The 14-year-old, she of recent heart-surgery fame, got to talking about wanting to be the one to design the rooms for a much-wanted minor renovation of our living space. (Tip: When your children double in size, they need slightly more bedroom space than back in the glory days when you could squeeze them all into bunks like pint-sized sailors.)
The girl likes to design and decorate. She keeps begging to design my classroom for this fall (yes, me with a regular teaching job — whoa!). She has built whole neighborhoods in Minecraft, year after year of new communities. She went through a phase where she played World of Tanks with the prime object of driving around looking at the houses. And of course there have been countless 3-D models built — wood block, plastic block, cardboard doll houses, you name it.
So I told her if she wanted to design her brother’s new bedroom, she needed to get on Google SketchUp and do it there.
She grabbed the good computer (smart kid — knows when she can get away with claiming the parents’ computer) and started searching around. Periodically she’d call out with a question from the other room, but after enough times of me calling back, “Look up a tutorial on YouTube and watch that,” she quit asking for help and just figured it all out. Which was necessary, since I have never actually used SketchUp. I just knew it existed.
Five or six hours in, she declared,”This is addictive. It’s like Minecraft for adults.”
Which is when I quick started googling architecture schools. I kinda like the look of Benedictine’s program — nice balance of real art and real engineering courses (you have to dig up the student handbook-catalog to see the whole program laid out — wish they’d stick the course of study up on the website directly). By nightfall her father was already giving her the talk about how if she wanted to be an architect she’d need to spend a summer framing houses. It is possible the parents can be a little intense at times. But he’s right, of course. I pointed out she’d end up wickedly fit, and SuperHusband added she’d end up with a killer tan. The latter seemed to pique her interest.
We’re on day two of the SketchUp marathon, and if nothing else, she’s found a way to pass a long and uneventful post-op recovery. Whether it turns into a profession or not, it’s good for a teen to discover she can teach herself genuine adult professional skills.
In other news: The boy made it to his apartment in France despite getting delayed and re-routed. I was pretty proud when I learned he’d managed to get himself and two other beleaguered travelers across Paris to catch the last TGV of the night to their destination city — complete with standing his ground with the evasive SNCF employee who was reluctant to let foreigners know national secrets about catching trains. (Eventually a supervisor showed up and insisted the minion answer questions because it was obvious the boy wasn’t going to leave until he was assisted, and the supervisor wanted to go home for the night. Mr. Boy reports all the other Parisians were quite helpful, there was just that one throwback from the days before the French discovered that “customer service” is a thing that can help draw customers to your tourist-centered economy.)
Is it nerve-wracking wondering if your sweet little baby whom you swear was only born five minutes ago is going to have to find a place to sleep in a strange city late at night? Sure. But sooner or later, a kid has to learn these arts. And he had the sense to know that if you arrive at your destination at midnight, you scrap the plan to walk to your apartment and hail a cab instead. When you let your kids practice the adult skills, they start developing the adult instincts. It is good.
So imagine for a moment that in the space of two weeks you learn that your kid has a potentially life-threatening (but otherwise probably benign) tumor in her heart, and then you travel out of town to get it removed via open-heart surgery, and then you come home after and basically you’re done.* In two weeks.
That’s crazy. Far too crazy to be eligible for fiction, what with no foreshadowing, no crises, and a shocking denouement in which you get home and have to forbid your kid to clean her room, until you finally break down after a couple hours and let her clean her room.
Also it can’t be fiction because everyone was fine. A little edgy, sure, definitely some adrenaline happened. Garden-variety hospital snafus happened (ex: The Night of the Beeping Monitors). There was sunburn during the lead-up to the climax, and also my sister sitting alone on the beach nobly guarding my phone, which was actually with me in the beach parking lot talking to the insurance people. But mostly everything was fine.
Truth: While we were busy with our dramatic medical incident, many friends were enduring much worse suffering. That is, if by “worse” you mean people-actually-died ‘n stuff.
Since there can therefore be no riveting memoir, here’s my how-to quick guide on How to Throw a Successful Medical Crisis in Just Two Weeks!
1. Try to recruit about a thousand people to pray for you. If you do this, then your most anxiety-prone child of the bunch can be the one who needs to have her sternum cracked and her heart sliced open, and it’ll be fine. By “a thousand” what I mean is: The actual, literal number 1,000. That’s my ballpark estimate of how many seriously praying people were on this job. Do that. You want these people. What they do matters.
2. Happen to invite the exact right relatives to come stay with you. Try to get them to arrive for vacation the day before you go in to receive the shocking diagnosis. Whom to invite? The ones who keep the house clean, provide competent medical advice, have a couple cousins of just the right ages and personalities to provide 24/7 emotional support for the kids, and who are restless enough to keep everyone busy with activities so you don’t have much time to sit around dreading things.
2a. Dessert. The children insist you want to invite the relatives who firmly believe in running out to the store to buy three boxes of brownie mix, because there weren’t any brownies in the house. I say if you do the dishes, vacuum, and wash the sheets before you leave . . . you make all the brownies you want, I can be healthy again after you go home.
3. Go to the beach. Oh, you just want to sit around googling statistics about rare surgical procedures? That’s why you arranged for your sister to show up: Because she is going to take you to the beach, and once you’ve viewed one excision of a right ventricular mass you’ve viewed them all. Go to the beach. Your kid is gonna have a very boring and painful summer once surgery happens. For goodness sake go to the beach.
4. Comparative Advantage for the win. So you are going to ask all your friends with relevant experience for their advice, and then you will take it. One of the things you’ll learn is that there are different types of work for different people at different times.
The aunt who is perfectly capable of watching your healthy kids is the person who needs the power of attorney so she can do her thing and not need to call you at just the wrong time.
The ICU nurse who has gotten your kid stable post-op, and she is not tired, and she is one-on-one with your kid, is the person who should stay up all night after surgery watching your kid while you go to the hotel and get as much sleep as you can.
The spouse who does better on disrupted sleep should take night shift in the step-down unit.
The spouse who does better at asking hard questions and won’t be intimidated by the platoon of physicians descending on your room during rounds should do day shift.
The people who cook astonishingly good food available at local restaurants should feed you during shift change.
5. A sane parent is a priceless treasure. There is no substitute for a parent who is willing to do whatever it takes to support a child in a medical crisis. Thus more sides to the shape of parental-sanity:
(A) If you don’t take care of yourself, you won’t be able to do the whatever it takes when the need arises.
(B) Whatever it takes includes doing some hard things, but not all the hard things. If you don’t have to be there doing a thing, go do something that makes you better able to do the things only you can do.
So yeah: I totally made a teenager deliver me my good cruiser so I could go on a bike ride when it was my turn to get out and get some fresh air. Yes, the spouse and I got out for couple-time during shift change, so we could see daylight, talk to each other without interruptions, eat something good and be ready to go back in for more.
6. You can just be real about the situation. Back to that whole 1,000-person prayer team: Yes, the SuperHusband and I, and everyone else, were worried and scared. Left to my own devices, not only could I worry about this child’s impending doom, I could also conjure up scenarios in which other children met tragic fates while we were all distracted by the one having the official crisis. Drowning? Fatal car accident? Nobody’s safe! Ever!
Nobody is ever safe. Our kid came through surgery just fine, and other people were receiving bad news. Our days were getting better and better while other people’s lives were getting worse and worse. It’s a fallen world. You don’t have to pick a single All-Purpose Mood that somehow perfectly matches the gravity of the situation, because the truth is that the situation is complicated, and some really good things are happening and so are some bad things. So just whatever. Don’t feel beholden to the Feelings Police.
7. Eternity is for real. The thought of my kid dying is unbearable. Also: It could happen on my watch. Indeed, the expected death rate for my children is 100%, so unless we all die in the same train wreck, some of us get to be bereaved.
This is awful. Believing in God doesn’t take away the intense grief that comes with losing someone you love.
But here’s what it does do: It means you aren’t hanging all your faith on doctors. You can be sensible and do practical things to try to ensure the best odds possible on your kid’s survival, but the weight of Everything Forever And Ever Amen doesn’t hang on your shoulders, and it doesn’t hang on the doctors’ shoulders. When you know that God has everything under control, you don’t have to be in a non-stop panic, frantically trying to save your kid from eternal nothingness.
You ask God to spare you the suffering, and hopefully He spares you the suffering. But you also know that the separation of death is temporary, and no matter how bad things get in this life, no matter how black your grief, no matter how much your life sinks into the abyss of loss if the worst should happen, it isn’t the end of the story.
And then if your kid’s not dead and actually she’s recovering pretty well, you can leave her to the spouse who has day shift and get out for fresh air and sanity.
*It’s not done until Pathology says it’s done . . . but we’re not going there right now.
Still, the pediatrician came into the exam room and did a once-over to make sure the girl was healthy before giving the shot. Eyes, ears, nose, mouth, lungs, heart.
It was all pleasant chit-chat until the stethoscope came out.
I quieted down so the doctor could listen, and the listening grew more and more intense. She asked to L. to lie down, and did all the possible angles with that stethoscope.
And then she said she was referring us for an echo. “Sounds similar to a common benign murmur that occurs at her age, but I think it’s a little bit more pronunced than it should be. We should take a look.”
Okay. No big deal. The referral went into the black hole of office bureacracy, and honestly the chief reason I got on the stick and made administrators get an appointment time pinned down was because the kid wanted a clean bill of health for sport camp.
The echo tech told us she’d do the ultrasound, and later in the day a cardiologist would look over the files. He’d send a note to the pediatrician, and she could follow up with us if need be.
I watched with interest, but also with the confident ignorance of people who have seen enough ultrasounds to know that the shapes on the screen don’t look like the pictures in the textbook.
And then as she wrapped up, the echo tech said, “I’m just going to go speak to the doctor now and have him look at this.”
That was when I knew things were up.
So one thing that kept grabbing my eye during the echo was a pulsing ball at the middle of the screen. It looked kinda like a ping-pong ball bobbing in a lake. I told myself it was probably a weird view of some body part being caught at just the wrong angle. It was inconceivable to me that it might actually be a pulsing ball of . . . something.
Here’s a picture of the human heart, not drawn to scale:
At the bottom in blue is the right ventricle. One does not store a blue ping-pong ball in one’s ventricle.
But there it is, a probable myxoma, extremely rare for a young teen, extremely rare in this location. For various reasons, most of them called you do not want a pulmonary embolism, out it must go.
We were not expecting this. We were expecting to be told someone’s valves were going through a growth spurt and would be ship-shape again in due time.
We were not expecting: Please keep your heart rate down until we can open your chest in a couple days and get this thing out.
The kid cried, not at the prospect of pain or death, but at the prospect of missing out on sport camp. Also she had grave reservations about hospital food.
She’s a good Catholic all around.
There’s something else about expectations that happened.
When the cardiologist came in, he joked around a bit. He had a little banter about no boyfriends until you finish grad school, and later: Don’t be an orthodontist kid, be a surgeon! It was all couched in the expectation that of course you’ll go to grad school. He was the good dad of jocular firmness, the kind that cracks terrible puns and grounds you until your homework is done.
I don’t know if he plans that talk or it’s just how he is.
Here’s what he knew about our kid before he walked in the room: She was referred from the pediatrician who works at the non-profit clinic in the ‘hood, and she needed open-heart surgery.
Kids in either of those situations can feel like they don’t have much of a future.
In two minutes of joking, he communicated this: You have a future! You’re gonna do great things!
God provides. If the appointment referral hadn’t fallen into the black hole, we would have had all this information two weeks earlier. Because there was a delay — a delay that has done no harm, even though it could have — we are hitting just exactly the moment on the calendar when we have a maximum of support through a tough week, and exactly the right amount of time to get through extended recovery before school starts.
Also, the hospital the cardiologist wants to work with lets you order your own meals, and there’s food the kid likes on that menu.
I couldn’t have expected any of this. But the silver lining is so bright right now it’ll make your eyes water.
I spent an hour on the phone with the bank today trying to figure out why my daughter couldn’t log into her new bank account. Everyone else’s online access was working fine, including my ability to see into her (joint) account from my own ID.
The tech guy finally suggests we try logging in using someone’s mobile app. Two phone-wielding teenagers are lurking in the living room. There is assorted stalling, but finally IT Boy Young Man is drafted for the job.
I show him the new password we’re trying to enter on the “change password” screen that is our gateway to the new account. (You can’t proceed with the bank-issued password, for obvious reasons. Kindly choose something the lady at the bank doesn’t know.) This is where we keep failing. We fill out the form and nothing happens when we click “continue” but there is no error message either. Just nothing.
ITYM starts to enter the data on the post-it-note I hand him. The new password ends in a question mark.
Um, okay. That sounds like something you would say, child of mine. “So how about trying the password but without the question mark at the end?”
He tries it. We’re in. I try it on the PC, we’re in.
I helpfully tell the tech guy at the bank what the problem was, since we can’t possibly be the only people ever who accidentally thought up a password that looked to the machine like a deadly weapon.
We’re not convinced the bank guy is taking notes.
I’m thinking: I could have saved an hour if I’d used my in-house guy instead of calling customer service. Also, I’m glad the bank has thought up a few security precautions, even if their help desk team does dwell in ignorance.
So I have this devotion to St. Anthony that is mostly about finding things. Typical Catholic.
This spring the relics of St. Anthony toured the Diocese of Charleston, and of course I had to go. My specific prayer request was about figuring out (“finding”) my new small-v vocation, now that my last homeschooler is in school. I’ve been feeling the waters in a lot of different directions, but nothing was quite coming together. A lot of things were definitely NOT coming together.
So yesterday afternoon after four days forced offline, and a period of prayer and fasting as well (though not as much prayer as I’d like to be able to say I accomplished — just small and targeted prayers), in the space of an hour I got an e-mail accepting a book proposal for a book I can write this summer, and one for a teaching job that starts in the fall. Perfect combination: I can write this summer while being with the family, and then have work in the fall about the time the manuscript is done.
(No announcements yet — details and contracts still need to be hammered out.)
This morning I got up, and you should know that my usual routine is to make a hot beverage and open the Scriptures, either picking up from where I left off in the Bible (Ezekiel at the moment), or from the day’s Mass readings, or Morning Prayer with iBreviary. One or another, it just depends. I had to shake off some scrupulosity and give myself the freedom to just go with whatever was going to work that day.
So today while the hot water was supposedly warming up, I was sitting in front of the PC goofing off, Missal in my lap to go sit outside and pray the readings once the drink was ready. (You can talk to people online first thing in the morning, no problem, but everyone knows that Jesus wants you to have your hot drink in hand before you converse with Him. Yeah right. Cue Coffee with Jesus.) Eventually I figured out the kettle wasn’t plugged in, eventually I remembered I was supposed to be praying instead of reading online, and thus eventually I made it out to the porch.
Hitch: My bookmark in the Missal wasn’t on the right day, and I was too lazy to go back inside and look up what day we’re on.
But hey, there are saints days in the back, so I figured, I’ll go see if anyone’s having a feast today.
Hitch: That requires knowing what day it is.
But I did some hard thinking (rather than go inside and check the date, hmmn) and remembered that yesterday was the 12th, I think, so that made today most likely the 13th. I flip to June 13th and who should the saint be but . . . St. Anthony of Padua. My guy.
But interestingly, my edition of the Daily Roman Missal doesn’t talk about St. Anthony finding your parking space for you. What it talks about is this: Here’s a saint who was a phenomenal evangelist. He preached from the Scriptures so thoroughly, with such a reliance on the Gospels, that he got called the “Evangelical Doctor.”
Whoa. St. Anthony I barely knew you.
And yes, I’d read the biography before, but it went in one ear and out the other — great Franciscan saint, middle ages, preaching or miracles or something, blah blah blah. Mostly you could count on him to find things, and also one year one of the kids in my class did a great St. Anthony costume for religious ed. That was truly all I remembered.
I mean, come on, find my hotel for me, that’s all I need.
But also, I asked for his intercession on the question of my vocation. And on the vigil of the feast day (which was already the feast day in Padua), I got invited to:
Write a book on evangelization.
Teach in a school where evangelization and Scripture study are the top priorities.
Sooo . . . yes. Ask and you shall receive. Mind whom you ask for help, though.
Some short biographies for those who want to parse out yet more parallels:
So Saturday the internet went out, and here’s what happened next: Mr. Boy, now officially all graduated and legal and I guess technically Mr. Young Man, says to my husband, “Would you like me to clean the house, or would you like me to get on the phone with AT&T and get our service fixed?”
Now he does not have superhuman powers, so it still took until Tuesday for AT&T to actually show up. But they did, and the friendly service guy, who is not at fault for AT&T’s corporate lapses, worked with Mr. Young Man to figure out what had happened and get it fixed. (It was them not us . . . my IT Boy Man would have fixed it if it were us.)
Here is another thing that happened on Saturday: My 16-year-old and I got into a huge fight about the state of our front yard, eventually came to a truce-type-moment, and she proceeded to carry out a massive landscaping renovation. First thing Monday she phone around to mulch dealers, got the best price on pinestraw, calculated how much she’d need, drove the truck (and I drove the other truck) out to pick it up, loaded the truck with a bazillion bales of pinestraw, and came home and made our yard look 10,000 times better . . . and then pressured-washed the driveway.
So how do you get yourself some teenagers who are able to take the initiative and do responsible things?
By letting them take the initiative and learn to do responsible things.
For the boy, I’d say the turning point was letting him unschool 7th grade science. Every day he was required to read or do some kind of science thing, and make a note of what that was. I knew I could count on him to educate himself in that area, and indeed he did. Mostly he read technology websites that year. In later years we bought him computer pieces for his birthday or Christmas when he wanted to build or re-build a computer. By spring of 12th grade he’d landed his first regular IT job. He’s 18 and pretty much already has a profession, because we let him do the thing he was interested in. We didn’t send him to lessons or anything complicated. We let him experiment and take risks and just do the thing. There was a lot of trial-and-error involved, but it was his trial, not ours, and now he knows how to avoid the errors.
I’ve already documented some of E.’s artful adventures. Note that nearly all the things from this beautiful backyard patio area have now been moved around for other decorating needs. Having a child who can paint means never knowing where your paintbrushes are (except when they are left sitting by the kitchen sink). The reason the girl is confident she can take on a front-yard renovation is because she’s been let loose with the weed-whacker and the leaf-blower and the pressure-washer many times before, even though she doesn’t always do it the way I wish she would. (See: Bitter Argument Saturday Morning, Why Did You Chop Down That Oak Sapling?)
Now notice here that my IT guy did not help with the lawn. Note that my lawn girl did not lift a finger to fix the internet (shout-out to the grandparents who pay for her data plan . . . she had internet while I didn’t, ha.) There will come a time when they are older and they’ll have to take on a certain number of big projects that they don’t particularly care to do. At 16 & 18, a realistic expectation is that your kids will go big and deep on the things that are most important to them.
But that’s a good start. If they learn in their teens that they can take an interest in something, master all the skills, and be turning out professional-grade work as a result? I think that’s about where they need to be.
So parents, if you are terrified of the mess your kids are going to make, or you are tempted to over-program and over-schedule their lives, or you worry that your kids aren’t “well-rounded” because they tend to focus mostly on one or two types of interests and not ALL THE THINGS, relax.
Set a few boundaries, sure. But mostly: Just let your kids do things.
The reason you are doing this is because the SuperHusband is tasked with putting together a survey for a project, and he was under the impression he needed to use an expensive and limited survey service, when actually, thanks to the powers of Big Brother Big Shifty Uncle Google Who’s Probably No Worse Than The Other Snake Oil Salesmen, it is not necessary to pay for someone to collect up all your secrets to sell to the Russians, you can do it for free.
So no, I’m not asking for any secret information. Okay, yes I am. I want to find out what makes you so super. Oh just go look.
(Things I’m not asking for: Your name, your e-mail address, your birth-century, your mother’s maiden name, your childhood pet, one picture of you and only you . . . none of that. You’ll see. It’s just a sample survey so the SuperHusband can watch data be collected and see how it works. In this case, he’ll be learning all about the causes of your superness, so make it good.)
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 4.0 . . . this is what turned up when I did a search on “poll.” Go figure. At no point in the survey do I directly ask you for the size of your fish. There is a short-answer space where you could mention that if applicable, though. Just sayin’.
So I have this artist who lives at my house and makes Bible verse paintings.
The one she hung in the bathroom is . . . topical:
So that’s all good. We’re keeping Hobby Lobby in business with our canvas-buying habits, even more so since I just gave her a new commission: I need John 20:22-23 on the wall, stat.
What happened is my 13-year-old came home yesterday and told me about an apologetics argument she’d gotten into with a grown-up who wasn’t too keen on the Sacrament of Reconciliation. She gave it her best, but she’s not a hardened veteran like her older brother is, and plus she was one-on-one. We talked about some different ways to charitably approach the topic, and then I went to the living room and moved the dog bed and the cedar chest and pushed back the couch until I could fish out our New Catholic Answer Bible, which we don’t ordinarily store under the couch, but I had seen it there when I was laying on the living room rug and I’d forgotten to rescue it then, so it was ready and waiting. I left the sock and the plastic Easter egg for another time.
I couldn’t give her the actual citation, I just knew the verse was at the end of one of the Gospels since the moment occurred post-resurrection, so I sent her to check all the ends of the Gospels, but then I needed to go do carpool so I quick looked up the verse on Bible Gateway via keyword so that I didn’t leave her hanging. I also handed her over my Precise Parallel New Testament, and explained that it was important to look up the verse in several translations so you don’t get blindsided if the person you are arguing with has another translation that phrases things differently.
“When in doubt,” I told her, “most Protestants will accept the KJV, so always check that.”
She did check the KJV, and noticed the use of the word ye. I explained that meant Jesus was speaking to the group of apostles, not just one person, because ye is plural. “The KJV is great for apologetics, actually, because you can point out the thou whenever Jesus is only speaking to one apostle.”
“Like ‘upon this rock I will build my Church,'” she said. Yep, that’s my kid. And that verse will be commission #2.
So this morning in the car on the way to school I quizzed her on what Bible passage shows Jesus giving the apostles the power to forgive sins, and she nailed it. Probably I’m the only one who needs the art on the walls. Also, she observed it must have been pretty weird for Peter getting a new name like Rock. “Think about going around and everyone’s calling you ‘Rock’,” she said.
So I’m proud of that kid, but here’s the thing: Just because you are growing up in a house with Bible verses on the walls doesn’t mean everything is swell in your little Catholic bubble. And that’s why, when my eldest daughter came home the other night and was talking about her frustration with the Church, I decided I needed to write about it.
The things she had to say are things I hear from a lot of adults, too. What she has to say are things that some people like to dismiss, but I showed my daughter the number shares we’ve already gotten, and that tells me and her that she’s not alone. There are a lot of people out there like my daughter, people who want to be Catholic, but it’s not going so well. You can read about it at the Register: “What Good Catholic Teens Want from the Church”
At The Washington Post: The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues. Reading this article was a moment of revelation for me. Way back when #2 was about seven or so, I can remember walking down to the corner elementary school to play on the playground after hours, and we looked into one of the classrooms. It looked ideal. It practically called her name. There was a wooden play kitchen, and child-sized tables, and loads of art supplies, and of course the wonderful playground just outside the big windows that filled the classroom with natural light. For my little extrovert, this classroom was her people.
And I thought to myself: Maybe I should not be homeschooling this child. Maybe I should send her to school.
Then I came to my senses: This was was the kindergarten classroom. By the time you are seven, it’s rows of desks and standardized tests for you. Not to mention we’d had dealings with one of the neighbor-kindergartners, and so we were acquainted with the long list of “reading words” that five-year-olds at the corner school were somehow expected to memorize and supposedly “read,” at an age when, developmentally, not all children are even capable of learning to read. All four of my kids went on to become fluent, competent readers who read for both pleasure and information, but none of them would have been able to read that list of words at age five. They were physically unable. Since they were at home, instead of being embarrassed by their supposed stupidity, they received the kinds of pre-reading instruction that educational research shows actually helps.
Some of things that help are language-based — read-alouds and rhyming games and stuff like that. Something else that helps kids learn to read is learning about the world. This is important because you can’t make sense of words on a page if you have no idea what those words are referring to. You won’t understand a scene taking place in a grocery store if you’ve never been to a grocery store. You won’t understand a nature scene if you’ve never been out in nature. Playing teaches some important reading skills. It teaches you about the physical world, because you are physically doing stuff. It teaches you about human interactions, because you are creating scenarios and living them out. Playing teaches you to think, because all play requires imagination and initiative and problem-solving.
I’m still a big believer in homeschooling. I agree with Ella Frech’s philosophy of education. For various reasons, though, my kids at the moment like school. As a homeschooler I always involved my kids in decisions about their education. I’d propose some possibilities for the year ahead, and the kids would give me feedback on what they wanted to learn or which approach they preferred of the choices I put on the table. I was open to suggestions if they had ideas different than what I was planning. When I held firm on a curriculum choice, I had solid reasons that I could explain to everyone, kids and spouse alike, and they could see why that particular choice was the one we needed to pursue.
So each of the kids, at various points and for various reasons, deciding to go to school has been a natural extension of that philosophy: If I was open to you choosing a different science book, why would I not also be open to you choosing a different science teacher?
The WaPo article, though, underscores for me why the youngest any child of mine has gone to school was fifth grade — and at that point, she happened to choose our local parish school where the early-grades teachers seem to have a pretty strong grasp of what early-grades learners need. When you are little, you needs hands-on and interactive experiences. Homeschooling let us do that. Inasmuch as I’m happy with the school decisions we have in place right now, it is because the schools are, in their various ways, providing the bigger-kid versions of that for our children.
Here’s an actual thing I prayed Sunday morning at Mass: “Jesus, please help me stop failing at Lent.”
I wouldn’t say I’m a pro at Lent any year, but this year is hitting new lows in the spectacular failure department. One of the particularly depressing features is that things I used to be good at in previous years — this prayer routine, that bit of self-denial, those important tasks — I’m not hitting them like the imaginary composite “perfect Jennifer” does in my head. Pick the best Jennifer features selected over 30 years of Lents, feasts, and ordinary times, mash her together into a collage called “You Should Be Able To Do This No Sweat,” and then stand back and despair.
That’s not the point of Lent.
For those of us on the Lent Failure Track, this is the point: Discover again how much you need God.
Hidden Years in the Spiritual Life
Over the last week I’ve been proofing the paperback version of the new book. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the book walks you through an examination of your life with respect to the four ways of loving God — heart, soul, mind, and strength. (There’s a review here — thanks Patrice!) So here it is Lent and I’ve written this great retreat that is ideal for use during Lent, and I’m thinking to myself: If there is one thing Jennifer does not need to be doing right now, it is this retreat.
I have been thinking because my life is already very full, and I don’t need to think up new things.
But I’ve been proofreading the paperback version, and as a result I sort of ended up doing an abridged version of the retreat in my brain. The abridged version consisted of me noticing select passages that scream JENNIFER LISTEN TO THIS!!!! and then me getting an extremely clear idea, after reading all the words in the book, of exactly what it is I need to be working on in my relationship with God right now.
What I need to be working on is not glamorous. God asks us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and some corners of those four parts of ourselves are not impressive. I don’t think, “Wow, I would be SO HOLY if only I worked on _[thing that needs attention]_.” Foundational issues don’t amaze. It’s like a building. The bulk of the technical genius is hidden from sight.
The Things You’ll Miss If You Don’t Have Them
Yesterday was a gorgeous Sunday afternoon around here, perfect for getting out for a bike ride or a walk in the woods or doing something fun with the kids. Instead, the Superhusband spent his few hours of time off work replacing the toilet in the kids’ bathroom.
He could have gone out and done some Dad-activity that was easy for everyone to appreciate. If you’re the dad playing soccer at the park or pitching balls, everyone’s like, “Wow! What a great dad!” Replacing the toilet is like, “Wow! Look where the toilet used to be! It’s another toilet!” You do all that work and there isn’t much to show, because that work is an investment in nothing happening in the future. You’ll know the new toilet was worth it because: Nothing. There’ll be a lack of toilet-related drama and that’s it.
That’s what it’s like in Remedial Lent. Lent is falling apart because you need to make some adjustments. A good penance will bore and annoy you, but it works. You suffer a little, but mostly you just suck it up and do fine. When you’re failing at Lent, something needs to change. Probably something you don’t really feel like working on, because if you felt like working on it, you would have dealt with it from the outset.
So God is good, and He lets you try your thing. And then you start failing at Lent, and when you finally break down and beg for help, God reminds you of the other thing. The more important thing. You can’t believe it’s the more important thing, because surely something as small as that, or as ugly as that, or as intrusive as that, isn’t what Lent is all about, right? But you were failing at Lent. It’s because God needs you to work on loving Him in this other area you’d rather not.
When you decide to give your whole self to God, you have to give the not-so-shiny parts too.