29 March 2011

Gary Larson on the domestic condition

The woods: larger than rumored

Here's something that's been rattling around in my head for a while. I was talking to a mother of five with a wide age spread. She told me how she had to take an evenings-and-weekends job when their older children were in high school, and she thought it would be OK since they were older. It went very badly. She concluded her sad story by saying, "It turned out they needed me around at least as much then as they had when they were little. In some ways, they needed me more."

I really appreciated her being willing to tell me this.

28 March 2011

Riddle me this

Why don't they just make all the passenger seats in a car face backwards?

26 March 2011


I like how everything a housewife does is cool as long as it's not a housewife doing it. Cooking, gardening, sewing, yarny things, painty things, buildy things, and whatever else are cool and require top-of-the-line equipment and accessories when they are pursued by hobbyists. If I do it, it's boring and vaguely embarrassing, and cheapo brand products are more than sufficient tools for my pathetic twitches in such directions.

Best of all, a dad who stays home with his kids is the hugest hero of all time, whereas I only do it because I don't have any respectable education, skills, earning potential, or ambition.

24 March 2011

When billboards are all you've got to think about

Iron Skillet sounds like a family restaurant in Mordor.

Doesn't Mrs. Orcwell deserve the night off?

22 March 2011

Random thoughts of a lactational nature

Nursing BabyOne was difficult for me, physically and psychologically. While the mechanical difficulties were trifling compared to what others have experienced, they were sufficient and persistent enough to make me regularly threaten (albeit emptily) to give over the whole endeavor. I also felt quite keenly what I perceived at the time to be the solitary burden of the experience and the restrictions it placed on my activities and schedule (said baby being averse to a bottle--which was a terrible nuisance anyhow-- and quite attached to nursing on a schedule—his schedule). People would sometimes reference the “magical moments” of breastfeeding and I would do my best to smile and nod, hoping no one noticed that a mere earthling had accidentally landed on Planet La Leche League.

Here’s the thing about breastfeeding: No one else can do it for you. When your infant nursling is hungry, you must feed it. It doesn’t matter if you yourself are hungry, or tired, or in a very inconvenient public place, or in the very crucial middle of making supper. You must stop what you are doing and feed the baby. And if this is your first baby, or if the baby is newish, or you are shyish, even the “publicity” of a room containing friends and relatives may be too public for you, and you must withdraw to the solitary confinement and possibly painful appeasement of an impatient, ungrateful guzzler. (And if you are at times employed away from the baby, you must still make provision to feed the baby, likely necessitating that your breaks are consumed by quality time with uncomfortable apparatus.)

But! Here’s the thing about breastfeeding, that over the course of three subsequent nurslings, I’ve come to discover: No one else can do it for you. No one else gets to see that contented curve of her cheek, just so, in the moonlight. For you alone is reserved that first amazed look when, at several weeks of age, she finally becomes aware that she is not exactly dining solo: “Hey! You’re here too?! ” You get to see the chubby legs kick in excited anticipation of a satisfying meal. Yours are the little sideways glances and quick grins between gulps. When she’s tired or strung-out and no one else can comfort her, you can have her nestling in shuddering contentment within seconds. If you feel like she’s been passed around enough at a family gathering, or if you need a break from the family gathering, you can plead baby’s nutritional needs and seek a quiet corner of escape.

No one else can do it for you. As with so much of motherhood in this mortal vale, the burden is joy; and the joy, burden. Some days, the balance tips toward joy, and some weeks, the burden seems likely to break the balance altogether. Often, it’s just pretty darn hard to tell the difference, but grace gives us enough glimpses to keep us going until the Day when things are finally sorted out for good. Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

Looking grayt

My mom had completely gray hair in her early thirties. While I don't seem to share her gift for accelerated gray, I'm expecting this Basic Brown to start phasing itself out any day now. Previously the gray/pregnant combination I may have in my future has been cause for alarm, but having been introduced to Trudy, I'm rethinking things. Gray+pregnant=freakin awesome. Doubtless it will work at least this well for me.

HT: my own freakin awesome mother-in-law.

21 March 2011

We all start somewhere

A while ago, I received an evening call from a friend. I couldn't talk. I was playing Yahtzee with my big kids. Big kids! Yahtzee! I have big kids who play Yahtzee! She was just as amazed, having only little ones herself, and thus no Yahtzee.

Like-mindedness does not equal like-lifedness. Back when we were solidly in baby/little kid territory, I found it most vexing when a like-minded person five kids ahead of me would say something like, "Wipe down the toilet while the kids brush their teeth!" or "Dad is great at doing [X] with the older kids!" or "Our family loved putting on a Reader's Theater of Torquato Tasso! When we finished that we read the Federalist Papers together--what fun!" Lucky, lucky you. Please don't tell me, "Even our five-year-old can help out a little!" In a house where the oldest kid is five, the amount of help a five-year-old is able to contribute is well known, and not a cause for great optimism.

I remember thinking in those early days about women I knew who had lots of kids (like, four), and being completely unable to comprehend FOUR pregnancies, giving birth FOUR times, living through FOUR postpartums, nursing for FOUR+ years of life. After our first baby was born, I told my husband, "I can't believe anyone ever has more than one kid." Sometimes I still can't. I can't believe I have. I have not forgotten that first baby. How I truly despaired of my life at her delivery. How ruined and hopeless I felt afterward, and for how long. How nursing her was, without a doubt, the hardest thing I have ever done. How the hardest thing I have ever done took months measured in quarter hours, not a bold moment of heroic decision. How I couldn't smile then any more than I could fly. How the whole time I was thinking, I cannot, cannot do this ever again.

The existence of apparently happy mothers nearing the end of their parturitional careers at least provided evidence that there were some women who could do this without going to prison or having their kids apostasize and write Sedaris-esque memoirs of their outlandish childhoods. But no bland testimony of "You'll make it!" actually made me think I would. Every reminder of how blessed these blessings are and affirmation of what a good job I was doing from someone who couldn't possibly know what kind of job I was doing just reminded me what a bad person I was.

We all start somewhere. "This too shall pass" and "It's worth it" are things I already know. Being prodded with them doesn't help me through the lowest times, devoid as they are of such clemencies as nights passed in sleep or 45 minutes alone (to PRAY! to BATHE!). I know it will pass and it's worth it. If I didn't know that I would be under 24-hour surveillance in some institution. Anyone who wants to help a mom out can say a prayer, mail a package, come over and read to the kids for an hour, keep vigil hither or thither. Anyone who wants to make her sadder can force her to respond politely to the wisdom of the ages when she's mucking through this doleful hour or month or year.

So, friend, I'm sorry I couldn't talk. I look forward to your Yahtzee-playing days for you, because Yahtzee is fun. I have nothing but respect, sympathy, and prayer for the gutting it out you're doing now. It's warm again; let's plan a day soon.

17 March 2011


Here, off the top of my head, are some of the best postpartum gifts I've ever received:

A week of meals (Thank you wonderful people!!)
A batch of muffins
A busket of granola
Pillars of the Earth
A pint of Kopp's red raspberry custard (which, sadly, I can't hope to receive again in my current locale)

Observation 1: These are almost all food. The joy of the meals is self-explanatory, but why should I still remember so fondly a dozen muffins I received over 8 years ago? Because they were the only thing I ate for as long as they lasted. For some reason, when I have a new baby, I cannot feed myself. I stand in the kitchen, feeling hungry, holding the baby, looking at all the food there, and thinking: It's all too hard. I can't do it. And I wander back out, sad and still hungry. This has improved since my mother-in-law has made a habit of coming to stay with us for a while when we have a new baby. I awaken from a nap with the baby on one side of me and a plate full of tacos lovingly tucked in on the other. But the problem can persist for a long time, so if you want to help a postpartum lady out, unwrap a bunch of string cheeses and put them front and center in her fridge with a note that only she's allowed to eat them.

Observation 2: Pillars of the Earth caught me by surprise, but wow. I read that book day and night for a week, and although real me felt like pure junk, imaginary me was having the time of her life building cathedrals (disclaimer: there was quite a bit of yucky stuff I skipped, particularly with the skittery postpartum brain). Now I always save a giant book I really want to read for postpartum. It helps.

Observation 3: You can never have too many sweat pants, especially postpartum.

15 March 2011

More from Emmanuel Press

What will Emmanuel Press think of next? Take a look at these cards. Perfect for notes from Pastor (I know my husband writes a lot of them), Easter greetings without bunnies, and baptisms/baptism birthdays for godchildren, niephlings, and your local cradle roll. If you've got a candidate in the works, you can also convert the baptism cards to invitations with a downloadable template from the EP website. Order online or pick some up at the Gottesdienst conference in Kansas City this week.

(And let me just say while I've got you here that Seed-Grains of Prayer is fantastic and I hope to do a full review sometime, and no, Emmanuel Press is not paying me for all these commercials. They just keep putting out really good stuff.)


They nibble at it with negative criticism; they chip pieces off it and exhibit them as specimens, called "hard cases"; they treat every example of the rule as an exception to the rule, but they never look at the rule.

G.K. Chesterton, "Marriage and the Modern Mind," Brave New Family

13 March 2011

Vintage picture book comes through in the end

Once upon a time, all the library books that entered our house were either carefully selected or approved by me. Ahem. On the increasingly rare occasions that I enter a library building with all my infamous library pillagers in tow, they fan out and frantically stuff their loot sacks like they’re preparing for a fast getaway after they torch the place: zero to card limit in 60 seconds or less.

Once their bags are bulging, the boys sit and gloat over their haul while I make some more measured selections. I attempt at least a cursory glance at what they’ve grabbed before we check out—one boy in particular has a penchant for overdosing in the section of whatever he’s passionate about at the moment. (Memorably, he once emptied the entire shelf of Johnny Lion books into his bag—triplicates and all.) When we get home, I’ll just refuse to read anything that’s particularly obnoxious, and hide the mind-numbing ones after a reading or two.

Honestly, this element of surprise makes at least the first reading of all the picture books a bit more exciting ;P. And occasionally, something interesting surfaces. Someone recently grabbed the 1966 edition of Babar and his Children (original copyright 1939), and here is how it ends:

Now everyone is asleep. Babar and Celeste will soon go to bed too. They are gradually calming down after all these exciting events.

“Truly it is not easy to bring up a family,” sighs Babar. “But how nice the babies are! I wouldn’t know how to get along without them any more.”

12 March 2011

Explanatory variables

I wonder if test subjects were asked to load a dishwasher rather than idly rotating objects in space, women would perform more competitively with men in spatial reasoning?

You call this full?

09 March 2011

Teach us to care and not to care

I think I missed posting this last year, but it's still a tradition here:

from T.S. Eliot's Ash Wednesday

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the agèd eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us


If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice


Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will

08 March 2011

Economies of Scale

From the New York Times Motherlode blog:

Is the third child somehow more “economical” than the first or second? “With any big project, there are start-up costs,” she says. “But does the marginal cost of kids fall?”

There are numbers that suggest so. Parsing USDA data (click here and see page 7) she finds that “if you have two kids, ages 13 and 16, your costs as a middle-income family will be $23,000 per year” to feed, house and clothe them. “However, if you have three kids, ages 11, 13, and 16, your costs will be $25,880 – in other words, the third kid is costing just $2,880 extra.”

And “mega families,” she says, believe this is true. “All of them told me that the marginal cost of children falls precipitously. I’m sure this is partly true, though it also depends on what you plan to do for the kids — most of them don’t plan to pay for college. They also tend not to buy plane tickets for 16 people.”

07 March 2011

Let's get real

This is one of those things I wish someone had told me at the beginning of my motherhood career:  newborns have startlingly few needs. Turns out, they don't care a whit for special stools, pillows, bottles, brushes, beds, spoons, or minky-lined whatnots. In fact, all they need is the following:

1. Oxygen.
2. Mom.
3. Dad.

And that's it! I mean, fuzzy blankets and footie pajamas are really nice, and thank God for disposable diapers, but newborns don't need such things. Neither do they need that expensive teak crib, that silk-lined bouncy seat, or that clown suit from Gymboree. Such stuff is more for Mom, and she doesn't need it either. Turns out what Newly-Delivered Mom needs is Dad, rest, and someone to administer her Communion.

Oh, give me a break

All the stuff all the folk are trying to sell you is just a huge glob of gravy. Gravy is mighty tasty, but go easy on your checkbook and ladle as little as possible into your life.  And remember, kids, don't drown your food.

05 March 2011

Wherefore we submit, and gladly

More great words from Father Rick Stuckwisch. Long live men.

01 March 2011

For naptime or bedtime

No particular reason; just that it's one of the most fascinating articles I've ever read.

Get you a pastor

OK, here's something I'm going to get full-on preachy about. Every human needs a pastor. Theology professors need pastors. Sextons need pastors. Pastors' kids need pastors. Pastors' in-laws need pastors. Pastors' widowed mothers need pastors. Pastors' maiden uncles need pastors. Pastors need pastors. Popes--they who believe, teach, and confess themselves to be the Vicars of Christ on earth by divine right!--need and have pastors. See where I'm going with this?

That's right, the pastor's wife needs a pastor. For all the boo-hooing spent on this pseudo-conundrum, I am mystified that the totally obvious provision our Lord normingly and our Confessions normedly make for it is endlessly overlooked. Which is to say, "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." What? No special asterisk here for that extra-special person, the pastor's wife? As usual, Bob Dylan said it best: "Everybody must get loosed*" (*or bound).

I have not set out to say here that the pastor's wife's husband cannot be her pastor. Most of the time it is he who brings her God's Word of Law and Gospel, baptizes her children, and feeds her from our Lord's Altar. That's fairly straightforward most of the time. The place the pastor/husband thing is most likely to get tricky is the confessional. After all, against whom does the pastor's wife sin most? Whose sins are the second closest to the pastor, and therefore the second easiest and hardest for the pastor to judge?

Even yet I will not say that her husband cannot be her Father Confessor, for the complications I have cited are merely practical. He can be. Sometimes he should be or has to be. Sometimes she asks him to be. But often, he doesn't have to be, and often, this benefits both man and wife. Furthermore, the pastor needs a pastor, and here's where things really start coming together: the pastor and his wife and their kids can have the same pastor. They can go to confession as a family. Although it is still private, it is a pilgrimage of discipline they can make together, a blessed humility they can share, a divine comfort in which they can be united. And when the pastor's family needs someone to meet them at the hospital, to pray for them in their distress, they know whom to call: their dear pastor. Not just the guy at the next closest church or Dad's buddy or the circuit counselor no one else in the family knows. They can call a man who is Father to all of them.

If this doesn't sound right; if a Father Confessor isn't what the pastor's wife is looking for, then she's not looking for a pastor. She's looking for a therapist or a friend or a cheerleader. Any of those may be something she needs, and she would do well to secure them. But she definitely needs an ear to swallow her sins up in death and a voice to breath forgiveness and life into her, whether or not she feels she needs it or is comfortable with it. She definitely needs to make confession and hear her sins absolved, whether or not she perceives that confession will help her with her perceived problems. For her true problem is always sin, and the true cure is always Holy Absolution.

So, pastors' wives, get a pastor. Make sure your kids have a pastor. Your husband also needs a pastor.