Friday, November 30, 2007

In Praise of Fathers

I came of age in polite, liberal circles where the term “two parent households” replaced the vernacular “nuclear family.” My sociology professor at Smith carefully footnoted each study which praised children raised with both a mother and a father in the house by stating between sips from her Clearly Canadian water bottle, “this also applies to gay and lesbian families. What matters is there are two people concerned about the children, not their gender.” When I got to law school, these studies were pushed away even farther due to the many single moms in my class with happy, sweet-faced kids.

I had a great shock to find, when I started my own family, that Fathers are so very, very important. My husband isn’t just another pair of arms to hold a fussy baby or another pair of eyes to watch for a toddler who likes to escape out the patio door. His contribution to family life is more than earning money for our daily bread or running trips to the grocery store when Mom is laid up with pregnancy pains.

My husband’s gender has a powerful effect on his parenting style. Fathers are just different. That is a good thing, a necessary thing. A newborn's screams will send her nursing mother into a panic. Her cries don't have the same effect on her father. This difference insures that a baby will be fed promptly and yet will also transition into a crib at some point in her life.

In my family, Dad handles the tough jobs, bath time for wiggly infants, first-aid for bloody cuts, dog walks in the sleet. He’s also the one who actively encourages “dangerous” activities such as crossing the monkey bars at age 18 months and using real golf clubs at age 3. Dad is the one who says go ahead and or leap into leaf piles with your church clothes on or jump into mud puddles higher than your rain boots.

Some how kids seem to come out better with a “be careful” voice of motherhood and the “go for it” adventurousness of fatherhood. I was still counting a “mom and a dad” as a plus, instead of a necessity as insisted by the Catholic Church.

Lately, I've run into the subtle scars with children in our neighborhood who are growing up in divorced families. “You can’t move! It’s dangerous on the first floor” the three playmates of my daughter solemnly stated when Hannah said she was moving from apartment number 304 to 103.

Jon and I puzzled over that statement. The girls live in the same apartment building on the fourth floor with their mother. “Why would the girls and think the first floor is dangerous? They must have heard that from their mom.” We live on one of the safest streets imaginable. “It must be because she feels more vulnerable as a single-mom,” was my husband’s final conclusion.

I had this sense of how lucky I was, to have a 6-foot man in my house and his ferocious looking, but gentle lamb of a Samoyed, Sara. My children and I sleep in deep security, even in a large metropolitan city.

That feeling of blessedness came again while I watched “Pride.” In the movie, the swim coach goes head to head with a gang leader to save some of his swim team from heading down a dangerous path. “It was important for the guys that their coach was a man,” I said. “They sort-of have a fatherly feeling towards him. I’m not sure a female coach would have gotten the same results.”

“It would have been even more powerful, if it one of the boy’s actual fathers confronted the gang leader. That coach just says that he’d take a bullet for his swim team. I would actually take a bullet for Lex.” His tone is extremely firm. I take a look at his normally gentle eyes; they are flashing a steely blue. He’s serious, I think.

It’s wonderful having a father. He gives cuddles and reads “Black Beauty” and brings home leftover chocolate cake from work. He also has a quiet strength that protects our family.

This advent season I have some many people to pray for. I’m adding prayers for all those white, African-American, and Latino children who are growing up without fathers in their houses. Their childhood monsters are real, not imaginary ones that hide under the bed. Even though these sons have a greater need, they are less likely to have a noble man risk a bullet to pull them out of harm’s way.

St. Joseph pray for us. Protect our children from the modern day King Herrods and inspire more men to follow your holy example

Eating Their Daily Bread

I've taken Mother Teresa's advice to "give the best to the poor" to heart. For Hannah's weekly church school food drive, we pick out the only best food to donate.

Today, I noticed a slight hitch in my plan. If you buy organic raisin brand for a poor family, but only plain cheerios for your own, you risk that your early-rising, hard-working husband will think "score" and pour himself a serving of the good stuff.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Searching for St. Nicholas Among the Rubble of Santa Claus

This is the banner year for us, searching for the holy message of the real Saint among all the trappings of Santa Claus. My parents adore Santa. As kids, we left out cookies for Santa & sugar cubes for the reindeer. We all slept in one bed on Christmas Eve waiting to hear Santa's sleigh.

This is terribly embarrassing to admit, but I believed in Santa Claus until I was 11 years old. My mom called me into the kitchen, concerned that a fifth grader had told my little sister, who was in kindergarten, that Santa wasn't real. My mom's question to me is "How can we make sure that she believes in Santa for again?" I remember staring at the kitchen table and scuffing my shoes against the linoleum. "So it's always just been you and Dad putting presents under the tree?" I thought dejectedly.

At Hannah's first Christmas, I was a new Catholic. I started to worry that while my family did attend church on Christmas Eve, all the of remaining focus on Christmas seemed to be on the frenzy of gift-unwrapping, drinking coffee in our pajamas, and then watching a marathon of movies that everyone had received as presents. It was the Christmas that my 90 year old grandfather got up agitated in the middle of a family viewing of "Being John Malcovich"-that I got my first clue, maybe this isn't how we should spend a Holy Day together. Before then, I was just sort of drifting along the family traditions on automatic pilot. (My brother had gotten Being John Malcovich" in his Christmas stocking and we all said "sure" when he asked to pop the disk into the DVD player.)

So for three years, I've been focused on getting us to Mass and celebrating in a reverent manner. Last year, Hannah could narrate the entire Christmas story with her nativity set. Alex asked to cook Jesus a "Happy Birthday Cake." The issue of Santa arriving to stuff stockings and leave presents under the tree was a happy event, but not the only event.

This year, the questions about the "myth" of Santa and the real St. Nicholas are making a clash in the minds of my 4 & 3 year old. Hannah prays for St. Nicholas to bring her a Butterscotch pony. I heard her sweet, simple prayers with fear in my heart. If I don't fork over $250 will she stop believing in the power of saintly intercession? There seemed to be so much more on the line than the "give kids everything on their Christmas list so they'll be happy & believe in the magic of Christmas" which was the guideline for my parents.

Thankfully, my husband is much more calm. "It will work out. Either we'll find an amazing cheap Butterscotch, or another gift will happily replace it in Hannah's mind" he says confidently. My mother's rosary group had this advice. "Never underestimate the power of St. Nick." "Jesus only got three gifts, so should our kids." And my favorite, "learning to accept God's will after our prayers haven't been answered is a n important life lesson. Four years old is a good time to start." (Yeah, this was mind-bending for me. I don't think I've really got a handle that sometimes God's answer to a sincere, persistent prayer is "no.")

This year I'm starting from scratch. I'm making our own family traditions to honor the gentle, loving Bishop on his feast day. This website has been extremely helpful. Just as I spruce up my house for the coming feast of Christmas, it's time to reorganize some of the clutter in my mind. Out go the tales of Rudolph, the polar express movie, and "Up on the Rooftop" carols. Enter in more conscious acts of charity in imitation of St. Nicholas.

How do you celebrate the real St. Nick in your house?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Restless Leaves, Restless Toddler

Alex, age 3

A is for adorable! Alex jumped into this leaf pile exactly thirty seconds before we got into the car to drive to our Thanksgiving dinner. Thank goodness his Uncle Tad laughed, said "leaves brush off," and took this wonderful shot for me.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Make Straight a Path . . .

To the anonymous lady who complained on Danielle Bean's website that she never reads blogs anymore because all the women who blog brag about having a clean house and then the lady goes over to their houses and is SHOCKED to see how they really live?

No surprises on this blog!

(Yes, sadly this would be the messy remains after SIX hours of cleaning my kids' closet tonight. Despite all that work, I will still have to step over this trail of tears to get everyone out to Rosary Group tomorrow. Of course, I did stop to watch Heroes with my husband. That ate up an hour. I also complained bitterly of the futility of moving down my chore list while mothering three kids under age five. That ate up another thirty minutes.

Finally, it was my idea that Hannah & Alex needed to turn their closet into a secret play house. The insane part, isn't wanting my kids to have more fun with their dress up clothes, toy kitchen, and various imaginary rock climbing gear. No, it would be the fact that I live in a 900 square foot apartment with only three closets. Make that two closets now.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Simple Beginnings

Sarcophagus of Etruscan couple c. 510 BC, Louvre, Room 18

Last night, Jon and I decided that we want to celebrate the eighth anniversary of our first meeting. When I rummaged through my old journals to fix the exact date (January 29, 2000.), I found this entry.

"Tuesday, February 15, 2000

Jon invited me to the art museum on Thursday at 10:00 AM.

In Paris, I saw a sarcophagus of a married couple. I remembered it from my high school Latin textbook. The husband and the wife were laying side-by-side with their legs jutting out at a 90 degree angle from their side. Yet their smiles were sweet and the husband's arm was resting so comfortably around the wife's shoulders. I wanted to slip under his arm and feel it myself."

I have an odd habit of walking behind famous statues to observe them from the rear & the side. I like to look at work from different vantage points from the traditional frontal view shown in my Art 100 class.

I stared at a photo of the front of this sarcophagus for my entire junior year of high school Latin. When I ran into it at the Louvre, during my first & only trip to Paris in January 2000, I spent a long time starting at the back of it. I noticed the gentle tension in the husband's arm, how he rested the whole weight of his arm on his wife's shoulders, so certain, so firm, and so "comfortable."

I had this urge to climb under that arm to feel it's reassuring weight on my own shoulders. "Please let me have a love like that someday" I whispered.

Three weeks later my husband saw me at a bar playing darts with my best friend and four of her brothers. I was supposed to be working on a complicated law paper that night, so finding a mate was the furthest thing from my mind.

I've promised Jon that someday, I'll take him to Paris. (He's never been.) We'll track down this statute and share a kiss in front of it. I don't know if we'll ever actually make it to Paris. (It's hard to save money with all the little Benjamins that keep arriving). That's alright. We live the reality of this statute every day.

(P.S. My High School Latin teacher was a Catholic priest, an extremely unusual occurrence in a public school located in the middle of the Bible Belt. I wonder how many of us Protestants found ourselves drawn to the true faith as a result of Father Hogan's prayers.)

Happy Thanksgiving

My family has a tradition of going around the table and sharing what blessing we are most thankful for each year. This year my Dad said he was thankful for his surprise birthday party, my sister said she was grateful we had a record year of family get togethers, I said mine was the birth of baby Maria, etc.

Then we got to Alex. He looked up and simply said "My Mama."

This impossible mothering job comes with many, many benefits.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

But I Want Her To Go To Yale

Yesterday was the open house for the parish Catholic school we'd like Hannah to attend next year. This issue of finding the "right fit" in a major Metropolitan City has my entrails tied in knots. My parents and my husband's parents simply sent us to the local public school up the street. The choices for our kids are overwhelming without adding clarity to the "right fit" part.

We'd hyped the benefits of this school for so long, the actual Open House ended up as a bit of a disappointment for me. After getting all three kids pinned into their car seats, I asked my husband "So list the good points you noticed and then the bad points."

"What bad points?" he answered. After a brief discussion we arrived at the parking lot of Jon's work. As we traded places in the drivers seat, he leaned over to kiss me. Then he said brightly "there's nothing much to worry about, after all we don't want to send Hannah to Yale!"

My stomach turned. "But I want her to go to Yale."

I have such lovely memories of Yale: the neat quadrangles, the fantastic college sailing course, the Yalies I debated against in APDA rounds.

There is a saying going around homeschooling sites which says "educating for heaven not Harvard." I have issues with this. My concerns against Harvard are the amount of TAs that teach undergraduate courses, not a bias against ivy league education in general. I like Yale, and Williams, and Swarthmore, and of course, Smith. I'd be happy if Hannah chose to stick closer to home at Catholic University, or skip college all together to pursue a dance career in NYC at age 18. College is her choice. My role is to insure that her talents have time to develop into a solid foundation for wherever God's plans will take her. Still, I have issues with the assumption that the path of a serious scholar is not also a path to Heaven.

Catholicism is the one religion that fully engages both my intellect and my heart. I'm invited to ponder the most difficult theological thinkers and also enter happily into mysteries which are beyond my understanding. I personally need both. I need the challenging Catholic writers, St. John of the Cross, and the tangible kindness of my Catholic choir director. (My cure for the lonely futility of the Catholic housewife last Friday was to engage in a literary criticism of "On the Road.") I can't imagine my life without my finely tuned love of reading. That type of love is less likely to be inspired by hanging out in kindergarten with "leap frog" learning stations.

I'm sure this present dilemma of kindergarten; public, French immersion, Catholic, or homeschooling, will resolve itself by February. My discomfort with the "anti-intellectualism" in some Catholic circles will remain.

Such is the lot of a girl in the middle of the working mom's cultural debate. A mother with a huge educational loan debt who is still happy that her "useless" graduate school education enables her to cheerfully stay-home and serve as the primary teacher for three small souls.

Great Thanksgiving Meekness Challenge

So we are Catholic-- that means in addition to roasting the perfect Turkey this Thanksgiving, we're also responsible for thinking charitable thoughts about all our relatives and exhibiting the virtue of meekness despite traffic congestion, non-napping toddlers and broken printers.

Et Tu Jen has wonderful advice from St. Francis de Sales on this issue. If you've ever successfully wrestled with your temper, or other habitual shortcoming, please leave some advice on our comment section. Log in on Sunday and let us know how you did with the virtue of meekness over the holidays.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Grant Us Your Peace

(Note: This post contains graphic details of the Iraq War.)

This week’s New Yorker contains a long article titled “Inside the Surge,” by Jon Lee Anderson. I read seven pages about the problems of retaliatory violence, all of it weary and familiar. Then I read the following passage

“ Um Jafaar is a handsome, elderly woman. When I arrived at her home, with Karim, she was wearing a black abaya, and I noticed blue tribal tattoos on her chin and her hands. She invited me to sit down on a couch, and sat next to me in an armchair. Jafaar’s three young daughters were watching us. When I asked Um Jafaar if she wanted revenge for her son’s death, she got up from her chair, came over, and kissed the top of my head.

“Yes,” I want revenge,” she said. “I am a mother, and I lost my son for nothing.” She began weeping, great wracking sobs. When she recovered, Um Jafaar pointed to her granddaughters. “Look, they have no father,” she said. “Why?”

Um Jafaar went on to tell me that she took the body parts of Amar’s victims, wrapped in cloth, to his grave, in the holy city of Najaf, and buried them there. “I talk to my son, I tell him, “Here, this is from those who killed you, I take revenge.” Moving one hand in a horizontal circle, she said, “I put them around the grave. So far, I have taken one hand, one eye, an Adam’s apple, toes, fingers, ears, and noses. I asked her how many Mahdi men Amar had killed. “I don’t know; eighteen, twenty? But still my heart hurts. Even if we kill all of them, I won’t have comfort,” she said. (page 66, The New Yorker, Nov 19, 2007).

Ouch! I inhaled so deeply at the passage where Um Jafaar names the body parts she buried around her murdered son’s grave that I hurt my chest muscle.

As Christians we are called to do impossible tasks: forgive our enemies, pray for them and love them. When we mothers go the opposite direction, when we give into to our “natural” and sinful desires, we take down the whole family with us.

Jafaar’s surviving son is busy murdering the men he believes are responsible for his brother’s death. At least eighteen men have been killed so far. I don’t doubt that many men make that same mistake on their own initiative. Yet how much higher is the body count going to rise, if a mother requests such action? Then the mother further sanctions the killings by burying the victim’s body parts in her son’s grave?

We have such a tremendous power as mothers. Our sons will do anything to please us. Our children breathe our feelings, our thoughts and our desires as their own. Whether it is the daily grind of stress or ultimate tragedy, our response set the emotional tone for the family.

During the confessions of our sins during Mass today, I had an image of a woman burying body parts on top of a grave today. I got heartsick. I am also that woman. How many times have I gossiped about my family? How many angry words have I said to my husband and children, in this week alone?

My precious little children are watching and listening. Yesterday, on the tire swing at the playground, Lex kept calling “Hannah get off and come play with me.” He was tired and had a runny nose. He kept repeating the same sentence over and over again. “Lex, you’re being difficult” Hannah snapped. I heard that “difficult” ring across the playground. “Difficult!” Not the normal vocabulary for a four year old. My daughter absorbed that word and that tone from me. I use that expression when I have trouble getting Hannah’s shoes on her squirmy feet.

Blessed Mother, help us model your infinite charity, forgiveness and patience. Help us lead our families to heaven. Pray for us, that we may become worthy of the promises of Christ.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


The Pope is coming! Our Holy Father is coming to my city! Hurrah! I'll have to figure out some sort of countdown to put on my blog.

April 15th he arrives in Washington D.C. April 16th he comes to the White House. My little family will outside the White House Gates with a big sign saying "Happy Birthday!" There is a public mass at the new baseball stadium on April 17th. Anyone figured out how to register for tickets yet?

Let's all add to our rosary intentions the Holy Father's US visit will result in many blessings and inspirations for all the faithful.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Anti-Family by Choice, not Compulsion

This sentence from my husband's history textbook jumped out at me this morning:

"In the twenty years after 1917, all aspects of Soviet society came under the purview of the [Communist] party. The atomization of society, a prime characteristic of totalitarian government, did not permit such secret and trustful groups as the family to exist at ease. . . By and large the government worked to weaken the importance of the family. Initially after the revolution, divorces required no court proceedings, abortions were legalized, women were encouraged to take jobs outside the home, and communist nurseries were set up to care for children while their mothers worked. (Civilization Past & Present, pg 830).

Relaxed divorce laws, easy access to abortions, encouragement of mothers to work outside the home and state-sponsored child care- doesn't this sound strikingly similar to modern life in America? What the Soviet government tried to implement by force, we Americans freely adopt by "choice."

When a female Chinese legal scholar spoke at my family law seminar at law school, all the women in my class were in moral indignation over the forced "one-child policy." "How can you force abortions on mothers?" they asked. "But it is much better for women" the stunned scholar answered. "After all, I have a son and I have a serious law career. This wouldn't be possible if I had many children."

The irony is guess how many of my fellow female law students actually had ANY children at our five year reunion? The surprising answer? Two.

Communism fell in Russia, and the Orthodox & Catholic churches are now flourishing. Yet who will save Americans from the choices we make ourselves?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

On the Book Shelf- John Howard Griffin

When our Australian house guest first described the plot of the 1960 "Black Like Me," by John Howard Griffin, it sounded like a bad Saturday Night Live Skit. A white novelist & civil rights activist darkens his skin through medical treatments, shaves his head, and then explores life as an African-American in the Deep South for seven weeks. I was totally repulsed by the idea that a white male could attempt to capture "the black experience." A series of coincidences brought this book into my hands. When I started reading it during a nursing session with my finicky, not quite so newborn, I found I couldn't put it down. I have no idea if this book is still in print or widely available, but if you do find it- it's well worth a read.

The book is a nuanced, anguished cry against segregation by a white, Southern Catholic. I didn't find the book an insight into the totality of "the black experience." How is that even possible? What I did find was a first-hand account of the daily indignities of being African-American during the period of segregation. Once Griffin skin color changes, he can no longer easily find a rest-room or a drink of water. The African-American restroom facilities and cafes are spread out New Orleans. Any trip, requires detailed planning to avoid being left in dangerous, uncomfortable situations.

The precariousness of life is always evident. A bus driver refuses to let Griffith off the bus. When he rings for his stop, the driver slams the door in his face. He's forced to go an extra eight blocks until a group of white riders wish to depart. Griffith can't find a store willing to cash his $20 travelers check during a bank holiday. He goes from store to store receiving rude treatment until he happens into a Catholic book store. Because "of the Catholic stand on racism" the store keeper warmly receives him and cashes his check.(page 51)

Again and again, the Catholic faith provides an oasis of calm during the fury of race relations in the South. I was surprised by this, having studied how terrible the race riots were between Irish and African-American in Boston during the 1970s when the federal courts ordered desegregation of the public schools through busing. At least in New Orleans, however, the large presence of Catholics seems to have helped ease racial tensions.

For example, the author find sanctuary after a particularly bad trip to Mississippi after an African-American lynching case (this is 1960!) by resting in a Trappist Monastery. Here is Griffith's account

"I arrived at the Trappist monastery. . , the contrast was almost too great to be borne. It was a shock, like walking from the dismal swamps into sudden brilliant sunlight. Here all was peace, all silence except for the chanted prayers. here men know nothing of hatred. They sought to make themselves conform ever more perfectly to God's will, whereas outside I had seen mostly men who sought to make God's will conform to their wretched prejudices. Here men sought their center in God, whereas outside they sought it in themselves. The difference was transforming."

Griffith is so shocked by the difference, that he asks one of the monks to talk to him about his experiences.

"we discussed the religiosity of the racists. I told him how often I had heard them invoke God, and then some passage from the Bible, and urge all who might be faltering in their racial prejudice to "Pray brother with all your hear before you decide to let them ... into our schools and cafes."

The monk laughed. Didn't Shakespeare say something about 'every fool in error can find a passage of Scripture to back him up?' He knew his religious bigots."

"Is there any place in the Bible that justifies it-even by a stretch of the imagination, Father?"

"Biblical scholars don't stretch their imaginations-at least reputable ones don't," he said. "Wait a moment, I have something you must read." The monk then brings Griffith the book Scholasticism & Politics by Jacques Maritain.

Maritain describes the religiosity of the racists in this way

"God is invoked . . . and He is invoked against the God of the spirit, of intelligence, and love-excluding and hating this God. What an extraordinary spiritual phenomenon this is: people believe in God yet do not know God. The idea of God is affirmed and at the same time it is disfigured and perverted."(page 89-91).

I don't pretend that all who call themselves Catholic are free of the taint of racism. Still it is affirming to read in a contemporary account of the early days of the freedom rides, the Montgomery bus boycott, and the birth of the civil rights movement, so many examples of ordinary Catholics acting with charity towards African-Americans. It's reassuring to know that the "official position" of the Catholic religion has always been unity, equality and the urging of humanity to uplift itself from the social sins of the times.

May the Holy Spirit inspire all of us walk in greater love and dignity.

Happy Birthday Sister!

Happy Birthday to my sister, who conveniently shares a name with Hannah's favorite train. She's spent three of the last five years in Ghana helping pass out malaria pills to pregnant women. We enjoy having her stateside this year while she's in grad school. Besides being funny, charming, and kind, she is also the best aunt. She lets Lex get the messy blue ice-cream at Maggie Moos, picks out the cutest shoes for Hannah and always has a loving "she's so big" for baby Maria. Happy 28th Birthday! Hope this year is a great one! See you at Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Happy Feast Day-St. Martin de Torres

In 4th Century France, when the "good news" of Christianity had just begun to spread among the crumbling Roman empire, a 15 year old boy was pressed into military service by his pagan father. As Roman solider, Saint Martin de Torres began to study this new faith. At age 21, Saint Martin was so moved by the plight of a cold, nearly naked beggar, that he took his beautiful cloak and cut it in half with his sword. One half Saint Martin gave to the beggar and one half he kept for himself. That night in a dream, Jesus came to him dressed in the half of the cloak Martin had given the beggar. Jesus said "what ever you do for the poorest of the poor, you do for me." Jesus also told Martin that his studying was over, it was time to take his vows to formally join the Catholic Church.

This story, which is passed down for over 1500 years, is a startling example of "charity." Charity is different from benevolence, which is defined as giving from your excess. Mother Theresa said that "charity is sharing when it hurts." It was an extremely cold day when Saint Martin meet the beggar. As a solider, he had only one cloak. Yet Saint Martin is so moved with compassion that he shares his cloak with another who has greater need of its warmth.

My family celebrated this feast day by going to Mass, donating a new men's coat to our parish's coat drive AND THEN, driving to the National Gallery to drink in this fantastic portrait of St. Martin by El Greco. (There are so many benefits to living in the Capitol City!)

El Greco's seven foot high picture is amazing to contemplate in person. St. Martin has a young mans face, gawky ears and peach fuzz on his upper lip. His eyes are downcast with long lashes. His face has such a feeling of peace, gentleness and contemplation. One hand steadies the house and the other deftly starts to tear his luxurious green cloak in half. The body of the beggar is equally amazing. Its as if, El Greco is forewarning us of Jesus' presence. The beggar's right hand is in a form of blessing and his other hand take the cloak with such simple thankfulness and honor. There is no shame in his being barefoot or naked. He takes St. Martin's cloak as easily as if it was one of our children asking us for a glass of water. (Isn't that what charity is? The act of sharing resources shouldn't be anymore complicated that giving your toddler a glass of water on a hot day).

There was so much to think about looking at this huge portrait. We were the only ones in the room--a Catholic family which prayed to St. Martin and grew closer to him in spirit while contemplating this devotional work of art. I told my husband later, "those pictures must be so lonely." El Greco's artwork originally hung in a famous chapel in Toledo, Spain. Now his work hangs in Gallery No. 28, a back room of the National Gallery which is barely visited by bored, tired tourists.

The National Gallery is open late, until 6 PM on Sundays. Jon & I are planning many more trips to stare at the Saints with our three little Catholics. What a great way to inspire a strong devotion to the Communion of Saints.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Pope & I share I-Pod Tastes

I'm unabashedly sentimental about Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. When it appears on my classical music playlist or we sing snippets in church hymns, I get tears in my eyes. How often have I heard this symphony, nine hundred times? It can never be enough. Now I find there is a theological basis for my devotion!

Pope calls Beethoven's "Ninth" masterful expression of optimism
by John Thavis, Catholic News Service

"After listening to a performance of Ludwig van Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony," Pope Benedict XVI, called the work a masterful expression of optimism in the face of suffering.

The pope listened to the performance by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus at the Vatican Oct 28. Afterward, he gave a talk that reflected his interest in music and his familiarity with Beethoven's work.

Beethoven's "Ninth" is one of the best-known compositions of Western music and was written when the composer was almost completely deaf. Its finale, "Ode to Joy" uses soloists, chorus and orchestra.

The pope said that he was increasingly amazed at the work, which was Beethoven's last complete symphony, written after years of self-isolation.

"Beethoven had to fight internal and external problems that brought him depression and deep bitterness and threatened to suffocate his artistic creativity," the pope said.

Then, in 1824, Beethoven surprised the public with "a composition that broke the traditional form of the symphony" and elevated it to an expression of joy and optimism," he said.

The pope said that the careful listener can follow this drama in the music itself, as it progresses from the dark tones and famous "empty fifths" of the strings at the beginning of the overture to an explosion of jubilation at the end.

The sens of joy that emerges from the music is "not something light ans superficial, but a sentiment acquired through much work, overcoming the emptiness of someone who had pushed into isolation by deafness" the pope said.

He said the musical composition reminded him of a passage from the prophet Isaiah:"On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book; and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see."

He said the reference is to the gift of perception received by those who are liberated from struggles thought God's grace.

Purpose of a Vocation

These words from the sacrament of ordination for the Carthusian monks have some interesting insight into the vocation of marriage:

Question: "What do you ask for?"

Answer: "Grace"

Response:"As the most humble servant of God, are you ready to adopt the monastic way of life as the way in which God will lead your souls to the inner holiness?
Where he will reveal his inner holiness to you?
And let you commune with him?
You are now at God's disposal alone in everlasting prayer, solitude and joyful penance."

As a wife & mother, marriage is my path for inner holiness, revelation of God, and communion with the Holy Trinity. My chances for solitude are more limited than that of a monk. Yet I can still aim for more quietness in my small domestic church. I can also strive for a life with more prayer and joyful penance.

The MovieGoer-Into the Great Silence

Impossible to overstate how much I've enjoyed this latest Netflick pick- a peep into the life of the monks from the Grande Chartreuse monastery. The life of the monks first made me homesick for my former life as a scholar. The "father" monks live in alone in cells, spending time in prayer and study. A lower order, called "brothers" who wear blue denim habits delivers steaming vegetable stew, clean laundry and letters from home through a small door in the cells. All time is spent in silence, except for the powerful words of the literary and few "recreational" visits.

The difference between these two types of monks is briefly described in their official website.

"A Carthusian community consists of cloistered monks, priests or those destined to become priests (Fathers) and monks converse or donate (Brothers). Cloistered monks live in the strictest of solitude. They do not leave their cells other than when allowed by the rule. They occupy their time with prayer, readings, and work (sawing wood to heat themselves during winter, gardening, transcribing, pottery, etc.) The Brothers ensure that the various needs of the monastery are met by their work outside of the cells (cooking, carpentry, laundry, work in the woods) It is a unique ideal, lived in two different ways. The Brothers work in as much silence and solitude as possible. They have their share of life in the cell for reading and prayer, yet it is less demanding than the Fathers. That is why their cells are smaller. Both ways of life complement one another to form the unique Charterhouse and correspond to the different aptitudes of those who wish to lead a Carthusian life."

When I rented this documentary, I thought I'd long for the life of a father. Uninterrupted time for contemplation of the sacred scripture. Time for writing, thought, prayer. Clean laundry delivered through a window in my cell. Such a contrast to my currently inability to string two sentences together in a blog post without being interrupted by a hungry baby, battling siblings, a husband who has misplaced his wallet or a dog with diarrhea.

Instead, it was the humble life of the little brothers in blue which drew me. The way they carefully cut the celery for the stew. They way they shoved snow from the garden tracks while the Mass bells were calling their fellow monks to prayer. This is the way most similar to my life as a stay-at-home mother. Watching the simple, necessary tasks done with such love and devotion had an uplifting effect on me. Even the acetic monks need clean clothes and full bellies.

The focus on solitude and silence and aspects I wish to embrace more fully in my life. In contrast to the more communal life of the Benedictine monks, the Carthusian monks embrace a more solitary life. The basic premise is this:

"It is because of this solitude that each of our cells is called a Desert or Hermitage.

The cloister and cell only assure an external solitude. It is only the first step whose goal is to encourage interior solitude, or purity of heart: to keep one's soul away from any and all things not of God or which do not lead to God. It is at this level that the Carthusian meets the sudden impulses of his thought and the changes of his feelings. As long as the monk discusses with his "self", his sensibilities, his worthless thoughts, unreal desires, he is not centered on God. It is here that he experiences his weakness and the power of the Spirit which he learns bit by bit "...the habit of the tranquil listening of the heart which allows God to enter by all path and access." (Statutes 4.2) (quote from their official website.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

My 100th Post

A few words of thanks are in order:

To Minnesota Mom whose August 10th post got to stop “lurking” and open a free Blogger account

To Et Tu? Jen whose Sept 21 post made my blog go “national”

To Ladybug Mommy Maria who regularly encourages me to get published

To Maria, from my rosary group,her brother
Joshie who insures that my comment box rarely says “0”,& his girlfriend Jenny who gives me hope that my little girls can grow up to be both sassy & chaste

To Tienne who likes my history posts

To Jen Ambrose who logs in from China to comment on my art posts

For Tertium Quid whose kind comments made me say to my husband “men actually read my blog?”

To my friend “Nashville Jen” who inspires most of these posts but is too shy to ever comment,

To all of you gentle readers,

And to my best reader,Mr. Jon Benjamin.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Singing Away Your Blues

It's a lonely day at my house today. The kids are in their 18 day of a cough that sounds like they have TB. Homebound. Canceled play dates. A missing address book which has the phone numbers of all of my friends. A husband away at work. Thank goodness he shared a musical cure for loneliness.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

My Homeschooling Philosphy

I'm in year two of homeschooling preschool with a 4 year old and 3 year old. It's somewhat embarrassing to call myself a "homeschooler." After months of obsessive reading, the philosophy that I've finally hit upon involves long periods of doing nothing. I don't mean, I stock the home with interesting Montessori things and then let the child direct his own learning. I mean, I really do next to nothing. I live my regular life and occasionally throw in explanations using smaller words targeted for preschool ears.

I'm an artist. A good portion of my day involves messing around, thinking, reading, relaxing, cleaning, nursing, cooking new strange recipes, dancing with scarves to "Life is a Highway" with Hannah, figuring out how pistons run on steam trains with Lex, looking for missing Spiderman sneakers, napping and doing nothing. "Dilly-dallying" is what my mother called it. Me and the kids sort of hang around, shoot the breeze, and mess around with whatever strikes our fancy.

Although I have a reputation in my Mother's Rosary Group for being a "doer," since I frequently drag my kids to Smithsonian Museums, it's hard to explain that museum going is simply "dilly-dallying" in a different place. We hang out at the dino exhibit, then we eat some gummy dinosaurs at the cafeteria and make up crazy games about plant-eaters vs. meat-eaters. We're the only preschool set that regularly staked out the DaDa exhibit at the National Gallery, then we dip our toes in the nearby fountain. We like to watch Barney because he sings songs about "if all of the rain drops were lemon drops and gum drops." For the rest of the day we make up weirder and weirder candy concoctions until we become rivals to Willie Wonka.

So with the exception of some daily focus on learning the Catholic faith, "dilly-dallying" is pretty much how we fulfill the rest of our time. UNLESS, I have a skill set that I'm really focused on them learning. Learning how to share- was a big one that occupied almost all of last year. Man, I didn't just say "share", I brought out all of my conflict negotiation skills honed by years of being an attorney.

This year's vague focus is "learning how to count" and "learning how to read." Math-U-See and crazy car addition games makes the math part both fun and easy. I was totally stumped on reading part, however.

There's a strong current of dyslexia in my family. I was pretty worried that Hannah was headed down that path. (We had a surreal breakfast conversation when Hannah mentioned that Aunt Emily's fish was named after "the pig's friend." I had no idea what that meant until my two year old son finally said "her name is Scarlett, not Charlotte." I figured out that Hannah was talking about Charlotte's web, but Hannah couldn't ever figure out the sound difference between "sc" and "ch.")

Since then I've been searching the Internet, trying to come up with innovative phonic games. Guess what broke the ice? This totally bizarre PBS cartoon called "Super Why" The plot is so dumb, that Maria and I fold laundry whenever it comes on. Yet Hannah and Lex are transfixed. After two weeks of faithfully dropping everything to tune in at 2 PM, both kids start begging to learn their letters. I started the ten thousandth time with "A" makes the "ah" sound. Then Jon had a better idea, "Let's teach them handwriting?" "Handwriting?"

Now every night after dinner, my husband pulls out the chalk board. The kids pick up their magic eraser slates. Then for two letters a day the kids go over old fashion handwriting drills. The kind that we all did in 3rd grade. Both kids love it! My super kinetic learning daughter can make these perfect letters right off the bat.

We are only officially on the letter "D", but Hannah had a decoding breakthrough in the car today. "S T O P." Those are the letters on that sign, Mom. I explained that it spelled Stop. She was so excited. Now she helps me drive by noticing the letters in street names, the numbers in our big neighborhood highways, even the crossed out P in the no parking sign.

I can't tell you how exciting it was to drive around town with a four year old today who finally figured out that knowing her letters will make life easier, especially for exciting adult only tasks like driving a car.

Handwriting drills, dilly-dallying in the car with Mom, and PBS cartoons. This combination for literacy development is unlikely to receive a No Child Left Behind Grant. I'm still proud. I'm not trying to foster literacy in a nation, only one Benjamin child at a time.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Head Exploding Thought Today

When I get to heaven, I will love everyone as much as I currently love my husband, Jon. That thought just explodes my head.

This morning I spent twenty minutes, with all the hustle of three tiny kids, patiently tearing out the poems in each of the 30 New Yorker Magazines I was about to recycle. I knew that Jon enjoyed a few of these original poems and would be sad to lose them. I had no idea which 3 to 4 of the 80 poems he'd want to save. I doubted if Jon could remember enough of the opening lines to tell me which ones to save if I called him at work. So, I patiently flipped to the contents page of each issue, located the two poems inside, carefully tore out the pages, tossed the remaining magazine in the "to be recycled" pile, and placed the poems in the "to be filed" pile. I repeated this procedure thirty times, while Maria begged for more food, Hannah wanted to jump on me instead of just my bed, and Alex refused to stay on the potty.

When I told Jon that the New Yorker poems where now filed under his name at dinner, he was totally shocked. "You did all that for me?" "Well, of course" I answered.

Well, of course. He loves poetry. The poems are the first thing he flips to each time the New Yorker comes into the house. He asks me questions about them hours later when we are driving to random events. How could I not take care of these poems for him?

Jon also has this dangerous big toenail from a botched ingrown toenail operation that he had as a kid. I affectionately call it "the claw." In the middle of the night, when my husband kicks out the tangled comforter from the foot of the bed, he'll occasionally hit my leg. "What is that sharp, knife like thing glazing my ankle?" I'll awake from sleep with a start. 'Oh, it's just the claw" I think, and snuggle closer to him. A scrape down my leg now means that I'm in bed with the right man. Hard to believe that I'll one day accept all bruises this kindly and see similar beauty in other people's scary toenails.

Gifts of the Magi- Pro-life Short Story

They entered the tree house. Ingrid’s name for it, anyway. A clapboard house perched on a pinch of hill above Atwood Avenue. Three gigantic, withered, white oak trees encircle the city sidewalk, a fifteen feet descent from home’s lilting front porch. A seat on the fax iron chair places Ingrid at eye level with clusters of leaves with tips as round and smooth as worn pencil erasers. Hence, Ingrid’s unofficial name for their destination.
The sixty steps from the sidewalk to the door at the Atwood Avenue entrance makes the tree house unwelcoming to all but the most dedicated solicitors. As an invited guest, Ingrid slips in by the friendlier back gate. Here a carefully manicured lawn curves around tailored shrubs and pudgy Buddhist statues. The garden’s highlight is a regal pond where three koi lazily lounge in black PVC tubes. During Ingrid’s last visit, the hostess had dipped a bare fingernail into the pool, shook the plastic tubes, woke the sleeping koi and asked them to perform for her guests. The red antique tricycle by the back walkway had always mystified Ingrid, though now, it suddenly seems appropriate.
Tim, her husband, yanks on the thick metal fence latch. He opens the wide gate of the Frank Lloyd Wright fence that seems a mandatory homage for certain income levels in Madison, Wisconsin. The fence belongs to the neighbor’s home but the gate lunges aggressively at Keira and Ben’s garage. Dressed in an olive Gap tee shirt, black teevas, and his one pair of unspoilt khakis, Tim looks sharp- except for the tufts of dog hair which poke from his Teevas’ Velcro straps, and a frayed right pant hem. In his pocket bulges their one illicit weapon: manly black beads unevenly strung on steel chain link. The rosary is a free gift from his ordination ceremony as a First Order of the Knights of Columbus. Ordinarily, Ingrid would have already nicknamed him, Sir Tim the Fainthearted, or other such clever monicure. With their future as tenuous as wet underwear hung on a laundry line without clothespins, Ingrid chooses not to banter with her husband’s tenuous self-consciousness.
Ingrid had no such rosary. Her sponsor had bestowed one on the night of Ingrid’s adult confirmation. The precious beads of rosewood blessed in person by John Paul II whose sticky scent had became less cloying after each removal from its plastic case, --that rosary chain had split apart into several small pieces. Ingrid now used it as a talisman against evil, rather than as a regular tool of prayer life. Before the last move, Ingrid left the rosary on the second Bathroom shelf to keep it out of Francesca’s prying hands. Infant’s Liquid Motrin must have spilled across the shelf because now the handsome face of a youthful pope disintegrates into a swirl of orange and red. Such simony causes an even stronger rush of guilt after the Pope’s death, so that Ingrid’s only rosary remains even more unused than before.
Now the only thing comforting Ingrid’s thumb and index finger is the aluminum foil which she’s inexpertly flung against the blue Plexiglas casserole dish. The blue dish still holds a few stubborn remains of rainbow trout drenched in white wine and cream sauce. French trout had been the entrĂ©e at her last dinner party. Today the dish contains five turkey sausages originally purchased to tempt Francesca to eat more meat, but which had languished in the freezer. Ingrid had chipped off the freezer frost to make the sausages more appealing.
Tim gives me a “here it goes look” and pushes upon the back gate. They enter, passing the koi pond and antique red tricycle. Ben, their host, stands by the chrome gas grill. No smell of lighter fluid or smudge of smoke accompanies him. Rather, Ben’s covering the propane tanks with special insulated covers for the coming Wisconsin winter.
“Hey yah! Sorry we moved back our dinner plans. We ended up only being detained a fifteen minutes from traffic on the Beltway.” Ben had a face that was all eyebrows- the thick chocolate swatches were the first thing you noticed in his face, then his brown eyes and shock of bangs raggedly hanging off his forehead.
“Oh that’s okay,” Tim collectively answered. “We went out for a quick beer. Had to take advantage of the babysitter . . . time alone. . . and all that.”
Ingrid had reach Ben on the back deck, now. She wasn’t sure how to greet him. A hug seems too forward. A handshake --too businesslike. Ingrid settles for a smile. She tries to make it genuine. Ben’s eyes look easier than when he first broke the news to her.
Chelsea, the infirm golden retriever barks noisily as Ingrid and Tim enter into the kitchen. Ben firmly closes her grey muzzle. He yanks the yelping dog to plastic chain outside. Keira flutters a quick hello and then hides her face. Keira hops from one foot to the other while pinching a cell phone between her head and shoulder. She must be trying to get a better cell phone signal inside the house, Ingrid reasons. The tattoo of a sun on the outside arch of Keira’s left foot is an identical hue to the azure kitchen rug she is standing on. Ingrid wonders why the spiral sun with rays made of swiggly arrows is azure, turquoise, and deep purple in the first place. Is it a personal color preference with some special meaning? Or would the conventional yellow and orange fade to easily? She hears Tim’s voice in her head telling me that no one gets tattoos in yellow. “It would fade too quickly, end up looking like a faint bruise instead of a picture in a few years.”
Tim shows no hint tonight of his numbing social anxiety disorder. He starts out the hearty congratulations. He gladly welcomes Keira and Ben into the new tribe. “Well, well. What great news! Ingrid’s told me already. I’m so excited for your guys!”
“Shhhhh!” Ben mouths. Keira flees into the hall bathroom. Ben motions for Ingrid and Tim to follow him into the dining room. “She’s on the phone with her sister.” He starts to flap his arms mimicking a pre-school teacher’s attempt to get children to sit down during circle time. “We’re keeping it on the down low. On the down low.”
Ingrid’s not sure what this means. Ben and Keira haven’t told her family, or they aren’t going to tell her family? The news of the baby was only indirectly hinted at during her last conversation with Ben. A client, Ben had shown up at Ingrid’s apartment at 2:00 PM on a Monday afternoon. Ingrid welcomed him inside, despite the fact that she was still wearing her pajamas. She apologized for the baby hysterically hollering in the next room. “He’s teething, so he doesn’t like to go down for naps.”
“What is all of this,” Ben said motioning to the discarded pile of skis, Martha Steward reading lamps, drafting tables, law books, and bookcases which cluttered the front porch.
“We’ve decided to move to NYC,” Ingrid responded breezily. “This is our attempt to lighten the load before moving into a tiny one bedroom on the Upper West Side.”
“Why? What prompted this?”
Ingrid started in on the tangled explanation. Ben’s agitation confused her. They were friendly, but not close. Tim had already handed over the final CD containing the new logo, pint-ads, and website. Kinko’s had delivered his two-color business cards. Did Tim forget that he promised Ben some future design projects by a specific date? “We’re just going to stay at Tim’s parents house beginning in September. We’ve got a laptop and Internet access. Tim will be able to finish any design projects he promised you on the road,” Ingrid said reassuringly.
Ben shook his head. “I came over for advice on advice on how to run a business. It’s . . . it can’t be done. It’s all over. . .Everything is over. . . I’ve got to get a regular job. . . a real job.”
Years of conducting legal interviews with distraught domestic violence victims had trained Ingrid to stay still in the midst of such confusing talk. Ingrid inhaled slowly. She exhaled evenly, the way her fourth grade drama teacher had shown her by balancing a dictionary on her abdomen. She concentrated on her hands, which usually spun in concentric circles when she spoke. Ingrid deliberately placed the left hand on the nearby bookcase, she place the right one on her hip, where a pocket should have been. Now she was ready to make gentle eye contact with Ben.
Her motions seemed to help Ben regain his thread of thought. “We have a problem. Everything is uncertain. The business. Taxes. Health insurance. Keira told me to come to talk to you guys because you have your own business and two kids. Keira’s going to have a baby in April.”
Ingrid’s self-imposed restrain vanished. “Oh my gosh, that’s incredible news!” Ingrid did a trademark jump- a sort of revised first position leap she’d adopted during her brief ballet training at age five. The jumps were the only thing the exuberant five year old had like and mastered.
Ben’s face stayed grey and immobile. He broke off eye contact. The lack of happiness grounded Ingrid after only three quick hops. What was wrong? Ingrid started to rewind the conversation. He had made such an awkward announcement. Keira, the woman who co-owns his house but dosen’t have an engagement ring, was going to have a baby. Wasn’t the baby his?
Ingrid refocused on Ben. He refused to return her gaze. Ben looked little boy panicked-not betrayed lover panicked. “It won’t be here till April. . . It just happened. We’re not telling anyone yet.” The news was too new to be real. Ben’s eyes were practically crying.
Ingrid reached inside to find something simple to say. “It’s the best thing I ever did.” She gestures around to all the kid accoutrements, the nude Melissa and David doll house, the brio train wreck, the orange plastic sippy cups with bite marks and missing lids. “Parenthood. . . It seems scary at first, but it was the best thing I ever did.”
Ben nods, reassured, and promises to call Tim later that afternoon. As Ben closed the door, the baby was still howling. “Even like this, it’s still good,” Ingrid thought. Then she looked down. A bold smear of Rose Cottage Red Raspberry Spread in the shape of a child’s finger had been strewn across her right breast during the entire conversation.
Now three days later, deposited in Ben and Keira’s immaculate dining room, Ingrid felt clueless. Were they keeping the baby? Was this some sort of test? Keira was still missing, probably talking on the phone to erase any sisterly suspiciousness raised by their entrance. Ben had started opening pizza boxes and scooping greasily cheese wedges onto matching plates. Were they all going to sit down, run the numbers and see if having a baby made financial sense at this point in their lives? How was her and Tim’s lurching story supposed to guide them?
Ingrid needed to rest. She chose to sit down on the chair on the far end of the dining room table next to a window. She immediately regretted her decision. The table was pushed too far back to the wall in an effort to make a larger traffic path to the living room. She could tell this chair was seldom used in a home of two. There wasn’t enough room for her to comfortably scoot back from the table.
Keira enters the dining room and slumps into the chair near the entryway. Her trademark yoga posture is all off. Limbs slide higgily-piggily into each other. There is no distinction between her chin and her neck. She’s wearing a loose indigo peasant skirt, with a black skirt and bare feet. The tassels from her sleeves wave gracefully as she fingers both ear lobes. Quickly, Keira perks up and assesses the dining room table. “Ben you didn’t open up a pizza. The good one. There’s salad here too, guys.”
Ingrid is dismayed to see a gourmet pizza revealed, one with feta cheese, black olives and tender green asparagus. She isn’t a lover of pizza. It was going to be difficult to finish this slice of pepperoni. Still, if she were going to eat pizza, she’d rather have a rare one whose vegetable toppings were actually tempting. To console herself, Ingrid takes the salad tongs that Keira offers. The salad is all green: green cucumbers, green celery, green peppers, green olives and green Boston Leaf lettuce. “Clever salad,” Ingrid says gamely.
“I didn’t make it,” Keira said embarrassed. “Everything is from Glass Nickel Pizza. They have some fun salad choices. . . Subs, too.”
“Well, I guess you guys will be loyally buying pizza from the Glass Nickel from here on,” Tim said. He turns to Ingrid, “Did I tell you, Ben just landed a new client? Glass Nickel wants three delivery cars to be converted. We get to design the circular logo stickers for the back windows.”
“Wow!” Ingrid answered.
Ben laughed, basking in the glory of having an established business as a new client in his new venture installing converters for alternative fuel. For under $1,000, Ben could install a kit from such reputable supplies as “grease monkey” to allow diesel cars to run on vegetable oil. He started explaining on how he was going to install a grease trapper and purification system into the kitchen.
“That’s perfect,” Ingrid replies. “The pizza delivery trucks can run on their own fuel.”
When Ben kept repeating the plans for “BioCoup” Ingrid felt giddy. She had named it! She’d named a real company. Ben had come to them with the original too-hippy sounding “Veggie Mobile.” It felt wrong for the seriousness of his business model. He needed a better name to drop at law school reunions. She clung to the rough-hewn page hem of the thesaurus, looking for alternative words to vehicle. “Coupe,” which she Americanized by dropping the last “e” felt right as soon as she read it out loud. The name was a true joint venture. Tim had picked the phrase “Bio” to go in front of it.
Soon Ben asks Tim about the date of the big move to NYC. “I’m not exactly clear on why you’re going.”
Ingrid wills herself to distract herself from hearing Tim’s answer. The attempt to explain the urge to go to the Art Capital of the World to a non-artist is usually painful to both speaker and listener. The whims of intuition are difficult to explain to outsiders. The truth was that though Ingrid and Tim were happily encamped in an apartment whose cedar hardwood floors, sunny side windows, and neighborhood of copious city gardens, truly elevated it to the name “flat,” last Saturday morning a moving van had parked outside the front window while new upstairs neighbors unloaded a feast of mismatching Ikea furniture. Staring for six hours at logo of “two men and a truck” had inspired a longing to travel. “Let’s move.” “Okay, let’s go to New York City.” Their marriage-- an easy compatibility of like minds-- made it a delight to decide on which odd film with foreign subtitles to attend, but made it a mess to describe joint life decisions to friends, relatives, or strangers.
It hurt Ingrid to think about moving. She had just developed an easy rhythm to hold the family together. She felt flung down an open trapdoor of giant unknowables: no job, no apartment, no church, no Tuesday night flamenco lessons, no steadying pediatrician, no therapist who was so gentle and understanding of her GAD, no get-togethers with the girls for a Brazilian margaritas at Jolly Bob’s, no navy PT cruiser with raisins stuck under the car seats, no trips to ride the horses at the merry-go-round park, no knocking of cheers with lollipop treats from Jenny Street Market, no listening to the cottonwoods by the lake on a bad day.
To distract herself, Ingrid tries to absorb herself into her surroundings. The dining room is furnished casual eclectic – lots of framed photographs in glass beads, precious shells and handmade clay creatures. It was a forest of interactive wonders to her two-year-old daughter on the last visit, hence the decision to hire a babysitter tonight. Well, that and it seemed easier to convince a couple that babies were easy without one actually being around.
The boys keep prattling on about business plans. Ingrid starts categorizing the paintings on the wall. A wannabe Van Gogh. A wannabe French impressionist. Oh wait, the small picture of a flower bouquet on the wall. It looked familiar. Ingrid strained her contacts to read the signature. Mark Hamon.
“Didn’t Mark go to school with you?” she asks Tim out loud. “Wasn’t he your TA or something?”
“No. Not a TA. He didn’t teach me. He was in some classes with me. He was just going to art school at the same time” Tim gruffly answered before resuming his train of thought with Ben.
Ingrid stewed silently. Yeah, just taking some classes at the same time. Still here he is now after school, eight years later. He has his own studio on Atwood Avenue. He got a commission to paint a serious of murals on foot-foot sections of fence in the community gardens. Where are we, eight years after school? A recovering lawyer who scribbles between loads of laundry and a graphic designer with a never used studio in the basement storage locker.
Ingrid remembers meeting the infamous Mark Harmon in person. She was walking home from morning Mass, entranced with how a stem of Scottish thistle on the strip of restored prairie land was thick enough to support a goldfinch. She turned her head to the right side and saw him. Mark was standing there, easily retouching a lush spring motif, of a large metal waterspout dripping droplets into a green plastic watering can, on the bike path entrance to Café Zoma.
“Are you Mark Haymond?” she ventured. “Harmon,” he corrected. “I’m him.” “I like your work,” she said quickly. He was repainting over graffiti, someone had used a white can of spray paint to say GDNK over the drip from the water tap. The graffiti had shown up on three murals a few days ago. Ingrid had been heartsick to notice how disfigured the slice of watermelon had been during her Sunday bike ride with the children. She felt so traumatized for the artist, his work given graciously to the public and so horribly betrayed. She tried to put those feelings of sympathy into words for him. “Your work is so good. I really like it. I’m sorry they so rudely spray-painted over it. It’s a shame.” Yet Mark didn’t seem perturbed. “Oh it’s easy enough to fix.” He waved his paintbrush with light heartedness. He seemed happy to be there, doing touch ups on a mural in the sunshine. Ingrid walked away quickly on the bike path without nodding in agreement. She felt shaken. She replayed his words and cheerful demeanor while passing the Jamaican store with the elderly Mercedes Benz perpetually for sale outside. It was one of her faults that she didn’t yet know that ugliness can easily be corrected.
The room is hot. Ingrid longs to remove her sweater, the khaki cotton one she bought from Goodwill for $3.99. Ingrid bought it for the J. Jill label, even though the oversized fabric covered safety pin on the neckline makes her self-conscious. At 5 PM, she couldn’t find her one brown tee shirt. Instead she opted for white New York Times Magazine tee shirt that her dad had gotten free with a renewed subscription. New York Times name had a certain cache which was undone by the bold pink “N” in Gothic type on the breast. Why didn’t the New York Times have times print? She decided remove her sweater and risk the pink N clashing with a brown and blue floral skirt. After removing the sweater, she belatedly discovered that she’d worn the blue-stripped sports bra to dinner. The bans showed noticeably through the shirt. She wants to put back on the sweater, but feels that an immediately return would be too obvious.
Ben was still spitting out detailed questions about their New York plan, or rather their planned adventure. How can anyone be this interested? Ingrid decided that it was being used to deflect the issue at hand. It was so typical of boys to dodge the meatier issues at hand. Frustrated she asked Tim for the cell phone. “I need to check on Alice,” she said. She starts up the stairs, hoping to get some privacy in the guest room upstairs.
“Can I help you find anything?” Keira asks, following her to the foot of the stairs. It occurs to Ingrid, that Keira must be eager to leave the table too.
She had forgotten to bring Keira the babysitter’s flyer. The “Hi, I’m Alice Thomas. I’m a twin, the oldest of four children. I’ve got lots of experience with newborns and toddlers. I’m red cross certified.” All written as a run on stream of type devoid of spacing returns based on periods or sentence structure. Alice was a shiny penny of a girl. She somehow had the illusion of extreme capability, despite the lost Red Cross Babysitting Certificate. During the first sitting assignment, Ingrid had rushed out to a client meeting at 11. She handed over the crabby baby to Alice. “The baby is teething, don’t even try to put him to bed.” When she returned one and half hours later, the baby was asleep in his crib and Hannah was in her bed-tent quickly reading farmyard books to herself. “How did you do that?” she questioned Alice. “Didn’t he put up a fuss?”
“Baby’s cry,” was Alice’s common sense answer. There was a time earlier in her mothering career, when such a retort would have sent Ingrid into a panic. Was she doing something wrong? Now such second-guessing seemed futile. Instead, she took this answer as the gift that it was. “What are you doing this afternoon? There’s a movie I want to see with my husband.” Thus, was born Ingrid and Tim’s first spontaneous time alone in three years.
It’s vital that such a precious resource not go to waste. Ingrid wants to spill it out. But Keira such a new mom, she doesn’t know to think of herself as a mama yet. She doesn’t understand the value of a reliable, available, and cheap babysitter.
“I’ve got to call my babysitter,” Ingrid begins.
“Okay,” Keira answers pertly.
“She’s really good. I should give you her number.”
Ingrid leans over the banister in desperation. You need this, Ingrid silently pleads with Keira. You’re going to be on that couch in eleven months. You are going to be sore and exhausted. You are going to be dying because you cannot stand to have a sucker fish attached to your breast anymore. I can help you. I can give you this sound shiny penny of a girl, who can come in and hold your newborn, pace with him so that you can go into the subzero freezer and pick out a diet lime coke and read upbeat poems in O Magazine. Do you really thing doing prenatal yoga is going to spare you all this post-partum agony? Ingrid looks again. Keira isn’t in blissful denial, she’s in numbing fog denial. The babysitter suggestion wasn’t going to get pick up tonight. Better to tell Alice to call Keira in June to troll for new business.
It was so hard to communicate. Keira and Ingrid drifted to the kitchen out of default, they wanted to give the boy their space.
“Do you want something? Keira stated, “We’ve got fruit juice, milk, fresh squeezed orange juice. . oh, and beer. Do you want a beer?
“No thanks, I’m still breast feeding,” Ingrid replied.
“I’ve got some of these new fruit juices. I’m trying out all of these new things now,” Keira replied self-consciously looking at her belly.
There was a tiny child in there, Ingrid thought. Or technically a “fetus” or a clump of cells which could turn in to a child. Keira would be more clinical. Still, a two time past-pregnant gal herself, Ingrid could only think of it as a child. A tentative child, maybe, still needing to overcome the hurdle of potentional miscarriage- but a child, nevertheless.
Keira opened up the refrigerator and pulled out some choices. The fruit juice was organic, shaped like a large juice box with a peel off foil lid. The foil lid looked promising. It reminded Ingrid of Ribena she’d enjoyed as an English exchange student. The juice wasn’t tart. To much syrupy mango. She forced her self to drink another sip to have avoid having to talk.
Ingrid pulls out a red painted kitchen stool by the breakfast nook. There is a grey coyote surrounded by moons and stars on the seat. Ingrid sits down and wearily places her elbows on the counter. The no elbows on the table rule, does it apply after dessert?. She stares stupidly at the counter-top. The vintage vanilla Formica with interlocking circles of pale blue and tired orange seems out of place with the smart sub-zero appliances.
“So how did you and Ben meet?” Ingrid asked. It was her new getting-to-know you conversation method. The one that had replaced her old college pallor trick of reading palms. She had to drop pretend palm reading after reading The Second Commandments prohibitions against sorcery of all kinds; including her previous habit of Capriacorn horoscopes. Which was for the best, really. It scared her when people got to into her made up explanations for the gathering of lines on the Mount of Venus. So now it was: “How did you meet?” “How did you met?” She had asked that of countless people, including a fuddy guy on the park benches below Edinburgh Castle. The familiarity of past stories leaves her unprepared for the honesty of Keira’s response.
“We met through my birth father.”
“Yeah, it’s strange. My birthfather lives in New Mexico, while I grew up in Arizona. He and my mom split up with I was one. I was raised by my stepfather. He’s the one I call “Dad.” As I said, no one knows my birthfather. No one. Yet he was the first person Ben met.”
“Spill all the details” Ingrid said eagerly.
“Um, I was going to this blues festival in New Mexico. I thought I’d look up my birth father. Just going to spend one night with him. . . My Birth Father.” Keira stumbles uncomfortably on this formal title. She must not have used it much. “ He’s not like me at all. He’s a big cowboy type. You know. A real chew in his left cheek, cowboy hat, a real Republican. We’re not alike at all. Anyway, he wanted to take me out country line dancing. I didn’t really like country music. I just thought I’d should humor him. So I end up dancing in this bar full of cowboys. Seriously, all the guys actually had scuffed toes and sagebrush sticking out of their boot spurs. I look across the bar. Then I see this regular guy. He’s drinking a flat tire. Do you know Flat Tire?”
“No,” Ingrid answered truthfully.
“Oh, it’s a microbrew they have down there. A pale ale. Sort of like our Spotted Cow from the New Glarus Brewery.”
“Oh, I’d like it then,” Ingrid responded. She looked eagerly at Keira for continuation of the story.
“Yeah! So I can’t believe this guy has a Flat Tire. I mean we’re the only people in the bar with that bottle in our hands. So I went over to him and said “hey, we must be the only people in here with a Flat Tire in our hands. And Ben laughed.”
Ingrid saw a flash of him then. Ben, smiling his wide, white smile, his swatch of eyebrows reflecting in a smoky bar mirror. A drink of clear water surrounded by tinny Bush beer cans.
“And he laughed, and we just started talking. We ended up talking for a sold three hours.”
“You couldn’t believe how comfortable you guys felt together”, Ingrid filled in for Keira during a natural pause.
“So what was Ben doing in New Mexico?” Ingrid pictured some drab law job, perhaps something in the Department of Justice following the money trails of terrorist or drug dealers.
“Oh, he was fighting fires.”
“Fire fighting?”
“Uh huh, he did that just after law school” Keira casually replied.
The incredulousness of that statement jolted Ingrid’s sleepy brain awake. Keira had repeated that as calmly as saying that Ben had spent a year working for Michael Best or at a clerkship at the third district bankruptcy court. Fighting fires? Benjamin?
Of course, in Keira’s world fighting fires was probably a normal job. In Ingrid’s and Ben’s insular world of the University of Wisconsin Law School, fighting fires was not a normal job.
How can I explain how radical his decision was to her? Ingrid flashed back to the job interviews for summer associate positions. She’d walked on the steel stairways, which through the marvel of modern architecture were suspended from space. Below her stood the candidates-not daring to sit down in the deep velvet chairs for fear of wrinkling their new suits. The guys had laced Oxford wingtips, choking Windsor knots, and no cufflinks. The girls wore drab uniform of navy blue skirt suits and jabbing metal scarf pins. No scarf. No jewelry. Nothing to soften their starched faces. These girly items were on the banned substance list along with perfume and smelly hair shampoo passed out by the Career Development Center firm interview tip sheet. The girls also wore sensible black pumps. Not the shiny pumps of her Nana’s Papagallo stores which were cream with gold buckles and toes dipped in taupe paint. These were clunky shoes which ended in suntan colored hose which contrasted with their pasty faces. The girls were so pale from months spent studying under the library fluorescent lights that their cheeks looked blue instead of pink.
Ingrid’s defiance of the interview system only led her to post-pone the interview session to the spring where she sat in a cranberry Anne Taylor skirt suit, a square cream and cherry scarf, and black Nine West loafers to beg for an unpaid internship with Children’s Legal Services in Boston. At the time, she considered herself she brave.
Now here was Ben, covered in soot, pouring dirt onto blazing fires in Western National Parks for a summer. That was simply heroic! There was more to him than meets the eye. Ingrid preferred this image to Tim’s description of an angsty guy dressing in black to smash Santa ornaments during Christmas time. None of this, including Ben’s vandalism spree can be easily conveyed to Keira. Ingrid decides to write off the whole explanation thing as an unnecessary tangent.
“Okay,” Ingrid struggled to get the timeline right. “So you met at the New Mexican cowboy bar. Then what?”
“I was only going to be in town that one day. So at the end of the night, I gave him my email address.”
“Then he wrote you back, and. . . .”
“Well, actually he didn’t write me back.”
“Ben didn’t write me for over two months. Then my birth father saw him in the street. He said, ‘hey, why haven’t you written my daughter! Don’t you leave her hanging like that!’’
The flutter kicks inside her belly were such a surprise, Ingrid’s first thought was that she might pregnant, too. She remembered feeling like she had swallowed butterflies the first confusing days she could feel Francesca move. It wasn’t a baby. It wasn’t indigestion. Keira’s words had just resounded in the place where life started. How incredible. A man had made Keira. Now the same man is instrumental in bringing her together with the father of his grandchild. Life is surprising perfect sometimes.
Keira didn’t seem to realize how much fate had had a hand in this pregnancy. She continued matter-of-factly. “So then Ben started writing. He’d write whenever he came into town on a weekly break from fire fighting. After a few months, he sent me an email saying that he had all of his belongings packed in his car. He was driving home and wanted to go to Tucson. To see me. I was in a panic. My mom offered to let him stay at her guesthouse. You see, I was living with a bad boyfriend at the time. Things were bad between us. It just was a bad situation. I’m always drawn to saving these unsavable people.” She stops to look questioning at Ingrid
Ingrid raises her hand. “Recovering codependent dater right her,” she affirms.
“Well, I’d wanted to break up with Jack, the guy I’d been dating for a year for almost six months. But he was depressed, like suicidally depressed. So I was afraid of ending it officially with him. I’d told him about all about Ben, and told Ben about Jack. I’d been above board about everything with everyone.”
Ingrid nodded. She’d never been able to be above-board with anyone while still in her 20s.
“Still it was weird, Keira continued. I had this fantasy everyone would get along. I dragged both Ben and Jack out to dinner at this local veggie burger joint the first night. It was excruciating. Jack refused to come out again. So that left Ben and I spending the rest of his weekend alone, taking in the sights of desert. By Sunday, I made my decision. I told Ben that I felt something for him. That it didn’t matter how he felt, because I was going to break up with Jack no matter what. I couldn’t continue to date him knowing that there were guys like him in the world. It was just a waste of time to continue to drag it out anymore. So I couldn’t believe it, but Ben told me that he felt the same way. He said that he was leaving to go home to see his family in Wisconsin. But after a visit, he was willing to move to Tucson to be with me. Well, the next week I have some vacation time saved up. I was supposed to go to the Burning Man Festival with Jack. Do you know the one?”
“Yeah,” Ingrid nodded, pleased she knew something hip and in the West.
“I found out later that Jack’s plan was to propose to me there.”
“Good thing you ended things when you did.”
“Yeah. Well, that’s that. Ben and I got an apartment and lived together for a year in Tucson. Then Ben said he wanted to come back to Wisconsin to start his business. It would be easier. So I came with him.”
“How long have you been in Madison?”
“Two years. We bought this house right away together.”
It was time. Ingrid lunged at the question that had been buried all evening: “so are you guys going to get married now?”
“Yeah.” Keira gave an embarrassed laugh. “In October. A very small ceremony. Just my mom and his parents.”
“It will be good.” Ingrid struggled with a better confirmation. “My best guy friend at my old job in Chicago . . . His name is Gabe. Gabe was really involved with this girl for years. She moved from Japan, where they met, to Indianapolis so that he could go to Law School. Then she moved with him to Chicago so he could take this public interest job. They came to our wedding, happy, but without any plans to be more than live-ins together. A year later, they married. Afterwards, Gabe and I had this deep conversation one day. He said that he was surprised that things were different. He said he really noticed a change.”
“Even though they’d been living together for a long time?”
“Yeah. Even with such a long history. Things were different when they married,” Ingrid said.
“Well, I can see how that would be,” Keira said thoughtfully. “After all, I know that I’ll feel more secure after we are married. We just had a discussion about that the week before I found out I was pregnant. I thought it was time. Ben’s against marriage, why does it matter to have a piece a paper, its just a meaningless institution, the only thing that matters is the emotional connection, which I believe.” Keira stops, her hand gestures showing that she clearly doesn’t.
“It will be different,” Ingrid repeats. “Better.”
There were no other words to say. Nothing more to say to the uninitiated. No way to say that not matter what definition “emotional connection” had been before, their joint definition of “love” would be transformed by this child with a unique heart song already started inside her.
Ingrid remembered when she and Tim had strained to hear Francesca’s heartbeat on a monitor. She was two weeks overdue. Dr. Chan had insisted that she have a stress test. There was something about a disintegrating placenta potentially hurting the baby. Dr. Chan described it as pinching the oxygen cord of the deep sea divers of old.
Now they sat in the triage unit of Riverside Hospital, close in proximity but emotionally far from the delivery ward. The weight of Ingrid’s stomach had pinned her to the too short hospital bed. Her skin was so taunt across the waist, that she felt she was constantly wearing pantyhose three sizes to small. She used one immodest hospital gown as a dress and had a second tied backwards to serve as a robe.
A rather frightening nurse had just explained that Ingrid need to rub her nipples- “stimulate herself” where the exact words. This intense rubbing was supposed to start the contractions that would let them measure how the baby’s heartbeat responded to stress. Tim and Ingrid were stranded by the monitor until the contractions came less than thirty seconds apart.
After five minuets, Ingrid was paralyzed with anxiety. She had trouble stimulating herself in the normal way under comforting conditions. Here in a large hospital room, her privacy assured by only a thin veil of printed cotton curtain, she was rendered immobile. Her shy nipple rubbing was giving no results that could be measured by the beeping monitor. Every few moments a nurse would unhelpfully call, “Rub harder, Ingrid! We aren’t getting any results yet.”
“Help?” Ingrid mouthed to Tim.
“No way,” Tim mouthed back. His head jerk towards the curtain signaled the extreme public nature of her predicament and the sexual pervert he’d be viewed as if the nurse caught him in the act.
She was utterly exhausted, so she shut her eyes. Then she felt him with her skin. Tim gently snaked a hand down the neck hole of her double-knotted hospital gown. His palm slid over her right breast which was bloated with veins of unused clostrium. His fingers found her right aureole and started rubbing.
Ingrid opened her eyes in relief. Tim had chastely turned his head away from her. All Ingrid could gaze at was Tim’s perfect neck, his muscles roped with tension. This was true love she realized. Many boys wished they could have touched her breasts. No one but Tim would dare touch them here.
Without words to share her thoughts with Keira, Ingrid was reduced to head shaking. She drank some more mango juice from the cut bottom glass.
“Do you want some root beer, now?”
“ No.” Ingrid looked at thought of the child inside Keira, which small enough to still be thought of as a fetus by its parents. Welcome to earth kid. There is no way to tell your mama yet that she’s in for something grand.
Just then the boys noisily entered the kitchen. “Time to go, hon.” Tim said. The wine had gotten to both of their faces. Ben came to hug Ingrid goodbye. His forward kiss on her check, told her the boys had also been intimate. Outside, the night felt good.
“I’m glad they called us.”
Tim impulsively kisses the hand he’s holding impulsively. He smells Coco, baby wipes, and warm mangos. “It’s a good thing-- babies.”
“Yeah, they are a good thing.”
“Are you ready to have another one?”
“Well, soon. Maybe after we get settled in NYC. I’m glad they called us. We knew at leave five days before any of their family members.”
“Yeah, that’s quite a compliment I’d say. We’ve been salty shepards without knowing it.”
“ Hmmm, feels good to get entrusted with the news early.”

50th Anniversary Church Celebration

On November 4, my new parish celebrated the 50th anniversary of the dedication of our church with our Archbishop Donald Wuerl. The Mass was billed as a "multi-lingual celebration." To say that our parish is diverse is an understatement. Even though we are technically on the outskirts of D.C. proper, our suburb is a magnet for new immigrants. The parish sports three choirs for the three languages of its Masses, English, Spanish & French. The prayers of the faithful were in fifteen different languages including Swahili & Vietnamese. At the offertory, girls in African cloth with ashes spread across their shoulders brought up baskets of guavas, pineapples, and bananas along with the customary gifts of wine, wafers and dollar bills.

Singing as part of a multi-lingual mass was incredible. I stumbled through the opening hymns of "Bienaventurados" and "Yo Canto Amor." My Spanish, which I had stopped studying in tenth grade, was barely recognizable. My Thai & Indian co-horts in the soprano section were much better at joining their voices to Spanish choir and it's lovely Mexican guitar solos than I. When we got to the Greek Kyrie and Latin Pater Noster- there was such a charge. All three choirs, all on the same page in the same language. It made me long to attend a full Latin Mass. The truly electric moment was singing "One Bread/One Body" with the beautiful Spanish counterpoint "Un Pan, Un Cuerpo." Singing about the unity of the Eucharist, while parishioners from all corners of the earth came up to reverently receive the Body of Christ from our D.C. Archbishop was so moving. I truly felt part of the World-Wide Catholic body in my local neighborhood.

During our first choir practice last Monday night, I was kicking myself for being so white and so clueless about languages. I'd studied Spanish and Latin in high school, but never got into the easy conversing stage. I felt guilty for slaughtering even the Pater Noster, which my husband has so patiently taught himself after the encouragement to learn more Latin from our dear Pope. Suddenly, the choir director (originally from Trinidad) pulled out our Meditation Anthem. The Mexican guitarists promptly got lost. My soprano co-horts dropped out. Yet my vowels finally rang out strong and true. "Great is Thy Faithfulness !" How many times had I sung out that song during my Methodist upbringing? I glad that even my Protestant heritage could weave together along with the cultural backgrounds of so many others last Sunday to give great praise to our Father in Heaven and to gratefully aw knowledge our "one Lord."

Great Is Thy Faithfulness! Great Is Thy Faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided,
Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me!

For My Husband

Who memorized this untitled Anna Akhmatova poem to quote to me while we were waiting during my c-section prep for Alex to be born . . .

Broad and yellow is the evening light,
The coolness of April is dear.
You, of course, are several years late,
Even so, I'm happy you're here.

Sit close at hand and look at me,
With those eyes, so cheerful and mild:
This blue notebook is full, you see,
Full of poems I wrote as a child.

Forgive me, forgive me, for having grieved
For ignoring the sunshine, too.
And especially for having believed
That so many others were you.

1915, From Anna Akhmatova Poems, Translated by Lyn Coffin

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Catholic Heros: Mirabel Sisters

I've become griped by the story of the Mirabel Sisters. Four close, Catholic sisters grew up under a brutal dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. Three of the sisters and their husband's become active in a secrete resistance movement. All six and the sister's parents are repeatedly jailed and tortured. After intervention by the Catholic Church, the sisters are released. Two of the sister's husbands are transfered to a remote jail. Their wives undertake the dangerous journey to visit their spouses in prison. Their oldest sister elects to travel with them. On November 25, 1960, the three sisters are murdered on the way home on the orders of the dictator. (A fourth sister is unharmed and becomes the adopted mother of six of her nieces and nephews.) The fact that defenseless women are murdered on their way home from visiting their imprisioned husband's outrages a nation, and the dictator is finally assistnated six months later.

There's a facinating interview with the surviving Mirabel sister. She struggled to raise the children of her murdered sisters "without hatred in their hearts." To qualify as an "official" Catholic martyr, I think you need to die for one of the truths of the faith. Still, I'm facinated by how the bonds of family and Catholic faith nourished their heroic actions. Minerva, who was the ring leader, is also a modern day symbol of chastity. Her refusal to submit to the romantic advances of the married dictator, were unprecidented and resulted in her family coming under intense scrutiny by the secrete police.

If you are interested in learning more, there is a fictional account of the sisters called "In the Time of Butterflies" by Julia Alvarez. It's also been made into a TV movie, with the same title, staring Salma Hayek.

Friday, November 2, 2007

All In The Timing

All Saints Day Mass, 5:30 PM, three feral children, worse Mass ever. I was so distracted holding sobbing, colicy newborn, the fingers of squirmy four year old, and watching a newly minted three year old attempt to throw his glowing Spiderman sneakers at the parishioner in front of my husband, that I said "thank you" after receiving communion instead of "amen."

All Soul's Day Mass, 6:30 AM, thirteen hours later, three pleasant, sleepy children- so sweet during service that the woman behind us told my husband "What a beautiful family you have, and the children were so perfect in their pew!" Hard to believe this is the same family. All Holy Days of Obligations will begin at the 6:30 Mass in the future.