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Catholic Family Vignettes

A collage of literary snapshots from the life of a large traditional Catholic family

Month

August 2008

A whole new game…

Charlotte and Emily were playing with the very thin belt to a bath robe.

Charlotte:  “Hey mommy…do you have something better that we can play Blind Girls Buff with?”

Blind Girls Buff…now that’s a whole new game!

The little things…

Saturday morning is my least favorite day to grocery shop. It always seems there are fewer parking spaces, longer lines, the depletion of advertised specials and accordingly, grumpier customers.  Armed with a mile long shopping list, I quickly found myself wishing I was home with my family, enjoying the day rather than fighting my way through the crowded stores.

And then something interesting happened.  I had a brief encounter with a young man in a grocery store parking lot, that really demonstrated what a difference it makes when one is “faithful in the little things.”  Tall and thin, he couldn’t have been more than 17 years old. It was his job to push the carts back into the store. Not all customers are kind enough to return the carts to the conveniently placed covered return rack and quite a few had left theirs in various places. I watched as this young man set about retrieving them, eventually pushing a very long train over to the cart return. As I pushed my cart into the opposite side of the return rack, he flashed a quick smile and said, “Thank you very much, mam! You have a great day and thanks for shopping with us!”

That’s all he said and yet, in those few words, he said so much more. I was instantly cheered by his kind words. “Thank you…” “have a great day…” This young man was spending a glorious Saturday morning in a grocery store parking lot and he was happy. He didn’t have to say hello, but he did. And what on earth would provoke him to say “thanks for shopping with us?” He wasn’t on camera, no one was recording and yet he made that little extra effort that makes all the difference.  There are good things in store for a young man who exercises those little kindnesses; chances are his employer will be able to trust him in the bigger things, as well.

By virtue of his good example, I went to the next store considerably more cheerful than I had been at the previous store. Determined to make eye contact with other customers, smile and exude friendliness rather than irritation. In the baking supplies aisle, I smiled and said hello as I passed an elderly shopper in thoughtful contemplation of the wide selection of flour. A smile is an invitation; she asked me about the merits of unbleached vs. bleached flour.   In the produce aisle, I met another beautiful elderly lady whom I said hello to while looking at the strawberries…she shared her excitement over the significant savings this week, compared to last week’s much higher prices.  We ended up in the same checkout aisle.  She laughed and joked with the cashier and left a happy customer.  So did I…

How often I’ve missed opportunities to cheer others, to make those little efforts to brighten someone’s day! How often I’ve forgone occasions to compliment someone, to let them know how much I appreciate the little things they’ve done to bring joy to my life.

How I wish I had complimented that young man in the parking lot. I wish I had told him that his infectious good cheer had spread and that his faithfulness in such a small thing as common courtesy, had larger implications.

Something as simple as a smile, a couple kind words…they may seem small to us, but big things can happen when we take care of the little things…

‘Whoever is faithful in very little is faithful also in much…’

Fear, dread, hope and joy…conclusion

Pt. I

Pt. II

Pt. III

Can a mother be too protective, when it comes to her child? For the entire week prior to the meeting with the Social Services case worker, I wouldn’t let Emily out of my sight. Not for a second. Fearful that “they” would take her if I dropped my guard for a moment. It seems so irrational, as I write of it now. An unwelcome presence had insinuated itself into my home; fear, dread and interior chaos pervaded.

The past week had been fraught with such anxiety, uncertainty…I prayed that our Lord would give me peace and presence of mind to make it through the morning meeting. Despite all the negative emotions, I had real confidence that our Lord would work something great in this suffering. That’s one of the truly frightening aspects of trust in God: sometimes He allows the seemingly incomprehensible to happen, to work some greater good in our lives. The good, the bad and the ugly…all work to His greater glory!

Emily was thrilled to have a few private moments with mommy. Buckled into her car seat, she chattered happily in the backseat unaware of the concerns that had absorbed her parents for the past week. Both mommy and Emily were as “fashionably attired” as possible. It is a sad fact that the poor are treated differently in circumstances such as these. Were I to approach the Social Services case worker, unkempt with my child and I attired in torn and/or dirty clothes, many negative assumptions could and most likely would be made.

Elevator. Emily happily pushed the buttons. I took a deep breath, said a “Hail Mary” and approached the receptionist’s desk. Within moments a young woman nearly half my age, ushered us into her office. She introduced herself as Amy* and immediately began to apologize for the confusion of the past week.

“I’m so very sorry that you’ve had to go through this. I just received the police report this morning and the officer’s statements clearly indicate that no neglect was implied nor charged. I just wish we’d had this information sooner…”

“I thank you for your apology. This has been one of the worst weeks of my life. Hopefully, you’ll never have to experience such a degradation. To parent children for nearly a quarter of a century and then have a government agency begin to question your ability to parent. It’s been too much. I don’t understand why the police report wasn’t ordered from the beginning. I offered to bring you one…”

“We have procedures we must follow. Yes, you could have brought me a police report. But I would’ve had to order another one, just to make sure the one you brought had not been falsified. As it stands, I’m processing your case for dismissal. May I have Emily’s social security number?”

“No…I’m sorry. I can’t allow that. If you have no grounds for even having a case, I’m not going to give you a number to tie to a case that doesn’t exist. I’m not trying to be hostile, just protecting my child’s privacy…that’s my right as a parent.”

“I’ll note this in the file. This will take a couple of weeks to clear the system, but after that the only record on file will be one of “case dismissed.”

“So, there will be a record? I’m really not willing to have a file maintained on my family in this office, whether it reads “dismissed” or not. Is this information that follows us from place to place? Do I need legal counsel? We are moving next week…I don’t want any loose ends in this community.”

“You’re moving? May I have your new address to forward the dismissal form? There’s not much I can do about the file we already have. It doesn’t follow you from place to place, though it does remain on record.”

“I’d prefer not to give you my new address. Our mail will be forwarded, you can send the dismissal form to the address on record. Amy…I’m really not trying to be difficult. You have no idea how this has impacted my family. To have lost a child, safely recovered her and then have to deal with your office, as though we had committed a criminal act is wrong. I’m sure you work very hard at what you do…I see a picture of a baby boy on your desk, I’m assuming that he’s your son. Imagine that someone questioned your ability to parent. Now imagine you’ve been parenting for 25 years. Children are taken from parents by Social Services. Everyone knows that. You guys are the “big, bad wolf” that the rest of us are afraid of. Do you understand my hesitance to give you anything more than the barest minimum of information? Do you see why I don’t want to be in a database in your office?”

“Mam, I completely understand and, yes, I’m well aware of what people think of our office. We do good things, though, too. We help families adopt. We remove children from potentially life threatening situations. I’m sorry that this experience has been traumatic for your family. Your little girl is adorable and obviously well cared for. I have a couple papers for you to sign. Acknowledging the dismissal of the case…you can read them.”

“I’m sorry if I’ve said anything hurtful to you. I wish I had the same confidence in your office’s ability to help families, that you have. I don’t. What happens to children that enter “the system” is so horrifying…You see this file? This is everything that I looked up all week, how to protect the rights of my family, I even have a copy of the manual that you used to train with. This is how frightened our family has been. Guilty until proven innocent. I had to wait all week to have you tell me that we are not guilty of neglect, when I had a police report that said that all along.”

I signed the papers. Emily skipped all the way to the elevator. Once inside, I scooped her up in my arms and cried such tears of joy and relief. It was over! Truly!

The tense faces of my daughter and friend greeted to me. It didn’t take long to tell them, breathlessly and through many tears that it was finally over, Emily was safe, the children were safe.

The rest of the week was spent packing and moving.

Two weeks later, sitting on the porch listening to the birds sing and feeling the cool spring breeze, I heard the mail truck. Opening the mailbox, I grabbed the stack a mail, noting with panic that a letter from our previous county’s Child and Family Services office was on top. Standing by the road, I ripped open the envelope and read the following words:

Case dismissed. Three or four lines and an apology. I had forgotten. I looked over at Emily playing in the enormous sandbox under the tree in the front yard. Smiling, thanking God for the day, thanking Him even for that awful experience…you can’t know how much you appreciate peace until you’ve lived in chaos.

So friends…that’s the tale. Why did I tell it? For the sake of entertainment? No…there’s a caveat here. A warning. Be careful, be very careful when you seek the authorities for help. We teach our children that the police are the good guys. They are our “knights.” We don’t often think about what happens when a family seeks help from the police or other officials. Sometimes the actions of a parent can come under question during a routine visit to a physician or a much needed trip to the ER. I’m a bit more guarded now. I have to admit, when I had to call 911 after my grandmother fell in my living room, I was nervous, but it was necessary. Thank God we live in a country where these services are available when we need them! I don’t regret for one moment calling 911 to help recover Emily. The police brought back our little girl…that is a priceless gift. Social Services, on the other hand, is a whole other kettle of fish. Know your rights! No one has the right to enter your home without a warrant. No one. No one has the right to question your children without your permission. No one. Don’t live in fear, live informed. I’m working on that one, right now. As I said…I’m still a bit cautious, but I’m working on it. Trust in God is the key. He daily shows me my weakness and I’m thankful. Were I strong, I’d see no need for Him. Trust in God…make everyone else show you some identification!

Oh, so tired…

What a full day! The interview with Sacred Heart Radio went well. Brian Patrick was quite the gentleman and kept the conversation flowing. Boy, am I tired!! A migraine last night, no medication and rising very early are definitely a bad combination. Time to hit the hay…I’ll be working on the conclusion to Fear, dread, hope and joy tomorrow. Stay tuned!

On the air tomorrow…

Tomorrow morning “dark and early” (a phrase “pinched” as he so cheekily pointed out, from Mr. Matt Swaim!  Didn’t think I’d acknowledge it did you?)   I’ll be interviewed by radio personality Brian Patrick of the Sonrise Morning Show , broadcast live from Sacred Heart Radio in Cincinnati, Ohio. The interview will focus on the content of my recent Catholic Exchange article, The Poverty of Inconvenience. If you happen to be up at 6:40 a.m. tomorrow, be sure to tune in to station 740AM.

And pray for me…I’m really, really nervous…

Fear, dread, hope and joy…Pt. III

Pt. I

Pt. II

That Sunday evening after Emily’s safe return home and the ensuing confusion with the police department and Social Services, I didn’t sleep well. I spent the night in the land of “What if…” A dreadful place, I’m sure you’ve visited once or twice. “What if” lies in the same region as “If only.” Both are damaging, peace disturbing places that paralyze and confuse the inhabitants who reside there. I’d say, don’t go there…but if you must, don’t stay for long. One night was more than long enough for me:

“What if Social Services calls tomorrow, Roger?”

“What if they want to interview our children?”

“What if they accuse us of neglecting Emily?”

“If only I’d called her in earlier!”

“If only I’d done a head count after I called them all in!”

“If only I’d been outside with her!”

See what I mean? A terrible, terrible place to visit…

Nevertheless, the next morning dawned bright and beautiful and with the sunlight, the fears of the previous night’s events began to recede, just as nightmares do at the break of day. I said goodbye to my husband that morning, sat down for a quiet cup of coffee and basked in the peace of the new day.

Until the phone rang.

Social Services. Once again, icy dread filled my veins. This caller was far from polite. Identifying herself as an office supervisor, she made it abundantly clear that a file now existed in their database and that questions needed to be answered. When would I like to set up a home visit? I immediately tensed and was now on the defensive. I did my best to remember all the caveats I had received from an attorney friend who cautioned me in the past, should our family ever have a run in with Social Services. Under no circumstances do you allow them into your home! Once they’re in, they’re in and you have relinquished your rights. Make them get a warrant, but hold firm. Your home is your castle.

I took a deep breath and asked the social worker to outline the legal necessity of this interview:

“Mam…whenever we receive an allegation of neglect an investigation must be conducted. We need to set up a home interview.”

“Excuse me, the police officers told us they had mistakenly made the call to Social Services. That this was clearly not a case of neglect. This makes no sense. Why would you need to conduct a home interview when there are no allegations?”

“We have a file and that file will need to be closed. The only way to close the file is through investigation. We will, of course, need to interview all of the children…”

“I’m sorry…I can’t agree to that! We were told that this issue was closed. The police assured us that no further investigation was necessary. We are fine, the children are fine, I don’t understand why you would have a file that calls for an investigation of a non-issue. This makes no sense…”

“It doesn’t matter what the police told you. They have their procedures and we have ours. This is the procedure. When can I set up a home appointment?”

“I’m not comfortable with inviting strangers into my home…I’m sure you understand. We are in the process of moving, the entire living room is full of boxes. Whatever investigation you’re conducting will have to be concluded quickly and at an alternate location. We’re moving…”

“Moving? Is this a recent decision?” (Did she think we were going to “cut and run?!”)

“We’ve been in the process of securing a new home since December, so no, this is not a recent decision.” ‘

“I’ll have the worker assigned to this case give you a call to set up an appointment as soon as possible. You’ll need to bring all the children…”

The phone call concluded, I immediately called my husband. Shock and disbelief. These people were not going to let go. It appeared that a “fishing expedition” was being organized and that I had very little time to prepare for the “trip.” My dear friend and neighbor was also horrified by the turn of events. As a home educator, she too feared how this investigation could impact her own family. She made a few calls to HSLDA, who had very little to offer in the way of advice, as this was not specifically a home schooling legal battle. We feared it could soon become one; this is a tactic that has been exercised in more than one occasion by Social Services. Without money, the law hasn’t much to offer. Despite all efforts on our part, it eventually became quite clear that our family was in this alone. Buoyed by the prayers, calls and support of our friends and parish priest, we plunged headlong into the onslaught.

The following day, another case worker called to set up an appointment. She once again insisted upon a home interview. I politely declined. She asked if she could interview the other children. Once again, I politely declined, terrified the entire time that I would be seen as hostile, all the while trying to maintain cheerful composure. I had begun keeping very careful records of all conversations:

“We really need statements from the other children in the household…”

“May I ask why? The other children were not missing, nor were they party to Emily’s actions. She wandered off on her own. Her father and I are the ones that can give you any other information you require. What possible insight could the other children provide? There is no police report naming the other children nor are we legally required to subject them to questioning.”

“You are correct. There is no legal requirement, but it would be helpful.”

“And there are no allegations of neglect, so there is no need to interview the children.”

“Will the child in question be allowed to attend the meeting?”

“I’ll have to confer with my husband. You see Mrs. X…we are good parents, and do everything within our power at all times to choose very carefully the people whom we allow to talk to our children. I still do not understand what on earth is going on. Put yourself in my place…does this seem reasonable? We are told there are no allegations of neglect, Social Services will not be called and now I have your office insisting upon interviewing my entire family. This makes no sense whatsoever! Hasn’t anyone even read the police report?”

“I don’t have a copy of the police report, though I have requested one. Much depends upon the police report…once I have a copy with the officer’s statement, perhaps our interview will take a different tone.”

“Wait a minute…you don’t have a copy of the police report? I do!! Shall I read it to you?”

“No, mam. I’ll be picking up a copy later today. We’ll discuss the report at our meeting.”

That was it. Guilty until proven innocent, everything hinging upon a police report that my husband was able to pick up the following day, but a government office wasn’t able to locate. It seemed odd they were more than able to get the “wheels of justice” turning–without a statement, without a complaint and without any witnesses.

The next few days were spent in research. I pulled copies of the Constitution of the United States and Amendments, the Ohio Child Protective Services Manual outlining protocol, and statistics on illegal practices and death rates of children removed from homes by Social Services.

The stories that I read online were heartrending and terrifying and many had begun much as our encounter had. Mistaken identity, anonymous callers and sometimes no traceable source for an investigation and subsequent seizure of a child. This government office has practically no oversight and is given immunity in nearly every case in which they have violated the constitutional rights of individuals and families. I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule, but I feared that we were being sucked into a whirlpool, one in which the rights of the family are always secondary to the rights of the State.

My husband and I talked about whether Emily would be allowed to attend the meeting. He felt that she should not, that she wouldn’t understand the procedure and didn’t want strangers questioning his child. I took a look at my sweet little girl…

“What if I simply take her with me, dressed up like the little doll she is, but don’t allow them to talk to her? After all, they say they simply want to make sure she’s okay. Let’s show them. Let them look, but not touch…if we keep her home, perhaps they’ll think we have something to hide, or that we harmed her after the events of that Sunday evening. I think we should quell their fears. I’ll do the talking. I’m going in loaded for bear! May God have mercy on them, they have a much bigger fight than they realize…”

Brave words, hmmm? Nearly verbatim, I’m sure. I felt like a mother tiger whose cubs were being threatened. All the days and nights of praying, worrying, preparing and finally trusting that God would protect us, that He would give me the words I needed to defend our family, were invaluable in tempering us for the potential backlash that could occur. My dear friend, Krislynne, came to offer her support. I feared leaving the children alone. Clementine was with them, but as a minor child, I feared that while I was in the meeting with the case worker, these evil people could make their way into my home and take my children. Krislynne agreed to stand guard. I begged them to keep the blinds closed and not to answer the door until they heard from me.

Armed with a file full of papers, notes and research, and little Emily by my side I strode as confidently as possible into the office of the case worker.

What happened next took me completely by surprise…

To be continued…

The Simple Woman’s Daybook

Visit Peggy at The Simple Woman for more Daybook entries!

FOR TODAY – August 25, 2008

Outside my Window…overcast. A lone cardinal is singing outside my window. Slightly breezy, cool and damp.

I am thinking…about my dishwasher. It’s not working. I guess I get to practice a little more theology at the tap

I am thankful for…so many things, but most certainly, at this moment, I’m thankful for my husband who can probably fix that dishwasher! At least, I hope he can…

From the kitchen…a flood. Lots of wet towels on the floor. And breakfast. This morning the kids want scromblets. What are they, you ask? A nifty idea I picked up at Full Bellies, Happy Kids. Give each child a quart size freezer bag with their name on it. Start boiling a large pan of water. Crack two eggs in each bag. Add salt and pepper. Allow the children to choose from a variety of fillings: chopped ham, shredded cheese, sliced onions, salsa, fresh herbs or whatever else suits your taste. Zip the bags closed, squeezing out excess air. Now shake! Shake harder! Toss the bags in the furiously boiling water and set the timer for 13 minutes. Carefully remove bags, put on plates and allow the children to unzip and empty contents. Instant omelets, or as my oldest son calls them, scromblets. Delicious!

For supper: pork teriyaki stir fry with oriental cabbage salad.

From the learning room…stacks of books to be sorted and shelved, desks to be wiped down, whiteboard need cleaning, lesson plans to be fine-tuned, in other words…WE’RE NOT QUITE READY!!  Thank heavens, our first day isn’t until after Labor Day!

I am creating…not feeling very creative at present. I am writing more. Does that count?

I am going…to work upstairs today. The classroom still needs organizing. We keep moving books from downstairs to upstairs. Where are these things coming from?! Oh yes…I keep buying them. Note to self: STOP BUYING SO MANY BOOKS!!! As if I could actually do that…I found several DK family encyclopedia volumes for fifty cents. The kids love them!! Justifying, justifying, justifying!

I am wearing…khaki capris and a long-sleeved black t-shirt, hair in a twist, barefoot…

I am reading…lots of children’s books lately.

I am hoping…the sore-throat-cough-don’t-feel-good bug has left. It was short-lived, but has worked it’s way through all of the children but one.

I am hearing…the whirring squeak of the ceiling fan. Galahad is turning it off. It’s quite annoying

Around the house…much tidying and cleaning today. We had fun this weekend. Looks like today we get to pay for it!

One of my favorite things…Clementine’s Canon PowerShot S315. Which she has given me unrestricted access to!! I love my little Canon point and shoot, but there’s no comparison to this one. Now I have to figure out all those nifty features…

A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week…haircuts for the boys, assemble a couple nice outfits for each of the children and then it’s off to the park for school pictures. Clementine is working on a portfolio of school shots and I’m delighted to be the recipient of a series of professional grade school photos. This should be fun!

Here is a picture thought I am sharing with you

A few shots from our day at the creek:

My first article on Catholic Exchange!

Featured on the Today page at Catholic ExchangeThe Poverty of Inconvenience

Fear, dread, hope and joy…Pt. II

A continuation from Part I

We’ve all seen the stories…a child is missing, a community bands together with police to search. Most times the outcome is a happy one–parents and child are reunited and society breathes a collective sigh of relief. The alternative in these cases is devastating: a child lost, never to be recovered, or eventually recovered, only to be mourned. Having celebrated the return of a little one who had been lost, one would expect that the family would be able to gather together praising God, and give special thanks to the professionals who aided them in a time of most desperate need.

Believe it or not, it doesn’t often work out that way…

Within minutes after the confirmation from the 911 operator that Emily had been found, a police cruiser arrived. Hurtling past children and neighbors, I tearfully hugged the police officer, thanking him continually for bringing my little one home, safe and sound. I saw Emily’s frightened and confused eyes through the window of the cruiser. She had her brother, but she needed her mom. “May I have my daughter, officer? I know she’s very scared right now…” The officer was quite curt, “Mam…let’s go inside. We have a few questions and the little girl is quite cold…”

Emily and Arthur emerged from the back of the police car and were showered with tears and hugs from all family members as we made our way into the house, trailed by two officers.

I was so happy, so very relieved, I didn’t even notice the look of concern on the face of my husband when the officers asked us to excuse the children from the room. I didn’t want Emily out of my sight, but asked Clementine to take her upstairs for a hot bath. The remaining children went to their rooms.

It wasn’t long before I began to share my husband’s concern. The officers began asking very detailed, very personal questions. “For the record” we were told. With grim countenance and brusque manner, they asked me to relay the details regarding Emily’s disappearance. Through many tears and much self recrimination I shared what had happened, reiterating that in 25 years of parenting, I’d never had anything like this happen before. We had never, ever lost a child…

“Excuse me, mam…are you saying we’ve never had a report from this house before? What I mean is…Officer X and I had recalled visiting this home before on a missing child case. Is this the first report we’ve ever taken here?”

“Isn’t one more than enough?!” I cried. “Are you under the impression that we’ve had this problem before? I can most certainly assure you the we have NEVER had a police report on file…surely you can verify that? Is there some kind of problem?”

“Well…just a small one. It’s routine, in cases of child neglect, for the police to call Social Services. The address given seemed to my partner and I to be one that we had dealt with before. We felt we were dealing with a case of neglect, so we had Social Services on standby to take the child. It’s clear that we have a case of mistaken identity, that this is clearly not a case of neglect, but something that could happen to anyone. We’ll put the call in to Social Services to tell them they won’t be needed.”

Social Services. Are there two words that can conjure more fear in the life of a very large homeschooling family? My blood ran cold when I realized just how close we had come to losing Emily and possibly the other children. As if the shock of Emily’s disappearance were not enough to cope with, my heart clenched in my chest at the thought of what happens when Social Services enters the life of a family.

The officers were so much more relaxed now. We talked for a bit, they reminded us of the dangers surrounding us on the street corner we lived on; speeding cars and pedophiles are a lethal combination for small children who are not kept under close watch. We thanked the officers profusely, telling them that we were moving in less than two weeks and hoped to have a little more piece of mind in our new rural setting.

They left.

The strain, the shock, and that knowledge that my children were very hungry and confused brought on another round of tears. Praising God through our tears, we gathered around our Sunday dinner in true thanksgiving. We were together. Everyone was safe.

And then the phone rang.

“Yes, mam. My name is Mr. X, I’m with Social Services. How is your daughter?”

“Ummm…she’s just fine, thank you for asking…may I, uh, ask why, ummm you’re calling? The police had said this was not, ummm, a case for Social Services…umm…I’m just a bit surprised to hear from you…”

Surprised?! Terrified! I was literally stuttering, shaking like I had been when Emily was missing. Was this a courtesy call? What was going on?

“Well, mam. We did receive a call from the police. It is still within our jurisdiction to follow up on these cases. We simply want to ascertain that the family is okay, that your daughter is okay. Do you need anything?”

“Nothing at all, sir. We just need to eat dinner and get to bed. This has been a very traumatic evening. I thank you for your concern.”

“Mam, I’d like to leave you my name and number, in case you should have any questions…”

Questions? Yes, I had a question…why had he called? My husband assured me that this was simply routine. A name is entered in the database and protocol must be followed to clear that name. The officers certainly hadn’t given us any indication that Social Services would still call. I had a very uneasy feeling.

“I don’t think this is over, Roger.”

When the phone rang, bright and early Monday morning, it was quite obvious that it was not over. With Social Services, it’s not over until they say it’s over…

To be continued…

Fear, dread, hope and joy…Pt. I

It was a dark, extremely chilly evening in March of last year that a mother’s worst nightmare nearly came true.

Emily, sweet three year old Emily, was missing.

This has always been one of my deepest fears, that one of my children would be lost or taken. Emily was missing for nearly a half hour…unless you’ve had the same experience, you can’t even begin to comprehend the thoughts that can enter the mind of a mother during that interminable length of time. My child, my baby, alone in the dark, at the mercy of strangers. Thirty minutes can seem a life time…

The Sunday evening that Emily wandered away from home was like any other. The children had been outside riding bikes and scooters. The two older boys were quite fond of giving the little girls wagon rides around the block and would, on occasion, take the wagon for their own nefarious purposes. Even though she was only allowed to play in the side yard and on the porch, Emily had been having a lot of fun with her wagon that day, pulling it up and down the walkway with her dollies. Dressed in her pretty Sunday frock, tights, patent leather shoes, a teal Rothschild coat with matching hat, gloves and muff she looked the part of a little princess. That’s Emily all over…always overdressed for the occasion! She left her wagon to come inside for a quick drink and returned to find it missing.

The boys! Emily was quite sure the boys had taken her wagon and set off, alone, to retrieve it…

A quick note: We lived on the busiest street corner imaginable, within 1000 yards of two registered pedophiles, with several other registered offenders within a mile radius. If you think your neighborhood is safe, check with your state police. Nearly every state has a sex offender database…

I had been preparing dinner when Emily came in for her drink. She looked so adorable. A quick smile and she was out the door. I noticed it was getting a bit dark and went to the porch to call all the children in, having set out a little pre-dinner snack–cups of cinnamon applesauce, a favorite. They all came in, kicking off shoes, dropping coats, hats and gloves in the doorway. “Put your things away! There’s a snack on the table!” I called from the kitchen. No head count, I trusted they were all inside. What a mistake!

The children were rather antsy and dinner was still about an hour off. “How about a little reading, guys? The Two Towers? Let’s see if we can finish it tonight…” Universal consensus. Mom takes her place on the sofa, with the book, but not before noticing that there is an unfinished cup of applesauce on the table. “Whose is that?” A quick survey reveals that it’s obviously Emily’s. “Where is she?” The children seem to think she’s upstairs.

“Go get her…”

She’s not upstairs. Nor is she in my room or any other room in the house. Our neighbors, who live on the other side of this large dwelling, confirm my worst fears. She’s not there either.

Missing!! Dear God…Emily is missing! It’s cold, it’s dark, she’s alone…

Complete panic and pandemonium. Neighbors, children and parents are circling the house, calling for her, screaming for her. No answer, just the cold, dark night…father is running down the sidewalk towards town, brothers are on their bikes spanning a larger area. Mommy does the one thing she can:

“9-1-1 how may I help you?”

“My child is missing! Her name is Emily, she’s only three years old! Please, help me! I don’t know what to do!”

“Calm down, please! We’re sending a car immediately. Can you please give us a description…”

I’m weeping even now, as I write…So many thoughts, so many horrible, awful thoughts…the vile men who have preyed upon other children…did they take her? Did they see her alone, vulnerable, unwatched? Would I ever see her again? We were moving in a week!! To the country, but now it seemed we were in the midst of a malevolent hurricane, one determined to rip this child from our family. Beseeching heaven, I begged the intercession of St. Anthony, St. Jude, St. Joseph, St. Michael, begging God for mercy, trying to quell the sense of panic that had pervaded my mind and heart.

I completed my description to the 911 operator, thanking her and prepared to hang up…

“Mam! They’ve found her! I just received the dispatch…they have her in the car and her older brother is with her. She’s alright…”

“Safe!! Emily is safe! Thank God…this nightmare is over!”

Except it wasn’t. It had just begun.

To be continued…

And now I know…

…what the word “meme” means…

Ewww…Richard Dawkins!! The world famous atheist/evolutionist coined the phrase in 1976 in his book The Selfish Gene. Meme is defined as:

  • An idea that, like a gene, can replicate and evolve.
  • A unit of cultural information that represents a basic idea that can be transferred from one individual to another, and subjected to mutation, crossover and adaptation.
  • A cultural unit (an idea or value or pattern of behavior) that is passed from one generation to another by nongenetic means (as by imitation); “memes are the cultural counterpart of genes”.
  • Can we find another term for these funny blog-based questionnaires, ladies and gentlemen? Something a bit more creative perhaps? Any submissions?

    Thanks to my dear friend, Christina, for asking for the definition. I would never have guessed…

    Not-quite-ready-for-sainthood meme…

    What would you want your holy card to look like?

    Lovely Esther has tagged me for the oddest meme! To imagine my canonization at this point is a bit presumptuous, to say the least! Why…I’m not quite through running this race, though I am daily working out my salvation with fear and trembling!

    So…on to this fictitious holy card. Which image would I choose? Here’s a rather goofy pose from my childhood. Sums me up rather well. I call this the “look-at-me-aren’t-I-just-adorable” pose. I actually had to edit my sweet little brother out the photo…he’s just way, way cuter than me!

    By the way…just call me the Patron Saint of the Proud and Those Lacking Sufficient Humility. If I make it to Heaven…and I’m really, really trying…it will only be after a valiant struggle with those two non-virtues! I’m a choleric to the tips of my toes. This has been my contemplation for the past couple of weeks–how to best defeat my particular faults and flaws by using the God-given strength of my particular temperament. This has been an ongoing battle for many years. I fear I’ve been a bit complacent, of late. Resting on my laurels, so to speak. Time to pray the Litany of Humility

    This photo is the one that I like best:

    It’s how I would want to be remembered.

    Mommy.

    At rest, at peace, at home.

    Taken by Clementine when she was 16 years old. Mom, wearing a dirty yellow dress, stained with the day’s labors, no makeup, hair in a messy twist–she captured this moment for Mother’s Day, assembling the most delightful album of all the children. The beauty is not in the subject matter, but in the feelings evoked. Motherhood. I’d like to claim that patronage, but I’ll never be worthy…I want it, but will never deserve it. Not until I’m more like our Lady…there was no pride, no lack of humility in Her.

    So! Time to pass this meme to a few other deserving souls:

    Allison

    Amy

    Jessica

    Christina (it’s time you came out of lurkdom!)

    Barb

    The last “first…”

    Emily has lost her first tooth…

    Amidst shouts of glee, words of congratulations from her brothers and sisters, mommy and daddy look at one another with sad, knowing smiles…

    We know our “baby” is growing up.

    We know this is the largest space we’ve ever had between children. It’s quite likely that Emily is the last…

    You’d think there would be much jubilation, that the prospect of being done with nursing, diapers, potty training, etc. would be cause for joy…

    You’d think with nine healthy children that we would be more than happy to be done with “all that…”

    We thought so too, a long time ago…

    Our last six children were born within a nine year span. It was a very busy, very sleepless, slightly crazy time–in a good way, and yet there were times when I wondered if I’d ever have a moment to myself, if my husband and I would ever be able to have time alone together. It seemed such an endless time, and yet it passed very quickly…

    I’ve come to the realization that fertility is something I’ve taken for granted in these later years. As someone who’s never practiced NFP, I’ve lived with the assumption that fertility, at least for me, was a “given”. Remaining open to life was a decision that my husband and I made many years ago, one that strengthened the bond between us and continually reaffirmed our trust in God’s providential care. I’ve watched friends struggle with infertility, seen the devastating effects upon a world that is contracepting itself to death and rejoiced with dear friends as they’ve welcomed a new life.

    Until recently, I’d been one of “them.” The pregnant mom, the nursing mom, the toddler’s mom…all titles I’ve held with pride, and am now passing to others.

    Perhaps I’m being presumptuous. After all, I don’t know the mind of God, nor can I predict the “surprises” it delights Him to send. I’m feeling a bit melancholic of late…watching my baby reach yet another milestone seems to have that affect…

    So we will celebrate with Emily this sweet “first.” Even if her “firsts” are our “lasts,” there is this sweet joy-tinged-with-sadness that makes even the loss of a very tiny tooth seem a big thing.

    Meet “Big Daddy”

    The Brandywines are ripening! Big Daddy is one of the first to hit the table. Check it out:

    It’s sitting on a dinner plate and that’s a large head of cabbage.

    This monster measures nearly 6 inches in diameter and weighs well over a pound. And delicious! Look at those slices:

    I love tomatoes!

    The Simple Woman’s Daybook

    Visit Peggy at The Simple Woman for more Daybook entries!

    FOR TODAY – August 18, 2008

    Outside my Window…dewy droplets glistening on the spider webs scattered amongst the leaves of grass. No wind, a chilly 63 degrees and bright sunshine. Odd…not one bird is singing…perhaps the cat is on the prowl…

    I am thinking…about my vocation as wife and mother. How to improve. How to love more, how to better manage distractions…it’s an unending battle…

    I am thankful for…my Church. For my family of faith. What an amazing and eclectic group of people! Sharing laughter and tears, the noisy-yet-joyful voices of children filling in the blanks as we engage in weekly (and sometimes more!) conversation on any number of exciting and engaging topics in the fellowship hall following Mass. Moving from table to table, always feeling welcome. Seeing the surprised and excited faces of new parishioners as they discuss the beauty of the ancient liturgy and their delight at finding such a group of kindred souls. Having the firm and loving guidance of the most delightful priest. One who embodies “father” in every essential way…Watching our men step surely and firmly into positions of leadership, knowing this has been the tradition since time immemorial, and feeling more feminine, having more trust and surrender, being more receptive to God’s promptings as a result.

    From the kitchen…hot coffee, warm bagels, cold cantaloupe. Supper this evening: leftover grilled pork loin (pineapple teriyaki and southwest jalapeno), fire roasted corn off the cob, watermelon, brandywine tomato salad. Chocolate cake and ice cream for dessert.

    I am creating…school schedule. Didn’t finish last week.

    I am going…to work on decluttering. The master bedroom is hardly a haven at present. Definitely more of a graveyard…

    I am wearing…flannel pj’s emblazoned with coffee cups that say “I need my coffee!” Yes…it’s that chilly…flannel pj’s and hot coffee…

    I am readingConfessions of a Happily Organized Family

    I am hoping…my parents have a wonderful time on their vacation to the mountains.

    I am hearing…the humming of little Emily, who has climbed into my bed…

    Around the house…bouquets of sunflowers. I’m so happy we planted so many varieties!

    One of my favorite thingsautumn! It’s just around the corner…pumpkins and mums, gourds and corn shocks, changing leaves and sweaters, cider and fall festivals…

    A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week…decluttering, preparing for the upcoming school year, picking and preserving tomatoes.

    Here is a picture thought I am sharing with you…

    The sunflower grotto continues to provide a great deal of joy (and a lot of fresh, cut flowers!) for the entire family…

    You know it’s time to worry…

    …when your fourteen year old son , in his attempt to explain how a nuclear bomb works, draws a very detailed picture, and then having explained quite eloquently how the whole thing works, takes the illustration out of your hands and says:  “I have to destroy this mom…you really don’t want the younger boys seeing this.  They might get ideas…”

    Holy cow…hide the plutonium!

    Sorrow and faith…

    Sorrow and faith…

    One felt, the other clung to. How else does one survive the loss of a much wanted, much loved child?

    Our dear friends, Jim and Lisa Ross, know only too well the full meaning of the words above. This past Monday, Jimmy and Lisa, pregnant with their sixth child, heard the words that no parent ever wants to hear: no heartbeat…the baby is dead. Three and half weeks before little Gabriel was to arrive…

    On Tuesday August 12, 2008, Gabriel Alexander Ross was delivered into the waiting arms of his sweet mother. Much as our Lady received into her own arms the body of her Son, Lisa held little Gabriel for the first and last time. A lovely little boy, a cherub’s cheeks and a curly halo of dark brown hair…the image of his brother, James. Sleeping peacefully beneath the heart of his mother, he knew only love and comfort. He was loved and is now mourned by five siblings; Ben, Jack, John, Lucy and James.

    Tomorrow, Fr. Lutz will offer a Requiem Mass of the Angels for baby Gabriel. We will celebrate his life, thankful to God that we were able to love him for a little while. His parents are amazing, seeing God’s hand in this loss, just as they have in the many blessings they’ve received. Lisa has asked that a picture be posted of her sweet baby. Such a beautiful boy, missed by his family and friends, watching and praying, waiting for the day that he can embrace us all.  Please keep the Ross family in prayer, as they continue to mourn their precious child; living in faith, hope and trust in God’s merciful love.

    Having become perfect in a short while, he reached the fullness of a long career;
    for his soul was pleasing to the LORD, therefore he sped him out of the midst of wickedness.

    Wisdom 4:14

    Gabriel Alexander Ross
    August 12, 2008
    Requiescat in pace

    A day at the Conservatory…

    Clementine’s photography continues to amaze me. Here are few photos she took during a recent visit to the Franklin Park Conservatory. Only a third of them have been edited, the rest are in the “raw.” It drives her nuts when I put her unedited photos on display, but the original shots are so incredible I challenge you to tell me which ones are the edited photos…click on the slide show window for a larger view. The details are stunning!

    I’m so proud of my girl…

    Preparing for the Feast of the Assumption…

    Today is the vigil of the Feast of the Assumption. Traditional Catholics throughout the world will observe this day as a day of fast and abstinence. It has been a long standing tradition in the Church to observe the day before a major feast day in this manner. Tomorrow, we will celebrate the Assumption of our Lady by attending the Extraordinary Form of the Holy Mass at our local parish.

    In keeping with the spirit of the feast, here are a few links and activities for the little ones (and the not-so-little ones) to help celebrate our Lady’s special day:

    Food:

    For the vigil, any meatless dish that appeals to your family would be appropriate. I have several ideas on the Fast Food page of this blog.

    For the day itself, check out Catholic Cuisine. Assumpta Salad sounds delicious! Just perfect for the tomato harvest…

    Additional history on the feast along with several links on the sidebar for delicious recipes can be found at Catholic Culture. Always a delightful resource!

    Prayers and Activities:

    Women For Faith and Family has several suggestions for celebrating this great feast.

    Here’s a coloring page which includes the Hail Mary

    A three page coloring booklet.

    Another coloring page of the Assumption of our Lady. (limit of 30 copies for personal use only!)

    Here is a lovely full color image of the Assumption…nice for embellishing a card, or having the little ones frame…

    Oh, I’m so envious!! Take a peak at Little Italy in Cleveland’s schedule for the holy feast day. Maybe another trip to Cleveland is in order…

    May you be blessed as you prepare for this most holy day…

    Wednesday…

    …was a busy day. Take Dad to work, drop of Clementine’s UPS uniform, pick up kiddies, go to Mass, attend Little Flowers, piano for Gareth and a wild water fight at Fort Washington in Homestead Park. Just when I thought the kiddies might want to take a break, rest, watch a movie, they staged a sword fight. Objective: Capture the Sunflower Grotto. A truce was eventually declared and we had dinner.


    The little girls enjoy Little Flowers…what a lovely teacher they have!


    This young lady is very, very wet. You really shouldn’t wear a skirt to a water fight…


    For once, Mr. M is significantly drier than the big kids!


    Aren’t they goofy? This is the pose you get when you ask them to smile…


    That’s much better. A truce!  This year’s grotto is lovely.  So many different sunflower varieties…

    All in all, not a bad day.  Just a long one.

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