Choices and Mysteries

I’m going to be a great-aunt!

Okay, technically, I’m going to be a really good first cousin twice removed. But since that doesn’t exactly fly off the tongue, and since Holly (the mother-to-be) has always called me her aunt, then great-aunt I shall be to this new little love, coming our way in April: the first child of the next generation in my family.

Holly is the older daughter of my beloved cousin Susan—my best friend since the playpen days—who died when Holly and her sister Maddy were just 20 and 17. Holly’s baby will be named Suzannah, a lovely choice that pays homage to Susan and to Susan’s mother (also Susan) while avoiding the burden of “Susan III” (since she will be neither British royalty nor pope in a parallel universe). And as if that distinction weren’t enough, young Suzannah will go by perhaps the cutest nickname ever: Sookie.

Today is New Year’s Day, as well as (in the Catholic tradition) the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. Both observances call us to pondering. Like many of you, I’ve been thinking back to this time last year, marveling at the astounding changes 365 days can bring. Last year, this baby was only a twinkle in God’s eye. Yet, by this time next year, our family will barely be able to remember a time when we were Sookie-less.

So here’s where my mind has been going, as I ponder the child on her way.

  • Sookie would not exist if Holly hadn’t been born (obviously).
  • Holly would not exist if I hadn’t introduced her mother to my housemate, Jeff, when I was a volunteer at Freedom House in Richmond in the late 80’s.
  • I wouldn’t have gone to Richmond after graduation if my college friend Joe hadn’t suggested a “theology club” spring break service project to visit his favorite high school teacher, who had become the Executive Director of Freedom House, where Jeff was already a volunteer.
  • Joe and I would not have been friends if I hadn’t gone to Saint Joseph’s University.
  • I would not have gone to St. Joe’s if my dad hadn’t taught accounting there.
  • Dad wouldn’t have taught accounting if he hadn’t been laid off from a corporate job he hated.
  • He wouldn’t have had the job to lose if he hadn’t majored in accounting at Villanova.
  • He wouldn’t have chosen that major if his mother hadn’t pushed him into it when he came out of college seminary after two years, unsure what to do with his life.

But push my Grandmother did, and major my Dad did; then he took a number of tedious accounting jobs before getting laid off and picking up a night school gig at St. Joe’s, which led to a 32-year satisfying teaching career for him and a faculty scholarship for me, which enabled me to graduate debt-free and go volunteer at a street center in Richmond for a year, where I met Jeff, whom I introduced to Susan, who had Holly, who’s having Sookie. Who apparently owes her existence to a pushy great-great-grandmother–among many, many other things.

We never know what will be the pivot-points in our lives, or how our own choices may create turning points for others. But choose we must, all our days. Some things are matters for discernment. But, as we know too well, which way we turn when leaving the house on any given morning can have as much life-changing impact as our career choice. More importantly, our not-great decisions and even tragic missteps still leave God plenty of room to work, since everything (according to St. Ignatius) has the potential to call forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.

The threshold on which each of us stands on this New Year’s Day is the cumulative result of choices—our own and others’—as well as circumstances of no one’s choosing. And so we step across it, trusting that our best and most sincere choices, made in good faith, will lead us home.

As I say in my book: I can only bow before the mystery.

One final note . . . speaking of choices and mysteries . . . Sookie’s mom, Holly, works for a day care center, taking care of other people’s babies. She will have worked there full time for less than a year before the baby is born (for a pittance, by the way–especially relative to what parents pay the Center for their children’s care at her hands).  Not only does she have no paid maternity leave, but they are not even obligated to hold her job, should she happen to need more than one week off after delivery.  They have been very clear about this. It’s a lousy deal, and consequently it’s been hard for her to see a good choice; finances are alarmingly tight. And so, recently, Holly opened her own window, setting up a “Go Fund Me” page to try to finance her maternity leave—the quality time together that every parent and infant deserve.

This is an unusual choice for me in this blog, but the new year calls us to take risks, right?  So I’m just going to put it out there . . . if you are moved to help this mother-to-be (still so sad about the loss of her own mom) to start life well with her daughter, here’s the link to Holly’s Go Fund Me.

And whatever 2019 holds for you, as always: may your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed!

Christine

Let the little children come unto…someone with more patience.

Today’s post is an homage to anyone who works with children.

Last Wednesday evening, my Alternative Spring Break team spent about 90 minutes doing after-dinner childcare at Bethany House, an emergency shelter for women and children in Cincinnati.  We do it every year.  It’s always challenging, but this year was aggravated by an unexpected toy donation that arrived just as dinner was ending:  dozens of light-up flying discs.  (The kind where you pull a string on the handle, and the thing goes sailing across the room.)

I don’t know what the (presumably well-intentioned) donors were thinking.  Did they imagine that these kids would be able to play with them in a park or on the beach some moonlit evening?  Did they envision for one moment what a dozen kids in two small basement rooms would do with spinning, careening, light-up toys?  Any preconceived notions my college students had about actually engaging with the children went out the (non-existent) window, as we spent the whole night trying to keep our charges from injuring themselves or one another as they shrieked, ran, and launched the practically-weaponized toys at one another and at us.  Oh, and cried when they broke.  And accused one another of stealing the unbroken ones.  And cried some more.

We experienced a stark contrast the next morning, as we kept company with the kindergarten class at Corryville Catholic Elementary School.  Those kids were just as squirmy and excitable as the ones at the shelter, of course.  But the difference was in the relationship.  We didn’t know the Bethany kids, and they didn’t know anything about us except that they were never going to see us again.  The Corryville teachers, on the other hand, knew the kindergarteners by name, knew their quirks and interests, and had gained their trust, so they were able to personalize their approach to even the crowd-control aspects of education.  We watched twenty-some five year-olds sit cross-legged, hands in laps, and read along with a Dr. Seuss book on the smartboard.  Amazing!

I do not draw this contrast to be critical of Bethany House.  The staff there is busy trying to attend to their residents’ most basic needs—literally, food and shelter—while helping women coming out of chaotic living situations to find some stable ground for themselves and their families.  The temporary nature of emergency shelter rules out the kind of careful attention that a kindergarten classroom allows.

But children desperately need such careful attention.  It’s not my gift (I work with college students for a reason), but I am in awe of anyone who possesses it.  The heroic patience and endless self-giving that good teachers and other childcare workers demonstrate deserves to be praised–and compensated–as the foundational work of tomorrow’s society.

I’m home from Cincinnati now, heading back to work in the morning.  I will resume my meetings, and project work, and to-do lists.  But I will carry the images of those Bethany House children in my heart, praying that, when this rocky transition is complete, they will find themselves in a place where they are seen, known and loved by the many grownups in their lives, just like the little ones at Corryville.


There is another group of children on my mind., this one much closer to home.  On April 7, our Mercy honor society (Sigma Phi Sigma) is throwing a baby shower for new and expectant moms served by Catholic Social Services in Norristown.  We will decorate, and serve food, and make a fuss, and send them off with useful gifts.  If you would like to help, check out this Amazon wish list for things like diapers, wipes, onesies, blankets, etc.  All items will ship straight to Campus Ministry at Gwynedd Mercy University.  Just remember, the shower is on April 7th so we need things ASAP!


If your daily life or chosen work immerses you in the lives of little children, God bless you.  Thank you for everything you do.  I say it every week, but I say it with extreme fervor in your regard:

May each of your ordinary days be extraordinarily blessed!

~ Christine