Saturday, March 31, 2012

Psychic Hotline

Now that she's a sophomore in high school, Middle Sister's been getting a bunch of college mail.  Most of it is postcards directing her to visit college websites, but yesterday she got a big envelope with a folder full of papers inside.

That impressed her.  She actually opened it instead of just tossing it aside like she does with the postcards.  She asked me if I knew where this university was, and I told her that it's near where TheDad works and that one of Big Brother's friends had gone there, as had the friend's older brother.

She asked what the friend had studied at this university.

"Psychology, I think," I replied.

"What IS psychology?" asked Little Brother.

"The study of the mind," I answered in a fake-mysterious tone.

"He's gonna be a PSYCHIC?"

Friday, March 30, 2012

Awaiting My Marching Orders

A tale of woe, told in as many cliches as I can dredge up.

I'm in a bit of a holding pattern these days.  After nearly 2 years of post-hysterectomy complications, which have resulted in (in no particular order) regularly-scheduled pain and bleeding, visits to 2 different GYN-oncologists, 2 MRIs, 1 CAT scan, innumerable ultrasounds of the invasive variety, a few rather unpleasant tests at the urologist's, 1 burst ovarian cyst resulting in 1 missed Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert, and 1 cyst drained "just in time" of 1/2 liter of fluid, my GYN has finally decided that it's time to shut down the rest of the system.  The plan is to remove my ovaries to cut off the estrogen supply that's feeding my endometriosis.

I have a cyst larger than my own fist in my left abdomen (they always show up on the left.)  It's painful, and it takes up a good amount of space.  Hence the wearing of the sweat pants (or, as Little Brother insists on calling them, athletic pants) as much as possible unless I have to actually get out of the car, in which case I suffer through the wearing of the jeans.

Frankly, I'm going to be glad to get this over with.  Even though it means going to a hospital with "Cancer" in its name.  I have not been diagnosed with cancer, but my GYN says that this doctor is the best surgeon to deal with the type of problems I'm having.  I keep telling myself that when I freak out a little bit about the name of the hospital.  I keep telling my husband that when he freaks out about the name of the hospital.  And I hope that none of my kids check the caller ID on the phone, because the word "Cancer" comes up in the name when I get the robo-call to confirm my appointment.

On Tuesday afternoon I'll see the surgeon and receive my marching orders.  Until then, I have no time frame, no plan.  Anyone who knows me knows how crazy that makes me.  I'm guessing that something is going to happen soon, because my GYN said that they'll want to take care of that cyst before it explodes on its own.  It could be done separately, or together--whatever the specialist decides.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch (or more accurately, back at the split-level), I've got a part-time writing gig that would have to go on hiatus, I've got arrangements to make for leadership at Secular Franciscan meetings, I've got kids to drive around, I've got "work to be done--an estate to be run--a boy to raise."  Other than laundry and cooking, the bare minimum is getting done around here because physical stuff like scrubbing, vacuuming, mopping and taking down curtains is painful.  If I feel good enough, I do it.  Otherwise, I let it go.  There's been a good amount of letting it go lately.  There have been afternoon naps, probably because I'm a little too keyed up to sleep well at night.  There's been a lot of comfort eating.

I don't feel like baking cookies, I don't want to start up another sourdough starter, and there's no use making a meal plan for April when I don't know what April's going to bring or when it's going to bring it.  Other than Instant Menopause--I know I'm going to get that after the surgery.  Won't that be fun for everyone lucky enough to live with me?

Meanwhile, I wait, and I worry.  I go to the high-school musical to take my mind off things (50 kids tap-dancing on the biggest stage in the county will do that for you).  On Tuesday, I'll drive to Philly and find out how things are going to go.  And then I'll drive home in rush-hour traffic and get on with it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

I Wish I Had the Guts to Send This Letter

A major religious holiday is coming up.  That's a good clue that it's time for my semi-annual Musical Rant.  I'm pretty sure that Satan knows that this is the best way to get to me.  Feel free to tune out if you're not a church musician.

To the Music Director and Pastor at my parish:

I came home from church tonight to find the forwarded email notifying me that, despite the fact that the Folk Group was assigned to sing the noon Mass on Easter at least two months ago, we've been reassigned to a different time and location, two weeks before Easter itself.

It's nice that you "hope this is not a problem."

People do make holiday plans, and in the Folk Group, you've got a very dedicated bunch of musicians and singers whose family holiday plans revolve around our church schedule.  That schedule is already variable because we have been asked to sing that once-a-month Saturday-evening Mass rather than our traditional Sunday noon time slot.  On Christmas and Easter, we do our best to be there at different-than-usual times because of the nature of the Mass schedule on those days.  Two weeks before Easter, most of us have made our holiday plans.

Reassigning us two weeks before the most important event in the Church year tells us exactly where we fit on the musical totem pole (as if we didn't already know.)  It's disrespectful to us personally and professionally.  I feel like the Samaritan woman who asked Jesus to heal her child, only to be refused because of her nationality.  She replied to Jesus, "But Teacher, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master's table."  We are the dogs and you are giving us crumbs.  We're expected, I guess, to be happy with whatever crumbs come our way.

And because we're not proud (or tired) we'll take those crumbs.  We'll rearrange family plans.  The musician who works into the wee hours on a Saturday night will drag himself into church because he--as the rest of us do--believes that singing and playing for the glory of God are what matter.

We are not the world's best musicians.  But we more than make up, in attitude and enthusiasm, for the polish and finesse we lack.  We view our role at Mass as being leaders of song, not performers in a show.  Our goal is to help people sing along, to help them feel comfortable enough to sing along, because singing at Mass is a huge part of prayer.  Most of the time, we achieve that goal.

In the several years since the parish merger, we have made many, many accommodations.  We have learned an entirely new repertoire.  We have used chant settings for psalms and other Mass parts as required, even through chant is extremely challenging with only guitar accompaniment.  We have bent over backwards to follow the "once-a-month Saturday night" schedule, even when it means that most of us can't be there because of work and other obligations.  (That's why we had the late Sunday Mass to begin with.)  We have learned and used the Mass settings we were told to use, again, even though guitar is not the best accompaniment for some of these settings.  We've enjoyed learning some of this new music and tolerated other pieces, but we have always learned and used what we were asked to do.

We are not there to put on a show.  We are there to help people to pray through music, to help them give honor and glory to God through music.  We do this by keeping it simple, approachable, and in a key that's in a comfortable range for most people.  We welcome beginners, teenagers, and our own children; that's our investment in the future (and as a parent, I know very well how much such an investment pays off.)

Being a part of the folk group in this parish is an exercise in humility.  I have to say, it gets old finding humble pie under the Christmas tree and in the Easter basket year after year after year.  My husband says that I should just be thankful that we're being reassigned rather than cancelled altogether.  Any way you slice it, though, it still hurts.

I'm sure we'll take the crumbs and we'll be happy to have them.  And we'll sing our hearts out because it's what we do.  But you should know that it hurts to be treated this way, and that I have carried around this unspoken burden for far too long.

Friday, March 23, 2012

You Just Never Know

The Leaning Tower of Beverages
It was a rough night last night at the Tech Week Dinners.  Nothing bad happened or anything, but through a perfect storm of my usually-barely-controlled social anxiety, a heavy introvert tendency, and my current hormonal state, I really wasn't dealing with even a small disturbance in the force field I prefer to generate around myself at all times.

And that force field was breached when the sweet and energetic mom who coordinates these dinners asked me to bring the muffin trays to the table where some other moms were setting out bagels.  Instant Mom-timidation ensued.  I was wearing a red t-shirt, tan capris and running shoes (after all, I was carrying 5-gallon jugs of lemonade, mixing iced tea, and standing for three hours on end.  I was dressed for the job, apron and all.)  They were wearing fashionable wrap dresses, strappy sandals, and coordinating jewelry.  But that's not all.  The Mom-timidators launched into complaints about a lack of tablecloths, centerpieces and matching balloons.  For a pancake-and-bacon dinner for 75 teenagers in a high-school cafeteria.  Then they started lining up the butter, syrup and jelly in perfectly straight lines.

To be fair, these moms did nothing and said nothing that should have bothered/upset/intimidated me.  Really, they didn't.  I'm sure they're perfectly lovely people, but I can't know that because I couldn't stay there.  As soon as I could, I got out of the Mom-timidation Sector and went to my Cozy Corner with the big stack-o-beverage coolers and got busy pouring lemonade and iced tea.  I vented a bit on Twitter, just to blow off a little steam.

A friend came over at one point to tell me some funny stories of things that had happened to her that day.  That was well-timed, though I'm sure she doesn't know it.  (She may have seen those Tweets of Desperation, though).  It gave my brain a break from dwelling on my completely irrational response to the Mom-timidation that I was completely aware I was imagining, but couldn't stop myself from feeling.

When dinner was over, I cleaned up the drink stuff and headed home.  It took a while to wind down from my strange emotional response, which I'm seriously hoping didn't show on my face all evening.  And this morning, I got a quick email from the lovely Tech Week Dinner coordinator, thanking me for showing up, stepping up, and jumping in and getting things done.  She's very faithful and very sincere about thanking people.  And boy, that 3-sentence email could not have come on a better day.

Yet another friend saw those Tweets of Desperation and tweeted me this morning to make sure I was OK.  (yes, and thanks!)

The moral of the story is:  you probably never know the effect you are going to have on people.  So if you have the chance to do so, have a good effect on someone.  Send them that quick "thank you" email.  Give that compliment.  Tell that funny story.  Especially if someone has that Deer-in-the-Headlights look, like I probably did yesterday.

To the folks who came to my rescue, intentionally or not:  thank you!  I love you!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Adventures in Public Parenting

It's Tech Week at the high school; the school play opens a week from Thursday.  That means late-night rehearsals, after-school prop gathering ventures for my daughter, the Prop Mistress, and the ever-popular Tech Week Dinners.  A group of over 20 parents (and a few grandparents for good measure) donates, prepares, serves and cleans up 7 nights of dinner for the whole cast, crew and orchestra.

It was much more hectic last year when the dinner group numbered 140.  This year we're only feeding about half that, so there's really not enough work to go around for the parents who show up.  It's a lot of fun, actually, and I enjoy helping.  The kids are all polite and appreciative.  They pray before eating and thank the parents after with a loud cheer.  And I get to meet some other parents.  Tonight we were trading leads on sources for the girls' uniform tights, including inside information on what brands stand up to the kind of punishment high-school girls dish out.

Little Brother's not in the play this year, but he's at Tech Week Dinners with me because there's no one else at home to watch him at that time.  This year, he's the only kid there.  He eats with the kids, his old buddies from his Munchkin days during Wizard of Oz last spring.  He's even made a few new friends among the freshmen, including one young man who was kicking a soccer ball around with him outside the cafeteria after dinner tonight.

I was helping to put away the drink coolers when we heard a crash.  Sure enough, that soccer ball had sailed through one of the cafeteria windows.  And all the other parents were watching as I ran to the door, spied my son, and ordered, "Get in here."

"Get in here," I heard someone chuckle behind me.  (Seriously?  You're going to laugh at me now?)  Clearly I was on the stage, with an audience of more than 20 parents and grandparents who were clearly glad not to be in my shoes.  So I took it outside, where my little boy and his soccer-playing buddy both assured me that my son wasn't the guilty party.  The young man who'd been playing soccer with him showed me his own feet, trying to convince me that Little Brother's legs aren't powerful enough to have kicked the ball through the window.  After sending Little Brother to the car to put away the soccer ball, I took off my apron and started picking up the few shards of glass that had fallen outside the building.  Did you know that aprons are good for picking up--and holding--broken glass, so you don't cut your hands while you do that job?

The vice principal is also in charge of stage crew, so before long he was in the cafeteria talking to my son and the freshman boy.  Again, lots of parents were watching as I told the vice principal that whether or not Little Brother had kicked it, he had been the one to bring the ball to the dinner, so he should share in the damages.  The other student was trying to take all the blame upon himself, and I insisted (and will follow up) that we divide the bill for the glass replacement.  Little Brother insisted that he would pay for it with his own money.  While a custodian taped cardboard over the broken window, I returned to the kitchen to finish cleaning up.  The parents wanted to know if I was OK.

Aside from a few bonus blood-pressure points, I was fine.  Actually, I was impressed with the freshman who tried to deflect the blame from my child, willing to take all of it (including a financial penalty) on himself.  I was more annoyed with the parents who said, "You shouldn't have to pay for that.  It's a cost of doing business."  No.  It's not.  My kid was playing soccer against the side of a building--in an area where there were windows.  It was an accident waiting to happen and we're all very lucky that no one got hurt.  I was annoyed with myself for not stopping him sooner.  I was annoyed with the parents who laughed at my initial reaction, which I found remarkably restrained, considering.

The soccer ball won't be coming back to Tech Week Dinners.  We will pay our half of the glass bill and Little Brother will have to contribute to that.  And I can't help but wish that the parents who seemed to think that Little Brother and I should let a 15-year-old boy shoulder all the blame for this--and the ones who seemed to think that neither soccer player was at fault at all--had taken a page from that 15-year-old's script.

We parents have our work on display at all times, every time our child leaves the house for the day at school. "By their fruits you shall know them," after all.  I hope that Little Brother learned a lesson or two tonight.  I don't know if the Play Parents did.  And if I ever get to meet the parents of a certain 15-year-old, I'll be sure to tell them that they can be very proud of their son, who politely and immediately claimed and accepted responsibility for his role (and more than his role) in the breaking of that window.

Are We Doing Enough?

This interesting essay "Time for Liberal Catholics to Quit?" comes at a time when I'm already wondering if we're doing enough.

My two older children (ages 16 and 20) are at that point in their lives (and faith) where Church just seems to be a bunch of rules for them to follow; rules that don't have much meaning behind them.  So I feel like we haven't done enough.  They both went to Catholic school, from pre-K through the present (Big Brother's at a Catholic college, even).

So they didn't get it in school.

My guess is that the kids in CCD (oops, sorry, "Faith Formation") get even less.  In our parish, they attend 14 sessions.  14 3-hour sessions, one hour of which is Mass.  So they get 28 hours of instruction, less "move-around time" for a full year.  Are they getting it there?

And clearly the Big Kids didn't get it at home.  We take them to Mass on Sundays and encourage them to serve in different ways.  They see examples of prayer, custom, and involvement in service from us and from others in the community.  But do they connect it to church?

Maybe it's just their age and stage.  But I think that many people never get past this stage.  If the Church doesn't form them well enough to want what is there, they're never going to take a second look.  They may stick around out of laziness, habit, a deep (but unrealized) interior need for the Eucharist and all the rest that they can only get at our church, or even out of arrogance.  They may stay, but they won't love it.

Can we teach them to love their faith?  Can we teach them to live their faith?  Are we doing enough?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Big Mistake, or Just Improv?

Yesterday after daily Mass, a friend caught up with me at the church door.  "Did you read today's Mass readings before coming to church?" she asked me.

Being lucky to get to Mass on time at all (I walked in during the opening prayer yesterday), I admitted that I hadn't.

"I think Father read the wrong Gospel today," she continued.  He read the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.

We don't have the missalettes with the daily readings included, so I took out my phone (there's an app for that!)  Sure enough, the Gospel for the day was the story of Jesus driving out the demon from the man who was mute.  I checked today's Gospel to see if perhaps Father had skipped a page, but that wasn't the reading for today either.

So if there's anyone reading who has a clue about why Father might have read a completely different Gospel than the one slated for the day, please comment here.  He's not really the approachable sort when it comes to things like this.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Fashion Emergency

Little Brother's in the middle of one of those growth spurts where an already-slender child suddenly gets taller and even skinner.  So his old pants are too short, and the new ones are too wide.  That's what belts are for, but he doesn't want to hear it.

Friends of ours from church have a son about a year older than Little Brother.  The kid pretty much skipped size 12, growing straight from 10 to 14 in the blink of an eye.  When they offered to hand off a bunch of nearly-new jeans and pants to us, I was happy to accept, and I offered to look through our bins of Big Brother's old stuff to see if we had anything that would fit this tall young man.  That trade worked out for everyone.

Yesterday Little Brother and I went through his drawers of clothing and took out the things that are too small for him now.  I put in several pairs of new jeans and cargo pants.  This morning he tried on three or four pairs, loudly discarding all of them as "too big," "too hard to button," and/or "too baggy."

Middle Sister's attempts at a fashion intervention fell on deaf ears.  Little Brother finally emerged from his room wearing sweat pants.

"Don't just give up and put on sweat pants," Middle Sister groaned.

He protested, "They're not sweats!  They're Athletic Pants!"

Friday, March 09, 2012


It's been awhile since Little Brother, AKA Mr. Malaprop, has visited this page.

This morning he came downstairs early and asked if he could stay home from school, since it's only a half day.

"No," I told him.  "Besides, you're going to church, and I'll be there."

"But that takes up half the day right there!  We always have to get there early, because my teacher is a parishioner!  He has to set up the Eucharist!"

"Oh, you mean he's a sacristan..."

Thursday, March 08, 2012


And the walls came tumbling down.

Not the walls of my home (thank God!) but the emotional walls that I use to hold everything in and keep it all together.  Sometimes there is just way too much for those walls to hold.  And usually it's some stupid little thing that causes them to cave in.

So I made the dinner, and when Middle Sister told me that the pasta was done, I asked her to drain it and call everyone to the table.  And then I headed upstairs where I proceeded to melt down.

After she ate, Middle Sister came upstairs to ask what was wrong and to listen to me vent a bit.  She just listened.  She's a good kid.

I appreciate that she was there, that she gave me the gift of her presence when I was on the edge (or over it, really.)  At the same time, though, I feel like it's not her responsibility to have to help me put the emotional pieces back together.

I'd love to hear what you have to say:  would you let your 16-year-old daughter see you fall apart?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012


Two hours ago, I was at a funeral for Martha, a 92-year-old Secular Franciscan and mother of 7.  Her son, a Franciscan priest, spoke in his homily about how his mother had dedicated her life to raising her children--so much so that when they were grown, she was at a little bit of a loss as to what to do.  He remembered that although there wasn't much money, he and his siblings were always well-taken-care-of.  And I know that she became a kind of surrogate mother to many of the priests from his community, especially those whose mothers had passed away or lived very far away.  But Father B's memories of his mother were deeply rooted in her motherly care.  She loved her children very much and did her best for them always.

One hour ago, I was speeding driving from the funeral to an imaging center, where I was scheduled to have an MRI at 1:00.  It took a long time to get that appointment.  I was two minutes away when my cell phone rang.  It was the school nurse; Little Brother wasn't feeling well, and school nurses don't tend to take chances when kids report bellyaches when there's a Nasty Stomach Virus going around.  I explained where I was and that I would try to reach someone to pick him up.

No one answered the house phone, although Big Brother is home for spring break this week.  He didn't answer his cell phone either.  And my neighbor, my emergency back-up plan, didn't answer her home phone. TheDad works 50 miles away.  So I walked into the reception area at the imaging center and explained my situation.  I asked if there was any way this appointment could be rescheduled.  They were able to accommodate my request, so now I have to wait almost another week to have this test done.  And I'll miss my volunteer time at the school library because of it.

For Martha, family came first.  Around here, it's got to be the same way.  I left Little Brother's birthday celebration last night for a little while so I could attend a prayer service that the Secular Franciscans have at the wake.  But the rest of the family was home, friends were visiting,  and he was having fun.  Because we're all alone in this part of the state, I don't have family close by on whom I can impose with a sick child when I've got something else to do.  Sometimes the back-up plan doesn't work out.

A week or so ago, someone wrote about patient endurance.  Of course, I can't find it now that I'm looking for it.  But that's exactly what I'm called to have right now.

Instead, I spent the entire 15-minute drive (yes, I was speeding) from the imaging center to the school vacillating between two thoughts:  "I hope Little Brother's OK" and "He'd better really be sick after all this."  He doesn't seem too sick, for which I am thankful and irritated all at the same time.  After all, it's not like I was heading out to yoga class or lunch with a friend.  I need to get answers about this health issue, and that's just been put off for another week.

It's frustrating to be short-circuited, especially when you're on your way to an MRI.  (And even more especially when you get home to find that Big Brother had been there all along, but he didn't bother picking up the house phone and his phone was set to "alarm only.")

Father B said today that he will pray to his mother, asking her to go to bat for him in prayer just as she always had done.  I think I will do the same.  After all, she's a mother too (and one with a wonderful sense of humor).

UPDATE:  Finally remembered where I saw the essay on patient endurance.  I need to reread it, especially since it appears more and more that I have raised The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

Monday, March 05, 2012

By Weight, and not by Volume

Remember the fine print on boxes or bags of snacks?  You don't see it so much anymore--I guess we're used to seeing half a package of air when we open something.  But it would read something like:
This product is sold by weight and not by volume.  Some settling of the contents may occur during shipping and handling.
Even as a kid, I realized that this was a lame attempt at heading off at the pass some disgruntled consumer who wanted a package full of snacks, not air.  The disclaimer was never a good thing.

I was reminded of that bit of fine print this morning when I heard the Gospel.
Jesus said to his disciples, "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  Stop judging and you will not be judged.  Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.  Forgive and you will be forgiven.  Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap.  For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you."  (Luke 6: 36-38)
There's no disclaimer in that Gospel, because God's love and God's gifts don't come with a disclaimer.  He doesn't work that way.

If you bake, you know that weight and volume are not the same in terms of quantity.  In fact, they can be very different.  Depending on how much you "shake down" the cup of flour, you can get about another 1/4 cup in there.  The same is true with brown sugar--"pack" it down and you can really increase the quantity.  Too much (or too little) flour or brown sugar or any other ingredient can really mess up the finished product.  That's why expert bakers insist on measuring by weight rather than by volume.

It's a good thing that God is not a baker, though, because Jesus tells us in today's Gospel that God is not concerned by volume when it comes to love, mercy, forgiveness.  He's going to pack in as much as our cups can hold--and then some, until they are overflowing.

And all that is expected in return is that we try to do the same for the others we encounter.


Saturday, March 03, 2012

Stuck in the Middle with You

It's the Sandwich Generation Blues.  We are, quite literally, right in the middle of it.

Two out of three of our kids can't drive yet, and one's not old enough to be left at home alone while I run to Shop-Rite.  So I'm still in the middle of the Mom's Taxi Years.  Between the hours of 3 and 9 PM, it's hit or miss whether you'd be able to find me at home.  You're more likely to find me in the jughandle at the intersection with Route 130 on my way to or from the high school.  And that's OK.  It's where I expected to be at this point in my life.

But now, my husband is grappling with the dilemmas his family faces; his mom, a widow, is no longer able to drive due to deteriorating health.  Her ability to live alone is quickly waning--more quickly than she or other family members are willing to admit.  And we live 75 miles away.

It's frustrating and difficult.  I'm juggling kid-transportation, attempting not to think about some unresolved health issues of my own, and generally trying to keep all the wheels spinning here at home while he works hard, manages his mom's finances, and runs a 50-boy Cub Scout pack.  Oftentimes, his head is not in the game when he's here, because he's worrying about other things--important things.

There's a lot of "woulda, coulda, shoulda" going on, a lot of conflict with family members who aren't on the same page.  He keeps most of it to himself; he almost never wants to talk about work, but today he did unload some of the burden of what's been going on within his family.  We had breakfast at the diner, which we'll have to stop doing soon, because this is about to affect our budget in a big way, so we could get out of the house and talk through some of this.

Sometimes I get that guilty feeling because I think I should do more, but I don't want to.  And I don't think it would work out well if I did.  I know he's hurt, though, that I don't.

Meanwhile, I try to keep those wheels spinning here at home.  I try to be flexible (whenever possible) about his extremely erratic arrivals for dinner and sudden changes of plans, though I often fail to be gracious about them.  That's a part of his burden that I should be willing, as well as able, to shoulder.

We're stuck in the middle right now, and he's going to need to be able to lean on me.  I have failed in so many ways.  Now, I pray for the strength he will need, and that I will be strong enough and generous enough to be his support.