Friday, July 20, 2012

A Quick Update On Our Family Tithing Efforts

At the start of 2012, I made a New Year's Resolution to give tithing a shot and I wrote about it here:

The Catholic Mom's Corner: A Resolution to Tithe 10% of our Net Income

It's been 6 months already, and I wanted to post an update on what has changed since the beginning of the year.

As I explained in the original post, we were pretty stingy with the collection basket and I wanted to challenge myself to become a more giving person in this regard. Well, it has been an interesting journey. I'll give you the short version:

* When I first brought it up with my husband, we got into several huge arguments about tithing. He felt that we were not in the position to give 10%. (Lots of home repairs, many expenses, etc.) I felt very strongly about doing this.

* In good conscience, I could not move forward without his support, so I decided to tithe 10% of my income and let him put the envelopes in the collection basket on Sundays, so we were "in it together" so to speak. (I realize technically this is not giving 10% of ALL of our income, but even so, to contribute 10% of mine, is a BIG deal. This level of giving was entirely new to us.)

* We did 10% of my net income and 10% of our federal and state income tax return. (The tax return tithe was the hardest check to write... it was really difficult and resulted in another argument with my spouse. He did agree to put it in the church basket, though.)

* Overall, if felt really good to be contributing. It's a very traditional church that has been around since the early 1900's and is struggling financially. If it were to close, we would lose a major source of orthodoxy and a very beautiful and holy church.

* I stopped being so worried over money. There was never any extra, but it seemed as if things usually just took care of themselves and there was always "just enough to get by".  We have started using more coupons and cooking at home more. It has helped me in many ways to "not sweat the small stuff". Where I used to get very uptight if I lost $5, for example, now it is not as big of a deal because I would just be giving it the church anyway, it is "only money".

* I think we have a greater acceptance that we will never "have enough". There is a certain longing in our  hearts to always acquire more, have more, do more, be more. As we grow closer to God, it has helped us to get our priorities in order. Heaven is more important than amassing material objects or a lot of money. (Heck, we still want the money and the nice things, but we are getting A LOT BETTER.)

* Can't remember where I heard this, but it is true, "If you can't live off of 90% of your income, then you can't live off 100%"...

* I am trusting more in God that he will provide our family with what we need and not try to control everything that happens around me.

* One phenomenal thing happened immediately after we started tithing. A rental property (duplex) that I bought a long time ago that has been a very huge thorn in our side (think: negative equity, bad part of town, no decent renters, some really bad evictions, major repairs costing tens of thousands of dollars, can't sell it and can't refi, don't want to foreclose...) We were able to get a tenant to rent out both sides, and not only that, but he has been paying the rent on time every month (this is a major first!!!) and he also offered to cut the grass on his own. (We are supposed to do that per the lease, but my husband recently had a 2nd major back surgery and we were very worried about this maintenance aspect - however, this tenant just offered to do it out of the blue.) I really feel like this is an answer to some serious prayers. God really really was looking out for us. If we didn't get this tenant in there when we did, it would have cost us an additinal $1100 / month to cover expenses, and financially, there is no way we could have managed this with our new baby. Not really sure if it has anything to do with tithing or not, but I do feel that there was some serious divine intervention going on.

* Now is the challenge. We have a third child to pay for day care and my husband just went back to school to get more teacher's credits and the school expenses are huge. We are carrying a hefty credit card balance for the first time in a while and the question is, do we tithe this month, or do I start to pay off the credit card? I am not sure how I am going to handle this yet, but am prayerfully considering what to do.

* So, that's the update. Overall, it has been a great experience and we will continue to grow in this area and help share our blessings with our church and with others.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

In the mood for some REALLY GOOD Catholic Music?

I really enjoy the group "Marian Grace..."

Marian Grace - : Ignatius Press

This link above will let you listen. Check out Track 2 "All Creatures" for a preview - It is one of my favorite recordings ever. (But they are all good... beautiful recordings of contemporary Christian music and Ancient Chant.)

If you have anything you would like to recommend, please let me know!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Saying Goodbye to the Smoking Lady

When I was in college, almost 20 years ago, I walked into a coffee shop and saw a large picture hanging on the wall in a broken glass frame. There was a little tag on it that said $175. I loved this picture so much, I had to have it. I saved up my money and I went back and bought it and took it home with me. I was so pleased to find out that it was a very high quality lithograph from France and probably quite valuable. Later, after I had graduated, had my first real job and apartment, I had it put in a very expensive custom frame and hung it on my wall. It's hard to explain why, but I so loved my smoking lady.

This picture has followed me through the years from 2 different college housing units, 2 apartments, 2 townhomes, and 3 different single family homes that I have owned. The Smoking Lady hasn't always been hanging up on display, but she has always been put in a safe place. I've always had a bizarre attachment/attraction to her.

It is finally time to say goodbye. As I grow in my faith, I am becoming more and more conscious of the fact that what is in my home, what I do and say, the books I read, and the TV shows and movies that I watch affect more than myself. My children are watching me! It wasn't without a tinge of sadness that Smoking Lady went into the Goodwill donation bin. But now she is gone for good... Farewell my old friend, it was time for us to part.

Here is what my husband and I bought to replace her. She is Our New Lady and we have hung her up in our family room. 


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

My Blessings as a Working Mother

Today our alarm woke our family up at 4 am in the morning. We hurried to get ready so that I could drop my two oldest daughters and their father off by 5:45 am at the airport. He is taking them to Florida for an entire week to visit his sister. My daughters were very excited because they have never been on a plane before. We decided that I would stay behind with the baby this time. What a sight to behold, my hubby trying to negotiate 2 suitcases, a stroller, a car seat, a Dora backpack filled with books and movies, a Tablet PC with a splitter and 2 headphones, a very active 6 year old, a precocious 2 year old and one very important stuffed Bulldog. He is indeed a brave man! His vacation has just begun...

...And so has mine!

After work today, I picked up the baby, made a frozen pizza and a large bowl of ice cream, and I'm sitting on my bed eating dinner, on my computer, with my baby sleeping on my lap. My house is messy and there are dishes and laundry to do, that are definitely not going to get done tonight, and probably not tomorrow either. The house is ... completely quiet ... I am completely alone with my lovely sleeping baby. Does this sound awesome, or what?!? This type of solitude is very rare (actually, non-existent) in this house. As I sit here enjoying the tranquility I feel compelled to write this blog post. I will try to explain.

I have been feeling negative about having to work for quite a while now, and I realize that my attitude is reflected in some of my blog posts. The truth of the matter is that it is difficult to have to put your kids in daycare and not be able to be there to spend time with them during the day. I sometimes feel terrible guilt over it. Also, I really love to read other Catholic mothers' blogs. Sometimes it is the only way I can really connect "mom-to-mom" and share the "Faith" side of my life... which is so important to me. I do have my husband, but he is a man, and sometimes well, it is just nice to have a girlfriend. We have a very secular network of friends and I really turn to the blogosphere to get in touch with other practicing Catholics. I often feel like such an outsider. I don't fit in the "regular" world. I don't have many friends, except for two kind women that I have met along the way and they have kept me around. I haven't told either of these two close friends about my blog, can you imagine that? I haven't told my family about it either (except my sister). I just feel more comfortable being anonymous at this stage. I know a lot of my new attitudes and behaviours will or do seem "radical" and out of place amongst my peer group and family members, many of whom do not fully embrace Church teaching. I try to quietly witness and set a good example, and not preach or judge. I definitely don't want to lose the only 2 female friendships I have in my life, or the connection I have with my family.

But I don't quite fit into the typical "good Holy Catholic Mother" world either. We stopped going to our TLM after much discerning, not because it isn't the best and most beautiful celebration of the Holy Mass that we have ever encountered, but in large part because I was the only non homeschooling mom there in a very tight knit community. We also had an unusually small family due to finally "getting with it" at such a late stage in our marriage. We stuck out. Now nobody probably even cares, no one is singling us out and saying, "Oh my gosh, you only have 3 kids" and "What a horrible parent... you send your kids to public school." But the pressure is driven from within my own heart. I am probably my own worst enemy. Anyway, I felt, and at times feel, inadequate and "less than". It is difficult to explain the dichotomy, other than "caught between two worlds". I admire homeschooling moms so much and am so drawn to want to know your world better and be your friend. To be more like you.

But back to the subject of this post...

Although I struggle at times, there are many positives I can come up with. God has led me where I am at this point in my journey, and I want to thank Him and conclude this post by reflecting on the blessings I have received as a working mom.

Here is my list:

1. 100% because of circumstances at my workplace, I have come back to the Catholic Church. This is my largest blessing.

2. Working is required for our family to make ends meet - (and it is a struggle even with me working!) I don't think our marriage could handle the stress or fighting that would ensue if we didn't have 2 incomes - we just couldn't swing it even with eliminating/cutting back every non-essential.

3. We don't have an extravagant home by any means, but we live in a very safe community. This was not always the case for us and we are thankful.

4. We can afford extra-curricular activities for the children that we would not be able to participate in if I did not work - swimming lessons and soccer.

5. I have a one hour commute to work. I say the rosary on the way in to work every morning. I don't think this would happen if I was at home - I would be way too distracted. It is sometimes the only time I have to really pray.

6. At work, I have encountered many strong and faithful Catholic co-workers. This has been a significant blessing.

7.  Knowing my weaknesses, I don't think I would be a very good stay at home mom or homeschooling mom.

8. I am able to have paid maternity leaves.

9. My job helps us to save for our retirement/future.

10. If the children have to be in daycare, at least it is very nice child care. They really do enjoy it. They have many friends at school and enjoy sign language classes, dance, field trips, all kinds of interesting things that I probably wouldn't get a chance to expose them to.

11. I really appreciate coming home every day and having dinner with my family.

12. Because of my job, I have been able to come to terms with many issues from long ago and I think it has forced me to deal with certain people and grow into a better and more accepting person.

13. Because of past jobs I have met the two friends that I am thankful for.

14. Who knows, maybe I have made an impact on somebody's life at work for the better or have somehow brought them closer to God? I hope so.

15. My job can be very mentally challenging and there is rarely a day when I am bored.

Thanks for reading this post! God Bless...

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Bikini Onesie

So, have you seen the "Bikini Onesie" yet that everyone is talking about?

I have to tell you that there is no way I would buy this and put this on my infant daughter. Not because it is so terribly scandalous, in fact there is a sort of a creative ironic humor to it, if you could call it that... But because for me it makes a statement about our society and how we have let the virtue of modesty fall by the wayside. I don't think there is anything "cute" about over-sexualizing our children or trying to make them look older before their time. It's the same reason I won't let my 6 year old wear too-short skirts and don't buy her Barbie dolls. The disturbing aspect about this piece of clothing is that it shows an attractive, developed and revealing sketch of a mature female body. When a man sees that, what is the first thing that he is going to automatically think on a subconscious level? Probably something sexual. And then they are going to take in the big picture and see that it is on a baby... and well, that is one seriously conflicting message.

I asked my husband to take a look at the computer screen from across the room and said, "Can I buy this for our daughter?"... He said, "What? They make bikinis for babies???" Upon his first initial glance he thought the design was an actual photo. I told him to look again more closely. He said, "That's kind of funny..." (but he wasn't laughing.)  I don't think he really knew what to say.

The bottom line is this... as mothers we need to instill a sense of respect and modesty in our young daughters. There is way too much societal pressure for teenage girls to show off their bodies and gain acceptance by dressing skimpy. I certainly felt it when I was growing up. I want to shield my children from this mentality rather than encourage it.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Confessions of a Part-Time Ecological Breastfeeder

Have you heard of Ecological Breastfeeding?

I sure hadn’t.  I had read in several baby books about the delay of fertility, that I might expect, but according to my doctor, shouldn't rely on, if I was going to exclusively breast feed my baby for the first 6 months. Nearing the 3 month postpartum mark and my impending return to work, I wanted to get serious about exploring Family Planning options.

Google brought me to NFP International where I discovered the “Seven Standards” of Ecological Breastfeeding in Sheila Kippley’s book, Natural Family Planning – The Complete Approach. Here they are:

          1.       Breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life; don't offer your baby other liquids and solids, not even water.

          2.      Pacify or comfort your baby at your breasts.

          3.      Don't use bottles and don't use pacifiers.

          4.      Sleep with your baby for night feedings.

          5.      Sleep with your baby for a daily-nap feeding.

          6.     Nurse frequenty day and night and avoid schedules.

          7.     Avoid any practice that restricts nursing or separates you from your baby.  

Huh? Was this a little too much? I immediately felt an immense wave of sadness overcome me. I think I even started to cry a little. Because, I thought I could never do this. Not that I wouldn’t love to… but… well, it just seemed to fly in the face of every cultural norm that I knew. Nobody I know parents like this. Doctors and Family and Well Meaning Friends just … don’t DO things like this and say it shouldn’t be done even if it could be done.  At least in my circles! I know I had to return to work in a few weeks. Circumstances dictated that I would have to put my child in day care and be separated from my baby for at least 10 hours a day, Monday through Friday. Certainly not the ideal, but it was the life we had created up to this point and I couldn't quickly change that. I dried my eyes, and resolved to exclusively breast feed at home and pump at work and cross my fingers and hope the 6 months of breastfeeding infertility would stick, despite the lengthy separation and the pumping.   

But a seed was planted with this powerful, new found knowledge… and I couldn’t shake it. It opened my eyes and opened my heart to a new attitude about mothering. It began to give me confidence and encouragement.  During my maternity leave, it was easy to follow these standards, but what about after resuming work? Maybe, just maybe, I could apply some of these principles to my life, even as a Full-Time-Working-Outside-The-Home Mother. Was this crazy? I felt there was something beneficial I could take away from the Seven Standards and apply to my own parenting style, beyond my maternity leave, in the ways that I was able to. It ended up being a fantastic journey. 

Nursing went well this time –my 2nd time around.  It didn’t happen quite like this with my 1st child. I had a terribly difficult time with establishing and maintaining our short-lived nursing relationship and there was a lot of emotional and physical pain. During that time I was hardly sure of myself.  I would have to go to a separate room and nurse alone if others were around.  But now I was learning how to feel comfortable nursing discretely in a crowded room full of people, or at a restaurant, or in front of my In-Laws, or during Mass. Before I lived by a schedule – even my daughter’s pediatrician told me to do this! Every 2 hours was expected. If she cried before the 2 hour mark, we would rock her, put her in the vibrating baby chair, or use a  a pacifier… Whatever it took, besides the breast. But not this time! Now I let my baby nurse when I was home from work, whenever, and as often as she wanted.  No restrictions! Sometimes she would sleep for an hour or two, and that was fine. But more often than not, she would want to nurse every 15 minutes, and that became fine too. We just continued on our business.  I would often have to sit down for a few minutes or creatively figure out how to get things done with one hand, while I cradled the baby while she comforted herself at the breast. And we all adapted. A Baby Bjorn and a sling helped a lot while doing chores. So did my supportive husband who helped me out a lot around the house. The nursing sessions were quick and so easy and provided so much comfort. It worked very well for us. It really helped to take the sting out of being away from my little one all day long to come home from work and nurse unconditionally without worrying about schedules, having to cry it out, or denying what was so easy and so natural for both of us to do.

Before returning to work, I initally had major fears about day care and how this was going to all play out. Would it be unfair to treat my baby to constant holding, unrestricted nursing, attachment-style parenting while with me, but deny her this while dropping her off at day care in the morning? Was this cruel? Could she handle the culture shock? Will she be crying all day for me? It was breaking my heart. Well, let's just say, after 2 rounds of implementing these eco-breastfeeding standards while at home (or at least the ones that I was able to), and maintaining a demanding full time career, that it turned out that it actually was do-able for our family. It is amazing how my children have handled it. They definately know that I am not there during the day, so they aren't going to get to nurse unconditionally. I leave 3-4 bottles of expressed milk each day that I have pumped the day before during my work day and that has always been enough. All of my children have cried very little during day care, probably because of all the activity and distractions. My daughter is usually sleeping peacefully when I drop her off, so I leave her in her infant seat to nap (so I don't wake her), and she is usually smiling during the afternoon pick up. Amazing! They have always adapted and have learned what to expect in these two very different worlds. And yes, they know when I walk in the door after work and they immediately want me to hold and nurse them. It is always a blissful reunion.

In addition to the unrestrained nursing called out for in the Seven Standards, the other major paradigm shift was my new attitude about co-sleeping. With baby #1 I had read “Twelve Hours’ Sleep by Twelve Weeks Old: A Step-by-Step plan for Baby Sleep Success” in a desperate attempt to resume my sanity with a colicky 3 month old. I was a walking zombie, miserable, and trying to combat postpartum depression.  On the occasions when I would accidentally fall asleep in bed while nursing her in the side-laying position, I would guiltily wake up and try and place her back in her crib without waking her and promise not to be so careless again. After all, co-sleeping is dangerous!  Her pediatrician kept checking at each appointment to make sure that she was sleeping in her own crib. After reading about ecological breastfeeding, and learning that yes, there are many mothers in the world, including the United States and not just third world countries, who happily and effectively parent this way, I knew I wanted to give this a shot.  The fact that I could actually get a good night’s sleep was extremely appealing. The chance that it could delay my fertility was definitely an added bonus. Despite my husband’s initial protests, I brought my 2nd infant into our family bed. (I followed the safe sleep recommendations for co-sleeping found on Dr. Sears’ website – a great resource.) In another wonderful way, parenting was becoming easier and easier. Co-workers and acquaintances would ask, “So, how is the baby? YOU can’t be getting any sleep, now can you?” However, I could honesty look them in the eye and answer them with a smile, “Actually, we are both sleeping REALLY well!”.  It was my own special little secret and it was making everything so incredibly easy. Gone were the days of having to sneak into the baby’s room during the middle of the night to make sure she was still breathing. No longer did I have to get out of bed for a 2 am feeding half asleep. With co-sleeping, we both slept all through the night without having to get out of bed (except for the occasional diaper change). The nursing was so natural, I usually didn't remember doing it or know how much it happened during the night. All I know is that, unlike last time, there was no engorgement, no resentment, and no fatigue. I was a happier person. When my husband and I wanted some “alone time”, I would nurse the baby into a deep sleep and lay her in the crib, where she would sleep for an hour or two, and bring her back into bed with me later, when she woke up. Every night we slept well together, and why, oh why, hadn't I done this with my first child? Unfortunately I was conditioned to think there was something inherently bad about co-sleeping. How very wrong I was... this was a million times BETTER for so many reasons! 

We joyfully continued this existence for the next 16 months! It had been over 2 years since I had a period! I was actually happy when my cycle finally returned because I had forgotton what it was like. Hormone free, pill free, and device free, this time around, it felt good knowing that my body was doing exactly what it was made to do. I was ready to try again at this point and the next month, I became pregnant. I enjoyed an amazing time bonding with my newborn and 16 months of infertility because I was able to embrace the ideologies of ecological breastfeeding, even while working full time! I truly beleive that co-sleeping made this possible. My last 2 children are 2 years and 1 month apart. Now, I know I may be one of the lucky ones, and that these methods while effective, can't offer every working mom the same guarantee. However, my experience has been so positive that I wanted to share my story. The many benefits I received were not only physical, but spiritual as well. The Ecological Breastfeeding Standards taught me that it was "OK" for me to nurse my baby the way I wanted to and worry less about how I was "supposed" to do things, even though I wasn't doing it strictly by the book. I'd like to say "Thank you" to Sheila Kippley, for making your information readily available on the internet. I am forever grateful. I am now enjoying unrestricted nursing (when I am not at work) and co-sleeping with my 3rd baby. If it is in God's plan that I am to be a mother again, I would so much love to naturally space my babies 2 years apart once more. I will let you know how it all works out!