Family Time

(This entry was first drafted in late June of 2015, but I failed to finish or post it at the time. Adjustments and edits have been made with more to the story).

When I moved to the Sandusky, Ohio area in 1998, I was apprehensive on multiple levels as I settled into a new life phase and took on some relatively major life changes.  At the same time, I was grateful for the multiple graces and good fortune that came with the move.  I was fortunate to have found a good job and eventually found a fabulous parish family = two of the most important grounding factors necessary for a solid start in new and otherwise unfamiliar territory.

An added bonus exclusive to my “new hometown” not to be overlooked, is that it is also home to the best amusement park on the planet.  Cedar Point isn’t as well known as Disney World, but when it comes to roller coasters, you cannot find a better place in the world than Sandusky, Ohio!  Nine years prior to my relocation to Sandusky, I made my first and only prior visit to Cedar Point — during the summer of 1989 when Magnum XL-200, the world’s first roller coaster to eclipse the 200 foot mark, opened on the shores of Lake Erie.

Fast forward to 1998 again, I now found myself living in the shadows of this wonderful park! Although it took more than a full year of getting settled in to my new life before I would venture over to the Roller Coaster Capital of the World, I made quite a few trips to the park in 2000 when the Millennium Force coaster debuted.  I bought a season pass to the park for the next five years and promised myself that I would never take for granted the fact that I was five minutes away from a place that many would willingly drive hours upon hours just to visit for a day or two.

In 2003, I met my future wife and step-daughter.  We began dating in 2004.  I think the very first thing the 12 year old young lady ever said to me directly (the day of my very first date with her mother) was “Do you go over to Cedar Point very much?”  Of course I told her that I went over as often as I could.  But she and her mom didn’t have season passes. The primary focus of how I spent my spare time soon changed from Cedar Point to these two ladies, so I did not go over to the park very often in 2004.  In the summer of 2005, we were saving up to finance a wedding, so I did not renew my season pass.  In the summer of 2006 my wife was pregnant with our second daughter, so we did not get season passes.  Over the next eight years, we made occasional visits to the park, but finances and other obligations/choices kept us from investing in season passes and single day admission ticket prices were also cost prohibitive.  We were able to change that in 2012 when we again got season passes, but we still did not make it over very often with a six year old who was afraid of most of the rides.  So we chose not to buy season passes in 2013 or 2014 thinking that we would still not get our money’s worth when money was very tight to begin with.

Earlier this summer we took a look at the season pass plans and options and decided to bite the bullet — season passes for the whole family. We had gone over at least ten times before the 4th of July weekend – including a visit on Father’s Day when I rode the GateKeeper for the very first time with my then 23 year old daughter!

Her 8 year old little sister was still terrified at the thought of riding any roller coaster in June, but by July she begged and pleaded with us on every visit to ride the Cedar Creek Mine Ride! Shortly after, the Iron Dragon became her absolute favorite.

I present that long introduction to share the joy that has come with the simple pleasure of spending quality time with my wife and daughters logging miles and miles of walking back and forth through the best amusement park in the world on a regular basis.  That introduction also lays the foundation for the “consequences” of walking a few extra evening miles on a warm Saturday evening in June.

With season passes, we were able go over to Cedar Point as often as we liked.  Even if we only stayed for an hour or two, we never felt like it was wasted time or money. Often we went over in the early or mid afternoon with the intention of only staying for an hour or two. Even with that plan, we often found ourselves still wandering around the park well into the night, even up to closing time!  That happened to us twice on a particular weekend in June.

When I first went to Cedar Point on a summer Saturday in 1989, I was able to withstand a full dawn to dusk day with little consequences, but I’ve noticed now as one of the “older folks,” late Saturday nights at Cedar Point can turn into sleep-in Sunday mornings.  So on that particular June weekend after two late nights, when I didn’t wake up on Sunday until after 9:00 and was the first one up, I knew we weren’t all going to make it to our usual 10:00 Mass.  I started to get cleaned up anyway and my other two ladies both got up while I was showering. We decided to go to the 10:30 Mass at another parish and we barely made it just as Mass was starting.  I spotted a half vacant pew near the back on the right side and we settled in.

Once before I blogged about a specific incident when our family attended a different weekend Mass than we normally do and the profound experience I had with the message delivered in the homily at that particular Mass.  Once again, we found ourselves at a different Mass than our usual — this time with a visiting priest who apparently was ministering at a young men’s retreat at Holy Angels parish.  Just before the first reading began, a young mother arrived with three young children in tow and found the empty pew right in front of us.

As Mass progressed, it was quite obvious that she had her hands very full.  The two older children (a boy and a girl who I would guess were maybe about 4 and 2 years old) had to be separated a number of times — each taking turns in the roles of instigator and victim. Meanwhile the youngest child (probably about or less than six months as I didn’t see any teeth) alternated between being fussy and content as his mother held him throughout the Mass.  In contrast to the profound message received from the homily of my earlier blog post, I was not able to hear a significant portion of this particular homily message due to the commotion in the pew in front of us.

Some people may have been annoyed by or disapproving of the older children’s behavior. They certainly were distracting.  Had the mother just ignored them and let them run amok, I confess I may have fallen into this category.  But it was clear that she was attempting to juggle all three children and keep the older two in line and at peace with each other as best she could.  She did a much better job of it than I could have had I been in the same solo situation.  I found myself thinking that she could have chosen to not even bother coming to Mass.  Surely she knew that she might be in for a challenging 60 minutes or so. But rather than choose the easy way out, she took up the challenge and brought all three of her young children to be in the presence of Christ in the Word and in the Eucharist.

At one point while kneeling during the Eucharistic Prayer (with the older brother tormenting his little sister), the little one spit out his pacifier.  I noticed it glance off the pew and roll under the pew two rows in front of us. The mother was trying to figure out where it had fallen, but it was out of her line of sight.  I whispered to my 8 year old to wait until it was time to stand back up and to then get up and retrieve it for her.  While still kneeling, the mother finally figured out where the pacifier went and tried in vain to reach for it with one arm while holding the little tyke in her other arm.  So my wife directed our daughter out to get it.

Within a few minutes, the little girl became a little bit loud and very defiant of her mother and it was clear that she needed some direct corrective measures.  In obvious desperation at the situation, the mother happened to make eye contact with my wife and asked her if she could hold her baby for a few minutes. Without even waiting for a response, she handed him over while she marched the girl to the back hallway out of the church. They were gone for a good five minutes or more.  Without knowing us at all, this mother felt secure enough to hand over her small baby to a perfect stranger.  Thankfully, she was in a safe place with safe people, and I suppose she knew that or at least was comfortable enough. When Mass was over, we took a few minutes to chat and discovered that she was a former area resident now living in Michigan, in town for the weekend visiting her mother.  Her mother was not Catholic and so she did not attend Mass with them.  She told us how thankful she was for us being there and that she doesn’t know what she would have done in different circumstances.  Had we been disapproving of her children’s behavior rather than understanding and tolerant, surely she would not have been comfortable handing over her young baby.

On our way out the door, my wife turned to me and said, “I really like 10:00 Mass at our church and was really looking forward to going there today, but I think we were truly meant to come to 10:30 Mass at Holy Angels this week.”  I was only able to agree.

Praise God!!!

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