Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Lenten Sensory Bags and Bad Plumbing

Last Thursday was a mess at our home – literally!

Just after I began a Lenten sensory activity with the children, one of the kids had to go potty.  After several minutes, a voice cried out, “Mom, the toilets clogged.”  Thus, began the mess.

While I played plumber with the toilet – and the bathroom sink, which ended up clogged as well (long story!) – the children wanted to continue their sensory activity.  I did my best to keep tabs in both the bathroom and the kitchen, but, before I knew it, the bathroom was a mess of overflowing toilet water, disassembled sink pipes and wet towels and the kitchen table was splattered with body products and – almost – food coloring.

Note what Jack is reaching for.  Food coloring.  Ohhhh no!

All’s well that ends well, though.  By evening, the bathroom toilet and sink were again working and the kids were asking to play with their purple sensory bags again.

Just what was in the bags?

A 3-in-1 Lenten Sensory Experience: Purging, Praying and Playing

Enjoying Lenten-purple sensory bags.

As part of my Lenten journey this year, I am committed to continuing to purge clutter from our home.  This is a much-needed undertaking that has stopped and started for – oh – almost as long as we have lived in our home. 

Last Thursday, I decided to purge some of the bathroom closet clutter, which included hotel-sized shampoos, conditioners and body lotions that were either opened or too old for me to consider creating donation baskets with them. 

So, rather than just trash the hodge-podge of body care items, I thought we’d pray and play with them first.

After watching the Holy Heroes Lenten Adventure segment about purple being a color of penance in Lent, the kids and I said some prayers and talked about penance.

Then, we got busy making sensory bags to play with.

Jack, vigorously shaking a bottle, determined to get the stuff in it to plop inside his bag.

First, we got tactile and olfactory input in while pouring the body products into sandwich bags.  Some of these did not want to come out of their containers, no matter how vigorously the kids shook and squeezed, so between unexpected plumbing duties, I helped the kids cut, squeeze and otherwise get as much goop out of each container as they could.

Mr. Independence,squeezing out some lotion, with a hodge-podge of other bottles and tubes to add to his bag.

Then, came the food coloring.

Nina counting out dye drops.

Luke and Nina remembered which two colors combine to make purple, so each of the three kids took turns using their pincer grasps to drop red and blue dye into their bags.

We sealed the bags and the kids got in some hand heavy work through mixing away while I took another turn at playing plumber.

"It's making purple."

Not long after I had re-entered the bathroom for another turn at the toilet, I heard the kids calling out with delight as they noticed their bags turning different shades or purple.  They asked me why each of their bags did not turn out to be the same shade.  So, I paused plumbing pursuits for the mini art and science lesson:  different ratios of dye drops, different products combos on each bag and all that.  Then, I went back to the bathroom, and the kids went back to their sensory explorations.

Once I found myself under the bathroom sink with water spurting out a portion of pipe that I had pulled apart and cleared, a call for Mom came again.  With giggled and shouts, Luke and Nina informed me, "Jack’s sensory bag exploded!" 

Out I came to the kitchen to double-bag it.

Luke writing letters on his bag.

Why double bag?  Because with all the plumbing issues beginning right after the sensory bag making did, I had overlooked getting out duct tape to seal the bags as I had intended to do.  Then, because the top of Jack’s bag was covered in purple-slime, and I did not have the patience to try to clean and reseal it, I had to come up with some other solution.  Since I didn’t relish transferring its contents to another bag, double bagging seemed the most expedient option.  Thankfully, Jack was happy enough with that.  

Jack's sensory bag "fixed", the children returned to their excited pushing, squishing, and drawing of letters on their sensory bags.  Me?  I returned to the cupboard below the bathroom sink.

"Mom, my bag has a hole!"  Nina called out just as I was reaching an apex of frustration with the sink and toilet.   So, glad for the opportunity to actually fix something, I went to the kitchen.  As I had done with Jack’s bag, I doubled Nina’s, all the while reminding myself to use freezer bags instead of the thinner plastic ones next time I set up a sensory experience like this.

Bags leak-free, the kids returned to their sensory play, enjoying the squishy feel of the bags and the smell of all the body products emanating from them

Me?  I returned to conquer the bathroom plumbing, which I eventually succeeded at. 

To conquer plumbing, that is, and a pile of laundry.  As you might be able to tell from the photos above, I ran out of towels sopping up messes in the bathroom, so diaper stuffers and old burp cloths had to suffice for the kitchen mess.  Wow, did I end up with a lot of laundry.

Some laughs, in retrospect, a few new plumbing skills and a worthwhile sensory activity to repeat with the kids with different colors and product hodge-podge on another day.  Praise God!

Have you incorporated sensory experiences into your Lenten activities this year? 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Diary of Starting Stations of the Cross with Special Needs in Mind

Quiet, attentive reverence.

Due to sensory challenges and poor executive functioning skills, one of my three children rarely succeeds at demonstrating such “acceptable” behavior at Mass.  So, the idea of attending our parish’s traditional Stations of the Cross prayer times makes me cringe.
Silent prayer does happen, but not often with my seven-and-under crowd.

I know that stating my dread of going to Stations seems irreverent. For isn’t Lent partially about bearing one’s crosses and trusting in the Lord?  Thus, shouldn’t I be willing to just shoulder forth with my kiddoes to our parish’s Stations of the Cross prayer time despite my fears?


Or, perhaps not.

As a parent, I know that it is my duty – and privilege – to help my children in their spiritual formation. As such, I take seriously the call to be a “first herald” for my children, initiating them into the mysteries of the faith.  (CCC 2225)  And, with my children’s needs in mind, I think that being a literal first herald of the Way of the Cross is most fitting. 

Stations of the Cross, Week One:  A Gentle, Snuggly Introduction

I am confident that my children will come to appreciate the rich experience of praying the Stations of the Cross with our greater church community if they first come to know and understand the Stations within our own domestic church.  So, last Friday, we “did” the stations at home, in bed, no less. 

All three children and I snuggled into sensory-calming* delight in one, single bed while reading The Story of the Cross and praying the prayers included in it.
At another point in the day, we also visited the church for just a moment to wave hello to Jesus.

Simple.  Sensory-friendly.  No distractions or challenges to divert the children’s attention from the story of the cross.

Stations of the Cross, Week Two: Running and Reverence

Nina's sketch of Our Lady.
This week, I felt the children were already ready for a next step in experiencing the Stations of the Cross.  So, I asked them if they’d like to pray the Stations at our local church, all by ourselves, with our “special stations book” and some sketchbooks to help us. 

Even my youngest cried out with delight at this idea.  So, off we went to the church – in the middle of the day, when I figured no one else would be there.

Jack's sketch, in Lenten purple, with the cross at the top drawn by Nina.

Thankfully, I was wrong about us being alone at the church, though.  For when we entered the building, it was dark.  No lights were on and, even though I felt there was plenty of light coming through the stained glass windows, the children were a bit concerned about the darkness..  Luckily, a kind-hearted woman that works at our parish offices was in the church building and offered to go turn on some of the church’s lights.

Whew!  She saved the day!

Luke's "favorite" station.
Comforted by the increased light, the children joined me to kneel before the tabernacle for a prayer.  Then, I asked the kids if they could find the first station. 

They bubbled with childhood excitement when they discovered that it was behind the church organ, up near the altar where they had never been before.  However, once I began reading from The Story of the Cross, they quieted,  listening to the story and alternating between examining the artwork of on the church wall and comparing it to the art work in our book.  Then, just as I was reciting the prayer portion of our first station reading, excitement kicked in again. 

Our sensory seeker burst forth with a near-run to get to the next station.  And, thus began the pattern for the day:  a run-pause-listen-pray-run one.

Now, I know that some reading this might be shaking their heads now.  Running in the church?  During Stations, no less.  I know, it seems rather inappropriate.  Unless, of course, you have a child who was gifted with a neurology that is a bit different than everyone else’s.  One who needs physical movement and heavy work more than most others do.  Then, it becomes par for the course.  And, quite honestly, even a victory in the eyes of that child’s mama, who was less concerned about the dashes between the stations than she was delighted about the control it took for that child to actually pause at each station, and, even more, the desire of that child to do so.

Grace abounds!

So it was that the children and I ended up “walking” the Way of the Cross at almost a running speed at times.  The children attentive and relatively reverent at each station, but with a journey that was punctuated by quick bursts of movement between stations.  My sensory seeker, leading the way.

And, then, came the slow down -- the keying into what my differently gifted child loves and sometimes synthesizes best through: drawing.

Luke sketching Jesus on the cross.

Fasting, Giving and Praying at the Station

My son Luke had been unkind to his sister Nina right before we left for the Stations.  As a penance, he agreed that his sister could pick which station we sketched after praying the Stations. 

It was very difficult for Luke to honor his word once the time actually came to break out our sketch books. He knew right away which station he wanted to draw and had to practice patience and control as Nina walked – slowly – from station to station (after running from station to station earlier!) to make her decision as to where we would plunk down with our colored pencils.  As Luke’s eyes followed her around the church, I could feel the strain it took him to maintain a fast from outbursts or a loud cajoling for his sister to pick the station he wanted to sketch.

Luke's sketch.

Or perhaps I felt Luke’s pleading prayers to God.  For, after Nina passed one particular station, I heard Luke sigh with angry disappointment and saw him hand his head.  Then, Nina, true to her compassionate and giving nature, lit up Luke’s world.  She began a second round of the stations, paused, smiled, came to the center of the church, announced that she knew what she wanted, and, as Luke inhaled deeply, walked over to her big brother and said “for Luke to pick.”

Nina helping Jack to draw a cross.

Luke immediately led us over to the station I thought he wanted to sketch – Jesus on the cross.  Whereupon Nina, whose sensitivity was disturbed by the image, politely inquired, “Mommy, I want Luke to make his choice, but can I draw something else?”  Of course, I said she could.  So, while Luke sketched Jesus on the cross, Nina sketched “Mary from the window”, only stopping to help Jack when he asked someone to draw a cross on his paper.

A more comforting image for Nina.

Finally, we all talked about how we knew the “end of the story” – that Jesus rose again and is still here with us in the form of the Eucharist.  Jack found his way to the candle that tells us that Jesus is present in the tabernacle.  All the children said a prayer in front of the tabernacle with me.  Then, Nina asked to go pray in front of a statue of Our Lady and Baby Jesus while Luke searched for images of St. Luke and St. Micheal, before we went over to the parish offices to tell them we were done.

"Jesus is here."
No sensory meltdowns.  Growth in self-control.  The story of the stations shared.   Prayers spoken aloud in the quiet of hearts.   By His grace, Stations, Week Two was a success.

Jack praying in front of the tabernacle.

Now I pray for the guidance and grace to make decisions about how best to share the Stations with the kids next week.  Will I tap into some of the 10+ Stations of the Cross resources I collected (and shared!) a few weeks back for another at-home heralding? Will we repeat what we did this week, perhaps at a different church to appeal to Luke’s interest in viewing different artwork?  Will we try a group service?  I am not sure yet.

How do you pray the Stations of the Cross wit children, especially children with special needs?
*For those unfamiliar with sensory needs and how to best meet them, please realize every child is different.  What is calming to one may be stimulating for another.  If you think your child has sensory challenges, consider researching what Sensory Processing Disorder is and getting a handle on what you can do.  The SPD Foundation and Special-ism are great places to start.


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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Softening My Heart: An Anniversary Lesson during Lent

I’m participating in the Keeping LOVE in LENT Blog Link-Up 2013, hosted by Raising (& Teaching) Little Saints, Truly Rich Mom and Arma Dei: Equipping Catholic Families. We'll be sharing different ways, tips, stories and real-life experiences that will help us focus on Lenten sacrifices, prayer and good deeds, and how to carry them out with LOVE instead of a GRUMBLE. Please scroll down to the end of the post to see the list of link-up entries.

I had planned to write about something else today – about some of the things the children and I are DOing this Lent.  However, upon reflection about my day, I felt moved to share something I am (re)LEARNING: to soften my heart and savor relationships.

The candle says it all: love, cherish...

Please, step back about 18 hours with me to the ridiculous scenario that was my morning:

Three children, at different times between 12 and 6 a.m. padded into my husband and my bedroom and crawled into our bed. Eventually, their little bodies ejected my husband’s off our queen-sized mattress.  Thus, by 6:45, when I got up, Mike was well into moving himself through getting himself ready work while I was chastising myself for breaking my personal intention of getting up by 5:30/6 to pray and then do chores.

With a sigh, I looked at the clock and groaned a bit.  I knew that my earliest risers would be up within a half hour and that I had more chores to get done this morning than I had minutes to do them in.   We had guests expected in but a few hours and the kids would be up, needing breakfast and ready for their lessons.  So, I forewent my usual morning routine (including focused prayer time – gasp!) in order to get right into the chores.

After a quick hello in my head to God, I barely said good morning to the man that he has gifted me with to share in the call of marriage before I began to collect trash, put away dishes, sort laundry...  I was only a few minutes into these mundane tasks when Jack woke up, followed by Nina.

Instead of greeting my God-given blessings as I usually do in the morning and stopping to attend to their needs, I pushed on, set on my own “needs”.  My narrow-minded focus and corollary monologue to the kids about why I could not attend to their requests “until I finished (x-y-z),” did nothing for the kids', nor Mike’s, morning mooda.  Yet, me of hard-heart and harder head, persisted.

Then, just as Mike was ready to leave, Luke woke up.  Within a minute, after Mike received big bye-bye hugs and kisses from all three of our children, but only the most cursory one from me, Mike departed for work.

Why only a cursory hug and kiss? Because he was trying to get out the door and I was trying to do some extra chores.  I thought little of it.

Instead, I paused from my to-do list to ensure that the children were set up with fruit (which is what I encourage them to eat before they attend to their Five Before Breakfast chores and, then, eat breakfast with me.)  I figured, if they had plenty of fruit, they’d stay busy munching and I could continue chores.

My plan worked.  They chewed on produce power while I powered on to empty yet another trashcan.  It was then, a thought randomly occurred to me: It was February 19th, Mike and my 8th anniversary and Mike had just left for work without either of us even remembering (or at least neither of us recognizing) the day. 

Eight years ago...
Eight years ago, our focus was a joy-filled celebration of love among family and friends at the church I grew up in and the reception hall afterward.  This morning, the focus was scattered and mundane.  That struck me.  HARD. 

So, I broke my Lenten promise to Luke (which is to fast from the computer for three hours or more a morning once all three children are awake) in order to email Mike to say, “Happy Anniversary.” 

I am weak. When I got online to do so, I fell to temptation:  Facebook.  While I waited for my “slow” email account to load, I popped onto FB and posted about the morning.  No sooner did I do that than did one dear friend post encouragement telling me not to worry because the day wasn’t over yet.

Indeed, it was not.  And, neither was my reckoning.

As soon as my email account was up, I saw a message from my dad.  I almost did not open it because it seemed that opening it would bring me even further into my failure to stick to the Lenten fast I had promised Luke last week I would adhere to.  But, something told me to open the email anyway.  (Hmm, the Spirit, perhaps?  Funny how God can work through all our failures to get His message across.)

Luckily, I listened to that something.

I opened the email.

I learned that a long-time family friend, who I love, but have not made time to reach out to in months, perhaps, years, has just entered hospice.   

It seemed the score for the morning was: Poor Priorities and Choices of How to Use Time 2, Importance of Relationships Focused On 0.  

My heart began to soften.  Tears began to fall.  I got the message: Love. Relationships. People.  Friendship. FIRST.

God sent his only Son for us.  Jesus died for us.  Our Lord wants a relationship with us.  He builds relationships through us... when we are not too hard.

Wow.  I certainly was called up short.

So, I paused life to fast from my own hard-heart and equally hard-head.  I prayed with every letter of the A-C-T-S acronym that I sometimes help my kids to pray with (Adoration, Confessions, Thanksgiving and Supplication.)  Then, I made time to send a note to our family friend and his wife, offering a long overdue and heartfelt message of love and prayers.  After that, I emailed Mike at work to share anniversary wishes.  Then, I hugged my children and dug out Mike and my wedding candle and a photo to put in the front room as a reminder of our special day eight years ago. 

I gave the children full focus during their school lessons and then found the proofs album from Mike and my wedding (since we never had a real wedding album made due to a mishap with the photographer).  With that, I snuggled onto the couch with the kids to share the story of Mommy and Daddy’s wedding day with them – complete with a recollection of how, when I sat outside the church alone in the car waiting for Grampy to come take me into the church to give me away, I looked up at the steeple of the church framed by a bright-blue sky, thought about the heavens and prayed with utmost gratitude and hope, thanking God for Daddy as an answer to my prayers and imagining the family He might give me.  The very family I was snuggled with on the couch...  The children smiled, asked questions, laughed and learned more about the legacy of love and faith that Mummy and Daddy’s marriage is a part of...

Then, as we flipped another page in my wedding album, our friends pulled up outside the window.  So, we put the album away until later in the day.  We went out to enjoy sledding with our friends and, then, warmed up together with cocoa, lunch and indoor play.

After our friends left, it was onto snuggles and stories with the kids – both read alouds and more perusing of our wedding album and sharing stories of that day – as we got Jack to nap.  Then, and only then, it was back to to-do’s – household chores and work prep for tonight – but with a much softer heart and greater sense of authentic purpose.

Later, before Mike got home and before I left for work, the children and I set the table for a quick celebration of Mike and my anniversary.  We even set up a CD player with some special wedding songs that tend to make Daddy good-teary. 

When Daddy got home, we lit the candle from our wedding day, took a self-timer shot in the hall, danced as a family to the songs as happy tears brimmed in Daddy’s, Nina’s and my eyes and felt true gratitude for the blessing of love that God has given each of us in one another.

Eight years in...
After that, it was off to honor work commitments, before coming home to do more work stuff.  Finally, soon I will be off to bed – quite late, but with a full and thankful heart.

Before sleeping, however, I wanted to record the facts of this day as a reminder to myself and others:  Life IS good.  To-do’s are important sometimes, but not as important as relationships – relationships gifted to us from our Lord, ones that should be savored and celebrated, just as our relationship with Him should be.

I am so glad that I failed in my Lenten fast this morning so that God could break through my hard-headed-and-heartedness.  For fasting means little if it does not soften our hearts to our Lord and to love – HIS love, our love for Him and for one another. 

Just like the good old Baltimore Catechism professes, “God made (us) to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.”
Oh, that none of us forget to live that truth throughout these 40 days, and all the days we are gifted with after that.

Have you already failed at a personal fast?  Did love win anyway? Or has your unfaltering fast softened your heart?  Do share your reflections of Lenten Love.

Discover new Catholic Blogs to follow!
 Check out the Lent reflections participating in the Keep LOVE in LENT Blog Link-Up 2013! We'll be sharing different ways, tips, stories and real-life experiences that will help us focus on Lenten sacrifices, prayer and good deeds, and how to carry them out with LOVE instead of a GRUMBLE.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lenten Love

When we made our Pray, Fast, Give Jars this year, Luke came up with a new twist.

"Mommy, why don't we put something different in them this year," he suggested.  "Like birdseed.  Then, the Easter Bunny can feed the animals before giving us a treat."

I thought it was a beautiful idea -- one that spoke of Luke's creativity and his developing capacity to think in less self-centered ways than he has in the past.  Since Nina liked the idea, too, we went with it.  So, our jars this year are being filled with sunflower seeds, not beans.

And, our hearts are full as well.

With all the snow that has fallen in our area lately, the children did not wait for Easter so that the Bunny could feed the birds.  They were concerned about our feathered friends now.  So, on Saint Valentine's Day morning, they made a special Valentine for birds in our front yard.  They have been replenishing it regularly, and the birds have been delighting in their dedicated kindness.

Likewise, I have been delighting in the children's excitement as they eagerly run to the window whenever they spy one of God's creatures partaking in a front yard feast.

And we have all been delighting in moments of beauty each day, which our Lord has made for us.  

From snowy picnics to snuggly read alouds, when we have taken time to relish the simple parts of our days, our hearts have softened.  Our souls have sung.  We have felt redeemed and recharged, bathed in warmth and love.

Now, speaking of all this sweet joy might seem a bit out of season since it is Lent, not Easter yet.  But, perhaps it is not.  Perhaps recognizing the bountiful blessings borne from a child's idea of sacrificial sunflower seeds could be a simplified allegory for the Resurrection.

Through our Lord's love and sacrifice we are saved and, thus, can know great joy.

How are sacrifices softening hearts in your home the Lenten season?


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