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Catholic Family, Family Life, Homeschool, Motherhood, Self Care, Uncategorized, Women's Ministry

This Fall May be a Season of Pruning and That’s Okay

Late August in my family is usually filled with last-minute beach trips, back to school shopping and sports try-outs.  It’s fun for the kids but hectic for me as I balance leisure time, with the kids’ needs, and my own work.  By September, I relate well to that internet meme where the kids are all lined up at the bus stop with frowny faces, and the mom is jumping for joy at the realization that she gets the house to herself for a few hours.

But that’s not happening this year, is it?  Nope!  Most of our back to school plans have been up-ended as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. My older children began classes digitally, and we have opted to homeschool our rambunctious second grader for the first time. Instead of a quiet September, we’re bumping up the chaos.

My aspirations of autumn “me time” in a quiet café with a pumpkin spice latte are cooling off faster than my re-microwaved home brew.

So how am I finding and balance amid the noise of competing demands and an ever-changing pandemic environment?  Honestly – it’s tough, and sometimes, I feel overwhelmed.  But when I do manage find balance, here’s how: 

The name of the game is recalibrating.

friend recently had to abruptly change a plan that we had made together.  In her email, she wrote that we needed to “recalibrate.”  Her word stuck with me because that’s how I’m managing in this pandemic.  I’m constantly recalibrating.   

I’ve seen and read a fair bit of unhappy stuff on social media lately, and I am concerned that a lot of us are facing the fall with other re words. Re-ticence, Re-sentment. Re-servation. Re-calcitrance. Re-sistance.      

As I face this school year, I’m focusing on recalibrating.  Why?  Because back to school days should be a time of re-newal. You see, recalibrating is adjusting to a true and accurate value.  Like orienting a compass toward north, when we recalibrate to the correct value, we get renewal.  This fall, I’m recalibrating life to my Christian vocation. 

Recalibrating to your vocation.

What do I mean by recalibrating to my vocation?  Well, let’s back up.  The word vocation gets tossed around frequently in Christian circles, but what does it mean?  Very broadly, our vocation is how we express our love of God and share the Gospel.  We live our vocation through married life, religious life or holy orders, or singleness, and it’s possible to have more than one vocation. St. Teresa of Calcutta, for example, spoke of her vocation to the religious life and her vocation to start a new religious community to serve the poor as a “vocation within a vocation” or a “call within a call.”

If my life is properly calibrated, each part of my life feels like a “vocation within a vocation” and life makes sense.  Married life dovetails with motherhood, and my job fits within our family dynamic.  When I’m working within my vocation, instead of feeling pulled toward competing priorities and anxious, I feel clarity. 

This doesn’t mean that working within your vocation won’t ever be hard.  Take one look at a crucifix and you’ll be reminded that living our vocation can be extremely challenging.      

But when I feel pulled in all different directions at once and everything in life becomes a chore, that’s when I know it’s time to recalibrate to my vocation because my vocation matters.  The other stuff frankly doesn’t.  I take time to remind myself of what my vocation is, and as importantly, what it is not.  I scrutinize whether the things that demand my time help or hinder my vocation. 

This is a prayerful process through which I’m reminded that that God created me as a finite being with finite capabilities and finite hours in my day.  I’m am not called to do everything.

Holy Pruning.

During this pandemic, God is certainly calling me to focus on my family, keep my children safe, educate them, and catechize them.  This is requiring me to prune things out of my life and make more space for these priorities.  It’s a holy pruning.  Some of the pruning is obvious:  I need to limit the time I spend on Instagram and Netflix, for example.  But I’ve also made some harder decisions to prune away fun social functions and volunteer work that I enjoy, so that I can give more attention and energy to my vocation. 

Navigating this fall’s evolving school schedules and family dynamics will require continued recalibration and pruning, but I find it consoling to remember Jesus’ words that God prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it can bear even more fruit for the kingdom (see Jn 15:2). How are you recalibrating?

Catholic Family

On Becoming a College Mom

I spent $133.47 at my son, Patrick’s, college bookstore this week.  I had not spent that much money on nonessentials since the pandemic hit.  But I enthusiastically plunked the money onto the counter at the College of William and Mary bookstore and happily walked outside to the Virginia summer humidity sporting a new ball cap and a bag full of college mom paraphernalia that screamed my pride in Patrick’s next step in his adult life.

The Move In

Arriving to Patrick’s new residence hall, we unload bins of school supplies and a semester’s worth of clothing, bedding, and ramen noodles.  We were amateurishly clumsy in our unloading tactics as items fell out of grocery bags and rolled across the sidewalk.  While chasing a rogue bottle of Gatorade, I noticed that the mom and son in the car in front of us had expertly packed everything in large, zip-up Ikea bags.  Several college mom bumper stickers on her SUV tailgate confirmed that she had past experience with freshman move-in.   

Once we transported the gear to Patrick’s room, we started to arrange the furniture.  Patrick rejected each suggestion I gave for how to fit his mini-fridge into his rather small room, and it became clear that he wanted, and perhaps needed, to arrange his room without me.  I left Patrick and his sister to the task of arranging the furniture while I ran to the store for a few necessities. 

The Floodgates

As soon as I got in the car, I was grateful for my new ball cap and oversized sunglasses because the floodgates opened.  I cried my eyes out all the way to the store and up and down laundry detergent aisle.  I even cried my way through the Chick-fil-A drive through on my way back to campus.  When I returned to the dorm, Patrick and his sister were beaming with satisfaction.  They had made the bed, hung posters, strung Christmas lights, and even found a spot for the mini fridge.  The room looked great –without my input.   

I invited Patrick to go to dinner with us, but he opted to eat with other freshman.  My daughter and I ate dinner and drove past the dorm later in the evening to see if Patrick needed anything.  From a distance, I spotted him sitting on the lawn with other students.  We slowed down to look but kept driving.  I didn’t want to intrude. 

Saying Goodbyes

We said our goodbyes in the dorm parking lot the next morning. 

I left Patrick with the following words:

Be good. Study hard.  Go to church.

And I cried – surprise, surprise.  I told myself that I would feel less sad when my daughter leaves for college.  However, as I put the minivan in reverse, I saw the expert unloader family from the day before.  The seasoned, strong college mom hugged her son goodbye with a smile, but as soon as she slid into her car, she burst into tears. 

Unexpected College Mom Grief

I was not prepared for college mom grief.  It is a confounding grief.  A paradox, really.

It’s a paradox because unlike other types of grief, in grieving a child leaving the nest, we’re grieving exactly what we worked so hard to attain for so many years. 

Throughout our motherhood journey, we traverse “long days and short years” often filled with pregnancy nausea or the anticipation of adoption, teaching our children to read, celebrating birthdays, confronting medical challenges, leading scout meetings, navigating finances, getting kids to behave in church, reheating cups of coffee, attending sports practices and music recitals, and helping our kids learn to share, do chores, and make good friends.  We joyfully and exhaustedly parent our children. 

With our work often unseen, we raise squirmy, snuggly children to become God-loving, independent, kindhearted young adults who don’t need our help to set up dorm rooms, find dinner, or make friends. 

But the manifestation of that adult can break our mom hearts a little as we think about the childhood years where they desperately need our physical presence. 

Acceptance: It’s Going to be Okay

It’s okay to grieve that our children don’t need us the way they used to.  It’s okay to cry on college move-in day.  It really is.  Once again, I bawled my eyes out on the flight home from Virginia to Washington State.  Somewhere over Missouri, I recalled words that my friend Mary Lenaburg wrote about grief.    

“Acceptance is where healing begins,” she wrote. 

So the goal this week is acceptance.  God called me to motherhood that began with a child who desperately needed me for nearly his entire life until now.  Now, however, my vocation as his mother is to accept that my son needs me in different ways. He needs the hidden work of my prayers instead of overt actions.  He needs the subtlety of a listening ear instead of direction.  He needs me to support him even if he does things differently than I would.  He needs me to observe him from a distance while he forges his way.  His Mom driving away is exactly what Patrick needs. 

As for me, I need to accept that happiness and sadness can co-exist in this new chapter of motherhood.      

Uncategorized

Everything is Grace – Especially Snow Days

Northern Virginia did not anticipate snow this morning.  I expected a few more sunny, crisp fall days for my lingering roses, but they now hold ice crystals.  Today was supposed to be about completing a mile-long to-do list.  On the top of the list was quiet time to write. Heck, I’m trying to finish my first book manuscript in five months! 

I did not initially welcome the snow this morning.  In fact, I rolled my eyes when the school text message notifying us of a two-hour delay pinged my phone last night.  This morning, however, it was clear that the school made the right call.  Eventually they had to cancel school all together.

Rather than putting the kids in front of the TV and hiding in my room to work, I decided to make memories today.  Memories of a hot breakfast, cocoa, snow angels, and a walk in the woods.  So that’s what we did, and wow, God is good. 

After returning to the house to thaw our frozen fingers, I sat down to read with St. Thérèse of Lisieux.  Thérèse appreciated snow.  She  reflect about wearing the white habit of the Discalced Carmelites for the first time, and wrote in her autobiography, “I had always wished that on the day I received the habit, nature would be adorned in white just like me.”  She received her wish.  Much like today, despite mild weather, it snowed on the day that she received her habit.  “What thoughtfulness on the part of Jesus!”  she remarked. Thérèse reminded me today that “Everything is grace.”  Grace, “the free and undeserved help that God gives to respond to his call to become children of God.” (CCC 1996).

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The grace of snow nudged my children and me into a morning of togetherness and play on what would otherwise have been a routine Thursday of packing lunches, inching the minivan through the school carpool lane, and commuting to work in relentless DC traffic. 

Instead, I’m grateful for the grace of snow, and grateful for the grace God gave to shake me out of my busy to-do list and toward just being.  Being present.  Being thankful.  Being covered in snowflakes.  What thoughtfulness on the part of Jesus.