Write In Between

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Putting off letting go

I am going to mop my kitchen floor today. A good part will be done on my knees, by hand. It is a hardwood floor that usually just needs a touch up, a good sweeping and a damp mop. But lately, I've let things go and it needs the full treatment. I've even purchased a new mop for the occasion.

It's a chore I've been putting off.

This week, exactly 4 months prior to his 13th birthday, I realized that my youngest son may not yet be chronologically a teen, but he really is one. Twice this week, he has whined at me, and harumphed at me, complete with the dreaded "eyeroll." It's official. I live with three adolescents.

Up until now, this child was content to just be a child. But more and more I see the changes. The need for more privacy. The occasional girlwatching. More time "alone" in his room, and the part I like the least.... the complaints to me whenever a task is assigned. Doing chores has always been a part of this household, but when the teen years come, some kind of weird attitude or sense of entitlement shows up on the scene-- and it becomes a less cooperative venture. It has happened with the others. It's happening again. 'Nuff said.

Over 18 years ago, I stood staring over my oversized belly at dirty linoleum, awaiting the birth of child number one. A friend advised me to stay active to help induce labor. So I mopped the floor. Contractions started in the middle of the night and I gave birth later that day.

I have always remembered my first birth whenever I wash the floor. It was a night where I let go of the "the-two-of-us" stage... and there, with the physical and emotional pain of labor, moved into the new stage of family and childhood.

For years I fully embraced the childhoods of my three children, often wanting to put off letting go to the next stage. I never "rushed" my children to grow up. It was OK to linger until one was absolutely ready. But whether I wanted to embrace it or not, adolescence came right on schedule.

The first two went through puberty at the same time. It was a rough transition to the teenage years, but we survived. These days, the oldest is filling out college applications and the middle one is filling out a driver's permit. There are girlfriends and boyfriends at family gatherings. We talk about money and schedules and homework and chastity instead of stories and playdates and dress-up and make-believe.

The door of childhood is slowly closing... it is a bittersweet transition. There will be just a couple of toys under the tree this Christmas. And I am learning to do this better, even though with my youngest, it is like a chore I would rather put off. I'd love to linger just a little while longer, but time is marching on, and he is ready, even if I am not.

And so I'm marking the transition of "giving birth" to another adolescent, and our remaining years at home, with the activity that first ushered in the childhood years... I am mopping the floor. I am sure to mop up a few tears along with it. And I will pray for each of them as I offer up this chore I would rather put off.

If you are a mother, I'm sure you understand.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Counting Blessings... in random order

We are alive.

We are a family.

We live and move and have our being in Christ.

Clearing off my desk.



Vivaldi's "Four Seasons"

Friends you can count on.

Fresh strawberries.

Dark chocolate.

The first snowfall.

The last snowfall.


Good report cards.


A happy ending.

Unexpected notes in the mail.

Kids who clean up.

Catholic schools and the teachers who teach there.

Listening to music.

The Mass.

News of a new baby.

When things work out.

The promise of a vacation.

Our faith.

A cordless phone with good battery life.

Stunningly gorgeous flowers.


Finding a new wine to enjoy.

Good check-ups.

Time to savor cup of tea.



Favorite saints.

Restaurants on the water.

Anyplace near the seacoast.

Road trips.

Finding something that was lost.

Long distance phone calls.

School plays.

Watching kids build with Legos.

A fire in the fireplace.



Favorite authors.


Help with chores.

Sitting in the sun.

Finding a solution.

Clearing up a misunderstanding.

The cross at our church.

Clean laundry.

Consistant communication.

Italian food.

Playing the Tooth Fairy.


A beautiful sunset.

When carpools work out.

Declarations of love.

Blooming irises.

A new song.

Ice- cream.

New stove.


Visiting family.


Bills paid.

Help when its needed.

A down comforter on a bed.

A good confession.

Answers to prayer.

New York.

Comfortable shoes.



House with full fuel tank.

All the kids around the dinner table.

Obedient dog.

Food in the frig.

A sweet smell coming from the kitchen.

Time to read.

Safe driving.

Chinese food.

A happy teenager.


Any meal I didn't have to prepare.

A good deli.

Family outings.

Interesting coursework.

Sports teams to play on and watch.


More laughter.

Inside jokes.

Overcoming fears.

Homecomings and reunions.

Lord of the Rings

Picnics and barbeques.

Good priests.

An "A" on a paper.

Evenings after the dishes are done.


The Catechism.



Talking it over.

A phone call from someone you were just thinking of.

A job that you are well suited for.

Encouraging words.

"I love you."


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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Holy Heartbreak

I just got off the phone with my mother. We shared the usual updates on loved ones, health, recent events, and the soon approaching holiday visitation "schedule."

Let's take that last item: holiday visitation with the extended family. I find myself dealing with the same frustration I often experience in a house full of teenagers, namely, the often daily question: when will you be home for dinner? (Or what my heart is asking, when will we be all together?) Don't get me wrong, I am thankful that I have active, involved and responsible teens, but gosh, I really miss them at the dinner table--be it for high school sports, or the part-time job. Last Sunday we unexpectedly found all 5 of us home (a fall sport had just ended) and my husband promptly invited us all out to dinner, just to celebrate being together!

Our extended family forms a geographical triangle between Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. There are only so many days off, and so much time to visit, not to mention the time and resources to traverse to all these places. But even with advanced planning, it seems we still "miss" some family grouping on a given holiday. If we go to New York for one holiday, we need to go to New Jersey for another. Its a series of delicate trade-offs and negotiations. And that's just for relatives, add in visiting friends in either region, and there's a secondary matrix of complications. That old joke about families only getting together for weddings and funerals is sounding less funny these days.

As I spoke to my mother, I was listening in between the lines, you know-- the radar of capturing what's not being said. I heard the longing that we will miss each other on yet another holiday. I feel that too. But at times, I am powerless to change the circumstances to remedy it.

I have no great solutions on how to fix the problem of long-distance-relatives-longing-to-be-closer. I do have the determination to muddle through: to do our best, to make plans, to look forward to the plans we can make, and in between we will call.

In the end, its a holy heartbreak whenever we are separated from our loved ones, whatever the reasons. I wonder if this is one of the reasons that Jesus left us the Eucharist before he died? He was anticipating the separation, and wanted the apostles to stay together, to remember, to share a meal.

I know we have a God who understands the human longing of separation, given Jesus' weeping over the peoples of Jerusalem who "missed" his visitation, and his tears for his friend Lazarus in the tomb. After all, when we were separated from him by sin, the Father sent his Son to rescue us.

Sometimes, when I am at Mass, and especially when I am missing someone I love, I imagine Jesus being the invisible link through the distance to that other person. And if I can also think of that person receiving communion at a another Mass somewhere far from me, I almost experience a kind of transcendent unity with that person. We can have that unity in Christ, if nothing else.

We long for communion, plain and simple. We're made for it, it's built in. Communion with others and with God.

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Sunday, November 13, 2005

Life is Merrier with a Boston Terrier

When our beloved Golden Retriever, Sandy, died, we wondered if we would ever find “puppy love” again. In time, our grief yielded a search for the next dog. We had been Big Dog people, but now, took our time weighing the attributes of Purebreds vs. Mutts, or “mixed breeds,” Big vs. Small. “Small Dog” won out for many stage-of-life reasons. “Boston Terrier” was picked for smarts and heart: Big Dog attitude in a pint-sized body.

Enter a 4 ½ pound black and white “Boston” puppy, adopted from our carefully selected breeder (paid for with an obscene amount of cash—did I mention the puppy’s “champion” mother’s c-section birth?) and dubbed “Brady.” (Thank you New England Patriots.)

Ever since, we experience the antics and angst of a bug-eyed, he’s-so-darn-cute-where’s-the-cookie, four-on-the-floor heart breaker.

Our kitchen became Puppy Central. And life was good.

Occasionally, we forgot that puppy proofing is as important as baby proofing. Alas, an AWOL packing peanut from the latest Amazon order was lurking under the dishwasher… and that became “Emergency vet visit #1 (don’t ask why we number them)” to our local Animal Hospital. (Did you know that some vet hospitals actually offer 24/7 services? Indeed, and it comes with a price.)

Styrofoam ingestion made our poor pup lethargic, nauseous and poopy (and I don’t mean “sleepy.”) A helpless 6 pounds, Brady had little to lose. Whisked to the vet, given anti-nausea drugs and rehydrated by injection (they shot his upper torso with water and saline that would “absorb”) Brady looked like a cross between a sumo-wrestler-dog, and the Michelin-tire-mascot on teetering legs. To our relief and Brady’s, a day later, remains of the packing peanut made its “appearance,” just hours short of the “if it doesn’t pass, we’ll have to operate” option.

Housebreaking was delayed by several weeks as there was too much snow on the ground in February and March. However, Brady was a star pupil at Puppy Kindergarten, performing commands from week one. Other dog owners wanted to trade their dogs for “teacher’s pet,” until we revealed Brady’s social indiscretions in the potty department. But, by May, things were growing, and we had little yellow burned-out spots all over our greening lawn. We considered letting the puppy beyond kitchen confinement, and life was good.

I was out of town when I got the call that Brady was limping. No evidence of injury, but a limp. (Note the timing: over a weekend, outside of normal business hours.) After hubby consulted with me long distance, I shared the breeder’s warnings about potential puppy bone injuries (compared to former Big Dog.)

Dutiful husband packs puppy for “Emergency room visit #2.” Imagine this comedy: 6’3” owner carries 11” dog from the car. Midget dog and owner register, are “tri-aged,” then wait. Patient passes all orthopedic exams. No hint of limp or pain. No harm done, better to be safe, “especially with a puppy.” Later at home that same day… the limp, complete with whimper, reappears. “Emergency vet visit #2, the Sequel” records nothing conclusive. “He’ll be fine.” Of course. “We’re here all weekend if you need us.”

Brady became a champion retriever of any item you would toss, whether you meant him to have it or not—like trash, laundry, hats, you-name-it--a fabric Frisbee being his toy of choice. This dog retrieves better than our Golden ever did. Yet mid-game, he decides he’s too tired to retrieve anymore, especially if you throw a ball a good distance in our yard. He thinks you don’t see him that far away. Suddenly he exercises a strange fascination for grazing. He’ll just stand there like a miniature Holstein chomping away, outstanding in his field. “Don’t eat grass, stupid! Want another ticket to the vet?”

Memorial Day weekend, we bring Brady to town for “socialization.” The parade passes by. Our eldest son discovers we own a chick-magnet. Four women stop to coo at and pet this friendly dog in a 15-minute period. Son says, “where was this dog before I met my girlfriend?”

Did I mention boy-dog got neutered? Not an “emergency vet visit” but another hospital visit just the same. I wish the vet gave frequent flyer miles!

Summer brought boot camp for Brady, (obedience training at a kennel) while the family vacationed. It was a good investment, but honestly, he can still be tricky. That’s because Brady has entered the “adolescent” dog phase. Translation: dog has more sophisticated tastes, but still all the finesse of a slob, with highly-developed radar for any crumbs that hit the floor. If it’s on the floor, it’s his. Most family members abide by the rule: no people food for the dog. But every now and then, there’s a glitch.

A glitch came in the form of a weekend sleepover with my daughter’s school chums. They came bearing chocolate-peanut butter goodies, snacking and giggling the night away in the family room till they dropped. Recall, teenage girls “sleep in,” Mom does not. (After all, Brady needs a walk and breakfast.) Brewing her tea, warming the waffle iron, Mom notes Brady’s absence. Spied in the family room with the snacks, our guilty canine “discovers” the plate of chocolate thingamajiggies.

Minutes later, we’ve got a mess that defies description. Omigosh! All the Small Dog Books warn of the risks of chocolate! This warrants an early morning vet call for “advice.” How much did he eat? Was it baker’s chocolate? Did you know that the caffeine in baker’s chocolate could set a Small Dog’s heart a-racing to the point of death? Okay, it was a fire drill. All necessary parties were alerted. “Emergency vet visit #3” was underway. The final report? “Not enough chocolate ingested to cause significant health concern.” Brady can be discharged. But of course, “we’ll be right here the rest of the weekend should significant diarrhea (Significant? Care to quantify that?) develops.”

Fall finds Brady chasing leaves in the autumn breezes and getting more adventurous. He’s a great little car traveler too, save the unpleasantries of Small Dog flatulence that has been known to call for the immediate evacuation of vehicle occupants. We’ve already purchased a Christmas stocking (Oh, stop!) for the dog and a sweater or two. Life is good.

This week, Brady developed purple spots on his forehead...we deduced they came from the dog trying to lick something food-encrusted in the dishwasher as a dirty grape juice glass hung above his head dripping purple on his white fur. Combine that with now-sticky honey drips, and it was bath time for Brady, also known as the kitchen sink circus.

It was late, but a dirty dog needs attention. The ritual takes place. Brady becomes hyper during the toweling off process. I begin to lower his wiggling wetness to the floor when Wonder Dog decides he can fly, leaping catastrophically onto his head, yelping. All three teens appear at the sound of the yelp-crash. Momentarily recovering, Brady looks like Wile E. Coyote dazed by an anvil dropped on his head by Roadrunner. In fact, he seems to almost faint, but then Psycho Dog emerges. Its one of those scary moments when you think a Jekyll-Hyde escapade is about to happen.

I call the vet, wishing I had the number on speed-dial.

Older son drives while I cradle the still-damp head-banging hound. We head out late on a cold, rainy night. Privately I’m wondering if I can be reported for numerous ER visits for the same family pet? I’m delusional now, plus I’m ready for some serious pet heath insurance—something I once scoffed at as “too extravagant.” Next I’m wondering if I should be getting my head examined!

“Emergency vet visit #4” is a shining moment. The doggy snoozed in the car. It works wonders. Brady walks into the ER under his own power, looking quite “normal.” (I’m thinking of my wallet. Maybe I should make a break for it--false alarm--thanks anyway.) Conscience gets the better of me. I won’t sleep if I think Brady has a concussion or … worse.

Brady won the hearts of all the late-night hospital employees; he passes all physical and neurological exams. The vet reminds me that if he momentarily blacked out, it could have been from pain, or from head trauma. Observation might be “wise.” Dog stays overnight. Son drives me home. I pour a glass of wine and phone my husband, the business traveler: “Guess what?”

That was the tipping point. We all really crossed over, worried about our pathetic pooch. The vet called next morning to say Brady was fine. Amen.

You know that you’ve crossed over from being a dog owner, to a dog person, when you find yourself sparing no expense like you would for a child. We truly are “dog people.”

Its not just puppy love, its “till death, do us part.”

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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Of Saints and Souls

If I think about it with intentionality, like I have this week following All Saints and All Souls Days, my life is often blessed with beatitude. How often do I forget that the Christian life is characterized by the saintly in my midst, and the souls I care for. So often I miss the blessing!

First, the saints -- aren't we as Catholics ALL called to be saints? Or at least saints-in-the-making? I witness ordinary saints in my life all the time... the friends who call to say "howzitgoing?" or the ones who help me coordinate a carpool. They are the ones who "come through," especially in emergencies. Like the husband who interupts his workday to bring a gallon of gas when I am stranded on the side of the road.

Then there are the unnamed, unknown saints who hold doors, use manners, smile at people that they don't know, let your car in at a merge, or agree to do a disagreeable chore and do so with the utmost integrity, and so on. It's beatitude-in-action.

I know a few high-caliber saints too: priests who offer their physical suffering up for others without complaining, as they offer the Mass; parents of disabled children or children of special needs; survivors of sexual abuse, or abuse of any kind, who have gone on to help other victims; the sick who will never get well but who live valiantly each day; caregivers of the dying, and the dying themselves. Each living the beatitudes every day, even every hour.

I am trying to live beatitude, by being attentive to my, uh, attitude. So that, one day, my ordinariness may reflect saintliness, whether I am scrubbing a toilet, making someone's lunch, answering the phone or receiving communion. I long to see all people with the eyes of Jesus, and receive all people with the heart of Jesus. But this is also just where I see my failings most of all. It is the wrestling of doing a saint's work in a sinner's soul.

The souls I care for are my family and the those beyond my doorstep.

This week was an incredibly difficult one for my husband, who was one of the sole survivors of a corporate layoff. Now I am praying that his soul survives the turmoil that follows. Unemployment is circling us like sharks in the water, and our family boat is bobbing as we ride out this storm. What is the beatitude in all of this? How can we best meet the needs of those in need? What would Jesus do, and will we, can we, do it?

Then there are the children: two beautiful teenagers and a wannabe. When they were little, it was easy to understand how I must tend to their souls as a mother... the way is less clear for me now. I know that I am still a guide and gatekeeper, but there is soooo much letting go! What would Jesus do, and will we, can we, do it? How can I live the beatitudes when I'm dealing with so much Attitude? (Including my own!) How can I show them that sanctity is their calling too?

I know and have been taught that the soul of each person is of inestimatable value, and because of that dignity, I should serve each person as I would approach Christ. Therein lies my challenge and the dark side of my life... failing to recognize the face of Christ even in those I love the most. Beatitude is learning the walk of a saint while I am still stuck in a sinner's shoes.

So what to do with this conundrum of being called to be a saint, while being stuck in the muck of sin and selfishness? In the end, the Gospel gives us the flicker of hope. It shines light on even the most resistant sinner because of the work of Christ.

Jesus has already done it all. His dying. His resurrection. He is the True Beatitude.

That is why we have saints in the first place: because they have gone ahead of us understanding the gift of soul. It is the gift of beatitude--the blessing that is hidden within the struggle, and the blessing that will remain long after the struggle fades. In the end, we are promised to be soul survivors: otherwise known as saints.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:3-16.)

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Monday, November 07, 2005

Things that keep me laughing at me

Some days, its the little things that just keep me laughing at myself and with God.

Like my dog, Brady the Boston Terrier, barking at his own reflection in the window of my slider door -- I only wish I could be so amused by myself: I often want to bark back at my own reflection. Thanks God for giving me "paws" for reflection!

Like the other day I attended a pot-luck lunch -- all the ladies brought some impressive home cooking creations. Me--I've been studying all week for a midterm--who has time to cook? I brought a soup tourine filled with my favorite heated Progresso canned soup! Three women marveled at the recipe! I laughed to myself at why I often get so twisted about making an impression. Thanks God, for the delight of the company at the table, no matter what I'm serving!

Like last week, in an ongoing effort to travel at a safe speed, refraining from speeding in traffic, I gave myself plenty of time to get somewhere, but still managed to screw up the directions and get significantly lost in an unfamiliar town. As usual, I arrived at the last minute. Thanks God, for the reminder that it really is best to be safe and to be in your time!

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