Let’s Get Real about a Larger (than average) Family

When people say this: “You have your hands full!”

I often say “thank you” or “don’t I know it!” with a huge smile on my face. I never want anyone to get the impression that I don’t love the fact that I have been so very blessed to have five children beyond the womb (current ages 12, 10, 8, 5 and 2) and our baby, Gregory, who is in Heaven.

The reality is that it’s not always easy to have that huge smile. And sometimes I want to say, “Yes, I do…why don’t you take a couple off my hands?” Or maybe I want to say, “My hands! My house! My car! All of it is FULL!!! FULL, FULL, FULL!!! There is NO more room at the inn!!!”

Over the years, I’ve thought about how I publicly show my face with regards to our family. We used NFP and I wanted people to know that we (and God!) intended every single one of them. No “mistakes” around here. No “oopsies” or “method failures” or any of that. We went in fully aware babies could come from our union and we were fine with that. We welcomed them all!

There seems to be a tremendous pressure, especially in Catholic circles and especially on-line in the blog-world where everyone can read the things we write, to enjoy every minute of this great big family we procreated and to never let it show that it’s difficult, at times. We must always “saddle up” and ride on through the path we have laid by accepting this gift of children into our marriage and never let on to “the outside” that there might be times we question our former sanity. And that’s a shame because in reality, there are some difficulties that come with having more than 2.2 children (or 1.9 or whatever our birth rate is these days) in our society that should be acknowledged and validated without it seeming like we regretted having the children we have.

So, this is a “get real” post. This is the post that perhaps women like me are afraid to write. And I’m writing it. And I want to state for the record before I get going that I don’t want you to think, for one second, that I don’t love and adore my beautiful family. I can love them and I can love all the sufferings and hardships just as much as I love the joyful and fun times.

The Struggles of a mother of five…

·         Oh, the Insecurity! I often feel like the discernment to add to my family was the easy part (it wasn’t really…in my saner moments I know that) and I’m failing one or more of these precious children at any given moment. My oldest got 100% of me when she was a newborn. Not one other child of mine was afforded that opportunity. And not one of my children will ever get 100% of me ever again. (The pressure to tout the awesomeness of siblings is often what gets thrown at this one.)

·         The Diapers, the Wipes, the Pull-ups, Oh My! So, we’re out of diapers and potty-training now – but that was hard. Changing diapers in the household for almost 13 years – wow! Ever since our youngest potty-trained a few months ago, I’ve marveled, while reading the grocery ads and being able to skip over the Huggies or Pampers specials. We don’t need any of that anymore and WOW!! It’s been almost 13 years since I could say that!

·         Tantrums to Teens – Maybe I really AM crazy!We’re now balancing the parenting of tantrum-throwing toddler with clingy young elementary-aged kids while we’re also working to get the older kids ready to be adults – added responsibilities, teaching personal accountability and the like. It can be draining. You think dealing with the tantrums is hard, until you’re saying “shut up” and yelling at a kid who thinks they know everything so that you can assert yourself (again) as the sole parent in the room. Then later, you feel guilty that you yelled at your teen who is just trying to figure things out. (There’s that insecurity again…)

·         Just wait until they get older, it will be easier! When the children were all young, people would say that it will get better. And that is true, to an extent. My life feels better with my kids who are older because they do help me out in many ways. I have a babysitter in my oldest now and even my second child can be “in charge” for short periods of time. But the reality is that the struggles take on a different flavor. Monitoring internet usage and phones and text messages but also having the time to have the talks with the kids that they need to have at that time – the pressure can feel suffocating.

·         “That’s so great, I bet you get a lot of use out of everything!” I had three girls first and then I had my two boys. Sometimes “hand-me-downs” worked and sometimes they didn’t. All three of my girls have very different tastes and body types, so unless it was A-Line (yay for a great A-Line First Holy Communion Dress!) I didn’t get as much use out of true sibling hand-me-downs as I did from just getting second-hand stuff from various friends or consignment/thrift stores.  But to be honest, getting and giving “Hand-me-downs” all the time gets old. Shopping in Thrift Stores get old. Yes, I love to save money. Yes, it’s a necessary thing when you have five children that you do some second-hand stuff. Brand-new for all kids all the time is just not going to cut it. But, I’m not going to lie – it’s not all that much fun.

·         Minivan Rage! Driving a minivan forever sucks. We own two minivans because that way, no matter which parent/driver has the kids, they have a vehicle large enough for everyone. But, I find myself daydreaming about the day I can drive a compact car to work again. (Truly)

·         Nuclear Family of Four, Please! All the “family packs” or “family” anything refers to two adults and two children. It used to make me mad back when I had three children…but now, it’s just silly. Who decided two adults and two children make a family? Of course, I know my family qualifies as a family and I no longer feel like I need everyone else in the world to acknowledge that fact. But that doesn’t mean the ugliness of this situation doesn’t rear its head every so often. And usually it is when I’m forking over an extra $50 for something so that my entire family can do it together.

·       Oh! The expen$e$! Let’$ discu$$ the expen$e, shall we? Having a large family is expensive. That’s not rocket science. Raising kids is expensive all the way around. Doing anything fun with a family of 7 (2 adults and 5 children, thank you very much) is going to cost an arm and a leg. I literally have to “put money away” in the savings account specifically for a night out to dinner or to an activity. When our family travels and finds the need to spend the night in a hotel – we must to get a suite or something so we can all fit in one place. And, because life, in general, is expen$ive, when you have a larger-than-average family, your kids don’t get to do everything they see their friends do. Expensive club sports, music lessons, extra camps in the summer, travel – all of these things are simply out of reach for most of us with larger families. I’ve worked in activities with moderation, but it takes some a lot of sacrifice.

·         Catholic families want to provide a Catholic education? Hahaha This brings me to … Catholic Schools – this one is mostly for us large Catholic families who desire to send our kids to Catholic schools. Many of us large families of the Catholic variety expand ourselves right out of the ability to provide Catholic education for our children. I know of an example of a mother with child number six on the way who lives in the southeast U.S. It got to the point that the parish and/or school couldn’t give her family enough financial assistance to continue to educate her children in the Catholic school once she had three enrolled (Grades: K, 2 and 4). She looked and looked at it, but realized the next year would be an even bigger struggle and financial balancing act because she would have four going to school (Grades: K, 1, 3, and 5th) and it wouldn’t be long (just about 2-3 years) before her fifth would join them and she’d have five in that school (Grades: K, 3, 4, 6 and 8th). She had to face the fact that she would never be able to afford it. Some schools provide a “cap” (I think in this particular case, the school stopped increasing tuition after the 4th child began attending school), but regardless…even WITH financial assistance it could run (for her) $30,000/year for ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. Check it: that is NOT high school and NOT college; that is the cost of one year of elementary/middle school for her children.  (For a frame of reference that amounts to about 45% of the household gross income, as she is a stay-at-home-mom and her husband works full-time.)

As for our family, we are blessed in our situation that we have a parish supported, K-8 school. I hope that never changes, but it might. And if/when it does, I may be in the same predicament. Right now, our personal discernment with regard to high school has led us to accept that our children will attend the public high school. We were looking at having to pay for Catholic high school for a long time (our oldest enters high school in 2015, our youngest would, God willing, graduate high school in 2031). But let’s face it…have 2.2 kids (or 1.9…) and there’s a much higher chance you can make the (relatively) short-term sacrifices necessary to educate your children in Catholic school. 

Many Catholic families who have chosen to be generous in their discernment of family size are often the same families excluded by that discernment from providing Catholic education for their children. How ironic and sad.

And here is where I close this post with a final disclaimer. Because, the pressure!!

I love each and every one of my children. I’m so happy they are here with us. I’ll sacrifice much in the rearing of all of them.  Even the almost-13 years of diapers were so worth it! I’ll sock away the money to provide a vacation once in awhile. I’ll say no to some things in order to say yes to others. And through it all, the fact that we have each other will triumph over all hardships that come with being a large family.

We are blessed! My children know that.

And even if we had the means to provide for every wish with ease, we probably still wouldn’t do that because it’s not good for us.We live for Christ and His Kingdom, not for the things of this world. Most of the struggles I list are because of a human desire for material comfort in this world, I recognize that. And most of the benefits of a large family that I’ve written about in the past and will write about in the future are not material things we can touch, but supernatural benefits that make us grow into the Saints God intended us to be.

Mother’s Day with my crew

 

The One Where I Was Minding My Own Business — Answering Pre-Operation Questions…

Last Thursday morning, I had to be at the hospital at the ungodly hour of 6:00 a.m. to prepare for surgery. Before having surgery, there’s a whole mess of stuff you have to do — a pre-operation visit two weeks ahead of time where they tell you every little thing that *might* go wrong so that they cover their butts if any of that stuff actually happens; Post-operation visits scheduled; papers to sign. You know all that stuff.

The point of the 2-week pre-operation visit is so that the morning of surgery, basically all the papers are signed, you’re well aware of what is about to take place, you have asked all your questions and so the morning of surgery — it’s like a cake walk. No problem. Easy-peasy.

On Thursday morning, quite quickly, I was taken back to a room where a nurse would continue prepping me for surgery. I had gotten up at 3:30 a.m. to take a shower with antibacterial soap and put on comfy clothes. I had my medical insurance card and my driver’s license ready to go. I went back and the nurse started with all the questions.

What caught me up was this exchange:

RN (asking what seems to be a “standard” question): Are you still getting periods or able to get pregnant?

Me: Yes

RN: Do you want us to complete a tubal ligation while we are in there today?

Me: No.

RN: We will need to do a quick urine pregnancy test to make sure you are not pregnant.

Me: Okay. I am ovulating right now.

RN, looking a bit startled and with a funny look on her face: Hmm, isn’t that interesting how some people are able to figure that out about themselves…?

First of all — I’d like to tackle the question she asked me about doing a “tubal ligation while we are in there…” Wow. Where to start. So, I am in there for a procedure completely unrelated to sterilzation, but they ask me if I would like to be sterilized, “while they are in there”? What is this, McDonald’s? Oh, having a medical issue addressed, would you like a tubal with that?

Okay, in my head, I kind of get it — it saves time and money if he’s already “in there” meaning completed an incision in that area of my body — to just get it out of the way and cut/tie my tubes, right? But part of me thinks… WHOA, Nellie! I don’t want to break my body — I’m trying to fix it!!

Now, as I mentioned before, we had to spend some time in prayer and discernment before the decision was made to go forward and have this procedure done, because it is not a prudent use of time and resources if we were to have more children (biologically) after we have the procedure done. But we’re blessed to know NFP…we had some really awesome instructors that gave us all the information we needed to be really good at NFP. We’ve never been surprised completely by a pregnancy, and we understand the need to practice conservatively going forward to avoid pregnancy. When we’ve actively sought to avoid pregnancy, we’ve been successful every time, so we feel very confident that we can do this the remainder of our fertile years. But all of this was decided before we went into the hospital on Thursday.

What saddens me is to think that there is the possibility that a Catholic woman, perhaps not as well versed in NFP or in Catholic theology might be faced with that question. And ultimately, if they are having the procedure done, fully knowing they should not have any more children, but are simply taking a pill or something to avoid pregnancy — they might be quick to say, “oh heck yeah, just do that while you’re in there.” There are psychological ramifications with sterilization (whether they will admit it or not) and a woman might not take those into account, and later have problems with the fact she was asked if she “wanted a tubal with that” some years back and went ahead with it. Of course maybe not, too, right?

It also occurred to me that women are asked this question (“Would you like a tubal ligation…”) at the most inopportune times to be answering the question with a clear head. I was asked if I wanted a tubal ligation when I arrived at the hospital to deliver my dear sweet Gregory, who had already gone on to Jesus in heaven. Yeah…not quite the best emotional state of mind. And many women are headed in for a c-section when they are asked this question. And sometimes, it’s baby number 3 or 4 or 5 and women are asked this question while they are laboring or shortly after giving birth. I guess in our society, the question itself is something that begs to be asked given our society’s stance on family size and all — the biggest problem I have is the timing.

The best part of this conversation, however, is the last part though. I LOVE that I was able to tell her I was ovulating — and I knew that I was! I had received a HIGH reading on my monitor on Wednesday morning, felt my physical signs of ovulation during the day Wednesday, taken a digital OPK test Wednesday night that indicated ovulation was on its way and then my monitor registered the PEAK reading Thursday morning before I headed to the hospital. Now, how freaking cool is that? I love being able to know what my body is doing and when. It also completely validated my scheduling of all my appointments (my only instruction was that I could NOT have the procedure during menstruation).

The RN seemed a bit confounded that anyone could know that about themselves. And I think that’s sad. I mean, we have millions of health care professionals who have birth control pills and sterilization shoved down their throats as the only means to help people “plan” their families and so they are completely caught unaware when someone really does know what is going on with their body. 

So, ultimately, I say, “YAY NFP!!” I’m so grateful for the teaching couple who taught Craig and me so long ago that we could identify our fertile and infertile times by simply observing what my body does naturally. I’m grateful for the development of many different methods that work with different temperaments and body types so that women have choices in how to observe their natural rhythms and get the information they need. And…I’m grateful that I could confidently tell that RN that “No. I am not pregnant” and “I am ovulating right now.” 

Made for a fun story while waiting for surgery anyway.

 

On the Feast of St. Gregory

Today is the Feast day of St. Gregory the Great. 
That means it is Gregory’s Feast day. I knew it was his Feast day coming up a few days ago, but didn’t know what to do, or whether we should do anything at all.

At school, the Saint of the day at the kids’ school was St. Gregory of course. So, I knew I would come home to everyone knowing whose feast day it was. So, on my way home, I stopped at bought a cake and had them put “Happy Feast Day, Gregory!” on it. (I had to explain what a feast day was, and then had to endure a little smirk from the bakery lady and the comment, “never heard of anything like that before” but…she did a lovely job and I brought the cake home.)
The Cake
The cake and the plants we received in honor of Gregory
Sunday was 6 months since Gregory was born into heaven. While it’s a little easier to think about Gregory these days, there’s still a bit of longing and sadness. 

But today, we celebrate our little guy in heaven.

Happy Feast Day, my dear sweet boy. 
Saint Gregory, Pray for us.

 

Faith, Morals, Sex-Ed, oh my! A post about sharing information with my Preteen

A couple of weeks ago, I posted my thoughts on Sharing Fertility Awareness with my Preteen.  I stuck to just the physical aspects of Fertility Awareness and what it means. Of course, I realize that the changes that happen to my daughter now as she is growing into an adult physically are accompanied by emotional and intellectual development that will continue over the next 10-13 years.

Over the past couple of years, my daughter and I have had discussions about sex – what it is logistically and theologically, and how it fits into God’s plan for our lives. She’s discovered that she can hear a lot of information outside of our home that is not in line with our Catholic faith. She’s a smart kid so she knows that everyone does not believe or think about these things the way we do. I want my children to be able to express themselves. They should feel comfortable enough to ask questions and get clarification on this stuff, whether it’s with me or with someone else they trust. I hope my daughter wants to get this information from me, but I’m realistic enough to know she might seek counsel elsewhere at some point.

After I posted a couple weeks ago, I thought it might be helpful to some people to write about how I share our Catholic Faith and the Church’s teaching on Marriage and Sexuality with my Preteen, too. I doubt this is groundbreaking or complete. I’m sure our conversations will mature as she continues to grow up. But I am of the opinion that if she’s ready to ask the questions, then she’s ready to hear the answers and I pray I have the right words.

Following are some things I have tried to remember as we began sharing information on sexuality in the context of our faith and morals with our Preteen:

·         Use proper names for body parts. This is something we started when my now-Preteen was 2 or 3 years old. With our children, we have always used the words “vagina” and “penis” and “ovaries” and “scrotum” and any other words to describe anything related to body parts much like we use “hand” and “arm” and “foot.”
Early on my rationale for this was that if my child were to ever be abused, there would be no question about what body part had been touched inappropriately if my child were to confidently state exactly, using anatomically correct language, where s/he was touched. Now that I have a Preteen, with whom I have had discussions about sex, I find the added bonus that there’s no confusion and there’s less embarrassment. She’s always known the names of girl and boy “parts” and so the discussion had a very “matter-of-fact” flavor to it.
·         Explain exactly how intercourse happens. I remember being so confused growing up about the actual sexual act itself. I was almost relieved when my daughter had the exact same questions I did and that she felt comfortable asking me. I used frames of reference for her. We were blessed that we’d had a son by the time this conversation took place so she had seen diaper changes for both boys and girls and it made the discussion run a little smoother.
·         Understand that the child will be uncomfortable about the idea of you and your spouse engaging in sexual intercourse. I remember when the light went off for my daughter that what we were discussing was something that had actually occurred between her parents. My daughter was very cute as she said, “Wow, you mean you did that FOUR times?!?” (We had four children at the time.) And then, when we told the kids Vincent was on the way, she pulled me aside and said, “Mom, you guys did THAT…AGAIN?!?!” I will cherish that memory because it was so darn cute!

Take that opportunity to explain to your child that getting pregnant is not a given just because a couple has sex. The world will provide plenty of misinformation for your child, so we, as parents, have to counter it early and often. Initially, it was uncomfortable helping my daughter understand that her mom and dad have sex and that it does not always result in a baby. But that led to the Fertility Awareness / NFP discussions.  

·         Explain that sex is a gift from God to married men and women. The pleasure that comes from sex is a gift. The babies that come from sex are gifts. Explain that engaging in sex outside of marriage goes against God’s plan for marriage and sex. It’s okay to use the word “sin.” I tried not to go overboard, since I don’t think a lot comes from the pre-emptive use of hellfire and brimstone to make a point. Kids want to do good naturally. They want to please their parents and, it’s been my experience, they want to please God. I try to reiterate that sin is a turning away from God, meaning we are not following God’s Plan.

When discussing the act of intercourse, my daughter mentioned “gross” and “disgusting.” This led naturally into a discussion about how it could seem that way when intercourse is taken out of the context of a marriage. Of course, I let her know that some time in the not-so-distant future, her opinions of intercourse will probably change. I hope she will remember our discussions, though, and they will remind her to consider what God’s plan for her life is so she will act accordingly.

·         Remember that your Preteen probably already knows more than you think they do. The whole reason we have discussed this at all is because my daughter asked questions. The fact that she had the questions to ask helps me understand just how far she had gotten on her own.
·         Be honest. I remember when we heard a news blurb on the radio one day that mentioned sexually active eleven year olds. My daughter’s eyes about popped out of her head and she looked at me and said, “But, I’m eleven…” This led to me asking questions of her about how she felt about learning that children her age would be having sex or whether she knew how those opportunities arose. Without getting too personal, suffice it to say, it was eye opening for her to know there were circumstances in the world that led to children her age becoming parents. But I didn’t shy away from it.

Throughout these discussions, I have had an opportunity to reiterate to my Preteen daughter:

·         That God loves her and us and that our Church has taught on these subjects in such a way to protect us and draw us closer to Him in all things
·         That her parents love each other very much and that we love her and her siblings
·         That we try our best to be honest with her and will do the same with her siblings
·         That boundaries are something set out of love for her guidance and protection

I hope my Preteen will continue to ask questions and communicate with us as she grows older. I know the questions have only just begun. There will be many more opportunities for growth in the coming years.

I am linking to Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary and posting every day this week! Click HERE to see who else took the challenge!
 

I Hold His Hand While Jesus Holds My Heart

I didn’t make it through Mass this weekend without crying. Again.

I asked Craig when we pulled into the driveway as we arrived home, “Will I ever make it through Mass without crying, ever again?” 

And he said, “Yes.”

Being Catholic is such a beautiful thing. I have told people in the past that sometimes, as a “Cradle Catholic” I tend to think I may have taken for granted all the blessings there are in our Faith. Now, as I experience the beauty of our Sacraments with a gaping wound in my heart, I feel more sure I must have taken some of the blessings for granted. Because if I hadn’t, I’d probably never have made it through Mass without crying.

Receiving our Lord in the Eucharist, since losing Gregory, has been the most heart-wrenching yet comforting experience in my life. The Eucharistic prayers, the Sanctus, the Our Father and the sign of peace, the Agnus Dei have all touched me in some way over the past three weeks in such a way that I am overcome. I keep thinking it is grief that I am overcome with, but as I reflect on it, I’m not so sure. Yes, in the main, I am grieving a tremendous loss. But what I’m noticing is more of an awareness of the prayers I say and the fact that Jesus is fully present — Body, Blood, Soul & Divinity — to me at that moment. I am keenly aware that this is my one and only chance to be with our Lord and it’s as close as I’m gonna get until the day, God willing, I can look upon His face.

The awareness is also connected to Gregory. I’d be a fool to think otherwise, since I never had this keen awareness until I experienced the loss of my son. I didn’t have words to comprehend the awareness and what it meant with regard to Gregory until a woman who brought us a meal in the week following Gregory’s death said this: “I bet you feel really close to him (Gregory) at Mass.” And the tears came because my first thought was that I seem to feel separated from Gregory at Mass. The awareness that I am able to be one with our Lord in the Eucharist seems to illuminate this great chasm between heaven and earth for me right now. Because Gregory is in heaven and I can’t be there with him, it feels incredibly far away. But her words made me think of it differently. Instead of feeling the space between heaven and earth, perhaps it fills that space and provides an avenue for me to be closer to Gregory, closer to Jesus. That makes sense because Jesus instituted the Sacraments to provide a way to be closer to Him. 

The oh-so-close-yet-so-far-away effect creates the tears. It is almost as though I could touch my sweet boy, but…I can’t.

Going to Mass and receiving the Eucharist have been an important, non-negotiable part of my weekend much of my life. It seems, however, that only now that I’ve lost something precious, do I even approach some sort of understanding. It’s not that I didn’t care before, it’s more like I thought I DID understand it. It seems to me that I now have a very different level of understanding — one with pain, suffering, loss, and tears. 

My desire for the Eucharist was strong before. 

My desire for the Eucharist is now urgent, or perhaps a bit more fervent.

It is almost like it’s my lifeline — even with the sadness it evokes and the tears that come that I cannot control. 

The Eucharist is the way I feel connected to Gregory. It’s the small way I get to be with Jesus — just a little bit, just like Gregory is with Jesus.  It’s a time where I feel like I can hold his hand while Jesus holds my heart.

Tenth Avenue North