricey!)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hopes for Healthcare Reform

I hate being told what to do. And if my way isn’t working, I’ll still figure it out myself. Because I sure as heck don’t want to try your way! [excerpt from an American kindergarten room]

Unfortunately, in the arena of healthcare, this seems to be the attitude most of us adopt, which amounts to crossed fingers, gritted teeth, and a lot of Americans with eyes squeezed shut, hoping really hard that nothing bad happens.

I recognize there are controversial measures in the Affordable Care Act. The most striking deficit, in my opinion, is the absence of a conscience clause for providers. But just as the leading Catholicauthority in the U.S. has not supported a complete repeal of the law, neither do I.

I believe the legislation for healthcare reform is a step in the right direction. (Ouch -- just got hit by the flaming dart arrows fired from the appalled consciences of many friends.)

To this point, health insurance has been unaffordable. However, only the independently wealthy can financially handle a medical catastrophe without health insurance. Nonetheless, hospitals are required to treat patients with life-threatening conditions (albeit the care is crap, sufficient only to push them through the exit doors, to be pursued by a relentless mob of collection agencies). I’ll go out on a limb here, but suffice it to say, I think everyone would be better off with health insurance.

Still, there are many Americans who work incredibly hard, often self-employed or at multiple jobs, for whom the holy grail of employer-sponsored healthcare is not available. (My family’s included in this group.) For this group, it’s not possible to pay out-of-pocket for anything other than the most basic wellness care, without financial assistance.

I can only yell so loudly about my right to life and liberty, without wondering if there should be some provision for the quality of this life. I’m not advocating Mercedes for all, or streaming cable television to every home. But is the right to life that our founders envisioned only a guarantee to continue breathing on American soil? (As long as you don’t have asthma. Then your right to breathe is contingent on your ability to afford the diagnosis and prescription.)

Seriously though, our inaction on healthcare reform is only perpetrating the status quo of quality healthcare for a privileged elite, substandard provisions for the most impoverished, and anyone in between settling for lack of care or medical bankruptcy.

In my opinion, the individual mandate that’s such a contested part of the Affordable Care Act, just might be a solution.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Craniosynostosis, Part II: The Birth Story

About a week before Joshua’s due date, after a morning of sporadic contractions, we drove to the hospital, expecting to be sent home, another set of overly-excited parents. But at 6 cm dilation and fully effaced, the nurses predicted we’d be holding our baby by lunchtime!

Craniosynostosis isn’t diagnosed before birth, although the plates of the skull seal early in fetal development, so we had no way of knowing that Joshua’s sagittal suture was already closed: his head wouldn’t be able to mold to the birth canal. I’d given birth just two years earlier with no complications, and a hold-onto-your-hat-this-baby’s-coming-now kind of labor, but Joshua wasn’t going anywhere fast. The attending doctor sent nurses to prep an operating room for C-section. He motioned to our attending midwife that it was time to give up pushing.

Somehow, in the hectic surrealism of that delivery room, my midwife seemed to stop time; her words cut through the chaos and concern around us, and she said, “Charlene, you’ve got three more pushes to get him out. He needs to get out now, and you can do it.”

1 in 500 babies are born face presentation (instead of the normal position of facing downward, chin to chest), and brow presentation is even more rare, with a C-section being necessary in almost all cases. But suddenly and somehow, Joshua dislodged and joined the anxiously-awaiting world, looking like he’d been in a bar fight, with a bruised, swollen face and black eye.

We thought trauma at birth was the source of Joshua’s subsequent fussiness, and wouldn’t realize until months later that his difficult birth was a symptom of craniosynostosis.

Bruised and beaten up by birth
Snuggled in and happy a few days later

Here's To Beating An Issue Into The Ground (On the HHS Mandate)

I'm tired of this issue.

I'm tired of seeing it in newsfeeds and reading articles about it everywhere and hearing complaints about it, from both sides. But we're belaboring a point that apparently still needs belaboring.

It's not about personal feelings toward Catholicism, whether one sees it as irrelevant and archaic or nourishing and alive. The religious conscience must be free to practice its beliefs: paramountly at home, communally at a place of worship, and most relevant in this case, in service to others in the public domain.

The new Health and Human Services mandate, in its current legislative state, will require all employers to include abortion-inducing drugs, contraceptives, and sterilization procedures, in healthcare coverage, regardless of religious convictions that believe otherwise. The conscience clause that might exempt some organizations from the HHS mandate is so narrowly-defined that it does not include most Catholic schools and hospitals, outreaches of the Church, which exist solely because of the example of Jesus Christ, and the belief that he instituted the Church to carry on his compassionate work.

Following national outrage, President Obama offered a verbal revision, not written into the law, that would require insurance companies to offer these amenities for free. Yet there's an apparent oversight that nothing is "free" with unabashedly for-profit health insurance companies, and any "free" inclusion would no doubt be subsidized by increased premiums for the objecting organizations. Additionally, this illusory compromise still leaves self-insured organizations without a conscionable solution.

Where is our national identity? Have we forgetten that the freedom to live out personal religious beliefs is protected by our nation's Bill of Rights?

The Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization on the planet. Yet it seems we're being told, "You may hold any beliefs you want, as long as they only influence your life at home and at church, and as long as your Catholic behavior only influences other Catholics." We serve others not because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic.

The morality of contraception isn't directly pertinent here (although it could be argued from a Catholic perspective that mandating the coverage of abortifacents is also an affront to the right to life, as mentioned in the document that kind of started everything). Regardless, whether one believes in some kind of "best practices" for sex, whether there are gray areas in the implicit guidelines of pleasure and procreation (or just pleasure, whatever), or whether it should all just be a free-for-all of anything goes, this should have no bearing on whether Catholics are free to practice their religion in the privacy of their homes or in service to the world, without government intrusion.

Craniosynostosis, Part I: Could you ask about the bump on the back of his head?

“Any questions for the pediatrician?” my husband, Wally, asked offhandedly, as he packed Joshua’s diaper bag for a 2-month wellness visit.

I flashed through my head and came up empty; yet in an effort to be a conscientious mom, I offered out, “How about the bump on the back of his head? Could you ask him if we should be concerned about it?”

It was the first wellness visit I would miss, but after dutifully attending the multitude of routine check-ups for his 20-month-old brother, Joseph, I felt okay trading an hour in the waiting room and ten minutes with the pediatrician for the opportunity to show up at work on time and reassure my coworkers that I was, once again, a functional member of the team (though not completely meeting their expectations for an energetic, rejuvenated mother, fresh from a leisurely 10-week maternity leave).
Wally sent me a quick update while I was at work: The doctor’s not concerned, since Joshua’s head is showing growth. But he’s referring us to a specialist, just in case.

I didn’t get a chance to read the pediatrician’s referral note until nearly 10 o’clock that night, still feeling dizzy from the lack of sleep that gets delivered with every new baby and trying to acclimate to the new working mom evening routine of abbreviated quality bath, stories, and bed time with our toddler and then the tedium of sanitizing bottles and breast pump parts for Joshua’s milk supply the next day.
Barely able to decipher “craniosynostosis” from the doctor’s handwriting, I managed to type it into my phone’s web browser for what I expected to be a quick Google check, all while pacing and bouncing with Joshua fussing in the Moby wrap. Everyone recognized he was an unusually unhappy baby, but easily attributed it to the half cup of coffee I gratuitously drank each morning, colic (whatever that is), anxiety from a rough birth (two months ago?), or the glaring conclusion that I felt from family, friends, and strangers alike: I just wasn’t in tune with my baby enough to soothe his needs.
Josh settled in his sling, a rare relaxed moment

As I scrolled incredulously through the images from the online search, I experienced a strange sensation of fear and dread, and yet, also relief. I recognized the elongated head, the misplaced cowlick, the broad forehead, things I had thought were just idiosyncrasies as Joshua’s head developed. Yet here they were, symptoms of something called craniosynostosis, a condition of sutures in the skull closing too soon, and not allowing the brain and head room to grow during the pivotal first year of life outside the womb.
I had a restless night, waiting to call the craniofacial specialist in the morning.

The normal sutures in a baby's head

The sagittal suture already closed in a baby with craniosynostosis and the effect on head growth