Monday, January 31, 2011

I Even Brought In the $100 "Processing Fee." Now THAT'S Commitment.

Lately I’ve been walking around in a daze with visions of kindergarten classrooms dancing in my head.  While I’ve only toured two schools, I wasn’t planning on touring any. Tim and I always thought we had it decided: we believe in and support the mission of Catholic education. As such, the boys would attend our parish school. Later we would choose one of the two local Catholic high schools. And then they’d go on to college.

Oh – I forgot step number one: we’d plant a money tree in our backyard. (I jest.) (But not here.)

It’s important that you know how much this was part of the plan for us, because without that knowledge you can’t possibly understand the emotional shift that had to take place when we decided that it might be a better idea to look elsewhere.  You see, by the time all three of our boys make it into Catholic grade school, we will be paying $1500 each month. Twelve months per year.  And that’s if tuition doesn’t go up between now and then.  I don’t know how families do it. I really don’t.

Slightly Tangential Rant:  The case could be made, (of which I will provide the Reader’s Digest Version here) that the cost of Catholic elementary education does not fall in line with the pro-life teachings of the Church. Think I’m going extreme? Bear with me. As Catholics, we are encouraged (expected, really) to be open to God’s creative work in us and have large families, and are also encouraged to support our parishes by attending our Catholic schools and educating our children with a catholic worldview.  But the cost of Catholic education continues to rise to the point where it is pricing itself out of reach for these large Catholic families. Are we expected to choose? Have a large family OR send your kids to Catholic school? Or are the Catholic schools getting to the point where they are going to price themselves out of existence? The price tag is already out of reach for many – how much longer can they go on like this?  I don’t know. I have three children. Not a large family by any means. And yet, large enough to get us to the point that saying that it will be “a challenge” to get them through grade school is the severest of understatements.

Sure, the response is that providing this education for your children requires sacrifice. Well, OBVIOUSLY. But tell me what kind of sacrifices a family can make that will scrounge up an extra $1500 each month.  That said, Tim and I have started weighing the sacrifice of NOT sending the boys to our parish school (School #1) in the interest of saving and being able to send them to Catholic high school.  Accepting this change in thought has been heart wrenching for me. I like to make plans and stick to them. Changing things up after several years of planning to do something a certain way (okay, even after 5 minutes of planning to do things a certain way) has been PAINFUL.  But we decided to look into a local charter school (Free!) about which everybody raves.  It’s a school of choice (we’ll call it School #2) and it’s in such high demand that admission is conducted by solely by lottery (kindergarten) and waiting list (upper grades).

I toured the school a couple of weeks ago and, although I pretty much hated it initially, I’ve come around to the realization that what I hated the most was that it wasn’t School #1. What I liked the most? Well let’s see – how much the parents love it…the test scores that are head and shoulders above the other schools...the fact that 100% of the students in attendance are there because their parents have CHOSEN to send them there and have taken the time and energy to ensure their admission.  There’s more, but the point is? I came around.  I had gotten the point (as angsty and stressful as the process was) that I wanted Chris to attend that school. Even though it would be hard to choose not School #1, it would be a very smart move to choose School #2.

Last Saturday, Tim and I attended the admissions lottery. We went in knowing it was a gamble (it is a lottery after all) but I think we both really just expected that his number would fall within the admittance range. There had to be nearly 200 families there, each clutching their numbered tickets anxiously. The room buzzed with eager anticipation for the principal to take the stage. When she finally did, she explained the procedures that would follow and then announced how many spaces were available in the kindergarten lottery.  (You see, they accept eighty kindergarten students each year…four classes of twenty…but priority is given to incoming siblings.) Based on the collective gasp that sucked all the air out of the room, I was not the only one who was surprised by the number.

Twenty Six.

TWENTY SIX SPACES AVAILABLE, to be filled by TWENTY SIX children of the TWO HUNDRED families in the room.  Our ticket was number 73. As it turned out, the first ticket drawn was number 34. Thus, families numbered 34-59 jumped right up and ran to the admissions table. Families numbered 60+ dragged their lifeless bodies over to the waiting list table. Some just left and gave up altogether.

All is not lost. Christopher sits at number 13 on the waiting list and, while it seems unimaginable (based on the interest and the SHEER JOY of the parents in the room) that they would burn through that many spaces on the list by September, it’s possible that he’ll move up. (One of his preschool classmates is number 70!) One thing is for sure – he will hold his space on the list until he moves up to the top spot, whether that happens this summer or when he’s in fifth grade. At that point, we can either accept the spot and move him (thus securing sibling spots for Jake and Nate) or decline.

While I want to say that OBVIOUSLY we won’t decline, now I don’t know. I hear that if you get called up in the middle of the school year you have to accept the space immediately and TRANSFER SCHOOLS, otherwise you lose your spot.  If someone can explain to me how that would be in the best interest of my sweet, sensitive boy – moving him away from his new friends, new teacher, new environment to be the new kid among an even larger community – then great. But I can’t see how that is possible.  Right now, Tim and I are praying that whenever he gets called up, it won’t be in the middle of his kindergarten year. Or the middle of any year, for that matter.

In the meantime, today I brought in his registration to School #1. I’m happy that he will be going there, really I am. It’s a smaller, more close-knit community. He already has friends who go to school there. We’re over there all the time anyway, so he is very familiar with the grounds and most of the people. We even have family members who work for the parish.

I won’t pretend that I’m not anxious about this – that I’m not worried about his getting called up to School #2 in the middle of the year – that I’m not very concerned about the financials of this whole thing.  But I will say this – I prayed. I prayed so hard about this.  I BEGGED God to help us make this decision because I didn’t trust myself and my emotions about the whole thing. I plead for him to make clear to me which school was the most appropriate one for my boy – the best place for him to be. And what did he do? He took one out of the equation.  He took away the one that I would have chosen.  I have to trust, now, that my prayers have been answered rightly. As Tim encouraged me the other day, “we have to take heart in the knowledge that God will provide for the plan he has for us.”

Sigh. Sometimes I wonder why it’s not easier to trust the One who loves us so.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Why I'm Participating in Biggest Blogging Loser In 7 (Not-So-Quick) Takes

I've been wanting to document why, exactly, I've decided to participate in Jennie's Biggest Blogging Loser contest, but the post that I write in my head is about 700 pages of angsty weight-on weight-off struggle. You don't want to know all of that. So, since it's Friday, and since my children are either sleeping or playing outside with my mom, we'll give it a condensed whirl.

1.) Never in my life have I been thin. As such, my weight has (for as long as I can remember...even in my early elementary years) been on the forefront of my mind. Looking back, I see that even when that weight rested at a healthy number, I would still worry and stew over it because I didn't look like my friends. I remember going in for my high school sports physical, getting weighed by the doctor, and being told, "Wow. You don't LOOK like you weigh THAT much." Compliment? Criticism? Backhanded compliment? I don't know. But here we are fifteen or so years later and I still remember it, for what that's worth.

2.) In college, two of my dearest friends and I participated in the Weigh Down Workshop. What a fantastic ministry this is, and I highly recommend it. Through it, I finally learned the value of my natural hunger and fullness signals. It's amazing to me that I had to TRAIN my body (and my mind) to do what it is created to do naturally. Focusing solely on hunger and fullness, I lost fifty pounds. That's TEN five-pound bags of flour. I can't figure out how to carry that much weight around, and yet I was doing it for a long time.  I loved following the Weigh Down principles and that program was exactly what I needed at that point in my life. It seemed to me to be Weight Loss Truth, and I couldn't understand how or why anyone would choose any other program to try to lose weight. I was young and naive and didn't give much credit, at that time, to the fact that maybe (JUST maybe) people are different and have different needs when it comes to these things.

3.) Weighing fifty pounds less than ever before, I wore a bikini in Hawaii.  Then I moved to San Francisco to be closer to Tim. Then I married Tim. Then I got pregnant. Then I gained 85 pounds.  Seriously. Eighty. Five.  I was frustrated by the weight gain at the time, but didn't worry too much because I had the key to weight loss. After Christopher was born I remember telling my doctor that I'd "lost weight before. I know how to do it." And I did. But not well. And while I was struggling with hunger and fullness while breast feeding, a nagging feeling began in me about nutrition.  You see, the Weigh Down theory is that God, who created you, created your body to know what you need. It knows when you're hungry, so your stomach growls. It knows when your satisfied, so your body feels full.  It knows what nutrients you need so when you're hungry you will desire certain foods to meet those needs.  I believe all of this to be true. Really, I do. But I also know myself well and I know that my mind is A LOT stronger than those body signals. Sure maybe my body wants the protein in the scrambled eggs....but my taste buds want that giant chocolate muffin from Costco. I began to realize that, as great as Weigh Down was for me, if I was good at listening to the signals my body was sending I wouldn't be overweight in the first place. I began to think there was something more that I needed.

4.) Around that same time, other bloggers who I was reading were starting up with Weight  Watchers and having great success.  I wanted nothing to do with it. My mom did Weight Watchers when I was a kid. I remember she had to go to meetings and weigh herself in front of other people. NOT FOR ME.  But those bloggy friends were having too much success for me to ignore and (AND!) they were doing it all from the anonymity of their computer screens. I signed up on my second wedding anniversary - Chris was nine months old. The weight loss was sudden, dramatic, and easy. By his first birthday, I had only 20 pounds to go to my pre-baby weight.

5.) One week later, I discovered that I was pregnant with Jacob. Scared to death about gaining 85 AGAIN (especially since I was starting 20 pounds up) I was VERY careful about what I ate during that pregancy. After Jacob was born I hit the weight watchers hard, lost all of the Jake weight by his 7-month birthday and only had ten pounds to go when....yup. When I discovered my pregnancy with Nathan. Jake was ten months old.

6.) And now here we are. Nathaniel is 14 months old. His first birthday had me at the highest first birthday weight of all three boys and, while it didn't drag me down, I was aware of that fact. Aware enough for it to bug me, but thinking I'd get to it eventually. I was ignoring my Weight Watchers (but pretending I wasn't) and pretending the Weigh Down principles didn't really exist. While I had goals for the weight loss, I wasn't reaching them. I was just pushing them back. And back. And back.

7.) Jennie's contest came just at the right time. It's given me the kickstart that I needed and the motivation, too. Since our first weigh-in on January 3, I've lost 15.8 pounds. My clothes are getting bigger and going shopping in my closet is getting more and more fun as I rediscover my style (believe it or not, I used to have style....not just this winter's "fleece chic" look I'm sporting.)  I'm in control and so very happy to be regaining the confidence that I had before.  The competition is stiff, for sure, but the benefits are beyond awesome.

(And winning a few dollars to replace the hideous chandelier above our dining room table is pretty motivating too!)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

And He Was Really Disappointed That Santa Didn't Leave Any Presents There, Too.

It’s funny the things you look back on and remember.

Funny, those things that strike you as being so very special even though, to most, they may be so mundane.  For as long as I can remember, my Nonna has left a night light on in the kitchen. The whole entire house will be dark, grandfather clock chiming in the middle of the night, and if for some reason you happen by the kitchen you will find that little light glowing right there under the cabinets. Though my days of sleeping in her house have long since passed, I cling to that memory and the warmth, tenderness, and care that it represents.  That glowing light in the kitchen was always a reminder to me of how much we were loved. Even in their sleep my grandparents were caring for us. Providing for us. Loving us.

In this house we have an ABUNDANCE of nightlights, nearly all of which are Christmas-themed. My mom has given them to the boys year after year. As a matter of fact, there are two in each of their bedrooms that stay there all year long. They love them and they serve a purpose, so why not?  I came across an extra nightlight as I was unpacking the Christmas decorations this year, and the memory of that kitchen scene burst right back into the forefront of my mind. So I brought it straight into the kitchen, above the toaster, where it remained for the duration of the Christmas season.

I think that we managed quite well this year, the first Christmas without my Nonno here to celebrate with us.  It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, perhaps because I worried so much about it going in.  Who was going to hold the big garbage bag to collect all of the gift wrap on Christmas Eve? Who was going to sit at the head of the table? Who was going to tell me that the next baby better be a girl “or else.” (An obvious statement when you learn that the man absolutely LOVED being the father to three daughters.) And yet, the absence of those things went by with hardly any notice.

It’s funny the way you react to things you don’t think you’d react to and vice versa.

Funny, how you walk through the liquor aisle at Costco and burst into tears when you pass the Johnny Walker Black because that was what you gave him for Christmas year after year.  Funny how you debate over whether to purchase the expensive DiSaronno or the cheaper generic amaretto with tears in your eyes and finally, against your better judgment, opt for the pricier version because that is what he always served you.  The heart does funny things and responds to memories at the oddest times, doesn’t it?

What’s not so funny, though, is watching your children begin to understand all of these things for themselves.  The loss of my grandfather came about pretty quickly, starting and ending all in the month of July.  There were lots of doctor visits, lots of ambulance rides, a long hospital stay.  While I never talked about it directly with the boys, I should have known that they were listening. (Christopher, in particular.)  Hindsight reveals that I should have been more aware of those little big ears. Blasted hindsight.  We never told him that Nonno died. Sure we went to a special Mass for him and we prayed for him a lot, but we never had a “This is what happens when people die” talk with Chris. What we DID do was start visiting my Nonna a lot more frequently. Sometimes he would ask where Nonno was, but never with enough interest for me to worry to much about how I answered. (“Is Nonno going to be there?” …. “No, Nonno is not going to be there.”) Quick and easy. For him and for me. Okay, mostly for me. It is true that I didn’t know how to talk about it with him. My main goal being not to start crying every time we mentioned the name.

This Fall, Tim’s mom came down with a pretty bad bout of Pneumonia. An ambulance came to get her. It took her to the hospital where she stayed for a few days. We talked to the boys about this a lot. Jake came with me to visit her one day while Chris was at school, but as it worked out, Christopher never came in the hospital to see her. He was not visibly shaken by all of this, but when she came home you can guess who was GLUED to her side from the moment we stepped in their front door until the last second he could squeeze out before we left. This went on for a couple of weeks.  The other thing that happened at this point was a sudden and severe shift in behavior at the twice-weekly preschool drop-off.  While he’d only started school a few weeks before, even in his very hesitant beginnings we never had behavior like this. SCREAMING. CRYING. CRAWLING over the teacher’s shoulders when she would take him so I could leave. It was awful.  I spent the entire morning of my birthday agonizing over whether or not he really was ready to start preschool. Maybe we forced him into this too quickly.

I should have figured it out when one day, at that same time, he asked me out of the blue, “Mom? Where’s Nonno?”

Sometimes I can be so dense.

My mom ended up being the one who cracked the code: Nonno rode in an ambulance. Nonno went to the hospital. Nonno Disappeared.  Oma rode in an ambulance. Oma stayed in the hospital…. Suddenly the separation AGONY started to make sense. If my mom’s hypothesis was right, Christopher was becoming aware of the fact that people in his life, people who he really loved, were disappearing. Perhaps he was trying to make sure that would stop happening.

Within a couple of weeks he came through the anxiety and started to give my mother-in-law a little bit of space.  We talk about Nonno a lot and when he asks me where he is, I answer honestly: He lives with Jesus now. In Heaven.

Feeling like we’ve both come a long away with all of this, I don’t know why I was surprised with the conversation that we had at my Grandma’s house yesterday afternoon.  We had driven down for a quick visit with my Nonna and then headed over to the house where my dad grew up to empty a few more things out. This month marks two years since her death, and we’re still emptying out. (That’s another story all its own.) I was standing in the (nearly empty) dining room, packing a few boxes while Tim had the boys out in the backyard. After a few minutes, Christopher came in and said, “Mom? Did Grandma die?”  I surprised myself with my response: “Yes, honey. Grandma died.”  What followed was a bevy of questions: Where does she live now? (In Heaven) Why doesn’t she live here anymore? (Because she gets to live with Jesus now) Did Santa come here? (No) Why not? (Because no children live here.) But why did she die? (Because she was very very old and it was time for her to go live with Jesus, but Grandma sure did love you. She loved you very much.)

The question that followed nearly shattered my heart into a million pieces, and I type it with tears in my eyes: But if she loved us then why did she move so far away from us?

My boy. My precious little soul. So simple. So honest. So sincere.

So we had a nice long talk about Grandma and Heaven, about Jesus. And he handled it. Not only did he handle it, but he handled it WELL.  Sure, he’s now telling everyone he knows that Grandma died. (Which, she did, but it was TWO YEARS AGO.) And his parrot of a little brother is telling everyone as well. But that’s okay. I suppose that’s how he is going to process it. This is important information that he has been given, and while it really happened so many months ago, for him it’s a brand new reality. I need to allow him that.

And so it begins – the time has come for me to share my Faith with my son in a deeper level than I have been required as of yet. You wouldn’t think that someone with a degree in Theology who taught this stuff for a living would feel so…challenged…by the task, and yet I do. Of  the very many people who came through my classroom, the three most important students I will ever have are now right here before me. I can only pray that I will live up to the task.

It's funny. Funny, how sometimes the greatest lessons (about some of the hardest things) come at the hands of a four year old.