If ever there were an aunt who deserves to be celebrated, it’s Aunt Shai. She gives her nieces and nephews her undivided attention, plays with them for hours, reads to them, and teaches them how to make up stories with their toys.
So even though it wasn’t clear that she wanted to be celebrated on her birthday, we were determined to celebrate her. We set out to find a gift.
Our boys love to shop, but mostly because they like to pick out things they want. So I was firm with them. We were going shopping for Aunt Shai. We were not going to buy anything for ourselves.
They accepted that rule. But then we walked into the store. There were Pokemon cards and toys. There were books on every topic you can imagine—Transformers and World War II and all their favorites.
Still, we kept moving. And we found ourselves in the blank book section because, after all, who doesn’t want a blank book for her birthday.
Then his brother spotted a blank book with Pokemon characters on the cover. He wanted to start a diary. Please, please, please, could he start one?
And we stood in the aisle while I tried to decide what to do.
We were there to shop for Aunt Shai. We were not there to buy presents for ourselves. But I had two children telling me they wanted to start journaling. They wanted to write. Maybe, just maybe, they were about to begin to learn how to understand their experiences by embracing writing. It felt sort of like when Daniel begs me to buy blueberries in the store. Why wouldn’t I say yes?
Call me a sucker. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to open this door to our children. We added the boys’ choices to my pile, picked up a couple other items for Aunt Shai, and headed to the register.
They were so excited that they couldn’t wait to get home to start writing. They found pencils and started putting down their thoughts as we drove.
“Mama, how do you spell family?”
“How do you spell forget?”
“How do you spell China?”
I’ve never seen them this excited about writing. And even though I’ve been told that I’m not allowed to read what they write, I am hoping that ultimately their writing will help them learn more about how to express their feelings.
And that’s sort of a gift to Aunt Shai—or at least to me. Because now I get to watch our children discover the joy in finding the right words to tell their own stories.
March 28, 2017 10:24
By Rita Buettner
Last weekend Daniel had two birthday parties in one day. In keeping with my tradition of homemade cards, I took two chocolate chip granola bars and made a 7 on a folded piece of construction paper for the first one.
The second one was a dog party, but Daniel didn’t like the dog I cut out, and he didn’t seem interested in making one himself. So I decided we would go with simplicity.
It might be my favorite card yet.
My goddaughter, who turns 1 year old in just a few weeks—I know! I can’t believe it either!—is into animal sounds. But almost every animal says, “Neigh.” I might have to make her a “Neigh” card for her birthday.
Last weekend we had one of those unusual spring days where there was snow on the ground, but the air was warm. Daniel’s shoes were covered in mud, so I had taken them off when we climbed into the car to drive home.
When we got home, he asked me whether he could walk barefoot through the snow. It seemed a little crazy, but…sometimes doing something that’s different is fun. And I have never heard of anyone who got sick from walking barefoot in the snow.
So he did, and he laughed the whole way across the yard.
I baked hundreds of crab-shaped cookies this week. At work we’re gearing up for a huge event
. The Today Show
is scheduled to come to campus next week as our students and others in our community try to break a world record for the most crab walkers. We are promoting it on campus, so I baked cookies.
I found the cutters on Amazon—where else do I shop these days?—and they turned out to be really cute. Some of the claws fell off, but that happens with real crabs, so I figured it just made them more authentic.
The cookies were well-received, but half of them fell on the floor when I dropped them while trying to talk on the phone while balancing the cookies on my other arm. When I told the colleague on the other end what had happened, she said, “It must be hard to balance work and being a mom.”
“Oh,” I said, “I mean, it can be, but the cookies were actually for work, too.”
I really do have a fantastic job.
When Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J., came to speak at Loyola University Maryland earlier this week, he left me with so much to think about. He’s a Jesuit who works with former gang members in Los Angeles, and I have heard him speak before.
"No one goes to the margins to rescue anybody,” he said. “But if we go to the margins everyone gets rescued.”
Fr. Boyle is a man who has such a sense of purpose and such a sense of joy. When one member of the audience asked him when he knew he was supposed to give up his life, I loved his answer: “I don't think I was ever called to give up my life. The invitation was to gain it. The invitation was to joy.”
For St. Joseph’s Feast Day, we made sloppy joes. I don’t know why we don’t have them more often since everyone here seems to like them. And they are such an easy meal.
I’m afraid that is the only meal I made this week because we ate mainly at my parents’ house—yay for out-of-town cousins who are visiting on their spring break—and because I think we might have snagged dinner two days in a row from Wawa’s.
That’s what we do, though, when we have to go to the school science fair, and it starts at 6 p.m.
“Can we bring food into the science fair?” one of the boys asked.
“I don’t see why not,” I said. So we did. And the boys ate a soft pretzel and hard-boiled eggs while looking at the Play-doh food our first-grader had made to show the different food groups.
You can probably recognize the carrot and maybe the strawberries. The grain portrayed is pasta, the protein is a meatball, and the dairy is an ice cream cone.
Every now and then I get to Mass on a weekday, and today I made it to Maryland Day Mass at Loyola. Tomorrow is Maryland Day, which is also the Feast of the Annunciation.
The Annunciation is one of my favorite feasts because it reminds me of how we learned we would become parents—through a phone call. I wrote about that here
This week we celebrated the sixth anniversary of the day we first saw Daniel’s photo when we were matched with him. You truly can fall in love with a photo—and we did.
March 24, 2017 10:15
By Rita Buettner
I’ve never paid much attention to what greeters do before Mass. I always smile at them and say hello, maybe compliment a scarf or comment on the weather. Still, I hadn’t really considered it a significant job.
At our parish’s Scout Mass this week, though, Daniel was a greeter, and he took his role extremely seriously.
Holding the church door open with his back, our first grader called out, “Good morning!” to every person who approached him. Then, because he had been told to give only one Mass program to each family, he would assess the group approaching him and say, “Are you a family?”
Some people would say yes. Others would say no.
Then our little Cub Scout would dutifully dole out the right number of programs.
With a few of the groups our little boy asked, it seemed unlikely that they were families. But he had his instructions, so he asked. Besides, how would he know which groups were families and which were people who happened to park near one another? As a transracial family, our family doesn’t necessarily “match,” and families come in many varieties.
A few of the people who may or may not have been families smiled at him and said, “We can share.”
As for me, standing just a few feet away, I loved watching our little boy in action.
Many of the people walking through stopped to talk to him about Scouting. One lady commented on his two missing front teeth. Several praised him for his kind greeting. And I watched as person after person came past him wearing a bigger smile than before their encounter.
Greeting may not seem like an important role. But we have the opportunity to brighten the life of every person we encounter.
As the opening hymn began, I told our greeter it was time to go in and sit down.
“But people are still coming!” he said—clearly appalled that I was asking him to shirk his responsibility. “Look! There are all those people still walking in!”
He was right, of course. So we waited a few more minutes and greeted some of the latecomers. Why shouldn’t they be made to feel especially welcome? It may havebeen especially difficult time for them to get to Mass.
As the church bell rang, and the people streamed through the doors, I found myself thinking, isn’t that person I see every Sunday someone I should know and connect with? Isn’t that person pausing to praise my son hoping to help him become the good, kind man I want him to be some day? Aren’t we all part of the body of Christ? Aren’t we all a family?
Later, during the homily, when the priest encouraged us to welcome back to the Church friends and family members who may have fallen away from practicing, I found myself thinking of our little greeter. If only we each greeted visitors to church with as much warmth and enthusiasm as our 7-year-old with his handful of programs.
March 19, 2017 10:26
By Rita Buettner
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! We celebrated this wonderful feast day by…um…well…I wore green! And so did John, though that might have been accidental. Sadly, our boys just wore their plain uniforms.
I definitely could have done more to celebrate St. Patrick at home. I’ll have to blare some Irish music around the house and make some Irish soda bread this weekend.
Daniel has taken up a new hobby: Bigfoot calling. He whoops and hollers around our yard, but he also yells through parking lots and parking garages and wherever he wants to hear his voice calling for Bigfoot.
Now and then he also does a little wood knocking. He’s learned all this from watching Finding Bigfoot
, a show that would be more aptly named Not Finding Bigfoot
If Bigfoot ever actually responds, I’m not sure what Daniel—or any of the rest of us—will do.
After eating lunch out one day this week, we were walking out of the restaurant when the maître d’ stopped us.
“Your children get Frisbees, but they have to catch them,” she said.
And they did. It was a fun ending to our meal.
We were snowed in on Tuesday, so we made a pie for Pi Day. I could have made many kinds of pies, but since I was working from home on my snow day, I didn’t have time to roll out a crust or slice apples. So we made a chocolate pudding pie in a pre-made Oreo pie crust. A little whipped cream on the top, and we were done.
Now I feel a little guilty that we did a better job with Pi Day than St. Patrick’s Day.
But at least the soup I served for breakfast on the Ides of March was happy.
A thoughtful friend sent me a puzzle for our boys to do just in time for the snowstorm. We had the best time working on it together.
I should probably always keep a puzzle on hand for cold winter days when you can’t play outside for long—and maybe for hot summer days, too.
Last week Daniel had proclaimed that he loved his bathrobe more than he loved me or his father.
This week he told me he loves Baba the most, then the bathrobe, then me.
At least I’m still on the list.
The other day the boys were talking about hippies.
“Were hippies in the 1870s or the 1970s?” one asked.
At moments like that I realize just how old I seem to them. My favorite, though, is when they say, “Did that happen back in the 1900s?” the way I might say, “Was that back in the Middle Ages?”
I am ancient. But at least I know how to make a chocolate pudding pie the way people did back in the 1900s.
March 17, 2017 10:25
By Rita Buettner
When The Catholic Review
asked me to blog for them back in 2012
, I had been writing a personal blog for a few years. Starting this blog, Open Window, seemed like a good opportunity to try something different. I liked the idea of writing about faith and sharing our journey and connecting with readers in a new way.
I’m usually good with birthdays, but somehow I lost track of Open Window’s. And it was only today that I realized that this little space here is celebrating its 5th birthday.
That only happens because I show up now and then, and so do you. So thank you. Thank you for following along occasionally or regularly or maybe for the first time.
Just for fun, I thought I’d share with you the top 10 hits of the past 5 years:
1. 10 Reasons we’re choosing Catholic schools for our children. This post has had nearly 61,000 views. What I love the most, though, are the notes I receive from readers who are teachers or parents or principals who are responding to this post.
2. Finding God’s grace at the funeral of a beloved child.
I almost didn’t write this blog. I went to Teresa Bartlinski’s funeral as someone who was so touched by Teresa’s passing, not as a writer, not as a reporter, just as a friend. We had waited as Teresa’s family waited to welcome her home from China. We had prayed for her heart to be healed. We had prayed for her to receive a transplant. We had prayed for her to thrive. A few days ago, we pulled her name out of our daily Lenten prayer basket and I told our boys how we used to pray for Teresa all the time. They don’t remember, but I do.
3. Remembering Teresa’s life full of miracles. And it’s not surprising to me that another post about Teresa is near the top of the list, too. Teresa brought together so many people, uniting them in prayer all over the world.
5. A letter to our son as he gets ready for kindergarten. Again here I wrote about why we chose Catholic schools and invited other bloggers to link up with me.
7. Remembering Monsignor Valenzano.
I remember sitting down to write this post thinking that I had very little to say about a priest who had touched my life only peripherally. But as I wrote, I realized that it was in his small interactions with me—and important moments in my life—that he had made such a difference for me. I’m honored that this post was so well-read, though I know it is a testament to the man he was.
9. Missing Baby Georgie. Ah, Georgie. Whenever I pull a list of blogs people read, there is Georgie. And that’s how he is. So often I think of him during the day, in good moments and in hard ones. As I watch our children grow, I think of Georgie, our cousin and nephew who is in Heaven. We miss him, of course, and yet we are so grateful he is in our lives. When we were writing names on slips of paper for our Lenten prayer basket, our younger son kept saying, “Write one for Georgie. Did you put Georgie in yet?” Georgie is always with us, a reminder that Heaven is far away, and yet not so far, and that we can love him from here, and he can love us from there. And we do love you, Georgie.
10. Ways to help your young children enjoy Mass.
This is a post I never thought to write until a friend asked for advice, but it’s an important one. We always focus on how to get children to behave during Mass, but a more important question is how to help them want to be there. I turned to an expert for this one, and I am grateful I did.
What I love about this list is that one of these blogs wasn’t even written by me, one is an interview with an expert, and four of them are about people who are now in Heaven. It gives me hope that now and then I am doing what I try to do, being, as Mother Teresa said, “a little pencil in the hand of a writing God.”
Thank you for stopping by. Hope you’ll stick around for another birthday for the blog.
March 14, 2017 10:36
By Rita Buettner
The other afternoon I found myself teaching our boys a few Irish dance steps in the kitchen. We were all laughing, and no one was really taking the lesson seriously. Still, we had a wonderful time bouncing around and pretending we all knew how to do our threes.
I found myself thinking that all those years of Irish step dancing I did gave me more than the ability to hold my own in a ceili or try to teach my children a few jig steps. It gave me some life lessons I still hang onto today.
Keep smiling. You might forget how to do a dance step or trip on the stage. One of your fellow dancers might make a mistake and throw off a whole segment of the dance. As long as you bounce around with energy and apparent joy and a cheerful smile, most people in the audience won’t know—and you know what? At the end of the dance, neither will you.
The dance must go on. If your hat or cape or shoe falls off, don’t stop to fix it. How you overcome those little obstacles shows what kind of performer you are. And the dance doesn’t stop for anything or anyone. You just put your best foot forward and keep going.
You’re not always the star. Except for your parents, the people in the audience aren’t there to see you. They’re there to tap their feet to the music, see a group of dancers dancing together, and have a good time. Learning that often in life each of us is a cog in something bigger than ourselves, that we are important but especially as a member of a team, is important. It’s humbling, reassuring, and true in real life.
That said…even within a team of talented Irish dancers, everyone has different talents. Some dancers are good at guiding the younger dancers. Some excel at a solo slip jig. Some can remember exactly how a complicated group dance goes. Even when you’re all dressed alike and dancing the same steps, you can see those individual differences and appreciate what each dancer brings to the group.
Practicing is not always fun, but it’s important. Doing the same steps over and over again in a church basement? Blah. Throwing yourself into the Sweets of May or the Walls of Limerick? Exhilarating. Dancing on a stage at the Irish Festival when your cousin pulls then-Mayor William Donald Schaeffer onto the stage for a group dance? Thrilling. But you can’t have one without the other. Sometimes we have to eat our vegetables before we can have dessert.
That's my baby sister Treasa on my right.
Dancing makes people happy. This is true for audiences, whose eyes light up as they watch the speed and intricate steps the dancers do, who listen to the synchronized pounding of the gillies on the stage, who marvel at the way the dancers swing and swirl around one another. But it’s also true of the dancers themselves. Once that Irish music starts playing and you start moving, it’s hard to be anything but excited.
You could learn these lessons many ways, but there’s something about how Irish dancing blends art and math and music and interpersonal relationships and culture and fun. Have a happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Thank you to my amazing mother for looking through many, many albums to find these photos for me.
March 13, 2017 11:30
By Rita Buettner
You’re green and sweet and such a dream
Far, far exceeding plain ice cream.
With minty sweetness in each sip,
You bring sheer joy to every lip.
With whipped cream top—green sprinkles, too—
You are, indeed, a stunning brew.
Your green cascades from dark to light,
Within the see-through cup so tight.
From whence could come such dazzling taste?
Nutrition facts we’ve never traced,
But you slide down with velvet sheen,
So smooth, so pure, so emerald green.
Corned beef and cabbage have their hold
On Patrick’s feast, so we’ve been told,
But you, o shake of shamrock fame,
Upon the season lay your claim.
You’re hard to find; not every store
Is ready with green shakes to pour.
“Machine is down.” “It’s being cleaned.”
You growl and grumble like a fiend
Who longs for just one Shamrock Shake.
You pine for it until you ache.
You’ll drive for miles to reach your prize,
Forgoing burgers, nuggets, fries,
For like a rainbow’s pot of gold,
A Shamrock Shake you long to hold.
March 12, 2017 05:34
By Rita Buettner
When I was watching the footage of the BBC interview with Professor Robert Kelly, and his daughter came dancing into the room—followed by her baby brother in a walker—I couldn’t help but laugh. But I wasn’t laughing at his predicament, or his wife’s, as she swoops in to scoop up the children and try to save the interview
I was laughing because I’ve been there. Haven’t we all?
No, not giving an interview on international politics on TV. But we’ve all been on important calls that are interrupted by a child. We’ve all been caught in one of those moments when you’re talking to someone and trying to make it seem as if you’re holding everything together, and your child pops in and lifts the curtain to give a glimpse into your real life.
Children have some kind of sixth sense for when mom or dad has some important thing to handle alone. The more important that is, the more likely the child can find a way to pop into the moment or, as Kelly’s daughter does, dance her way into the frame.
And let’s just pause for a moment and think of Kelly’s wife. She is a hero in this whole situation. No one can blame her that the children escaped her care. We’ve all been there, too.
Children are fast. The mom might have turned her head for just a moment—maybe to mop up the milk one of the children just spilled or to watch her husband’s interview on TV or answer the phone—and the children could have made a beeline for that one forbidden door.
No one is to blame for what ended up giving thousands—this family featured in the video included, I hope—a laugh. This is family life. This is the reality of being a parent—and especially the reality of being a parent working outside the home, or physically inside the home but with responsibilities outside the family. It can be a bit of a balancing act.
As I was watching the video, I was thinking that I was partly laughing with relief. Because we’ve all had the moments where we were suddenly exposed as not having all our ducks in a row. Who hasn’t had a child loudly announce a need to use the bathroom at an inopportune time, or a sibling skirmish erupt during a key conversation?
But now whenever that happens, I can just say to myself, “At least it didn’t happen while I was giving an interview on TV.”
March 11, 2017 10:19
By Rita Buettner
So far, my favorite Lenten activity this year is our prayer basket. Drawing a name out every morning is so exciting. And, by exciting, I mean we argue over whose turn it is. That’s when you know a prayer basket is a success, right? When people are arguing every morning?
I have especially enjoyed letting people know we were praying for them on a particular day—until today when I forgot to tell my parents they were our intention. So they will find out when they read this post.
I hope we can continue this activity (inspired by this post
) with the same energy all of Lent.
The other day I looked at our evening plans and realized Daniel had a Cub Scouts meeting that night.
“I guess we’ll just have to stop at Wawa for dinner,” I said.
The boys were so excited because they love Wawa’s soup.
We were still late for Cub Scouts because who can be on time for a dinnertime meeting? Well, apparently everyone else in the pack, but not this Wawa-loving family. We carried in a cup of chicken noodle soup and a soft pretzel, and Daniel ate as the meeting got underway.
Next meeting I get to bring the snack. Wawa for everyone?
We had the loveliest weather this week until it got horribly cold. It’s still beautiful, but it’s more like winter. We might even get real snow next week.
But while we were thinking spring, we bought some seed packets.
We have never had much luck harvesting anything because the neighborhood rabbits always beat us to it. But maybe this will be the year we can find a way to keep some for ourselves.
Speaking of bunnies, Daniel and I came across these sweet bunnies a few weeks ago and snagged them for a gift. Aren’t they just adorable? I thought he might not be willing to hand them over to Grandma, but he was proud to give them to her.
We could have held onto them for Easter, but I often buy gifts and forget about them, so we figured we would deliver them early.
Leo likes folding paper into airplanes and origami and fortune tellers. But I had never heard of flextangles until I saw a post from The Mass Box, which I shared on my Facebook page
It wasn’t easy for Leo to do, and we had to find another, slower video on flextangles so he would know how to fold it. But it worked, even though the video he used was in another language. And he wants to try more, but we have to do a little hunting to find some that are free like this one.
I had to reschedule one of the boys’ dentist appointments, and the rescheduled appointment landed on the same day as the other one. Somehow both boys were called into separate rooms almost at the exact same time, so we ended up having both of their dental procedures at once.
I felt a little torn bouncing between the rooms to assure each boy that he was being brave, sitting so still, doing such a wonderful job. But I also felt so efficient fitting in both appointments at the same time. And that was even before we realized one of the boys had to have a tooth pulled, and the dentist offered to do it on the spot, saving us a third appointment.
To celebrate, we stopped at a store, and the boys each picked out a little reward.
When your son tells you that he loves your husband more than he loves you, you think, “How sweet.”
Then he says, “But I love my bathrobe most of all.”
March 10, 2017 09:12
By Rita Buettner
Every Sunday I see you beginning the marathon that is Mass with a toddler, and the memories come flooding back.
You might look at my children, who are 7 and 9, and think I have it easy. And I do. I walk into Mass without a battle plan. But I can close my eyes and be back in your shoes.
How well I remember not knowing whether we’d make it through the opening hymn without needing to duck out of the church.
How vividly I recall bringing books and quiet toys and the faith that this Sunday would be better than last.
How clearly I remember feeling judged by those around me as our children made noise or loud comments or bounced around in the pew.
You’re there right now. There’s no silver bullet for surviving this chapter in your life. And it’s only so comforting to know you might be burning off time in Purgatory every Sunday.
But I want to assure you that one day you’ll be singing that closing hymn, and you’ll realize you didn’t carry a wriggling, screaming child out of the church once that Mass.
One day you’ll be surprised to discover you heard the whole homily.
And one day a person in a pew nearby will lean over and say, “It’s unusual to see a child who’s so well-behaved in church.”
Let’s hope that happens sooner rather than later.
Getting through that stage of life is a journey, and many Sundays are one step forward, two steps back—or five enormous steps back and looking at each other and saying, “Do you think we should try the cry room again?”.
Then one day you’ll do something crazy like what we did this weekend.
We sent our children to Mass at the Baltimore Basilica with their grandparents. I was a little nervous about it. Both of our sons know how to behave at Mass, but they can forget, and…they are still children. And we were sending them to Mass after a fun, tiring Saturday. They weren’t exactly enthusiastic about the fact that Baba and Mama had evening plans, so our boys were going to Mass without us.
And we were going to take them to Mass again the next day. They were just a little less than thrilled.
But after Saturday evening Mass, as our sons were walking out of the Basilica with my parents, the new rector—who had celebrated the Mass—told our boys they were “awesome.”
They are awesome. Truly, they are. But he meant their Mass behavior, as they sat in the second row, well within his view, was awesome. When I heard the story later—and that people sitting near them had also complimented my parents on their behavior—I almost teared up.
Dreams, my friend, do come true.
Your mileage may vary, of course. What I wish for you, though, is that you can hold onto the belief that all the time and energy and tested patience is worth it.
For now? I’ll be cheering you on—from my semi-quiet pew where I’m reminding people when to kneel and fold their hands and sing and pray.
March 06, 2017 12:23
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By Rita Buettner