- 1 -
Over the years I’ve done a variety of things for Lent. I’ve given up iced tea and said the Rosary every day. I even made it to daily Mass one Lent a thousand years ago before we became parents.
This year I was still deciding what I should do for Lent. Then I had one of the most chaotic weeks ever, Ash Wednesday came and went, and I realized maybe this was the year not to do anything specific. I just have this sense that God doesn’t want me to add to my life right now.
So that’s what I will do—try to find some peace in the hectic days of normal life, carve out my own moments of solitude in the desert, and use that time to come closer to Jesus. But I won’t do it with a sense of obligation. I’ll do it with a desire for quiet and rest.
I’ll also look for opportunities to go to Mass, take the boys to the Stations of the Cross, and pray more frequently, but I am going to approach Lent without pressure and a sense of burden. And, despite how it may have seemed this week, I am not giving up blogging during Lent.
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On Ash Wednesday Daniel tasted his dinner and broke into a huge smile.
“Mama,” he said, “you always make the best dinners in the entire world!”
The magnificent meal on his plate? Tuna salad. I am happy to discover that my son appreciates canned tuna the way his Mama does. Maybe I can get away with serving tuna sandwiches again soon.
- 3 -
I didn’t grow up doing chores, but I would like to see Leo and Daniel do a little bit around the house--minimal tasks such as hanging up their coats, carrying their backpacks to and from the car, and maybe sweeping the floor.
At their ages I don’t want to require chores, so we are giving them stars on a chart for helping and tying it to small allowances at the end of the week.
Leo is eager to earn money, and Daniel likes seeing stars on the chart. We’re just starting this, so I’ll have to let you know how it goes. Does anyone have advice on how to do this successfully?
- 4 -
Leo’s school has a half-day today, and the home school association organized a roller skating event for the afternoon. As a mother who works full-time outside the home, I don’t have the option of going roller skating with him on a Friday afternoon in March. I was a little sad about the invitation.
I don’t particularly want to go roller skating, but I was worried that Leo would feel he was the only one of his classmates not going.
I also don’t like half-days because I feel it shows that there are two different groups of students, the ones who get to leave with their parents and the ones who stay in the after-school program. Leo really enjoys his after-school program, but half-days make that time really long. When there is a half-day, I try to get Leo at noon and take him to Grandma’s house or work from home for the afternoon, but it’s not always possible.
I just wish there weren’t school-endorsed events happening at a time when it’s almost impossible for working parents and their children to participate.
- 5 -
Leo wrote and illustrated his first book without any prompting this week.
- 6 -
For the first time this week the boys and I ate in a cafeteria together, and we got to experience the wonder of a tray return.
Doesn’t sound exciting? That’s because you don’t realize that the trays went down a long conveyor belt to reach the washroom.
Still doesn't sound exciting? Then you should have been there. Leo and Daniel both had to be lifted up so they could watch the tray inch its way down the belt. As we were watching, a man came up beside us to leave his tray.
“I’m sorry we’re in your way,” I said, and the boys moved a bit so he could place his tray on the belt. “It’s just that we’re fascinated by this.”
“So am I,” he said, smiling at the boys. If there had been enough room, maybe he would have stayed to watch, too.
I love when our sons force me to appreciate something I could so easily have taken for granted.
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Do you have any advice for how to help children enjoy going to Mass? A friend asked me this question earlier this week, and I am planning to write a blog post responding to her. But I thought I’d throw this out there for your input in advance. She’s not asking how to get your child to behave during Mass—though we are all wondering that and would welcome tips on that, too—but how to help him like going. Any ideas?
March 06, 2014 10:54
By Rita Buettner
The first storm? That was pretty cool.
“Hurrah! We’re off and skipping school!”
But now the snow day’s grown so old.
We’re just plain done with cold, cold, cold.
A five-day school week? No such thing.
They’ve learned instead the snowball fling.
On days when school’s on time—at last!
They stumble to the car, aghast.
Some storms are old and some are new.
We shovel ’til we’re black and blue.
We sprinkle salt, then go buy more.
Then track it onto every floor.
By now that freshly fallen snow
Has lost its sparkle and its glow.
It’s all turned black or brown or…gold.
And have we mentioned that it’s cold?
Some storms come early. Some come late.
Some make us want to leave the state.
Some bring inches. Some bring feet.
This year we’ve sledded down our street.
Snow-lined trees are rather nice.
But we could take a pass on ice.
And snow keeps coming, by the score.
Tomorrow there may be some more.
One day, we think, springtime will come.
Without the snow, will we be glum?
Will we miss hail and thundersnow?
Will we complain of yards to mow?
Until that day, from here to there.
Snow, snow, snow is everywhere.
With deep appreciation to one of our favorite authors, Dr. Seuss, in honor of his 110th birthday.
March 02, 2014 11:05
By Rita Buettner
You were really busy yesterday. Maybe you had company coming for dinner, or you were panicking about the snow and ice that’s coming, and you had to get your bread and milk and toilet paper and get in line as quickly as possible.
You had your heads down and your eyes focused on the shelves.
I understand. Grocery shopping is one of my least favorite chores.
But you missed something, and I don’t mean the deeply discounted noodles near the registers.
Our son called out hello to you—and well, pretty much every other person in the store.
“Hi, man!” he sang out, as we watched a shopper comparing coupons to the items in his cart.
“Hello!” he called out to each person we saw in the dairy aisle.
“Look! An old lady,” he said to me as we grabbed our frozen broccoli. Then he waited until she was close enough to say, “Hi! Hi! Hi!”
Not a single person replied—or even made eye contact. Even the other parents and children he saw didn’t reply.
I imagine you were too busy to hear—which is what I tried to explain to our 4-year-old, who was just a little discouraged as we were pushing our full cart to the car. And you probably were busy. Or maybe you think children in the grocery store should be seen and not heard, which is sort of like hoping that an ice cream cone won’t melt if you leave it sitting outside in July.
Not everyone loves children. But this little boy is friendly and just wanted to exchange a quick hello with you. He saw you. He noticed you. He liked you. And he wanted to see you smile back. Even when no one replied, he kept greeting people with his smile and his excited "Hi!" Yet no one answered.
This is not a criticism at all. I just want you to know someone yesterday—even if you didn’t notice or care—wanted to see you smile.
Today I am going to challenge myself to notice something that would be easy to overlook, to see someone’s kindness, and hear the joy in someone’s greeting, however subtle it might be.
“Blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” (Matthew 13: 16-17)
March 02, 2014 09:15
By Rita Buettner
When I found out that our staff retreat on Friday would be at St. Mary’s Seminary, I was excited. But I wasn’t sure how much of the seminary I would get to see.
“Maybe you can go to Mass there,” my mother said.
With a packed agenda for the day—and knowing that the usual work emails would keep coming in even during our retreat—that seemed extremely unlikely. But I underestimated the day.
After our morning of meetings, I suddenly found myself with about 20 free minutes. It seemed too good to be true, but I jumped at the chance to experience more of the seminary.
And I knew where I wanted to go: to the chapel. I remembered one other visit to the seminary for a Latin Mass when I was a child—I must have been 8 or 9—and I wanted to see whether it looked the way I remembered it.
I followed signs through the hallways, passing statues and paintings along the way.
I had no trouble finding the chapel, and I was surprised that it looked so similar to the chapel in my memories. But there was plenty that was new to me.
It turned out that Mass was underway, and I arrived at the end of the Gospel. There were eight priests on the altar and about 50 people in the congregation. It took only a few minutes for me to realize that I was one of very few people there without a Roman collar, and the only woman in the room.
I slipped out once to make sure I wasn’t shirking my work responsibilities and found my colleagues were leisurely heading to lunch. I figured that gave me enough time to go back for the consecration—so I did. I was even able to receive Communion and stay for the end of Mass.
Daily Mass is a luxury I rarely fit into my day, and it was a treat today, especially because I never thought it would be possible. I arrived late to lunch, but my colleagues just smiled and pointed me toward the seafood chowder.
For the rest of the day, even as we were discussing our strategic plan and work priorities and I was writing silly limericks for a make-your-own-commercial project, I found myself holding onto those quiet moments of prayer.
“Rekindle the gift of God within you,” read the words chiseled over the back entrance into the building.
Our retreat was about planning, embracing new initiatives, and looking ahead to the future, and it was inspiring and exhilarating. And those moments of Mass, that time with the Eucharist, were just what I needed as a wife, a mother, and a person looking forward to a meaningful Lenten journey.
February 28, 2014 11:12
By Rita Buettner
- 1 -
During my daily blogging this week, one night I found myself trying to decide whether to write about Sonic the Hedgehog or Mother Teresa. I ended up writing about Sonic, but it was because I wasn’t sure I could do the Mother Teresa story justice. I’m still not sure I can. But I can't resist sharing it with you.
We heard it for the first time at Mass on Sunday during our deacon’s homily. He described how Mother Teresa went to a baker to ask for bread for a hungry child. The baker spit in her face.
“Thank you for that gift to me,” she said, wiping the spit off her face. “Now how about something for the child?” I found several versions of the story online, including here, and in all of them the baker becomes a donor, giving bread to Mother Teresa as a result.
What I love about the story, besides the courage and love demonstrated by Mother Teresa, is how she manages to peacefully change the baker’s heart. It’s all well and good for us to tell our children to love their enemies—and of course they should—but this story about Mother Teresa shows that there is a way to do that without being a doormat. Now I just need to figure out how to do that myself so I can teach our children.
- 2 -
We had some workers come to the house earlier in the week, and I came home from the office to let them in. I sized up the men quickly, felt good about them—and thought of the piles of work waiting for me back at the office.
“Look, I’m going to leave the check on the table, you’re going to finish the work, and then you can just pull the door closed behind you when you leave,” I said to the man in charge.
“Are you sure?” he said. “You don’t even know me.”
“We met what…30 seconds ago?” I said. “You’re practically my brother. What’s your name?”
“Rick,” he said.
“Aha!” I said. “You are my brother. That’s even my brother’s name.”
“But won’t you want to see the work when we’re done?” he asked.
“Let’s be honest,” I said. “Unless you leave a gaping hole, do you think there’s any way I’ll know whether you did a good job?”
He stopped to think. “OK, good point,” he said.
I left and my brother-for-a-day and his co-worker did a fantastic job.
- 3 -
A mother took some powerful photos of her daughters to convey some of the painful comments they hear from people who are either insensitive or worse. John and I have certainly heard variations on a few of these questions and comments, and they can be upsetting. The one that bothers me the most is “Are they really brothers?” which I have written about before.
I have to admit, though, that one of the things I found troubling about this piece was seeing the girls’ faces. It may sound odd since I write about our family, but I always worry about our children’s privacy and write very carefully. It seems a bit as if the girls are being used to make a point that’s a valid point—one I agree with—but is it a point they would want to make themselves at their ages? That troubles me. Am I the only person who feels that way?
- 4 -
When we were waiting to adopt, our social workers told us we would want to make friends with other families who were adopting. That made sense. We would want our child to know other children who were adopted, or other children from China. But it felt more like homework than fun.
Then we started meeting other adoptive parents and realized how much we had in common with them—even besides our children. One mother I met through our family blogs traveled to China with her husband to adopt their son six months before we traveled to adopt Leo. We realized we lived about two hours apart and got the boys together for a play date a few months after Leo was home.
Soon enough they were friends, and since then Daniel has joined the club, too. When we got together for our annual Chinese New Year meal at a restaurant midway between our homes last weekend, the boys loved hanging out together. It didn't hurt that their friend brought his tablet to share. The adults even got to converse.
As we drove home, we talked about what wonderful friends they are—and how great it is that our boys get along. After all, the parents are all such good friends, we'd be bringing the boys together anyway.
- 5 -
On our way to meet our friends for our Chinese New Year meal, I spotted a Tuesday Morning. My mother and sister have been on a quest to find polka dot plungers, and they had seen some at a Tuesday Morning and failed to snatch them up. When they went back, there were none left.
I just knew there would be polka dot plungers in this store. I could feel it. John stayed with the boys in the car while I ran inside and checked every aisle—some twice—with no luck.
Then I turned a corner and—nope, still no polka dot plunger. But there was an outdoor St. Joseph statue. And it was only $9.99. We have been talking about adding some religious statues to our yard, and I give St. Joseph a lot of credit for our jobs and helping us find our new home. And there he was.
I carried him proudly out to the car. Now we can have a St. Joseph statue installation ceremony on St. Joseph’s feast day (March 19), if the ground isn’t covered in snow.
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Just in time for Lenten any-day-but-Fridays, my favorite new recipe is this pepper steak. Everyone in our family eats it—and loves it. Well, the boys don’t like the peppers, but they eat everything else, so we’ll call that a victory. I serve it over egg noodles, and it vanishes. And March starts this weekend! So it's time to bake soda bread again!
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This year I thought I might invite you to read Pope John XXIII’s autobiography with me, since he will be canonized with Pope John Paul II at the end of April. Is anyone interested in joining me? Oh, and while we’re talking books, I just finished Wonder, a young adult book about a boy born with a deformed face and how he helps himself and others to discover deeper beauty and meaning. It’s touching and uplifting.
February 27, 2014 11:57
By Rita Buettner
Before we traveled to China in August 2011 to adopt our younger son, John and I looked online and found a Catholic cathedral in Guangzhou. We knew we’d be spending almost two weeks in that city, so getting to Mass as a family seemed like a real possibility.
That Sunday morning we found ourselves choosing between an earlier Mass in Mandarin and a later one in Cantonese. To our knowledge, our then-20-month-old had been hearing only Cantonese, but there wasn't much point in choosing a Mass based on his language abilities. It seemed unlikely that he would tell us about the homily later.
Besides, the earlier Mass worked well for a jet-lagged family living on little sleep. So we hopped into a cab and headed to the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Guangzhou.
The church, which was built in 1863—certainly not old for China—was beautiful. If I remember correctly, the Chinese people call it "the stone house" because it is made mostly of stone—though with a brick ceiling.
John and I had very little trouble following along with the Mass and saying the prayers in English. As John said afterward, “I got ‘amen,’ ‘allelulia,’ and the word for Jesus.’”
In what may be universal Catholic tradition, the church was fairly empty until the last few minutes before Mass started when it filled up quickly.
We were moved by the reverence of the congregation. They bowed to one another during the sign of peace. But what I remember best was how they beamed at our little boy and gave us such a warm welcome. Before Mass, a kind lady came over to see Daniel, talking enthusiastically and grinning at him. Without understanding her words, we knew what she was saying—that she was happy for us, for our son, and that he was really, really cute.
Daniel sat quietly the whole time, playing with my camera case or pointing to whatever he saw. To this day, that may be his personal best for the quietest he has ever been in a Catholic church.
An archbishop was saying the Mass, and when we went up for Communion, Daniel was in his Baba’s arms. The archbishop reached out to bless our son of just a few days.
This is the church gift shop.
We have so many memories of our journey to and with Daniel, but that day was truly a special one. The first time we introduced our son to the Mass we were in a beautiful cathedral in his homeland.
Note how our amazing son knew how to pose for photos for the blog a mere four days after we met.
Today I’m joining my friend and fellow blogger Patti as she celebrates Catholic Throwback Thursdays on her blog. In her post today Patti writes about Pope Benedict’s visit to Yankee Stadium in 2008.
February 27, 2014 09:44
By Rita Buettner
When John and I started writing notes for the boys’ lunches, we drew simple pictures and added a few words: “Have a great day at school!” or “Have a fun day!”
Somewhere along the way, the boys started asking for different messages to match the drawings. The notes changed to “Have a Ninjago day!” or “Have a Star Wars day!” or even something a little less expected like "Have a cheese ball day!"
The notes make me smile. And I love that our children care enough to want precision in the words, even though they can’t actually read them.
Just to clarify, this is our family in cheese ball form.
The other day it was my turn to make the notes, and Daniel came up to watch me draw.
“Write ‘Have a nonfiction day,’” our 4-year-old said. “Then write, ‘Love, Nonfiction Baba and Nonfiction Mama.”
So I did. And, in the chaos of figuring out whether he wanted Chex Mix or a handful of raisins, I didn’t ask him why he picked that word. It was only later when his godmother, who had picked him up at lunchtime—and seen the note—mentioned to me how much she enjoyed that message that I realized I should have asked.
By then, of course, Daniel wouldn’t tell me. He just ran away laughing.
I’m fairly sure our little boy just picked a word that sounded good. But since then I’ve been thinking how appropriate his word was.
How often do we tell people to “Have a nice day” or “Have a good day,” all the while knowing it’s not likely to improve their day? A nonfiction day, on the other hand, is well within everyone’s reach.
This one read, "Have a Candy Head Family Day!"
And “nonfiction” sounds so much classier than saying, “That’s life” or “It’s been real.”
Tonight when John came home from working late, he said, “How was your day?”
I thought back on the squabbles over toys, the “oil change” light that came on in the car, the dishes piled up in the sink, and all that I tried to accomplish at the office.
Then I thought of our boys who came running to hug me when I picked them up, the way they both helped carry their backpacks inside for the first time ever, and how they played mostly quietly while I cooked dinner.
How can you summarize a day in a few words?
“Well," I said, "it was a nonfiction day."
And I’m so, so grateful to the Author.
P.S. Happy birthday to my baby brother!
February 26, 2014 10:20
By Rita Buettner
About a month ago my sister called with fantastic news: my 10-year-old niece landed the lead in Oliver. We were all excited, and John and I started talking about going as a family to see her perform.
Then it hit me. Oliver is about orphaned children growing up in poverty. I had no idea whether adoption-related issues would be portrayed in a way that we wanted our children to experience—especially at their age.
Stories about adoption can be wonderful for opening conversations. They can also be troubling as they perpetuate stereotypes. Do you let your children see movies like Annie where orphanages are portrayed in a negative way?
After speaking with my sister and others, John and I decided to skip Oliver—not because of any discussion of orphans and adoption, but because the musical sounds dark and confusing for our young boys.
Then the other day Leo and Daniel were snuggled in our recliner, and they asked to watch a new TV show, Sonic the Hedgehog. They were under the weather, and I was working nearby.
All of a sudden something in the show caught my attention. The mother hedgehog was taking her three babies and placing them one by one on doorsteps, then fleeing into the darkness.
Very casually, I walked over and leaned against the recliner.
“Is that Sonic’s mother?” I said.
“Yes, Mama,” Leo said.
“I wonder why she can’t take care of her children herself,” I said.
There was no answer from the chair. Our boys were focused on the next scene, which was much more interesting, especially as the bad guys arrived and Sonic demonstrated his amazing speed.
Then, just as I was thinking the fact that the mother didn’t raise the children might just be a blip, there she was, hovering in the background. Apparently she helps them in subtle ways. She talks about their being reunited one day. And her children seem to be aware of her presence sometimes, and other times not at all.
It’s not my favorite show—forgive me if it’s yours—but I’ve watched more than I would have liked, mainly to see whether it raised any issues for our children. Our boys don’t seem to care about that part of the story at all. And even when I ask about it, figuring it might be a conversation opportunity, they shrug it off. They want to see Sonic stop the bad guys. They want to see him run. They want to hear Sonic’s band play.
“I never thought I’d have to worry about the premise behind Sonic the Hedgehog,” I complained to a friend one day.
“I think the biggest surprise,” she said, “is that Sonic the Hedgehog even has a premise.”
How right she is.
February 25, 2014 10:42
By Rita Buettner
Last week I met a Jesuit who lives in Manhattan. Fr. Fred Pellegrini is a vocation promoter who was visiting Loyola University Maryland, and we ended up sitting down to talk.
“Your vocation isn’t your career,” Fr. Pellegrini told me. “It’s about something much deeper within yourself. You might be a bus driver, and you want to be the best bus driver you can be, but your vocation might be to be a husband and a father.”
I’ve heard that before, but it always surprises me. Grandchildren are absolutely wonderful. But my mother’s uncle was a Jesuit priest. And growing up, I always felt it was an honor to have a priest in our family. So it’s hard for me to see having a child who’s a priest as anything but a positive.
I asked my new Jesuit friend what I should do as a parent to promote vocations in our home. We should just let our children know it’s an option, he said.
We do try to do that.
John and I have mentioned to our sons that they might find God wants them to be priests. We also talk about how they might like to be astronauts or farmers or construction workers or teachers or firefighters or scientists. But being a priest is definitely one of the options we’ve discussed, probably because our boys respect and talk about the priests they see in action at Mass.
At 6, however, the biggest obstacle for Leo is that a priest can’t be married.
“I don’t want to be a priest because I don’t want to be alone,” he told his father the other day, “but I will always be a Christian.”
I suspect even men who have outgrown their booster seats would have something similar to say.
Still, as I sat there listening to Fr. Pellegrini, full of joy and on fire with enthusiasm for his vocation, I realized I had a question.
“What do you love about being a Jesuit?” I asked him. He didn’t even need to stop to think.
“I get to be the best possible version of myself,” he said, “and I get to talk about Jesus.”
No wonder he’s so happy.
What are you doing to promote vocations in your home and your community?
February 24, 2014 10:31
By Rita Buettner
That’s no blogging record, but it was still a surprise to me. When my first blog was posted here March 1, 2012, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Since then I’ve connected with so many wonderful people through this space, and I am so grateful to you for reading and sharing your experiences with me.
Reaching this milestone got me thinking about what else I have done 300 times.
It’s hard to say because some things—boarding an airplane, eating a steamed lobster, or riding a zip line—I have done very rarely.
Cooking chicken noodle soup, on the other hand, would be many more than 300 times, considering that’s our boys' breakfast of choice.
And when I started adding up how many lunches I’ve packed for my sons, I started feeling dizzy. No wonder I will have trouble being creative as I fill the lunchboxes for the 528th time tomorrow.
I finally settled on a few things that I would guess I’ve done about 300 times:
- Listened to the eighth track on the Star Wars CD John made for our sons
- Complained about snow and ice
- Explained that you can, in fact, adopt boys from China
- Baked a cake
- Fielded our children’s questions about heaven
- Chopped onions
- Read a Ninjago/Star Wars/Thomas the Tank Engine book the whole way through without actually understanding the plot, if there was one
- Used candy to bribe our sons to take medicine
- Sent a text message
- Read a Jane Austen book/watched a Jane Austen movie
- Mispronounced a Star Wars place or character name and been corrected by our 6-year-old
Not very wild and exotic, am I? Suddenly you're wondering how I've found enough material to write 300 posts here.
Of course, I never set out to write 300 blogs. But on occasion I do set out to write seven in a row.
We have some exciting posts planned, so I hope you’ll stop by!
And tell me, what have you done 300 times in your life?
February 23, 2014 09:45
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By Rita Buettner