I’m not sure what things my kids may want to know about me, their early days, their ancestors, or anything else, so I thought I’d start a journal of sorts here so that, some day, they can just go back and maybe relive some fond memory or learn something new. I doubt there will be any rhyme or reason to what story is told when, no order to the thoughts. I realized since my Dad passed away that I really don’t have any record of some of the things that I learned as a kid from him or his mother, who was closer to me in my early years than my parents were, or so it seemed to me back then. Having started working on our family trees, I wish I had more knowledge of my ancestors, what their hopes and dreams were, what made them happy, what made them mad, what they were passionate about.
And so, I will begin Story Time, so that maybe some things can be saved for my kids to reflect on when I am gone from this world.
I don’t know if my boys ever wonder about why we were erratic with their upbringing from a spiritual point of view.
I was baptised and raised Catholic. I went to a Catholic elementary school starting with 2nd grade. My parish, at that time, did not have Kindergarten or 1st grade levels; for these my brother and I were sent to the local public school (Oakdale Elementary). From 2nd to 8th grades, we attended St. Aloysius Gonzaga on Bridgetown Road. There was always a mass before school which we sometimes attended (or, as we got older, snuck back out to wait for the first bell on the playground with other kids once we saw Mom’s car fade into the distance). We didn’t really attend Sunday mass as a family; more often than not, I spent my weekends at my Grandmother’s house (in Cheviot) and went to Mass with her at St. Martin’s Church. Grandma also would take me to the church when no one else was there (no mass or other event going on). She would let me light a candle to pray by, she’d tell me which saints the statues were of, and taught me the stations of the cross. During mass, she never cared how loud I sang the hymns, never seemed embarrassed to let me learn my way through the rituals by her side.
Mom was not very religious herself, so didn’t share in our education that way. Dad always seemed to be the sort who went to church out of duty more than out of desire, though later in his life, after we were grown and gone, that may have changed. But Dad was adamant that we attend church regardless of our feelings/beliefs at any time.
I recall a heated argument between him and my brother when Randy was 16 (I was 14). Randy had announced that he no longer wanted to go to church. I can’t remember much more than the ever-popular “while you live in my house you will go to church” tirade, because I’d never seen my father so angry. I was actually scared that he might physically harm my brother that night. (He never did).
My grandmother passed away when I was about 14, and for a couple of years I struggled with getting to mass each Sunday. Sometimes, if both Mom and Dad were working, I’d skip but lie and tell them I’d gone. Once I turned 16 and could drive myself, I’d just head to the mall or someplace else, again, lying and saying I’d been to church. Oddly, after Grandma had passed, Dad allowed both of us to change to public high school (perhaps, in part, to give his bank account a break on tuition costs); I think he just didn’t want to disappoint his mother by letting us switch schools while she was still alive.
When I was about 19 years old, I decided to confess to my father that I hadn’t been to church regularly at all since Grandma had died. Thankfully there was a fence between us as I saw his anger flare up. We sort of discussed the situation, but I could tell he was not happy with me. Later, towards the end of college, I got engaged to my first husband who happened to be Lutheran. Not a big deal to my parents, until my Dad learned that my fiance had been married once before, so now I couldn’t get married in the Catholic church. He tried to talk me into having my fiance obtain an annulment of his first marriage, and I refused. He had no contact and nothing binding him to his ex-wife and there was no guarantee that, even if she agreed to file for the annulment, that the Church would grant it. Eventually Dad had to give up on that and let me simply have a Christian ceremony.
My first husband wasn’t very religious either, and we did not attend any church after we married. When our first child was born, we didn’t really discuss what we would do (or not do) regarding teaching any religion to him. We didn’t rush to get him baptized either. Then the first Gulf War started and we decided the baptism was something we needed to do as soon as possible. Not belonging to any local parish of any faith, we contacted the pastor at a Lutheran church near our home. We explained that we could be deployed at any time and asked him to baptise our son. He agreed to a basic Christian baptism, but not specifically a Lutheran one since we were not members of his church. I called my parents to tell them when the baptism would be; Mom answered and took the information from me. I don’t know what she relayed to Dad, but the call I got from him was not pleasant. He wanted my children to be baptised Catholic and thought I was “bowing down” to my husband’s wishes instead of standing up for the faith I was raised in. Of course that wasn’t the case at all. I still remember Dad berating me saying “Don’t you know that the Catholic faith is the best?” At that time in my life, I honestly did not agree.
When our second son was born, we delayed his baptism even longer, then eventually returned to the same pastor to request a basic Christian ceremony for him. By now, Dad had relaxed a little bit and, if he was still irate about my choice to not bring my kids up Catholic, he at least didn’t argue with me about it anymore. Over the years, we were able to discuss things more calmly and maturely, though I don’t know what Dad might have felt in his heart about it in his later years.
There was a time in, oh, I’d say the mid-90’s when I started to feel that something was missing from my life, and I came to realize that it was my faith. I wanted to start working on that part of me again. To be blunt, I ended up church-shopping. The Catholic mass no longer felt right to me, and, though my first husband was willing to attend a Lutheran service with me, neither of us felt a connection at that church. By the late 90’s, I was blessed to meet a woman where I worked whose husband happened to be a Methodist minister and he was working on getting his commission with the Air Force to preach to the troops. In the mean time, Vickie worked as a nurse for her “day job” and assisted her husband’s ministry as well. She was exactly who I needed at that time to open up to and express my frustrations in finding the right church for me. She steered me towards The Vineyard, a non-denominational Christian church whose services were night-and-day different from the Catholic masses I was so familiar with. And despite the differences, the moment I entered their church I felt at home.
For nearly a year, we attended services at The Vineyard as a family and for the first time in my life, I started doing some bible study on my own. I never got comfortable enough to get involved with member groups who held bible study sessions in their homes, but I firmly built my new foundation for my faith to grow. Of course, work, reserves and the kids – Life, basically – got in the way of making time for attending services, so I ultimately stopped going to church again. But I didn’t stop learning things on my own.
Unfortunately, this meant that the boys weren’t getting any further religious education. Scott would attend services on occasion with the neighbors when they invited him to go along, and I hope that I was encouraging to him in letting him go. I wanted the boys to get exposed to various faiths so that they could find the one that felt right to them, rather than be forced into one religion that they would perhaps question later, and end up causing them to turn away from religion entirely like I did. I thought Scott might be the one to keep up with his faith a bit more, and I thought Sean would be the one who would likely never embrace any religion. The way I think of Sean’s brain being wired is that it is difficult for him to consider a being outside himself, one so large as to be responsible for all the world. Sean was always the kid who seemed to think the world revolved around him! (I say that lovingly, Sean, ‘cuz you know we bumped heads way too much over that all the while you were growing up!). How curious to me now that Scott doesn’t seem to have much interest in religion at all, and Sean is actually interested in maybe someday being baptized Catholic!
I know I was sorely lacking in my responsibility to my kids by not going to church myself, and not taking them with me. I’d like to say that I was in a bad place in my life for some time…I separated from their father when Scott was 13 and Sean was just 11. (Someday, the details of that, at least from my point of view might make into Story Time). I needed that separation to get my own head back on straight and during that time I was selfish and self-absorbed. I wasn’t thinking about my kid’s spiritual needs. I was lucky to take care of their basic needs. There are many things during those years that I wish I’d done differently, but the past is the one thing that no one can change. We can only hope to learn from it, grow, and not repeat our mistakes.
I still don’t go to church except for weddings, baptisms and funerals, but I still count myself a Christian. I believe in God and in Jesus as my savior. I confessed to Him without the middle-man, and believe that I am forgiven. I believe I have a place in Heaven. I know I am the least of His children because I do not spread His Word like I should and I am still a very selfish person. But I have faith that I am, at times, touching the lives of others in small but positive ways. I am flawed but I still try to be a good person. Hopefully that counts for something.
In my heart, I wish for the best for my boys, that they are healthy and happy and that God watches over them since I cannot. I love my boys dearly, though I am not the best at showing it. If there were a way to make up for neglecting them in the past, I would do it. I just hope that, whatever faults they ever found in me, that they can forgive and know that I did the best I could with what I had to work with at the time.
God bless my sons now and always.