Teething, toys, and Jesus

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I was a new mom and wife and our parish’s youth group  had a religious goods sale set up after Masses one weekend before the sacrament rush of April/May.  I wanted to support the youth group as much as possible and I had never really had a crucifix to wear so I perused their necklaces.  I didn’t want something too flashy or big, not too fancy, but not too masculine either.  I finally settled on something and purchased it, not knowing at that point quite how much a part of my life that little thing would become. 

It has become part of my “uniform”.  I always have Jesus with me. Sometimes I will wear other jewelry, for an event (you know, like the movies with the hubs!) or something, but always I go back to my silver crucifix.  I wake up and put it on and don’t take it off  until bed at night.  I have worn it in labor with many children, often it’s in the very first pictures of my babies on my chest.  I have worn it at funerals, and baptisms.  Weddings and baby showers.  It has become part of the fabric of who I am. 

This Sunday it dawned on me just how much a part of my life it was, what a comfort and strength it has been for me.  My 8 mo little boy (our eighth child) had fallen asleep during Mass, while clutching my crucifix.  He had been chewing on it and playing with it for a good part of Mass before finally just grasping it while he drifted to sleep.  It struck me that for the past 19 years I have had babies doing something similar during Mass.  This crucifix has been chewed on and played with, held and kissed by eight children through the years.  It has been a first toy for all of my children.

I can’t even begin to express how beautiful it is to me that something so amazingly beautiful as an image of Our Savior, in His pain, suffering for our transgressions and loving us to the point of death, would be my child’s first toy as they sit on my lap, being wrapped in my arms, rocked and hummed to, prayers whispered into their ears as they pray with me in the darkness of an early morning feeding, or while waiting for the pediatrician at a check up, or while at Mass, with their first taste of what is the Source and Summit of our beautiful faith. 

The toddlers and young children will climb onto my lap and kiss Jesus, and then mommy.  The babies always grasp Jesus as soon as they are swiped up and into my arms.  I can think of no greater tool for teaching my children about Christ than the simple little crucifix I wear about my neck.  When they are old enough they ask who He is, and listen intently to the stories I tell. They are so familiar with the image and so comfortable with the knowledge that Christ is their Eternal Father, their Savior and their Love.

This has been the best toy and teething relief I could have ever imagined.  I don’t need bags full of soft toys or coloring books and crayons, my babies and young ones just need to be close enough to my heart to reach out and touch Christ. 

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“The Talk”

So I keep trying to write this amazing and profound post about our children and abusive relationships, how to help them see what they look like and how to get help when they see they’re in one.  I can’t make the words come out right, I can’t get them to make sense.    I’m trying.  I feel like I have something to say on the matter, it just refuses to be said. 

We’ve allowed our oldest two children (18 and 15.5) to “date” if they found someone worthy of their time and energies and we approved.  Our “dating” looks a bit different than other people’s, no one-on-one quiet time in the dark stuff.  No real trips in a car alone together, the list goes on.  We’ve encouraged purity and chastity and both of my daughters have an amazing example of a young married couple who waited until their wedding day for their first kiss, it was beautiful and they want that.  So, basically “dating” in our family is just a closer friendship.  They know they are working out what qualities they would ultimately see as important in a spouse, they get all that.  I trust their judgment.  I think they have good instincts and we gave them ample examples of what is good and right. 

What we failed to do is show them what unhealthy looked like.  We talked about being respected and loving God and praying for each other and praying together and how important all those things were but we didn’t talk about how those things could be manipulated and twisted to look good on the outside, all while hiding ugly on the inside.  We didn’t talk about mental illness and how you can’t fix crazy.  We didn’t talk about how there are more ways to hurt than with a fist, that words can kill nearly as efficiently as a weapon and that blackmail and veiled threats are not okay, not ever.  And, NEVER, EVER a part of a loving relationship.

We, as parents, need to explain to our daughters that no boy has the right to tell you who to be friends with, ever.  They don’t have the right to contact friends and warn them not to hang out with you or they would cause physical harm.  They don’t get to say “I feel like they are trying to break us apart as some attempt at winning me over”. That kind of controlling is never okay.  We need to explain that if you are that friend that you need to tell a trusted adult.  Your parents, your friend’s parents, a pastor/priest, a  youth director, SOMEONE.  Don’t delete the threats, print them up and TAKE them to the trusted adults in your life and demand they do something about it. 

We need to tell our daughters (and sons) that any relationship should not be built on “ME” and “I”.  That the text messages you get from your boyfriend/girlfriend should look like “hey, beautiful, good morning, hope your day is awesome!” and not “You know I’m sorry, I love you, I was grumpy and wanted to hurt myself so I hurt you instead, but I love you and I’m sorry, so I spent an hour crying and beating myself up, but whatever, just be mad and mean and angry.” 

We need to teach our daughters and sons that shallow, veiled threats of harm to self or others is not ever, EVER okay.  That phrases like “You know you mean the world to me, right?  I would never mean to hurt you on purpose.  I just…. I know I screwed up but it is in the past and…” or even that while “Every part of me needs you to be around to function and I’m  happy you’re mine” sounds good, it’s not your responsibility to make sure that someone is strong and happy and functioning and alive.  You are not a possession to be had.  Not ever.  If your boy/girlfriend has to apologize often for letting their “burning hatred” get the best of them, LEAVE.  NOW.  Block them from facebook, from your phone and from email.  If they speak about the fact that YOU are the only reason they are alive they are trying to manipulate you into staying.  LEAVE, NOW.   Always, ALWAYS include a trusted adult in the messages, especially if they suggest harm to self or others, no matter how vaguely.  Always INSIST that the adult take it seriously, because sometimes we need to be reminded that there are other things more serious than whether or not the mortgage got paid on time.

We need to teach our children that “no” means “NO” and “Please give me space” means exactly that, whether we’re talking about sex, or going for an afternoon stroll and need to be respected equally.  We need to talk to our children about the fact that physically acting out, in any way, towards or in reference to someone is not ever okay and to involve a trusted adult, immediately.  If you have a fight with your boy/girl friend and they see you (or a friend, whatever) and beat hands on a table, or a wall, or slam chairs or doors, that is NOT okay and it’s time to leave that relationship.  Immediately.

We also need to teach our children that being sorry means changing your behavior and forgiveness does not mean continuing to take abuse.  God loves you.  HE LOVES YOU.  He would never want anyone to abuse or hurt you.  You are His beautiful and loved child, for whom He gave His life.  When apologies roll in like waves, never ending and always coming, it’s time to leave.  Read 1 Cor. 13. 

The goal in a relationship is to build each other up, encourage each other.  Remember 1 Cor. 13?  Read it with your children.  A lot.  KNOW it inside and out.  Help them to understand that all of their relationships should glorify God FIRST, not any person.  Compare each and every relationship to the goal set in the Bible.  Read and compare often.  When both parties are working towards that common goal with healthy and loving words, thoughts, and actions, even if you decide maybe it’s time to end the relationship because you don’t have things in common (likes, dislikes, goals, whatever) walking away is easier, and kinder.  You both walk away with a good friend, which you can never have too many of.

belated is better than not at all, right?

Just found this in the drafts folder, written in October no doubt, I believe I walked away to go nurse a baby or kiss a wet head goodnight.  Anyway, it’s good, and I meant to finish and post it, so here it is.

 

We recently attended a required Confirmation parent meeting for our second child, Terese.  This is her last year of Confirmation 2 and I can’t wait to see this amazing young woman take that strong step into adulthood and make the committment to be a solider for Christ!

The meeting wasn’t particularly bad, our RE director was letting us know about the differences between raising boys and raising girls and had several activities for us to participate in to illustrate her point.  One such activity was meeting someone new to us and asking a series of questions of that person.  Innocent enough activity, right?  I answered questions about my personal life reluctantly, sheepishly.

“How many kids do you have?”

“oh, ummm, eight?  The oldest two are girls, then six boys”  (it’s here that the baby demands a cuddle, smart little one!)

The response was predictable “WOW, EIGHT??  Huh.  I have 3, and I am quite thankful this is my youngest and I’m finally done.  Eight, huh?  Wow.  huh.  Wow”

Then we went back to listening to more talk before the next questions were required.

I had to name a hobby I enjoyed.  I said “sewing”.  I like it!  It’s fun.  I’m not incredibly good at it, but I don’t suck either, it’s what I would do with my time if I had any.

I got a bit of an overwhelmed eye roll and a response of “well.  I just clean, it’s what I do.  I love it.”  (I gotta say I was a bit intimidated at this point, thinking THIS woman needs to never, ever step foot into my house!)

I started to feel a bit apologetic, as I usually do, at what God has blessed me with.  Somehow we got onto the subject of homes and I mentioned that we had 20 chickens.  Another exasperated eye twitch.  Then, as happens, the question of education came up.  Where do my children go to school.  “We homeschool” I mumbled, head hanging, slightly ashamed, mostly because I was so tired of hearing how “amazing” I must be, how perfect my family sounds, how I must be the best woman in the world to be able to do all that because no one else she knows could.  I was so ashamed of who I am and who God has called me to be.  She did roll her eyes, she did slap her legs in resignation and say “of course.  Why not.  AND you’ve got make up on”.  I sat, with my head nearly hanging, because without intending to, I have hurt a fellow mother.  Just by mothering my own.

Later, I realized how insane that is.  I shouldn’t be ashamed to be living out the life God has called me to.  I shouldn’t be afraid to shout from the mountains that we love our kids and would welcome more if it were God’s Will.  I shouldn’t be afraid of admitting that God has blessed our family so abundantly!  None of these blessing should bring heartache, or fear, they are on loan, straight from the Creator, Himself!  I do not stand in judgement over women who have fewer children, I don’t have time.  I don’t stand in judgement over women who don’t homeschool, how could I?  I can’t even find my school table right now!  I don’t stand in judgement over the state of your home (have you seen mine???).  I don’t judge you based on whether or not you work!  I’ve been there too, working mom of two kids trying to make it all work.  I don’t have time to judge.  Really, none of us do.  We need to stop the eye rolling and the heavy sighs and the comparing one to another.  We are all doing God’s work to the best of our ability within the means we’re given.  We need to start smiling at one another (and meaning it!) we need to love and encourage each other and we need to quit being intimidated by each other.  We all have strengths and gifts, every one of us.  We all have weaknesses, each and every one.  That doesn’t make us “less” it makes us His.