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Taking Littles To Mass – What We’ve Tried, And What’s Working For Us Right Now

There are tons of suggestions for how to bring young children to mass.

Bring a special bag with toys they only get for during church!

Sit in the front so they can see what’s going on!

Don’t freak out over every little noise! They’re kids!

Our kids are currently ages 4, 2, and 16 months, so I will take all the suggestions I can get! But one thing I have learned after 4 years of mass with littles (and just from parenting in general) is that what works for one kid or family is not guaranteed to work for all kids and families. So I thought I’d share some of the different things we’ve tried over the years to make mass manageable—the successes and the flops. If you’re finding mass is a struggle, maybe you’ll find something helpful from our experience.

Sitting Up Front

We’ve tried this on and off with varying degrees of success. When it was just our oldest, sometimes this helped so we could redirect our son’s attention to the altar. But once he decided that the front row was prime seating to run up the steps to the altar, or bolt up/down the center aisle, to the back we went.

The Special, “Mass Only,” Bag Of Toys

I’m not organized enough for this. In order for this to work for my kids, I’d need three identical bags with the exact same sets of toys in them so that we wouldn’t have a screaming fight between the girls in the middle of the second reading. So I haven’t even attempted this.

The “No Toys At All” Rule:

We abide by this to a point. My diaper bag always has some random mix of toys in it, and if I need to distract the 16 month old, being able to pull out a little plastic duck is helpful. It works when you’re kids are at an age when, if the older sister decides she wants the duck, it won’t be the end of the world to reach into the bag and just trade for whatever other toy is there. What I try to never let happen is for my kids to pick a certain toy they want to bring into mass before we leave the house. That’s a guaranteed, “That’s MINE!!!” fight waiting to happen. You get what mom pulls out of the purse or nothing at all. Desperate kids are content to play with foam letters, when there’s nothing else available 🙂

The “Sunday-Shuffle”

…In which my husband and I go to separate masses and switch off staying at home with the kids. Look, it sucks. No one wants to go to mass without their family. But after my third was born, and the oldest was not quite three, we opted—for a time—to switch off masses on Sunday morning, because mass with all three sometimes felt just impossible. This is nobody’s first choice. But I don’t think we should fault families who feel it might be their best or only option during a certain time of life. We never know what an individual family is going through, and chances are, it’s not because they don’t *want* to bring their kids to church with them. It’s just what works during that time. This too shall pass.

What’s Working Now…

Divide And Conquer

This is a happy medium we’ve found between the Sunday Shuffle and just following the kids around outside the entire mass (which, hey, is also an option and something we’ve done). Our parish is rather large, and our oldest is getting to the age and maturity level at which we know that, with some practice, he is capable of sitting through mass. But his little sisters aren’t there yet, and they’re quite a distraction for a little boy trying to learn to be on his best behavior. So lately Dad has been sitting with the oldest and I’ve been sitting on the opposite side of the church with the two littles. Its’ working!! Our son makes it all the way to communion now! Highly recommend this tactic.

Loyola Press’ My Picture Missal Flip Book

I’ve been looking for some version of this forever! All of my children are too young for a legit missal (even a “kid’s” missal), but for a while I’ve felt that the oldest would totally love to have some sort of visual cue as to where we are in the mass. This is it! Simple and straightforward with pictures of the different parts of the mass, numbered so that my little numbers guy knows how close we are to “18,” which is when he gets to go outside. It even has the visual cue next to the mass part of what HE is supposed to be doing during that part (sitting, standing, kneeling, etc.). It is a part of Loyola Press’ special needs learning resources, but can be purchased on its own and I honestly think it’s great for all children. (No official connection here either, I just like it that much).

The Bottom Line

As a parent of littles, mass is just tough sometimes. You feel the dread creep in Saturday night, wonder just how bad it’ll be today on the drive over, and are just so happy the wrestling match is over with the final blessing, at least for another week. You’re not really sure what other options you have, and you just hope one day it will magically get better.

Well, just like your kids won’t go off to college still in diapers, or still climbing into bed with you every night, this phase too shall pass. I’m not there yet, but logically, that makes sense. Lately I’m just clinging to the fact that I still get to receive Jesus in the Eucharist every week, even if I’ve completely missed the homily and have spent 45 minutes wrangling my spunky 16 month old. As I walk up to communion, I remember, “Ok, THIS is why I’m here. I need this. I need you, Jesus, and the grace your presence in the Eucharist will give me for this week.” I try to cling to that, and remember that even when it feels like going to mass is pointless, receiving Jesus is actually EVERYTHING, and there is literally nothing more important I could be doing on a Sunday than bringing my crazy crew to worship Jesus, and to receive Him in the fullness of the Eucharist.

What about you? What have you tried that works/doesn’t work in bringing kids to mass? Let me know in the comments!

Lord, Make Me Skinny And Summer Ready–But Not Yet!

In preparation for our upcoming summer vacation, Tyler and I are no longer eating after dinner. Nights are sad now. No evening bowl of popcorn to look forward to. My hopes of indulging in a bowl of ice cream after putting the kids to bed have been dashed. No more rummaging through the pantry to savor some late-night chocolate chips. (It’s clear why I needed to stop eating after dinner, right?)

They say it takes 21 days to form a habit. I’ll let ya know.

Of course this “no eating after dinner” rule was conceived in the morning. Sunday morning, to be precise. On the way to church and still full from the night before, I recommitted myself to “getting serious” and making an effort to “eat better” before our trip. But I knew I needed a hard and fast rule, because I am weak– and everything just tastes so.much.better. after the kids go to sleep. I also knew that if I didn’t name it, say it out loud, and have Tyler to keep me accountable, I’d inevitably be in search of another bowl of popcorn after putting the kids to bed that very night.

So I said it.

No more eating after dinner. Deal? Deal.

Ask me how it’s going on any given day around noon, I’ll say it’s been great. But after putting the kids to bed, I’m still negotiating with myself about just how necessary this rule is.

This is so stupid. There’s nothing to do!! 

I go to bed early, sad and defeated, dreaming of breakfast.

The truth is that there would be nothing wrong with having a healthy snack after putting the kids to bed. But if I were skipping downstairs every night for a few sticks of celery and a tablespoon of peanut butter, I wouldn’t have needed to implement this rule for myself in the first place.

Sometimes you just need those extreme guard rails to get yourself back on track. Right now, I need a bright neon sign for my kitchen that flashes “CLOSED” after a certain hour (not literally, but man, wouldn’t that be cool..)

I don’t think God cares how much I weigh, what I look like on the beach, or whether I indulge in the occasional late night dessert. And I don’t mean to over-spiritualize my summer diet/fitness plan, but it’s hard not to notice a few correlations between making healthy lifestyle changes and combatting spiritual sloth.

I remember the first time I was given the advice to look for little acts of mortification as a way to practice “saying no” to myself.  Skip salt on your food. Pick your second-choice at meals. Little acts. Nothing as drastic as “Stop eating at 7pm!”, just little ways to practice denying myself insignificant physical pleasures, so that when BIG things that I actually needed to say no to would come along, it wouldn’t be such a foreign decision.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with adding a little seasoning to your food. And if you are offered your very favorite breakfast in the world, there’s no sin in choosing to eat it. It’s just that if all we ever do is indulge our desires, it becomes so.difficult. to do anything else. Before you know it, you’re eating chocolate chips in the pantry in the dark.

We all need a little practice saying no to ourselves from time to time.

Still, denying myself is not the goal. It’s a means. Right now I need those big neon signs in the kitchen that say “closed,” after I clear the dinner table. But not forever.

In a few weeks, we’ll go on vacation and I’ll hopefully feel healthier and happier than I would have if I didn’t set down some rules for healthy living. But eventually, I’m going to eat a bowl ice cream again after the kids go to bed. If one bowl turns into a nightly ritual of “What kind of junk am I going to eat tonight?” then I’ll need to reevaluate and maybe break out the metaphorical neon signs again.

So learn from the lesson that I keep having to re-learn myself! Practice self-control in your daily life. Offer up that last bite of food. Skip dessert. Resist turning the AC to full-blast as the temperature rises.

Get a little uncomfortable every now and again. It’s good for you!

 

 

My Baby, My Way

 

The 3 and 2 year olds are in the shopping cart–one in the seat, and one in the basket itself. The baby is strapped to me in a baby carrier. I cram groceries around the big kids and bounce the baby when she gets fussy.

You don’t have to tell me that I have my hands full. But you probably will, and I’ll smile back and laugh as I say, “I know, right?” as if this thought has never crossed my mind.

Having three so close together gets me a lot of comments when we’re out. The vast majority are totally polite, encouraging, and mean no harm. There’s an odd mixture of admiration and terror in their eyes that says, “Girl you’re crazy! I could NEVER do that!”

Oh but you could. And if you found yourself in my shoes, you would!

I get it. Kids– though hilarious at times– are no joke.

Still, it’s always somewhat astounding to me how radical and crazy others find it for my family to simply have babies on my body’s natural schedule.

For my husband and I, marriage means the possibility (and extreme probability, in our case) of babies. In fact my youngest is approaching the age at which we tend to conceive another baby. So, if we were to get pregnant again, it would be a bit of “Oh wow, FOUR!” but honestly not all that shocking to either myself or my husband (…right, babe??). This is natural. This is normal. It’s good, even.

Of course there is some level of parental responsibility that has to play into this. Is it the best time for another baby? Can we afford another baby? Can we mentally cope with another baby? All of these are questions we have to prayerfully consider and are discussions my husband and I have on a regular basis. When we discern that postponing pregnancy is something we think would be best for our family, we use NFP to do so (which is no fun for anyone, because NFP is hard). But for us, fertility is a good and healthy part of a marriage, and not something we want to suppress, or “fix” in any way.

When I was pregnant with our third, there was a birth control pamphlet in my OB’s office. There were a lot, actually, but this one in particular had a picture of a woman in her mid-to-late-twenties on the front of it. She was at a children’s playground happily pushing a baby swing, except in the swing where the baby ought to be, there was a video camera. The tagline read: “My career is my baby right now.”

When we lived in La Jolla, the buses that would run for UCSD had these big ads on the sides of them promoting UCSD’s hospital system (which is great, by the way). The ads were in all caps and said: YOUR BABY, YOUR WAY. 

As a woman I am supposed to feel empowered by all of this ON MY TERMS rhetoric around the baby decision, but if I’m being honest, the prevalence of birth control, and the whole, “your baby your way” mindset has come with enormous societal pressure.

I mean, can you imagine being pregnant (happily!) for the third time in three and a half years, in an office surrounded by birth control ads full of women who–thanks to birth control–are actually doing something with their lives?

Truthfully, having babies is a little scary sometimes. And I think one unintended, and truly unfortunate, consequence of birth control is that women now feel hesitant to express these totally normal and legitimate anxieties about motherhood. You wanted this, didn’t you? Of course having 4 kids is hard. Why did you do that to yourself?

Your Baby, Your Way.

Flip side: Your Decision, Your Fault.

And, by the way, it isn’t just us “Fertile Myrtles” who get the flack for being “weird.” In a world where everyone thinks fertility is as simple as taking or not taking a pill, those who struggle to conceive have to deal with judging eyes and yet another person asking, “So when are you guys going to have kids?” after over a year of trying.

It’s not always as simple as “My Baby, My Way.”

So, yes, I totally get that me out with my crew of three, three and under is somewhat crazy. Nobody understands this better than me, I assure you.

But I’m not crazy simply for having babies close together. I’m just a woman, no more or less than the woman who decides she would rather focus on her career than have babies. I’m just a woman, no more or less than the woman who’d love to have babies, but struggles to conceive. My children are neither trophies awarded to me for being good, nor are they punishments for my poor decision making.

Ain’t nothing wrong with a little planning and knowing your own limitations. But if you ask me, the sooner we all let go of this need to control each and every aspect of our lives, and the crazy nuts illusion of being able to control life itself, the better off we’ll all be.

And P.S. – No, I’m not pregnant.  😉

What Does It Mean To Put God First?

“How can we better live our lives in such a way that we can put God first?” 

I received the above question from a reader last week and it has got me reflecting a bit on what it really means to put God first.

The easy answer (that just requires a bit of discipline) is to put into place the regular daily/weekly habits that give you frequent opportunities to grow in relationship with God. Mass every Sunday is [obviously] required. Daily prayer is, as well (preferably with the Scriptures). Regular confession is something we all really need to be in the habit of because we all are in need of God’s Mercy. Personally, I make it a habit to read the day’s mass readings each morning and pray a rosary with my family each night. Regular little practices like these are needed in the life of a Christian who wants to grow in relationship with Jesus.

I said all of that is the easy part. If you are not already in the habit, then getting used to these practices will take some time and some effort, but eventually they will become second nature.

However, I think to really answer the question of how we can put God first, Saint John Paul II said it best:

“One must arrange one’s life so that everything praises God.”

This is really the more challenging part of the answer. Once in the habit, that daily family rosary is actually pretty easy, and if we’re not attentive, it can become little more than a box on a checklist, begrudgingly prayed day after day simply because “we’re supposed to.”

It’s ok to go through times of spiritual dryness, and times like these actually strengthen our faith and deepen our devotions. But from time to time, we owe it to our relationship with Jesus to take stock of our lives and ask ourselves:

Am I living my life in a way that everything praises God?

Do I glorify God in my work—offering my best efforts, my successes and even my struggles to Him as an act of praise? Do my interactions with others reflect the Christian belief that they are created in His image and after His likeness? Do my thoughts and dealings with myself bear in mind that I am a beloved child of God? Do I recognize that everything in my life comes from Him and is ordered in His Providence for me to grow closer to Him?

All of this ought to be the driving force behind our regular devotions and our prayers.  Beyond just a sense of duty, love for the Person of Jesus Christ should drive us to put Him first in everything, to arrange our lives so that every moment and every decision is made with Him in mind.  Putting God first is the work of our whole lives as Christians!  Let’s pray that we continually draw closer to Him, and not just settle for a check list.

mary-sig

The Layers of Humility

 

woman-at-jesus-feet

Humility is an interesting concept. From the looks of it, we think we are pretty darn good at being humble and we think that we have a strong understanding of it; but the truth is, true humility is deeper than the surface understanding we’re all so familiar with. Humility is something that must be meditated on in order to realize its true profoundness. Therefore, I have come to my personal conclusion that humility exists in two distinct layers: the “aw shucks” layer, and the “here’s the other cheek” layer.

The first layer is the more commonly used layer due to its easy-to-access nature. This layer is not one that requires an abundance of thought, prayer, meditation or teaching to understand.  In order to possess this knowledge one must simply know what it means to be Christian, in the most simplistic way. We are taught that it is good to be humble, and not to boast. Really, we think that saying “aw shucks, I’m not that great” qualifies as humility. For the longest time I thought that humility meant awkwardly pushing off compliments from others, or not constantly screaming from my facebook page that I am the greatest artist to have walked the earth. Now don’t get me wrong, it is good that we don’t constantly boast about our strengths, but that sort of sounds like we’re just getting by with a bare minimum. The reason I call this the “aw shucks” layer is because we have this idea that once we have mastered the art of deflecting complements and refraining from patting ourselves on the back, we think we’re done in the field of humility.

 Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
(Zechariah 9:9)

In the second layer, humility is more than an idea or words; it’s a mindset, a way of living. There is so much more to humility than deflecting praise.  In 2 Chronicles we read, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). This is a great example.  Humility is not about just saying to one another, “No! You’re great!” because that wouldn’t have been enough to please God; we need to go further. A 2 Chronicles tells us, we need to become submissive. In the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 9, the disciples were discussing among themselves who was the greatest, at which point Jesus put a child in the midst of them and told them to be like that child: vulnerable, small, weak—even pointless, a nothing (in the eyes of the culture at the time). We are called to be this way in the world, to be submissive, to allow others in words and in actions to be before us without the desire of being noted for our humility.

The reason I call this layer the “here’s the other cheek” layer is because one of my all time favorite parts of the Bible is when Jesus tells us:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if anyone would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42).

This, in my most sincere opinion, is the truth of humility. If you desire to be truly humble, take this to the chapel and meditate on what it means to give even more to those who take from you. We must learn to be humble in our very nature.

Maybe this is just my own way of understanding, but I have recently started to realize that a lot of people I encounter are only familiar with and live life in terms of the first layer. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it’s a fact that many of the people— even in our own churches— only live by the first layer. Why do I think that? Because I firmly believe that if we all took the time to understand the second layer of humility (the more profound truth of humility) our communities and this world would look much different than they do now.

What do you think?  How can we better live out true humility?