All beautiful the march of days, as seasons come and go; The Hand that shaped the rose hath wrought the crystal of the snow
by Shelly Cruz
The secret was “ATI”, which stands for, “Advanced Training Institute.” This was a word of mouth ultra-conservative home school program Cecilia told me about. It taught “Character First.” It made children obedient, God fearing individuals, Cecilia explained to me. Cecilia shared examples of how much more obedient children were who were taught with this style of curriculum. How these children differed from other children.
I was intrigued, and wanted to find out more about it. This was what I have been waiting to hear. If Cecilia’s children were walking, talking, examples, of how ATI worked, then I needed to get my hands on this “Character First” curriculum at once. I had just started homeschooling my children, with the encouragement that I got from Cecilia. No one from my church was encouraging me. In fact, they were all discouraging me. They saw me as a traitor, having taken my children out of the church’s private school.
I did find it odd that Cecilia never mentioned ATI to me before though. “Why now?” I thought to myself. Was she witnessing me doing something wrong with my children? I mean, I know she did not approve of my daughters’ Bratz doll posters that were hanging in their bedroom. I remember the first time their family came over to visit us, one of Cecilia’s daughters came out of my daughters’ bedroom to mention to their mother that my girls had one of “those” kind of posters on their wall. I remember Cecilia smiling at her daughter, ever so politely, telling her, that it was fine.
Thinking about it now, I wonder if my daughters’ bedroom was used as an example of how an ungodly bedroom might look like.
The week before our move finally arrived. Cecilia’s family came over every day to help us with the details. Her husband even spent that last week updating the bathroom, per the new owners’ request. It was also that same week that her husband slipped, and mentioned to me, they were expecting once more! He came early each morning to work on the bathroom, and she would come later with all the kids to visit me. I am still left wondering why she did not tell me she was expecting. Why did I have to hear it from her husband? He also asked me, if we were expecting again? I remember letting out a belly size laugh, knowing he would not approve of such an un-ladylike outburst.
But seriously, I just had 2 babies in less then 2 years, was this turning into some sort of competition? When Cecilia arrived later that afternoon, her husband told her that he told me, “The News”. She smiled, and said, yes, another is on the way. She then asked me the same thing her husband had asked. Was I expecting yet?
I don’t know why the question surprised me so much, but it did. I found myself praying that the Lord would wait to bless me again, at least until I lost this extra 50lbs, that I was lugging around. Of course that was not an issue with Cecilia, she seemed to be right back to her pre-pregnancy clothing the day after she gave birth! Despite all the weird things that Cecilia had shared with me in the past couple years, I still felt that she was a gift from God!
A few nights before we moved, Cecilia and her husband took us out to dinner to a really cool restaurant that was on a train. It was one of their favorite places to eat, they mentioned to us. Cecilia’s oldest daughter sat with all the children at our house. She had just turned 16, and was equally perfect, just as her mother. It was an amazing dinner. Sure, I stuck my foot in my mouth several times, during that evening. I just started becoming nervous around Cecilia, and her husband. I started feeling like they were secretly judging me.
Once, while my husband was talking that evening, I interrupted him mid-sentence. Cecilia’s husband gave me a look that was sharp enough to cut through ice. I remember instantly feeling the embarrassment of my rudeness. Things like this never bothered me before.
Cecilia never interrupted conversations, especially ones with her husband. Instead, she’d looked at him with her sparkling blue eyes, hanging to his every word, with earnest interest, casually rubbing his back, each time they sat together. Why did she have to be so darn perfect?
Another time during our dinner date, I was digging in my purse for a mint when a little bag fell out onto the middle of our table. It had bright orange earplugs in it.
Cecilia and her husband instantly took notice, and before I could think of something appropriate to say, Cecilia asked me what the earplugs were for? I had no choice, but to be honest; with another baby in the house, My husband and I were taking turns getting up with the baby. This was something new, I tried explaining to them, because I was feeling so overwhelmed. I hated admitting my weakness in front of either of them. I further explained that during the times when my husband would get up with the baby, I would have the earplugs in my ears to get a couple solid hours of sleep. I was one of those mothers who would hear every little thing, and go crazy lying awake each night waiting for the baby to wake up.
I shared all of this with Cecilia and her husband at the dinner table that night. I mentioned that the earplugs were choking hazards, so I always kept them in my purse. The earplugs worked out great! I assured them, while letting out a giggle.
Evidently, neither found it very amusing. Thankfully, My husband knew me well enough to know, that I was feeling embarrassed and ashamed for not wanting to hear my sweet babies sounds all night… He gave my hand a gentle squeeze under the table, for encouragement.
There was an awkward period of silence and we all finished up our meals and left to go back to the house. When we arrived back home, everyone was sitting in a perfect row in our living room, while Cecilia’s daughter was holding my baby, and reading a story. What a vision… witnessing Cecilia’s daughter reading a story to all fourteen children, holding a book in one hand, and a sleeping baby in the other. I was amazed at the stillness, the utmost obedience that this young sixteen-year-old had from so many children.Up until now, I felt like I would never be able to hold a candle to Cecilia, and now, witnessing how well her sixteen year old daughter was able to handle fourteen kids, with such ease, it made me feel more unworthy to hold the title of, “Mother”.
Immediately, my oldest daughter, who was only eight at the time, started asking me if I could go some place else for a couple more hours, that they were all having so much fun with Cecilia’s daughter, and didn’t want the fun to end, now that we were back home.
I let out a laugh, to cover up the tears that were forming inside me, and Cecilia told her children to get ready to go home. They lived over an hour away and it was nearly ten at night. I was always amazed at the cheerful spirit all these children had. Not one child, moaned, or complained about having to leave. All the children got up off the floor and began to put their shoes and coats on with perfect little smiles, thanking my husband and I, for having them over, before they headed out the front door, in perfect school line form, youngest to oldest. AMAZING! I thought to myself.
At what age did they teach their kids to enter, and leave in such a perfect, graceful manner?
After they all left, I must have sounded like a broken record to my husband. I spent the next hour fawning about how perfect Cecilia’s family was and how delightful their children were to have around. I also mentioned that I did not understand how it was that Cecilia never looked tired, or over worked. She was always so well groomed and fresh looking. I think my husband was only half listening to me. He told me that I was fine, and he loved me very much, and then he went off to bed.
I remember looking down at my outfit that evening. I felt frumpy. My eyes noticed the small snag in my sweater and the slight baby vomit stain near the hemline. My denim skirt just kind of hung there. I walked over to the bathroom mirror, noticing the dark circles around my eyes and all the extra weight I had put on. I did not recognize myself at all. It was a hard night. I stayed up late, praying and crying.
Why was I so unworthy? What was wrong with me? Cecilia made me want to be a better Christian, a better mother! I did not know where to start though, and now I was moving away! I had already turned in my comfy, yet frumpy jogging suits, for dresses, sweaters and skirts. I still felt frumpy though. I did not feel lady-like. I did not feel desirable either. I also hated the comments that my husband and I were now getting, having four kids.
My husband’s buddies, thought he was “one lucky man”. For me, ladies would say, “I do not know how you do it”!
The truth was, I wasn’t doing it! I wanted to, but had no clue what I was doing!
I guess things were changing in me. Maybe this was what the Lord’s blessings felt like. I began reading my bible daily, instead of weekly. I was praying morning, noon, and night. I had taken Cecilia’s advice and pulled my children out from our Christian church school. I was a home-school mom now, and I really enjoyed having them home with me full time. Little things started bothering me though; like when I spent time on my much loved hobbies, I began feeling guilty because that was time I could be devoting to prayer, or reading the bible more. If God was to be my all, why was I investing time doing things that did not involve him?
The night before our move finally arrived and Cecilia’s family was right there, packing up our U-Haul for us. She handed me a love offering, and gift certificate for my favorite coffee shop. I started to cry, and felt like a schoolgirl who was losing her best friend, due to an out of state move.
Cecilia even let out a few tears, and this was the first time that I felt loved by her. Maybe she really valued our friendship too. I never saw much emotion from her, so I thought this was some sort of verification of her feelings for me, and yes, it excited me, in a weird sort of way.
Even though it was getting late, Cecilia’s husband asked my husband if we wanted to go to the local diner to have some food and talk. He said, their oldest daughter would sit with all the children once more. My husband and I looked at each other, and accepted the invitation. This was the last evening that we would have together.
I was sad, yet excited to be able to spend a bit more time with Cecilia. My kids were thrilled to have one more night with Cecilia’s daughter baby sitting them too. That night she had crafts, and treats with her. I don’t remember either of my daughters even telling me good-bye, as they hurried along following Cecilia’s daughter, who was busy spreading out a blanket on the bare floor, getting all her craft stuff out.
Cecilia’s husband had a whole lot to say to my husband that night…
As for me, by the time we got home, I felt like hiding under a rock, permanently!
Time Heals All Wounds by Shelly Cruz: