Taking out the Trash, Ash Wednesday Edition

February 18, 2015 at 6:49 pm (Community, Faith) (, , )

“Do you like Lent?” my nine-year-old asked me this morning.

“Yes, I do,” I answered, and anticipating the inevitable ‘why,’ I continued. “I like it because it’s a time of year where it’s a little easier to focus on being a good person,” but he was already at the table with a mouthful of bagel and his eyes on the sports section.

My blog posting is testimony to the fact that I like Lent. One blog post a year, whether I need it or not! But I do like Lent. It’s not that I’m a particularly somber person I don’t think, but I like the exercise of stripping away the extraneous and focusing on the essentials. It’s the same reason I love going to the kids’ school masses, and doing children’s liturgy on Sundays. I like going back to basics.

A good friend of mine said to me today that she likes Lent way more than New Year’s resolutions. I know just what she means. Lent is a little like spiritual trash collection. You bustle around, getting your spiritual house ready for Easter and the Resurrection. This year, some friends of mine and I are going to try to declutter our homes as a part of our Lenten fasts. “40 bags in 40 days.” (I can probably come up with that just out of my basement). But as tough as it’s going to be to declutter my house – you should SEE my basement – it’s even harder to declutter my mind. To get rid of all of the things don’t serve me…fear, and pride, and anger, and judgment, and criticism, among innumerable others…Maybe I should try to get rid of 40 negative feelings in 40 days. 40 bad habits in 40 days? 40 sins in 40 days! Sigh. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but I have this community that helps me, and at the end of Lent, I’ll have so much space for love, and compassion, and kindness.

Meanwhile, I’m going to go tackle the coat closet. Happy Ash Wednesday, and a good Lent to you.


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I Have Psoriasis and Why You Should Care

July 15, 2014 at 2:15 pm (Community) (, )

I received an unpleasant diagnosis yesterday. Not a terrible one, and not a particularly scary one, but a real, uncurable, and frankly, kind of icky one. I have psoriasis, which is thought to be an auto-immune disorder of the skin. A real, live disease – golly! (You know that expression “God only gives you as much as you can handle?” I’ve often thought how lucky I am that God knows I am a serious wimp).

I’ve only been googling “psoriasis” nonstop for the past 24 hours, so I’m far from an expert, but here’s what I do know. I have raised red patches all over my torso, with some on my arms and legs. Some of them are scaly and sort of grayish. Some are blob-like and some are more dot-like. They don’t hurt or itch and the vast majority are covered up by my clothes, so I’d say I’m pretty lucky. I’m trying not to be too down about it, as in the grand scheme of things – brain cancer, starvation, war – this is pretty minor, but I’m terribly vain, and I have an ugly rash. So that sucks.

I’m still figuring out what my plan of action is for treating it. There are drugs I can take and creams I can use, and maybe I will eventually, but I don’t want to yet. There are other options, crunchier, alternative type things, and those are more my speed, so I’ll explore those first. (At first I told Sam that if this mystery rash didn’t go away I was going to connect the dots and tattoo constellations on my torso…at this point it would be more of a supernova, but who knows, maybe I’ll still do it).

Anyway, here’s why I’m writing about what would otherwise be a pretty private and kind of embarrassing subject. It dovetails with something I’ve been thinking about for a while now.

The Internet is awesome. Look how much I learned about psoriasis in one afternoon! Social media can be too. I’m in touch with family and friends all over the world on Facebook. Hundreds of people wished me a happy birthday on May 29. I play Scrabble every day with my brother who lives five hours away. I hear about new jobs, new puppies and new babies almost instantly. I can feed my real estate/decorating addiction endlessly on Pinterest, scroll through beautiful pictures on Instagram and get a quick laugh at my favorite celebrities’ Twitter feeds. I’m fairly plugged in, and I’m fine with that.

But it’s only part of the story. It occurred to me the other day that you rarely see someone posting, “Told my eleven-year-old to shut up today” as their status update. No one tweets “Man, hemorrhoids suck!”*** So picturesque vacation pictures, yes. Lousy parenting moments, not so much. Selfies with celebrities, for sure. Gross medical conditions, no way. I scroll through my news feed, and it’s like that Lego movie song: “Everything is awesome!” which is great, but not true. Not for anyone. I am lucky beyond belief…in my family, in my friends, in where and how I get to live and in what I get to do, but you know what? The most perfect-seeming life has darkness in it. Everyone, everywhere, is battling something. Like fucking psoriasis.

What’s my point? I dunno. I don’t want to tell anyone what to do, unless it’s my kids, and I mostly want them to figure it out on their own too. But for me, I need to hear about people’s triumphs AND their struggles. I ordered a print that says “I will not compare myself to strangers on the Internet” because it’s insidious, comparing yourself to people’s carefully presented public personas. I don’t want to envy other people, I want to be grateful for what I have. But sometimes when all you’re seeing is the highlight reel, it’s hard. My sports nut son likes to watch the highlights of last night’s game when his team wins. And when his team loses, he’ll tell me that he’s watching the lowlights. I think it’s important to talk about both. So, you know, now you know.

***Those are totally hypothetical examples. Unless they aren’t.


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Ujjayi Breath and the Burden of Being Human

July 8, 2014 at 12:50 am (Community, Faith, Yoga) (, , , )

My breath is ragged and uneven, here a grunt and there a gasp. My mind wanders, to grocery lists and carpools, to doctors’ appointments and dinner plans, but I reign it back in, and try, for the umpteenth time, to smooth out my exhalation, to lengthen my inhalation…to yoke my breath to my movement to my brain. I’m at yoga, and I can hear the ujjayi breath of the men and women around me. Breath with sound…it is even, ineluctable. It washes over me like the waves of the ocean. I close my eyes, even though I’m not supposed to, and bathe in the sound. I can’t add to it. If the combined breath of the men and women in that room is the Atlantic Ocean, mine is a little creek, so insignificant it dries up in the summer, so unimportant it’s short i, not long e.


My mind wanders again, but this time to the words of the gospel I heard yesterday at mass.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

I heard the same gospel at a funeral a few weeks ago. “The yoke doesn’t seem easy or light,” said the priest. “It only becomes that way because we share the burden together.” I held onto that thought as I choked my way through the familiar prayers and hymns, adding my voice thick with tears to the rest of the congregation’s. “There is nothing I can say or do,” I thought. “But I am here, with these people, saying these words and singing these songs. It is nothing, but it is all I can do. Maybe it is enough.”

And so I join my little creek to the ocean of sound as I move through my yoga practice. In and out, labored and burdened, but shared. What I have, I will add to the room. What I can, I will give.

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Where Joy Resides

November 3, 2013 at 8:12 pm (Community, Faith, Kids) (, , )

My oldest child is in another professional play. She’s having a good season, it must be said. She had just finished one play when she started rehearsals for the next gig. Like seriously, the very next day. And she’s been spending HOURS downtown at rehearsal. My life, for the next two months, is chaffeusing. (I made that word up, I’m very proud of it, and I like how it sounds way more than what it means). In fact, our communal schedule is so bananas, we gave her a phone. And yes, the fact that I am now the kind of parent who gives a ten-year-old (almost eleven) a phone is horrifying. In fairness, it’s not hers to keep, it’s just so that when I drop her off in front of the theater, double-parked in heavy traffic with the blinkers on, my throat hoarse from cursing the other drivers on the way downtown, she can run out and text me from the fourth floor, “Hey Mommy” – she still calls me ‘mommy,’ the darling, darling girl – “I made it. I’m safe. I’ll see you at 9.” Actually, her first morning with the phone she texted me three times, saying “Mommy, I love you so so so much.” Frankly, I don’t know why we didn’t give her one ages ago. I need the affirmation.

Cover girl

Cover girl

Anyway. Yesterday the director and the children’s director and the stage managers were kind enough to meet with the clueless parents to try to explain the mysteries of producing a show. I had 82 questions about how to read the call sheet, explaining who is expected at rehearsal when. If Riley isn’t cast there again, I’m sure it will be my fault. “The kid is great, but that mom is pretty dim – I have serious concerns about the gene pool…” I appreciated the director’s honesty as he explained that while he hopes that the kids have a good experience, it isn’t his paramount goal…that putting on the very best production they can is of primary importance. And then he thanked us. HE thanked US…for letting them have our kids, and for driving, and for shifting schedules and all the rest. He has a two-year-old, he said, so he isn’t there yet, but he recognizes how difficult the demands of the show will be. It was a nice gesture, but here’s what I would have said if I hadn’t been on my best behavior.

“Are you effing kidding me? Listen, your kid is two, so you’re stuck playing with Little People and watching Backyardigans and running around trying to make sure she doesn’t kill herself, so you don’t know this yet, but let me tell you something. Watching your kid discover what she loves is one of the most magnificent experiences a parent can have. Seeing her be good at that thing is sublime. And if she has success at that thing that she loves and is good at? That is one of the most profound joys you can have, I think. At least it is for me.

My daughter has come home from rehearsal every day glowing. Seriously, she is glowing, like an alien or an angel. Her happiness wells up from her toes and explodes out of her mouth in happy chatter all the way home. She is delirious to go to rehearsal and disappointed when she doesn’t. And this magic is not just stagecraft. She’s so happy and confident, she’s doing things she’s never done before, like scoring goals in soccer, and walking home by herself from the store. She even likes school a little bit now, which hasn’t been the case since kindergarten. So thank you. Thank YOU. Thank you for the opportunity, and for recognizing the pure gold from which my daughter’s heart is fashioned. You have excellent taste, and I promise, she’s way smarter than I am.”

Pearl S. Buck said that “Growth itself contains the germ of happiness.” I think sometimes in this parenting business we fail to see that. Family life is challenging and growing pains hurt, duh. The minutia of day-to-day life can be pretty soul-sucking. So I am so freaking grateful for this tsunami of joy that has entered our household. I’m gonna dive in and enjoy the ride.

“And, the true realism, always and everywhere, is that of the poets: to find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss the joy is to miss all. In the joy of the actors lies the sense of any action.”
Robert Louis Stevenson

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Life in the Desert

September 11, 2013 at 12:35 pm (Community, Faith, Kids, Politics) (, , , )

We celebrated our twelfth wedding anniversary on Sunday, so that means it’s been 12 years since 9/11/01. There are lots of posts about 9/11 on my Facebook feed this morning, prayers for peace, and “I will never forget” badges and the like. Me, I’m going to be spending the day trying to get organized for the kindergarten party on Saturday, getting the Battle of the Books stuff done, and paying bills. I think that’s ok. Life goes on.

I was in Arizona over the weekend. It was 80 bazillion degrees the day we got there – the heat was so intense as soon as we got off the plane, it felt like being punched in the gut. The desert is beautiful, albeit not beautiful in the way my Wisconsin soul typically imagines beautiful. We climbed a mountain, a little one anyway, on Saturday morning. I took pictures of every cactus I saw, fascinated by their foreignness. On Saturday night it rained, just a little, and by Sunday morning, the brown and seemingly barren mountain was green. It had exploded with life in the space of 24 hours.


I think we humans are the same way. Give us half a chance, and like the desert with that tiny bit of rain, we won’t just choose life, we’ll seize it. There are moments when life seems fragile, but paradoxically, it’s tenacious at the same time. We’re tenacious. We have to be.

So here we are, 12 years on, and our country is considering military action in Syria. I don’t have the answer. (Wouldn’t that be awesome if I did? Middle-aged suburban housewife solves Syria question. Sigh.) All I can tell you is what I’m trying to do, what I’m trying to teach my children to do: Choose life. Choose peace. Grow.

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Baseball Blues

August 22, 2013 at 3:50 am (Community, Kids) (, , , )

Tom Hanks famously said “There’s no crying in baseball” in the 1992 movie “A League of Their Own.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s not exactly true. It’s possibly a prepositional problem. There has been plenty of crying over baseball Chez Belfry today. There has been crying about baseball. There has been crying concerning baseball. Here’s what happened.

My eight-year-old son, the one who wakes up and reads about baseball in the newspaper every morning, the one who has spent all summer playing baseball, the one who goes to bed listening to baseball, the one who is absolutely convinced that he will be a Major League Baseball player when he grows up, ideally for the Brewers of course, tried out for a club-level team on Sunday. And today, after three of the longest days of my life, (“Mommy! Did you get an email yet? What about now? Can you check again?”) he gave up hope that he made the team. (Note to The Powers That Be – go ahead and send an email to the kids that don’t make the team too. Don’t just make them wait. Seriously. They’re eight. Henry said at dinner tonight, “well, maybe there’s still a chance?” It’s bordering on child cruelty, you guys.)

Baseball Boy

Baseball Boy

Henry, a pretty practical kid, asked me what his chances were the night before he tried out. “Well, you have no chance if you don’t try,” I said, copping out.

“But do you think I’ll make it?” he asked earnestly and seriously and thoughtfully, the way he asks all questions.

I looked into his sweet face. “I don’t know, Henry,” I said. “Of course you have a chance.” I paused, wondering how honest I should be. “But you’re not the fastest, or the hardest hitter.” His face fell. “Wait, listen. What you are is the hardest worker…the most determined…the stubbornest. I love that about you…but it might be hard for the coaches to see in an hour-long tryout.”

Well, they didn’t. And he didn’t. And I had to tell him.

I hated telling him he didn’t make it…because I wasn’t just telling him he didn’t make a baseball team. I was telling him that the world is a little less shiny than he thought. I was telling him life is hard, and sometimes you can want something with all of your heart and still not get it. I was telling him that I’m not actually magic – I can’t make all of his hurts go away with a kiss and a hug anymore. It’s a lesson we all learn eventually – I’m not sure I learned it at age eight, but Henry sure has.

I do have to tell you what happened next though, especially since I’ve written about Henry and sportsmanship before here. This morning after finding out his good buddy made the team and he didn’t, Henry swallowed hard and said, “Way to go Mason. Good job.” And you know what they did this afternoon? They played ball, the way they have all summer long, and the way they will for many summers to come, I hope.

But I’m sorry, sometimes there will be crying in baseball.

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The Coach Gaveth, and the Mother Tooketh Away

June 12, 2013 at 12:55 pm (Community, Kids) (, , , )

I feel like the worst mother in the world. Henry got the game ball at his baseball game last night, and I made him give it back. But you know what? If I could rewind, I’d do it again.

Henry’s in his second year of playing Little League. Henry loves baseball like the Pope is Catholic. He reads the sports section over his breakfast in the morning, looking both like my husband and my father as he pores over statistics. He watches Brewers games on TV when we let him, and listens to them on the radio as he goes to bed. He has it all planned out – he’ll play baseball at Notre Dame and then in the minors and then in the majors. (I looked up the 2013-2014 tuition at Notre Dame when he told me that. Let’s just say we’re going to need that baseball scholarship money). I had this bedtime story I’d tell him of how the Yankees would want him, would pay any price for him, but he’d want to play for his hometown team, so he’d stay a Brewer. He liked that one, and so did I. He’ll play outside in the backyard with the neighbors for hours, and when they’re done, he’ll keep playing on his own, throwing up high balls and diving for them, pitching grounders and running to scoop them up. “Mommy/Daddy/Baba will you play catch with me?” is his incessant refrain from when the snow melts to when it flies again.

Henry got in trouble once this year at school for getting into it with a classmate on the playground. He was mortified when the recess monitor didn’t believe his account of what happened. His teacher was sympathetic, but banned him from playing team sports for a week or so, because he just “cared a little too much.” (Luckily for Henry, that week coincided with a bout of bad weather and indoor recess). He is uber-competitive, and he cares deeply about whatever game he’s playing, but especially baseball.

Henry plays for the Durham Bulls. It is a great group of kids, and a great group of parents, and a great group of coaches. They move the kids around quite a bit at this age so they get experience all over the diamond. Henry played the last two innings last night at first base. These kids don’t know what they do to us – I couldn’t sit still on the bleachers and wandered over to the fence next to first. I guess I’m glad I did, but I saw some things I didn’t want to see while I was there. A kid threw wide to him, Henry couldn’t grab it and he got visibly frustrated with his teammate. And then it happened again on a couple of plays he wasn’t involved in.

His team won, though really I shouldn’t even write that, because it doesn’t matter. Henry plays baseball because he loves it, yes, but also because his father and I believe that playing team sports can teach you important life lessons. You have to work together, because no man is an island. (Who’d a thunk John Donne was a baseball fan?) You have to work hard, because other people are depending on you. And you have to be a good sport, fercryinoutloud. I get it, I promise I do – it’s hard to be a good sport when you feel it so, so much. It’s especially hard when you give your all every single time – perhaps Henry’s finest quality – and you suspect others aren’t doing the same thing. But that’s a rotten way to live. I want Henry to assume that the people he meets are doing their best, even when it seems…unlikely. A quote made the rounds of the interwebs a while back: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” It was attributed to Plato, but I couldn’t find it, not that you should imagine me exhaustively reading my Greek. I don’t care who made it up, it’s one of my favorite sayings ever, and I want my son to believe it with every fiber of his competitive being.

Anyway, after the game and after the team meeting, when the coaches gave Henry the game ball, I pulled him aside. I asked him if he’d been a good sport during the game, and I asked him if he deserved the game ball. My brave boy answered no to both questions. I told him he could earn it back, not by playing well – he’s a decent little ballplayer, and that’s not the point – but by being a leader on his team. By cheering on his teammates. By setting a good example. By being a good sport. It was a tough talk, but he took it on the chin…I was proud of him. He’s a good kid, and he can learn this. He has to.

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Rules for Parents in the Stands

May 1, 2013 at 4:07 am (Community, Kids) (, , , )

It sometimes happens that our musical and sporting worlds collide.  This past weekend our family had both a violin recital and multiple games.  Something struck me about the different events:  the differences between the audience in the seats and the parents in the stands.

Spring ball

Spring ball

This is Henry’s second year playing Little League, and by and large, we’ve escaped the curse of the ugly parent in the stand – you know the stereotype, I don’t have to describe it.  We had a great team last year and we all – kids, coaches, parents and sibs –  enjoyed spending time together…a lot of time…really so much time…at the ballpark.

However, that doesn’t stop me from pointing out that at the recital every single member of the audience clapped for every kid…twice. Once as they bravely mounted the stage, and once as they completed their performance, whether that performance was error-free or not. At the game, lots of us in the stands are just clapping for members of our own team. At the recital, none of the parents shouted advice to the performers. We trusted in their teachers, and in their own preparation. At baseball games, I hear advice shouted at each kid as he or she comes up to bat or when the ball comes careening toward them. At the recital, no one groaned when a kid made a mistake…at least not audibly. I’ve heard plenty of groans at the ballfield…when a kid drops a pop fly…or can’t field a grounder…or strikes out.

Here’s the thing, parents…and I include myself in this lecture since I am by nature a terrible sport, competitive to a fault.  (I held myself to one shouted, “Wake up out there Henry!” at tonight’s game.  But I had to work tonight, meaning I only saw an inning and a half, so I don’t have too much to brag about.)  We’re not setting a good example by that kind of behavior in the stands, that much is obvious. But we’re also not accomplishing anything by it. Our players on the field? Half the time they can’t hear us. They certainly SHOULDN’T be paying any attention to us.  That’s what the coaches are for.  You know who can hear us though? The parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters of the kids on the other team. So let’s put a lid on it. Take a note from the recital parents and be happy for everybody just getting out there and doing their thing.  They’re all awesome.

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April 29, 2013 at 12:36 pm (Community, Faith) (, )

It was a busy Sunday, hardly a day of rest, with seemingly each member of the family running in different directions. Hockey at 7:30, clean up for the previous night’s event at 9, a performance at 11, 1 and 4…we couldn’t get to any of our usual masses, so we found ourselves at one of the “last-chance masses” downtown on Sunday evening.

We pounded sandwiches for dinner on our way down, and arrived soaked to the skin from an evening rainstorm. I led our bedraggled little group to a pew on the right-hand side of the church, all the way up at the front. As we filed in, I realized that the woman sitting directly in front of us was homeless.  She had several black garbage bags stuffed full of her belongings with her in the pew. She smelled. Her white hair was greasy, hanging in limp hanks across her shoulders, and her layer upon layers of clothing were dirty.

I sighed as I shuffled my kids to the other side, away from her.  “I don’t want to touch her,” I said to myself, the Kiss of Peace looming in my mind.  I couldn’t pay attention to the readings, or the homily, or even the music, as I worried about how I could avoid shaking her hand.  Maybe I could feign a cold, smiling politely as I pretended not to want to share my germs.  Perhaps I could duck out to go to the bathroom, using my youngest as a beard.  Or I could just occupy myself in the other direction, looking at her ruefully as we ran out of time to share a handshake.

I hadn’t quite picked my strategy when I saw her stand up to leave.  She exited the pew and headed up to the altar, placing her garbage bags over the altar rail.

“What on earth?” I wondered.  “Is she mentally disordered to boot?  Will someone need to do something?”

She walked over to one of the now ubiquitous containers of hand sanitizer and rubbed her hands together.  I watched her in bemusement, still not catching on.  As she approached the priest and the altar, I finally got it.  This woman whom I had disdained, this creature of God whom I had considered unworthy of my touch was going to distribute the Body of Christ to the community…to me, and it was I who was utterly unloveable and unworthy.  I burst into tears, and my oldest asked if I was ok.  I shook my head and got up to receive the Eucharist, great heaving sobs wracking my body and tears pouring down my face.

The woman smiled at me as I approached her and I swear to you, she could read my mind.  Her smile said to me that she knew me, she forgave me, and she loved me.  Her face now seemed beautiful to me, shining in the light of the candles and lanterns.  Of course she was beautiful, for she was Divine.

“The Body of Christ,” she said, placing the Host on my upturned palms.

“Amen,” I choked and I fled back to my pew and knelt, hiding my face in my hands.

I wept for the rest of mass.

I wish I could tell you that afterwards I approached her, and introduced myself and begged her pardon and hugged her and redeemed myself.  I could tell you that, but it would be untrue.  Here’s the end of the story.  After communion, she disappeared and I cried all the way home, eventually choking out what happened to my husband in sign language and words of one syllable, and even though this happened months ago, I’m crying writing it down now.

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Revolutionary Soccer Moms Unite!

April 29, 2013 at 3:46 am (Community, Faith, Politics) (, )

I give you a new commandment: love one another.
As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35

Today’s homily, courtesy of Father Franciscan, belonged to my favorite phylum – we’ll call it:  “Jesus Was an Expletive Radical, and We’re Probably Not Doing it Right.”  (I won’t specify which expletive, since my dad reads the blog and I don’t want to offend him, and also, after the week I had I’m not sure how much credit I have Upstairs…but it rhymes with “plucking.”)

As he mulled over today’s gospel reading (excerpted above), FF asked why there were any poor among us if we were following Jesus’ commandment.  That’s an uncomfortable question to hear posed in our comfortably well-off parish.  I was SUPER uncomfortable when FF brought up St. Basil the Great, who said:

“The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”

There are a LOT of garments hanging in my wardrobe.  My husband calls me a clothes horse, while I would say simply, “well-dressed.”  I don’t really want to share those garments, and in fact, I’d like to add more to the pile.  I told a friend after church today that were I to win the lottery (which would take a miracle, since I never buy a ticket) the only thing that would change would be the frequency with which I buy and the amount I spend on clothes.  So if you tell me that those same garments, both real and imagined, are really the property of the poor, well, I might drop another expletive.

On the other hand, yesterday at mass (double dipping in the church chip bowl this weekend – why aren’t I a better person?!  I should probably go to church tomorrow too), Father Pastor mentioned St. Teresa of Avila’s prayer, which is one of my very favorites of all time:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

So I guess the take-home is that Christ wouldn’t be using his hands to order clothes on the interwebs or his feet to walk to the mall?  I have a LOT of work to do.

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