This is the first Lent in which I am requiring that all my children participate in the Fast.
In years past, I made excuses for them which ranged between everything from calcium and bone-growth issues, to protein and muscle-issues, to chocolate as calcium/protein-incentives-for-good-deeds-issues. To assuage my guilt, I was able to paint my concerns as behavior and health-mindful-mothering.
In reality I was choosing ease and convenience for myself, over demanding (or expecting) discipline from the children.
I never thought of the Fast as training up the children with food in the same way as I train them up with the rod. Nor did I ever consider that God, the Creator of all, might know the best diet for His children by the Church's prescribing a diet for them during certain times of the year.
So this Lent we are following the time-honored Orthodox Fast: no meat (yes, that includes chicken), no milk or milk-products, no butter or cheese, no eggs, and no fish (or creatures with backbones (which include snakes, frogs and turtles--but not snails, if you're so inclined)). On the days we've encountered that are strict fast days, I've not pushed meals, and I have waited for them to ask for something to eat. It's amazing how long the children will go without food if I keep them occupied with Legos in the morning.
The first week there was open rebellion from LMark. He tried to use all the excuses I had been using over the years: "MOM! I'm a little kid!" "MOM! I need eggs for my muscles!"
Then, he just became calmly belligerent: "Mom, you can't make me fast. You can't make me fast, you know..." His tone of voice was so like his father's that I almost felt like I had to obey. Then it finally struck me as so funny. I just replied, "OK Mark. You know? I have chicken in the freezer. I tell you what. You just go home, thaw it, and fry yourself some, OK?--How about you just run to the store and get yourself some cheese too?"
One Sunday we were passing McDonalds on our way home from church. He had chosen to skip our coffee hour meal because he didn't like the food being served. He suddenly curled up, groaning how hungry he was. "But you have to stop! I'm starving to death!" I must have been inspired by my earlier "fried chicken" joke, because I laughed and said, "Watch me not stop! Whoops! I passed it! No burgers today! Guess what? It's Lent!"
But seriously, I have talked to them about something I read before Lent which struck me, "Our problem is that we do not look at the essence of the fast as a freewill act of love for God." I never thought of it this way before. I can do my best to obey the commandments and to love my neighbor all year long. But the Great Fast is one way I can simply obey.
I have also reminded them: "You know the basket we have at Pascha? Everything you don't eat during Lent, gets to go in this basket: butter, cheeses, chocolates, sausages, ham, eggs, bacon--maybe also Cheez-Its, Doritos and BBQ. If you eat this good stuff all Lent-long, what are you going to put in your basket? You might end up having potatoes and beans in your basket on Pascha because you didn't want to eat them during Lent! It would be like finding coal in your stocking on Christmas morning!"
The result of all this was a complete surprise. They have entirely embraced the Fast--even the boys. The younger four recently went to a birthday party together. LMark was about to tell the hostess they were fasting, so they couldn't have the Little Smokies she was going to serve. He was also suspicious of the contents of the birthday cake. But Max told him not to worry about it (I've told them they are not supposed to announce that they are fasting or ask somebody to go out of their way for them). So they ate their sausages and cake (without complaint).
Since we home-school, one of the things that has always struck me about my kids is their behaving as if somebody other than me is evaluating their work. I have never told them this; they have seen me personally grade their papers. But sometimes if they don't understand something, they talk frantically as if some nameless person isn't going to appreciate their hard work or understand the answer they wrote down! As if Mr Steve himself from Math-U-See is personally going to grade their worksheets!
Maybe, by tapping into this home-school paranoia, mixing it with a little Christmas-stocking fear, and peppering it with a child-like piety, I have stumbled across something.
Regardless, in my estimation, for the Mancuso family, this is a Lenten miracle.
When we must, the kids are perfectly content when we go through the fast-food places and order only fries instead of the burger. Our grocery budget is lower than normal. We've introduced fruit and fruit-juices into our communal diet. LMark is even eating peanut butter (this is one of the two foods over the years I have "allowed" him to dislike--I allow each child to dislike two foods (which brings up a genuinely bad parenting idea I had, which I might discuss (after I solve it) in another blog-post)).
This is an accomplishment for me, to embrace a new type of "rod" wielded not only by, but upon my own self while I use it for my childrens' sake.
I doubt these events will fulfill the criteria as a miracle for the Orthodox hierarchy, if only because they (and I) know we should have been doing this all along, as have the millions of Orthodox every year, since the First Century.
Regardless, I'm looking forward to my Pascha basket, sans potatoes & beans!