Monday, July 28, 2014

Edel 2014

As a mom of young kids, I know we all experience the same feeling of defeat. We all experience that moment, sometimes more often than we care to acknowledge, where we must escape. Like a caged and beaten animal, we find ourselves longing to run away, far far away, and nurse our wounds. It doesn't matter how many children you have, if you work or stay home, if you are rolling in cash or drowning in debt, we all experience that sensation that we must flee.

That's not why I bought my ticket to the Edel Gathering.

The Edel Gathering was named for Venerable Edel Mary Quinn, and I think the two founders may have found her name by googling "Patron Saint of Partiers". I was only half listening to that sentence because there was a really distractingly cute baby near me. At any rate, Jennifer Fulwiler and Hallie Lord, decided that mommies, and specifically Catholic mommies, needed a weekend to refresh, renew and recharge themselves back to the amazing and wonderful individuals they have always been. There are a lot of wonderful things to say about these two women, but I'm going to save that for another day. First, let's talk about moi.

The day I bought my ticket was rotten. My husband was out of town, The children were needy, and I was depleted. I had considered it, but there was no decision made by the time the tickets went on sale.  So, that day, when I spoke to my husband, I told him I bought my ticket, and I was staying at the Omni downtown Austin. We have a policy of discussing any several-hundred dollar purchases in advance, so he had every right to be angry with me, but he was not. Surprised, maybe. Probably a little frightened, wondering what kind of desperation would lead me to forsake our agreement, but completely on board. Because he is the best.

What followed was one month after another of really bad news, really deep heartache, and really hard days. One day, I think perhaps in May or early June, Scott said, "Well, at least you get to go to that conference." and I nearly burst into tears. "That Conference" was months away. I needed a break right then. I couldn't see past the sunset, let alone weeks ahead. I was afraid I was becoming someone unlikable. I was afraid I had made a mistake in choosing to go alone, and not even trying to make some kind of e-connection with the other attendees. I misunderstood and thought it was mostly an opportunity for self-promotion of personal projects. I didn't have anything to promote, I didn't want to buy anything. I didn't need a massage. I needed to find out if I could exist outside of who I had become, and in that moment, I didn't want to do that because I was afraid I would not like it, I would not like me outside of my roles.

My sister lost her husband in February of 2006. He was 30, she was pregnant with their second child. My father-in-law died in 2011. Sweet baby Nora died in June. A lot of people spent their lives identifying themselves with these loved ones. My sister started dating Mitch since she was 15, but had decided to marry him in 5th grade. My mother-in-law had not only built a life with her husband that included children and grandchildren, but she spent his last years being his caretaker. Aleisa and William spent all of Nora's 2 plus years caring for her and nursing her and chronicling her witness for the world. Identities wrapped in these relationships and then they were gone.

I spend a lot of time caring for my children, especially Mae. But I am rich beyond my wildest dreams. While many of the ladies at the conference were experiencing the crushing isolation of motherhood, I have a life full of well-built relationships. I've been where they have been, for sure, but that's not where I am now. I have 4 amazing, beautiful, hilarious sisters who love me dearly. I have 3 tough, compassionate and generous brothers who love me. I have two holy and patient parents who love me. I have a husband who thinks I am the closest thing to the Virgin Mary on earth. (I am so very much not that, but I do not seem capable of ridding him of that delusion.) I have a parish and school community that love our family. I have friends who "get it", and support me even when they don't. We have a neighborhood full of people who like each other and are prepared for the onslaught of Fryman Teenagers when the kids get to that age. I have in laws and cousins and aunts and uncles and even the cashier at the grocery store who gives me coupons and let's me break up my order so I can use more than one $10 off $50 coupon. I am not rich, I'm filthy rich.

Which is why the reading of the rich young man haunts me. Money isn't my comfort, relationships are. The experience of these past years have taught me that it is possible that I could lose all of this around me. The day I bought my ticket I had realized this and I could not answer a question that thundered into my thoughts; Did I even like being just me?

So I went to Austin alone. I met other women without one of my children licking them first. (True story, happened more than once.) I went for walks. I slept in a bed alone. I went to confession. I went to mass. I partied. A lot. I talked to strangers. I ate yummy food. A lot. I smiled. I cried. I watched Gravity and cried like it was me in space with one thing after another going to hell. I identified a little too closely with Gravity. I missed home. I sat in Saint Mary's Cathedral. I thanked God for the weekend. I thanked God that I had met all these women. I thanked God that The Body of Christ is made up of wounded a broken people who want nothing more than to love and be loved. It was in my gratitude for the weekend, in the pleasure I felt at actually absorbing a mass undisturbed, that I knew I absolutely could not ever stand to be alone. The good news is, God Almighty promised me I never would be.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


I have had much to say, but a lacking desire to post it. So much has happened in the past two months that I do not wish to share only because I have been allowing myself and the family to process these things together. So, yes, I haven't posted, but I think those sabbaticals are something I will need to allow myself. This post has been rolling around my thoughts for a while, I hope it bears out well.

The background began last fall. My oldest girl came home unhappy about life and began to ask me about hair removal, specifically arm and eyebrow. A girl had pointed out to her that her arms and her eyebrows were, shall we say....generous. I have no way of knowing if this girl made a big deal of it or not, it really doesn't matter at this age anyhow. It stuck and thus the exploration of what I would allow her to do began.

I know kids, and I know my kid, so I had the conversation as though I was completely fine with it. (I was not. She was 9. What the heck?!) I explained that she could do as she liked with her arm hair when I wasn't paying for it, but that shaving it would cause whiskers on her arm. I offered her some Sun In and a hair dryer as a consolation prize, which she accepted gratefully. As for the eyebrows, I offered to pluck them. 

"Does it hurt?"

"Terribly, though perhaps when you are older I will take you to get them waxed. That hurts also, but is much faster."

"I can wait." (Toldja I know my kid.)

A few weeks ago the eyebrows came up again. Rather than force the poor thing into a dance with the devil, who would surly tempt her to pluck them behind my back, I offered to take her to a pro. If any of you are judging me harshly for this, I thumb my nose at you. I sported eyebrows shaped like sperm for a year because of my poor plucking skills, a fate I spared my daughter. I deserve a medal for that. (Incidentally, the woman who did the work was very good about only removing the extra growth under the brows, did nothing to shape them, and left them looking like the eyebrows of a little girl who is not especially hairy.)

As we drove to our appointment we began to discuss some of her social anxieties. These car rides with my children always bring forth such great conversations about life, this was no different. In regard to one girl in particular, she stated that because this girl is so admirable and likable my Kate used to want to be her. It made her feel anxious to be more like this girl, but now she just wants to be herself. It was as if the Holy Spirit dropped a script into my lap so that I wouldn't screw this up. Usually I would go on and on and on about "Be yourself! You are the best you!" Instead I went against type and asked her what caused her to change.


I began to string my next question slowly, as though I were luring a wild rabbit into my hands. "What is it about Mae-mae do you think that made you change how you....that made you want to be more yourself."

"She has to be happy just being herself, so I thought that maybe I should be happy with who I am. Maybe that is what we are supposed to do."

My soul leaped with joy in that moment. There was no self congratulatory feelings that we had done well as parents. Right then I saw the soul God Almighty designed, and right then I saw the absolute glory of being shown such a thing. If you knew her you would know how much she wrestled with self-doubt and how much she plays Peacekeeper. You would understand the profundity of such a statement. In that moment my daughter showed such beautiful receptivity to life lessons, such clarity on how to allow something to inspire, and a vulnerability without a hint of guile. Forget pretty, her whole being shone with Beauty. 

This is the intangible about life that we try so hard to communicate to the world about our loved ones with Ds. Many of them won't ever leave home, make a great living, make any exciting discoveries, or even pay much in taxes. We need not act as though our loved ones count as much as the next person. We know it, we live it, we experience the change it brings forth. We become more human as we give more of ourselves to a future that is uncertain. We teach and teach and work and work and coax and coax in never ending hope that it will yield fruit, and it does, though it is a different fruit than we could have ever imagined. It is the fruit of a sweeter life, a kinder soul, a more compassionate nature. It is the fruit of loving more deeply and with less self interest. The good of the other becomes more in focus, almost surprising us out of our blinders we had worn unnoticed. It is the fruit of longing to become whomever you were all along, but somehow shut out of your life in pursuit of becoming whomever you wished to be.

C.S. Lewis wrote in The Abolition of Man about how education had become focused upon raising people to think without the being encumbered by morals and emotions. One of my favorite quotes of his was, “It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.”  His point was not some feel-good, "Follow your heart." philosophy, but that all the knowledge in the world is still lacking if we have no ability for compassion, love, understanding, empathy, grief and joy. This is what Mae brings to our family. She makes each of us better because she teaches us the importance of being beautiful rather than chasing the fickleness of looking so.