Saturday, August 30, 2008

Take the Gloves Off, Boys

(New York Times photo of Governor Sarah Palin sitting on a bear skin)

Last night I had dinner with an old friend who is a very active Democrat. He has worked in politics, both on the Hill and as a volunteer for a number of campaigns, including Obama. He is very enthusiastic about the ticket he will vote for in November. We are friends, and there is an awful lot we can agree on, but I was surprised by two things:

First, I was surprised by how quickly my saying I was excited about Palin's nomination turned the conversation ugly. His first response was, condescendingly, "would you seriously feel comfortable with her becoming president?" Now, this is a question that we should always ask about the Vice President, but I think there is also going to be an implication coming that McCain is old, and therefore more likely to die in office than other candidates. I think Palin is young and that inexperience may be the main tack that the Democrats have to take against her, especially compared with Biden's long career in the Senate, but it is a tough line of reasoning when Obama is offering a ticket with no executive experience. Senator McCain has been forthright about his health, which is basically, good, and he is tough as nails, so it strikes me that while no one knows for whom the bell tolls, it is reasonable to expect that the man will be competently able to serve for four years. More surprisingly, this first response is the sort of knee jerk negative reaction that is not based at all on policy items and is much more representative of the Washington "politics as usual" then it is of the Obama message of Hope and Change.

Many people may choose not to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket because they will disagree on the issues, or even because they feel personally moved by Mr. Obamas way of speaking, background, intelligence and vigor. I hope that all of these people will still acknowledge that Palin's nomination is also a sign of hope and change for our country. In her acceptance speech, Palin said the following:

And it's fitting that this trust has been given to me 88 years almost to the day after the women of America first gained the right to vote.
I think -- I think as well today of two other women who came before me in national elections.
I can't begin this great effort without honoring the achievements of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984...
... and of course Senator Hillary Clinton, who showed such determination and grace in her presidential campaign.

It was rightly noted in Denver this week that Hillary left 18 million cracks in the highest, hardest glass ceiling in America...... but it turns out the women of America aren't finished yet and we can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all.

That statement moved me to tears.

My own mother, a woman of Mrs. Clinton's generation, was excited and moved by Clinton's candidacy. It happened that she liked a lot of Clinton's politics, but I think it was also important to her to know that someone who was like her, a woman of her generation, a woman who had been loyal to her family and worked hard to raise her child, a woman who had balanced a career and family life and made many sacrifices, could acheive so much in a national election. Regardless of our politics, her candidacy is symbol of hope for our country.

Many people may feel the same way about Barack Obama. In some way, because of his race, his upbringing, his struggles, he is "like them" more than any candidate has been before, and that means something about their own place in this great country. My grandmother, who is 85 years old, is so excited when she talks about Obama. Having lived through almost all of the 20th century, to her it is wonderful that a man who is nothing like her can make a real run for President of the United States. Regardless of our politics, his candidacy is a symbol of hope for our country.

Palin was so right to acknowledge this moment in history. Someone had to be first, and Ms. Ferraro went as far as she could at a time when women were just beginning to put themselves out there. What Mrs. Clinton has accomplished through hard work and perseverance is significant. So, here comes Sarah Palin and she is not the first woman to be nominated for the office of vice president. Palin's nomination represents a next step, that women are and will continue to be in the mix here, and her candidacy is a symbol of hope for our country.

Back to dinner among friends: there was a moment when I almost threw my water in this old boy's face. When he said, and my husband quite agreed, that it would be hard to be Biden in the debate because Biden is fairly aggressive and that to take that sort of tone with a woman might create some ugly sound bites or bad spin, I was outraged.

To that I say, bring it on. Senator Biden should debate the issues at stake for our country to the best of our ability. If he believes that Senator McCain will not move our country forward, if he believes that Governor Palin does not have what it takes to fill the position of Vice President, if he differs with them on how we can best help the working class, how to accomplish social justice, how to keep our country safe from Islamic extremists, how to reduce our foreign energy dependence, cut wasteful government, reach across the aisle to get things done, ensure that our children will be educated for the future, provide for our elderly, handle the mortgage crisis, Senator Biden should articulate all of his candidates ideas and he should fight hard for what he believes. There is no doubt in my mind that Sarah Palin can take it. Her record as a politician shows this, her experience as a mother shows it. In particular, as a mother of a child with Down Syndrome, she is fighting everyday on behalf of her child.

This is what mothers do. To our kids, when they need it, we are mom with a cookie and a glass of milk after school, tell us your troubles with the teacher or the playground bully and we will dry your tears. To our husbands, when they need it, we are just the same, we are warm, safe, love to come home to, we make the place that is your shelter from the cold hard world. This is an important part of our job, but at the same time we are fighting. Women were not given the rights that men have had in this country, women fought for them. When the men went off to war, women rolled up their sleeves and worked in the factories while still keeping the home fires burning. All around this country, on PTA's, town councils and school boards the women of America are fighting for the future.

The next Vice President of the United States is going to be a heartbeat away from being President. I would imagine that for a woman or a man the White House situation room is a fairly scary place when our security is being threatened. In the primary, there were ads that asked us who we would want answering the phone in the middle of the night if something happened. So, I say, you had better debate this woman, because someday she just might be answering that phone, and in order to get there, she must be able to stand up to whatever Joe Biden has to throw at her.

I think that "I am not going to be a physically threatening or a total jerk" would be a good campaign strategy for man or woman, that "getting in some one's face" is not well received on the national stage whomever you are debating, so I do hope that all candidates will conduct themselves with dignity, self respect and respect for their opponent. I think that we have seen this from both Senators McCain and Obama so far, and I hope that they will set a tone of civility for the remainder of the election. We all want to move this country forward, we all care about what will be left for our grandchildren, and we all want to be safe and secure today. We differ on how to accomplish this, so the candidates need to mobilize those who agree with them and convince those who are on the fence. Good debates can clarify a lot of these issues.

Softening your debate strategy because you are speaking to a woman? That scares me, that sort of attitude can seal up those cracks in the glass ceiling. A real debate centered around issues? That would be a sign of great hope and change for this country!

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain chooses Palin

I've written about her before, here.

A mother of 5 children, pro-life, and pro-family, she seems to be everything Nancy Pelosi isn't. But how can you be the vice-president of the US with a baby in tow?

I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Earning My Stripes--Part II

In the spirit of Juris Mater's post about her afternoon outing to the bank with children, I have another tale to tell; another piece of documentation about motherhood. Will it win me "Mother of the Year"? I highly doubt it. But will it add to the growing layers of my motherly identity? You betcha. :)

Just this past week my family has been at the beach, enjoying a final summer getaway before the school year begins. They live hundreds of miles away in the midwest, so this week has been a wonderful chance for us all to convene and celebrate time together as family. The beach and the pool have been popular destinations each day, along with an occasional dinner outing to a few of the local restaurant joints.

Two evenings ago, we headed out for a final dinner outing and ended up at a (thankfully) quaint restaurant, "Anchor's Inn". The staff was immediately friendly, the menu varied, and the atmosphere calm and relaxing. That was, until B-mama and clan arrived. T-baby immediately began screaming to locate new crayons for his placemat masterpiece. M, our oldest, (with a usually loud voice) began yelling to let us know he'd like pizza over grilled cheese. And the baby, very sweet and so little, started to squawk to let us know he was unhappy about still being in his carseat (which he seems to hate).

We managed to quell everyone's noise and the waitress made her rounds for drink and dinner orders. She brought back the drinks and all seemed well... Until I made a quick turn from one child to another, only to completely elbow and knock over my large glass of ice water. The drink went flying and landed directly on the baby, pouring into his carseat and soaking him and his "bedding" pathetically. He subsequently screamed and the table recoiled in response. Workers sprang into action, clearing the ice and water on the floor, mopping everything, while I dashed to rescue baby J from his watery calamity. Oh my goodness!

I ran to the car to find more clothes for the sopping wet baby, only to realize I had brought a sole onesie for the poor thing. I returned to report the find, only to meet (what I felt to be) criticism for being unprepared (can you blame me--we are on vacation with a 3-wk-old!) In my sleep-deprived, hormonal state, I *almost* lost it; *almost* gave way to the waterfall of tears that threatened to pour forth.... but I didn't. :)

Instead, I grabbed the onesie, my diaper bag, the baby, and my sister and headed to the bathroom to repair the damage. All was fine. The baby had dry clothes and mom's sling for a cover, the wet clothes were dried under the kitchen's heat lamp (!!), the floor was cleaned, the dinner was served, and we were all able to enjoy the meal together.

Will my motherly pride ever recover? Of course.
Will we venture out to dinner again as a family of 5? Not anytime soon. :) lol.
God bless you on this Friday!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

How we handle little Legos...A follow-up to the paper clutter conversation

Well my friends, if you have children that are old enough to play with little Legos, then you have probably experienced a phenomenon of a "Lego explosion" :) This phenomenon involves a central location where most of the little Legos are kept, probably a little boy's room or a playroom, but - and this is the part that has mothers everywhere shaking their heads in confusion - it also involves the entire scope of the rest of the house, including the baby's room, the kitchen, and every little nook and cranny of the family room. 

You may be thinking to yourself, "This is very unsafe! Don't they know that babies put everything in their mouths and could choke on little Legos? Why don't they just make a rule that the little Legos are not allowed to leave C's room?"

Well, this is in fact the rule in our house - the little Legos are not to leave C's room. What happens, though, is that C builds all sorts of lego "creations" in his room and then carries them out into the family room, the kitchen, the playroom, etc. to show to us, and then he proceeds to dismantle them and build them into something else. He really does try to keep the Legos off the floor - we're constantly reminding him that baby Maria could choke on them and that we can't have Legos all over the house - but inevitably, some Legos blend into the carpet and no one (except for the baby, who is crawling all over the carpet and sees every last morsel that is lying there) sees them. 

The other part of the problem is cleaning up the Legos that are in C's room, where they are supposed to be. By the end of the afternoon, it seems like his room is covered in little Legos, which is fine since I'm glad that he plays all day and uses his imagination to build. The problem is that the task of cleaning seems so insurmountable to C that he resists doing it at the end of the day. I've been trying to brainstorm creative ways to help him with his clean-up task, and I started to think about what things help ME when I feel that my household chores are insurmountable! Here's what I came up with:

1) It helps me immensely when I break my household tasks into smaller, separate pieces. If I have three "cleaning goals" for the week, then I can do one each day and feel like I've accomplished part of my goal, or I can do them all at once and feel really great about checking three things off of my list! In C's case, it helps him if I say, "Why don't you clean up the blocks first, then your cars, and then we can get to your Legos."

2) I am always encouraged when someone offers to help me with my tasks! When ET washes the dishes or does the vacuuming, boy does that make my week that much more manageable!! So, usually I sit with C and say, "Okay, let's have a race to see who can pick up the most Legos!" or "You clean up the cars and I'll do the Legos, and we'll see who wins."

3) If at all possible, it's nice to have some sort of a distraction while cleaning. In my more grace-filled moments I'll pray the rosary while cleaning, but more often I tend to chat on the phone while doing the dishes, or listen to music while I'm cleaning the bathrooms. This makes me think that maybe I'll start telling C a story or playing some kid's music for him while he cleans up.

At the end of it all, I want C to clean up because I want him to learn to be responsible for his toys, I want him to learn that having toys is a privilege, and I want him to learn the value of following a task through to completion (part of playing is cleaning up when you're done). But I also realize that when I'm completely authoritarian in enforcing the rules, I am not helping him to cope with the feeling of being overwhelmed by the huge (in his eyes) task before him. We'll just have to keep working on keeping Legos out of the other parts of our home - I'm sure that we'll be fighting that battle for years to come! - but for now, I hope that we can at least move towards a more pleasant cleaning up time at the end of the day.

How we handle Paper

Erin wrote:

Our biggest problem area is paper-- mail, bills, cards, owners manuals, newspapers, interesting magazine articles, letters, shopping lists, coupons, receipts we think we might need but really never will... all this paper seems to take over our kitchen and family room and drive me crazy. Any tips for controlling the paper frenzy?

My father in law has a saying "you take your mail, and you deal with it" -- what that meant to the young adults who had come back to the nest after college was that if you mail was not off the counter by the next morning it would be thrown away! I am not a "paper person" by nature, but I really took this advice to heart, and I think that my husband and I have found a great way of dealing with our paper, so perhaps it will work for others.

We have a drawer of our living room desk devoted to mail. It used to be a basket, so if you don't have a drawer, no worries. When I get the mail, the trash goes straight in the trash, the bills, invitations and other things go into the drawer, often unopened. I also throw in doctors receipts that my husband will need to submit at work, papers from household maintenance, anything that is going to need to get filed or dealt with.

Every (almost) Sunday night after the kids are in bed we sit down and sort through the drawer. We pay the bills, or put them back to pay the next week. We balance our check book, we look over our calendar and make any plans for the coming week or month. My husband puts the things that he needs to take to the office right into his bag. If it is not too late, I might RSVP for parties right then, too, or else I make myself a little Monday morning "to do" list.

We have a large file box (plastic, from Staples), we have moved so often that a file cabinet did not make sense for us, but we may switch over to that in the future. At the end of each Sunday meeting, there are usually two or three things that need to get filed. You can google for a list of what papers and receipts really need to get saved and which can get thrown out or shredded.

If we do our filing right then, it only takes a few minutes because the pile is always small. The bills tend to come in heavier some weeks of the month than others, but even on a busy week the process only takes about a half an hour.

Now -- once this system is going it really is easy, but this may not seem helpful if you have a dining table full of mail and more mail coming in every day. Here is what I would do -- make two baskets. One will be your ongoing Sunday (or some other time) meeting basket, and new mail will go in there. Into the other basket, sweep all that nagging paper that is cluttering up your surfaces. For the next few weeks, when you sit down to meeting, do the new basket first, then plan to spend half an hour sorting through old stuff. Do NOT stay up all night working on it, just do some and stop. When two of you are working, this goes really fast, I do secretarial stuff like address envelopes, open letters, etc, while my husband pays the bills online, so it all goes really quickly. If you have a super ton of paper that needs to get dealt with, you might want to tackle that basket a few extra nights a week until you get caught up, but don't sit down to it until your other evening chores are finished, dishes, etc. Put down your knitting or other hobbies for a few days until you get it all under control, but really, it will go fast. Have a trash can right at your feet, and if there is stuff that you cannot decide about on your own, move it to the Sunday basket to discuss with your husband.

Our file box has a lot of categories, but since we bought our own house I have decided to also keep a home maintenance notebook that is separate from the file box. I keep this in another drawer of the secretary, and for now I am just tossing things that need to go into the notebook in the drawer. One quiet evening I will sit down with my whole puncher and catch up those files so that will also switch to something that just has to be maintained.

I also have a notebook for recipes that I keep on the shelf with my cookbooks, if I pull something out of a magazine, print it out or get it from a friend it goes into that notebook.

With this baby (#5), I have used one all season diaper bag the whole time and I have kept the baby's immunization and growth record right in a pocket of that bag, and this way I don't have to remember it when I go to the doctor. Mrs. Kennedy (the mother of John F.) kept a note card file for each of her children's health records, which I don't do but think is a great idea, it would be an easy thing to jot down "stomach flu" or "well visit" or "head lice" and the date, and hopefully you never need the record but if you have a child who turns out to be chronically ill, it would help, for example, a certain number of ear infections per year and you are supposed to get tubes, but in the midst of the nasty ear infected winter can you remember if your child had six or three last year, or who had what? I have a terrible memory, so a paper trail would really help.

Well, I hope that some of those are things that can help you conquer the paper trail. If Sunday night is not good for you, or if you pay the bills alone, I still think it is great to have a regular time to do it so that it will really get done.

One last thing. I can't say that we always do this, but I try hard to remember to offer some prayers during this Sunday meeting, prayers for the activities we have coming in our week, prayers for generous hearts and good stewardship of what we have, prayers of thanksgiving that we are able to pay our bills, even on the weeks when things seem really tight or tense. This helps us to have perspective. Oh, and if your husband doesn't want to do this with you, you can tell him that looking at the bills each month has been a reality check for me, and they say the one who pays the bills spends less, so if you do it together you will have better stewardship of your money -- I go around turning off lights now like I am my own grandpa, and I love to watch the electric bill go down!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Middle Ground

One of our readers saw the article, "Strife over shots, should our kids play together?" on the front page of msnbc. This article follows another similar article, "Vaccine-wary parents spark public health worry." According to the first piece, the vaccine issue is now causing such heated emotions and debates that some playgroups are asking unvaccinated children to leave the group. The second article provides a bit more background information and a nice overview of the debate.

The vaccine topic has been a regular discussion in our household. Yet unlike many of the mothers interviewed for these articles, we have followed a more middle-of-the-road approach to vaccinations. Both sides seem to be full of propaganda, fear mongering, and catch-all one liners. Throughout the past 4 years, I have been at my wits end trying to discern what is true and what isn't, trying to make the best health decisions for our children and family.

First, I have a hard time trusting anti-vaccine advocates, many of whom are very individualistic in their thinking and indifferent to herd immunity.
Scientists worry that vaccine resisters increasingly are breaching "herd immunity," the necessary level of protection that keeps disease from spreading. When enough people in a community are immune to a disease, they provide a buffer that keeps germs from infecting those too vulnerable for vaccination, or those for whom a vaccine doesn't work or wears off.

Some diseases, such as mumps, can tolerate a herd immunity threshold as low as 75 percent. But other, more virulent diseases, such as measles or pertussis, also known as whooping cough, require collective immunity of up to 94 percent to avoid infection, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (emphasis added)

It is a fact that when we choose not to vaccinate, we are putting the community at risk. A small risk, but the risk grows with each family that makes this choice. This fact is often neglected by anti-vaccine advocates, and even if they acknowledge it, they claim that catching these diseases isn't such a bad thing. For some measles cases this may be true, but what about other diseases like rubella--which can actually kill or permanently disable an unborn child? Even the Church (CDF) has emphasized the dangers of contracting rubella and not vaccinating against it. (See my previous blog post on vaccines.) And what about those vulnerable members of our community that are immune suppressed? Isn't there any ethical duty to care about the herd?

On the other hand, I don't trust the pharmaceutical industry, and sadly, I don't always trust my doctors, who regularly try to downplay the negative individual side effects of vaccines:
The federal Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, a voluntary program that records bad reactions to immunizations, receives about 30,000 reports a year, with between 10 percent and 15 percent classified as serious, according to the CDC. Though rare, severe problems can occur, including serious allergic reactions, long-term seizures, coma or permanent brain damage.

That is at least 300-350 serious vaccine side effects per year. While small, this number is much higher than the number of children coming down with measles or whooping cough. In addition, both measles and whooping cough will result in a full recovery for most children. Sadly, this isn't the case for a child with a serious adverse vaccine reaction. It is important to remember that our government has set up a national vaccine compensation system for those families injured by vaccines.

Combine these reactions with the feared, although unproven risks of disorders like asthma, attention deficit disorder, autism, diabetes, and childhood cancers, and a parent begins to worry that a shot may cause more problems than the initial sting from the needle. Are we trading measles for autism? There is no scientific proof, but my mother's gut is loudly telling me that it isn't a good idea to inject a child with 32 different immunizations before the age of 2 (the standard number of immunizations including boosters).

It's a hard call, and each parent's decision will no doubt be influenced by such things as the following: previous vaccine reactions (like most things these run in families), individual health issues, your child care scenario, and even your doctor.

In our particular case, I am most concerned with the very aggressive nature of the typical vaccine schedule. A child may receive vaccinations for up to 12 different diseases at one appointment. If my child suffers a reaction, how do I even know what shot caused the problem? This and other concerns led us to adopt the following plan.

We delay all vaccines until 4 months. We then vaccinate one shot at a time, delaying some shots until our children are older than 2. Some vaccines we choose to avoid altogether because they don't seem worth the risk, examples of this include Hepititis B (sexually transmitted), Hepititis A, flu shots (many of which still contain mercury), and chicken pox (posing ethical issues, see my previous post). My children receive DPTa, MMR, HIB, Polio, and Prevnar.

I have worked out this alternative vaccine schedule with my pediatrician. I would highly recommend that all families find a pediatrician that is willing to listen to your vaccine concerns, address those concerns, and then work with you on a vaccine schedule that suits your individual needs. Far too many pediatricians REFUSE to listen to parent concerns, and then dismiss a parent as ill-informed or unintelligent when they have questions. Balancing the needs of the herd with the needs of individual patients is crucial here. I had to shop around for a pediatrician that would do this, and I am very pleased I took the time to do so. I know this isn't always possible for every family, but it makes a big difference when making such difficult decisions. My doctor is willing to discuss the issue, call me back at home to answer questions, and is VERY respectful when I let him know I am uncomfortable with the regular vaccination schedule.

In the end, I don't think there is a right answer for every child or family. I'm not a doctor, just a mom. A mom who has done her research and is trying to find a middle ground as I make informed decisions about the health of my children. Ultimately, I think it is a real shame that we have two opposing sides that can't give us the facts without a serious spin. It is my hope that someday the medical community will at least entertain a more cautious approach to vaccine administration.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

An Invitation to Participate in the Divine

In survival courses for elite Army Special Forces, soldiers are subjected to a special type of mental torture. These soldiers are dropped off in the middle of the woods with little more than the clothes on their backs and a knife. Yet, such sparse conditions are not what cause soldiers to quit, but rather, the indefinite duration of the course. That's right, every course is a different length -- so soldiers have no idea when the torture will be over, when the proverbial light at the end of their tunnel will shine. The psychological maxim behind such a course design is that humans can tolerate anything if they know it is finite: "well, this is truly awful, but I know by tomorrow afternoon it will be over." etc.

Unfortunately, our convenience culture has applied this human need for finite answers to the family. Most young parents love having chemical or mechanical birth control that enables them to have "finite families." One girl, follows one boy three to four years later and then, "screeech, off goes the fertility faucet." Then a smiling cascade of such platitudes as, "you must be all done" and "now you have the perfect, all-American, family" flow forth from the public. Birth-controlling parents know just how many years they will be changing diapers, they can make neat spreadsheets of how they will fund two college educations, they can look forward to traveling together in Europe in x many years.

I - as half of a Catholic marriage open to life - have realized that it takes a great deal of God's grace to overcome the innate human desire to know how large one's family will become and, instead, embrace God's plan for me to be part of his infinite plan. I think I have truly turned a corner because now, when I look at my baby in my arms, I am filled with wonder and gratitude when I think about him becoming a middle child rather than the baby. I am not full of trepidation or concern that a new child will interfere with our college savings trajectory or current Subaru hatchback family car. And, mind you, this is not because these finite dilemmas do not exist - just that I have realized their smallness.

Right now, in this moment (Lord, please inspire someone to pull this from the archives and resend it to me when I backslide in the future), I have been granted the grace to acknowledge my young, fertile state and healthy marriage as God's invitation to participate in the infinite. These children will come into our lives and we are entrusted with the health of each eternal soul. Eternal, eternal, a synonym for infinite. So really, what is a smelly bag of cloth diapers, or an indefinitely postponed trip to Greece, or several years of junior college for each child in comparison with the enormity of throwing our arms open wide and accepting God's invitation for us to participate in the Divine.

What is Texas Mommy doing outside the Great State of Texas?

(1) Speaking at the “Montessori Home Education for your Infant” conference in Lancaster County, PA

(2) Introducing newborn Baby J to a gathering of former Navy Seals in the Garden State—because there’s not quite enough testosterone in her home as it is

(3) Enjoying a free fourth anniversary trip to New York City with her husband, courtesy of the Medela/La Leche League Credit Card rewards program

(4) Interviewing for part-time policy jobs in the prospective Obama Administration in Washington, D.C.

(5) Investigating the success of Red’s moss yard and selecting a “starter specimen” to take back home to Texas

(6) None of the above

(7) All of the above

So great to see you, Dearest Tex! We miss you already.

Friday, August 22, 2008

In the news

U.S. News and World Report thinks so.
But I reckon there are at least 7 Builders out there who would sorely disagree! :)

How can they really rank colleges anyway?  I will question this as long as we're #2!  lol.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Earning My Stripes

I have come to believe that a woman with children must undergo a certain number of incidents of public humiliation in order to truly earn the title of “mother”. I’m happy to report that we added one to our record this afternoon. I know you all can appreciate this:

We enter the doorway of a new bank, not our usual friendly bank, but foreign territory. To make matters much worse, we arrive only about 15 minutes before the close of the business day.

The double stroller containing Bella and Bean slams the thresholds of both sets of too-narrow doors. Angelina is in the Bjorn, and I’m sweaty and generally looking disheveled from my run-in with the doors.

Before I can catch my breath, Bella and Bean are screaming for lollipops (which they’ve only gotten once—kids never forget candy do they?). Angelina is stirring from her nap.

For some reason, I felt like the tellers and bank customers were particularly unsympathetic today. Do you ever feel like some places or times are worse than others for that?

We line up in what I think is the correct line. I can already tell all eyes are on us as Bella springs from the stroller and darts for the lollipop basket as I struggle to keep Bean from exiting the stroller. She quickly returns, licking one already-opened one and asking me to open another so she can eat two.

All eyes are on us. The tellers are even getting distracted, and everyone’s high-strung because it’s the end of the business day. Customers are pacing, tellers are shuffling papers as fast as they can, people are very agitated.

As I step toward a teller to confirm that we’re waiting in the correct line—heaven knows I don’t want to be waiting in the wrong line with the state my kids are in!—my cell phone BLARES like an airhorn from inside my bag in the stroller. It is set on an eardrum-shattering ring volume. Evidently, a child has reprogrammed it recently.

All eyes are on us. Nobody is concealing their glances anymore, now they’re openly watching our circus.

I race back to the stroller in time to barely miss the call, but I see it was my husband calling and quickly return his call. I had been waiting to hear from him about something important. Huge mistake.

Things begin to happen very fast. Angelina begins fussing, Bean Copperfield exits the stroller in a flash, Bella and Bean notice a small room beside us. Both run in, then Bella runs out and slams the door behind her, leaving Bean inside.

I hang up the phone immediately and try to open the door. It’s locked, from the inside. I knock and beg Bean to open the door, but I get no response.


I notify the bank officer in whose line I’m standing, and she does absolutely nothing.

I try desperately to stay cool and save face, but I’m getting worried about Bean, who won’t answer my voice on the other side of the door. I’m envisioning him electrocuting himself in an outlet, climbing onto the table and jumping off, or falling out of the window.

After 3 minutes, I cut in line and ask a teller to help me unlock the door. The tellers remind me that they’re all trying to finish doing “balance” or whatever it is that banks do at the end of every day, but one Merciful Teller comes to my aid.

My dignity is gone.

He rummages through several drawers and produces 4 baskets of keys and 7 or 8 keychains, about 200 keys total, and begins systematically trying each of them in the lock. I periodically knock and ask Bean to open the door for me. Merciful Teller hunts through other drawers for other keys and tries them. Six or seven more minutes elapse, and still no sounds or signs from Bean locked inside the room. It’s been about ten minutes, and I’m becoming a little beside myself but still trying to look collected.

All eyes on us is an understatement.

As Merciful Teller goes to look in yet another drawer for keys, I knock again and ask Bean again to open the door for mommy.

And just that easily, the door opens from the inside, and there stands Bean in the doorway, with green lollipop slobber on his mouth and collar, smiling normally and looking totally unassuming. The only item in the wastebasket in the small room is a green lollipop stick.

Where are all the builders?

Tending to newborn babies? or enjoying the last days of summer? We are doing the latter for soon it will be fall.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Random Olympic Comment

I thought it best to pull this from the comments and share it with all our readers. JesusthroughMary, thank you for your very amusing thoughts:
The tallest female Olympic gymnast, I believe, was Svetlana Khorkina (5' 5") of Mother Russia.

Usain Bolt is actually the tallest "world's fastest man" ever, at 6' 5".

Jamaica has 4 of the 6 medals in the 100 meter sprints, and none of the other 500+ medals that have been awarded so far.

Deng Linlin would weigh a little more if she hadn't lost a tooth before the meet. She must have put it under her pillow and gotten a falsified passport from the Chinese Patriotic Olympic Tooth Fairy Ministry.

This is the third Olympics in which synchronized diving has been contested. I have not yet spoken to a single person who knew it existed before August 8.

Kerri Walsh and her beach volleyball partner need to wear more clothes.

American swimmer Dara Torres, 41 and the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, competed in her fifth Olympics and won her first individual silver in the 50 m freestyle. She is the oldest woman ever to medal in an any Olympic event.

Gymnast Oksana Chusovitina, 33 and the mother of a 8-year-old son, competed in her fifth Olympics and won her first individual silver in the vault. She is the first female gymnast to compete in five Olympics and the oldest woman ever to medal in Olympic gymnastics.

Diving is taking up perfectly good time that could be replaced with women's doubles badminton or team dressage. Speaking of which....

Japan's Hiroshi Hoketsu competed in equestrian in the 1964 at age 23, and in the 2008 Olympics at age 67.

The independent sovereign nation of Michael Phelps would be sixth in the gold medal count (tied with the People's Republic of Chinese Gymnastics and the People's Republic of Chinese Weightlifting) and 16th in the overall medal count.

Unlike the athletes from our gracious host nation, Michael Phelps eats 12,000 calories per day whether he wins or not.

Joey Chestnut eats 12,000 calories in eight minutes in a typical hot dog eating contest. (It's not an Olympic sport, but it's more entertaining than equestrian.)

Women's wrestling? Really?

Random Olympic Thoughts

1. Michael Phelps consumes 12,000 calories a day. A single workout for Phelps burns around 4,000 calories. Phelps is amazing.

2. Not to take anything away from Phelps, but there are WAY too many swimming events.

3. All gymnasts are short. Just in case you were tempted to think that Nastia Luikin was tall--she isn't. Luikin is only 5'3'' but looks gigantic next to the likes of Shawn Johnson (4'9") and Chinese gymnasts Deng Linlin (4'5''). Another tidbit, Deng Linlin only weights 68 pounds!

Misty May Treanor and her beach volleyball partner need to wear more clothes.

5. Diving should not take up several hours of prime-time Olympic coverage.

6. Synchronized Diving?

7. Women's wresting and weight lifting?

8. The Jamaicans are really fast.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Happy Birthday, Lucy Rose

Dear Lucy ~

I can't believe that it has already been two years since the day of your birth...On these anniversary days, I can remember everything as if it were just happening now. What a precious gift you were to us, sweet girl, and to so many others who prayed for you, held you, rejoiced in your birth and mourned your death with us. We are honored that God chose us to be your parents, Lucy, and we pray that some day we will be where you have already gone, into the arms of Jesus and surrounded by the company of all of His angels and saints!

Your name, Lucy Rose, is fitting - Lucy means light, and you truly were a light in our lives, teaching us about life, love, and suffering in a way that only your most innocent, vulnerable, and sweet life could do. Rose is the flower often used to symbolize Our Blessed Mother, and also reminds us of St. Therese of Liseux, "the little flower". 

We love you, Lucy, and remember you especially today, on your second birthday in heaven.


Mommy, Daddy, big brother Christopher, and little sister Maria

Saturday, August 16, 2008

How do I clean a porcelain sink?

Ladies, I'm looking for a little help here...We are now the proud owners of a porcelain kitchen sink, and I'm wondering if any of you have some tips for me on how to clean it. I've heard that a product called "Barkeeper's Friend" works well - has anyone tried it? The main problem is that the sink gets easily scratched and stained...Please help :)

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Practice of Tidiness

As mothers and fathers, we are called upon throughout the day to practice a lot of things--patience, perseverance, discipline, godliness, holiness... and I would argue among these is TIDINESS. Yes, I'm placing the orderliness of one's home right alongside the most Godly traits above. Why?

Because I believe everyone (yes everyone) has the ability to practice tidiness; to harness the habit of an orderly lifestyle so that life runs a little smoother. And I would argue that with more tidiness comes an easier time seeking patience, perseverance, godliness, and holiness. It is so easy to see when the practice of tidiness falls by the wayside; when we stop devoting the few additional minutes it takes to put a little elbow grease into the kitchen, the pile of junk by the stairwell, the load of dishes in the sink. As the FlyLady would attest, even 10 minutes spent tackling a house "hotspot" will go a long way toward bringing sanity to a home.

And don't get me wrong, I am challenging myself more on this one than anyone else. I am, by nature, rather messy. You should have seen my room growing up--my parents will vouch! "Please just clear a path to your bed so you don't trip," was my mother's regular mantra! After "cleaning up my act" in college and then marrying a rather tidy fella, I've become convinced that tidiness is a learned, practiced behavior and one that can be achieved with the smallest bit of effort and discipline each day.

These thoughts came about recently as our family is readying to recommit to order in our home. The arrival of a new baby always sends things spiraling and yes, there are seasons when a little disorder is to be expected (even required). But how much I long for the tidiness of our regular routine!! I'm often reflecting on this passage from Proverbs 31:10-29 and its description of a Godly woman/wife/mother (one who probably does an excellent job at keeping a tidy home!) I find it to be incredibly inspiring...

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still dark, she provides food for her family and portions for her servant girls. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet. She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple. Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes. She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: "Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all."

May this inspire all of us today to seek the practice, discipline, and habit of tidiness!
God speed!! I'm off to straighten the family room... :)

Happy Feast of the Assumption!

HYMN: The Ark which God has Sanctified

The ark which God has sanctified,
Which He has filled with grace,
Within the temple of the Lord
Has found a resting-place.

More glorious than the seraphim,
This ark of love divine,
Corruption could not blemish her
Whom death could not confine.

God-bearing Mother, Virgin chaste,
Who shines in heaven's sight;
She wears a royal crown of stars
Who is the door of Light.

To Father, Son and Spirit blest
may we give endless praise
With Mary, who is Queen of heaven,
Through everlasting days.

Queen Assumed into Heaven, Pray for Us

For Most People, College is a Waste of Time

If you have any free time today, check out this Wall-Street Journal article, For Most People, College is a Waste of Time. I think the article makes some great points, and like most Americans I'm appalled at the expense of college education, and the huge debt problem of most young graduates. The system is definitely flawed, and colleges and corporations are the beneficiaries. Think about how much state/federal aid these universities receive! I'm not arguing here that we shouldn't subsidize education, just that currently we are not really subsidizing education in its own right, but rather education as a vocational training skill. This sort of subsidy seems to benefit corporate America, and the universities, more than the average American.

Many of our young people would be much better served attending a vocational or technical training institute, rather than amassing large amounts of debt on a B.A. The problem--a B.A. is a prerequisite to even the most basic job. For example, working as a data entry receptionist at a typical car rental company requires a B.A. Anyone who is both friendly and has good typing skills can perform this job. And unfortunately for the graduate, a job at Hertz is not likely to help them pay off over $100,000 in student loan debt!

My one complaint about the article--and it is a big complaint--the author doesn't address the strong value of a liberal arts education for a certain percentage of our population. Education is a good in its own right. He seems to buy into the idea that education is just another form of certification for a particular job skill. Perhaps if we emphasize the inherent value of a liberal arts education, the system may actually improve. College would once again become a place of higher learning and not for learning vocation training skills. Those seeking vocational and technical training will then feel free to achieve these skills outside of a university setting.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Value of a Dollar

"Mama, in a little while, I'm gonna give the money in my piggy bank to Dada, to pay for our house and food. When it's full."

Gianna--age 4

Girl who defied myths on Anencephaly dies in Brazil

I have been following the life of baby Marcela de Jesus Ferreira for several months. Baby Marcela was born with anencephaly. (My daughter Therese, and Kat's daughter Lucy also had this fatal birth defect.) Yet unlike most babies with anencephaly, who live for hours or days after birth, baby Marcela lived for almost two years. And she was loved for every minute of her amazing little life:
Rio de Janeiro, Aug 5, 2008 / 04:44 pm (CNA).- During her short life of one year, eight months and twelve days, Marcela de Jesus Ferreira made more friends than any other child of her age. Some 1,500 attended her funeral and accompanied her casket to the cemetery of Patrocinio Paulista, her hometown, where a street will be named in her memory.

Marcela de Jesus Ferreira was born on November 20, 2006. At four months of development, doctors diagnosed her with anencephaly, a birth defect in which the baby is born with a partial or non-existent brain. Babies born with this condition usually survive for only hours or days.

Marcela’s birth and struggle for life coincided with a heated debate on the legalization of abortion in Brazil in cases of anencephaly. Abortion supporters, who for months insisted that the condition only causes pain and suffering to babies, were not able to stifle the testimony of Casilda Galante Ferreira, the 36 year-old mother of Marcela.

“Everybody suffers, but she doesn’t belong to me, she belongs to God and I am taking care of her here,” she told journalists who interviewed her after giving birth. “Every second of her life” is precious, she said. “I consider her life to be a miracle so great that I am going to wait until God decides when to take her.” That moment came on August 1.

According to Brazilian media, Marcela died of cardiac arrest from complications due to pneumonia. Hundreds attended her funeral, and her parents decided to carry her casket to its final resting place. Prayers and songs of joy accompanied the procession, as friends and family members took turns respectfully carrying her casket to the cemetery.

Casilda said she tried to be the best mother she could. “God came to get her. It was her time. I am happy because she didn’t suffer much and she lived surrounded by love,” she said before saying her final goodbyes to little Marcela.

Our prayers are with the Ferreira family during this time of intense grief.
Baby Marcela, pray for us!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Our First Book Review

A Civilization of Love by Carl Anderson

AWOL Mommy said:

So, our first book choice was A Civilization of Love: What Every Catholic Can Do to Change the World by Carl Anderson. Honestly, I was drawn to the book by its ambitious subtitle, however, it failed to deliver.

Anderson brings an impressive biography to the challenge -- head of the Knights of Columbus, former Reagan advisor, staff of JP II -- however, this tome is too grand in scope and ambitious in what it tries to accomplish in a mere 173 pages. Anderson makes it clear to the reader that he is a well read individual and gives an interesting survey of everyone from Nietzsche to Martin Luther King Jr. to T.S. Eliot, Tuesdays with Morrie, Tolstoy, Elie Wiesel, you get the idea. His bibiliography ran the gamut of history and literature, but left me feeling dizzy as a result.

From what I was able to distill, these historical and philosophical tastings and vignettes from across the world and centuries are all loosely organized around a rallying call to modern Catholics to live as members of a civilization of love. The tenets of a civilization of love were laid out by John Paul II and have been furthered by Pope Benedict XVI; Anderson addresses everything from divorce to birth control to immigration policy in the context of love. Business ethics, Roe v. Wade, globalization, sub- prime mortgage lending practices .. you name the current issue, he tackles it in the pages of A Civilization of Love. Of course these are all very important themes and I appreciate his attempt to take the philosophical tone of papal encyclicals and apply their guidance to our real life challenges. Nonetheless, I think that a couple pages on the importance of staying married is more like an insult to the theme than a genuine illumination of the topic.

A few caveats to my overall negative reaction to this book: 1) every Knight of Columbus should read it. Anderson lends greater understanding to the genesis and role of this international organization . 2) He has hung out with JP II and Mother Theresa, those ancecdotes alone might make it worth a read. 3) it is a nice foray into several of the most influential encyclicals and papal essays of the past centuries and served to whet my appetite to read these directly 4) he writes this, which I find striking: "love is a complete expending of self -- because, even though there are many rewards, love gives without expectation or contingency of reciprocation --- it takes a huge act of faith and courage to act on love." p65

In summary, A Civilization of Love was an ambitious project (173 pages with nearly 20 pages of bibliography) by a first-time author. Perhaps all it needed was a good editor or a narrower scope to more fully do justice to the gems buried within. But, as it is written, this little hardback left my head swimming as if I had been in a Catholic wave pool that got turned up too high.

Mary Alice said:

"The quickest and surest solution would be if everyone were to live and act according to the ethics of the Gospels. This answer may sound either sanctimonious or idealistic, but it is true. It would be impossible to exploit one's neighbor if one truly loved him as oneself...This is precisely the Christian challenge."

This passage answers the question set forth in the subtitle of Carl Anderson's book, A Civilization of Love, What Every Catholic Can do To Transform the World. Over the course of nine chapters, Anderson outlines practical applications of Christ's self sacrificing love to the modern world, quoting extensively the writings of the modern Popes.

As a Catholic under 30, I have a tendency to view the Second Vatican Council only as a liberalizing force that changed the Order of the Mass, but Anderson helped me to understand Vatican 2 in its proper context as a response to a changing world, one in which Communism and Secular Humanism were becoming dominant schools of thought in Europe and spreading around the world. "(Pope Paul VI) said that in the Second Vatican Council the Church declared itself 'entirely on the side of man and in its service.'...The Council sought to offer a renewed focus on the practical implications of human dignity." This includes a call to all Christians, and especially the laity operating in the world, to serve one another with love, most particularly those who are forgotten or pushed aside by our global economy, including the weak, the uneducated, the labouring classes, those who are viewed by others as only valuable as a means to an end.

Though the book was a bit high-brow for a stay at home mother most used to reading novels, I found myself quickly warming up to Anderson's didactic style. I was glad to read the writings of pre- and post-conciliar Popes in digestible portions. The book attempts to be more than a teaching tool, however, and extend to a call to action for all Christians. On this front, I think that Anderson would have been better served by letting the Popes speak for themselves. Anderson
is the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, and while I understand that he would want to sneak in a few plugs for this great organization, too often the practical examples offered came from the work of the Knights, turning the book into a bit too much of a propaganda piece.

I think that this book is well worth reading as a hopeful challenge to each individual to advance the culture of life/love wherever they may be, through business practices, personal relationships and charitable acts. For mothers, I would recommend particularly the chapter on The Domestic Church, which I plan to add to the reading list for my monthly Mother's Group.

If, like me, you sometimes find yourself feeling very small and useless in a world that is going its way in a handbasket, Anderson gives you your marching orders in the conclusion of the book with this quote from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI:

"Our greatest need in the present historical moment is people who make God credible in this world by means of the enlightened faith they live. The negative testimony of Christians who spoke of God but lived in a manner contrary to him has obscured the image of God and has opened the doors to disbelief. We need men who keep their eyes fixed on God, Learning from him what true humanity means."

This review was written as part of The Catholic Company product reviewer program. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on A Civilization of Love.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Checkout Line

Do you or do you not allow your children to shake the plastic tubes of mini M&Ms like maracas in a mariachi band when you wait in the checkout line? I do. My children shake and sometimes even dance a little. Maybe I’ve lost control of my children, or maybe I’m justified in allowing this behavior.

First, Mars Inc. is to blame. They package tiny low-quality chocolate candies in colorful plastic tubes to market them to children. And jack up the price for the tubed minis, at that. My kids are getting their thrills from Mars’s packaging without having to consume the cheap chocolate or pay a dime.

Second, the grocery store is to blame. Grocery stores never have no-candy lanes anymore, or at least those lanes aren’t open when we shop. Which is the same time all moms with young children shop. The stores place the tubed M&Ms at hand-level to tempt my kids and then take forever to check me out. What do they expect?

Third, we cannot afford the local $15/hour corny kid’s group music classes right now, but we do greatly value music in our household. My kids are learning the basics of rhythm and sound at the grocery store. It’s all part of our “lifestyle of learning” like the homeschoolers talk about.

And lastly, I shouldn’t overlook the fact that we’re bringing good cheer and entertainment to all the other grocery store patrons in line with us. My Von Trapp kids just can’t understand why most of them look so agitated by the performance.

Breastfeeding 101

As we have joyfully welcomed boy #3 into our home and hearts, I have begun the breastfeeding journey once again...  It is a well-worn road in our home and one that I cherish traveling with each of my children.  Baby J is no exception and has been taking to feeding famously!  Hallelujah!

Though with each child I'm learning that everything is different and in some ways, it's like I'm a new mother all over again.  Thank goodness for the lactation nurse who I met the other day at our pediatrician's office.  She was a gem of a woman and made me feel on top of the world for choosing to nurse my child.  Along with her encouragement came two precious nuggets of wisdom that I wanted to pass to all of our readers...  If you're nursing now or know someone who's going to breastfeed, keep these pieces of info handy!!  They were such a blessing to me.

*Baby falling asleep while you nurse? 
Try clavicle massage!  The clavicle or collarbone extends from the middle of baby's neck to his/her shoulder.  If you're noticing a slowing in nursing or if the baby is beginning to fall asleep, give the clavicle a circular massage which should initiate the suck reflex.  The nurse said that this should work to initiate sucking even while the baby is asleep.  And so far, it's worked like a charm!!  No more having to antagonize my poor babies to keep them awake--all it takes is a little massage!

*Sore and cracked nipples?
Try caffeinated regular tea bags.  Stick the tea bag in a mug of hot water (as if you were preparing tea) and wring out the water.  Then place the tea bag on the nipple and allow it to cool.  You can heat it up once more and apply before discarding and starting over.  While I haven't tried this one, the nurse promised it would work wonders.  Anything to prevent sore nipples while nursing--nothing is worse!!

Blessings to all of our nursing mother readers out there...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Rejoicing always

Last Thursday was a tough day here in the T household. The kids and I hadn't slept well the night before, daddy left before we woke up and wasn't going to be home until after the children were in bed, and we were having torrential downpours for the second day in a row. What's a mother to do?! After a less-than-successful trip to the grocery store in the pouring down rain, I decided that we would just have to spend the rest of the day inside the house, until...

"Mommy, can I go outside"

"Oh C, it's raining buddy, we can't go outside today!"

"Pleeeeeeeeeeease, mommy, it's okay! See, look, we have this umbrella and I have my rainboots right here!"

"No, C, look how hard the rain is coming down, I don't think that's a good idea, okay?"

"Mommy, pleeeeeeeeeeeease, I promise I won't bring mud into the house, I promise!!"

So finally, the little guy convinced me to let him go outside, and boy did he have a GREAT time splashing in the puddles, watching his umbrella float in the streams of water, and just standing and listening to the rain falling. And seeing the joy that my boy gained from this simple activity, I was also reminded to sit down, close my eyes, and just listen to the rain for a little while. 

You see, I had been so dead-set on the idea that we were "having a bad day" that I wasn't open to all of the good that was also present. The thing is that every day in the life of a family is ever-changing - I think I would be hard-pressed to find a day so far that has been all-good or all-bad! - and I think that maybe the trick to being a happy, peaceful mother is to become flexible enough to accept the good with the bad, to resist the temptation to categorize a day as "good" or "bad," to realize that family life is meant to be messy and spontaneous and dynamic. 

So today, my little boy reminded me of the following passage from Scripture, one that I could stand to reflect on every day:

"Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4: 4-7

Mary, Mother of Serenity, pray for us! 

Sunday, August 10, 2008

How Can I be Michael Phelps?

Carrying on our Olympic theme here at BC...

I have a serious query for all of you hard-core-mommy types out there. How and when and what is your means of staying fit? I mean, we all have husbands with demanding schedules and a lot of kids that require childcare, so how do you do it? I know that at least three of our builders were inter-collegiate athletes at P-town and I always saw Juris Mater at the student fitness center at strange late hours. So now, here we are five years and a lot more responsibilities later -- how do you keep it up? How do you strike the balance between maintaining the fitness (that is crucial as a mother for both health and stamina reasons) while giving your kids and husband the time they deserve? I want to hear it all - do the kids let you work out at home on a machine? Do you run with double joggers? If so what happens when #3 arrives? Are you as reluctant as I am to ditch poor Dad with the kiddos as soon as he gets home so that you can sneak in a workout? What about nursing boobs in sports bras - how many bras do you have to wear, seriously? I want to see what the record is amongst our readers as far as how many are required.

This issue is weighing heavily on me as my husband is about to return to "the real Army" after several months in a training environment. This will mean that it will be much more difficult for me to depend on him for my daily runs (sans kids, I am not a jogging stroller girl, I have balance issues as it is) and I am highly interested in what you all have found to work.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Games of Moral Relativism

Last night my husband and I watched a few minutes of the opening ceremonies for the Olympic Games. As the commentators spoke of the beauty of the Chinese culture on display, the enthusiasm with which the Chinese people had been supporting the idea of hosting the games, and the change and progress that they had seen in China over the seven years since Beijing was selected to host in 2008, I was sort of getting on board, buying in to the excitement. China was represented by a very tall NBA star and a very small child who had survived the recent earthquake, and I was moved by the humanity of the scene.
At the end of the parade, the head of the Beijing communist party got up to speak, and I sort of woke up to what was really going on. Here in the Free World, we are tuning in to a speech made by the leader of a Communist dictatorship. The current government in China is the embodiment of the culture of death, and our grandfathers who fought against totalitarian regimes would be horrified to see that we are opening up to, and even celebrating, China. This propagandist speech was telling us that the 2008 games were environmentally conscious, and other things meant to improve public opinion of China both at home and abroad.
This is a country where people live without the basic rights that we believe, as a nation, the Creator has granted each of us. This is a country that lacks freedom of the press, freedom to practice religion. This is a country that puts conditions on families and where the government routinely comes into peoples homes and drags them to clinics for forced abortions. Dissident monks are jailed and tortured. These are only the things we know about.
I celebrate the goodwill of the Olympic spirit and I truly believe that learning more about other cultures is an important part of building the culture of love, but I worry that in this case we are adopting what has become the disturbing theme of modern moral relativism, a don't ask, don't tell policy that allows us to feel comfortable having relationships with people who are seriously in error with out naming those errors. Janet Smith made the analogy of a frog being boiled slowly. His body temperature adjusts to that of the water in the pot as it warms so that he never struggles, he does not notice that his environment is slowly changing until it is too late. As my favorite bumper sticker has it, if you are not completely appalled, you haven't been paying attention.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Responsible parenthood sometimes demands the renunciation of procreation

Yesterday there was a discussion at Danielle Bean's blog regarding family planning, or lack thereof. Danielle chimed in today, and she took a rather providential approach to the topic. (For an explanation of providentialism, see Janet Smith's article, The Moral Use of NFP). I generally really like Danielle's writing, and I hate to disagree with her, but I was a bit disturbed by her approach to family planning.

She states:

It is not selfish for a poor mother of many to remain open to life. It’s heroic.
A woman who places her trust in God and accepts new life under less than ideal circumstances is being as generous to God, to her family, and to her community as she possibly can be.
Someone else, who has never had to decide between paying for a baby’s prescription and buying food for her family, might not understand this kind of humble heroism.

I'm curious as to how she, and others who might tend towards providentialism, explain John Paul II's thoughts on responsible parenthood:

There are, however, circumstances in which this disposition [to be a responsible parent] itself demands renunciation of procreation, and any further increase in the size of the family would be incompatible with parental duty. A man and a woman moved by true concern for the good of their family and a mutual sense of responsibility for the birth, maintenance, and upbringing of their children, will then limit intercourse and abstain from it in periods in which this might result in another pregnancy undesirable in the particular conditions of their married life and family. (JP2, Love and Responsibility at 243 (emphasis added).)

John Paul is saying that there are circumstances where a couple is morally obligated to avoid a pregnancy. Discerning family size is something God calls each couple to do--the couple should not simply let nature take it course without any thinking or planning. If circumstances are such that bringing another child into the world would be imprudent (i.e. like Danielle described, a family is so poor that they must choose between paying for a babies prescription and buying food for their family), the couple, for the good of their children, should use NFP and attempt to avoid a pregnancy. It is selfish to do otherwise.

Humanae Vitae 10 states, "If we look further to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who, guided by prudent consideration and generosity, elect to accept many children." Gaudium et Spes also states: "Among the married couples who thus fulfill their God-given mission special mention should be made of those who after prudent reflection and common decisions courageously undertake the proper upbringing of a large number of children."

Having many children is thus to be the result of "prudent consideration" not a default plan for every family. The point here is that there should be discernment.

Please know that I have the utmost respect for those families blessed with unexpected pregnancies. I obviously think we should help families in need. That being said, I find it hard to call a woman (or family) heroic, who, in the midst of poverty and difficulty providing for her already born children, fails to practice the virtue of periodic abstinence.

Please also understand that I'm not one of those use-NFP-whenever-you-want people. I most certainly believe that it can be abused.

All that being said, bring on the fury :-)

**Update--After receiving an e-mail from Danielle, I just want to clarify that John Paul II wrote Love and Responsibility before he was Pope. I was not attempting to claim that JPII's teaching on responsible parenthood was made in an infallible context. Both sides of this debate lack the support of infallible church teaching. But I have JPII on my side--and that's authoritative enough to require a pretty strong counterargument.

"A Chicken in Every Pot" and The Pill on every nightstand

During my last pregnancy, I qualified for excellent, free state medical insurance because of our lower income. My husband is in graduate school for a while. This insurance coverage is part of the state's healthy start program for pregnant women and young kids. I knew the deal was that I’d be dropped like a bad habit at exactly two months postpartum, so I enrolled in a different insurance program that would kick in around that time.

As I settled into a happy relationship with my new insurer, I received an unexpected mailing from our County Assistance Office notifying me that our household data would be examined again for possible medical coverage for me. What? Cool!

So I called my caseworker.

Me: “I got this notice. Does that mean I might somehow still be eligible for comprehensive medical coverage through the state?”

Caseworker: “No, your income is too high to qualify you for complete coverage when you're not pregnant.”

Me: “Right, OK, that’s what I thought. So this mailing was erroneous. That’s all I wanted to know. Have a good day.”

Caseworker: “Well, actually, we would really really like for you to send us your income and household data again so that we can confirm your eligibility for ‘WomanPlan’.”

Me (already suspicious—isn’t it a shame that anything called “woman-something” in the medical community generally means contraceptive and/or abortive?): “And what’s that?”

Caseworker (almost giddy): “That’s our state’s family planning services plan provided free to all low and middle income women. It’s really great. It pays for all your birth control, all the time.”

Me: “Aha. Anything else included?”

Caseworker: “Well yes. ALL your family planning and contraceptives.”

Me: “Thank you, but I won’t be needing that. I’d like to waive it. No need to review our household information again. Please just cancel my case.”

Caseworker: “But, why? There’s nothing to it. It will get you free birth control and everything. All you need to do is mail us your documentation again in the prepaid envelope.”

Me: “Please, no thanks. You can cancel my case. Thank you for your help, though. Goodbye.”

One week later, obviously without having sent in any of the required documentation, I still received official notice in the mail that I have been determined eligible for “WomanPlan” and will be receiving my card in the mail shortly. I am stunned at how difficult it is to get these bureaucrats to process an application for my kids’ medical benefits (I send in everything short of urine samples, yet they still lose the paperwork constantly) and how easy it is (sending in NOTHING) to get free family planning forced upon me.

Maybe I’ve been targeted as a particularly high risk to the state since God has been sending us kids 18 months apart. Or maybe it's just part of a larger scheme to sterilize the lower- and middle-income masses.

We live in a state that was home to many of our country's Founding Fathers. Wouldn’t they be pleased to know that their state has made it a priority to use its limited medical resources to stamp out the most dangerous epidemic afflicting humankind: pregnancy.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Like Peter

Lately, things have been tough. You may have noted this from my posts, which have included the themes of marital strife and kids climbing out windows. I have been reading a lot, trying to get out of my funk. I have been reading about disciplining children, about organizing the home, and uplifting little statements for mothers. I have been reading homeschool blogs, planning my curriculum, reading about burn out. I have talked and talked about my issues until my husband and friends can't stand to hear another word about it. I have been stymied. Of course I am tired, I am pregnant mother of 5 and I have a cold. Of course I am emotional, there have been crazy things going on. I moved, people are misbehaving, the house is not finished, my husband is working long hours. The trouble was, I was coming up against this feeling that I just couldn't do what I needed to do, and I know that I have done it before.

Finally, beginning this Sunday, I figured it out. My math about resources and hours in the day has been coming up short because I have not added in the multiplication that my efforts receive when Christ gets involved. Two of the gospel readings this week have strong relevance to my role in my domestic church. Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes to feed thousands, and he will take my meager offerings and make them sufficient to the needs of my family. The thing is, he did start with what the people had to offer themselves. I may have only a few minutes of one on one time with each child each day, but if I offer those minutes with love, God will multiply my efforts to feed the hungry hearts of my children.

The second reading I have been meditating on is that of Peter's walk on water. Peter was able to walk on water because we are able to do anything so long as we are totally focused on Christ. Peter began to sink when he became distracted, when he became afraid, because he looked around him and saw the wind, because he stopped to think that a person cannot walk on water. Sometimes, I am distracted by the fact that the tasks in front of me can seem difficult or even impossible, I am distracted by the fact that I am doing something that very few of the people around me are doing. Sometimes other moms in my neighborhood joke that I am super-Mom, and often I feel all too weak and human. I am not super, but God is. I am not powerful, but God is. I am not more patient, more energetic or more talented than any ordinary woman, but as long as I stay focused on Christ, I can do what I have been called to do. Also, to my great relief, when Peter did lose his focus and begin to sink, the Lord did not just let him drown. So, right now I am not focused enough to walk on water, but I have looked up to God and asked for help, and he is giving me a hand back to the boat.

I am somewhat disturbed by how easily I seem to lose my understanding of my purpose, I think that the forces of the world are very strongly against us on this one. I am going to head to an Evening of Recollection for Women tonight, and I hope to make this, and monthly confession, part of my routine. I may also have to start posting bible quotes around my home, I just need to surround myself with reminders right now. In these dark nights I am very happy that in my household, and the one in which I was raised, we have a commitment to attend Holy Mass every Sunday NO MATTER WHAT. We go to church on Sundays whether or not it is raining, whether or not we feel close to God, whether the children are behaving. At the very least, this anchors my week, and I never leave without feeling renewed.

It is helpful that my husband shares in this commitment because we drag each other along in difficult stages. Actually, my husband understands this much better than I do, once when someone who was sad about their life told him "I want what you have" my husband responded, without thinking twice, the first thing you can do is go to church every Sunday. The reality is that no one who really saw the inside of our house each day would want exactly what we have, but they want what is right for them, they want the peace that comes with knowing that one is living out ones vocation from God. I have this peace sometimes, but not always, but the only way to get it, the only way to walk on water in this very stormy world, is to start by focusing our eyes on Christ.

Quiet Time

When people ask "how do you do it?" I often forget to tell them about the one sanity preserving secret that I have learned from other homeschooling moms of many. Let me tell you about the joy of quiet time. The idea is that your children do not ever stop observing the afternoon nap time, when they stop sleeping it switches over to time in bed alone. In our house, quiet time follows lunch (or sometimes an after lunch walk/bike ride), and lasts for an hour and a half.

During quiet time, PT reads (I count this as "school time" in his hour reports for the district, I call it sustained silent reading which is a legitimate thing that should be happening in school anyway, and he sometimes has assigned reading for some portion of the time). Merry colors. The Lion naps. And the twins -- ah, the twins, they are in the rough in between stage, too old to sleep, most days, and too young to quietly entertain themselves. Sometimes this means that I spend much of quiet time reinforcing and policing, but lately, being pregnant, I have really needed to lie down and sometimes even sleep during quiet time, so right now it is safe to say that they are basically destroying their rooms. If they are seperated, the damage is not too great, but if JJ sneaks downstairs that is when things get exciting.

One day last week they climbed out the window (first floor, but still, I found them balancing on a window ledge outside of the house). Today they were just generally loud, so I had them come into my room, where I assigned them each a pillow and spot on the floor and promptly fell asleep myself. I figured that I would hear them if they got up to too much trouble. I slept through most of it, and things seemed fairly intact at 3:30 when we went back to our other activities, but tonight when I went to my closet I did find that the laces had been pulled all the way out of my sneakers. So now, as my dear husband sits with a size 11 sneaker and a screw driver trying to put the frayed laces back through their tiny holes, I think it is time to give JJ and MaryB some very specific activity for quiet time, a little basket of toys perhaps which will keep them occupied for this very important time. After all, they may not need a nap, but I do!