Friday, October 30, 2009

glory days

Owing to our ... shall we say *eclectic* taste in music, we have a queue ranging from Johannes Brahms to Dan Zanes, Justin Roberts, The Steve Miller Band to Bela Fleck.  One of the lads' all time most favorite songs is Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen.  The "concerts" the lads give singing this song and playing their "kitars" (translation: guitars) are the stuff of my fondest memories.

I have long tried to infuse our days with music, but as I have disclosed before, I am *not* a music teacher. I'm more of a practitioner.  This morning we took in a fantastic musical program presented at a local library.  It was just what I had been hoping to find for the bambini: quality musicianship made fun, age-appropriate, and accessible.  

We might be described as "heavy library users".   My library card is often nearly maxed out with children's books (and when it is, I use my beloved's, though I'm thinking about setting a rule for myself that I can't check out more books than I can reasonably fit in one bag on my shoulder with my lass in the ring sling). We frequent programs the library system offers such as today's music class and weekly storytimes.  We read together throughout the day, especially at siesta time after lunch and at bedtime.   Seeking out books to read to and with my bambini has become an ongoing quest that I relish.

One gem presently checked out on my card is Amy Schwartz's A Glorious Day.  It traces a day in the lives of four families with young children living in a small apartment building in an urban setting.  I like it because it's a realistic portrayal of the doings and antics of small children, from their selective eating habits to their natural curiosity compelling them to do such things as putting peas in their orange juice or stuffing sticks down a storm drain (it's this latter thing that has captured the fancy of our four-year-old).  Seeing the children engage in these things gives us ample opportunity to discuss with our bambini what's a good idea and what's not, and to reinforce our own house rules.   It's a way for our bambini to compare and contrast their own daily experiences with those of other children (imaginary though they may be).  The interaction between one boy and his mother who spend most of the morning playing trains surely resonates with most parents who have invested their time similarly, as will many of the moments captured in simple drawings and unassuming text.

Other Amy Schwartz books we've liked include Bea and Mr. Jones, The Boys' Team, and The Purple Coat.  

Back in the Bambini Ride, we were jammin' to The Boss as we drove to husband's parents' house later this afternoon.  My four-year-old elder lad asked me what "glory days" meant.  "The best days," I answered.

"Today is a glory day," he said.  "And tomorrow."

Music to my ears.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


The lads were chomping at the bit to play outside this cool morning after Mass.  Too anxious to get out there to eat anything (they *had* eaten before church), they donned some autumnal attire suitable for pushing trucks and such around the yard (including a colorful array of hats and hand coverings) and went out.  My beloved and I stayed inside at the kitchen table overlooking the yard with our breakfast casserole and the wee lass, and set some breakfast cookies out on the porch for the lads.  Then this scene unfolded...

Elder lad (at the window cracked open to allow two-way communication beyond banging and gesturing): "Good morning, sir.  May I take your order?"

My beloved: "yes.  Coffee, please."

Elder lad: "OK.  Grande decaf mocha?"

My beloved: "I think that's what your mother would order."

Elder lad goes off, retrieves a cup full of dirt, reappears and says, "OK.  That'll be five dollars."

Where does he come up with this stuff?

Saturday, October 24, 2009


Every evening our family bedtime routine concludes with prayers followed by blessings.  Mine to each of my bambini goes something like this:

"God bless you, babe. May Jesus always live in your heart.  I hope you sleep well and have sweet dreams.  May the angels protect you and peace be with you.  I love you.  G'nite."

This is based in part on a blessing my dad would give -- and still gives -- to me at the end of the day when I was a child (or, now, when we depart each other's company; he'll also bless our bambini).  

My beloved gives his own blessings to the bambini.  It's a poignant, tender way of ending the day in peace.

Even more poignant are the spontaneous blessings our bambini now give to us and to each other.  To have them make the sign of the cross on our foreheads or even simply say "God bless you" to each other and to us is one of the most profoundly moving experiences of my motherhood.  Such times are infused with grace and peace, the very hallmarks of Christ's presence among and within us.  I live for such moments.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I can easily think of 85 things that need to get done around here at any given time (I *might* be exaggerating, but only slightly.  Hyperbole is one of my favorite literary devices.).  The question is, where do I begin?  In an attempt to accomplish as much as I can, I try to have several things going at once: start the washer so it can be going while I'm unloading the dishwasher or cooking or diapering someone.  Open several tabs in my Internet browser so I can shuffle among them while one page is loading.  Stick something in the microwave while I'm dishing up something else.  You get the idea.

Oftentimes this multitasking goes on in the midst of my discussing the fleet of real-life Mack trucks my four-year-old lad dreams of driving some day while stepping around the contents of my plastic food storage drawer now emptied by my nine-month-old lass and fielding requests for play dough, drinkable yogurt, or Goldfish.*

*This is what it's all about.

The movie Cheaper By The Dozen with Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy was one of my childhood favorites.  It's the story of Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, pioneers in the study of efficiency, and their twelve children.  Naturally, I try to integrate the best of their efficiency principles into my time management approach (such as it is).  In some respects, though, that approach can be summed up in one word: triage.

There's something to be said for scheduling various domestic tasks for specific days and/or times, and I do try to do that.  But in a household with young children, the best laid plans have to remain flexible.  The balancing act between handling domestic tasks and being present to my bambini is an art, I realize.  The bambini will be little for only a brief season in our family life, while the housework will always be here.  It *does* need to get done, and they need to learn the importance of helping to maintain our home as a way of showing gratitude for the blessing from God that it is.  They often do help me with the laundry and cleaning.  We use non-toxic cleaners whenever possible (like vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, and baking soda) for our health and that of our environment. 

Still, the days of early childhood are ones meant to be spent playing, laughing, learning, and loving.  We can do that while taking care of domestic duties for a while, but when my two year old says "I just want to swing", like he so often does these days, I want to be able to take him to the playground and let him do just that.  Before long, he and his siblings will be into other things.

Until further notice, please address all correspondence to my laundry room.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

Saturday, October 17, 2009

hand me downs

My elder lad has outgrown his shoes and pants -- the ones I bought several sizes too big a year or two ago just so we could maximize the wear he'd get out of them.  Fortunately, he has a younger brother who can wear a lot of the things the elder lad has outgrown.  This has financial and logistical advantages, though I think there are some emotional costs for everyone involved.  The elder lad is in some respects excited to be growing up and getting bigger, and also seems to like picking out some new things for himself to wear.   He's pretty good about letting go of many of the things he's outgrown so that his brother can wear them now and seems to like hearing stories about how he wore certain things when he was his brother's (or even his baby sister's) age.  On the other hand, there is some internal struggle with seeing his brother wearing something like what was his favorite hoodie or pajamas.  He understands the need, but it's still difficult.

Likewise, my younger lad seems to enjoy donning some of the togs with fun graphics or colors that he's seen his brother wearing, but some things he flat out rejects.  He too has gotten to choose some new things for himself, like the firefighter boots he just got a few days ago and hasn't wanted to take off, but he also struggles seeing his brother get new things, things that maybe he (the younger lad) doesn't need and therefore doesn't get something akin to. 

It's funny how there are some articles of clothing that serve as tangible tokens of a particular child at a particular point in his or her life -- what they liked to do or what developmental milestones they were mastering at the time, or what else might have been going on in our family life at the time.  In some instances, seeing another of my children in the same article of clothing has been jarring, simply because of the associations I have.  One such example is a bright orange hoodie my elder lad has now outgrown.  We could barely get that thing off of him last winter; he wore it all. the. time.  My younger lad refuses to wear it now.  I think he may have the same association I have about the hoodie: that's his brother's -- not his. 

We are trying to cultivate a deep sense of consideration for each other within our family and also for those around us who may not be as fortunate as we are to be able to afford such things as new clothes and shoes and what not.  Our children's needs do not always coincide, so meeting them as they arise may mean that one gets something new (or new to them) and another doesn't at the same time.  While it's fun and sometimes necessary to get new things, it's far more important to meet the needs of our family members and for those whose basic needs would otherwise go unmet -- not just temporal but spiritual and emotional as well.

I can only hope to instill in our bambini a concern for the less fortunate and for each other in the family, confident that each one will be tended according to his or her need. The value each of us has in the family comes from our being unique and irreplaceable creatures of God, due all the respect, love, and care by virtue of that status as His children. 

I know my younger lad will bring his own moxie to the clothes he's been handed down, as will my lass.  I pray for the grace to help all three of them clothe themselves in Christ.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

grandparents' day

Today is my grandmother's birthday.  I wish I could've celebrated it with her in person. 

We spent part of the day with my husband's parents, who live nearby and are taking some vacation for fall break.  Watching the interaction between our bambini and both sets of their grandparents illuminates entirely different sides of them (adults and children, that is) and, in the case of my own parents, conjures up memories of my own childhood and the tender care they took of me. 

In my own life I have been richly blessed by the relationships I have and have had with my grandparents.  My birthday Grannie is the only one of them still living, but my grandparents-in-law live nearby and are as dear to me as my own.

Thinking about the examples of faith and lives well-lived our grandparents (mine, my husband's, and our bambini's) give us, I am keenly aware of what an incredible blessing it is to know them and have time to spend with them.  Words cannot contain my gratitude.

Monday, October 12, 2009

shoes optional

We went to the shoe store today.  This is no minor undertaking for us.  I'd much rather order shoes online (and likely will still do so), but I thought it important to have the lads' feet measured for sizes.  When we got to the shoe store, I began the unloading process -- a bit like one of those puzzles that has nine spaces but eight squares, and you have to move one into an empty spot to get another free and eventually get it arranged just so.  So it goes for a solo adult unloading the bambini in a parking lot along a busy street.  I digress...

... I come to unload my wee lass and notice she only has one shoe on.  I find the other one and stick it not on her foot but in the pocket of my sling, thinking I'll put it back on her foot inside (of course I forget to and only realize she's wearing one shoe to the shoe store when we get back to the Bambini Ride having bought no shoes).  This calls to mind a trip last week to pick up my elder lad from preschool only to find my two and a half year old younger lad has socks on but no shoes.  I had taken the sneakers he had vetoed out of the car and intended to bring along his boots, but got distracted during that boarding process and left the boots at home.  So here we are at school with two shoeless children (the lass didn't have shoes on either, but this was less of an issue since I sling her).   I carried them both in to retrieve our preschooler.  That morning the elder lad had wanted to wear the sneakers that were at his school in his "just in case" change of clothes bag, so when I got there to pick him up after school he wanted to change into those.  Handy, since the younger lad had no shoes.  By the time we got back to the car, he was wearing his older brother's sneakers -- the ones he'd been wearing at school all day.  Nevermind that they're two sizes too big *and* have been worn all day already.

I hope he'll forgive me for that someday.

Epilogue: having accomplished the sole objective of making it possible for the younger lad to walk himself to the Bambini Ride, he was promptly relieved of his brother's shoes and reunited with his own upon our arrival home.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

it's in the bag

Growing up I spent a lot of time with my grandmother and close-knit extended family in Chicago.  I always packed too much stuff.  Grannie would chide, "I have a washing machine."  "We know you're traveling."  "We have stores here if you need such things as toothpaste."  "You don't need to pack so much."  Thanks in part to her ... coaching, shall we say, over time I was able to pare down my luggage to one carry-on suitcase for a two-week visit.

This tendency to pack a bunch of stuff spilled over into the bag/purse/backpack I'd carry every day.  From the time I was a wee lass I loved to carry purses, filled with such essentials as lip gloss and little pads of paper and sweet-smelling ink pens.  In college I'd always have the piano repertoire I'd been assigned for the semester photocopied and spiral bound into one easy-to-carry edition in case I had a few minutes to get into the practice room, along with my calendar, cell phone, the requisite lip gloss, and all the materials I'd need for class.

The trend has continued into the present day, when I always have a diaper bag with me as well as something in which to lug all my mama stuff (ID, cell phone, camera for those spontaneous moments, lip gloss, iPod... you get the idea.) and my mobile apothecary of homeopathic remedies for sneezes and sniffles; teething; bonks and bruises; and motion sickness.  Since I usually sling my eight month old daughter when my bambini and I are out somewhere, I try to not to load myself down like a pack mule with a heavy purse or bag.

Try as I might, though, I end up with a tote bag filled with who knows what -- baby shoes, my calendar, one (or four) books that I just might have a minute to skim, maybe something chocolate... before long, I can barely lift the thing.

What would Grannie say about this?  If memory serves, her purse is pretty well-stocked.   But she's pretty discriminating as to what constitutes something essential, and I think she limits herself to purses that don't lend themselves to taking on more than they should...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

oh my. look at the time.

I consider myself a fairly decent manager of time.  Or at least, I try to be.    With three children age four and under, though, the passage of my time is not something I can fully control.  By experience, I have acquired a certain sense of time budgeting that allows for the requisite meeting of temporal needs like feeding, diapering, and dressing of my bambini with a certain time in mind as my deadline for starting what I call our "boarding process" if we are to go somewhere.  This involves buckling the three of them in their car seats and loading what might be too much stuff to cart along with us to our destination.  Chance favors the prepared person, I have to believe, so I have more than enough diapering supplies (for those who wear them) and changes of clothes (for those who have graduated from diapers, myself included) stashed just in case.  I also like to have on hand amusements like books or soft toys (bearing in mind the risk of such things becoming flying projectiles in the -- God forbid -- event of a collision), and even drinking water and snacks.  I try to anticipate the needs that might arise seemingly out of nowhere and be able to meet them wherever we are.  I might overdo a little in this regard, but again I say, I'd rather be overprepared than under.  To accomplish this logistical feat, I try to do as much preparation in advance as possible.

But in reality, I am fully aware that my best-laid plans are simply those -- plans -- and that they can be altered in the blink of an eye.  And I have humbly come to realize that if we have to be somewhere or have something accomplished by a certain time, that I have to stay focused on getting everyone ready and not let myself get distracted by the proverbial something shiny, even if I think I've got time to spare.  I don't.

Then comes the end of the day, when the baby monitor hums with the sonorous sounds of three sleeping children.  I have a long list of things I need and want to do in that brief time between when they are asleep and when I need to be asleep myself:  dishes, laundry, tidying, sending and answering e-mail, conversing with my beloved, maybe having something chocolate.... Before I know it, it's way later than I intended to still be awake.  Case in point: the time I'm taking to write this post.  My sleep deficit is significant; the need to construct this thought wins out at the moment.

The here and now is all we have.  Making the most of it is a lifelong challenge, I think.  I can only hope to set my priorities and stick to them: to be attuned to the voice of God, to be the person He calls me to be for the people He places in my midst, to not squander the gift of time I've been given with these precious people, to draw out the radiant smiles of those I love... and to somehow work chocolate (preferably dark) into that equation whenever possible.

Sometimes, though, I could swear that time just... evaporated.

Friday, October 02, 2009

someone to watch over me

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Guardian Angels.   The time I spent as director of liturgy and music fostered within me a deep love of the Church's liturgical calendar, and it's something I strive to incorporate into my daily life -- the feasts of Christ's life and that of his mother Mary's, the lives of the saints, and the seasons of the Church year.   Today's Gospel reading makes direct reference to the guardian angels:

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones,
for I say to you that their angels in heaven
always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.”
-- Mt 18:10

 I've always had a sort-of latent belief in my guardian angel.  I mean to be more purposeful in this belief because, after all, our faith teaches us that "[b]eside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life."   Attributed to St. Basil; the Catechism of the Catholic Church #336. 

As a wife and mother, I recognize my guardian angel and those of my husband and children to be some of my greatest allies and helpers in the daily care of my loved ones.  I can't take credit for this realization; it came by way of a podcast I like to listen to hosted by a deacon of the Catholic church and his friend, a Catholic wife & mother (who happens to be a friend of one of my favorite bloggers, the Pioneer Woman, but I digress).  If only I can manage to call them to mind upon my waking in the morning (easier said than done, depending on how well everyone has slept -- this simply means I must continue to practice and pray) and enlist their protection of us all.  I know their protection is there regardless of my asking for it; my realizing this and believing in its actuality requires a deeper faith and surrender on my part. 

As part of my faith formation, my parents taught me about my guardian angel.  Since I've become a parent, we've had some conversations about the tangible help our angels can be to us in caring for our bambini.

My mom likes to tell me of a conversation she and my dad had with a longtime close family friend about the name of someone's guardian angel being the first name that comes to mind when you think of said person's angel.  I think my mom said something about not knowing her angel's name, to which our friend had a prompt and sure response: "Clare."

My mom didn't quibble with him. 

Angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom God's love entrusts me here: 
Ever this day be at my side, 
to light and guard, to rule and guide.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

my former life

Before marriage and motherhood, I spent a lot of time perched on a piano bench.  It was a favorite spot of mine from the time I was a wee lass, so much so that I majored in piano in college at the encouragement of my aunt Robin (an encouragement that took on an added dimension of poignancy when she died of breast cancer at the age of 37 when I was a junior in college preparing for my recital).

Determined *not* to be a piano teacher, I instead set out to be an arts administrator.  I landed an internship in the development (i.e. fundraising) offices at Lyric Opera of Chicago the summer after Aunt Robin died. Promotional writing for special events was a primary focus of my internship, and it led to my first job out of college as a PR lackey for the local (now defunct but resuscitated under new leadership and an inventive business model) professional orchestra.  Here I learned a lot about mass media (even embarking upon a master's degree in this field), marketing, and graphic design, and put a ridiculous number of miles on my little car ferrying musicians (and signage and props and even a beer keg for a season wrap party) around the region.  I was very fortunate to have several articles published in the monthly magazine of the performing arts center where the orchestra gave two of its concert series, something which led to future publishing opportunities and a keener interest in writing and communications.

When the orchestra met its unfortunate demise, I went to work as the director of music and liturgy for a local Catholic parish whose pastor had been stationed at my home parish when I was in middle school.  It was an honor to serve in this capacity, and a natural outlet for my musical training.  I had begun playing at Mass when I was a teenager and had done so throughout college. This stint coincided with one writing a monthly column for the diocesan newspaper.

Then I met my husband at an event for Catholic young adults.  Within a year of our meeting we were married, and soon thereafter our first child was on the way.  I left my post at the parish to devote myself to full-time mothering and home-tending.  Every once in a while I would substitute for a pianist at one of the local Catholic parishes.  Now with three small children, it's been a while since I played at Mass.  God willing, I'll be back on my piano bench perch sometime soon, for it is there that I am most sure to be utilizing the particular talents He has given me that I have cultivated through years of practice and study.

For now, though, I am cultivating other talents and striving for everyday sanctity by loving and caring for the ones He has placed in my midst, tending to their souls, praying for the Grace to reflect the Lord's love and light at every moment. It's my honor to do so, and I'm so grateful for the multitude of blessings bestowed upon me by living out this particular vocation to which God calls me -- one I pray I will share hand in hand with my beloved for length of days.

looking through the eyes of Love

When I was in high school, my favorite stuff to play on the piano consisted of music from movies, Broadway shows, and Top 40 pop music. I was also captivated by figure skating, so it should come as no surprise that the movie Ice Castles would be one of my favorites. I of course *had* to learn the theme song "Through the Eyes of Love", not so much because of the lyrics but more because of the image I could construct of myself figure skating as I played....

More often than not, upon his return home at the end of a long day, my husband will say "Sweetheart, you look great." God love him. More often than not, when he does offer this compliment, my first inward response is "yeah, right." God help me. At such times, I see myself as tired, disheveled, overheated, frazzled, the minimal make-up I managed to apply in two minutes now melting and pointless... anything but beautiful. He probably sees these same things, too, but they don't keep him from saying such kind words.

I pray to see myself as my husband sees me. In these moments especially, he reflects the love I know Christ has for me. My husband is here to help me get to heaven (and vice versa), so whether or not I really merit such a compliment, I can trust that Christ is offering His love through my husband. Ultimately, it is for Christ I am living this life, and all manner of grace flows from the One who calls me to serve Him as my husband's wife and the mother of these children. I love Him best by loving the ones closest to me the best I can, and it's when I do that that I look the prettiest (figure skating finery notwithstanding).
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