My Sister’s Wedding

My gorgeous sister, Leah, got married Saturday, and everything about her wedding and reception was perfect. I loved that it was all very “her” and also very “him” from the Timberwolves theme (both basketball lovers, they happened to meet at a Timberwolves game) to the groomsmen’s blue Air Jordans.

I may have ugly-cried (okay, I did) when Leah interrupted her wedding ceremony right before she and Jeremiah said their vows and surprised all of us (even the Pastor) with THE most beautiful speech of proposal to her stepdaughter. It was so thoughtful, loving and authentic. Even the groom was in tears.

Here is her surprise speech:

I was not there when you took your first steps or said your first words. But I promise I won’t miss a first of anything again. in the past two years I’ve watched you lose your first tooth, ride a bike for the first time, graduate kindergarten, become a big sister, learn how to do your first cart wheel, and continue to grow into an amazing young woman. I am not here to replace anyone nor will I try to. I will be the best I can to you and your daddy. I promise to love you as if you were my own, to protect you, to listen to you, and to always support your dreams. I promise to cherish every moment we spend together but most of all I promise to love you unconditionally. I am so thankful that you are sharing your daddy with me. You have touched my heart in a way that you can’t understand. I may not have given you life but life has given me you. Will you officially take me as your stepmom by accepting this charm bracelet?

I was delighted to be included as a bridesmaid Leah’s wedding. Each of the bridesmaids were beautiful, gracious, smart, endearing, fun.

I couldn’t be happier for Leah and her awesome husband, Jeremiah. I am thrilled for their two beautiful kids. I am thrilled for my family too. We gained a brother/uncle and niece/cousin. Like I said at the reception, when I was a little girl, my Dad asked me to pray that he wins the lottery and I prayed for a little sister for myself. Truly, I won the lottery when Leah was born. She’s exceeded all of my dreams and imagination.

Staying home

The fresh cold air fills me with gratitude for my current freedom and privilege of staying home with my little ones.

Without a doubt, motherhood is deeply challenging. I constantly worry about the kids’ development, as I find myself challenged by their behavior and at a loss for how to respond to tantrums. I feel really frustrated when my school-aged children try to negotiate with me or ask me “why” rather than immediately obeying me.

I’m an imperfect work in progress. And as a mother of six children, I am humbled by how much I don’t know. Every time I think I have things under control or know about parenting, I’m humbled and reminded that I don’t control anything but I DO have free will to respond to any person or situation with love or with frustration and impatience. I often choose to respond with the latter with my own children. Today I’m going to try to be calmer and slower to respond. I am going to try channel the feelings of appreciation I had this morning to be a loving teacher.

As I pulled the two youngest kids around our house on a sled this morning, I felt thankful, blessed and energized. Thankful for the legs and feet that carry me, the body strong and healthy enough to pull the sled through the snow without pain or difficulty, Sir William Wallace (our collie) prancing along side us, the pure joy and delight in my kids’ eyes and their gut giggles when we speed down a slope, the beautiful trees around us, the cold crisp air that is fresh and pure to breathe. Exhilarating, beautiful, peaceful . . . I pray for grace to appreciate the abundance of blessings that have been poured down upon me.

Deployment Day 1

Today was a melancholy day. We miss Dylan so much already. I didn’t prepare a menu ahead of time this week, so we had breakfast for dinner (banana chocolate chip pancakes, sausages, eggs, bacon). The kids were hungry and enjoyed dinner with cheerful attitudes. I really enjoyed hearing about their days and appreciated their table manners (which are often lacking, to be honest). “I miss Dad so much already,” was something I heard about a million times today. It brought me joy and gratitude each time.

Homeschool transition 

Good morning,

This is a blog to update you on why I haven’t been blogging, silly as that seems. As some of you know, we are moving from our small house in St. Paul to a small town named Isanti (still in Minnesota) where we are building a house (or having one built for us, rather). I haven’t been writing lately because on top of Dylan working a lot, we are homeschooling and that is keeping me busy and SUPER overwhelmed. 

We decided that Catholic School is too expensive for us, especially with building a brand new house. And you couldn’t pay us to put our kids back in St. Paul Public Schools (literally). If you are curious about why I feel so strongly about our district’s public schools, this is an editorial with some of our final experiences (the straws that finally broke the camel’s back) in the St. Paul School system: https://www.google.com/amp/www.twincities.com/2016/05/25/letter-to-the-editor-for-may-25-2016/amp/

Homeschooling has been rough. I am having the school-aged kids wear uniforms so they get into the habit of dressing properly weekday mornings and once they are dressed, it is supposed signal that they are ready to learn. A good idea but I’m not sure it’s as effective as I intended. 

Our oldest two children are doing an online school. They are independent and motivated. In fact, they’re so motivated that they are working ahead and as middle schoolers, they are a third of the way through a high school Geometry Class and it’s only September. They are the youngest ones in their online class and they just keep working and moving ahead. I’m proud of their work ethic and motivation, but I’m especially proud that they are loving and helpful. 

Our third, fourth and fifth children are far more challenging. They’re energetic, and they aren’t motivated like their older siblings. I’m really thankful that my Aunt Kathy, a retired school teacher and Sister of St. Joseph is taking our third and fourth child to tutor them in reading every week. They need some extra help and are receiving it from a retired reading specialist that loves them, knows we she’s doing and believes in educating the whole child (for example, they pick fruit and vegetables from her abundant garden in between lessons). They love, respect and listen to her, and that makes a huge difference. 


Dylan bought me a Y membership and it’s been a lifesaver (or at least a mental health saver which might be the same thing) to get away from the kids and workout (or even walk the track kidless). 

All in all, I have to be honest I really can’t wait to move and give the kids all the learning support they need. I thought I’d be better at this homeschool thing than I am. Yesterday our fourth child (1st grade) said, “Mom, I wish we moved into the new house right now.” I asked why. And she said, “Because then I could use the bathroom.” A sibling was in our one bathroom. The big move can’t come soon enough. Pray for us as we await a new life.

Shoeless feet, Elephant Trunks and Loving without Judgment 

An old Indian saying states, “I complained that I had no shoes and then I met a man with no feet.”

It’s so easy to complain and judge without knowing someone else’s reality, to feel sad and jealous about what we don’t have instead of noticing and feeling thankful for what we do have. 

Last summer we attended a parade during “rodeo weekend” in small town Wisconsin. Our eight year old was so excited and exclaimed, “This is my first parade!” The reality is she has been in many parades, but this was the first she watched. It was exciting for all the kids, but especially this candy-lover, to watch the groups of people walking by and race to collect candy.

As we adults (there were six of us) sat in our lawn chairs and watched our kids run out to grab candy whenever it was thrown, we glanced at each other and whispered unkind comments about the grown man running out in front of the kids to grab candy, as if he was an undisciplined five year old with no one watching him. Here, my eleven year old and twelve year old daughters were patiently helping their siblings grab candy, not taking any for themselves, and even though I loathe bringing candy into our home, that wasn’t the point. The grown man grabbing candy like he was competing with children irked me. In fact, it irked us all. 

What I’m sure went further to justify our guiltless comments and judgmental glances at each other was that he looked “normal.” In fact, he even looked better than normal. He was physically fit and boasted a military haircut. He didn’t say anything to defend his actions; although, I’m sure he knew we were talking about him. 

When he walked behind our lawn chairs and gave the bucket of candy he raced to collect to a little girl (probably around nine years old) missing an arm, we all wished we had kept our mouths shut and helped him rather than assuming, being rude and judgmental. The silence was piercing and the shame is eternal. 

The truth is we never really know what another person’s reality is . . . even though the man looked like a healthy adult male, it doesn’t mean we should have assumed he shares our cognition, emotional quotient, social education. Any of the reasons a grown man would run out and grab candy in front of children make it morally reprehensible to jump to judgments and conclusions, as if that man has been dealt the same exact hand in life as us and should play it the same way. That’s pretty much true of any experience with anyone anywhere. 

There’s an ancient Indian parable about a group of blind men and an elephant. The blind men had no previous knowledge of or experience with elephants so the animal was unfamiliar to them. When they heard that an elephant was in the neighboring town, they were curious and went to examine the strange creature through touch. One blind man touched tail of the elephant and said, “Elephant is like a rope.” Another blind man touched the side of the elephant and said, “Elephant is like a wall.” Yet another blind man touched the trunk and exclaimed, “Oh, elephant is like a giant snake!” All three men were partially right and partially wrong. Each blind man had captured a piece of reality and projected the understanding of what they do know unto what they were experiencing. 

As Christians, we are called to love without judgment and often to accept others’ realities as they see them. To be truly non-judgmental, we must humbly acknowledge that our own reality is subjective and limited, a small piece of something much larger. 

I’m writing today to remind myself to stop before judging. It’s really, really hard. As a Christian, it’s easy to say, “I believe in Christ” but it’s much harder to PRACTICE Christianity. It’s hard to be the Samaritan that stops to care for his enemy rather than thinking, “I’m busy. I’ve helped enough. Someone else will stop.”  But Jesus calls us to be the Samaritan. Every time. He says we are our brother’s keeper, even when our culture, nationality or society tells us that a brother with a different reality is the enemy. 

One of my heroes, Mahatma Gandhi, said, “I would be a Christian if I ever met one.” And so, I’m trying. And I’m trying to teach the children we’ve been blessed with as parents. And it’s damn hard! But in the end, I know that practicing LOVE without judgment is all that really matters. I have no enemies, only brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Love–the best ingredient

Dylan used to cook quite a bit when we first married, and when I would compliment what he made, he would tell me that the key ingredient was love. Times have changed. He works an awful lot and now I am the primary cook for our hungry household. But the key ingredient remains love.

Dylan bought me a Kitchen Aid for Mother’s Day this year. It’s the type of gift that I would have felt insulted by little over a decade ago because I would have seen it as him assigning me an unpaid domestic working role. However, after years of struggling with a tight grocery budget in which we couldn’t afford to go buy whatever ingredients suited our fancy, buying groceries without worrying about bouncing a check feels like financial freedom. What used to be a chore has become a liberating form of art, an expression of love from me for my family, and something I really enjoy. It sounds sappy but the babies that I grew in my womb then nursed ex utero continue to be nourished by what I create for them. And that’s meaningful to me during this season of motherhood.

As the stay-at-home mother of six children, it’s good I enjoy creating in the kitchen because I spend a heck-of-a-lot of time preparing meals these days. And the kids love to help me bake/cook. They love to measure, mix and taste. Perhaps that’s why fractions are second nature for them.

This particular morning, my only son, Basil, came into my bedroom and said, “Mom, we need to make be-sert (dessert) like Diane.” Diane is our neighbor from across the alley and she’s become a good friend, the type of person you would CHOOSE to be a family member, if you could choose family. You can’t choose family, but you CAN choose friends. Among other talents (like being a kick-arse attorney), Diane is an amazing cook and has been kind enough to invite the kids over to bake with her many times.

Thanks to her baking with the kids, Basil very clearly has a reference-point for what a Kitchen Aid does. He was so insistent on making “be-sert” this morning that we made brownies before breakfast.

As I sip my coffee on this dreary day, I feel a glint of hope and happiness that my son feels so excited about preparing food. My daughters love to cook and bake, and I am proud of their culinary skills and desire to work in the kitchen too, but so often I think we naturally prepare girls to nurture, cook and do housework. Meanwhile, we send a subliminal message (and sometimes not-so-subliminal) to boys that the kitchen and housework is not for them. As a mother, a wife, and a citizen it is important to me that we raise our son (like my husband was raised) to be a good father and nurturing spouse in case he is called to that vocation.

No matter how liberal or conservative you are, caring for others is non-gendered and apolitical.

I will admit that I share part of the following advice both humbly and hypocritically since my kids all claim to be allergic to dish soap, and the words “sort laundry” has a similar consequence to the warning, “Fire!” screamed in my household . . . Okay, maybe there’s no stop, drop and roll with “sort laundry,” but the kids do flee from the house as if they are in imminent danger.

If you are disinterested in my advice after reading the paragraph above, stop reading. But if you don’t mind my parenting advice, a kind of advice I am documenting partially so I don’t forget it myself, please read on: Please teach your children–girls AND boys—basic skills. Teach them the power of serving others. And don’t be afraid to teach your girls to do outdoor work, especially if they are interested. Our oldest daughter mows our lawn and does a lot of our laborious outdoor work. And I mean A LOT. Our second daughter does a lot of babysitting of her siblings, especially the baby. Both daughters enjoy cooking and have a healthy relationship with food. I could make a list of what each child does to contribute to our household, but I have six kids so I’ll spare you of that. My point is that each child should contribute. Recognize now that they won’t do it perfectly. But hey, I don’t contribute perfectly either. Just look at my porch and you’ll notice I’m an imperfect housekeeper. We are all works in progress.

The important thing is not WHAT children do to contribute to the household, the important things is THAT they contribute to the household.  As humans, we are interdependent. The family is the foundation of humanity; each person has something to contribute to the whole. Regardless of IQ, development, able-bodiedness, we all have something to contribute.

Let’s teach our kids to work in solidarity and let’s teach them that the most important ingredient is love. It’s not what you give but how you give it that makes a difference.

This Mother’s Day, let’s praise and encourage, not blame or shame, single mothers

I am not a single mother, but as a military wife, sometimes I get a little glimpse of what single-mothering is like, and it’s super hard. If we Catholics really want to call ourselves pro-life, we need to do *something* to help single mothers that have chosen to give life and are trying to parent in a culture that excludes them from community support. And by the way, the *something* we do must be helpful, reliable and consistent.

Parenting is isolating, exhausting, and thankless. We live in a culture that supports privileged, PLANNED parenthood, but when people are poor, uneducated, nonwhite, or are blessed with children out of wedlock (or get divorced), we submit messages of blame and shame instead of encouragement and praise. The messages we send through our words, body langauge, action, inaction, inclusion and exclusion matters. The choices we make drive the outcomes we experience. How we treat Moms has an immense impact on the children they parent. Plus, besides the collateral impact of honoring marginalized mothers because it is the right thing to do, when we respect mothers they are more likely to feel energized and nurture children that grow up to be successful, autonomous, caring adults. The future depends on how we treat each other today, so let’s treat each other with love and compassion.

Speak loving words at home

We are all sacred temples of the Holy Spirit. Words, actions and inactions can hurt or they can nourish the spiritual flame. Do not let your children pierce each other with unkind words or hurtful names. Don’t let them try to suffocate or blow out another’s flame. Teach them to kindle the flame and be a light unto each other.

Sibling conflict is natural, especially when you live in close quarters. Therefore, give your children language to resolve conflict through nonviolent communication. Do not be a bystander to a child’s suffering—no matter how big, no matter how small.

In the end, the only thing that matters is love. And we first learn how to communicate love from our experience at home.