One single stare.

“Today is a very important day to be friend’s with Jesus,” I told James. It was early, too early, even for Good Friday. I could barely open my eyes, my frustration over not sleeping at the cusp of outburst. He stared at me, and look terrified. The serious sound in my voice made his eyebrows super tall. And those big brown eyes were all the way wide open. “Ok,” he said softly. I began to feel bad. It is not his fault that he wakes up early and has to poop. It is also not his fault that Rita’s inability to roll back over, and Josie’s fever kept me up most of the night. He doesn’t even know about it. He had slept soundly for many hours straight, and even though the sun was still sleeping, this kid was ready to seize the day. Yet, the tone in my voice expected him to know, and understand. It was a pretty tall order for a kid who spends most of the day playing with matchbox cars, spilling things, and pulling his sister’s hair. I was about to apologize and attempt explaining why Jesus could use a little niceness, when he continued. “Ok, I will be a good friend to Jesus and invite him to play.” I felt relieved, and proud. Even if he knows little about the crucifixion, he understands friendship. And on a day with so much anxiety, blood, and death, it was nice to hear him extend such an innocent invitation. Then, he continued. He pointed his finger with every word, and burrowed his brow, “But, also, Mr. Potato head. He has to come too.” Somehow, that silly little sentence put me right back where I needed to be on this Good Friday: in reality, and in control of nothing. James is three. He is innocent and pure, even when he bites Josie, and gets out of time-out. I thanked God for his imagination, and hoped one day I could understand freedom in the way that he does. I looked at him, he looked at me. I wanted him to know how much I loved him and how funny he is, how he has forever changed my life, humbled me, taught me how to love, frustrated me, made me laugh, and showed me the real path to God. He smiled, and batted his pretty, pretty eyelashes. “Can you get me some juice, mom?” As I poured his juice, I looked at him again in his desperate and concentrated effort to make Buzz Light Year stand up on the table. “Juice! Thanks mom!” he said, as he did some weird, unrhythmic juice dance. Freedom: its what Good Friday is all about. And children, they are the ones who have it. I interrupted his bad dancing and gave him a hug. “You’re welcome, James.”

As James managed to bring me out of myself and into a moment of reflection, I began to think about the long road to Calvary. For me, the fourth station is the one that gets me the most. It’s Mary’s last gaze alone with her son. In one moment, one single, steady, and intentional look, a mother and a son speak volumes in silence for all eternity to ponder. Their eyes, fixed on each other, telling stories of acceptance, perseverance, and permission, acknowledgement, empathy, pain, and encouragement. There is a longing to take the other’s place, and comfort each other’s wounds, both visible and invisible; the obvious and the hidden. In that instance, all of their memories are contained from the first time he opened his sweet baby eyes, to when her eyes of fear where calmed by his peace at the temple, or when His apprehension at Cana was made secure with her confidence in God. They are cherished, and become the source to continue carrying a cross that had become so heavy.  A lifetime of strength, in just one single stare.

Today, as I look at James, and my girls, while remembering the cross, I thank God for what they understand, and what they don’t. I pray that their innocence will be protected, and draw them closer to God. And on this Good Friday, I say, most of all, thank you to the one who made it all possible.

Look at their Feet.

I was confident we could sit in the front. Jim quietly insisted we remain in the back due to snotty noses and moods. I confidently/defiantly marched to the front and regretted it about 30 seconds afterwards. They jumped, smashed stranger’s feet in the kneelers, Josie took off her shoes, James very loudly said “Jesus is sad because his friends killed him,” making me look like the all time craziest mother ever. In between tantrums, musical chairs, and nearly cracked skulls, I heard small pieces of the homily. Father spoke of humility, and going outside our comfort zones to wash the feet of those who need us. He then washed the feet of unsuspecting parishioners. Thankful I was not chosen, because who knows what my feet smell like, I thought about the feet I am entrusted with washing. Jim’s planted firmly on the ground, wearing the shoes I bought him for Christmas, because they are sensible, and he knows I like them. James’ sausage feet were hanging in the air  as he purposefully confused the pew with monkey bars.  His shoes were proudly on the wrong feet because he put them on by himself and refused to change them.  Josie’s: long, lean, and smelly; had one sock on, the other off, revealing her fuchsia nail polish she applied by herself and then spilled all over my bathroom. Her pink light up pumas to match her shirt were stuck in between the kneeler. Rita’s jumped on her dad’s lap as she giggled and cooed revealing her joy to the Church.

Each pair unique, stubborn, and strong. And each pair, most definitely, in need of a bath.

Things I said to Josie, today.

“Please stop riding the baby.”
“Josie, get off the baby’s head.”
“Do you want raisins in your macaroni?”
“I don’t think the baby wants you to draw on her.”
“Josie, put down the crayons.”
” Bite him if he hits you again.”
“Get out of the sink.”
“Put down the knife.”
“Get off of the counter.”
“You can’t wear the high heels down the stairs.”
“How did you get up there?”
“Where are my shoes?”
“Where is my phone?”
“How did you break this window?”

Try them, try them, and you may. Try them and you may I say.

Life as a mother has become a bit more interesting ever since Josie started pole vaulting out of her crib in the morning.  While her ability to get out is impressive on its own, the way in which she escapes completely undetected is Ocean’s Eleven worthy. James, like his mother, is much too clumsy to ever do anything undetected. He either trips, makes a loud bang, or runs into a wall before he can get away. Plus, he wakes me up by putting his face and morning breath directly in my face and morning breath, shouting, “Mom, I’m awake! I have to Poop!” pretty much every day. Josie, however, is more like a cat; sly, swift, and too small to set off the alarm sensors. The only way I know she is awake is when I find the mess on the floor, or the chocolate on her face. This morning the mess involved and entire pound of angel hair spaghetti. I imagine she was disappointed when she chewed through the plastic only to realize the pasta was uncooked and not made of marshmallow or fudge. As I frustratingly picked up each extra fragile piece, I began to daydream of the Holy Weeks of yesteryear. I went on mission trips, built houses for the poor, and went days without showering because there was no shower, not because I had to put three small whiny people, who cry that luke warm water is burning them or scream that soap has come three feet from their eyes, in there with me. I thought about how awesome it would be to use my time doing something spiritually or humanly productive, helpful, esteem worthy, this week. The thoughts continued to circulate for most of the morning. Then, somewhere in the middle of “Green Eggs and Ham,” I realized that there was really no place I’d rather be. Thank you, thank you, Sam I Am. I do so very much like eating stale peanut butter pretzels on the floor, with three kids on one tiny lap, and knowing in my heart that I am, in fact, exactly where I’m supposed to be. And let’s be honest, I suck at building houses, anyway.

Mom Confessions

1) In the latest issue of “Adventures in Potty Training,” James escaped his white porcelain nemesis with stealth creativity yet again. As I stood for what seemed like hours feeding Rita a never ending bowl of smashed green goo, he knew my attention was focused on things other than his Buzz Light Year underpants. Out of the kitchen window I spotted him. He stood steady and confident, bare-bummed, with a golden stream shooting across the porch, his face grinning and eyes gleaming with pride and success.

2) In honor of the spring snow day, I made pancakes for breakfast. Josie ate seven. When I told her eight was six too many, she cried. Her belly was protruding and syrup drenched every part of her and my kitchen (what else is new). I take full responsibility. I ate blueberry pancakes three times a day everyday for the last 6 weeks of her gestation. It matters.

3) There has been an almost full size basketball hoop in my kitchen for 6 days.

4) Last week I turned 27. The kids, unable to tell the difference between their birthday and someone else’s, were crushed when they suspected that I did not bake a birthday cake for myself. Explaining that not baking is the best present of all, especially on a day on which drinking Guinness is the only appropriate activity, fell on refusal to listen ears. I took a cookie that Josie had already bit and decided she hated, covered it in Nutella and stuck in a candle. It was the happiest of all birthday cakes.

5) I mentioned to my sister that James has learned “Damn it,” with appropriate usage and timing. As a mother of 6, she’s learned a thing or two. “Did you lie to him?” she asked. “Yes, millions of times, but I’m not sure what you are saying.” “Regina, it’s SLAM IT!” Works like a charm-swearing eraser.

6) Last week I went out to dinner with friends. Jim was in charge of bed-time. He thinks its funny to dress our baby girls in James’ old clothes. I don’t know why its funny to him, but this is the same guy who has been saving his baby teeth for 19 years to prove to his parents that the Tooth Fairy doesn’t exist. When Rita was still wearing the blue-football pajamas at 3pm when the delivery men arrived to set up a piece of furniture, things got real confusing, real fast. I said one thing, James said another, they were noticeably uncomfortable.

It’s hard to say, yet easy to do.

This morning, my very generous husband gave me two opportunities for alone time. First, I went running. It was awesome, despite my slowness. Then, I attended Palm Sunday Mass all alone. I even got to shower in between. My five minute late arrival was extra embarrassing sans coloring books and bags of Cherrios. In my defense, three people pooped on my way out the door, and my husband had used all of his generosity on me.  

After I managed to stop giggling over the several sibling palm-sword fights waging in the pews, and controlled my eyes from admiring the outfit of the little girl who wore a sequin headband, pearls, a black velvet dress paired with knee-high pink tube socks and neon-green crocs, I realized that when I attend Mass solo, I have no excuse but to pay attention. It was going to take some effort, though, because today’s Gospel is like 17 pages. As the Passion was read aloud, the congregation, playing the part of the “Chorus” said, “Crucify him, crucify him.” Distraction crept in the form of the memory of speaking the very same words as a six year old little girl. I was standing next to my dad. I had probably been separated from my siblings for sticking palms in their ears or something. Since I had recently learned how to read, I was eagerly ready to participate louder and more enthusiastically than everyone else. I noticed something, though. My dad didn’t say the words. I didn’t get it. Why didn’t he want everyone to know how well he could read? I asked him later. “Daddy, how come you didn’t say that part? We were supposed to.” “I don’t like to say those words, it makes me feel bad to say that to Jesus” he replied. 

His response made quite the impression. So much so, that it wouldn’t escape my mind, 21 years later, when I had the rare opportunity to think in silence. 

At Communion, the reason became more clear. The song, “Where you There,” was being sung. Around the third verse I was able to move my focus from the eighty-year-old-vibrato singing, and I thought about Jesus and those hard to say words. 

“Crucify, him!” 

He’s right, it stings. 

Then, I began to think of all the times I have said those words without speaking them. That stung worse. 

Somehow, its difficult to say, “Crucify, Him,” directly, when its clear that Jesus is listening. It feels crude and harsh, even in a whisper. I don’t want him to hear me, and neither did my dad. Yet, so many of my actions communicate the very same message with a big fat scream. And, so often, I don’t even notice. 

I started listening to the song again. Though off pitch and in key all its own, that old lady choir served quite the purpose.

Was I there? When they crucified him? Where was I? Where will I be this week? Will I walk with him, remain with him, bear the blood and face myself in his eyes? Or will I run, hide, whisper in hopes of remaining unnoticed, unable to even face my part in it all?

“Crucify, Him.” Its heavy. Just like His cross. I hope I’m able to help him carry it. 

Happy Holy Week. Resurrection is right around the very sharp corner.

I Do Not Love You the Same

When I was a girl, my mother used to say “I love you all equally. There are five of you, just like I have five fingers. I could never choose a finger to chop off.” In an effort to avoid calling my mom a liar, I will assume she said it to diffuse a brawl, and make us feel equally special, because nothing says “I love you,” like a comparison to a hand appendage. Today, I call her bluff. We all know she loves JR the most. For the record, however, I am the fourth child, also known as the ring finger, where the diamond is.

I’ll be honest. I do not love my children in the same way, and I never will. While I suppose choosing a finger to chop would actually be pretty difficult, my ring finger is definitely my favorite. And since I do not yet have a fourth child, its still okay for me to say that as a mom. James, Josie and Rita each drive me crazy differently. They also have a particular way of using their tendency towards both virtue and vice to make my own vices even more obvious. For that, my soul will have eternal gratitude, while my face and hair become wrinkly and grey.

Dear James,

You are my firstborn. My first experience of motherhood. You have taught me how ridiculous I look when I cry, and how easily I fall to my husband’s use of reverse psychology. You and I have almost identical reactions: dramatic, extreme, but easily distracted by tickling or a joke. Today, I love you because you think driving on the road is a car race, and you are determined to put on your underpants by yourself, even if they are inside out and backwards. You want a very particular car from the Easter bunny. To ensure receiving it, you’ve been telling me that it would make Rita so happy as a baby. Even in your manipulation, you are totally transparent. You already know the words to the Hail Mary, and you constantly remind me to say thank you to your guardian angel. Judging by the fact that you’ve had some type of scrape on your face since birth, God knows, you need the extra protection. Your favorite song is Susie Q by CCR, you love of Mumford and Sons and Sam Cooke, and already know that popular R&B, Kei$ha, and Nickleback is the worst music ever created. You say “Damn it!” only when its appropriate.

Dear Josie,

When Daddy puts the “How to speak Mandarin Chinese” Cd in the car, you repeat all of the words. And then you giggle, because you know that a one year old American girl speaking Chinese is hilarious. Your reckless abandon freedom and independence is totally foreign to my own behavior. Witnessing it develop in you has been one of the greatest gifts of my entire life, and it continues to teach me how much God loves me and desires to make me happy. You already jump out of your crib, but, you do it capably and skillfully, so I never worry. Your mood tends to correspond with the messiness of your hair, so you’ve made me a lot more diligent in braiding it. You call my bluff on all forms of discipline, and its funny when I send you to time-out. You prance has a particular confidence, because you know your Daddy loves you with all of his heart, and you milk it with impressive skill. You understand his weirdness instinctively. You eat the most out of anyone in the family. Everyone knows when you are full because thats when you start throwing your food. You know exactly how to annoy your brother, and you smile, because we both know, he deserves it.

Dear Rita,

You are five months old, and can do no wrong, even when you beg to nurse at 3am. Your calmness makes the entire family more peaceful. You are able to make your brother laugh harder than anyone in the family. You are pretty much always quiet, until we walk up to Communion. That’s the time you choose to show off, or maybe you are just really excited to see Jesus. I’m not sure. You let Josie shove spoons in your mouth because you know she likes to feed you baby food, and that I do not. You constantly throw up. Its gross, and it smells. You are almost crawling. Five months is pretty early to crawl. I’d want to get away too, it can be scary and super dirty on our floors. I never knew how much I could want a baby that I never wanted to have. Thank you for teaching me that God’s plan are always the best ones.

I love you all, but, not the same. And I am particularly grateful I gave birth after the invention of baby wipes.

Six boys, and counting…

I packed every single extra newborn diaper that Rita never used and walked across my lawn. Dan sat busily working behind his computer. I told him I was available to take as many children as he wanted me to have the next day. He didn’t seem concerned. His nonchalant demeanor really weirded me out. He was right, though. He had seen it 5 times before, and knew that his wife would do great, and that his boys at home would be safe. And even though most kids in the house were either throwing up, having asthma attacks, or running high fevers, he was confident that the babysitter would be perfectly fine. I couldn’t decide if it was delusion, ignorance, or Catholic faith at its finest. 

I found Maria upstairs. She was folding baby blankets and began organizing the diapers. Her exhaustion was obvious, yet she just continued comforting the sick kids and gave me instructions for what to do if Bailey stopped breathing the next day. I could feel my own breaths hurriedly growing with anxiety. It was 9pm before she was scheduled to have her 6th baby. Someone threw up, Connor was crying in his crib, she hadn’t slept in weeks. Yet, she calmly showed me the breathing machine and said “my goal is to have the baby by dinner time so that I can be home Sunday morning.” If I were her, I would probably slip hundreds to the nurses and beg them to keep me for as many days as they could get away with hiding me behind a hospital curtain. 

I arrived to the hospital the next day around 1pm. I tried my best to buy her post-delivery foods to her liking. With my bag of sugary snacks in hand, I walked into a room with a smiling mother of five boys on her sixth hour of Pitocin. The sight of the parquet floor made me nauseous. That damn wallpaper with the stupid looking fruit of whatever it is made it worse.  There is more maroon in one delivery room than in all of Bayside High. Flashbacks of 8cm came rushing back. I blinked really fast and tried to find a chair. “I’m so glad you came early, it’s been so long since we’ve hung out,” she said. I offered my condolences for her thinking that entering stage two of labor equated to quality time together. 

Everyone except Maria was expecting a quick labor. Isn’t the sixth baby supposed to sort of fall out? Hours upon hours upon horrendous hours went by. There were conversations about flesh eating bacteria, women becoming priests, Jim’s new concussion, con-artists, the unknown gender (pssh) of the baby, and a bunch of other things that distracted the rest of the room from her painful contractions. She closed her eyes and said Hail Mary’s. No complaining, no requests, just concern that I was missing my nursing schedule. At 7pm (12 hours of Pitossin later) it was getting increasingly intense. Dan paced the halls, she refused pain medication, I was sweating, finding it increasingly difficult to breathe, and wishing that I could borrow one of the newborns to nurse (sort of joking, sort of not). I made nervous jokes about it being International Women’s Day. The nurses had just changed shifts and gave hugs and said, “I wish I could stay with you guys! Its so fun to see such a happy family! We get so excited to see your name in the book every other month!” They all knew the drill. Aunt Sue was in charge, mom would suffer through pain without help, my mom brought obscene amounts of chocolate, and rosaries would be recited in the background. 

At 8pm it was clear that Jim would be doing the bedtime routine/chaos alone. 9pm: I was, I mean Maria, was in hell. So much pain. She calmly, and fiercely breathed on, as my sweating became obvious. 10pm: This can’t be serious. It doesn’t make any sense. She deserves better. Someone do something! 11pm: What’s your deal, God? Did you forget you’ve already given her 5 boys? Is a labor shorter than 24 hours really too much to ask? 12am: Um….this baby was supposed to come on March 8th, not March 9th. She was 9cm for like a million hours. “Your hair is going to fall out either way! Just get the epidural!!!!!” I pleaded. I thought her veins were going to burst, but her determination continued to astound me, and everyone. The once cheerful, hopeful mood of the room had turned. We began to fear for her, and the baby’s safety. Dr. Nicholas warned, “get the epidural…or else.” She reluctantly complied. Even after five babies, being 5’3” and 100 lbs with hips more narrow than a 12 year old’s, does not bode well for childbirth. I nearly pummeled the anesthesiologist for being rude. Others told me that she wasn’t actually being rude, I am just crazy, apparently very protective over my big sister, and its never a good idea to fight a woman with a needle that can paralyze. 

1:00 am (or somewhere around that time, it was really late and I was tired.) Time to push. I’ve had three babies of my own. Yet, nothing could prepare me for what I was about to see. She used every fiber left. Dan held her hand and tried to let go of the anxiety of seeing his wife in obscene pain. My mom and Aunt Sue held her legs and continued to coach her through. I tried to catch my breath. I submitted to my tears. She gave, and gave, and gave. She focused on Mary and called on God.  

It’s a boy. 

Her sixth boy. 

Her sixth boy, in eight years.

Baby Brendan. 

There is something very surreal about witnessing a birth. In a single instant, someone who is already known to be, becomes fully visible. What is already real becomes completely real in a moment of  unbelievability. He opened his eyes, revealing perfect innocence and potential. He looked at her, she welcomed him, her body still trembling as he laid calming on her chest. In a matter of seconds, a mother’s most painful moment becomes her most triumphant. 

Dan gleamed with pride, for his wife, for his son, for all of his sons. It was a dream come true, and a full hockey lineup. 

I imagined all the fun he will have and all of the messes he will make. The goals he will score, and bones he will bruise and break.

I became sure of a few things. First, Brendan is going to fit right into the already hilarious mix. Second, after witnessing strength I didn’t know existed paired with faith in the face of what seems to be impossible, my big sister will forever be my hero. And as a very tiny mom to six not so tiny boys, she will continue to have more reasons to laugh than pretty much everyone else in the whole wide world. After we gave each other a deliriously tired “good-bye,” I drove home and endlessly thanked God for my baby girls.