Sunday, July 10, 2016

I am not exactly sure what to say.  But I have to say something.

Whenever these tragedies happen (and God, they're happening way too frequently these days), I am speechless.  This is not the world I was taught to believe in.  This is not the world I want my children to exist in.  But this is apparently our reality, and I need to stop clucking sympathetically, posting a meaningless #thoughtsandprayers on FB, and going about my business.

And I was going to do just that, until a former student called me out.  Indirectly, but still.

"I can't help it though, to notice that most of my white friends have said nothing- not all but most. Especially when my former teachers- those that I see as intellectuals and I love following because they always have clever and snappy statuses but yet can't find the words ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬ Black. Lives. Matter. And this post is not for all of them and I'm not saying they don't care. Facebook is a platform and your silence is making a statement. We all must remember to use our platform to educate and stand in solidarity with the oppressed."


I think it's very easy for me to say, "Well, I'm a teacher, so I walk the walk.  I am not part of the problem.  I am actively part of the solution.  I did two years of service.  I lived in a diverse city for nine years.  My friends/coworkers/students of color who know me know that I stand with them."

But I guess they don't.  Because how could they when I say nothing?

During the school year, it's easy.  In the comfortable womb of my classroom, we have the "courageous conversations".  In English class I encourage my students to blog, to discuss, to write write write about injustice and what they believe in.  In Drama class we discuss racial inequality in show business, stereotypes in film and theater, and sensitivity around language and trigger topics when writing plays.  

At home, my husband and I have long conversations about how sad/enraged/helpless we feel.  We've started bringing our 9-year-old into these conversations (and, in age-appropriate ways, our 6-year-old as well).  I talk it over with my friends as we shake our heads, sip our wine, and sigh "So sad, so sad."

But on FB?  I'm mostly silent.

Why?  Well, there are lots of reasons.  I'm not saying any of them are right.  I'm not trying to justify them.  But in trying to examine just why I don't speak out, here are a few:

1)  Fear of sounding like a "white savior".  My husband and I used to joke, back when we were first teaching in inner-city schools, about the "Dangerous Minds" mentality.  (Remember that movie?  Michelle Pfeiffer in a leather jacket?  Coolio on the soundtrack?)  You know--white teacher throws candy bars at her poor little minority students, tells them rap is poetry, busts out some sweet kung-fu moves, and wins them all over by the closing credits?  But that is the storyline of so many "white person in the big bad ghetto" movies--viewing people of color as something to be tamed, trained, and "civilized".  I cringe a bit at sounding/seeming like that.  But is that worse than saying nothing?  Are good intentions misconstrued as patronizing or condescending?  That's what I'm afraid of.  So I say nothing.

2)  Fear of seeming racist.  Of course my heart breaks when I hear of police--people who actively choose to put their lives on the line for us--being executed in the line of duty.  I have a cousin who just graduated from the police academy, and while I'm extremely proud of him, I'm scared of what he's going to face in this current climate.  Yet I feel that if I post a simple blue ribbon on FB, I'll be labeled a racist or misunderstood as saying that black lives don't matter.  So I say nothing.

3)  Fear of sounding stupid.  When Senator John Lewis staged the sit-in for gun control a few weeks ago, I was enthralled.  What a thing to witness!  What a simple, peaceful, but powerful way to speak out!  But when I dared to say on FB how impressed I was, I was immediately called an "idiot".  I composed a respectful reply and then immediately deleted said "friend".  I am embarrassed to say how much that comment affected me, and how upset I got.  It was a stupid online comment!  But it got to me.  (Ugh.  Even now my stomach turns.)  The sad part is, if this person and I were in a face-to-face conversation, I'm pretty sure it would have gone differently.  I don't think we would have changed each other's minds, but I'd like to think it would be civil, maybe even funny, and probably no name-calling.  Everyone's so freaking brave behind a computer screen these days.  So I say nothing.

4)  Fear of alienating people I care about.  My mom once told me to never discuss race, politics, or religion.  Pretty tall order, and I understand her very good intentions, but I discuss all three of those things on a regular basis.  Yet I know who I can discuss those topics with and who I can't.  On FB, it's a vast melting pot of a multitude of opinions and experiences.  I've always prided myself on listening to both sides of an issue, both views of an opinion.  Chalk it up to my Jesuit education--if there are only two known facts/two stated rules/two published stories, the Jesuits will dig up the third and force you to consider it.  But I don't see a lot of thoughtful conversation on FB.  I see a lot of anger, a lot of pain, and not a lot of listening.  I feel like it's shouting into a vacuum--no one's listening and everyone's annoyed.  What will it matter if I throw my voice into the mix?  Does anyone care?  Will people listen?  Or will it just piss off people that I know and love?  So I say nothing.

Now, it's time to say something.

I am sad.  Sad for the families of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.  Sad for the families of the Dallas police officers.  

I am angry.  Angry that men of color are held to different standards than anyone else.  Angry that some police officers misuse their power.  Angry that some people feel the need to kill other officers who are simply doing their job.  Angry that those people have such easy access to assault weapons.

I am scared.  Scared that there is so much anger in our country, and what that means for our future.  Scared of saying/doing/feeling "the wrong thing" instead of owning it and, as I always tell my students, "knowing what you don't know".

I am tired.  Tired of reading about yet another killing in our country.  Tired of the hate speech.  Tired of crying.  

I am sorry.  Sorry if this somehow offends/annoys/alienated anyone.

But it's better than saying nothing.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Theater as Therapy

A while back, FOX presented "Grease: Live!".  There was a bit of a hubbub because Vanessa Hudgens, who played Rizzo, lost her father the day before the broadcast.  She announced her intention to fulfill her commitment, and of course the Interbuzz had opinions galore.  "How could she possibly go on?"  "This is disrespectful to her father!"  "No, this is the best way to honor him!"  "She made a commitment, she's following through!"

While it may be impossible to imagine singing and dancing when your heart is breaking, that is sort of the beauty of theater.  The audience doesn't care what YOU are going through--if you're doing your job right, they care about your character and the story you're telling.

It made me reflect on multiple times in my life when theater has provided a safe (if temporary) haven from real life.  It sounds a bit crazy, but theater has been my therapy.

Guys & Dolls (1989)
7th grade was the absolute worst.  (I think it's a prerequisite.)  Friendships changed, hormones were wreaking havoc, we moved from my childhood home, and I was always, always in trouble for one reason or another.  In the midst of everything, my Pop-Pop died.  It was the first death I'd ever experienced, and it was brutal.

And then, I was cast as Adelaide in Guys & Dolls--pissing off the 8th graders who felt that I somehow "stole" the role from one of their own.  Great--more social drama!  I threw myself into rehearsals with a passion bordering on psychotic.  I studied old videotapes of a high school production my dad had produced.  I practiced my songs and dance routines in my bedroom well after "lights out", whispering my lines so as not to wake my 2-year-old sister.

The show was a modest hit (by middle school standards).  Standing ovation, baby!  Right after curtain call, a group of former friends rushed backstage to tell me how great I was and how they weren't mad at me anymore.  Being 12, I graciously accepted their apology (instead of telling them to piss off), and I proudly entered 8th grade as "the actress", once again surrounded by friends.

This ultimately led to a complicated relationship with my acting self--both loving and resenting the attention it garnered.  But honestly, it was one of the things I loved most about Nick when we first started dating--he knew me completely devoid of "the acting thing", which was incredibly freeing.

Dancing at Lughnasa (1994)
Senior year of high school, I received an acting scholarship to a small college renowned for its theater program.  It wasn't a lot of money, but I felt proudly validated.  Unfortunately, I would have to major in theater to accept the award, and that was just not okay with the parents.  I gave it up and attended my second choice--a much closer school that I would have to commute to.  By bus (two, to be exact).

The first few weeks of college were tough.  I had all 8:30 classes, a mind-numbing work-study job restocking books at the library, and an exhausting commute (I often nodded off on the bus while trying to study).  My high school friends all shared news of their roommates, parties, and freedom, while my weekends were spent babysitting my sister or hanging out with my high school boyfriend.

So when Cap & Bells (the student-run theater program) announced auditions for their fall play, I jumped at the chance.  It was a tiny cast, and I knew my chances were slim.  To my absolute delight, I was cast as Chrissy!  Suddenly I had something to look forward to after classes!  I quickly made friends with the other theater nerds, and enjoyed the reputation of being one of only two freshmen in the cast.  A very sweet senior in the cast took me under her wing, letting me crash in her dorm after late-night rehearsals and encouraging me to run for vice-president of the organization at the end of the year.

Cap & Bells became my home for the next four years.

No More Sundays (2001)
After college, I had the typical quarter-life crisis of "who am I?  Where am I going?  What do I want out of life?"  (Nobody told me that you never really grow out of this!)  I jumped feet-first into two years of service with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, teaching in inner-city schools and living in community with other volunteers (while receiving a whopping stipend of $85/month).  It was an entirely different world from what I was used to--and I loved it.

But by the end, I was burned out and ready for a change.  I decided to stick around New York for a while, teaching and toying with the idea of grad school.  But after a few weeks, it was clear that I was homesick.  I took the train back to PA almost every other weekend.  I clung to my wonderful boyfriend and started becoming That Annoying Girlfriend.  Teaching--while wonderful--was tiring and left me exhausted by the end of the day.  I needed a creative outlet, stat.

Acting (which I had proudly turned my back on for two years) was starting to nip at my soul again.  But was I still good?  Maybe I'd been a big fish in a little pond for four I was a minnow in New York.  I was NOT up for cattle calls and competing with a million other 23-year-olds who had all been special little stars back home.

I discovered a lovely little theater in my downtown Jersey City neighborhood--the Attic Ensemble.  I attended a few of their shows and was impressed by the quality (as well as the friendly welcome I always received).  I screwed up my courage to audition for one of their shows, and was cast as Gina--a tuff-tawkin' hairdresser from New Jersey--in a new play called No More Sundays.

From the first rehearsal, I knew I'd found my new home.  I would rush from my apartment to rehearsal every night with a newfound purpose and energy.  The other actresses and I spent hours rehearsing and laughing with our kind, supportive director.  And when Nick finally saw me perform on opening night--after dating for almost two years--I was nervous but ready to show him a huge part of myself that he'd never seen.

Guys & Dolls (2001)
At a rooftop barbecue one night in August 2001, a friend told me about a production of Guys & Dolls he had just been cast in.  It was being put on by the St. Vincent's Players--a group of doctors, nurses, and friends--to raise money for the Pediatric AIDS unit at St. Vincent's Hospital.  "They need some more dancers," he told me.  "Didn't you do this back in high school?  You should join us!"

A few weeks later, 9/11 happened.

I went to the first rehearsal.  We were all numb.  Vinny, the director (who also happened to be a surgeon) said that after a lot of discussion, they had decided to move forward with the production.

Thank God they did.

I taught in midtown-Manhattan at the time.  Many of my students and co-workers had lost people in the attacks.  I tried to be brave for them.  I tried to be brave for my family back in PA, who were terrified for me.  I tried to be brave for myself.

Every evening, I would pass the rows and rows of "Missing Person" posters on my way to St. Vincent's.  We threw ourselves into rehearsal.  We laughed.  We sang.  We danced.

On opening night, after the curtain call, we sang a haunting arrangement of "Grand Old Flag" a cappella.  I remember trying to hold onto the harmony through tears, and the silence in the theater when we finished.  The following year, most of the cast reunited to put on "Voices of Hope", a memorial concert for the 9/11 victims.  We reprised this song in the beautiful church of St. Francis Xavier.  When we finished, we all broke down--singers and audience alike.

Sorry, Wrong Number (2011)
Years ago, I didn't get a job that I really wanted.  With time and distance, it's funny and a bit embarrassing to think how much it destroyed me.  But at the time, it really did do a number on me.  I spent the summer not sleeping well, losing weight, and obsessing over why I didn't get it with anyone who would listen.  I tried to throw myself into being "Happy Mommy", but it felt fake and forced.

Again, I knew I needed an outlet.

I auditioned for this play at a theater in my hometown, Celebration Theater.  It wound up being one of the biggest acting challenges I'd ever faced.  I was onstage the entire time, bedridden, and having to go through an unbelievable range of emotions.

By closing night, I was proud and triumphant.  Even better, I was glad to have free time back with my family.  I felt at peace with not getting the job, as I realized that I was much more than that.  My family was thrilled to have "Happy Mommy" back.

Short Stack (2016)
This winter, I decided to take an acting class.  I hadn't been in one since grad school, and while I knew I didn't have time to do an actual show this year, I thought an acting class would be a great way to scratch the itch for a bit.

We were supposed to end the class with a simple staged reading of a few plays, but it quickly morphed into something much more.  Our director decided to put on a full production on the theater's mainstage.  The one-act I was featured in, Blood on the Knockers, was an insane Victorian farce in which I cursed, seduced, and killed multiple people onstage.  It was a physical and emotional challenge for me, but I gladly embraced it.  I also noticed that my teaching and directing during the day was changing and evolving based on my previous night's rehearsal.

And then, just days before the show, my brother-in-law died suddenly.  Everything shut down as my family tried to process this horrible news.

Nick and I discussed what to do.  The funeral wasn't until the following week, so he urged me to go ahead and do the show.  "This has made you so happy," he said.  "And I really want to see you perform.  It makes ME happy.  It will be a good distraction."

So for the next few nights, I escaped to rehearsal.  I turned off my brain to reality and focused on fantasy.  The show was a hit, everyone laughed and applauded, and then we headed back home to face the tough task of grief.  Together.

On the drive home, I could feel myself quickly, quietly transition from actress back to strong, supportive wife.  In a way, the brief escape of the show had helped clear my mind and heart in order to deal with the sorrow at hand.

Theater as therapy?  I'm finally okay with that.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Unpacking of Packing.

We are moving into a new house next month.  A lovely single house just a few blocks away, with a gorgeous deck, a yard that backs up to woods, and (gasp!) our very own driveway.  Same town (good ol’ Drexel Hill), but a new township (very good news for taxes and school district, should we ever opt for public).
For a gal who grew up in a rowhouse, then a twin, then a series of apartments, then back into a twin, this is a very big deal.  I have never not shared a wall (or a ceiling, for that matter) with another family.  A friend (who also grew up in a rowhouse) shared that the first night she spent in her new single house, she was freaked out.  She felt so exposed; like an island.  I’m wondering if I will feel the same.
I have extremely mixed feelings about this move.  It will be my eleventh move, and hopefully my last.  This the longest place the hub and I have lived since we got married.  It’s the place our babies learned to crawl, then toddle, then walk and run.  It’s where our kids made their first friends, and where I’ve sat on the deck many mornings sipping coffee and petting my sweet Rocco.
While I’m excited to move into a bigger place where we can spread out, entertain more, and really establish ourselves, I’m finding it difficult to uproot and replant.  As my house fills up with boxes and the walls grow more and more empty, it doesn’t feel like home anymore.  And I’m wondering when the new one will.
Which leads me to packing.
As I said, this will be my eleventh move.  Over time, I’ve become an expert at weeding and purging.  I’ve always tended to force nostalgia into the backseat and let necessity ride shotgun when packing.  Nowhere in my treasure troves will you find dried-up corsages, certificates of participation, or doubles of photographs (hey, remember those?).  I always prided myself on how many Glad bags I could fill up when moving from place to place.
But after an extremely eventful eight years in this house and in my life, I’m finding it more difficult.  With each artifact I uncover, I am pulled down a rabbit hole of memories.  The welcome letter from the principal at my first teaching job in Jersey City.  The first “congratulations” card I received upon learning I was pregnant.  The sea animal set that TJ picked out after a magical day at the Camden Aquarium.  The beautiful Kairos notebook created by one of my favorite Villa students.  Kelly’s first baby doll (which, I insisted, had to have brown eyes just like her).
Why did I save these things?  Definitely out of necessity, at first.  And now, nostalgia is taking over.  That welcome letter brought me back to St. Mary’s High School in Jersey City, and my beautiful students (Shameka, Kyle, Josette, Khabir, Kevin, Ysis, Yolanda…I’m shocked by how clearly I remember their names and faces).  That congratulations card brings me back to the terrible day I thought I was losing my first baby…and how it was the first time in my pregnancy that I felt that primal maternal instinct kick in.  The sea animals remind me of 2-year-old TJ trying valiantly to count the fish in the giant tank:  “One, two, three…ALL fish!”  The Kairos notebook reminds me to “doubt the first, cry the second, trust the third, live the fourth”…and that everyone has a story to tell.  The baby doll reminds me how shocked I was to have a daughter…and how much I now love having a little girl AND a boy.
So the McDonald’s toys and old receipts and tests/quizzes I kept before flash drives are slowly making their way to recycling–no problem.  But as I prepare to say goodbye to one home and move into another, the nostalgia trip is bridging the gap.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What I've Done On My Summer Vacation...

Last year, I bid farewell to my summer job. While it was a great gig--teaching acting and improv at my beloved Summer Stage--I ended each summer exhausted and frantic that I hadn't really gotten to take advantage of SUMMER. I felt guilty that I wasn't spending QT with my munchkins. And while it is still August (and I am holding on to every last blessed second), I wanted to pause and reflect on what has been a truly blissful summer with my fam.

JUNE -Pretty much the second my final faculty meeting ended, NR and I jumped on a plane to attend his 20th high school reunion. We dove into the world of, found a lovely little condo in Mar Vista, and spent 5 glorious (guiltily kid-free) days catching up with friends and family on the Left Coast. The actual reunion was fantastic--he attended Loyola High School of Los Angeles, a truly excellent boys' school (and Jesuit to boot). I felt very proud of the boy he was and the man he has become, and grateful that our children get to attend private schools as well.

-Once we returned, the kids attended a few camps (basketball, gymnastics, and nature camps). We had a few free mornings where we got to go the gym together, have a leisurely breakfast, hang out at the adult pool (which has loomed like an illustrious oasis for years), and I even got NR to try hot yoga! It was such a luxury to start our summer by hard to do when we're all caught up in the hamster wheel of the school year.

-NR had a conference in Boston, so the kids and I tagged along and made a vacation out of it. But a few nights before our trip, I started having anxiety nightmares. I've never been alone with them--in a strange city--for any amount of time, much less three days. While I've navigated cities on my own before, it's one thing to get lost by yourself (as I often do). I had visions of TJ wandering off at a museum, or Kelly rushing out into traffic. And of course on our first day of adventure, it was pouring rain. Undeterred, I bundled the kids up in their raingear, filled them up on Au Bon Pain, and let my good friend Suri take us where we needed to go. We explored the Boston Public Library, the New England Aquarium, and rode both the swan boat and the Ducks. But the unplanned, in-between times were probably the most when we happened upon a children's concert in a random map room of the library, or the kids being equally entertained/grossed out when I had to eat salad with my fingers (when the Wendy's cashier forgot to give me utensils), or when they played leapfrog on the "Make Way For Ducklings" statues at the Boston Public Gardens with their cousin Kate. It was a bit of a turning point for me as a mom--having the courage and confidence to be a tourist with my kids, sans partner. It would have been so much easier and less stressful to hole up in the hotel and watch TV all day...but thank God I fought the fear and forged ahead.

-From Boston we traveled up to Maine, where we've spent several summers at Aunt Meg's lake cabin. Not a whole lot to do but fish, hang out, and attend the Annual Egg Festival (yup, that's a real thing). TJ is definitely a nature-lover, so it's beautiful to see him in his element. And not to sound patronizing, but I get a huge kick out of rural small-town life. I mean...Egg Festival.

-Camping! I have finally, officially "been camping" at age 37. (Not counting the time my very young, very poor, and very dumb parents decided to take their teething 6-month-old camping.) French Creek State Park is the perfect place for a camping novice: electricity if you need it, bathrooms and showers within walking distance, and lots to do (pool, boat rentals, fishing, etc.) I turned off my phone for 24 hours and just tuned in to nature and my family...and wow, was it glorious. I might even go for 2 days next time. ;D

-I made a promise that my next theatrical endeavor would be one my kids could see. So I auditioned for "The Jungle Book" and was cast as Bagheera the Panther. And now, for the love of my children, I will prance around in a leotard, tail, fuzzy ears and full face paint for 6 nights in a row, starting next Tuesday. The things we do for our craft...and our kids.

And now I'm off to enjoy the sunset of summer...celebrating my sister's engagement to a wonderful guy (yay!), meeting up with my best friend from college (wahoo!)...seeing Tina Fey as she comes back to host a fundraiser at Summer Stage (sweet!)...jury duty (blergh)...and pretending to plan curriculum (slides down wall in dramatic waif-like fashion).

But damn...if I ever have a summer half as gratifying and lovely as this one...I'll be a lucky, lucky gal.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

The Pink Chair

When my sister was a toddler, she was a bit...rambunctious. Ironically, the doctors originally thought she had a speech or hearing problem, since she didn't verbalize much as a baby. But oh man, once she started yapping...she never stopped.

Needless to say, my parents often had to discipline her. And as any parent of more than one child quickly discovers, what works with your first will undoubtedly NOT work with your second. So while a stern word of warning was usually enough to send me into submission, my darling baby sister would laugh or run away or keep right on doing what she wasn't supposed to.

One tactic that did work, however, was the pink chair. We had two pink rocking chairs, and Miss Thing was usually exiled to one of them for "quiet time." She would rock violently in the chair, toppling the lamp on the adjoining end table, until finally she settled down. On one afternoon, my mom forgot about her (since she usually whipped the chair around to face the window) until a tiny little voice piped up, hours later, "Am I done?"

Well, I have now inherited one of The Pink Chairs. But I don't use it for discipline. It took the place of TJ's glider when baby #2 came along. I insisted on still having some sort of rocking chair in his room, since rocking has always been our thing. We spent countless hours rocking in our old apartment in Jersey City, as I sang every showtune I could think of to soothe his ceaseless cries. During his toddler years, in the thick of particularly terrible tantrums, we would often retreat to rocking as his tears streamed onto my shoulder, and I'd sing the theme song to "Thomas the Tank Engine" to calm him down. Once the tantrums trailed off, he would still request some rocking at bedtime, after our prayers and stories.

The Pink Chair hasn't been utilized as a rocker for some time now. It's normally a catch-all for clothes or Lego works-in-progress, or where I read the latest "Harry Potter" at bedtime.

So last night--TJ's final night as a 6-year-old--I cleared off The Pink Chair. After reading about Professor Umbridge and her reign of terror, I asked, "Hey Teege...want to rock?"

He looked up at me, puzzled. "Okay," he agreed after a minute.

I hoisted his lanky big-boy frame up onto my lap. His feet dangled past my knees. I adjusted him so his head could rest on my shoulder, but gosh...when did he get so darn tall?

We rocked for a while. I reminded him how we used to rock a lot when he was younger. And I couldn't help but quote from a book we haven't read for a while now...

I'll love you forever
I'll like you for always
As long as I'm living
My baby you'll be

He laughed. "Oh yeah, I remember that book."

I squeezed him tight, and let him climb into bed.

Going downstairs, I realized, sadly, that this was probably the last rocking. He's so big. He doesn't need it.

At 5:30 this morning, however, a little voice woke me up. "Mom, I'm scared. Will you snuggle with me?"

Yes. Always.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Keeping the Faith

I have always been a Catholic.

Catholic grade school, Catholic high school, Catholic college. Catholic volunteer program after college. Catholic school teacher.

I loved making all my sacraments. I loved the "smells and bells" of Mass. I loved learning about the saints, attending Communion services at lunch, performing service in the name of Jesus.

Without a doubt, my husband and I were going to raise our kids Catholic, and pass along all of the traditions that entailed.

And while there were certainly things I didn't agree with regarding Catholic doctrine (especially as I got older and my views started leaning left), my Jesuit teachers, colleagues, and friends helped me overlook this. They taught me that it was okay to question and challenge things while remaining "a good Catholic."

But then we left our Jesuit bubble in NYC. And while I tried to find connection and meaning during Mass in our new parish, it just never clicked. I found myself sitting in Mass, completely disengaged. I chalked it up to trying to wrangle my toddlers into submission during the service, but there was something else. An anger, a longing brewing inside of me. I began to wonder about a lot...and didn't feel there was a place and space to voice that wonder. What if my son comes out to me one day? What if my daughter wants to pursue a leadership role in the Church? Why does the pro-life argument never seem to encompass capital punishment, addiction, homelessness? Why am I looking for excuses to not attend Mass?

The breaking point came in 2011. A grand jury report came out against the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, listing over 30 priests guilty of "inappropriate conduct." Within a few months, a number of schools were closed without warning. Looking at my two children over breakfast one morning, I broke down sobbing. How could I raise my children in a church that seemed so anti-children?

After a long talk with my husband, we decided to try something else. We were looking for a church that would fit all of us as a family. And that didn't seem to include the Catholic church.

So we started attending an Episcopal church in our neighborhood. What a difference! Our daughter went off to the nursery; our son attended their amazing Sunday school run by a former kindergarten teacher. The pastor and parishioners were warm and welcoming. We could actually listen to and participate in the service. During one of the first Sundays, I was feeling a bit guilty, but it dawned on me that God was still with was just a different house. And yet...

...there was still a pull, a question mark. So at the end of year one, we sent our son to a Vacation Bible School at a Methodist church our neighbor attended. At her invitation, we decided to try it out.

There was still a nursery and a Sunday school; still warm, welcoming parishioners. And yet the service (which, truth be told, was a bit stodgy at the Episcopal church) was joyful and uplifting! I could actually feel myself relax and find peace each Sunday. The entire family looked forward to church (in fact, on the odd Sunday when we didn't attend, our kids would question us right away).

And in the meantime...this incredible Pope Francis (a Jesuit!) had to get himself elected and be all awesome. Pause. A Jesuit pope!? Who actually lives and teaches as Jesus did? Could this be the change we had been waiting for?

We started researching Catholic parishes in our area again. So the one in our neighborhood hadn't been a great fit...maybe there was another one? Possibly? Hopefully?

But then the decision was made for us.

At Back-to-School Night, we were looking at our son's "Writing Journal". His teacher had the students draw a big heart on the first page, and fill it up with ideas of things they love so they would always have inspiration to write.

Our son's heart included pictures of our dog, a T-Rex, a basketball, our family...and in the middle, a giant cross. On one side, he had written "God". On the other side: "My chrch".

All I could ever want from a church, any church, is for my children to find and explore their faith.

Who knows what the future will hold...but for now, we have found a spiritual home at Hope United Methodist. And I am eternally grateful.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Gummi Bears and Gratitude

Today was one of those rare, precious days.

A perfect parenting day.

Well, more like a perfect kid day, with me as the grateful beneficiary.

It started with both children sleeping "in" (which means past 7 a.m.), and then quietly sneaking into our bed for a snuggle. No barging in, no elbow in the stomach, no loud demands for breakfast or a viewing of "Doc McStuffins". Just a good ten minutes of peaceful snuggling.

After breakfast, Teege suggested that he and Kelly ride their scooters to the playground. Said scooters, bought just in time for the spring, have been used approximately 5.5 times by each child this summer. Part of this is due to our very hilly street; part is due to parental laziness; part is due to children's reliable rejection of anything fun and slightly expensive that you buy for them. So I was thrilled by the suggestion. Of course, it was on a day when we had a doctor's appointment that cut right into fun time, so we wound up just driving. But still, his intention was welcome.

I brought along a coffee mug, foolishly optimistic that I'd be able to sip peacefully whilst the children played. Not to be...but that was okay, because their requests have become, I'm realizing, quickly approaching an expiration date. I'll happily hoist Kelly into the baby swing...because her feet are starting to almost touch the ground. Of course I'll go down the slide with Teege...because it's almost like carrying him, which he never needs anymore.

A few other kids showed up, and I observed as my own cheerfully welcomed them into their play. TJ ran the introductions, always proudly presenting "my sister Kelly who is three," and I just sat back and watched as they navigated the waters of social interaction. A few friends have recently likened becoming a parent to watching your heart leave your body...and I totally get it. You can't help but burst with pride when your offspring do the right thing, or feel their pain just as deeply when they are rejected or disappointed. Luckily, today their friendliness and kindness paid off. My heart sang.

We then had to hit Home Depot for a few things, and Kelly surprised both of us by quietly entertaining herself while we checked out granite countertops. No climbing out of the cart, no knocking off a row of samples in one fell swoop. She even charmed our cranky salesperson by suggesting that one granite sample "looked like the outer space sky!"

I had promised the kids that they could finally spend their summer piggy bank savings on a trip to Five Below. I told them exactly how much money they had and what they could spend Both kids walked--WALKED--up and down the aisles, together, carefully considering their options, said please and thank you to the cashier, and carried their bags themselves. No whining for more stuff; no running or pulling crap out of bins.

During Kelly's naptime, TJ opened up his purchase (a set of Bey Blades), and invited me to "do a battle" with him. I put him off as I went about folding laundry and answering emails, but when he invited me again--sweetly, hopefully, without a trace of whining--I had to relent. We spent the rest of the afternoon playing Bey Blades, a long-forgotten Matchbox racetrack, and testing out paper airplanes. This is kind of a big deal. As first grade is approaching, he is primarily into his daddy these days. Cuddles on the couch with Mommy are becoming a distant memory. So spending some one-on-one QT with my little guy--at his invitation--was priceless.

He helped me prune his overgrown pumpkin vine (which is taking over our entire front walkway--all from one seed planted months ago), but soon disappeared. When I looked up, he was proffering a handful of gummy bears. "For your hard work, Mommy," he affirmed. "I picked one of each color because I wasn't sure which was your favorite."

After he and Daddy left for their camping trip, it was time for "ladygirl night" with Bells. We had dinner on the deck, chatting about preschool and how excited she was to see her friends and teachers. After changing into our pj's, we snuggled up together to watch "Tangled."

As I put my sweet girl to bed tonight, and then chatted with my superdude on the phone, I couldn't help thinking...perfect day. One of those days you don't necessarily see coming, didn't plan for, and hope it's not fleeting. And when it keeps on going, and going, and surprising you incessantly...well, you need to document it as soon as possible.