Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Did You Break Up With Catholicism? Good! Now Get Over It!

Wanna know something that irritates me?

A friend in my Facebook feed.

He likes to post anti-Catholic stuff. Anything goes, but his pet issue is all the billions (laugh, snort) in gold, gemstones, and art masters held by the Vatican that could be sold to feed the poor and give shelter to the homeless. Other popular topics "shared" in a spirit of Facebook friendship include how wrong confession is, how contradictory the Pope is, how Mary is the height of idolatry, and of course, the never-ending stream of pedophile priests. Pretty much he'll post anything that demonstrates how thoroughly CHRISTIAN he is, with CHRISTIAN being defined as NOT Catholic.

I've been annoyed by this public line of thought from him for a long time. I tolerate it. I shut my mouth. Not once have I ever commented on any of this. (I know! Can you believe it?)

But then he posted something that made my mouth drop to the floor: He gave a public testimony about how he left Catholicism some 25 years ago.

Well, duh. I should have been on top of that one from the beginning. I feel like a fool for not catching it. The biggest Catholic bashers are almost always ex-Catholics. Especially ones who had no general understanding of what Catholicism is to begin with.

So here's what I'd like to say to him: If you broke up with your girlfriend 25 some years ago, how come you keep talking about her all the time? And do you think about your ex every time you have sex with your wife?

I feel the same about ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, ex-Mormons, ex-Christians, ex-Wiccan, and pretty much ex-anything. Left your birth religion? Left the spirituality of your youthfully ignorant choice? Great. But then shut the hell up, because if you keep talking about it, keep ripping on it, keep harping on it - well it sort of looks like you have unresolved issues and guilt and maybe - just maybe - might be trying reeeeeeaallly hard to justify your actions.

Am I wrong about this? I mean, come on, when you talk just as much about how wrong Catholicism is as you do about how right your particular brand of Protestantism or atheism is, I'm not exactly convinced of your convictions.

I don't begrudge anyone getting their 15 minutes of fame concerning their religious break-up. If you're really articulate about it, I'm cool with a blog post. Maybe even a book (but it'd better be damn good, because leaving one religion for another one doesn't make you unique or anything, especially if you were a contracepting, selfish, wine-soaked atheist, since those are a dime a dozen.) I'll even give you a pass for a quarterly "ANTI" Facebook post on the religion of your choice/scorn.

But really, if you've moved on, then please, do it. Move on. Get over it.

Either that or admit that some, probably most religious switcheroo decisions are emotional and knee-jerk and you end up back-pedaling for years as you try to figure it all out. That, my friends, is the real Facebook story that should get shared: Feel good now, rationalize later.

In the meantime, let me know when you find all those billions. Just remember that the Catholic Church is the largest and most generous charity in the world.

But, hey, why mess with facts when you're too busy trying to soothe your own conscience?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Random Thoughts on Homeschooling (aka Why We're Homeschooling)

I know there are long-time readers of my blogs that are probably wondering if I am on drugs because of the shocking and surprising news that we chose to homeschool our only child this year.

I also know there are other long-time readers of my blogs who are smugly smiling to themselves, thinking, "I knew it would end up like this. She was headed for homeschooling from the very first instance when she started ripping on homeschoolers."

And both sentiments would be correct.

So, yeah, we're eight months into homeschooling first grade. Are we straight-up on-track? Of course not. See previous post and consider if you would be right where you needed to be if you had the kind of past year we have lived through. Nonetheless, we persist and press onward. Besides, I don't know a single homeschooler who is totally on-track. Wait, yes I do. Those two people totally annoy me.

In a nutshell: It's a mega-trial that I don't mind and sometimes actually enjoy. I'm assuming this is normal.

I have times when I feel super-excited about homeschooling, but just because I said that, don't look for me to get all happy-clappy about it like some blogs out there; for example, the ones that cleverly don't ever show you the ugly side of life, but then offer commentary getting all upset that people might actually gasp! horror! find something critical to say about your very public outlay. (OK, she has really great ideas and I've used her book lists more than once. But for God's sake, please stop making it look so easy and perfect; it's really off-putting to the rest of us. Oh, and stop making apologies for the 0.0000001% of photos in which your daughters are wearing pants because the modesty squad doesn't care and neither does God.)

Am I being mean? Perhaps. But my thoughts about that homeschooling blog somewhat echo the thoughts I have whenever I am at a homeschool event, which is, thankfully, not that often. I made a personal executive decision when we switched to homeschooling that I would not purposely torture myself with the sorts of homeschooling activities and get-togethers that I know will automatically drive me nuts.

That being said, every other Monday I bring Alan to homeschool gym class and every other Monday I look around and wonder lots of things, like:

-Do I belong here, really?
-Seriously? You're wearing that? Have you looked at a calendar? It's 2014, not 1992.
-Note to self: Alan will never come here in mis-matched, dirty clothes. (Although I admit I don't know what it's like to get seven kids out the door, so don't accuse me of being heartless; I acknowledge there are things I can't possibly understand.)
-Wow, Char, are you like the biggest bitch ever for thinking these thoughts?
-Would anyone here talk to me if they knew we were family singing "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Edge of Glory" on the drive over?

So, OK, the good news about homeschool gym is that other parents - who also happen to be friends - who were also at Alan's school (the one that closed) - are also in attendance. Which means I have people to talk to who I think are "normal," and thus, I don't feel alone and deserted in a sea of modest piousness. I've decided that these folks, including myself, represent "hope" in homeschooling - a second or third generation of homeschooling parents who have moved beyond the Catholic Ghetto mindset. At least that's what I'm betting on.

So, anyway, why did we do it?

A big part of it was Common Core. The Milwaukee Archdiocese has all but officially adopted Common Core and it's bullshit and I don't mind saying so in such harsh language. The more I read about it the more outraged I become at the idiocracy that is our government and educators - and sadly - many, many bishops and archbishops. When Alan's school closed we were left with, basically, two (2) parish schools in the entire archdiocese that we found acceptable and those two schools, while not having completely jumped on-board with Common Core from the onset, made it clear that they couldn't fight it off forever. Our attitude about this was: Wow! We can pay X amount of tuition to get Common Core at the Catholic school alongside watered down Catholicism or we can pay nothing and get Common Core at the public school. Gee, what a difficult decision! Not.

The next deciding factor was that the remaining independent, authentic Catholic schools in the Milwaukee area represented a number of issues for us. The one that we were seriously considering suddenly experienced a problematic situation that made us uncomfortable, alongside never really fully cutting ties with its Legionaries of Christ/Regnum Christi beginnings. The other school - also problematic in its administration and also way too far to drive out to.

Oh wait. There is a third school. Everyone who attends there goes to the Latin mass or is SSPX. Yeah, I don't think so.

There was also the reality that when Alan would walk into any first grade classroom, public or parochial, he would automatically be ahead of the curve. Sounds like a good thing, right?  My husband and I didn't think so because our own personal experience was that teachers typically teach to the middle. So if you're high-functioning, you tend to get ignored. And we believe that most kids, not knowing any better in a group setting with other kids, will want to go with the herd - performing at a basic, in-the-middle level. We didn't want Alan to lose the great head start he had when he left kindergarten; a kindergarten that had completed Saxon Math Grade 1 and that had him reading at Grade 2 level.

The nail in the coffin was what I experienced and learned last year when Alan attended kindergarten at his now former school. For six months I volunteered to work on re-documenting the school's entire K-8 curriculum, down to each individual textbook, publisher, novel, and workbook. That process opened my eyes to the true nature of a classical, traditional curriculum, especially and including the Catholic part. Once I saw it and started thinking about it, there was no turning back. Alan had been fed caviar, if you will, and there was no way I was going to feed him junk and crap after that.

In many ways, I feel our decision to homeschool smacks of elitism and I occasionally worry about that. Thing is - like all of us, like all of you reading this - we only have one chance with our kids. I'm just not willing to sacrifice Alan as a Common Core guinea pig, even while I feel bad that others have no choice in the matter. Believe me, I have wonderful parent friends who post on Facebook about the horrors of Common Core math assignments that are coming home, but they just don't have the resources or options to do anything about it. I feel for them, but in the end analysis, it doesn't do me any personal good to worry if I'm coming off as elitist to them simply because we decided to get out of the fray.

There are many days where I deeply, deeply regret the decision to homeschool and it has everything to do with the fact that Alan is an only child and nothing to do with academics. Anyone who understands homeschooling and has been around homeschooled children knows that 90% of the time, the anti-homeschool arguments about the kids not being properly socialized are just bunk. However, in our case, it is my number one worry, given that Alan is alone with us almost 100% of the time and he's very aware of it and very lonely. Some days his behavior screams "I need to be with other kids!" and I can't disagree with him. But when I think it through to its logical conclusion, sending him to a school (of any kind) so that he can have approximately 45 to 60 minutes of playtime with other kids in the form of recess seems to miss the mark entirely. More seasoned homeschool mothers have told me it will get easier when Alan is old enough to participate in more activities. Sometimes I think that day can't come soon enough, and then other times I think such advice translates into my endlessly carting him around everywhere and that's something I can wait on.

Right now Alan goes to Tae-Kwon-Do twice a week, and Cub Scouts is on the agenda for next fall. Will hopefully get piano lessons in there sometime soon. We fit in a few "playdates" (gag, I hate that term) with kids from his old school when it works out for everyone involved. Other than that, it's us and Sponge Bob.

When our life is more settled - OK, get ready for this - I want to get to the point where we could go to a morning mass maybe once a week. This possibility has had to cook and evolve for a long time, given that I still cringe at internet goody-goody homeschoolers who gush all over about how they get to mass EVERY DAY! and if you're not doing the same, well then, you're doing something wrong. Turning off what other homeschoolers do, say, and opine is a big struggle for me.

Like when we recently tried - yet again - going to mass at the parish where more than 50% of Milwaukee area Catholic homeschoolers all congregate. Trust me, I'm gonna blog about that someday. Let's just say I walked out - yet again - wondering if I had landed on a foreign planet? Which makes me feel deeply insecure that not only do I decidedly not "fit in" with the rest of these people, but also makes me wonder why I'm so different from them, yet we've all made the same decision to homeschool and we all care deeply about our shared Catholic faith? AGAIN I had to wonder if I had missed the frumpy modesty memo. AGAIN I had to wonder if I had missed the missive on the absolute necessity of Latin chant and reciting the St. Michael prayer immediately at the close of mass. (Hey, I'm not saying these things are bad. Hardly. What I'm questioning is why all these folks seem to "get it" and I don't.)

So like most everything else in my life, homeschooling thus far is turning out to be another situation where I'm a loner. Will it stay that way?  Probably, since when people ask me what I really think, I respond with what I really think, and then they don't usually have much interest in me. I recently found this to be true when I was asked by more than one person why I don't go to that parish where all the other homeschoolers go? I gather answers that include descriptions like "uber-pious" don't sit well with others. Ha! Ha? It doesn't matter, really - I've never let other people tell me what to do. Yet every so often my inner humanity cries out to be accepted and understood.

I find planning out curriculum easy, interesting, and something I care deeply about. I have loosely stuck with what the first grade curriculum would have been at Alan's former school. But various Facebook Catholic homeschool discussion groups I belong to have intrigued me in terms of exploring more curriculum options. I'm !gag! excited about an upcoming Catholic homeschool conference, though I admit I could care less about the speakers and just want to go so as to examine curriculum and shop. I was recently in a used book store and got all ecstatic about a large selection of kids' dictionaries and it was at that moment that I knew homeschooling may be for me.

But whether it's really for Alan, I don't know.

He is academically way, way beyond where he needs to be. Example - right now he's a first grader reading at a third grade level. We recently caught him in bed reading FOR HIMSELF the first book in the Narnia series! We were bowled over. But......the socialization thing. He is still so much a young, immature six-year-old boy. One minute he's asking us deep, beyond-his-age questions and the next he's talking baby talk and asking me to play mama/baby cat with him.

And also - I hope someone can talk me through this - I'm really excited to be teaching him about his authentic Catholic faith, but feel I am a lousy example, and thus failing at it. You know, the whole do what I say and not what I do thing. I mean, Lent around here is a joke, as usual. My husband routinely tells me to chill out and just give God what little crumbs I can and be satisfied with that until I am able to do better, but then I do things like go hunting for Lent ideas at blogs like the one I highlighted above, and well, you leave those blogs feeling like a lump of crap. Which begs the question, can a family homeschool in a vacuum?

Again, I assume the fears and joys I'm expressing here are normal for a first-year homeschooler. Especially since I have pretty much went at this alone. I didn't join some moms' discussion/prayer group and blubber out all my little insecurities or post a million insecure questions on some forum. I bought the curriculum and just went at it. Well, I did read a little of the Charlotte Mason educational philosophy - which I think(?) I'm totally buying into - but given what's going on in our lives right now, I don't have time to read and learn more. So much for nature walks and narration - the two things I cared the most about are the two things we've done the least.

For now, I look at homeschooling as an experiment. Because that's all it could be at this time. But it's an experiment under OUR control, not under the control of the state, the Federal government, or the Milwaukee Archdiocese.

I plan on continuing next year. (Might as well, since we'll be homeschooling into the summer months and I KNOW I'm not alone on that one,)

I have no plan B if homeschooling doesn't end up being the best choice for our son. Then again, since there's no perfect school and no perfect homeschool, maybe I don't need a plan B. I don't see people with their kids in public school formulating any plan B, so why should I?

Homeschooling is hyper-magnifying our weaknesses as parents and as Catholics. There are times when I feel those are reasons alone to quit. Other times I see these weaknesses as an invitation to change, and can see that homeschooling is so, so much more than academics. Needless to say, the stress of the last year is something that needs to be overcome before I can work on "me." So Alan is being schooled by sinners who, at minimum, are aware of their status as mega-sinners. Tune in next year for a status update.

We do not feel we are superior to anyone who has made any other educational choice for their kids. I mean that sincerely. Although once in awhile I would appreciate an honest assessment by secular types of the obvious problems with educational reforms innovations that are untried, untested, and closely resemble communist ideals. Not to mention some acknowledgment of the dismal social atmosphere that permeates so many schools, with secular and immoral ideologies promoted and accepted all around - sometimes more through the students than the teachers or curriculum.

Family members, as of yet, haven't given us any flack so far, and we don't expect any. Neither, for the most part, have our friends, even while I know some of them have likely talked about our decision behind our backs. The worst we've had to deal with is our new neighbors who are effusive in their support for our town's public schools and who keep reminding us that the grade school Alan would be attending is only three blocks away and it is soo sooo great! We find it amusing that proximity is being used as an argument for attending a school. People know so little about what an education really is. I get in arguments on Facebook about Common Core and many times people just want to defend it because they really, really like the school their kid goes to or the teacher their kid has, and well, then, Common Core must be great! GROAN.

This blog post has been quite self-indulgent, and for this I apologize. My only defense is that I've been offline for so long, it takes awhile to catch up.

I expect some flack for what I've written here and that's OK. I am open to questions, of course.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

That Deacon Sandy Church? That's Where I Grew Up!

My life is such right now - because of homeschooling and the house being insane with contractor work and my not having blogged for, essentially, a year - that I'm out of the habit of reading the many, many Catholic blogs that I used to. It's still probably for the best, given that I haven't backed down from being mostly drawn to conservative Catholic topics like a fly to sh*t.

Nonetheless, in the last two weeks, as I've been perusing a few sites and blogs, the name "Deacon Sandy" has popped up a few times. At first I ignored these stories, but then when I kept seeing the consistency of coverage, I finally clicked in to see what all the fuss was about. I couldn't believe it when I figured out that all the hoopla is about a deacon at the Catholic parish in which I was (mostly) raised!

However, I'm gonna say this: Not surprised. Thus, what follows is my own personal story and memories, which might add a little sliver of understanding to what's happening at this Wisconsin parish that is currently in the limelight.

Good Shepherd in Menomonee Falls! I lived in Menomonee Falls from 1978 (third grade) until I moved away in the middle of college in 1989. My parents remained there until 1998. During the years in which my parents actually went to mass (which wasn't for very long), and during the longer range in which they had my brother and I participating in CCD, the majority of church time put in was at Good Shepherd. Not all, but most.

When we moved back to Wisconsin in 1978 - after a two-year hiatus in the Bible belt - my parents were both still semi-high off the Cursillo Movement and the backyard folk masses that they were involved with when we lived in northern Wisconsin. It was there that my father converted to Catholicism from non-practicing Lutheran when I was about three or four years old, and his conversion was clearly predicated on the touchy-feely version of Catholicism that was so prevalent in the early 1970's. I have vague memories of these backyard masses and they are happy, fun memories of playing on swingsets with the sound of guitars in the background. My Dad was probably playing one of the guitars! Don't ask me how I know this, but I know for a fact that they were the kind of masses where a big loaf of bread was used for communion and the drinks were rolled out immediately following mass. That's just how it was back then.

Coming back to Wisconsin, living in the Milwaukee area was something my Mother never wanted. Long story there, but suffice it to say, I think she actively looked around for a parish that would maybe, hopefully, bring back that good Catholic feeling to help her deal with a situation that she was unhappy about. I suppose it may have been providential for her that we ended up in Menomonee Falls, given that in all of the Milwaukee archdiocese, the most hippy trippy happy clappy parish was to be found right there under her nose. I don't know how she stumbled upon Good Shepherd, but it might have something to do with the fact that she was pissed off at the first church we attended in Menomonee Falls (St. Mary's). That parish made my brother and I re-do our "first" confessions because our actual first confessions weren't face-to-face style. Not just that, but she was furious that I found out about sexual intercourse in a 4th grade CCD class. (Please note that Archbishop Rembert Weakland was our bishop at the time.)

I know we were attending Good Shepherd parish on a regular basis by the time I was at least finishing 5th grade. The church space was odd, and I know for a fact that my parents liked it that way. Truth be told, I initially found it to be a novelty, but later came to recognize it as mind-numbingly drab and depressing. It was nothing but a very large church hall. The kind that is found in the basement of every Catholic parish, except at this church, there was no church! It was designed from the start to be a box with pews. Furnishings were typical blonde wood of the 50's/60s era and there were lots of banners. I can't recall if there were windows - stained glass or otherwise? This state of affairs might have something to do with the fact that Good Shepherd parish was not an old church that had early on wreckovated everything. Rather, it was a brand new parish that came out of nowhere in the late 1950's.

Here's what I do remember: Father Fran and guitars. Lots of guitars. Oh, and big chunks of wheat bread ripped from loaves for communion.

Father Fran Eschweiler was a Menomonee Falls legend, although I don't really know why. No one ever told me. Pop's Custard (still there and still really, really good) even had a custard flavor named after him, and when that flavor appeared on their sign, people flocked in to buy it. I suspect Father Fran was a big social justice guy because back then, and to this day, Good Shepherd was/is all about the social justice. (Oh wait. I just researched on the internet. This explains EVERYTHING.) Anyway, for whatever reason it was, when I was a kid, Good Shepherd was packed on Sundays because of Father Fran. I'm sure there were people coming to mass from outside of our cozy little suburb just to see him from all over the Milwaukee area.

My memories of Father Fran are few but solid. He was a short guy, already graying and old. He liked giving hugs. He always had a smile on his face. What kid didn't like that? I really liked him and I know that even while my brother and I moaned about having to go to mass each week, it was made better by the fact of Father Fran's presence.

Mass at Good Shepherd was a guitar experience. All the way, baby! Folk music central. Now mind you, I grew up with a father who was into the Kingston Trio and sang me to sleep while playing Peter, Paul, and Mary on his guitar. Thus, I have a soft spot for folk and always will. And remember that my earliest memories of mass involve backyards and more guitars. So this state of musical affairs didn't really impress me as odd. I knew enough that Good Shepherd was different from the other church in town, but it wasn't a big deal to me or, seemingly, to my parents.

But looking back, the guitars were over-the-top, and here is why: The Kids Mass. Good Shepherd had a Kids Mass we could go to, complete and separate from the regular mass, and my parents were absolutely enchanted with this idea. Now don't misread me - this wasn't the situation where the children leave mass during the homily and return back with (as Erin Manning likes to quip) their "Jesus Loves Me" coloring page. Nope. This was an entire mass for kids, led by a separate priest (deacon? worship team?), in a large room behind the main church (the gym?) that was rocking it's own guitar vibe concurrent with the Adult Mass. At least that's how I remember it.

The Kids Mass is where I learned to resent pandering to kids. I'm sure the homilies were geared to a kids' level and that we benefited - of this I have no doubt. But it was the music. And the puppets. And, perhaps even, the balloons? But most of all, the forced sing-a-long church songs, all accompanied by guitars, guitars, and more guitars (and tamborines). They tried and tried to get us to sing along and out loud, but we all just sat there self-conscious, not wanting to stick out and then be made fun of back at school. It was a hippy-conceived nightmare of guitar praise and worship.

After going to more than a handful of these masses, I'm pretty sure I wanted to be with my parents in the main church, but I knew in my heart that my parents found this innovative approach to religion so wonderful that I couldn't say anything. They LOVED the Kids Mass because they felt we were being spoken to and ministered to in a way that was just right for us.

Memories of CCD at Good Shepherd are vague. I recall very empty hallways in the school building and being confused as to which classroom I was supposed to go into, because the halls and rooms all looked the same - empty and devoid of decoration. Almost like a time capsule tomb. (I researched on the internet that Good Shepherd's school closed in 1971, which is mighty, mighty early for a Catholic school to fail, if you ask me.) I also remember not wanting to go to CCD there, as well as being allowed to ride my bike to get there a handful of times, and my purposely dawdling and riding around on side streets so that I would be late.

Then, just as quickly as we had suddenly switched over to Good Shepherd parish, we just as suddenly reverted back to St. Mary's about five years later. My mother claimed that my brother and I started whining about wanting to go to CCD where our current batch of friends were going, and I guess for a time that wasn't at Good Shepherd. I was confirmed at St. Mary's by Bishop Cousins. Looking back, I feel happy that it wasn't Rembert Weakland, which it just as easily could have been, given that Cousins confirmed me while infirm and sitting in a wheelchair, and he died not two years later.

Fast-forward to recent times.

My father had died. Later, my mother met someone. They decided to get married. He was divorced and decidedly not interested in an annulment; his divorce had occurred 25 plus years ago. My mother wanted a Christian wedding and didn't know who would perform it. I asked around and found someone - an ex-priest who was now married. And guess where he attended church now? Good Shepherd.

Discussing this ex-priest in certain circles, I was appraised of the current situation at Good Shepherd: Ex-priest? You're welcome at Good Shepherd. Gay and practicing? Good Shepherd. Leaning towards or outright pro-womyn priest? Good Shepherd. Suspended priest? Good Shepherd. Really into social justice? Good Shepherd.

Now, let me be clear. What I'm alleging is hearsay. Take it for what it's worth, given that I'm not attending the church and can't personally vouch for this situation. But I'm pretty sure that the priests who have spoken with me about Good Shepherd, while maybe embellishing a bit for emphasis and comic relief, aren't lying about the general profile of parishioners who attend there.

Which is why whatever's going down at Good Shepherd with Deacon Sandy isn't a surprise because this is the legacy of Good Shepherd. This isn't anything new over there; supposed heresy would be the natural outgrowth, based on its history.

Some might wonder why a parish so steeped in near or outright heresy and supposed liturgical abuse has been allowed to continue on as it has for decades? The easy answer is Archbishop Rembert Weakland. He ran the show in Milwaukee for so many years, and clearly he was, at least, a partial fan of what was going on. In the years since Weakland had to step down? It may be that Archbishop Timothy Dolan and our now bishop, Jerome Listecki, believe that a parish like Good Shepherd must exist in order to minister at the most minimum level to those who still wish to remain Catholic. In my opinion, it may be nothing more than an act of mercy.

Despite what I have described here, a tiny part of my heart has some good-feeling sentimentalism about my time at Good Shepherd. Age can do that to you.

I also question if something happened in my Catholic formation at Good Shepherd - that even though I left the Church for many years - I came back to it, and with such vigor? Did something happen at Good Shepherd that planted a good seed? Who knows?

Anyway, I'm pretty sure the time has finally come for somebody to address the liberal legacy that is Good Shepherd. That is, unless, like I suggested, the Church has many different forms of mercy. The Church is much wiser than all of us.....I have to believe that Christ knows His flock and provides for them.

We await many answers from the Lord about things that mystify us, don't we?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Reason #368 I Wish I Had Never Listened to Trad Commentary About Anything

So, I know some people think it's not too classy to talk about what you gave up for Lent. The whole don't let your right hand know what your left hand is doing and praying in the streets to be noticed thing and all that. But stick with me here.

I'm not big on giving up things for Lent. Never have been, and as long-time followers of my blog know, I have mega issues with the no meat on Fridays restriction. I follow it mostly; although this year I probably won't be overly-strict about it because I gave up sugar and all carbs for Lent and if that isn't suffering, I don't know what is. I admit it was mostly a health decision that I hope becomes more spiritual as Lent progresses. Anyway, when you make such a huge change to how you eat, believe me, it's all about what you can have. Meat and vegetables are what power a low/no carb diet. Sorry Church.

What I normally do for Lent is add on things. Like an extra mass a week, or Stations of the Cross, etc. This year I decided that I will read St. Faustina's Diary by the end of the Lent, given that two people who love me very much have endeavored to give me gift copies AND my Catholic therapist has been after me to read it.

This afternoon I sat down in my beautiful new living room with a cup of coffee and started to read the introduction and immediately became seized with the exact same thoughts as when I tried to read this book once before, many years ago. These thoughts are:

Damn Trads. Damn Trads and SSPXers with all their casting aspersions on any saint canonized after Vatican II. Damn uber-uber-uber Catholics openly ranting on the internet about how suspicious it was that Pope John Paul II, a Polish man, got a Polish nun canonized, and hey, shouldn't we be questioning that a little bit more? Isn't that, shall we say, a very pro-Polish agenda? Besides, it says right there in the diary that Faustina's writings used to be subject to various censures and restrictions. Then add in assorted commentary about all the fast-tracking of canonizations since Vatican II, which of course makes them invalid?

I wish wish wish that I had never heard these arguments, no matter how extreme (or well-intentioned) they might be. Or how much of a minority voice they might represent. Yes, I know it's not all Trads - please don't remind me it's not all of them; I get that.

Here's the thing: Words matter. (The irony of me saying that isn't lost on me.) But still, there are some kinds of words that one can't forget - that, at minimum, are meant to plant doubt. Traditional Catholicism excels at this kind of thing. All it takes is one little grain of doubt to get you questioning your mass, the consecration at your mass, your parish, your priest, your devotions, your Catholic school, etc.

I hate it.

OK, I still firmly intend to read Sister Faustina's Diary this Lent, but with the caveat that part of it has been ruined for me by the things I've seen and read out there.

My husband says: Maybe we should perhaps consider that the Holy Spirit, in its infinite wisdom, has allowed certain saints to be fast-tracked because of the intense need and help we sinners here on earth have of them? And he also reiterated to me that the problem with certain Traditional Catholics is that they want to be the judge and arbitrator, instead of allowing the Church to do her own job.

Well I'm gonna try real hard to remember these points, but it's gonna be difficult.

Trad commentary on many subjects (but not all) is like the car wreck scene I can't get out of my mind's eye. Sometimes I wonder if that's exactly what they want? Like the scene they've made of Fatima.The Trads have totally ruined that for me. I will likely never have a devotion to anything Fatima-related or read anything about it.

So, anyway, welcome Lent. Say a short prayer that I might have some mercy on the Traditional Catholics that get under my skin.

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Fire

My mother's almost 4000 square foot home basically burned down last August. It was on all the major TV news broadcasts that day, but for some strange reason, I never turned on the TV that morning, instead finding out many hours later.

Since that time, there are many people who have asked me how the fire started or what happened? I answer the question to the best of my ability, given that the official investigation finding was that no exact cause could be identified. The common sense answer - the one that the fire department initially worked with - was that a very large in-wall heating unit had a "hot wire," even though it was a 90-some degree day and the heater wasn't on. A look at the charred remains of the house indicated pretty clearly that's where the fire started.

After the "How did the fire start?" question, a few people have ventured to ask if anyone was home at the time of the fire? Answer: no. My mother's husband had moved out about a month before. And by the grace of God, a woman who rented the downstairs mother-in-law apartment had just lost her job and moved out. Her apartment was located directly underneath where the fire started.

But after these two questions, all I've heard is crickets.

It hurts.

The fire and the destruction it wrought was like being told my mother - and my father - had died all over again. This, only three and a half months after my mother actually did die. I was hardly in a spot where I was healing and dealing with life, especially considering we were in the midst of a crazy lawsuit and my husband just having retired.

See, I waited until my mother's husband moved out to go through my mother's (and father's) belongings. To remove my own belongings. And before I had the chance to do that - the fire.

Ninety percent of our family's photos and videotapes burned in the fire. All of my childhood memorabilia (and my brother's) burned in the fire. All that was left of my father's life, memory, and childhood burned in the fire. Ditto for my Mom. Ditto for antiques and mementos from even older generations.

The number one item that I cared about, that my heart was tied into, the ONE thing that symbolized my mother - her antique baby grand piano - was destroyed by the over 100,000 gallons of water that was poured into the home. Did you know that in the case of many fires, most of the damage comes from the water the fire department uses to put out the fire?

The rest of the damage is from smoke. And the mold that immediately begins growing after the fire, once they board up what's left of the building. I didn't know any of this about fires, but I found out and quick.

When I finally had to go into the burned out house, which the insurance company required me to do, it was about the most grizzly and horrific scene a person could imagine. Remember those photos of burned-out Beirut? Or bombed-out cities in Europe during WWII? I'm not kidding, that's what it looked like, felt like, and smelled like.

Some rooms were completely destroyed, given that the fire burned for about two hours undetected. A slate pool table had been reduced to rubble and metal appliances were no where to be seen, having been melted to the ground. That's how hot the fire was.

In parts of the home that technically didn't burn, everything was as black as charcoal. Not just on the outside, but on the inside of things: If you opened up a closed cabinet or a closed drawer, everything inside was just as black. You could take a knife and carve your name into anything and everything, it was all so completely coated with jet black soot.

And the mold - oh my - the mold! The water from the fire department combined with the open holes in the roof (which the fire burned through, allowing rain to come into the house) combined with late summer heat meant that black, green, white, and red mold covered everything. The basement was untouched by the fire, but when I went down there, there were literal stalagmites of mold growing down from the ceilings. It was surreal.

My brother hired a fire restoration company to come in and try to save and restore some items. Unfortunately, I wasn't there when they did that, as we packed up and took a trip to Atlanta because I literally thought I was having a nervous breakdown. So not everything I would have liked to have been saved was removed. Let's just say that what the fire restoration company thought was a good idea to restore wasn't my idea. Over a month later, nearly gagging and choking from the mold, I went back in - crawling up condemned and burned apart staircases - to try and get certain items out of the house in the hope that they could be saved. Some stuff could, some stuff, no.

And then there was the unenviable job of creating an inventory of the entire home - down to how many bottles of Mr. Clean and how many toothbrushes - entirely from memory. This was required by the insurance company. But don't forget! I was supposed to know the brand name and purchase date of each and every item. Weirdly enough, my Mom and I were such good friends that we picked out many things together and shopped together, so I knew quite a bit. But let me tell you, it is beyond psychologically painful to have to recall each and every item in a home, including those that you treasured and were priceless, and now it's getting "rubbed in," if you will, that those things no longer exist.

But wait! There's more! Next I had to go to a huge warehouse and go through about 100 boxes of soot and mold-covered items, deciding which pieces would be cleaned and restored and which would not. Let me tell you, it wasn't fun looking at your parents' life through the lens of destruction. It was tedious work, as well: the restoration company removed oodles of items that I could have cared less about - stuff that would have ended up in an estate sale. So there I sat with mostly a lot of stuff I didn't want and the stuff that mattered burned or unable to be saved.

This is not to say some things I wanted weren't recovered. Here's a few that I got back and that my heart leaps for joy over:

This candelabra sat on my mother's piano since the mid-1970's. Now it sits on my "new" exact replica baby grand piano.

These busts also sat on my mother's piano since before I was born. They don't look as good as before the fire, but I'm not complaining.

My mother and I got this in Paris together. The restoration company removed NONE of my mother's lovely artwork. I had to go back into the burned-out house and recover many items, hoping against hope that they were salvageable, and I was right. It took some doing, but this and a few others were cleaned and I had them reframed.

The restoration company refused to go up a condemned and partially burned staircase to recover these dolls and the cradle, as well as a few other items. I supposedly risked my life by going up there anyway. There was NO WAY I was leaving behind my grandmother's dolls that she played with in the early 1900's. A few of them could not be saved, but these two large ones they sent out to an expert, and they came back looking even better than they ever did. Their antique clothes, however, were not able to be saved (smoked fabric cannot be cleaned). Sadly, the antique photos showing my grandmother playing with these exact same dolls were destroyed, which makes me really, really sad. At least I can still see the photos in my mind.

Along the way, since the fire, one or two people have quipped that I was kind of hung up on "things" that were in my parents' house. Like I was being materialistic or something. Here's my response: When someone dies, we use and treasure their belongings in an effort to mourn and remember them. Over time, of course, some of those things will not be as important or important at all. But initially, yes, they are very important. I was denied the ability to naturally and organically obtain those things I would have used to mourn my mother. The fact that I waited to get her things, and then those things were essentially destroyed by the fire, is an extenuating circumstance that naturally plays into my desperation to have anything of her at all. It has taken everything in me to not absolutely freak out about the priceless photos, scrapbooks, movies, and mementos that were burned to nothing.

Interestingly enough, about three weeks before the fire, my husband and I were in my mother's house, surveying what kind of cleaning and staging would be required to sell the home. On that day, I grabbed FIVE items from the house. One of them was her old Latin mass missal. Can't explain why I took it.

When I said in a previous blog entry that my Mom's spirit infuses our new home, it's because each room now has one or two items that belonged to her (my parents) and I recognize what an absolute gift those things are. That they exist at all is a small miracle - especially knowing that many, many people don't have anything to remember their parents or grandparents by. I probably have quite a bit compared to some folks.

Back to the "standard" questions that people have asked: Was your mother's house insured? Yes, of course. And it had just been paid off by her life insurance money. So my brother and I obviously received the benefits of said insurance. That's been kind of nice. For example, I've been able to replace my mother's baby grand piano, among other things. Even so, the fire was so destructive, so devastating, so total, so consuming, that there's really no thinking in terms of trade-offs. People generically tell me how blessed we are, and we agree, but those comments are akin to the cliches one hears at a funeral. Believe me, with all that's happened to us in the last nine or so months, we're full up on cliches.

Then again, we really are blessed. We know it. We get it. God's ways are not ours, and no one could have planned this all out to have happened the way it did.

My mother's home is now gone, demolished and leaving an empty lot that my brother and I have to sell. I haven't yet driven by to see the empty spot that once used to be a family home. Someday I will, but I'm not ready yet.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Sleepover Controversy

I noticed this morning that one of the recent, most-read entries over at the National Catholic Register is this piece by Matthew Archbold:

Saying No to Sleepovers

I read it and was sort of on the fence thinking he was mostly right, but also being a tad too uptight about the whole subject. But then I read all of the comments. And I have to say I'm almost at 100% agreement with him after all.

The profusion of comments regarding sexual exploration, Ouija boards, inappropriate movies, overly-intimate sharing, and also just downright mean nasty behavior (group sleepovers) jogged my memory. Let's see: check, check, check, check, and check. Other than not being molested by someone's older brother or father, every horror story recounted in those comments happened to me in the context of a pre-teen or teenage sleepover.

With many, many unwanted life-long lasting effects. Truly.

This is hard for me to admit because I want to believe that sleepovers are harmless. I want to be like the minority voices in that commbox who felt that these people who don't allow sleepovers are nutjobs trying to live in the bubble. I want to hold onto some fantasy of late-night giggling, bowls of popcorn, and a few Duran Duran videos. (Today I suppose that would be One Direction videos.)

The thing is, it was rarely if ever like that for me. Oh sure, there were a few times when it was all fun and innocent. But looking back, the best case scenario involved me being overly-tired the following day and my parents probably wanting to shoot themselves in the head over my next-day behavior, recognizing that I was functionally useless. In fact, I know of many families who limit the number of sleepovers their kids are allowed just for this one factor alone - the predictable rotten behavior that follows from not getting enough sleep and eating nothing but junk for hours.

I was trying to think if there was a modern cultural vignette of the sleepover to use as something to esteem to? But the only two that came to mind confirm what the commbox stories were saying: There's the sleepover scene in Grease where there's smoking, mean girl behavior, and immoral talk. Ditto for Valley Girl, where a short sleepover scene (if I remember correctly) involves the girls trying on the mother's sexy lingerie while she's out of the house. Note the "out of the house" part.

All of that seems charmingly innocent and true-blue American in some way. But we must remember that's Hollywood.

What's not innocent is how I was exposed to Blue Lagoon, Porkies, and God knows what other inappropriate movies starting at around age 12. The late night Ouija board sessions I held at multiple sleepovers are still near legendary status when certain friends reminisce. I easily recall the hurt feelings when late night sharing amongst girls would get out of control, as someone would finally just say what they really thought and felt about something, and then crying/fighting would ensue, sometimes ending with "I'm going home!" at 1:30 in the morning. I can't imagine what it's like now with smartphones in each hand. (I'm aware that numerous articles have now been written about the damage smartphones have wrought at sleepovers; some parents are banning phones when kids spend the night.)

But worse is the sexual abuse and pornography I was exposed to at sleepovers. I don't feel like saying too much more about it, but I will say this: My parents had no idea. They trusted the parent(s) of the homes I stayed in dozen upon dozens of times. They thought they knew the families. In my case, it wasn't that the family(ies) were rotten, it was actually that my friend(s) were rotten and corrupted. But it just as easily could have worked the other way around, with the friend being fine, but family members doing horrendous things under cover.

Many of the comments over at the Register talked about how sleepovers are permissible if you really, really, really know the family inside and out and know that they share your religious and social values. I agree with such a view, as I believe saying no sleepovers EVER is kind of extreme. In our case, Alan has had a handful of sleepovers with one particular child - staying at that child's house and that child staying at ours. Our two families are totally joined at the hip, including on the Catholic front, and besides, Alan is only six years old, so we don't really think there's an issue there.

Still, so many of the people discussing this subject at the Register made a point that I can't deny: What good is accomplished at night that can't be accomplished by daylight? A kid can stay at someone's house until 11:00 pm, come home and ACTUALLY SLEEP, and if you want to get up early and have breakfast together, great, let's get together at Denny's the next morning. There's no reason to be awake late into the night. There's no reason not to sleep. There's no reason not to sleep in your own bed, where peaceful sleep is actually possible.

And then there's just the question of the unknown - the things that go on within someone's home that you didn't anticipate or expect. If you read through the comments over there, it becomes evident that some of the families didn't expect what came from their own family!

Granted, I am naturally suspicious that the overload of comments which are decidedly anti-sleepover are skewed. I mean, let's face it, if there was an anti-pants entry over there, the anti-pants crowd comes running and fills the commbox and one walks away thinking they're going to hell for wearing jeans. It may be the same phenomenon about the sleepover topic. However, I didn't see unreasonableness in the stories and examples shared. It came off to me that is was mostly normal people who understood, as a few people quipped, that "My grandmother always said nothing good happens after midnight."

I'm relieved that I have a son, which means (I hope) that as he gets older, sleepovers will be way less of an issue than with girls. Unfortunately, my son already thinks that a sleepover is the best thing since sliced bread, but I rack that up to childish enthusiasm and the prospect of uninterrupted play, which is very important to an only child. But man oh man, if I had a daughter, I just don't know what I'd do. I say this as a girl who knows what girls do and how girls act. As far as I'm concerned, it's a landmine out there without sleepovers to complicate things.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Warning - I Gotta Be Me

This little tiny post is meant as a warning.

That I have to be me.

You know - sarcastic, sometimes scathing, sometimes bordering on mean in order to make a point. And to ask legitimate questions.

You've been warned that despite all that's happened, parts of me still operate as before.

That's all.