The Catholic Wendy’s Booth

Lately I’ve been reading Emily Stimpson Chapman’s The Catholic Table with a book club of women from my church, and while we were pretty divided over A Severe Mercy, I think it’s possible we actually all like this one. Way to go, Emily S.C.

So I’ve been thinking about what food means for our family in this season where I’m increasingly incapable of actually preparing it. (It doesn’t help that I’m pretty sure being on my feet to make a freezer batch of NOT EVEN GOOD chicken pot pies jumpstarted my last preterm labor.)

Anyway, it was a Saturday morning and J took Scout on errands. So it was just me and Pippin, and I miraculously convinced him to help me go through Roo’s closery and start getting things cleared out in there from the 1000 bins of hand me downs it’s housed since Scout’s reign. And it was actually super fun. He loved being the strong man who slid the bins into the hall for me, and he helped me pick out tiny outfits for the hospital bag, and spun around in my spiffy new glider.

Afterwards, I decided to treat him to a lunch at Wendy’s, his all-time favorite restaurant, even though it would mean a longish waddle across the park. But he’d helped me all morning! And the weather wasn’t awful. And you know what they say about 31 weeks…it’s only going to get worse from here.

So we stopped at every park bench on the way and I tried not to think dire thoughts about my fitness level as I hobbled along, pausing for him to gather leaves to toss in the creek, enjoying his chatter about the proper way to plant these things I’m not even convinced are seeds.

At Wendy’s, we ordered our usual and sat at the window so we could keep look out for police cars and fire trucks. Pip has such a fraught relationship with food that it’s just a relief to go someplace where he’ll eat his fill cheerfully and gratefully. But even though it wasn’t the kind of meal I envisioned when reading The Catholic Table, something like the meals Shauna Niequist is so good at describing, and which I occasionally succeed in producing on our own big dinner table, there did seem to be something sacred about this little treat with my firstborn.

Lunchtime, especially on weekdays, is usually a time of frenetic activity for me. We Skype my parents, I cajole people to focus and eat, I try to produce balanced meals with zero effort, I get up from the table 30 times for things I’ve forgotten or someone’s decreed essential. Or I read on my phone and encourage folks not to bother me as I eat my poorly microwaved leftovers. Or I try to start the slow cooker and change out the laundry as the kids eat their lunch painstakingly slowly. It’s not the worst part of my day, but I doubt it’s a time they’ll recall me shining as a mom.

But at this little spontaneous lunch date with my eldest, I left my phone in my purse. I didn’t cajole him to eat more because it’s all garbage, and I didn’t get mad that he wasn’t eating what I had fixed. We talked about who in our family loves fries most as we split an order. He coached me on assembling the windmill toy he got in his kids’ meal, and we spotted a fire truck with lights speed by. We said grace, we enjoyed our meal, we enjoyed each other.

What else is sharing the Catholic Table about?

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Fumbling Toward a Family Rosary

The beautiful double kneeler John’s brother made for us as a wedding present in our first grad school apartment
Through a confluence of factors, this summer has been our rosary summer. We’ve had friends experience births and losses — something that always brings me back to the slow rhythm of the rosary — and in starting Police Preschool, it’s something I wanted to make a part of our family life.

In addition, some families from our church have been working to get a small group rosary going one Friday evening a month. I love those moments of praying in community: it feels a little like a quilting bee on the frontier, where together we cheerfully make something big and beautiful in no time.

On the other hand, praying the rosary myself — even a decade at a time with a two- and four-year-old — feels as if I were trying to make a quilt by hand, all by myself: snarled and interrupted, often redone, painstakingly slow.

But those corporate Friday rosaries point toward what I might have, someday, if we stretch our spiritual muscles and build up the discipline as a family. There are glimmers even now, a few weeks in: Scout asking for the silicone “rosie” my dad made her; Pippin asking me to explain the mystery we are tackling that day; the old familiarity of my chipped, beautiful cloisonne rosary, given to me by a friend for my 21st birthday, blessed by the sweet monsignor of our college church — or the battered wooden rosary J bought me in Seoul before he was even Catholic — or the sparkly crystal rosary my godmother gave me for my First Communion present. (Rosaries get misplaced with alarming frequency at our house, if you can’t tell.)

The truth is, I don’t think I’ve consistently prayed the rosary since college, when I’d pray every night in that anxious, homesick season to help me fall asleep, more often than not waking when I dropped the rosary mid-prayer. Trying to instate a family rosary now seems crazy, as Pippin swipes through pictures on my phone of today’s mystery, or Scout shouts, as usual, that our decade should be offered for “ME!!!,” and it’s totally unclear if anyone is getting anything out of this practice. But it starts my mornings of Police Preschool right, even when it leaves me flustered: remembering my reliance on God, praying desperately that good intentions and earnest modeling are enough, in the end.

7 Quick Takes: Catholic Minutiae Edition

I’m doing something a bit different this week for Friday and linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum, who I had the pleasure of meeting last Saturday. Also, there’s been virtually no cooking this week because THERE IS STILL NO KITCHEN SINK.

  1. Last weekend I got to attend the Catholic Women Blogger Network conference a couple hours away, which I thoroughly enjoyed even though I have so much trouble remembering the acronym that I spent the day trying not to say it. It was like two-thirds professional conference and one-third retreat, and had a pregnancy-approved number of snacks. Highly recommend.
  2. I’ve been veiling since Ash Wednesday and the best thing, overwhelmingly, is that the Eucharistic minister always has a strong suspicion based on correlation that I’m going to receive on the tongue. So in my awkwardness I somehow get to feel less awkward?
  3. The worst thing is how the veil likes to slither off my head, like all the really cool big Scunchis of the ’90s. Any fellow baby-haired women have tips for making it stay put?
  4. Last weekend we attended the back to school Mass at the college Catholic student union and it was packed to the gills and I could have cried for all these sweet baby college students trying to do the right thing and start their college lives off right. Could have cried, but I was too busy trying to keep the kids from imploding. (What is it about folding chairs that are so tempting for kids in church?!)
  5. Number one piece of advice if you don’t want to hold a wriggling toddler in Mass: Marry the captain of the high school wrestling team. Plan ahead, ladies.
  6. I love our home parish, but a couple weeks ago we attended a different Mass time and there was actually organ and Pip whispered, “Why is there Christmas music?!” So I guess you could say the weekly music isn’t quite to our family’s taste. 
  7. What do you do if one of your kids says he doesn’t like church? When he first lodges a complaint, I calmly acknowledge it, say I didn’t love all the parts of Mass when I was little, talk about how it’s something Jesus asks us to do and we do it because we love him, etc. If he brings it up again on the same day I just don’t acknowledge it and soldier through. Anyone have tips?
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Writer types at the blogging conference, photo credit Rosie Hill

A Mother’s Rule of Life

I’ve asked it before: How do you decide what of all possible things to go deep in, when, as a stay-at-home mother, you’re a jack of all trades?

It would help to have a job description. As it is, I almost always have the nagging conviction I should be doing something other than whatever I’m doing at that moment. Last winter I read the Rule of St. Benedict and this winter I fell in love with the cloistered world of In this House of Brede — its quiet peace, and sense of purpose, and hard work, and order.

This reading primed me, I think, for A Mother’s Rule of Lifewhich is a pretty divisive book in my tiny microcosm of Catholic married mothers who are home full-time. Some friends worry it’s a temptation to rigidity; the one who lent it to me found it tolerably helpful in prioritizing; an Insta friend adored it. In it, Holly Pierlot promises to walk you through developing your own Rule, if you happen to find yourself a Catholic married mother at home rather than a nun in a convent.

Pierlot defines a Rule as “a reflection of the aims and mission of vocation,” and much of the book led me to fruitful consideration, as I followed her advice and took notes. Eventually I decided this: Our aim, as a family, as a household, is to progress in kindness and holiness through love of God, love of each other, and love of learning. From there, you take the tasks you believe are most essential to your vocation, prioritize them, and slot them into a schedule. If you were a Brede nun, it would involve singing the liturgy, working at your talent (translation or writing or gardening), common labor, prayer. For me, in this stage, it involves less liturgical singing and more laundry.

If my aim is to progress in kindness and holiness, I need to not over schedule, but I do need to keep things clean enough that I don’t flip out on my sweet family. I need to practice discipline so I’m not always fighting fires, but build in time for the seeming non-essentials of learning and reading. I need to take breaks from the fun (the latter) and the challenging (the former) to play with my children, to do nothing much with my husband. If I can just remember that, I feel like the rest will fairly fall into place.

The book has obvious weaknesses. I think it’s ordered badly, so that the rationale for a Rule comes at the very end, instead of as an argument before launching in to the nitty gritty of scheduling errands and drawing up monthly rotations. The writing style also isn’t my cup of tea, but Pierlot does have a knack for crystalizing a lot of the ideas that have been kicking around in my head while bringing in pretty compelling authorities. She also seems to assume the existence of bigger kids to share the load, which is hard when I only have littles, but it does remind me to be on the lookout for places Pip can help — putting away silverware, running the vacuum extension hose thing, which he adores.

I was surprised, reading, to discover just how much of a schedule we’ve already drafted toward, my routine-loving children and me. And writing that schedule down started to show me some gaps where maybe, after all, I could choose to be still, could choose to give to prayer, could choose to use for writing or frivolous reading or napping without guilt. It’s also, unexpectedly, giving me permission to let done be done, helping silence the guilty conviction that there’s always something I should be cleaning, or something noble I should commit to, because there I have, in writing, what my priorities are, and what qualifies as “done.”

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Let’s Talk Lent

I’ve been enjoying talking to people and reading about how they’re choosing to approach Lent this year, so I offer this post as a matter of interest, and not a humblebrag. What are you doing? How are you approaching it? How is this year different from past years?

This is what I’m thinking for this year, which departs significantly from my hazy but noble goal last Lent of no yelling:

A study: Blessed Is She’s Put On LoveReading and discussing with friends one evening a week.

A prayer practice: Kneeling for prayer at bedtime. I usually lie on my side reading my St. Benedict’s Prayer Book very last thing, falling asleep as I go. I can do better, and give God more than just the very dregs of alertness.

A discipline: I’m going to try veiling at Mass. I am…not excited. But I have friends who I love and admire who do it, and I’ve been receiving on the tongue since Scout was born, and if we’re going to buy into all this Eucharist stuff, we might as well err on the side of caution, treating it just as reverently as possible. Like Flannery O said, “If it’s just a symbol, to hell with it.”

I’ve also set myself the tentative deadline of Ash Wednesday to finish reading A Mother’s Rule of Life and start trying to implement some of its suggestions. So, yay. I guess it’s kind of a lot, but at least there’s still chocolate.

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Epiphany

This year I found myself in an overstuffed car on Epiphany, brimful with Christmas gifts and children and a dog and spilled Apple Jacks. I had worn second-day tights to the early Mass in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, that morning, and we’d stepped delicately over ice to load up into the car, and finally, after three weeks of travel, we were on our way home.

I’m not sure I ever noticed Epiphany before I became a mother, but when he was a baby, Pippin’s godmother thrifted him a copy of The Third Giftwhich at first mostly caught his attention because the protagonist looked to him like Aunt Beca. (At the time she was sporting a pretty great pixie.)

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The plot is merely a footnote or preamble to Epiphany: the life of a boy who apprentices his father in the collection of myrrh, and how some of that myrrh is sold to strangers from far away. It’s simple and lovely, and brought to life Epiphany for me in a new way, especially Bagram Ibatoulline’s concluding illustration: a little cave-like barn, on the horizon, the glow of the city; and in the barn, clustered haphazardly, mysteriously, those central figures we’ve seen all Advent, all of it looking like chance.

The story of the three kings has a sort of quiet fairytale beauty after the high drama and tinsel of Christmas, doesn’t it? That frisson of fear with big, bad King Herod looming. The mysterious star, the moonlight. Strangers on a strange landscape. An improbable meeting. Everything pointing to a future no one yet understands.

And maybe it was thinking about the little myrrh-gatherer that made the thought occur to me, but what became of those gifts? If Jesus is truly the child of the poor, a soon-to-be refugee, are the gifts hocked on the run to Egypt? Or do they later fund his ministry? Are they given to adorn the Temple? Or do they endure in secret long past Jesus’s death, tucked away in a basket, pored over by she who pondered these things in her heart?

In this little episode, we get all the otherworldliness and everydayness that is Christ among us. And we get Epiphany on the tail of our own gift avalanche, with its enduring tokens of far away people who love us, crammed inelegantly into our humble, aging car, pointing to the magic and beauty that lingers in the chaotic Christmas aftermath.

The Secret to Well-Behaved Kids at Mass

It’s touching. You just hold onto your kids. You hold him in your arms. You settle him in your lap.  You snuggle them close. You whisper what’s going on at the altar. You nibble the baby’s ear and tousle the toddler’s hair. You lift the kid high, her feet resting on the pew, to see the altar boys process, to see the Consecration.

You don’t need special, silent, Catholic toys. You don’t need mess-proof snacks. You just need to be ready for a full upper body workout. (Remember, people throughout history have endured much worse for the privilege of the Eucharist.)

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You also don’t need matching outfits, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

There’s no way around the work and there’s no way around the distraction. You won’t hear a whole homily while your kids are little, or a full reading, although you can read them in advance of Mass, in the sleepy early morning while you nurse the baby.

You’ll evaluate your kid’s behavior by his age and his character. Is she misbehaving or just exuberant in her shouted ALLELULIA, two beats late? Maybe your kid will be wiggler or noisier than your friend’s kid the same age. That’s ok. God knows the kind of kid he gave you. (Also, remember the time-honored Catholic tradition of the doughnut bribe.)

Church nurseries and children’s church and crying rooms make sense for Protestant worship, which is primarily intellectual and demands concentration. But Catholic mass is all about incarnation, about bodily worship: bodies kneeling and genuflecting, eating and drinking, eyes on the real body of our God who was once a squirmy little boy at his mama’s breast. So the imperfect, earthy worship that is the only kind possible in the presence of children fits here, as incongruous as it may seem in the hush of solemn liturgy.

How do you manage more than two kids, when the adult-arms-to-wriggling-kid ratio exceeds 1:1? That, you’ll have to tell me.

Nailed it, St. Thomas-by-the-Sea