Category Archives: The Catholic Mom

Full Time Daughter

My mother-in-law moved in with us.

If you’ve been following for a while now, you may remember that we don’t get along.  But circumstances are what they are, and despite our challenging relationship, moving her here was our only option. I’ll spare you the details, but here are the facts you need to follow along: her husband is in a nursing home with advanced Alzheimer’s. She broke her hip in December. She is an insulin-dependent (Type 1) diabetic. Her dementia has advanced to the point where can no longer be left unattended. Ever.

So here we are.

The decision was a hard one to make. My husband and I both knew what we had to do, but because of our past, I don’t think he felt like he could ask that of me. So I let him off the hook, and I posed the question. The answer was an immediate “yes,” and we set about preparations immediately, before either of us had a chance to really think about what we were doing, and change our mind.

We cleared out a room, converted it to a bedroom for her, and moved her in to our house.

I was angry. For years I watched her deal with her husband’s dementia without an ounce of patience, belittling and demeaning him in front of others (even my children), and now I was rolling out the red carpet for her. She was given beautiful accommodations, home cooked meals delivered to her at the table, and was spoken to with kindness and respect. It didn’t seem fair. It wasn’t fair.

I tried, I really tried, to open my heart and put my feelings aside, but I just couldn’t. When she asked the same questions over and over, I flashed back to the way she treated him, and even though the words I spoke were calm and non-confrontational, they were filled with bitterness. Karma hadn’t gotten it right.

(Thanks, Enlightenment Ain’t for Sissies, for the Karma Wheel.)

Then one Sunday, the story of Jesus and the lepers was read in Mass, and the homily centered on Jesus loving the Unloveables. “Who are the Unloveables in today’s world?” the priest asked. He talked about loving, in an active way, those who are hard to love. He pointed out the obvious – the homeless, AIDS patients, those who are different from you, those who scare you. Then he challenged us to think about our own world, and who our Unloveables are. And to reach out to them. To love them anyway.

I tried. I tried to be more patient. I tried to speak more gently. But I just wasn’t there yet.

I was still waiting for her to love me back.

As days turned into weeks, I knew I needed an internal reconciliation. Something had to change, and the change had to be within me. I prayed. I sought counsel from friends. I wrote thousands of words, trying to put them in the right order to get me where I needed to be.

I knew I was getting closer, but I still wasn’t there yet. I continued to search the archives of my mind and my heart for some reference to give me what I needed.

Along the way I thought about an old blog post from my friend Mike. (Mike, send me the URL so I can link it here!) He wrote of Sacrificial Love, and his reflections mirrored that homily a few weeks prior, that we as are called to love beyond what’s easy, to love sacrificially.

And then it flashed through my mind. I thought about the Golden Rule, the philosophy so universal it exists in Christianity, Judaism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

And the Truth I had been searching for hit me. I was still waiting to receive. And that had held me back from giving. Whether or not it was ‘fair’ was not for me to consider. My duty – to God, to my husband, and to myself – was to treat her the way I wanted her to treat me, not the way she actually did treat me.

For twenty-six years I had shown her love, and had been waiting for her to return it. On that day I accepted the fact that it wasn’t going to come. The time for that had passed. In her condition, she was no longer capable of opening up to anything new. It was all about me now, and how I behaved towards her.

It was time for me to give love in its purest form, in sacrifice, expecting nothing in return.

For only then could I turn to God and say that I’d done my best. Only then could I ask Him to do unto me as I had done unto others.

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This post was submitted for the Yeah Write #51 link up.

http://yeahwrite.me/51-open/

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I hope there’s wine in hell.

Yesterday The Caboose pinched his middle finger in his closet door. Not the whole finger, just the fleshy tip. It made a purple blister at the pinch site, and the tip of his finger was all swollen and throbbing. We applied ice and elevated the injury. To protect it, he curled the other fingers protectively, extending the middle finger full and straight. You get the picture.

He was making a hand gesture similar to this one. Only with one less finger. (Thanks, Microsoft, for the royalty-free image.)

This morning, it was hurting a bit, so I gave some ibuprofen. Then we got ready for church.

Mass was lovely. Sitting around us were friends, neighbors, and a nun. As the “peace be with you” moment approached, I look over at the boy and see that he has resumed the protective hand position, with the other fingers curled tightly and the injured middle finger fully extended.

I wanted to die.

“Peace be with you.” he sweetly said to the nun.

Happy Mardi Gras!

Today, I took one for the team. I stayed home on Mardi Gras.

If you don’t already know this, today is Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras Day, the culmination of our weeks-long celebration leading up to the somber season of Lent here in Catholic New Orleans.

If you’ve never been to Mardi Gras or to New Orleans, you should definitely put it on your bucket list. I know there are other Mardi Gras and Carnival celebrations around the world, but ours is unique for many reasons. But I digress…

This story is about my family.

My family loves Mardi Gras. But we love it in different ways.

Uptown parade via Nola.com

Uptown parade via Nola.com

My idea of a great Mardi Gras is having a base camp at the beginning of the route with chairs and ladders and food and potty passes somewhere. My preferred location is on Napoleon Avenue, at the beginning of the parade route, nestled under a lacy canopy of live oaks, with actual grass beneath my feet. Because it the beginning of the route, you have to arrive early, while most of the city is still pondering their second cup of coffee. Or second Bloody Mary.

For Slick and The Trailblazer, a great Mardi Gras experience means being further up St. Charles Avenue, where throngs of high school and college students flock. (Mardi Gras is the new Spring Break.) The scene up there is a bit intense for me, and the thick crowds give me the heebie-jeebies, so I prefer to leave them with their own kind while I stay with mine.

For Mr. Wonderful, being in the thick of the action, not tied down to chairs and a home base, drifting with the crowd chasing an elusive Zulu coconut and eating from street vendors is Utopia. Before we had children, we schlepped through the French Quarter, caught the drag queen costume contest, roamed through the city in search of fun. It was never my thing, but he loved it so much I went along with it. Don’t get me wrong, I had a good time, but I’m definitely a fair-weather fan of this season.

Once the kids came, we settled down a bit, hunkering in a hotel on St. Charles Avenue for the long weekend, partying til someone dropped. The kids slept on the floor of the old mansion-turned-hotel and ate pub food for days.

But as they got older, the family became divided. The teenagers tired of hanging with mom and dad for days on end. After three kids my bladder could no longer go all day with limited potty stops. But Mr. Wonderful’s lust for the party never ceased.

The kids and I were holding him back.

Then last week, Mr. Wonderful and I found ourselves downtown on a parade night with only The Caboose in tow. As we approached the parade route, the boy ran ahead to get there first. Mr. Wonderful glanced back at me, looking for permission to follow. I nodded my consent and he took off after the little dude. I caught up a few minutes later to hear them shouting and having fun, with an armload of beads and a giant stuffed fish. Two peas in their Mardi Gras pod.

So Sunday, when Mr. Wonderful commented about last year’s Mardi Gras Day rain out, and how upset he was when the rain clouds passed and he saw the TV broadcast of the people on the streets reveling without him, I knew I had to throw him a bone. I convinced The Caboose that he and dad would have a great time on the man-prowl. No one to tether them to a bathroom, no one to make them stay put in mom’s happy place. They could travel light, work their through the crowd, go where the wind would take them.

I sent them off without me, so they could have their kind of fun.

My theory was validated at 9:25 this morning, when the first photo came via dad’s Blackberry of a smiling boy.

Shortly after that came another photo of The Caboose holding his Zulu coconut. More followed, all chronicling the day exactly as I hoped it would go. Father and son, having fun together, making special memories at on Carnival Day.

The Mardi Gras prize: A Zulu coconut. (Photo credit: Mr. Wonderful.)

King Zulu. (Photo credit: Mr. Wonderful.)

Hail Rex. (Photo credit: Mr. Wonderful.)

I’m sure (OK, I hope) when they return home this afternoon, they’ll both say I should have come. But the truth is it couldn’t be both ways. Their kind of fun is different from my kind. And today I wanted them to have their kind.

Next year I’ll probably go with them, and we’ll figure out a compromise that covers us all.

But I’m certain that someday I’ll hear them telling stories about this day – the year they went out by themselves – and the adventures they had. And I’ll smile.

A Love Story

Once upon a time, there was a plain, insecure, college girl.  One day, she met a guy she wasn’t really crazy about, but who seemed to like her a lot.

She agreed to go out with him, never expecting it to lead anywhere.  (She was a poor college student, and he wanted to take her to a restaurant, so it seemed like a good idea.)  She let him buy her pizza, and then he asked her out again.  Though still a little uncertain about this guy, she agreed a second time, because he wanted to cook for her.

Much to her surprise, the guy turned out to be really sweet.  They dated for a couple of years, and then the Really Nice Guy was ready to graduate from college and head off for his first assignment with the Army.  He knew the girl wasn’t going to wait around forever, so before leaving he asked her to marry him, and she said yes.

The plain, insecure girl blossomed into a beautiful woman, married the Really Nice Guy, and lived happily ever after.

26 years ago today.

OK, so he had a growth spurt.

I can’t always talk on the Internet about the stupid funny things Slick does, because occasionally he and The Trailblazer are so bored they read my blog.  (Usually during class…)  But today the lad threw me a bone.

The Mass of the Holy Spirit was today.  The students at Jesuit High School forgo their military-style khakis and wear a coat and tie on this day every year for the occasion.  Today Slick thought it would be funny to wear his old fish tie.

I love this kid!!

Going up to communion, last year’s history teacher caught a glimpse and started snickering.  This triggered a snickering contagion that passed through my son.   I’m completely stunned that he did not get Penance Hall for this.  And that lightning hasn’t yet struck him down for his irreverence.

And I’m glad I wasn’t there.  Because I would’ve peed in my pants laughing.

Spring Fever — or — If It’s Good Enough for Others, It’s Good Enough For You

The Lucky Mom has been in a kind of weird place lately.  I’ve had things on my plate and on my mind that have been weighing heavy, and have been avoiding the keyboard out of fear that I’d be bitter.   We’ve been making important decisions about education for our kids, about elder care and nursing homes for parents, dealing with a 24/7 construction zone behind our house, handling a crisis with one of our boys, coping with declining property values and a rental market that has us barely breaking even on our previously-profitable rentals, and so on.  Small potatoes compared to the woes of some, but a load on The Lucky Mom’s mind.

Since I’m always ready to dispense wisdom to those who ask for it (and occasionally to some who don’t), today I decided to turn the tables on myself, and pretend I was one of The Lucky Mom’s friends who came to her for advice.  As I did, I had to prepare myself to be ready to take the advice I was about to give, even if it was tough.  And I made a promise that I would find the positive side of each issue, no matter how tough.

This, too, shall pass. I use this one all the time, because of its universal truth.  No matter what “it” is, “it” will eventually change.  Change is the one thing you can always count on.  Whether it’s a bad haircut, or 2 years worth of construction noise, it won’t last forever.  And hey, when the new levee is finished, my flood insurance premium may go down.  (Smile.)

Perspective:  there’s someone out there who wishes she had your problems. I didn’t have to look far for illustrations of this point.  Not long ago a friend was excited to announce that her daughter didn’t need another open-heart surgery.  Another was pondering how to help her stepson handle his first birthday without his mother.  The list is long of friends who are shepherding their kids through much greater ordeals than mine.  I can hug and kiss my boy and soften his blow.  I need to quit making such a big deal out of it.  Then he will probably do the same.

Keep the faith. Another universal truth.  As a woman of faith, I believe that God’s plan for me doesn’t skip any details.  I believe that all the experiences of my life contribute to the plan that He has for me.  Even if they seem difficult.  Even if I don’t understand.  I have an enviable life.  I need to remember that more often.

So after a little positive self-talk, I feel better.  I’ll embrace the coming Spring, noticing the new leaves instead of the pollen, the green grass instead of the weeds.  After all, we’re in the heart of lacrosse season (my fav!) and crawfish are just around the corner.  So what was I worried about?????

The Luckiest Family’s Christmas

A few days ago I was wondering what the perceptions my nearly grown-up kids had of our family Christmas traditions.  We have a set of traditions, but I’m not sure they even realize that we do.   So I took stock of our Holiday Celebration, and set out to find out what their thoughts and memories were of it.  I had to be a little stealthy, because calling a family meeting to discuss such would have been a disaster.

So we went out to eat last night, and (as I had a captive audience waiting for food…) I dove in.  I asked each of them to tell me one favorite Christmas memory, and to pick one of our family traditions that they like.   The oldest son thought for a moment, then – with a childish grin – told about a Christmas morning when he was about 5 when Santa brought him a Nintendo 64!  He said it was the best present he’d ever gotten, and was the Christmas-morning memory he’d always remember.  The middle son recalled a Christmas when he got great presents, and the caboose went on about all of the great Christmas mornings he could remember.  (Go figure, he couldn’t pick one.)  Their replies had a common theme – how Santa was so awesome, and brought them things that mom and dad would NEVER have gotten.  All agreed Santa was the BEST!

I also asked them to tell me which of our family Christmas traditions they liked best.  Middle-boy surprised me by saying he likes decorating our Christmas tree.  Our tree is a collection of every decoration and ornament the kids ever made in school, as well as ornaments collected on our family’s travels.  So as we pull things out of the box, there’s a story or memory behind every piece.  As certain ornaments come out of the box, sometimes one of the kids will shout out that they “have to hang that one!”  Each construction paper angel, handprint ornament, and macaroni creation is marked with the kid’s name and year it was made.  There are ornaments from my own childhood, including one of the plastic ones that my mom bought when I was a toddler and kept pulling down the tree, a special Snoopy ornament given to me by my BFF in high school, and things from recent years, like the beer-drinking-Santa I carried back from Germany on my lap, and the shiny, hand-decorated orb given to me by a friend the Christmas before she went to heaven.   From a decorator’s perspective, it looks a bit like a garage-sale creation, but through a Lucky Mom’s eyes, it’s perfect.

The Memory Tree

My oldest son said he liked the way we open our presents.  Santa brings the gifts to our house wrapped.  (I asked him to do that many years ago after a particular free-for-all on Christmas morning that left several things unnoticed.)  We take our time, unwrapping one at a time, appreciating each one as it’s received.  The process takes about 45 minutes, and in that time our boys are children again, anticipating the next present like it’s going to be another Nintendo 64!  (The year my husband was in Iraq, we got him on Skype, and set the laptop up next to the sofa, so he could be there to share the morning with us.)  It makes for happy memories, and great photo ops.  It also keeps things from getting inadvertently thrown out with the garbage.

My youngest son said he likes our “party.”  We have Christmas dinner at our house, with family and close friends always in attendance.  The house looks very fancy, and I set the table with our finest china and linens.  There is lots of food, lots of treats, and lots of love.  Over the years our crowd has changed (especially after Katrina when many of our relatives moved to Houston), but the essence of the day has stayed the same.  Celebrating Christmas with the people we love the most.

My husband said he likes frying the turkeys.  (That’s the part of the tradition he brought in!)  As soon as presents are open, he heads outside to start the oil, and stands watch over that pot to keep it at the perfect temperature.  He’s done it in rain, and in snow (2004!).  The birds soak in a spicy brine for a couple of days, and come out of the pot with the perfect combination of spicy and juicy!  He hears oooohs and aaaahs all afternoon as we pick those suckers to the bone!!

I should've taken the photo before the ice went in, before the spices turned the water dark!

My favorite tradition is going to Mass on Christmas Eve.  That’s the evening we get dressed up (and get to Church early so we can get seats).  We sit together, greet friends and neighbors, and admire the beautiful decorations while waiting for Mass to begin.  The Christmas Eve readings have become so familiar over the years that the kids will usually comment before we get there about hearing the names of Jesus’ ancestors read again.  I hope it’s a tradition they keep when they’re grown up.

My husband brought these pieces back from Germany about 20 years ago. He shipped his clothes home so he could fill his suitcases with presents for me!

Despite the things mentioned above, we work hard to keep the Holiness of the season as the focus of our events.  Our Advent Wreath sits on the coffee table, and we do devotions as often as we can.  Our Nativity gets a prominent place, right inside the door.  We adopt families, make donations to St. Jude and the USO (while giving thanks to God for our healthy children and for the soldiers who spend holidays away from home).  Most of all we give thanks to God, for loving us enough to become Man and walk among us.

I’d love to hear about some of your family’s Christmas memories and traditions.  Please share a few!