Sturm und Mom

The Storm & Stress (& Joy) of Motherhood

Archive for the category “Catholic”

Hope, Terror Haze and Old German Tourists

Guess who’s too old to make Superhero poses? (Hint: Look for the Aviators…)

We went Fall camping, which is awesome if you can get two days off work, live 3½ hours from Jasper National Park, the daytime highs are 27°C and you have a tent trailer with a furnace.  Yes, that’s right.  Not a backbacking tent which is enveloped with condensation by 4 AM, but a nice cozy tent trailer with a kick-butt furnace pumping out the BTU’s all night.  This is necessary in the Rocky Mountains because, no matter how warm it is mid-day, come breakfast time it’s going to be hovering around 5°C.  From toques, to shorts, to fleece, to toques all in 16 hour period.  Nature is not that forgiving, especially to your wardrobe.

I would say that I was tough, but that would be a lie.  Hardy, in that I can take all the frosted breath and brisk hikes to the ladies’ washroom.   Dear Husband convinced me to take all the kids — including the small ones — up the Jasper Tramway, which can best be described as a tiny, metal box which zooms up the side of a rock face attached to a tiny, metal cable, all while your children press their oblivious faces to the window screaming, “Look how far doooowwn it is!”   Now I, sans kids, had hiked up this rock face and I thought it was quite tame.  However I had never considered what a sheer drop of 2400 odd feet combined with progeny with no common sense and slow reflexes would do to my adrenaline level.  We’re talking about a 3 year old who runs to the side of a cliff, starts jumping up and down, yelling:  “If you jumped off this cliff, you would be DEEEAAAAD!!!  Right Mommy?!!”  Or nearly crashes into the sliding glass doors that open onto the tram when it isn’t there, just an elevator shaft straight into Hell, to, yet again, demonstrate what one should NOT do in the name of safety.  When we finally touched down, unharmed, on God’s sweet Earth at the bottom, Dear Husband asked me if I was okay.

“A haze of terror.  That’s all I remember.  Children running to their death and sheer, unadulterated terror.”

He agreed not to take me back up there again.

Jasper, like all the Rocky Mountains, attracts visitors from all over the world.  English, Australians, Japanese (less and less), Chinese (more and more), Americans (varies from year to year), and always, Germans.   It wouldn’t feel like you hit the mountains unless you heard “ich bin…” or “Stimmt!” at some point when walking around town.  If the Parks are open, there’s a German somewhere in it.  Including all over our campground.  Which was the weirdest part of our trip.  All the sites in this campground are extremely open, including ours which was smack-dab next to a walking path to the showers.  All the nice Commonwealth types would walk by with a friendly greeting and smile at the children.  The Germans though, would return my hello, and immediately look away.  As soon as our gaze was averted, they would then start staring at our children.  When I caught them, they would immediately look away, and pretend to be really interested in a tree.  This happened over, and over, and over again.

Our way too young to be driving a rented RV site neighbours, were the worst.  This young couple could barely mutter a word to us, but would stand there — when they thought we didn’t see them — and gawk at us.  I couldn’t understand why they just didn’t come up and ask us where the kids were from.   But then it I caught one facial expression that I was not meant to see.  Embarrassment.  They were staring because they felt it was obscene to see a family with so many children.  They were watching a freak show, and they didn’t want to admit it.  No, these folks had no shame in driving around in a Granny-mobile in their 30’s, wearing uber-expensive mountaineering clothes to walk around handicap accessible groomed trails, and leaving their empty wine bottles at the entrance to the campsites for the “forest fairies” to collect for recycling, but were ashamed for us that we had too many children for their tastes.  Huh.  Auf Wiedersehen right back at you, Sweetheart.  (Did I mention the Australians were really nice?)

I have children because I have hope.  At one point I had no hope, and I had no children.  I do not believe that life is pointless, I do not believe that God will fail, and I do not believe that things will ever get so bad that I will wish that the human race would disappear in favour of the Dominion of Slugs.  There’s a trite expression, “Children are God’s way of saying the world should go on.”  They are also people’s way of saying that they should go on.  But if you have no hope, and then why should you go on?  Waste your money and time travelling around foreign countries, trying to fill your days with some pleasure and diversion, before it all comes to its meaningless end.  Staring at big families when they’re not looking.  Like I said, Auf Wiedersehen Sweetheart.

(Sorry for the rant.  Did I mention the Australians were really, really nice?)


The Dog is Dead. Long Live the Dog.

Please let me rest in peace. Please, please, please!

“Look — cute doggie toys.  We should get them.”

“That’s a nice jacket for a dog.  Why don’t we buy it for Karma?”

“There’s a picture of Karma doggie in the doctor’s office, Mom!  Look.  Look.  Looklooklookloooook!!”

“Mommy! You have to buy that dog food for Karma.  You should put it in the cart!”  Big Boy shouts as the bag of Mainstay floats by on the way to the Pringles.  Everywhere Princess and Big Boy go lately, they are on the lookout for stuff for our dog.  Food, toys, accessories.  They spy photos that look just like her, and little rubber boots to keep the salt off her toes.  I dread the Hartz section of Safeway, and all the requests for squeaky toys and flea collars.

There’s just one problem with all this.  The dog is dead.  Like over two-and-a-half-years dead.  Like dead when Big Boy was only two months old.  Our faithful, dopey Springer Spaniel was a great pet, super with children and a devoted companion.  But years of ear infections and allergies wore her down, and now she is taking her eternal afternoon nap in the great beyond.  If I could only explain this properly to my children…

“Um..Yeah…Honey, Karma went to heaven, remember?”

“Yeah.  That’s okay!”  He pipes.  “We can send it to her.”

Now, I’m flummoxed.  How do you explain to a 3 year old that heaven includes a meal plan?  Oh, wait — I’ll let the 5 year old do it.

“You don’t need food in heaven.  They give you lots of dog treats,” Princess states like this is common knowledge to everyone in their pre-Kindergarten year.  I start to relax and add something to the cart out of Baby’s reach.  Crisis avoided — or not.

“You know when you go to heaven, you can see Karma.  But I’ll go to heaven first.  No wait.”  She scrunches her face and looks at the ceiling.  “First Auntie D. will go, then Mom–”

“–And then Biscuit!”  Big Boy injects to make sure that Auntie D.’s Yorkie is not left out of the Big Dog Park in the Sky.

“Right.”  She points her finger at him in accord.  ” Auntie D. Biscuit.  Mom.  Me.  And you.”

Standing in front of the Miss. Vickie’s I realize that the sole determiner of mortality for my children is a) have we seen you with a dog lately, or b) are you currently in front of our faces.  If neither of these conditions apply, it seems that you’re going to live forever.  Forget the vitamins, healthy eating and all those laps at the pool — just plan your route to a drop off at the SPCA well away from us, and you are making it to at least 150!

This is my life:  one long theological debate with children.  If God can do everything, can He do something bad?  It’s not okay to hit, unless the person’s evil, right?  So, what if we hit them before they do something bad, and then we would be making them good?   And isn’t’ that good?  Why did God make mosquitos who are so ugly?  And bite me?  Why?

Usually, I answer these questions, and try to help little, forming minds tackle the tough stuff in a way they can handle.  But this Doggie Death March is just too much, even for me.  “When’s Auntie A. going to heaven, Mom?  Is it soon?”

Big Boy stares at me, all smiles and wide-eye innocence, waiting for an answer.

“You know what Karma told me?  That she wants you to stop talking about this and pick out chips.  Who wants treats?”

The crinkling cellophane chorus drowns out the nagging voice in my head that I am a terrible, terrible Mother, whose kids will be 16 and wondering why their departed relatives aren’t getting their postcards.  I’ll just tell them the truth:  Mail delivery is really spotty to the Pearly Gates.

February Ashes

February discontent is rattling around my chest, blown by the icy wind to bump against my heart. Too many days inside, too little sunshine, no holidays, no presents, no big family dinners for months. Every year it’s the same thing at the same time. One professor I had announced to the lecture hall, that universities noticed an increase of suicide among students which peaked during the second month of the year. And spring break was born. That seems too cynical even to me, until I peer outside the window to see a sky the same shade of gray as the asphalt sidewalk.

It’s because of this that I so look forward to Ash Wednesday Mass, the beginning of Lent. It is probably my husband and my favourite. Why? First, it seems so Medieval — the immolated blessed palms from last year’s Easter season, turned into a remembrance of our mortality and sin, and marked on our foreheads. What modern would suggest doing that? It might hurt our self-esteem. Lead to anxiety.

Which also leads to the second reason: In this culture of Self Actualization, Self Realization, Who Ever Finishes with the Most Toys Wins, Shred It, Own It, I Did It My Way, and Branded People, it is refreshing to remember that no one is getting our of here alive. And it is beyond anyone’s ability to save her own soul. It is a stark reminder that everyone’s days, from the moment they take their first breath, are numbered and counted out, and that my life should not be taken for granted, and that my faith should not be taken for granted. It reminds me that what’s really important in life cannot be “achieved” through human will. And that Easter celebration will follow Lenten penance, like spring rebirth will follow winter’s long cold sleep.

My Jonah Moment

Sorry, I haven’t been around much the last week.  I haven’t fallen off the blogging map, just had some stuff come up around here that has taken all my time.  I figured it was better to lie low for a while rather than just post any ol’ thing, though that is pretty much what this blog is about — any ol’ thing that pops into my head, but I digress…

It all began while I was gently encouraging in a loving, yet persistent way, (ahem) my husband to get cracking on those extra bedrooms we need in the basement for the kids.  God may have blessed us with six beautiful children, but throwing one boy into a stew of all girls, certainly makes the sleeping arrangements rather tricky.  When I sat down and took a hard look at this work schedule and did a preliminary budget for the renovations, I realized that a monkey wrench has been thrown into our attempt to stay put in this house.  Or rather, has thrown us out the door.  While we are not moving to any McMansion, we have finally had to admit that three bedrooms above grade just doesn’t cut it for us right now, and that we need to look for something with 4 bedrooms and no immediate renovations required.  That means moving, which I hear only works if you sell your house.  If I were sitting beside you speaking this, you would hear me insert one of the many language intensifiers I have been using lately, but since I’m the one typing right now, I’m going to sanitize my image and leave it clean.

Sitting in Church on Sunday morning, in between distracted thoughts about whether or not I could survive on 3 hours of sleep nightly for the next week, I overhead the a reading from the Book of Jonah, and I realized that this whole house thing is my Jonah Moment.  Jonah was the prophet that God sent to the city of Nineveh, or at least he would have been, if Jonah had actually gone the first time.  That’s how he ended up inside “the belly of the fish” — he was tossed overboard in a storm trying to sail in the opposite direction.   And that’s what I’ve been doing.  No, I am not going to bumper sticker my car with “Providence is my Realtor.”  But I have been running away from a difficult decision, even though the answer was staring me in the face.  I just didn’t like the answer.  So, I kept asking the question.  And rephrasing it.  And doing some internet research.  And asking other people’s opinions.  And sleeping on it.  And so on and so on….

And now, I’m just stuck with boxes and boxes.  My sweet, overworked husband and I are both INTJ personality types, which is nicknamed “the Mastermind.”  This means that we have set an insane deadline to get the house ready and, of course, we want to sell it ourselves to save the commission.  Don’t worry — Sweetie Pie (9 tomorrow) said that she would help with showings.  I’ve already read two books on selling your house, and two on staging your house (just one more to get through!)  Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Thanks for sticking with me as things get a little intermittent.  I promise I’ll be back to normal soon.  Or may a whale swallow me whole.



Something Found for Christmas

One of the many nice things about having kids hanging about at Christmas, is that they act like purifiers against the vapours of jadedness lingering around us adults. Take Tall Girl, for example. I took her out to a pancake house – just her and me – for a celebratory lunch. She ordered something called the “Cinnamon Stackers,” four pancakes “stacked” with cream cheese icing on top. She then criss-crossed four types of syrup back and forth. Finally, she dug in.

“Is that any good?” I asked, worried that she regretted her meal. That’s a whole lot of sugar, I thought. She stopped, looked me in the eye, and with a smile starting to to play at the corner of her mouth, answered:

“This is the most delicious thing ever!”

So with Christmas Eve upon us, I find I don’t have a lot of time for radio stations that want to play Post-Ironic Bobby and the Atheist Trio Re-interpret Christmas marathons. I’d rather hear a choir sing Alleluia.

Before I forget, this is the correct way to eat a gingerbread house.

Around here, we’re too busy to be bored with the holiday. Too busy checking out where Santa is the NORAD website.

Too busy writing letters.

To busy catching up on our baking.

As my tag line reads, I consider myself residually cynical. I find a weird solace smirking along to Leonard Cohen as he sings “Everybody Knows.” I look at my kids and their unbridled joy, and I know it can’t last. One day they’ll know what I do about what’s real, and they’ll smirk, too.

Or maybe they’re the ones that know what’s real, and I’m the one that’s forgotten.

Have a very blessed and Merry Christmas everyone!

Have Yourself a Little Bit Sad Christmas

It’s Christmastime around here, and that means one thing — cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning.  Between decluttering to make way for whatever Santa brings, and the scrubbing and polishing everything else to get ready for Christmas Day company, I’ve had my arms elbow deep in Murphy’s Oil Soap for a week.  All this is made harder by the constant cry of “Don’t go in there!”  whenever I venture toward a closed door or closet.  With 8 people exchanging gifts, the entire house becomes one big booby trap of secreted packages.  One of our Christmas morn traditions is the game “Guess where I hid it?”  I still win with my husband’s 40th Birthday Present.  I merely wrapped the 2′ by 3′ box in colourful paper and placed it on the shelf overhead of his work area.  Here it sat for two or three weeks, in plain sight, as he typed daily at his computer below.  Well, at least I can’t accuse him of wasting time while he’s working, staring at anything but his computer…

This Christmas has me a little pensive, too.  Not regretful or sorrowful, but a bit sad.  As 2011 comes to a close, I realize that another year with my young ones has also slipped pleasantly by.  While I am no big fan of the baby stage, as I made painfully clear in my post on walking 3 kids to school in 90km/hour winds, I still can’t believe that my little baby is closer to 1 year old than she is to being a newborn.  This September will also usher in a new phase for this big brood Mom.  Princess will be 5 and starting Kindergarten.  In 8 short weeks I will be attending the school’s Open House, and filling out her registration papers.  And that first fall day that I walk her into her classroom, will also mark the first time I have the majority of my kids out of the house during the day, rather than at home with me.

2012 will be a year of firsts — and a year of lasts.  This time next year, Tall Girl will be gearing up to attend Junior High Information Nights with us.  The first of our children to leave Elementary School.  But it will also be a year of packing up baby clothes, and sending maternity wear to the local thrift shop.  Baby will stop needing to be rocked to sleep this year.  Big Boy will learn how to zip his own jacket.  Someone will take off her training wheels.  I’ll be hands on mothering just a little big less.

This makes be both happy and sad.  I know many Moms make a joke or a boast about how they’re “done with that.”  And trust me, I get what they mean.  But I still treasure the warm hands in mine, or the little boy who just needs a hug.  These milestones come and go, and you don’t even realize that suddenly, you have a Tween in your house, who listens to strange music, and get’s pinched by the boy sitting next to her.  It was just 5 years ago that you packed her first snack for Kindergarten, and walked her to the bus stop.  Now she’s telling me she wants a bikini, and to dye her hair blue “temporarily.”

That’s why this Christmas season, I know now that no matter how many times the camera clicks, the glasses clink, the children squeal, that no matter how “perfect” the moment is, it’s all fleeting, tomorrow’s memories.  So with all the joy, there is ever the slightest tinge of sadness, because I know that the moment, however wonderful, can’t last.  So no matter what, I will have a Merry Christmas.   Why?  Because all this passing of time has helped me realized that happiness isn’t something you achieve, it’s something you have.  And I have it in spades.

Plus I made two loaves of my kick-*ss Light Cherry Orange Fruitcake.  It doesn’t get any better than that.

We’ve Been Entertaining a Bishop from Myra

…and he brought some housewarming gifts!

Meet the candy cane Godfather….

Happy Saint Nicholas’ Day everyone!

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Advent

Around here, it’s starting to look a lot like Advent. I was inspired by Like Mother, Like Daughter‘s post on decorating for Advent, and Elizabeth Esther’s post on her Christmas decorating, and I thought that I would share what we were doing around here. Advent, by the way, is the four weeks leading up to Christmas, a time to get ready and anticipate the birth of Jesus. The tradition of Advent is a great antidote to the over-hype and over-spend of Christmas today.  Why?  It means that you don’t actually start celebrating Christmas until December 25.  Instead of being sick of the holidays on December 26, and Boxing Day is notable as the  day you burn your Christmas tree, the 25th means that the party has just begun.  So, if you are tired of seeing holiday decorations beside the Halloween candy at your local Wal-mart, give Advent a try.

In addition to our Advent Wreath, we have a couple of Nativities missing Jesus:

(guess which ones the kids made!)  …and I made a new Advent door wreath…

Is anyone else celebrating Advent?  How does it look in your house?

Looking for more Advent info? Try these links:

Catholic Culture
Like Mother, Like Daughter (look at the sidebar for more articles)
The Advent Conspiracy

Uber Mommy Guilt — The Christmas Edition

I know….it’s not even Christmas.  But I thought that we were being smart by leaving the Toys ‘R Us catalogue around, so that we got some decent Christmas Lists to share with Santa.  Previous years’ lists read like this: a Canary, Purple Soap, nice Socks, a doll that waves Good-bye.  In other words, stuff that doesn’t exist.  Or we aren’t getting (we have enough feet in the house with 8 people, without adding paws and talons, thanks.)  Even this year our 8 year old told us that she wanted an orange for Christmas.  She was reading The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and learnt that oranges were a very prized gift back in the day.  The day being over a century ago.  And yes, she did ask for an orange as she was standing in front of a bag of oranges on the counter.  So to help us adults out, we “leave” the catalogue around so that the Christmas Lists are a tad more accessible for those of us who are at Walmart at 10:37 on a Friday evening.  Or packing up the sled at the North Pole.  Right.

But, there is a time limit on how long the catalogue should be hanging around.  When the lists have a good 5-10 items with 3 super-really wants on them,the catalogue should magically return from whence it came.  However, that is it should disappear.  It didn’t.  The kids’ lists are now 30 items long. and the catalogue is in a place of pride in the children’s books — a classic to be thumbed over and over.  A scripture of materialism for the young and greedy.

I totally know that things have gone too far when I get the “Litany of the Gifts” thrown at me.  The Litany of the Saints is the part of Mass when the Priest asks for the prayers of many of the Church’s oldest and greatest Saints, and the people respond “pray for us.”  It is usually chanted in the Benedictine tradition.  The Litany of the Gifts however, goes like this :

Polly-Pocket-Spa-and-Shop-Set :

R. I want that


R. I want that


R. Give that to me

Part of me is, of course, terribly upset by my children’s greedy, gimme ways.  But the other part is guilty:  guilty because when I look through the toy catalogue, my dream shopping list doesn’t sound that much different from their Litany of Gifts.  Chip meet block.

I had similar pangs while on-line clothes shopping yesterday.  It reminded me of a tradition that has fallen (excuse me, been pushed) to the wayside around here:  new Christmas Eve PJ’s, and matching fancy outfits.  When we had just two, it was so much fun to match everyone up.  When we had three — triple fun.  Cost was totally worth it.  When we had four — really, really cute, but OMG that cost a lot more than I thought it would.  But with five and over — too much money for a whole lot of unnecessary laundry.  Never mind that we already have tons of sleepwear, and dressy clothes.  Yet I still feel a pang of regret, that we aren’t shelling out $300 plus tax for nothing more than the chance to take some really cute pictures.  While it’s totally irrational, I still can’t shake the feeling that I should be doing these things.  This new clothing angst was compounded when two of my kids came down for school, several days in row, dressed all in hand-me-downs.  Sweetie Pie (8) started recounting how proud she was that while completing an assignment to visit one of those “Earth footprint” websites, she could check “Wearing all hand-me-downs” in the clothing section.  She smiled.  I faked it.

I doubt that I am alone in my guilt.  Maybe the trigger is different, but the guilt is the same.  We have good lives.  We are happy.  We are blessed in a multitude of ways.  We have tons of material comforts and diversions.  So do our kids.  So why all this angst?

I have since hidden the catalogue.   It is nice to have all those web order numbers handy or I would have tossed it.  And I am trying to think of a new tradition for Christmas Eve that involves something new but small and cost effective (fluffy socks?  ornaments?  any ideas would be appreciated.)  As to the guilt:  I’m ignoring that, too.  Because I finally learned, that no matter what circumstances you find yourself in, when it comes to kids, it never goes away.

A Very Empty Future for My Past?

It was with a sad heart that I read the following in Der Spiegel‘s online magazine (h/t ProWomanProLife) detailing the coming demographic phases and trends in our future.  In particular, the description of the emptying of rural Europe as demonstrated in the village of Hemeln:

“At the moment, (Hemeln is) fighting to keep our elementary school from being closed,” (Henckel) says. The school board in the nearby town of Hannoversch Münden announced that the current student body of 35 children was not enough to warrant keeping the school open. This year, there were only nine first-graders.

When Henckel arrived in Hemeln as a newly married young man, there were lots of children playing in the streets. Today, many of its 966 residents have gray hair, and almost a third of them are older than 60.

The article continues to state that Germany will require 24 million new immigrants between now and 2051, just to keep it’s working population at the same level.  (Germany’s total population in 2010 was 81 million people.)

My family immigrated to Canada in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, from small rural German villages throughout central Europe.  Some of our family’s most treasured artifacts are aged pictures of the timber framed house of our ancestors.  It seems shocking to me that an entire culture is disappearing, and no one seems to notice.  If anything, the majority of media attention would lead you think the exact opposite — that Europeans are reproducing at alarming rate.  But a common thread of my, and most, family histories, is the schism of part of the family that leaves, and one that stays.  In our New World minds, we always thought that somewhere “back there”, there were distant relatives carrying on the “old ways,” the ones we deserted.  It was a shock to my worldview to think that these folks had just given-up on their own civilization.  What war and strife and famine couldn’t accomplish, prosperity did in two or three generations.  My cultural and ethnic roots have ceased to be — completely of their own volition.

It also causes one to stop and reflect on what a lonely life these small, future generations will have.  A Grade 1 Class of 9 kids?!  That’s one more than the number of people in my household.  All the while the economy and culture continues to contract as it’s vitality is sucked out.  The chorus from the Goo Goo Dolls’ song “Broadway” comes to mind:

See the young man sittin’/ in the old man’s bar/waitin’ for his turn to die

The situation parallels to the ancient world described in Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity:  How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries.

By the start of the Christian era, Greco-Roman fertility had fallen below replacement levels, leading to centuries of natural decrease …By the third century, there is solid evidence of a decline in both the number and the size of Roman towns in the West, even in the Britain.

That the empire could continue as long as it did depended on a constant influx of “barbarian” settlers.  As early as the second century, Marcus Aurelius had to draft slaves and gladiators and hire German and Scythians in order to fill the ranks of the army.   After defeating the Marcomanni, Aurelius settled large numbers of them within the empire in return for their accepting obligations to supply soldiers.  (He) “had no trouble finding vacant land on which to place them. ” (p. 116, italics in the original)

He goes on to describe how the Christian rate of natural increase, due to higher marriage rates, and the early Church’s rejection of contraception, infanticide and abortion, led to a larger increase in their community within the pagan world.  But there must be more to this than just Church prohibitions:  it takes hope to have and raise children, especially when all those around you have decided on sterility, have in effect decided that the world should not go on.

But what has caused this lack of hope in formerly Christian Europe?  Why have they decided that their civilization should not be passed to the next generation? Is it cultural fatigue, years of Western academic guilt, the welfare state, surplus income?  Or is it their loss of faith?

We can only wonder at the reasons.  And pray that Europe finds its’ soul again before it is too late.

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