Finding a Quiet Space

hiding boy If you’ve been following along the past week or so, we’ve been on a road trip this week, traveling from Philadelphia to Atlanta (where my parents live) to West Palm Beach (Craig’s mom’s house) with one husband, two kids, an Aussie shepherd, and our German nanny.

About twelve hours into the trip, I looked up from my laptop and discovered everyone on the right side of the van had found their own private space: Christopher had his “Think Geek” Dr. Who “snuggly” over his head, playing DS. Sarah had her bright red one over her head, coloring. And Michi had a jacket over her head, napping.

Now, they didn’t stay this way the whole ride. After about an hour, everyone popped out of their little “hole” and we played another rousing “Alphabet Game” (by far Q and Z are the hardest letters to find on billboards). But watching them enjoy their time “under cover,” I was reminded again why the road trip is such an apt metaphor for parenting. Sometimes, you just have to get away and find a private moment, no matter what it takes … or how silly it looks.

How do you create a little space for yourself when you need a break from family life?”

An Advent Adventure

snowy fieldThe kids leaped out of the car before it came to a complete standstill. I had been gone nearly a week, including an unexpected 48 hours holed up at my friend’s house. We spent the whole day inside, baking and overloading on an entire season of “The Paradise” on PBS. I had planned to spend the day traveling home. Instead I spent it curled up under a blanket, drinking tea and watching the snow swirl past my friend’s picture window.

On the way home, I thought about what a tremendous gift I had just received — a full 24 hours of absolute peace and quiet. I couldn’t bake, or wrap presents, or shop, or clean, or do any of the things I normally do on the weekend. All my plans went blowing on the proverbial wind. And it was wonderful.

Yesterday was Rose Sunday. In years past I’ve hosted a special tea the third Sunday of Advent, inviting a small group of girlfriends to take time out from the hustle-bustle of Christmas preparation. But this year, there would be no traditional chocolate poundcake. No beautiful table set with Royal Doulton china. No fussing or cleaning. Just a crackling wood stove and the aroma of Russian teacakes.

How’s your advent going? Have you had any unexpected adventures this week?

 

 

 

Father Flavors

familyFathers come in all shapes and flavors. Some are sweet — some are spicy or salty. Occasionally you might run into a sour puss. And if you’re REALLY lucky, you get one who manages to mix it up, like salty caramel dipped in strawberries. Yum.

In the 1950s, family life columnist Dorothy Nolte wrote a poem that continues to be a household classic . . .

If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn…

If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight…

If a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive…

If a child lives with pity, he learns to feel sorry for himself…

If a child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy…

If a child lives with jealousy, he learns to feel guilt…

But…

If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient…

If a child lives with encouragement, he learns to be confident…

If a child lives with praise, he learns to be appreciative…

If a child lives with acceptance, he learns to love…

If a child lives with honesty, he learns what truth is…

If a child lives with fairness, he learns justice…

If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith in himself and those about him…

If a child lives with friendliness, he learns the world is a nice place in which to live.

All these things are true, of course … and yet I learned a few other things from my dad as well.

  • Silence can be an eloquent argument if it is combined with a good example.
  • Sometimes love is best spelled w-o-r-k.
  • Dogs are God’s way to teach us unconditional love.
  • A man’s home is his castle. Unless his wife is out of sorts. Then his castle’s in the basement.

Love you, Dad!

Sister Love (The Love Project, Day 21)

The Hess Girls, 1978

The Hess Girls, 1978

Today’s my sister Kathy’s birthday, third in the line of “Hess Girls,” and likely the most gifted of the four of us. My mother once told me that she decided to walk, talk, and feed herself for the first time … all on the same day. “She just kind of sat back and watched, then, when she was ready, she just decided to join the rest of the world.”

That initial promise was compromised and nearly lost when a misguided crush her junior year of high school went horribly, horribly wrong. She did not realize — none of us did — that she had fallen into the clutches of an abuser. Playing on her sympathies, giving her gifts, isolating her from friends and even family . . . then threatening to harm himself, and everyone she cared about. The smiling, carefree girl she once was disappeared, replaced by a ghost.

But my sister is a fighter, and when she finally decided she was ready to join the rest of the world again, she broke free of the man who was now her husband, taking her young daughter with her. She went on to marry a man who loves them both, had another daughter. Both my nieces have all the artistic and intellectual promise of their mother — God’s way of redeeming the past, I’d say. The scars are still there, but she has spent her life standing up for those who, like her at that time, have no one to help them break free of the hell that is domestic violence. And I am so very proud of her.

Happy birthday, Kate. I love you.

Love Among the Poor, from “Ruthless Trust” (The Love Project, Day 18)

ruthless trustToday’s “Love Story” comes from Brennan Manning’s Ruthless Trust. Quoting Christian statistician George Barna Jr. in The Saints Among Us, Manning reminds us all that the trusting heart is, first and foremost, a thankful — and that those thankful hearts are often found in unexpected places, including the poor and marginalized. Barna writes:

In many cases there are people who have known dire economic straits, yet their trust has enabled them to step outside their grim conditions and to find jooy in life, so they run against the grain. The fact they are downscale suggests that though they are burdened by economic problems, they are not overcome by them. they are more forgiving, more grateful and more likely to be unprejudiced, as well as twice as likely to be involved in outreach to neighbors, as persons at the lower end of the spiritual commitment scale. In other studies we have done, such as financial giving, we found that the poor give a larger proportion of their income to charity than the rich. being surrounded by misery, they see opportunities to help on every side. The rich, especially now, with the widening gap between rich and poor, hae a tendency to cordon themselves off and therefore don’t see much of the grimness of life.

Manning concludes the chapter with this memorable line: “To be grateful for an unanswered prayer, to give thanks in a state of interior desolation, to trust in the love of God in the face of marvels, cruel circumstances, obscenities, and commonplaces of life is to whispoer a doxology in the darkness.”

Today’s Love in Action: Find a way to be a source of unexpected blessing to someone else today.

When a Loved One Dies: “Say His Name” (The Love Project, Day 14)

ol sorrowsToday at HuffPosts Parents I came across this poignant article by Jackie Moore, on how she survived the death of her 19-year-old son, by following the example and advice of her father. She writes:

Daddy’s words to me were simple and direct: “Don’t stop talking about him. You say his name everyday.” I’m not sure if I would have taken such direct advice from just anyone, but I knew my father’s experiences with loss. Daddy’s advice was him speaking what he had lived. The way I knew about my aunts, uncles and paternal grandparents was because Daddy didn’t stop talking about them. He said their names and his eyes lit up with the memories they invoked.

Every time I called him in the weeks and months after Jordan died, sometimes barely able to speak because I couldn’t catch my breath from crying, he would calm me, soothe me, always telling me he wished he could take some of the pain away. He never failed to remind me of his feeling that holding in my grief would make me sick. Then he would ask, “Are you talking about Jordan? You make sure you keep talking about him.” I always told him, “Yes, we talk about him everyday.”

To read the whole article, click here.

Today’s Love in Action: Do you know someone who has lost a loved one? Encourage that person to tell you a story of her loved one’s life. In that way, you will walk alongside your friend and share her burden, if only momentarily.

Mommy Love: Guest Post from Sarah Reinhard (The Love Project, Day 11)

Sarah ReinhardToday’s guest post is from one of my favorite “mommy bloggers,” Sarah Reinhard, who is also celebrating her birthday today — happy day, sweetie! And thanks for sharing a snippet from your newest brainchild — a wonderful resource for pregnant moms.

I had a few years of enjoying young children in the form of younger siblings and nieces and nephews before I was married and started having my own. I thought I was ready for the reality of children saying the darndest things.

Nothing, though, could have prepared me for the hilarity—and heartbreak—I have experienced as a mom. From my children’s mouths I’ve heard tender expressions of love but also explosions of anger. They’ve made observations that have lifted my spirits and others that have cut me to the quick.

When Mary and Joseph find Jesus after three days of searching for him (see Lk 2:42–51), they must have had some heat in their words to him. Maybe I’m projecting a bit, but maybe worry is, to some extent, a natural reaction of parents to the experience of losing a child in a crowd or a store.

What I learn from this mystery is how the story continues with him going home and being obedient, even in the face of what seems to be a smart-aleck remark from Jesus—”Didn’t you know where I’d be?” This seems like it would be a prime time to uphold parental authority, but in the silence, I find a lesson in humility.

Jesus was in the Temple all along, though his parents didn’t know it and had to search for him. Their inability to find him didn’t change where he was the entire time.

In the Temple, Jesus was listening and asking questions much like a typical twelve-year-old. Yet he was anything but typical. I find comfort, though, in the idea that he wasn’t born with all the knowledge he needed. In this way, his humanity is expressed in this mystery, as is the quandary of his parents: do they punish him after this or are they so glad to find him that they just let him off the hook?

In this mystery, we can find ourselves at Jesus’s feet, asking for the guidance to be the kind of parent he’s calling us to be. Though it’s early in the journey of parenting this particular child, we don’t have to wait to ask to be able to cooperate with the graces God sends our way in our parenting journey.

This excerpt is from A Catholic Mother’s Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism, by Sarah Reinhard and is used with the author’s permission. Find out more about Sarah and her writing at SnoringScholar.com.

“What Does It Mean?” Teach your kids the four senses of Scripture

This week at CatholicMom.com, I write an article about parish VBS programs and parish renewal, and reference a song I wrote to teach children the four senses of Scripture (set to the tune of “The Adam’s Family Theme”). I thought I’d share the lyrics here.

What does it mean? (clap, clap)
What does it mean? (clap, clap)
When we take a look in God’s Holy Book?
What does it mean? (clap, clap)

God showed his love in Jesus,
Who made the Church to lead us,
God’s Word, the Scriptures, show us,
That we’re God’s family.

The Church gives us for reading,
Four lights that show the meaning,
These Scripture senses leading,
They guide us as we read.

What does it say? (That’s the literal)
Who wrote it, what way?
Historical prose? Story or poem?
What does it mean?

Three senses categorical
Anagogical, allegorical
And don’t forget the moral
The spiritual senses, three.

What does it say? (That’s the literal)
For my life today? (The moral)
Does it point to Christ?
Or the end of our life?
What does it mean?

What does it mean? What does it mean?
Four senses we need
When God’s Word we read,
To know what it means!

Four senses we find,
Will light up our minds,
That’s what it means!

Four senses we’ll use
To find all the clues,
And know what it means!
(shout) THAT’S WHAT IT MEANS!

©2010 Heidi Hess Saxton. All rights reserved.

NOTE: These words may NOT be reprinted or used without permission of the author. Reprint requests should be sent to me at heidi.hess.saxton@gmail.com.

Lessons Learned on Marriage: Celebrating Fifty Years of Love

John and Sandy Hess, December 8, 1962

John and Sandy Hess, December 8, 1962

This weekend my parents are celebrating fifty years of wedded bliss, and all their girls are descending from the four corners of the country (NH, PA, GA, and WA) to join the festivities.

Fifty years of marriage is an achievement by any standard, and what is even more remarkable is that they faced so much hardship within the immediate family circle during that lifetime. Military deployments, at least ten interstate moves (each of us was born in a different state), my sister’s childhood bout with cancer, my prolonged recovery from a car accident in 1983, financial setbacks, unwed pregnancies, countless hospital rooms, cancer, diabetes, stroke . . .  Then, as each daughter left home, they began to provide backup for the little emergencies that blew into our lives like so many dark clouds.

How did they do it? Here are some of the things I learned from my parents about marriage.

1.  Faith and family are inseparable. They go to church, together, at least once a week — and usually any other time the church doors open. What’s more, they always gave generously of their time and talents, whether singing in the choir, teaching Sunday school, running VBS, or making sandwiches for the after-school program. Their example stayed with us — each of us in turn found a place to serve; missionary projects, bell choir, domestic violence ministries, and other kinds of service.

2.  The best way to forget your troubles is to help someone else. The year my sister had her leg amputated, my parents invited an exchange student to live with us. And when the doctor bills piled up and money got tight, instead of sending Jaana away, my parents hosted her parents at our home — with the help of seven boxes of groceries that mysteriously materialized on our front porch one Sunday morning while we were at church.

3.  Don’t forget to have fun. Someone once told me that in the Church liturgical calendar, there are six feasts for every fast (such as Advent or Lent). My mother was especially good at finding inexpensive fun for us: cookie baking, road trips to local parks, camping at the lake, and knowing how to stretch the soup or whip up a pan of biscuits to accommodate an unexpected dinner guest.

This year, we’ve had ample opportunity to put these principles into practice, and I’ve discovered how important these things are in a good marriage — or even a struggling one. When times get hard, you can look for reasons to leave . . . or reasons to stay. With God’s help, my parents have amply demonstrated, a couple who is determined to persevere . . . will find the reason they need to make it work.

Thanks, Mom and Dad.

From your grateful daughter,

Heidi

 

Healing Childhood Trauma

This week on CatholicMom.com, my column deals with the signs parents should watch for in their children that may indicate they are experiencing trauma and need professional help. The source of the trauma varies from child to child and from family to family: divorce, death, separation, neglect, abuse, financial stress, the list goes on. For children touched by adoption or foster care, unresolved trauma from the circumstances that caused them to be separated from their birth families can affect them into adulthood, even if they are loved and supported by their new families. Love, in and of itself, does not always “conquer all.”

What I wish someone had thought to mention to us when we first got our children, is that unresolved trauma can lie dormant for a time — only to bite you in the glutes as the child approaches adolescence. So parents need to keep a watchful eye, especially in children who have been diagnosed with “invisible disabilities” such as autistic spectrum disorders, ADHD, ODD, attachment issues, and so on. And parents of children with a history of abuse and neglect must never let their guard down entirely. Sneakiness and deceit — even with children who are otherwise good and truthful — is part of the disorder.

Another thing I wish had been pointed out to me is that trauma affects parents, too. After years of dealing with acting-out behaviors, your parent brain may not catch the more subtle signs of “something is not right here.” Not only do your kids need help in healing . . . You may also need help in dealing with the stress.

This week’s Gospel, in which Jesus gives dire warnings to those who cause one of his “little ones” to stumble, predicting millstones and a watery destruction, also provide a faint hint of hope to those who hear with the ears of faith. For the Christian, “death by water” has an entirely different connotation than it does for those who have not experienced the “dying with Christ” and “rising to new life” that baptism represents. Through our baptism, we do have all the graces we need to complete the journey. The path is not without suffering, for we follow in the steps of the Savior who suffered and died for us. But as we travel the road together with our children, we can persevere in faith, trusting in the perfect healing that is to come.