Saturday, June 27, 2020

7 Quick Takes - 7 Photos for June

For such a long year, it certainly is going by fast.  Rather than write another post about deep thoughts, I've opted to go for quick and easy this time and share seven photos from this past month, just for posterity sake, and to keep from breaking my own personal goal of one blog post per month in 2020!  So, here they are, in no particular order.

The garden.  There are people who take long summer vacations.  Serious gardeners are not one of them.  We finally got everything planted by early June and now we are in what I like to call "maintenance-mode" which basically means, keep the good plants growing taller than the bad ones.  To beat the heat, I go out about three times a week at sunrise and work at it for about two hours.  I love it.  The cool mornings, seeing the garden change daily, and having that quiet time to myself does me a world of good.  Each of our two older boys has their own garden this year, too, and I am encouraged to see their enthusiasm increasing a little every year as they take ownership in their own little patch of dirt.  Now, if I could just get them to pull the weeds...

Related to my last blog post and all that's going on in our country today, I guess you could say that this photo represents my form of protest.

And this.  He has recently developed a love of "saying mass" at home.  He walks around and hands out the host to anyone who will take it, saying "Body Christ".  He says he's making his own "home church", which isn't surprising because...

...we are now on week number 15 of having "home church" instead of going to mass at our church.  Because of the social distancing requirements, there isn't room for everyone to fit in our little church now, so we are trying to give others the opportunity to go, plus, ever try to keep a mask on a 3-year old?  My husband has done a beautiful job leading our "dry masses" at home, and then when we wrap that up, we all load up in the car and drive to our church where the priest gives us holy communion in the parking lot.  He is also allowing us to make appointments for confessions and hears them outside as well.  Strange times.

About a week ago, the boys and I joined with two other families and participated in the "Rise Up and Run" 5K organized by Melody over at The Essential Mother.  It was so much fun!  We were lucky enough to have a cool weather spell and took advantage of it to complete the run.  Before we did our run/walk/bike, each of us talked about who or what we were praying for during the run, and I was touched by how thoughtful our little ones were.  One child prayed for her grandparents who had lost jobs due to COVID-19, one for his father, one for a recently widowed friend, etc.  It was such a beautiful moment and I thank Melody for encouraging everyone to "Rise Up and Run", united in prayer.

This past week, we marked the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, which is a very special occasion in our family.   My husband and son both share St. John the Baptist as their patron saints, and it is also my husband's birthday.   St. John the Baptist has interceded for my family on at least two very important occasions, and I truly believe I have him to thank for two of my children.  I keep meaning to write a post on the subject and maybe I'll get one up in time for the Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist on August 29.

Our little John with his name-day gifts.

In the coming month, I will have been a parent for ten years.  Ten years!  It is not lost on me that my little ones are already half grown.  From the time that they turned eight, it seems like my two "twibling" boys have just grown up before my eyes.  It does break my heart, and scares me a little.  Last night, while helping me wash the dishes, my oldest began to explain to me his interpretation of heaven and hell and I really had to stop and listen to him in order to understand it all.  His thoughts were so profound and complex (he's been trying to read CS Lewis lately) and all I could think was, when did he learn all of this?  I focus so often on my failings as a mother, but moments like that remind me that God will redeem anything that I offer up to him, including all of my parenting mistakes.

Now, hop on over to Kelly's blog to check out some other quick takes of life in the Catholic blogosphere.  Thanks, Kelly!

Saturday, May 30, 2020

What Will I Tell My Dark-Skinned Son?

It’s back in the news again, and no, I’m not talking about coronavirus.  I’m talking about racism.

I made the mistake last night of catching up on the weekly news before bedtime. With my husband and two of my kids gone on an overnight trip with their cousins, I was having difficulty falling asleep, so l dove into the headlines.  And there it was, another tragic story about a white cop and a black suspect.  I read the story and it all seems plausible and just so terrible. The suspect is dead, the cop has been fired, and questions are being asked. Was this racism, or something else? I try not to take sides.  I have family members who are second-generation law enforcement.  I want to show them and all law enforcement the respect they deserve, just as I respect those who serve in our military and government and who work tirelessly for justice so that we may live in peace.  Our freedoms would evaporate without them on the frontlines. 

But I also have family members who are dark-skinned, one of whom is my son.  He slept next to me last night as I read about the rioting, the anger, the vengeance, and the lack of compassion on both sides of the issue. These injustices seem to be occurring over and over in our country, particularly for young men of color. How do I prepare my son for a society like this? 

I am white, but I did not come only from white people.  I came from ancestral origins partly known, partly unknown.  My father remembers his great aunt, who was the sister of his grandfather.  He tells me about how she was regarded as a black woman because her skin was so dark, which was the physical reflection of her Native American ancestry. I remember my grandmother refusing to wear short sleeves on hot summer days for fear of tanning, and she encouraged me to do the same.  She told me the stories about the murder attempts made upon her father, her grandfather, and her uncle, all of whom were considered second-class citizens by a community that knew well their ancestry.  But that was a hundred years ago now, and we’ve moved beyond that kind of racism in our country.  Or so we think.

Four generations removed now, I have light skin. As a result, I have never been the victim of racism and so I do not know what that feels like. However, I am a woman in a male-dominated career field, a Catholic in the Bible Belt, and the parent of special needs kids in a trans-racial family, so I do know what prejudice feels like.  And years ago, when I was discerning whether or not I should parent a child of another race, it was many of those experiences that came to mind and convinced me that I could do the job.  Although he and I do not share the same ethnicity, he and I can share what it feels like to be unfairly judged and marginalized, and as painful as some of my own experiences have been, I realize now that going through them was God’s way of preparing me for being his mother. Or so, I hope.

What I will tell my son is that prejudices can seep into us when we do not even realize it, beginning at birth and continuing throughout our life. By nature, we notice differences in the world around us, and particularly in the people around us. This is how we learn and it is a good thing to recognize those differences. Our diversity in thought, experiences, shape and form, among other things, makes humankind in general stronger and more resilient, and our survival as a species depends upon such diversity. The pandemic we are currently in will not be the end, not by a long shot, of humankind, and that is only because of our physiological diversity.  My children know the biological reason for variations in skin tone and we leave it at that.  But not all children are given such simple, scientific explanations for our differences, and so they are too often left to figure things out for themselves, creating fertile ground for the seeds of prejudice to be planted by well-meaning individuals filled with misunderstandings.

I will tell my son that racism is subtle and well-hidden.  The sweet little old lady in the church pew. The friendly neighbor next door.  The doting grandmother.  The chummy co-worker.  The friend who preaches “inclusiveness” and “tolerance” on social media.  These and others very well may carry within themselves racist or sexist persuasions that they will disclose only within their closest circles.  I will encourage him to ask God to reveal these people to him, and I believe that as he matures, he will develop that “sixth sense” that clues him in to such people, a sense very familiar to those who are part of a minority segment of society.

I will remind him that racism goes both ways, and that he must be mindful of any tendencies he may have to show bias toward others.  Shortly after we adopted him, we introduced him to our Hispanic friends. I recall them passing him around, loving on him and snuggling him, and one commenting that they wanted to take him home.  Jokingly, we replied that they could do so if they brought him back, to which they replied somewhat seriously that no, he should not come back to us. It gave me pause.  Did they feel sorry for our son, to be adopted into a white family? Was this a thinly disguised comment intended to express a deeper feeling that only they could raise him properly because they all shared the same ethnicity?  The preference our Hispanic friends show towards our Hispanic son compared to how they treat our non-Hispanic sons, is obvious.  It doesn’t upset me, but it is racist.  However, I recognize it for what it is.  There is no ill-will in their hearts, yet, having been the recipients of prejudice that I can only imagine, I know they must feel somewhat protective and concerned about my son. It is human nature to be drawn to those most like ourselves, and I am grateful that my son has these friends who share his ethnicity in his life.

I will remind him that his outer appearance is what people see first about him, and only those who want to know him better will ever see beyond that.  And I will remind him that some people will never want to know him better, and that this mostly likely is a response to their upbringing and personal experiences and has absolutely nothing to do with him. I will also remind him that only Jesus can change such a heart, and that he should pray for them and love them anyway.

My son is only three, but he has already been the victim of prejudice and racist attitudes due to his dark skin.  From the moment we brought him home, we have faced the stares, the comments about his “beautiful skin”, the desire of people to run their hands through his hair, the questions about his ethnicity, the subtle biases shown by some family members who don’t give him quite the same kind of attention afforded to his brothers.  As his mother, I hate it, but I also try to understand it.  We can’t let racism anger us.  It is an injustice, for sure, but like poverty, it will always be part of the human condition.  Over my life, I have experienced many grave injustices due to my gender, my religion, my cultural background, my values.  Most of us have.  My sons will, as well.  I pray that it does not turn them into angry, bitter men, but rather, makes them even more sensitive to those who are also victims of such. I pray that they will become bridge-builders, and witnesses to life and fighters for true justice. But most of all, I pray that if I, as their mother, must mourn their loss due to an injustice grounded in prejudice, that I will rise above a desire for vengeance and instead, imitate the Blessed Mother when she cradled her own cherished son who was killed for the same reasons. And in the nights to come, when darkness draws near and I cannot go to sleep, rather than catching up on the news, I think I will talk to her, instead.

“Lord, send forth your spirit, and renew the face of the earth. “
Psalm 104

Saturday, April 4, 2020

7 Quick Takes - Easter Is Near

Linking up with Kelly over at her blog today.  Thanks, Kelly!

Well, let’s start with the obvious.  I debated about whether this blog post should be about sharing my deep thoughts regarding the COVID-19 crisis or whether to just keep it light and share about some of the wonderful things that are happening around here.  I’ve decided that with all that’s going on, and with the approach of Holy Week, we have enough hard stuff to dwell on, so I’m going to go with an upbeat post this time around.  I’ll save the deep thoughts for later.

Happy April!  Springtime has hit Appalachia in full glory.  Our mountainsides are blushing with the many shades of green as tulip poplars and the big-leaf magnolias spring forth (pun intended!) their new leaves.  Interspersed among them are the purple hues of the blooming redbuds, the white of the serviceberry (“sarvusburry” if you’re a local) and the cream of the dogwoods, each bringing with it a cold snap timed with the bloom.  This past week, we fired up the woodstove again as we passed through “redbud winter” and in a couple more weeks, it’ll be time for “dogwood winter”.  By the middle of May, “blackberry winter” will have many scratching their heads, wondering how it could possibly be so cold in May, yet “blackberry winter” in May is as predictable as the springtime.  My mid-western city-raised husband laughs at these local colloquialisms that I grew up with, but has come to accept that mountain folk have their own colorful ways of explaining the world around them.

Photo I took on St. Joseph's Day just as the sun started to peak out of the clouds.

In our own social distancing/ homeschooling/ homesteading way, which really hasn’t been much different than our life before COVID-19, we’ve been celebrating the feasts and fasts of the Lenten Season.  At this point, I want to send a big thank you to Kendra at Catholic All Year for her continual inspiration in helping us keep the faith at home.  I follow her blog religiously (pun intended again!) for her perspective and ideas and lately, it has been invaluable as I’ve searched for ways to have church and now Holy Week at home.  Thank you, Kendra!

St. Joseph’s Day is always a big deal at our home and this year, I attempted gluten-free cinnamon rolls.  They weren’t terrible.  Succeeding at gluten-free pastry making has been my last big hurdle in this gluten free lifestyle that we adopted three years ago in order to improve my children’s mental health.  I try to avoid xanthan gum and other additives, so have yet to find a gluten-free flour mix that I’m satisfied with when it comes to baking, but I’m getting closer.  All that to say, these cinnamon rolls were devoured by my family, proving yet again that even a hockey puck would be a delicacy to a 9-year-old if you just smothered it with butter and sugar! 

A few days later, we celebrated the Annunciation with some fresh flowers in the home, and ribs for supper, both definitely not something we’d do during Lent.  And, as he did on St. Joseph’s Day, God blessed us with a beautiful sunny day, which was not part of the weather forecast, as we’ve been plodding through day after day after day of rain since last year ended.  I was so grateful for some sunshine and much needed Vitamin D that obviously couldn’t come at a better time. 

All that sunshine brought out the dandelions and of course, we had to have some for dinner!  My kids love to eat fried dandelion flowers and we never have leftovers.  Picking them this year seemed especially significant considering the amazing health benefits found in all parts of the dandelion plant.  Combined with a little sunshine, I’m hopeful that our immune systems got a much needed boost during the past couple of weeks.

With the cancellation of public masses across the country, our family has been doing “home church” and it has been very successful!  Tom and Joah normally play the music at our church for mass anyway, so we have the advantage of still having live music just as we would at mass every Sunday.  We follow a dry mass outline very similar to the one Kendra recently described on her blog, and Tom gives a little “homily”, which is usually an explanation of the Sunday readings and gospel.  We get dressed for home church just like we would if we were going to mass, and it has been a good way to teach the kids that we don’t dress up for church so that others can see us, but rather, because Jesus can see us.   Of course, it’s not even close to being the same as going to mass, but it has certainly helped us keep our Sundays still feeling like Sunday.  For Palm Sunday, we are going to use some fronds from a yucca plant growing on our property and process around the homestead.  I suppose the chickens and dog will enjoy joining us!  I suspect maybe there were a few feral animals in the procession when Jesus arrived in Jerusalem, so I guess it’ll be somewhat authentic.

So that has been my therapy during these challenging and scary times, i.e., keeping things as much the same as possible.  Sure, it could all change tomorrow, but that is nothing new.  No day comes with a guarantee, but the seasons do, and in this season, we are planting our potatoes, celebrating the arrival of the hummingbirds (they arrived yesterday!), picking dandelions, wondering at wildflowers, and trying to stay close to Jesus by not tearing each other apart.  And lest I dig into my deeper thoughts, as I have already promised not to do, I will stop there.  The sun is shining outside my window and I have yucca fronds to pick.  Happy Palm Sunday!   Easter is near.