**PLEASE keep in mind these are MY feelings on Lent, this is in no way meant to discredit how others view this religious tradition*** (my Catholic guilt is making me think we need to put SOME sort of disclaimer in here as I dont want to offend or piss anyone off) Carry on...
#1 came home from school today and as always we did a debrief of her day; you know the typical "How was school....what did you do today....do you have a lot of homework....did that stupid, snotty, mean girl wanna-be little brat pick on you again" (oh wait, I didn't do that one out loud) etc, etc. She settled in with a snack and began her homework. She was silently working for a few minutes and then piped up from the kitchen table:
#1: " Mom, what does it mean to give something up for Lent?"
Me: "What do you mean by that?" (as if she had just said a bad word, asked me about the latest crude video on YouTube, or asked where babies come from...not sure why that was my reaction as I am, after all, Catholic)
#1: "I don't get it, what does it mean?"
Me: "Well, Catholics believe that in the time before Easter it's a good idea to give up something that means a lot to us or that we really enjoy because it's our way of thanking Jesus for the sacrifices He made for everyone" (not a bad explanation huh, Dee Dee??)
#1: "So am I supposed to give something up? One of my friends said her dad told her to give up CANDY, can you believe that??? Do I have to give up candy???? Did you see how much I just brought home from school? I CAN'T give up candy, no way. PLEASE tell me I don't have to give up candy...what about popsicles, I can do popsicles (DUH, it's February...don't usually keep popsicles stocked in February) Someone else said they have to give up TV, that's not even funny" (clearly worked up at this point)
Me: "No, you don't have to give something up. Usually it's for grown ups and kids who are a little bit older" (didn't mention it's also typically for those who are PRACTICING Catholics, but why nitpick). I clearly recall candid and terse comments from 8th grade math teacher Fern Singer "Giving up something you don't like, like brussel sprouts does not count in God's eyes. You need to give up something you cannot live without". Damn. My brilliant plan was foiled by a non-secular, plain clothes wearing commoner. You see Mrs. Singer was not an ordained chosen one of the Cloth... and if SHE was believing in this crap and not looking for the loopholes, then HOLY HELL, I better follow-suit.
#1: "Oh thank goodness!" (HUGE sigh of relief with all the flair and drama she could muster...which was quite a bit, after all she IS my child.)
She happily went back to her homework with the knowledge that she had just dodged a most painful bullet...no TV, no ice cream, no candy for 40 days. Yikes. All was right again in her little world. And then I hear:
#1: "Hey mom? What are YOU giving up for Lent?"
SHIT. Cold sweats, rising blood pressure, shaking appendages, pretty sure my heart is going to explode, head is pounding...all intermingled with brief flashes of Stations of the Cross and a dark, cramped, claustrophobia inducing Confessional. OH SHIT.
Me: "I'm sorry, what did you say honey?" (pretty sure I blacked out for a minute or two...normally I see this as a nice break in the day or at the very least an opporunity for the right and left hemispheres of my brain to briefly synchronize and come up with a brilliant comeback that lets me off the hook...instead I regained consiousness and her blurry face came back into focus....Nothing. Insert chirping cricket sounds here) I wiped my damp, sweaty palms on my thighs and could have sworn I was wearing a plaid, polyester, pleated jumper.
#1: "You said it's for grown-ups. So does that mean you have to give something up?"
Sweet Jesus. I was back in 7th grade with Mr. Nowicki staring at me with his beady little eyes through thick glasses as we discussed the meaning of Lent and the sacrifices we should all make to atone for our sins. Had the high pitched, whiny voice of Kai Lan had not broken through my daze I would have sworn Sister Doris was standing in my kitchen with me. I will fully admit that despite years of Catholic school and a Catholic upbringing, I am no longer a "practicing" Catholic. HOWEVER, the steadfast practices of Catholicism are about as deeply ingrained in me as my memories of the nuns who helped to oversee my years of Catholic education. It takes very little prompting for me to spout off the entire Nicene Creed or to recall what the "script" is when one goes into confession. So although I do not regularly attend Catholic mass, this time of year sends me into a panic as I know my Catholic guilt will come creeping up behind me to smack me upside the head with the ol' "What are you giving up for Lent this year?"
I can feel #1 staring me down (my vision is wavering...it's either her or Sister Marie Noelle, not sure which...) I swallow my panic and mutter "I'm not sure yet, kiddo, haven't thought about it." Apparently I should give up lying because the moment McDonalds started advertising their Filet O'Fish (which in and of itself is a big fat lie, that is NOT a filet and and you don't have to be a C-list food critic to realize that it sure as hell isn't fish either) I had been thinking about it. I began silently praying (ironic, I know) that she'd leave me alone to deal with my inner turmoil. Do I give something up? Do I embrace my Catholic upbringing and observe this tradition? Although I fully understand the meaning of Lent, I don't know that I internalize it and believe in it as much as many others do (more power to you!) So I'm left to wrestle with the decision of giving something up because I'm "supposed" to or giving something up because it's important and means something. I think I'm developing an ulcer.
I begin to weigh my options...thinking of the things most commonly "sacrificed" during Lent. Caffeine, chocolate, wine, favorite snack foods, bad habits...etc. So I mentally work my way down the list of possibilities.
1. Caffeine: oh HELL no. I can knock that bad boy off the list without a second thought. I couldn't give up caffeine for 40 minutes let alone 40 days. I believe God would want me to continue my usage of caffeine. Me giving up caffeine will endanger the lives of those around me...I don't see that pleasing ANYONE, especially God. That is a severe violation of numerous religious codes, bylaws, and commandments. Moving on.
2. Chocolate: it's a more plausible option than caffeine. But let's be honest, ANYTHING would be easier to give up than caffeine. Wait, isn't there caffeine in chocolate? So if I'm not giving up caffeine then I guess by default I can't give up chocolate. Next!
3. Wine: Can you hear me laughing? Can you hear GOD laughing? God encourages us to have wine, doesn't He? And in the off chance that I DO attend Church during this sacred season of sacrifice, I would be doing God and all of His suffering on my behalf a great disservice. Well, then giving it up would offend Him so I can't do that, I already feel guilty enough...Maybe in His good name I should drink MORE wine during Lent.
4. Favorite snack foods: Admittedly we don't keep a TON of crap food in the house, mostly because if we did, I'd eat it all. But occasionally a few will find their way in, they don't last long though. Ever seen a 20 pound toddler shovel in Cheetos at an astronomical rate? Come on over. Bring a camera.... so getting rid of snack foods wouldn't be an altogether bad idea. ALTHOUGH my kids do enjoy to have a little "treat" every now and then so since I can't expect THEM to give things up for Lent, it wouldn't be fair of ME to take THEIR food out of the house.
5. Bad habits: For some this would be cracking knuckles, biting nails...blah, blah, blah. Well, anyone who knows me knows I swear like a trucker. Often. I work it into conversations so artfully you don't always notice the subtly placed F-bomb. I manage to turn foul language into every part of speech known to man. Certain four letter words are quite versatile and can be used as a verb, noun, adjective, pronoun, adverb, and even a preposition if I get creative enough. While I have gotten better at curbing the usage around the ankle biters, I don't know that I could hold up my end of a conversation without dropping in a "shit" or "damn" at some critical juncture. A well placed swear word can make or break a dialogue. I'm afraid I would become a babbling, drooling idiot if I attempted to speak without swearing. Truly. I don't even want to talk about it anymore, I'm getting dumber just thinking about it. Someone once told me that I would be boring as F%#@ if I did not swear. That was painful to hear. Shit.
Ok, so this is where my inner marketing savvy will save me as it always has ( and by "marketing savvy" I clearly mean "master bullshitter".) This is how I rationalize the whole ordeal:
Giving up any of the above would make me a bitter, unreasonable person, one damn near impossible to live with. That would not be the example God and I would want to set for my children (well, thinking about it, either is attending church once a year, barring any Sacremental visits, such as baptisms, deaths or nuptials) but that is just the way it goes sometimes. I pray. Just not in the four walls of the holy sacresty. Anyway, the reasoning is clear; We give up something as GOD gave up something very important. But I know this about myself....I am a quitter. I will fail. I know this and this is my key to success...knowing my weakness. So why disappoint God, myself and the doe-eyed 8 year old not-so-eager to embark on this 40 day journey either?
I look at #1 who is now in full-on stare down mode and I tell her "Honey, God gave up His son for us, so traditionally people show their respect by giving up something that is important or special to them. And I thought about what is the most important and special thing in my life, and that is my family and friends. And I would never want to give those things up like God had to. So I thought this year instead of giving something up, I would try to DO something extra every day for a friend, family member or stranger. So you know how I have you make sure your lunch is packed every day? Well, some morning you might wake up and I have already done it for you. Or I will help a stranger at the grocery store bag her groceries. Or call great-grandma just for the heck of it. So Lent can mean that we TAKE ON extra things, instead of giving something up and make someone else's day special. That would make God smile just as much as giving up chocolate." I look into her blank stare. Silence. More Silence....her expressionless eyes are glossed over and I can literally hear her blinking now. Then a huge smile erupts on her face and I am at once enveloped in a huge hug. "Mommy, that is a great idea. I want to do something special for someone everyday too instead of giving something up." And with that, the terror, horror and mind-numbing stupor of that ulcer-inducing conversation subside. I am calm and at peace. And I actually believe what I have said also. God does work in mysterious ways. I am exhausted, and exhilarated simultaneously. Time to celebrate with a king-size bag of Cadbury mini-eggs and a Chardonnay chaser. SHIT.