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At our house, breakfast is one of those events that happens every day with no fail, right after the kids wake up and stagger downstairs. Still clad in their pajamas, bed head and all, the kids mostly fend for themselves, rummaging through the kitchen for their usual. Sometimes I intervene and push a fruit or egg, or help someone with something high up, but mostly, everyone is doing their own thing with my voice in the background (“Please get a plate. Don’t leave the knife in the butter. Do you have a hair tie for your hair – the peanut butter is getting all over the ends…”). From start to finish, maybe fifteen minutes. Twenty if someone’s particularly distracted or determined to whip up something fancy.

One day, after consulting the iPad for the day’s weather (“Ok guys, today is a sweater, fall coat, runners kind of day.”), the idea of clicking over to EWTN for the day’s readings floated in my mind. I was already trying to see when in the busy day something like that could be squeezed in, but had so far come up with a blank. I looked across the table at the kids and wondered if now would be a good time… and I chickened out.

I’m not sure how many times I chickened out after the idea presented itself.

“Winter coat, guys.” And nope. I am not going to read today’s Mass readings.

“You’ll be fine with just a hoodie today, everyone.” Nope. Not reading them.

One day, I didn’t chicken out. What’s the worse that could happen if I read some readings as they were eating breakfast? They all run screaming? Unlikely. The don’t listen? Probably. But maybe they’ll catch something. Maybe.

So I did it. I told everyone to feel free to keep eating but to try and stay put for a bit and listen (as opposed to get up and microwave their milk right at that moment). It took about… thirty seconds? No one ran screaming. Bonus.

I’ll take it. We did it again the next day. And the next.

We’ve been trying this for a few months now, with gaps due to forgetting and laziness here and there. I have hope that it might stick. It seems to start discussions that we would otherwise not have. They are hearing pieces of the Gospel that they would otherwise not hear. Their minds wander to Jesus’ life for a few precious seconds in their busy day. Seems like a small step in the right direction.

“Let the children come to me, and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” – Matthew 19:14

Our second daughter is eight. Eight is old. (At least, at our house it is.) And, eight? Eight is great!

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It means someone that you can send to the craft cupboard to “upgrade” the Jesse Tree ornaments, mostly by themselves and unsupervised. Ok, maybe a bit supervised.

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It means being able to reach the Jesse Tree above the piano without help.

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It means being able to start muddling through the missal during Sunday Mass. To muddle through seems to be defined by the Mirriam-Webster dictionary as “to achieve a degree of success without much planning or effort.” Tell me about it. I’m finding that doing a quick run through the missal before Mass greatly increases the chances of Missal Success and decreases the Great Sadness Caused by Missal Failure and Confusion. But maybe this is just my daughter.

It means being able to follow along with the hymns using the hymnals. Even if it takes almost the entire song in order to find the number in the book.

It still means needing to be reminded to be reverent by kneeling up or standing up straight at Mass, to listen and not get distracted, but it seems to mean not needing to be shushed as much. And she doesn’t throw down the hymnal, run down the aisle or need to be taken to the foyer. Praise. The. Lord.

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It means a more advanced version of the Faith and Life book that her little siblings are using. This yellow book is for kids in grade three. Smaller type, more detail, wonderful artwork.

It means a small session with Mama or Daddy after bedtime prayers to work through a simple examination of conscience before going to sleep. I was kind of hoping this would work itself out without any supervision – along the lines of “Ok. Don’t forget to examine your conscience before going to sleep.” But it worked just as well as “Ok. Don’t forget to brush your teeth before going to sleep.” They seemed to need a bit more hand holding and instruction before they could a) do it themselves when prompted, and b) develop the habit and remember to do it without prompting.

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It also means that they’re not likely to rough-house beside the ridiculously breakable Advent Wreath Situation and break the candleholders. No, that would be the six-year old. In cahoots with the five-year old.

Sigh.

Everyone has always told me to cherish these moments when the kids are little because it goes fast. And boy am I ever finding that it does. It goes very fast.

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Saint John Bosco, image from saintbosco.org

Much more difficult that remembering to read Bible stories,
much more difficult than finding Advent candles in storage,
much more difficult than teaching littles how to genuflect,
much, much more difficult…
(but maybe way, way more important)
… is being patient with my kids when they mess up.

I’m not talking about firm vs lax parenting, or having vs not having boundaries, or following through with proper consequences vs not. I’m talking about treating that little person with all the love that God has poured into me, with the patience and mercy that God has shown me, all the love that I am capable of giving, but really really not wanting to right this very minute. Not right now. Not while I’m so angry and frustrated and tired…

Sigh.

So many saints have, time and time again, reminded us that yelling in anger doesn’t really help a situation improve, doesn’t really motivate a little person (or any of us) to do better. In this post, Saint John Bosco reminds us that “there must be no hostility in our minds, no contempt in our eyes, no insult on our lips.” It doesn’t help: the hostility, the contempt, the insults. And really, if others treated us that way, we would feel horrible. And it doesn’t help.

Among the more powerful ways I can bring my children to Jesus is to show them in my face, His face: just how much He loves them. When they see me controlling my temper, or apologizing when I cross the line, they remember. On the other hand, when they see that time and time again, that this is how Mama gets things done when it’s “important,” then I will find a ten-year old speaking to her baby brother that way, when it’s “important.” Unless I work hard to curb it in myself, I might find myself in a horrible household where yelling is the main mode of discourse: a situation that will partly be of my own making.

God calls us to treat the littlest as we would treat Him. I try and I pray. Maybe you can pray for me, too. It’s such a humiliating and slow process for my pride to take, but he promises he will help and I have hope that, in time, it will get better. My path is littered with His reminders and I will keep on trying.

Must remember, St. John Bosco says:
no hostility in our minds,
no contempt in our eyes,
no insult on our lips

Difficult, but worthwhile.

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Right before bedtime, after the kids are in pajamas and all the teeth have been brushed, there’s some time for reading books. Sometimes they choose. Sometimes we choose. While the reading kids are now off in their own corner with “big kid” books, the non-readers (or the not quite reading) are still willing to snuggle and listen to a story or two.

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Sometimes I choose this book. I say that I’m only going to read just one chapter.

Our Heavenly Father is actually a grade one religion textbook, from a series called “Faith and Life” that is popular with many homeschoolers. The kids don’t seem to mind, and I find that I can simply read it without having to paraphrase it to make it more engaging and understandable. The level works well for my current SK and grade one little persons. Each chapter is pretty short and is accompanied by a beautiful image.

Sometimes it’s the first time they’re hearing it, but sometimes the kids know the story already. Where did they learn it? From us, from school, from the nice people who run the Time with God programme at the parish, from Mass itself. It’s neat to see them get excited when they put it all together, all these great stories that form our faith from different parts of their life, from different people in they know.

“Read the next one!”
“You mean, ‘Please read the next one.'”
“Please read the next one?”
“For sure.”
“And the one after that?”
“Maybe.”

Monsignor Zimmer recently mentioned genuflecting toward the Tabernacle, “the dwelling place of Jesus in our midst,” in one of the recent bulletins. He explains, “This simple gesture of putting the right knee to the floor is a sign of faith and respect for Christ present in the mystery of the Eucharist.”

1. Teach by example.
Our one-(almost-two)-year old, who we haven’t “taught” yet, who I supposed has just seen us all doing it, randomly drops to his knees with great vigour as soon as we enter the church doors. He does it without notice and I will suddenly feel a violent yank downward. I usually react by trying to yank him back up. He usually reacts by jumping downward again, this time with more feeling. Rinse, lather, repeat. One day, after watching our little dance, a kind gentleman pointed out, “He’s genuflecting!” Oh!

Some of the older kids will need reminding. Sometimes, just seeing you genuflecting is reminder enough, but other times…

2. Give a heads up.
In the car ride over? Maybe as you’re walking up the walkway before opening the doors? Or right when you enter? Again right before you leave? “Don’t forget to genuflect toward the Tabernacle!”

3. Talk about it.
Jesus, really present in the Eucharist, is the King of kings. These days, kings and queens find themselves in our lives through the fairy tales that we read. They come alive in the stories and I find that this is a good time to talk about the signs of respect that we pay to our Lord.

As far as I can tell, the habit of genuflecting, like any other habit we are trying to help our children form, may take years. Or rather, it seems to be taking years. I pray for the grace to be patient and hopeful.

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Things that one might do today for the greater glory of God:

1. Empty the dishwasher.

2. Take out the smelly garbage.

3. Cheerfully register for Fall extra-curriculars. Or cheerfully fail at registering for Fall extra-curriculars.

4. Not lose one’s temper at the child who tries to enter the refrigerator.

5. Not lose one’s temper at the child who is yelling at the other child trying to enter the refrigerator.

6. Smile at the neighbours walking their dogs, despite being shy.

7. Wash the school lunch thermos line-up before they get crusty.

8. Listen attentively to the after-school stories.

9. Make dinner.

10. De-crustify the high chair.

(As far as I can tell, in order to do something for the greater glory of God, one turns to God and says, “God? I think you would like me to do this and I’m doing this for your greater glory.” And I think there are bonus points if you really don’t want to do it.)

Good days, Bad days
Two days ago, I had one of those Terribly Bad Days. Or rather, my toddler had a Terribly Bad Day (reason: unknown) and there’s nothing like a tantrummy toddler to send your mood spiralling South. Nothing went right. By the end of the day, my nerves were a wreck and I was snarling at everyone. Blech. I went to bed with my eyes narrowed at God, praying, “God? Where are you? What are you thinking?” Yesterday, on the other hand: the sky was blue, the toddler was smiling (reason: unknown) and everything fell easily into place. Same me, same toddler, same God. Same God who loves me and my toddler more than I can ever imagine, as much two days ago as he did yesterday. Some days are good days, some days are bad days – and we keep on keeping on. Blest be the name of the Lord.

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“What is this maternal love? It’s a love that sees beyond my failures and mistakes to the good in me. It’s a love that is able to see who I really am, and what I could be. It’s a love that is willing to sacrifice for me, so that, I, too, can come to believe that possibility. The experience of maternal, spiritual love cuts right through the subconscious fear that can lurk in hearts, that deep down, there is something un-loveable about me. Maternal love brings the other to life and sets him or her free to join the living chain of heroic love.”

“We’ve come to learn that this spiritual love is not about doing more but about allowing oneself to first be moved in delight by the good of the other, and then outwardly manifesting that delight. This idea can sound simple enough, but do we truly life in this way? Do we love like this? Are we open to receive another person, allowing our hearts to be moved by some goodness we see and notice in them – such as beauty, strength, vulnerability, generosity? And then do we mirror that back to them, before acting, giving advice or stepping in to help, so that they experience being confirmed in their own goodness?

The emphasis is so important, otherwise the other person may feel as if I love them only because I am good (or because I “have to” since I am his or her parent), and not because of any goodness I see within them that is moving me. It is the goodness of the other which is the cause of my delight.

This true affirmation of another is not always easy. It takes faith, courage and fortitude. Sometimes I have to work to let go of myself in order to be open to receive the other and allow my heart to be moved in delight. Sometimes I see the beauty, but it takes the other person a very long time to see what I’ve seen in them. It takes commitment to consistently look beyond repeated mistakes and to love another with constancy, perseverance, courage and delight. But it’s worth it.”

– Mother Agnes Mary, SV, Superior General of the Sisters of Life

(I randomly picked up a brochure from the Sisters of Life in Toronto from the lobby of the Newman Centre, at the heart of the University of Toronto, to pass the time. I read the letter at the front from Mother Agnes Mary, SV, their Superior General, and it was just too wonderful not to share. As a mom, it made me feel like a superhero, able to blast “right through the subconscious fear that can lurk in hearts, that deep down, there is something un-loveable” about them. Ka-POW! Pretty cool.)

It was after bedtime. My dramatic five-year old was surrounded by the clothes of the day and the pajamas she was supposed to get into. She threw her arms wide apart and exclaimed, “Mama! I am going to clean the whole house for you. That will be so hard. The WHOLE house!”

Just to give you an idea of what inspired her big plans, this was similar to what we might have looked like at the time:

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The ceramic frog is shocked, SHOCKED at the amount of dirty dishes left in the sink and on the counter…

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When it gets warmer, we’ll be able to wear these off-season shoes. Meanwhile, we’ll just use them to decorate the dining room…

So, yes. She may have been onto to something. But…

“For sure, when it’s time to clean the whole house, you can do it for me. Right now, I need you to get into your pajamas.”

She was tired. It was late. She wanted to clean the whole house and it wasn’t going to happen right at that moment. She was probably cold, too, since her pajamas were still there on the floor. She was disappointed. I was not very gentle. There were a few tears.

Sometimes, I’m on top of my temper and manage to stay patient and gentle. Other times, not so much. It’s tough. It’s always something at bedtime. They’re tired. I’m tired. It’s easy to slip into a habit of putting them to bed on a sour note, having witnessed dreary reruns of nobody’s favourite, Mama Loses Her Temper.

Sigh.

Jesus, I didn’t do so great tonight. Please bless my little family. Please give me the grace to love my children more, to know what to do. If I get to have the gift of tomorrow, please shine your light on these foggy bits and help me remember you right when trouble brews.

God loves our children more than we can ever imagine, and our journey (complete with slip-ups) is part of their journey. We pray and resolve to do better, resolve to be readier for the craziness that bedtime brings. And try again tomorrow.

And maybe walk into that little girl’s room after lights out for one last kiss and whisper, “I love you. I’m sorry I lost my temper.”

The lovely folks over at SaintlySages have been doing a series of posts on kindness from Frederick William Faber’s Kindness. This often-tired sometimes-tending-to-grumpy mama appreciates the heads up as we head into the craziness of the school year, when there is a temptation to steam-roll over our kids as we Try To Get Things Done Just Put Your Shoes On Fer Cryin’ Out Loud. Got to remember to do things kindly. Even if we’re late. Even when we’ve made a big mess. Even if the baby is crying. Jesus, please, please help me be kind.

“Here is a grand material for sanctification. Nevertheless, such materials are hard to work up in practice. It is weary work cleaning old bricks to build a new house with. These are difficulties, but we have got to reach heaven, and must push on.”

Yes. Sigh. We must push on.

A quick search revealed that Father Faber’s book is available online (see right margin for links to various formats). I will add reading it to my list.

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Ya think you’re loud? I’ll show you loud…

After the Palm Sunday Mass, a lovely lady in front of us turned around and proclaimed our son A Very Well Behaved Boy. I was unable to respond graciously right away since I was busy picking up my jaw from the kneeler. Was she serious? He must have poked the back of her head with his seventeen palm leaves hundreds of times. Maybe thousands. And that was in the three seconds before I had to confiscate them. This boy? The one who treated his allotted four square foot of pew real estate as a jungle gym? Unless of course I was firmly holding him on my lap, in my role as the Most Grumpy Child Restraint Ever In the Whole World? Whose goal in life is to balance the Gather book on the pew in front of us (like the big people do), only to have it invariably slam down to the floor? We quickly exchanged stories about our challenges with squirmy kids, exchanged encouraging smiles and parted ways. I looked at my son’s toothy grin and sighed.

Today as I joined the usual suspects who hang with me in the foyer at the back of the church, each parent-kid pair engaged in their own shushing strategies, I didn’t feel as stressed as I usually do. When it was time to exchange peace, I gathered up the courage to give the others an encouraging smile and nod – a bit tense, a bit stressed, but encouraging – as if to say, hang in there. I know what you’re going through. No worries. Everyone smiled and nodded back.

I tend to be so preoccupied with my kids and their invariable antics that I forget that many, many other parents are going through the same thing. It’s SUCH a relief when someone says something encouraging and I’m trying to share the love and give my own little smiles of encouragement.

Having an eight-year old that I haven’t had to take to the foyer in years also gives me some hope that things will turn out ok. Maybe one day I won’t be intimately familiar with the selection of flyers at the back and those lovely deep turquoise radiators. And who can forget St. Clement and St. Joseph?

See you in the foyer!

I wish I could head over to the mall (since it’s too late for online delivery now, for those of us procrastinators) and buy these things for my family. Actually, they’re mostly for me, but I’m sure my family would really appreciate them.

  • A replacement heart for myself, of the Meek and Humble design
  • An Even More Magic Eraser than the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, the faster-than-the-speed-of-sound kind that erases harsh words in mid-air, before ear arrival
  • Or even better, a Minty Fresh Harsh Words Mouthwash (safe for daily use) that obliterates harsh words and reformats harsh tones even before they leave my mouth
  • Some sort of a Generosity Booster Energy Drink, preferrably Ice Wine or coffee-flavoured, that can leave me cheerfully able to play tic-tac-toe, lego, war, read books, and otherwise able to sit at rug-level for hours on end
  • Patience pills
  • Bulk-sized box of Smiles
  • A large, gold statement necklace and burgundy tights (Actually these can be wrapped. I’m just adding these just in case.)

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Look at him. That man can do anything.

Addendum
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Actually. Here’s the man that can do anything. (Not Robert Powell, silly. Jesus.)

In between refereeing whispered arguments about who gets to sit beside me, or arranging coats that invariably slip from the pew to the floor, I try my very best to catch as much of what is said during the Mass. Sometimes we’re lucky and I get entire sentences — paragraphs even. Today was particularly tricky. But in a rare moment of peace, the phrase all the angels and saints laser-beamed into my mind and stuck there.

… all the angels and saints…

Hello, all the angels and saints, I’ll be needing your help in the next twenty minutes or so… actually, forget minutes. Let’s say years.

… that You should enter under my roof…

Under my roof… Literally and spiritually, Lord, it’s a big mess in there. A big mess.

… my soul shall be healed.

Sigh.

In the silence(ish) after having received Jesus, the heads around us were bowed in prayer. I pointed this out to my wiggly three-year old and hoped, with another deep sigh, that my soul was indeed in the process of being healed.

Jesus, please be with my wiggly, loud and messy family. Please help me to know what you would like me to do today.

Father Zimmer lead a prayer for the souls of the faithful departed and I remembered my husband’s grandparents and a handful of friends who had died recently.

As we were bundling up, hunting for mitts and tuques under the kneeler, my eldest daughter smiled and whispered, “Thank you for letting me buy a Missal.” She had been collecting coins from her Daddy’s pockets (with his permission) for a while since she heard they were going on sale. Very generously, she let her sister look through it for most of the Mass.

Three out of five of us remembered to make the Sign of the Cross at the end of Mass. One out of five of us remembered to genuflect to the Tabernacle without being told. Two or three out of five of us remembered to return the kind greetings of our smiling fellow parishoners. All of us made it safely to the van without running into oncoming traffic. Are these good stats? Bad stats? I never know.

After we were all strapped in, I said, “Guardian angels?” and almost everyone enthusiastically responded, “Pray for us!”

… all the angels and saints… Please pray for my wiggly family.

Coming out of our Summer family blog break to share: the blog SaintlySages has such a great post on meekness.

I hope you’re enjoying your Summer! Hopefully we’ll see some of you at the St. Clement Summer Camp, coming up soon on August 20.


“Being still and doing nothing are two very different things.” -Mr. Han in Karate Kid

Do you find yourself with a wiggly toddler on your lap or beside you during Mass? Here are a few things to call their attention to:

1. Announce what the colour of the vestments will be. Ta-dah! I told you they would be purple!
2. Wonder out loud about whether it’s going to be Father Zimmer or Father Richard or a visitor.
3. Point out the readers about to read a story to all of us from the big red book. Let’s listen to their story.
4. Point out the cantor who will teach us a song. She’ll sing it first, then she’ll point to us when it’s our turn to sing.
5. This one’s tricky but super cool: Paraphrase the readings/Gospel on the fly. Jesus is saying that he’s the Good Shepherd. We are the sheep. He takes good care of us. Extra bonus points: Read the readings/Gospel beforehand and you won’t need to paraphrase on the fly.
6. When the bell rings, whisper that the Most Important Part is coming up.
7. Point out the rest of the congregation kneeling quietly for the Most Important Part. Maybe let’s put away all our stuff and pay attention to what Father is saying. Did I mention that this is the Most. Important. Part?
8. Call their attention to the miracle of the the bread and wine being changed to the Body and Blood of Jesus.
9. Point out the rest of the congregation kneeling quietly as they get ready to receive Jesus.
10. Call their attention to the tabernacle. It’s surrounded by many, many red candles to remind us that Jesus is really there.

Other things to point out
Depending on where you’re sitting, you’ll be able to point out: the crucifix, the tabernacle, statues of Our Lady, St. Michael, St. Clement and St. Joseph (if you’re hanging out in the foyer with a wiggly kid like we are), a station of the cross that’s near you (if you’re sitting near the sides), the stained-glass windows, the flowers, the candles, the organ, the piano…

Challenges will continue
Pointing out these things doesn’t guarantee that the kids will be quiet and still. Well, maybe for a little bit. But we really haven’t found the magic bullet for quiet and stillness at Mass for toddlers and pre-schoolers. What I am hoping is that the kids slowly grow in their understanding of the Mass: why they are there, who they are there for. I’m hoping that when they’re a bit older, they will be quiet and still at the right parts for the right reasons.

“At the Last Supper, on the night he was betrayed, our Savior instituted the Eucharistic sacrifice of his Body and Blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a Paschal banquet ‘in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.'” -Catechism of the Catholic Church


Cadbury Not-so-Mini-looking Eggs

My husband came home from the grocery store looking very pleased with himself. Easter chocolates were on clearance and he bought more than a few “family”-sized bags. Was he worried that the four bags of goodies from Grandma and Grandpa’s house weren’t going to last the fifty days of Easter? Or were the combined one-two punch of the words chocolate and sale too much to resist? In any case, I didn’t give him my usual do-we-really-need-a-CASE-of-whatever-you’re-currently-holding look. A) I’ve come to learn that my husband is a pantry-stocking expert, b) Easter is a time for earnest celebrating. Jesus is risen! Alleluia! Bring on the chocolate!

Well, maybe not quite bring on the chocolate. Maybe judiciously parcel out the chocolate. Say, five Mini Eggs at a time.

“It’s STILL Easter!” my kids squealed with delight, pleasantly suprised that they were being handed FIVE crunchy little chocolate eggs after lunch.
“What’s Easter?” asked the ever-quizzing mom.
“Jesus is not dead anymore!” yelled the two-year old.
“Jesus is alive again!” screamed the three-year old.
“Can I have another egg?” someone whispered, wondering just how far to take this wonderful season.
“You mean, please may I have another egg.”
“Please may I have another egg?”
“Sure. Daddy bought lots.”

Happy Easter, readers!


The Resurrection of Christ, Bartolome Esteban Murillo

On Monday mornings, our kids and I have been trying out something new: daily Mass. At 8 o’clock in the morning, instead of heading out the corner to wait for the school bus, we pile into the van and drive to St. Clement for the 8:15 Mass. By the time the Mass ends, we have just enough time to drive to school for 9am to drop-off the school-agers. Because it’s shorter, my kids call it a “little Mass.”

Super nice people
The regulars at daily Mass are very sweet. This is particularly good since I travel with a bunch of kids who may or may not be very quiet or behaved. We have our days. Everyone is very forgiving of our antics and help us herd in and out of the Communion line. Fellow parishoners have even helped me with wanderers, throwers of stuffed animals and droppers of hymnals.

A pew all to yourself
I love empty pews – more room for the diaper bag, the coats, the kids, me.

A good view
Because the sight lines are fantastic and the kids are more relaxed, I’m finding it’s a great time for them to see and experience and learn more about the Mass. It also provides extra practice time for things like sitting nicely and being quiet, genuflecting to Jesus the Tabernacle, bowing to the altar, and getting blessed during Communion.

Getting to go
When one of kids say “Mama, why do we have to something or another,” I automatically respond, “We don’t have to, we get to!” I know eh, what a mom thing to say. Well, this mom is getting to go to an extra little daily Mass once a week. It’s been surprisingly painless and possible. It’s been surprisingly pleasant. I think it might become a welcome part of starting the week.

From Father Zimmer in the bulletin:

March Break is upon us. School is out from Monday March 12th to Friday March 16th. Parents, we encourage you to bring the kids to Weekday Mass as a family Lenten observance. Early risers can try the 8:15 Mass on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. Slug-a-beds can aim for the 7:00 p.m. Mass on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Try dropping in to the Adoration Chapel for a quick prayer with the family at any time of the day.


Never too early to learn how to work…

The Lord is kind and merciful. Me? Not so much.

At the end of a long day, my five-year old offered to carry a small bag of corn flour down to the pantry for me. I gave her a smile of relief and was inwardly rejoicing at such an unprompted, kind gesture. Moments later, I heard desperate cries of “Mama! Help us! We need HELP!” from the bottom of the basement stairs. I ran as fast as I could, imagining the worst. I found two girls, seemingly swimming in half a bag of corn flour, on the basement rug. Apparently, my five-year old spied her three-year old sister and called out, “Here! Catch!” Needless to say, their plan didn’t work. They actually looked like they were having a blast, finger-painting patterns, enjoying the feeling of soft flour between their fingers.

Stop. This is what I should have done first.

Pray. I should have tried this, too.

Love. If I had tried the first two, I might have been inspired with a creative solution that would have: a) cleaned the mess, and b) taught the girls something important.

Instead, the Grumpy Train had left the station and the stresses of a long day fell hard on my shoulders. I snarled at my flour-covered offspring and stomped off to get the vacuum. They sat penitent nearby as I vacuumed up the mess, scowling, thinking about consequences. Then, I stopped. And I prayed. Jesus, can you help me, please? My shoulders relaxed and I took a good look at the offenders. How can this end better?

“Here,” I said, offering one of them the vacuum. Making sure I removed the edge from my voice, I added, “When we make a mess, we say sorry and we clean it up.” The Corn Flower Duo apologized in unison and then took turns grappling with our vacuum. I walked away, sighing.

Stop. Pray. Love. It always works. It always works.


The school bus: our big yellow morning motivation

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a morning person. Before 8:30am, our house is like a circus. A slightly groggy circus. We can do bedtime prayers. We can do Grace before meals. We’ve even been known to say the Angelus now and then. But noticeably absent in our prayer toolbox was any sort of prayer to start the day. It occured to me that it was kind of weird to rush around the house in the morning, and completely ignore God, who was surely there, pouring out His graces to help us start the day.

An extra minute
It’s challenging to get out to the bus at this time of year, what with all the winter apparel. One particularly grumpy morning, after having wrestled particularly unwilling children into their stuff, I sat down on the foyer floor. I looked up at four pairs of eyes. I imagine that they were all waiting for me to say, Ok folks, let’s go to the bus. Instead of saying that, I looked at the stove clock and found that we were a minute early. And then, randomly, I said, Let’s say a Hail Mary. Confused, they obliged. Or rather, the older ones obliged. The younger ones did not run away. Then, I said Does any one have anything they want to ask Jesus for help today? And someone did, so they asked.

Children remember
Since that first day, the kids haven’t let me forget this little exercise. With their help, I’ve managed to keep faithful to a morning prayer for days and days, which is much better than never.

Say Good Morning to the bus driver
I try to remind the kids to say Good Morning to the bus driver, and not walk by him like he’s part of the bus. It’s tricky because, frankly, he does kind of blend in and they have so many other thoughts on their mind as they climb on. I suppose it’s even trickier to remember to say Good Morning to God, who is invisible. Thankfully, Mary has come to our rescue.

Father Zimmer writes in the bulletin:

Parents, both mother and father, are the first teachers of their children in the ways of faith. Be aware of what your children are learning at school. Find out the focus of their religious education programme. Sit down with your children discuss the things of faith. Go over the prayers of the Mass with them. Support the work of their religion teacher and of course, pray with them everyday.

The post-school huddle
When school is over and the crew tumbles in through my front door, looking like astronauts in full winter gear, the scene is absolute chaos. Everyone has a problem. Everyone has to pee. Everyone’s socks are wet. I’m overheating. They’re overheating. Everyone is grumpy. I say a quick and desperate prayer for the strength to not flush anyone down the powder room toilet, growl out reminders to the big kids, peel the little kids and carry them over the puddles. We persevere and, at some point, I can gather my kids to me, give them hugs and direct them all to the kitchen table for a snack.

Snack is brilliant
Snack is when everyone is gathered around, desperately hungry. Snack is the time for asking how everyone’s day went, when the little kids get to rehearse the line they’ve been practicing to say to their older siblings, “How was your daaaaaaaay?” And because I’ve forced myself to STOP and SIT DOWN and DO NOTHING BUT LISTEN (super difficult, let me tell you), the kids can open up. Sometimes they need coaxing. Sometimes they need very specific questions. Who did you play with at recess? What did so-and-so have for lunch today? Did anything sad happen to someone? How did the spelling test go? Sometimes the stories fall out like Niagara Falls. But mere minutes after it starts, snack is over and everyone rushes to their next activity. Sometimes I’m too grumpy or busy and I squander those precious few minutes that I have to listen to their stories – which is a shame.

Teaching moments
When I don’t take the time to listen to my childrens’ stories, I lose the chance to hear about their victories and their struggles. It’s near impossible to provide guidance regarding the trickier things in life (like why boys keep kicking soccer balls at you, or why it’s important to say hello to the caretaker) when I don’t really know what’s going on in their lives. So in our day, snack is key. (Dinner can work like this, too.)

One-on-one at bedtime
After prayers and before we leave the kids in their beds for the night, there are a few seconds available when you have the full and undivided attention of a cosy, warm child tucked into bed. What are these seconds for? For us, they’re for our most important messages: I love you, or thank your for all your help with X, or I’m sorry I yelled at you for X. At the end of the day, we want them to know how much we care for them, however terribly the day went. Sometimes, this is when their biggest questions come out, too. Do you love me even when I do something bad? my five-year old asked some months ago. Of course, I do! I love you always.

What is this?

Here a volunteer parishoner at St. Clement shares her personal experiences as her young family tries to keep the Catholic faith alive in their homes, living out the promises of their Baptism. Thank you for stopping in and be sure to share some of your stories as well!

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