Heidi is on “Women of Grace” this week!

Teresa-21Birthdays and wedding anniversaries are so often opportunities to celebrate, to recall the past year and anticipate (usually with joy) all the new year will bring.

Today marks a special one-year anniversary, the release of my book Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  On Monday  “Women of Grace” will be airing its program about the book. Try to tune in when you can to EWTN (mornings at 11:00 EST, evenings at 11:30 EST).

If you would like to order ten or more copies for a parish group, to bring in the Advent season, please contact me at Heidi.hess.saxton(at)gmail.com, and I can offer you a special discount: $10/copy, postage paid!

Today marks another anniversary for me as well: Exactly one year ago today, a friend wrote to remind me, I suddenly and unexpectedly lost my job at Franciscan Media, giving me a two-month hiatus as I thought about what I would do next. When Ave invited me back to do some acquisitions work for them, it was like going home again. Although, of course, it is true what they say: You can never really go home again. People and relationships are constantly changing, for better or worse. And we must change with it.

This time of year can be a tough time for those who are seeking work, or who find themselves otherwise in transition. As I continue to work for Ave, I find myself facing another transition: my mother is coming to stay with us. Her dementia prevents her from living at home with my dad, and I’m wondering what my life will be like a month from now, six months from now. My prayer is that she and my daughter will bond in a way that makes our home a happy place. My prayer is that the symptoms of the disease that has damaged my mother’s mind and her associations will abate, and her heart will find peace. My hope is that she will spend the last months of her life feeling the love of her family. My hope is that, day by day, God will grant us all the grace we need to do what needs to be done.

Today I’d like to offer this little prayer for those who are facing a similar personal Everest.

May the Lord keep you ever in his care.

May our Lady hold you in her mother’s heart.

And until we all meet together in the new Jerusalem,

May we journey all together in his peace.

 

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Honoring Milestones

The other day fifteen-year-old Chris came home from school and said to me, “MOM! You’re FAMOUS!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot having the slightest idea what he was talking about, but not wanting to show my hand, I hedged: “Really? Where?”

“On the Internet! I typed in your name and got ALL THESE PICTURES! Some of them are me, too!” (To my relief, he wasn’t unhappy about this.) “I showed the kids at school and they all thought it was cool!”

And, just like any mother, I smiled. Not at the thought of being famous, but at the thought that my son thought (at least for the moment) that I was . . . cool.

His comments prompted me to go back and look at some of those images, and to be honest, my favorites were not of me. I’ve never been particularly photogenic . . . but looking back and seeing all these photographs of the kids at the various stages of their lives made me realize just how blessed I have been.

If that wasn’t enough, one of my old professors at Bethany (where I got my degree in missions as well as my start in book publishing) reached out to me to tell me he’d seen my blog and was so pleased to see all the things I’d done with my life.

Your career and your interests and your schooling and your authoring of books–how many people have done what you’ve done? Impressive. But I’m sure you’ve discovered, as I have discovered, that all the accomplishments and really wonderful things God has done as you’ve been out and about really pale compared to your family and especially the kids. All of that is great, but without the love and joys and challenges of the family, the other stuff doesn’t mean much.

He was right, of course. That’s not to say that it’s been easy, or that there haven’t been other things I’ve enjoyed doing as well (including my day job). But even during the rough patches, my family has been the centerpiece of my crazy, frenetic life. And today, as Ave Maria Press (the company I work for) celebrates 150 years I decided to take a moment to honor the “big picture” of my life.

It all goes in the blink of a moment. But there’s so much treasure there. Including my two beautiful teenagers, who think I’m “famous.”

Working Mom’s Survival Kit

working mom kitToday is my first “normal” day back at work (from my home office) since Chris came home. Now, under ideal circumstances (everyone but me — including the dog — out of the house for an eight-hour stretch, the house clean and crock pot simmering), I enjoy working from home. However, since “ideal circumstances” seldom present themselves more than once a decade, I tend to do best in an actual office.

For the next six months or so, however, DH and I will be working from home. Together. In theory, that’s great — lunch together every day, able to greet both kids when they come home from school, etc. In reality, DH is very chatty in the morning, and our nanny hasn’t yet figured out how to hog-tie and duct-tape her charges so they don’t phone-bomb every conference call.

And so, my “Mommy’s Working” survival kit includes . . .

 Preemptive morning routine. When I need a few moments of peace and quiet first thing in the morning, I put little notes next to each breakfast plate and set up coffee maker. While I don’t actually drink the stuff, it draws DH downstairs and away from my home office, which is just steps away from our bedroom door. (DH tends to be chatty in the morning.) If I really need to work, I add bacon.

“Quiet Zone” visuals with candy jar. If they ignore the fact that my supersized headphones are ON…

headphones

I point to the little “stop sign” posted just above my head.  If they tiptoe past, they can take a little treat from the corner of my desk. If not, I pelt them with marshmallows.

Walk Around the Block at Noon. Because all work and no play is … well, what’s the point? So after a quick bite, Craig and I usually take the dog out to the park. Gives us a bit of exercise, and ensures that Maddie doesn’t spend the afternoon underfoot.

*  Three o’clock break time. Because, let’s face it, work goes much smoother if a mom knows when to close the computer for a few minutes. Greet children coming home from school, go through homework assignments, do a little dinner prep (or laundry shuffling) as they eat their snack, and head back upstairs confident that they are in good hands until suppertime. Honestly, it’s the best-spent fifteen minutes of the day!

What’s in your kit?

Thoughts of a Working Mom (to Be)

Anyone re-entering the workplace after taking time to pursue other goals — college, family, or writing the next Great American Novel — knows that finding the ramp back to the fast track can be a daunting experience.  (For those who live in Michigan, it’s more of a “painfully slow” track, but I digress.)

Coming up with a plausible explanation for any gaps in the resume is one thing; being able to articulate how these non-revenue-producing endeavors have contributed to one’s personal bottom line is something else.

So this past week, I’ve been thinking about my vocation as a wife and mother, and above all as a child of God.  Even the word “vocation” is more complex for me now than it was when I was single.  It is infinitely easier to look “together” and “successful” without a captive audience to witness those less-together moments. As a single adult, I led the worship team and managed sixty projects a year.  As a wife and mother, I sat in the church’s “cry room” and aspired to a shower before dinner.

Here’s the thing:  As time went on, I discovered more than a little overlap in the life lessons I”ve learned between the “two me’s.”  For example:

One day at a time.  Projecting too far into the future based on one’s present circumstances can be problematic for mothers and editors alike.  As a new mother, I had to pull focus from “building a writer’s platform” and concentrate on the immediate challenges at hand (like getting that aforementioned shower).  My kids needed me to be fully present.

Now this lesson takes a very different form: I try not to obsess over the “big picture” of what God has planned for my life. Instead, day by day I take up the challenge at hand, always trying to remain attentive to that still, small voice of the Spirit. A Spirit who often speaks to me through my own family.

Rest in the knowledge that God knows me best, and loves me anyway.  Like most people, I have at times wished that life had a rewind button.  As a mom, I’ve cringed over my children’s boisterous behavior in public. My inner critic howled over the injustice of going from choir director to cry-room dropout in just a few short days.

Now, having come I’m through the worst of it, it’s alot easier to silence that inner critic where other people are concerned. Not that I have a flawless record. Like most people, I’ve said and done things that — in retrospect — were cringeworthy. And yet, my children have taught me something about God’s unconditional love, which helps me to extend tolerance and grace to others.  

The Iceberg Principle:  Human beings are like icebergs: There’s a lot more than meets the eye. These “hidden mysteries” inform and motivate both our actions and reactions.  However, with time and effort it is possible to develop an instinctive sense of the “danger zones.”

For example, I can always tell when one of my children “forgets” to take a certain medicine or has had a bad night.  The brother-sister banter is edgier, with shriller howls of protest. Cereal turns to mush as the kid in question makes umpteen trips to and from the breakfast nook. Directions go unheard and unheeded. As the mom, I understand why this kid is acting like a gerbil on crack. It’s not intentional, but aggravating nevertheless.

The Iceberg Principle applies in the workplace as well, motivating us to invest on a personal level with those on our “team.”  If we fail to do this, behavior that a friend might interpret to be  “collaborative” (or “proactive”), to a casual acquaintence might seem “lazy” (or “egotistical”).  Misunderstandings (or being misunderstood) is an occupational hazard for those who refuse to map out  those hidden layers.

What do you think? Have you made the transition from stay-at-home to either work-from-home or work-away-from-home?  If so . . . are there any aspects of parenting that have made you a more valuable employee?

Juggling with the Stress Monster

In my book “Raising Up Mommy,” I write about how the seven deadly sins of motherhood that catch us up in our unguarded moments, especially in times of stress or anxiety. (I have often said that I didn’t realize what a problem I had with anger until I became a mother!)

For most of us, certain times of the day are especially stressful. For us, it’s the “witching hour” right before dinner, when the kids can’t look cross-eyed at one another without erupting into shrieks and fits. So, as much for my own sanity as their growth in virtue, I’ve learned a few “tricks of the trade” that I thought I’d share with you today. Feel free to write in and share what works for you!

  • Find humor in the moment – no matter how un-funny your life seems at the time. When a child practices his penmanship all over your freshly painted family room wall: “I declar I am the President of the upstair, and SARHA must GET OUT and quit bugging me!”), you can go nuts … or chuckle at the creative way he attempted to solve his own problems with his pesky sister.
  • Use blocks of time wisely. Crashing on the couch with a Mike’s and your favorite sitcom is tempting … but you will feel a lot better AFTER you load the dishwasher and toss in a load of laundry. Instead of turning on the television, turn on some good music or listen to a book on tape.
  • Find creative ways to delegate certain chores you really don’t like to do. Do you hate having to figure out what’s for dinner every night? Find a “dinner buddy” (perhaps with the “working mom” next door, or from a play group), and once or twice a week double a recipe to trade and take home, so you don’t have to cook the next night! Do you just really need an hour of peace and quiet? Maybe your neighbor would be willing to host a “pizza and movie” night in exchange for weeding her garden.
  • Teach your kids to help themselves. Train your kids early in life to value self-sufficiency. A six-year-old is capable of pouring herself a bowl of cereal. An eight-year-old can make a peanut-butter sandwich (better yet, have her make a whole loaf of them and freeze, so you can pull them out each morning for lunch boxes).
  • Beware the “witching hour.” The hour before dinner can be the most stressful hour of the day, so be ready for it. Have a special “play corner” and a nutritious snack for younger children (perhaps a few veggies from dinner), and send older children to bathe and change into their jammies while you take a moment to turn on some good music and pour yourself a glass of wine while you fix dinner. 
  • Exercise is your friend! A ten-minute romp in the park or around the block after dinner with kids and dog helps everyone to reconnect and enjoy one another. That connectedness is a natural mood-elevator – especially when you turn off the cell phone and focus totally on the activity at hand.

What are some of your “secrets” for combatting your Mommy Monster?

EMN Mailbag: “Should I go back to work, God?”

The following letter of thanksgiving was sent to me from Monica Pope, in response to this month’s EMN newsletter, and is reprinted with permission of the author.

Dear Heidi,
 
I’m happy to know God gives you employment opportunities that bless your family’s special needs, too.  Recently, we’ve received the same here.  With my husband’s significantly reduced work hours, we were feeling like Elijah’s widow, thinking, “A handful of meal, a little oil.  We may eat it, then we die.”  Then I got a wonderful job as a DRE at a nearby parish.  I love the job and especially love the requirement that I write a weekly article for the bulletin.  But I’m triply grateful because they let me work opposite my husband’s schedule and around our youngest child’s early intervention school and therapy schedules. 
 
These days, we’re recommitted to trusting God all the more as next week,  my husband will be laid off from his steel mill job indefinitely.  With seven of our ten kids still living at home, this will be a challenge.  But the Lord is teaching us to pray for this day our daily bread.  Similarly, we ask the Blessed Mother to pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.  Since this seems to not be the hour of our deaths, we’re focusing on remaining open to Her intercession and God’s graces now. We’re reminded that God has graces for my husband’s unemployment when it happens– next week. 

For now, we follow the rules for gathering manna– collect  just what we need for a single day. 
 
I’m looking forward to the newsletter at Mother’s Day.  And please, when you have time, send criteria for submissions and upcoming themes.  I’d be honored to offer something for submission.
 
Much Peace and Many Blessings,
 
Monica Pope