Tuesday, March 24, 2020

One Candle for Joy (Beatrice)

For nine wonderful months I was pregnant with you.

I was so happy and so eager to meet you the entire time, my little one. Whether waking or sleeping I carried within me a lovely glowing light: you were going to be in my arms and I couldn't wait. In all honesty, this is the first time I have felt that way in a pregnancy. I usually feel comfortable but rarely do I focus on the person who is Going To Be. It's so hard to even conceptualize it - a new person! in my belly! But maybe by the fourth go around I finally got it and it made me so deeply joyful.

Early in my pregnancy with you, I felt the Holy Spirit direct me to seek out hospital care for you and I, instead of the traditional midwife and birth center. I could not tell you why, but it was a very strong message. So I did. It was a big change, but I trusted God that the still small voice was His and despite leading me into unknown waters, I had to follow. Very early on, there were some concerns...that you maybe had something wrong with you. You didn't - we would've loved you if you had. The day of your ultrasound was very shocking! We all had decided you were a boy. Poor David was deeply disappointed and cried. I think the ultrasound tech was worried that we were ALL that sad, but I certainly wasn't - and Zuzu certainly wasn't! I am glad that we gave David a long time to prepare for the reality of three sisters...(though truth be told, he adores you deeply now and never mentions wanting a brother instead of you).

That is what informed the nine not-so-wonderful months of arguing over your name with your dad! I knew above all that your name had to be connected to two things: the Blessed Mother and the word joy. Delightfully, there is a title for that - Mary, Cause of Our Joy! So any name connected to the words joy or happiness - and there are so many options. Felicity. Beatrice. Joy itself.

Around Christmastime, your father took me out on a date night to see a movie (something we haven't done, I kid you not, since 2012). He took me to see the movie A Hidden Life, about the life and death of an Austrian man named Franz Jagerst├Ątter. Safe to say, rarely has a movie made such an impact on me. The beautiful vistas of the farmlands and villages of southern Austria, nestled up against the imposing mountains, were stunning. But more amazing by far was the story of one man, and his family, who quietly decided that giving God his due mattered more than his own life. Franz refused to take the oath of allegiance to Hitler and for that he was killed by the Nazis, leaving behind his wife Franziska (Fani) and his three young daughters. He was the only man in his village to refuse - he was not given support by his priest or even his bishop. When he was imprisoned, his family was ostracized from their village: spat on, stolen from, refused aid, and cast out from local celebrations of Corpus Christi and the like. Franz gave his life, but his family bravely suffered for his choice for decades after. We have not stopped talking about that movie since.

Towards the end of my pregnancy with you, I certainly got uncomfortable! In fact around 37 weeks I started to have prodromal labor, which was VERY uncomfortable and rather panic-inducing. Luckily, I quickly realized it was caused by dehydration and it was solved. The discomfort didn't really go away...those are the last days of pregnancy, I suppose, but truth be told I didn't handle it very well. I would vacillate between zen moments of peace and then total basket case. I wasn't upset though, that you were taking your sweet time in coming...once I passed 40 weeks, I knew you'd come when it was right. My prayer was that you would come during the daytime, so that we didn't have to leave your siblings at night.

Time passed...the day before 41 weeks. We set an induction date (March 2nd, when I'd be 41+6). The next day was Ash Wednesday and they predicted a snowstorm - which made me think we might not go to Mass, because I didn't want to drive in bad snow while overdue. That turned out to be a moot point, because on Fat Tuesday (Feb 21), Rosie threw up in the diner where we were enjoying pancakes and we hustled home to hunker down for a stomach bug. That night, your dad got it too. Oh well, I thought, better she stays put. Your dad was so sick he missed 6am, 9:30am, and noon Mass - on Ash Wednesday! He wasn't so so bad, but rather queasy and luckily had subs lined up. I went to lie down for a nap that afternoon, sad about missing Mass.

At 2:30pm, I woke up with bad pain. I thought it was the stomach bug or you were in a bad position...nope. I went to the bathroom, then tried to go back to sleep. No - more pain. I'm embarrassed to admit it took me a few tries before I recognized it as contractions, maybe because I was groggy from sleep. I texted our friends who would care for your siblings and started timing them, but they were fierce from the start and I'm not great at communicating through pain. But - snow storm! It took our friends a while to get to our house because they had to shovel the drive and of course be careful driving! We set off at 3:44pm.

The drive was slow - we passed several big accidents - and the snow was bad. When we pulled into the hospital complex, I managed to tell your dad to use valet. Ever the frugal man, he wanted to question me...but I growled again "VALET." (It took us 30 minutes to get there - it normally takes 10) The line was several cars deep, so we left the car, and your dad grabbed a wheelchair and off we went - to registration! The lady there was none too bright, chatting away as I was clearly laboring. Luckily we were soon on our way to the elevator to the third floor...there were three labor & delivery nurses on the elevator with us, joking with your dad. I was completely silent with my eyes closed. They wheeled me onto the floor, into the room. The kind nurse directed me to the bathroom, and asked me to put the gown on then they'd check me. I stood up, walked into the bathroom assisted by your father, and they closed the door. I got my pants off, looked at your dad and said "okay, she's coming!" Your dad was a bit panicked and said "what?" Then your head was born! "You gotta catch her!" I cried and then your body was born and your dad did catch you, luckily, with nary a nurse nor a doctor in sight. He was yelling for help, but that bathroom might as well have been a vault and no one could hear. So I finally opened my eyes and spied the emergency pull cord, and yanked on that. The nurse came in calmly, then panicked and suddenly it felt like every nurse in the hospital was in our room and bathroom!

They got the cord cut, and me into bed, and checked you out. I didn't get to hold you right away because they were making sure we were both okay, but soon you were on my chest and I was so very happy. You were born at 4:31, 17 minutes after arriving at the hospital and less than two minutes after we got in the room.

After that, I spent 2 glorious days in "hotel hospital" as I called it, by myself with you. Your saintly father needed to be at home, with all of your siblings who had all gotten the tummy bug, and I needed to be with you, while they made sure you were GBS negative (I had the bacteria during pregnancy). It was this odd and wonderful time, where we just relaxed together - I held and nursed you nearly constantly for the first 48 hours of your life, while I watched Downton Abbey, texted pictures of you to everyone, and marveled at how precious you were.

Your name ended up being an easy decision: Beatrice Franziska. 8 pounds, 5 ounces. Absolute joy, from the start.

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Thoughts In Corona Time (early days)

I don't think I ever thought I'd be here - blogging in the time of a pandemic in America, in 2020, after having had my fourth child in a hospital, 4 weeks earlier.

Weird times.

It turns out I fell victim to a very sneaky kind of pride: pride in thinking we were so advanced that really bad things (like plagues) were only the stuff of the past. Oh we only have new advanced really bad things like terrorism to go with our new advanced stuff everywhere else. I'm glad to take a new dose of humility, but it seems a bit much that it takes a worldwide crisis and global economic collapse to make it happen.

Gallows humor aside, my new state of Michigan is now on what I affectionately refer to as "lockdown." We're not supposed to go anywhere but the grocery store, the doctor, or maybe a walk outside. No gatherings at all with anyone outside your household. When all this talk started about 10 days ago, I was pretty sanguine about it - honestly, as a homeschooling mom with a newborn, I figured it wouldn't feel that different to me. We have lots of weeks where we barely leave the house! Except...it turns out that wasn't true. We just leave the house a lot less than most other people. But both of my older kids have weekly music lessons, we had a weekly playdate, religious education, Mass on Sunday with accompanying coffee + donuts, weekly dinner with our next door neighbor. It turns out - it's very hard to lose your entire routine during the midst of a global health crisis in the information age. It is very easy to make news updates an idol...an idol that I stare at, waiting for my cues of how to live my life.

That is deeply sad, because I have been Catholic now for 14 years, and I thought I had taken to heart what Jean Valjean said - "my soul belongs to God I know/I made that bargain long ago." But, like the apostle I identify with the most, I took my eyes off Jesus and began my descent to a watery grave.

I don't know what this whole experience would be like as a single person, without other people directly in my care. I am confident in saying that situation has its own crosses. In my life, I have to manage my own maelstrom of emotions (anxiety - grumpiness - stir crazy - sad - frightened) while managing the emotions of several other people (emotions which may or may not be related to the current crisis). All while making sure that they eat, have fresh underwear/diapers, aren't wacking each other with bricks, or living in abject filth. I would love to binge watch movies and day drink until this passes. But little people are watching me, and sloth plus drunkenness aren't the best choices during a pandemic.

My kids are going to be affected and formed, in some way, by this crisis. Susannah more than everyone else, clearly. But it's up to us, the parents, to decide what that formation looks like. How do we - as Americans, as Catholics, as Orams - behave in a crisis? A crisis where we cannot leave our homes? What does my behavior tell them about how we are to act when a situation of this magnitude is before us?

God help me, up until now my behavior has set an example that has not been good. Yes, I'm just barely 4 weeks postpartum - yes, I'm getting little sleep and have hormones going crazy - but God knew that when he put me here. I have to quit making excuses and respond to the gently whispered invitation: to mother them, to be the warm heart of this home, to draw them close to his Sacred Heart and show them the light in this gloomy time. This is the strength of women, of so many generations who came before us and faced war, famine, plague, and death - on a scale we cannot imagine, with none of our modern comforts, with far less food. My weakness is proof of the relative constant comfort and entertainment to which I have thus far been accustomed; to the prosperity of the time and place in which I live. Can I shirk my burden, when it is so small?

When I first converted, I loved the stories of the early martyrs and the great saints that did so many amazing things. I wanted to do Great Things for God - to die, to join a convent where they wore no shoes in winter time, to be one of the ones who gave it all! But when he asks me to hold my temper with a small unreasonable child, I want to hold onto my anger instead; when he asks me to get up and tidy a room instead of scrolling Twitter, I clutch my phone tighter. When he whispers to me to bring order to my home, I turn my back and ignore my family's need for structure. It turns out I wanted to give everything, except the sins I'm currently indulging in.

May this Lent where I have so little distractions, where I am truly cloistered in my domestic church, give me the courage to abandon my sins, and truly repent.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Mary Rose Cecilia

For all nine months of my pregnancy, I didn't feel like writing. Didn't feel like writing, talking, cleaning, getting up - most everything that required consciousness, really. Never have I dreamed that I could be so uncomfortable while pregnant for the whole time - not truly sick, like those with hyperemesis gavardium, but just constant discomfort and irritation.

I didn't want to write this either, but Tom insisted. You've done it for the other kids, he said, so don't leave her out. It's taken me so long - life is much busier with you!

Your due date, Rosie-girl, was November 20th - the Monday of Thanksgiving week. Grand and Grandad drove up the Saturday before to be with us all that week in case you made your entrance on time, which is, as we all know, a statistical unlikelihood. I tried to be at peace with God's timing, but the fear that stalked me, that made me feel hunted and frightened, was that you would come and we would be alone - my little family would be on an island with no help. Being in a state far away from family had already made my pregnancy feel lonely and sad - I hoped to salvage it by at least bringing you home to a house filled with relatives who'd coo over you and make me drink water. By your due date, my desire for you to arrive while your Grand was here increased to a fever-pitch. I felt like wailing every day you didn't come. I was also incredibly uncomfortable, like you were just not positioned correctly, so I went to see a chiropractor - and that adjustment gave me near immediate relief (that was Saturday, the 18th).

Originally, we had had tickets to attend the Beatification of (now) Blessed Solanus Casey that Saturday. But I called it, and we gave away our tickets, because I was so uncomfortable and so worried that you would be born in Ford Field during the Mass! (wishful thinking, really, in retrospect)

On Monday, my due date appointment, I voiced my frustration, sadness, and general upset. Wendy and Jamie, my midwives listened empathetically and did a check - 4cm along already. I asked them to strip my membranes, because I really really really want to be in labor. After a thorough strip, we went to Somerset Mall and walked around - I was contracting, off and on. Nothing consistent, nothing great.

Tuesday passed and I was so sad - the chiropractor had said that women usually go into labor 24 hours post-adjustment! The midwives said the stripping could really get things going! Where oh WHERE was this baby?? (a silly and sad thing to ask, when I was only 40+1) Wednesday morning, I woke up contracting...and gave it an hour...and  soon I knew, it was going to be time for you. It was the day. We packed up our things and went downstairs, told Grand and Grandad, kissed Zuzu and David goodbye and started the 45 min drive to Nine Short Months Birthing Center. In contrast to the last few weeks, I felt such peace on the drive...such peace as a I breathed through my contractions.

We arrived, and they were filling up the tub (your brother and sister were both born in a tub). It was snowing, softly. I climbed into the tub...but immediately wanted to get out. The water felt too cold and I could feel the hard wood beneath the vinyl surface of the tub (it was a blow up tub, not a fixed one). I got out and climbed into bed...where I dozed, off and on, through contractions for the next hour or so. Your dad held me, and pretty much resigned himself to spending Thanksgiving at the birth center, since he thought me sleeping was a sign things were slowing down - he underestimates my ability to sleep through literally anything.

Once matters got more intense, I got out and crouched on the floor for a while, breathing and vocalizing through contractions. I was wedged between the edge of the bed and the hot tub, not a very convenient place! Wendy and Jamie encouraged me to move - I thought I'd try the birthing stool, but as soon as my posterior touched it's surface I jumped up with an emphatic "NOPE."  I ended up kneeling on the floor, holding onto the birthing stool and pushed there. In one, long, fierce contraction, you were born. As you were crowning, the midwives said "okay, lean back so you can catch your baby!" but I couldn't even say I couldn't - I just couldn't move at that moment in time (I was concentrating!) so I shook my head . Wendy said to Tom, "okay then it's up to you Dad - get in there!" Your father is a rather decorious person and was concerned with lack of gloves, so he hesitated but she hustled him down there. So your Daddy caught you!

Then came that near maniacal desire to hold you, so I was helped into bed and held you and marveled at your beauty. The first hour after you were born, the midwives try to give privacy to the new family for bonding - I'm not sure how bonding it was for us since you cried the entire first hour! Also, I am not entirely sure why I, a seasoned mother, didn't realize you needed to nurse? We spend most of your first two hours deciding on your name. You were very nearly Bernadette, with the nickname Birdie, and also nearly Rosemary. But in the end - you are Mary Rose Cecilia. You are Mary in honor of Our Lady of Fatima, Rose for St. Rose of Lima and Our Lady's title of Mystical Rose, and of course, Cecilia because you were born on her feast day!

But you were suddenly with us and it was all so very, very good.

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Saturday, July 8, 2017

I'll Take Mercy for 500, Alex

I try to go to confession every Saturday. For two months, over the various parishes and priests I have visited, every single one has said a variation of the same message. "You need to focus on God's mercy."

My mind revolts at that message.

It seems such a screen to make excuses: excuses for my sinfulness, excuses for my committing the same sins again and again - and dammit, again. Like a smoke screen for moral laxity or a touchy-feely code word that wants to make everybody feel okay for daily refusing to take on the challenge to be a saint.

I want a priest to throw the book at me: I want to hear about hell, fear of the Lord, heroic virtue. I want confession to feel like purgatory - a burning away of the dross that prevents me from being pure gold.

Yet those men that God has put in my life to be Christ to me - these men have stood with one foot in Heaven and one on earth and the message they give me is different, again and again - and dammit, again.

They beg me to take up Christ's yoke of mercy.

Yet it seems so heavy, such a hard burden to bear, this mercy. My soul recoils, "what could mercy have to do with me?" Part of it is a misunderstanding of mercy - mercy does not excuse sin. Mercy does not say that sin is not sin; mercy is "love reaching down to lift people out of their physical and spiritual miseries." (see here) Mercy is God loving us so much, he provides us with a way out of our own sinfulness - through confession, through the life of virtue, through Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

The crux here is that, to receive God's mercy, I have to admit that I cannot make a path on my own. I cannot, by any amount of willpower, mental tricks, or new routine, make myself virtuous. I cannot save myself. For me, an American millennial young woman, that's so hard to accept. I pay lip service to this concept, but my actions do not bear it out. Every day, I wake up and instead of begging for the grace needed to be virtuous just for today - I resolve to just be better! My new self begins today! Today will be Day One of Martha 2.0, no mistakes, no more being my same crappy self. Haha, I will just resolve that and I'll be fine, I will power through, just like I have powered through hard things before. Hey, I graduated law school, okay. I'm smart and capable! I'll make a chart, buy a new planner, look up routines on Pinterest, get some inspiration from some peeps who seem to have it all together, and get going!

It lasts for two hours, if I'm lucky. Sometimes the jig is up in 30 minutes if my kids are really on point.

Mercy demands that I be humbled, that I come to Christ as what I truly am - a sinner in need of a savior. I cannot save myself - I'm such a mess, I can't even successfully pretend to save myself. I have to sit at his feet and say, "how do I do this?" I have to listen to him - in prayer, in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in the words of the Church Fathers (and Mothers), in his saints and holy ones. When I listen to myself, to the messages of of this world, I'm just listening to an echo of nothingness - just 'sounding gongs' and 'clanging cymbals.' There is a path, an ancient path, to peace and joy, to Oneness with God. It is not an easy path! But it is the way of mercy and Jesus walked it before me, and walks it with me now. In fact, we are not even alone - there is a multitude, a great cloud of witnesses, that every moment cheers me and calls out how to go, warns of pitfalls, points back to the Way.

Dear Jesus, help me to accept your mercy every day: it will be enough, you will be enough, and united with you, even what little I am will be enough.

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Sunday, February 5, 2017

Beyond the South, Beyond Home

The second day we were here, my mom and I ran errands to the nearest Target. I was overwhelmed and shocked, and felt like I had a rock in my stomach every time I went outside. Everything was so unfamiliar, and it frightened me - like a refrain, I kept wondering "how can I raise a family in a place I don't know? What is true, when I don't even know the earth beneath my feet?"

It got better. Slowly. Summer helped.

The week we moved into our new house, Tom sat me on the couch after we got the kids in bed and said "I've been saving this song for you for when we had our house." I cried through the whole thing and I cry every time I listen to it.

This video gives me hope. It still doesn't feel like home here yet - it still feels so strange, and often lonely and hard. It's so easy to lose my moorings when I am living in a place where I have no history. I put my hands out to catch the wisdom of my ancestors and my hands grab nothing but empty air. No one that is kin to me has put their bones in this ground, or watched the seasons come and go for generations so that it is a rhythm that echoes in their blood. Southerners are so fiercely loyal - to place, to memory, to tradition, to our families. To be in a place with none of those things is like having amnesia and being homeless both at once.

But this song gives me great hope that it won't be like this forever - that after we put our work and our hearts into this new place, we'll look up and find it's become home.

We will call this place our home,
The dirt in which our roots may grow.
Though the storms will push and pull,
We will call this place our home.

We’ll tell our stories on these walls.
Every year, measure how tall.
And just like a work of art,
We’ll tell our stories on these walls.

Let the years we’re here be kind, be kind.
Let our hearts, like doors, open wide, open wide.
Settle our bones like wood over time, over time.
Give us bread, give us salt, give us wine.

A little broken, a little new.
We are the impact and the glue.
Capable of more than we know,
We call this fixer upper home.

With each year, our color fades.
Slowly, our paint chips away.
But we will find the strength
And the nerve it takes
To repaint and repaint and repaint every day.

Let the years we’re here be kind, be kind.
Let our hearts, like doors, open wide, open wide.
Settle our bones like wood over time, over time.
Give us bread, give us salt, give us wine.

Let the years we’re here be kind, be kind.
Let our hearts, like doors, open wide, open wide.
Settle our bones like wood over time, over time.
Give us bread, give us salt, give us wine.
Give us bread, give us salt, give us wine.

Smaller than dust on this map
Lies the greatest thing we have:
The dirt in which our roots may grow
And the right to call it home.

When I listen to this song, I'm reminded that my family did not always live in the South. We left our generational homes hundreds of years ago and came to this country. We clung to the family with brought with us and over the years, our English and Irish traditions changed and our homes became old and familiar. I recall that what makes home are the people we call into it to share the love we pour out. The song is part prayer, part mantra, part battlecry - moving me beyond the South and beyond my clinging thoughts of home.

Someday, by God's grace, and a great deal of hard work, we might have the right to call Michigan home.

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