Are You Going Uptown Or Downtown? Our Lives Here On Earth End In One Place Or The Other

“We are an uphill people!” my cycling instructor cried.

  Sweat poured from my forehead and I felt a surge of nausea from all the intense pedaling.

My insides screamed, “No, I’m a downhill person!  I’m an eat rocky road Haagen-Dazs in my bed while I peruse reality TV shows kind of person.”

I wanted to hop off my bike and hurl in the hallway.

Instead, I decided to contemplate the profound spiritual metaphor the instructor inadvertently communicated.  I decided to think about how I desire to be an uphill person, a person who rises above my basest wants (like hopping off the stationary bike and into my bed) so that I can act according to God’s will.  I want to be the kind of person who walks up the mountain in search of Someone Great, not down it in search of myself.

Full disclosure:  I struggled during cycling class because this past fall, I gave up the exercise regime to which I had been very dedicated to for almost two years.  I got burnt out and decided exercising was taking up too much of my time.

It’s almost like Screwtape himself was whispering, “See?  You’re good now.  You don’t really need to walk those 10,000 steps.  Why don’t you take it easy for a while?”

Sadly, I listened and now, ten pounds and no stamina later, I’m back to the physical education drawing board.  Incidentally, I’ve been reading Dante’s Inferno.  I’m not perusing this great work of art on my own, of course, because like my lack of motivation to exercise and eat well, I’m also not motivated to dive into difficult masterpieces on my own accord.  My book club selected The Divine Comedy to read and so in the past few weeks I’ve been walking with Dante through the dregs of hell.

Read the rest at Catholic Exchange.

Spaghetti Dinners

Spaghetti Dinners Blessed Silence Colleen Duggan Catholic Writer

Right now, there is blessed silence.

John just took five of the kids to evening swim team practice.

The noise produced and energy required to get that stampede of elephants out the door would make the Ringling Brothers sweat.

Before they left, I told Christopher, the seven year old, no less than ten times to find his flip flops, put them on, and get in the van.

For at least eight minutes, that child wandered about the back yard and then into the house, staring at the ceiling, making small explosive sounds, and simulating bombs with his hands.

He still had no shoes after eight minutes of


, but no actual


We’ve reviewed this difference, he and I, at least one thousand times.

I’ve told him that


is not the same as


, but he stares at me like I am an odd creature speaking in a language he’s never heard.

My lectures don’t work.

The boy can never find his shoes when we need to leave.

But right now, there is blessed silence and I don’t have to worry about teachable moments or Christopher’s flip-flops.

Camille was wearing nothing but a bathing suit just minutes before John corralled the kids.

In a moment of weakness earlier this afternoon, I agreed to let the lot of them turn on the hose to cool off in the summer heat.

Cursed hose!

Harbinger of fights and catastrophe!

For the next hour, I sat in my rocking chair referring arguments and inappropriate hose dousing.

I did convince Camille to put on some clothes before she left, though.

She chose a mismatched ensemble of bright yellow and orange, splattered with spaghetti stains.

Speaking of which, we’ve had spaghetti for dinner for two nights in a row.

Half of me feels guilty that I’ve completely abdicated summer meal planning, but the other half can’t be bothered.

And so, most evenings for the last few months, we’ve dined on sandwiches and quesadillas, and….yes, spaghetti.

So far, the kids are all fine.

And for now, there is this blessed silence; the only sound the pitter-patter of my keyboard.

I’m avoiding the mess in the kitchen, of course.

Meaghan, the almost twelve year old, has been broadening her culinary skills.

She creates simple meals like sandwiches and quesadillas and spaghetti (see above), and she does a tiptop job.

She’s all but mastered the art of spaghetti, really.

But stewarding and bussing tables? I am still cultivating those skills with her, bless her beautiful heart of goodness.

I walked over several strands of sticky spaghetti stuck to the floor as I fled to my office just now and there is red sauce splattered from one end of my white tiled kitchen floor to the other.

But beggars can’t be choosers and at this moment in my life—at all moments, really--I’m most certainly a beggar.

Thank you, Meaghan, for your zealous efforts to supply the family with food.

God knew what I needed when He gave me you.

Right now, though, I’m not worried about the spaghetti sauce or the starch covered pots or the noodles stuck to the floor.

There is this blessed silence enveloping me, a blessed silence indeed.

Edward went with John and the other hooligans.

Edward, wearing only diaper just moments before I secured him in his car seat, was covered in red sauce and had adopted a strange black grime from an afternoon outdoors.

He grinned at me as I wiped him down from head to toe, threw a cotton top and shorts on him, and placed him in the car.

This blessed silence is coming to a close, it will soon be over, my brief moment of respite ended.

Soon, I will rise from this desk and from my keyboard and I will fill the kitchen sink with warm soapy water.

I will submerge the pots covered in filth and grim and I will scrub them clean.

I will mop the floors—again, though I mopped them just last night—and I will wipe down the counters.

I will ready this space for the stampede of elephants who will burst through the door and who will destroy my blessed silence.

But they light up my world.

Mediocre Parenting Rule # 1: Keep It Simple, Stupid

I hate parenting books.

There's nothing like reading the words of an "expert" to activate my neurosis about the innumerable ways I'm failing and warping my kids. 

While I don't spend time or money reading those expert's opinions anymore, I devoured so many in my younger years, their admonitions and advice just kind of float around in my brain, even when I don't want them too.

I can't escape the rhetoric.

It's terrible, actually.

One of the recommendations from those parenting books that haunts me the most is the idea that spending quality time with your kids, one-on-one, serves to deepen the parent/child bond.

Doesn't one on one time with each kid just sound like a good idea?

What parent doesn't want to have a good relationship with their kid?

What parent doesn't want their child to feel important and special?

If spending a little QT with your kidlets ensures a positive relationship, why wouldn't parents try to make it happen?

I'll tell you why:  because life gets in the way.  Because in addition to the daily goal of keeping six children alive, I must also feed them, educate them, and make sure they get to the places they are supposed to be.  My relationship with my husband, is also supposed to be first priority, so sometimes those one-on-one kid dates don't happen.

Oh I know, we parents are called to be intentional, to make sure family bonding and cultivating deep relationships is a priority.  But, if I'm honest, right now one of my main goals is to survive parenthood so....yeah.... sometimes date nights with my kids slips off my radar. 

The other night, John and I were walking out the door to go to an event and my seven-year old, Christopher, had a meltdown.  He didn't want us to leave and in between a series of sobs and a long, drawn out good-bye, he announced he doesn't get enough attention.

Cue the motherly pangs of guilt for failing to meet the needs of my offspring.

Cue the self-flagellation for vocational failure.

As we backed out of our steep driveway, John, who is ever the voice ofpeaceful serenity, said, "No problem.  We'll let Christopher stay up a few minutes later than everyone else tomorrow, with just the two of us.  We can fix this in a jiffy."

I stared out the window and mentally calculated the bill for how much therapy my kids would require as adults because of my negligence. I then spent the remainder of the drive berating myself for not scheduling more dates and focused one on one time.

The next evening, after John put all the kids to bed, he and Christopher popped some popcorn with marshmallows.  They poured tall glasses of Ginger-Ale and added ice cubes that made the cup sweat.  And then we all piled into our bed and turned on a silly show.  We snacked as we watched the program and after it was over, we sent an effusive Christopher off to bed. 

The next morning, as I loaded all the kids into our passenger van to drive them to the homeschool academy they attend twice a week, Christopher pulled me aside.  He grabbed my hand, looked into my eyes and said,

"Wasn't last night great, mom?"

"It sure was," I replied.

And in that moment I realized something that those parenting experts forget to tell you about one on one time with your kids:  they don't tell you about the importance of the oft neglected, but insightful nonetheless rule of Keeping It Simple, Stupid.  They don't remind parents that less is actually more.  They don't say, for instance, that kids don't need expensive lunch dates or elaborate trips to the spa with mom to get manis and pedis.  They don't need a bookmarked calendar date to go to Disney World or go sledding or tobogganing or cross country skiing (though none of those are bad things in and of themselves). 

But last weekend, in between the mounds of blanket on my bed and the popcorn kernels on my lap, I realized what kids do need is a present and attentive parent, a parent who is able and willing to communicate without using any words, "I'm glad you are alive and that you're mine."

And that message can be issued to your children while you cook or grocery shop or fold laundry or sit in bed with a big bowl of popcorn while Steve Harvey makes a fool of himself on national television.

Cue my maternal sigh of relief.

Seven Tips To Help Combat Those Moments When You Doubt Your Decision To Homeschool

*This post is adapted from a talk I gave this summer at my children's two day a week classical school.

In many ways, I think homeschooling is the ideal education, especially if classical in approach.  I love the way a classical homeschool education develops virtue and affords my children the opportunity to read great books and engage in great conversations.  I love that a classical education gives a student the tools of learning that are foundation to logical thinking and I love that it fosters an appreciation for goodness, truth and beauty within the student.  A classical educational philosophy and approach resonates deeply within me and I totally embrace it. 

What I don’t always embrace, however, is the daily grind.  The physical, emotional, and mental rigor required in home education, especially if you are educating a number of children at home.    

To me?  This is The Cross.

A second caveat:  This post is not dedicated to the parents who feel confident in all their parenting decisions ( and if you are one of those people, let’s meet.  I’ll listen and you talk because I want to know your secret).   

Nor is this post dedicated to the parents who are new at homeschooling and feel nothing but excitement and passion about the journey you are about to embark upon.  Rather, this post is for people like me; it’s dedicated to the parents who might sometimes wonder what they heck they are doing in raising these kids, who worry they might be doing it wrong or who continually find themselves wondering if there was a better way to approach this parenting thing, especially with regards to homeschooling.

For most of my life, I have operated by the notion that if you want to succeed and excel at something you put your nose to the grindstone and work.  I have applied this approach to almost everything:  education, exercise, and almost any extra curricular activities in which I’ve ever participated.  For the most part, this approach paid off because if I tired hard enough, I would experience a moderate to even great amount of success.

And then I became a parent…

...and whatever confidence I had in my ability to perform and work hard and apply myself in order to achieve success evaporated.

There is no manual on how to win at parenting.  (I know, because I’ve looked for them.) 

There’s no recipe for how to raise kids the right way—(which is unfortunate because I sure could use one) and there’s no guarantee that whichever avenue we chose to travel with these kids will result in raising well-adjusted, educated, and faithful children.

This lack of assurance in the quality of product I produce—raising good, faithful, educated kids—makes me sometimes doubt my method, it makes me wonder if homeschooling is really the best thing for all of us, especially since homeschooling demands so much from myself.

One morning last summer, I spent time compiling homeschool papers in order to prepare for my review for the 2013-2014 academic school year.  I was really late in getting this necessary work completed because we had and so a few weeks before school started, I found myself scrambling to get the stupid paper work in.

I hate preparing for my yearly review.

I spend the entire time doubting myself.

Why are we homeschooling again?

Is this academic work good enough?

What if the kids are not getting all they need?

I'm such a broken teacher.  My kids deserve better. 

Where do I fit in all of this?  How do I maintain my own emotional, mental, physical stability while educating and meeting the physical and emotional needs of my family?

This was my internal dialogue as I sorted and filed papers into some kind of order so as to explain what we do to the Homeschool Supervisor.

After I was finished all the paperwork, I felt exhausted.

I wanted to crawl into bed and pull the covers over my head.

School was set to start in just two short weeks and I felt overwhelmed and awash in doubt.

I couldn't shake the nagging feeling, the wondering if this is the best way.

That summer morning, as I signed my name on the homeschool paperwork forms and laid my pen on the table, I was weepy and overcome with prickly questions.  I sat back in my chair, grabbed my phone to check my email and I opened my inbox, stumbling upon this story sent via a link.

In a moment, my homeschooling worries and doubt evaporated.  I'm copying the story below.

 A man was sleeping at night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with bright light and the Savior appeared. The Lord told the man He had work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Lord explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might. This, the man did, day after day.
For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down with his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore, and worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain.
Seeing that the man was showing signs of discouragement, the Adversary decided to enter the picture by placing thoughts into the man’s weary mind: “You’ve been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn’t budged. Why kill yourself over this? You’re never going to move it” —thus, giving the man the impression that the task was impossible and that he was a failure. These thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man.
“Why kill myself over this?” he thought. “I’ll just put in my time, giving just the minimum effort and that’ll be good enough.” And that’s just what he planned to do— until one day he decided to make it a matter of prayer and take his troubled thoughts to the Lord. “Lord” he said, “I’ve labored long and hard in Your service, putting all my strength to do that which You’ve asked. Yet, after all this time, I haven’t even budged that rock by half a millimeter. What’s wrong? Why am I failing?”
The Lord responded compassionately,
“My friend, when I asked you to serve Me— you accepted. I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength— which you’ve done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push.And now you come to Me— with your strength spent, thinking that you’ve failed. But is that really so?”
Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscular. Your back sinew is mighty. Your hands are callused from the constant pressure;and your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you’ve grown much and your abilities now surpass that which you used to have. Yet you haven’t moved the rock. But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to exercise your faith and trust in My wisdom. This you’ve done. I, my friend, will now move the rock.”

Just like the man in the story who was called to push on a large boulder, God has called me to push through my homeschooling difficulties.  In listening and in responding to His call, I’ve grown stronger and so have you.

Our decision to homeschool has made us better parents because we have to practice the virtues we are so often lecturing our children about—love, patience, hope, compassion, to name a few.

Our decision to homeschool has made us lovers of truth and seekers of knowledge.

Our decision to homeschool has made us more savvy parents, increasing our ability withstands the tough stuff of parenting.

Our decision to homeschool has cultivated our kids in a way that's different from the world.

I'm not perfect, but through the personal trials I've encountered in homeschooling, the parenting abilities I have


surpass that which I used to have.

Homeschooling is one of the paths God has used to refine me.

Not everyone is called to this path, nor should they be. Honestly?  Most of my time is spent devising ways to get off the path!

Still, I haven't strayed yet (and if I do, it's OK, God can work with me on any path) and in a way, my actions reflect a decision to trust in God--no matter the sometimes seemingly impossible situations and difficulties I face.

Perseverance on my path is necessary, but not always easy.

Like the man in the story, I've moved no rocks.  I haven't mastered homeschooling.  I will never be the poster woman for home education.  I will not become a homeschooling guru, proponent or homeschooling book author. 

But I will try to be obedient to God and I will answer the call.

And it's this obedience and faith and trust that God will use when He decides to finally move my rock for me. 

The work was never about me anyway.  It has always about what God can do with someone who is very broken. Before I close, here are a few parting tips to help us all when the homeschooling gets tough:

1. Pray to embrace the cross.

"Let us love the cross very much, for it is there that we discover our life, our true love, and our strength in our greatest difficulties."
                                                                            — St. Maria de Mattias

If you are like me, you like to pray for God to remove the cross, but you are here so he probably hasn’t yet.  And if He does, because I’m schizophrenic like, I’ll probably be sad.  But until then, I pray for the grace to love the challenges I face in home educating my children.

2. Don’t despair when you mess up with your kids.

It was in my first year of homeschooling that I realized how acutely I needed to work on my impatience and temper.  I mean, it’s one thing to be impatient when your kids are at school 8 hours a day, nine months out of the year, but there is no greater motivation to work on your weaknesses like there is when you have to educate your children all day, everyday.  There constant watchful gaze is an instant motivator to self-improve.

So when you do mess up--and you will--all is not lost.  There are nine months in an academic school year, plenty of time to make up for any mistakes you may make.  Also, one of those days is bound to be a good one.

Don’t let the devil win when he tries to whisper all kinds of negative thoughts about your parenting fails.  

 Ask for forgiveness from God and your children and move on.

3.  Engage is leisurely activities that help restore your physical, emotional, and mental well being.

Do you like to garden?  Read?  Listen to podcasts?  Bake?  What?  Make time for it, if only so you will fee rejuvenated and alive and ready to tackle the task.  If we want to instill in our children a sense of wonder for the world, we must be cultivating one for ourselves.

4. Find a buddy.   

Here at the school, we even give you one.  Make friends with your buddy.  Call them up.  Tell them about how you threw the book across the room in a fit of anger.  They can commiserate and if they can’t, call me.  We can talk about it over a cup of coffee, because I know, I know.

I have a few friends I call or text during the school day if things get helter skelter.  They pray for me.  They commiserate.  Their sanity rubs off of me in my moment of weakness.

5. Don’t evaluate your decision to homeschool in the middle of the school year (and especially not in February).

If you think God is calling you out of homechooling, don’t make that decision before you absolutely must.  Every month I think about enrolling my kids in school, I think about it but I don’t spend too much time on it because my task at hand is to home educate.  My time to think about enrolling my kids in school happens in May.  I discern traditional school in May.  Until then, I stay the home educating course.

6. Collaborate with the tutors and the administration and the other resources available to help you.

The people here want to help you.  I’ve had the most pleasant experiences working directly with the tutors to help my children succeed.  They care about my children and they care about me.  They want us to do well and they direct us in the best way they no how.

7.  Have Confidence in Your Abilities and the Knowledge that God gave you these kids and He believes in You and so do I!