Monday, August 22, 2016

You Keep Us Adventuring, I'll Keep You Safe

Dear Kiddo,

Today, we took a hike in the woods.  You hopped over rocks and explored the winding path. You picked me a bouquet. A small collection of leaves and sticks. And you presented it to me with a big smile, "Here, Mommy, I picked this for you."

I yelped "Yikes! Drop it!" and started to hurriedly move us towards the bathroom (the second of what would be four visits).

The bouquet was composed of big, shiny poison ivy leaves. You had been twirling, caressing, arranging those leaves. A gift for me.

You were complained, questioned, dragged your feet. I finally captured you and then scrubbed and scrubbed, praying that the plant oils hadn't spread to any other parts of your little person.

I want you to know that it's my job to keep you safe. I will do whatever I can to keep you safe. My mommy quoted me this passage by Elizabeth Stone when you were a newborn,
"Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." 
This might sound cheeseball to you, but it's true.

You are out to explore the world with vigor and vim, woe to the mommy that tries to stop you! You are my perpetual gerund, always moving, leaping, hopping, skipping. I love your curiosity and careful eye, how you notice the woodpecker holes and the caterpillar on the path. I see your sweetness, your smile, and how you find me special rocks or flowers (or poison ivy).

You're my wild man; I'll be your steady rock. You keep us adventuring; I'll keep you safe. You explore the ranges of your emotions; I'll be your compass and guide. Together, we'll find a way to be wild and free, safe and loved.

"i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)"  - E. E. Cummings

Friday, August 19, 2016

The Bravest Prayer I Know

The Bravest Prayer

All prayer is brave. We have the audacity to address the Lord of the Universe, to call Him Abba, Daddy. We leap into our Daddy's arms and renew this Covenant of love at every mass. Last Sunday, a dear friend gave a homily about how we are called to be true spiritual Olympiads. We have to train constantly to be ready for a the final test. We must develop our prayer life and virtues slowly, growing in spiritual muscle. I don't know about you, but I'm not too comfortable in a gym. 

The Litany of Humility is prayerful weightlifting. It's the hardest prayer I know. It's one of those you pray to be able to pray better. The author Cardinal Merry Del Val is now a Servant of God, on his way to being canonized a saint. He prayed this prayer daily after each mass. 

This prayer stretches my own desires upwards, away from myself, turns my focus away from myself and my own worries. 
"He must increase; I must decrease" (John 3:30)
What would my life look like if I didn't worry about what others thought but only lived for Jesus? What if I were free from all fear? Can I honestly add that someone who is especially challenging to be with at the end of each of the lines? I'll be honest, the thought is... hard. I still have a lot of time to put in the spiritual gym! Seriously, this is the bravest prayer I know.
"Not my will, but yours be done," (Luke 22:42)
The Litany of Humility by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus (repeat after each line).
From the desire of being extolled ...
From the desire of being honored ...
From the desire of being praised ...
From the desire of being preferred to others...
From the desire of being consulted ...
From the desire of being approved ...
From the fear of being humiliated ...
From the fear of being despised...
From the fear of suffering rebukes ...
From the fear of being calumniated ...
From the fear of being forgotten ...
From the fear of being ridiculed ...
From the fear of being wronged ...
From the fear of being suspected ...

That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it (repeat after each line).
That others may be chosen and I set aside ...
That others may be praised and I unnoticed ...
That others may be preferred to me in everything...
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

From the desire of being loved...
That others may be loved more than I,
That others may be esteemed more than I ...

Danielle Rose wrote a beautiful musical adaption here if you wish to pray through song. 

"For freedom, Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery" (Galations 5:1). This prayer is for me all the things I didn't know to pray for, all the secret places I need grace so desperately. So that's what I'm praying. I'm praying to be set free. And it's scary. Prayer is for the brave-hearted, those walking the road of grace by faith. 

What is your brave prayer? 

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Mommy, What Is a Soul?

"Mommy, What is a soul?"

You ask and wait over your yogurt and grapes, philosophizing before mama has even had her coffee. 

We have moved beyond why is the sky blue
Moved so far beyond, diving, plummeting, sinking, swimming off together into-

"Mommy, what is a soul?"

Your blue eyes so deep with the thirst of knowledge
that tickle in the back of your mind that must be quenched,
the full understanding that you don't know everything. 
But you want to. 

"Mommy, what is a soul?” 

I think back to my once upon a time after a happily ever after, 
Two souls united and ignited your fire, sent you spinning into orbit until 
one day 
you will create your own world apart from us. 

"Mommy what's a soul?"

A soul, little one, you have one. You are one, it's invisible, but real. 
It animates, it's God-given, it's freedom, it's spirit, it's life.
It's you 

I soak up your grin as you ponder, your eyes crunch up trying to see the unseen. 

Oh, My wild child, not mine to keep. I treasure your soul that's only mine 
to teach to love to grow to foster to pray
until your fire burns so strong 
You don't need me. 

Until you are certain 
your soul is.

Copyright 2016 Hannah J. Conti

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Podcasts for Little Ones

My kids have grown up hearing "Mommy's podcasts." For the most part, they've ignored me while I listen and wash dishes unless they hear a snippet that intrigues them (side note: both kids learned to clap along to "NPR's Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" while they were toddlers. Future NPR lovers).

Here is a list of our favorite podcasts for kids, available for free download. These are a perfect accompaniment for car rides or sitting down with an art project. To give you an idea, my son is 4.5-years-old and he loves these podcasts, but they would also be great for older elementary aged kids.

Story Pirates: these zany stories are written by kids and performed by professional actors, comedians, and sketch artists using almost exact language of the original composition. Each episode includes a reading of the original story, the performance, and an interview the writer. This inspired my four-year-old to submit his own story which will be performed live in NYC in December by the StoryPirates. Needless to say, we are big fans.

Sparkle Stories: These are sweet, calming stories centered around families and overcoming everyday challenges. These stories preserve a child's innocence, while encouraging them to explore the world and face their fears. The Sparkle Stories website also offers extra stories, recipes, and crafts. They also offer a subscription service if you need more Sparkle Stories on demand all the time. My son will listen to these stories repeatedly for up to an hour while he plays with Legos or does craft projects.

But Why: This podcasts picks the theme based on real kids' questions (you can submit your own questions to become podcasts!) and has real scientists, professors, historians, etc. answer these inquiries through a conversational interview. Some episodes have held my son's interest better than others.

Tumble: Science Podcasts for Kids: These science podcasts are intended for kids aged 8-12 years and also told via interview with scientists. I am a great believer in being able to learn from a wide variety of materials, even those harder or easier than one is accustomed to. My son still enjoyed these, notably the space ones and most especially the Journey to the Deepest Part of the Ocean because we are all about the Marianna Trench. I can see him really loving this podcast in a few years.

Not podcasts, but other free things to listen to...

Our favorite stories on Spotify: A collection of our favorite stories found on Spotify. You can listen for free with commercials. Eclectic, goofy, and thoughtful, this playlist is a wide variety of stories.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Dear Kiddos, Be the Change.

Dear kiddos,

I write this to you so one day, when you're a little older, we can have an in-depth conversation. I hope we will continue to revisit this conversation throughout our relationship because this is important. 

I want you to know that there are a lot sad things happening right now. Sometimes my heart is so heavy I feel like it's fallen somewhere down by my feet. I want you to know that people are not becoming more evil, but that we are shedding light further and finding more shadows, darkness that always was. Only if we find the darkness, can we shed light on the shadowy places. 

There are people in our world who don't have many of the good things we take for granted, such as safety, peace knowing there is money in the bank, a roof over their heads, food on their table, and family who can help if needed. I know you give thanks for these things every night. I hear you pray for those without and my heart smiles knowing you care, that it's one step towards not assuming you are the norm.

Throughout history, people have tried to decide that some humans are innately better than others whether that is due to ancestry, disability or ability, skin color, religion, physicality, country of origin, age, gender, or sexuality. There are those in power who try to keep those without without. 

This is still happening. It's important to be aware, to listen. We are called to listen to the minority, to those who cry, to those who shout "injustice!" or those who have no voice. I want you to be unafraid to talk to people even those who disagree with you. I want you to have the courage to examine your heart, your conscience, and then trust yourself and trust grace to see you through.

We have always taught you that all lives matter, have infinite worth. Sometimes you need to speak up for a particular, singular group that is not being heard or valued or understood. That is why currently there is a movement called Black Lives Matter. It does not mean that black lives matter more than other skin colors. The movement started because the personhood, the very lives of black people have been undervalued for centuries. And it's long past time for change.

So. Never stop listening to the marginalized. Speak up. Be brave. Don't forget you are privileged, but don't get mired in guilt. Be grateful for the opportunity to stand with the disenfranchised, to lend a hand, to shine the spotlight on the shadows, to speak the truth, and give the microphone to someone with no voice. You have tremendous conviction. I know you will use that in beautiful ways in the future.

Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." The change I see is you. And it gives me hope.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Offering Up Sleep Deprivation: Finding a Tired Spirituality

I often think back to before I became a mother. And then I laugh really hard. I assumed so many things, one of which was that my children would inevitably sleep. My imaginary, angelic children would sleep soundly while I would accomplish all the chores, make a healthy dinner, exercise, pray, and improve my mind, probably bring in a lot of money by freelancing. As it turns out, sleep is not really my kids' favorite activity. I'm not looking for advice, but more to share about the struggles of sleepless parenthood from a spiritual perspective. 'Cause the struggle is real.

Something I did not realize about sleep deprivation is that how much energy it can take to focus on one thing. I often feel scattered, unable to focus, and fall asleep praying. So how is a tired mama (or papa) supposed to pray, to transcend the ordinary and find God in the sleeplessness? 

Offer up sleep deprivation as a sacrifice: 
Apparently many cradle Catholics grew up with an understand of redemptive suffering and being told to "offer up" various discomforts and problems. As a covert, it took several years for me to figure out how to offer up anything (and if this is something you're unfamiliar with I highly suggest this Catholic Mom article). I have since found peace and even joy in offering up physical pain and illness as a prayer. However, it was only four and half years into parenting (I know, I know, I'm dense. The Lord is also rolling His eyes) that I suddenly realized that sleep deprivation can be a form of redemptive suffering. Not only can I take care of my children's emotional and physical needs in the middle of the night, but I can offer up my suffering for their spiritual needs. I can also sing a hymn as they go to sleep or mumble a prayer if I'm awake enough.

Sleep Deprivation is a type of Suffering:
At first, I was very hesitant to call sleep deprivation suffering; that recognition was reserved only for serious problems, pain, and illnesses. This perspective led me to not give myself much grace throughout the day because what was I caterwauling about? Only a little lost sleep. I wondered how other people managed to focus or get anything done in life while I was really struggling. Then I learned that sleep deprivation is sometimes used as a form of torture. I realized that I was not being humble or realistic about my limitations. Humility is not a self-righteous, resentful martyrdom. True humility is the right understanding of self and God and how two are in relation. By acknowledging my personal challenge of sleeplessness, I was becoming more humble and living more truthfully. I like sleep, my kids don't, and I'm learning to live with that. I also realized that nighttime parenting is actually a gift of self, another type of laying down our lives for the sake of our child. 

Sleeplessness as a Prayer for Our Children:
Right after Jesus' instituted the Eucharist, he went out the garden to pray all night. The sacrificial passion of our Lord started in sleeplessness. His ultimate gift of self started with a sleepless night. I like to imagine that the  Blessed Mother also knows something of sleeplessness whether from Jesus' night waking as a child or when he was lost in Jerusalem. Our Heavenly Father sees our parenting and our offerings of a the difficulty parts and can use those prayers to help our children's spiritual lives. Just as we try to give our infants the best nutrition and care during those early days of their lives, we can offer up our parenting challenges as fodder for their spiritual lives.

Offering Up Nighttime Parenting:
This can be as simple as glancing upwards and breathing a wordless prayer of offering. Sometimes when you're so tired, there are not words left. Sometimes I end up mumbling "Hail Mary, full of grace... Hail Mary full of grace" unable to finish a single prayer. That's okay too. Or you can say something like the following:

"Lord, I offer you this sleepless night. I offer up my exhaustion. I offer myself as a watchman before dawn (Psalm 130:6), comforting and loving this little soul in the darkness. I offer my ineptitude tomorrow as I stumble through the day. I rely on you to give me the grace I need for the daylight and nighttime hours. I stand on your promise "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." (1 Corinthians 12:9) May my children see your love in me even when I feel I have nothing left to give."

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Learning to Love Writing (ages 0- to 4-years-old)

Today, my son published his first ebook on Etsy. I'm so proud of his dedication and drive in completing this process. He also dictated 784 more words to me today, the beginnings of a collection of interconnected short stories about monsters. Tonight, he begged to stay up later so we could write more. Did I mention he is only four-years-old?

I am an English major and have long loved the written word, both consuming and producing it. I have dreamed of sharing this love with my children as they got older. My son is currently not so interested in reading, but he adores writing. I'm not worried in the slightest as I know that one leads to other which leads to other skills. And I'm proud (but a bit jealous) that my son is out-writing his writer mama.

Note: I'm not an literacy teacher. I'm just a mama who loves to share what is working for our family. If you have any concerns about your kids, you should consult a professional.

How to make writing fun for kids?

Allow them time to write for the fun of expression and communication. Fostering the love of writing and self-expression is important. There is plenty of time to perfect letters, grammar, and punctuation.

  • Start with pretending, telling each other stories, nursery rhymes, and singing. Play is the beginning of literacy
  • READ. Listen to audio books, podcasts, read aloud, read together. Read, read, read. Go to the library frequently. Become friends with your librarian. Make use of the library's audio books, talking books, easy readers, chapter books, non-fiction books. Swim in books. 
  • Have your child dictate a story to you. Write it down exactly and then read it back. Talk about what sounds funny (beginnings of self-checking in grammar). Ask questions about description (what does that character or location look, sound, smell, feel like?). Talk about what is confusing, interesting, funny. Most stories written by children are hilarious. Keep story time short and fun.
  • Have your child sign their name on every birthday card you send and every picture they draw.
  • Have them write out the grocery or to-do list. You can draw pictures next to each item making it easier for everyone to read at the store. 
  • Make a map of your neighborhood complete with signs and street names. We have also made fictional maps of imaginary worlds (great to bring in toy trains, cars, and animals!). 
  • Write a story with your child about their favorite character or toy. In the beginning, take turns writing but still sounding out words together. 
  • Write a longer piece together, having your child hold the pencil first with your hand covering theirs. This is an incredibly cozy way to write together. 
  • Ask your child to draw a picture. Then diagram the picture with words explaining what is happening. This works especially well in conjunction with science - anatomy, biology, technology, mechanics, etc. 
  • Ask your child to start a diary (start with a short period - like a vacation or weekend). A nature journal a la Charlotte Mason would also be perfect. 
  • Listen to the Story Pirates podcast. These zany stories are written by kids and then adapted by by professional actors and comedians. They welcome story submissions! My son recently wrote and submitted a story that was accepted by the Story Pirates! The piece will be performed this winter. So exciting.
  • Work up to writing a multi-page story with illustrations.
  • Write an ebook with your child! This is as simple as writing a story, inserting photos or illustrations or graphics, then saving as a pdf.
  • Tune into what motivates your child. My son is very interested in earning money at the moment. His deep desire is to go to college to become a Lego designer which he knows costs money. Thus, creating an ebook for sale (even if it's only bought by the grandparents!) was a logical jump on his part. This also opened up the conversation about market forces (why an ebook for $1,000,000 doesn't sell, but if you sell ebooks for a smaller amount you are more likely to make more money), fees and profits (Etsy charges for listing fees), means of advertising, and the rudimentary basics of graphic designing.