Throwback Thursday Reruns: The Grace of Midnight Cuddles

This morning I was thinking about how much I enjoy the fact that I get to sleep all night (almost) every night. The years of waking up to feed or change a baby, or soothe midnight cries of teething pain, were hard. But then I remembered that some parts of it were not as bad as I thought and I remembered this post from when Vincent was 7 months old and thought it would be a great rerun post.

I hope you enjoy it!

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I hear a baby grunt. Then a groan. Soon enough, the baby cries follow and I am made aware through my sleepiness that this is not the type of baby stirring that will go away on its own. I open my eyes and I see the clock. Sometimes it’s 2:30 a.m. Sometimes it’s 1:15. Some nights it is only 12:45 a.m. and I am horrified as I realize I have only gotten about 2 hours of sleep in before the call to get the baby.

Tonight it is 1:30 or so when I hear Vincent stirring.
I stumble over Dominic, who has made a little bed out of the floor on the side of my bed, and make my way down the stairs and into the baby’s room. I pick him up and put him on the changing table and he cries out…this is unusual, but I decide at the early hour, it is probably not critical to have a diaper change. I make my way to the kitchen, flip on the light and start the water flowing to warm up to make a bottle. As I do all of this, I steal little kisses on Vincent’s cheeks to which he smiles and giggles in return…and now I wonder if these middle-of-the-night visits are purposeful ways of getting one-on-one time with Mommy.
We sit down and in the 15 seconds it takes for me to get situated for a good hold and a view of my iPhone (to catch up on blogs or something while feeding) Vincent gets impatient and cries out and shakes his head as if to say, “I need that bottle NOW, Mommy!”
As he drinks his midnight cocktail (as I have called it before), I read some facebook but cannot determine the result of the basketball game I was watching as I fell asleep. Oh well, I make my plays on Hanging with Friends and Words with Friends. And soon enough, Vincent is finished.
I put the phone down, I put the empty bottle down and I work Vincent into his cuddle position and we sit in the dark. I feel him burp and then nestle into the crook of my neck and his hand finds its familiar place on the inside of my shirt just above my breast area. And I hear him breathe contentedly.
And now, I realize that I don’t really hate getting up in the middle of the night with my baby boy. It’s my chance to smell him and take in all his baby goodness. It is in these quiet moments that we are building our relationship — he is learning to trust that I will be there, even in the pit of darkness — to give him what he needs, whether it be nourishment or cuddles or safety.
It is at these times that I remember that this isn’t the first time I was required this much at night. Sarah was a baby that didn’t sleep through consistently for probably a good 18-20 months of her life. I had forgotten. Of course, that was 10 years ago, and I didn’t have the maturity to appreciate the quiet solitude the middle of the night brings then. I was too engrossed in my annoyance that I had to rise at that hour at all. It is at these times that I realize how spoiled I was with the next three babies who slept through consistently very early on and it was only one in maybe 20 nights that I was awakened from my slumber, if at all.
So tonight, I decide to close my eyes and just listen to Vincent breathing on me. Tonight, I think about the fact that this could be the last time I get this opportunity, so I will make the most of it. I think about earlier in the night when I made him giggle by playing peek-a-boo while he lay on his changing table. His laugh is like my own personal version of catnip. I would do anything to hear it for eternity. I think about his infectious grin. I think about the cups of saliva that spill out of his mouth all day. I think of his big brown eyes that give me looks like I am the only woman for him. I think about how he grabs my hair and continues to pull and play gently until it hurts me. I think about him bouncing with joy in his “exer-saucer” and how much he has learned in the last month.
The first year of a baby’s life flies so quickly. But what is so odd is how parts of it feel like they drag on forever. Vincent is now 7 months old. He is barreling down the road to his 1st birthday. Time is not my friend this time. My age and experience reminds me that this might be my last trip down this road. And because it is my 5th time, I know how quickly the trip can pass me by if I don’t pay attention.

After some time of just sitting there, being with Vincent, holding his 18 pounds, feeling his breath on my neck, kissing his soft head, I walk him back to his crib and place him softly for his remaining nightly slumber. I stumble back up the stairs. I step around Dominic, sleeping soundly in his makeshift bed (I suppose I should learn to find the grace in that situation, too) and I crawl back into bed.

As I drift back to sleep, I realize that I’m not all that annoyed that I spent the last 35-40 minutes taking care of Vincent.

As a matter of fact, I realize that I will actually miss these days at some point.

A throwback picture to Vincent at 6 months old

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

 

Throwback Thursday Reruns: You Do What You Gotta Do

It has been since the beginning of January that I’ve posted a Throwback Thursday Rerun post! I don’t know why I stopped…maybe I worried I would run out of posts to re-run or something. The topic of this post has been on my mind though, lately. Mostly the part about doing what works for your family (yeah, been doing the whole high school discernment thingy). So I thought it would be good to re-run this post from 2011.

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I think it’s interesting the way mothers judge each other. And in some cases…the judges have become very coy and sneaky about how they get their judgments across.

Take the dilemma of getting your child to sleep on his or her own for example. After Sarah, we really never had a problem doing this. But Sarah was our first and she was a terrible sleeper. She only slept about 6 hours a night even at 9 months old! And I knew she needed more than that, but the child would. not. go. to. bed!!!
Finally, I decided she really needed to have a set bedtime of 8:00 p.m.
Now, I have been the recipient of judgmental comments about my last statement. I have had people tell me that I should have let my child “lead” her own schedule. I also have had someone tell me that it was selfish of me to require a bedtime at 8:00 p.m. (really??? haven’t kids been going to bed at 8:00 p.m. forever???)
Then, I could delve into HOW I got Sarah to go to bed at 8:00…and that leads to a whole new rainbow of judgments.
We used a modified version of cry it out, I suppose. But, I tell you, my child never cried more than a minute at first and more than 5 minutes at it’s very worst, with our method. We started by praying with her, reading to her and singing to her and hugging her and finally putting her in her crib and leaving the room and shutting the door. Of course…she cried. But only for a minute because we went back in there. And we picked her up, loved on her, held her, said, “Sarah, it’s night time…it’s time to sleep,” and laid her back into her crib, and left the room and shut the door. This was our pattern for the first night until she fell asleep. and it took about 45 minutes. Over the course of a week or so, we lengthened the time between our visits into the room to soothe and love on Sarah and within a week and a half or so, she was sleeping at 8:00 p.m., getting herself to sleep and was quite content.
I have been told that our method is cruel. That we destroyed bonds of trust with our daughter. Stuff like that.
Of course, Sarah is 9 now (almost 10!) and she seems to trust us very much. She’s a lively, independent, vibrant little girl.

The four on-Earth babies at the time of this post

Now, my third daughter, Helen, slept in the bed with me an awful lot as a baby. The same people who judged my parenting with Sarah thought this was a great idea. Sleep with your baby! She can nurse and be close to her mama. I made them happy now. But I heard the criticism from others…they told me I’d smother her…I might kill her! How irresponsible of me! How does my husband allow that!?!?

Something I’ve learned in my 10 years of motherhood is that I just need to do whatever works for me and my family. And no…it’s not always the same thing that needs to be done with every child. I’ve been fortunate that many of my parenting practices HAVE worked and been applicable for all of my children. And sometimes one of my kids throws me a curve ball and I have to figure something new out.
I’m not quite sure what it is about us moms that makes us think we have the best way for everyone and people who don’t do it the way we do it are bad mothers. And I also am not sure if this is universal or if it is just an American thing. But either way, I know a few “new” moms read my blog and I just wanted to put something out there reassuring them and any future moms that you will find what works best for your family and for your children and you may find that you do things a little bit differently each time around the block.
When it comes to things like getting your child to sleep or reading them stories or teaching them how to dress themselves or potty-training or any of a myriad of things…there are two things I can most likely guarantee you:
  • One – you will figure out what works.
  • Two – you will be judged rightly or wrongly and that it doesn’t matter what you do – SOMEONE will think you’re an idiot.
  • BONUS: Ultimately you’ll learn not to give a rat’s behind what anyone says or thinks.

Breast is Best…Until It Isn’t (A Guest Post)

I’m a bit pleased that I can interrupt this grief-fest with a reprieve from sorrowful meditations to present to you a post on motherhood, Mommy Wars, Breastfeeding, Formula feeding, whatever label you’d like to put on it.  I have some thoughts swirling for a post on grieving during Lent, some more reflection on the Sacraments through loss, and a painful realization that losing my baby may have been the very thing — perhaps the only thing — that was going to lead me to Heaven.  But, those are quite a bit heavy for this Thursday and I was surprised that I embraced the opportunity to write this post at this time.

Today, I would like to direct you to my dear friend, Sarah‘s blog, Fumbling Toward Grace, where I have written a guest post!  Sarah is running a series on Mommy Wars.  I have been so pleased thus far with the contributions she has had and am honored to be a part of it, too.  Communication in this area of the so-called Mommy Wars is sorely needed, unfortunately, because many times we get sucked into our judgments before we even know we have them! And then, we perpetuate them out of a misguided sense of pride.  I congratulate Sarah and all the other women contributing to an end of the Mommy Wars.  Being a Mommy is hard enough without all the extra baggage we heap on each other!!

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As I prepared for the birth of my first child, everyone asked me if I was going to nurse. “Of course,” I would say.

Along with completing the hospital’s birth preparation classes, I signed up for the breastfeeding class, too. From what I remember of that breastfeeding preparation class, I received a few booklets, they discussed different position holds for nursing, and told us all, “And don’t even let formula into your house – it gives you an out.” I left the class thinking, “Yeah, I got this.” Because the class told all of us that breastfeeding was NATURAL, it was the HEALTHY way, our babies would be getting the BEST START! The judgments started there, now that I look back on it.

Fast forward to my first three weeks with my first-born child, and I was a wreck. Breastfeeding felt anything but natural, and healthy or best start be damned, my child was starving and fussy and the only way she was getting anything was from a bottle anyway. The first night at home, my baby girl didn’t get anything to eat. My breasts were engorged and she sometimes seemed to latch on, but my let-down was slow and she was impatient. I couldn’t relax because I was sleep-deprived and had no idea what it meant to have a slow let-down. I was pumping all day and we were giving her breast milk via a bottle. Supply wasn’t my issue this time around, thank goodness, but my emotional state could not handle this continued pumping-only breastfeeding relationship. And it killed me, emotionally speaking, that my baby wouldn’t nurse at the breast. What was the point of this nursing thing, if not to get the bonding that they all said was so important?

As we transitioned to formula…READ MORE

 

The Weekend and The Kids Came Home!

Saturday following my letter to my baby boy, I cried for a long time. Craig woke up and came downstairs and saw it printed and laying on the desk and asked to read it. And of course, I said yes. I read it again while he read it. It touched me but also pained me to hear him sob as he read my words to our precious baby boy. It pained me for obvious reasons — my sweetheart, my mate, he hurts, too. It was his baby boy that went on to heaven, too.  It touched me because the words I wrote were probably words he could write.  And his tears mingled with my own.  We hugged and held each other for a bit.  

The children were out in various places over the weekend.  On Friday night as Craig and I ate pizza, drank a couple of beers and watched rented movies, I was feeling a bit guilty that my other children were not there with us.  But then…

Then, we went to bed.  I was overcome in the dark and the silence with grief.  The sobs were uncontrollable and I couldn’t stifle them, even if I had wanted to. 

And I was no longer feeling guilty, but feeling so very grateful to our friends who had offered to take them for the weekend.  

Craig and I both lay in bed crying.  Crying for our sweet baby boy that we desired so much to be here with us still.  And yes, for the first time ever, I was so grateful…even elated…that my older children were not in our home with us at that time.

So, on Saturday, after writing, after reading over and over my own words, and after holding my husband and crying some more, I lay down on the couch, pulled up a blanket and lay with my eyes closed — an attempt to stop the horrid pounding in my head that seems to accompany my tears right now.  I finally drifted into a sleep.  I awoke and looked at the clock and saw it was 12:15!  I had slept for probably 2 hours, and it was almost time for the KU game and getting on to the time we would go to meet with Father Rogers to begin making arrangements for Gregory’s Mass.

Saturday was another day of Craig and me.  Together.  Just the two of us.  We watched KU.  We went to get our hair cut.  We scheduled the Mass for Gregory.  We ate sub sandwiches and popcorn purchased from the movie theater while we watched rented movies again.  And drank a couple beers.  We just hung out.  Together.  We needed it so badly.  When I went to bed Saturday, I worried if I would be overcome again.  But this time, I was able to go to bed and fall asleep with minimal tears.  I thanked God for that.

Then on Sunday, we knew the kids were coming home.  I got my shower in, I did my hair and I put on makeup.  I put on nice clothes for church.  I kind of felt a little bit like I was okay.  The processional hymn was “Be Not Afraid.”  As soon as I saw it, I shut the hymnal and grabbed my tissues and said to Craig, “I can’t do this today.” and I regretted putting make up on.  Of course, I fell apart.  I pulled it together by the Gospel reading.  And then, they prayed for us in the petitions and I began to fall apart again.  And then, I went to receive the Holy Eucharist and could not stop the tears.  There is a very real feeling of separation for me right now because receiving the Holy Eucharist is the only way I get to be with Jesus…and Gregory is already fully with Jesus, all the time.  And my heart breaks because of my two desires:  I desire to be with our Lord and with Gregory so very badly.  I also desire to be here with my husband and my other children because being separated from them would hurt so badly at this time…and, well, I’m still living in the world.  And so this crazy split personality completely blooms right as I approach our Lord in the Eucharist.  I want to say so badly, “Lord, I want to be with You, and Gregory, now and forever and always, but yet — here I am on EArth and I can’t be with You and Gregory right now and it’s a real and a physical pain in my heart.”

I know our Lord must understand.  But my human brain cannot wrap itself around the idea and the pain is enough to bring the tears.

After Mass, we got to take Helen home.  I hugged her forever and I kissed her so many times.  I told her how much I missed her and that I loved her so.  We went to the Funeral Home to take care of things there.  Then we went home and waited for all of our precious children to make their way back.

The hospital had sent a soft, quilted bag of sorts that had momentos and pictures the hospital photographer had taken of Gregory.  I hadn’t opened it.  But I thought that I should look at it before the kids were there so I could offer for them to look at the things if they wanted to.  So, I took the items out…the tiny teddy bear that weighed about as much as Gregory had, the tiny rattle, the little block with the letter G, the blue, crocheted baby blanket and hat.  Finally, I picked up the envelope with the pictures, I took a deep breath and I took them out and looked at them.  The tears came, though not violently, as I flipped through them one by one.  My precious baby boy, so tiny, so beautiful.

Finally, all the girls were back and we told them that the baby was a little brother (we hadn’t known that from the ultrasound) and his name was Gregory.  When the girls looked through the photos, oh, how they “ooh’d” and they “ahh’d” and they said, “Aw, look how cute he is!” and they said, “He’s so tiny!” and “He’s so beautiful!”  I cannot tell you how much that right there made me feel so good.  My heart swelled for my children.  Of course, I knew they would love their little brother, but to hear them verbally affirm him so positively took days off my grieving time, I am sure.  It make my heart so happy to hear them all loving on their baby brother.

Later in the evening, Dominic started talking about his “baby sister” and I said, “No, Dominic, the baby was a boy, remember? And we named him Gregory. And he has gone on to be with Jesus.”  The tears started coming and he put his head on my chest and said, I miss my baby sister.  And I just let him say it that time.  Then I remembered he hadn’t seen the pictures yet and I asked him if he wants to see some pictures of his baby brother.  He said yes and so we went to get everything out again.  I showed him the tiny teddy bear.  As I showed him the pictures, I was explaining about Gregory’s skin and Dominic asked me, “So, he is red?” and I said, “yes, that is how he looks because his skin wasn’t like ours yet” and Dominic very matter-of-factly said, “My baby brother has red skin.”  And he cried a little bit more and told me that he misses his baby brother.  And I tearfully told him that I did, too.  There were other moments, but basically, my children have been my lifeline out of some of the deep grief I feel right now.

My children seem to understand that the baby is not coming home.  They seem to have appropriate levels of sadness to that and they seem to have a strong understanding that Heaven was God’s place for Gregory right now, even though we miss him so.

I know this is only one day.  There are more days coming and it might not be so clear to us all on those days.  But for now, I’m just clinging onto this day, loving all of my children and my husband, and praying to get on to the next day.

 

10 Coping Strategies: WOTHM with Children Preschool to 5th grade

Mandi and Jamie found themselves in situations where they would have to go back to work after being at home to mother their little ones. They wrote blogposts (Mandi’s here, Jamie’s here) sharing coping strategies to share what had worked for them when they found it hard to be away from their babies.

As I read them I realized that I have something to share in this regard myself, only now with older children. Some of those coping strategies have evolved to enable me to stay sane during the preschool all the way through the elementary years.  And as I thought about it, it made sense that these coping strategies would evolve because the needs of my children and my own needs have matured as my children grew older and our family grew in size.

In addition to helping me cope, some of these strategies actually helped me to stay engaged with my children, their schoolwork, their social activities and the parents at the school.  I work hard to stay involved at our parish school:  I have been on the Parent-Teacher-Organization Board, I have volunteered at just about anything where volunteers were needed, and I am currently on the School Board.  Our family is visible at many church and school events — and that is intentional.  I do it to stay engaged, but it helps me to see the fruits of my labor of working outside the home.


Here are 10 Coping Strategies for a WOTHM of children in pre-school through elementary (usually 5th grade) that I have found useful.

1.  School Pictures — get them taken and buy at least a sheet of wallets so you can take them to work and show them off.  It’s best to do it every year so you have updates.  The children change so quickly in a year, it’s important to have a current picture of them with you.  Yes, I’m THAT mom — the one who brings pictures of her kids around to show everyone at work, whether they care or not.  It helps me to share my family with the people at work because it helps me to have that connect to my children during work hours. 

2.  Field Trips — Find out as far in advance  as possible about the “big” field trips and try to make sure you can make one of them.  You won’t be able to make everything, and as disappointing as it is to miss, sometimes getting in the one really cool one makes up for it.  It’s always fun if you can manage to arrange a PTO day so you can be off work to attend something like an apple orchard with your preschooler, or a special spring trip with one of your elementary age children, sometimes it can make all the difference in how you’re feeling about your role as a WOTHM.

3.  School Work — Stay on top of their grades (once they start earning letter grades).  Most schools have online systems now where parents can log in at any time and see the grades recorded for their students.  The fact that I congratulate my 3rd grader after I see she got a 100% on a D.O.L. quiz sometimes makes all the difference to her.  She’s thrilled that I know what she did recently.  For the preschoolers and Kindergartners, cherish those handmade crafts that come home!  I try to rotate every few months what I have on display at work.  For 1st and 2nd graders, try to spend some time having them read to you every night.  Staying connected to their school work goes a long way in alleviating some of the guilt and pressure felt from working outside the home full-time.  And it does not go unnoticed by your littles that you know what’s going on with them.

4.  Special Opportunities — Stop in and have lunch with your child periodically.  It’s not always possible, but I try at least once a school year to surprise my children by dropping in while they are at lunch.  I can sit down and talk to them about their day and lots of times, their friends tell you all about their days, too.  🙂  In the lower elementary grades, the teachers are often quite open to having an adult reader visit the class to read a story.  I have done this sporadically, too.  Being present on school grounds during the day provides a connection for your children, too.

5.  Ask About Their Day — Allow the kids ample time to tell you all about their day.  Sometimes, it is difficult at the end of a long day at work to wait as your child recounts every last little detail about their day (for example, my Helen likes to start with entering the classroom and doing her “morning work,” bathroom breaks, recess, and everything all the way to coming out to be picked up by her daddy).  But, let them tell you everything anyway.  They want to share the time they are away from you — they believe you miss them just as much as they miss you (and of course, they are right!!)  You can often get invaluable information this way, too.  For example, I learn who my children sit with at lunch, what they do at recess as well as what they did in religion class that day. 

6.  Share Your Day — Tell your children about your day.  I often start by telling my children that I missed them, but then I let them know what kept me busy all day.  I try to let them in on what I ate for lunch and whether I took a break to walk the stairs.  I try to relate the things I do to the things they do.  Lunch time is my break time.  I go to meetings where I have to sit, be quiet and listen/learn, just like they have to sit, be quiet and listen/learn their subjects in school.

7.  Cherish the Time You Have — Make the most of the evening.  The kids are at school all day, you are at work all day, you both get home and have some time together in the evenings.  We have dinner together.  On the nights we don’t have extra activities, if homework is done, we’ll play a game (just the other night, my girls and I played Scrabble before bedtime).  Keep the TV off.  The rule in our house during the school year is there is no TV in the evenings on school nights.  It’s amazing the difference it makes.  We play games, or we read or we just hang out and I braid my girls’ hair after their showers. 

8.  Parents of Kids in Your Kids’ Classes, Get To Know Them! — Knowing the parents helps you to know the kids, somewhat.  For younger elementary kids, this can provide outlets for play dates or other social gatherings.  As the kids get older, arranging rides to events (especially helpful for parents of large families!) or finding some compatible and positive friend time becomes easier by working with the parents you know.  You probably won’t know all the parents to the same degree, but being involved and learning what makes the parents tick can help you help your child build positive relationships at school.  This is more of a “get involved” strategy than coping, but you never know!  I have been surprised more than once at how I’ve clicked with a mom of one of my kids’ friends.  I truly believe I’ve made some lifelong friends in some of the parents of my children’s classmates.

9.  Get Involved! — Find out what you can do to be involved…and commit to being involved.  It’s so easy as a WOTHM to make the excuse that you’re just too busy to volunteer for this or that.  I don’t volunteer for everything, but I step in where I can.  At first I didn’t realize what a difference intentionally getting involved and volunteering while maintaining my hectic schedule would make to the way I felt about my vocation.  Many people I encounter tell me they have no idea how I have time to do the extra that I do.  Honestly, sometimes I wonder myself.  But just like anything else (exercise, studying) if I put it on the calendar, I get there.  Classroom parties are a joint effort between my husband and me.  And at this point only one time have we completely flopped on that.  I am on the school board, and when our church has events, I offer to help in many different ways.  I’ve baked 3 dozen cookies to help with a reception after our parish’s Mass and procession on the Feast of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel.  I’ve signed up for and provided meals to post-partum mothers, grieving families, or any other family in crisis.  I’ve coordinated our parish’s Humanae Vitae Mass two years in a row.  Being involved in this way ensures I know many people in our parish and many parents of children in our school.  Doing these things helps me to avoid resentment at my role as a WOTHM.

10. Pray — Pray with your families at meal times and bed times. Teach your children to pray.  Allow them to “God bless” anyone they want.  Encourage them to lay their days and nights at the feet of Jesus.  Pray on your own.  Join prayer circles so that you are aware when a need arises for extra prayer.  Pray the Rosary, if that helps.  Having a person and/or an intention adds purpose to your prayer and engaging in purposeful prayer brings peace.  

These things have helped me to get through my first 11.5 years of being a WOTHM.  I have to trust they will help me through the next 20 years.


What are some ways that you carry out your role as a WOTHM faithfully and joyfully?

Pre Teen Cuteness

My last post kind of stuck in my craw for a bit. I don’t like writing about the hard parts of having children. I don’t like acknowledging publicly that I have a hard time with these crazy pre-adolescent years. But the fact of the matter remains that it’s a big unknown for me, and just like the ages that come before, there will be parts that I like, parts that I could do without and overall, I’ll be glad when the teenage years for each of my children are finished.

So, there are a few cute things I have noticed lately that I wanted to share.  Namely, how cute is it that Sarah has a crush on someone? 

Quick Side note:  It was NEVER considered “cute” to have a crush on a boy in my house when I was growing up.  I had crushes on boys but I NEVER admitted it publicly where my parents were concerned.  They were always adamant that I “didn’t know what I was talking about” when it came to my feelings for boys.  They could never see a crush for what it was — a crush.  Nothing more, nothing less.  I thought a boy was cute, I was way too shy to talk to him face-to-face, but was thrilled to have a regular phone conversation with one boy during 7th grade. When  my mom found out that I actually liked the boy that was calling the house every evening,  she did a lot to try and persuade herself – and in due course – me that there was nothing serious about it, it didn’t mean anything, it was just silly childhood games, etc.  Of course, looking back, I don’t necessarily see my parents’ attitudes on the subject as the most healthy way to address it with me, therefore, I have chosen a different tactic with my Sarah, so far.

Sarah has a crush.  She admitted as much on Instagram one day.  I informed my sisters and Craig.  Then I asked Sarah if she realized she’d been rather public with her declaration — to the point that her mom and dad knew who and all that stuff.  She affirmed her knowledge of this fact and left it at that.  She’s pretty private that way.

As the kids get older, I am always looking for those things where I can relate to them a little bit.  Even though their lives are their own, their experiences are their own, I want to be able to remember what it was like to be in that place.  I realize that I, too, experienced some of those things (the good and the bad unfortunately) and try to walk with my children through these times in their lives. 

So, I have to admit that knowing Sarah has this crush on a boy thrills me in that part of my heart that yearns for similarity with my daughter. I remember my crushes when I was 11 and 12 and 13 and….well, you get the picture.  I remember being too shy to talk to anyone about it.  I remember how my heart pounded when I got phone calls. 

I also remember how my heart felt when the boy that called me during 7th grade told me that he wasn’t going to call me anymore.  Interestingly enough, as I look back, I realize that I got over that pretty quick, but I do remember that little twinge I felt at rejection.

And so…there’s that.

Another thing that really warms my heart recently is how much love is being shown to my 3-year-old Dominic.  He is in preschool at our parish school so he has the opportunity to interact with the boys in Sarah’s class.  And they sure do seem to enjoy him a lot. 

Here are a few of the things:

1.  Sarah told me that the kids in her class have her bring Dominic to where they can see him as they pass through the hall to go to their carline in the afternoons after school.  They like to wave at him.  I have no idea what shenanigans he is doing as they wave and call to him, but I’m sure he’s entertaining them somehow.

2.  When we got out of Mass Saturday, Dominic left the pew and received hugs from one girl in Sarah’s class, then another girl came up and asked Dominic for a hug, too.  He then paraded around the parish hall getting high fives and hugs from older kids in the school who were at Mass.

3. I was checking stuff on the Sycamore site for school. They have a section that says “blogs” that is NOTHING like a real blog. Anyway, one of the boys posted this:

My son – a boss, LOL

4.  And finally, Sarah has been collecting Dominic’s autographs for kids in her class which cracks me up.  I am not sure which I find more interesting – the fact that Dominic is able to write his own name so well or the fact that a bunch of 11 and 12-year-old kids want a copy of it.  Additionally, she’s been taking lots of pictures of Dominic and putting together cute pictures collages of him. 

Here is one:

What warms my heart the most is that she is spending quality time with her 3-year-old brother (okay, he’s almost 4 now) and they have a lot of fun together. 
That’s really cute.