Learning through example of family life

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As junior year began, I no longer had 8 am classes yet I wanted to continue going to daily mass. There was some relief. The time was changed to 7, so I could sleep in some!

The later time brought in a new demographic of the parish. No longer solely retirees and individuals rushing off to work, now there were also mothers with children. The home schooling crowd.

There was a wide range in ages. I was impressed by their reverence, how serious they were about being there. The younger ones weren’t always cooperative; they are human of course. Generally speaking, though, they seemed to have a greater sense of awareness of what was going on than I did at that age.

Introductions were made. Though life was busy and chaotic for them, I was fortunate to meet women who had found a sense of calm within their routines so they could be open to welcoming a stranger.

Eventually one family invited me back to their house for breakfast. I got a glimpse into their family life and how the siblings interacted. It was cool to see the dynamics of a larger family, how the children got along. Helping with work or playing together. Of course there were squabbles too, but they seemed to be short lived.

The laundry room was never free of dirty clothes, food preparations were on a larger scale and dirty dishes continued to multiply, but these families had established homes with a palpable sense of peace and welcome. More than that, though, love filled these walls. It hit me as soon as I stepped foot inside. Sometimes literally as a younger one greeted me with a hug and a beaming smile.

In case you didn’t know, it’s really cool to hear your name called out from a younger voice. It’s even more endearing if it’s accompanied by a lisp.

I often hesitated to engage in conversation with little kids because I stressed about what to say and whether I was speaking in terms they’d understand. But these kids made words less important. They initiated enough to relieve me of some of the pressure.

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Chances to play

Among the fond memories of my time with these families, playing card games ranks high. One game in particular was appropriately named Nuts. You could play individually or with a partner. Each “team” had a personal deck of cards and a set up similar to solitaire. Instead of keeping the four aces and subsequent piles to yourself, they became public.

This required a lot of concentration and quick decision making as you tried to get rid of a stack of about 30 cards. It was overwhelming at first, but I don’t think it reached emotional breakdown levels of frustration. Just normal learning curve stuff.

It was so much fun! It was awesome to play something with adults and kids mixed together. Participation was limited only by the number of unique decks of cards on hand and space at the table for chairs. It became very competitive but in a healthy way. Team partners changed up often so you had different skill levels working together and new opportunities for teamwork.

Eventually I became very adept at playing, being able to monitor the public piles available and my own stacks.

Looking back it’s amazing that I could become good at a game like that. The game set up worked in my favor as it focused on matching, patterns and instinct-based speed. In contrast, acting, drawing, and explaining things while being timed do not go over well for me. Pictionary or charades are not top choices for me.

Yet this game does require fast reflexes and not wasting precious moments processing what you see. You have to move on instinct. And there’s lots of noise because everyone’s reacting to a missed opportunity or how close they are to going out. And lots of people are talking, especially when playing with a partner. So yes, I’m amazed that I could jump into a game like this and handle it so well.

Chances to grow in faith

The biggest benefit of meeting these families, aside from their friendship, was growing in faith with them. They spoke openly about their faith at home and with their children. Having discussions of what they read or were learning as part of their home school curriculum. I hadn’t really seen that in action; this was new territory for me.

And the families I met at daily Mass were part of a bigger network of families that met regularly. They gathered at someone’s home once a month for a potluck dinner as they worked through a series of audio cassettes on apologetics. The series highlighted various aspects of the Catholic faith and explained it in a way that would be easier to use when engaging in dialogue with someone else. The series pointed out misconceptions that are often made and how to explain the truth.

I remember the first time I attended one of these gatherings. I was amazed at the contrast. For a while everyone was eating and socializing but then after a brief prayer, the room was quiet as we listened to an audio recording of a talk. And the discussion afterward was lively. People shared personal experiences or followed up on a point that was made in the talk. And others asked for clarification if something still didn’t make sense.

It was cool to see adults thirsting for this knowledge, too. That growing in faith and understanding is a lifelong journey, not something that ends in middle or high school.

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Importance of a loving touch

There was a moment that stands out for me during a big round of card playing. One of the husbands was walking around, watching the action unfold, and he placed a hand on my upper back. It was a simple action, a fatherly gesture of affection.

It seemed a bit odd at the time for this move to leave an impact on me. I had the sense of being welcomed and loved. Yet I remember feeling a noticeable difference when his hand was gone; the warmth didn’t stay and I had a sense of disappointment. It made me remember how I interacted with friends in high school: we hugged each other in greeting and to say goodbye. I didn’t realize how much I really needed that physical contact or how much I missed it.

I grew up with a real aversion to certain textures and methods of physical contact. I enjoyed bear hugs for the deep pressure, but I usually needed to be the one to initiate the embrace.

We communicate a lot through touch. It can be a huge source of expressing concern and of receiving messages of safety.

Reflection

After reflecting on all of this, what stands out most is how wrong my initial self-image was. For far too long I have made sweeping judgments, classifying myself as “anti-social” and having trouble making friends. Clearly, I made efforts and put myself in positions to do new things and meet people. But I guess because it was uncomfortable and, once again because the verbal skills weren’t where I wanted them to be, I swept those collective experiences into a pile of “social failure.”

As an introvert and a person who can find lots of socializing draining, I considered my desire to be on my own as a sign that I didn’t like people enough. Also since I was selective about who I spent time with, I guess I viewed that as more proof that I wasn’t socializing enough.

Man, I really put a lot of pressure on myself to interact and communicate in specific ways.

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