Wednesday, October 5, 2016

You are Good Enough

Mom-shaming is an art as old as parenting. It probably began with grunts and pointing at the beginning of human history, most often in cases of mental illness at that time. In modern times though, it has taken on a new and frightening scale. With the rise of social media, mom-shaming has gained international participation from more anonymous haters than could be counted. I would hope most people would agree that gossip and judging others is wrong. So wouldn't that also mean mom-shaming would be wrong? I would hope so.
God is the author of life which also means his is the author of families. Yes, we have free will but at some point during the creation process, the parents' free will ends leaving it up to God what the family ends up with. With adoption, there is more of the parents' will involved but hopefully with their heart open to God's voice. I was just telling another mom the other day that God knows best, so I'm fine with obeying Him. That includes his decision to give me one really spirited child and one fairly cautious child. Yes, God knows best what our families should look like. The parents are the ones whom the child needs and the child is the one whom the parents need hopefully with everyone's sanctification as the goal. Which means, moms, YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH.
Nobody has the right to judge other parents partially because behavioral issues may not be a matter of discipline. Another, parenting is a lifelong process as well as our sanctification. The human brain is not fully developed until early to mid twenties. Which means college students still don't have the same self-control as even a thirty-year old. And when a child is thrown into turmoil, his primitive brain really takes over. What does this all mean? SELF-CONTROL IS A LIFELONG PROCESS. How many of us adults have our own temper tantrums or engage in immature behaviors enviable of any preschooler? Is it because our parents didn't teach us any better? Most likely not. Sometimes maybe, but most of us know the difference between right and wrong.
Who best knows a child aside from God and Mary? The child's parents. Every family's values are different, every family's priorities are different, and with the parent's knowing what is best for their child ONLY the parents can decide what is best. Doctors, teachers, and therapists can make the best recommendations, but if the parents really don't agree they are either correct or in denial. Either way, the parents are responsible for shaping their family. If they decide to disagree with "professionals" for any reason, it's really up to them. Even in the end, much of how a child turns out is out a parents control. We don't have crystal balls and God will speak to our children differently than we may expect. Because we don't have crystal balls, we don't know if any of our fancy "techniques" will produce the desired results. God's will for our children may be different than our inward desires for them, but as mentioned earlier, He's really the one who knows best.
Based on my interactions with fellow parents and other children, I can tell when a child will turn out all right. Not based on whether or not the child receives time-outs or spankings. I can tell based on the parents' devotion. As imperfect as we parents are, our love for our children determines their future success. A loving parent will care if their child is inquisitive and will nurture that trait, a loving parent will treat their child with love so the child will know how to treat others with love, a loving parent will be present for a child so that he knows he is loved and valuable. Rich or poor, homeschool or public school, as long as a parent cares and is involved, the child has a chance at future happiness, holiness, and success.
Ultimately, we all need to take our cues from God. I do my best to find the parenting "methods" that most lines up with church teaching about love and mercy. I have read at least a dozen parenting books over the last two years. In fact, I get really frustrated because every time I want to read a recreational book, I find myself desperately turning to a parenting book for help with the latest issue. Most of the advice of which has either been forgotten or I've not had enough practice in order to implement it properly. When I truly make mistakes, I am acutely aware of it and have been working hard to avoid repeating mistakes. I too am a "saint in the making" as was once our Newman theme.
How does this all relate to the post's title "You are Good Enough"? Well, exactly what it says. No matter what people say or think, no matter your child's personality, as long as you love your child YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

An Imperfect Saint: A review of St. Vincent

One of my favorite things about the Catholic Church is the Communion of Saints. I love being able to ask my grandparents to pray for me. Over the years, I also feel like I have made best friends with some of our brothers and sisters in heaven: St. Therese of Liseux, Sts. Zeilie and Louise Martin, St. Lucy, St. Monica, St. Francis, and St. John Paul II. It's so great having advocates in heaven cheering us on and interceding on our behalf. The Communion of Saints seems also to be one of the many misunderstood teachings of the Church, and the film St. Vincent is one of the films that demonstrates one of those misunderstandings.
St. Vincent is actually a really great film. Melissa McCarthy (Maggie) and Bill Murray (Vincent) are an unlikely duo in this film yet they bring a perfect balance of comedy and drama. This is one of those films that really doesn't fit into either genre perfectly. The film is about a struggling newly divorced mom whose son finds an unlikely mentor in their new drunken, gambling neighbor. As the boy learns more about his neighbor who can truly be described as a diamond in the rough, their relationship along with that between him and his mother are thrown into turmoil. The story culminates in the "Saints Among Us" presentation where at a school-wide assembly where Oliver and his classmates present someone in their lives who is similar to a canonized saint. Oliver's presentation is truly touching and brings the film together in a way that I was not expecting.
Because I'm Catholic, I'm pretty picky about details in movies about Catholics. My friend and I were at a student film festival and there was a story about a Catholic priest prior to Vatican II. I sat there pointing out to my friend, who was not Catholic by the way, the little details that were not accurate to the period the film takes place. Now, I am of the belief that a writer, director, and producer should do their research before making a film no matter the subject matter. Never assume you know enough to write about it. My biggest issue with the film was not that this sinful man was considered a saint by a young boy but the film's description of what a saint is. Oliver's teacher, a Catholic priest, describes a saint as someone who devotes themselves to make the lives of other people around them better. While this description is not inaccurate, it is incomplete. The only saint really talked about is St. Teresa of Calcutta. She's not a saint because of her good works but because of her undying love and devotion to God. Throughout the entire movie, while Catholicism places a central role in the story, God is never mentioned. Okay, he's mentioned once when the priest makes Oliver lead class prayer. It makes me really sad because this movie could have been great, amazing even if God played a bigger role in the movie. Our good works mean NOTHING if God is not at the heart of it. Like I said, calling this sinful man a saint is not wrong; the presentation scene actually was really heartwarming and touching.
This movie really is worth watching. I absolutely love it. I just feel disappointed when a movie doesn't live up to it's potential. I have to note, this is one of Melissa McCarthy's best roles. She has the best line in the movie, and I'm convinced she came up with it because it was unexpected, hilarious, and only could have been written by a woman. I highly recommend the movie. The Communion of Saints is so mysterious because we don't know who all is up there. God's mercy is deeper than the ocean, and we have no idea who opens themselves up to receive it. That means we have no idea whose up there praying for us and waiting to greet us when we join them in heaven.

Friday, September 2, 2016

A Parent's Guide to Preschool Television

We now live in a very strange time in history. Where once parents considered television to be the bad guy, I would now argue that among your technological options, television may be the safest. With nine-year-olds having cell phones and my own two-year-old possessing his own Kindle Fire, it can be scary navigating the technological landscape. I have read a lot about this and some experts would say television is bad and children should never watch it while some say it's OK in moderation. Some experts would say that children should never play video games, but how can we parents fight that when teachers hand out iPads to preschoolers and call it "education?" As I have explored homeschooling and watched my son interact with technology in a way that our parents couldn't even fathom when I was a kid, I have learned a lot about the use of technology with toddlers and preschoolers. I will save video games and devices for another time, but today I'm going to play favoritism and advocate why television may be a good option for your preschooler and how to approach the whole matter. My experience is limited to toddlers and preschoolers, so that is where I will focus.
Father and son enjoying Mary Poppins together.
First of all, some parents and experts would say to never let your preschooler watch television. While it's not inherently evil to hold such an opinion, neither is allowing your child to watch as much television as he would like. Fortunately, we're Catholic, so we have the virtue of temperance. (Yay, Catholics!) Temperance is basically all good things in moderation. Personally, I do not advocate for allowing your child to consume as much media as he pleases for he has not yet developed self control. Neither would I advocate for never allowing media for how can a child learn self-control around media with no exposure to it at all? It may be different for preschoolers, but let me help you out with the appropriate way to teach a healthy relationship with television with your preschooler.
First of all, do NOT be fooled by "educational" television. Yes, I love and advocate for Sesame Street. However, television should be used to reinforce what your preschooler has already learned from the world around him, not be a substitute for life experience and true education. Yes, educational television is OK, but do not treat it like class time. The only exception to that that I would say is for in cases of learning ASL or a foreign language and only if it is used as a tool within a broader curriculum. The best educational show out there by far is Sesame Street but right up there is Tumble Leaf. It may first appear that Tumble Leaf is not an educational show but it is. Tumble Leaf teaches preschoolers about science and in the best way possible. Rather than lecturing preschoolers, children are taken on a journey with Fig the fox to explore the world. My son has seen concepts on the show and applied them to real life. He saw a magnifying glass on Tumble Leaf and now picks one up whenever he sees it. The same can be true of many other tools he's seen on the show. What makes Tumble Leaf unique is the seamless weaving of art, story, and education. It's a show I find myself enjoying. This show is so countercultural because it's released on Amazon, it's CLAYMATION (no kids' show is claymation), and as I said it is educational in the way that the target audience truly learns. If you're concerned about your kids watching educational TV, those are the two I would advocate for.
Second, there is an appropriate way to watch television with your preschooler. I'm not perfect at doing this, but parent and child should be interacting throughout the show they are watching. As I said, television should not be educational but even Jesus used storytelling to teach morals. My favorite show about teaching morals to preschoolers is Daniel Tiger's  Neighborhood. Daniel Tiger is a modern version of Mister Rogers's Neighborhood of Makebelieve. As Ni and I watch the show together, we talk about what is going on. How do the characters feel? How do they react to certain situations? The show has catchy tunes which can be helpful for kids to remember things such as penance after forgiveness, what to do when we're mad, and using our words to express our feelings. Ni will take games and "advice" from the show and apply it to his own life. For example, we went out to a restaurant a week ago and that morning he happened to watch the episode of Daniel Tiger where Daniel goes to a restaurant for the twentieth time. While we were out, Ni played a game he saw on the show, and it kept him entertained the entire meal. Lots of shows, not just Daniel Tiger, can be used in a similar fashion. (Octonauts being another family favorite.) My point is, when a preschooler does watch television, it should be conducted in a similar fashion to storytime on a loving caregiver's lap. 
Thirdly, beware of bad television! Even though there is a plethora of amazing television shows for preschoolers out there, there still are some that are just okay and some that are just bad. One example of a bad show for preschoolers is Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. No, I'm not just out for revenge, I have some legitimate concerns. I have been an avid television watcher since I was Na's age. I know what I'm talking about, people. On the surface, this show seems benign. However, my biggest concern is that the show is not designed with the best interest of the viewer in mind like some of the other shows aforementioned. Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is specifically designed to simply bring pleasure and entertainment to a child rather than build up his or her brain or heart. Most of the storylines are superficial, the characters have been distorted from their original beauty to more dull, one-dimensional characters, and they try to disguise their propaganda by being educational because they "teach" children their colors and how to count. The show is designed to give children warm fuzzy feelings about Mickey Mouse and his comrades, so that they'll want every Mickey Mouse toy they see and will beg to go to Disneyland. (Though Ni has other reasons to beg to go to Disneyland.) Television can be used to build a child's attention span (Sesame Street is very good for that) but everything about Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is designed to keep a child engaged for every second rather than build any skills. I might be okay with all of this if the animation or stories could make up for it. Sadly, that is not the case. That being said, yes, I let Ni watch the show. He really only watches his favorite episodes and he gets a healthy variety of other shows. I would advise, however, if your child has never seen Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, NEVER show it to them. If they have seen it, either keep them from watching it or make sure they watch a variety of other shows. Plus, the music is really bad. Just throwing that out there. 
Wow, I wrote a lot more than I was intending. This particular topic is very personal to me partially because as I have mentioned I have been watching and analyzing television and film since I was my baby boy's age. It can also be scary as a parent hearing horror stories of the dangers of media. I want to give a perspective that was balanced and positive. The bottom line is, there is so much media out there. Take advantage of streaming services where a child can watch his favorite episode of Daniel Tiger over and over but be careful of time spent doing so. The messages will really sink in and you don't have to worry about commercials. Be wary of bad television and always make it interactive. I would not advocate you stick your child in front of the TV completely unsupervised and passive even if you allow them to watch a lot of it. I'm mostly saying that you don't have to prevent your children from watching television entirely. No mom-shaming here if you're on either end of the spectrum. We Catholics tend to sit comfortably in the middle, so I want to help my fellow parents out there who sit in the middle with me, so I just want to show you you're not alone. The parents who have blackouts at their homes and who allow an overindulgence in media get all the attention, so I want to offer a guide to parents who want to let their preschoolers do something enjoyable and not inherently evil without feeling guilty. As long as you're mindful of what your child is watching and HOW they are watching it, you really have nothing to be worried about.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

New Beginnings

Sunrise in Joshua Tree National Park, 2010
The title of my latest post might seem odd since I did not write a post of a similar title when my youngest baby was born ten months ago. Yes, he's ten months now, and I can't believe it! Well, the title has significant meaning aside from that. Including posting my first post since March of last year.
First of all, it may be quite obvious that I am posting for the first time. Well, things have been pretty tough since then. Ni was in the throngs of the
terrible twos while I was pregnant and exhausted all the time. I just couldn't leave Nicky alone while I worked and every free moment I did have was spent sleeping. Then Na came along and things have been REALLY tough. Again, I had two small kids who constantly need my attention. Any spare moment may not have been spent sleeping but has been spent staring at the television or reading. I'm at a point again where I can comfortably focus on my blog. Speaking of, I'm going to work on improving the blog and adding some new features. Stay tuned!
Both my boys are growing. Na still needs to be closely monitored for his safety but I'm not constantly tending to him like I had been. Ni has spent this week playing independently for hours at a time. I mean HOURS. Drawing, playing with toys, all kinds of things. It's been pretty amazing to see him explore and grow. Because of my boys' growing independence, I've been having a bit of independence myself. It's exciting to see this new change in my children.
Nicky also had his first day of preschool today. And when I say preschool, I mean homeschool preschool. Sad to say things did not go well. Nicky was really tired. At first I was thinking this was a mistake to homeschool instead of sending to real preschool. When I broke it down, I realized it was because he was too tired. If he had been to preschool, he still would have been tired, have been a disturbance to the other kids, would have had a hard time learning because he was so tired, and would have been overstimulated. The problem would not have been solved by sending him to preschool. We'll buckle down and keep at it. If we need to send him to preschool we will, but even after a disastrous first day, I will not give up easily. I'm working hard to find Nicky some friends. Part of the problem, and I did feel bad about this, Nicky was expecting to go to real school like on Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. We have park day tomorrow for a new homeschooling group that I haven't been to yet. Hopefully that will yield some really positive results.
Speaking of new homeschool group, that's another new beginning. I've tried in the past to join some mom's groups with unsatisfactory results. I'm trying some new groups over the next month or so and hopefully will find a couple that will stick.
Another new beginning is that my husband and I are entering a new phase of our marriage in a very positive direction. Without going into details, I will say that it's a new and beautiful phase. Hopefully this time will be spent strengthening our marriage in new ways so we can be prepared for whatever comes our way. Things will be changing. I can sense it, but I'm excited for what is to come.
New beginnings can be scary and exciting. When I first decided to homeschool, I was not confident at all. After tons of research, I became confident that the best teacher for a preschooler is his mom and the world around him. Even after a bumpy start, I'm not going to give up. If he does need to go to school he can, but for now we'll embark on this amazing journey of learning, loving, and living.

Monday, March 9, 2015

10 Tips for Taking Babies to Disneyland

I have been taking my son to Disneyland an average of once a week for the last year. I've celebrated his first birthday there and even heard his first word there because of a cast member. There is quite the controversy over whether or not you should take a baby to Disneyland. My son has enjoyed our
annual passes as much as if not more than I have. Two years from now, he won't remember a thing. Twenty years from  now, I'll still have the pictures. I highly advocate taking babies to Disneyland, no matter how small. It's not like this is the last time I will ever take him. Over the year, I have learned a few things that my mom didn't even know with her many years of experience, so I thought I could share some tips whether you're a pass holder or planning a family vacation with a baby.

1) Locate the Baby Care Center within the park you're visiting. The one in Disneyland is at the end of Main Street next to the photo shop. These centers offer parents many services including quiet diaper changing area, small potties for toddlers, private area for nursing and pumping, high chairs, and all sorts of baby supplies on sale not for profit. We always change my son's diaper there especially when he was smaller because the noises in the bathroom used to scare him. At the baby care center, he likes the quiet environment and they have a bath to rinse poopy bottoms and diapers. You can also tell your older kids to meet there if they get lost.

2) Naps should be strategic. Obviously you want to take your little one on all the rides they're able to go on, don't skip either carousel, and you may even have older kids who want to go on bigger kid rides. Well, you have two options for handling the mandatory baby nap. If your child is still able to sleep in the stroller or baby carrier and everyone else in your party does not need a nap, you can stay at the park all day and use the opportune nap for the adults and older kids to take turns going on rides either with fastpasses or single rider lines. Your second option if your toddler refuses to nap in the stroller, is for one person to take him or her back to the hotel or for a quiet drive, returning to park in the parking structure for the rest of naptime. Note, these tips are for people staying at the park all day. If you are only going for a few hours, take your baby right before nap or right after their nap.

3) Any photograph you really need, such as in front of the castle, do that first. Later on, there may be a longer line and the special costume you put on your kid may have been ruined in one way or another by the time you get around to taking the picture. They are babies after all.

4) Don't think that babies and toddler don't want to see the characters. Even as an infant, they will have their preferences. I was talking to a cast member telling him that my son only likes to visit the princesses, so I like to take him to the princesses. This cast member said that he met a baby who only liked villains. For my son's birthday lunch we ate at Ariel's Grotto. Now, however, he drags me around to characters. He made me take him to see Pluto and Daisy over the last two weeks. I also took him to see Minnie Mouse, and he had a ball. Yes, you are the one who benefits from the pictures, but you never know what kind of special moments can happen even with your infant. Don't wait if the line is too long, though.

5) If you're taking a vacation, or if you're a passholder celebrating a special occasion, do the Character Dining even with your toddler. There are five restaurants throughout the resort, one at each hotel and each park, where you sit down and the Disney characters come to you! I mentioned we celebrated my son's first birthday at Ariel's Grotto because he likes the princesses. If we were to go for another occasion, I would look into one of the other experiences because he has become a lot more comfortable with all the characters. A huge tip, however, and this will sound counter intuitive but trust me on this, make sure you child eats at least a little bit right before your reservation and be sure to make your reservation so it doesn't interfere with nap time. It wasn't until the last princess that my little prince was able to enjoy himself because he was so hungry the entire time. If they have at least a little food in their stomach before your reservation and are not tired, they will enjoy themselves better. It's not like they will eat a lot during the meal anyways. By the way, make a reservation at least a month in advance, perhaps two during a really busy time such as spring break or summer.

6) Plan on doing things your child enjoys. Even infants have personalities and preferences. My son has always enjoyed music and stage performances, so we enjoy taking him to all the shows. I took him to World of Color a couple times and once he was absolutely still and quiet at least for twenty minutes. Your child might not be a fan of such things, but he might enjoy running around Toontown. I suggested taking your kid to characters but if your child is really shy, he or she may not want to. My son used to like Pirates of the Caribbean. In fact, he still likes most of the ride but recently the two drops make him so upset that we just don't take him on it anymore. I still take him on Pinnoccio even though he gets scared because he doesn't get scared enough to cry. See what your child can handle and do what they like.

7) Toontown: the best place in the park for infants and toddlers. It opens one hour after the park opens, and that is when I suggest you go. By noon and later in the afternoon it's pretty crowded. These also will be the shortest lines to see Mickey and Minnie. Do the Rodger Rabbit ride first then go to Mickey and Minnie's house. You will often see Pluto and Goofy wandering around, and this is a good time to see them too. You can let your kids wander around the characters' houses. Goofy's house has a piano that makes silly noises and a small playground. It's designed for 2-4 year olds but one-year-olds will enjoy it as well. Just be careful, some parents let their 10-year-olds run around which, in my opinion, is unfair to the toddlers because they can be aggressive. There's plenty for your little ones to enjoy in this area of the park.

Some general tips.

8) The crowd at the park fluctuates throughout the day. The slowest times of the day are from opening until 10am and later from 1pm-5pm. By 10am, everyone has arrived at the park and by 1pm everyone has left either for naptime, lunch, or both. After 5, people are returning from dinner or, like us, coming after work.

9) The slowest times at the park are pretty much the entire month of September, first two weeks of November, second week of January until President's Day and Valentine's Day, and then Last week of February until mid-March. Now, it would be easy to just say go during these times, but particularly during September and January, they have shorter hours and fewer attractions because they don't always have the nighttime entertainment and the slower times are when they do maintenance on most of the rides. Even if you go during the busier months like March and April or November and December, as long as you don't go during the summer or on or near any major holiday you won't have too much trouble with the crowd. It just depends on what kind of experience your family wants.

10) Check the website prior to planning your trip to make sure any favorite attraction or show will not be temporarily closed. You cannot plan for if a ride breaks down but often times they will close certain attractions for an extended period because they're doing routine maintenance or they're revamping it. For example, World of Color and other attractions are closed in preparation for the Diamond Celebration of Disneyland. You can also check the website for when their Christmas stuff starts or for special events such as Lunar New Year and the Diamond Celebration. It's sometimes nice to plan a trip around such things.

I hope these tips help you plan your next Disney vacation to the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim. My whole family has enjoyed our year at Disneyland. We are sad to see it end, but I wouldn't have traded it for anything. I have seen my son grow up at Disneyland and have shared many precious moments with him. Any age is the perfect age to take your child to Disneyland. My parents have taken my brothers and I so many times over the years, and they are some of our favorite memories as a family. Even though my son will not remember this year, I will always have an amazing story about his first word, thanks to the generosity of a Cast Member giving my son ice.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Vegans and Lent

Nicky exploring our church
Ah, it's that time a year again where Catholics make Lenten promises that don't last a week and  suddenly every Catholic decides to eat fish on Fridays. Well, did you know that it used to be tradition that EVERY Catholic, not just those crazy Eastern Catholics, did not eat meat on Fridays? Also, did you know that Bl. Pope Paul VI said that when that requirement was removed that the intention was for Catholics to decide on their own reparation on Fridays and were encouraged to abstain from meat anyways? In a culture where we find meat on our tables for three meals a day, and sometimes snacks, that seems quite foolish.
Now, because I'm vegan, that means that I don't have to worry about Fridays, right? Wrong! Every Friday especially during Lent must remain solemn. People like going out on Friday nights to celebrate the end of the week, but maybe it's best to wait until Saturday night, especially during Lent. A tradition I wish to begin during this Lent and to carry on throughout the year is to do the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3 PM with Nicky. The Divine Mercy Chaplet was given to St. Faustina, a Polish nun, during her many visions of Christ regarding Divine Mercy. On Good Friday, I also enjoy reflecting on the Way of the Cross with my family, a tradition which began with the ever famous St. Francis of Assisi. On the market are so many versions of the Way of the Cross that I'm sure anybody can find a version they like. This can easily be done throughout Lent as well and Fridays during the year.
Prayer is all well and good, so does that mean I don't need to make any physical sacrifices during Lent? No! As Catholics, we should make all kinds of sacrifices for we are creatures of body and spirit. Christ saved us through the sacrifice of his body, so it is good to sacrifice our body for Christ even if with deprivation rather than death. During Lent we are called to pray, fast, and give alms. Prayer is sacrificing your spirit, fasting is sacrificing your body, and alms giving is sacrificing your resources. I'm using the CRS Rice Bowl app to pledge one of my sacrifices every day during Lent and to pray.
It is unhealthy for me to fast during Lent even before I became pregnant with my first. I also already abstain from all animal products on a daily basis. What, then is left? In the Eastern Church, part of our history is also sacrificing wine and oil during times of fasting and abstinence. This encouraged me to try other sacrifices. For example, alcohol. That does not work perfectly though because while breastfeeding and being pregnant I don't drink alcohol anyways. That leaves caffeine. This is perfect! Even while pregnant and breastfeeding, I drink small amounts of caffeine daily either as coffee or tea. During Lent, then, I can offer up my morning caffeine kick. Sometimes I miss it and sometimes I don't. I then use the CRS Rice Bowl app to pledge the cost of my daily cup of tea.
So, by doing a daily reading as my spiritual adviser suggested either on my CRS Rice Bowl app or  in my Lenten booklet, by abstaining from caffeine, and by pledging the cost of that coffee, I am able to fully experience Lent. I hope everyone has examined what they can fast from. Another thing I'm trying to fast from is some of my more habitual sins. I of course encourage everyone to try vegan at least on Fridays, but few can handle that. It's never too late to start participating in Lent.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Love, Lust, or Run and the Importance of Modesty and Beauty

This is not my most beautiful look, but in High school, I got really into dressing well after being mistaken for a boy too many times. I loved this outfit and my hair looks great. I started feeling a lot better about myself. If only that smile in this picture could reveal my inner beauty.
Tonight is a new episode of the brand new TLC show Love, Lust, or Run. Stacy London spent a decade transforming the lives of countless women on TLC's What Not to Wear. Her new show focuses more on the transformation rather than the shopping. She also takes women who dress more extreme than on What Not to Wear. I was inspired to do this post after last week's episode about a 20-year-old young lady named Jessie who wanted to be a New York City police officer, a very noble profession. She dressed, however, like a hooker. She honestly did. I was also shocked when the show said that she was 20 because she looked 25 with all that make-up and very adult outfit and accessories.
The first part of the show after Stacy gets to know the young women, is stripping the ladies bare: removing all clothing, accessories, and make-up. After this, Jessie actually looked her age. Stacy then shows the ladies what kind of make-up looks flattering on them and takes them shopping. Often, there is a struggle but when they trust Stacy to find clothes they like, there's usually a win. The show ends with the transformation which is always shocking. These women finally look beautiful because they look themselves.
The show's title comes from the part of the show where they go out on the street with photographs of these ladies in their favorite outfits. Each person is asked if they love the look, if they lust it, or if they want to run from it. Jessie's original look had only lust responses.  This was the kind of attention she was aiming for with her dress, but she realized it was not the kind of attention she really wanted. She wanted to be respected. Well, after the transformation is revealed, Stacy shows Jessie the responses to her new look. All but two loves. The other two were lust. After the transformation, if there are still "lust" responses, one can clearly know that it has not to do with the young lady's appearance but with the heart of the person looking at her. That person is doing something wrong because he has no respect for any person's dignity, especially women's.
As Christians, it can quite often be a struggle to ask ourselves, why does dressing well matter? Clearly, we should not dress like hookers. Does that mean that the alternative is to dress in ill-fitting jeans and boxy t-shirts? We would not feel very attractive doing that would we. Looking attractive doesn't necessarily mean one is attracting a new mate, it simply is attracting others' attention and respect. On What Not to Wear, often times people who ended up on the show put dress last because of their charity work. Their boss at the charity, however, wanted them to dress better to be a representative of the company. Why? Because when you're trying to bring attention to a cause or raise money, people are more likely to respect what you say when you have a presence, including appearance, that demands attention and respect. Sometimes, then, if you work for a charity, you would be helping the charity you work for by dressing well.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses modesty in dress and may surprise some people. It says, "The forms taken by modesty vary from one culture to another. Everywhere, however, modesty exists as an intuition of the spiritual dignity proper to man. It is born with the awakening consciousness of being a subject. Teaching modesty to children and adolescents means awakening in them respect for the human person (CCC 2524)." First off, because it is appropriate in our society to wear skirts that hit the knee, it is not immodest to wear anything that hits above the ankle. It is also appropriate to bare our legs and knees. It's not about specific clothes, it's about dignity. We must not only dress modestly, we must also behave modestly which requires respecting the human person for his or her God-given dignity. And teaching modesty does not mean teaching our children how to dress, but how to approach themselves and their fellow man. This will then influence their dress decisions.
So why does it matter if the image we present of ourselves is of physical beauty? Obviously if our interior beauty needs a makeover, that comes first. But if that is taken care of, then shouldn't our outer beauty reflect our inner beauty? If we are beautiful on the inside, but nobody knows because our beauty is hidden beneath bad clothes and imperfections, don't we as individuals and God as our creator deserve for the world to see who we truly are? Don't we deserve to for people to see our true beauty?
It can be difficult to distinguish between materialism and what I'm describing. One thing I have always taken away from What Not to Wear and what a person can very easily take away from Love, Lust, or Run is that beauty is not about buying the most trendy, most expensive items of clothing. As long as you have a foundational wardrobe, preferably by buying a few expensive pieces and a few less expensive ones, then dressing well will actually come without thinking. All you will need to do is grab a bottom, top, and completer piece. Materialism says you have to go shopping every week to get the latest look. Beauty is dressing in clothes that you actually like and that actually look good on you. Modesty is showing the world your God-given beauty and dignity in both actions and appearance.