by Melanie Bettinelli on January 09, 2013
Today Lucia had her follow up visit with the pediatrician. She’s back up to her birth weight and the heart murmur they were keeping an eye on has closed. She is a perfectly healthy little girl and a very happy calm baby.
The visit was the first time all five kids have left the house together, a test for my mom and me in herding children and managing logistics. There were a couple of sticky moments but on the whole it went rather smoothly. Ben, now firmly settling into his role as middle child, did not want my mom to help him get ready. I had to do his coat and walk him to the car. But once I’d conceded and walked him through the process of getting into his car seat, he was amiable enough. We managed to squeeze everyone in, with my mom doing all the lifting because I’m not supposed to wrangle anything over ten pounds right now.
When we got to the doctor we managed to get everyone out and herded into the office. Ben and Sophie accompanied Lucia and I into the checkup while Bella and Anthony stayed with my mom in the waiting room. As usual the receptionist remarked on how well behaved they are, making me wonder who these poor parents are whose kids jump off of the furniture at the doctor’s office. The visit was quick and Anthony was not ready to leave the fun toys. I had to resort to bribery, promising him some chocolate when we got home. That was enough to get his coat on and get him out the door. When we got down to the lobby, though, he plopped himself on the floor in front of the door and began to howl. I had my mom herd everyone else out to the car while I tried to coax him. After a minute I resorted to a reminder about the chocolate bribe and he again became a cooperative toddler, taking my hand to walk to the car. He fell asleep in the car on the way home, it being well past his nap time. Unfortunately the pediatrician sees newborns after lunch, which works well for avoiding germy kids but not so well for toddlers who need naps.
So that was our big excitement, hopefully for the week. Now back to my regular schedule of staying in bed most of the day with a pile of books and my laptop and the baby. And getting up to refill my water bottle, get a snack, and make lunch for the kids. I am so grateful to my mother for cooking meals, doing laundry, changing diapers, reading books, wrangling toddlers, getting kids dressed, going to the store, and all the other bits and pieces of our busy life that I can’t manage right now. On the one hand this is rather a nice little vacation from reality—except when it’s about time to take my next dose of painkillers. On the other hand, one reason I’m hiding in my room is so that I don’t crumple under the load of guilt for all the things I think I should be doing. It’s really hard to sit back, put my feet up, and hand over the reigns to someone else. I am so very grateful that I do have help and so very frustrated that I need it. However, I do think I’m managing a bit more gracefully this time. It’s hard not to feel lazy when I’m spending the day in bed and not feeling particularly bad. But I know I need to rest and recuperate.
So now back to resting, cuddling with my sweet little Lucia, reading books with the bigger kids—and trying to keep them from jumping on us.
Today Bella came in with a pile of books for me to read. We’ve been neglecting her read alouds for the past few weeks. She put the books down on my bed and then headed for the door. I was perplexed and asked where she was going. “I need to get the bounces out,” she explained. So she jumped around in the other room until her bounces were gone. Then she came in for her story time. If only I could get Anthony to follow suit. But he can be very sweet about giving Lucia kisses and hugs.
So far all the kids love to sing to their baby sister. Silent Night seems to be the Official Baby Calming Song. Even Anthony sings his own version, a recognizable little snippet of tune and words that can be made out to be,
all is bright.” I’m not sure about all being calm but all is certainly very full of love.
by Melanie Bettinelli on November 11, 2012
One thing I forgot to add to my last post because it occurred to me the other night just before I fell asleep and then I didn’t remember it until today….
Bella and Sophie have a game they played quite often during Lent and Easter seasons. They kneel down inside the prie dieu looking out and they chant, “I’m in the tomb with Jesus. I’m in the tomb with Jesus.” It’s part of a whole Easter sequence that also includes the crucifixion, Jesus being taken down from the cross, the resurrection, and Mary Magdalene’s encounter with Jesus in the garden.
In the midst of my tearful turmoil, after I’d finished pouring out all the words that demanded to be written; after I’d taken my shower, crying all the while; after I’d crawled into bed and had said the prayers of Compline and was trying hard not to start weeping again; suddenly that phrase came to me, my daughters voices chanting in that cheerful way that only children can chant about death. And I realized how apt it was. At that moment I truly felt I was in the tomb. Everything was so dark and I could see no way out.
But oh how the memory of their chanting voices cheered me for they reminded me that even in the tomb I am not alone. He has been there too. He too has felt abandoned and isolated. He too has felt profound loneliness. He too has felt deserted by God, his plea for help answered only with a no. No, this cup will not pass from you, you must drink it to the bitter end.
And that was what made me realize that perhaps this loneliness, this feeling of isolation and this being overwhelmed, perhaps this is my cross. I’ve spent far too long listening to too many voices that tell me that it shouldn’t be this way and for too long I’ve struggled and struggled against acceptance. And yet what I need here, now, today, is to accept the work of today as God’s will.
Recently I read He Leadeth Me and the one truth that rang out to me page after page after page was the necessity of accepting the suffering of each day. Not seeking to find God’s will out there in grand tasks and possibilities, but in the mere circumstances that each day brings. This life is mine and this day is mine and they are mine to make of them what I will. I cannot change the circumstances but I can try to align my will. No, this life is his and this day is his, he made it and it belongs to him. All I can do is return it to him to the best of my ability. I can choose love today. I can choose work instead of sloth. I can choose to see sickness and sadness and loneliness as a call from him and embrace them not as goods in themselves, of course, but as trials that I cannot make go away by wishing and begging.
It is a truth I’ve learned before but it seems that with each change of life’s seasons I must learn it again. And again. And even if I think I’ve learned it…. well, I guess I’m a slow learner.
Today and yesterday I found some meaningful work to do and Dom and I rethought how we want to use some of our living spaces. As soon as I arrange the photos, I’ll put up a post. It’s funny how something as simple as rearranging the furniture can give you a whole new perspective. I’d never have done it on my own; but Dom had a vision of how to make my life a little easier. It required some hard work and both of us ended the day yesterday with sore backs. The kids were cranky and didn’t get their usual Saturday night baths. But today… well, I’ll wait and let that story tell itself in it’s proper space.
Thank you for your prayers, my friends, truly there has been grace. Grace and peace. In the midst of the usual chaos, of course.
The thing about being in the tomb with Jesus… is that you can be sure there will be a resurrection.
by Melanie Bettinelli on November 10, 2012
Calah’s guest post this week really struck a chord with me and pulled on one string of this ball that I’ve been trying to untangle for a while. And an exchange in the comments tugged at another one. I’ve been trying to process exactly what it is about that exchange that has left me in tears. It pulls together a bunch of threads including a couple of other blog posts that I’ve been meaning to try to write about. I’m going to try to untangle it a bit here; but it’s probably going to be a bit messy and with this topic, I can guarantee you that I’m not going to clean it up. So consider this a first attempt at trying to write my way into some sort of clarity.
First, a disclaimer: I don’t have PPD. I don’t really think I’m all that depressed. Ok, maybe I’m a little depressed; but I think almost all of is really not a state of messed up internal chemistry so much as a perfectly healthy reaction to living day after day in what is what I’ve become convinced is an essentially unnatural situation, to wit: I don’t think mothers are meant to raise their children in suburban isolation.
Most days Dom goes off to work and unless I drag the kids to the library, the grocery store, to Target or on some other errand I won’t see another adult until he comes home just in time to begin the whirlwind of sitting down to dinner, getting the kids to bed, and then perhaps catching an hour or two of relaxation before going to bed. Once or twice a month we might actually meet up with other people for some activity or other; but no more than that. Arranging for playdates and other outings is exhausting and actually going to them while the socializing is wonderful int he moment and is absolutely necessary for both me and the kids because i’m an introvert it also leaves me drained and in need of recharging, and because I’m with the kids all day is finding time to recharge my depleted batteries is essentially impossible unless I spend the day trying to ignore them while losing myself in a book or I stay up far too late chasing that elusive quiet time.
Which brings us to
To be an introvert can mean any variety of solitude-seeking qualities, but in current pop-psychology (and perhaps real psychology) terms, it has most of all to do with your source of mental and emotional energy. An extrovert’s energy comes from being around and interacting with others. An introvert gets recharged by being alone. I put it this way, at least for myself: if I’m around other people all day, with no chance for solitude – even a few minutes – I don’t feel fully alive, fully myself. I don’t run from others, and I enjoy interaction with others, but it’s draining, and at the end of a day like that I can be left feeling almost as if I’m floating above myself, and I ache to touch the ground again. It’s part of the reason I’m a night owl, especially when the kids are out of school.
[. . .]
When I write, I really have to be alone, which means without a lurking fear of distraction. That is to say, I can write better in the coffee shop at Barnes and Noble surrounded by 20 people than I can at home surrounded by 4. Why? Because I know, with certainty, that those 20 other customers at B & N or the Urban Standard or Trattoria Centrale aren’t going to hit me up for a snack, a band-aid nor are they going to start fighting over Legos. That suspicion, that waiting for the next explosion at home, keeps me on edge, prevents me from fully concentrating.
This also means – and this is the part that the extroverts are going to decide is really insane – is this: say I’m in the house and everyone is occupied. Everyone’s quiet. Let’s say that the little boys aren’t even around – they’re at school – and it’s just me and the other two, and the other two are in their rooms. No one’s talking to me, there’s no music, maybe just some laughter or a bathroom door closing every once in a while.
If both of them leave – I feel different. If I’ve got work I need to be focusing on, I feel relieved.
Now! I can finally concentrate.
What Amy says about that lurking fear of distraction, that’s what makes sleepless infants and toddlers so absolutely draining. There is never a time when you are assured that they won’t interrupt you mid thought with hours-long screamfests. And for the past six years I’ve lived on the edge almost constantly.
Adrift, Seeking an Anchor
No one I think identifies the dilemma of the modern mother quite so well as Jennifer Fulwiler. So many of her pieces on the topic resonate with me and have become lenses through which I can see this world more clearly. One of her more recent pieces, especially, spoke to my current situation: The Problem of Self-Discipline and the Modern Mom:
Especially when staying with a routine involves a great amount of effort (for example, getting multiple kids to transition from one activity to the next), it requires an almost inhuman amount of willpower for one person to make it happen over and over again, day after day, with no external pressure for her to do so. When the consequences for veering from the schedule are confined to your house and won’t impact anyone else, it’s all too easy to decide to forgo the pain of keeping it up with it all, and ride a wave of inertia for a while.
This realization has made me see the importance of anchoring our family schedule to a community schedule. I look out for opportunities to get involved with regularly recurring events at the parish or with other families, in ways that aren’t too stressful for us, but will have consequences if we veer from the plan (for example, next summer, when Mother’s Day Out is out of session, we might make standing plans with another family to meet for daily Mass on a certain day of the week).
However, it must be said that arranging this kind of thing is rarely easy, and sometimes it’s not even possible. We live in a highly disconnected society
where geographically-based communities have been shattered, and there are not often obvious opportunities to connect our daily lives with others’. Especially for families with multiple babies and toddlers, the seemingly simple prospect of getting everyone in the car and driving 10 minutes to the parish church can be an endeavor of epic proportions. In my own life, I’ve been through plenty of periods when it was too difficult to break out of our suburban isolation, and I’m sure those occasions will arise again. But the realization about the role of community connectedness in my quest for self-discipline has at least helped me go easy on myself during such times. Instead of beating myself up for my failures at sticking to a clear routine, I congratulate myself for whatever successes I have in that department, acknowledging that the battle I’m fighting is a difficult one, because it’s tremendously hard to achieve high levels of discipline when you’re doing it in isolation.
I’ve read this article so many times and every time I get to this last paragraph, and especially that sentence where she says, “sometimes it’s not even possible” I burst into tears. That is exactly where I am right now: isolated and finding it absolutely impossible to break out of it. So often when I pause to take my mental temperature these days the word that comes to mind to express my emotional state is “trapped”. I feel like I’m circling the same few square feet of a cage, going over the same ground over and over and over again, hoping to find some way out and feeling so helpless and yet the bars of my cage are invisible and when I try to express my sense of being trapped to someone else all I see is befuddlement as they wonder what cage I’m talking about. Just seeing someone else expressing it as a reality: the disconnectedness I feel isn’t just in my head, is so reassuring. At least I’m not the only one. At least I’m not completely crazy.
Recreation vs. “Me Time”
In the past few years I keep struggling with this desperation for quiet, solitude, time to read and think and just be. I find myself staying up far too late at night in a desperate attempt to grasp that elusive peace that comes when I know that I’m not likely to be interrupted. But I find I can spend my entire day trying to catch that phantom something.
Do you read Abigail’s Alcove? You should. She’s a secular Carmelite in training, a homeschooling mom to five, I always find her inspiring. Hers is the next piece of the puzzle. Abigail helps me to figure out a little bit of another reason why I can never quite capture that elusive thing that I’m always chasing when she distinguishes “me time” from “our need for holy recreation:
I figured out a clear difference between “Me Time” and “Recreation.”
Me Time is selfish. It was NOT working. Me Time was when I either threw the tense, crying baby at my husband the second he came into the door after work and announced “I’m off duty now!”—or when my husband found me sobbing after another failed breastfeeding session would say “Why don’t you go to the coffee shop for a break…”
That sounds great in theory, but it didn’t work out in practice. I’d go to our only local coffee shop—which does NOT sell good coffee (only burnt) and overpriced stale baked goods, and spend money we didn’t have, eat stuff that tastes worse than I could make at home, I’d read bad Nora Roberts romance books for an hour and then come home still a mess. I’d walk in, the baby would see me and start crying for milk, my insides would get into a ball of acid and I’d think “When can I get another break from my life again…”
In my head, Me Time is something I grab as my “right” when I’m feeling overwhelmed and ungrateful about my life.
Contrast that with “recreation.”
Recreation demands foresight. Recreation is intensely individual. Recreation is a gift of play given to us by God.
Recreation demands sacrifice from the whole family. It feels uncomfortable on the front end. For example, I often grab a $3 Nice Chocolate Bar while shopping at Target without thinking about it because “It’s been a hard day and I deserve a treat.” That was a totally different experience from my husband saying I think you should spend $125 (which is a week’s worth of groceries for my family) to go to fencing lessons.” It felt really hard and weird to quote “take” that money from my family for my lessons—and the only reason I could do it was because I’d urged my husband to buy a fishing license and new pole two weeks before. (Not to mention the fear I had getting into a car leaving a young baby who won’t take a bottle yet, while I spent an hour in a gym in another town).
Yet my individual fencing lessons blessed my family beyond measure. My husband and I now have plans to fence competitively when we’re 70! (Can you imagine a sport that starts out at age 9 and yet also has an over age 70 division?) Similarly, his early morning fishing trips make him so relaxed and happy. He’s taken our family out on picnics to beautiful local fishing spots and caught fish with our kids.
Recreation is holy. It is time alone that restores you. It blesses your family. It sets up a good role model to your children and your spouse. Recreation is a fancy name for “recess”. It makes you feel like a kid again.
When you feel like a kid, you can pray better. When you pray better, you love better.
What are your holy recreation choices?
This piece spoke to me and felt like a missing piece in a jigsaw puzzle that I’d been hunting for.
Unfortunately while I see the theoretical difference between “me time” and “holy recreation,” I haven’t yet figured out how to find what my version of “holy recreation” might be. I find Abigail’s post provocative and it feels like a personal challenge to me. Yet it also feels like a conundrum to which I can’t find the answer.
I had already come to the conclusion that my constant search for enough “me time” wasn’t working. There is this hunger in me for… something and when I read this post a bell chimed deep within me and I thought: yes, that’s that I want, what she has.
Yet despite that realization I still feel stuck because I still don’t know what could possibly fill the space for “holy recreation” that Abigail finds in fencing and her husband finds in fishing.
Ever since reading this I’ve been praying about it, asking God to help me find the answer. So far all I’m getting is silence. Maybe it is still the wrong question for me and I’ve got to keep looking for the right one. Or maybe I just keep asking and the answer will come in due time.
Cri de Coeur
When we came back from Texas I was hollowed out. While it was wonderful to visit my family and to see my brother get married—I won’t soon forget the look on his face when his beautiful wife walked down the aisle to him—it was also ten days of sleep deprivation as Anthony and Ben struggled with sleeping in an unfamiliar place. And it took a week after we got back home before they were back on schedule and sleeping (mostly) through the night. Also, the last weekend we were completely awhirl in wedding and activity with family and extended family. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing everyone but all the visiting and socializing stretched me well beyond my usual hectic life and drained my batteries beyond dry.
In the week after we got back in the midst of my exhausted, depleted, overwhelmed state, I sat and wrote the following, but never published it:
You know the pre-recorded spiel that you hear before your plane takes off, the one that instructs parents to secure their own oxygen masks first before taking care of their kids? It makes perfect sense, you can’t save your child’s life if you pass out before you get their mask on. Both of you die of smoke inhalation. But if you get your own mask on first then you can be sure of being able to secure your child’s mask. Having a parent who can judge risks and meet their own needs first is actually the child’s best hope of surviving a disaster.
I feel like I’m on that plane going down and my gas mask has just dropped and my children are scared and clawing at me, screaming desperately, looking at me to make it all better. And me, I’m struggling with my own mask and yet not quite able to get it secured. I’m in a panic because I know if I fail then we all lose. And yet I also know that if I stop focusing on my own mask and try to take care of theirs then I will also fail them.
And yet…. I’m not really on a plane that’s going down. I just feel like it. And I worry that the metaphor is the wrong one. There are these two little voices whispering in my ears like the cliched cartoon of the angel and the devil. One is whispering: “Take care of your own mask,” while the other is whispering, “But doesn’t Scripture say, Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me?” The mask image is a red herring. You aren’t saving your own life, you’re being selfish and refusing the cross you’ve been given.
So if I’m not on an airplane what is the crisis? If I’m not struggling with an oxygen mask, why is it I feel like I’m suffocating? What is it that I feel like I will die if I can’t get it flowing properly?
The answer is the title of the book I finished reading on vacation, Quiet. The book didn’t create the problem, didn’t really help me see it in a new light for the problem was already there and I already saw it just as I did now. No the book just made me even more aware of the problem in the way a flashing light and loud siren make you even more aware of the flames in a burning building.
Quiet. That’s what I’m craving like a drowning man craves oxygen. Solitude.
It’s the same prickly pear bush I’ve been circling round and round and round and round. I’m an introvert. I crave solitude and quiet. I want time alone. Time to read and write and reflect. Time to pray and to get bored. Time to stare out the window and to wander down the street and to walk in the woods and just be me. Solitary me.
Before I was married I was lonely. There was a huge hole in my life. Then Dom came and suddenly that gap was plugged. And then Bella came and then Sophie and Ben and Anthony and I find my life more full that I could have ever dreamed. And oh they bring me such joy. And they give my life a shape and a purpose. I have a reason to get up and a reason to keep going. They need me and I enjoy being needed. They love me and I love them and it is very, very good indeed.
And yet… these images keep haunting me. The long walks I used to take by myself. The hours I used to spend holed up in my room hardly seeing or speaking to anyone for days at a time. Oh what bliss, what joy!
I find that the more I try to cling to little bits of precious quiet and solitude, the more cranky I become. I jealously hoard them like a dragon with a pile of gold. I resent the child who will not sleep at night, the cranky child who won’t go down at bedtime, because I see them as thieves of my precious, precious time. If there were only some guarantee that I could get some quiet somewhere else then I might be more patient. But as it is all I can see is that the one chance I have is being stolen from me. I want to generously cradle my cranky toddlers in my arms for as long as they need me but at some point I feel like I’m trying to give them water from a dry well. I just don’t have any more reserves to draw from. I’m empty and running on fumes.
And my poor husband. His love language is physical touch and I know this and I try and I try to generously respond to his need. And yet by the time he comes home I feel completely touched out. I want to scream at the kids: Don’t Touch Me! Go Away! Leave Me Alone! I know I’m neglecting his needs and that they should theoretically take precedence over the kids and myself. And yet…. I feel empty and dry as a bone. How can I give generously of myself to the ones I love, when I can’t get my own oxygen mask on first?
And so many well meaning people are so ready to give advice; but every solution so far seems to ask more of me in order to get there. I need to make friends, find someone in the neighborhood or at church or in the homeschooling group or somewhere who can help out. I need to ask for help. And yet those solutions ask of me the very things I am already too short on. How can I ask for help if I can’t breathe? I don’t have the breath to ask the question. Again, I’m an introvert. Being alone recharges me, dealing with people—especially strangers—exhausts me. I can’t find enough energy for my nearest and dearest inner circle of immediate family. Where on earth would I come up with the energy needed to call complete strangers? To make friends, to find contacts, to look for support would require So Much Energy.
So here I am caught in the loop. Anthony won’t sleep at night. I get him down and then a short time later he’s up again. The other kids wake up too. We’re all jet lagged and exhausted after a week in Texas. It was lovely and exhilarating at the time to be at my brother’s wedding, to see all the friends and family. I loved being with aunts and uncles, catching up with a cousin I haven’t seen since I was a kid and meeting his lovely wife and children. But now my batteries are even lower than before. It was nice having my parents come to visit this summer. It was lovely to have Dom on vacation and to visit the beach and the zoo and the museum and all the other things we did. But each of those takes energy and I have had nothing to replace that energy. Nowhere to refuel with the exception of that one glorious day Dom gave me for my birthday. But one day can’t fuel a month or two months. The charge I got from my birthday was spent in dealing with the needy kids the next day as they recovered from missing me while I was gone. As much as I enjoyed it, In some ways it felt like the net gain was still zero.
This time of life is hard. Very hard. I respect the fact that I won’t always have four children under seven. But I don’t think it should be quite so crushing. And I can’t help thinking that soon it’s going to be five kids. And newborns are very, very needy. They need to be held and nursed. Carried and snuggled. And of course I love that. But it’s still another person. Another person attached to me almost 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Another drain on my resources. Where, oh where am I going to find the energy to deal with one more hungry mouth that needs to be fed when I am already starving?
I want to be generous, to give and give and give and not count the cost; but I feel like I’m reaching into my pockets and coming out empty handed. I beg God for help and all I hear is silence. I drove my sister away with my constant need for her to be more, to give more, to help more. And now even that small prop is gone and I am more lonely and bereft than ever. Where is my help? Where is my hope? I hear marvelous stories of God answering prayers and sending help but I can’t help feeling it is always someone else’s prayers. So far the only answer I seem to be getting is a firm: Not Now.
I am tired of being the adult, tired of trying to secure my own mask. I want to be the little child. I want to be able to turn to the adult next to me and to have them put on my mask and to adjust the straps. I keep looking for someone else to be the responsible one. I want to be the baby, to be cared for and cherished and fed. And now and then I do feel it; but not often enough. I don’t feel that it’s reliable. If God is a parent, then lately it seems he’s too much in my own image, inconsistent, unreliable, fickle and unfathomable.
And Then This Too
When my sister moved in with us four years ago it was such a blessing in so many ways. She’s my best friend and I love her so. It was wonderful to have another woman nearby, to have someone to talk with, long discussions about literature and theology and life, the universe, and everything. And yet she is chronically sick and, well, I think the position she was in here was massively unfair to her. All my need for structure and support and community I kept putting on her poor, sick shoulders and she couldn’t bear it. We had fights, mostly my fault, as time and time again I found myself still overwhelmed and disappointed and I tried to blame her for not being able to fill the role for which she was so profoundly miscast. Not for any lack in her but because I don’t think any single person could fill the multifarious needs I have that are going unfilled.
And so after she lost her job her own depression took over and her health got even worse and instead of tending her needs, I only got more frustrated at her dependency and lashed out. Finally, she got a great offer from a friend back in Texas and moved back there. For her own good and probably mine as well.
I can see that it was a good thing for her. And yet I miss her so terribly, terribly much. When she left the bottom fell out of my world. i was devastated and I continue to grieve for her going. I’ve been in a downward spiral ever since. And of course pregnancy hasn’t made things any easier. I am so lonely. I miss her dreadfully. My best friend. We never have time to talk any more and I feel like our relationship is in stasis, frozen on ice until some future date when I have the time and energy to invest in it. Phone calls are brief and chatty and we never have those long conversations about theology and literature and life any more. I just can’t do it over the phone. Not now. And there are no words for how much that hurts.
Depression or Simply Isolated and Overwhelmed and Lacking in Support Structures?
Now I want to come back to the original topic of depression. I said I wasn’t really depressed, that I think this black cloud is mainly situational and not chemical—though the brain being the complex organ that it is I’m aware that is a radical oversimplification. I suppose I should say that, yes, I am aware that depression can be rooted in hormonal fluctuations and chemical imbalances. But I wonder how many external influences exacerbate or compound those problems. I’ve often wondered how much of PPD is rooted in simple exhaustion—all mothers of infants suffer from sleep deprivation—and in not having enough support, enough companionship and enough help. We are all trying to do too much and trying to go it too much on our own and is it any wonder we feel like we’re failing?
We aren’t meant to raise our children alone. We are meant to have community. And far too many of us lack that. Mothers of young children need a lot of support. We need extended families and friends to help out and we are so scattered and so “busy” that even the best-intentioned friends and family fail to meet our basic needs.
In the comments on Calah’s guest post someone wrote: “somebody should be staying with you and helping you out,” and someone else chimed in, “Somebody should be coming in to relieve you at certain times.” While I know both of these commenters meant well and I recognized that they were in fact identifying a key component of the problem, both comments made me want to pull my hair out. How many times have I received some such well-meaning “advice”. I was so grateful when another commenter chimed in:
I also wanted to say a word of caution to the good-intentioned people who have suggested that she needs a break. I realize that these sentiments come from a caring place, but I remember that hearing people say that to me when I was struggling through postpartum made me nuts, especially and particularly if it didn’t come with a “...and I’ll be over to your house tomorrow morning,” which it unfortunately rarely did. I guarantee that Calah already knows that she needs a break, so telling her she does isn’t providing any information she doesn’t already know. In addition, hearing something like that when you are already severely depressed adds in the potential anxiety and feelings of total overwhelmingness that come with knowing you must take a break and then trying to make that happen yourself. Quite honestly, the thought of calling a babysitter, asking a friend to come over or even asking for help from your family or husband seems overwhelming. So, then you feel guilty for not being able to pull even that together, and the cycle gets worse and deeper.
Like I said, I know it comes from a caring place. But if you find that those words are about to pass your lips and travel into the post-partum ear of a mother, make sure you follow them up with a specific plan for how you yourself will help. Don’t suggest, don’t offer. Just say you’re coming over and tell her when and with what.
Exactly. What I want most right now is not sympathy and platitudes and advice about diet and exercise and prayer and spiritual practices. What I want, what I think I need, is for someone to just show up. I know it’s totally unrealistic to expect help when I don’t ask for it, but the commenter is right. I am so under the cloud that I can’t bring myself to make phone calls, send emails, coordinate schedules, and beg for help. I just want someone to tell me “this is what I will do for you” and I want them to do it. And I need it to be regular, reliable, dependable, not just one or two token gestures, but real relief.
Well, at least, that’s what I want and what I think I need. What I really need… I don’t know. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m admitting defeat. I don’t know what I really need, I don’t know what will drive away this cloud, what will be enough to close the gaps and relieve the trapped, overwhelmed feeing. I can’t ask for help because I don’t even know what to ask for. All I can do now is put it all in God’s hands—the whole messy mess of it—and wait. Try to wait patiently and slog through each day as best I can, trusting that it will get better someday, somehow.
I don’t have a tidy conclusion and I seriously doubt the wisdom of publishing this. I know there will be comments that will drive me crazy because they miss the point. Actually, I’m not sure what the point is. The pieces of this puzzle still don’t form a picture. There are gaps, holes. And I can’t even see where they are. And yet… I think I will anyway, come what may. Maybe there is a conversation to be had. Maybe.
I cried for hours as I wrote this last night, pounding away long after everyone else was in bed, and afterwards too in the shower, in bed. I cried until I was out of tears, dry and empty and feeling like a pile of bones. I stayed up far too late. And today my eyes hurt and I feel sick. But there is this evening maybe a little space of peace. Here’s whatI finally realized: maybe right now this loneliness and lack of support is my cross to carry. Maybe these tears and this feeling of desertion are the only thing I can offer to God. So offer them I will. For now I’m going to try to ignore all the voices that say this is unbearable and I’m just going to beg Him to let me bear it one day at a time. Yes, I’m overwhelmed and isolated and yes this is not ideal and maybe not the way it’s meant to be. But today, it is what it is. I have to find a way to make today work. And tomorrow I’ll figure out tomorrow. I’ve got to stop looking at the big picture because it’s overwhelming. Today I got a letter from my OB’s office setting a date for my c-section, which I guess I’ll confirm at my appointment on Monday. And Dom found a notice about my postponed jury duty being this Thursday, when he has to be at a press conference. So many things to worry about and never enough time. But nothing I can do about any of them tonight. I’m going to go read my book and then… sleep.
Book Review: A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism
by Melanie Bettinelli on October 16, 2012
Next week I’ll be hosting a stop on Sarah’s blog tour for the book; but I have so much to say about this book and I couldn’t wait until next week to post my initial review of Sarah Reinhard’s A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism
Now in the sixth month of my sixth pregnancy, I’ve long since stopped looking at pregnancy books. I began leafing through my advance copy of my friend’s book as much from a sense of duty and less because I expected to find anything new and helpful. I should have known better. After a few dips here and there, I began to read the entire book cover to cover, not wanting to miss a thing.
Pregnancy is a uniquely challenging experience, not only physically, but also spiritually. Yet it is precisely this spiritual dimension that is so often neglected in books on the subject. Even the few Catholic books I’ve found, however, fail to fully address my spiritual hunger. Sarah Reinhard’s Catholic Companion to Pregnancy is the book I wanted and never found when I was throwing up daily with my first pregnancy, when I lost Francis, my second, to miscarriage, when my third pregnancy found me too tired to chase after my active toddler. It’s the book I kept hunting for with every positive test. The book I’d given up on ever finding.
The reflections on the mysteries of the rosary are themselves worth the cover price. Sarah, who I think of as Mary’s biggest fan girl, had the brilliant insight that if you pray two full rosaries (the traditional, joyful, sorrowful, and glorious mysteries as well as the new luminous mysteries) the number of mysteries equals the 40 weeks of an average pregnancy. Beneath the “What to Expect” structure stands a second scaffolding of walking with Jesus through Mary. Additional treasures are the practical exhortations on living the Christian life, drawing on the vast wealth of traditional Catholic devotions. “Faith Focus” sections are sprinkled with quotes from the Catechism and Church documents, suggesting litanies, prayers, devotions to saints, and other pious customs. These are wonderful introductions to the depth and breadth of the Catholic tradition and help to guide the reader through the spiritual journey of pregnancy. They strike a nice balance: perfect for a convert or seeker who knows nothing about the Catholic Church, yet meaty enough for a woman deeply rooted in her faith. They extend an invitation to go deeper no matter where you are.
Also included are special focus sections on eating disorders, unexpected pregnancy, miscarriage, stillbirth, and many more. The book concludes with sections on labor—with wonderful, concrete spiritual tips for that unique spiritual and physical challenge (Oh I wanted those as I was preparing for Bella’s birth!)—and on baptism, bringing the journey of pregnancy and childbirth to the fullest conclusion as the newborn child formally enters the Church community.
The short chapters could be read at a single sitting or you could also read a section a day and stretch a chapter over the course of the week. As I’ve found, even if you begin this book later in your pregnancy, there are not-to-be-missed gems in every chapter. If you’re like me, you won’t want to skip ahead to your current week but will happily linger on every page. This is now the book I will suggest for all expecting moms, whether on their first pregnancy or their tenth., whether deeply religious or tentatively searching.
Please check back next week for more, more, more about A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy, including excerpts from the book, exciting giveaways, and a special reflection by Sarah on the fifth glorious mystery, the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth. Also, be sure to check out all the other stops on the blog tour. The featured reflections are a perfect way to pray the rosary for the October, the Month of the Rosary and Respect Life Month.
by Melanie Bettinelli on August 18, 2012
Anthony is a new experience for us. Sure all of our kids went through that testing-boundaries toddler phase. But Anthony somehow takes it to a whole new level. He is very, very curious. Very physically able—he’s quite adept at climbing and manipulating objects. And he just seems to have a nose for mischief. We can’t seem to keep up with him. I feel bad because I get so frustrated and angry and he really doesn’t intend ill at all. He’s just a little boy who is trying to figure out the world. And sometimes he is just so adorable we have to laugh. But today took the cake.
Dom was about to get into the shower. I was brushing my hair in my room, having just finished a Facetime chat with my sister and my mom—lots of clowning from the kids, not much real conversation; but then that’s life with little ones. I looked up and saw Anthony coming toward me down the hall with very white hands and a white foot. I jumped up, groaning, and suppressing some choice cuss words as I hollered to Dom in the bathroom: “Anthony got into the Desitin. It’s all over his hands and feet. I need to get him in the tub.” So Dom came hurrying out and I rushed Anthony into the tub and began to scrub. And I was just beginning to be bewildered at how dry the substance on his hands was when Dom yelled to me from Anthony’s bedroom: “It’s not Desitin. It’s the paint!” I don’t know how I kept down the swearing at that point. I left Anthony standing in the tub and went to the bedroom to help my bewildered husband. There on the carpet was the overturned gallon can of paint that my dad had bought, planning to paint Anthony’s room for us on Monday, spreading in a big pool under the changing table and lapping at one of Ben’s favorite puzzles.
When you see a disaster your mind just stops processing. It took a minute and then I told Dom to pick up the paint can which was still leaking paint. We didn’t even know where to start cleaning all that paint off of carpet. I went back to cleaning the paint off the toddler while Dom tried to do some damage control. I suggested getting out the painting tarp and putting all the paint covered objects onto it. Then once Anthony was cleaned up I locked him in the other bedroom with Bella, Sophie and Ben and went to help with the clean up. We sopped up the puddle of paint with shop rags and then wiped down the furniture. We decided to just focus on getting the carpet dry, not trying to get the paint out of it. I think that with that volume of paint the carpet is just a loss. Anthony took his nap on our bed while we had a fan pointed at the carpet, trying to get it dry on a very wet and rainy Saturday.
by Melanie Bettinelli on July 23, 2012
I’ve been reading plenty of books in the past few months, just haven’t been inspired to write about them. I began to write a roundup post with a short description of several of the more noteworthy books I’ve read recently but found that this one was long enough to merit it’s own entry. So I’ll hold off on the other books for now and just publish this as it stands.
After the recent events in Colorado this book seems especially timely. I’ve spent some time discussing it on Facebook with people who argue that the Batman movies are responsible for creating the violence that occurred. Jones argues that media violence—even violent movies and first person shooter games—far from causing people to flip out and go on shooting sprees, actually helps people—children, adolescents and even adults—to process real world violence. Much of the book really focuses on children and adolescents, not adults. There is also a strong emphasis on comic books—Jones is not only a critic but has written comic books and has done many workshops in schools helping young people to create their own comics.
What I liked most about Jones’ approach is that he begins first by asking kids questions: Why do they love the kinds of violent stories and games that they love? Their answers are very interesting and not always what you’d expect. The book poses a question for the reader: What is the place of fantasy violence in a society that condemns the reality of violence? Instead of a knee-jerk reaction that there is no place for such violence, it well behooves the reader to listen to the stories Jones tells and look at the data he presents and to think long and hard.
As far as copycat shootings, Jones examines Columbine and several others and argues that the causal link is tenuous and mainly created by the news media. The data show that the kids who watch the most violent movies and games are actually the least likely to commit real-world violence while most real-world shooters are actually not very into violent games. Media violence doesn’t cause insanity, at best it just gives a particular insane person a particular focus but the insanity has to already be there for it to latch onto the image. But for healthy individuals violent movies, shows, games, comics tend to be a tension release and help them to create safe fantasies, which help them to process violent emotions rather than causing them to act out violently. In fact, it tends to be a safety valve. And in the cases of very public shootings the actual psychology points to a much more complex web of causation, the particular focus on a movie or song or game tends to be overemphasized by the media, which wants to draw a connection in order to provide an explanation for what is really inexplicable.
Jones is not a scholar but this book is well researched and does present data that convincingly supports his thesis, but the strength of the book is really in the stories where Jones talks to the kids and teens and asks them about their experiences. I was fascinated by the kids who loved both the Power Rangers and Teletubbies, turning to the Tubbies when he was feeling vulnerable and in need of reassurance and to the Rangers when he was feeling powerful and unafraid. Eventually he merged his fantasy worlds and imagined Tubby Rangers who morphed from cuddly buddies into powerful warriors.
One of the aspects of the book that really stood out was an interview with a Quaker peace worker in Northern Ireland who plays Quake recreationally (or probably not Quake but Doom or one of the other realistic first person shooter games, I don’t have the book any longer and my mind wants to remember that the Quaker played Quake but I think that’s wrong.) He asks the guy if there isn’t a contradiction between working for peace and playing this incredibly violent first person shooter game and the guy says something along the lines of it’s just fantasy. When asked why he plays a game that is so realistic and not something with less graphic violence, he answers that something less realistic wouldn’t be as useful to release the tension created by the very real violence he has to deal with every day. In other words, fantasy violence has to be at least as realistic as the stuff the news media feeds us or it doesn’t actually work as a psychological safety valve for some people. It is precisely the feeling of having power over the violence in the context of the game that is necessary to not feeling overwhelmed by the real world violence of living in a society where these kinds of things happen. The book also looked at upticks of people playing violent games after 9-11 and other events. I’d bet after the Aurora incident some people actually have a need to watch Batman and to play shooter games precisely to face those fears and to deal with the violent imagery.
Jones doesn’t suggest that parents and teachers should take a hands-off approach and simply let children and teens consume any media they want; but he does critique the typical reaction of parents who are made uncomfortable by their children’s choices. Rather than trying to ban media influences which we dislike, Jones suggests that parents and teachers instead engage children in conversation, asking them why they like what they do. Often the values that have led the child to the film/game/comic/music are ones that we can identify with. First, seek understanding, try to see it from the child’s perspective. Then you can share your own perspective: what elements make you uncomfortable and why.
The book’s main limitation for me was that as a secular work it addresses only the psychological value of fantasy worlds for the child consumer and doesn’t at all consider the moral component unless it is considering a moral compunction as a hurdle the adult has to overcome in order to seek understanding and empathy. While I agree that in any discussion of this sort with children we do need to first seek understanding, I do think the adult’s better formed conscience must at times prevail. Unlike Jones, I do think there are good reasons why an adult can and should impose restrictions on a child’s media consumption—although Jones does highlight the dangers inherent in a totalitarian ban, which is it can make the banned item into a forbidden fruit and alienate the child, creating a relationship of conflict instead of one of trust and partnership.
Jones looses me when he retorts: “We don’t ask whether game shows predispose our children to greed or love songs to bad relationships.” Well, in fact I have asked those very questions. Perhaps not so much of game shows per se but I recently read an article that questioned whether HG TV isn’t just a vehicle for encouraging envy as well as a materialist attitude and consumption in excess of our needs. And I certainly do feel that certain kinds of love songs—and love poetry and romance novels—can lead to unhealthy and immoral attitudes about sex and relationships. At the same time I do agree with Jones that when we find that our children are attracted to something that we find morally problematic it should be an opportunity for discussion and connection and that we should avoid making it into a power struggle. So Jones leaves the moral questions unasked and unanswered Perhaps violent and sexually charged media isn’t encouraging violence directly; but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is never an occasion for sin. So, yes, I do think that Jones’ narrative is lacking a crucial ethical component to the discussion. The book is good as a conversation starter but I’d like to see a follow up from a Catholic perspective.
by Melanie Bettinelli on May 03, 2012
So today Bella and I started reading a little book that I bought with the intention of looking forward to her first confession and first communion. I’m not positive she will be ready next year; but she’s expressed a very strong interest in making her first confession and I thought that I should at least honor that request by beginning the work to help her get ready. (Interesting, by the way, that it’s confession which has grabbed her interest rather than communion.) Anyway the book began with a section of prayers and one of them was the Confiteor. The book is older so of course it has the old translation so as I was going I was trying to correct to the new translation. Turned out Bella knew it well enough and when I stumbled she continued: “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” Complete with beating her breast. So I guess she has been paying attention at Mass.
I went online to look up the new translation so I could write a correction in the book and I found this article by Father Z. I especially liked this bit here:
The 20th century writer of the Liturgical Movement, Romano Guardini (d. 1968) wrote in his 1955 work Sacred Signs:
“To brush one’s clothes with the tips of one’s fingers is not to strike the breast. We should beat upon our breasts with our closed fists. … It is an honest blow, not an elegant gesture. To strike the breast is to beat against the gates of our inner world in order to shatter them. This is its significance. … ‘Repent, do penance.’ It is the voice of God. Striking the breast is the visible sign that we hear that summons. … Let it wake us up, and make us see, and turn to God”.
The future Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Spirit of the Liturgy (p. 207): “We point not at someone else but at ourselves as the guilty party, [which] remains a meaningful gesture of prayer. … When we say mea culpa (through my fault), we turn, so to speak, to ourselves, to our own front door, and thus we are able rightly to ask forgiveness of God, the saints, and the people gathered around us, whom we have wronged.”
I read this passage to Bella and I’m not sure how much of it sank in. Still, you never know with Bella.
When we were going over the Ten Commandments we had an interesting moment. The book glossed the Fourth Commandment with the explanation that “we should love and obey our parents and all who are over us.” So I discussed what other people Bella might need to obey. And then it occurred to me that it was important to clarify that while she might need to obey people other than Dom and myself, she should never obey if someone wants her to do something that is a sin, that will hurt herself or someone else. I don’t want to teach her blind obedience to an authority which is misused; but proper respect for proper authority. She pondered this for a few minutes and then responded with an example from her Bible story book that showed she had understood the lesson. She told me about Joseph who was asked to sin by Potiphar’s wife and who refused her request. (The Bible story book properly doesn’t explain what kind of bad thing she wanted him to do, just that she demanded and he refused and that he suffered for the refusal because she falsely accused him of doing the very bad thing he had refused to do.) I was rather pleased to see that she was applying Bible stories to moral lessons.
by Melanie Bettinelli on March 29, 2012
Last night started off so promising; but I was skeptical right from the start that it would really be as easy as all that. Anthony was falling asleep at dinner so I went to put him down while everyone else finished up with dinner and the other kids started to get their pajamas on etc. We got Ben, Sophie, and Bella to bed early too. Sophie has started picking up Ben’s habitual protest: “I don’t want to go to bed!” But she still fell asleep before I’d finished tucking in Ben and Bella. Ben did his standard scampering for a snack when I’d turned out the night light. We indulge this habit because I’d prefer to give him a snack then rather than feed him in the early morning hours, as has sometimes happened when Mr Picky didn’t eat a good dinner. But after his snack he just asked me to carry him to bed. I tucked his blankets around him and gave him a kiss and then left. He didn’t protest or make me sit there in the dark until he fell asleep. So since it was early I felt confident in watching an episode of Castle with Dom. Then I went to take my shower, it was still before 10 and I was hoping to get to bed early and maybe get ahead of the sleep game for once. Fat chance.
As I got out of the shower I heard Ben whimpering. I went in and found his blankets thrown off so I tucked them back in and he settled right down. I kissed him and walked out. No problem. So I said good night to Dom and my sister and my sister’s friend Debbie who is visiting. Then I crawled into my bed at about 10:30. Just as I was about to plug in my cell phone I heard Ben crying again. Drat! This time he didn’t settle back down. He wouldn’t let me put his blankets on him. He screamed more loudly when I offered him water, a tissue, to move him to the couch. Finally, I changed his diaper, which was rather wet, doing it quickly by feel in the dark. I’m an old pro at changing diapers in the dark. Then I sat down in the chair to wait until he’d cried himself out.
Finally he sobbed my name and so I went to him. His pajama pants were soaked! I know they hadn’t been when I’d changed his diaper. I reached down and sure enough I hadn’t fasted the diaper well and there was a gap at his crotch and he’d leaked all over. So I changed his pajamas and pulled off his soaked bedding. Then I asked if he wanted to get back in his bed or go sleep in the living room. Neither, it turned out. He wanted to go cuddle with me in the rocking chair in the living room. And he didn’t want any of his blankets. Just a quilt from the stash we use to cozy with as we sit.
So I sat with my sleepy little boy in my lap. He snugged right in with his head on my chest and his little hand in mine. It was cozy and sweet and if I had to be awake I’d much rather be cuddling Ben than anxious and frustrated listening to him scream while I couldn’t do anything to make it better. Eventually his head dropped and he snored a bit. I sat for a while longer to make sure he really was in deep sleep then I tucked him in on the chair and brought his blankets from his room. Usually when I leave him in the living room he’ll stay there all night without a wake up. And indeed that was what happened.
At 11:30 I stealthed back into my bed—so, so quiet so as not to wake up Anthony, who snuffled and turned but didn’t wake. I slept soundly and blissfully until 2:30 when our door opened and Sophie walked in, clutching her blanket and sniffling. She didn’t want to go back to her bed so I gathered her other blankets from her room and settled her on the couch in the living room. What has become the usual midnight shuffle. Then back to my bed. But this time I couldn’t get back to sleep.
I lay half awake for about half an hour, listening to Anthony stirring restlessly. Finally around 3 he sat up and started wailing. I changed his wet diaper, being sure to check that it was well fitted around the legs. Then I dosed him with ibuprofen, which I’d already measured out in a syringe and left on my bedside table. This cold has hit Anthony the hardest. Everyone else is well but his nose is still dripping and he seems fairly miserable whenever the ibuprofen dose runs out. You can measure it like clockwork. He had been fairly well night weaned before this round of illness; but I don’t have the heart to say no to a sick baby who fell asleep rather than eating his dinner, so I gave in to his demands for milk and lay down to endure until he was done nursing.
When he was a baby I could often sleep while he nursed. Not anymore. This big toddler boy has roaming hands and kicking legs. He is a restless nurser and I am a light sleeper. An unhappy combination. He nursed forever. At 3 or so he was done on one side and wanted more so I switched him over. After another half hour I decided that he was done. I gently pulled him off and then rolled away from him to try to sleep. He didn’t fuss but neither was he asleep. I heard him muttering quietly to himself at my back. Dom was snoring and my internal thermostat was doing it’s usual early morning crazy act so that I felt like I was roasting. I couldn’t fall asleep though I was desperately tired. I lay in bed sobbing, trying to be quiet but evidently Anthony had kicked Dom awake and he heard me crying and asked what was wrong. I explained that I’d only had two hours of sleep and I had been awake for an hour and a half, maybe two hours, and was so, so, so tired. Dom was sympathetic but went back to sleep. I crawled out of bed and went to the bathroom, hoping Anthony would fall asleep, hoping the cold tile floor on my bare feet and some cold water splashed on my face would make me feel less overheated. I sat in the bathroom and sobbed for a long time, trying to pray and offer up my misery but mostly complaining to God and begging for some rest.
The cry must have done me some good because when I went back to bed, I just shoved Anthony over and went to sleep. I woke again to Anthony hitting me in the face and pulling my hair. The clock said 5:30 and he wanted more milk. I refused. Firmly. No! you already had your milk. It’s the middle of the night and you need to go to sleep. He whimpered a bit but then lay down and tossed and turned for a bit but finally went back to sleep. At a quarter to seven he started to do the face slapping and hair pulling routine again and I realized I needed to get up and face the day. I said morning prayer in bed while Sophie and Ben and Bella all came in to say hi. Ben spent a few minutes showering Anthony with kisses. Then when Ben left Anthony crawled off the bed and toddled after him.
My sister had agreed to watch the kids so I could go to Mass today. I’ve been going on Tuesdays; but Ben had a dentist appointment on Tuesday morning so I rescheduled. As I approached the door of the church I saw a group of people dressed very nicely in black and gray entering. Oh dear, is it a funeral? It was. There was the pall folded up on a table at the back. There was the Easter Candle, front and center. It seemed a bit weird; but I decided to stay. I don’t know the deceased but we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. When praying the Liturgy of the Hours I have learned to pray with the whole body of the Church, to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. And somehow it seemed that maybe this was the Mass I was supposed to go to. Perhaps there was a purpose to my presence here this morning. So I would attend the funeral of this unknown brother in Christ, though in the course of the funeral I came to know a little about him. His name was Frank and he was a husband and father with two grown children. His parents were there as were his brothers and sister and his wife. He died from cancer.
But before I knew that I stood in my pew in the back of the church and watched them carry his coffin in and cover it with the white pall. Suddenly my midnight tears seemed so trivial. Somewhere last night a mother wept and could not sleep because her child was dead. Somewhere sleep eluded a wife because her husband was gone. My tears were tears of self pity. Though now I cried again, this time they were tears for others.
As I was brushing my teeth this morning I was thinking about my midnight tears and a phrase came to me: tears are a grace. This idea returned again during Mass: Blessed are those who weep and mourn. I felt a bit silly this morning as I sat through the funeral of a man I never knew and cried and cried and cried. But I also felt that they were somehow holy tears, a grace, a gift. Finally I was able to thank God for my tears and then to thank him for my midnight vigils. I was able to thank him for this unexpected and unasked for Lenten fast from sleep. It wasn’t the Lent I chose but it is the Lent that has been given to me. If I haven’t always been able to accept it without grumbling and complaining, still I can see how it has drawn me closer and closer to Christ as I become more and more aware of how much I need Him. How much I long for his grace and his love. How much I long for the rest which only he can give.
I wasn’t able to go to my grandmother’s funeral this fall. Somehow being at this stranger’s funeral brought me closer to hers. And somehow it made me think of future funerals. As Father talked about the significance of the white garment that Frank was clothed with at baptism and which he is clothed with today for the final time, I suddenly saw my own children’s baptisms. One day they too will die and be clothed one final time with the white garment. Once Frank, too, was a tiny infant in his mother’s arms.
The gospel was Matthew 11: 25-30:
Jesus said, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Here we are again at “my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Suddenly the words seemed true and my burdens didn’t seem quite so heavy. Suddenly I felt perhaps I could be childlike and trust in my Father in heaven to give me the rest that I need.
After the funeral Mass was over I had decided to linger. It would take a while for everyone in the funeral procession to leave the parking lot anyway. I had forgotten that on Thursday mornings they have adoration after daily Mass. The twenty or so regular daily Mass goers were scattered around the church. Some of them moved forward now. Before I really realized what was happening the deacon had placed the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance. They sang a hymn but I didn’t have the song sheet. So I just knelt and listened. I lingered for a long time, just resting. Oh what a gift, that rest! Then I left to go to the grocery store.
I am still tired. Still snapping at the kids. Mass and prayer and Adoration don’t take all that away. (And despite going to the grocery store, I still don’t know what I’m going to make for dinner and it’s already half past four!) I’m still far from sainthood. I’m still not supermom. Go figure. Still, Mass and prayer and Adoration do seem to give it all a focus, if only I can remember it. There is a bigger picture than my tired, tired self can quite glimpse right now. And there is a final rest that is my goal if only I can finish this race.
by Melanie Bettinelli on January 29, 2012
The Mole subsided forlornly on a tree-stump and tried to control himself, for he felt it surely coming. The sob he had fought with so long refused to be beaten. Up and up, it forced its way to the air, and then another and another, and others thick and fast; until poor Mole at last gave up the struggle and cried freely and helplessly and openly, now that he knew it was all over and he had lost what he could hardly be said to have found.
The Rat, astonished and dismayed at the violence of Mole’s paroxysm of grief, did not dare to speak for a while. At last he said, very quietly and sympathetically, “What it is, old fellow? Whatever can be the matter? Tell us your trouble, and let me see what I can do.”
Poor Mole found it so difficult to get any words out between the upheavals of his chest that followed one upon another so quickly and held back speech and choked it as it came.
[. . .]
Recollection brought fresh waves of sorrow, and sobs again took full charge of him, preventing further speech.
The Rat stared straight in front of him, saying nothing, only patting Mole gently on the shoulder. After a time he muttered gloomily, “I see it all now! What a pig U have been! A pig—that’s me! Just a pig—a plain pig!”
H waited till Mole’s sobs became gradually less stormy and more rhythmical; he waited until at least sniffs were frequent and sobs only intermittent. Then he rose from his seat, and remarking carelessly, “Well, now we’d really better be getting on, old chap! set off up the road again, over the toilsome way they had come.
While putting together my retrospective post for my blogiversary, I stumbled across a comment in an old blog post that recommended a parenting book,
Tears and Tantrums: What to Do When Babies and Children Cry by Althea Solter. For whatever reason—I was busy, distracted, overwhelmed with an already towering reading pile?—that recommendation didn’t really register on my consciousness at the time and I never followed up on it nor until I re-read the comment last week did I remember that it had been made. But now it caught my eye and I decided to get it from the library. And oh I am glad I did. Sometimes the right bit of information at the right time catches just right and suddenly the world shifts and everything realigns and you are able to see clearly for the first time a new path where before there had only been a close thicket. This was rather like that.
The author’s thesis is simple: that tears and tantrums are the natural, healthy way of relieving stress and that when children are allowed to cry the recover from stress and from psychological traumas, both big and small, more readily. When crying is suppressed or denied children will find ways to cope, of course, but there will be repercussions in other ways as the stress is bottled up.
In general her theory makes sense to me, although I’m a bit leery of her theories about birth trauma and rebirthing. It’s the kind of thing that takes a truth I already know—that crying is a stress relief—and shows me how that truth can change how I approach certain moments in parenting. I think that keeping this truth in mind, that crying and tantrums help children resolve stress, will help me to be more patient with tears. Whereas before I was seeing them as something I need to fix, now instead of seeing my job as keeping them from crying, it is so much less of a burden to have my job be to merely be with them as they cry, so that they are not alone as they work through whatever emotions are overwhelming them.
But what is truly revolutionary is how it’s changed the whole matter of putting the baby down to sleep. I have been uncomfortable with nursing the baby to sleep, knowing that it is a poor soothing tool because when the baby wakes up he wants to nurse again, to recreate the situation in which he fell asleep. But the only alternative I knew f was the method of letting a baby cry it out, and that appealed to me even less. So there I was nursing Anthony to sleep and then nursing him down again and again for an ever increasing number of night wake ups. I didn’t like it but I didn’t know how to get him to sleep otherwise without abandoning him to cry alone in the dark. Solter’s solution is so simple and obvious I feel rather foolish for never thinking of it. She advocates that once the baby’s needs for food and dry diaper have been met, that you should simply hold the tired baby and letting him cry himself into a deep sleep. Oh! I can do that. In fact, Dom had already been doing that on the occasions when I couldn’t get Anthony to nurse to sleep. It’s just that Dom has less patience for screaming babies and so we never thought of it as a real solution to the bedtime dilemma. It makes sense too because often Anthony cries himself to sleep in his carseat while we are out and about. It isn’t very loud crying, just a soft kind of creaky moan that he seems to need to do to release tension and fall asleep. We’d already labeled that particular sound as Anthony’s sleepy creak and noted that Ben had done the same thing.
So for the last few nights I’ve nursed Anthony as we say prayers and read bedtime stories. Then after the other kids are tucked into bed I have taken Anthony to our room and held him in my lap while sitting on our bed. Every single night he has cried and writhed around for about five or ten minutes and then eventually found a comfy position, either on my lap or on the bed right next to me and gone to sleep. Every time his cries were not loud angry cries or hungry cries, they were most definitely the sleepy moaning cry that I’ve heard from the car seat so many times. I knew as soon as I heard that cry the first night that we were on the right track. Sure enough it takes less time for him to cry himself to sleep than it did for him to nurse himself to sleep. I sit with him until he’s deeply asleep and then move him to his bed. He’s been sleeping for hours every night and then waking up only twice in the night. I have been nursing him back to sleep at those wake ups because it is easier than letting him cry and he does seem to go back to sleep pretty deeply and let me put him back into his bed after the first middle of the night waking. After the second one he’s been staying in our bed until morning. This is a huge improvement over his previous pattern where he woke at least once before I was ready to go to bed and then woke again shortly after I went to bed and then almost always spent the rest of the night in our bed, nursing several times.
I really wish I’d read this book a long time ago when Bella was a baby. It would have changed my approach to so many things and I think would have helped me be more patient during various tantrums and fussy stages. It’s funny because nothing in it is really completely new to me but the way it introduces the topics was exactly the paradigm shift that I needed.
The bit about Mole and Rat seemed too perfect when I read it to Bella this afternoon not to include. My aim is to be able to be as sympathetic as Rat is and as willing to acknowledge when I have been piggish and failed to listen and to be compassionate to a poor sad little one who has as hard a time as Mole at expressing a need.
by Melanie Bettinelli on January 25, 2012
Homeschooling has kind of stalled out for us since before Christmas. It’s not that Bella isn’t learning, I’m sure; but formal lessons of any kind have fallen by the wayside as I’ve not had much energy for gathering myself into a purposefulness. So today it was a wonderful surprise to find ourselves stumbling into a little impromptu lesson inspired by today’s feast, which is one of my favorites.
It is a frequent custom, though it doesn’t happen every single day, for Bella to get a chapter from a longer book read to her while the boys nap. So we read her chapter of our current book, a life of St Rose of Lima. Then I read a picture book for Sophie. Then I pulled out my Bible to read to them the passage of the conversion of St Paul from The Acts of the Apostles, part of my resolve to read to Isabella from the actual Bible more often in addition to retellings from her various Bible story picture books.
After we’d read the story of Saul’s vision on the road to Damascus and his healing by Ananias and his preaching of Jesus, then I thought it might be fun to show them some art inspired by that famous story. I googled “Conversion of St Paul” and clicked on Images and found the Carravaggio that I expected and a Michelangelo. Then I found this great Biblical art website that has catalogued a most impressive number of images of the subject, four pages of thumbnails. We didn’t look at all of them, there wasn’t time. But we clicked through to see quite a few of them. We had fun trying to identify which figure was St Paul, where the light was, or where Jesus was. It was interesting to try to figure out why each artist interpreted the picture as he had. Then Bella told me that none of them looked like what was in her mind. I told her that if she wanted to she could try to draw it; but she said she wouldn’t be able to get it right. Bella and Sophie had no idea that this was a school lesson and they are developing visual literacy. They just had fun looking at the pretty pictures.
Some of the images we looked at were from illuminated manuscripts and one, by Fra Angelico, was clearly from a psalter with the square neumes of chant notation so I turned on my iPod and played the girls the Invitatory Psalm from today’s Divine Office podcast while we looked at the image and I briefly explained that the picture was from a song book and would sound something like the one we were listening to.
One image that caught Isabella’s eye was very colorful and very modern looking. The link took us to a gallery of images from a contemporary Chinese artist, He Qi. So we clicked through and looked at all the images in the gallery, and Bella was able to identify the subject of almost all of them, thus demonstrating to me both her visual and her Biblical literacy. She immediately knew the subject of the Finding of Jesus in the Temple, the Annunciation, the wise and foolish virgins, she identified an Agony in the Garden as Jesus on the Mount of Olives with the apostles falling asleep while he prayed. (Here’s the index to the gallery where you can see all of He Qi’s work. I’m in love and have spent hours staring at all the images in the galleries)
We couldn’t actually tell which character in Brugel’s painting is meant to be St Paul.
We had a nice little side trip because Sophie spotted the one picture that wasn’t a conversion of St Paul but an image of the Road to Emmaus. So they asked me what that story was and I retold the story in my own words. (One of my favorites, because my parents used to own a Catholic book store called Emmaus.) That led to Bella asking about why were the women in the upper room and us discussing whether the apostles taught Mary about Jesus or Mary taught them about him.
Then Anthony woke up long before we’d exhausted the girl’s curiosity, which is probably a perfect place to end.
Bella was captivated by this one but neither of us could figure out which figure is supposed to be St Paul.
We’re all still sick and the house is a terrible mess from days of everyone being too tired to pick up properly; but it was one of our best learning days in a while. Isn’t it funny how that happens? Isn’t it funny how this spontaneous excursion was so much better than anything I might have planned ahead of time? Why do I spend so much time worrying? If I just rusted more I would see that Our Heavenly Father has it all taken care of.
And now it is time for me to go to bed. I think today was Day 6 of everyone being sick. I’m ready for this saga to be over.