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Villa Teresa, Shadows and Carmelite Nuns

Juliette with two of our favorite Sisters, Carmelite Nuns

Juliette with two of our favorite Sisters.

Today, I sat in front of Villa Teresa School and watched Sr. Joseph Marie, a Carmelite Nun, walk from the convent to the primary school while the notorious Oklahoma wind kicked around the heavy folds of her dress and habit. For six years, I had daily access to this beautiful Sister, but today, it feels like she is 10,000 miles away, and really, even further than that. She is behind us, part of our past, and I miss her terribly.

I don’t cry very often, and when I do, I always know it’s going to happen days in advance. But, today, I surprised myself. I simply pulled up to the school and watched Juliette hop out to go inside to retrieve two letters of recommendation. She’s applying to a new school for 6th grade and needed them to fulfill an application requirement. While I waited on her, I saw Sister walk that familiar pathway I’ve seen her and other sisters walk one thousand times before, and I just lost it.

Later, to avoid boo-hooing in front of my kids, I ate five bowls of cereal. Two bowls of Frosted Flakes and three bowls of Sugar Crisp.

Villa Teresa, a Convent School run by Carmelite Nuns

Villa Teresa is a convent school run by the Carmelite nuns. I enrolled Juliette there in Pre-K when I was a single mom. By the time she graduated (it only goes through 4th grade), I’d remarried and had two more children. The Carmelite Sisters saw me through a good portion of my life journey – remarriage, a miscarriage and the birth of two babies passed the age of 38. I was just one of many blessed by their Elizabeth Ministry.

They helped me raise my daughter. Together, we celebrated science fairs and spelling bees; Irish jigs and St. Nicholas Days. They prayed us through bouts of pneumonia; my father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis; my mother’s bypass surgery; Bridgy Josephiney’s spinal meningitis. (She was OK!)
It’s not a mystery as to why this flood of tears came pouring out of me today. After Juliette graduated from Villa Teresa, we began 5th grade with high hopes at a new school. We’re not Catholic, but we chose a parish school near our home that many of Juliette’s friends from Villa were planning on attending. It is a great school, but for reasons I don’t want to go into, we didn’t send Juliette back after Christmas.

Homeschooling

Every day, I wonder if I did the right thing. I am homeschooling her now, which is very challenging since I also have a 1 and 3-year-old. Most nights I spent my time writing lesson plans and revisiting childhood nightmares of 5th grade math. I concoct at-home science experiments that fail miserably, and I feel like a complete and utter train wreck because. How can I possibly teach her French or art, which she had at her last school, because, hello…

How did her last teacher have time for lesson themes like Native Americans, which she creatively wove into language arts, geography and science? I don’t think I thanked her enough.

These days, Juliette gets up in the mornings and wears pajamas half the day, and I find myself running my finger along the starched pleats of her plaid uniform skirt. I miss seeing her in it. And, I think about all our dreams for her. I think about how we think something is going to be perfect, and then it just blows up in your face.

The truth is, things rarely work out the way we think they’re going to. And, for Generation X, the disaffected, lonely latchykey kids come-of-age, we are all bent on over-parenting. There seems to be no baseline. What is good enough? I ask myself this question every day. And, these letters of recommendation, which have gone into an application packet for yet another school – this one, so impressive, one of the top schools in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report — there are no answers here either.

Temportal Punishments

Today, when I dropped the application off, I was like a virtual human pinball in the hallway. It seemed like every kid was carrying a large instrument case. I was nearly knocked over by cello. Kids, lots of them, were running everywhere, yelling ridiculous, foreign phrases to one another and laughing. I felt like I was on another planet, or worse, I was in purgatory. Would I send my daughter, who is full of grace, to this place of temporal punishment? There, experts in every field imaginable can make her ready for the heavenly adventure of (big, deep breath) college, life?

I actually wondered, whose brilliant idea was it to create this institution called public school? Feels more like a public nuisance. A virtual sea of children – endless dozens of 11 to 18 year olds – running rampant with few adults in sight. Is this where she will be readied? Where she will figure out how not to dangle her participles or the meaning of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave? This feels more like a prison she’ll break out of everyday at 2:30.

I stare at her impressive ITBS scores. It always comes down to numbers, doesn’t it? I spend thousands of dollars in private schooling and she applies to an esteemed, by-application-only public school and the application never once asks her, “What do you think?” or even “Can you think?” And, these numbers – they follow us. They convey to the world a value.

Knowing God

Credit scores. ACT scores. GPAs. Gross Income. Size. Measurements. Weight. Height. Debt. Savings. Charitable Contributions. Tithe. IQ.
Numbers suck along with crying like an emotional waif over something you can’t change or get back or take with you.
For a moment, I consider the fact that I might not be cut out to be a parent. It hurts too much, but it is entirely too late to turn the ship around. And, so I pray, that despite the forms I’ve ascribed to Plato’s shadows, that I would see reality and make my choices not based on fear, but based on truth, which we discover along the journey of knowing God.

Post Script: Villa Teresa Closed

Villa Teresa School closed in July 2009. We attended a sale at the convent where we bought a full set of China for Juliette, and a painting of St. Therese of Lisieux. Sr. Joseph Marie passed to her heavenly home in January 2019.

Gen X Blog Jennifer Chronicles

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12 Comments

  1. "ju"

    Hey mom ur so awesome!thx 4 everthing

  2. neill

    wow…there’s a lot here. great post.

    as a side note, every once in a while, i used to stop in the middle of class, look at the kids, and remark, “don’t you think this is really odd? 2000 of you kids have been hurded into this building. whose idea was this?” the kids would stare at me blankly, and then i’d got back to teaching.

  3. Anonymous

    Villa is a special place. They focused on the human being and the soul contained within. I also feel like something is missing because Villa isn’t a daily part of our lives. Education like every part of all of our lives are broken down into numbers. GPA, EPS, FICA, ACT, LSAT, MCAT…etc. Unfortunately to be fair our society has created a system that favors those who can master the numbers behind the capitalized letters. But I think that because everyone is mastering the numbers our society will come full circle were caring and communcating will be prized commodities. God and the Constitution of the U.S. have declared that all people are created equal. So I guess eventually we will all master the numbers. I think what will set us apart is going to be having a caring mom like you. Every morning the kids look for you because you have a lot of love for them. You’re doing a great job.

    Your Hubby.

  4. Debra W

    Dearest Jen,

    The mere fact that you are questioning whether or not you were cut out to be a Mother, lets me know that, yes, indeed, you were. We are all plagued by those doubts, once in a while, or even more often, and the idea that we care enough to do a good job means that we are worthy of the work. There are no definite answers. No perfect parents. No formulas to follow. Having gotten at least one daughter to adulthood(almost 22) and another one who is going through the last year of her teen years, with two more following behind, I have to tell you that they are all different. Yet, somehow, they all find their place in the frightening pecking order of school life. My oldest was quiet, reserved, well-mannered, highly intellectual and very, very sheltered. She found her place in theater with a great group of kids who helped her to grow. My second daughter was active, more on the ADD side, impulsive, too bright for her own good, and popular. She found her place in cheerleading and gymnastics. She is now a photographer and is on the road to starting her own business, at 19, while going to college. My third daughter who is 16 is quiet, bookish, likes her alone time, but needs a close core of friends. She is a junior and she runs track and field, a kind of team sport with a solitary component to it. She wants to become a fashion editor or writer. And finally, my youngest who will be 15 next week. She is a combination of all three of her sisters, with a huge sprinkle of original thrown in! She is friendly, a leader, social, smart(but doesn’t like to focus on her schoolwork as much as she should), and very, very kind. She is a dancer and is now captain of her Hip-Hop team. The reason that I am sharing a lot of info with you is because I want you to understand that no matter where they come from, and regardless of the fact that they share the same gene-pool, they are all individuals. Each one needed to find her own way through the maze of public(yes, we actually chose public school!) school. Same parents, same schools, same teachers, but very different souls.

    I know what you are going through, Jen. I was there a few years ago, myself. We want to do what is best for our kids, but we don’t really know what best is. You and Juliette are in a holding pattern right now, but you will figure it out. She sounds like an amazing young lady who has a huge amount of familial support. She WILL find her place. I promise you.

    Feel free to email me if you need a cheerleader to help you through this crazy maze. It’s not easy, but you are doing the very best that you can, and that IS enough.

    Love,
    Deb

  5. TheMuffinMan

    I find that cocoa pebbles seems to dull the pain better than any other cereal.

  6. Rebecca

    Your children are BLESSED, Jen.

    One day you will reap the rewards of all your hard work… I promise you, each one of your babes will one day rise up and call you BLESSED in return.

    Love you…Beck

  7. Barry Moses (Sulustu)

    During my first quarter of teacher training, we had to learn about the history of the education in the United States. As early as Thomas Jefferson, a “free and public” education was recognized as a fundamental right and as the special perogative of government. It certainly has shaped our culture ever since.

    We also learned that public education has come under fire for many of the reasons you mention. For more than 100 years, the public schools monopolized the education game and in many ways failed to adapt to the times. Lack of competition caused a sense of complacency.

    The numbers game has arisen in part as a result of the need to PROVE who does a better job of educating children. It’s tied to funding and all kinds of political motivation.

    With so much at stake, I applaud parents who take the education of their children into their own hands. That decision alone earns no small amount of respect from me.

  8. ReRe

    oh jen. i love you! i didn’t realize you were homeschooling, kudos to you –that is definitely not one of my spiritual gifts! hahahaa

  9. Loren Christie

    Jen,
    This sounds like a wonderful opportunity for her. What a great mother you are! …a one and a three year old…that sounds familiar! :>

  10. Poetikat

    Another brilliant post, Jen! I moved through the shadows with you every step. I agree – who did come up with the public school system?
    Amazing how you have narrowed everything down to its essence: numbers. How sad that it’s what so many of our lives boil down to. What happened before numbers? Think what the world would be like minus numbers. A better place all round, I suspect.

    Kat

  11. Tyler

    Beautiful post Jennifer! It struck a real chord with me. I sat and cried as I read it because, I too, am dealing with what do you with my child in middle school. I would like to talk with you about that, by the way. But I also have a history with Sr. Joseph Marie and Sr. Veronica. They are such beautiful people! Thanks.

  12. Naomi Munn

    Only those who are truly crazy never question their sanity.

    Likewise, only parents who never question their self-worth are in need of questioning.

    You’re fine. You don’t have to be Picasso or Mozart or Einstein or even Moses to be a good teacher and parent. Ninety-nine percent of succes is simply showing up — you’re there for her. That’s what counts.

    Be well. 🙂

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