The Sleepover-less Generation…does the experiment work?

A few weeks ago there was a local news story about a teenager youth camp counselor sexually assaulting children left in his care. The story was horrible. It was one of those, hug your kids tight kind of stories. And among the comments was one from a local mom who stated that this was why her children would never go to any kind of camp. Because she and I are in many of the same forums, I know that she is a homeschooling mother. I also have heard many times state that her children are not allowed to participate in sports unless she or her husband are the coaches, that they do not attend Sunday School or any church related functions unless she or her husband are with them, and that they are not allowed to play at other childrens’ homes and certainly never allowed to do sleep-overs. Although she will allow them to have sleep-overs at her house. She has mentioned several times in various forums that the deep-seated fear of sexual predators has made her and her husband choose homeschooling as it reduces their protection of their children.

I won’t say she’s making the wrong decision. I am wondering how she is taking the news of Josh Duggar’s abuse of his younger sisters in their own home. While it has not been confirmed that the victims were the Duggar girls or which ones they were, it has been made clear that the abuse occurred in the Duggar home.

Growing up, there were three incidences when my brothers and I were in the acquaintance of pedophiliac predators. One was a public school teacher, one was a coach and one was a priest. Years after our contact, we found out they were sexual predators. By the grace of God, none of us had become their victims. My brothers were altar boys, went on sports trips, and two out of four of us had that teacher for a year. My parents admit it gives them more than just pause to think of how we were exposed. My mother has gone through our dioceses background checks and training in order to work with youth at her parish.

And yet, despite my own personal close calls, I send my children to public schools. I have allowed them to play at neighbor’s houses without me present. They haven’t asked about sleep-overs yet, but I know we’ll face that someday, Moreover, I have a child who cannot speak and who I put on a school bus and spends seven hours out of my care five , days a week. I even send my son to faith formation for an hour once a week. At a Catholic church. I won’t say that I don’t worry about pedophiles. I won’t say my parenting is fearless. Like many. heck, most parents, I pray and discern and God has led me to trust in these decisions.

All of parenting is a risk. What one parent considers protective parenting, another feels as overkill. But the rub…we can never, despite all our protective measures, prevent the bad things from happening to our kids. The Duggar story is a harsh reminder that we can prevent outside pain, or attempt to,  but sometimes it can happen on the inside too. Every person, even a child’s father or brother or mother or sister, could potentially cause harm whether it be sexual abuse or physical or anything else. The perfect solution isn’t to ban all outside contact…yes, abusers are people with access to children. Parents and siblings have the most access to all children be they homeschooled, public schooled or anything else. You cannot prevent anything with 100% certainty. And that has to be terrifying to people already terrified of the outside world.

But even more terrifying is the revelation that despite all these protections, a child can become a predator. You can do everything “right” and your child could go off the rails. Eliminating sleep-overs, sports or church activities doesn’t guarantee protecting children. Neither does it guarantee they will grow up on the straight and narrow and not make major indiscretions.

Lowering Our Expectations? Or being Realistic…

Recently a few friends have posted on facebook about taking their kids to a local restaurant. This place is, by all accounts, a bar. They said they liked the place and it was becoming a family favorite. Which is great but, it’s a place that was never designed to cater to families or kids (this is not Chilis with a bar, it’s.a.bar.) so I’ve also heard a couple of people who brought their kids there and were shocked in a not so good way. They weren’t treated poorly but it certainly wasn’t what they expected. Dressier attire is required, at least in the evenings, and there really wasn’t a kids menu to speak of. The kids were welcomed and waited on, but it wasn’t the atmosphere people have come to expect from the family restaurants we’re familiar with now.

That was coupled with a post I saw today from a friend who was angry that a higher price-point chain restaurant refused to take her food to the table despite her hands being full. She felt like for the money she spent, she should be waited on more especially with her kids. This is a restaurant that doesn’t have wait staff and caters to professionals, although they are generally friendly to kids in their menu items (although, no chicken fingers, so my kids wouldn’t eat there). She seemed to make a big point that the amount she paid dictated she should have a certain level of service although the chain itself, again doesn’t have wait staff, so most people do not expect that level of service. She also felt her children were not capable to handling their food and drinks (one is elementary school age, the other just under) and that plus the cost of her food justified her need for service. In a place not known for it.

I’ve heard from complaints like these that people feel as if they must lower their expectations. Wait, the place isn’t the most kid-friendly to begin with but when you bring your kids they try and you want to complain that you’ve had to lower your expectations? I know first hand what it’s like to have little kids in a restaurant and try to get food and to have to make trips. It’s a huge pain, but I’m not going to demand someone help me (particularly if I’ve disqualified a child who really probably could help out from helping out). I’m also not going to demand a place that serves primarily beer  but welcomes my kids when they do show up to carry sweet acidophilous milk either.

When you take your kids to a place that typically doesn’t accommodate children because of it’s culture and atmosphere, you shouldn’t be lowering your expectations, you need to go in realistically. They won’t have a playland so you need to pack books or be prepared to entertain your kids yourself. There may not be a kids menu, so you may have to be prepared to order just french fries or split adult size orders between kids and ask for an extra plate. You may have to bring your own liquids in for the underage crowd if you don’t want them drinking anything carbonated but would like more than just water.

You also should not go in expecting service based upon prices of food. This is especially true of restaurants that use high quality ingredients and do not have wait staff dependent upon tips. Higher prices are often used to accommodate for more expensive ingredients and employee wages for their jobs as counter help and in food preparation. And although people know this intrinsically, I believe they’ve lost sight of it because they are used to higher quality food mostly coming from sit down restaurants not your local coffee shop type place or even places like Chipotle.

And as one mom recently mentioned in respect to taking her kids to the beach and having them carry their own stuff: moms, don’t underestimate what your kids are capable of. While every child is different, just because your child has never carried their own sandwich or drink with a lid on it and two hands before doesn’t mean they can’t now.

I get it great service is, great. Kid-friendly is, awesome. But we also need to be realistic in respect to what kind of service and how kid-friendly a place has the potential to be in considering what kind of business it is.

In Whom Do You Trust?

I have several friends who will query facebook about health issues, particularly making dietary changes. And the answers they get always vary depending on who’s answering. Sometimes they end up more confused than when they started. Because every opinion has a “study” to back it up and they are suddenly reading links til Christmas. And, God forbid anyone say “in moderation,” because no one can seem to get behind the very legit theory of moderation.

Everything that is good for you, can be bad for you. Even spinach in too large quantities. Even the sun. Even exercise. Even water (ask me how I know about that one!).

What you will find when you examine the comments on posts asking about the healthiness of coffee or juice cleanses or whatever, are that the people who are most vehemently in favor of one thing or another, have made a choice to follow that protocol or eat food only cooked a certain way or whatever. And typically they made that choice based on purely anecdotal evidence and THEN found research to back them up. And nothing wrong with that, but you pretty much have to read it all and say honestly, “this is my friend’s opinion based upon choices she has made.”

But why do we choose to trust certain experts over others? Well, we tend to believe they are telling the truth, that’s why. Last week 10 doctors sent a letter to Columbia University asking for cardio-thoracic surgeon and tv star Dr Mehmet Oz to be removed from it’s staff. Dr Oz has had to testify before Congress for endorsing a bunk product and he’s quite influential. He has made pronouncements on diet, exercise, surgical procedures. He is often endorsing organic foods. And people eat his advice up. It should be noted that not all of these doctors signing this letter have completely pure hearts or intentions. It’s been revealed that at least two are heavy endorsers of GMOs. But that shouldn’t surprise us, because there is money to be made on all sides of the health care debate.

I often see posts and comments about how medical doctors are in the pocket of big pharma, and therefore out to make the most money all of them can. I see things saying all doctors are liars, thieves, and charlatons. And while in some cases, that may very well be true, well, it’s true on the other side too.

WaPo had an article yesterday on Belle Gibson, the health food guru and cookbook author who claims that her diet cured her of a rare and incurable brain cancer. Except: none of it was true. Gibson was never diagnosed with cancer. It was a very elaborate money-making hoax uncovered by journalists at an Australian newspaper who began to realize that Gibson’s story had large holes in and sweeping generalities and could not give any specifics when requested. And finally, she broken down and told the truth.

Many people are rightly angered and feel betrayed. I don’t blame them, they put their trust whole-heartedly in a person, and that person let them down.

I struggle with trusting God and not myself or my family members or friends or husband or whomever. I often turn to others before God which is so stupid I am sitting here shaking my head just writing it. Prayer, Bible study, the Sacraments, God will speak to me there and guide me. If I let Him. If I trust Him. This is true not just in health issues, but everything. And I somehow doubt God is telling me very often, “well, ask your over 700 friends on facebook!” God will use our friends and family to guide us in our decisions, but often we have to be very careful to ensure that we are listening to God when He tells us whom to ask or confide in, and whom not to.

Life is so incredibly complex. It doesn’t have to be. If we could just, “let go and Let God”…if we could just put our trust in the only place it was intended…

Yes, I know that children with autism can receive the Eucharist, that doesn’t mean my daughter can…or should

But for the time being, my daughter is not one of them. Maybe someday she will be, but not right now.

There’s been a lively debate in the special needs community, particularly among Catholic parents, about the sacraments and their kids with special needs. Lately, several both Catholic and non-Catholic friends have shared this post about Catholic parents who created a special curriculum for their daughter with autism and others. I think what they are doing is wonderful, I applaud and commend it, but it’s still not enough for Shelby,

In the post, the father is quoted as saying:

David explained, “What the bishops ask is that if you are going to receive First Communion and you’re a person with a disability, you need to be able to understand and do two things. You need to recognize the difference between communion and ordinary food, and you need to be able to receive reverently.”

Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with Shelby know that, at this time, she is not able to understand those two things. The tool the couple used to help their daughter is light years ahead of where my daughter is still at age almost nine.

It’s not so much autism that is holding Shelby back as it is developmental delays and sensory processing disorder. I will tell you right now, the SPD is what worries me most, because that very easily could impede receiving reverently. When you have an extreme reaction to certain tastes and textures, the experience could be one that horrifies me to imagine. But the developmental delays mean Shelby is cognitively only about two years old. In the Western Church, we don’t allow two-year-olds to receive the Eucharist (the Eastern Church does things a bit differently in that respect), and despite her chronological age, Shelby does not have the appropriate understanding. Period.

There are those, however, who despite being well meaning, have insisted that Shelby is being discriminated against. Particularly in the special needs community, even with valid reasoning, when someone is denied something, anything there is a rallying cry of “discrimination!” It’s a product of our larger society but disability/special needs advocates, while wonderful and desperately needed, are sounding the wrong cry on this in many (although not all) cases.

In Shelby’s case, no such thing is true. Shelby is not being denied the Sacrament because of a technicality like not being able to recite the Lord’s Prayer despite being able to clearly demonstrate knowledge and the appropriate behavior to receive reverently. That would be, at it’s best, the clericalism Pope Francis is always talking about and very possibly could be discrimination. No, this is not discrimination. This is the careful discernment of a mother who’s spent time agonizing and is now at peace. It has nothing to do with her being non-verbal or even because she cannot write. In my heart of hearts, I know and understand that it is wrong for her to receive when she cannot distinguish what she is receiving and is not able to receive with the proper reverence due the true Body and Blood of our Savior. In his book, 7 Secrets of the Eucharist, author Vinny Flynn explains:

When I receive Communion properly, I am not merely receiving something into me; I am actively involved in the process, fully present to the One who is present within me, uniting my whole being with Him, and through Him entering into a uniquely personal encounter with the Father and th Holy Spirit as well…

Now Vinny is not referring to children with autism or individuals with special needs in this passage, he is referring to adults who lacksadaisicly come forth to receive each week while making mental check lists in their heads and barely uttering an “Amen.” But the idea still works for anyone not able to realize what they are receiving in the sacrament. Shelby falls into that category. It’s also why we don’t allow just anyone to receive at Communion. Protestants, for example, cannot receive the sacrament. (Catholic Answers has this explanation as to why.) Yes, Shelby was born with autism through no fault of her own, but that doesn’t entitle her to be excepted to the rules governing who can and cannot licitly receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the sacrament of Holy Communion. Her having special needs doesn’t qualify her for special treatment. Especially in circumstances of salvation. God knows Shelby and her heart and it is not a punishment for her not to receive, at least not at this point in time.

I think it’s wonderful that many children who were once thought not able to receive have ways to learn and receive now, but this does not mean that every child now has those abilities. It also does not mean that anyone should or will get a free pass. My child will receive the sacrament if and when I can discern her ability to understand and receive reverently, and until that time, she will give God the best she can.

What Divine Mercy Sometimes Looks and Feels Like

We started this week off with Divine Mercy Sunday and with putting our house back on the market. To say it’s an act of faith is not something to take lightly. As friends of ours with a beautiful home in a desirable area can attest to…sometimes it takes more faith than you could imagine.

I was thinking of those friends this week. I had last spoken with them in January as they emailed asking if we still planned on moving. We did and do. They live a couple of states away and have still not sold a home that’s been on the market for 3 years. I’ve been to the previous home (they had to move for the husband’s job) and it is in a beautiful neighborhood in a very desirable suburb of a booming city. It is immaculately kept up and beautifully decorated. And yet, it cannot be moved despite being very competitively priced. They’ve gone through numerous realtors and price changes. They have even had the wife’s mother act as owner for a for sale by owner. They have never gotten a single offer. They even tried to see if the husband could transfer back to the old office, but it couldn’t be done. They’ve moved out all the staging furniture and such at this point and are hoping for renters. They are in full fledged despair. That “right buyer” has never come along. The husband describes the house as an “albatross around his neck.” It doesn’t help that houses older and not as well maintained are selling in their old neighborhood for more than what they are asking.

I try not to think too hard on their story as I know, it could happen to anyone. It could happen to us. I try also not to keep close tabs on friends whose houses sell quickly despite seeming drawbacks. I just try to keep thinking “Jesus, I trust in you” and give my struggle over to the Virgin Mary and St Joseph (no I have not buried a statue but my devotion is there!)

The closing prayer of the Divine Mercy chaplet reads:

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion, inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase your mercy in us so that in difficult moments, we might not despair nor become despondent but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your Holy Will, which is love and mercy itself.

God’s will is mercy and love, even when and especially when it is confusing to our limited human understanding. God’s will during our last stint on the market, turned out to be a lesson in pride. Jeff was sure we could sell the house without replacing our carpet and offering an allowance and even leaving our old wallpaper up. God sent us looky-loos who were quick to say they didn’t want to see more upon entering and many who gave vocal complaints to their realtor for showing them our house. To say it didn’t sting would be a lie. And we did get an offer. An offer so laughably low, we didn’t even acknowledge it. Jeff kept saying he was looking for a buyer who would look at schools, neighbors and structural integrity of the house. God never sent that buyer. And it’s clear now why. So, more new paint, new carpet, no wallpaper, new realtor who would never have advised us (as our previous one did) that people can look past the carpet with the right curb appeal, and a lot of faith in God and realizing that in His mercy, God sometimes tells us “no” or “not yet.”

I have prayed that my friends will realize, despite their obvious disappointment and setbacks, that God has a plan none of us quite “get” at this point. That they have no lost confidence in the Divine Mercy because it is God’s will and is therefore always for the good, even when not obviously so. Sometimes Divine Mercy looks like failure in man’s limited vision or feels like rejection because we cannot know the enormity of God’s will for our own lives, much less anyone else’s.

That’s what I cling to this go-round. In three months we will either have sold or get renters, whatever God wills. Does that mean I will always be cheerful and never worry? Not even remotely. But I still have hope and confidence in Divine Mercy.

Easter and Spring Break Redux

Last Sunday, Easter Sunday, we made our way to Durham, NC to visit my parents and pick up my boys who spent from Good Friday night with them. Thanks to facebook, I was able to get pictures and updates of them…

Egg Coloring 2015 3 Egg Coloring 2015 4 Egg Coloring 2015 Egg Coloring 2105 2 Egg Hunt 1 Egg Hunt 2 Egg Hunt 3 Egg Hunt 4

As you can see fun was had by all. William went from not wanting to participate in his class egg hunt to having a blast at the hunt at my parents’ parish. His teacher convinced him to stay at school the day of the egg hunt by having a “sight word egg hunt” where the kids had to find the eggs with a certain sight word on them. Each child was guaranteed fourteen eggs! After that he was so excited for the egg hunt my parents took him to. They also very seriously colored eggs with my parents and my brother Matt.

Saturday night, my dad took them to the beginning of the Easter Vigil aka “The Fire.” My parents originally planned to take the boys to the entire vigil, but I think they thought better of it. My mother had to sing at the vigil so she stayed and my dad took the boys home. Then they went for a walk around the golf course where they saw a full moon. Here are some of the pics from that:

Joe and the moon Joe and Will and the moon Will and the moon

Yes, they are “holding the moon.” And between the egg hunt and walk, they both got hair cuts.

After dinner with my parents (ham, pork loin, cheesy potato and asparagus) we headed home. Jeff went back to school Monday morning but the kids were home for the week. We spent most of the days this week rotating from computer, books, wii, and backyard games. We also had to get the house ready to go on the market (which it does…tomorrow!) so lots of cleaning too. And I worked four hours every night!

By Friday, my nerves were razor thin because Thursday we had severe thunderstorms during the day and that meant everyone was inside and the dog was freaking the freak out. Thankfully, instead of trying to sit on all of us, he mostly stayed in the bathtub and “dug.” Joseph described the digging as being like Wall-E digging when the spaceship landed. We all got on each other’s nerves and when Jeff got home, I was never so ready to go into work.

Thankfully, Jeff was able to get off on Friday because the realtor was coming Friday evening to take pictures for the MLS listing. And while the house was clean, it was keeping it clean and all the little last minute “keep it perfect” things. And the boys were tired of each other, so it helped to have another parent to hand off some of the interventions to. Thankfully, everything went off with just a few minor hitches. Jeff got flowers in our beds to compliment our blooming azaleas and dogwood tree, we fixed a few nagging things and pictures happened.

Saturday I worked during the day while Jeff held down the fort. I came home to an intact house which was awesome.

The great things about this week were I got to spend a ton of time with my kids, William read to me the first non-school book ever, I got to exercise with Joseph several days, our house stayed pretty clean, and I was able to keep up my prayer schedule! Go me. And I worked a ton of hours.

Spring break is over for everyone in the house now. Tomorrow it is back to school and more regular work schedules for me. Also the house is officially back on the market tomorrow!!! So what better way to start this week off with Divine Mercy Sunday. So, here we go…

All Faith is Baby Steps

A few weeks ago, Katherine at Having Left the Altar and I were having a conversation about facebook and since I have no idea what the topic was on, I have no idea what brought this up but I mentioned Jeff not being Catholic. Her response was, “I didn’t know Jeff wasn’t Catholic.” And while I have brought it up here and on facebook and a few other places, I tend not to make a big deal. Because it’s a HUGE deal and it isn’t at all.

I had the super great idea about marrying a Catholic husband. The only problem: that wasn’t God’s plan for me. I met lots of nice Catholic guys, who were mostly considering the priesthood or were zero interested in me and I wasn’t into them either. My heart was open, however, to the fact that I may not find a Catholic husband (and for a long time, my heart was certain there was no husband but I wasn’t being called to the consecrated life, although I tried very hard to be…that’s a story for another time) because I’ll let you in on a little secret: my dad wasn’t Catholic when my parents got married, he wasn’t even baptized, he and I were baptized in the same ceremony in December of 1979 and my mother’s parents are his Godparents. There wasn’t RCIA back then, so I always get a kick out of my dad saying that he met with an old retired priest who lived in the rectory each week. This poor old priest would sometimes not remember my dad’s name from week to week and sometimes would be in his bathrobe when my dad would show up (leading the housekeeper who answered the door to wonder if my dad really was supposed to meet with him), and I want to say he forgot to put his teeth in one time…I may be confused on that point though. Also, in another funny aside, some cursillstas (sp?) happened to be returning and came and sat in the back of the church during the baptisms (I wasn’t the only baby there…however my Dad got to go first because as the priest said, “If the first baby doesn’t cry, the others won’t follow”) and upon seeing my Dad get baptized they made some kind of joyful noise unto the Lord and my mother said she was shocked her sisters didn’t faint dead away because they did turn an interesting color of white. Moving right along then, when I was sure I met “the one” and we got engaged and then married, I was totally unprepared for the latent hostility of some Catholics and many, many Protestants toward this kind of “mixed marriage.” Most people were great, but when they weren’t wow. Would Jeff become a Catholic like my dad and my uncle Ed? Well, we just didn’t know. I didn’t know. I’d force him to come to mass with me (wow was that a dumb thing to do looking back on it, perhaps just inviting him would have been more appropriate). A devout friend told me to simply pray and not to needle, so I backed off.

And after Shelby was born and diagnosed, well, I really backed off. All our kids were baptized and there was no real discussion, they were Catholic. I was Catholic, they were Catholic. There was no real discussion (despite a lofty theoretical one before we were married) because Jeff professes to be Christian but has never belonged to any denomination or church since I have known him. He was raised a cultural Protestant in a Presbyterian church (you were Christian, because that’s what people were) and briefly attended a local Baptist church as an adult shortly before I met him (he has definite opinions on Baptists…again, a discussion for another time). He didn’t dislike anything particular about Catholicism or Protestant Christianity…he just never found a place he loved. So, okay, he was supportive of me and our kids, that’s what mattered (and matters) most.

I won’t discuss in details Jeff’s issues with Christianity in general, but he often comes to mass with us, sitting in the vestibule with Shelby where they can see and hear without the entire congregation hearing and seeing Shelby and her antics. I know they receive grace just by being there. And we’ve become much more focused at home at the boys learning prayers and grace etc.

Over Easter weekend, we let the boys stay with my parents and at lunch on Saturday, I silently began to cross myself to say grace when out of my peripheral vision, I saw Jeff doing the same.  I was going to silently say grace (Shelby had dug in already…it’s very much a work in progress) but seeing Jeff’s Sign of the Cross, I began to pray our family grace out loud. And he prayed it with me.

It’s no Rosary or even a Hail Mary. It’s definitely not an expressed desire to join RCIA. But it’s there. It’s a baby step. It counts. I’ve read countless accounts of husbands choosing to become Catholic, and they all have this in common, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is such a powerful gift Christ gave us at the Pentecost. When we are able to trust in the third person of the Holy Trinity, we find that all our acts of faith are mere baby steps moving closer to Him who saves. Some of us move more quickly but still with baby steps. Because God knows our hearts and our individual ability to do what we can when we can, and He is infinitely patient with the skeptical and the stubborn. But it is incredibly difficult to not want to “fix” things ourselves and stand back and let the Holy Spirit do His work. But that’s another baby step of faith, particularly when it involves someone we love and we can see so clearly how something can be improved…but we have to trust and obey. We have to take our baby steps and move closer and closer to eternity.