Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Those of us with more than one child have the same sweet photos in our cherished collection of newborn baby memories. They show a bright-eyed youngster gazing into the pink, wrinkled face of a swaddled, squirming baby. There is a tangible truth that we all felt when we saw their eyes first fall upon each other. We knew it in an instant. From this day forward they would be each other's best friend.

Seriously? I mean, who were we kidding? Certainly not the children because in that moment when we were moved to tears by their bonding they were both thinking, "It's On". I'm pretty sure that was the instant that they began making a mental list of all the ways they could torture each other in the coming years. Oh, yes, they played us well.

I remember Gabrielle's early days in our home. Two year old Joseph would sit by her pumpkin seat and talk sweetly and softly to her. He would call her "pretty heart" and gently touch her little head, giving her kisses and telling her that he loved her. And then he would walk over and literally beat his head against the wall. Looking back I'm pretty sure he was thinking, "Oh, man. Just give me one minute alone with that little brat and I will teach her who's boss around here!" In truth, the first time we left them alone with Khris' parents Joseph actually bit Belle's chubby little arm, nearly drawing blood. If you didn't know Joseph you might think he was mean spirited. We decided he was simply establishing the pecking order in the Hale home.

I was reminded of sibling squabbles earlier today when a friend of mine called and was telling me that she had to leave work early because her sons had called her in the middle of a 'knock-down, drag-out' fight. She was frustrated, as any mother would be, because this kind of behavior has apparently been going on for quite some time now. She is torn between growing her business and constantly serving as a buffer between her boys.

Knowing there would be no quick fix to her problem, I offered to take one of the boys off of her hands for the evening. We made plans for me to pick him up and then she said to me, "Kristi, how do you do it? Your kids love each other and play so well together. What did you do different than the rest of us?"

I wasn't sure what to say to her. It's true. My children do get along with each other better than most other families that we know. The boys are each other's favorite playmate and the same holds true for the girls. They don't often ask for to have friends over because they would just as soon hang out with each other as entertain friends from the neighborhood or from school. Still, they certainly have their moments. I was actually witnessing one of those moments as she was praising me for being such a good mom.

I went on to tell her that for us there has never really been any secret. First of all, I believe that disagreements are healthy to some degree. It seems to me that arguing one's side and finding a way to work things out (assuming there is minimal violence involved) is something they are going to have to learn how to do anyway. What better place than where they are most loved and supported? I also feel strongly that if mom or dad is always stepping in to solve the problem for them they will come to rely on this same response in their teen years and will be unable to think through situations and make good decisions for themselves.

The second part of my philosophy has come from my strong belief that the whole point of having several children is so that they will always have someone to be with. Certainly they will not always LIKE having this person around, but they will never be lonely. I have often been overheard telling one of the children, "Go play with your brother. That's why we had him." Not entirely true, but you can see my point. Because of this attitude we never went too far out of our way to arrange playdates for them. If they wanted to play there was surely someone here who would be happy to help out.

Still, I have to credit to God's grand plan for our lives. Both the boys and the girls were born 4 1/2 years apart. They are close enough in age to have the same interests, but far enough apart to diffuse any real sense of competition between the same gender. And there's someone of the opposite sex in between to serve as a liason when needed. Perfect. God is good.

Beyond that I didn't really know what to tell her. She encouraged me to sit down and put some thought into exactly what we have done and box it up because she was confident people would buy it. "Parents everywhere want to know how to have peace in their homes," she insisted. Was she seriously talking to me?

As it turned out something of what I said was useful to her. When I picked up her son she said the boys were getting along better and thanked me for my words of wisdom. I was thrilled! Maybe I wasn't so bad at this after all. Was it possible that something I had passed along actually worked? I had to know what she had said to them to make them stop fighting. She winked at me and said, "I told them that if they did not stop fighting immediately and figure out a way to get along then they would be forced to play together all the time just like the Hale kids." Apparently they looked at each other and stopped dead in their tracks. No WAY were they going to end up hanging out together. Unthinkable.

Whatever works.

On Reconciliation

January 14, 2009

On Reconciliation

"Bless me Father, for I have sinned. It has been....too long since my last confession!"

As Catholics, children generally receive their First Reconciliation at the tender age of eight. They are prepared for months by their teachers and priests until they are finally ready to make that first spoken admission of those ugly things that they have discerned would not be pleasing to God. Although their gravest of sins is usually "I disobeyed my parents" or "I punched my brother and told Mom HE hit ME", they still get butterflies upon waiting in line for that first face to face encounter with their priest. I have witnessed it with both of the older children, and I think it is a beautiful thing to behold. The weight that leaves their shoulders when they receive absolution is something you can almost touch.

My first confession was a little different than that of my children. It came at the end of a day-long retreat that Khris and I had attended with other individuals who were being accepted into the Catholic Church. The retreat was awesome on its own and I would have gone even if I hadn't known that we were going to get a chance to see a priest for confession at the end of the day. But, in truth, that was the real kicker for me.

When they announced that the priests were ready to begin hearing our first confessions, a few individuals started scooting their chairs out slowly, but most people just sat there. They were all kind of looking at each other, and it seemed to me that they shared the anticipation of some unspoken horror. It was clear that these people would be taking their time getting to the chapel. Not me, man! I could not get out of my seat fast enough. I had been looking forward to this for months. I was finally going to have the opportunity to let go of the stuff that was beating me down, stuff I had carried around for years. Get out of my way, everybody! I need to see a man about forgiveness.

I guessed from that experience that not everyone shares the same enthusiasm about the gift of reconciliation that I do. I have come to know this sad truth more and more as the years have passed. We have a couple of friends who were raised Catholic and had not received the sacrament of reconciliation since their confirmation in the 8th grade. How sad to me! How frightening for them when they realized their parish required that they attend confession before their own eight year old sons could do so....YIKES! Where do I start, right?! These are two guys who walk around like they own the world. But put them in a confessional after more than 15 years and they were sweating bullets! (I have to confess, it was sort of funny to watch!)

To me, the Act of Contrition, recited at the end of confession before absolution, is one of the most beautiful prayers I have ever said. When you say these words and really mean them, I believe God smiles.

"My God, I am sorry for my sins with all my heart. In choosing to do wrong and failing to do good, I have sinned against you whom I should love above all things. I firmly intend, with your help, to do penance, to sin no more and to avoid whatever leads me to sin. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, suffered and died for us. In His name, my God, have mercy."

These are powerful, powerful words. They say, "I'm sorry, but I screwed up. I did some things I shouldn't have and missed out on a few opportunities to serve you because something else seemed more important to me at the time. I let you down and that is unacceptable. I really, REALLY want to do better, but I need your help because I can't do it alone. I know I need to do good works to make up for this and I will do so gladly. I will try my best to not do these awful things again. I am aware of those things that tend to get me into trouble and with your grace I will stay away from them. Jesus gave his life so that I could be forgiven. You said that anything asked in His name would be done. Please God, in His name, forgive me."

I guess for me, confession is just as God intended it. It is a sacrament, a "visible sign of an inward grace". God already knows my sin. I am not fooling Him into thinking I am better than I am just because I won't tell it to a priest. He already knows it all, the good the bad and the ugly. When we acknowledge our sins He is not surprised or hurt, for the hurt came when the sin was committed. What He does feel is joy at our desire to no longer let our sin come between us. He wants to give us absolution. And the knowledge that God has forgiven me is one of the greatest joys I have ever known.
Posted by KC at 11:36am

On Aging

January 17, 2007

On Aging

We cleaned out Belle's closet today. It was no easy feat, given that she tends to hide things as opposed to putting them away (????) and seems to be kin the the species "packratus". But, alas, there is a floor to her closet and we have found it!

Along with the floor, we also found a snapshot of the two of us on July 22, 2000, when she was less than 24 hours old. We were getting ready to leave the hospital. She was beautiful.....and so was I.

If I could look like that today....the way I looked less than one day post partum.....I would take it in a second. I was tan and blonde, my hair was shiny and long, I had the body of a woman who had birthed only two children.....oh, yes. And I was almost nine years younger than I am now.

Time takes its toll. I wouldn't have believed it unless I had seen it for myself. She took the picture down to the kitchen and placed magnets on its corners.....right beside the picture taken of us on New Year's Eve this past year, just seconds before midnight. The contrast was stunning, and not in a good way.

Nine years. I can see how my kids have changed. Joel was seven, a chubby, lumbering kid who had spilled ketchup on every shirt he owned and thought it would be cool to eat at McDonald's for every meal of one day. Joseph was two, having his tonsils taken out, diving off of the chair in the recovery room (BEFORE his surgery) and getting a huge rug burn on his forehead. I stayed the night with him and we slept in the chair together, me offering him popsicles and Motrin each time he stirred and whimpered in pain. Gabrielle was growing inside of me, promising to be the sweet little girl she has come to be now. Gavin and Caroline....we couldn't even imagine.

I can look back and see how the years have brought great changes to them and yet when I think of myself I can see only the negative change. Sure, Joel is now 6'5" playing varsity football for the IHSAA State Championship Team, Joseph has gone from sucking a binky to playing lacrosse and winning the "Battle of the Books", and Belle is a sweet, smart, little girl who rules the 3rd grade.......But I am somehow supposed to stay the same. I hate looking at those pictures and seeing the Kristi of yesterday. I want to be HER today....HER along with the wisdom I have acquired along the way. The funny thing is, I can't have both.

To be honest, I'm not sure which I would pick right now. So much has changed, so much water under the bridge, so to speak. I am a different person than I was nine years ago. Shoot, I was barely married, for heaven's sake! Reality hits hard, unfortunately, both physically and emotionally. I am a better person today, I think, but boy, I'd like to be that young again! And I'd like to be oblivious to the trials that young families face. I'd like to live in that place where everything seems wonderful and the biggest problem I have is getting Joseph to stay in the nursery while I work out at the YMCA in Irvington. I was clueless. But my hair was awesome.

So here's the deal. I will take the wonderful wisdom I have acquired through the years and I will protect it with all I have. I will heed the advice of Godly friends who have led me along the straight path. I will cherish the memories of my beautiful children and their growing over the past nine years. And I will look into the eyes in the picture of that young, new mother and try to remember the zest for life that she had, the longing to be the best mother possible for her children.

We gain much from experience and time, but we lose much as well. We forget to meet our husband at the door instead of just being there when he gets home. We sacrifice date night for movie night at the school so that our kindergartener will feel safe around the other kids. We consider a night away is one where no one comes to our room in the middle of the night with a bad dream, a wet bed, or a bloody nose. We make these sacrifices and do not even question their merit....and yet a few wrinkles, some gray hair, a few pounds we detest and deny.

I'm not trying to make excuses for the way I am now. As Joseph's preschool teacher once told me (advice I turn to again and again), "It's okay to UNDERSTAND the bahavior, but it's not okay to EXCUSE it". So, I can understand that life has begun to take it's toll on my body, my hair, my attitude, but that doesn't excuse letting it take it's toll on my heart and on my soul. Each day that I am blessed to wake up and see their beautiful faces (even if it is at 2am) I should rejoice and be thankful for every moment we have together. And I should also be grateful for every single wrinkle on my face because I have certainly earned them all.


January 30, 2009

It has been two weeks since I began writing this entry. I never finished it because....well, that just seems to be the way I roll right now. The ground is frozen, the air is frigid, the sky is gray, and I am stuck in the rut of, "I am miserable, but don't really care enough to do anything about it". I know it will pass. I have been here many winters before.

But I thought about this again at Caroline's birthday party last weekend. Eric saw the picture of Belle and me on the refrigerator and asked me when it was taken. He kept saying what a great picture it was, and again I was saddened that I am no longer that girl. It felt a little depressing until Gavin ran up to me crying about getting hurt while wrestling with the bigger kids at the party. I picked him up and sat him on the counter and talked about how if we want to play with the big boys we understand that there's a good chance we are going to get hurt from time to time. I gave him a hug and a drink of some of Grandma Irene's punch. He sat for a few seconds and then smiled up at me. "I love you, Mommy. Can I go now?" And then off to wrestle again. Eric watched the exchange and said, "And because of Mommy everything is right with the world again." To me that was a bigger compliment than anything he could have said about my picture at any age.

Posted by KC at 9:58pm

Neighborhood Run

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Neighborhood Run
Last year our family began a tradition of running in the Thanksgiving Day Run in our community. The race is a fundraiser for a local mission and is a great way to start a day that would normally be considered a day of overindulgence. Win-win, right? And we had every intention of continuing that tradition this year. But due to time constraints and last minute registering, the kids and I decided to start our own Run right here in the neighborhood.

This decision was quick and without reservation for us. We are spontaneous and always up for a challenge. We called a neighbor who is an amazing graphic designer and asked her to print us some flyers. We made a list of all of the neighbors we knew well and added some others that we knew only from a brisk "Good Morning" as they ran past our house. We set out to promote our run....at 8pm on Wednesday night.

To say that we faced much cynicism from those closest to us is an understatement. We heard things like, "You realize no one is going to show up to run with you" and "Do you really think it is worth the trouble......because you are giving people only 12 hours notice and no one will actually be there?"......."Give it up Losers" is sort of what it sounded like to me. And I started to agree.

But my children perservered. "Don't give up, Mom" and "You've got to believe" were the mantras I heard at our base camp. Though I was not completely convinced they were right, I had to get on board. If they could believe then I could, too.

On Thursday morning at 8:45 we walked to the end of our driveway to wait for other runners. at 8:52 I began to lose hope. By 9am we had 10 people gathered with us, ready to embark on our first annual Neighborhood Turkey Trot. Truly awesome.

We ran with some folks we knew and made some new friends as well. I love that Ron and Laura (formally known as The Man In The Purple Sweats and His Daughter) came to run with us even though they had never met us. We will forever have that runner connection because of it. I also love how good it felt to run 3.1 miles on Thanksgiving morning. But what I love most was the lesson that I, again, learned from my children.

They did not give up, and they really did believe. They were thrilled when they saw others joining us and they waited in the driveway until all were finished running. They began making plans on how we could expand the race next year by getting many others to run with us by planning ahead. They thought of finding a cause that was important to them and making it the beneficiary of any donations collected from their Turkey Trot.

They are my heros and my inspiration. Again, I say that my contribution to this world is raising the children that God has so graciously blessed us with. To give them the tools they need to make our world a better place. To live my life to show them Jesus. I make mistakes with them every day. I'm certain that there are many days (including today) that they see much more evil in me than good. I am human, after all, and I will let them down from time to time. But in the end, I will work tirelessly to use the gifts I have been given to raise the Gifts I have been given.

Posted by KC at 11:04 PM
Monday, November 17, 2008

Mental Clarity on Monday??
Lately, I've been struggling with a writing assignment that is coming due in the next couple of weeks. Fortunately, it is a self imposed assignment and deadline, so I'm not in danger of losing any work over it. But it is important to me, and I am also aware that there are a lot of other people looking forward to me coming through on this. Again.

At mass yesterday I spent some extra time in prayer asking that God would tell me what He wants me to write about, because I had nothing. I felt broken inside because I kept coming up empty. Then I realized that maybe I hadn't come up with a theme yet because there was something He wanted me to write about. I just hadn't bothered to ask.

So today, bright and early, I put the kids on the bus and, finally intimidated by the cold weather, headed to the gym for my run. I purposely left my book and iPod at home. No running partner, no scenery to look at, no stroller to push, no music. I'm always talking about how being mentally tough makes you physically stronger. Maybe the reverse would work?? It was time to see if being physically tough could actually make me mentally clearer.

I ran with determination and shut everything out. Somehow, in the midst of the noisy gym I was able to find the quiet inside of me. And in that quiet I actually found what I was looking for. The miles passed quickly as my mind processed the ideas that were coming to me. A few times I found my chest getting tighter because of the intense emotion I was feeling. God had just been waiting on me to ask for His help and then to be open to His words. And he used my love of running to catch me when I would be most receptive.

And so for me, on this Monday morning, I am reminded of how connected the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of our lives can be. I am also full of joy, of course, because the idea for my assignment is born ...and I know the words will follow.

Posted by KC at 10:30 AM

On Children

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

On Children
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, I am always aware of those gifts that I, personally, feel most thankful for. Our children. My life really began when I became a mother. I'm not certain that God made me with the capacity to change the world. But I believe with everything I am that my children will do just that.

Having said that, I thought I would share this excerpt from The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran. I saw it hanging on the refrigerator of our youngest daughter's Godmother the other day and it brought tears to my eyes, right there in the middle of a birthday party. She was kind enough to send it to me so that I could share it here, hopefully touching the heart of someone else who may need to hear it right now.

On Children
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you, but not from you.
And though they are with you,
yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love,
but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies,
but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward
nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children,
as living arrows, are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by KC at 2:29 PM

God's Ice

Sunday, January 4, 2009

God's Ice
We just returned from a trip up north to visit our dear friends who moved away a few years ago. It was a wonderful time for all of us. We got to meet the new baby (Belle was heart broken to leave him), and we got to spend New Year's Eve with cherished friends.

There is something different about the weather "up north". First, it's obviously colder. It's also colder for a longer period of time. Long periods of intense cold means one thing....frozen lakes.
Now, don't get me wrong. We are a well adjusted suburban family and we have gone ice skating many times. But never, EVER on God's Ice. Our times spent skating together were at one or the other ice skadiums here in town. And it was fun, no doubt. But to see your children run and slide on 8 inches of REAL ice in a natural lake was exhilerating!

We made the short trek from their home to the channel on which they live and wondered whether or not the ice was frozen. From there it went to tossing a huge rock out in the middle to see if it broke through. Then Uncle Jeff ventured out a bit. Then he went up to the house and retrieved his auger to cut a hole in the ice to see how thick it was. (We are careful if nothing else). Once we were satisfied the ice was thick enough to support a small army we let the children play. We shoveled off an area that nearly crossed the channel and spread about 30 feet across. The kids had a ball.

I am certain our time spent on God's Ice was the highlight of their winter break. I skated on our own creek when I was a kid and so it seemed completely natural to me to be there. But now, everyone has to be so careful with all of the terrible tragedies that we hear about, and I would never have let my children venture out on the ice here at home, where temperatures are always unpredictable. This was unforgettable for them.

The "icing" on the cake, as it were, was the last day when we were hiking to the lake. It was blustery and cold like it can only be in the north. Baby C looked up at me from under her Dora The Explorer hat and said, "Mommy, do you think we'll see any polar bears today?"
Thank you, J and G. We miss you already and will cherish the memories you made possible for our family.

Happy New Year!!

Posted by KC at 10:28 PM