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Happily Even After

Confrontation at the Post Office

June 28, 2010

Before I begin sharing a little story, first let me say that I highly respect the Postal Service and am most grateful for the very hard work they do…

I had a time-sensitive package to mail, so I ended up having to take Simon (4) and Lucy (2) to the post office with me.  We ended up stopping at the post office closest to Simon’s Montessori school (a Franciscan Montessori school, how cool is that?).  This particular office is VERY big.  They have lots of post office boxes, mail supplies, a passport station, greeting cards and something like six separate service stations.  Unfortunately, at the very busy noon hour, only two of the stations were servicing the line (even though there were more workers at the other stations NOT servicing the line) and the line was about 10-12 people long when we got in.

I imagine many parents have gone through the same feelings I had when I initially walked in: Thinking, “Hmmm, is this going to be too much with the children?” and then either cutting and running or pushing on through.  Simon and Lu seemed to be in a good place and I had to get this package in the mail, so I pushed on through. 

At first the two of them were staying pretty close to me, asking questions and looking around.  Then Simon asked if he could go look at some of the packing materials.  Lucy followed him over and they gradually moved on to the greeting cards, looking at pictures and chatting in little child talk back and forth.  At this point I am still eight people back in line and the children are probably about three yards away from me.  They would come check in from time to time and then go back to looking.  Then Simon realized Lucy was following him and he didn’t like that, but we managed to turn it into a game where I would hold Lu, he would hide and she would go find him.  Well, when she found him they began chasing each other in a circle around one of the displays. 

Now, I acknowledge whole-heartedly, that I get irked when a parent pays no attention to their children’s behavior in public and their children act like little hellions.  However, Lu and Simon were away from ALL the other patrons and counters, the display was solid and not something that could tip and they were being very quiet even as they chased round and round it.

Then the confrontation:

Postal worker (leaning over the counter, past the patron he is helping): “You are going to have to stop them from doing that. This isn’t a playground.”

Me (embarrassed but also slightly annoyed because the children had held it together admirably for over 15 minutes and deserved props for that):  “With all due respect, if the line wasn’t so long, they wouldn’t need to do that.”

Postal worker (not making eye contact but not backing down):  “Well, that’s just the way it is.”

Me (not really capable of backing down where my children are concerned): “Well, they’re children and that’s just the way it is.”

Leaving the post office (after holding the children right next to me and being taken care of by a different postal worker) there was so much going through my head.  Of course I called Joshua immediately and recounted the incident for him.  Happily, he laughed heartily at the exchange…then, he noted that I don’t take guff from anyone. And that got me thinking.

I do take a little bit of pride in being able to stand up for myself, and that is part of what was going on there.

I also recognized soon after becoming a mother that I really stand my ground where my children are concerned (hyper-mother bear instinct), and that was also part of what was going on there. 

The main thing I got to thinking about though, was “What is this like when it’s aimed at  Joshua?  What does Joshua have to put up with or wade through when I feel like I am just standing up for myself?”  When we get into conversations or discussions and I have a ready retort or can’t simply receive his input with some reflective silence?  I’ll have to try to be more conscious of this in those moments with him.  He’s a saint to bear with me…but he clearly gets a kick out of when someone else is on the receiving end!

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Family Pilgrimage

Family Pilgrimage

As soon as Stacey and I learned that the World Meeting of Families (WMOF) was coming to Philadelphia, we decided to attend with our three children. It was a no-brainer for us.

Since it was first convened in 1994 by Pope St. John Paul II, the WMOF is held every three years and is the world’s largest Catholic gathering of families. We both had moving experiences attending World Youth Days, so we had great hopes.

My experience of World Youth Day in 1993 profoundly shaped my understanding and relationship with the universal Church—simply being in the same space with thousands, even millions, of Catholics from around the world changed how I thought about being Catholic. I think that when we look back at the WMOF, we will say the same thing about its impact on our family.

At every turn this past week, we were surrounded by Catholic families from around the world. Our children met kids from Paraguay, Brazil, Louisiana, California, Argentina, and Texas. We heard world-class speakers while sitting next to parents changing diapers. Above all of the theology and Scripture and ideas that were shared, we were most moved by simply being with so many other Catholic families. We were pilgrims, but we felt at home.

Pilgrimages are a way to invest our lives and bodies in our faith. This week, we set out on a journey, put our feet on the road, and sought a deeper connection to God and others. Our main goal in this experience was to spend time together encountering the Church. Our time has not been without its share of meltdowns and angst—what family travels perfectly?—but we returned with good memories and a recommitment to one another.

Though we took in the sights of Philadelphia (we liked Pat’s cheesesteaks over Geno’s, viewed Van Gogh and Monet paintings, and studied Ben Franklin’s experiments), we traveled first as pilgrims. We packed lunches and walked long distances. We ran out of peanut butter and band aids. Our hotel room smelled of sweaty socks. We all had our moments of frustration and discomfort, but it was enriching to be on the same journey together. We returned more seasoned in the faith and bonded to one another.

There were two refrains in many of the talks we heard—including Pope Francis’—and they offered a solid theological grounding for family life. First, the Trinity: God is a communion of persons; we are created in this likeness; therefore, we are created for love and relationship, which is most fully realized in family life. Second, the Book of Genesis is rich in imagery that proclaims who we are and how God made us for one another. Relationship—especially in the family—is how we learn and practice love.

“Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love,” Pope Francis said in his homily at the concluding Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. “That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches. They are the right place for faith to become life, and life to become faith.”

I’ve been savoring that last line for a few days now: the family is where faith becomes life, and life becomes faith.

The motto for this WMOF was, “Love is our mission.” Our family took this to heart by huddling several times a day, placing our hands together, and calling out, “What is our mission?! Love’s our mission!”

The best advice I took from the meeting came from Greg and Lisa Popcak. They are well-known Catholic authors and speakers, and we’ve come to rely on their books in navigating parenthood. They said that every family should play, pray, work, and talk together. They suggested doing these four things every day for at least 10 minutes, and for an hour each at least once a week.

Talking, especially, is fundamental—on average, families share only 15 minutes a day together. Spending time together having conversations of depth is essential in grounding the family as the primary relationship in our lives. That is how family becomes a school of love, a “factory of hope,” in the words of Pope Francis.

Speaking of the pope—it was thrilling to see him. I was excited that our kids were so excited. We held our two youngest on our shoulders to see him drive by in his pope-mobile; we all waved and cheered. I was grateful for our children to have a personal connection—even if quick—with the head of the universal Church. It unified us with the crowd and with Catholics around the world.

At the opening of the World Meeting of Families, Archbishop Chaput (who confirmed me) said that the gathering would accomplish the purpose God intended for it if it renewed our commitment to one another as a family, and our awareness of the fundamental role of the family in society. It has certainly done that.


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