Sunday, September 17, 2017

Adventures In Grad School

On Wednesday, I carefully smoothed my new University parking sticker on my van and took off for week 2 in my new life adventure.

With our youngest entering full time kindergarten just a couple of weeks ago, my life is changing pretty dramatically. I've spent the last year, praying and discerning...sometimes with a sense of excitement but mostly with the wailing and gnashing of teeth...., trying to figure out what I am meant to do in this next stage of my life.

Over time, I started to feel like returning to school to get a Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling was the direction I should to go in. So, I signed up for 2 classes this Fall to get my feet wet and figure out if this is what I'm meant to do.

It's been a VERY long time since I've set foot in a college classroom. Over 21 years to be precise. To say that the experience is a little overwhelming would definitely be an understatement!

Day 1 last week, I was filled with much anxiety. I pulled into a parking lot next to the building my class was in. (Actually, it was the building that I thought my class was in, but I will get back to that in a minute!) I had to stop at the check in and I tell the "guard" I had a class in "Kelly". The guard asks me if I'm a teacher...if I wasn't so overwhelmed and confused I probably just could have gone right in. I doubt he sees many 43 yo students driving a 12 passenger van to class. Instead, I'm told several quick directions to a PARKING LOT FAR, FAR AWAY...(it really wasn't that far. A 10 minute walk)...but I had no idea where anything was and I was feeling very overwhelmed!

I took a breath and asked him to repeat the directions again. I briefly considered begging him for mercy...take pity on this 43 year old tired mama with hip bursitis and taking prednisone that hadn't started to effect. I kid you not...graduate school AND hip bursitis! God certainly has a sense of humor! Makes me feel ancient!

I found the parking lot...eventually. I did have to stop and ask an officer directing traffic for directions. I made it to a class which happened to be the wrong class. It was a mix up from the syllabus. Thankfully, I realized the mistake and made it to the correct class with a minute to spare!

I survived WEEK 1 feeling very overwhelmed and sporting a killer headache!

Week 2, I had to head into school early to get a college ID card. I had gotten the wrong information and ended up in the wrong building on the complete opposite side of campus! There was lots of traffic, too! I was worried about getting to class on time. I hopped back in the car, parked in the same lot as the week before, and I had to walk to the tip of campus. I was walking in the very hot, humid weather...grateful that the Prednisone had started working a little on my hip bursitis AND that I had taken Advil before I left just in case!...and considering all the students that were walking to and from classes around me. I could have birthed the majority of them! Quite the sobering thought!

I finally made it to where I needed to go. I was SO hot and sweaty! The college student running the counter, (who I also could have birthed), seemed a little pompous to me. At that point, I just wanted to get my ID card and go get a cold water bottle before class. (I realized I forgot my water bottle in the van and I was NOT walking all the way back to the parking lot!)

I had to take a picture for the ID card. You can imagine that it was no Glamour Shot with my red, sweaty face and disheveled hair! Gotta love humility....

I made it home that night, still feeling overwhelmed but with only a mild headache. I considered that progress!

Here's to a headache free WEEK 3!

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Yeah...pretty much just insanity!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

You're Gonna Miss This

Today was a day I have been dreading for a very long time! Kate starts full day Kindergarten.
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It amazes me that our "bonus, bonus" baby is old enough for school. It seems like it was just yesterday that I was cooking in the kitchen, calculating days in my head, when Jay asked what I was thinking about. When I told him that I thought I was late, his eyes lit up and, in true "Jay fashion", ran out the door to CVS to get a pregnancy test. He bought the more expensive box because he didn't want to wait a whole 5 minutes to know the results!

I am beyond blessed to have a husband that celebrates new matter what the number!

So I guess I blinked..because Kate went from being an early Christmas gift, to a very loved baby, to a very opinionated toddler, to a super cute and sweet preschooler, to the little girl that I dropped off this morning to spend the whole day learning and playing. You would think by now I would be used to this since I've been through it SEVEN times before! I can honestly say, that it's so much harder "letting" Kate and Luke grow up then with any of the other kids. (And I say "letting" because obviously I have no choice in the matter!)

This morning, I woke up with the Trace Adkins song, "You're Gonna Miss This", playing in my head. I haven't listened to that song recently, so I know my mind is trying to work through this exciting new chapter in my life...which also feels like a loss in some ways. With Kate starting school full time and no other little ones at home to care for, I've been praying in searching for God's plan for me in this time of change.

Kate has not been overly enthusiastic about starting Kindergarten. She liked preschool and is a smart cookie, but she isn't thrilled to be a "whole day friend". To be fair, neither am I, but I have kept my feelings to myself(!) and talked up how much fun she will have and how fast the day will go by. Kate was still more nervous than excited this morning, but there were smiles for her pictures and no tears.(At least not from Kate!)

This year, I did great not crying in the school building! (I hate crying in front of people!) I kept thinking of the scene from Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2:

To distract myself today, I'm taking Sarah, my only child not at school or work today, out to do a little back to school shopping.

My Kate needs some clothes for Fall, too. So, even though I don't have her with me for the day, I can still do something for her! I am very grateful to God for the gift of our "bonus, bonus baby".

Now excuse me while I go grab some tissues....and indulge in some Retail Therapy.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Plethora of He Said/She Said

Even though I haven't been blogging much lately, I have been saving a lot of the he said/she said moments that I didn't want to lose! I email them to myself when they happen otherwise I would completely forget them! My memory is not the best...please pass the Ginko Biloba.(Is that still a thing?!?)

Anyway....without further ado, here are some of our noteworthy notables from the past few months!

~We visited The Divine Mercy Shrine in Stockbridge this past October. It's a beautiful shrine, surrounded by mountains and trees. At one point, we were walking down a path to another part of the shrine, and Kate was singing a little song she made up herself.
Note: insert the tune of The Farmer in the Dell.
Kate: "We're following the path. We're following the path. Don't get lost because there's bears in the woods.

~Kate LOVES lasagna. She would eat it! Sarah was also a lasagna lover until she developed a lactose issue about 2 years ago.
Kate: Mom, can you make Sarah lasagna?
Me: That's a nice thought, Kate, but she can't eat it because it has dairy.
Kate:(pondering) I love lasagna! I love Sarah! We need to fix this!

~After several acts at Luke's School's Spring Concert:
Kate: Are we just going to sit here and stare?
Jay: Yup, pretty much!

~Sarah had tried curling her hair overnight and it didn't come out exactly right..
Sarah: Well, this isn't the look I was going for!
Andrew: You look like an 80's Glamour Shot...

~We were having one of our deep family discussions...the battle between Tostitoes vs Tostitoes Scoops...
Kate: Scoops rule and chips drool...that means that girls are made of scoops because girls rule!

~After getting one of those cheap toys with the tickets he won at Dave and Busters..
Luke: These are my most prized possessions!
Luke: (momentary pause) Mom, what's a prized possession?

~Mike took Kate and Luke bowling by himself and they had a couple of funny moments:
Kate:(who was losing) Mike, will you switch points with me?
Mike: No, Kate, that's not how it works.
Kate: But I'll switch points with you!

~Kate had to use the bathroom but there wasn't a family bathroom at the bowling alley so Mike had to bring her in the Men's Room.
Kate: I can't go in there! It's a Men's Room!
Mike: Kate, I can't take you in the Ladies' Room.
Kate: Fine...but I'm not peeing in a urinal!

~On our trip to Disney over Christmas vacation.(I need to write a whole blog post on that but it's taken a while because I have a little PTSD over the trip...I will write it soon!)
Kate:(after a little disagreement with Luke) Luke, I'm not having a magical day now that you yelled at me!

~And last but certainly not least! Jay was recently talking to Kate about some of the differences between men and women: how girls are made with lots of love in their heart and are really good at understanding feelings. A day or two later, Jay was helping Kate get her jammies on and Kate was upset because he was trying to put a nightgown on her and she wanted to wear her favorite pj's that were shorts. I was called in amidst tears and frustration.
Kate:(still crying) Why was Daddy trying to put on a nightgown on me instead of my favorite jammies?
Me: Oh, honey, Daddy just didn't understand that it was so important to you.
Kate:(still sniffling) Yeah, Dad doesn't understand feelings AT ALL!
Everyone in the house: hahahahahahahaha

Monday, August 21, 2017

Transfiguration Moments

At Mass on the Transfiguration a couple of weeks ago, I got some interesting insights that made me think of this particular event in a brand new way. To be fair, other parish priests may have explained the Transfiguration more fully, but it's been many years since I've heard more than just small bits and pieces of the homily because of life with little ones! But that's a whole other blog post.

Our parish priest talked about the Transfiguration as the time "where Jesus got His apostles ready to face His death." I guess I always considered the Transfiguration as just another time when God revealed the identity of His Son in a really special way. I didn't consider this moment as a time when Jesus showed His glory to prepare and strengthen Peter, James, and John for the difficult experiences that would soon be upon them.

Then he asked, "What are the times when you had a personal transfiguration---when God felt closest?"

I think that all of us feel God's presence in different ways in our every day lives. It might be opening to a random Scripture verse and having it answer a question or give us comfort...or a friend that happens to say just the words we need to hear...or a song that comes on the radio just when you need to hear it. However it manifests, we just know it's a moment where the Divine touched our life in a special way.

When I thought about the question that our Pastor asked, a specific memory came to my mind....
It was in late October, 2003, and I had been at Mass at a local parish on a Wednesday night. That was my quiet time in a very busy season when we had 6 children that ranged in age from 6 months-10 years. I had been struggling with severe burnout and depression at the time, and getting some weekly quiet time was a very needed reprieve from the "normal chaos". This one particular night, I felt God's presence in a very personal way. It was like God drew me up and wrapped me in Himself. I felt His presence and love in a way I had never felt it before. 

The moment didn't last long. I really didn't understand it. 

The following week I was at daily Mass at another local parish and I was going to speak to a priest we were friendly with about my experience from the previous week after the Mass. While I was waiting for him after Mass, an older woman walked up to me and said, "I know you don't really know me, but I was watching you with your children. I noticed your little boy and he has a lot of characteristics of my grandson. My grandson has autism but it was all diet related."

She was talking about my son, Peter, who was two and a half at the time. He was severely speech delayed and I knew something was wrong, but we hadn't had any official diagnosis at the time and I had been praying for weeks to understand what was going on with him.  I had been praying endlessly for weeks to St. Peter that Peter would start to talk. I would have dreams that Peter would just start speaking and I would feel so relieved! Then, I would wake up and feel that horrible feeling deep inside that I knew something was really wrong with Peter but not knowing exactly what it was.

That woman's words left me in shock. I can still remember exactly how I felt all these years later! I was emotionally numb and struggling to process her words...but I knew that they were truth. 

I barely spoke to the priest about the experience I had in prayer because I was so numb from what I had just been told. 

Thinking about that special time in prayer all these years later, I believe that was a "Transfiguration Moment" for me. When God reached down to prepare my heart in a special way to face a great cross in our life: the death of the dreams we had for Peter to be a neurotypical child and the death of our expectations for the family life we hoped to have.

I think that God gives us all kinds of "Transfiguration Moments", and thankfully they aren't always that extreme. 

~When God pulls on our hearts to give us the grace to face death to sin, that's a Transfiguration Moment.

~When God comes close and shuts a door on a path we thought would lead to our dreams, that's a Transfiguration Moment.

~When God shines His Light on the brokenness we hold deep in our hearts, that's a Transfiguration Moment.

~When God gives us the knowledge of His presence but strips away all of our artificial comforts, that's a Transfiguration Moment.  

God comes close to give us the grace to go through death to self, death of dreams, death to expectations, death to brokenness, and death to holding on to self made comforts.

I also heard a great talk by Chris Stefanick on the Transfiguration. He mentioned that in the Transfiguration, God reveals Himself as a loving Father. "This is my beloved Son." 

We are in the hands of God. We are in the hands of love. If I could just trust in that on a regular basis, the ups and downs of life would be so much easier to navigate!

Chris also spoke about Sr. Josephine Bakhita. She was kidnapped and sold into slavery as a child and eventually was bought by an Italian family who set her free. She became a religious sister and was known for her gentleness and love. Despite the incredible difficulties she faced so early in her life, she trusted God with the path she was on and saw all the good that came out of the suffering she endured. 

"I am definitely loved. 
Whatever happens to me, I'm awaited by Love."
~St. Josephine Bakhita

She believed in God's love for her and I find her simple words so beautiful...and her immense trust in God so inspiring. 

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Friday, May 26, 2017

On Pancakes, Proms, and Princesses

There are so many phases of parenting that seem like they will never end! All those sleepless nights definitely spring to mind! Then, at some point, I blinked and little ones that needed my every minute of every day were all of a sudden much more independent. And it felt nice. I felt like I could breathe a little.

But then you blink again...

The independence grows. Their life revolves around school and friends. While it still feels nice to be able to focus on projects and areas that just a few years before would have been impossible, you also start to see the writing on the wall. Their independence will continue to increase and their worlds will continue to grow...and our rolls in their lives will change. And decrease.

It's such a crazy emotional time, I am proud of my young adults and excited for where they are headed in life....but I'm also a little sad because they are growing up and away from us. I have given my whole life to caring for and raising these children that God has blessed me with...and yet, I am working myself out of a job.

This growing up stuff is so.not.easy.

Yesterday and today, the "On This Day" on my Facebook page have had pictures from Andrew and Jon's high school proms from four years ago and three years ago respectively. Seeing them brought some tears to my eyes. It seemed like just yesterday that they were in high school and now they will be finishing up college next year!

Jon and his friend Amy making goofy poses: 2014

Andrew and his high school friends: 2013

Now it's Sarah's turn! Our first daughter will be attending her senior prom and it just seems impossible that we are at this spot again with yet another child! "How did this even happen?" is the question that I've been wrestling with the last couple of weeks. With Sarah graduating from high school, Ellie graduating from middle school, and Kate graduating from pre-school, it's a season of change for all of my girls.

...for their mama, too!

I've felt my anxiety levels ratcheting up all week. It has reached the level where I feel like everything around me is just beyond my control...all those balls juggling in the air feel like they are getting away from me.

I see all my older children around me turning into adults and I feel so very inadequate. All those failures I've felt as a mom, both real and perceived, haunt my memories and fuel my fears for their future. I hate feeling so "less than"; less than the wife I want to be, less than the mom I want to be...and now time has run out/will run out in giving my kids the best emotional, spiritual, and mentally healthy foundation that I can.

The question screams through all my inadequacies, "Can I ever be enough?"

I honestly didn't even have words to describe all that I was feeling. All I felt was a whirlwind of overwhelming emotion. As I drove to pick up Kate at preschool, I was listening to KLOVE and the song "Just Be Held" by Casting Crowns came on. You know when a song just speaks to your heart? Well, that happened to me this morning.
Hold it all together
Everybody needs you strong
But life hits you out of nowhere
And barely leaves you holding on
And when you're tired of fighting
Chained by your control
There's freedom in surrender
Lay it down and let it go
So when you're on your knees and answers seem so far away
You're not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world's not falling apart, it's falling into place
I'm on the throne, stop holding on and just be held
Just be held, just be held

I just may have started balling just a little. Thankfully, I had a few minutes to compose myself before Kate's teacher brought her out. It's amazing how sadness and grief can disguise itself...and how hard I can work to "be strong" and not give myself the time to work through hard emotions. 

As Kate and I raced to the car through the rain, she looked at me and asked if we could go to a restaurant and have "breakfast for lunch." There were lots of reasons why we shouldn't's prom day, I was emotional, I still had cleaning to do, etc.

But then I thought about all of the reasons I should go. Because I'm going to blink, and it's going to be Kate getting ready for prom! So, off we went, just the two of us. I listened to her constant chatter and soaked in her cute little face and sweet little voice. I didn't rush our time together...I was present for every precious moment!
Who wouldn't want to have lunch with this sweet face?!?

Back at home, Sarah asked me to help her put on her pearl necklace....a beautiful 16th birthday present from some very special family friends. In my head, I blinked and had the future thought that, before I know it, I will be clasping those pearls around Sarah's neck for her wedding day.

Please pass the tissues....

Monday, May 8, 2017

On Growing Up and Letting Go...

An old blogpost showed up on my Facebook page today. Borrowed Moments was written 4 years ago on the cusp of lots of changes: Mike graduating from BCC, Andrew graduating from high school, Sarah getting ready to graduate from middle school, Luke getting ready to enter pre school...

In a lot of ways, I'm in that same emotional place of letting go this year, too. In just a few weeks, Sarah will be graduating from high school and Ellie will graduate from middle school. Kate starts full day kindergarten(!) in the Fall, Andrew will be finishing up his college degree(he had a conflict so he needed an extra semester), and Jon will be entering his senior year of college and applying to grad school.


You think by now I would be used to this growing up and letting go stuff!

But I'm not...

I think going through it with daughters is like doing it for the first time all over again. Having your beautiful, almost 18 year old daughter heading to college is a lot scarier than when our 6'+ sons were heading off to start their college adventures. I didn't worry about their safety as much as I will worry about Sarah. And I'm not ready to have this young women enter even more into an independent life....she's my reliable helper and it's going to be an adjustment having her even more busy than she already is! We will all just miss not having her around....

And, Ellie....Somehow, I'm still so surprised that Ellie is grown up and ready for high school! She was the baby of our family for so long, that I guess I took it for granted that she would stay in that roll. That was clearly my mama "lala" world train of thought because Ellie is a 5'9" beauty with a big, braces free smile that is ready to jump into her high school adventure! The girl that was our baby for 6 years grew up right before my eyes!

Those bonus babies God blessed us with are no longer babies! Luke will turn 8 this summer and just keeps growing and growing! He will be as tall as his brothers before too long! (sigh)

The official "baby" of our family is a 5 year old learning machine who wants to know and understand everything. Kate reminds me very much of her biggest big sister! She is starting to read, wants to know how to spell words, and likes to create math facts for fun.  She wants to be "older" like Luke...and I just keep begging her to slow down and enjoy being 5!

Kids grow you and stretch you as a mom. Nothing ever really stays the same...even during the months, (or years), where it seems like you will NEVER sleep through the night ever again, when all you do is change diapers, wipe noses and do laundry, and the days are filled will the endless needs and cacophony of littles calling(screeching) your name.

And even though, at 24 years into this parenting adventure, I still don't always sleep through the night, still do lots of laundry, and my children still call my name....I don't mind so much. I know that the nights that Luke has a nightmare or Kate wants to snuggle and know I'm there are numbered. I sleep through the night as much as or more than I hear "Mommy" at 3am these days.

That laundry means that there are still people living in our home....and with our oldest already moved out and two others getting close to graduating and moving on to the next step in their lives, I know their daily presence in home is fleeting and I'm in no hurry for that time to pass quickly.

My children still call my name during the day, but it's less for squirmishes..(at least most of the time!).. and more for conversation. They talk about their days, their ideas for college, trips, and grad school, and their job opportunities. I do more listening and praying...they make more decisions. I'm grateful to hear their deeper voices and that I still get to be a part of their lives.

Ultimately, it's our goal for parenting...that they become independent, emotionally healthy, faithful adults.

Regardless of how proud I am as my kids grow and start to step out on their own, for us mamas, this letting go is not easy!
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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Quiet Time And Grace

I signed up for `Dynamic Catholic's Best Lent Ever' series again this year. It's a really great program that shows up in my inbox every day that consists of one very short video by Matthew Kelly(about 4 min) and an even shorter video by someone on his staff(about 1 min) on a different topic every day during Lent.

Today's topic was about learning to love and see the benefits from fitting in at least one daily Mass every week. This is something I wholeheartedly agree with and that I have tried to do for many years during all of the different seasons of my parenting life.

I love going to daily Mass,,,,even with squirmy toddlers and squak-y babies.... because of the peace that I feel while I'm there. One particular period of time popped into my head in particular...

When Peter was diagnosed with Autism at 27 months, it was very challenging. We were reeling emotionally from the diagnosis and afraid for what it would mean for Peter and for our family. I began obsessively reading everything I could get my hands on, trying to figure out how we could help him. He had therapy through Early Intervention, a program that he went to a couple of times a week, a special diet we put him on that made a big difference, new doctors, ABA therapy at home, and far away doctor appointments that specialized in different types of All the while, we were looking for the "smoking bullet" that could possibly "cure" our little boy. I was terrified I would miss something!

Just prior to, and during, this second hardest trial in our married life(the first being the loss of our daughter Therese), I found solace in a Wednesday evening Mass that was my quiet time, (and my life line), at a Parish the next town over. The demands of a special needs, very difficult child, plus a 6 month old, 4 yo, 7 yo, 8 yo,and 10 yo were great! My heart was heavy, the sleep deprivation was rough, and my burn out was intense.

The 15 minute ride to and from the Mass, and the small, intimate Mass itself, was a silent oasis that my broken spirit was desperate for. I clung to God in that silence like a drowning person clings to their flotation device in the midst of a terrible storm. There were lots of tears shed and lots of pleas for help on those Wednesday nights. Lots of days when I felt I couldn't give one more ounce of myself because there was nothing left to give. Somehow, even on the nights that I drove home really, really slowly because I dreaded another sleepless night and children's needs that I felt no ability to fill, God gave me the grace to do what needed to be done.

I'm grateful for the graces that Wednesday night Mass gave to me in that season of life.  It was a place of peace in my emotional and physical unrest, a place to let my grief out, a place to let my fears out, a place to find God and try to wrap my head around the fact that no matter how out of control life felt, God was in control. It took almost a year, but I know that the graces I received in that quiet time helped me to come to a place where I realized and accepted that I couldn't live in a manic way, trying to "cure" Peter. I couldn't spend 95% of my energy on just one of my children while everyone else got the leftovers. I had to allow myself to accept Peter for who he was and grieve for the Peter that I thought he would be. Mostly, I had to believe that God loves Peter more than I ever could, and that He would provide what Peter needed as long as I did my part. God gave me the grace to stop trying to do my job AND His job...which was good because I was definitely doing it poorly!

I still made lots of mistakes along the way during those early years of Peter's diagnosis. Mostly because I didn't reach out and ask for more help or try to find more help that we really needed. I'm sure there were people that God would have provided if I had only looked for them.

Sometimes, God doesn't want us to be Wonder Women...especially when we are feeling like we're emotionally held together with duct tape! It's a tough lesson to learn...

If you ever find yourself feeling like you're life is falling apart in some way or if you have nothing left to give, spend some quiet time with God and ask Him to give you the grace for the help you need....even if that means humbling yourself and reaching out to family, friends, or someone else God will place in your life. You're worth the 30 minutes of quiet time no matter how crazy your schedule is....and the benefits of peace, hope and guidance are priceless!

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