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.”