When there’s no baby

When there’s no baby

35162078_10214873928894596_3158134378106716160_o.jpgNote: I’ll be on Relevant Radio’s Morning Air program to chat about this article on Monday, June 18 between 6:15 a.m.-6:30 a.m. ET / 3:15 a.m.-3:30 a.m. (!!!) PT. If it’s any good, I’ll post the link here. 😉

For so many years, I’ve been in the thick of things — up past my neck — submerged in the tiny army that God and my husband and I created and is slowly destroying me in the most painful and beautiful ways, one blow-out diaper and temper tantrum at a time.

I was so overwhelmed by the chaos and the noise and the sheer exhaustion that I couldn’t see this moment coming.

The moment when the eldest is jonesing to get her drivers permit. When the second is a freshly-minted teenager in her own right. When the third is on the cusp of double-digits and the fourth doesn’t need much help keeping up with the eldest three.

And then there’s the fifth. Goodness, the fifth. The one child with whom I’ve been privileged and blessed to be at home. For whom I’ve been on hand to experience every milestone even if I was lousy at documenting it for posterity. Everything about this last child is etched within me; it resides in a place that is at once tender and raw and grateful and strong.

And this fifth child cannot wait to go off to the big school with the big kids. I don’t take it personally.

A part of me is elated and relieved and bursting with pride and giddy anticipation for what comes next. And another, deeper part of me is just plain … bursting. Unraveling. Overcome and undone by it all.

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For the smile is the beginning of love

For the smile is the beginning of love

Our eldest just received the Sacrament of Confirmation, and the chrism oil smeared across her teenaged forehead transported me back to when she received the same glorious-smelling oil on her bitty baby head at baptism. Incidentally, teenagers don’t tolerate their mothers huffing their sweet-smelling heads as well as infants do. Truly, truly I say to you: The days are long, yet the years are short.

Now, as a young Mom, my skin crawled whenever someone observed my spirited youngsters and felt compelled to offer this gem: “Treasure every! single! minute!” I’d force a smile and bite my tongue to keep from pelting the well-meaning stranger with a litany of grievances. Did she expect me to cherish every blow-out diaper, each sleepless night, all ear infections and colicky episodes? How about the countless tantrums and the myriad other exhausting maladies of young motherhood?

Today, comments about how full my hands are don’t irk me like they used to. When the cashier at the store is mortified that I have the audacity to mother five—FIVE!!—children and declares: “That’s too many kids!” I’m neither shocked nor angry, and I’m certainly not losing any sleep over her ridiculous opinion. Rather, I laugh heartily and ask: “Which one would you like me to take back?”

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photo credit: Marie Sylvester

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Life in the mother’hood can be a real mother

Life in the mother’hood can be a real mother

Motherhood is a motherBeing a parent is a bizarre and tremendous thing. All of a sudden, you’re expected to be completely responsible for someone you’ve just met, who has all manner of needs that you’ve never supplied before, and has various personality traits and proclivities that surely don’t come from your side of the gene pool.

But necessity is a mother. I am a mother because my children were conceived. And I had to figure out how to be a mother because, all of a sudden, I was one.

It’s inconceivable how small beings so thoroughly inexperienced and utterly helpless can somehow reduce grown-ups to puddles incapable of rational thought, but they can. And do. At least, they do in my house. Regularly.

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photo credit: Jordan Whitt

 

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It’s Halloween. Again. [insert eyeroll emoji here]

It’s Halloween. Again. [insert eyeroll emoji here]

Okay – I admit (yet again) – I’m a big “bah humbug” Halloween All Hallow’s Eve person. Some have wondered why I don’t particularly care for Halloween, so I decided today was as good as any to set the record straight. To clarify:

  • I am not anti-dressing up in costumes. I had a dress-up box as a kid and I wore the heck out of that stuff.all-hallows-eve-2015-gigi-and-papa
  • I am not anti-creativity.
  • I am not anti-fun. (Hello.)
  • I am not the world’s most uptight, protective parent. Truly. I’m not going to provide evidence to this assertion here, but trust me when I tell you this is not the case.
  • I am not anti-treats, although I don’t want my kids’ teeth to rot out of their heads nor do I want them to develop Type 2 diabetes.
  • I am not even anti-trick-or-treating. More on that later.

What I am is this:

A caring, concerned Mom of young, impressionable souls who doesn’t want her kids subjected to things that could disturb their peace and desensitize their spirits in the name of “fun.”
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I am against:

  • evil
  • sin
  • fear, and
  • anything that makes light of these works of the enemy
  • anything that leads my kids into those works of the enemy

I’ve read my dear friend Rebecca’s post about protecting our kids, and I agree with her – I don’t think a zone of perfect safety exists. I mean, who wants to protect one’s kids to the point that they can’t survive in the real world? It’s our job to help our kids to develop and form their consciences and practical skills so they can, among other things, navigate life out in the big, amazing world beyond the doors to our homes.

Still, there ain’t no way you’re going to convince me that I must – or even should – at least once a year, knowingly subject my progeny to the creepy, gory, scary, gross, and sometimes truly frightening stuff that can be easily stumbled upon Halloween night. Perhaps you disagree. And that’s fine. You and I can agree to disagree, and I’ll still be your friend.

In fact, if you’re my husband, I will still be married to you. More on that later.

Oh, lighten up, Heather. It’s just good, clean fun.
all-hallows-eve-2011-elise-all-saints-massall-hallows-eve-2015-gigi-and-caramel-applesall-hallows-even-2011-ava-and-elise-pumpkins

Sure. I agree: Activities surrounding All Hallow’s Eve can wholesome, and even good. We’ve participated in some really lovely Harvest parties, Trunk or Treat activities, and All Souls’ Day Masses with the kids dressed up as their favorite saint. But some things can also scare the pee out of a kid, and give them nightmares for a good, long while. Ask me how I know. Still sound like “fun?” More importantly, do I, as a Christian Mom, need to expose my younger or more spiritually sensitive kids to things resembling the demonic in a non-controlled environment just because society tells me it’s no big deal?

All the nope.

Perhaps what it boils down to, for me at least, is this: Hell is real. Some people will go there. Satan is real. Some people serve his agenda. Demons are real. Some people are bothered by genuine demonic influence. Evil is real. All one has to do is take a quick look around to realize this is true. I’m not too keen on watering things down to the point where we are unable to identify and avoid evil.

Now – and I promise – my thoughts about Halloween are not (NOT!) a judgement on parents who allow their kids to go trick-or-treating, or to participate in haunted houses, haunted corn mazes, and the like. You are the parent of your children. You are in charge. You know your kids. You know what they can handle. You get to develop your own family culture, just like we as parents do. My preference, as a Mom, is to try to err on the side of Philippians 4:8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

all-hallows-eve-kids-praying

Okay. So now you hopefully (even if you don’t agree) understand what I think about Halloween and why I feel the way I do. If you still disagree with me, you aren’t alone.

Lo these many moons ago, when I still felt like I wanted my children to avoid Halloween altogether, my husband asked me to consider allowing them to go trick-or-treating in select locations. I finally, reluctantly agreed – with one caveat: If they were going to go trick-or-treating, the Renshaw kids were going to dress up as Saints or Biblical characters. End of story. Renshaw kids are going to be lights in the world. Period. My husband finally, reluctantly agreed to my terms.St. Francis of Assisi

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Our alliance has lasted, more or less, for the past 13 years. Yes, there were times when I grew weary of fighting the battle (“Why can’t we wear other costumes? No one else dresses up like a saint!”) and years when we had babies and concocting an awesome saint costume was too much to deal with. We weren’t always a united front. But we soldiered on. Church Militant, and all that.

And now we come to this year.

Once the end of September hit, as sure as Bob’s your uncle, the kids began asking the questions – and complaining – about Halloween. Again. For about the 11th year in a row. And you know what? I stepped aside. I deferred to my husband’s judgment as spiritual Head of our home. He discerned it was okay for our children to dress in non-saint / non-Biblical character costumes for Halloween, so long as they weren’t dressing up as something scary/gory/evil, etc. And I finally, reluctantly agreed.

This year, we have an extraordinarily excited Captain America, Rapunzel, Iron Man, Robin Hood, and Piper McLean of Percy Jackson fame.

all-hallows-eve-2016-group

And, while their costumes aren’t exactly my preference, I’ll be saying a covering prayer over each of them, putting blessed salt in their pockets and holy water on their foreheads as I usually do, and walking around the neighborhood with them, rosary in hand. I even bought a little something of my own to wear for the occasion, because, while I may have lost this battle, I sure as heck ain’t ever gonna concede the war.

all-hallows-eve-2016-heather-hoodieall-hallows-eve-2016-featured-imageBe safe out there, y’all. God bless,
heather

 

 

 

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Dear Lonely Mom: you are not alone

woman-looking-at-forest-at-dawn

I have been a lonely Mom.

But first, a little context.

As the eldest child with only one sibling five years my junior, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time with babies or younger children growing up. I was too busy with my own activities and interests and friends. Sure, I babysat on occasion, but at the time, I was way more interested in making some sweet cash than practicing for any future vocation with my small charges.

Vocation? What’s that? Like, a misspelled vacation? Wait – isn’t a vocation what priests and nuns have?

I didn’t know that marriage and motherhood actually was a vocation. I didn’t know that marriage and motherhood would be my path – my call – to holiness.

I figured I would go to college, have an amazing career traveling the globe, fall in love, and get married at some point. As I learned more about my Catholic faith, I figured being married meant that I would have kids. I mean, I didn’t plan to not have children, but it was more of a default reality that I took completely for granted – you get married, you have kids. Eventually. That’s what most people do, right?

So I skipped the fabulous globe-trotting career and fell in love and got married. And then the babies started coming. And coming. And I really had no idea what I was doing. And I got overwhelmed.

And I got very, very lonely. And severely depressed.

I knew that these little lives were good, marvelous, beautiful (!!) blessings, but I didn’t quite know how to navigate the sheer upheaval in my life – changing body, hormones, responsibilities, identity, sleep – once they arrived.

I knew I needed to find people [yet] going somewhere — anywhere — felt like an impossible undertaking most days. Attending the moms’ group, the playdate, or the meet-up meant the little people and I had to be presentable, likable, and relatable. All at the same time. It seemed like an awful lot of ‘ables’ for someone who often felt like she was drowning in a sea of inability.

->Read the rest of my latest Mea Maxima Cuppa column – – over at the Catholic Sentinel.

So, how did I break through my feelings of loneliness and isolation? I wish I could tell you I had some sort of a magic formula I followed that would work for you, too. If I did, I would surely whip it up and airmail it to you if you lived far away or drive it over to your place if you lived close by.

Here are some things, though, that (eventually) helped me:

  1. Admitting I needed help. It took a while before I could swallow my stubborn pride and admit that whatever I was doing as a new Mom (or a Mom with littles) wasn’t working for me and that I really needed some help. At first, I wasn’t even sure what anyone could do to help me, but I knew something had to change. There is no shame in asking friends, family, neighbors, parishioners, and/or medical professionals for assistance when you need it. None. God isn’t calling us to go crazy because of our vocations! Once I admitted I needed help, it was easier (not easy, but easier) for me to actually seek out the help I needed.
  2. Maintaining a schedule. Moms with littles might look at the word ‘schedule’ and be tempted to roll their eyes to China. “Schedule?! Ha!!” And I know it’s true. I found that I’d roll out of bed after another sleepless night and try to leave the house only to have someone poop all over themselves or me and by the time we were all ready to get back in the car again, the activity we’d been headed to would be 75% over. Not worth it. But as much as I could, I tried to wake up, get dressed into something other than what I slept in (even if it was yoga pants and a t-shirt), brush my hair, and if I was really feeling lucky and motivated, take a shower before my husband went to work. Adding in the things that I knew I had to do – meals, laundry (oh, Lord – the laundry with spitty babies!), naps, etc. helped me to try to find some rhythm in my day.
  3. Nurturing my spiritual life. Our youngest is almost three and a half, and I’m just now starting to feel like I might have actually attended Mass on Sundays.  I remember many, many, MANY times when I felt like even attending Mass was an exercise in futility. What was the First Reading about? I couldn’t even hear Father’s homily! Did we just receive the Eucharist? So. many. distractions. But as time went on, I realized that there had to be some grace available to me just for attempting, right??! So we kept going. Every Sunday. And things have honestly gotten easier. Additionally, I think my prayer life has improved significantly since I became a Mom, simply due to necessity! I know that I need Jesus. Like woah. So, I pray. A lot. I pray for myself. I pray for my kids. I pray for my husband. I don’t always get the super high-quality before-they’re-awake-quiet-meditation-with-Jesus time in, but I am often praying throughout my day – as I scrub the bathroom floor, as I change the laundry over, as I’m chopping onions, as I’m cleaning up yet another mess – it’s there. And He’s there with me. IIn the noise. In the chaos. In the mess. And it has changed me.
  4. Quit worrying so much. I used to worry that I didn’t have my make-up on and my kids’ shoes didn’t match and I didn’t have a Pinterest-worthy snack ready before I’d head off to the moms’ group or play date. But you know what? Those worries were keeping me away from community and vital friendships. We were not meant to do this thing called ‘life’ alone, but how often do we convince ourselves that we’re not worthy of community? We are worthy! I’m not sure exactly when I stopped caring so much, but these days, I’m much more likely to be out the door with my hair in a pony tail and the kids usually wind up with some sort of shoe-like things on their feet. We might pick up donut holes from the drive-thu and are on our way. That’s where we are these days, and I’m okay with that.

So, from one lonely Mama to another – I’ve been where you are, friend. Loneliness in the trenches of motherhood can be a very deep, dark place. It can threaten to swallow you whole – I know, because I’ve been stuck looking down over the precipice myself more times than I care to recall. But I also know that you don’t have to remain in that place of isolation and anxiety; you really don’t. There are sisters and brothers who want to help you and know you and be your friend. Will you allow them to help you? Will you let Jesus in?

I would really love to hear from you – have you ever felt alone, isolated, or lonely? What do you do to re-connect with “the outside world” and to not feel alone in your vocation? Please let me know in the combox.

God bless y’all.

heather

Photo via VisualHunt.com

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