Monday, November 10, 2008

how to instill catholic guilt

My mother was born the ninth of nine children. In Boston. During the Depression. To an Irish Catholic family that lived in a small apartment above a grocery store.

Growing up, my mother was always telling me stories about her family. Among the tales of sleeping in a crib until she was seven, sitting in a closet confessing her sins to her brother that would dress like a priest (who would then tattle on her to her parents), and the nuns that hit her once (and only once) in school, mom would tell me how she always had to exercise great caution whenever she was around her mother. She never wanted to upset Nana and from everything that my mother has told me, it was clear my grandmother was very sensitive.

When I was a child growing up - and even now as an adult - I was/am always careful of how I act around my mother. The things I say, the things I do. I have never liked seeing my mother upset so I will go to great lengths to keep my mother happy. I often worry more about how something will effect my mother, than how it will effect me. Much like my grandmother, my mother is very sensitive. And when mom is upset - I am upset.

One day this past week when I went to pick the children up at school, Elizabeth's teacher said that she needed to speak with me. We stepped aside and she pulled my daughter's collar down to show me a huge scratch across the back of her neck.

When I gasped "What happened?" She looked over to William and nodded, "Her brother did this during outdoor play time. He grabbed her and threw her down on the ground. She hit her head on the slide and has a huge bump behind her ear."

She then took my hand so that I could feel the bump and while I stood there dumbfounded, I asked, "Is this the first time something like this has happened?" She shook her head and said, "No, it happened yesterday. And although this is bad, it's not nearly as bad as Carolyn who at the beginning of the year, would grab both of her siblings by their shirts and swing them to the ground."

I was shocked.

Sure, the kids might act like this at home, but never when we are out in a park setting have I ever seen our children intentionally hurt each other. If anything, they form more of a unit when we are surrounded by other children, like a herd of gazelles that know their best chance at survival is in large numbers.

Once we arrived home from school, I called my mother to tell her what had happened. My mother listened to my tale of woe and then said, "Here's what you need to do. Sit them down and tell them that you have a story about a girl named Jen and a boy named Charlie. Jen and Charlie wanted to have a baby more than anything in the world. They prayed and prayed for a baby and God sent them three babies. And those babies grew together in Jen's belly and they were born on the exact same day. And they slept together in a crib and they shared a room and a stroller and ate in high chairs lined up next to one another. And oh how Jen and Charlie loved their babies! But then one day, these babies that Jen and Charlie love so much started to fight and they were mean to each other. And they would hit each other and scratch each other and make each other cry."

Then my mother took a pause and I could tell that she was about to tell me something important. A well-kept secret from the vaults of motherhood that has been passed down through the ages that I have not yet been worthy to receive.

"And then," she finally continued, "put your head down and cry. You need to have tears. You need to tell them that you love your babies so much and it makes you so sad that they would fight with each other. And then, take a few deep breaths and wipe your eyes. Trust me. They'll go crazy when they see you crying."

I suppose for good measure, I could also show the children the varicose veins that I have in my legs that are the result of the pregnancy I endured to bring them in to this world. And although they may not appreciate it now, I'll bet very soon, I could let them know that ever since I carried them in my body, my bladder can no longer tolerate outrageously funny jokes or conversations.

I'm so sorry about that, Mom. Both the veins and that incident outside of a Mexican restaurant with Janet (my sister and mother of two) when we got on the topic of watch bezels. Lucky for me, I hadn't yet had children or else all three of us would have been standing in puddles.


  1. SECOND!

    Love your blog, jen!! :)

  2. third!
    Love you,

  3. What does the teacher do when they do this? If they were doing that to another child, would they still be going to school there?

    I would be freaking out! (Of course, I'm always freaking out!)

    It just seems like if they are in separate classes, they would be happy to see each other. KWIM? I know mine are in a "honeymoon period" for about a half an hour when they've been apart.

    Okay, if your mom's guilt doesn't work, try separate schools! :)

  4. Your mom is right on, I to have used the tears when my children were younger. How lucky you are that you have your mom to give you advice. Hope things are going good for your mom and dad.

  5. That is hilarous! Are you going to do it? I am not catholic but I am gonna pocket this one. Let me know if it works!

  6. Seventh! Woo Hoo!

    I tried the crying technique, too, when Shayna would pee in her pants because she was too lazy to walk 20 feet to the potty... Worked like a charm!

  7. Gosh, I have to admit, I've used the fake tears. Not often, but it does work on my duo.

    Oh, and I am Catholic. :)

  8. Your mother is absolutely right. Obviously you need to save it for the big things. If the kids see you "crying" all the time they will just think you're nuts! Still works on my 13 and 16 year old boys, to great effect I might add.

  9. Sandy (Ann Arbor)11/10/08, 11:56 AM

    I'd love to hear how they react!

  10. Boy, if I did't live in that house I would really believe this. Nana had the respect of all of us, fear yes, but we were not afraid of hurting HER feeling, we were afraid of her hurting us. (all in a loving way of course.) Kids fighting is one I remember, you hit your sister, you were in big trouble, if your brother hit you, WOW! Aunt Grace

  11. Did it work?????

  12. I loved your mom's advice!!!

    But yeah, I was curious too....what do the teachers do with them? Consistency at home and school might help.

    Did you do it? And any improvement to tell yet?

  13. She's right. I totally use this on my first graders, but I've yet to use it on Chase. I'm sure the time is coming though. Guilt and tears do amazing things... good luck!

  14. Well, if the children are anything like you who loves a good story with a sad ending, They will appreciate hearing the saga of how they were brought into this world. I would also tell them about the big needle that you had to have injected into your body for several YEARS, so they could be born. I am crying myself thinking of all you went thru.
    Remember how the children love to see me wince in pain when they touch a scar on my arm?
    I love watching their faces as I tell them tales. I miss them.They are so sweet and innocent--except when they are beating the H---our of one another.

  15. I love that your mom gave you this advice. From one mom to another, she was passing on her trade secrets to you. Nothing says I trust you to use this wisely like passing on treasured secrets. A friend of mine used to bite her brother when they were younger. One day, after biting her brother, her brother ran to her father saying, "She bit me!!" Her father looked calmly at her brother and said, "Bite her back." She never bit again. I think what works depends on their personality.

  16. I can clearly remember watching my step-mom (who raised me) cry twice. Because of my dad being a big fat turd, not because of me. But at the tender age of 12, when I saw her cry the first time, I swore I wouldn't ever push her to the point of crying like my father did. I don't know if she cried in private over my teen angst and rebellion, but I will say it made a huge impression on me. The idea of her crying now still makes me well up. :-(

  17. Oh God your mothers story had me in stiches laughing, great idea. Totally get the catholic guilt thing.Sorry that your kids are fighting in public, it is especially mortifying when my kids fight in public. Best wishes.