Monday, September 30, 2013

Motherhood: A Monastic Season?

The monastic life has always appealed to me.  The simple life; the singular focus; the lack of what-to-wear angst.  

I have never wanted to be a nun who floats around a courtyard singing  à la "Sound of Music," but the (surely romanticized) idea of living as a monk in a medieval monastery is the one that draws me.

Orhei Vechi, Moldova
Wandering around the monasteries in Moldova last year intrigued me.  The one we visited that was largely comprised of caves in a cliff was particularly remarkable.  A couple of the monks were quietly working, apparently doing the same things day in and day out.  While it did seem lonely, it also seemed rather peaceful.  None of them were complaining about how busy they were or how technology was ruining their lives and the lives of their children, or how stressed they were! 
There is a monk walking in front of the left side of the wall

There is a rhythm to their lives, a purposeful learning, a laying down of self…. So far removed from my world….. right?
These are not monks.  They are monk-eys.

But -- aha -- the monastic bell has tolled loudly for me recently!  Maybe I could have more in common with the monks in the cave than I thought.

A conversation with a friend introduced me to an article written in 2001 called, "The Domestic Monastery," in which the author (Ron Rolheiser) compares a mother at home with her children... with a monk.  He gives these insights:

"A monastery is not so much a place set apart for monks and nuns as it is a place set apart (period).  It is also a place to learn the value of powerlessness and a place to learn that time is not ours, but God's."

"Hence, a mother raising children, perhaps in a more privileged way even than a professional contemplative, is forced, almost against her will, to constantly stretch her heart.   For years, while raising children, her time is never her own, her own needs have to be kept in second place, and every time she turns around a hand is reaching out and demanding something."

I've been missing out on recognizing and enjoying this monastic life for lo these 13 years!

But now that I've been thinking about it, there do seem to be a lot of similarities between a mother and a monk.  Some of them.....

1.  Withdrawing from the world. A monk set himself apart, not participating in all of the regular forms of leisure, entertainment, or self-promotion that would be common in the rest of his culture.  A mother also finds herself home in her "nest" often, having left the career rat race and/or many social opportunities.

2.  Giving up control of the schedule.  Just as a monk must drop whatever he is doing when the monastic bell rings, so a mom must drop whatever she is doing when a child cries, or another one is yelling that he needs help in the bathroom, or one of the family members gets sick, or someone forgot to bring their homework to school, or small mouths are hungry, or the washing machine overflows, or a child waking from a bad dream at night, or.....  (The monastic bell for the mom comes in many forms.)

3. A daily, simple rhythm to life. Medieval monastic life involved a consistent rotation of praying, reading and manual labor.  While modern mom-life may not allow a lot of time for reading, it can often cycle through a rotation of pray-cook-wipe-clean-repeat.  There may be subtle differences to the days, but the guaranteed demands will center around the 3 main meals, and the preparation and clean-up from each.  The benefit to having simple tasks to do is that it frees up brain space for worship all throughout the day!

4. Long days.  In addition to working hard all day, monks often also had to rise in the wee hours of the morning, or in some cases, at 2:00 a.m.  This is also all too true for mothers.  Even in the middle of the night, we may still hear the "monastic bell"/cry.

5. Managing multi-purpose centers.  A medieval monastery often functioned as one or more of the following:  an inn for travelers, an infirmary for the sick, a place where hungry people could come for food, a library and preservation center for books, and a place for record-keeping of history.  Mothers often do all of the same.  We welcome the visitors traveling through, feed the hungry mouths, take care of the sick ones home from school, and even keep historical records -- in the form of blogging, updating statuses, or tweeting!  The only item on this list that I fail at is the preservation of books.  We don't so much create books in my house as wreck or lose them (not intentionally!).

6. Overseeing the heart of education.  Monks in medieval times were the keepers of knowledge, in a way, and teaching and learning were key components of the monastery.  Whether we moms send our kids to school or homeschool them, there is always a large amount of education going on in the home.  We are training young minds, helping to form character, and hopefully, preparing them for their future, active lives.  Without involved mothers, there is no doubt that much of our civilization would erode away.... beginning with manners!

7.  Specializing in medicine and healing.  Monks were known for growing medicinal herbs and running pharmacies out of the monasteries.  Moms also are quick to arm themselves with all kinds of prevailing wisdom and/or alternative treatments.  Our cupboards are stocked with some amounts of medicines/supplements/herbs/special foods/essential oils... all to help keep the germs at bay.

8. Laying down our lives.  Monks voluntarily -- and admirably -- chose to give up their regular lives, taking vows of poverty, obedience and chastity.  Thankfully, moms are never asked to take that third vow --quite the opposite, I guess!-- but we do choose to lay down our lives, to some extent, to be obedient to what God has ordained for us.  And although we do not take a vow of poverty, staying home with the kids usually does mean a hit to the family financial statements.

Thinking through these similarities has not only been enlightening for me but also freeing.

If I admire the fact that monks have made these choices and focused on a rhythmic, simple life, why do I get so frustrated when I am "missing out" or "bored" or "doing the same thing for the 11-billionth-time?"

My friend, Debbie, who introduced the article mentioned above to me, pointed out another key element:  this season of motherhood -- being home with young kids -- is only temporary.  We have the privilege of living a monastic life, but it's not a life-long commitment. 

When I last contemplated the plight of stay-at-home moms, I wrote about the angst that many of us feel. If we are uniquely gifted, and specially trained or educated for the workplace, then how can we be satisfied to stay at home and act as common drones, doing housework and mundane tasks day in and day out forever and ever? 

This is where Debbie's reminder was balm to my soul.  We are NOT called to this season forever -- it's rather fleeting in fact.  It's like we get to take a (rather extended) vacation to a monastery.  Sounds like one of those creative and exotic vacations I read about sometimes.  But we get to do it for free!  :)

So for now, I am rejoicing in the fact that we as mothers get to experience the focused rhythms and profound lessons of the monastic life.  For this stage of life I can rejoice in the stretching of my heart, in the realization that my time and schedule are not my own, that I am called to serve God in ways that are both lowly and majestic.  For this season I will relish the sounds of the monastic bell and the benefits of the simple life. 

 I can embrace the monk’s lifestyle… but not his tonsure hairstyle.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Of course

The kids have all been earning some extra money lately, putting together some little wooden toys we're hoping to sell at our Fall Festival soon.  So now that there's more money floating around, we've started hearing more squabbling about what belongs to whom.  (Human nature at its base, right?)

I was tired of hearing, "HE STOLE MY MONEY!" yet again this morning, so I announced that from now on any thieves would be required to return seven times the amount they stole, even if they are "just playing."

This horrified the offenders for a brief moment... but then one opportunist was a quick thinker and I found this in the hallway a minute later:


Saturday, September 21, 2013

Four-wheel Fascination

Our boys have all suddenly become huge car fanatics.

This is mostly fun, but slightly annoying because everywhere we go, we hear, "What kind of car was THAT?"  "Did you see that one??"  "I think it was a Lambourghini Fasti* convertible!"  "Oh, you missed it."  "What kind of Toyota was that, Mom?"  "What's that red car that just went by?"

All of our necks have been oscillating at rapid speeds lately.

Yesterday Miles asked Pete to take him to McDonalds, and of course Pete said No.  So Miles announced,

"When I grow up, I'm going to drive my Koenigsegg (pictured above) to McDonalds.  But I'm going to drive slow so it doesn't get hurt."

THAT is the American dream, right?  He has lofty ambitions, that one.

His brother isn't far behind in the dream department....  Today Colsen had a lemonade stand and made $15.50.  He promptly decided to save most of it -- for the Koenigsegg he will be purchasing in few years.  Only $545,555 to go now.

In the meantime, I'll just enjoy watching their faces light up whenever an exciting car goes by.... and I'll try to be thankful when they tell me to look for pictures on the computer for weird-named ones like a "Bugatti Veyron Supersport."  At least it's a nice spelling challenge to add interest to my day!

*As far as I know there is no such thing as a Fasti.  That is a name Miles likes to throw in, thereby indicating that said car must be super-FAST, of course.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Words we're living with

After a few too many episodes of whining one day (by both the kids and me), I whipped out some paper and constructed this banner to hang near our kitchen:

(sorry the photo is so dark)

We're all still struggling with this concept -- but we're trying to keep in mind the fact that it's ok to be thirsty for a few minutes and it's ok to eat something we don't totally love and it's ok to be tired and still finish a chore and it's ok to have a skinned knee.

 And it's ok to be extremely frustrated...

The other day, as I was trying to teach one of the kids the same exact math concept for the 4 millionth time and the child was still not getting it, I found my blood pressure rising and my head getting ready to explode - -in the form of loud words spewing from my mouth.

Then I remembered some words from the wise philosopher Jillian Michaels which I had just heard that morning on her "30 Day Shred" video (adapted slightly):  When it gets uncomfortable, those are the ones that really count.  That is when the change in your body (or mind) is taking place.

So as I was at the end of my mental rope with this math exercise with my child, I stopped to think about how it was ok for me to be uncomfortable... it was ok for me to resist the temptation to scream.  It was at that point that my character was being molded.  The first 3,999,999 times I had to patiently explain the lesson weren't shaping me as much as this last, 4 millionth painful (uncomfortable) time.

So the banner has been helpful to me in surprising ways.... but it's also been a nice thing to point to when I hear, "But Mom, his foot is in my spot" when we're reading together, or "I'm hungry right NOW" or "My finger hurts."  It's becoming my Mama Mantra.

Lest I sound too cold-hearted, though, I will post the picture of a second banner that is also up in the house, over our stairs:

This one also has been a good reminder to me.... It reminds me to love the little buggers -- even when they do stuff like this:

Monday, September 9, 2013


Our bird may be dying, we got disappointingly inconclusive results from an expensive genetic test we had been waiting for, and we realized we may not be able to go on a getaway I had been hoping for..... But in the midst of all that, these turkeys always find a way to make me smile.

This is how they came to greet me:

 I always thought Rayna should have a sister -- or two.

And Miles also apparently went next-door to our neighbor's house dressed like this.

He says he's "engaged."

Pete just got home and is reading this over my shoulder, sadly shaking his head.

I just can't wait until they're old enough to have Facebook accounts and I can tag them in these photos!

When Melanie comes to visit, everyone plays (and dances)

Life-long friend and beautiful dancer Melanie came for a visit this weekend -- and I put her right to work!  Less than hour after she arrived at my house, we had 8 kids here for a "movement class" - -and it was a big hit. 

 They learned about different ways they could PUSH and PULL, and then were able to string the different poses together into a little performance with a partner.

Then the minute this was over, we shuttled over to Rayna's new Praise Dance class, where Melanie was the Guest Teacher.  There were 12 cute girls in that class.... but I didn't bring my camera.  Needless to say, it was a fun day all the way around!

Then our other life-long friend Jen joined us for more weekend fun!
We're all a little sweaty after playing soccer with the kids

On Saturday we went to the Greek Festival and enjoyed the various cultural elements.... 

....And once again Mel had everyone dancing!

I'm so thankful for these friendships that have lasted over the decades and over the miles!  We talked and laughed and talked some more.... and it still wasn't enough.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Cousins Camp, 2013: Session 1A

This year's Cousins Camps squeezed right in under the wire just as summer was winding down, and as in all years past, they were one of THE highlights of the summer.

For Session 1, all 4 of the "big" cousins came for the first night, and then the biggest cousins (Strider and Ellie, not in that order) stayed for a second night.

So for the first part, I will interview Rayna to get an idea of their adventures...

OK, Rayna, tell me about Cousins Camp this year.  What did you do?
Well, let me think.  We went to Kabuto, which was good.  I fell off the swing and hit my head, which was not good.  I went to the playground -- we went to find some clues for a Treasure Hunt.  In the box there was some candy!

What did you do on the second day?
We played miniature golf, and then we went to get ice cream.  We also got wet in the fountain!

Did you like that?
Yeah, I did!

What kinds of things did you guys talk about?
We talked about we love the playground and stuff like that.

Did you guys make anything this year?
We made Family Wingers.

You mean Wingdingers?
Wingdingers - yes!  We also made t-shirts!

So was it a good Cousins Camp this year?

Do you want to say anything to Nonna and Poppa?
Thank you, Nonna and Poppa for taking me to Cousins Camp.  And -- I just want to say, "Love, Rayna," ok?   We had a reeeeeaaaalllly fun time!

Strider is trying to look all cool and not impressed.... But that didn't last long...

The treasure hunt was way cool!

Honorary Cousins Camp attendee -- Gracie

Special activity:  Making second-generation Wingdingers!

Cousins Camp 2013: Session 1B

After the departure of Ava and Rayna, according to Strider, the real fun began.

Without further ado, here is his summary.

Strider, I think this was your 6th Cousins Camp.
No, actually, this was our 5th because we skipped 2010 because Nonna was sick.

Ok, Mr. Good Memory and Lover of Details....  Let's talk about this year's.  What were the highlights?

You played poker?

Ok, what else?
We.... Can you please remove that dorky picture of me?  Every time I look at it, I cringe!

No.  Tell me about what you did!
We had a contest of jumping the dock into the lake.  Like who could do the best stuff.

I remember you telling me that was your favorite activity last year.  Was it again this year?

Any other highlights?  Why do I feel like this conversation is very stilted?
I don't know what that means.  Don't write that!  It makes me sound like I have a very low vocabulary and you're not doing a good job as a homeschooler.

Ok, moving on.  What else did you do?
We went to PDQ and we watched a movie. It was really funny.

Looks like Gracie liked it, too!

Well, it sounds like you had a great time once again!

And on that scintillating note, I'll wrap up this interview.  I think we all agree that Nonna and Poppa have once again done an outstanding job spoiling you guys and giving you a wonderful Cousins Camp!

Cousins Camp 2013: Session 2

Lucky Gracie -- Gets to participate in TWO Cousins Camps.
And has the t-shirts to prove it!
When we arrived to pick up Colsen after his 2 days at Nonna and Poppa's, he greeted us at the door, immediately launching into a big speech, spoken in all caps and italics.


He continued to talk like this for the rest of the night.

Later, as we were coming home and he told us what they had eaten that day (waffles "with sugar baked right in!" for breakfast, goldfish and sweet-tarts for lunch, ice cream cones, and handfuls of candy throughout the day).... his energy level started to make sense.

And of course he was super-excited about Cousins Camp and all the fun things they did.  He couldn't wait to tell us alllllll about it, so here's the condensed interview that will suffice for today:

So Cole, what were the big activities you did at Cousins Camp this year?
We went to Tiger World!  And that other park -- what's it called?  It was like a zoo!  We got ice cream.  We went down by a little lake and saw some fish.  And we played on the playground.  Oh yeah, we did a Treasure Hunt at their house.

Tell me about the Treasure Hunt.
We found clues and then I got to dig up the treasure!  It had candy in it.

Why are you carrying guns for the Treasure Hunt?
Oh, we're pirates.  So just in case we meet any other pirates, we're carrying guns.

What was cool about Tiger World?
Oh we saw some really nice parrots and lions and all that.

Did you see any tigers?
Yes!  We did!  We saw lots!

Did you have fun with Kai and Branson?
Yes, and I love building the world-record tower with them.

So was this more fun than last year's, or less?
Oh it was definitely more fun.  THANK YOU, NONNA AND POPPA!!!