Monday, December 27, 2010

MISSING: Sleep. Generous reward offered.

I'm certain that I've experienced this before...but these days, sleep is more elusive than a blade of grass beneath the thick blanket of snow in my back yard. I've had the most horrible nights. I'm tired--exhausted--and yet I cannot sleep. Even when my mind is not racing, I can't sleep. Even when I read until my eyes are closing and I begin to read the same sentence five times, when I shut off the lamp, sleep runs from me at Olympic sprinting speeds. Even when I pray the Rosary and get stuck saying twelve or fifteen Hail Marys because I lose count, sleep does not come. It's ridiculous.

Tonight, I cannot sleep because of a truly impressive amount of pain running down my left hip and leg. Sciatic! GAH!! It started just before Mass this morning, and it's probably directly related to all of the driving of the week. And combined with the SPD that I've been experiencing for a few weeks's

The week was crazy-busy, and mostly relating to all things Christmas and church.

Thursday, the kids and I went to town to go to daily Mass. After Mass was over, we helped to decorate the church for Christmas...which I *love* doing. It is all so beautiful and elegant--really well done. One tall lit tree in the sanctuary, lots of red and white poinsettias, and two of the most beautiful Nativities--one more elaborate set-up in the narthex, and one very simple ensemble in front of the ambo.

Friday, being Christmas Eve, found us having supper with some dear friends. Between the four couples there, we had 23 children! What a lovely time it was! We departed for Midnight Mass according to what part we had; four of the servers and I left early, they to vest and prepare for the junior servers, and I to rehearse with the choir.

Unfortunately, Friday began a little differently. It was the second day in a row during which I longed for sleep. I had fallen asleep at four-thirty in the morning, and accumulated about 3 hours' worth of sleep by the time we had to leave the house. It really seemed on Friday that anything which could go wrong went wrong, as though Satan were attacking my desire for a peaceful Christmas. The stinker. But you know how he works--he sends his nasty little minions to do his bidding, a la Screwtape and Wormwood.

I wanted to just rest up, and since My Darling was home, he let me hole up in the bedroom for most of the day. I rested, but did not sleep. When I came downstairs, though, it was to a room which had been clean the night before--now completely trashed. THREE apples lay on the floor, because no one had been watching Cuppie. This made for a crabby Mama who then informed the three older children that they could rinse off the apples and have themselves a snack.

I received a package from UPS, but the box, labeled "2 of 2" lacked it's companion. Of course, when calling UPS, one never really gets to speak to a person. One is encouraged to say various things to trigger the automated response, which sounds very much like an actual person, but which is really a tool of evil designed to drive perfectly sane people completely and very directly mad. And of further course, the company from which I had ordered this shipment was understandably not open on Friday--it being Christmas Eve and all. Was this understandable to Yours Truly on Friday afternoon? Not on your life.

Well ok then--I decided to have a shower in the afternoon so that I would have plenty of time to dress carefully and attend to my ridiculous hair, which has plagued me since I was about twelve. While I used to have to do strange things with chemicals to make it curl, after I had the Frog, that all changed. What used to be a lovely wave in my hair is now a combination of frizz and pseudo-curl, with which I can do very little. I must put all sorts of things in it to make it behave, but it has to be done while the hair is still wet...if it's even the slightest bit dry, then all the products in the world will do nothing, and my hair mocks me as I stare at it in disbelief. I think I actually saw a little man within my riotous locks dancing a jig of glee and sticking his green tongue out at me the other day.

After the Battle of the Locks was fought and...settled...I turned to cosmetics. With the dark circles making my eyes appear akin to skid marks left behind by a race car, and the bags beneath my lower lids looking like Santa's bag of presents stolen from his sleigh, there was no way I was going out of the house without attempting to do something to improve my appearance. I began washing my face and realized not once, but twice that I was using the wrong substance to cleanse my skin. Good grief. The nasty little man danced.

After finally getting my face clean, I went through the usual three minute routine: loose powder for foundation, light eye liner and shadow, blush, and mascara. I am always a little bit nervous about mascara, because it has the power not only to thicken and beautify the lashes, but also to create absolute havoc on a freshly made-up face. And which potential did it fulfil on Friday? Why, none other than the latter, of course! First, the tip of the brush collided with the inside right corner of my nose, making it look like a gigantic black tear had squeezed from my tear duct and landed squarely next to it. Then, even though the brush never touched my left eyelid, I blinked. Anyone who has attempted to apply mascara knows what happens when you blink. It leaves a perfect print from the brush on the skin beneath the lower lashes.

Oh, this was perfect. Juuuuuuuussssssssst perfect. It is nearly impossible, without completely starting over, to remove mascara from skin. If you rub it, it smears. If you try to wipe it away, it rubs in. Again, in the mirror, the horrible little man with the green tongue began to mock me with his nasty little jig. I did get the majority of the mascara off of my face, but was left with what appeared to be an even darker circle beneath my left eye and next to my right eye--making me look, oddly enough, even more tired than I did when I began!

I came downstairs, looking tired and frazzled, but determined to make the "Happy Birthday Baby Jesus" cakes as pretty as they did in my mind: two white cakes, nicely frosted, with the words written in red, and holly leaves and berries in the corners. I found My Darling swirling the frosting onto the cakes, and I reached for the can of frosting and the finishing knife to smooth it all out--only to drop the can of frosting onto the cake. "HA!" shouted the little man, his feet tapping furiously on my shoulder.

After I came back to the kitchen, having walked away to cool off (but not before stamping my foot and complaining rather loudly that nothing could go right today!), I looked for the icing and the decorating tips to do the writing and drawing of holly leaves. Now, I'm not a professional cake decorator. I totally buy those nasty tubes of "icing," colored with horrid chemicals. I use the plastic screw-on tips that come attached to the "flower nail" that I never use. But I do know enough to keep them all together, in a baggie, in a bin in the cupboard, so that I can find them when I want to do things like...oh, decorate a cake.

But they weren't there. The decorating tips weren't there. They weren't in the bin, or on the shelf that the bin lives on, or on the other shelves in the cupboard. And since I only have two cupboards which hold food items (the other used to store canned goods), pretty much they were missing entirely. And the nasty little man danced some more. I wanted to swat him like an insect, but since My Darling was already looking at me a little sideways because of the Mascara Incident, I resisted the temptation to bat at something only I could see.

The cakes were for dessert for this Christmas dinner which we shared with friends. The beautiful thing is that I didn't even have to explain...I just said to the Mamas, "They're Happy Birthday Baby Jesus cakes, and they're white for purity. Also, I couldn't find my decorating tips." They've all had Those Days, too, so they understood.

At least from the dinner on, things would get better.


Except that we left for church later than I had thought we would (I wasn't driving, or we would have left well sooner)--but not being a regular part of this particular choir, I wasn't in on all of the details, so I didn't know what time I was supposed to be there...and it turns out I was quite late. It did work out ok rehearsal-wise. When we were finished running through the things we needed to, I left the choir loft to run to the ladies' room. A friend was there with her mother and three small ones--one sleeping in Grandma's arms, one being terribly tired and less-than-cooperative, and one being only three months old. She asked me if I could hold the baby while she ran to the ladies'...and I ought to have said no...but I cannot resist the lure of a cute, pudgy baby..........and the choir started singing. Without me. And it's a chamber choir, which is very, very small. So I passed the baby to the Grandma, who I'm sure juggled the two of them just fine as I huffed and puffed my way back up the stairs to the loft, having missed singing Dixit Maria, which is one of my favorites. The nasty little man danced so much I was sure everyone else could see him.

Thanks be to God, that was the last of him though. The beauty and grace of Midnight Mass actually at Midnight and not at ten or ten-thirty, like some places do (and still call it Midnight Mass...), seemed to cause the nasty little jig-dancing, green-tongued man to evaporate into thin air. And good riddance!!

There were so many priests, deacons, seminarians and servers in attendance, one had to look for the miter to know where the Bishop was. The incense was lovely and pungent. The music was sacred and beautiful. The people were rosy-cheeked and alert. The ancient prayers and rituals were reverent and inspiring. And even though we didn't get back home until around two in the morning, our children were well-behaved and polite and helpful with the little ones.

We are a family which goes not only to Midnight Mass, but also to Mass on Christmas Day. This year, I was scheduled to cantor, and it's the first time I've done so in months. I prayed hard for good stamina to make it through Mass, and I was well-rewarded. The odd thing was that since almost all of the families of our parish, of which there are a great number, had attended Midnight Mass, most of them had planned not to attend on Christmas Day. Two of the families who had planned to attend didn't--one family had sudden and severe illness (of the intestinal variety) go through, and the other family had a last-minute change of plans. This meant that my Pickle Boy was the lone server--on Christmas Day, mind you, only one server! Unheard of in our parish, which usually sees about a dozen on any given ordinary Sunday!! But the boy did us proud. He did an excellent job, lighting all of the candles, setting things to right on the credence table, carrying in the Crucifix, holding the book, setting the altar, bringing forward the cruets, helping Monsignor to wash his hands, ringing the bells at Consecration, cleaning everything up, holding the book once more, and carrying the Crucifix again as they recessed. I was so proud of him I think I cried a tear or two. It was lovely to see him move gracefully, with confidence and concentration. I think he was pretty proud of himself, too.

When we got to Mass this morning (because it's Sunday--or it was when I rolled out of bed last--I do realize that it's not quite Sunday anymore...), the boys who grouped up to serve were surprised and impressed that Pickle had done the job on his own. Several of them wished that they were old enough to drive so that they could have been there...but that will come soon enough, for Pete's sake.

The pain that began this morning has been unrelenting. I've iced it, My Darling has massaged, I've propped with pillows, I've soaked, I've done everything I know to do as I bide the time, waiting for the chiropractor's office to open in the morning. In the mean time, I am offering my suffering as a prayer of sacrifice for Candy Rant's mom...and I would encourage you to pray for her, too. I know that my pain will not last forever, and that the cause of it is something to rejoice in. Pain and suffering can be joyful!! But this dear woman's pain is not joyful...and is taking a great toll on her and her family. Read her story and offer your kind prayers for her, and for all those who suffer during this time of year, especially those who are cold, who are hungry, who yearn for love, who cannot find relief of their suffering in grief, and for those whose pain and suffering is not visible to our eyes, but only palpable to the soul.

May the profound joy of the coming of Our Lord as a tiny baby more than two thousand years ago ring deeply in your heart and soul, and may His Peace reign in your home and in your family today and each day in the year to come.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Between the moments and moments

I have been soaking up the last days of my sweet Cuppie's babyhood. She comes to sit with me, climbs into my lap, and asks for her "nulkies." I happily oblige her.

She brings me the stuffed monkey puppet and says, "Hep me, Mom!" I press the button on the hidden box within and the monkey makes monkeyish noises.

She comes to me and puts her little hand on my expanding midsection and says, "Baybee bellee!" and "Wuf-oo, Baybee!"

She pats my cheek and says, "Wuf-oo, Mama!"

She toddles in sometime in the night and starts to climb up onto the bed. All the while, she softly says, "Mom?" and I answer her, "Yes, sweetie." "Mom?" she says again--are you still there?--"Yes, sweetie." "Mom?"--still??--"Yes, sweetie." When she has climbed atop the mound of sleeping Mama, she lays her little head on my cheek, tucks her feet into the blanket, and says, "Mom."

And then she sleeps, too.


This has happened each time. Each time a new life is coming into our family, I go through a small bit of mourning for the babyhood of the youngest. With the Frog, being my first, I had no idea what to expect when the Pickle came. With the Pickle, I was so sad that he had ended our nursing relationship--he was ready, but I was not. He was the type of baby who only let me hold him when he was nursing...he was not a snuggler, and I knew that the days of holding him close were ending. And even when we were expecing the Squash, and Reepicheep was nearly seven years old, I mourned the loss of her being the "Babyest" of the family. I always said to her, "You're all my babies, but you are the babyest!" ....and then that wasn't true anymore.

When Cuppie was the expected one, Squash and I would snuggle and he would put my Rosary around my belly, and we would pray our way around the Pumpkin within. He has always been a snuggler--he still is--and he sucked up every single minute that he could of it being Just Him in my arms.

And now the Cuppie. In her small ways, and in the best of her understanding, I know that she anticipates with joy the coming of this baby. I know that she will still be a snuggler, and that she will happily share her Nulkies with the baby.

...and I know that very soon, she will no longer be The Baby of the family.

She will be a wonderful big sister though.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Better than a month

Bad blogger. Bad, bad, bad little blogger.

What can I say--things here have been pretty even-keeled, which doesn't inspire me much for writing.

The snow finally came. I'm not a fan of cold weather, but I'm even less of a fan when it's cold and gray and brown outside. If it's going to be cold, I want it to be pretty, too. I think I anticipated our snowfall as much as the kids soon as that "S" word was in the forecast, being tossed around like so many flakes, I became excited, anticipating the frozen winter wonderland that was sure to come.

Eight to ten inches, they said. Blizzard conditions, they said. Beginning late evening, they said.

Well no wonder I was disappointed when, upon waking up multiple times in the night to visit the water closet, there was not only a lack of snow on the ground, but also a clear, starry sky above.

They only missed the timing by about.....twenty-four hours. What was supposed to fall on Friday night waited until Saturday.

Better late than never, I suppose, although it did also mean that we wondered until about 9:00 whether we would be able to make it into town for Mass. The comedy was that we left at 9:30, which is a half hour earlier than usual--to give ourselves extra time, of course, because the roads were terrible, of course. But they really weren't! Of the three lanes usually open on the interstate, two were drivable, and one was really just sloppy. So by the time we arrived at church, we had FIFTY minutes before Mass began.

Better early than never, I suppose, although it did also mean that we had the kids run around like wild people in the basement so that those other intrepid souls who braved the city streets (which were not anywhere near as passable as the interstate) were not disturbed in their prayer time before Mass.

The church, as one might imagine, was sparsely populated. But those who were there sang with gusto, responded boldly, and prayed earnestly. It was inspiring!

The drive home was not quite as impressive as the drive in. We took a different road--a state highway, which goes more-or-less directly home just as well as the interstate. As happens every year, the closer we got to home, the worse the road was. For some reason beyond all human understanding, the county in which we live has made the idiotic decision not to use snow fencing. For those of you in warmer climates, snow fencing can be either stick-and-wire fencing or plastic construction site type fencing. The function is to catch the snow on the back side as it blows through, creating a gigantic drift against the fence--and preventing drifting on the road (or your driveway, or whatever you're trying to protect).

Now, I'm just a tax-payer, so I probably have no idea what I'm talking about...but I'm just going to hazard a guess that this fencing is cheaper than sending out plows multiple times, especially when they are sent out when it's not even snowing. The drifting across this particular highway is notorious, and happens anytime it's windy, for Pete's sake, because the wind picks up whatever loose snow is on the surface of the surrounding fields. With no hills and no tree lines to protect the road, the snow just blows right across and covers, usually, an entire lane, and sometimes part of the other for good measure.

I'm thinking, since this is a state highway as well as an interstate alternate, wouldn't it be a priority to make sure it's clear? And wouldn't that priority include, perhaps, making sure that it doesn't become snow-covered when it's not even snowing, for Pete's sake??

Right, I know. Crazy talk. I'll stop. ;)


I had such a lovely talk with my Grandma yesterday afternoon. She just cheers me up every time we speak. I love hearing her stories, and I ask her various questions every time we talk, just so I can soak her up a little more. When your Grandma is 95 years old, you want to soak up every drop of her that you can.

Yesterday's story was about my mom. Grams and I share the experience of having a baby in February, which tends to be the coldest part of our winter here. The temps plummet well below zero degrees, and the wind chill is even more impressive. The day my Squash was born, for instance, the mercury struggled to read -17 degrees. Chris, the loveliest of midwives, made a note of it in my folder. It was so cold and clear that your eyes felt frozen if you poked your head out the door.

Grams loves to tell the story of when my mom was born. It was February of 1942, and the coldest day of the year. The hospital where Grams delivered was at the top of a hill, which was covered in ice. The tires in those days were no latch for the ice, so it took a long while to get up the drive.

They made it eventually, of course, and my mom was born. She weighed a bit over five pounds--she was right on time, just very small. She's always been very small. The nurses nick-named her "Dolly" because of her petiteness.

Grandpa's mother tried to get hold of him. She called the people and places she knew to call, and finally called the Red Cross. "In those days," says Grams, "Papa didn't think much of the Red Cross. They were do-gooders, but it was nothing then like it is now." Well, they were able to find Grandpa, which was more than anyone else could do!

Since the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor just two months before, Grandpa was off with the Army, and his Division was conducting exercises in advancement. Up the East Coast they were preparing to move, and the men took turns going in groups to scout ahead to find a suitable place for the entire Division to stop, make camp, prepare and eat their evening meal, bed down, and then make their way again in the morning. When the Red Cross found Grandpa, he was in one of the scout groups. He was a Captain, so he was the man in charge. The Division was crossing Northern Florida at the time.

Grandpa was able to get leave for seven days, and it took almost two days for him to get home. He made his way to the hospital to see his first child, expecting a somewhat larger baby...his mother had been so embarrassed by her smallness that she had told Grandpa that Mom weighed six pounds, five ounces, rather than five pounds five ounces.

The nurse said to Grandpa, "Would you like to see your baby?" He said, "Oh, I don't need to. I've seen babies, and they all look the same." Well, that nurse huffed and puffed and stormed out of the room, only to return a few moments later with two babies: my mom tucked into one arm, sweet and tiny and content, and in the other arm, a great big red-faced, squalling, nine pound baby boy with a shock of black hair stuck to his head like bristles on a brush.

"NOW!" said the nurse to Grandpa. "Do you still think all babies look the same?"

Well of course, Grandpa was terribly sheepish, and happily took his daughter into his arms.

They named her and brought her home and had her Baptized. Grandpa had five days left of his leave. He was supposed to get on the train to head East to meet up with his Division, but he received a call from some higher-up officer. This man had a car which he wanted brought to the East Coast so that he could take it on the transport ship with him over to Europe, and he asked Grandpa to drive it.

Grandpa's sister had just been married a few months earlier, and her husband was also on the East Coast waiting to ship out, so she rode along with Grandpa to keep him company, and so that she could say goodbye to her new husband. Grams said it was a good thing, because Grandpa squeaked out every minute he could of that leave, knowing he wouldn't be home for a very long time...and so he had planned to drive straight through. Having his sister along meant that he had company--and someone to keep him awake!

When he got out East and met back up with his Division, Grandpa learned that General MacArthur had ordered their Division to Australia. Australia was under attack from the Japanese at the time. So the men, who had advanced all the way up the East Coast in preparation to ship out to Europe, found themselves getting on a train instead of a boat, and crossing the country to the West in preparation to ship over to Australia. Of course, they didn't know where they were going; they just knew that it wasn't Europe.

Grams said how glad she was for that time of leave with Grandpa. He left when Mom was ten days old, and the next time he saw his daughter, she was a week shy of turning three years old.

Thankfully, Grandma's younger brother was just returning from some army training, and was able to finish out the winter helping Grandma with household things like cleaning the chimney and splitting wood.

I had heard the story many times about the coldest day of the year, the icy hill, Grandpa's mother misreporting Mom's birth weight, the remark about all babies looking the same--but I hadn't heard the part about Grandpa and the army.

Things are stressed for us right now. We are feeling the financial pinch of a much smaller paycheck than we should be getting, and the house is much cooler this year than last year in an effort to shrink the heat bill. But I stand in awe of my Grandma and her contemporaries who shipped their men off to a war that killed hundreds of thousands of a generation in an effort to protect the world. It is a staggering and sobering thing to ponder, and I am inexplicably grateful to God that I am living and raising my family right here, right now.