The Kindness of Strangers

Our little family recently took a vacation to the beach. It was absolutely wonderful! We enjoyed every minute (if you’re only counting minutes where I wasn’t listening to my 2 year have  a tantrum before nap time or changing a poopy swim diaper on the beach!), but honestly, those were few and far between and we loved getting away and just being together with nothing to do but enjoy the sand in our toes.

As you may well realize, getting a family picture when you’re on vacation can be a bit of a hassle. There are lots of great pictures of Little Miss with her daddy and as many good ones of her digging in the sand with her mommy. There just aren’t many of the three of us.

So, I’d like to publicly thank the darling woman who agreed to take our picture on the beach one morning. She was adorable and so willing to help. She assured me that she had an iphone and knew exactly how they worked! When she returned the phone to me, she said, “I took a bunch. Hope they’re all awesome!”

Oh, and they are…

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We have laughed and laughed and laughed about our “photographer friend’s” fabulous skills! Just thought it was worth a giggle!! 🙂

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Happy Mother’s Day

This “funny” cartoon recently appeared in my newsfeed on facebook.

mompicTo say the very least, it didn’t evoke even the slightest chuckle from me. In fact, my reaction was quite the opposite. I was annoyed, angered, and really exasperated.
In the brief time I’ve been a mom, I’ve worked full-time, stayed home full-time, worked part-time, and never felt more conflicted or judged by other women. I’ve tried every combination I can think of to find the “perfect” fit for our family, and most days I just pray to God that what I’m doing right now is the best thing for us today.
Here’s what lies beneath the surface of this funny little cartoon:
In this culture, women aren’t taught how to support women. We are raised with direct and indirect messages about how to care of men and children, but not each other. Lately, there’s been some superficial push for women to take care of themselves (“Go on! Get your nails done every once in a while!”), but we really don’t talk openly about how important it is to support each other.
Today, this appeared in my newsfeed:
blamewomen
My point exactly. We can’t win!
I don’t think the “they” she refers to is exclusively men that are “keeping us down”.
We do it to ourselves.
A little history lesson for ya (free of charge, today!)
The Equal Rights Amendment was a proposed amendment to the US Constitution that provided for equal rights for women. The ERA was originally written by Alice Paul and, in 1923, it was introduced in the Congress for the first time. In 1972, it passed both houses of Congress and went to the state legislatures for ratification. The ERA failed to receive the requisite number of ratifications before the final deadline mandated by Congress of June 30, 1982 expired, and so it was not adopted, largely because Phyllis Schlafly.
(Source: Wikipedia)
Just to be clear, Phyllis Schlafly is  a WOMAN. She fought tirelessly to convince people that women didn’t need equal rights. (Now, she had plenty of men in her corner, but the movement was led by a woman.)
At times, it burdens my heart when I realize that we are our own worst enemies.
We chip away at each other with funny posts on facebook, backhanded comments, and judgemental under-the-breath comments, “It’s easy for her. She doesn’t know how hard it is for us.”
I believe that every mother make every single decision based on these basic, instinctive criteria:
What is best for my child in this moment in this place?
What is best for my family in this moment in the this place?
What is best?
What is best?
What is best?
Some women conclude that working outside of the home is best. I believe with my whole heart they choose that out of deep and unconditional love for the little pieces of their heart that walk this Earth in tiny sneakers and Pampers Cruisers.
Some women find balance between working part-time and being home. I believe with my whole heart they choose that out of deep and unconditional love for the little pieces of their heart that walk this Earth with runny noses and handfuls of dandelions.
Some women choose to work full-time at home. I believe with my whole heart they choose that out of deep and unconditional love for the little pieces of their heart that walk this Earth asking “why?” a thousand times a day and feeding their vegetables to the dog.
So, to my darling mommy friends who are starting this journey. As you look at the tiny heartbeat on the ultrasound screen, know that I support you and believe that you can do this.
To my mommy friends who are in the beginning days with me. The days are long. The nights are longer, but you can do it. No matter what you choose, it will undoubtedly come from a place of love for your precious child. You are doing the right thing. I support you.
To my mommy friends who have big, grown, stinky teenagers. You’ve done a good job. They will become human again one day very soon and will make you so proud. Just keep loving them in their most unloveable moments. I support you.
To my mommy friends who have raised their children. I admire you. Look at the wonderful people you supported to live a life that only they could and know that you inspire the rest of us along the way. Go take some time for you (more than a damn manicure!) I support you.
To my darling, sweet mommy friends who bear the heartache none of us can ever comprehend. I love you. I pray for you every day and  I hope that in moments of inexplicable peace, you will know that your little angel is wrapping his arms around you and showering you with the grace of the Divine. Know that when I look at you, I still see his mommy.  I support you…I support you…I support you.
Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms that are just doing your best.
I support you.

If time would stand still…

My darling angel,

I’ve prayed for many things in the last nineteen months. Most often, I pray for your health, your happiness, and that I’m getting this mommy thing somewhere close to right. I realized today that beyond that, I’ve prayed for one other thing more times than I can count. I’ve prayed for time to stop – just to freeze forever in a moment that is nothing less than perfection. Sometimes with tears in my eyes, my heart has cried out, “Just stop. Let’s just stay right here forever. This is perfection.” But, no matter how honest and heartfelt they are, my prayers go unanswered.

Today, I saw why.

If time had stood still when you were just a few days old and looked into my eyes, I wouldn’t have seen that first, precious smile.

If life had frozen when I squeezed your chubby little thighs when you were six months old, I never would have seen you squeal with delight as you crawled across the floor to your daddy.

If my prayer had been answered as you fell into my arms after taking your first steps, I never would have chased that bare bottom around the house after bath time (maybe you have to be a mom to get that one and not think it’s just weird!)

If time had stood still when you grabbed my neck in a “big squeeze” and planted a big slobbery kiss on my cheek, I would have missed hearing you say, “Da du,” (I love you.) today.

So, I’ll stop praying that prayer. I’ll stop wishing against what I know is inevitable. After all, in his infinite wisdom, Garth Brooks once told us that “some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” (That was for you Court!)

Because if by some miracle, God froze time for me right now, then I’d never see you beaming with pride as you hold your first A+ on a Spelling test.

If we stop here, I’ll never see you fight against the injustices of this world that burden your soul and resonate with you at your very core.

If we wait in this moment, I won’t be priveleged to say, “That’s my baby,” as you change the face of this earth as we know it.

And I won’t get to look down on you from Heaven when you are an old woman and be ever so proud of the life you have lived as only you could.

I won’t pray for time to stop anymore, but some day if you choose to be a mommy, you’ll realize that not asking for time to stand still takes every bit of strenght I have and not asking for time to slow down just a little….well, that’s virtually impossible for a mother’s heart.

All my love,

Mommy

I Give Up!

It’s Ash Wednesday and time to decide what I’m giving up for Lent this year. Many times, I’ve given up chocolate, Sprite, or the radio in my car, but this year is different. I sat in Mass this afternoon with ashes on my forehead and thought, “I need to give up the things that keep me from hearing the Divine within me and reaching the Divine in others.”

So, here it goes:

I give up comparing my behind the scenes to everyone else’s highlight reels (Thanks, Becky! I love that analogy.) I don’t believe that the perfect pictures on facebook and posts about gourmet dinners and cozy family snuggles by a roaring fire are the norm for most moms most days. Tonight we ate quick cook tortellini and there was no fire, but Caroline did roar and throw herself on the kitchen floor if that counts for anything! I give up seeing and hearing snippets of other people’s lives and thinking that somehow we don’t measure up. (I may, however, start a movement and post pictures of my messy house, Caroline having a tantrum at Target, or my stack of pants that still don’t fit no matter how far I run. I think it would be a breath of fresh air for facebooking moms everywhere!) I give up trying to make every moment comparable to your “post worthy” moments.

I give up being critical of the person who annoys me more than anyone on this Earth. For some reason she drives me completely insane but I’m not proud to say that I’ve stooped to her level in response and became something I really don’t like. I’m done talking about it. I’m done worrying about it. I give up “stooping.”

I give up waiting for someone else to fix a broken relationship. I can pray about it. I can work towards healing. I can put myself out there just a little more and seek forgiveness and compassion. I can offer the same. I give up being  hurt.

I give up stressing over being the perfect mom. I’m not. I’m just not, but most days I do a pretty darn good job. I give up worrying about whether or not I’m doing enough, teaching her enough, or making the right decisions. Instead, for forty days and forty nights (and hopefully longer), I’m going to be fully present. I’m going to have another tea party, another pretend dinner from her kitchen, work another puzzle, and sing another round of “Wheels on the Bus.” I’m going to be engaged with her, meet her at her level, and soak it up. One day, I’ll long for another tea party or puzzle. She’ll be heading out with her friends, and I’ll miss my little girl. I give up allowing these precious moments to be overshadowed by a fear of inadequacy. God chose me to raise her. He must have thought I could do it. I give up doubting that plan.

 

Not chocolate.

Not wine.

Not my car radio as usual,

but those things that keep me at arm’s length from the Divine among us.

That’s what I give up!

 

Make Black Friday a Little Lighter

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love what it stands for. I love family, togetherness, quiet time, and mostly I love stopping our crazy lives for one whole glorious day and being truly, truly grateful.

On the contrary, Black Friday is one of my least favorite days to be an American. As a child of immigrants, I constantly think about how the rest of the world must see us. To be quite honest, on Black Friday we are at our worst. I don’t just mean the people that trample each other and cause huge fights over the latest toy. I mean all of us. We do appalling things. We say ridiculous things. We use the word “need” in ways that are truly laughable. Every year, on Black Friday, we show one of the worst sides of ourselves as a nation.

Now, I know some of you love, love, love Black Friday, but just hear me out. I will not lie to you. I love a good deal just as much as you do, but we really need to get some perspective. So, here is my challenge for you:

1. As you shop on Friday, be very careful and deliberate in how you use the word “need” and ask the people you are shopping with to do the same. Say “want”, “would like”, or “am hoping for.” Just don’t say you “need” a 60 inch flatscreen.

2. Choose one item that you get a deal on and decide to give the money you saved to a charity of your choice. I won’t be shopping on Friday (because I hate crowds), but here’s mine. I got a Little People Nativity set for Caroline at Target and saved $10 this week. I’ll be donating that $10 to the Jana Callahan Family Trust.

3. Share this blog on facebook and then post your “deal”. My post will say “Little People Nativity Set = $10 to Jana Callahan Family Trust.

Just think what we could do if we each gave a little tiny bit of our good fortune to someone else this Friday! I think we’d make Black Friday a little lighter, don’t you?

Hear Me without Words

I am the mother of a sixteen month old little girl. She is the love of my life, my heart’s greatest treasure, my life’s greatest work.

Like most sixteen month olds, Caroline is growing, changing, and developing every single day. As her mommy, I am astounded by her daily accomplishments and how quickly she’s mastering new skills.  She is my constant reminder that the human mind is a remarkable thing and that we are only scratching the surface of understanding its capabilities.

Currently, Caroline’s vocabulary is rather limited (not developmentally delayed, just limited as most little one’s are). Her repertoire includes: “Hi! Bye! Ball. Hat. MaMa and Dada.” These six words while adorable and sweet, leave a little to be desired when it comes to Caroline expressing her deepest wants, needs, emotions, and thoughts about the universe.

Just the other day she was rambling on and on in her own little babble and I found myself longing for the day that I’d be able to understand her. Then, I stopped….I am not one to “long for the day.” If the last sixteen months have taught me anything, it is that all of this happens way too fast. It zips past me in the blink of an eye, and leaves me longing for just one more day with my baby as she is. So, I stopped myself from longing and thought, “This time is special. This time will never be quite like this again.” Caroline and I “talk” all day long. We communicate constantly and for the most part, I know exactly what she is saying. Part of the joy of being a mommy is that I can speak directly to her heart as she speaks directly to mine. With no (or very limited words) we understand each other completely. It’s the language of our hearts shared only by a mother and her child.

Last week, I had the pleasure of meeting a truly remarkable mom. As many of you know, my friend suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm in July. She is recovering in the hospital and her language is not what it used to be just yet. Her words are limited and sometimes jumbled, but there, at her bedside, stood her mommy. With a love more powerful than any other on this Earth, she listened to her baby. With their eyes, their smiles, and their touch, they spoke straight to each other’s hearts as only mother and child can do.

I left our visit filled with hope and prayers for my friend, and I left thinking about my own mother. Long after I learned to speak, she has shown time and time again that without words, she can hear the deepest parts of me. How many times in my life has she taken one look at me and said, “What happened? Who hurt you?” or “Don’t even think about it. I told you, no!” or “It’s going to be OK. You’re a beautiful bridesmaid. You’ll find your prince one day soon.” She has held me and said nothing at all, and I’ve known exactly what she meant.

I thought about my friend and all she has been through since July. When I am scared, stressed, sick, and confused, I want my mommy. Jana didn’t have to say a word, and Ruth was right there. At the edge of her bed….listening. What a comfort it must be for my sweet friend to look over and see the one person that we all long for when the world just isn’t right, to hear her mother’s voice, and to know that without saying a word, she is heard.

Hear the Whispers

More than once in my life, I’ve cried out to God. I’ve wailed and begged for mercy, guidance, forgiveness, or an explanation.

Death, illness, the loss of a friend, the pain of a child. I’ve gone to God. I haven’t always gotten an answer.

It’s funny how in the moment of tragedy or loss, in our pain or sorrow, we cry so loudly. Yet, it’s true that time heals wounds (not all of them and often not completely, but they heal to some degree nonetheless or become more bearable).

As time goes by, those cries become softer and softer. Sometimes, I even move on with my life and stop asking. I’m often guilty of assuming that if God doesn’t answer, then, God’s answer is simply “no”, or that God doesn’t care enough about me to be bothered with such trivial matters. “He’s busy in Libya,” my Mom would say. (The country changes, but she’s said it all my life.) And she’s right. It gives me perspective.

God must be a very busy God….too busy for me and my insignificant heartbreaks.

However, I do believe that even when we stop asking, when we stop praying out loud, when we move on with our busy lives,  our hearts keep whispering our deepest needs to the Divine.

My heart has whispered for the last five years. “I’m sad. I need help. I don’t know how to fix it. Help me fix it. Help me….I’m lost.”

Tiny, tiny whispers.

That very busy, very big God, is neither too big nor too busy to hear our whispers.

Yesterday, five long years later, God said “Yes. I will help you. I will fix it. I have been fixing it all along. I just needed time. Be patient. I heard your whispers.”

Dear you,

Dear you,

I think you can do better. I think you’re worth more than that. I think you can. I believe you will.

I wish you saw in yourself what I see in you every single day. I wish you knew what you really could be.

Stop listening to them. Stop acknowledging their doubt. Stop giving them credit that they don’t deserve.

Stop waiting. Start moving.

Stop second-guessing. Start believing in that not-so-ridiculous dream of yours.

Stop wasting your days in mediocrity. Start relishing the fact that you woke up today breathing which means you have a chance to try again.

Stop telling me why you can’t, why you’re not good enough, why you don’t deserve it. Start listening to me! 🙂

Take a deep breath.

Now, go!

I can’t wait to see where you land….

With all my love and faith in you,

Me

XXXOOO

The Measure of a Mom

Before Sweet Caroline entered the world, I had lived a whole other life. Thirty-one years of a life to be exact.

In that lifetime, I had been a daughter, a sister, a friend, a girlfriend, a tennis player, a swimmer (not a good one, but a swimmer nonetheless), a dancer, a pianist, an obnoxious teenager, an obnoxious sorority girl, a waitress, a barista, a retail sales clerk, a teacher, an aunt, a wife, and most recently a school social worker.

For the last ten years, I had smacked my alarm clock every morning, thrown on clothes that I hoped weren’t too “teacher-ish” and headed to my job. I am by far one of the most unlucky people I know (other than my brother, Kevin. He takes the prize on that one). But when it comes to career choices, I had been one lucky girl. I didn’t wander and wallow for years trying to find my niche. I was a teacher. From my head to my toes, in the deepest parts of my soul, I was a teacher. I loved my job, my profession, my calling. I loved the good kids, the whiny kids, the weird kids, the awkward kids, and the down right bizarre ones. I loved, loved, loved it. Don’t get me wrong. There were hard days and parts of the job that were not so glamorous, but ultimately I loved it.

I’m a very organized and efficient person. I love the feeling of accomplishment when I check things off my To Do list. (Confession: if I do something extra. I write it down. Just for the joy of crossing it off…..sick….I think there’s medication for that). I also love feedback. I like to know when I’m doing a good job and how, specifically, I can improve. Teaching was the perfect profession for me. Everyday, I was given tons of feedback: Spelling tests, running records, Math quizzes, little hands flying into the air to answer the question, little faces that were totally blank screaming “Lady, I’m lost.” All of those student assessments were really assessments of me, of my skill, of my job well done (or not so well done). Even as a social worker, I got feedback everyday from kids, teachers and parents. My principal sat down with me at least once per year and gave me a concrete evaluation of my work. Right there, on paper for the world to see. Feedback I needed to keep moving in the right direction.

In May, I decided to leave the wonderful world of Education and stay home with my girl. I love it. I love her. I love being here with her and soaking up every sweet minute. I love reading to her, playing with her, teaching her, and listening to her laugh and squeal with delight in her swing. I love it. I do.

But how do I know if I’m doing a good job? Where’s the feedback?  When do I get my evaluation? How do I know I’m on track? Who’s going to identify my strengths and weaknesses and help me grow as a mother? Who’s going to say ‘You’re doing it right.’ or ‘You’re SO not doing it right!’

Do I wait until she’s grown up and successful and then say, “See? I did it! I was a good mom!” Maybe. Maybe not. I look at my life. Is my mom to blame for every stupid decision I’ve made? No. She guided me the best she could, but ultimately I made my own choices.

So what is the measure of a mom?

I refuse to believe that it’s how I measure up against other people’s facebook posts. I won’t be swayed into thinking it has anything to do with how many cute crafts I’ve “pinned” lately. I don’t believe it’s tied my culinary skills, my ability to stay “fashion forward”, to “bounce back” to my pre-baby body, make my own cleaning supplies, or alphabetize my spice rack. I can’t bear the thought of being one of those moms that finds my own value in her being the smartest, the prettiest, the best dancer, the most popular…..gag.

I’m a feedback person. I need feedback. I found myself sort of panicking that I wasn’t getting any…until today…

She gave me big wet kisses when she woke up.

She finally figured out the shape sorter (kind of).

She shared with another baby at story time (kind of).

She wrapped her little arms around my knees while I washed dishes.

She put her little hand in mine as she drifted off to sleep.

There’s my feedback.

Right there.

From the person who matters the most.

She thinks I’m doing an OK job.

She’ll keep me for now.

Wonder: What is faith? What is God?

For the last few years, I’ve been in nothing short of a crisis when it comes to my faith.

I’m a cradle Catholic with 13 years of Catholic education. My grandmother still lives in Ireland for Heaven’s sake. She used to sprinkle the car with holy water before we left on road trips. My mom’s family prayed the rosary so quickly everyday it sounded like they were speaking in tongues.

Yet, like many people my age, I have issues with my Church. I love my Church. I respect my Church. I feel at home there, and yet I don’t. For years, I’ve struggled. I’ve battled against some of the doctrine, the rules, the fundamental beliefs. I’ve sat across the table from priests and other church leaders and asked for more explanation, better answers, and more clarity. I haven’t gotten it.

I’ve thought about leaving. That felt like surrender. I’ve thought about staying and raising hell. That seems counter intuitive (you want to raise hell at church? really Katie? really?)

I’ve wandered. I’ve strayed. I’ve struggled. I’ve gotten angry. I’ve gotten really, really sad. I’ve thrown my hands up in the air in total frustration.

A year ago, I had a baby. A baby GIRL. I felt such pressure. It was time for the crisis to be over.  I really, really needed to figure it out. What do I believe? What is true for me? What will I teach her? What will I tell her? How will I guide her?

Two weeks ago a friend of mine suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm. She’s young. She has two young boys. She’s an amazing friend, teacher, wife, mother, sister, daughter, Christian….soul.

Without thinking, I ran to God. Without over analyzing, I fell at God’s feet.I never thought about doctrine or rules. For two weeks, I have cried , begged, bargained, pleaded, screamed, and sat in total awe.

I realized that I do know what I believe.

I believe in God. I believe in love.

There is a loving, compassionate, hopeful, healing force within us and that moves among us. That is God.

There is something that connects my soul to every other soul on this planet. Something that makes me cry when I see starving children, makes me fighting mad when someone abuses a child, something that moves me to action when people aren’t treated justly. That is God.

We were sent to this place to love each other. That is God.

God is love.

All kinds of love, in all forms, for all people, in all places, with no limitations. Love that does not understand age, race, gender, borders, sexual orientation, or disability. Love that does not see or respond to prejudice, intolerance, or hypocrisy. God is love.

My faith crisis is over (for now). The work, the exploring, the digging, the fine-tuning is far from over, but the crisis is over. God is love. That’s what matters most. That’s what I’ll tell Caroline. When she feels love, she knows God. When she gives love, she shares God.

For those of you that are much farther in this journey than me, I am happy for you. I even envy you a little. Be glad that you have the nitty gritty figured out, but just give me some time to do my own work in this. Don’t shout at me and tell me why your way makes the most sense. Don’t look down on me because I’m 32 and I don’t really have many answers. Just love me and love each other. That will show me that at least I have the first part right.

God is love.

Please continue to pray for Jana Callahan. She will be in surgery tomorrow. I believe in God, Jana. I believe in love. I believe in miracles. I believe in you. Keep fighting, girl! I love you!