Observations

Today was the first day of the 2017-18 school year for all five kids. The past couple of weeks have been full of Schedule pick-up nights, Meet the Teacher Nights and Back-to-School nights. Over the course of these days and weeks leading up to school, I have noticed so much about each of my kids and wanted to share. Before going into details, I simply want to say that it constantly amazes me the difference in each of my children!

Sarah is beginning her Junior year of high school. This is crazy to me! She received some good news over the summer in that she earned a high enough score on the AP Psychology exam to receive college credit at universities that accept AP grades for credit. She received some not-as-good news that she needs to prep a little before trying to take the ACT again. She is playing a little varsity volleyball and some JV, too. And she has a full slate of classes. My observation of Sarah is this: She has matured into a competent, confident, beautiful, faithful and self-assured young woman. I couldn’t be more proud of her. She’s responsible for herself in many ways — she gets herself up in the mornings and takes herself where she is supposed to be, she has paid for half of her car and she plans to pay the ongoing cost of her insurance. And she says she will do these things as if she has always known they were expected and she figures that they are expected of everyone. I can’t wait to continue to see how her future unfolds — it’s most definitely a bright one.

IMG_7005

 

IMG_7029

Dani is beginning 8th grade. Dani has always been pretty sure about what she wants, but hasn’t always been able to vocalize it. That all changed last year. Dani learned how to stand up for herself and to ensure she was heard. For so many years Dani would remain quiet when she hadn’t been heard and just went along with it figuring there was no way anyone would hear her anyway. I think she was the opportunity last  year, to speak up because there was no underlying assumption about what she would or wouldn’t do. Therefore, she found her voice — in more ways than one. What I see with Dani is a young lady who will listen and review the options and then make a decision about how she will spend her time and talent and resources in ways that she will enjoy. For example, she participated in a volleyball camp with Helen this summer. She thought that she might like to try volleyball this fall. But she discovered that she didn’t enjoy volleyball to the extent she needed in order to spend the time to get better at it. She also thought she would try out for Cheerleading. But she learned the requirements and decided that she wouldn’t enjoy that. Dani’s passion lies in theater and choir — performing arts. And she also enjoys reading and writing. And so, she has chosen to direct her efforts in that direction this year and I love seeing the excitement she has for it all!

IMG_7010

Helen is beginning 6th grade. When I took Helen shopping for clothes this year, it was a far different experience from last year. She is very much in that “in between” stage where she’s too big for a lot of the “Girls” clothes, but she’s not mature enough for much of what can be found in the “Juniors” section. Thankfully, she found a few things in both camps that she liked. A week before school started she was set on wearing a dress on the first day of school, but her confidence in that wavered as the days drew closer. Now, you and I (and every other kid past the 6th grade) knows that it doesn’t matter what you wear on the first day, but we can all remember worrying about it before the first day came and went. As late as last night, Helen was still undecided and was worried. I told her that no matter what she wore, she’d be comfortable because that is how she picks out her clothes — if it’s not comfy, she won’t buy it. She finally settled on athletic shorts and a t-shirt. This morning, the text came, “Mommy…what if I am the only person wearing shorts today?” To which I replied with a text: “Well, then everyone else will be hot later and you will be comfortable.” She just sent back an “I love you” text and that was all I heard. And I saw in the pictures her dad took that she had stuck with the athletic shorts and t-shirt idea. This evening as I reviewed her day with her, not one time did she mention what she or anyone else wore to school. 🙂

IMG_7021

Dominic is a friendly child and loves school. He is entering the 3rd grade. He was very excited that one other boy was in his class again this year! This boy and Dominic spent a lot of time writing a “series” based on minecraft and legos last year. Dominic looks forward to resuming this important work. His teacher asked him about himself at Meet the Teacher night and I heard my little boy sound oh-so-grown up as he explained that he loves to read and draw and play minecraft. His assignment for today was to fill a brown paper bag with items that helped tell “his story” or “all about Dominic” and here are the things he put in there: Pencil (because he loves to write), a Marker (because he loves to illustrate what he writes, an Imaginator/Skylander thing (because he has a great imagination), a Lego (because he loves to creat things), and an Angry Birds Telepod (because, as he said, “they’ve been a part of my life since I was small”) Dominic is a fantastic kid. I think he’s going to be the kind of person that everyone loves to talk to at a party or meeting.

IMG_7016

Vincent is as low-key as any of my kids come. He enjoys activities and school, but he doesn’t show it the way most kids his age do. For example, he was taking swim lessons and after the first couple lessons, the instructor told me that I needed to bring Vincent to the pool outside of swim lessons so he could become more familiar with the water and lose his fear. Now, this was a surprise to me because Vincent had never been afraid of the water from what I could tell. Nevertheless, our family went swimming that weekend and he was bobbing up and down, jumping in with no one to catch and everything. I finally pointed out to him that his swim instructor was life guarding at the time and was watching all his antics in the pool! I said, “Well, now she KNOWS you aren’t afraid to put your face in the water, so you better do it during swim lessons!” No further problems with swim lessons. 🙂

The other night at Meet the Teacher night, he wouldn’t smile or laugh or anything in his classroom. The teacher asked him if he liked to be called anything other than Vincent and he said — with a completely straight face — “No. Just Vincent.” The teacher asked him if he was excited to start school and he said — again with a completely straight face — “Yes.” and then a little boy walked by and he says with monotone inflection and a straight face, “Hi Slade.” I did manage to convince him to smile for his school picture (which his super-organized school manages to have taken at Meet the Teacher night every year) but other than that, Vincent really just kind of keeps a low profile, does what he should do, and coasts through life.

IMG_7018

These kids are everything to me and I love watching them all grow up and show me and the world who they are. They are awesome little people growing into really cool bigger people and I’m so proud and excited and blessed that they are mine.

It’s Not “The End.”

I remember it almost as though it were yesterday. It was six years ago, during a hot July. I was recovering from delivering Vincent and messing around online. I logged onto the Catholic school website to see if the kids’ classes had been loaded and realized they had. I clicked on each one, starting with Sarah’s. I selected 5th grade and started scrolling through the familiar names…until I found a female name that was unfamiliar. What?!? a new girl? Then I clicked on 2nd grade and started scrolling through those mostly familiar names (she had TONS of girls in her class), and what is this?? another unfamiliar female name with the same last name. Interesting.

I ended up clicking on all of them trying to see if this was another family that had just the two girls, or if there were more kids. Ultimately I noticed they had a son two grades ahead of Sarah/their daughter and it looked like a preschooler, though I couldn’t tell the age.

At the time, I coached Sarah’s grade in volleyball, so I went about trying to find out a way to reach the new family to introduce myself and let them know about volleyball and that we’d love to have their 5th grader join the team. I composed an e-mail as carefully as possible and sent it off. I was rather excited to welcome a new family to the school and to see if there were any way we had more in common than two girls who would be in the same classes that coming school year.

Little did I know then, that this family would become cherished friends to ours. It turns out that they are kind of like what I’ve termed our “twin family.” You see, outside of their oldest child, a son who is two years older than Sarah and their daughter, our children match up to each other quite well. After their oldest, they have three daughters in succession and then two sons in succession and each of their children’s birthdays are within months of each of our children’s birthdays.

From the outside looking in, the thing that Jackie and I seem to have the most in common is our family planning. While that is the most apparent, I felt drawn to build a close friendship with Jackie because at the time, I was ecstatic to welcome a large family to our Catholic school. Most of the larger families at our parish had children that were older than ours and we kind of missed the boat on getting included in social events due to the weird phenomena that seems to occur with school relationships: you make the most friends with the families in your oldest child’s grade. Maybe I’m weird, but it does seem to work that way for some other families I have known. Having another mom to work through the challenges of raising a large family in this area seemed like a dream come true. The fact that we’d be working through the same sorts of issues in the same parish environment was even better. I was eager to learn how Jackie felt about our parish, how we did things, how her family did things — all of it.

Over the years, we have shared with each other opinions and support on so many things: middle school girl drama, grade school mean-kid drama, childcare challenges, daycare provider, challenges, education, Church teaching, aging parents, miscarried babies, cheerleading for our girls, public high school and so much more. I have prayed many prayers of thanksgiving over the past six years that I have her in my life and that our children have each other in their lives.

Our friendship became one that I had always desired — one where I never worried about the state of my house when she stopped by. We grew to have the kind of friendship where she called on her way past the house to ask if I had some clothes for one of her kids to borrow as the clothes being worn were wet and they wouldn’t make it home for a bit. We grew to have the kind of friendship where we were never embarrassed that we’d said we would get together for Margaritas, but it took 3 years to make it happen. We grew to have the kind of friendship where we could rely on each other for all sorts of things, but even if we had to say no (this time! but please ask again!) there was complete understanding that life with lots of kids our kids’ ages was busy and chaotic. We shared so much of that and I am forever grateful that God placed them in our lives. It was absolutely the most obvious sign of Divine Intervention that we met six years ago, in my opinion: God knew Jackie and I would need each other. At least I like to think she needed me like I needed her. 🙂 And boy did I need her — right at that time and all through these years.

And even though I’ve needed her, that was never what it was all about, of course. I love talking with her and sharing our families together. I like to think that she thinks our parallel paths is pretty cool, too.

IMG_5750

They are moving away due to a great opportunity for her husband. It’s not far — just three hours (I checked on our way to Texas this summer 🙂 ) — but of course, far enough that daily life involvement will no longer be possible. When my oldest was told the news by her oldest daughter, she came to tell me. I was strong for her, I hugged her and I told her, “These days, that doesn’t mean ‘the end’ like it did when I was a kid. You all have your phones and many other ways to keep in touch easily. You have one of those friendships that last, even if she isn’t here every single day.” After I sent Sarah on to bed, I walked downstairs and asked Craig if Sarah had told him the news and he nodded yes.

And then…the tears came. I cried while he hugged me and told me that it would be all right. I told him, “I’ve never had a best friend to move away from me before. I’m so sad!”

IMG_5743

The next day, Jackie called me and we talked. She didn’t have to, of course, but she apologized for the fact that I heard it through the kids. We’ve spent the past few months trying to appease our kids’ requests for “one more thing” to do with each other. The younger three came to our house three nights in a row one week while the older family members help get the house ready for sale, and just played their hearts out with my kids. We had a nice thrown-together joint Graduation and First Communion party when Dominic and their son received First Holy Communion in May. Our oldest daughters have gone to movies and breakfast and all sorts of things to hang out. And the middle daughters have taken trips to WOF or just hang out at one or the other’s houses.

Tonight is my turn. Margaritas with Jackie and with another friend of ours, whose daughter is the third in their “three amigos” friendship.

I am going to miss Jackie and her family so much. But I know with all my heart this is not “the end.” It’s just the beginning of a new phase for us all.

IMG_5742

Weight Watchers Wednesday with Updates? Sure.

I find it interesting that I end up right back where I start sometimes. See, I’ve been paying the Weight Watchers Monthly Pass fee for almost a year straight now. But I haven’t been faithful about attending the meetings. THIS time, about 8-12 weeks ago, I completely shut it all down: I stopped attending meetings, I stopped going to Crossfit, I stopped getting up early and I stopped tracking my food and activity. Not a good plan, obviously.

A couple of weeks ago, I headed back to the at-work WW meeting. I was sad to have to face the music of the scale, but it was also brought a sense of freedom to simply look at it, say, “Okay, let’s figure this out again” and get back on the wagon. I didn’t track that first week back and I only did my running. Then last week I weighed in and had gained 0.2 pounds. I was happy it was only 0.2 honestly.

About the middle of June, I was gifted a hand-me-down Fitbit Charger HR. When I looked into buying a Fitbit, this was the model I wanted because it tracked sleep and also heart-rate while working out. I didn’t know back then all the reasons I would love it. However, in the last couple of months and specifically this past week, I do know many reasons I love it.

First of all, the Fitbit Charge HR tracks all my steps and on the app, I can track my weight view my sleep habits and track my water intake (that part is so easy) AND if I do something that’s not necessarily just walking from my desk to my printer all day and I do it for a period of time, it will track that all by itself. For example, if I go for a 45 minute walk, it knows it was a walk and tracks it as an exercise event (so to speak) and when I spent 42 minutes working on volleyball with Helen and Dani on Sunday afternoon, it tracked that as a “sport” event. Then when I do my Crossfit workouts, if the WOD is long enough it is also a “sport” event. And when I run for an extended period of time, it tracks it as a run. Love. It.

Second of all, the Weight Watchers app will sync to the Fitbit app on my phone and then translate my steps/sport/walk/run activities into Fitpoints! I NEVER gave myself the number of Fitpoints for my exercise before this Fitbit thing. And how much do I like that I don’t actually have to track the Fitpoints, but they automatically appear in my WW app? Yeah, I like that a lot.

Okay one more thing I did this past week was I started back at CrossFit. Back when I took my break, I decided to stop cleaning the gym as I had done for 3 years to pay for my membership. When I went back, I reasoned, I would purchase a membership. And so I did last Tuesday and went back to my first workout Wednesday morning. I didn’t go all crazy…I was reasonable about the weight I lifted and gave myself a little break with the movements. I also still ran a couple of times.

I figured out how to sync my Fitbit to WW Thursday, so didn’t have anything tracked for Wednesday last week. But get this! 92 Fitpoints for the week.

IMG_6784

I love that so much. that is a day less than a full week, which means I should totally get over 100 Fitpoints this coming week, haha.

And I tracked my food every day except Sunday. I really need to track every day, though. I do much better when I track my food. I tracked my water in my Fitbit app and I had a day where I drank 176 oz of water! I was very thirsty on Monday. But I like having an easy place to keep track of water that shows it in graph form. Also, I was looking at my sleep in the app and amazingly, I actually get slightly higher than average amount of sleep for my demographic.

IMG_6791

It is so interesting to see when I’m “restless” and the fact that the Fitbit can sense and track that.

IMG_6792

And the result of the past week was a loss of 4.4 pounds! While I expected it, I was still very happy to get that result at the scale. so yay!

Sarah earned her driver’s license last Monday, the day after her 16th birthday. My dad found a car for a reasonable price and Sarah paid half. She is also going to be paying her portion of car insurance, too. She’s amazing…really. This picture was taken moments after she entered her Surprise Golden Sweet 16 birthday party.

FullSizeRender

Finally, here’s a cute picture of Helen. Today was the first of two “orientation” days at the middle school for sixth graders. How the heck did she grow up to this point so fast?

IMG_6787

Anniversary Advice to a Younger Me

Today is my 18th wedding anniversary. To celebrate, I am going to write a post directed at 25-year-old me.

Dear Michelle of 18 years ago,

Your wedding went off without a hitch. You got the important part down and even though your reception/party afterward wasn’t what many other people thought it should be, it was a celebration of you and Craig and your marriage. Over the next few years as you attend many weddings, you’ll think a lot about your own and whether you short-changed yourself. I’m here to tell you — 18 years later, it does not matter, and you had a wonderful party that was very much YOU.

You thought you would never be in a place where you would desire children, but your heart softened in just over a year and you opened up to the idea. It was the best thing you ever did. Being a mom is most likely the greatest joy in your life (at least 18 years later) and having a successful marriage is the foundation for that joy.

You are ambitious and you want to move so fast through the corporate ranks. Let 43-year-old you fill you in: you never quite go as far as you always dreamed and hoped you would, and you’re (usually) okay with that. You struggle through your child-bearing years to understand that sometimes you just have to understand your niche and do a bang up job on that. But once you figure it out, you set about doing the best damn job of process automation and improvement and people management you can in whatever department you are in.

Speaking of career aspirations, you struggle also with the idea that you are not able to be 100% mom to your children. 43-year-old Michelle is here to tell you: you are the best mom you can be because you work full-time, maintain a stable and organized home, partner with your husband and raise your children to understand boundaries, goal-setting, limits and all that comes with growing up. No, you didn’t nurse your babies (I know, you’re just getting used to the idea that you even have babies) and you struggled with that, too. But in the end you understand that you did what was the best thing for your family at all times.

I think you’d be surprised at where 43-year-old Michelle is with regard to Catholic faith. A seed was planted in your couple counseling sessions with Fr. Tank before you got married. And while you didn’t respond and cultivate that planted seed until about 6 weeks after your first child was born…when you got around to it, you worked very hard at it. You should be proud to know that you and your husband not only embraced the Catholic church’s teachings on marriage and family, you even helped others along the way to try and understand them, even if others didn’t agree or sign on full-force like you.

If there were one thing 43-year-old Michelle would like to tell 30-year-old Michelle as far as faith goes, it is this: Remember that every walk in faith is a journey and you don’t know where on the path others are. And don’t be surprised to find yourself in different spots along the way. Sometimes when you think you have it all figured out — almost as quickly as that feeling comes, it is gone and you can feel lost.

You already know that marriage and life is not all roses; you grew up in a divorced family, abandoned by your father (something you won’t admit for several more years) and emotionally tormented by your relationship with your mother (something you still deal with at age 43). But you will have at least one experience where you will feel the depth of despair. You will cling to your husband like you never thought you would have to and you will claw and grasp to feel close to God as you make your way through. It will change you in ways you cannot imagine and even 43-year-old Michelle cannot really put into words.

You will feel great pride in your children and you will wonder how the heck God deemed you worthy to bless you with them. Sure, there will be the typical moments when they will break your heart, or something in their lives will break your heart. But overall, you will pray more prayers of thanksgiving (at least by 18 years of marriage) than prayers of sorrow regarding your children.

A small bit of advice and then I’m done: Cherish every day. Be grateful every minute. Time is fleeting and before you know it, you’ll look in the mirror and realize you have more gray hair than blonde and you wonder just when you stopped looking like you did in your wedding photos. You’ll be preparing to send your oldest off to college (or preparing for a college student continuing to live at home while attending school to save money), worrying about ACT scores, college admissions, in-state or out-of-state tuition and scholarships. You’ll watch your children navigate the crazy waters of puberty and adolescence thanking God some gadgets and technology were never around when you were their age.

But you’ll also hear your 6-year-old sing the words “She’s an Angel…” to have your husband ask him, “Who is an Angel?” and hear him say, “Mommy” and ask to be picked up and he will give you the sweetest hug and kiss.

And in that very moment, time doesn’t fly and you can’t believe the sweetness of your marriage, your family, your life.

IMG_4924
New Year’s Eve (12/31/16) — with one extra kid, Sophie (Sarah’s bestie)

Happy Birthday, Sarah!

I’ve loved her for almost 17 years at this point.

IMG_6019

Because from that first amazing moment that I found out I was pregnant with her…I was so deeply in love.

She’s my first child, my first daughter, my first everything. The first time I cried from a heart bursting with pride was watching her perform after a week-long theater camp. I’ve been amazed MANY first times over at this point. There’s a reason I often tag my Instagram photos #shesamazing. It’s because She. Is. Amazing.

She’s smart. She’s witty. She is a workhorse. She is strong. She is loyal. She is caring. She is sensitive. She is confident. She is everything I wish I had been when I was 16.

IMG_5302

She’s the best big sister. She’s responsible and compassionate She spends time learning about her siblings — what they like, what they don’t and what makes them “tick”. She is fierce in her protection of them and isn’t afraid to make it known.

And she’s so amazing that I have a hard time taking credit for any of it. She’s so amazing that raising her hasn’t felt like as much work as I always thought it would be. She’s so amazing that to know her is to love her in every sense of that cliche.

I could never write words that would be enough to describe how much I love her.

I am honored that God allowed me to be her mother. It continues to be one of the greatest joys in my life.

Happy Birthday to my girl, Sarah.

IMG_5693

You’re a strong, beautiful young woman.

Nothing can stop the force that is you.

Happy Sweet 16, my girl.

Our Catholic High School Decision Has Been Made — 3 year old unpublished post

Well, look at this: I found this in my drafts. I wrote it THREE YEARS ago, but never published it. Part of me wants to change some words here and there, but then…these were my thoughts then. A few things have changed (see the bottom of the post for my thoughts), a few things have stayed the same. At the time this was written, only one of my children was set to attend public school and now all five of them attend public school.

Okay, I’m going to take a deep breath and publish (after I add my current-day thoughts to the end). As you read the next few paragraphs, please keep in mind that I wrote this three years ago and that there is more to the story at the end. 🙂

d9df80f2c4e4a9e8fa7a420a2f57c885

Recently, we decided that our children will attend public high school. We’d been discerning diligently for the past 7-8 months, but the hope of providing Catholic high school education to our children had been on our minds for even longer than that. There were many things we considered as we discerned. I’ve been able to compartmentalize them into three main categories: the expense; the extra-curricular opportunities (sports, clubs, etc); and the environment (Catholic and otherwise). Our comfort levels with different aspects of all of those were based on our experiences. Craig attended Catholic school all the way through high school. I attended Catholic school from grades 1 through 8. After that, I attended public high school.

For the purposes of this post, I am going to focus on the financial expense of providing a Catholic high school education. It seems, unfortunately, that Catholic high schools in most of our country have gone the way of being “Private Schools with Mass.” The tuition to attend the Catholic high school in my area is pretty close to what it costs to attend any other private high school in our city. It might be a little less expensive (by $1000-2000) but when you’re talking $10-12,000 per year, that’s not that much of a discount. Many families like mine – those who have accepted alarger-than-average amount of children, often expand the family beyond theability to provide Catholic education through high school. I’m not even going to touch the college expense. My kids will know from the get-go that paying for college will be largely on them.

To hear many Church leaders (Priests, Bishops, etc) speak, you would think that the Catholic Church wants to provide a Catholic education to anyone who wants it. And I do think the desire is there. The problem is that a Catholic education is exclusive to those who can afford it, and sadly, many families cannot justify $10,000+/year tuition for four years for each kid in high school for a family the size of mine. I also know of families smaller than mine, for whom the Catholic education is out of reach. I know of families larger than mine that make it work, too. I think that’s great and God has blessed them abundantly for their sacrifice.

Our diocese is building a new Catholic high school about an hour southeast of where I live. I signed up to contribute to this effort. I made a 3-year-commitment of 1% of our take-home pay for this campaign. At the time, we were still thinking that our kids could perhaps attend Catholic high school. But now that the decision has been made to send them to public school, I can’t help but note the irony that I am helping pay for a new Catholic high school to which I can’t even afford to send my kids.

There has been much said to me and around me about the financial assistance available for Catholic high school, but the reality of the matter seems to be that there just isn’t that much to go around to everyone who needs it. Even if the first year was made doable, the following years could crush us financially, and once your kid has started going somewhere for high school, you really don’t want to move them, so we’d be stuck if we started…at least for our oldest. I’ve heard that endowments for the private schools in our city are much bigger than what is available at the local Catholic high school, which only puts added pressure on the finances (of both school and families).

One of the most familiar commentaries I have heard from older parishioners who have already put their children through Catholic high school is that it was worth the sacrifice. I have no doubt that if I were able to sacrifice a reasonable amount without hurting my family in the process, I would also find the sacrifice to be worth it, edifying even. I understand that the people who encourage me to send my children to Catholic high school and “trust God” and that “it is all worth the sacrifice” mean well. For them, the sacrifice was doable. I don’t know what most people make, what their financial commitments are outside of Catholic high school tuition and all that stuff. Therefore, I can’t give an opinion on whether the sacrifice they made and what would be required of me would be similar or not. I can only speak to our situation and believe me when I tell you that the amount of money I was putting away simply for Catholic High school was preventing Club volleyball, guitar lessons, ballet, among other activities that I had wanted to provide my kids. I was looking down the road and seeing 16 years of nothing outside of school-related activities and tuition in the budget and I was getting down about not being able to provide some experiences for my kids that I think are important to their growth.

An additional consideration for a family like mine might be that we’d be able to provide Catholic high school for one, but not all of our children. Saving the money I was to put towards tuition – for as long as I was looking at having to do that – was putting our family into a delicate position should a job loss occur or any instance that could happen causing either my husband or me to be without an income for any period of time. I’m talking – beyond the emergency savings – how could we continue to provide this if some tragedy befell our family? And even if no tragedy befell us, but life happened and the amount we’d saved couldn’t measure up to what was required – what if we faced the possibility that our children could not continue at the Catholic high school and we provided for one and couldn’t provide for all? Plus we have spaced our children to the extent that we will be paying for preschool for our youngest during our oldest child’s first two years of high school. Preschool is a necessity for us as it doubles as our childcare; our daily childcare expense won’t diminish until our youngest enters Kindergarten.

The balance in these things is critical in our relationship as a family, I think. Rather than face the insecurity of being unable to provide this for all five of our living children, it seemed the more prudent approach to continue to save the money knowing it could help provide things like Club volleyball, Swim team, music lessons, tennis lessons, and other extra-curricular activities that will provide value down the line. It seems more prudent knowing that money will be available to buy a new-to-us car if the time comes, without taking on the burden of payments. Perhaps we will pre-pay preschool tuition to get a discount. Perhaps the next round of orthodontic treatment won’t be such a hassle.

Once the decision was made, a huge load was lifted from my chest. Yes, sadness prevailed for a little bit. It’s hard to admit that you can’t provide your kids with their desires. And the disappointment in the fact that the Catholic Church can’t fulfill her desire to educate all those who would want to come to a Catholic school is still there.

Discernment

Did the Catholic Church intend to go down this route? I doubt it. The reality of the situation is that Catholic schools are no longer run by Religious (nuns or priests). Paying competitive salaries (and benefits!) for laypeople as teachers and administrators has driven the cost to the point that it is difficult to see a difference between a Catholic school and a private school. The main difference being that at a Catholic school, religion class is a requirement, a chapel/place for daily prayer is available and Mass happens on at least a semi-regular basis. Add to that the fact that Catholics in this country do not support the Church to the level required to provide a Catholic education to all. And – to be fair – most Catholics who are paying tuition to the rate of $10,000/year/kid feel the obligation to pay that and probably believe this IS their financial support for the Church. I know that if I were to pay tuition for Catholic high school, my “first fruits” contribution would most likely have to diminish to cover the cost. Obviously, that’s backwards because it turns my “first fruits” contribution into something else.

I do think something should be figured out. I think there is something wrong when a Church encourages the faithful to be generous and embrace new life into their marriages, but then shuts the door on those families when it comes to education. I know parents are the primary educators of children. Parents should not drop the kids off at the door of the Catholic school expecting all the magic to happen there, and at the end of 12 years, POOF! a well-formed Catholic with brains to match magically appears. But I also recognize my Church’s call to support Catholic education in all ways, including financial. A little more financial support as well as a bit of emotional and spiritual support from the Church with regard to this issue would be most appreciated.

*********************************************************************************

My thoughts three years later.

The local Catholic high school has taken great pains to promote their support of larger families and the things they are doing to combat the high cost of sending children to their school. This support comes in the form of a tuition schedule that ensures a family with the third or fourth (or fifth!) kid coming through is not getting burdened with an ENTIRE third or fourth (or fifth!) full tuition. The way it was explained was that it would take into account that the older children will most likely be on to college when the younger children attend high school and, of course, it could be a tremendous burden on the family to be helping with college expense while also paying a large amount in tuition. This is wonderful and I’m so glad they are doing it! For the families for whom the financial aspect was truly the only obstacle, this will most likely tip the balance in the Catholic school receiving the attendance of the children in those families.

Once my oldest began attending the public high school, it became apparent that she had missed the opportunity to start on some activities she may have found enjoyable since she was in the Catholic grade school. Things like Student Council, Orchestra/Band/Choir, Drama/Theater and other sorts of activities that middle schoolers are able to explore without a huge cost to the family were not available to her. Sure, they could have been available to her if we, her parents, had been available to pay for and transport her to extra lessons. Of course the expense of money and time for that were not feasible for us.

Our public school district has wonderful programs and provides the opportunities to any child interested and even provides transportation home at later times for children involved in after school activities. (Dani’s BASA Bus — Before After School Activities Bus — dropped her off at 5:10 p.m.) Learning this sped up the decision to move all of our children to the public schools. It seemed easier to get them involved in things at an earlier stage in their academic years so they would have all the opportunity to explore and discover those things they would desire to be a part of in the crucial high school years where leadership and involvement are so important. Therefore, the financial aspect of our decision lessened with this realization.

Finally, what we can see in hindsight is that a larger school environment has been fabulous for each and every one of our children. At some point, we had thought a small school was the ideal. Lower teacher-to-student ratios lend to the thinking that the child receives more attention, leading to better academic results. However, our experience has been that our children thrive within the larger public school framework. There are more friends to make, more challenges to be had and a diversity that was not as ever-present in the Catholic school environment from which they came.

One thing that Craig and I thought was important — especially in high school — was for our kids to grow and learn in an environment where their beliefs and values might be challenged. We thought it was critical that this happen while they were still in our care and that this should not wait until they left home for college or to enter the military or to enter the working world. I know that as Catholics, we want to make the world as Catholic as we can. We are called to be in the world, evangelizing — by word AND deed — to bring Christ’s Love to all those we meet. Craig and I have watched our children do this in the public schools. Not only do they bring Christ’s Love to those they encounter everyday in a non-Catholic school environment, but they experience it from those around them. In the past, when the subject of sending our Catholic kids to public school had been brought up, it almost seemed like most Catholic parents considered it “a bad idea,” at best and “almost-cruel,” at worst, to subject their children to the public schools and those that inhabit them. Almost as though their precious little lambs would be devoured by those horrible wolves that lurked in the curriculum or in the more diverse, and especially non-Catholic population they would encounter.

I’ve been impressed with the education my oldest has received at the public high school. Sarah has had opportunities for Honors classes, AP class in sophomore year, and AP and dual-credit college courses coming up this junior year. She’s received a Varsity letter in academics for her Freshman year and is set to receive one for Sophomore year, as well. She had the opportunity to earn a Varsity letter in Volleyball as a Sophomore and is on track to earn more in the future for Volleyball. She has made good, solid friends — even though their background is so completely different from her own.

I was impressed with middle school, too. Kids grow up A LOT during middle school and need to be given the opportunity to learn some hard lessons during that time. Dani thrived in the larger middle school environment. She made friends almost from the word “Go!” and she has become independent and has learned so much about herself. She has discovered that others think she is a pretty fantastic person — she needed that! I mean, Dani has always been pretty confident in herself, but in a larger environment, her outgoing nature and kind heart took her places she hadn’t had the opportunity to go before.

Elementary school was fantastic, too. Helen grew up in 5th grade. And she was given the opportunity to do that with more kids to interact with and teachers pushing her out of her comfort zone a little bit (with a safety net!) Since 5th graders are the oldest kids in the elementary school, I think there are more opportunities for growth and responsibility than at the smaller Catholic school that has K-8. Helen leaves elementary school eager and ready for the challenges that lie ahead in middle school. The boys thrived, too. Dominic loves school — I don’t think he cared where he was in school — and made friends with the same interests he had — Minecraft, Angry Birds, Star Wars, Comic Books. Vincent was quiet and reserved, but received a lot of praise for always being kind to those around him and being a hard worker.

I know this got a little long, but when I found this old post, I just knew I had to publish it along with a few thoughts on “the now.”

Let It Go (Let it Go)

At a recent family gathering I said something about the way my mother would have handled some sort of issue (I can’t even remember the exact circumstance we were discussing now!) and it was said, “You really need to let that go.”

letitgo

The fact that I write about what I dealt with growing up, or continue to deal with now, with regard to this relationship I have with my mother, has nothing to do with harboring any sort of ill will. As I stated before, I love my mother — in that sense that I want what is best for her. But, I don’t have a huge amount of affection for her. She doesn’t have much affection for me, either.

Stating that doesn’t mean I haven’t let anything go.

Flashback 16 years ago: I was expecting my first child whom I had learned was a girl. It was kind of a shock to find out I was having a daughter. I had always pictured myself having a son first. Maybe that was because growing up I had an older brother and always took a bit of pride in the fact that I did (though our relationship varied on the closeness). Regardless of why, it simply is what it is (as they say) that I felt a bit uncertain and even a some fear at having a daughter.

It was at that time that I started to think about my relationship with my mother more from my mother’s point of view. I wondered if I had been unfair in my judgments of her and her lack of attention towards me in my life. As I began viewing the relationship we had from her end of it, I  gave her quite a bit of credit: She was a single parent (wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy); She was tenacious about her schooling and her future career as a nurse; She was a single parent TO FIVE CHILDREN; She was alone in life — obviously not by choice, so that had to be difficult.

From the time I had Sarah even through having four of my children, I made a conscious effort with regard to my relationship with my mom. I made sure to call her regularly. I found a Mother’s Day card or a Birthday Card at the appropriate times, or I sent her flowers. While pregnant with Dani, we even spent a WHOLE WEEK at her home in the mountains, far away from anything to entertain us — isolated and at her “beck and call” so to speak so she could talk and talk and talk at us. (Side Note: at that visit, I found where she had pictures from my youth. there were pictures of my siblings, some pictures of us with our Dad. I spent an entire afternoon looking at them. i asked her if I could take them with me. She refused. She had them all thrown haphazardly into an end table, most likely the way they had been for years, never been looked at, sorted or shared — but yet, she refused to allow me to take them. I was angry about that for awhile.) My years of conscious effort included many phone calls of me getting off the phone curtly and with frustration at her telling me negative things about someone in my family — usually my father, but sometimes a sibling — that I simply couldn’t bear to allow her to do. I believe during that time is when I was gathering my strength to set boundaries. I had small children and was learning the value of setting boundaries for them, and abiding by the boundaries set by them and my husband, and it is then that I began to realize the fault in most things with my mother lies in her inability to identify, set, accept and abide by emotional boundaries we all have (or should have).

I’m not sure what happened that caused me to realize that all my conscious effort was never going to make a difference. I COULDN’T MAKE HER INTO THE MOTHER I WANTED AND NEEDED. So, I have not ever cut her out of my life entirely, but I stopped making the effort that I had for those 8 or so years.

During those 8 years of effort, I let a lot of things go. And honestly, I’ve never taken them back on. I’m not angry with my mom anymore. I’m not. I’m sad. I still long for a mother-daughter relationship that I’ll never have. I mourn it in my own way. I cherish every wonderful (breathtakingly wonderful sometimes) moment I have with my daughters.

I think I am glad I heard that: “You really need to let that go.”

soundslike

Hearing that helped me think about it and realize that I’ve let everything go.

Letting something go doesn’t mean you excuse the behavior or explain away the results as “nothing big.” The results of bad behavior exist whether or not we “let it go.” The chasm in a family relationship still exists when one person hurts or neglects another. Even when we “let it go” we learn and move on from it and act accordingly.

When trust is broken, “letting it go” helps us heal, but it doesn’t rebuild the trust. Trust is a two-way street and one person making a conscious effort for eight years will not rebuild that trust when only that person is making the effort.

I find it interesting how I am able to work through these sorts of things now. Over time, emotion has emptied, and I often am able to view both memories and current events with a matter-of-fact-ness not possible when angry or hurt. Sure, I am still sad at times for not having the sort of mother-daughter relationship of many people I see. but I don’t wallow in it — I’m busy cultivating my relationships I DO have in the present.

I think the best way to describe how I view my relationship with my mother is that it “just is.” I love her, but I don’t have affection for her. I know people who have wonderful relationships with their parents would read that and possibly think I am ungrateful. But they don’t understand — and they should feel grateful that they don’t — what it’s like to have a mother who is simply more interested in herself than anything or anyone else.