These days, I spend a large part of every afternoon working side by side with Cate as she completes her homework. I never did this with my boys, but she seems to like having me around for questions, and I can work on my laptop at the same time.

Anyway…yesterday she had an assignment in her religion book that asked her to put events in order of the liturgical calendar. She asked for help and watched as I handily put them all in order in under a minute. “How do you know all that?” she asked. I shrugged. I didn’t even know that I knew it. It just comes back to me.

Lately that’s been happening a lot. Little moments from my days as a Catholic school girl (I know it’s hard to imagine) keep sneaking back into the forefront of my mind. This is obviously due to the fact that I’m watching my daughter go through it.

For example, each week I’ve been attending the all-school mass. Last week, I watched as my goddaughter (Audrey) gave the reading, and remembered the excitement (terror?) of being chosen for that task. There’s also something so heartwarming about greeting old classmates in the quiet, barely lit church as we wait for the children to stream in, bringing the church to life (and light!).

On Wednesday mornings I read with second grade students. Aside from learning their individual personalities, my favorite part is being in school for the morning pledges (including “I am a peace builder”) and prayer. This morning the prayer was for patience–perfectly timed to help me deal with a certain precocious student. You would have been so proud of my reaction when he sneezed all over my phone….

And then there’s Advent. When the kids were very small I had an Advent wreath on our kitchen table. We probably lit it a time or two. John recalls that his family always lit the candle each Sunday of Advent and review the corresponding readings. Every year.

At our house, we’ve always been more about “doing the right thing” and less about actual religious traditions. But now, thanks to Cate’s new school, I’m reminded that everything we (the 5 of us) value is actually everything I was taught back in the days when I wore blue and gray plaid jumpers to school.

Several weeks ago, I stumbled upon grand plans on Pinterest for making my own Advent calendar and wreath. My goal: to bring back Advent! Then Sunday came along and we ended up with no calendar and a “wreath” that consisted of mis-matched candles–some orange, some green, and one featuring a rainbow–that I found in the back of the pantry. No one cared; they are really used to my ways by now.

We eat dinner together as a family every night, but John and I were surprised by how different it seemed to be gathered around the same table in the dark, with only our lone candle shining. The kids were receptive–and a thoughtful conversation ensued. We even drew names at the end, in the tradition of Advent Angels (aka secret santas). We explained about doing something a little extra nice for the person all season, and how we would reveal ourselves on Christmas Eve.

About 5 seconds later Cate brought me a beer. (I wonder who has me?) I used it to drown the guilt I was feeling for waiting over a decade to introduce my kids to Advent.

So maybe I haven’t been passing these traditions on to my children exactly the way I once learned them, but it’s all coming back to me now. I’m sharing them as options, whether they want to embrace them or not (because I’m all about free choice when it comes to religion; just be a good person, okay?).

Will it change them? I doubt it; they are already thoughtful and caring (as exhibited when John and I are both running late and the boys start making dinner; or when Thomas patiently helps Cate with her math; or when Henry wants to know how we can help the refugees; or when Cate is kind to a classmate who doesn’t have many friends…I could go on and on).

But whether they grow up to repeat the same traditions or not, it’s the lesson of Advent I hope they embrace: hopeful waiting for coming joy, and the knowledge that we can be part of that joy by giving of ourselves to others.


Here’s a little Advent reflection that my friend Kristen’s Mom posted on Facebook today, which I thought was nice:


And here is the PeaceBuilders Pledge, which I love…

I am a PeaceBuilder.  I pledge:

  • To praise people
  • To give up put downs
  • To seek wise people
  • To notice and speak up about hurts I have caused
  • To right wrongs
  • To help others

I will build peace at home, at school, and in my community each day.

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