Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The gift we keep on giving

My brother Paul used to take my niece Leigh's blanky when she was a baby, and periodically, he would wrap it up and hand it to her as a present. Not once did she unwrap that gift and have anything less than the fullest smile of sweet surprise across her face. It never got old, and her happiness over the gift seemed endless. Consequently, we all enjoyed watching her open it up, as much as she enjoyed opening it.

Catholics have the joy of celebrating Christmas over and over again for the eight day octave. Every morning we wake up and do it all over again. Maybe not with the packages each time, but the day is approached as hallowed, and as such we eat, and drink, and make merry with abandon, while work, school, and stress, have to take a back seat.

I grew up in a huge family, where Christmas vacation was marked by lots of Christmas music and intense bouts of  board game playing, interrupted only by lunch and dinner breaks that consisted  mostly of chocolate. Breakfast never occurred during Christmas week, as we all stayed up too late playing games to call anything  breakfast ( not matter how breakfasty the foods were) by the time the next days rounds had begun.

When we married, Fred and I hoped and wanted to have a big family, (or at least were open to it), and so early on, we decided we would keep Christmas at home. Always living a few states away from family meant that Christmas visits would come during the octave. And so they have. Each and every year some different and some of the same members of our family arrive to join in celebrating with the kids. I don't think there has ever been a Christmas of my life that I haven't celebrated with Jacquie, and Paul is a close second. The last few years Celine has been a regular in the Christmas game wars. She arrives later today with Uncle Bud and I told her to bring her A game now that I am all warmed up from the twins marathon-game-playing visit.

I cannot begin to tell you the joy it brings to my own kids, and now to my siblings, nieces and nephews, as we share these times and repeat the pattern, from year to year. And the best part is, as we move each year in the future with our  own kids, we are all allowed those few precious days to go back. Back again to our  own childhood. Back to those memories and familiar feelings that remind us of all the more  simple, and beautiful parts of life.

My god-daughter Maria wrote me an email on Christmas night, and I could practically hear her excited giggling through it,  as she told me she could not wait to come to my house and spend a few days with her cousins. It was one of the most precious gifts I received this year.

To me Christmas isn't just a day, but a place, a way of being. It is the profound realization that "God  so loved the world so, He gave His only begotten Son"  of course, and  P.S. there is only one way to compete with a gift like that.

It is to give the gift of ourselves as well. To give our time, and our happiness, and our lives to one another. And the wrapping is just as unlikely a package as a babe in a manger. But how fun is it, year after year, to give the same gift  to one another, and still have the opening met with perfect joy and surprise!  To play the same games, and sing the same songs, and bake the same foods, and  have each time still be a  first. To see the same thing once more, and have it be ever ancient, ever new. To unwrap the blanky over and over again. And to have the wonder of a childhood return to our own hearts.

Family is the gift we keep on giving to one another.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The mythical Christmas Eve

I know for most of you Christmas Eve is a time of advanced celebration, party going, goodwill and cheer, and peace to all mankind. It's not like that for Fred and I, it hasn't been, and I don't think it will be for many, many years... if ever.
decorating the church this morning

Christmas Eve for us, is one giant blur- and then it's Christmas morning and we are opening presents at 5 am with our eyeballs artificially held open through large amounts of caffeine.

Let me be clear, it does not matter how much prep work we do ahead of time, we wont have an extra moment  by the time the day gets here. I have the prep thing, pretty much, down to a science. Shopping done well in advance, Christmas cards mailed, packages sent, wrapping done ( ahem) at least a few days in advance, baking and cooking completed yesterday. But while I do those things in the hopes of attaining that mythical Christmas Eve bliss, it never pans out that way.

Inevitably someone will not be able to find dress shoes- even if he just wore them 2 days ago- and was told when he got home to put them directly in his closet- and so "he" has to be a wise men in sneakers instead. Which at this stage of the game doesn't even phase me because I actually planned to put 2 of the three girls in ballet slippers  ( the flimsy kind that aren't real shoes, in case you're wondering) with their  beautiful dresses, since black shoes that fit them all and remain findable is never-gonna-happen in this house.  And the car will be on empty when we are getting into it. And someone else will have work that allows them to sneak into the pew, just in the nick of time for mass.

 And even when the dinner is mostly finished, it still takes both Fred and I  plenty of time to get it into the pretty dishes, and onto the table for the crowd.I am currently waiting for the sugarplums to begin dancing in the next room.Naturally we read Twas the Night before Christmas. It may take a loooonnnggg while, as Sophia fell asleep promptly after performing her role as a sheep and didn't wake up til the end of mass. But the energy in the house is indescribable. And no matter that it is all a blur, it is a wonderful blur of happiness, family, food, salvation, and joy.

The mighty babe arrives.
He comes.
Ready or not.
Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2014

I'm being blackmailed

Fred and I have an unspoken policy when it comes to our large family. We decided years ago unfortunately, that we should do the same things with the youngest kids, that we had the energy to do with the older kids. Being #11 of 12 gave me a curious vantage point on this philosophy. My brother Mark and I definitely seemed to miss out on a few of the finer things our older siblings enjoyed.

Which brings me to our current situation. We were looking back at some  photos, trying to pick out some for our Christmas card. We came across Christmas pageant photos with the five older boys all dressed up for the parts. After a few smiles, I gasped horrified. The younger five kids have not ever been in a Christmas pageant. The ones we participated in when the boys were younger were at the Grotto, and they don't do that any more, so technically I am off the hook right? I told Fred I felt badly the younger ones hadn't been in a pageant- he told me I already had too much on my plate and that I shouldn't take anything else on, in fact I was being foolish to even consider it now. Did this help. No such luck.  My conscience would not let me sleep that night. The next day, I contacted the DRE of our parish and asked if my home-schooled, unsocialized, misfit kids, could possibly be snuck into the parish pageant. She was, as always, thrilled we wanted to be a part. Practice was this past Saturday, with a mini rehearsal for the Sunday school parents the next day.

Thomas and Michael are kings, Sarah is a star over the manger, and Mary and Lolo ( aka Sophia) are sheep. Lolo tugged at my coat when we got there and said "I feel a little scared". I assured her she'd be fine and she could stay close to Mary. Michael, who didn't want to take part at all, agreed when Thomas said he'd be a king with him.  After finding out he was to carry myrrh, he then became indignant and announced loudly to me  "Oh great, now I'm supposed to carry deodorant for dead bodies in front of everyone???" The practice went without a hitch. I was very proud of myself indeed. Ha-ha to Fred, not so foolish after all!

Next morning I woke the kids for the dress rehearsal and we drove over to begin. All the kids took their places and I leaned down to Lolo and said "You are going to be so terrific as a sheep today!" and then Lolo answered calmly and determinedly "No, I'm not going to be a sheep anymore. Today I'm going to be a star."


Lolo, is not easily swayed once she sets her mind to an idea. She is so stubborn I would rather wrestle with a lion, than try to move her will once she has made it up. I began to beg and plead with her "Oh Lolo, there are no more star costumes, and you made such a good sheep!" She didn't say another word. She just crossed her arms and sat down on the floor. 

This was bad.

 She only does that when she is finished-totally and utterly finished,  with negotiations. She wont cry, scream, or make a fuss. She will just not move another inch.

I was in a panic. Forget family history, if Lolo didn't do this Fred would say "I told you so!" smugly, and he would be soooo right to gloat! What was I thinking? Fool, fool, fool.

And then I did it. I did that thing no parent is supposed to do to properly handle  a child. I resorted  to  bribery. "Lolo, I'll buy you something!" She still didn't move. "Come on, if you be a sheep today, I'll buy you WHATEVER you want!" and then those sweet manipulative little eyes turned towards me and Lolo said "will you buy me a stuffed animal?"

"Sure!" says I.

"OK" says Lolo, and off she goes to the stage. Fred watched happily and all the children were terrific. The real deal is on Christmas Eve, directly before mass. Lolo walked off stage and I picked her up and told her how great she was and she  immediately said "So, where's that stuffed animal?"  Fred looked at me quizzically. "Nothing!" I mouthed silently, sticking my tongue out at him. And while the other children are now getting more excited by the day to perform, Lolo has asked me dozens of times when she'll get that stuffed animal. She is holding it over me. All.Day.Long.

Making fudge, she reminded me several time. Making sugar  cookies, She reminded me again. before bedtime... you get the idea. It is a total affront to my many years of mothering. How dare she pull my string this way/ "Remember Mom, I'll be a sheep if you get me that stuffed animal!"
I finally fessed up to Fred, much to his delight.


Tonight, I got the stuffed animal. And I aim  to show her him in the morning, but I will not give it to her until after her final performance. I intend to exact my revenge from now until Christmas Eve. That'll teach her. Or me. One of us had better learn something.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Worst day of the year...annually

Today was my scheduled worst day of the year. Its not always on December 20th mind you. Some years, it comes sooner or later than this date. Its really awful if it comes on the 24th. It was Fred and my day to wrap Christmas presents.

We both love, love, love to buy gifts. For each other, for the kids, for friends,family, tutors, postmen
 ( and women), garbage men etc. It's not a burden or a chore, we don't need anything back. It makes us truly happy, just cause God made us both that way.

But when it comes to wrapping- we are also similarly matched. And unfortunately, we both happen to also believe that presents, especially under the tree kind, should be wrapped.Did I mention neither of us like wrapping? So we wait and tell ourselves it will be easier to do all at once. Only it's not. And then one day, when its dangerously close to Christmas we wake up and try to nonchalantly mention "Today's the day" while sipping coffee. As if we aren't really pushing our marriage vows to the point of 'near occasion of sin levels' by undertaking this job.

So, we sent the older kids out with the younger kids. Because unlike having adult girls in the house, having adult sons in the house, it turns out, doesn't help in any way to get presents wrapped any quicker. The most they can do is leave, with other younger siblings in tow. Sigh.

And then the laundry room becomes our make shift wrap table. It is a fact, that my laundry room table is precisely 2 inches shorter than it should be for wrapping Christmas presents . This guarantees a neck, back, and headache by the days end. But that fresh hell doesn't even happen until all those Godforsaken price tags have been removed from each and every box. You know the ones I'm talking about.The sticky price tags, adhered to the boxes with crazy glue, that are so hard to remove they make your fingernails bleed, and that come on every-single-box-sometimes-in-multiple-layers-price-tags, yep, those are the ones. And then the paper rolls come out. And the bows ( which don't get attached until Christmas Eve- in case you're taking notes), and the many pairs of scissors and tape get piled into the room. And just as we are about to start.....

Fred announces we have forgotten something, anything, and he makes a mad dash to the local store to get it. Every. single. year.

  Last year, it was extra paper.This year it was labels, which I  desperately tried to tell him didn't matter, because we could just write names on the boxes with markers.... which then turned into a joint half hour search for markers.  Magic Markers are never in short supply in this house if you just look at the walls, floors, and a million pieces of construction paper adorned with every color marker crayola makes, but today, this day, the day it mattered most, the marker population was so sparse that I believed for a minute the Grinch had come to clean us out. The magic in my markers this year was that they disappeared.

So off Fred went smugly to the store. And I began the monumental task of wrapping. Seething a little under my breath that I was beginning this alone, again. Fred did return quickly, but I loathed him no less for abandoning me to this task for even a single minute alone. I thought that the feeling of questioning why-I-ever-married-this-man-in-the-first-place was confined to the labor room, but its not so. It visits me in my laundry room too once a year.

We start with the youngest, and work our way up. This is not without reason. We figure by the time we get to the last presents, we need the kids who get them to be the most generally tolerable in nature.  Given by that time, all the gifts all look like they have been wrapped by drunk people. And we pretty much are drunk, just without liquor. We cant see straight, cant cut anymore, curse every box that is not a perfect square ( and P freaking S almost NO boxes are perfect squares!), and stumble blindly over boxes and bags, while covered in bits and pieces of scotch tape.

About an hour into it the phone rang. It was a nameless adult child. He decided he was bringing the kids back early, because he just couldn't figure out what to do with the kids. And then  I heard Fred open his mouth and suddenly the gates of hell were unleashed. Because, by golly, no one was coming back into this house until every last gift was wrapped.

The good thing in all of this was after he got off the phone and told me, we both had a new target for our hate instead of each other "Aha! I agree!" Yes, its those goodfornothing children of ours fault that we have to wrap all these gifts after all! So we spent the rest do the afternoon with aching backs, paper cut fingers, indelible markers stains over our fingers, and various scraps of tape and loose paper stuck to ourselves, muttering nasty comments under our breath about our kids.

And when it was done and we stood back, and we looked at the pile of  beautifully (cut me some slack here folks) wrapped presents- our own hearts grew three sizes this day too.

And momentarily, as in labor, I have forgotten the pain, in the midst of the joy.

(Now excuse us, while we run out to do a little last minute shopping...)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Better done

We are wrapping up second quarter this week. Eight students in my house need samples/grades/tests in approximately seven different subjects each.  That is asking an awful lot, but it needs to be done. 
Done, mind you- I never said anything about quality.Happily, we finished up our home-school co-op yesterday, making life just a bit less hectic. My girlfriend Tammy, is fond of saying ( or maybe it's her mother, I can't recall) "Better done than perfect." Since Tammy has been my hero since high school, and beyond, I decided to adopt that as my personal motto. I may want it engraved on my tombstone. When things aren't coming out just right, p.s. with ten children, things rarely go just right, I whisper that motto under my breath. So we always finish things around here, just not perfectly. Oops. Oh well.

I have had several 'less than perfect' moments lately. Like picking up my  familys' finally finished Christmas cards. It took a few hours, that Fred and I really didn't have, to put together the collage. I checked it all over and paid for it, so proud of myself for finishing the project with a few weeks of Advent left to mail them all out. Retrieving them from the envelope to show the kids at home, I read out loud "Merry Christmas from the LeGares, Fred, Ellen, Andrew, Peter, John-Paul, Matthew, Joseph, THMOAS, Michael, Mary, Sarah, and Sophia." 

Guess what.The cards are still finished.

So now we have a  Thmoas

The good news is, we don't mind the nickname Thmoas. We told sweet Tommy, it sounded like a viking name- yah, kinda  like our friend Thane! Yes, that's it. Its actually way cool!

And I can see it's not just me suffering from this end-of-year-syndrome. My kids feel it too. Take for instance my dear child Joseph. He was assigned to write a "Dear Abbey" type column for the home-school paper in his Greek History class. Only it was cleverly entitled "Dear Aphrodite". He was supposed to make it cute or funny, and completely newsworthy. His tutor is about the most outstanding and accomplished woman I've ever met. Why she is spending years of her life teaching our rag-tag children English, History, and Literature is one of those small every day miracles I am choosing to take for granted in hopes she never comes to her senses. She makes history come alive for the kids, hosting Greek Olympics, celebrating the ides of March by having the children execute Caesar with gasps of 'et tu Brute?' and throwing Roman feasts with all the glory of the day. But Joseph has had as long a first half of school year as his mother, or so it seems. 

Today I opened a very polite email from his tutor telling him he may want to "rethink" what he wrote as it might not be great for the school paper. Too curious to let it go, I opened the original link to read:

Dear Aphrodite,
I am in love with you, marry me.
Hot Guy

Dear Hot Guy,
I will not marry you,now go cry in a ditch.

Yep, Joseph was finished. That's all he had. And that sentiment about sums it up. Its about that time of year when we all want to go somewhere and cry in a ditch. Between grading, shopping, cooking meals, working, dealing with weather, finishing school, it's normal to want to go somewhere and cry in a ditch.The good news, actually, the best news is, that feeling is actually not bad to have close to us. Advent isn't just about finishing up school work, and shopping, and semester grades- its about remembering we humans are in a desperate-ditch-crying-way and we are in need of some powerful saving.  Christmas does a good job of letting that bubble up to the surface given all the hassles that are included therein.

Hopefully at some point when we are 'crying in a ditch' somewhere, we can catch our breath long enough to remember,the mighty babe is coming.

And He is most welcome in this ditch. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Happy 50th Birthday Freddy!

Today is Fred's fiftieth birthday. I can't tell you how lucky I am to have him. It seems like all of my happiness is tied up in him. One single person. Wow.I always tell him, my day doesn't really begin until he walks in the door from work, and its  pretty true. I may accomplish an awful while he's gone, but it has  meaning once I see his face. Somehow, it all makes sense to me. And it makes the parts that were really hard, easier to bear, because I have a reason to work hard and its him. We built our lives into each other and raising this family.We are really one. Not only is it awesome having ten children together, its just as awesome when its only the two of us. Here are a few pictures from his birthday. It was spent hiking on this perfect day, and then enjoying time with our favorite people. Tonight he and all 7 boys are heading to a movie together.Love you Freddy!
hiking Catoctin
Pete trying to be reflective

at the vista
the girls think this was the best cake ever

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Greg's Anniversary

Its Greg’s one year anniversary.

I’m not sure what it is I am supposed to feel today. I know I couldn't fall asleep last night. My head was filled with so many memories and thoughts, it crowded out my need for rest. I do not feel just one thing, and that is part of the trouble of grief. I miss Greg and so that dull ache remains, and is heightened when I want to talk politics, or  history or  I want to share a story of my kids with him. Some days,  I want to call him and laugh about funny family stories and when I can’t, I am forced to lose him all over again in a new and awful way. So I’ve  said goodbye to him in pieces, as each one presents itself for me to push off the shore this past year.

Other times I feel such relief and happiness. It all ended okay. And for almost five years I worried about that . Every. Single. Day. And I pestered God about it, until I finally lost all hope of him helping me. When I look back, my prayers must have sounded like the robotic, worried,  mumbling of C-3PO. “Oh Dear Master Luke, what shall we do now! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!” But that was all I had given the time.

In hindsight, I see the hand of God, and most especially his mercy. It is the first thing I recall when anyone mentions Greg’s death, so profound an impact did it make. And I think of how God does things so perfectly and thoroughly that there can be no doubt of his gentle guiding hand.

Mostly this year I miss being able to go back. Back to those parts of me I left behind. The house I grew up in, Southampton summers, parts and pieces of an age of my life. I want to go back and climb the attic stairs, and sort through boxes until it unlocks something I can hold onto. I suppose I want to climb into the wardrobe until I find something that  takes me someplace, or tells me who I am, or reminds me of how I got to here and now. But  that’s gone, and I am left to find the answers within myself, travelling through my own memories and sorting them out as best I can.  Like an old photo, the images need  resolution, and I look at them harder hoping  the intensity of my stare will reveal something more, or help clear the picture, but it doesn't. Not yet.

We have each other, my siblings and I. And remarkably, that is the gift that was left behind at Greg’s passing. To let go of him, we simply had to hold onto one another, and so we did- and we are. We are one in our grief today, knowing things about how we each lost him in our own distinctly personal way, and yet all together as a family too.  

The total experience  of his loss, is like a mighty bruise on us. And from the purplish hue of it,  It looks to be with us for quite a while.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Prom 2014

John-Paul seems to be in fast forward mode lately. First he got his license. He finished his SAT's and school for his junior year, and tonight he heads off to the prom. He looked so handsome in his tuxedo, despite the fact he wore a fuchsia vest to match Katherine's ( his dates) dress. It takes quite a man to pull off a fuchsia vest and tie! Here are some pics:

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fred doesn't watch the children

I know Fred is like 'the best father ever' since he actually still likes his kids after having ten of them. making him the rare guy in a crowd these days. And I have often praised him for his many wonderful, good, husbandly qualities ( is husbandly a word?). But man, oh man, is he surprisingly bad at watching over the kids in dangerous situations.

Last week we were at the ocean for our anniversary. We took the whole family. I know its a little crazy, but we ( sort of) like it, and have fun together. I know how much Fred likes swimming in the ocean and fishing. It means a whole lot to him. He can spend a whole lot of time in the water just jumping waves. Fishing is a religious experience for him.

I on the other hand view the ocean with the necessary awe a mother feels knowing a swell of water could sweep in and drown unsuspecting children at any moment. Which is essentially how I feel around the water all the time. For me visiting the ocean is akin to going on vacation to an active volcano, where you may indeed enjoy the sheer power and majesty of it, but you'd be a fool to ever get comfortable enough to stop worrying that she might blow at any time.

So on our last night of vacation Fred told me to "go relax" he would take the kids to the ocean for a short walk along the shore. Naive trusting fool that I am, I agreed. I did ask him "you're just letting them walk and collect seashells right?" cause obviously my spidey senses were already tingling, he said yes- of course- no worries!

My younger five kids, all dressed in real clothes, headed down to the seashore.

A few minutes later I asked Pete to open the door so I could listen to the waves. He did and within seconds i heard shrieking laughter. I knew it was my kids. What on earth could be going on, I wondered. Slipping onto the balcony I saw Fred standing at the shore line fishing, while the children were all fully clothed and swimming entirely unsupervised.

It took me one and a half decades of the rosary to reach them, and I assure you I prayed out of necessity on the way down. I actually kept my composure as I approached them on the shore. Fred, smiled, trying to pretend he hadn't been utterly consumed by the fishing line and hadn't lost track of the children. "Go upstairs, they're all fine!" he said. "Nah. I think I'll wait it out here for a few minutes and then take them back with me." He tried to persuade me and I finally had to just say it to him plainly "Sweetie, you cant help yourself, and I get that. Really I do. But I'm gonna take the kids back now, cause I really like you. And if I don't, and something happened to one of the kids, I'd either divorce or kill you. and after 21 years of marriage, that seems like a shame.And also costly and messy come to think of it. So lets just cut to the chase and I'll change the kids into pj's and we'll stay married a while longer.

He thought my logic was pretty good.

The washing machine is broken

Our washing machine is broken. Or at least its broken enough for me to have given up on it. It still whirls clothes around in it for the allotted time, but when you open the door at the end of the cycle- everything smells bad. In fact it smells way worse than it did when you first put the clothes in, to begin with. Its become a magic stink bomb of sorts.

The even worse part about this is that Fred isn't even *pretending* to try to fix it anymore. When I tell him 'Hon, the washing machine isn't working" he walks into the laundry room, looks at the growing piles of laundry, and then browses the computer for images of the newest models before calling it quits.

Tools aren't even part of the equation.

Which has actually made my housework surprisingly easy. I wake up, make my bed, throw some dishes in the dishwasher, wipe the counters down, and close the door to the laundry room. Voila! Job is done.

I know this will catch up with me at some point. Like when there are no more clean clothes in the house, or I cant fit any more dirty ones into the stinky laundry room any longer. But that day is not today. And there seems to be a lot of bathing suits and clean underwear between now and then.

So, I'm gonna just go with it for a while. Cause, you know, it was a long school year and all.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Matthew James Pio

Matthew was confirmed today, at the National Shrine Basilica of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. (Its not every day, your kid is confirmed within ten feet of a canonized saint!) Of all my children thus far, Matthew took his confirmation the most seriously. It has been a beautiful sunny day here for him. Bishop Rozanski did the honors. Matthew took Pio as his confirmation name, as he has prayed to him since he was about five years old. Today brings our sacramental power house to an end! We have had oodles of sacraments over the last few weeks and months. It feels like we actually need some ordinary time around here! I'll post some pics for you all to flip through. Say a little prayer for him today!
Matthew James Pio
Joe will be next in two years

Matt asked Joe to serve- this is the best shot I could get.

With the Bishop and his awesome sponsor Sarah!
party time!
Mrs. Denning, Matt's religion tutor for the year came to be with Matty!