05 August 2014

A saint for us to turn to

I've sat wondering why and how could it be that God willed last week to unfold the way it did.

I mourned.  I mean truly mourned- just like the rest of my classmates, but I have no real claim to my grieving.  I certainly can't claim my grief like so many who were so much closer to Sarah Harkins and yet so many of us have mourned a great loss.  This is my attempt to process it.

A Franciscan University alumni mother of four children born and one in utero passed away, as well as her unborn baby, Cecilia.  They died due to a tragic series of events from multiple bee stings and a brain aneurysm.  You've most likely read the story because I've posted it several times on my wall this week.

Sarah and I were never actually friends.  Uh, yeah I know, and I took it really, really hard when I heard  she was rushed to the hospital and the outcome looked grim.  I cried for a week straight- no joke, and Lena often asked me why I was so sad.  She and I took many moments to pray for the Harkins family together.  I initially saw her name and thought, "I totally remember her.  I remember passing her in the halls of Marian.  I actually remember passing her on the way to and from classes and strolling past the caf'."  She lived in the same dorm as I but a lower floor and yes, I do remember her.  That's about all our earthly encounter ever was.

But something else tugged at me and then it hit me- my husband works with her husband.  When he accepted his job we were both so excited to learn that several states away there was another Catholic family like us in our now "work family".  Whenever Dan would head to the DC area I thought of them.  He had gotten together with Eric a few times and I always wondered what his wife was doing at home with her littles while he was working.  How did she handle being the wife of someone with this crazy job?  What was she like?  And I prayed for her because I know how this job can take a toll on the family.  I thought of them often and felt so connected to someone I didn't know.  I didn't realize then that I had seen her on campus until this week.  When I realized who she was I panicked- I cried- I called Dan.  He was shaken as well and we prayed.

The night of her passing Dan was out and I called him crying.  He came home and we cried together.  I felt like I lost someone so important, so connected to me.  And I have.

It is so hard to imagine what her family will be going through and how they will move past this.  How will her husband work?  How will he ever go forward from here?  Her dear children will have to adjust to a life at school without their mom, who homeschooled them.  And their littlest, Faustina- a beautiful baby with Down Syndrome who had a momma who embraced her and loved the little gift her daughter was.

And we have all asked WHY?!

Why her?

For those who've read about her this past week, she's already accomplished much.  You see, although this is barely a consolation right now, God brings beauty and grace out of tragedy.  Her death has called us all to a new fervency in our faith.  How would we be remembered if we passed away suddenly?  Life is a precious, fragile gift and we have to live it realizing just how fragile it can be.  On the way to the funeral in VA, my husband "ironically", though I think it was from the Divine, heard on the radio a sentiment posed: "Live your life today as if you're writing your own eulogy."  And there it is.

The Lord took someone incredible from this world to wake us up.  He took a humble housewife.  He gave us our modern day St Gianna to turn to.  And He wouldn't have taken her away from an ordinary family.  Imagine how much God thinks of the family she has left behind.  He never gives us more than we can handle.  In times like these it's hard to see that truth but He chooses the strong and the bold to carry on in the midst of such sadness.

Having had a terrible week with toddlers, I can attest to the grace we receive when we cast away from ourselves and look to Him.  I had multiple sugar bowl sneakings and gritty floors because the potty-training-two year old wanted sugar as a "good job" treat.  That sentence in and of itself should tell you a lot.  And the clingy baby didn't help- at all.  But I was here to clean up those messes, to pick up and snuggle and kiss the baby, to leave the laundry and help the two year old with her business.  I was here to read to the older ones.  I was here to receive their pictures and letters they made for me.  I was here to cook dinner and hug my husband and just simply be with him.  I was here.  My husband was here.  We are both here, together.  And although Dan is away for 10 days, I'm still able to physically talk to him.  Every time I've had a momentary "I'm going to lose it moment", I've begged for Sarah's intercession.  I've asked her to help me be more like our Blessed Mother- to be kind, gentle, patient.

What's more, we prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary on the day Sarah was laid to rest and the Glorious Mysteries the day after, on Sarah's birthday.  Through death comes life.  Through sorrow comes joy.  She who had such a deep devotion to Our Lady has brought us all closer to Mary through the rosary.  Her ministry and devotion to the rosary has touched us all and reminded us what is worthwhile in this earthly life.  She has brought us mothers closer to Jesus through Mary.  We can relate to her as mothers and we can now ask for her intercession.

So even though I don't understand it and am so unimaginably heartbroken and sick for her family and her husband, thank you Lord for your gift of Sarah and an awakening that has been stirred in each one of us.  Sarah, pray for us and help us here below.

"To Jesus Through Mary"
A Sarah Harkins Clay Bead

Read more here for another beautiful articulation of how Sarah touched so many lives and gave of herself.

Go here to help the family my making a donation.

22 May 2014

Our Little Man's Story

A few months ago I read my sweet little nephew's birth story and became all nostalgic wanting to re-read my little guy's….only to find out I wrote most of it but never actually published it.  So here it is, in case you care to read it :)  This is mostly for me anyway, but I love reading birth stories so here is his!

Thirty-seven weeks came- that most beloved day in an expectant mother's pregnancy- the day she knows it's almost over.  She's held her little one within her long enough for this new phase to soon begin.  It's also a day that comes and goes for many of us with not much more than the typical Braxton Hicks and maybe a few hiccups and kicks, although those aren't quite as often since that little one is pretty squished.  I knew not to expect anything that day but was excited nonetheless.  That day always means that within the next month I will be meeting this little one and I will start seeing signs that he or she is getting ready to come.

My pre-labor "getting ready" signs have been the same with all four and I pretty much knew what a certain day's emotions and energy level meant the week before I had him.  I knew this baby would be a little early because up until now, all the signs and the timeline had been the same for the other three.  I had a pretty energetic week halfway into week 37.  I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned some more.  I wiped down every wall and corner of the house with a damp cloth.  I got out all the little boy clothes we had been given and 3 little girl outfits.

I spent about 4 days nesting with a big boom of energy on that fourth day.  I made my Labor Aid and put it in the fridge.  I made a big pot of bone broth, knowing I would need that for the after-birth-shock I experience.  The day that followed brought on a ton of emotions from anxiety about having another baby to excitement to pure exhaustion and weepiness that this baby would never, ever, ever come.  Although I obviously knew this wasn't true, you just can't help but feel like that when you can't breathe and are so uncomfortable.  But I was also extra excited by my emotional state.  In the past it has meant that after that intense cleaning the emotional phase follows and then the baby follows within a few days.  That evening (it was a Friday), I remember being miserable on the couch and almost crying.  We put the older two to bed and our little Sophie stayed with us in the living room.  I was sleeping on the couch towards the end because I felt so nauseous in bed and my husband would claim the recliner with Soph, since she had been having some rough nights sleeping.  I remember complaining to him and then following that up with, "You know this baby's coming this soon!"

My best friends had arranged to have a girl come and clean for me that Saturday morning.  Yes, I already cleaned……for her as much as for baby.  I was excited since the last two days had brought on more messes from toddlers and our house would be fully set for the baby once she did a sweep through.

I lifted my head from the couch at about 8:05 am and felt "funny".  I woke Dan up knowing something was happening, although I wasn't convinced yet.  I sat up and instantly felt that pop and gush feeling I had with Sophie when my water broke.  This time I knew to call our midwife right away.  I was definitely in labor!  (I also called and cancelled our house being cleaned.  As a side note, it was a wonderful gift about 4 weeks later!)  I had about 5 minutes to collect myself, wake up the girls and tell them the baby would be coming, and switch into some comfier clothes.  I called my sister and parents and they came by soon after.  By the time they arrived 15 minutes later, I was in full-blown labor with contractions coming so fast and hard they couldn't really be timed, yet in between each one my husband and I would be laughing and hugging, so I knew it wasn't quite time yet.  My labor went on like this for an hour- which is "long" for me.  I also experienced some pretty intense back labor and let me tell you, back labor is not a joke!  My doula helped me ease the pain and my husband and I were able to turn the baby during a contraction so he was no longer posterior.  (Thank you spinning babies!)

At one point I became so exhausted I just couldn't go on.  I have this certain look I apparently make, a look that my husband describes as the "it's time to push" look- although I rarely believe it's time because it hasn't been that long ;).  With a few sips of my Labor Aid that I've made for laboring with the last two, I was able to push through the pain and exhaustion and continue.  Seriously, that is some amazing stuff!  Homeopathy also helped and since we knew how quick and intense my labors had been in the past, we were continually giving remedies that helped with my after-shock.

I remember having my head on my husband's shoulder as I stood in our room, arms around him as I whispered that I was going to start pushing.  He caught Sophie last time and was planning on catching this baby, but I needed him with me.  The birth pool was all set but freezing cold because for some reason the hot water wouldn't turn on.  I realized I would never get my water birth- again- and realized quickly that I had loved birthing Sophie standing up and that it felt good to stand this time too.  I felt so connected to my husband, as we wrapped our arms around each other and he talked me through the pain.  So there I stood, my doula behind me massaging my back, my sister and Lena looking on, gently encouraging me and my midwife ready to catch the baby.  With three strong but slow pushes he was out.  I scooped him up and pressed him to my chest.  He was quiet and calm like all my babies have been until they realize they're out. Once he caught up with the intensity of what happened he started crying.  Wasn't he just sleeping peacefully two hours ago?

I crawled in bed with my little Marc Robert and snuggled and let him nurse as he started to coo and make baby noises, realizing he was out.  He cried a little but was quickly comforted by nursing and hearing Dan and Lena's voices.  Before I let him nurse, I laid him on my chest to see if what others had said was true- that a baby would find it's mother's breast and begin nursing on their own.  He did it too! It was pretty cool.

Soon after I delivered the placenta my horrible throwing up everywhere and "shockiness" began.  By now my husband's amazing at helping me through this and is such a strong and calming person, as I really am not "grounded or connected".  He already had bone broth on the stove for me- that along with more Labor Aid and some herbal tinctures seem to be what helps me the most.  I had a pretty rough recovery, but was so blessed to have Dan or Lena right by my side the whole time so that every time I threw up I could unlatch and hand the baby to one of them, knowing he was cozy and safe with them as well.

Recovery was rough the first week, mostly because he came so quickly, but Dan took off two weeks so that I could heal and bond with Marc.  That time was so precious to me and I'm so blessed to have such selfless and loving husband.

Lena was immediately drawn to her little brother, and he seemed to take a liking to her as well.  Avila was a bit reserved but warmed up later that day.  She and him are now best-buds.  Sophie, oh Sophie- 18 months later and she is still smmmmoooooothering him with hugs and kisses until he panics.  I like to describe her as gently intense ;)

Eighteen months later and we have loved every single minute having a little boy in our life.  What a difference it has been raising a little boy already!  He has 4 mommas and loves to walk around, chest sticking out, strutting his stuff and doing everything daddy does.  He now sits down on our concrete steps to check his shoes before getting in the car because he saw daddy putting his shoes on on that step two months ago.  It's so stinkin' cute it's ridiculous.  He also has his own play tools now that look like daddy's.  If he sees him or any other guy doing "guy things", he rushes to be a man.  It's so programmed in him.  Yet he's such a sweet daddy to the girls' dolls too and exclaimed, "Me daddy!" as his kissed one and rocked it last week.  :::sigh:::  I love him.  We all love him.  So thank you, Lord, for our sweet 18 month old Marc Robert!

07 January 2014

A little tidbit: Ideas to shape a generous child

I sit here, seeing that I haven't written in quite some time and yet I'm about to give some parenting advice with a glass of wine in hand.  Ironic, no?

It's been one of those days.  Oh, you know the days of which I speak… and yet here I am, hoping to share with you a little discovery I have made.

Let me set the stage for you:  "Hey mommy, can sister and I share my broken candy cane?  I know you already said 'no' to candy for the day, but if I share it and take the smaller piece (it was a very tiny piece <3), I'll let sister have the bigger part".  Sister replies: "Or I could take her bigger half and then we can both take another candy cane and break that, and then I'll have the bigger half of that also".

What the what?!  I burst into tears.

I ran to the hubs and cried.  He chuckled.  I felt like I was failing.  I agonized over this all day.  I knew there was something we could do better as parents, but what?  That night I lay in bed just torturing myself the way we mothers do.  I prayed and begged God to show me a way to show our children generosity and caring for others.  At 2 am I popped up in bed.  Yes, popped!  I scared the hubs and I still can't decide if his look towards me was terrified or utterly annoyed.  Either way, I woke him up and explained my idea. I knew the Holy Spirit had nudged me and I was eager to listen.

Have you ever punished your child and thought any of these thoughts:
This isn't working!
They don't give a darn about this punishment and it's a waste of time.
I think I'm more upset about punishing them than they are about being punished.
Have I gone too far?

If you're anything like the hubs and I, you don't like to use physical punishment and yelling makes you miserable and is rarely effective.  But what is the alternative?  Love and give hugs?  Sure!  But, there must be a middle ground, in my humble opinion.  They can't get off scott-free every time and need "training", although I hate that word.  Anyone have a better word here???

I don't know if I'm right but here is what is finally working for us!

I realized that my daughter needed a good lesson in caring about others' feelings and it was about time she got a lesson in the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Now, every time there is a disagreement or whatever it may be, if it is not an action founded in love and charity, they pull a slip of paper from an envelope and do as it says.  Yes, this does stand in place of "go to your room", "sit in a corner", "you have blank taken away", etc.

Here's what ours read:

Draw a picture of you and the person you hurt and give it to them.

Give a hug to the person you hurt.

Choose a chore to do.

Pick up three things out of place that would help me out.

Say a Hail Mary with the person you hurt.

Do something nice for the person you hurt.  
Make sure it's something you know they'd appreciate.

FREE PASS: Can I give you a hug?

FREE PASS: Draw a picture of how you feel.

FREE PASS: Have 5 minutes of quiet time (of your choice).

The idea behind this is to turn away from our inclination to defend ourselves and think of someone else.  I like to have them choose the chore or things to pick up so they have a say.  And I want them to have a say in their lessons on virtue so they feel respected and like they are partly in control.  I think so much of the time the arguing with a 3, 4 or 5 year old would come from either side trying to be in control, instead of trying to see the other's point of view.  The free passes are just that: they (I hope) let the child who was uncharitable realize that I know their feelings, however wrong or mean, are valid and very real to them.  They don't have to explain them and they are free to walk away from this one and cool off.  The pictures I get are sooo funny.  It's hard not to laugh sometimes.  But it is working.  They are honest with me about their feelings and are very open when they talk to me about what happened.  They are learning they can trust us and tell us anything.  This alone is very important to us.  Our daughters are realizing that they are listened to and that we try to understand them.
And, yes, they are becoming more generous, loving individuals.

And so this wine I mentioned earlier…..I have a two year old.  Enough said.  :)

Please feel free to share ideas you have or writing down other ideas for slips of paper to pull from.