We don’t talk about it. But we should.

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The #Maybehedoesnthityou campaign has taken hold on social media. And rightly so. It describes emotional  and mental abuse that may or may not be coupled with sexual and physical abuse. It opens up the door, that door behind which we silently cry, too afraid or ashamed to share.

I know. I suffered this abuse. For more than thirty years.

I have never talked about it. How could I? I took the blame and shame on myself. I protected my sons.

And I am a survivor not a victim. I have moved on, with the grace of God.

So I do not dwell.

And yet.

And yet.

Every time I read a tweet from another person, especially another woman, in the #Maybehedoesnthityou campaign, I gasp. I know it describes me. The me that was. It seems all abusers are alike. I know that, somewhere deep inside the woman who is a mother, a friend, a teacher, a student, a writer, a capable and competent, happy, flourishing person, there lies that woman who was victimised. And to forget that woman, even as I move on, is to refuse to give her a voice.

She needs a voice. The other women in similar situations need a voice.

This is something not to dwell upon, I’ve been told. Sure. I get that. But it is something that must be talked about. Aired. Awareness raised. So our sons and daughters can learn and grow. So those still being abused can know, too, that others have experienced the same, have made changes, have moved to happier places. It is possible.

So this is why I take the first, few, tenative tiptoes to share. Beginning now. For me, in one sense, but mostly for you. You know who you are. You know who needs to hear this.

Hear what? Let me  explain a tweet, that I retweeted.

but he’s ruined your ability for trust in future relationships..

He does. He makes fun of your weaknesses, he critiicses you, you are too friendly or not friendly enough, too fat, too involved with the kids or not involved enough. Should work outisde of the home. Should not. Too Catholic. Not Catholic enough.

He takes your vulnerabilities and twists them, uses them against you, all the while showing his public face as a moral, caring, hard working husband and father. So that others believe, too, that you are the one with issues. They believe his ‘press’ and you, you are too tired and hurt and confused and scared to counteract. He lies and cheats. He manipulates. He turns others against you. And now, your trust has been betrayed. Your trust in him and in those ‘friends’ who gave him sympathy and tell you, you are a strong woman, work on your marriage, be better.  They don’t know your silent screams and tears, as you curl into a ball each night.

You learn to mistrust. Yourself and others.

Sound familiar? You are not alone.

#Maybehedoesnthityou gives you a voice. As does the virtue of hope.

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It’s the small things

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Our Lady of Lourdes

This is how I arranged the dining table centrepiece before bed last night..a visual reminder, for all who rise in the early or not so early hours of the morning…and who wander past the dining area to the kitchen for breakfast. A reminder of today’s feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.. Saints book, candles; Fr Lovasik book on Our Lady of Lourdes; dh’s statue of Our Lady, from his childhood home….and our art focus book.
A week or so ago, someone asked me Why I Bother. Their point was I am doing a lot of work outside the home at the moment, a lot of stuff in the home for Kumon and for volunteer stuff, and at midnight, before bed and an early start the next morning for Mass, I do things like arrange a centrepiece for the table.
Don’t bother, I was told. Let others do the chores and don’t worry about the extras.
But I do want to “worry” about the extras.
It is the extras that make the house a home, a refuge, something set apart. That make a life, really.
I said awhile back, to a priest, that women don’t always have time for the great inventions, for the great works, not because we are less inclined to these things but because our days and minds are often filled with little things…little things that never seem to amount to much, that no one may even notice if done or left undone, but which make a mark on the lives of family and friends.
Creating a space, a nook, for quiet reading and sitting. For movies. Putting out flowers and candles. Planning a dessert for a saints day. Plumping up cushions and scattering an interesting book. Texting friends. Having a person who is lonely over for a cuppa..and including the kids in the converation. Sending a smile.
I am not advising mothers and wives and women to be martyrs. I certainly take time for reading, for work, for my study, for workouts. But my mind and days are also full of All Those Small Things ( Blink 182).
And I bother.
‘A man,’ as one of them observed to me once, ‘is so in the way in the house!’ Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford.
And not at all true. But the point is made..a woman often does make a subtle difference. Shouldn’t that difference be calculated, for the good, for beauty, for people?
 Thus the “perfect woman” (cf. Prov 31:10) becomes an irreplaceable support and source of spiritual strength for other people, who perceive the great energies of her spirit. These “perfect women” are owed much by their families, and sometimes by whole nations.
In our own time, the successes of science and technology make it possible to attain material well-being to a degree hitherto unknown. While this favours some, it pushes others to the edges of society. In this way, unilateral progress can also lead to a gradual loss of sensitivity for man, that is, for what is essentially human. In this sense, our time in particular awaits the manifestation of that “genius” which belongs to women, and which can ensure sensitivity for human beings in every circumstance: because they are human! – and because “the greatest of these is love” (cf. 1 Cor 13:13).MULIERIS DIGNITATEM
Pope John Paul II
Why do I bother? Out of love..not just for family, but for friends, for others, for people I meet, for love of God.
A recent homily on St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, Chapter 13 ( If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal… ) challenged all of us, husbands, wives, women, men, single, married, religious..all of us to serve with love. If we love, we are not jealous; we do not act out of selfishness and concern for ourselves; we act with love and care for others.
I must act with that feminine genius of which the Pope spoke, with that sensitivity for human beings in every, yes, every, circumstance…
A sacrifice to be real must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves. The fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, the fruit of service is peace. Mother Theresa
In my very busy life, I remember some of the stories of my childhood and early teen years, those stories that shaped me. The Little House on the Prairie series. The Anne of Green Gables books. The Meet the Austins series. The Dimity boarding school books. All those Pollyanna novels. Jane Austen. Swallows and Amazons. Noel Streatfield. Verily Anderson. Dodie Smith. Bridge to Terabithia. Amongst others.
What was it that attracted me to these books?
 Their vision of family life. Of normality. Of fun. Of dinners and chats and walks and time together.
 I take this vision and try to live it out, in my whirlwind of activity and technology.
 I bother with the little things.
 The extras that are not really extras. For, as we women, seek careers and study, seek good, seek to be truly ourselves it is sad if we also lose sight of what it is that makes a home…us.
Everybody today seems to be in such a terrible rush, anxious for greater developments and greater riches and so on, so that children have very little time for their parents. Parents have very little time for each other, and in the home begins the disruption of peace of the world. Mother Theresa

Marilyn Monroe and Pope John Paul II

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Watching Marilyn Monroe in “Some Like It Hot” in an outdoor film fest, I was struck by more than the star’s beauty. In the cool summer night, amid the laughs of my fellow audience at the film’s superb comedic timing and dialogue, I saw Monroe as icon of human yearning and feminist ideals.

I am not alone in this. Feminists from Gloria Steinem to third wave feminist Erin Johansen have claimed Marilyn as their own, citing her life and roles as an example of why women need feminism. As feminist author Nancy Friday has said, Marilyn Monroe’s life sends a message to women – when the world forms young women into sex objects, the women lose themselves and, ultimately, their life.

St John Paul II echoed this warning in his work “Love and Responsibility”. He wrote that ‘A person must not be merely the means to an end for another person’, adding ‘Anyone who treats a person as the means to an end does violence to the very essence of the other’. Feminist writers have argued that the Hollywood film industry and 1950s American culture destroyed the essence of Marilyn Monroe, in  highlighting her sexuality as every man’s desire yet neglecting to see the essence of Marilyn as person.

It was this essence that enthralled in the movie “Some Like It Hot.” Having been introduced to Monroe as a comedic actress of high calibre, with august timing and exaggerated facial expressions in “How To Marry A Millionaire”, I was intrigued to catch a glimpse of a deeper quality in her work. While Monroe remains an object for the desires of others in this film, she skilfully hints at yearnings of her own, and thus at yearnings of humanity. We yearn for acknowledgement and acceptance. We yearn for a better life. We want hope in the suffering that we often experience in our every day, perhaps mundane or arduous, tasks and roles. Marilyn, as long-suffering ever hopeful Sugar, expresses these yearnings with a gaze, a pout, a glance of eyes brimming with sorrow. Indeed, the irony of the scene wherein Marilyn sings ‘I’m Through With Love’, while the club’s audience dances in oblivion to her suffering, is sublime. How often is humanity’s suffering experienced in a sea of oblivion and apathy?

It is apathy to suffering that can cost lives. Indeed, the suffering portrayed by Monroe on the screen reflected the suffering of her life. It seems that apathy to her off-screen image, in contrast to obsession with her on-screen objectification, cost Marilyn her life.

Heavy thoughts for a summer film festival. Yet, as Coppelia Kahn reminds us, comedies will mirror aspects of the human condition. And feminist authors are right in holding Marilyn as a feminist icon, suggesting that Marilyn’s life and movies encourage discussion on humanity and equality. It is such discussion that reminds us of respect for human dignity and essence while recognizing the truth of the final lines of “Some Like It Hot” – “Nobody’s perfect”.

A learning habit?

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One thing we homeschoolers and unschoolers are often asked is ‘How do you teach your kids?’… Or, ‘Are you a teacher?’

What I have found it that it matters less what and how or if we teach.

What matters more is that we develop a learning habit and a learning environment. A habit where we peg activities onto other activities rather than a mad rush through the day .A habit that reinforces that which we know is most important – books, free time, family time, discussion, time outdoors.

A habit of reading and talking together. Sharing books and thoughts.

I have often felt that it is this learning habit, some rhythm in our days or week, with lots of reading and talking that has ‘made’ our education. People ask how it is that my sons do well at undergraduate and postgraduate study. I think it is because they have developed that learning habit, borne out of rhythm, experience, passion, and love.

It was gratifying to read of the importance of these factors (habit and reading) in a book called ‘The Learning Habit’. Yes, it is written to help parents and children with school homework and with establishing patterns of learning for school and college success. Yes, there are issues I have with the book concerning screen time and bedtime (but I also acknowledge that these issues are more important for families with children at school then they are for unschoolers).

However, it was encouraging to note the studies, experiences and anecdotes that describe the positive effect on children of ‘a learning habit’, namely a routine or rhythm in their life (not necessarily every day) and a value placed on reading and reading aloud and family time.

Almost a recipe for unschooling.learning habit

The Train Witch. A contemporary fairy tale.

Rude-as woman on the train.

Moves the seat so now we can all be crowded. Yay. There was plenty of room. But darling, do what you want. You know I love SQUASH.

And now she sits sniffing. Wiping her nose. Blowing her nose in loud, long, lingering bursts.

I hope you’re happy, girl.

I glare. (And feel like the characters dealing with Amy on the subway in the movie ‘Trainwreck’).

It’s the anti-social train transformation,

Like Clark Kent, I transform from quiet Leonie, well-behaved, well-mannered Leonie, to the Train Witch from hell.

Please don’t sit near me, squashed up close, knees hitting knees.

I hate the crush.

Train Witch me

Train Witch me

i hate the noise.

I hate hearing your long phone conversations.

Some things should be kept private. They just should. The whole carriage doesn’t want to hear about your date last night. Trust me.

It is as though, once on the train, I desire to devolve to indistinct humanity, I want to be sealed in a vacuum as the cylindrical train seals me in and forces me to be squashed by humanity in it’s overcrowding.

Oh, no. She’s sniffing again.

I can feel the germs emanating from her seat.

What is it about public transport that brings out the worst? In others, and in me, the Train Witch.

i think it is the dailiness.

The crowdedness.

The lack of control.

Coupled with the fact, plain fact, that we are all either still asleep, in that morning haze, or dog dead tired and freezing cold in the dark, dismal evenings after work.

Maybe too, the train forces us, propels us in its manufacture and speed, its jostling and  rattling, forces me, to actually rub shoulders ( and arms and legs and good ness knows what else)  with strangers.

Thrust among a range of humanity.

For forty-five minutes, on the express.

You can’t physically hide. So you do so mentally.  Because no one wants to talk.

They want to sit, or stand, in their own private worlds. I want to sit, or stand, in my own world. Apart.

Close to but separate from The Others.

This is the train culture. Day in. Day out.

“I saw you on the train last night” someone says.

No you didn’t. It wasn’t me. It was my alter ego. It was Train Witch me. A hologram of my physical self. While mentally I was in a galaxy far, far, away.

Another birthday. Another reflection.

20140104-220150.jpg There is something about birthdays. We have fun. We eat cake. We drink wine. We sing 80s songs on Singstar (well, that may be a peculiarity of our family).

And mothers reflect.

When our children, our young adult children, grow and mature, we as mothers mature. A passing birthday causes us to catch our breath, in surprise. Another year? Is he really 18…or 24 …or whatever the current birthday heralds.

Today is such a day for me. A birthday for another son and a little pause of reflection during my lunch break at work.

Edith Stein (St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross), philosopher, convert, saint, wrote of women and of women’s vocations: A great responsibility is being laid upon us by both sides. We are being obliged to consider the significance of woman and her existence as a problem. We cannot evade the question as to what we are and what we should be […] Our being, our becoming does not remain enclosed within its own confines; but rather in extending itself, fulfils itself. However, all of our being and becoming and acting in time is ordered from eternity, has a meaning for eternity, and only becomes clear to us insofar as we put it in light of eternitySpirituality of the Christian Woman.

Motherhood forces us, as women, to extend ourselves. We are pushed beyond our own confines, to try something more, be something more, give something more. And, finally, in extending ourselves as mothers we see our role in the light of eternity. This moment, this child, this day, all have significance for our souls, the souls of mothers and of their children. Even in our casting down and making mistakes, and especially in our asking for forgiveness, we are producing a mark on eternal souls.

Judith Lynch, a contemporary writer in theology, describes this passing-on as ‘traditioning’ She believes that this traditioning is a form of spiritual midwifery, that women, in particular, are the conduits of spiritual traditions. We mothers share our faith and the traditions entangled with our faith in our lives, and this becomes enveloped in the child’s soul and memory. A memory of love and faith, even when it appears to lie dormant in a questioning or troubling experience, in family discord, in tragedy, in less-than-perfect lives.

This is humbling.

It is also amazing. For, whatever else we do with our lives as mothers, we know the supreme importance of our first vocation: to love. To love God, and to see God in the face of our children.

So, as I prepare to drink wine and sing Blondie after work, in honour of another birthday, I also take time to reflect on the importance of motherhood. As a vocation. As a life.

The roar of Holy Week

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As Holy Week roars in, shifting our perspective, forcefully nudging us out of the everyday and into a religious experience, we yank our mental gears and shift. What seems simple becomes difficult. And yet, too, what seems difficult becomes simple.

Even the simple act of attending the Holy Thursday Mass becomes less than simple. There is work to be done,  work to carve the time from employment, move schedules, rush family to get ready, drag everyone along, to sit, exhausted, trying to catch a breath.

The baby stirs. The toddler needs distraction, the teen shares a commiserating glance, the young adult sits, once a child and now a companion.

And the liturgy?  It requires a shift from our life of commitments to a sense of other-worldliness. Come here, the liturgy whispers, come here and contemplate what it means to be Christian. Servanthood, accompanied by the Cross.

I know, you silently cry. In my servanthood as a mother and woman I have known, in some small portion, the suffering of the Cross. Christ has suffered with me.

For He has been there, in the busyness and in the emptiness. In the hope and also in the despair.

Holy Week boldly proclaims His love and presence and ushers in the rejoicing of Easter. Even when we don’t feel His presence, Holy Week reminds us that he has been there all along. He will be there all along. There is that sense of suffering-with, and that glorious recognition, in our noisy lives, of the joy of the Resurrection.

The shift pushed on us in the Easter Triduum is a shift for recollection and reflection. It aligns itself with those far-removed, long forgotten New Year resolutions and ponderings. How is life for you, for me, the shift asks. Do we make time for Christ? To be Christ-like?

Ah. The soul stirs. It sighs. Time here to take stock while stepping ahead. For we recognize Christ in our rushing lives and in our peaceable discernment. We see Him in our family and friends. In those we have trouble knowing. Yes, even there, in that ugliness. Theirs and ours.

And so as Holy Week strides forward, our lives are turned askew again by His love and the Cross.

This is the importance of the liturgy in our lives. Helping us even when we don’t want the help.

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