31 July 2008

Who are you people, anyway?

When I think of a big family, I think of a well-oiled machine of wholesomeness. The father is confident and wears respectable slippers around the house. The mother is serene and spins wool from the goats in the backyard into beautiful cloth from which she creates all the family's garments. The homeschooled children have clean, smiling faces (never a strand strays from the girls' braided hair); they all help each other and, when feeling mischievous, giggle together quietly in Sanskrit with great and charming humility. After the older children's double reed ensemble practice, they pose for a photographs on a sunny lawn, then skip off holding hands to churn the week's butter. Obviously this will never be us, which is why I'm usually scowling.

This is not the vision liberals have of big families. I read a book a while back called The Pecking Order. The basic idea was, all parents hate at least one of their kids, so try to keep your reproduction to a minimum so as not to create unnecessary black sheep who will drag society down. One family profiled to illustrate this truth was particularly interesting to me: a nice Lutheran girl married an Orthodox doctor and converted; next thing you know she's alienated from her staunchly occidental community and babies keep crawling out of her body (for a total of seven or eight, I think). The neglected and disconnected children grow into unproductive adult lives of confused listlessness. In other depictions of big families I've come across in liberal writing, maladjusted and uncontrollable kids and feces-smeared walls seem to be obligatory story elements. Vicodin-hoarding mommas with gray skin hide in closets during the brief intervals between the popping out of one urchin and the next (and they're always "popping out"). There are usually lots of molting animals in the house, too, just in case the chimpish children weren't generating enough feces for the walls to be sufficiently smeared.

That's all.

Nonsense of the Day

Since we're on the topic of poetry:

On the Ning Nang Nong
Where the Cows go Bong!
And the Monkeys all say Boo!
There's a Nong Nang Ning
Where the trees go Ping!
And the tea pots Jibber Jabber Joo.
On the Nong Ning Nang
All the mice go Clang!
And you just can't catch 'em when they do!
So it's Ning Nang Nong!
Cows go Bong!
Nong Nang Ning!
Trees go Ping!
The mice go Clang!
What a noisy place to belong,
Is the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong!!

--Spike Mulligan

Now, there are doubtless those who will unjustly accuse me of posting this because it's stuck in my head and I want you to be stuck with it too. But give it a chance: read it aloud a few times, and see if you don't rather start to like it, especially when your two-year-old wanders about the house enthusiastically reciting his own version of it.

Hard-hitting lit? Um, not so much. But occasional silly poems and songs that feature a lively rhythm and foster a love of language? Hey, I'm cool with that. Keep those recommendations coming.

[Source: I came across this in a recent library snag, The Usborne Book of Poems for Young Children. (Book, moderately recommended: It's got some nice RL Stevenson and the like, but also some freaky ones like one about Queen Nefertiti's ghost haunting the town, which I personally find rather too frightening.)]

30 July 2008

Children's poetry book, recommended

It's been so long now I can't remember if I was talking to my partners in crime on- or off-blog about this, but I thought maybe somebody else would be interested too so here it is. If you're looking for a poetry book for kids with non-annoying illustrations and a variety of real poems that will hold their attention, try A Child's Book of Poems. We got it as a gift and I give it two thumbs up.


Anyone ever tried this stuff?

Seems like the 4-month-old still has some kinks in his digestive system. So far as I can tell, his discomfort isn’t linked to my consumption of the usual suspects like dairy, chocolate, etc. And I know, I know: “there’s no ‘normal’” in terms of infant regularity, and “breastfed babies don’t get constipated.” Babies One and Two proved this rule in their own way: One saved everything up for a dramatic explosion or two each week, while Two cleared his system almost hourly. This guy, however, can’t seem to make up his mind. He’ll be moving things right along for a day or two, then take a day off. And on the days he’s not filling the diapers, he seems to writhe more and sleep less.

We tried simethicone drops briefly with One and Two, to no apparent effect. The doc just shrugged when we asked her whether they actually work or not (haven’t asked her about gripe water yet; just came across it the other day). I know that ginger and fennel have long been considered digestive soothers (in fact, my midwife-in-training SIL got me some ginger-based prenatal vitamins that were the only ones I could keep down last time around). So I thought I’d ask whether anyone out there has tried this stuff and to what effect. After all, our readers probably have more collective child-rearing experience than our GP :).

P.S. Ha! I have a new favorite typo. When I went to put the link in, I noticed the following on the site: "Wail a minimum of 30 minutes before repeating dosage, if necessary."

Food dysfunction death match: obesity vs. anorexia

In the interest of keeping it real, I ate an irresponsible amount of ice cream while drafting this.

The press loves obesity and anorexia. Is there anything more perversely fascinating than how other people look, what they eat to make themselves look that way, and how it screws up their lives?

As with everything, it's funny until you have kids. Especially girls (Reb. Mary, your day is coming, DV).

1. We all know overweight kids are miserable. We play outside and don't buy Twinkies, but we never use the f-word because

2. we don't want our daughters to hate themselves and stop eating,

3. and although it doesn't seem like a good idea to tell our kids how beautiful they are all the time,

4. what happens when evil people tell them otherwise (whether directly and personally, or via Disney Princesses)?

29 July 2008


A forgotten basin whispers
of primitive shenanigans:

Around the clogged center
blue globules nuzzle in
slick, primordial dance,
sparkles winking, as they
threaten to evolve.

28 July 2008

Pop Exegesis

A friend introduced me to the music of Sara Groves awhile back. I’d never heard of her: she’s a Christian “acoustic pop” artist, and neither pop music nor contemporary Christian music gets much airtime around here. But her CDs (at least the two I have, “Station Wagon: Songs for Parents” and “Add to the Beauty”) make for nice housekeeping music from time to time, IMHO. Here’s the title track of “Add to the Beauty”:

Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces
Calling out the best of who we are…
This is grace, an invitation to be beautiful
This is grace, an invitation
Redemption comes in strange places, small spaces
Calling out our best
And I want to add to the beauty
I want to shine with the light
That’s burning up inside.

What I love about this song, aside from its rather poetic definition of grace, is how I can use it for my own purposes to exegete a verse that gets so many people bent out of shape:

Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control. (1 Timothy 2:15)

[Disclaimer: To the best of my knowledge, Groves is neither C nor PP (though to date, she is the mother of 3). Nor does she actually mention the verse in question. So all conclusions drawn here are my own, not necessarily those of the artist, her label, etc., etc.]

Hermeneutic Possibility A: The verse describes how wives/mothers manifest the saving grace that they have received as they persevere in their vocation as Godly wives/mothers. And indeed, we at CSPP find grace, redemption even, in what seems to the rest of the world to be the smallest and strangest of places: the secret world of the womb; the murmur of a nursing newborn. The orderly chaos of a well-used kitchen, the freshness of laundry just off the line. The jumble of shoes in the back hall and the wad of washcloths dripping in the tub. Rocking chairs at midnight; pace-worn floors at dawn. The curve of infant cheeks; the plump competence of toddler fingers; the world through preschool eyes…

Hermeneutic Possibility B: The verse can/should be translated/understood as “she will be saved through THE childbearing” (or so I’ve been told…I’m no Greek scholar). In the strange places of Nazareth and Golgatha, in the small spaces of the blessed Virgin’s womb and the beams of a cross, salvation comes to women, as to all humans.

[Hermeneutic Possibility C: If you’ve dismissed this verse as a typically chauvinistic Pauline statement mandating some sort of evil subjugation of women, or think it means that women who don’t have kids won’t be saved, you’re probably not even reading this blog, or are determined to misread it, so we shall summarily disregard you.]

Now, we could quibble the implications of “calling out the best of who we are” vs. drowning the Old Adam by daily contrition and repentance. But this is True: in unexpected places and overlooked spaces, we receive grace, an invitation to be beautiful—to be conformed increasingly to the startling loveliness of our Lord’s own image.

27 July 2008


Found some stuff at First Things.

From Editor Joseph Bottum:

Finally, the pope warned that contraception would lead people to picture their bodies as somehow possessions, rather than as their actual being. If a woman can paint her house, then why shouldn’t she get her nose bobbed and her breasts blown up with silicon to the size of beachballs? It’s what men seem to like, after all, and the body is just a thing, isn’t it?
From Mary Eberstadt:

The onslaught of porn,” one social observer wrote, “is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as ‘porn-worthy.’” Further, “sexual appetite has become like the relationship between agribusiness, processed foods, supersize portions, and obesity. . . . If your appetite is stimulated and fed by poor-quality material, it takes more junk to fill you up. People are not closer because of porn but further apart; people are not more turned on in their daily lives but less so.” And perhaps most shocking of all, this—which with just a little tweaking could easily have appeared in Humanae Vitae itself: “The power and charge of sex are maintained when there is some sacredness to it, when it is not on tap all the time.” This was not some religious antiquarian. It was Naomi Wolf—Third Wave feminist and author of such works as The Beauty Myth and Promiscuities, which are apparently dedicated to proving that women can tomcat, too.
One of two things can form a couple's sexual ethic: the church, or prostitution/pornography. Anyone who doesn't like what the church has to say about chastity and procreation is going to find herself subjected to the whims of a dude (even a husband) whose appetites are determined by a porn-driven world where strippers and hookers set the sexual standards of attractiveness and performance. Take babies out of the sex equation, and anything goes. Many Christian women are forced into humiliating and disgusting appearances, procedures, and acts, because what grounds do they have to say no? It turns him on, and she's his wife.

That alone is worth a marriage's fertility-span spent perpetually parturitional.

24 July 2008


Baby Dude can glurk. Man can that guy glurk! I shudder to think how much he'd weigh if it weren't for the glurking, considering his percentile of choice. He's sneaky about it too and avoids the burpie by turning his head, or glurking at times far removed from feedings. He seems to find the *splat* sound of glurk hitting the kitchen floor especially satisfying.

So I've had glurk on the brain (and the shirt and the pants and the carpet and the linoleum and the couch and the chair and the sheets) for six months now. My observations have indicated that other people find glurking very offensive, such that they

a) holler, jump up, throw the baby at me, and run for a complete change of clothes immediately upon his glurking on them or merely while being held by them OR
b) refuse flat out to hold the baby out of fear of being glurked upon

Meanwhile, I wear the same glurk-infused pants day after day so as not to drive up laundry costs or wear out my clothes with excessive agitation. Because really, why wear something clean? It will just get glurked on as soon as I pick him up. In fact, my current pants and shirt are both heavily glurked, and I see a spot of it on the carpet that I missed.

Anyway, despite the research cited above which shows glurk to be a terrifying, infectious, and possibly corrosive substance no one ever

a) buys me a present to thank me for the gift I make to society by courageously volunteering to be glurked upon all the time

Actually, I guess a) is all I'm after.

23 July 2008

Metronome Mom

So many days, I feel like I’m just marking time, just trying to survive until the relief crew, in the person of Dad coming home from work or the grandparents coming for a visit, arrives. “Survival mode,” as we call it around here, is fine for short bursts—like when there’s a newborn in the house, or the babies are sick, or someone’s going through a particularly unpleasant stage—but hunkering down in the trenches can only last so long before one starts to feel quite cramped (see also: War of Attrition).

In the words of today’s literary allusion: As Janie said to her husband, “You’se always off talkin’ and fixin’ things, and Ah feels lak Ah’m jus’ markin’ time. Hope it soon gits over.” [The first one to name the novel’s title and/or author wins an adventure-filled week with a lively and entertaining toddler: free S&H! Also note: the relationship in the book is dysfunctional and it’s to the general feeling, not the specific situation, that I’m referring. Just so we’re clear.]

“Jus’ markin’ time”…I’ve never heard the expression used in a positive way, but it’s been pinging around my head a lot lately. I Wikipedia-ed the phrase out of curiosity and here’s what I got:

As a military drill command marking time is where soldiers march on the spot. That is, they continue to move their legs as if they were still marching but without moving forward.

The term can also be used to refer to doing a job or task whilst waiting for an opportunity to arise to do what you really want to do.

Indeed. But then I got to thinking about the musical meaning of the term. Middle school band directors (and their even braver cousins, elementary school recorder teachers) know that in a crowd of inexperienced “musicians” who are trying to find and keep their place and stay in tune and on key, someone’s got to mark time, to keep the beat. Or else the whole venture will degenerate into riotous, painful, shrieking dissonance. More experienced musicians can count for themselves, but they still watch for that all-important downbeat and the occasional cue.

Ah. So maybe the time-marking moments of motherhood aren’t so useless as they sometimes seem. Household harmony and rhythm don’t just happen.

And hey, the military connotation isn’t such a bad one either, for those of us who are training the next generation of Christian soldiers. (And we’ve had not a few parades around the house to that hymn lately; it’s the boys’ current favorite.) Endless drilling precedes battle-readiness, if there’s to be any hope of victory.

So march on, Metronome Moms!

21 July 2008

Quotation of the Day

"As the West refuses to acknowledge, nothing rivals Christianity in terms of granting women freedom and respect. God forever elevated and dignified the role of a woman when he gave a humble and sinless virgin the honor of carrying His own son into the world to redeem mankind. Feminism, on the other hand, has enslaved women as skinny, sterile, sexed-up, breadwinners while denigrating motherhood, fatherhood, and family."

From Real Clear Religion.


Am I just wasting my time with all this frantic sanitizing. laundering, and please-keep-your-hands-off-the-baby-ing? Is it pretty much just the Way Things Are that when one gets sick, they're/we're all going down?

It's like a game of slow-motion, diabolical dominoes...just holding my breath and waiting to watch the next one fall. This is one of the things that frightens me most when I foolishly attempt to peer into my future: an endless succession of runny noses, sleepless nights, and ER visits, with the last kid recovering from one illness just in time for the first to move on to the next ailment. [Cue: This is where all you moms with more kids write in to reassure me that really it's not so bad :) ]

Back to wiping noses...But hey, no one's throwing up! This is no small mercy, and I do not take it for granted!

18 July 2008

More for the CSPP soundtrack

Ps. 16:6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

(Submitted by Sane Self)

More deferring to our betters

Flat out great post from Father Rick, reminiscent of Gauntlets' reflections a while back which so many of us found beneficial. Of particular note:

So, for example, in answering this particular question of whether or not to avoid the likelihood of pregnancy, I am convinced that a husband must consider this from the standpoint of serving his wife. Not that he should simply defer to her judgment; for that would not be serving her, but abdicating his headship and avoiding his responsibility. Nor do I mean that he should chiefly be concerned about her feelings and desires, which are susceptible to the same sinful weaknesses as his own. Rather, it is a question of her life and health and strength and well-being. My opinion is that husbands and wives should normally not seek to avoid or reduce the likelihood of pregnancy; though I do not offer this opinion as a hard-and-fast law, but simply as a default rule of thumb. The norm, in other words, is that a husband and wife will gladly receive God's good gift and blessing of children, however few or many sons and daughters He may graciously choose to bestow upon them. So far, so good. But I am also suggesting that a departure from this norm may be pursued by a husband for the sake of his wife, in order to protect and care for her. In such a case, he is not acting apart from faith in God, but he is bearing the burden of love . . . .

In my own heart I perceived how easily I could be swayed by doubts and fears and a lack of faith, and I fled from proceeding along such a path. Instead, I took up the much different perspective — not only a different consideration, but a different way of thinking: in the way of the Gospel instead of the Law, for the sake of my neighbor instead of my self — whether my wife would be endangered or harmed by another pregnancy, or so burdened in her own mortal frailty as to be undone or brought low in grief and sorrow . . . .

17 July 2008

A kinder, gentler world

You know those brightly colored books with buttons that, when pushed, produce tinny, ever-so-slightly-off-key versions of nursery “classics”? The ones that you never buy for your own children and you’re always hiding but somehow the kids always find them? The ones that drive you totally nuts but you can’t get rid of them because they’re from someone who will notice if they’re gone?

One such book in our possession offers more humane lyrics to the tune of “Three Blind Mice”:

Three orange cats,
See how they run.
They’re small and furry and rather nice
They’re even kind to the little mice.

Now, I don’t really have a problem with this sort of revisionist history, though it does present a rather inaccurate view of reality. I have enough other things to explain in this cruel, cruel world without adding the violent farmer’s wife to the list.

But there’s another popular revision out there that bugs me. Since we live in a parsonage, we receive approximately a dozen of those stuffed animals that recite “Now I lay me down to sleep” every time we have a baby.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
And angels watch me through the night,
Until I wake to morning light.

Sure, angels watch over us, and that may be reassuring for kids. But kids can handle the older version, If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Do we want to raise stalwart Christian soldiers or spiritual softies? Our four-year-old already understands Heaven and Hell. He will tell you that there are lots of false gods out there that will take you to Hell (his own synthesized version of our ongoing catechesis). He knows that people die because of sin, which is sad, but that people who believe in Jesus will be raised to live on the New Earth, and he’s looking forward to that. In fact, he sometimes uses the paraousia as a frame of reference, as in, “Will we do that before Jesus comes back?” We should all be so eschatologically minded.

Keeping it real: the prayer was altered more for overly-delicate adult sensibilities than for the sake of children, who are remarkably practical-minded about such things. And that’s a shame. So, for that matter, is the annoying, lisping little voice that the manufacturers chose to recite the prayer.

Anyone have other examples of how we squeamish adults alter things because we shy away from subjects that children face matter-of-factly?

16 July 2008

Job description

We joined the 4-year-old boy club this week. Our family custom is that the birthday kid gets to stay up late with Mom and Dad and drink cocktails, at which time we review the past year and discuss what's coming up. Dad asked the birthday boy what he was planning on doing with his life. He said he didn't know. Dad gave the example that he's a pastor and goes to work every day.

Boy: I don't know what you do at work so I can't do it.

Dad: Well, everybody has to work. I go to work and do pastor stuff to feed all you guys and Mom . . . what does Mom do all day?

Boy: Sit and drink cocktails!

15 July 2008

The good old days

My husband thought we'd all get a kick out of this:

"A few years later, Abigail Adams would describe [Philadelphia's] women as 'rouged up to the ears' and fond of fashions so revealing that they 'literally look like nursing mothers.'" The Summer of 1787: The Men Who Invented the Constitution, by David O. Stewart, p. 84.

14 July 2008

Vanity, thy name is Reb.Mary

Three-odd months* after BabyThree, I’m back in the “healthy and normal” weight range for my height. But not in the “happy and sane” weight range for my mind.

Many days, I feel fine. I feel healthy. I can even believe that I look exactly as I should for a woman who is nursing her infant. I thank the Lord for health, and I pass the Evil Scale with nary a second thought. Then…what? What happens to that sensible version of myself, to cause a sudden plunge into near-despair over a matter of what’s really a (relatively) small number of pounds?

What’s the deal? Why do I obsess? Is obsessing over my weight, or my looks in general, really such a great way to use my time and my oh-so-finite mental powers? Is my temporary exercise in full-bodiedness worth all the mental anguish? But—but—but—whispers the wicked little voice--what if it’s not temporary this time?

Well, what if it’s not temporary? Would anyone love me more if my skinny jeans weren’t so… well, skinny…right now? Would I be a more productive member of church and society, a better wife and mother, without these extra “lactationally enabling” pounds? And how narcissistic is it to think that anyone else really cares, or even notices? Another great Andree Seu quote: “Don’t worry about what other people think of you. They don’t think of you.” Self, get over yourself already.

My husband, a man of his word, and the person that should be my only mirror, avers that to him I look just as I should. And I believe him—in the sense that I think he thinks it’s true, and that it’s true for him. Which is fine for him, but not for me, if you know what I mean. Which is frustrating to him because he thinks I’m somehow disbelieving his sincerity, which I’m not. [By now I’m guessing that any brave males who might have persevered in reading this post thus far are despairing utterly of finding any sense here.] Wherefore a moratorium on the topic is imposed for reasons of marital accord, and yet I fret.

Do I really believe, as I often catch myself thinking, that I would be happier if I just could lose the last few “baby pounds” overnight? And if that’s true, then how shallow am I? And if it’s not, then why am I thinking it?

Would I really trade those ridiculous-but-profound preschooler insights, those tight toddler hugs, and that sweet infant breath for a figure that wasn’t spectacular to begin with and realistically couldn’t have been maintained for much longer anyway? Would I rather have had a few more years of feeding my destructive pride, at the cost of fewer names in the Book of Life?

So many questions. I know the right answers. Really, I do. It's just a hard truth to accept, as Rebekah has noted, that sometimes the best way to mortify the flesh is to feed it.

*Note the vanity even here: We're closer now to the 4-month mark than to the 3, but it's better to have a 3-month old than a 4-month old when you're talking about still having extra weight.

13 July 2008

Maria Dolorosa

Father William is on a Marian kick again, which never fails to catch the attention of the predictable maternal brain.

It's plain for us to see why motherhood is hard. Our kids are infuriatingly disobedient. It hurt like purgatory to push them out. Often these factors seem to be the defining and necessary characteristics of our vocational tentatio.

But one mother was famously spared these hardships, and is no less a mother for it. And the Blessed Virgin Mary, with her sinless Child, is yet Our Lady of Sorrows. What does this mean?

--That violence does not properly belong to childbirth. It is unnatural and God's alien work. Furthermore, that the injury does not make the mother, though our pride tempts us to believe otherwise.

--That the sinfulness of our children is not solely to blame for our maternal hardships; the imaginary obedient children we covet would not end our vocational sadness even if we were to get them.

Nothing new here, but I find the context informative.

Benedicta tu in mulieribus

12 July 2008

In praise of oxytocin

There were shouts; there were crashes. Small humans and a midsized canine hurtled by with impressive volume and velocity. The world all around was a cacophonous confusion of mass and motion.

Cut to me sitting contentedly on the couch in the midst of it all, cozily nursing BabyBoy and singing Dona Nobis Pacem (harder to do as canon when it’s just me singing, but fortunately I’ve got enough personality facets to cover it and then some. All those inner voices are good for something).

So maybe there really is something to that “feel-good/bonding hormone” aspect of breastfeeding. Go figure.

11 July 2008

Find out what it means to me

Marriage experts emphasize that husbands need, above all, the respect of their wives. But just as these experts warn wives against trampling their husband's feelings due to some ignorant belief that it doesn't matter as much to men, they are wise to point out that wives need respect (the real thing, not a kinder, sillier, wife-ier version) from their husbands too.

Just a little bit!

My husband and I spend our lives in very different worlds now, and it's easy for me to schlog into the swamp of bitter thoughts about how my talents are being wasted (oh, I'm so talented! :P ) and the world is passing me by and a friendly idiot could do this job (better than I do, in fact, what with being friendly). Knowing that Dad knows all these things to be false goes a long way toward keeping the babies from spending their days under the dark cloud that likes to materialize over my head. He understands that reading a pile of picture books every frakking day, having every single thing I try to do interrupted by crying, and good old endless excreta are not somehow easier for me just because I happen to be female and this happens to be my vocation.

An imperfect example, of course

Wives especially need respect when they leave the rat race (whether school or work), with its included provisions of self-worth and collegial respect, for the rugrat race and its impossibly slow yield of gratifying results for all the long days and nights. Nothing means more to me than when my husband seeks out my opinion on something, when he expresses admiration for something I've done or said, when he shows me that he considers me his complement and meet helper. A relatively sane wife doesn't have to feel like "the help" (at least, not for any damaging amount of time) if her husband doesn't want her to.

NB: Obviously I wouldn't be able to post this if my husband weren't very good at it.

10 July 2008

Wherefore CSPP?

I had a thought-provoking talk recently with a friend who lovingly asked me why we don't space out these babies a bit more. I've gotten lazy in my old age and have lost that college debater acuity that used to serve me so well (ie spur me to speak definitively and authoritatively with little preparatory thought or concern for accuracy). My husband and I sludged through the major arguments in the contraception debate back a ways and ended up where we are now, but I hadn't revisited them in a while, so my sluggishness in the conversation suggested I was due. I've multiplied and then some. Why shouldn't I be done, or at least pace myself?

Here's what it comes down to: I don't have any reason to tell God "no" or "ask again later" when he offers me a baby. We have income, health insurance, and a house (it's even big). I am very healthy and pregnancy does not pose any unusual risks or difficulties for me. I'm cranky, but not crazy. I am neither sick (in body or mind) nor in want, so I don't have an excuse, if I wanted to argue that those things are excuses.

Hey, you--want a baby?

Whenever the topic of contraception comes up, discussion almost immediately veers into casuistry and hard cases. Well, everybody, I'm an easy case, despite my slothful, whiny hatred of admitting it (no, really! I'm a victim! feel sorry for me!). Here I am volunteering to be your control study. And here's how it looks. You're welcome.

So that's why, friend. It's not the life I imagined, but I think it's what's right. I plugged in my personal variables and this is the answer I got. I am not and should not be presumed to be speaking for anyone else.

08 July 2008

All the girls walk by, dressed up for each other

A good deal of today’s Americans don’t know how to parent children. Though we do all we can—feed them and clothe them, put them to bed on time and buy them educational books, make them comfortable and select the best programming—we don’t have a clue what parenting actually looks like and even less of a clue how to go about doing it. There are dozens of books geared toward every stage of childhood that offer pyramids of advice from potty training to “first talks,” but not one offers a page on the fundamentals of actually raising children. They read more like playbooks, vague sketches for those on the team, sketches that work wonders if you know the rules of the game and everyone around you is playing.

I used to be a contender. Indeed, I was once running back for the All-American Mommies. The uniforms were cute, but the game was weird. My poor babies were linemen and football rolled into one (that image works, if you squint) and my job was the same every play: fumble the ball to the defense while looking confused and mumbling something like, “He never acts this way at home!”

You know the game. You’ve seen it played. For example:

The Affection Affectation: “Mommy loves you so much (sidelong glace your way)! Yes she does! You’re mommy’s little angel (sidelong glace your way)!”

The Discipline Display: “Johnnie, we talked about this before we left home! You know how much it upsets mommy when you kick people! I’m so shocked by your behavior! You’re getting a long time out as soon as we get home!” (All this is practically shouted while the mommy in question looks more at her audience than at her child.)

Or conversely, The Too-Cool Tapdance: “What?! You hit your head? Meh! Shake it off! You’re too big to cry! Get off me! Go play!” (All this snarled in the hope that her audience will be impressed by her lack of affectation and display.)

The list goes on and the incidents are too numerous to mention. It’s not entirely a Mommy’s fault; people actually are watching, judging, ready to call DHS at the first opportunity. Mommies want to get that “A,” to score their six points and call it a day, but, let’s be honest, they don’t have a single, solitary idea what it is that those watching want to see. Worse yet, they (I) have less of an idea what raising kids is really about because seldom do they (I) witness the actions of parents, people who discipline, educate, protect, and create wisely, effectively, and naturally:

“Almanzo’s (a nine-year-old) face was covered in snow and his mouth was full of it, but he hung on to Frank and kept hitting at him. Frank got him down, but Almanzo squirmed out from under. Frank’s head hit his nose, and it began to bleed. Almanzo didn’t care. He was on top of Frank, hitting him as hard as he could in the deep snow. He kept saying “Holler ‘nuff! Holler ‘nuff!”

Frank grunted and squirmed. He rolled half over, and Almanzo got on top of him. He couldn’t stay on top of Frank and hit him, so he bore down with all his weight, and he pushed Frank’s face deeper and deeper into the snow. And Frank gasped: “’Nuff!’

Almanzo got up on his knees, and he saw Mother in the doorwayo f the house. She called, “Boys! Boys! Stop playing now. It’s time to come in and get warm.” from Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

That, my friends, is old-fashioned American parenting. That’s it; “Stop playing boys.” No, “MY BABY! You’re KILLING my BABY!” If you read the entire book, you see the mother and father parenting with lots of love, lots of food, lots of chores, a few necessary whippings, and lots of letting them figure it out on their own. Before the days of child psychology, Gymboree, PSATs, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, parents knew the score but didn’t play at any game because no one was watching. They just raised their kids. What happened (aside from the Department of Education)? Where have all the parents gone? Tell me: Why are children everywhere being allowed to speak at the dinner table? Who hauled all the woodsheds to the burn piles? Where can I get me some poultices, people!?!?

I’m guessing there are still many effective parents out there, going about their business, who can’t be bothered to put on seminars for gits like me. And odds are, we can’t all be parents all of the time . . . I’d just like to be a parent some of the time.

I try. I try harder. I’m no good. I spent too many years drawing down salary from the Mommies and people are still watching. So I sequester myself and my kids so as not to be lured into the game. Then I make up household rules. Nobody obeys them. I establish discipline. It provides no deterrence. I get up early, keep the house clean, make my own cheese . . . I’m still the same Sesame Street kid I’ve always been, not the pioneer woman I long to be. And try as I might my kids speak freely over their dinners about everything from puff balls to poverty. I sometimes like to develop conspiracy theories (my children were replaced by government spy look-alikes!) that shovel blame on anyone else. But I know that the problem is mine. All mine. All most grievously mine.

God have mercy. Maybe these babies will grow up decent in spite of it all. Maybe I will grow up with them and one day learn how to get out of the way and simply repeat the Words given me to say. Time will tell. And thanks be to God, our Mother the Church has got my back, and she will go right on feeding them lasting food until Time is replaced by Eternity.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I hear some screaming upstairs. I think I know what to do this time. At the very least, I’ll give it the old American try. Now where did I put that woodshed?

Kitchen Trivia

After peeling garlic cloves or chopping onions, rub your moistened hands on your stainless steel faucet or sink.

Abracadabra: Your hands smell fresh! No more scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing, and still dreaming of vanquishing vampires.

Maybe this is one of those things that everybody's already known forever, and I just recently found out about, but I thought I'd share just in case someone else was out of the loop.

The naming of kids

The naming of kids is a difficult matter
It isn't just one of your holiday games
You'll know that their dad's a liturgical pastor
When I tell you our kids must have three different names
First of all, there's the name that the family use daily
Such as Isaac, Bartholomew, Amos, or James
Such as Rachel, Naomi, or Martha (not Bailey)
All of them catholic, Biblical names
Conceptual names can sometimes sound sweeter,
Since options are somewhat restricted for dames
Such as Kathryn, Charissa, Irene (though not Peter)
But all of them catholic, Biblical names
But I tell you, a kid needs a name to inherit
To anchor him well in his family of birth
So second, we borrow from Granddaddy Garrett
Or re-circulate Aunt Mae's name here on earth
For names of this kind we explore the ancestries
Searching the long generations within
How about Comfort? For a dude? No way, weirdo!
Names that belonged to our foregoing kin
But above and beyond there's still one name left over
And that is the name only church buffs can guess
The name that historical research discovers
The one our poor babies will never confess
When you notice our kids in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, may well be the same
Their minds are engaged in perplexed contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of their names

Their long, unpronounceable,
Saintly, Patristic,
Weird, ecumenical, fun-to-pick Names

07 July 2008

Children of the Heavenly Father

Jottings from a few weeks ago. The local weather has calmed down a bit since then, thankfully.

The last few weeks, I’ve lost a lot of sleep. I know what you’re thinking: Duh, you’ve got an infant.

But it’s more than that. The world is falling apart at every turn. There’s an earthquake or a cyclone or a tornado every other minute. We recently spent part of an evening in the basement while the tornado sirens sounded. Flooding has turned 83 of this state’s 99 counties into disaster areas. More personally, sad and strange and scary things have been happening lately in the lives of people we know and love. And in the midst of all this uncertainty and tragedy, I happened across an article reminding me that SIDS risk is highest for baby boys, specifically baby boys around two to three months old.

Mourning with loved ones, listening for tornados, and watching a baby boy’s every nocturnal breath: Not conducive to peaceful nights.

In the wee hours of one such night, I finally realized that it was time to let God be God. As I heard in a recent sermon, there’s a difference between believing that God is sovereign and living like it. (Why do I forget this so often? I trip on that first commandment at every turn.) Since then, the world hasn’t gotten any better, but I haven’t been losing quite as much sleep (within BabyBoy’s parameters).

Here’s the deal: “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess” (Luther). Do I believe the promises that were spoken at the font? In faith, we surrendered each of our children to that dangerous deluge of Holy water, to die that they might live. There we placed our children into God’s hands: better to fall into the hands of God than into the hands of men, even the hands of a mother.

Maternal worries: my faithless attempts to snatch my children back from the only One who can guard their lives forever, no matter what happens in this present vale of tears. Mother-love can be as foolish as it is fierce. No matter how tightly I try to clutch my children, grasping with the desperation known only to mothers, they may yet slip through my fingers at any moment and be lost. But in God’s hands, they are safe forever.

Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.

These verses from one of my grandma’s favorite hymns have been on my lips this past week:

Neither life nor death shall ever
From the Lord his children sever
He to them his mercy showeth,
And their sorrows all he knoweth.

Though he giveth or he taketh
God his children never forsaketh
His the loving purpose solely
To preserve them, pure and holy.

In life and in death, preserve us always, dear Savior.

06 July 2008

Great moments in nursing

Dad's birthday is in the neighborhood, so we decided to take a family excursion to Cabela's where he could use his gift card and the rest of us could admire the murdered wildlife. This trip was, predictably, perfectly timed for Small Guy to be hungry right in the middle of it.

Cabela's, surprisingly enough, does not have a mothers' room, and it was a pretty hot day for sitting in the car. But I found a nice little corner with some benches. I was prepared with my double layer nursing top and a cover blanket just to make sure. The corner was by an exit so there was some traffic, but no more than I'd have run into anywhere else in the store. I only noticed one person do a double take and I was congratulating myself on being so brave when some fool tried to leave with something in a bag that set off the alarm. I started looking around nonchalantly so as to be even less noticeable, and saw above the exit door--can you guess? a TV monitor broadcasting me and Small Guy going about our business.

I can only hope no one in the back was monitoring the security cameras too closely. And they don't keep the tapes, right? Why would they keep the tapes?

05 July 2008

I still want one

but for now I guess we'll have to content ourselves with an annual visit to the "Family Farm" section of the zoo.

Babies as punishment

Disclaimer: this isn't intended as a political post (though if you can't guess how a CSPPer might feel about Obama...). If you want to talk about the political implications, go here where I came across this quote and talk to Gene Veith & co. about it.

So if I'm not trying to get all political, why quote Obama? Because these words, uttered by Obama at a town hall meeting in March, are so representative of the pervasive view of babies as punishment rather than babies as blessing, a mindset that has even stealthily invaded the church (but more on that in a future post).

So here's what he said:

"When it comes specifically to HIV/AIDS, the most important prevention is education, which should include — which should include abstinence education and teaching children, you know, that sex is not something casual. But it should also include — it should also include other, you know, information about contraception because, look, I’ve got two daughters, 9 years old and 6 years old. I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals.

“But if they make a mistake,” Obama continued, “I don’t want them punished with a baby.”

Wow. This reminded me of the movie Juno in which Juno does make such a "mistake" (sin? such an outdated concept!) and her stepmother expresses her relief to Juno's father about the teen's decision to place the baby for adoption rather than to abort: "Someone's going to get a sweet blessing from Jesus out of this garbage dump of a situation." Amidst the rubble of our broken world, the circumstances surrounding a baby's conception and birth may be heartbreakingly sin-saturated. But God's Truth is clear: that baby, though a sinner himself, is a blessing.

03 July 2008

We couldn't agree more

Artistic portrayals of Maria Lactans get a shout out from the Vatican (Incidentally, a suitable image of Maria Lactans was the most difficult one to locate when we were putting our banner together.) :

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The loving, tender images of Mary breast-feeding the baby Jesus need an artistic and spiritual rehabilitation, said the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.

A vast iconography of traditional Christian art has been "censored by the modern age" because images depicting Our Lady's naked breast for her child were deemed too "unseemly," the paper said June 19.

Artists began depicting a fully clothed nursing Mary in sacred art in an attempt to make her seem less "carnal," but the depictions unfortunately also diminished her human, loving and tender side "that touches the hearts and faith of the devout," the newspaper said . . . .

Salesian Father Enrico dal Covolo, a professor of classic and Christian literature at the Pontifical Salesian University, said in his commentary that a nursing Mary represents an interesting paradox: "He who gives nourishment to all things, Mary included, now lets himself be nourished by her.

"The Virgin Mary who nurses her son Jesus is one of the most eloquent signs that the word of God truly and undoubtedly became flesh," he wrote. And it was only by becoming fully human that the Son of God could save humanity from sin and death, the priest wrote.

Scaraffia said that when the early Christian theologians wrote about and artists represented Our Lady breast-feeding they were showing "concrete proof" of God's incarnation.

"Jesus was a baby like all others. ... His divinity does not exclude his humanity," she wrote . . . .

She said the sacred image of Mary nursing her child is "an image so concrete and loving" that it recalls her offering her body for nourishment and giving herself completely to her son as he offers his body and blood in the Eucharist and gave himself completely for others with his death and resurrection.

HT: Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog

Advice from a hard-core PP-er

Some of Susanna Wesley's child-raising rules:

*Subdue self-will in a child.

*Teach him to pray as soon as he can speak.

*Give him nothing he cries for, and only what is good for him when he asks politely.

*Punish no fault confessed, but let no sinful act to go unnoticed.

*Reward good behavior.

*Strictly observe all promises you have made to your child.

There's other stuff like if you must cry, cry softly to avoid punishment; eat everything put in front of you; and learn the entire alphabet on your first day of lessons at age 5 (!?) but those 3 minutes of googling didn't yield the complete list in a convenient package, so since I am an American in this age of instant gratification, you'll just have to look up the rest for yourself. :P

02 July 2008

There goes the "that's just the way I am" excuse

"Much of what I thought was my personality was just sin."

--Andree Seu

(In one of her WORLD magazine columns from forever ago; I've forgotten all but this one line, which continues to haunt me.)

Where have all the Lutherans gone? Long time passing

Dad estimates that average weekly attendance at his larger church is around 90. Summer services are more sparsely attended. This past Sunday, though, attendance was 144. Whose Ablaze!itude do we have to thank for this?

That would be one Mr ----- who turns 90 this week. As it happens, this venerable patriarch is a father of nine. Only six of his children and their families were able to join him for the Divine Service at our church three days ago to kick off his birthday celebration. Yet even this 66% turnout rate of one person's family increased our congregation's size by something like 63%.

Census takers, consider yourselves notified. And why don't you see if you can't get Mr and Mrs ----- onto your strategic planning committee.

01 July 2008

Childolatry vs. Negligence

Lately the two-year-old has been so convinced that he needs more of my attention that I’m almost starting to believe him (where his arguments lack in rationality, they more than compensate in volume and violence). Three months into his big brother gig, he vehemently adores BabyBoy, but is still prone to destructive sprees when the new guy nurses, despite my best efforts to do all those things “the books” recommend, like giving him a special toy or offering to read to him and cuddle with him while the baby eats (ha!).

Here’s the problem: there’s only so much pie, no matter how you slice it. BabyBoy needs big helping right now. And my job description, as near as I can figure it, includes not only entertaining/educating the babes, but also dealing with that stack of bills, that empty kitchen table and its sidekick, the full sink, that trail of laundry winding its way through the house…

Stating the obvious: It’s not good for children to grow up thinking that the sun rises and sets on their every whim. Neither is it good for children to grow up thinking that a clean house (or a sibling, or the computer, or whatever) is more important than they are.

And so the game goes. Every day, each child and each chore vies for a larger share of the pie, and I allocate it to the best of my judgment. But I hate those days where I feel like everyone goes to bed still hungry for attention they haven’t gotten, to say nothing of the house’s endless accusations of neglect.

On the darker days, I can console myself with the thought that at least I’m not paying to outsource the neglect of my children, since I’m so perfectly capable of accomplishing that myself :O