Sunday, June 29, 2008

Leave the House Dirty

In the most recent edition of Conceive magazine (of which I am not a proponent in general, but it had some interesting articles) I learned of the potentially hazardous effects on our children's fertility from certain household cleaners!

In short, things to avoid are: fragrances, petroleum-based surfactants, and solvents. You can read more about the results of the recent study's findings here. To give you a taste, though, here is a tidbit about the dangers of fragrances I found compelling: " The manufacturers want you to smell the fragrance when you open the box, when you use the product, and then later when you smell the clothes.... However, fragrances in nature disperse quickly; phthalates bond the fragrance to the clothing so you keep smelling it." Scary. Another group of chemicals, alkyl phenoxy ethoxylates (APEs) are found in many laundry detergents and some of them are actually ingredients in spermicide as well. Enough said!

So, what are we to do? What are some favorite brand names or, better yet, recipes for safe home cleaning options that will not endanger our chances of becoming grandmothers?!

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Mommy Battery

Today I awoke to the not-so-refreshed, not-so-get-up-and-go mommy doldrums.  I was tired.  Actually, I was pooped.  We have been overextending ourselves lately, dashing off to various summer events.  This week, our 3-year-old has been immersed in a local Bible school, which meets every morning at a church 20 minutes away.  This means the family has to get up, get dressed, get fed, and head out the door by 8:15am (and that's while lugging around my 34-week pregnant self!)  The homeschooling option has never looked so attractive! ;)

Whether I had realized it or not, the week's events had taken their toll.  I was bushed.

I think most mommies in the world push their limits pretty often.  We are often managing so much, on little sleep, and with little spiritual encouragement in our day to day.  Today's exhaustion reminded me that we, mommies (daddies too), need to be sure to take little breaks throughout the day--even a 10 minute time of prayer and meditation-- to quickly recharge and give us the boost we need to tackle all that is asked of us.

God is good in that in my time of need, He always seems to provide so appropriately.  Enjoy this beautiful prayer I discovered today while reading... and don't forget to take some moments to refresh those mommy batteries!  

O Mary, Immaculate Virgin, Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, patroness of all mothers, I commend my beloved children to the Most Sacred Heart of your son, Jesus, and to your Immaculate Heart.  Please assist our family and keep us always in your care.  Please protect us from the snares of the devil and keep us on the road that leads to life.  Help me to realize my sublime mission as a mother and help me be faithful to my duties for the good of my family and the good of the entire family of God.

Baby Cate

Please lift this amazing family up in prayer today as they grieve the loss of their 7 month-old baby girl. Their love of God and their love of baby Cate is a blessing for us all.

Lord, May you shower all families grieving the loss of a child with your grace and peace. Amen.

Granola Recipe

In response to your requests, below is my granola recipe. What I love about granola is that you can really add anything to it (alright, not anything, but a lot of things). I have found that experimenting and omitting or adding things that I know my family likes makes the best granola for us. Here are the basics of what I use:

6 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1 cup natural wheat or barley cereal
1-2 cups sliced/crushed pecans/almonds (I like to use pecans b/c they are sweeter)
1/2 cup raw sugar or brown sugar (can omit or use less)
1 teaspoon salt
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2-3/4 cup apple juice or water (more water = more clusters, but you have to bake longer)
4 tablespoons of butter/safflower/coconut oil
1/2 cup honey
1-1.5 teaspoons vanilla
1/4-1/2 cup flaxseeds
zest of one orange
Can also add: dried pitted cherries, seedless raisins, dates, dried rasberries, dried blueberries, dried peaches, etc.

Mix all ingredients together, oats should start to stick together in clumps. You should taste granola for right amount of sugar/honey. Spread on cookie sheets and bake at 300, stirring every 15 minutes until golden and slightly crunchy--about 1 hour. Stir in dried fruit after it has cooled. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Leading by Example

Dash, apparently thinking himself quite clever, recently called his Grandma by her first name. She thought it was quite funny that he had picked up on what her name is and asked if he knew Grandpa, Daddy and Mommy's names. He correctly identified Grandpa and Daddy, but announced that Mommy's real name was, "Babe!"

In Dash's defense, Mr. Incredible usually walks in the door and says, "Hi, Babe, how was your day?" It made me pause to realize just how much he picks up without any effort or thought.

Several sources have recently left me thinking about how our children really learn about our faith and build character. Being the checklist kind of person I am, I get excited when I read the kids books about saints and virtues...surely I am imbuing them with faith and character, no?
  • Monday's reflection in In Conversation with God quoted Saint Augustine, "Strive to acquire the virtues you think your brothers lack, and then you will no longer see their defects, because you yourselves will not have them."
  • Charlotte Mason speaks constantly about the atmosphere in the home. Karen Andreola quotes Charlotte, "Ideas are held in that thought environment which surround the child as an atmosphere, in which he breathes in unconscious ideas of right living emanating from his parents. Every look of gentleness and tone of reverence, every word of kindness and act of help passes into the thought-environment, the very atmosphere which the child breathes."
  • In her introduction to Catholic Truths for our Children, Patti Armstrong writes, "To pass down information, we teach it intellectually; but to get our children to integrate that knowledge into a belief system demands our own good example...yes, we need to impart knowledge, but we also need to be living examples."
  • And finally, in Heartfelt Discipline, Clay Clarkson discusses his revelation that raising godly children is not just about sowing seeds of good character: "The task is not to plant enough good seeds to crowd out the world's weedy influences; it's about faithfully preparing the soil of our children's hearts," so that they can be changed by Christ.
All of these relate to Monday's gospel reading about removing the plank from our own eye before removing the speck from our brother's (or son's or husband's) eye. It took me reading about the same idea half a dozen times to for the thought to crystallize in my 8 month pregnant mind. Perhaps it is more effective, though far more difficult, for me to exhibit the virtue of patience than to read a picture book to my boys about it. I realize that this is not an earth-shattering observation, just something I have been thinking about this week.

At lunch, as I turned around to get some (not eco-friendly and not destined for a compost pile) paper towels to wipe Jack-Jack's hands, I found that Dash had placed his glass lunch plate on top of his glass cup and was saying excitedly, "See, Mommy!" I took a deep breath, working on exercising the virtue of patience rather than just talking about it.

Then he added, "Just like Father Phillip does it!" so proud of his recreation of the paten on the chalice.

I am so glad that I help my tongue in that moment. I calmly explained that, yes, Father Phillip does do that during mass, (and that if he became a priest, he could, too) but that we shouldn't do that with our milk and lunch plate.

Trying to cultivate an atmosphere in our home that invites Christ and his Blessed Mother rather than preaching all day long is a much better way to bring our little ones closer to God!


For all the families out there with Jardin cribs, take note of the recent recall.  

Maybe Jasmine and Ariel Aren't So Bad?

Yes, they are. But this is worse. I am too overwhelmed to comment right now -- have at it Ladies.

Scratch Cooking to support Organic Living

Thanks, Red, for posting your salsa recipe. I also totally agree with your comment from the Organic Living post that we can save a lot of money and also improve nutrition by cooking alot from scratch.

I make my own salad dressings, I was raised on simple viniagrettes and so I tend to be shocked when I see the huge salad dressing aisle, I wonder who is buying all of this dressing!

I use a store bought cruet and I just use the oil and vinegar lines on it. I use either safflower or olive oil with either balsamic or Braggs apple cider vinegar, a spoonful of dijon mustard, some dried herbs and a little bit of honey or sugar. I make a big bottle about once a week and eat it all week. I have also recently started washing a whole head of lettuce at a time and keeping it in the salad spinner in the fridge -- I am more likely to have salad at lunch if the lettuce is ready to go.

I have learned from my husband to keep salads interesting by putting in lots of random stuff, so we often have nuts or seeds, fruit (apple, grapes, craisins or raisins), a mix of vegetables (red peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc) and or cheese on our salad. I don't really love expensive mesclun mixes, so I use either red or green leaf lettuce. You can theme it up, go Italian with roasted red peppers and mozzarella in your salad, add crumbled bleu cheese, walnuts, diced apples and raisins to feel like you are at a restaurant, etc.

Do you have simple things, like salad dressing or salsa, that you could buy but make yourself instead? We buy a whole wheat pancake mix, but I am thinking that I could just mix up bags of my own and keep them in the freezer, we do this with the dry ingredients for our bread already, so the kids can make the bread without having to measure (and spill) the flour.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Salsa Recipe

Tomatoes are almost in season, so here is my very simple fresh salsa recipe, you can either blend these ingredients in a food processor, or my preference is to dice them up:

2 ripe farm fresh tomatoes
1/4-1/2 of an onion (preferably sweet or red onion)
2T cilantro (fresh)
1 clove garlic
1 jalepeno (more or less for spice)
salt to taste
juice of 1/2 a lime (optional)

You can make this salsa sweet by adding a mango (delicious as a sauce on fresh fish (like Tilapia)

If anyone has added tips or other great salsa recipes, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Building Community by Asking for Help

I recently befriended a woman in town with 2 children of similar age to my kids. We met at story hour, and after a few chats it was obvious to me that this woman was a serious Christian who attended church regularly and cared deeply about the religious upbringing of her children. We chatted effortlessly about church, local school choices, homeschooling, and cloth diapers, among other topics. As the spring session of story hour ended, we decided to make a playdate for our children to get together. We did so, the kids played nicely, and we decided to get together again. About 1 week later this woman called me with a minor "emergency." Her 18 month old son had slammed his hand in the door and she needed to take him to the doctor for an x-ray. She couldn't bring her 3 yr. old daughter, and so she asked if I could watch her daughter for a couple of hours. Sure, I agreed, and within minutes her daughter was playing happily with my children in the backyard.

As I sat and watched the children play, I realized that my new friend had done something that I am very hesitant to do: she asked for help. If the situation had been reversed, would I have called her up and asked her to watch my children while I took one kid to the doctor? We had only had one playdate after all. No, I would not have asked. I probably would not have asked after 10 playdates. I would have asked my mother or husband to take off from work, or I would have waited until I could pay a babysitter in the later afternoon hours. But why?

Is it because I'm Catholic and the community at most Catholic churches is a far cry from ideal. My new friend is an Evangelical, and since I'm a convert to Catholicism, I do remember a greater sense of community in my old Evangelical days. I think this might be a part of it, and possibly the topic of another post, but I don't think this is the real reason I don't ask for help.

Rather, the reason is pride.

After all, if I ask for help I come across as someone who doesn't have their act together. Asking my mother or husband is different, as they know I don't have everything together, but to ask a new friend, or even an old one, is tantamount to saying that I NEED the help of others, and that takes me out of my comfort zone. Somehow in my mind it's ok to ask family, but somehow not ok to ask other friends, even other Christian friends who share my beliefs. I see myself as a leader, a rescuer, a helper, a woman who those in trouble can turn to and ask for advice or help. How can I be this woman and then need other people to help me?

I always complain about the lack of community in our individualistic suburban society. Every man or family for himself. Back in the day, when your barn burned down and caused a burden too heavy for one family to shoulder, the community chipped in and re-built the barn. Today we have fire insurance, and a culture where each family (or each person) is expected to shoulder their own burdens--or pay someone to do it for them. Asking a neighbor or friend to help is somehow less than ideal. But it is this very interdependence that makes a real community. We have to need one another.

In the past, I was a person always willing to offer help--and I felt that, by offering, I was somehow working towards building a real sense of community in our church and town. And I am. But community isn't just about offering and giving, it is also about receiving, and doing so graciously. I can't have "real" relationships with people if I am giving, giving, giving, but not also opening myself up to asking and receiving.

And that brings me back to my new friend. By asking for help she started a real relationship with me and did more to build community than the 50 unaccepted offers of help I have given out in the past several months. And that is an important lesson for all of us type-A mommies!

My new friend recently invited me to a get together at her home. I politely declined the invitation, as we have a very busy week. I explained in an e-mail how busy our family was this week, and she immediately responded by asking if she could watch the kids for me so that I could run some errands. My gut reaction was, "no, I don't need her to inconvenience herself and watch my children, besides, I would be leaving her two kids and she only left me one." And then I realized that if I don't take her up on her offer, she will be hesitant to ask anything of me in the future, and I will put a stop to the great community web that I desperately want to be a part of building. And besides, I really can use the help!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Continuing to Build

But the LORD is with me, like a mighty champion... Jeremiah 20:11

Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father's knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31

These beautiful passages reminded me of you all today. Great things, of course.
As I sat and listened to the scriptures above and the priest's beautiful words, I was greatly encouraged for all of us, mothers.
We are the builders of awesome cathedrals. God is championing us toward wonderful endeavors. He is watching and noticing our work even when the accolades are few and far between.

He knows the number of hairs on our heads!
Of course he knows how many times I've stooped today to mop up thrown food from the floor.
Of course he knows how often I've bitten my tongue in order to say something more encouraging.
Of course he knows how many poopy diapers I've tackled, arguments I've quelled, tantrums I've halted.
Of course he knows my many motherly sacrifices.

I am worth more than many sparrows. My work matters to God.
Therefore, I will fear not.

How you know Potty training is not going well:

Your child makes this face after peeing on the floor for the 3rd time that day.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Catholic DVDs for kids

My son Bean's birthday is coming up in August, and family members are wanting birthday gift requests.

The best move we made for Bella's recent birthday was to request some Catholic DVDs for kids. She spends 100% of her life in some costume or character outfit (loosely construed) and taking on the personality of the particular character. "Bernadette: The Princess of Lourdes" and "The Day the Sun Danced: The True Story of Fatima" by CCC of America, two of her birthday gifts, have brought about a blessed shift in her identity. Instead of dreaming up Strawberry Shortcake slumber party plans or attempting a British accent as Wendy Darling, she trots around our local playground proclaiming, "I am the Immaculate Conception." (Not sure about the appropriateness of that one.) And even more, she's particularly into the characters of Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes and Lucia of Fatima. This has piqued her interest in praying the Rosary, in joining the "girl saints" one day in Heaven, and in loving Jesus like the girls did.

We need more fuel for this fire! Any other recommendations on Catholic DVDs for kids?

College Choices--good and bad

What was this young, impressionable lad thinking?
How dare he pass up the orange and black for... ahem, crimson? ;)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Organic Living

Before I begin, I want to remind our new readers that I am a self-proclaimed granola, or “crunchy” mom. I realize that not everyone takes these issues as seriously as I do, and that’s ok. It is not my intent to be self-righteous in this post, but only to discuss some of my recent thoughts on organic living…

I recently returned from a trip to upstate/western NY, where I visited my sister and her family in their small rural town. My sister and her husband are real granolas, and they take the art of food preparation to a truly new level. At her home we were served fresh bread made from home soaked whole grains, butter that smelled like cheese from a local family farm, unpasteurized milk, and eggs with deep yellow/orange yolks—again from a local farm. We dined on whole wheat buttermilk pancakes, and my sister, with the help of a local cow, made the buttermilk! We topped off our visit with homemade vanilla ice cream made from fresh cream and sweetened with maple syrup.

When we left, I realized that my sister lives really “close” to her food. Other than herbs, she doesn’t grow the food herself (she lives on a small lot), but she knows who does, and as a result she is deeply aware of where her food comes from and how to best prepare it. Her food is natural, usually organic, and local.

We live in a small urban town and during the summer we try to buy most of our food from the local farmer’s market. The framer’s market is great because it gives the local farmers a direct to customer outlet for their foods. It allows small local family farms to not only survive, but to thrive. The farmers make more money selling directly to us, and we buy things cheaper than we could at the local supermarket. I love buying lettuce that was picked fresh in the morning, and I love talking to the farmer who picked it. I love knowing what fruits and veggies are in season in our area and waiting for the locally grown peaches, rather than buying peaches from Peru in the wintertime.

All of these things are part of what I would consider “organic living.” I use this term to mean living as a good steward of creation. Understanding where your food comes from, respecting the land it was grown on, or the cow that provided the meat, and generally treating creation and our bodies with respect.

Lately, buying organic is the newest fad in “nutritionism.” Just like the low-fat craze of the 80’s, the “organic” craze has come to mean buying anything with an organic label. The box of organic teddy grams is better than non-organic locally grown lettuce because it has the label “organic.” Organic lettuce grown in Honduras and shipped to the East Coast is better than lettuce grown on a local farm moving towards organic certification. Don’t think about the energy involved in shipping that lettuce from Honduras. Don’t think about how they actually make an organic teddy gram, the processing involved, or the trash and debris involved in the packaging. Organic teddy grams are just about as far from “organic” or close-to-nature as you can get, except maybe a bag of organic Doritos (is that possible?). But our label conscience society wants us to believe that those teddy grams are somehow good for us because they have the label organic.

I’m not trying to say that I don’t buy organic crackers or teddy grams, because I do. And I’m sure those organic teddy grams are better for your body than the regular teddy grams loaded with dyes and other harsh chemical additives and “spices.” What I’m saying is that organic living is really about moving away from these pre-packaged things, and moving toward locally grown and homemade products. It is about taking the time to prepare our own food, to understand our food, and to respect our environment and neighbors. It is about slowing down and making food preparation a part of our family life. Our culture is constantly pressuring us to go, go, go, and to buy, buy, buy, things that will make our life easier, and that usually means pre-prepared food products, and organic teddy grams. There will always be days when this cannot be avoided, but wouldn’t it be great if we could avoid it on most days. Like most things, I’m aiming for the 80/20 rule (achieve the ideal 80% of the time, don’t sweat it the other 20%).

If you’ve never considered this before, think about one practical way you can get more in touch with your food. This might mean making something from scratch that you normally buy pre-prepared (and this usually saves money.) If there is a local farmer’s market in your area, check it out. If not, maybe try to shop at a local store, you know the kind of store where they know your name after only 2 trips. If this isn’t possible, try to buy locally grown products at your grocery store and take a pass on those peaches from Honduras in January. And remember, as mothers, we are the main purchasers of food, so we really do have the power to change the way food is bought and sold in this country.

The Sleepless Generation

Check out this interesting article, The Sleepless Generation, on the importance of good sleep habits in children. While I don't agree with everything, I think the author hits the nail on the head in that many of our children are just overtired, and so are the parents.

h/t Danielle Bean for the link

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Does it get any better than this?

Tonight after dinner, I had a good natural consequences/learning moment with my 6 year old son, who came down from his shower and told me that he had made a poor choice, that he would eat his squash because he was sorry now that the he had watched the others eat cupcakes. He had tears in his eyes and I looked at him calmly and said, I know how hard this is. I have put your cupcake in the fridge, and you can try again with your vegetables tomorrow, but for tonight the kitchen is closed. Shall we go and read a story? I was thinking of Texas Mommy, who, I am told, disciplines her boys firmly and graciously. I wish she lived closer so that I could see her in action.

Tonight my 6 month old son had a wet diaper, which right now is a triumph because it means that my nursing is going a bit better, and I was thankful for the cloth diapers which allow me to keep better track of his output. I have been eating and drinking mindfully, thinking of Red, who believes that mothers need to take good care of themselves so that they can take care of their children.

Tonight when my three year old son poked his head in, up and out of his bed, to ask just one more question, instead of yelling to go back to bed, I told him to snuggle up with us for the end of the big kids story, then I would take him back and tuck him in. I was thinking of Kat, who makes an effort to be gentle and kind to her children.

Tonight I read aloud the last chapter of The Secret Garden and we rejoiced together as Colin and his father walked across the lawn. Then I tucked the boys into bed and snuggled up with my 5 year old daughter, who read aloud to me from a Magic Tree House book. She finished her first one tonight and is so proud and excited to print out her passport stamp in the morning. This is a great way to close up her school year, it is an amazing thing to watch a child learn to read and to love reading. Honestly, this was the real me, there is nothing I love more than reading with my children.

Tonight while I switched a load of laundry, I noticed that the floor between the machines was all filthy. Sometime, years ago perhaps, someone spilled a lot of detergent between the machines, and since then dust and debris have been collecting there, stuck to the floor. Now, I was thinking of B-Mama (minus the bleach), as I pushed the machines apart, got down on my hands and knees with rubber gloves and rags and cleaned the floor.

Later tonight, when I stare at the computer to write my quarterly report, I will think of Juris Mater, who begins her professional work at the end of a full day of mothering.

There have been times in my life when housework has seemed like drudgery, when disgusting tasks like this one have seemed deeming, but tonight all I could think was, does it get any better than this? For the first time in my life I am making a home in a place that will house my family for more than a period of months. I have five healthy, loving, hard working children asleep in their beds. I have a husband who, in order to make all this possible, will get on a train to come home long after the sun has gone down, but he will ride it looking forward to coming into his home, to greeting his children at breakfast in the morning, to getting up and doing it all over again tomorrow, because, as he has said, that is what dads do. As I parent on my own for long days, I think of AWOL Mommy, whose husband has to go away to do his work.

In my home, learning is an atmosphere and we are all learning so much from one another. My job is to be like the Virgin Mary in this household, to work quietly to encourage them to be Christ to one another. I have found a place where Heaven and Earth meet, I couldn't be more surprised to tell you, on a cul-de-sac in New Jersey.


How can a sweet little boy like this be anyone's worst nightmare?

Apparently, it's more common than I wish to believe. In taking Gianna to one of her activities today, I overheard two mothers say this:

Mom #1 "My friend just found out she was pregnant. She has an 18 month old and a 4 year old and now this. It was a total accident. Isn't that awful!"

Mom #2 "That is my worst nightmare!"

Both moms look in my direction to include me in this conversation.

My response: a deep sense of sadness, and then awkward silence. As I sat there, holding baby Augustine in one arm and my big toddler boy Charlie in the other, I wanted to scream, "my worst nightmare is a baby who dies, or a daughter who grows up so self-oriented that she says the same things these women just uttered." By the grace of God I was silent.

It is at moments like this that I realize I truly have a very different perspective on children than these women. While my kids drive me absolutely bonkers at certain points during the day, I am reminded daily what a wonderful blessing they are, and I pray fervently that our family will be blessed with more children in the future. While I don't expect everyone to want a larger family, or pray for more children, I do kind of expect a certain level of appreciation for the great gift of life, especially among other mothers. I guess this is crazy in our society where the message is that every baby should be a "planned baby" and parenthood is a choice one makes for personal fulfillment.

My only response in a situation like this is prayer. Prayer for these women, prayer for their children, and prayer for myself, that God gives me the grace to continue to see my children for the great miracle and blessing that they truly are.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Theology of the Body for Pre-Schoolers

Help! I have a 3.5 yr. old daughter asking me questions with which I am not equipped to deal.

Basically it all centers around modesty, or her lack thereof. My struggle with raising my children is that I am trying to strike a balance between 1) teaching them to embrace the beauty and function of the human body as God designed it and 2) imbuing them with an understanding of the virtue of modesty. I started by teaching a two year old the anatomically correct nouns for the human genitalia. Now, I am not sure if that was a great idea or not, but it seemed better than silly words like "my bee boo hurts" or whatever. This decision is now rearing its ugly head when she would like to discuss her little brother's penis loudly in public. OK, so what? - every mother who has had small children will understand this. But I confront this dichotomy in other areas with my daughter as well. She wants to wear a bikini. I know, it is cute on a little girl, but then it somehow seems inappropriate on a nine year old. The closer my daughter gets to becoming a sexualized being, the more important it will be that she understand the importance of comporting herself with modesty. So I guess I can't allow her to wear a bikini now and then reverse my decision in the future... but how do I explain why?

My second issue with her arises when she questions certain things she has seen in movies. OK, now here is the part where I throw my "supermom" status into jeopardy, brace yourselves... In Aladdin Jafar makes Jasmine wear a bikini when he has her become some sort of hypnotized love slave at the end of the movie, and (now here is the real doozy, yes, I did/do let her watch THIS) in Return of the Jedi Jabba the Hut has Princess Leia in a bikini and chained to him once she is captured. Well, my innocent little three-yr.-old has asked me, poignantly, about both of these displays of sexual objectification: "Mommy, why does Jabba the Hut make Princess Leia wear a bikini?"

So there you have it, how do I help my daughter understand that while our bodies are gifts from God, they should not always be on display for everyone?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy Father's Day!

To all the dads, grandfathers, godfathers (etc.!) out there, Happy Father's Day!!

And a warm welcome to Awol Mommy, our newest Builder!  She is a fellow Princeton alum, former Army Military Intelligence Officer, wonderfully supportive Army wife, and supermom to two cherubs, 3-years and 5-months!  We are thrilled to welcome her here at Building Cathedrals!  

Friday, June 13, 2008

Bringing Up Boys

It has now been a few weeks since I finished Bringing Up Boys by Dr. James Dobson, but I must say, his words have surely resonated in my head a few times since then, compelling to me to mother my two beloved boys in a certain way.  It was a fantastic read and one I feel is worth digesting, especially for parents and grandparents of little boys!  

Dobson lays out a clear, conservative message in his book.  Boys will be boys, and there aren't two ways about it!  His initial chapters outline the biological gender differences, citing the unique surge of testosterone 6-7 weeks after conception when a male baby in utero undergoes a "hormonal bath" resulting in the male brain taking on a different structure and nature from that of a female.  These biological differences lay the groundwork for unique boy-ness that can only be understood and embraced with the right attitude and perspective.

Dobson then lays out a clear picture for the raising and disciplining of boys.  He urges his readers to provide a firm, structured environment for boys, yet encourages them to allow their boys to "blossom" in their unique boy ways.  Statistics pop out of the page left and right as Dobson makes the provocative case for the necessity of raising boys on the straight and narrow in a world that dictates otherwise.  The completion of a chapter of reading would always send me reeling--I would spout off facts to my husband and friends, convinced that we had "so much work to do" in raising our boys!  It was truly inspiring.  I almost feel the urge to go back and read certain portions just to remember the nitty gritty in my daily time of need!

Probably my most valuable lesson gleaned from Boys is that I can do a better job of celebrating my sons' unique and wonderful boy-ness!  Often I catch myself aghast and perplexed at these little wrestling, aggressive wonders.  Dobson helped me understand that our day-to-day boy antics are really part of the general boy development framework.  And gosh that makes a mama breathe a sigh of relief just when she needs it!  Thank you, Dobson.

Have you enjoyed this book?  Don't hesitate to offer your opinions in addition to mine!  
And God bless all of you mothers of boys--He knows you need it! ;)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Getting My Ducks in a Row--Nesting and Stroller Advice

I am the type of person that is always "nesting" even without a baby getting ready to make his appearance. Baby on the horizon only increases this compulsion. We purchased another baby monitor, located the infant car seat and co-sleeper and I made my husband go through his clothes this weekend. If I'm not laying down on my left side, something is being organized.

We finally completed our wills this week and had them notarized at Daddy's office (what is it about long office hallways that invite little boys to run at top speed until they go straight into someone's office?). Even though these concern temporal matters, it gives me much peace knowing these documents are in place. I seriously encourage everyone to have something down on paper should the unexpected happen. We followed the advice of several lawyers and didn't hire a lawyer, but used Quicken Willmaker instead. It also allowed us to make and have notarized other forms that authorize grandma to seek medical treatment for the kids, etc.

The one thing that I am still hoping to figure out before our little man arrives is how to make our double stroller work for 3. Has anyone tried the Lascal Buddy Board stroller platforms? I know they are expensive, but with as much as we go to the park and the pool and with gas prices so high, I am trying to figure out how to convey 3 kids under 3 if my back can't handle the sling for 12 hours a day. I called the company and, because of the handlebar on my Combi double stroller, they said it wasn't a great fit, but that the Basic buddy board would work better than the Maxi one. Are there any other options that I don't know about?

Soft (drink) addiction

I noticed my all-time favorite blogger Danielle Bean is giving up Diet Coke. My addiction is to Diet Dr. Pepper.

I've tried in earnest several times. I always give it up during pregnancy, excepting the occasional happy indulgence. Unlike Danielle, when I have the first sip after pregnancy, it doesn't taste like a mouthful of chemicals... it tastes like a mouthful of bliss. It's the reward after a long nine months in the desert.

I know all the arguments--it has no nutritional value, it's made 100% of poisonous chemicals, it slows your metabolism, it makes you crave sweets, it's addictive. My consumption of explosive chemicals is incompatible with the healthy food I serve my family, and it's a waste of money especially as food becomes more expensive.

My spirit is willing, but my flesh is so weak.

So... are there any former users out there who would be willing to share their personal testimonies? Or does anyone want to start a support group? I'm on the verge of trying to give it up again, but I do intend to finish the 2 liter in my refrigerator first. Tomorrow is a new day.
(I do not intend to joke flippantly about addiction here. I actually think addiction to aspartame or whatever is in these drinks is a fairly serious health problem for Americans, and this also reminds me to pray for and seek to serve all struggling with more debilitating addictions.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Hot Fun in the Summertime

We are having a heat wave here on the East Coast, and with poor sleep and dehydration, tempers are flaring at my house. This afternoon I seem to have hit on a solution as I suggested they squirt each other with the hose. It is wonderful and simple, just the sort of blessing that comes with not having too much. Later on in the day, we will treat ourselves to popsicles. The pictures above are from last summer when we escaped to the beach at Grandma's, Red's town pool and the sprinkler at the playground. What are you and your families doing to keep cool these days?

Monday, June 9, 2008

Popping Out of the Bubble

In response to B-Mama's last two posts, I also want to apologize for jumping down your throat, and I wanted to share that leaving the graduate school environment was a very difficult transition for me and for my family, and I am not sure we are even finished getting over it yet.

My husband and I went straight from university life at Princeton to grad student housing at Uva, and I have to admit I just loved the dorm like environment. I lived with my parents until I was 18, then a University owned building for the next 9 years. In grad school, all the families are pretty much broke, so socializing was casual, pot luck-type get togethers, small, friendly birthday parties at home, perhaps a splurge on bagels after church. Since we were living on loans, any thing that we went without felt virtuous, rather than depressing, especially since we also knew that our prospects for the future were better, we would not be this poor forever, so our beat up sofa didn't really get us down.

Even better than the financial side of things was the camraderie of the school environment. It was so easy to make friends, just like in college, because every one was right there and looking to meet people and because we were in a place with lots of people like us -- intellectual, hard working, somewhat type A people in their mid 20s.

How does that contrast with life as I am living it now that we are out in the real world? Well, because of those student loans and the much higher cost of living, even though we have about 5 times as much annual income we have still not been able to replace our couch, and since the couch is still useful for sitting I am now seeing that it may be several more years before a new couch becomes a priority. We no longer eat "government cheese", but it turns out that cheese, and all of the other things that our family needs, use up every cent of the income which, back in grad school, had me dreaming of total financial flexibility and family vacations. Now, unlike a few years ago, when a friend gets married a plane ride away we can afford to go, but we still have sticker shock about the costs of things that many of our friends who went straight into banking have been doing for years. Don't get me started on the costs of dressing a man for an office job in Manhattan, but I am sure that working as hard as he does my husband would have thought that a new belt would not be seen as a luxury for which he would have to wait until Christmas!

The financial side of things is complicated by the fact that we have lived our lives a little bit backwards, although we do not regret any of our decisions, they put us out of step with many of our peers. While some of our friends are just getting married or starting families after several years of living, and hopefully saving, with two incomes, we are about to buy a home that is a few levels above a "starter" because of the needs of our large, and growing, family. Don't get me wrong, I feel extremely blessed to be able to buy this home, but I also know that this will bring us into a neighborhood where most of the families are older, more established in their careers, and have more typical American suburban priorities and lifestyles than we plan to have or are able to have. My house will not be on the charity house tour, instead it will have one or two unfurnished rooms for the next few years.

I know myself well enough to know that this is trouble for me -- while B-mama may have been turned off by the yuppies at the mall, I want so badly to be like them. Not really like them, but in my crazy head some sort of better, super Christian mom version of them, with a clean, new looking stroller, clean kids with nice haircuts, a put together outfit and a touch of lipstick for myself, laughing over a latte with friends at the playground, knowing that my plethora of kids are well behaved and under-control, we are the perfect example of a beautiful Catholic family, and so we are just primed to do apostolate and share the Good News with the burbs! This is so never going to happen. On a good day, we are trailing cheerios behind us and our dirty stroller and I am just hoping that nobody vomits, perhaps I have taken a shower and gone out with my hair still wet, when someone asks me about my family I am either sarcastic or incoherent. I never have these Kimberly Hahn moments where I say the one totally right thing that is going to make someone run to confession, then home to throw out the pills have more kids!

Now, while the former picture of a Catholic SAHM may not really be possible for me, my question lately has been why I have given in to the latter. There has been some sort of pride (or is it vanity?) in being so "removed" from the mall culture of my upscale community that instead I cutivate the annihilated, burnt out mom look. This is not doing me, or anybody else, any good. When I first moved here, I met a mother of many who wears a habit. That's right, she dresses like a nun. For about a month I thought about this, and wondered if she was actually out and out crazy. Then, I started to realize that she has done something wonderful and significant for her soul. She has removed herself from the materialistic culture of female attire, she has made her life more efficient, she probably saves a ton of money. Could I do that? Should I? She may have all kinds of complicated demons to fight, slightly different from my own, but on prayerful reflection I have realized that while I admire her courage and convictions, God has put me out in the world because I need to learn balance. I need to respect myself and my family enough to take care of my body and my home, to make them functional, attractive, welcoming, because really hearth and mother come together to create the home life. Both most be clean, cozy, ready to meet you with open arms. Both must be healthy, functioning, and have the things that you need. Part of my vocation is to work hard to create the home life for my family, to do it within a reasonable budget according to my situation, and to do it without getting caught up in materialism or keeping up with the Joneses.

In our new home, we hope to entertain alot, we want our house and our family to bring people together, and while I want to provide good and adequate food, I will burn out if I try to be too showy about it, or blow the budget on lots of prepared items. For my husband's job I sometimes need to go to social events with him, and I need to have some nice suits and appropriate shoes and accessories so that I can go and do that with out embarrassing him or having some sort of self esteem melt down. However, there will always be lawyer's wives dressed in designer labels, and I will probably never be one of them, I aspire to Ann Taylor, not Chanel. This is not a judgement, I will just never get enough pleasure from clothes for it to be worth that much money, I would rather buy books (which are available for totally free at the library, I just like to own them, this is my biggest shopping related weakness).

My grandpa worked on trusts for very wealthy Europeans, and he always drove a new (2 or 3 year leases) buick. My dad had a much bigger law practice, but we drove broken down vans. One day I asked my mom about this, and she explained that for my grandpa, it mattered to have a very balanced image, his clients wanted a respectable attorney but not a wealthy one (that would mean that they were over paying, and also, as titled Europeans, they were class conscious). It mattered very much how he dressed and what car he used to pick them up at the airport. A BMW would have been inappropriate, but so would my dad's VW bus. My father worked for corporations who never saw his car, and for him, cars were just a mode of transportation, so the car had to be bought with what was left after education and orthodontist bills. My father is not much interested in luxury, and he does a really good job of being "in the world but not of it." Growing up in private school in Manhattan, which is exactly what you would expect, this made me a bit of an outsider, which was probably good for me, but may also explain why I continue to struggle with some of these things as an adult.

In this economy, I am increasingly aware that we are blessed to be able to provide comfortably for our needs and still have room for at least some of our wants. My husband works hard at a good job that he doesn't hate, and that in itself is a huge blessing. I am trying to be mindful that others are having to go without what I would consider neccessities, that while $4 gas is something to talk about at cocktail parties where I live, it is also truly changing the quality of life for some familes within our own community. I am also trying to not take advantage of unethical labor practices, easily extended credit and cheaply made imported goods to make it possible for me to fake the good life until I make it. I hope not to replace my grungy towels until I can afford to do it with American made towels that are not "treated" with any sorts of chemicals, and which I will not have to carry as a balance on my Visa. I have made a small decision not to buy any more paper towels and to use rags instead, because I heard a story on the news about a single mom who can't afford paper towels anymore because food prices are so high. I hope to donate the small monthly difference to my local food bank and besides, it is better for the Earth. Still, even while "poor" in graduate school, I admit that have never really known what it means to go without.

As I mentioned in my post about Alice Gunther, here on Long Island I have found myself most at home within a wonderful Catholic homeschooling community. I do not see those people everyday, and few of them live in my town, but I meet them often enough to get my fill of support and like mindedness, so that I have not minded not really having close friends on the playground. The reality is that outside of the grad school bubble, the people on the playground have long held ties to the community, they already have friends. They are perfectly happy to chat while pushing the swings, but they are not about to just invite you to join the book club the way we would have at Uva.

At the end of this week, when we move to New Jersey, I am happy that I will already have some friends and family nearby for support, but in many ways I am going to have to start over again, introduce myself, adjust to a new community, deal with the fact that I am a misfit. I am quite certain there will be tears and at least one regretable shopping spree, but I also know that after about a year I will have made two or three really good friends. We have moved so many times but it always happens that way. I am going to offer prayers as I pack this morning for all families in transition, especially mine, B-Mamas's, and Kat and ET, who are also leaving grad school for the complicated blessing of life with a full time working father!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A Quick Follow-up

I want to follow-up my previous posting about strollers with a simple apology.  I used my irritation with a brand of strollers to pass judgment on people, particularly a community here about which I know very little!  

We are adjusting and I am attempting to find my niche in an unfamiliar area, which has definitely put me on the defensive (as it has in the past on certain visits).  That said, I am sorry I used this blog to be a poor representative of Christ and His message of love and acceptance of all.  

Strollers are an important topic for discussion and something worthy of our time... people and stereotypes are not.  Sorry to have blurred the lines here.

Maclaren Much?

As the boys and I begin to get a feel for our new area, we've been venturing out and enjoying various hotspots in town.  A few of our earliest outings have been to the newer shi-shi outdoor mall a mere five minutes down the road.  

I so love many aspects of this mall.  It is brimming with activity, including a children's train that circulates around the interior walking space and toots its horn (my little boys are crazy for it...)  I love that it has favorite haunts such as Nordstroms, Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, Ann Taylor Loft, and other wonderful stores.  The atmosphere is calm, clean, and relatively soothing, which is such a blessing for a mother hen with chicks, seeking a respite outing.  Overall, this mall gets my 5-star mother rating.

Until the other day when I saw them... not once... not twice... beyond three times.  The Maclaren strollers were lined up by the tens, pushing Polo-clad children and screaming "I am a Yuppy stroller!"  Ugh!!  I was disgusted at the sight!

I'm sorry.  I do apologize if you have one of these Maclaren masterpieces.  As you can probably tell, I do not.  And they repulse me.

While I definitely admit to a wee bit of envy mixed in with these emotions--the fact that I don't own a $200+ umbrella stroller.  Mostly the cause of the repulsion is my understanding that the name alone brings in the whopping pricetag, not the quality of the merchandise.  While my research is limited, I've heard from more than a few mothers that these strollers do not measure up.  The Maclaren is apparently Mac-lacking.  I also have an umbrella stroller that works just fine--want to know the pricetag?  10 whopping dollars.  It suits me just as well.

Now, I will say that I am willing to invest where investment is WORTH the extra cost.  We own a BOB Revolution Duallie, which was not cheap.  Is it amazing and worth every cent?  You better believe it.  The shocks, double layer canopy, aluminum frame, and polymer wheels are there to prove it.  I take it running every day and thank the good Lord for the blessing of such a nice stroller; such a quality piece of machinery to tote my precious cargo.  

But back to the Maclaren.  
Nobility or Durability?  I want to hear your thoughts.


This morning, I am truly thankful for my husband, ET, and for all that he does for our family. He has been away since Friday for a weekend with "the guys," an annual tradition, and I know that he will come back refreshed and renewed - they're a great group of men! There's nothing like a weekend on my own with the kiddos to remind me of how blessed we are to have a daddy who is so interested in being involved in the day to day life of our family's life...C has been asking for his daddy all weekend, saying "I wish daddy were here. If daddy were here then Maria wouldn't be crying right now, and he could play on the Dawntreader (the ship from Narnia, made out of C's bed) with me." So sad :(  Don't get me wrong, we've had a great weekend with lots of fun, but there is something particularly lonely about being without daddy on the weekend, when everyone else is spending time together as a family - it's amazing that C already picks up on the difference between the weekdays and the weekend! In any case, we miss you ET and we're so thankful for you!!

On another note, I've thought that perhaps we ought to think of an alternative to the abbreviation "SAHM". Does anyone else find it particularly time consuming to either: 1) Hold down the Caps key for 4 consecutive letters, or 2) Press the Caps key at the beginning and end of the word? What if we simply called each other "homies" instead? Do you think it would stick? :)

Just kidding :)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Thank You, Alice

My friend, Alice Gunther, has written a book, Haystack Full of Needles, about homeschooling and socialization. Here is the a quote from the forward by Laura Berquist, as mentioned on A Family Centered Life:

“It is a book about charity. It is a book about how to love your fellow homeschoolers, and how to demonstrate that love. It is a book about how to model the virtues of hospitality, kindness and patience for your children. It gives many excellent suggestions on how to find other homeschoolers, but, most importantly, it gives instruction in how to build a community . . ."

Alice has done nothing short of build a community here on Long Island, and it has been my privelage to spend my first year as a homeschooler surrounded by this group of wonderful families. What has happened here is miraculous, and, unfortunately, all to rare. The Gunther family has opened their hearts and their home to lots of other families, and certainly they have planned wonderful activities, but the activities are only the catalyst for the relationships. There is a message board, as well, and both in person and on the internet the tone of this group is uplifting, kind, charitable and supportive. I have learned so much from these women. When I first met Alice, I was struck by how often she used the word "Beautiful", in response to children and adults, Alice looks for the beauty and demonstrates true love to those she encounters. Her home has become a magnet for like minded people, so we meet so many wonderful families there, but I am reminded of something that the director of the movie Bella said in the commentary, people are like elevators, you get involved with them and they bring you up or they bring you down. Alice, and her family, elevate the level of discourse and relationship so that we members of the homeschooling group are better friends, better Christians and better mothers for the time that we spend together.

The book is now available for pre-order, and I cannot wait to read this book! As with my other favorite homeschooling books, Real Learning by Elizabeth Foss and For The Children's Sake, I am sure that there is much to learn for all women, because I believe that we all educate our children at home, even if they go off to school part of the day.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Working Mom?

“Women in your generation can do it all! Be wonderful wives and mothers and top-notch career women at the same time!”

Is this line as familiar to you as it is to me? And what do you all think? I think it’s a little more complicated than that.

Here’s our situation. I’m a lawyer, blessed with an ideal, flexible arrangement that allows me to work very part time and stay home full time. I work 10-15 hours each week, all in the evenings from home after my kids are in bed, except we hire a former kindergarten teacher one morning a week to do “preschool” with the kids while I get in about 3 hours of work.

Because my husband is in a half-decade stage where his income is much, much lower than it will be later, we need the extra income from my work to make ends meet, even when we live as frugally as we possibly can.

But I also love working. The content of the work is fascinating, my associates are a pleasure to work with, and it’s satisfying to help people solve their problems. I like sharpening my research abilities and legal writing skills, and I like the sense of accomplishment that comes from a job well done in something outside my family and homemaking vocations.

For better or worse, I also enjoy the credibility it gives me with others who tend to make assumptions about moms with lots of little children. At our Princeton reunions this past weekend, it felt good to say that I work, as it does out and about in our community. I’ll freely admit that a part of me is still overcoming the “working mom” brainwashing that we can… and MUST… do it all.

I think the key is to hold loosely to working. I continue to prayerfully evaluate how it affects my primary vocation. For now, my being slightly more sleep-deprived and slightly less relaxed don’t seem to outweigh the goods of working very part time, especially since my husband has to work on research and writing at his computer in the evenings also. We hack away side by side many evenings. However, if there comes a time when I’m formally teaching several children at home, or if I’m unable to accomplish household responsibilities in the nights I’m not working, or if we really don’t need the extra income, or if many other contingencies arise, work can be put on hold.

It's a disservice to tell women that they should do both motherhood and full-throttle career pursuit perfectly. Rosie the Riveter sporting a Baby Bjorn is a recipe for disaster in both spheres. Something has to give... and it's the career.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Help us out here...

So, since we now have a new readership of hard core breast feeders, perhaps someone can advise on what I should do about my 5 month old biting me? He doesn't have teeth yet, but he is teething, and he is quite enjoy a chomp and pull maneuver which makes me scream out loud. He tends to do this towards the end of a feeding, when he is getting bored and playful.

Also, loyal reader K is having a problem with whining with her two year old, especially when they have been travelling on the weekend, which they do frequently. Do kids fall for that line, Mommy can't understand you when you talk that way? Any other tricks she might try?

Thanks friends!

SwaddleMe... will you marry me?

GREAT thanks to you ladies who recommended this product. My angel baby was fast becoming addicted to cosleeping, and her sleep was getting lighter and her mood fussier. I've never been able to make swaddling with a regular blanket work for me, perhaps because my larger babies can get their arms out easily, so the swaddle loses its snuggling effect. And then came SwaddleMe.

I comfortably SwaddleMe'd Angelina last night with her soft arms tight against her chest, popped the pacifier in her mouth, and she went to sleep for an 8 hour stretch after a day of fussing and struggling to sleep. No crying. Only sleeping in heavenly peace.

(After our attachment parenting talk here, I think Dr. Sears might disapprove of a one-month-old sleeping an 8 hour stretch thanks to a fake snuggle and a plastic pacifier, but I'll admit that I count it as an unqualified success and blessing.)

Do they make these for 2 year olds in Thomas the Tank Engine pattern or anything?

The Great NFP Battle

For an interesting post, touching upon many of the same themes we have been discussing here, check out this article from And Sometimes Tea. And no, it's not my other blog, different Red.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Gender Confusion

Dash (age 2.5) likes to talk about what he wants to be when he grows up.

This week he wants to be "a flatbed truck driver with a forklift."

Tonight Grandma asked him, "What is Mommy was going to be when she grows up?"
Dash: "A Daddy."
Grandma: "And what is Daddy going to be when he grows up?"
Dash: "A Grandma."

Women's Lib?

Mary (age 3): I am a mommy doctor. I am a mommy and a doctor, so I have two heads, a mommy head and a doctor head. One head comes out of my cheek.

A Means to an End

My brother was married this weekend, and naturally this got me thinking about family and relationships. As parenting is never far from my mind these days, I was also thinking about the attachment parenting and breastfeeding discussions we have been having here, and I was surprised to find some important lessons for my own parenting.

I come from a remarkably close knit family. As young adults, my brothers continue to be one another's best friends, and though they are living a hip life in the city and I am a mom in the burbs they are often happy to hop a train to little league game or bring over a picnic lunch on the weekends. We each speak with our parents frequently, respect and honor them, look to them for advice. In winter and summer, we often spend weekends and vacation times relaxing together. Both my husband and my brand new sister-in-law were carefully vetted and then lovingly welcomed into the fold. My parents are neither over-bearing nor interfering but they want what is best for us and they work, hope and pray for our futures. Our parents have raised us in faith and love to be the adults we are becoming, but they understand that much of the refining now is up to God, up to us, and up to other people who God has placed in our lives, so they fill a wonderful role of unconditional love.

This is as much as I could hope for my husband and I in our relationship with our children, and this weekend I came to understand that "attachment" and "bonding" have a large role to play. I have been lucky to be able to breastfeed each of my children for some length of time. Breastfeeding is a means to an end, it is a way to get the healthiest food (mothers milk) to the baby, to comfort the baby with suckling and closeness, and to form a strong bond between mother and baby. Breastfeeding is, in many ways, a transition from the womb environment, when mother and child were one, to the outside world, where both mother and child will gradually understand their separateness. There are many reasons why mothers might be unable to breastfeed, but looking at the end goals, this disappointment can quickly be overcome. Mother can pump so that baby can still have breastmilk, or when necessary we can use the best available infant formula. Intentional parenting can also replace the bonding aspects of nursing with other close physical contact, something that fathers can also share, such as skin to skin time during feedings, cozy bathtimes and infant massage, dancing baby to sleep on your shoulder.
When breastfeeding can be established, this sort of intentional parenting is still important, but much of the bonding happens without a second thought. With bottle feeding, it is more of a temptation to check out or let others take over too often.

Because I am still exclusively nursing, this weekend, during the course of the wedding festivities, I had to bring along my baby wherever I went. Sometimes (during the ceremony, for example) I also brought a helper (=sitter) to hold the baby when I could not be available. Once, during the rehearsal dinner, when I snuck off to nurse in a bathroom, I found myself a bit resentful of the baby's dependency on me, and me alone, for food. However, I had taken to heart Red's advice the day before to try to turn any difficulties of the weekend to prayer, so there I sat, in a bathroom stall of a conference room, nursing a baby and offering some Hail Marys. What grace flowed from that small sacrifice. Our Lady opened my heart to several truths. First, not much in my life is hard, I live in plenty and have few sacrifices forced on me, so this small means of mortification is a blessing for my soul. Secondly, this is a very little life and he deserves this undivided attention from his mother every few hours, even during this busy and important weekend. Third, by being with him here, and dragging along his siblings, you are laying the rails for those future relationships, so make sure that the older ones, no longer breastfed, are still getting special attention, time from mom and dad, physical affection and skin contact.

Let me repeat that last part: special attention, time from mom and dad, physical affection and skin contact.

All weekend, it was a complicated blessing to have five kids running around at a number of upscale parties in homes of people I did not know. It took a week (and months before hand) to organize their wardrobes for this big trip. I danced only one dance (though it was a great dance) at the wedding, because most of my time was spent trying to find kids in a crowd, and on two consecutive nights I took them back to the hotel to bed after dinner only to return to the party exactly as the bar was closed.

If I keep in mind the end goal of my parenting, however, raising loving adults with close relationships, none of these small sacrifices counts as anything. My three year old twins took over the dance floor during cocktails, waltzing together and delighting young and old. My six year old son talked baseball and made three beautiful friendships, with his 12 year old cousin, our 29 year old friend and a Yankees fan in his 50s, all of whom were big hearted enough to give him their time. My little boy slept on my shoulder after dancing the night away. My baby Lion got to be held by the bride and photographed so that he will always know he was there. My five year old daughter chased fire flies in the twilight on a beautiful Southern evening. We were all welcomed into a new family with great warmth and hospitality. Several young couples confessed to us that they are eager to start their families. My children spent time with my brothers and me, with aunts, cousins and grandparents and with my grandmother and her sister, both in their eighties, and saw that sibling relationships can last a lifetime. My brother and his bride cut the cake early so that the children could taste it before they went off to bed.

We do not co-sleep, because for me it is a means to exhaustion, I just don't sleep well that way. We do work towards a flexible schedule because for me it is a means to exclusive and extended breastfeeding. We use an Ergo and a crib and a stroller, but when possible our favorite place to rest our baby is in the a pair of loving arms, from 8 to 80. There are beautiful and loving families using an attachment parenting model and beautiful and loving parents using other models, and I just don't want to lose sight of the fact that parenting is not the point, in and of itself, parenting is a means to an end, but just choosing the means that have worked for someone else is no guarantee of your own success or results.

If you asked what my parents have done to have such a close knit family, I would say that we skied together every weekend at an unglamorous Catskill resort and that Saturday nights after Vigil Mass we always ate spaghetti with homemade meatballs. Impossible, you may say, I do not ski, we live in Arizona, and anyway I much prefer Risotto, I can't do this! Perhaps this is not the means God has planned for your family, and all the spaghetti in the world is not going to change that. Again, however, skiing and spaghetti, like baby wearing and co-sleeping, were tools my parents used to create an atmosphere of intentional family time, doing things together, listening to one another, being present. The means have changed over the years, there was a long, beautiful period of Sunday night mass followed by take out Chinese food with my Aunt and cousins. There were bets placed about when my brothers would pass my dad in height, there were driveway basketball games, countless stories read aloud, rosaries whispered at sick beds, slightly intoxicated college boys walking into a hospital room at midnight to meet their brand new nephew, there was a summer book club, there are email exchanges about current events, my parents have used so many means over the years to promote attachment, to them, to one another, to our family heritage, and even though I now have five chocolate covered, over tired children, I hope that as they grow I will be able to remember not only that the path is the goal, but that though we are often surrounded by examples of broken relationships, the time we share when the children are young is a stepping stone along the way to their development into adults who are able to form and keep close bonds, with one another and with the other people who will come into their life, including their own spouses and children.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ecological Breastfeeding--A Crunchy Catholic's Dissent

For those unfamiliar with this blog, here's a few of my crunchy credentials: I cloth diaper, I make my own granola, I've had a non-hospital birth, I shop at a farmer's market, a good deal of my food is organic, I own the Ergo baby carrier, I exclusively nurse my babies for six months and I continue nursing well-beyond, I frequent Rod Dreher's Crunchy Con blog, and, as revealed in a previous post, I'm considering growing a moss backyard :-)

But despite my general tendency to embrace a "natural" approach to life, I must dissent from the advocates of Ecological Breastfeeding (EBF).

Before I begin, I would like to thank all of our wonderful readers for a lively and thought provoking discussion regarding the recent changes at CCL. A special thank you to Sheila Kippley for her comment on my post.

I posted the end of Ms. Kippley's comment below, but to view her thoughts in full, please see the comments on my What’s going on at CCL? post.
One respondent considered that a 40% return by 12 months was insufficient for many. There is no contradiction between practicing EBF [ecological breastfeeding] and practicing fertility awareness. According to the two studies we have posted on our website (Remfry and Prem), only 6% of breastfeeding mothers become pregnant before their first period no matter how they breastfeed. Experience shows that many, many mothers have ample signs of fertility when they ovulate prior to their first menses.

The statistics still stand. On the average, mothers who practice EBF will experience 14 to 15 months of breastfeeding amenorrhea. The 70% who experience 9 to 20 months of amenorrhea provide an almost exact mirror of the 68% of events within the first standard deviation of a normal distribution. EBF remains a wonderful form of natural family planning, and it is the preferred form for many. The normal distribution found in our studies will be found in other real life distributions, but only if the mothers follow the Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding. Not following them is not “bad” or doing something “wrong,” but the biological reality is that the consequent reduction in suckling will most likely lead to a shorter duration of amenorrhea. People deserve to know all such facts so that they can make an informed decision.

As one of our other commenters noted, Sheila Kippley was a real pioneer in studying the effects of LAM in breastfeeding mothers. Many women, including myself, are grateful for her hard work and dedication to NFP research and instruction. As Ms. Kippley noted, it is a form of NFP that works really well for many women.

That being said, I would like to explain my own thoughts on EBF a bit more, and why I think CCL made the right move in getting rid of the 7 standards of EBF and opting instead to advocate only exclusive and continued breastfeeding.

Since EBF alone does not work for all women, it must be used in conjunction with fertility awareness for real reliability and, as a result, I don’t think it belongs as part of regular instruction in NFP courses. I do agree that NFP books should explain the connection between frequent suckling and LAM (as CCL does), but to advocate the 7 standards of EBF is taking things too far.

In addition, and more importantly, I don’t think that EBF is the gold standard of “natural mothering.” While I realize that there are quite a few women who choose to practice EBF, and I don’t condemn them for doing so, I hardly think that it the “ideal” way or the most “natural” way to mother one’s baby. It is just one way, and for many of us, it is not so obviously “natural.”

There are certain ways of mothering that are superior and preferred parenting choices that are natural and obvious to just about everyone. For example, it seems pretty obvious that God created a woman’s breasts to feed her infant. Alternating from this norm should only be done for a good reason, as even Pius XII once noted. Likewise, it seems pretty obvious that God intended a woman to birth her baby naturally, thus a c-section should only be performed for a good reason.

I don’t see the 7 standards of EBF as quite so obvious, and some of the standards may be very unnatural for many women. For those unfamiliar, the 7 standards are below:

1. Do exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life; don’t use other liquids and solids.
2. Pacify your baby at your breasts.
3. Don’t use bottles or pacifiers.
4. Sleep with your baby for night feedings.
5. Sleep with your baby for a daily-nap feeding.
6. Nurse frequently day and night, and avoid schedules.
7. Avoid any practice that restricts nursing or separates you from your baby.

(Emphasis added). Specifically, #2, #4, #5, and #6, can seem a bit un-natural to many women.

First, there is nothing “natural” about regular, long term, sleep deprivation. There are many, many, women for whom frequent night waking to nurse, even while lying in bed with their baby, leaves them feeling exhausted and unable to function well. Sleeping in chunks of less than 4 hours leaves most people feeling exhausted, especially after several months of this. For many moms, a baby in your bed means less sleep, not more.

A daily nap leaves many women more drained than before they laid down, AND a daily nap may result in hours of insomnia later in the evening. Everyone’s body reacts differently to sleep, and so for some a nap will actually result in less overall rest. Personally, unless I am pregnant, napping always results in a significantly delayed bedtime with poorer quality sleep. So again, this standard is not rising to the level of obviousness as, say, breastfeeding or natural childbirth.

Again, avoiding schedules doesn’t seem so obvious. To me, human beings thrive when functioning on a daily schedule. Sure, unexpected alterations are necessary at times and an important part of life, but a schedule is a very “natural” part of a healthy lifestyle. It seems the goal should be to get baby onto a loose schedule—like all well-functioning human beings—not to avoid schedules altogether.

All this being said, I’m not offering you my own 7 standards of breastfeeding. I’m not saying that you need to get your baby on a schedule, or that your baby should be in a separate bed, or that you should avoid taking a nap. If EBF’s parenting techniques are working for you, enjoy it. I am simply saying that the 7 standards of EBF are hardly magisterial or even obviously “natural,” though the old CCL regime seemed to think so, as evidenced by the prior CCL manual:
  • Ecological breastfeeding is the type of nursing that respects the natural order.
  • Because this pattern of baby care is so much more than just feeding, we also call it natural mothering.

While Ms. Kippley’s comment did not go so far as to say mothers are morally required to follow the 7 standards, it is hard to read the old CCL manual without coming to the conclusion that any alternative to EBF is less than ideal—that is, inferior.

No poor mother, especially a young mom having her first baby, should go into motherhood thinking that she has some sort of moral obligation to uphold the 7 commandments of ecological breastfeeding. I think this is the reason that CCL ditched advocating EBF and started advocating the more obvious elements of breastfeeding—namely, breastfeeding that is exclusive (for the first 6 months) and continued (until child-led weaning). And for that I give them 2 thumbs up!