On the Feast of St. Polycarp

Today marks 14 years since I was received into the Catholic Church. When I first began my journey to the Catholic faith, I was uncomfortable with parishes that felt too traditional. I wasn’t ready to leave the comfort of my Evangelical Protestant environment, so I sought out a Catholic parish that felt more Protestant. That, I soon realized, was a mistake. After a short stint in an RCIA class at the first parish, I received private instruction from a Jesuit priest at a very traditional parish. When my instruction ended, I was given the option of joining the RCIA class at the traditional parish, or being received into the Church privately. Lent was coming soon and I wanted to experience it as a Catholic, so I chose to be received privately on the Feast of St. Polycarp. You can read more of my conversion process in this post.

In the last 14 years, my faith has grown and faded and been renewed. This anniversary is bittersweet. I love my chosen faith, and the fact that there is always room to grow deeper in it. I have no regrets about becoming Catholic and no desire to follow any other spiritual path. But it hasn’t been an easy path.

The passing of this day brings to mind the loss of some beloved friendships, and the alteration of other friendships–those who felt the choice to convert was misguided. It also marks how many years have passed since I first learned of my now-ex-husband’s unfaithfulness, right as we were completing the conversion process, and reminds me of the fact that he no longer shares my Catholic faith. In his suffering over my desire to end our marriage and seek an annulment, he chose to return to our Evangelical Protestant past, remarrying in a Protestant church on the Feast of St. Polycarp, before the annulment was granted. The chasm between our two faith paths makes it that much harder to pass on the Catholic faith to our kids.

The sweetness of this anniversary comes in the sense of peace I feel in my faith and in my parish. When I walk in those doors, I feel the presence of Christ. I feel home. I love that I can follow the Church through the life of Christ every year with the liturgical seasons. I love that the Mass is the same in every parish everywhere. I love that my parish is open around the clock for anyone who might want to spend a few moments with Jesus in the middle of a sleepless night. I love that all of my babies have been welcomed into God’s family there, and that my new husband and I exchanged our vows there.

The decision to become a Catholic was probably the most carefully thought out decision of my life. Many hours were sacrificed to reading books and articles and having deep discussions about theological issues. I used to hope that my experience would lead others to consider the Catholic Church. Now I just hope that I can become a better Catholic myself. This lenten season, I am working on deepening my faith through prayer and spiritual reading, so that the growth and healing can continue for the next 14 years.

One Step Forward?

My youngest son, Joe, has struggled in school since he started kindergarten. In that first year, I helped out in the classroom several times. The teacher remarked at how much better he behaved while I was there and jokingly said I should come in every day. My view was that if he required a parent present to do well in school, why not cut out the middle man and homeschool?

His first and second grade teachers were great. They worked with him and found what motivated him in their classrooms. This year he’s in third grade at a different school. The new school is part of the problem. The class is packed with 30 kids. He misses his friends at his old school. Unfortunately, the old school is over-crowded and he’s number seven on the waitlist to return.

The teacher this year seems to be having a lot of trouble with Joe. He loses paperwork, goofs off in class, doesn’t complete assignments or tests in class, and doesn’t seem to care much about any of it. These are the same things each teacher every year has had trouble with, but it seems to be a much bigger deal to this teacher than those in previous years.

The teacher called me in two weeks into the year to talk to me about Joe. Then there were the fall Parent-Teacher Conferences. I went to those twice because the ex skipped out on the first one. Then the teacher called me in again a week after Thanksgiving vacation.

Since the beginning, I have always kept the ex in the loop and informed him of what was going on with the kids and their schooling. Once he met his new wife, his already minimal participation declined even further. He missed conferences, Back-to-School nights, Open Houses, even forgetting to attend Joe’s kindergarten promotion ceremony. I continued to keep him informed because it was the right thing to do.

When the court stuff began, he started emailing the second grade teacher on his own from time to time. This year, when the problems began, he had no sense of urgency until the teacher called him herself after meeting with me for the fourth time. All of a sudden, all the problems Joe had been having for the last three and a half years became extremely urgent in his mind.

Even though I have consistently offered him the courtesy of being included and being informed, the ex started to exclude me from communications with the teacher. He arranged for a meeting with the teacher, himself, and his wife. Thankfully, the teacher forwarded me her response to him and I attended that meeting, where stepmom essentially monopolized the discussion–even suggesting Joe be held back because she held her son back.

After that meeting, I wrote to the ex and told him that that isn’t co-parenting, that he should offer me the same courtesy that I have always offered him of keeping him in the loop up front and trying to parent with him, not with any third party. Since that day, the ex has been sending me email updates of academic issues he has dealt with on his weekends with the boys. It started with an email after one weekend, then another email after another weekend, then several emails in one week.

At one of his evening pickups, I explained to him that I felt the emails were strange, given his prior non-communication and non-cooperation. He said he couldn’t see why I wouldn’t be happy that he’s suddenly more involved than ever before. He doesn’t seem to understand that once you have introduced a litigious route to your parenting relationship, all trust is destroyed and all future actions are viewed with suspicion.

Although the email updates seemed odd, I tried to see it as his attempt to communicate. The problem is that he seems to speak out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand he says, “I’m trying to work with you.” But on the other hand, he continues to communicate with the school without including me on the communication. He has since written to the principal and gone in to observe Joe’s class, all without clueing me in up front. After observing Joe’s class all day on Monday, he made no mention of it at all to me. This would be valuable, productive information for me to have since it is very difficult for me to observe Joe’s class while caring for a toddler. Why no informative email update after an entire day of observing our child?

Then there’s the plan he and his wife created for our oldest son, Dom, to manage his homework. I wasn’t included in the creation of the plan, nor was I given all the details of the plan. I was informed after-the-fact that they had some plan. Unfortunately, Dom did not follow through with their plan and the ex got annoyed at me for not policing a plan I had no part in.

I am trying to see the positive aspects of these recent events. I don’t believe he is necessarily consciously acting to exclude me. He just doesn’t think. I am not on his radar. He views his wife as his parenting partner, not me. But that’s not co-parenting when you’re divorced. Divorced people may remarry, but they’re still forever divorced if there are kids involved. And you have to acknowledge the other parent and actually parent with them. So while I believe he is just trying to help the kids do well in school, and that’s a great thing, it doesn’t change the fact that he isn’t parenting them with the other parent. And that is a problem. Since he won’t make the time to sit down with me face to face and talk about our children, I’m forced to parallel parent, which really doesn’t help the kids much at all. In order for the kids best interests to be met, both parents have to collaborate beyond post facto email updates.

This is what I would like to see happen: He and I sit down face to face once a month to discuss our children and collaborate on what we want for them as their parents and how we will achieve those goals. I want to think big picture, not just “how can we get Dom to have the right letters on his report card,” or “how can we get Joe’s teachers to stop complaining about him.” I don’t know if these email updates are his view of a step toward that, or if my ideal will ever be achievable.

Sorting Out the Personal Narrative

Each of us has his own narrative–your version of your story. Many of us cling desperately to our own narratives, unquestioningly. I have a story, some of which I’ve shared here, or with friends and family. But instead of accepting my narrative as the gospel truth, I try to seek balance and question my reality from time to time. I want to be that “evolved” emotionally healthy person we’re all supposed to strive to become. But I don’t know how to get there. Do any of us, really?

Take divorce for example. No one is perfect, period. No one is perfect in a relationship. I made mistakes in the course of my previous marriage. I am making mistakes in my current marriage! Out of a desire for self-improvement, I try to look back and see where I’ve made poor choices so that I can learn from the past. Sometimes, it’s difficult to do because I’m not sure where my responsibility ends and someone else’s begins.

Interactions with the ex have not improved. I ask myself from time to time if the friction in this situation is primarily my fault. I ask myself what my role is in the continuing hostility. Is it right and healthy to do this? Or am I just second-guessing myself after perpetual gas-lighting from the ex?

I wonder if the continued problems are my fault. Do I not get the communication and cooperation I need because of my tone, my approach, my anger, my lack of forgiveness? Or is he just incapable of giving those things? I know that I have made some poor choices and had some bad reactions, but I can’t figure out if the current state of affairs is just my own perspective and experience, or if it’s really as bad at seems.

What I know to be true is that the ex doesn’t respond to necessary emails, or he responds after taking his sweet time. He doesn’t make time for a discussion unless I present it as practically an emergency. And step-mom has refused my attempts at reaching out because I haven’t met certain conditions in her mind. There’s no compromise on anything from the other side, at least none that I can see. Maybe the right questions is, “Should there be?” Or, “Is there anything really wrong with that?” I don’t know.

So I feel crazy.

Here’s what I can own up to on my end:

  • When the ex first met his new wife, I felt hurt. I got upset when he started talking about her, especially with the things he was telling me.
  • I suddenly felt an urgent need for closure, and pressed for it, which got me nowhere.
  • At the time, we had unofficially agreed to him having weeknight dinners with the kids. He had been babysitting them for me while I had a class. The class ended, but he wanted to continue the extra time. The visits most often had occurred at my home. I told him I needed a break from the extra time after his behavior toward me changed when he met his new wife. This wasn’t fair to him or the kids.
  • Knowing how he is, and how he tends to behave in relationships, I felt the need to outline a very detailed parenting agreement and pressed to do so right away. He viewed it as a controlling list of demands and we got nowhere.
  • I sometimes mixed personal feelings and thoughts about the past into emails that ought to have focused solely on discussing the kids and parenting issues.
  • A few times, I initiated irrational arguments out of anger and frustration.

Here’s what I should have done:

  • not gotten upset
  • smiled, nodded, and kept my thoughts and emotions to myself
  • let him continue with the unofficial dinner visits, but insisted that they consistently take place outside of my home
  • let things play out on their own without reacting
  • not given in to irrational arguing
  • kept my anger in check
  • cut off communication with him much sooner
  • not relied on the belief that we could maintain an amicable relationship post-separation
  • not given in to being emotionally bullied in the court process
  • not tried to own all of the guilt over ending our marriage

But here is where I’m stuck. I can’t just “let go” of being angry. Saying, “Get over it already! Move on! Quit whining!” doesn’t help (anyone, ever). I’m angry and hurt about the court stuff still, which ended in January (except for the fact that we have no new paperwork for the final outcome). I’m angry about how he’s acted the last couple years since he met his wife. I’m hurt and angry that he essentially pretended to continue our friendship after our separation until he met his current wife. I’m frustrated and angry about how he continues to act–not responding to emails, not compromising on parenting issues, essentially treating me like I’m the nanny, not valuing my views (where we used to be in agreement on parenting issues, he has now done a 180 on everything we believed in or stood for).

I can’t just let it all go. I can’t wake up tomorrow morning and randomly decide, “Let’s just have a clean slate starting now!” I’m not Mr. Rogers. It is not a snappy new day. I can’t smile at him and say “Hi! How are you?” and act like everything’s great. Should I be able to by now? Or is this still normal? I don’t know.

And believe me, I try to just let it go. I forgive and forgive and forgive and let go and let go and let go. My emotional state is vastly improved over how it was two years ago, but I haven’t reached Nirvana yet. Maybe that’s okay? Or maybe I just think too much.

Respect the Ex

Respect–what does it mean? What does it look like, especially when it comes to someone you’d rather not have to deal with? These are the questions fixed in my mind lately.

The constant demands for respect have gotten old. They pop up at the strangest times. One time this spring, we were in the parking lot of my church for the Wednesday night kid swap. He had been almost insisting on being the one to sign the kids out of their catechism class on Wednesdays, likely because he’s always rushing them away to start his parenting time. On this night, he had signed them out and we began walking to the parking lot to leave. We were nearly out to the cars when he said, “Oh, I think the nun wanted to talk to you about something.” Annoyed that he had waited until an inopportune moment to tell me, I said, “Why didn’t you tell me when we were in there?” He ignored the question and gave me a dirty look. I got in my car and texted him, saying, “That was a legitimate question.” He responded with, “You need to respect me in front of the kids.”

Another time, last year, our oldest son had been complaining to me about something his dad had done and he said that his dad was a hypocrite. I tried to redirect the conversation, but our son is old enough to form his own opinions and had come to this conclusion based on several interactions with his dad. Somehow, the conversation got back to the ex like some twisted game of telephone, and he interpreted it as though I had told our son that his dad was a hypocrite (I had not).

A few months back, my youngest son was hungry when it was time to leave for his dad’s house. He said he wasn’t feeling well. I asked what he had eaten that day. It wasn’t much and it was mostly sugary, carby, light meals. I asked if he could try asking for something more filling like eggs instead of cereal for breakfast. I told him to tell his dad he wasn’t feeling well. On my way back home, I got a phone call berating me for undermining his parenting. Our son had told him that he doesn’t feed him any healthy food (which I didn’t say), and ran in the house crying.

Most recently, I had given my oldest a consequence for picking on his brother. He was to write a one page paper on bullying before leaving for his dad’s house. He had several days to complete this task and didn’t, but said he would do it at his dad’s house over the weekend. I emailed the ex and told him of the consequence. I said, “He said he would finish it on Sunday. Please ensure that he does.” The ex responded to say that that he felt disrespected by my email.

Meanwhile, he ignores emails from me that bring up concerns about the hostility between us, or concerns the kids have brought up to me. Last summer, he and his wife began acting like I didn’t exist at public events for the kids, after I had tried to be welcoming to her. If I take the kids to the doctor or dentist, I get resistance when the bill arrives. He has tried to bribe the kids to get all of their homework done at my house, so that his evenings aren’t disrupted by supervising homework. And he has told the kids, “I know your mother doesn’t respect me, but don’t let that rub off on you.”

His idea of respecting me is a phony smile at pickup or a “thanks” only in response to the emails that involve me sending him information about school dates or appointments (the ones he bothers to read, anyway).

He accuses me of having an attitude that poisons the kids against him, undermining his parenting and his relationship with them, and disrespecting him. I do none of these things that he accuses me of. He takes no responsibility for his role in the situation.

The kids complain or bring up problems or questions, and I listen to them and talk to them. He interprets these conversations as me “feeding the kids my opinions,” when what is actually happening is that I, as their mother, am trying to validate their feelings or sympathize and try to help them find solutions. When he listens to the vitriolic, un-Christ-like radio programming on KSFO with the kids in the car, they come home saying, “Why do people hate the president? Why are Muslims bad? There should be more white people around because they’re better.” And I respond to these issues. They say they don’t want to listen to that station. I say, “Could you ask your dad nicely to listen to something else? KSFO is an adult station and the information on there is meant for adults.”

The kids complain a lot about the religious practices in the other house. The ex, who was willing to throw away his marriage and friendships in order to become Catholic, has stopped practicing the faith that meant so much to him. He attends an evangelical Protestant church with his wife and takes the kids as well. The kids continue to ask him if they can go to Mass. Within the last few weeks, they said that their stepmother had yelled at them for not closing their eyes during a prayer while eating out at a restaurant. “If you can’t be respectful, you can sit in the car and not have any dinner!” I said to the boys, “Why weren’t you closing your eyes? They believe in the same God we do, right? They believe in Jesus, right? You need to have good manners and be polite. If you really can’t close your eyes, at least bow your head and stare at your lap.”

I deflect the things the kids complain about that are petty issues. I support what I can. I do not support the things I feel are wrong or harmful to the kids, like public humiliation punishments, yelling and cussing at the kids, or listening to toxic garbage that just confuses the children.

But I don’t smile warmly when he comes to the door. I don’t timidly approach him with dripping “pleases” and abject humility. I am not his inferior. I am his equal. So since respect is not offered in my direction and is instead authoritatively demanded from me, I put up my boundaries and refuse to be a doormat. Because being a doormat is not respectful for anyone.

Making a Flower Girl Tutu Dress

In searching for wedding planning inspiration, I came across a picture of a little girl in a cloud of mint tulle with a gold sash around her waist. I loved the look and I knew I had to put Maddie in a tutu dress. Sadly, these gorgeous poufs of tulle can cost nearly $200, so buying one wasn’t an option.

Thankfully, the friendly Internet is awash with DIY tutorials from all the crafty people out there. I watched several videos, tried out a couple techniques, and went to work creating my own tulle pouf for my flower girl’s first trip down the aisle.

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The inspiration for the dress came from Little Dreamer’s Tutus. She is the best there is when it comes to tutu dresses, from what I’ve seen. Her dresses aren’t cheap, and rightfully so. It’s time consuming to get just the right look when working with all that tulle. I was certain I could make a dress myself that would get the look I wanted without the added cost of purchasing a ready-made dress.

There seem to be two camps for tutu dress technique. One group uses crocheted headbands, like the instructions found here. The other group uses elastic bands, like in this video. Either way, the process of making the dresses is fairly simple. The difficulty comes in making the end product look more refined.

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I tried out the headband version and didn’t care for the look as much as the elastic band version, so that is the method I used to make Maddie’s dress. I started with 10 yards of Medieval Blue tulle from Joann fabrics. (An easier route is to use the spools of tulle rather than tulle from a bolt.)

I measured Maddie around the chest and from armpit to the desired length. Then I cut strips of tulle six inches wide by twice the desired length plus one inch. I cut a piece of elastic a few inches shorter than the chest measurement and sewed the ends together to form a band. Then I slip-knotted the strips onto the band. Once all the strips were on, I made a waist band from some ribbon and elastic (like a headband), and wrapped some ribbon around the top of the dress. I used a three yard strip of three-inch-wide ribbon and more, longer tulle strips to make a matching train.

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The first version wound up being too short, so I started over. This was kind of disappointing because I preferred the look of the original tulle. The final product achieved the look I was going for, and I was delighted to see my little blue cloud of tulle running around the house.

Making a Cathedral Length Drop Veil

Veils, like most other things in the wedding industry, are ridiculously overpriced. For my wedding, I wanted a long veil, one that trailed along at the edge of my dress. Cathedral length veils are about as pricey as they come, so this was definitely something I needed to make on my own.

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There is no shortage online of videos, articles, and blog posts on how to make a veil. The hardest part is choosing the style and adding embellishments. I decided I wanted a drop veil, because I love how it looks like it’s just delicately placed on the bride’s head, rather than the scrunched or gathered versions that have sort of a cloud of tulle at the back. It attaches to the hair with bobby pins or hat pins, instead of a comb. After googling some instructions and inspiration, I headed off to the fabric store.

Cathedral veils are fairly wide, so I purchased the widest tulle I could find, about 108″ wide. Wanting to match my ivory gown, I chose an ivory tulle. At the time, the only wide ivory tulle the store had on hand was a shimmery tulle. I would have preferred a matte tulle, but this worked just fine. I bought about three and a half yards, so that the veil would be long enough to trail behind the dress by a few inches. You can find instructions on how to measure yourself for a cathedral length veil here.

To make the veil, I folded the tulle in half length-wise, and then in half width-wise. I made a make-shift compass and sketched out rounded edges and cut just inside the line so that the markings wouldn’t be on the finished veil. Then I unfolded it and tried it on. The veil was beautiful on its own, but I thought it might be nice to have a defined edge at the back, since my dress has no trim on the edge of the train. Since lace is fairly costly, I chose to line just a portion of the back of the veil with lace, and I used a coupon! I sewed the lace on by hand and trimmed the tulle to follow the edge of the lace.

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Sewing the lace onto the veil was the most time consuming part of the project. In the end, making my own veil cost about $50 and took a few hours to complete. If you wanted to add more detail, it would add more time and raise the cost. Considering that cathedral veils usually cost several hundred dollars, I think this project is worth the effort.

Wedding Dress Upcycle Update

There’s less than a month to go until the wedding! The last ten months have been busier than I expected. Moving, school, vacations, work, homemaking, and baby care have taken precedence over wedding dress re-design. Projects have to wait until the children are asleep and I have a clear, tiny-grabbing-hands-free work space.

In my spare moments, I have been making favors, obsessing over tutu dresses, emailing vendors, designing programs, mailing invitations, and updating my wedding dress. I began the wedding dress upcycle last fall. The dress was a sample gown, purchased from eBay for $130. It’s a Casablanca Bridal gown in ivory silky taffeta, with a sweetheart neckline, side-gather, chapel train, and bead-work along the sides and neckline. The fiancé was the one who picked this dress and I love how it looks.

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As beautiful as this dress is, I wanted to add some personal touches by changing the broken zipper to a corset back and adding some colored tulle to the petticoat. I found some instructions for the corset-back process over at Sew for Dough. The first step was to remove the zipper.

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I then followed Sew for Dough’s instructions for making spaghetti straps and a modesty panel. I found an ivory taffeta at Joann Fabrics and cut strips on the bias, sewed them together in a long tube, turned it right-side out, and cut it into small segments to form the loops for the corset. I sewed them to a piece of paper in the shape and spacing I needed, pulled away the paper, and pinned the loop strips to dress in between the lining and the bodice. I very slowly and carefully maneuvered the dress through my sewing machine. I repeated the spaghetti strap process to make the lacing for the corset.

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Depending on your level of sewing skill, the process may sound a lot easier than it is. Adding elements to a ready-made dress is not a simple task. Wedding dresses are often heavy and embellished with beads or lace. It takes a lot of patience to feed it through a small home machine. I wouldn’t recommend a project like this to someone who is completely new to sewing. In spite of having a decent amount of sewing practice, I don’t suggest inspecting my work up close on this piece!

For anyone reading who may be considering a project like this, I would offer a few suggestions. First, a shortcut would be to see if there is any suitable cording online or at your local fabric store. Making very long, thin spaghetti straps can be frustrating if you don’t have the right tools. If you want to make your own, it would be wise to invest in some of the turning tools mentioned in the instructions for making spaghetti straps. I had no such tools and just went with the old safety pin technique. This adds a lot of time to what could be a quick task. Another shortcut would be to use a nice double-faced ribbon as the corset lacing. The final tip is to make more spaghetti strap length than you think you’ll need for the loops and lacing, and cut the loops a bit longer to make sure they catch the seam when sewing them in.

I’m not completely finished with this project, but I won’t have a chance to work on it for another two weeks. I decided to pass the gown off to a professional seamstress to have it hemmed and bustled. When the dress returns, I will add just a dab more colored tulle to the underskirt.