Why I dig being “catholic”

“Is this even a Catholic church?”

I overheard the comment on the way out of mass – our weekly commitment to helping the kids develop a relationship God. I’d like to say that we started going to mass because we were both raised Catholic and inculcating a religious identity is important to us.

But, truth be told, we were both raised by immigrant parents, which means education is a high priority. So when Nick started coming home with not-so-smiley faces on his 1st grade religion worksheets, these less-than-an-A-is-an-F parents knew we had a serious problem.

Thanks goodness my mom found us a church. We weren’t strangers to the parish – after all, our 3 children had all been baptized there – but we weren’t active parishioners either given Rome’s less-than-stellar stance on homosexuality. Still, with selective enrollment HS looming ahead, we knew we had to keep the academics in all areas up.

(The Lord works in mysterious ways. And the way He got us through the door was through our over-achieving egos.)

Small c.
Definition: including a wide variety of things; all-embracing.

The older gentleman exiting the church was talking, so I’m not sure if he meant capital C or small C.

To me, they are the same.

When I look around the church, I marvel at the rich expression of the Divine in this life…

The extra room the choir makes for the Gundam-sized chair of one of its members…

The tireless sign language interpreter who models responses the rest of the congregation adopts as their own…

The bilingual song selections the choir director breaks down phonetically for those whose Spanish mainly consists of “taco”, “salsa” and “Corona”…

The patient, step-by-step training of Down’s Syndrome parishioners so they can be altar servers or Eucharistic ministers…

The interfaith outreach that encourages us to dive deep into all religions – not just own own…

The thoughtful – and sometimes uncomfortable – homilies on social justice – immigration, labor law, gay rights…the list goes on and on – and so do some of the priests! – that call for us to express our faith, not just profess it…

And when we join hands for the Our Father, we embrace squirming children and marginal homeless alike, followed by a Sign of Peace that erupts into a full-on Love-In as friends and acquaintances cross the aisles to deliver handshakes, hugs, and hearty slaps on the back.

It is a place where this “non-traditional” family of 5 can sit in the front row with nary an eyebrow raised.

“Is this even a Catholic church?”

As God is my witness, it is.


Big Yellow Taxi – for One


The school science fair – two hours of bacteria gone bad, baking soda gone berserk and rocket ships gone rogue. As this was our first time at the rodeo, we chose the experiment-in-a-box approach courtesy Amazon Prime. With a few clicks and the cost of 3 Starbucks Ventis, we had a surefire, turn-key solution. 5 swabs, 10 petri dishes and 48 hours later, we confirmed that yes, our dog does have the dirtiest mouth in the family, which should be no surprise because he is the only member who regularly licks his butt.

Strolling through the aisles of 36×24 Avery boards, I was struck by how creative kids could be with a little latitude and a lot of parental support.

How long does it take for a mouse to master a maze?
Check out aisle 2.
Which singer is more conducive to weight loss – Taylor Swift or Tim McGraw?
Find the answer in aisle 4.

Samantha, a 5th grader, stood at the end of aisle 6. At 5’2 she already towered over some of her classmates. And with her untamed frizzy hair and oversized glasses she looked every bit the part of the mad scientist.

“Do you know if you see what’s really there – or here?” She motioned to her display. “I’ve always wondered if what I think in my head is identical to what I see. Don’t you?”

I shook my head. My thoughts were more along the lines of Did I turn the stove off? I wore a bra today, right?

“This is quite a setup you have here, Samantha.” Her display was impressive – a slick tri-fold with an iPad mounted on the center panel.

“Indeed it is.”

Samantha was one of those kids that everyone seemed to know…sort of. They knew who she was, but not really what she was about. She spoke like she swallowed a BBC program guide, even though she was from the north side of Chicago. And she pushed the boundaries of the school’s uniform on a daily basis. Today she sported flashing globe earrings and a matching – and flashing – headband – “For Earth Day,” she supplied when I had commented on them.

She cleared her throat three times before launching into her presentation. “I find great satisfaction in building things. So I had to determine the best way to display the information such that people could absorb it. I’m exploring a relatively abstract concept – “ She paused, then laughed. “Abstract! At a science fair. How droll. I’ll have to relay that to my mom. But I digress.  The question I sought to answer is: how do we witness what we see? ‘Tis a conundrum to say the least.”

She tapped the iPad.

“So tell me, what do you see?”

“People in a circle playing basketball.”

“Spot on.” She reached across and hit the pause button. “OK, I’m going replay it from the beginning and you can tell me how many passes you see. Not too much of a challenge, I hope?”

I nodded, then squinted slightly – the low cafeteria light not doing any wonders for my post-40 vision.

“27,” I announced proudly at the end of 30 seconds.

“And what of the gorilla?”

I cocked my head. “Wait, what gorilla?”

“The primate that walked past the group. Observe.” She scrolled back to the 15-second mark, then paused, making sure that I registered it before resuming. There was the gorilla. It had actually stopped, waved, then done a little dance before continuing across the screen.

“Fascinating, right?”

As she explained inattentional blindness – the failure to see what is in plain sight – my smile slowly faded to a regret-tinged sigh.

This kid was clever.
This kid was creative.
And…this kid was leaving.

I had learned of her transfer the week prior, during morning drop-off in a drive-by conversation. His mother and I had parked next to each other, twin minivans rolling up just as the tardy bell had rung. After we’d hustled our respective kids into the building, I shook my head and laughed. “I swear, next year we are going to be on time for a change!”

“I know what you mean,” Margot replied. “We’re going to have an even longer commute next year.”

“Oh! Are you guys moving?”

“No…” She dropped her voice, drawing closer as we walked to our cars. “No, we’re transferring at the end of the year.”

“Wow. Wait – all of you?” She had 4 kids in the school, ranging from preschool through 5th grade. To say she was busy was an understatement.

“Yeah.” She took her sunglasses off and I saw the start of tears she struggled to hold back. “We had a family meeting about it. The kids were great – all of them. It’s been a really rough year for Samantha. We don’t want to go, but we can’t keep her here. But the logistics of two schools – it’s just too much.”

I nodded sympathetically. “Is it something specific?”

“Samantha gets teased every day. Well, teased or ignored depending…I mean, I get it – she’s a little different. OK, she’s a lot different. She loves her teachers, but I have to drag her to school every day. That’s why we’re always so late.”

(We, on the other hand, did not have an excuse for being late, other than, well, CPT which we were really trying to work on this year.)

“Did you mention anything to the teachers…maybe the administration?”

“I did. They were great. I mean, they listened, and agreed to do some interventions, keep an eye out on the playground…but…you know how it goes. If you don’t fit in, don’t find your ‘tribe’, it can be really hard.”

I looked around the parking lot as I struggled for a response. There were the usual clusters of post-drop-off parents – the spiky-hair hipsters joking about the latest Game of Thrones episode, the North Face SAHMs coordinating the next toddler playdate, the yoga moms, the suit-and-tie dads…so many islands and nary a bridge between them.

A diverse community
Isolated by sameness

I looked back at Margot, my eyes filling to match hers. “I’m sorry.” I said, then squeezed her arm. “I wish…“


I wish I knew the names of her 4 kids – apart from their shared last name.
I wish I had some idea of how she spent her free time – what little there was of it.
I wish I knew If our paths would cross again – though it was highly unlikely.

“I wish things were different,” I said, knowing how inadequate my words were.

She patted my hand.

“Me too.”

At church this past Sunday, we celebrated the Feast of the Good Shepherd, the One who tends the flock, but will leave to find us should we stray.  When the priest asked, “who among us is the Good Shepherd,” I hesitated for a moment, half-raising my hand, not wanting to be “wrong”.

“All of us,” he said. “All of us are called.”

For the rest of mass, his words echoed in my head.

We’re not called to be perfect, only to be present – to take the time to acknowledge that yes, we are in this space together.

No matter who we are
No matter where we find ourselves
We are all wandering in this wilderness
Called to lead each other home.


Our New Trend

“Give me your tired, your poor…”
Whoops! Wrong statue! Or is it….dum dum DUUUUUUM

“Enough with the bossa nova already!”  Lori hit pause on my Brasil Pandora station.  Gilberto Gil; Bebel, João and Astrud Gilberto; Jorge Ben Jor and the like had become 24-7 guests in our house after Lori put her foot down on my 24-7 show tunes station.

“We really need to diversify the kids’ musical palate, doncha think?”

I shrugged.  Right now, my default music setting was bossa nova…and since Nick already belted “Clang clang clang goes the trolley.  Ring ring ring goes the BELLLLLLLLLL!” any time he rode his bike, I considered my work on that front complete.


“He’s not a Glee kid.”

“Not yet,” I muttered.  Come hell or high water, one of these kids was going to be musically inclined.

I think my plan is working.  These days, Nick’s most common objection to being dropped off at camp is that “we’re not done listening to Mas Que Nada!”  I hadn’t set out to create musical omnivores; that’s just the environment they’re growing up in.

It’s the same with religion – we’re cafeteria Catholics, both of us long-term products of Catholic education.  We still have a relationship with the church despite its ongoing efforts to sever its relationship with us.

Of late, I have been on a Jesus kick.  Yup, he is just alright with me.  It could have something to do with watching The Tree of Life, a movie that vaulted top of my top 10 – past The Decalogue… and Green Card.  Or maybe it’s the bedside reading – Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff and Unholy Night – both of which I heartily recommend.  The first made the laugh, and want to read more about potty-mouthed angels; the second made me cry, and made me want to read more about vampire-smoting presidents.

Even though summer in the Catholic faith is laaaaaaame, and the churches aren’t air-conditioned, religion is having a renewed – though not an overt – presence in our lives. In passing, I’ve been recounting scenes from Lamb to Lori:

“So Biff and Joshua, aka Jesus, meet up with these Buddhist monks after they’ve been hanging with this demon guy.…”

And somehow the kids have picked up on this.  Nick has been carrying his children’s Bible around the house, as has monkey-see-monkey-do Gabe.  Though Gabe has, in classic little bro fashion, trumped Nick in the historical reenactment department by insisting that he wash everyone’s feet in the house…even Olivia….even our dog, Skippy.

I never thought the words, “put that Bible down and finish your breakfast. God can wait,” would pass through my lips, but behold, they have…to which Nick has responded, “But I’m not done reading about Noah!!!”

The kids will rebel in their teen years – we all do.  But at least this way I’ve given them something to rebel against.  The same with music.  They may venture into electronica, Punjabi dub or whatever new-fangled thing the kids are listening to these days.  They may even shave their heads, join the clergy, or just commune with the Great Spirit in their home-made labyrinth.

It won’t really matter.

There was a great description of religious belief in The Sun a few issues back: each tradition is a spoke on a wheel.  They all lead to the Source.

(Duuuuude….pass the dutchie…)

Whatever path our children choose, they will always find their way home.

P.S. Yes, I’ve become a cliché – a middle-aged black woman who reads religious fiction.  Saints preserve us! 
Dang it! Now I’m apparently Irish too.


Happy Mother’s Day – From Huffington Post

"...the random kid at the neighborhood playground who responds to Nick's opening statement of "I have two moms" with "I have a pet hamster -- want to see it?"

“…the random kid at the neighborhood playground who responds to Nick’s opening statement of “I have two moms” with “I have a pet hamster — want to see it?”

Happy Mother’s Day to all of the families out there!

There are so many ways to make a family. Whether you’re a mom, a grandma, a step-mom or Mr. Mom, this is a day to celebrate all of the things you for the children who have chosen to be a part of your life.

I wrote a piece for The Huffington Post to celebrate our family. Read the entire article here.


Poetry Monday

A little poetry to kick off the week…

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

From T.S. Eliot’s Quartet No. 4:Little Gidding


Fly Arrow – Straight and True!

Let the boys be boys…

Last night at Navy Pier, Nick and Gabe could have collected more numbers than The Biebster at Old Orchard Mall. Unlike their parents, our boys have charisma up the wazoo, which is why people stop what they’re doing to talk to them.

Nick and Gabe love the attention.  With men, they are polite. Engaging, with a hint of reserve.  But with the ladies, the charm goes to 11.  They smile, chat, laugh – in other words, they flirt.

Yup, our boys are straight.

We had hints with Nick.  When he was 4, he kept staring at a girl who looked about 5 across the street.  Long hair, prairie skirt…

“Nick, do you know her?”
“No, but I want to.”

They start so young….

Gabe, being the younger brother, trumped Nick by about 3 years.  As a baby, he began copping feels anytime a buxom broad picked him up.  At first it was cute, then it became comic after we corrected him with a gentle, “No, sir” which he then added to his repertoire:

Cop feel.  Smile. Say “No, Sir” with cute toddler lisp. Rinse and repeat.

If he’s doing this at 10, it’s a problem.  Then again, if women are picking him up at 10 – either literally or otherwise…yeah, a much bigger problem.

Where oh where did we go wrong?  Was it something we did?  Or didn’t do?

But what if…they were just born this way.

We’ll have to remind ourselves that God doesn’t make mistakes.  Even when the non-stop calls from HS girls start coming – which is why we plan to bury these hyper-athletic boys in sports to keep them TIRED and BUSY – we will say we are not here to judge.

Unless the girls are skanks.  Then all bets are off.

We’ll do our job as parents and raise them to be the best versions of who they are, no matter who they love.  That’s what our parents did for us.  How could we do anything different?

I’ll wrap up with a tribute to the late Donna Summer.  I love to love my disco, but I feel love for her duet with Musical Youth – my absolute, all-time fav 80’s song.

clip art courtesy: valentine-clipart.com


Blessed are the pure of heart

“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

– Matthew 18:3-4

“What does E-A-S-T-E-R spell?”

At 5-almost-6-you-know-my-birthday-is-coming-up, Nick is a pretty good reader. But there are still words that he needs help with, especially when they are on a calendar suspended several inches above his head.

“That’s Easter, buddy.”

“God is alive! God is alive!” He Lord-of-the-Danced all the way from the kitchen to the living room, looping once around the dining table as he flailed his arms with unabashed joy.

I envied him the purity of his belief.

My grandmother had shared this type of faith.  “Not so loud,” I muttered as her operatic soprano rose high above the subdued voices in our Naper-thrill church.  Though she lived in Trinidad, she spent every summer with us, and while I had never noticed her voice before, now that I was 13, it was the only thing I could hear. “You’re embarrassing me,” I added, thinking, in my delusional teenage state, that was that.

She stopped signing and turned to me. “I’m not singing for you.  I’m singing for God.”  Then her eyes were back on the pulpit, and I swear her voice was deliberately louder.  “Raise you up on eagle’s wings…”

I don’t know how my grandmother came to find God.  With 75% of her body burned from a grease fire in her 30’s, how could she still believe in a greater good?  I never got a chance to ask her – by the time I had started my spiritual inquiry, she had passed away (and was now, hopefully singing directly into God’s ear as opposed to projecting from this terrestrial terrain.)

I didn’t understand it then and I struggle with it now.  But at least, after 10 years of Catholic eduction, I still have my go-to saints:

St. Anthony for my keys and parking spots (if it can’t find one, then it’s lost).

St. Joseph for our condo that wouldn’t sell in a down market (upside-down Joe moved it in a week).

St. Blaise for a sore throat (ok, that and lemon tea).

In my 40’s I’m still muddling my way through the Middle Way which seems an intellectual pursuit at best.  I crave the simplicity and steadfast conviction that comes with the kind of faith I witnessed during a call-and-response gospel concert where the people in front of us expected Jesus to knock on their day any day now.

“Who’s that at the door?  UPS again?”

“Nope, it’s Christ.  Tell the neighbors to pick up our mail.”

The way that Nick skipped through the house, he could have been saying “the sky is blue” because he had seen it and knew that it was true.  But in our house, logic and facts rule, so no, Nick, the sky is not actually blue.  That’s the Rayleigh scattering.  The sun does not actually rise and set.  That’s the Earth’s rotation.

And because I have said it, it is true.

Yet who am I define what he believes?

Tonight, I will pray, even though I don’t know who is listening.

Let him be a child.

Let his simple, unwavering, unquestioning belief – in God, in me, and the world as he knows it, be enough.

Be more than enough, for both of us.