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Archive for December, 2007

At the Check-out Counter

The FamilyMost people get excited for couples expecting their first child, and rightly so. There are still looks of pleasant surprise and congratulations with the second and the third. The fourth pregnancy can bring about moments of silence for some, looks of genuine surprise from others. It gets pretty interesting from the fifth onwards.

I’ve had people look at me in disbelief, one woman even ask me point-blank if I was crazy. People who see our family all together for the first time almost always have a reaction. It has taken some getting use to, and was not very pleasant at first. I had to remind myself that, in truth, my husband and I were not doing anything wrong even if there were those who acted as if we were committing a crime.

So it was not with dread that I heard the question asked again today. Let me back-track a bit here…..

I brought four kids with me to do some grocery-shopping. The kids are great to have with me since I can ask one to get an item, while another kid can get something else. At the check-out, the kids started getting some boxes for the grocery items while I started to pay the bill. The cashier smiled at me and said, “So……3 boys and 1 girl, eh?”

I smiled back at her. “Eight. There’s eight kids.”

Her eyes kind of popped out a bit as she stared at me. “No way….”

“Yes! Eight kids — a girl, then 4 boys, then 2 girls, and a boy. I gave birth last August.”

And then came the inevitable question.

“So that’s it, right?” I could almost hear her holding her breath in anticipation.

I had to laugh. This lady with a wonderful smile was still asking me if eight was “enough”! A lot of people had stopped asking at number 6 or 7 because they either got tired or figured it out for themselves. Or thought we were plain crazy. In any case, this lady wanted an answer, and I had one for her.

“No! Listen, I have a 12-seater van, you know…..Besides, God has never let us down. He’s always taken care of us, gives us what we need. And what we don’t have, we don’t need. That’s how I see it.”

And you know what? This lady got it! She smiled at me, looking really happy this time.

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

It thrills me when people “get” my family. And if they don’t — well, there’s always hope that they will one day.

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Isabel, Regina and JoaquinI’d like you to meet my daughter Isabel. She is 6 years, 7 months and 22 days old, and was born after we had had four of her brothers in succession. You can imagine how thrilled we were at the birth of a girl after years of hoping for another one. My eldest child, Kathrine, had been the only girl until Isabel was born. She, more than anyone else, had been praying and wishing for a girl.

Notwithstanding the fact that I happen to be the mother, Isabel is a beautiful child. More than just physical attributes, I am referring to how she is inside. She likes hugs — loves to get them and loves to give them away. At church, she opens up the hymnal to whatever song is being sung and holds the book open for me. I, in turn, point out the words to her as they are sung. She will make a point of tucking in the label of whatever top I am wearing if it happens to show. She’s quite thoughtful that way. Isabel also has a great memory. If she hears something enough times, she’ll remember it. She also recalls certain things that a person might have mentioned — a favourite food, a funny story or a preference for something or other. The information becomes useful in her trying to think of what the other person would like or what they may find funny.

I wanted you to meet Isabel because this afternoon, while preparing dinner, the baby cried. I was in the middle of trying to do three things at the same time (never a good thing, I know….) and couldn’t have done anything right at the moment. Isabel was nearby and heard the baby cry. She called out to me and asked if she could hold the baby. I told her she could, but she had to stay by the sofa. She was good about following my instructions.

Isabel had held the baby before, always with me in the same room. She has cuddled the little baby and has tried to soothe him many a time that he was crying. She knew what to do and what she couldn’t do. While she couldn’t walk around with the baby, she could certainly try to distract him by talking and singing to him. She tried to show him the gifts under our Christmas tree and was making comments about this or that package. After a bit, the baby had stopped crying and had let himself be properly entertained by his older sister.

When I’m tired and distracted by the mental to-do list that never seems to go away, it helps to consider each child that we have been blessed with in our family. Each one is different and unique — definitely their very own person. In Isabel’s case, she being the sixth had older siblings to look up to and to look after her. Having her older sister afforded her another girl to kind of follow around and learn from. Having four older brothers has helped her be active and interested in other things maybe most girls would not necessarily care for. (She has played goalie to her brothers who love ball hockey.) Having two younger siblings has allowed her the opportunity to be someone’s older sibling and care for them.

My husband and I firmly believe that the children we have are blessings from God. We didn’t “plan” them. They all came, one by one, when they were supposed to. Each one brought into our a family a measure of their character and a great deal of joy that I cannot find enough words to describe. I talk to you about Isabel because I realized, in listening to her care for her baby brother, that the best possible gift we could have ever given each of our children is a sibling. Another child. Another human being to care for.

Isabel does not have to be bored, unless she wants to be so. She has a siblings who can play-pretend with her, and several others who have made it their mission to teach her chess. (Chess is BIG among our kids.) She has siblings who can read her stories, others who can tell her stories. She has siblings who can make her laugh, others who may try to make her cry and so — at that moment — serve the purpose who providing Isabel with a human punching bag. (She packs a mean punch, I’ve been told.) And she has siblings she can care for as any little girl would do with a baby doll.

A baby: the best gift you could ever give your child. More fun than any toy you could possibly think of. Guaranteed.

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Once in a Blue Moon

Only three more days left until Christmas day, and where do I find myself on this Saturday? The lower level of Sears in the toy department, looking around for possibilities. (Yes, I really have to work on this procrastination business…….) The whole store, not to mention the mall, was packed with people. It really is quite an exercise in patience to go shopping at this time of the year. As long as your expectations are not too high, you really don’t have to be too stressed out. So in looking for a parking space, for example, I told my husband to be patient (Love that virtue!) and we would eventually find one. That, plus I started asking my Guardian Angel for help. Always works, let me tell you. We found this great spot right near the entrance of the store! (Mind you, if asking your G.A. does not result in a great parking spot, someone else is probably in more dire need of that space. Anyway, walking’s a great exercise. Remember that!)

So I am walking around Sears, trying not to look too desperate or pained. I stop myself from constantly checking my watch for the time. That just adds to the pressure. I am mentally reminding myself not too expect too much of anything or anyone as I round the corner and enter a narrow aisle sandwiched by two shelves packed with toys (none of which my kids asked for….SIGH.). Then I hear a voice say something I really did not expect to hear:

“Ma’am, do you need any help with anything?”

I turned around, for a moment disoriented, as I found myself staring at a sales associate, probably in his teens. I was a bit speechless for a moment, then I caught myself and smiled at him while I shook my head. I thanked him for his offer, then turned around to walk away. I continued looking around, distracted by my thoughts. “Wow, what a nice, young man! And how polite! And what a nice thing to do! And I have to do something about this!”

What’s the big deal, you say? In this great big world of ours where a lot of times consumerism is the name of the game, people talk about how important customer service is. The funny thing is, there is never enough good customer service. Especially at this time of the year when a lot of people go around shopping with a bit of a crazed, panicked look on their faces. Sales associates are tired and harried, and really, you have to feel for them. They surely do not earn too much, yet they have to be on their feet quite a bit. They have to put up with customers who are not very pleasant and those who leave the store a mess after looking through the merchandise. So the big deal about this nice, young man working at the toy department in Sears is that I really did not expect to find anyone who would offer to help a customer. Not that Sears has nasty employees — but I would have understood if they were kind of in a daze or too busy trying to deal with Christmas shoppers who want to get things done lickety-split this last weekend before Christmas.

But this young man did offer to help. He did smile, was polite and very, very pleasant. And I was so happy. It was like finding something you’d lost for a long time and didn’t expect to see again. What a treat to encounter someone who is making an effort to look out for others who may need help! We need more people like this young man! We also need to tell store managers and owners that we appreciate service like this. If they only hear complaints and negative comments, it can be disheartening. It makes a difference to everyone if we just make the effort to tell them when they are doing a good job.

Before I left the store, I made a point of asking to speak to a manager. I did so by store phone, and I was glad I did. She was happy to hear from me, and knew the young man I was talking about. I told her they were doing a good job and it was so refreshing to meet a very pleasant sales associate. She, in turn, said she would make sure the young man got a commendation for his service. I hope he stays the way he is and is encouraged. He certainly helped make this shopper’s experience a really good one.

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The Gift of Time

A portable manual typewriter and a bedside lamp — not exactly your typical kid’s idea of the best Christmas gifts, but these happen to have been mine at the age of twelve. My parents certainly paid attention to what I was doing those days. I had taken to using an old IBM electric typewriter at home to churn out my short stories. I had also developed the habit of reading in bed and was constantly being told how this was bad for my eyes since there wasn’t enough light. To this day, I look back with great fondness and appreciation for how my parents had taken note of these things and given me two things they knew I needed and wanted — even if I hadn’t asked for them. It is this that makes that particular Christmas memorable to me.

It’s interesting to see what people remember best about Christmas when they were children. For years as I was growing up, my family went to the midnight Mass on Christmas eve. Afterwards, we joined my mother’s side of the family (they were 11 siblings in all) for the exchange of presents and a feast (called Noche Buena) of all things good to eat! My grandmother had to oversee the three sittings needed in order to feed everyone. More than the presents we got, I remember these Christmases for those moments with family and — in later years — friends.

Family Edge, MercatorNet.com’s family issues newsletter, cites a recent article that recently came out in The Times Online about what it is that kids really want from their parents: time with mom and dad. Based on a two-year study done by Children’s Society, children are said to have made time with their parents as their number one priority. What a revelation! We need to hear this kind of thing more. In this day and age of multi-tasking and tight schedules, time really is at a premium.

But between money (which can be earned) and time (which once lost, cannot be recovered), it is how we spend the latter that will make such a difference to those whom we love the most. Time to get to know each other, to talk about everything and nothing much, to be quiet with each other, to just be with each other. It is this gift of time that makes for a great any-occasion, any-age, all-purpose present to those who matter the most to us.

Do you remember the best Christmas present you ever got as child, and why it was so great? How are you going to spend time this Christmas with your family?

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‘Tis the Season to be Jolly

There is this palpable sense of frenzy in the air as people rush around looking, considering, thinking, wondering, checking, turning here, there and everywhere. There are extremely focused people, nearly oblivious to others around them. There are those who wander about, almost aimlessly, with a bit of panic on their faces. There are sighs of relief, frustrated looks and the occasional exclamations of joy at discovering what one was looking for. People, I am talking about shopping.

It amazed me to realize that in the United States, the day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday. Apparently, this day is the official start of Christmas shopping and retailers often make a huge part of their profit on this day. I suppose it is similar to the shopping event that takes place on Canada’s Boxing Day. I’ve heard of people carefully planning a strategy on how to shop around for the best buys on these days. Some start lining up the night before or early in the morning at their favourite stores. For the most part, I believe it can get pretty crazy.

Which is what this whole season of Christmas has become really — crazy. Shopping, parties, eating, drinking, mailing cards and packages, driving around, finding parking — it has become so crazy-busy that people almost forget what all the fuss is about. At our parish, there are buttons a group makes available for free that read, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” This is what the fuss should be all about.

I think a lot of times, we can get too drawn into the commercialism and activism of this busy season, that we forget the most important things about it. It happens to me at times. I was fretting over trying to find a particular item a son of mine wanted for a gift recently, until I realized what a waste of time it was for me to do that. It had been keeping me from appreciating everything else that was happening around me. It happens to a lot of people too, and it makes for a very stressful time of the year.

For Christians, we know that there are four Sundays of Advent, leading up to Christmas. That’s about a month allotted as time to prepare — for what? Our Christmas tree? Our lights? Our gifts? Our Christmas menu? Our Christmas outfit? Our Christmas calendar? All those things help to enhance this most special time, but none can compare to how we prepare our hearts and minds for this feast. Can you imagine how important Christmas really is? For Christians, that is four whole weeks and some days to get our minds wrapped around the real reason for the celebration of Christmas. No rush here. No line-ups. Take your time.

Let your mind and your heart pause in wonder and awe at the quiet splendour of what took place over two thousand years ago. A man, a woman and a boy child — a babe named Jesus! — in a manger. Don’t forget that bright star in the East now. Throw in a couple of animals lucky enough to be hanging around. Enter the shepherds who were told of this great event by no less than angels! Talk about alleluia! And as if that wasn’t enough, well here come three Kings from the Orient, bearing gifts for this boy-child. Now imagine — this manger is big enough to hold a couple more people. Do you see yourself in a corner there, or perhaps trying to gently nudge your way past a sheep or two? There you are! Are you married? Well, don’t forget to bring your husband or wife along! Got kids? The more, the merrier. On this night of nights, nothing is impossible.

When you find yourself in the midst of a store teeming with shoppers, 20th in line to pay at the cashier, or circling the parking lot for what must be the 15th time in search of that elusive parking space, or just caught up in a whirlwind of craziness — stop. Remember the real reason for this season. And let the joy of Christmas put a smile on your face and in your heart.

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All in the Family

(This is taken from the November 2007 newsletter of a girls’ club we run once a month from home.)

Allow me to gush: I love being a part of a large family! Eight kids, all singletons –thank you very much! I have friends who have more than eight, and some who are close to the number. For now, we (my husband & I) are at “eight”. God willing, we will be blessed with more.

I have a very good friend who has told me more than once that being a part of a large family is an education in real life itself. Consider this: you do not always get your way. You must watch where you are going or else risk trampling on some poor, unsuspecting smaller member who has yet to learn how to walk. You must be on time for everything, including and most especially meals. (Hunger seems to preclude counting of heads to make sure everyone gets their share.)

On paper, we do not look too promising: one-income earner, stay-at-home mom, lots of mouths to feed. But life is not lived on paper, and the truth is we have what we need, and oftentimes more than what we need. Whatever we may lack materially, we more than make up for with the sense of family that is so much a part of our life.

Is this experience limited to large families only? Thankfully, it is not. It may be more pronounced in a large family because of the ever-present need to help one another. Rooms are almost always shared by siblings. Things are passed down from an older sibling to a younger one. There is a natural need to consider the others. The same sense of family can and should be present in all families, regardless of size.

When we take on the considerations of the mother of a large and poor family (as a saint I am greatly fond of liked to say), what is most important comes to the fore. The non-essentials fall by the wayside.

We use things well and are not frivolous with what we have. We look out for each other. We try to do our work well because what we do matters. There is no room for selfishness because there are always others to bear in mind. And what a great blessing it is to have others to consider in the quiet of our hearts and to fill us with joy!

We are all connected with each other — our very humanity underscores this truth. It is a gift we must pass onto and teach our children about. Our kids need to learn how to be compassionate, understanding, concerned for others. In other words, our children need to know how to love. And we are each blessed with opportunities to teach them by example, every single one of them.

Finally, this sense of family transcends space and time, and thus I invite you to remember those who have gone before us: those who we loved and those whom we never knew on earth. This month, keep these souls, both known and unknown, in your prayers and thoughts. They are gone, but not forgotten. They are, after all, a part of this family we call the human race.

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Birthing Bling-bling

I won’t lie to you: giving birth is no picnic. Does it hurt? You bet. A lot? Yup. From the moment the contractions start to when they come one on top of thePriceless other and the baby’s head is crowning, it is an experience like no other. But the pain is just a part of what has to be the most amazing and humbling experience in this world: the birth of a child. It is truly priceless. Or is it?

Introducing: the “push present”, the latest concept in gift-giving. The New York Times wrote about this new (or not so-new) trend this month, and the latest issue of Family Edge, the family issues newsletter of MercatorNet.com, mentions it as well. It is, apparently, a gift (read: reward) given to a new mother by her husband (or partner) to make up for the pain and suffering of having borne their new baby in her womb for 9 months and then undergoing labour and childbirth. And by the way, we’re not talking a nice floral arrangement here. A new mother was gifted by her husband with a $17,000-diamond pair of earrings in the delivery room. Another woman, after dropping hints for her husband, was the on the receiving end of 2 gemstone-studded rings — one for each of her two kids. She wears them everyday and believes there is something about them that is more “weighty” than her wedding ring. Talk about bling-bling!

In a lot of ways, the whole experience of having a child is a gift in itself. The life that begins ever quietly and slowly grows into a separate but connected being in a mother’s womb is one of life’s greatest miracles. Certainly, it is so much a woman’s experience: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. But the father is present in all of this, whether he wants to be so or not. The child has come into being because of two people, not one. It seems to me that this new gift-giving fad somehow discounts the importance of the father. Do we start keeping tabs on who suffered when, where and how? Should there be some sort of a score card that keeps track of how many points (or dollars?!) such experiences are worth?

The idea that something material, however expensive and gorgeous, can somehow make up for pain seems very demeaning. I do not need baubles and whatnot to make up for undergoing something that has resulted in a new member of our family. I love the fact that my husband chooses to hold my hand during labour, reminding me to breathe, when in truth the sight of blood unnerves him. And long after I have gotten over the pains of childbirth, it is our children that stand out as the true treasure in our lives.

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