Thursday, 28 April 2011

A Dean's Medallist of a Husband

I want to tell you something about my husband Andy. It’s something I know he will not tell you himself. No, he is a very humble kind of person and I know he would feel self-conscious if he knew what I was about to reveal. He’d give you one of his warm and attractive smiles before looking at his shoes, and shrugging it all off. Should a wife embarrass a husband? Probably not but Andy will never know: he never reads my blog.
My husband Andy, who went back to university at the age of 47, to do a Masters of Teaching degree, has won a Dean’s Medal.
Now isn’t that wonderful? This means Andy finished in the top 2% of students at UWS in 2010.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know that Andy was made redundant two years ago. I told his story in Changing Direction with St Joseph’s Help. For 26 years, he worked in sales and marketing and then one day… he had no job to go to. I remember meeting Andy at the train station as he returned from his last day at work. He was ambling along the platform, swinging his empty briefcase, one man among the many returning-from-the-city women shoppers. And even though he had a smile on his face when he greeted me, I felt very sad. Andy had worked so hard and then one day he was cast aside: no thanks, no farewells, no speeches or gifts. He was a man without a job, a man who’d lost his place in society. And so it is for all those who face redundancy.
Maybe you know Andy applied to do a Masters of Teaching and now, two years later, he has a whole new career ahead of him. He is a primary school teacher and we thank God (and St Joseph) every day for his rewarding and satisfying work.
Now it seems to me that there is an unwritten law that you can’t, at least in public, be your husband’s number one fan. This is sad. But because this is my blog, I am going to totally ignore that rule.
I am one proud wife.
Shortly, before Andy finished his course, last year, I went to the university with him. We walked through the gates and I felt like an alien. There I was, one middle aged woman among hundreds of trendily dressed young students. I felt so out of place. I thought back to when I did my undergraduate degree many years ago. Things have changed since then. Or perhaps I have just got older.  We sat in the coffee shop and, unlike me, Andy was relaxed and looked like he belonged. And I thought about how difficult it must have been to go back to university as a mature age student, to make friends, to compete with much younger people, to learn new ways of learning, to find his place… and how Andy had done all this.
Do you ever get proud feelings about your family? Sometimes I bask in the reflected glory of my children. They sing and play the piano and I can’t. So it seems rather miraculous to me that my children excel at these endeavours.
“You sang so well, Callum. I was really proud of you!”
“I know Mum. You had that silly grin on your face all the time I was singing!”
He was right. I can sometimes be a silly proud mother. I try not to be. I don’t want to be one of those boring type people who think their children are the best in the world, and what a great mother I must be to have such children.
But Andy’s achievements, they have nothing to do with me, so I can sing about them loud and long. In fact Andy gained his degree and high marks despite me.
Oh how I used to complain about the piles and piles of books and papers that took over our bedroom. I remember the day Andy inadvertently said, “I left it in my office. Whoops! I mean it’s in our bedroom.” I glared at him and he cleared a few books away and uncovered the bed and tried to make the room look as if it belonged to both of us.
And then I often complained about the long hours he spent studying. Even when he was physically home, sitting in front of his computer, he was mentally far away. “When are you going to have time for me?” I moaned again and again, even though I knew he was doing his best to juggle family and study.
I wish I’d done better.
But you, Andy: you couldn’t have done better. You are a Dean Medallist of a husband and I am very proud.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Ordinary and Extraordinary

Last year we came home from Mass on Easter Sunday feeling rather upset and unsettled.
When we arrived at the church we found that our usual early morning Sunday congregation had doubled in size. We didn’t mind sitting shoulder to shoulder: it was good to see so many people at Mass on the most important day of the year.
The problem arrived at communion time. Because the congregation was so large, Father took the chalice and headed towards the back of the church, leaving the extraordinary minister to give communion to the front half of the church, including us. Everything was still fine. The parishioners in front of us processed up the aisle, to receive Our Lord. Then it was Sophie’s turn. The extraordinary minister fumbled and dropped the host: Our Lord lay on the carpet. The minister fumbled a second time but my daughter just managed to prevent the host slipping from her tongue. I was so afraid Our Lord would end up on the floor again that I bent down and whispered in Charlotte’s ear: “Put out your hands.” She looked confused as she’d never received communion in the hand before but she did what I said. But I could tell she didn’t feel comfortable. Nor did I. It had been many years since I last held Our Lord in my hands. It didn’t feel right.
When I resumed my place on the kneeler next to Gemma-Rose, I realised my youngest daughter was in tears. “What’s the matter?” I whispered.
“I didn’t get a blessing from Father,” she cried.
Now I know a priest is not obliged to give blessings during Mass but Father S is quite happy to bless anyone that cannot receive Holy Communion for whatever reason. Gemma-Rose had expected to receive a special Easter blessing and was disappointed she had to remain in the pew while we all went up to receive Our Lord. There was no way she could push her way through the parishioners to the back of the church in order to get her usual blessing from the priest.
My tears mingled with Gemma-Rose’s. Nothing felt right and all our expectations of Easter Sunday Mass had dissolved away. We returned home feeling rather let down.
It would have been so easy to let things slip from bad to worse. It could have ended up being a rather dismal Easter Sunday. How were we to save the day?
After breakfast we did what we do every Easter Sunday. We all gathered in the lounge room with our hymn books and we sang By Your Kingly Power, O Risen Lord. And suddenly all the upset feelings disappeared. Our family was gathered together, we were singing our favourite hymn, Jesus had risen and the Easter season of rejoicing stretched ahead of us. It didn’t really matter about our feelings at Mass that morning.
When I was a very new Catholic, I had this idea that I should feel something extraordinary whenever I received Our Lord. I waited week after week to feel the magic, and week after week I was disappointed. I wondered if in fact the problem lay in holiness. Perhaps I just wasn’t worthy enough to feel the special presence of Our Lord. Since that time I have come to believe that feelings have very little to do with anything. Yes, sometimes I am overwhelmed with joy at Mass and other times I feel rather ordinary. The feeling is not important. It’s the ability to say, “Lord I believe!” regardless of any sensation that is of value.
We all work so hard during Lent, and at last Easter Sunday is here and we can’t wait to celebrate the rising of Our Lord. We want to come home feeling so joyful and happy but sometimes it doesn’t turn out the way we expect.
Except for this Easter.
We went to the Vigil on Saturday evening. The usual Easter Vigil rain didn’t appear, so for once Father was able to light the fire in the brazier in the church grounds. The Pascal candle was lit and with thoughts of the Light coming into the World, we all processed into the dark church.
We didn’t lose anyone in the dark and we found a pew where we could all sit together.
We didn’t hear those ominous words from the people sitting behind us: “I can smell burning hair”: Gemma-Rose’s blonde locks didn’t need rescuing from the candle flame.
All our choir members sang beautifully despite the fact they had to read their music by the light of their mobile phones for the first part of Mass.
No one fidgeted or fell asleep. Everyone sat captivated.
Charlotte and Sophie had the honour of taking the gifts up at the time of the offertory.
We all received Holy Communion from Father S including Gemma-Rose, who no longer needs a blessing.
We all knelt in thanksgiving and yes, we felt joy. We certainly didn’t feel ordinary about the Extraordinary.
Thank you, Lord for this extra blessing.
Happy Easter!

Friday, 22 April 2011

United to Love

A couple of years ago, I went to the funeral of a friend’s baby and I grieved. I grieved for my friend’s lost son; I grieved for my own lost baby; I grieved for all parents who have ever buried a child. The sorrow that had been hidden in that safe place, deep inside me, made its way back up to the surface and overflowed. It engulfed me completely.
I have another friend C, who is suffering too. She is right there on the cross and there seems to be no end in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel. My heart has been so heavy today; I can feel her pain. I want to help her, to encourage her in her struggle but I feel so useless.
I was in the line processing towards the Cross, this afternoon, waiting for my turn to place a kiss upon the wood. A wave of sadness overwhelmed me. And just like at my friend’s baby’s funeral, I could feel afresh all the pain I have ever suffered. I could feel my pain and all my friends’ pain. Could I feel Jesus’ pain? Our own sorrows (heavy as they are) must be only a dim reflection of the suffering undergone by Our Lord. I returned to the pew with a huge burden of grief upon my heart.
We gain compassion through suffering. We have an idea of what someone else is feeing because we have known pain too. Our hearts can ache even though the pain belongs to another person.
I think about Jesus suffering on the Cross. He knows pain and suffering like us. How perfectly He must understand what we are going through, how we are feeling. How His heart must overflow with compassion on our behalf. On this Good Friday how close He must be to those who are also suffering. My understanding, my heart ache, my compassion must only be a dim reflection of His.
I kissed the Cross. My eyes filled with tears. I thought:  I didn’t want to suffer. I don’t want my friends to suffer. I wish Jesus hadn’t had to suffer for us. But He did. And we do. But we are not alone. We are sufferers united, united by pain but also by Love. And love changes everything. We can suffer anything for love.
We celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord on Sunday.
C, you are loved; you are understood; you are not alone. Keep hoping; keep trusting; keep going. There will be light at the end of the tunnel. There will be a resurrection. How could there not be? You are united to Love.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Counting the Candles

I am older than my mother.
My mother stopped aging when she reached her 21st birthday but I sailed right past that milestone on into middle age. So my mother is 21 while I am… no, I don’t think I am quite ready to reveal my age.
Why do we feel reluctant to tell people how old we are? Is there something shameful about getting older? I just don’t understand it.  We are all aging whether we like to admit it or not. We are all going to get old.
Back in those dim and distant days of my youth, I thought I’d be young forever. Wrinkles and saggy skin happened to other people but I couldn’t imagine it happening to me.
I remember reading novels as a teenager. If I discovered that the heroine was older than me, I lost interest. How can a teenager identify with such ancient beings as twenty somethings or thirty somethings?
When I was a mother of two in my late twenties, I had a couple of friends who were about ten years older than me. I thought they were really old. Although I was willing to admit they were very nice despite their advanced age.
Nowadays, I would be quite happy to be in my late thirties. I would have no trouble admitting to that age which sounds so young to my middle aged ears.
My grandmother lived to the advanced age of 93. I heard she was very upset when everyone celebrated her 70th birthday with a special party and a huge “I’m 70 today!” badge. Obviously she didn’t feel 70. She didn’t want to be put on display and labelled as ‘old’. But by the time she’d reached 90 she’d changed her mind. Her age was now her trophy. She was rather proud of having lived so many years. She was a very active woman and was rightly proud of her continuing ability to stay fit and involved with life.
Years ago, people would say such flattering things to me like, “Wow! You don’t look old enough to have 3, 4. 5… children! You look so young.” (I am sure this has happened to you too.) Now that I have 8 children and I am of advanced years, no one has said such magical and welcome words to me in a long time.
Sometimes I add a few years to my age.
“How old are you?”
“I’ll be 69 next birthday.”
“Wow! You look so young for 69!”
I think they suspect I couldn’t possibly be 69, but it is the only way I am going to hear those wonderful words ever again.
I have never lied about my age (except in jest). What would be the point?  Everyone knows I have a 24 year old daughter so I can’t exactly be 21, can I?  I rather spoilt my mother’s deception when I overtook her in age. She might have got away with announcing she was still 21 being a very youthful and beautiful person, but I spoilt it all by being very open about exactly how old I was.
Well, it’s easy being open about age when you are in your twenties. The world belongs to twenty something people. They haven’t even hit their prime. There is no shame in being twenty.
And so I am back to the question: is there something shameful in getting older?
I have come to the conclusion that no one wants to get older because generally no one respects and values the older members of our society. Wisdom and experience are not regarded as assets in a world where good looks, youth and health are everything. Old folk tend to get labelled as ‘passed it’ and are regarded as a problem.
And who likes the thought of being a problem? To be old and frail and dependant on friends and family and society? To be regarded as a burden?
All of my children have promised to look after me in my old age. Some years ago, Callum said, “Dad can come and live with me when he’s old. I’ll cook magnificent dinners and then we’ll watch the motor racing together.”
“I’m sorry to tell you this, Callum,” I replied, “but Dad and I come as a package. If you have Dad, you’ll have to have me as well.”
“I’ll have you, Mum,” offered Imogen. “I’m going to be a doctor and I’ll take care of your health too.”
“Perhaps we can all take turns having Mum and Dad,” someone else piped up. “We’ll share you.”
I don’t think I like the idea of being a parcel passed from household to household. Perhaps each child will get fed up with having old Mum and old Dad living with them and will be glad to pass us on to the next sibling. But it is nice to think, right at this moment, they all want to share us.
When all our children have grown up and left home, I wonder if they will look to Andy and me for advice and wisdom? Will they value our experience and knowledge gained through getting older? Will they look upon us as mentors?
Some months ago, I was asked to be a mentor by a beautiful, much younger mother of two. My new friend lives in the US and we swap emails sharing our experiences. I am just so very pleased N doesn’t think I am too old to be her friend. I really enjoy swapping news, discussing our lives, sharing our Faith…
N has created a blog called My Domestic Chaos…er… I Mean Monastery and is ‘gathering help from those who are older and wiser.” She says, “Please help me make my home a sanctuary… or at least keep my sanity.”
So if you are older and wiser or just willing to share your experiences, please visit my friend’s blog. N is such a delightful writer. I am sure you will enjoy her posts. Please stop and comment and join in a discussion where age does not matter. All that matters is one mother helping another. Or one father:  my friend Anthony has already visited N’s blog and sprinkled a few of his entertaining wise words into the comments section.
The other day I was talking to a couple of friends about my birthday which is rapidly approaching.
“I’ll be 50 in 2 weeks’ time,” I announced. And then I stopped and thought for a moment. “Did you hear that? I said I’ll be 50.” I actually said my age out loud in public. And no one backed off screaming in horror.
And now you know how many candles will be on my next birthday cake.
50: that doesn’t sound too bad, does it? I can live with that number. I know that in 10 years’ time, when I reach my 60th birthday, 50 will sound rather attractive. Perhaps I will even enjoy being 50.
I imagine you, my internet friends out there in the blogosphere, reading this post. Are you thinking, “Hey! I didn’t realise Sue was so old. I can’t relate to the ramblings of such an ancient blogger"? Will you tip toe quietly away and head off in search of more youthful musings?  Or will you stay around despite my advancing years? Will we still be friends now that I am almost 50?

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Great Glass Confessional

The boys came home one day, not long ago, and reported that a strange triangular glass room was being constructed at the meeting point of two internal walls of our church. We all speculated what it could be. Maybe it was a display case for a statue or a relic or an incorrupt body (!) A tiny crying room? A store room? A miniature chapel?  Soon we ran out of ideas. We never suspected it was a confessional. After all, we already had a perfectly good one of those.
Now I really couldn’t see why we needed a new confessional. I rather liked the old traditional one with its thick sound-proof door that kept my secrets safe from fellow parishioners. There by the priest’s window was the old wooden kneeler.  I knew that confessional intimately. It was familiar. I liked it. What I didn’t like was the idea of change.
“I can’t cope with something new, Father. I’m getting too old for change. What’s wrong with the old confessional?” I asked next time I saw our parish priest.
Father brushed aside my I’m-getting-too-old-for-change concern. He is right: most people in our congregation are far older than me. He added, “It’s dark and dingy and difficult to get into and out of.  And there’s no provision for face-to-face confession if anyone wants it.”
I wasn’t convinced. I could get into and out of the small room easily. And I didn’t want face-to-face confession.
A week ago, I arrived at the church to confess my sins.  The old confessional has been decommissioned. I had to face the new one.
I slid into a pew and looked at the new construction. It wasn’t my idea of a confessional at all: a very modern frosted glass wall encloses a triangular portion of the church. It is certainly very different from the old traditional one. What would it be like inside?
It was my turn for confession. I pulled open the glass door and was relieved to find my old friend the kneeler positioned next to a purple curtain suspended from the ceiling. I knelt down and promptly forgot my surroundings. Modern glass confessional or traditional gloomy confessional, it made no difference to the sacrament. I confessed my sins, was absolved and returned to the main part of the church with a pure clean soul.
I knelt in the main part of the church and thought about the confessional. Perhaps I’d been wrong. I’d been thinking about my own likes and dislikes. I’d been very wrapped up in my own opinions and hadn’t given a thought to anyone else.  The new confessional will be much easier  for the older parishioners to use. Not everyone is able to wind their way with ease through the pews and musical instruments in front of the door of the old confessional. Not everyone is able to kneel like me. Some people will appreciate being able to sit on a chair and confess their sins.
Just the other day I read in Fr d’Elbee’s I Believe in Love the following words:
Remember that each time you pick yourself up after a fall, the feast of the prodigal son is renewed. Your Father in Heaven clothes you again in His most beautiful cloak, puts a ring on your finger, and tells you to dance with joy. In a living faith, you will not approach the confessional with dragging feet, but as if you were going to a feast, even if you have to make a great effort each time to humble yourself and conquer the monotony of the routine.
After the absolution, you should dance like the prodigal son did at the request and the joy of his father. We do not dance enough in the spiritual life. (pp34-35)
I think about  Sophie and Gemma-Rose coming out of the confessional with their souls freshly washed. Huge smiles illuminate their faces. They skip through the church, their whole bodies reflecting the joy they feel. And as we watch the girls, our own faces light up with smiles. Joy is contagious.
It won’t matter to my younger girls what the confessional looks like or what it is made of. They will continue to come through the door dancing with joy after receiving our Father’s ring and His beautiful cloak.
And after all, aren’t we just so fortunate to have a confessional? What if we had no place to meet our Lord, to be received at the feast of the prodigal son?

Friday, 15 April 2011

The Splat

The women’s race is about to begin.
“Are you ladies going to run?” I ask, looking at the row of mothers sitting on the sidelines. They all cross their arms, shake their heads emphatically and remain firmly attached to their chairs.
“What about you? You could have a go,” one woman challenges back.
“But I’m the oldest here,” I protest. “You’re all much younger than me.”
Then Imogen appears. “Come on Mum. The race is about to start. You are going to run, aren’t you?”
“But I’m not dressed for running,” I say looking down at my long skirt and boots. “I can’t run in these clothes.”
 Or can I? A wild thought comes into my head. Shall I do the usual mother thing and stay safely on the side lines? Or shall I be daring? Should I throw caution to the wind and do the unexpected? I imagine flying through the air, my children cheering me on. I shall feel wonderful as I cross the finish line.
 My decision is made. Imogen smiles as I take my place with all the other daring mums. Yes, I can do it. Probably no one knows I can still run. I‘m going to surprise them all. I will be spectacular.
Ready. Set. Go.
We are off. I can feel the breeze on my face as I race through the air. I am moving beautifully. My arms are pumping.  I am spectacular. For a full five metres, I am poetry in motion. And then… my feet slip from underneath me. I am doing the unexpected. I am flying towards the ground.  Splat! Yes, I hit the ground in one huge, spectacular, surprising splat.
I lie still and Michele abandons the race and comes to my aid. “Sue! Are you OK?” I think for a few seconds, “Am I OK? “
 Then I realise what I’m feeling is not pain but embarrassment. I look up at the anxious faces around me and then I smile and I jump up quickly. “I’m fine. It was my boots. They’re not designed for running. I should have run bare foot.” I am anxious to explain: it was the boots, not me.  Everyone looks relieved and although no one laughs, I feel a bit foolish.
I am coated in dirt from head to foot. Someone kindly dusts me down. Imogen insists on examining me for injuries but finds only two gravel rash hands.
“I told you I wasn’t dressed for running,” I say again feeling very silly.
Later as we are travelling home we start talking about the athletics carnival.
Sophie: “I came first in the cross country race and third in the sprints.”
Imogen: “I came second in my race.”
Charlotte: “Our relay team came dead last but we tried!”
Gemma-Rose: “I ran two laps.”
Andy: “I don’t know where I came in the fathers’ race but I beat Uncle Anthony and that’s all that matters.”
Me: “I went splat! No one else went splat like me!”
I sit quietly thinking. I wanted to surprise them all. I wanted to be spectacular. Well, that splat was certainly spectacular.  I’d imagined flying across the finish line in triumph. Instead I ended up flat on the ground covered in dirt. Perhaps I should have just stayed safely on the sidelines with the sensible mothers. I wouldn’t have ended up feeling so embarrassed.
Why do we get so embarrassed when we fail? Do we really look as silly as we feel? And how much fun are we missing out on as we sit safely on the sidelines, too afraid to get involved?
“Are you going to try again next year, Mum?” Sophie asks. “Will you race again?”
I am silent for a few moments. Will I play it safe or will I take a risk?
“Next year, I’m not going to run in boots. I am going to wear proper running shoes.”
The girls smile at me. “You’ll be spectacular Mum!”
Spectacular? Well, maybe not. But I will have fun.
Congratulations to all the daring mothers who made it to the finish line. Thank you, Gae for stepping over me and not on me. And a special thank you to Michele who should be awarded the Good Samaritan Medal for giving up her chance of winning the race in order to come to my aid.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Speed Angel Joy

I am sitting by the lake watching four girls scooting along the path. They are the Speed Angel Sisters and they are fast! Every now and then the girls veer off onto the grass and come to a sudden halt: a pedestrian is approaching. Now the speedway is clear again, and strong legs start pushing, wheels are revolving, hair flies back and sounds of laughter drift towards me.
Four tired girls drag themselves back to the picnic table. They are breathless and red faced, but joy pours out of them.
“Wow! That was fun,” Sophie exclaims as she plops herself down next to me.
“Thirsty? Hungry?” I ask and four heads nod emphatically. I pass out drinks and slices of cake, and for a few minutes there is not a sound except for the screeching of the sulphur-crested cockatoos which are flying overhead. The birds catch our attention as they circle above us. Soon we are identifying all the birds we can see. A black and white bird on long thin legs struts by and we wonder what it is. The bird book is opened and soon a positive identification is made: a magpie lark.
Talk turns to autumn and deciduous trees. Then the girls take a walk around the lake gathering leaves and noticing the different tree shapes. They take photos of birds and leaves and the lake and each other. They are thinking of scrapbooks and stories. When they return to the picnic table, they unpack the sketch books and pencils. Soon four girls are busy drawing, and while they are working, we continue to talk. Why were all the non-native ducks ejected from the lake? Where did they go? Didn’t they have a right to live at the lake? Weren’t they born there? And if you are born somewhere doesn’t that give you a right to call a place home? What about all the non-indigenous Australians? But also, what about the Aborigines?
The girls are rested. It is time for more lake-side scooting. Pencils and sketch books are tossed into the basket and scooters are grabbed. They run down to the path and are soon flying along.
I sit and watch my girls, and my heart overflows with joy. Here I am with four of my children enjoying the autumn sun on a Thursday morning. I look at the blue, blue sky and the sun shimmering off the water, the coloured leaves, the birds… and the beautiful smiles on the faces of my girls. It is a perfect moment, a moment I want to remember forever. Surely I must be the most blessed mother ever?
I wonder about joy. What is it and where does it come from? What is it that is flooding my heart? Could it be love? Could it be God? And I remember some words from the book “I Believe in Love” by Fr d’Elbee:
“Do you think you are a joy for Jesus?”… is it not a matter of elementary logic that a father and his child should be a joy for one another? “Jesus You are my joy, and I, too, am Your joy. Is it not written that “His delight is to be with the children of men”?
I think about how my children love me. I think about their trust, their delight and enjoyment of life, their joy. And I wonder: Am I like a child? Do I trust? Am I a joy and delight for God like my children are for me?
The morning is over. We are driving home. I reflect on what I have learnt today. What have my children added to my education? I think of the number of birds and trees I can now identify and how I can explain how photosynthesis works and why leaves change colour in autumn. I think of the sketches and the photos and the scrapbooks I might help make. I recall the dilemma of being a non-indigenous duck. I could have learnt about the fun of scooting. I could have been a Speed Angel Mother flying along with the wind in her hair. Yes, it has been a morning packed with education.
But there is one more thing I have learnt, something much more important than identifying birds or trees, or taking good photos.
I have learnt about joy, about a mother and her children being a joy for each other. And how important it is to slow down and spend time together learning and sharing together, loving and enjoying each other. How many times do I say “I’d like to do that with my children… one day… when I get time”? But time moves so fast. My four scooting Speed Angel Sisters will be grown up before I know it. And will I look back and wish I’d spent more time just enjoying my children, delighting in them, experiencing the pure joy of being their mother?
And will I have been God’s little child scooting along through life with trust and confidence, delight and abandonment? Will I have taken joy in Him who takes joy in me? Will I have tried to love as He loves me?
Next time we go to the lake I think I will borrow a scooter and race my girls around the lake. I can just imagine their faces: they will be lit up with huge smiles of delight. Pure joy will radiate from my children as their ‘old’ mother throws caution to the wind and attempts to be a little child.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Three Sizes Too Big

Andy knows a girl who has only one pair of shoes – shoes that are three sizes too big and have the soles hanging off. A friend of Andy’s hunted out a pair of shoes her daughter had outgrown and offered them to the girl. Her face lit up as if she’d been given a huge pile of Christmas gifts instead of a second-hand pair of shoes. The grateful girl’s absolute delight in her new possession made the friend feel like crying. Andy felt like crying too and by the time he’d told me the story, I had tears in my own eyes.
My children only have one pair of shoes each too: one pair of Mass shoes, oh and yes, one pair of sports shoes, together with one pair of sandals, one pair of slippers and of course, they have one pair of boots… perhaps they each have gum boots too. At the bottom of their shoe boxes there are probably other odd pairs of shoes that are perfectly serviceable but for some reason don’t get worn.
Andy was telling me this shoe story while we were out shopping for Easter eggs for our children. We wandered up and down the aisles in the department store trying to decide: so much choice. Now our children won’t be getting any of those fancy eggs that come with Peter Rabbit or Disney Princess cups. They won’t even be getting an egg that comes in a box. Six 79 cent chocolate rabbits, six medium unboxed Cadbury eggs and a bag or two of small hunting eggs went into our trolley. By some people’s standards this is rather a modest Easter gift for each child. But other people will think that our children have been utterly spoilt. Andy tells me that the little girl, with the shoes three sizes too big, does not expect to get even one little hunting egg.
I think of our family as a pretty average family. We have six still-at-home children and we live on a modest income due to the fact that Andy has just retrained as a school teacher. Having taken up his first teaching position he has had to start on the bottom rung of the teachers’ salary ladder. So we don’t think of ourselves as an affluent family. But are we really poor? Of course not. We do not really know what it is like to be poor. I am not saying we can buy everything our children want but whenever one of our children has a need, I am able to go out and buy whatever is necessary. I do not have to dress my children in clothes three sizes too big.
Our parish supports an orphanage in East Timor. At regular intervals during the year, we are given updates on the nuns and the children under their care. And we are always told that everyone at the orphanage is praying for our parish. They are praying for an improvement in our circumstances. Whatever we need, they pray God will give it to us. It seems so upside down to me. The nuns are praying for our circumstances which are so much more fortunate than their own. They are so grateful if we send a small donation to help them, money that really we do not miss, that we can afford to give.
There are so many needy children in the world both at home and overseas.
Andy and I were talking about how very blessed we have been with our own family. Our children have everything they need and more, they are well educated and most importantly, they are loved and know they are valued. Do we not have a duty to share our blessings with children who have less?
The girls and I were discussing the corporal works of mercy the other day and how important it is to perform them. There must be many children who have inadequate footwear. We could easily sort through the shoe boxes and donate our spare shoes to a worthy cause. This would help. But is that too easy? Giving away our excess would also help us by lightening our load and easing our consciences. I sometimes wonder if God is asking us to go the extra mile.
A few years ago at Mass, we used to sit behind a family who’d adopted a special needs child. One day there was an article in the local paper featuring this family. The article highlighted the plight of unwanted children: so many special needs children or past-toddler-age children that no one will welcome into their homes. I think about being unwanted. How distressing. Doesn’t every child deserve a loving family to grow up in?
We get so caught up with our own family. Sometimes it is just a struggle to see to the needs of our own children. But one day we reach the stage when we have a little time and a little energy to spare… We are thinking and praying…could we? What does a needy child want? Just a place to belong… and a little love… and we have plenty of that.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Hardening My Too Soft Heart

“I want you to think about what you’re saying to each other,” I sigh, as yet another thoughtless remark rolls off Ruby’s tongue. “It would be a good Lenten penance to bridle your tongues. Perhaps we should have given up unkind words instead of chocolate.”
Do your children ever bicker? My girls seem to have slipped into a careless habit of talking to each other: unkind remarks seem to slip off their tongues so easily. I’ve had enough. I decide a lecture is called for.
“You wouldn’t talk to your friends the way you talk to each other. You’d be too frightened. A friend mightn’t want to know you any more if you talked to her like that. Just because your sister can’t stop being your sister, doesn’t mean you can treat her any way you want. In fact, you should take even more care how you treat your family. We’re supposed to love each other but no one would know it by listening to what you say to each another.” (I’m sure I’ve heard all these words before. Did they come from my mother’s mouth?)
I have a bit of a rant and a rave and then four girls, some more guilty than others, are released from the lecture. They slink off. They have lots to think about.
Soon I have to head out the door for a dental appointment. It is such a beautiful autumn day. I drive along past all the paddocks of cows and notice the trees which are just beginning to turn red and yellow. I think how perfect a day it would be to go to the lake. I start to plan the afternoon. We could pack cake and chocolate milk and the girls could take their scooters. They’d enjoy rolling along the paths while I sit at a picnic table, soaking up the autumn sun. I could take a book along to read.  I have it all worked out.
I return home. I stride through the door with a smile on my face. “Get your scooters ready. We’re going to the lake! I have treats for afternoon tea.”
A few minutes later I notice Ruby. She has her woe-is-me face on, her please-notice-I am-not-happy face. “What’s up Ruby?”
“Well, Scarlet wasn’t very nice to me. She said… and then she said…”
“Wait! Scarlet what happened?”
“Ruby was really nasty. She said… and then she said…”
My heart sinks. My cheerful warm mood is gone. “I don’t want to hear any more! Didn’t you listen to a word I said this morning?” (I think those words also belonged to my mother.)
All of a sudden I don’t feel inclined to take Ruby and Scarlet to the lake. They sound like two spoilt girls who don’t appreciate anything. They could have been happy and excited about going on an outing. Instead they feel they have to tell tales on each other. I decide that the trip out is off. “That’s it! I’m not taking you two girls anywhere. Bianca and Violet can come with me into town. We’ll do some shopping and we might stop for a milkshake. But you too are staying right here!” Instantly tears start to spurt from eyes and noses begin to run.
I look at the two sad girls. I could change my mind. I could say, “This is a warning. Next time I really will cancel the treat.” I look out the window at the glorious sunny afternoon and am tempted to give in. How many more perfect autumn afternoons are we going to get before winter arrives? But for once, I don’t give in to my too soft heart. I ignore the tears.
“While I am out I want you both to cook dinner together. I expect you to cooperate and not to fight.” The tears flow even faster as they both realise that this time I am going to stand firm.
So without a backward look, I go through the front door followed by two girls, not four.
Have I made the right decision? I feel such a bad mother. These thoughts go through my head as we drive along. They would have loved going to the lake. Couldn’t I have just warned them?
Three hours later, I draw up on the driveway. I don’t know what to expect as I enter the house. The first thing I notice is a delicious smell: dinner is bubbling away on the stove. The kitchen is clean and tidy. And two girls are sitting side by side at the kitchen table sewing together.
“Scarlet helped me sew this heart!” announces Ruby showing me a beautiful green and pink stuffed felt heart. Scarlet is still putting the finishing touches to her heart. They add hanging threads to their creations and then thrust them towards me: “We made them for you, Mum!”
“Scarlet also helped me ice the cake I made.”
“And we cooked the dinner.”
“I just love you, Scarlet!” exclaims Ruby. Scarlet smiles and allows herself to be engulfed in a tight younger sister hug.
Peace has returned to our home… at least for today.
Do you sometimes despair over the behaviour of your children? Do you sometimes have to steel yourself to hand out a punishment? And does your too soft heart ache as you have to deny your children something you know they will enjoy?
 As you know I don’t really have four daughters called Bianca, Ruby, Scarlet and Violet. Names have been changed to save embarrassment!