Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Finding My Type

This week is the grand opening of the Smithsonian’s Ocean Exhibit. My kids were tired, hungry and exhibiting major allergy sneezes at Rosary Group. A normal Mom might sound a quick retreat back to the safe confines of home.

Undeterred, I yanked my three up forty-five stairs to the Museum of Natural History. How can we waste a trip to the City, I thought. Especially since there is a grand opening this week!

I was vindicated. A quick hotdog and some gummy dinosaurs revived my drooping crew. The problem was that there was just TOO much excitement.

I’ve realized that I reached the stage where traveling alone in a Museum is next to impossible. Mimi is loudly discontent in her stroller and insists on walking herself. At almost 4, Alex has suddenly lost his ability to stay with a group. Everything around him is too interesting and he wants to go his own way. Meanwhile, Hannah has reached that critical age where every single scientific video is fascinating. “But I want to see the whole thing, Mama. It’s not done yet!” This plea accompanied every single interactive exhibit at the Smithsonian, even the incredibly dull videos on Soil Erosion!

Still we waddled along together, a little disorganized, a little discontent. Along the way some marvelous things happened. Alex remembered the concept of ‘exoskeleton’ during a tarantula feeding demonstration, Hannah got to gaze longingly at the Hope Diamond, Mimi got to wander around the same exhibits as her Mom, and I got to justify hours spent watching Superman this week with “Look, the San Andreas Fault! Remember how Lex Luther wanted California to fall into the sea?” (Who said that my Netflix choices weren’t educational?)

In the middle of the Volcano exhibit, when I lost sight of each one of my children multiple times, I suddenly discovered my people. There were so many other mothers who dawdled over exhibits with dense type while their young kids arched their backs in their strollers.

“I’m a Smithsonian Mom,” I decided. I don’t do pre-school athletic teams or gymboree or catered birthday parties. The “soccer mom” label is never really going to fit. But man, give me a giant Plaster of Paris whale and some microscope slides of plant algae, and my inner geek is so satisfied!

Feels so good to finally know my mom type! I’m can’t wait to revisit my people at the renewed opening of the American History Museum this Fall!

Forty Days of Life

On Sunday, I attended my first public prayer to protest abortion. “The Life Chain” was an event throughout the US and Canada. We got to pick out signs. I choose “Abortion Hurts Women” which seemed a fitting tribute to the “pro-women, pro-choice” lie I got stuffed down my head for all of those years.

The prayer gathering was silent. Each person grabbed a sign and stood 10 feet from each other along the sidewalk. We chose a major highway, Route 355, which passes in front of our church. Since, I got there late, I ended up being the “first” in line. I stood on the edge. People could read my sign first as they came down the overpass in front of our parish hall.

It was hard to concentrate, so I closed my eyes. I’m not good at praying the Rosary yet in the safety of my own house. I felt exposed and vulnerable, especially when the city buses roared by. Sometimes people honked as they went by us. We were supposed to acknowledge such approval signs with only a smile. The entire hour was meant to be silent.

During our prayer, I felt so much. It reminded me that our human methods to fight evil fall so short. I need to relay more on prayer.

Here is the “Novena Prayers At the Abortuary” that my church is using during the 40 Days of Life. Please list your suggestions for intercessory prayer in the comments.

“The Sorrowful Mysteries”

1) Agony in the Garden: Even Christ found it difficult to do His Father’s will at Gethsemane. May each woman who agonizes whether to choose life or death for her child have the courage to say: “Thy will be done” and choose life.
2) The Scourging at the Pillar : As Christ was scourged, His skin was torn. The pain was agonizing upon his innocent flesh. May the merits of Christ’s suffering bring an end to legalized abortion.
3) The Crowning With Thorns: As Christ was crowned with thorns, He suffered great humiliation. May we never be afraid of human opinions, pain or humiliation in our pro-life apostolate. May we always offer it up for the love of Jesus in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary and for the conversion of the poor souls of sinners.
4) Carrying of the Cross: Lord, by the time You carried your Cross, You were near total exhaustion. Yet, You went on giving totally of Yourself. Help us to go on with our prolife efforts,, no matter how tired or discouraged we may be. May we never rest until we have given of ourselves completely.
5) The Crucifixion: From the Cross You Said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Although You gave Your life, You bore no malice. As Your heart was pierced, it poured forth love. By the merits of Your death, help us to work without malice, wishing like You, only the conversion of the sinner.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Happy Saint Michael Feast Day

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.


Unschooling-Getting the Hang of It

Our family spent a long time chatting about clouds on our drive home from Grandma's house on Saturday. We talked about fog as a low hanging cloud as we past the mist in the valleys. We tried to figure out if we could find animal shapes in higher clouds. Jon remembered that you could tell the height of the cloud by it's shape. I told the kids that I'd look up cloud shapes when we got home.

Yesterday, I picked up some cotton balls during my weekly grocery run. I pictured making diagrams of cloud shapes with glue this morning.

Today didn't go exactly as planned. The baby is fussy from her new molars, and needed extra attention during her morning nap. Meanwhile, my older kids are especially maniac after a non-nap for three days trip to Grandmas. I helped Hannah find the glue and clear off a section of our kitchen table. Then Maria woke herself up with a wail. By the time, I got Maria back to sleep, Hannah had torn open the cotton ball bag herself and was busy in her own project. She had no interest in my tutorial of how to make a neat diagram of cloud types.

Three weeks ago, "No Mom, I don't need you here!" would have thrown me. But now, I'm a new girl. I decided that I was really interested in learning Jon's theory of cloud height, so I went on the computer myself. I found a diagram of fog, culumus, stratus, and cirrus clouds. I wrote down their names and Latin meaning.

I asked to borrow some unused cotton balls and set up my own cloud project on the dining room table. In a few minutes, Hannah, Alex and I had a lively conversation going on about our various cloud drawings. I pasted some "fog" and drew a car that went into the fog. Alex had pasted clouds over a series of volcanos. Hannah drew flowers under her clouds, since flowers like rain. We talked about rain and plants, which eventually became a spring board discussion into what plants can live in a desert. Hannah and Alex took a look at my cloud drawing, just like I kept stopping my work to look at their projects.

My next drawing was a diagram of the water cycle. I pictured Hannah copying this for her school portfolio. (Alex by this time was off exploring Twister video clips on You Tube.) Instead, Hannah made up her own diagram. It's lots of different clouds with arrows pointing to them. She talks about "first this cloud turns into that cloud, and then it turns into this cloud." There are about nine clouds with various arrows in different colors pointing at each other. At first, I'm tempted to correct her knowledge "No, only cumulus clouds turn into cumulunimbus (rainclouds)."

Then I had this memory of my first few weeks of law school. At the beginning, we had to master the rubic of "logic".We read difficult, dense case law and then tried to make up our own evaluations of new situations, this incident is like that case, not this one. Because the whole legal structure was new, our beginning arguments didn't make much sense. Our "baby law talk" went sort of like "a tomato is like a stop light because they are both red." I remember this period in class when I actually had to cover my ears during most of my classmates questions since their theories were so wild that it would mess up my own teeny understanding of Civil Procedure or Torts. All of this babble was important, however. We had to practice how to "argue" as lawyers, before we could understand the content of our classes. In otherwords, we built a mental framework of what a logical argument was, and then went back and filled it in with specific knowledge from our class.

I realize that this is what my five year old is doing with science. She knows that you create a visual diagram where information goes in a certain way. She wants to copy a flow-chart as a concept. She wants to practice the art of a presentation. She knows that clouds have different names, but she's not ready to memorize them yet. If I let Hannah mess around with glue and crayons in her own way on her own time, my reward is hearing "This is fun Mom! I love studying clouds." In Hannah's mind, a morning spent with cloud is even more fun than all the new toys at Grandma's house.

Such a sweet day with my own budding meterologist!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What? You Don't Use a Recipe?

One of the hardest things about unschooling, is that it daily exposes me to my rabid insecurity. I'll sit in a happy circle of home-schooling Catholic moms. Suddenly the talk changes from apple juice prices to lessons plans.

Fear traps my body like a vice. Am I doing it wrong? My relaxed, improvised approach to learning, does it count as actual school? Is it possible that my golden haired child is going to be the one kid who ends up at 20, not knowing the short vowel sound for A?

I pondered my fear over the weekend. Then, I decided that unschooling is similar to cooking without a recipe.

I don’t have any natural competence in baking. I’d never attempt to make a pineapple upside down cake without some helpful directions from Betty Crooker. Yet, I know plenty of seasoned cooks, who whip up new recipes with things they have on hand, yummy pasta dishes or new types of cake.

My Mom didn’t sew me a chic apron when I married. She didn’t bequeath me a worn recipe book. The bad Catholic that I am, I still begrudge my Mom the 12 hours a day I spent in day care starting at age six weeks. Yet there was something about hanging out with a master educator for all those years. Like a girl who grew up under a talented cook or working musician, I’ve got the hang of the educational basics. I trust myself. And now I like to throw out the curriculum workbooks and go off road.

It’s about improvisation. It’s like Jazz.

You can learn music in the classical method. Piano lessons. Fingers curved just so. Note value and Every Good Boy Does Fine.

Our you can hand your kid a clarinet and let them blow. You make the music first, and then you fill in the knowledge gaps as you go along.

The second approach is more rare, more unconventional. But for those of us allergic to routine, playing real tunes on the clarinet as we master our notes is a far faster way to get to adore the difficult trills of Mozart than years spent dutifully learning our scales.

I’m glad this tension between teaching with a curriculum and teaching through unschooling exists. It reminds me clearly that we are all one body in Christ. No matter what, I have less in common with secular families who mimic my preferred teaching style. I need time with my Catholic home-schooling friends to recharge my spiritual batteries. They keep me focused on my most important task, helping my spouse and children reach heaven.

Beside, all that time with her Catholic friends is good for my daughter. Maybe, one day one of the younger kids will teacher her how to spell J-E-S-U-S.

Happiness is an Elusive Goal Compared to Making All-State Choir

(The boy I invited to my junior prom, David, died in 2002. His death was sort of tied to the Dot Com Bust. The recent Wall Street news brought an old essay I wrote about David into my head again. Please pray hard for all the Davids on Wall Street this week.)

“We were charmers, and no one doubted our potential. Others were the truants. The fighters. The drunks. The pregnant teenagers. These were the kids that people worried about in high school. No one worried about us. We were the smart ones with straight teeth who grinned easily in prom photographs.

Despite the dowdiness of the gold auditorium curtains, David and I look good in our 1992 “You Look Wonderful Tonight” Prom Picture. He looks comfortable in his tux. My ivory brocade dress is sophisticated and unique. We look well matched. If not exactly high school sweetheart material, then we looked like comfortable friends who would one day swap photographs of our children at a high school reunion.

My wallet now contains grainy pictures of two newborns.

David doesn’t have a wallet anymore.

The details of David's death are sketchy. First, emails were forwarded throughout my father's college staff community asking for prayers. The prayer request was vague. "David's been hurt in an accident. He's in intensive care." It sounded like a car accident. It sounded like David was getting better.

Then, I heard about his death in a Dublin airport. My mother told me- in her typical flat, non-nurturing voice. She just laid it on me. My junior prom date, David, had died.

It was a suicide, not a car accident.

I could come into town the next weekend to hit David’s memorial service. She was sorry. That was all.

I felt clammy while on the 6-hour plane ride back to New York and numb on the drive home.

Two years later, I’m an unemployed writer who graps with failure. I’m good at the trivial and clumsy with the critical. I can win an oral argument at the appellate court, but cannot voice disagreement to my mother. I quit a job that slowly poisoned my unborn son with stress and carbon monoxide. Yet, I worry that children’s services is going to take away my son because I cannot remember to clean his scrotum. I’m a proud artist, but uncomfortable with financing my art through credit card debt. I wrote a brilliant business plan, but I can’t muster the courage to make a simple sales call.

I can’t see myself through my own eyes. My view of myself is all distorted through my parents, through old prom date’s parents, the crabby high school English teacher who thought I ‘d never make anything of myself and the hardnosed church community who insisted that I certainly would. Happiness seems an elusive goal compared to making All-State Choir or placing in the International Science Fair Contest.

When David committed suicide, everyone said it was strange because he had gotten a new job as a math teacher in the fall. They didn’t understand how empty a space could seem from May to September. If vindication comes finally at a high paying job, what happens when the entire industry goes bust and you are deposited in the basement of your successful brother’s Brownstone?

For an unknown reason this son, with a physician mother, refused to take anti-depressants. He climbed up five flights of a parking garage in downtown Boston and leapt out.

He lived painfully with every bone broken in his face for eight days.

He lived to tell his Mother that he was sorry. He lived to hear his family say that they loved him.

Then David died at Mount Sinai Hospital of a staph infection.

I miss the way it was in high school, back when we knew the ending of everyone’s story before it began.

Seperation of Church and State- A Myth

From Father Avelino's Homily Today:

"This is a post-Christian time that we live in. A time of paganism. A time of non-belief. We have much in common with the early church in ancient time. We need to live in Truth, because there is such thing as Truth, and be a sign for others. Forget the talk about "reevanglism". We need to "evanglize." There are so many people who are not well instructed in the faith.

Even in America, even in this country which is supposed to be the most believing country in the world.

There is a myth that has gotten a hold of many Americans, the myth of the seperation of church and state. Our founding fathers wisely insisted that there was to be no State Religion in America. No State Religion. The idea that church and state must be seperated, that appears no where in the Constitution.

Our Founding Fathers didn't mean that there should be a division between what you believed at home and what you could believe and say in public. In fact, this false division is harmful. It lets you think that you can seperate your private actions from your public actions. This lie encourages a divided mind.

We are all here today because we wish to give honor to Jesus. We must present him with our presence, now and every moment in our day. We must present to Our Savior our whole body, our whole mind."

Whew! Way more knowledge here that in my two semesters of Constitutional Law. Yet another reason that I drag my children out of bed at 6 AM.

Monday, September 22, 2008


The news about the brokerage collapses have me all mixed up inside. I don’t have a personal stake in the Wall Street Mess. (We Benjamins are too poor to own a house or a money market account.) Yet I still feel unsettled, vulnerable.

When I was in college, I held the Economic Majors in high esteem. They were the practical girls, instead of us doe-eyed slobs in the Humanities Building. The Econ girls had graph paper notebooks, and thick calculators, and resumes with ascending levels of internships in chronological order.

I remember as a sophomore, following my senior idol, a fellow member of my debate team, to get her resume copied at our local copy shop. The anguished decision over the type of bond paper, the typewritten address labels, the mighty names of brokerages on Wall Street—of the things connected with an Econ Majors quest for employment seemed more exotic to me than a Junior Year Abroad Program in Burma.

In the dizzying moments of my career change, times when I constantly choose to follow my heart and completely ignore the practicality of money, I took a strange comfort in the road not traveled. The pledge drive for a 10-year college reunion might find me as a stay-at-home mother of two on Food Stamps. Still my experiences had to be unusual. That’s me, Abby Rupp, the odd girl from the Class of ’97. I took a left turn back in freshman year opting out of the practical Education Major for the unheard of American Studies Major. If I was now having hard economic times, that was foreseeable. Financial pain is par for my course.

I took comfort in the thought that other classmates “did things the right way.” They shopped the merry-go-round of campus interviews, landed “real” jobs at 22, turned in brilliant analyst reports and got rewarded with a bonus, a pension, and a paid MBA.

My college friends dined on endive salads in Manhattan apartments and struggled to find an excercise slot within a 90 plus hour work week. Meanwhile, I ate spaghetti with Prego and frozen peas in the suburbs with my three children while my husband postponed a triple cavity filling for another month in order to avoid delinquency with my student loan payments.

Our financial situations were opposed, but they both seemed fair. The scales seemed balanced. If I wished that my friends could “find Jesus,” it was in a mild, abstract way. I hoped they found time to pray in the middle of Step Class. I hoped they found a mate.

I certainly didn’t hope that the entire financial industry would collapse, or at least threaten to collapse, so that for the first time people with $800 heels suddenly worried about brownbag lunches and Prego sauce, and putting necessary cavity fillings on your father's credit card.

I’m worried about those Econ girls and all their male counterparts on Wall Street this week. I can handle my life, but some days it’s tough. Besides, I’ve had more practice. I ate Budget Gourmet in law school. I carefully separated the ramen noodles from the broth to give myself two courses at dinner as a lowly paid public interest servant. I went down to a single pair of shoes as a stay-at-home Mother.

Beside, I’ve always had the flakey artist thing going on. I’ve also had passion for old movies, and writing on ancient computers and squeezing unbelievably cute babies from an unbelievably sweet husband.

I worry, but then Jesus tells me not too. In Hosea 2 3, 14-16.

“I will strip her naked
and expose her as in the day she was born,
and make her like a wilderness
and turn her into a parched land
and kill her with thirst . . .

“Therefore, I will now persuade her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
From there I will giver her her vineyards,
And make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she shall respond as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.
On that day, says the Lord, you will call me,
My Husband.”

I’m thinking about you Wall Street bankers and stock brokers today. You may be able to go to work at your same desk this morning, or you may be sitting at home. Regardless, Jesus has yanked all of us into the wilderness. Jesus has stripped away the illusion of financial security. It’s scary at first. You look around and only see ‘lack’-- a lack of food, a lack of water and a lack of shelter.

Yet I’ve been hanging out in the desert of financial uncertainty for a while. Let me show you around.

It’s harsh here, but beautiful. Here’s a place to test an inner strength you never knew you had. The friends who see you in your humility, the ones who lend you diapers when your babies run out, or who whip up baked lasagna when their own husbands are unemployed, or who join their hearts in prayer when you just can't take the collection calls anymore, those are the dear, dear friends. You can't make a single friend like that on a singles cruise in the Aegean Sea.

It is harsh here in the desert. Yet it is still. It is the perfect place to hear the soft, tender words of God.

I’ll be lifting you all up in intercessory prayer this week. I’ll do all the heavy work with the rosary right now. You just sit still and catch your breath.

Thanks for covering my class dues at our reunion back in 2007. I can’t wait to see where we all end up at 2017. I sort of hope all this financial turmoil will make the attendance at Catholic Mass during reunion week finally overwhelming.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Upside Down Kindergarten

One of the crazy outcomes of having a feminist mother with a PhD in Education, is that while I still have no idea how to treat most carpet stains, Bloom's hiearchy of knowledge is firmly entrenched in my mind. Bloom's theory is that children acquire information in set stages: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. You can imagine these six stages lined up in a pyramid. Children are supposed to have the longest "base" of knowledge. Meanwhile, children are supposed to use their "evalation" skills the least since that sits on the tip of the pryamid.

Imagine my shock to read that teaching theory for "talented & gifted" children is the exact opposite. The information pyramid is turned upside. Talented kids are supposed to spend the MOST time on evaluation skills and the least on knowledge.

That's a pretty radical theory. It's the opposite of most Kindergarten classrooms. Kindergarten, at least in my area, spends most of the day learning concert knowledge such as phonics, handwriting, or counting sequence. Almost no time is spent creating things, asking deep "why" questions, or simply daydreaming.

My own personal Abby Benjamin theory is that ALL children learn in an inverted pyramid. For example, my daughter Maria is 15 months old. She barely has any concrete knowledge. She spends her entire day in the evaluation stage of learning. She picks up a block, puts it into her mouth and takes it out. She's not mastering "knowledge" which is defined as acquisition of facts. She's making judgement decision like "does this taste good?" "is this comfortable in my hand?" "do I like this or not like this?"

My three year old has an interesting evaluation of the American Revolution. He's decided, without much context, that "I like the Redcoats." Where does this evulation come from? Does he like the red uniform over the blue of the Contential Army? I don't know. I do know that it is really, really fun for me to explore the facts of the Revolutionary War from an entirely different prospective --pro-British

You won't believe how much the content of the facts change when you approach history from the ""wrong side." My Tory son is going to acquire a different slant of knowedge about the Boston Tea Party than his older sister. Yet this is so neat. This is part of the individual fingerprint of learning.

My twin collorlary is that the "best practices" for gifted and talented students are actually best for all students. Our society made a distinction to radically change the content of education for a few "gifted" students. Those select few are the only ones worthy of being trusted to direct their own education. Society also recognizes that it would be an incredible "waste of potential" if the wrong fit in school curriculum causes a student to disconnect from his own innate sense of wonder. I think the tragety of an impaired and dulled intellect are far more common that we currently recognize.

For now, I'm happy to find my unschooling approach neatly translated into educational lingo on this site.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

Gospel Reading

Powerful Gospel Reading on the Anniversary of 9/11

"But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,
28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.
29 To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from him who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
30 Give to every one who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again.
31 And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them.
32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.
33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.
34 And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.
35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.
36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
37 "Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;
38 give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back."

September 11th

This year my thoughts are with Jeremy Glick's family. Seven years ago I watch an interview with Jeremy Glick's widow. She talked about her husband's heroism on United Flight 93 and mentioned their newborn baby Emerson. I was the third month of my marriage. Her mention of Emerson hit a chord with me.

In some type of interior way, I knew that it would be a major tragety if Jon died before we had any children. I remember thinking "I want to have a baby with Jon? Right now?" I was 26, fresh out of seven years of straight schooling with a newly minted attorney license. When I married Jon in June, I hadn't thought babies were on the horizon until at least age 30.

But that interview, and that harrowing interior search for God in the months that followed 9/11, led me to Motherhood. Hannah might have been conceived in June 2002, yet she is a true 9/11 baby.

I say a prayer for Jeremy Glick and his family every time I marvel at the still spectaclar view of our Nation's Capital Dome. I heard that the terrorist had planned for the plane to go right into that marvel of architexture which held a Union together during the Civil War. I'm so thankful that on that awful day, we don't also have the memory of the symbol of our democracy in smoldering flames.

Thank you to the brave men of Flight 93 and all the brave firefighters, police and port authority members who exhibited saintly acts of charity on 9/11. (If you haven't yet seen "The Twin Towers" with Nicholas Cage and a beautiful image of Our Blessed Mother, that is a must see).

Today is also the birthday of a new friend of mine in Australia. Her mom was embarrassed to tell me the date of her scheduled C-section was 9/11. I told her that was beautiful. I'm grateful on this day of mourning, I've got such a special reason to rejoice. Welcome to the world Baby Balint-Smith.

Notes: Last week, I remembered this intense feeling I had during the Glick interview. "I wonder why I could hear the voice of God so clearly." The decision to be open to life was such a radical change for me. I used to think that it was my intense love for my husband that brought me over my deep (and unfounded) fears of motherhood. "I didn't want to have a baby. I just wanted Jon's baby." That's how I explained it to myself and confounded friends at time. Now I see it as a direct result of sacramental grace. When I watched that TV interview- I was three months into a sacramental marriage. Grace corrects a faulty intellect. Yet another important sign of needed the grace of a "marriage" opposed to the cohabitiation which is so widely celebrated in our culture.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"I'm going to need more to go on then that..."

During our trip to the grocery story, my five year old said,

"Mama, do you know the Saint that's in my mind right now? She's really, really holy. She always answers you right when you call her. She's Holy. HOLY. HOLY. Super, super holy! Do you remember that Saint's name?"

Um, that would be the definition of a saint-- so Hannah's helpful words didn't really narrow it down for me. Still have no idea who that was-but thank you Saint what's your name for inspiring my daughter so much!

My Own Episode of Office Space

In May, my husband gave up his office. His boss hired a new executive director to join the small consulting company of fifteen employees. The new hire made director number six. Only five private offices line up in a row in the modest office space. The boss had already reserved space in a new office complex a few blocks away. Yet construction was delayed, as construction always seems to be. The business move couldn’t happen until late summer. In the meantime, the new director would start out a new job in a lowly cubicle.

“A guy shouldn’t have to start out a brand-new job in a make-shift desk. Let’s make him feel welcomed,” my husband said. He had stopped by his boss’s office on his way home. “Trade mine and the new hirers places until the move. He can have my office and I’ll take his cubicle.”

His boss had all kinds of objections at first. My husband is a “Communication Manger.” That means he oversees anything visual that comes out of the office- trade magazines, brochures, signs, emails, etc. He also does intensive creative work, such as designing logos for clients. Over two years, his boss had carefully carved out two hours in the morning as “non-interruption design time” for Jon. Moving into a wall-less cubicle among the noisy chatter of the nine women, the “meetings staff” who constantly had to answer ringing telephones and chat about potential site locations didn't seem remotely conducive to Jon’s focused artistic work. “You really need an office,” the boss said.

My husband insisted. “We should start out on the right foot. The first few weeks at a new job are the hardest. I already know my way around here. I’ll be fine. After all, it’s only for a few weeks.”

Each day this summer, my husband came home happy and relaxed. He loved that the new cubicle was a “micro-space.” “All of my design files are now within arm’s reach. I don’t have to get out of my chair anymore. Everything is so convenient.” Mostly, he loved his new interactions with his co-workers. Yes, it was too noisy and his design work had slowed down.

Yet the wall between the women who were “just meetings staff” and my husband “a manager” had tumbled down. By moving geographically, he’d become one of them. Because he was within earshot, people started coming to him with tiny design questions and computer problems. My husband felt more in the “flow.” Since he knew what other people were working on, now he could better anticipate what projects were about to land on his desk. Most surprisingly husband, the quiet guy who tended to hide in the back, became friends with the two women who sat on either side of him. My husband started chatting about work and life and of course, his Catholic faith.

The office trade was hard, but it was worth it.

I walked around this summer so proud of my husband. This is what Christian humility looks like. These are the gifts that it brings.

When the move to bigger office space finally happened last week, my husband didn’t get an office. I knew about that intellectually. For about two weeks, my husband has struggled with uncomfortable, human feelings toward his boss and co-workers. His boss informed him that the new situation was “working so well” that she wanted him to stay in a cubical when they moved into the new office building. There were various reasons proposed for “collaboration purposes” and “overseeing future design staff.” None of them made much sense. As my husband struggled with his natural feelings, I eagerly played the part of supportive spouse. “It’s her decision. She’s your boss. Your job is to do the best you can each day. In this economy, we should just be thankful that you have a steady job.”

On Monday he called me from his same cubical in the new office building. “The phones are turned on. I’m all moved in,” he said. “I . . . I like it.” There was a little hitch in his voice.

“Well, we are excited for you. We want to come and see you installed in your new space,” I said.

“You don’t need to, Honey. Really,” he said.

“I really, really want to,” I said. I turned the burner off of the tacos and sheparded three kids into the car.

The new office space is a palace. There’s a corporate cafeteria and a subzero fridge in the kitchen area. Lots of fancy chandelier lights in the meeting room and fresh blue paint on the walls. Maria said “Hi” for the first time, a delight to the secretary.

“Where’s your office? Where’s your office? We can’t wait to see it!” I said eagerly.

My husband lead me to the back, into a second interior office space. White plastic dividers wall dividers had created sixteen cubicals. There were pencils and sweaters of the front two chairs. My husband’s computer and Mother of Divine Mercy Icon sat in the far back.

“Looks good,” I said. (Empty, Empty, Pathetic Space, I thought.) Trying to salvage a difficult moment, I thought hard. “Who is sitting next to you?” I said brightly. “Kate, right?”

“No one. I’m all by myself back here,” he said. “At least, I’m right by the printer,” he said. “That’s a big plus.”

I follow my husband extended hand to the empty space behind him where the office printer will soon sit. At that’s when I see them. Directly behind my husband, behind the thirteen empty cubicles, sit five empty offices.




My husband, the “Director of Communications” now has our kids’ picture set up in a lowly whitewashed cubicle while five private offices sit unused behind him.

I stood there in silence, while all my kids raced around Daddy. I had to sallow bile.

Ignoring all the commotion, I walked in front of an empty office and I prayed. I made myself pray for his boss. I prayed and prayed for God to bless her. I prayed for all of his co-workers. I prayed for help in forgiving all of them.

I walked out of that office a mess and tried to sort out my feelings. If my husband had started out in a cubicle, it would have been fine. We were so grateful to finally have any paying work after a hard job hunt in New York City. The problem is that he used to have an office. He had a “real” space of his own. He had a space where he could hang his oil paintings and a door he could close when we came to visit during his lunch hour. He went to work each day in a tie and he had an office. Now he doesn’t.

The loss of an office is a psychological demotion.

My husband is fine. He went to Daily Mass on Tuesday and then went to confession. He received surprising advice from our priest. He expected the pries to say “suck it up.” Instead, the priest said “if the offices are really empty, you can go ask for one.” So my husband asked for an office. His boss wasn’t accommodating. I’m not sure what the end result will be. He came home last night, more at peace. “At least it’s clear that I want an office now. I did my part. The rest is in other people’s hands.”

My husband is too exhausted from allergies to read my blog anymore, so now I can gush about him freely!

I'm married to an extraordinary man. When I met him, he worked at a hospital laboratory and spent his nights painting fascinating oils based on the body’s capillary system. His MFA is from one of the top schools in the nation. His rigorious training shows up in the skill, speed, and originality of all of his design work. As a college professsor, he was adored by students and Department chairs. In this man’s head, there is an idea about the merger between science and art that is as unique as his fingerprint.

If my husband would reduce his paycheck, to the normal "starving artist" market level, he could go almost anywhere. He could take an internship at one of the hot design houses in New York City of Washington D.C. He could live off of stale almonds and paint giant canvases in freezing warehouse studios. If he didn't mind moving his family from one small town to another every two to three years, he could work his way up the tenure track as a college professor.

Instead, my husband broke out of the whole artist as "a solidary wolf" model in a pretty dramatic way. He got married. He started what we both hope will be a large family. Now, he takes his job as sole-provider seriously. He found a job with a steady paycheck in a city where we love to live.

Every weekday, my husband dresses himself on an oxford shirt, a hand-me down tie from my brother, and the snakeskin shoes I splurged on for Christmas. My husband walks to work, because we can't afford a second car. He walks to work because in July, someone stole the free bike he salvaged from the trash.

My husband's humble sacrifice didn’t start in May when he traded office space with a new hire. My husband’s sacrifice started when he married me.

St. Joseph the Worker, bless our husbands. Keep them safe from harm. Help them see the face of God in their workspace. May God bless them abundantly as they toil as faithful servants. A cubicle, an office, or an outdoor construction site always has equal dignity as part of God’s vineyard for a humble Catholic father.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Feast Day of St. Peter Claver

Today is the Feast Day of St. Peter Claver. In the 1600s, this saint ministered to the kidnapped victims in the African Slave Ships off the coast of Columbia. He entered the ship hulls with food, medicine and catechists fluent in African dilects. His ministry and anti-slavery crusade was sharply criticized by the South American Catholic population at the time. The difficult conditions and hostile poltical climite were no match for St. Peter Claver zeal. As my priest explained this morning, "St. Peter Claver knew that all healing comes from Jesus Christ. He saw people in horrible misery after being chained together in a ships hull for a three month ocean crossing. He brought them medicine. He brought them food. But most of all, he brought them the healing touch of Jesus Christ Himself." It is estimated that St. Peter Claver baptized at least 300,000 souls.

St. Peter Claver, pray for us. Help us heal the bitter legacy of slavery and end racial hatred everywhere.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Happy Birthday Mary!

Today's Mass Reading is the Geneology of Jesus from the Book of Matthew. Father Francisco gave his homily on how many sinners were a part of Jesus' family tree- Judan, Tamar, David, etc. So many sinners. Father said that on his first year at St. Martin's of Tours, this reading fell on Christmas Day. He used his homily to talk about "how many sinners are a part of Jesus' family tree." You are missing his gorgous Madrid accent, but he went on to say "Someone wrote to the Bishop! And the Bishop, he called me and say "Father what did you say in your Christmas homily about Jesus being from a sinning family?' And I say "Bishop, I say Jesus has many sinners in his family tree." The Bishop, he say, "But Father, that is true." I say, "I know Bishop!"

It is sometimes hard for us to remember that Jesus did not come from a perfect human family. Jesus came from a family marred by sin. Yet this is beautiful, because Our Lady, holy and sinless, came into that same family. Her sinlessness allowed Jesus to free all of us from sin.

Happy Birthday Blessed Mother!

Today we sang "Happy Birthday" to the Marian Statue in our Church. Immediately afterwards, on the church steps, I ran into a woman who said "I have a gift for you?" I looked puzzled. I knew the woman slightly from church but couldn't imagine why she would have a present for me. "You left an intention in my prayer book for my pilgramage to Lourdes. I brought you home a prayer card and water from Lourdes," the woman said. I thanked her and got all excited about explaining to Hannah that this water came all the way from St. Bernadette's home in Lourdes, France. It wasn't until I walked away that I remembered what I had prayed for Our Lady to send us . . .

"a fifth Benjamin baby when the time was right."

In mid-August, I got my period on a Saturday morning. I felt so sad. At 33, that easy fertility, I once had has evaporated. I didn't think I could handle going to my monthly women of prayer meeting. I sat in our parish hall feeling awful. My body ached and my mind felt worse.

Then a women announced that she was blessed with a pilgramage to Lourdes and would take our prayer requests with her. My soul felt all this joy and peace. This next baby was just going to require more prayer from me. I had nothing to fear because St. Bernadette, the saint who is an adored a twin sister to me, had just sent me a strong signal grace that she was on the case.

So today, on Our Blessed Mother's Birthday, she gave me a present!


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hurrah For Baby Trig

It did my heart so good to hear Sarah Palin speak last night. Mostly, however, I adore seeing Cindy McCain and later big sister Piper hold little baby Trig. Did you love it when Piper licked her hand and smoothed down Trig's messy hair? That's the stuff that happens in my house!

This is my first election as a registered Republican. (I converted to Catholicism and the prolife cause in 2001. In 2004, I refused to vote at all for president. I hated that John Kerry had recently adopted the "pro-stem cells" position. At the same time, I blamed George Bush for the Iraq War.) It's such a special grace to have the chance to support a strongly pro-life Mother of five in this election.

Dear God, we pray that during this election cycle that many hearts will be changed. We pray that more mothers with Down Syndrome babies start to feel God's special grace for their teeny babies with special needs.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

My Remote Cooperation With Evil

Yesterday was Maria's one year physical. Asute readers will realize that my youngest is actually 16 months old. I kept putting off the dreaded MMR vaccine. I kept praying for a miracle.

In 1960, a rubella outbreak spread through Pennsylvania. Lots of pregnant women caught the virsus. Their unborn babies risked severe medical complications including blindness. The mother and father of WI-38, choose to abort their baby and donate his remains "to science." Scientists at Merck used a piece of the baby's lung tissue to make a vaccine which 40 years later prevent my Maria from catching rubella and passing that disease on to her unborn sibling or another innocent baby.

I really hate abortion. I know that vaccines are a remote cooperation with evil, but I hate that those poor parents are probably consoling themselves with the crime of murder by telling themselves that "at last their baby helped children." I don't sit in judgement. It absolutely sucks to get hit with the news that your baby can have a fatal disease while you are pregnant. It sucks more to bury a baby.

Because I'm a mother who hit both of those situations, I also know the truth. Only God can heal us. God's love wraps us up in those moments. His love holds a mother up during the scary conversation in the Ob office. His love holds us up at the grave site service and all the lonely nights afterwards.

The real sin of the vaccines is that they are one more of Satan's lies saying that the sin of abortion "is necessary" or "for a good end." It's the lie of my trusted Ped who says "whats the big deal? All the mothers in my son's Catholic school say it's not a big deal because it happened so long ago."

And I'm left at Maria's 9 month old doctor's appointment, holding the Vatican report on vaccines saying, "Well, it is a big deal."

It's a big deal because I want a choice. I want to be able to exercise my religious conscience AND have a kid who is protected from spreading disforming diseases to other unborn children. I want an ethical Rubella vaccine.

So, I prayed. I procrastinated. I badgered friends who have husbands in high places in relevent gov't offices.

Yesterday, I showed up 3 months late and submitted Maria to the unethical MMR vaccine.

It stunk! I actually had a empathic new doctor, (our Mother looked out for me in the Ped rotation yesterday). She is an immigrant from India and told me that she helped her kids dodge all types of vaccines. She offered to give Maria only Measels and Mumps, and let her try to catch Rubella on her own before age 16. After all my prayer and thought on this issue, that just didn't seem like a good course.

I told my doctor that I was ready to submit to the MMR, but I need to make a big record that I firmly objected to this unethical vaccine. My doctor was super kind. She tracked down the head vaccine person from Kaiser Permenente. She promised to send her own internal memo on this subject.

When the stick time came, I knelt down in the vaccination room. I prayed for the baby that died. I prayed for his parents. I prayed for forgiveness. I told the nurse right before the needle stick "I really wish I didn't have to do this. I'm against abortion and this vaccine used cells from a voluntarily aborted fetus."

The nurse said "I just heard that from the doctor. I never knew that before."

My small, small consolation in all of this is that now 2 doctors and 2 nurses know that the Merck MMR vaccine is made from cells from an actual child.

We left the doctor's office in tears, my tears and Miss Maria's tears. We're supposed to go back in 8 weeks for a chicken pox vaccine, also unethical. That's a far harder balance for me. It's harder for me to balance that chicken pox poses a public health risk to others.

Please join me in an act of sacrafice for WI-38 parents today.