Part of this is because I live in an area where there are very FEW large Catholic families, at least, large Catholic families who have well behaved, well educated children (they all seem to live in Dunn, where the Extraordinary Form is.... hmmmm. Well, I shouldn't be too harsh, there are a growing number of large families at my little Maronite Parish, too.)
Part of this is also that those large families that do make me suck in my breath and say "wow, you are awesome, how do you do that??" don't really have the same lifestyles as the majority of people and young families I see around Church. Whereas we have mommy groups and coffee dates and playdates and school til noon, these families I WANT to meet, who seem to be doing it right, are hardly ever "out," let alone "around."
We know they exist because we see their ten kids sitting quietly in a neat row at mass. But we never see them at the mommy/kid groups the Parish hosts or at women's events around town. I've asked moms like this to come speak at playgroups to encourage younger moms, especially because I'm encouraged by their clearly amazing parenting skills. And I laugh, bewildered, because.... they always say no.
I also find it amazing that many of my friends who don't have families that look like these families have many negative things to say about them. Here are some snippets of conversations I've had or overheard people having about large, well behaved families we might see at mass.
"You know how they get those kids to behave like that? They go home and beat them."
"She can't really be that happy. She's probably medicated."
"If their kids are always like that, they must be stifling their personalities."
"Why don't they ever DO anything?? They are weird."
"There is NO WAY their kids are always that good."
Over time, I've come to learn through life experience and spending time with them at home that those families are often the happiest, the least violent, the most creative and expressive, and the most active. And yes, the kids are really almost always THAT good.
Once, my husband did some work on a house where the family had ten amazing kids. The whole time he worked, he couldn't get over how well the household operated. Mother was in the dinning room overseeing the schooling. The littles were playing nicely outside. The children took turns doing chores. The children didn't back talk, weren't rowdy, and were extremely nice. On the third day, they invited him in to eat lunch, and he accepted. Lunch was pleasant, delicious, simple, and fun. He discovered the family was Catholic, and that they went to the closest Parish near us where the Latin Mass is offered. He came home and told me I needed to meet this mother and learn from her.
A week or so later, we were meeting our priest out for dinner and drinks and their family walked in. I saw the mother and observed her with the kids... my husband was right. They were an amazing family. I stared in awe and amazement. And then dinner was over, and we went home. We haven't seen them since then.
I've considered dropping a note in her mailbox:
Hello! I noticed your family is incredible and I want to know the secret. No one out here seems to get it. Please help!Of course, I never have. But I did pray, a lot. I wanted to know how she (they) did it. I wanted (and my husband wanted) a family that looked and behaved like that. Not just externally, but internally-- we wanted the benefits we saw in their personal holiness. So I prayed.
And God led me to something even better than this particular family, which God knows would have probably ended up disappointing me somehow. :D
Instead, He led me to the CLAA, which we enrolled in for the academics but which turns out to be a literal "how to" of what all these families I see and think... "WOW!" about are doing. And not because they are telling us what to do, but because the purpose of a classical education sort of encapsulates a certain idea: the pursuit of wisdom being tantamount to a "pure and perfect" education. The CLAA encourages you not just to talk about and think about holiness but to actually do those things which you talk about and think about. It's not for the weak minded or faint of heart.
As a parent, I am not exempt from my children's call to holiness. I have to be the first one to make the sacrifices, to live right, to reach sainthood, if I expect them to follow. And that has been a revelation for us, because although we knew it on a practical level, we didn't realize how little we were actually doing it. In fact, in just two weeks of CLAA, we have realized that our lives were completely ordered around the wrong things and anchored in self-defeating ideas. Our actions didn't match our purpose, even though we thought we were so "different" from everybody else. Really, we were the same, just calling ourselves different.
What do I mean? I mean that instead of having a simple life anchored in prayer and work, we had a complicated life anchored in leisure. And it showed in our kids.
The first step in CLAA is not enrolling the kids and diving into the academics. The first step is to re-organize your family life so that you can handle the academics. Before enrolling, most families take a year or two just to teach their kids the basics of a simple, ordered life: family prayer times, chores, discipline, obedience, respect, sacrifice, etc. They learn to par down their meal plans so that they are healthy and sensible and not gluttonous. They learn to be a little self-sufficient and get their finances in order so they don't have to depend on anyone. They learn to be less social and more sacrificial. Then, once they have figured out the basics of the simple life, (which does NOT have to mean a farming life, of course-- just to be clear) they can begin the academics. It's like enrolling in a saint factory (as if Marriage wasn't enough. :D) The hardest thing about it is just doing it..... because it's one thing to say "I start tomorrow!" But it's quite another to actually make the changes a good home education for your children requires. We already thought we were there. Now it is clear that we haven't even begun to scratch the surface. In fact, here I am writing a blog at 6 am instead of going for a morning run. You see what I mean? Guess I better write the rest in a few minutes, when I get back. :)
One of the first steps to a working schedule is to purge your home. Family watching too much TV? Throw the TV out. Spending too much time doing laundry? Get uniforms. This is something that my husband and I actually enjoy-- people are always amazed/annoyed at how easy it is for us to throw away/get rid of stuff that we have been given/had for years etc. We hate clutter, and when we live alone again, our house will be much easier for us to live in. (His dad is a packrat.) The reason CLAA families tend to do this step is twofold.
First, because "stuff" gets in the way of a holy life. It's a slap in the face of materialism to say: "I don't need or want that." It's also because CLAA families adhere to a rigid work schedule according to their family's needs. The best advice I have ever received thus far about time management has been this: "Make the family schedule. Get rid of EVERYTHING that gets in the way of the schedule."
Now, before you go thinking this means that at 7 AM you better be done cooking breakfast, or else, let me reassure you.... it's not so much the rigid time frame as it is the rigid structure of the schedule that matters: "Don't fool around," is the message. "Life is too short and we are supposed to be becoming saints. Is this activity/ conversation/ etc. wise? Is it helpful according to your goals?" It is serious. Too serious for many.
One of the first steps of purging is paring down the clothes. We have too many clothes. We stuff them in closets and forget about them. We vainly keep a million combinations of clothes around and for what? To leave off doing laundry for days on end?? To gripe at the mountain of laundry that ensues? Especially for large families, the clothing is usually the first thing to go.
One of the easiest ways to do this is to create family uniforms. Now I know what you're thinking... because I thought it too. UNIFORMS??
However, you have heard me say over and over again here that the best times of my life were the simplest-- in particular when I was in Basic Training in the US Army. And what did I have in the Army? A locker, containing three sets of work clothes, one set of dress clothes. A Bible. a pen. a journal. a flashlight. Some soap. a toothbrush. A hairbrush. The thing with the Army uniforms was that they were the best, most practical outfit for women and men to get pretty much ANYTHING done. There is nothing in the known universe you wouldn't be totally comfortable doing in BDUs. They are amazing. Once I was out of the army, I had so many clothing choices, and they were largely appealing and attractive, but none of them were as liberating as my old BDUs. We hardly wasted any time doing laundry, worrying about how we looked.... All we had time for was work, prayer, and a really rewarding rest period. (if we earned it.) Which is kinda the point of what we are trying to do here... only less.... military. or is it?
Sacrifice is the key to the Christian life.... and the Christian life is meaningless without it. We are weak, so we need discipline to help us do the impossible. I can tell you that nothing in the world is more rewarding than succeeding at a difficult task after enduring sleeplessness, hunger, and angry drill sergeants. The thrill of having overcome is like nothing else. The Christian life is good, but only if we endure to the end, and only if we allow ourselves to be disciplined into sacrifice. There is glory on the other side of pain.... we shouted it all day long during difficult field exercises: Pain is temporary, pride is forever. Pain is weakness leaving the body. Etc. etc. Kinda like my favorite quote from St Josemaria Escriva: "Blessed be pain. Loved be pain. Sanctified be pain. . . Glorified be pain!" (The Way, 208)
Sacrifice requires courage, and uniforms require courage, because we are essentially getting rid of everything that stands between us and God with regards to our lengthy list of excesses in the vanity department. (and no, that doesn't mean that a uniform should be UGLY. On the contrary.... we should never look frumpy or unattractive.) It doesn't mean that your uniform should be SIMILAR (like, the same thing every day. It can be one Monday outfit, one Tuesday outfit, one Wednesday outfit, etc.) What it does mean is that your clothes should be simplified. It shouldn't take half the day to determine what to wear to a certain event or on a certain occasion. Time wasted we will never get back. Simplify.
The considerations when making a uniform for yourself or for the kids are really simple:
1. What does modesty mean to your family?
2. What does your family do in a day?
3. How does your family manage laundry?
When it comes to uniforms, quality should always win over quantity (the French know this intrinsically, since they traditionally own very few items that are very good, high quality clothing. Americans, on the other hand, have closets overflowing with cheaply made clothes.) Colors choices should be harmonious so that you can mix and match if needed. And most people who have been doing this a while recommend about 10 pieces of clothing per person. (on average.)
So for example, in my house:
Modesty in dress means hiding those parts of our bodies which need not be revealed. At one time, it meant covering completely. But over time we came to see how this alienated us from the very world we lived in, and didn't fulfill our purpose of being "just like everyone else, only different." For us today, this means wearing decent clothes that don't give away our bodies. (General rules of thumb for us girls, for example, would be skirts past the knee and sleeves that reach the elbows as much as possible. Collars that aren't too low. Etc.)
In one day, we exercise, cook, clean, play, walk, garden, stand, sit, hostess, etc. So we need clothes that suit all of those purposes. (Good luck figuring it out, I STILL am.) An important consideration here is looking feminine-- it would be easy for me to order some BDU pants and tee shirts and be done, but is that really giving my husband the best of my womanhood? Not really, because he enjoys me looking girly.
My family does laundry as it comes in. We don't have a laundry day, we just do it as the hamper gets full.
I will post what our uniforms end up being later once we have figured it out, but for now suffice to say that I like the idea, that we are going to be implementing it, and that it isn't something that will happen all at once, but rather happen over time. I've been thinking about it for a few weeks now.
About two years ago, a friend approached me with the idea of having a "mommy uniform" to help keep me sane. I liked it, and over time, I implemented it to some degree. (I currently switch off wearing one of three long tiered skirts and a 3/4 sleeve tee from Old Navy during the week. On Tuesdays I usually wear jeans and a shirt because I have a bunch of mommies over and want to look less.... little house on the prairie. :D) It had never occurred to me to give the kids a uniform too, but now it makes so much sense! And something else I noticed.... here in North Carolina, even the PUBLIC SCHOOL children have uniforms!! Why wouldn't we?
For those of you who are interested, here is a link to the original article on the CLAA website that got me thinking. Do you have school uniforms? Mommy uniforms? Workout or Work uniforms? Tell me about them.