Have a look at a piece I wrote for Pray.com.au on the Nativity. It got me reflecting on what it felt like to be a new mother. Did Mary feel this way too?
Have a look at a piece I wrote for Pray.com.au on the Nativity. It got me reflecting on what it felt like to be a new mother. Did Mary feel this way too?
Although it might be later by the time I actually publish this post, as I write, today is the Feast of the Holy Family. I always find going to Mass on this Sunday a bit of a rude shock. I mean, we only just went to Mass on Chrismas Eve, three days ago. I can clearly remember acting as a human straitjacket for my five-year-old in a stifling heat that no number of ceiling fans would dispel. The time that followed was filled with sugar and excitement and late nights and tears and tantrums, and, what’s more, the children have been misbehaving too.
It felt like a bit of a stretch to get everyone out of bed this morning to go to Mass. I know it’s wrong to feel that way. I do love Mass more than anything, deep down. Really, I do. I just don’t enjoy putting clothes on children and saying ‘shush’ for forty minutes.
I know some of you will be thinking “Why are you so strict on yourself? Surely God will understand if you don’t go just this once?”. This is a good question with a long answer, so perhaps it’s a conversation for another day. The short answer is that I know myself well enough to realise that the moment I start making excuses for not making the effort, it becomes a whole lot easier to not make the effort the next time and the next until I find I’ve stopped going to church altogether. I’m the same way with exercise. Plus, the children are watching (that sounds like a good title for a horror movie, don’t you think? The Children Are Watching…) and it’s important that they know that going to Mass is a part of who we are.
I just wish I could have called these noble principles to mind this morning as I tried to prise my reluctant three-year-old out of bed and convince my eight-year-old that ‘glacial’ is not the best speed-setting for his morning weetbix consumption. Mr Knightley had taken Matilda to 9am Mass early so that she could be an altar server, and it was up to me to get the remaining children clothed and in the car and to Mass on time. Harry was dressed and ready like a champion, his methodical nature is a godsend on mornings like this. I was even willing to overlook the fact that his outfit was the same one he’d been wearing obstinately for the past three days. Christopher Robin, as I mentioned, was performing some sort of tai-chi inspired slow dance with his bowl and spoon, but was dressed at least. Annie was barefoot in her pyjamas staring blankly at her breakfast like it was the last clue in the cryptic crossword. The twins were asleep in their cot. And it was five-to-nine.
So I started my sheep-dog routine, gathering bags and babies, rounding everyone up into the car. I had already decided that the pyjamas Annie had been wearing (a plain pink t-shirt and black Star Wars shorts) looked enough like regular clothes to get away with. There was no time. It was only later I noticed that she’d somehow managed to get vegemite stains down the front of it.
I read a lot of blog posts about the importance of dressing your best for Sunday Mass. I’ve written before about this desire of my heart. My children were not looking well turned-out this morning. Even the babies’ jumpsuits seemed grubby. Nothing about their clothing expressed respect for this blessed institution. But there was no time; there was no time.
Annie and Harry were putting their seatbelts on in the back of our van as Christopher and I organised the twins. “Annie, are you wearing shoes?” I call back whilst grappling with a four-month-old in a five-point-harness. “Yes, Mummy”, Annie responds in her sweetest voice.
And we were on our way, but we were oh-so-late.
As I was pulling into the church car park, I made some quick decisions. Unloading the pram and strapping the babies into it would take too much time. Christopher and I could carry a baby each. Let’s go, let’s go!
I pulled back the middle seats to let Annie and Harry out. Annie grinned broadly, “Actually, I forgot my shoes!”, she announced triumphantly, like it was the punchline to some wonderful joke.
I’m not sure I can properly describe the full extent of shouting and searching that followed. Annie alone remained calm and unruffled. We found one shoe hidden in the car. There was only one. I think this was a million times worse than if there had been no shoes at all.
I had two options. I could rush home to get shoes for Annie. This would make us abysmally late for Mass. We would achieve nothing more than a Drive-Thru Communion Service, if that. Or, in another failed attempt at ‘Natural Consequences’, Annie could attend the Holy Mass barefoot.
The Gospel reading had just finished as I sidled into Mass with my rag-tag posse of children and slid into the pew next to Mr Knightley. Annie remained unshod. If we kept a low profile, we might just get away with it. In a quick series of whispers and a fair bit of sign language (I believe I employed the international sign for ‘I wish to strangle my child’), I brought Mr Knightley up to speed with the situation. His response was devastating, his expression deadpan:
“We’re on Offertory.”
In theory, being invited to bring the gifts of bread and wine to the altar is a wonderful privilege, I really should have felt honoured that somebody had tapped my husband on the shoulder before Mass started and asked him to participate with his family in this special way. Unfortunately, the idea of parading my dirty, barefoot, misbehaving children down the aisle for all to see was not altogether a tempting one. The corner of my husband’s mouth was twitching ever so slightly. But I didn’t punch him. I had other problems.
When I took the babies out of the car, I forgot to grab their bunny rugs or wipes. I was a little distracted, you see. Now Daisy was in my arms, forcing her fingers into her mouth wrist-deep and bringing up little pockets of spew, like some deranged supermodel (I’m sorry. That joke is inappropriate, I know. But it’s been a long day for me). I only had a couple of tissues to work with and those tissues had to work very hard. I could sense the people in the pew behind me silently promising themselves not to shake my hand when it came time for the Sign of Peace and I didn’t blame them one bit.
When it came time for the Offertory Procession, I assumed a confident expression. Perhaps, if I smiled bravely and walked tall, people might not notice that my three-year-old was sans footwear. That aisle seemed a lot longer than usual. Father Jacob, flanked by Matilda and another altar server were miles away. After traipsing barefoot through the gauntlet of parishioners, Annie imperiously insisted on delivering her bowl of communion wafers to Matilda and not the priest. Father Jacob seemed to be struggling to suppress a snort of laughter. I didn’t punch him either.
The rest of Mass passed smoothly enough apart from the following:
The final hymn was Joy to the World. I joined in lustily. As we prepared ourselves for a swift exit, I felt somebody grasp my elbow. It was Mrs Price Who’s Ever So Nice.
“I just wanted to let you know how much joy it gave my heart to see your beautiful family bringing up the gifts,” she said with genuine warmth. My heart melted a little bit. Mrs Price is almost old enough to be my grandmother. She has raised six children herself and is still grieving her beloved husband who passed away last year. Mrs Price chose not to see the unwashed clothes or exposed feet or complete lack of liturgical style. She saw a family trying their best despite all their imperfections, and loved us. In that moment, Mrs Price was God to me.
I opened my mouth to respond, but was interrupted by a loud yowling. Annie, it would seem, had stubbed her little toe on the kneeler.
And that, my friend, is why you should always wear shoes to church.
Often these days, when friends (or, indeed, tradesmen) come to visit me, they might find I’m in my pyjamas feeding a baby. My conversation will not be witty or sparkling, and they may have to make their own tea, but I will be happy to see them.
As you, my reader friend, come to visit me at my blog today, imagine I’m wearing pink flannelette pyjamas with a piece of toast stuck in my hair. My writing may seem a little stilted and bland, but, gosh, I’m glad to see you!
My beautiful twins are now almost eight weeks old. For the most part, I’m enjoying my vacation in Baby Land. We’ve developed a simple routine of feeding and nappies, and lessons and feeding, and feeding and washing, and feeding and feeding. And cuddles. There are always plenty of baby cuddles to go around (though they sometimes come with a side order of baby spew). It’s really rather blissful.
We don’t often leave the house, but when we do, it seems we achieve instant celebrity status. Everybody wants to talk to us and ask us (the same five) questions and tell us about the twins in their life. Most of the time, my extroverted nature revels in the attention, but it can be a real challenge if we’re trying to do something in a hurry.
I’ve decided to christen the girls “Daisy and Poppy” after the mischievous twins in Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom. Not exactly literary, I know, but it seems to fit. Those of you who don’t have preschoolers in the home may not have heard of Ben and Holly. Those of you who do will have heard far, far too much.
And, now, if you’ll excuse me, Daisy is letting me know my services as a milk maid are urgently required.
Thank you for coming to visit!
On August 3 (yes, that long ago!) we welcomed a pair of healthy twin girls into the world. They are truly delightful. Twins are pretty relentless, because, well, there are two of them. I’m trying to get better at accepting all offers of help and even asking people to help me. This goes against the grain a bit. I like to be Capable Woman.
The good news is, I spoke to my husband, and he agreed to relax the no-photos-of-the-children rule just this once, because, let’s face it, newborns are pretty anonymous. And I’ve taken Mr Knightley saying I can share a photo of the twins to mean pretty much the same as saying I can share several photos. How can I choose between these pics?
In real life, the twins have the loveliest names, honouring both my wonderful grandmothers. In blog life, I still can’t think of what to call them. I was convinced I was having at least one boy, so I had thought about what to call them if I had one of each (Luke and Leia) or two boys (Fred and George), but I never thought of what to call two girls. Can you think of any girl twins in literature or popular culture? Or even pairs of girls? I can’t come up with anything that suits. Sweet Valley High and The Twins at St Clare’s have girl twins but it’s not really a fit, plus I was more of a Babysitters Club/Malory Towers sort of girl. The gumnut babies are actually boys (I know, right?) and using the names Snugglepot and Cuddlepie would get real old real fast. Anne of Green Gables had girl twins when she grew up (called Nan and Di) – but who would know that? And calling them Thing 1 and Thing 2 would just be mean. I’ll just have to think on it some more – if you can think of anything, please, please leave a comment!
Actually, leave a comment even if you can’t think of anything – I really need something to keep me amused at three in the morning!
Is it just me or is everybody having babies? I thought I’d share some little projects I turned out recently for my fertile friends and their freshly-minted progeny.
I love this elephant. The pattern for it is so clever that you hardly have to do any sewing together (I HATE sewing together bits. I always do a wonky job. It drives me crazy).
It’s all very elegantly designed (which I suppose would make it an Elegant Elephant). And the fabric in the ears makes me swoon (even though I had to sew it). I made it for my friends who recently had a baby girl.
Recently, I was making a set of tiny teddy bears as a get well soon present, using Lucy Ravenscar’s excellent design (I swear I’m a little obsessed with that brilliant woman and her clever patterns), and I ran out of wool before I finished one of the bears. It struck me that this half-finished bear would make a very cute finger puppet. And THEN I remembered the Bananas in Pyjamas that I’d made for my nephew and I thought it would be a good idea to give the bananas some teddy bears to chase on Tuesdays. This was to make a present for my friends who had recently welcomed a baby boy into the world (and who already had two preschool girls who might also benefit from the present).
Lucy Ravenscar’s bears and Chisachi Kushima’s elephant (as translated by Stephanie from All About Ami) are elegant patterns that are a joy to make. Unfortunately, my pattern for banana finger puppets is a clumsy and complicated mess that brings no joy to the fingers and ends up looking rather wrong. I’m too embarrassed by it to share it on my blog. There must be an easier way.
I purchased a little pencil case from an entrepreneurial eleven-year-old on a market day at our homeschool co-op. I figured it might be useful for my friends to carry the puppets around in a purse or nappy bag so that they could be on hand (sorry) to entertain their kids in waiting rooms, cafes or churches.
If I could only get a better handle on the banana component, this might be a good gift for my friends who live far away when they have babies – it would post so easily.
Oh! And I mustn’t forget to let you know that these presents were ALL made from stash yarn. But I did it before I took the shameful photo of my yarn mountain, so no progress made there…
Edited to add: The very talented Veronica from Veronica’s Miscellaney (who, incidentally, is another Australian Catholic Homeschooler who Crochets) has worked out an excellent pattern for these bananas. She used the same method as me, but added some critical tweaks that have made all the difference. You can view it here: http://veromarybrrr.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/bananas-in-pyjamas/
I have been dying to tell you this for so long. But you’re not the absolute last to know – I haven’t told Facebook yet…
A couple of months ago, I went to visit my obstetrician. I like my obstetrician: he’s a reassuring man with a deep voice who exudes calm, warmth and good humour. He’s been helping me give birth for almost ten years now. OK, so maybe I did the lion’s share of the work when it came to labour, but he has definitely been a good person to have in my corner. In my mind, he’s the best baby doctor in Melbourne. But I wouldn’t tell him that.
Anyway, I was visiting my obstetrician a couple of months ago and – well – it wasn’t a social visit (excited squeal). I was eagerly anticipating Baby Number Five and very keen to hear that everything was in good order. Mr Knightley was at work, but he wanted to hear the heartbeat too, so I planned to give him a call so he could listen in when the time came.
After the intial boring stuff (checking blood pressure, reading over blood tests, getting weighed on the rude scales that tell me to ‘GET OFF’ before they calculate my weight), it was time for Doc to play with his ultrasound machine. This is the best bit. Doc squirts my belly with cold goo and examines the screen as he presses the wand thingy onto my bump.
And then he stops.
And he takes the wand thing off.
“What?” I say.
Doc just looks at me and tries to frown. But his eyes are twinkling.
“What?!” I demand.
Doc shakes his head solemnly. His mouth is twitching. I wonder idly what would happen if I throttle him with the curly cable from his ultrasound machine.
“WHAT. IS. IT?” I enunciate in sheer desperation.
Doc draws a deep breath. Then he somehow manages to find three words to say.
“There are two.”
It proves impossible to continue the ultrasound for the next few minutes as I can’t stop giggling manaically. My belly is wobbling all over the place and it makes the pictures all blurry. Then I call Mr Knightley.
“Are you ready to hear the heartbeat, George?” (That’s Mr Knightley’s first name. It’s only mentioned once in the whole of Emma, but it’s there if you know where to look. And did you know that Mr Darcy’s first name is ‘Fitzwilliam’? No wonder he’s so uptight! But I digress…)
“Yes.” says Mr Knightley
“Erm…which one would you like to hear first?” And then I burst into a fresh peal of giggles which makes everything impossible again. Mr Knightley is laughing too, although I think I also hear him groan “we’re going to need a new car!”. Doc waits patiently for me to calm down again.
And then I manage to lie still and the three of us listen to two perfect heartbeats. As I lay there, watching two small babies kick their tiny legs and wave at me, I reflect on God’s sense of humour, his abundant generosity and his rather unnerving faith in me.
This is unpredictable, insane, terrifying, a major challenge – and yet somehow it makes perfect sense. I can’t explain it. I have no control at all over this situation, but that’s OK, because I feel in my heart that God does. And relying on God is something I need to get better at.
Now, does anyone know the patron saint for procuring good-quality, second hand, 8-seat people movers?
So I’ve been thinking.
I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people lately about food. It seems everyone is on a special diet to help them feel better. So we go gluten free, low FODMAP, cut out milk, limit caffeine, cut out processed food, go organic free range, eat brown-not-white, and avoid flavour enhancer 621 (it makes me hyper).
I suppose it’s all about looking at what we put into our bodies and how it affects our wellbeing. As far as conversations go, it can be a deathly boring subject, but it got me thinking – what kind of diet is my soul on? What do I watch and read and do that is healthy for my soul? What do I watch and read and do that is toxic?
I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a Catholic. One of the – I don’t know – “membership requirements”? – that we have is that we go to Mass once a week on a Sunday unless we’re really sick or something. Please wait a minute whilst I shudder inwardly at the abysmal grammatical mess I just created. I don’t even know where to begin fixing that sentence. Please forgive me.
Maybe a new paragraph will help. A lot of people I know take issue with this obligation and think my church is a cranky parent who likes to make rules and boss people around, as if the church itself is somehow separate from the people that form it. These people say things like “it doesn’t really matter if you go to church or not, so long as you are a good person” (because it’s one or the other – take your pick) and “you don’t have to go every week – it’s too hard. Just go when you can – God will understand” (because parties, sport and wandering around Bunnings should always take priority over your spiritual health).
The thing is, Sunday Mass is supposed to be the minimum I do to look after myself and my community spiritually, and if I commit to it regularly, it becomes a part of who I am. It makes me think of something my friend did the other week.
I had some friends over at my house to watch the Grand Final / gossip and eat food whilst the Grand Final was playing. My friend, whom I will call Lydia, turned up with bags and bags of fruit (and a cask of delicious vodka cranberry, which counts as a fruit), which she then proceeded to transform into healthy fruit platters. As we munched strawberry and pineapple and felt very virtuous (and drank vodka cranberry and felt rather tipsy), we praised Lydia and her healthy generosity. It was at this point that Lydia made a sheepish confession: she had eaten KFC for lunch and the fruit was part of a rueful attempt to get back on track.
I feed my soul a lot of junk food. Every day I feel like I battle an onslaught of Buy-Now-Pay-Later, Post-Baby-Bikini-Body, Give-Your-Little-Precious-a-Head-Start-in-Advanced-Calculus, Kim Kardashian, First-World-Problem-Facebook-Rant, What-Does-Your-Loo-Say-About-You, Miley Cyrus, She-Bought-a-Jeep, Seven-Signs-of-Ageing, What’s-Hot-and-What’s-Not, Who-Wore-it-Best, Adultery-Dot-Com.
One hour a week feeding my soul fruit in the form of Sunday Mass doesn’t seem like a big ask. I need to be challenged on the way I treat those around me. I need to be reminded that what I buy really isn’t that important, it’s who I am that counts. I need to love the Lord my God with all my heart and all my soul and all my strength and love my neighbour as I love myself and all that. And it’s the minimum, it really is. And sometimes I only do the minimum. Far too often I turn up at Mass only to realise that the last time I spent in prayer was a week ago in Mass, whilst holding a wriggling baby and saying “Shush”. I need more wholefoods in my spiritual diet. And I need to cut down on the junk.
So what does this mean? Here are some things I need to work on:
I had a plan for that last point this morning. I set the alarm for six o’clock and snuck downstairs for some quiet prayer time and maybe a sneaky bit of blog time as well before the rest of the family got up. I started digging around in search of the nifty devotional I’d recently purchased when I heard the distinct clomp-clomp-clomp of a small person making his way down the stairs. There stood Harry, tousle-haired and bleary-eyed, wearing only his night-nappy (he’d thrown a tantrum the night before and refused all pyjamas that didn’t have Batman on them. His Batman pyjamas were in the washing machine.).
“I want a cuddle, Mum.”
I tried to patiently explain to Harry that it was “still night time” and that he could “go back to bed had have a bit more sleep”. Harry shook his head.
“I just want a cuddle, Mum.” and settled himself on the couch. I sighed and continued my search for the devotional. Harry giggled, “I’m right here, Mummy!”. He thought I was looking for him.
And so I made my prayer whilst holding my three-year-old third child, feeling his small heart beat in his narrow chest and smelling his golden hair. I gave thanks for him and his healthy, sturdy little body. In a few short years, he won’t want to be held like this. Last night I was short-tempered with him. He kept climbing on me in a bid to win my attention. I’d had enough of being a Mummy for the day and I just wanted five minutes with NOBODY TOUCHING ME. So I prayed that God’s grace might enter my life, that His light might shine through all the cracks of my shortcomings and imperfections. Most of all I prayed that I might remember to pray when I needed to most. It was beautiful and profound, it really was.
Then Harry dirtied his nappy and woke his baby sister and poured cornflakes all over the floor.
But I picked up the broom with a serene smile (after changing two nappies and fixing two breakfasts). I felt peaceful and recharged.
It’s amazing what a healthy diet can do for you.