Thursday, July 24, 2014

The obligatory NFP post

So, it's NFP Awareness Week, apparently.  The internet is plastered with memes and posts and stuff.  My favorite response was Simcha Fisher's, which is that when you're using NFP, the one thing you'd like is to be a little less aware of it.  (She's also having a big giveaway on her blog to promote her book, so if you're interested in free stuff, you might want to mosey on down there.  I wasn't interested in any of the prizes, but if you use NFP you probably will be.)

Anyway, I can hardly be a Catholic blogger and not blog about NFP this week .... but the thing is, I appear to be the only married Catholic I know who doesn't use it!

Before you gasp with horror, let me point out that this doesn't mean I use birth control.  That's an odd sort of dichotomy.  I don't use birth control.  It's just that in five years of marriage, we've never had cause to use anything, so we haven't.  So our kids are "not exactly planned" -- we just kind of let it happen, and that's been fine so far.  Breastfeeding has worked well to space them out.

This doesn't mean I'm opposed to NFP, because I'm not.  I can think of no end of very good reasons why people use it, like to recover after a c-section (a third of us get one, you know!) or to fix hormonal or emotional issues (if you have severe PPD, you might want to get that under control) or just because breastfeeding doesn't work to space their babies like it does for me.  I honestly believe that having a baby every year is very hard on your body, and that our bodies weren't meant to undergo that.  That's why breastfeeding works as birth control -- it's our bodies' natural way of making sure we don't get pregnant that often!  And if it doesn't work, either because we can't breastfeed or because we're one of those people (and it's hard to tell ahead of time!) whom breastfeeding doesn't work as birth control for, NFP can be a corrective.

At the same time, I don't buy a whole lot of the advertising.  Does NFP really reduce your risk of divorce?  Who knows!  The statistic you find of "only 2% of NFP-using couples get divorced!" isn't substantiated anywhere I can see.  And even if it is true, there's no control group of those of us who just have babies.  Maybe we're too buried under babies to even consider getting divorced!

For some couples, NFP helps their communication.  For others, it's just one more thing to fight over.  For some, it's a joyful honeymoon every month.  For others, it's a miserable slog.  I can really see why you would use it for a good reason.  I don't see at all why you would do it just for kicks, for all the "fringe benefits."  And for those who say "oh but you can use it to get pregnant too!" I would say, why go through all that trouble of charting and fussing around with the numbers when (if you are a normal couple of normal fertility) you will get pregnant sooner or later anyway?

The reason Catholics use NFP isn't because it's fun or wonderful or an enriching spiritual practice.  We use it because we can't use birth control, and in a world where kids aren't free labor, but rather an expense; and where almost all of our kids will make it to adulthood so we're not hedging our bets against infant mortality; and where we now realize that maternal mortality can be avoided in most cases -- well, sometimes it does make a lot of sense to avoid having kids for awhile.

I'm not tempted to use birth control.  The aesthetic does not appeal to me.  I don't want to take medications long-term, especially ones that will screw with my hormones.  I don't want to feel like I have to be medicated out of health to function normally.  Thinking about IUD's makes me want to pass out.  Condoms are just kinda squicky to me.  The only way that really makes sense to me to avoid having babies is to not have sex, either at all or periodically.  And luckily, lack of sex isn't deadly.  We all practice abstinence at least sometimes, for one reason or another, and though it's sometimes difficult, it's not the end of the world.

But I'm not going to hand down a lecture about how all babies should be wanted (in the sense of, one should always want a baby) because the fact is, I understand.  A family has no limit on the love it can provide, but it does have a limit on the beds it can squeeze in.  There is a limit on how much sleep deprivation you can undergo before you become a less patient mother.  There is a limit on how close together you can have babies and still breastfeed them all.  Sometimes to care adequately for the babies you have, you have to take a break from having more babies.  This doesn't mean you don't value life, it means you know how to be prudent too.  For everyone, this moment comes at a different time.  Some people bravely have babies in circumstances that look scary to others, and it turns out okay for them.  Others don't feel called to do this, and I'm hardly going to hand down my opinion when I haven't walked in their shoes.

I don't care if you use NFP or not, and I am not going to ask if you meant to have only two kids or if you've had ten miscarriages and desperately prayed for more living children.  I understand that I am not going to be able to tell by looking at your family how "open to life" you are.  I also understand that your blase "oh, we are so done" might possibly cover up a story you don't want to tell me -- like "my life is in danger if I get pregnant again" or "my husband and I are having severe marriage problems."  So you are not going to get any judgment from me.  Having ten kids is not proof of being a better Catholic.

And for those who use birth control, or believe in it -- all I can say is, the life we have works very well for us.  Yes, not using all the pills and gadgets the rest of the world uses does make life more difficult for Catholics.  I'd be lying if I pretended that weren't so.  Abstaining is more difficult than not abstaining, and having ten kids is more difficult than having two.

But I can speak to the joy that I had at 15 when I finally had a baby brother of my very own.  My parents were "too old" to start over, in the eyes of many, but all I can feel is gratitude that they were open to one more.  (Which turned into four more, lol.)  I can speak to the joy that Marko brings to our life every day, even though by every sensible measure we should never have conceived him -- we lived in a studio apartment at the time and neither of us was working!  Being part of a subculture where marriage comes first, then sex, then (inevitably) babies, means a lot of different things.  There's some dysfunction here and there, but I also hear a lot of envy from people outside it -- girls who wish they could have found a guy to date who respected them enough to wait for sex till after marriage, for instance.  Or women who want to have babies but their husbands refuse.  Or women whose husbands insist they stay on birth control but refuse to do any of the work.  Or women whose IUD or implant made them severely ill. 

I hear the stories on all sides; that's kind of how the internet is if you don't hide in your own subculture.  I hear women say they are pregnant for the fifth time in five years and they were using NFP but messed up some detail and now what are they going to do.  And a part of me says, "This is nuts, how can we be okay with this?"  But then I click to another forum where a woman says "I am pregnant again and so happy because I really wanted another, but my husband will leave me if I don't have an abortion."  And I think .... there's no solution here.  There's no solution anywhere.  Being a woman is hard.  Having babies is hard.  Our hearts are going to hurt, we're going to feel like we're not enough.

Really, I'm lucky, because I haven't had anything too terrible happen to me.  Sometimes I feel overwhelmed.  But overall I think my life is about right.  I have beautiful babies -- I'm about to have another beautiful baby -- and as much as it terrifies me to think of the pain of labor and the sleepless nights and how much less I will have to give my other kids for awhile .... I know once I see that baby, I'll think it was worth it.

And at the same time, that doesn't mean at all I'm going to be in a rush for number four.  Maybe next time we'll wait longer.  We know how.  The choice is ours, and although there is no way to make that choice without a sacrifice somewhere, I do feel free in the knowledge that we have it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Seven quick takes


It bothers me that I haven't been writing any real posts in awhile.  I have a lot I want to write about: why I don't think "tough" sermons are so great, ways sexism hurts men, how favors among neighbors are the cure for commercialism, and why for me "buy nothing" is always the goal.  But when do I have time to write this stuff?  Apparently, at 3 a.m., because that's when the ideas come to me. 

Why am I awake then?  Can't blame Michael, he's been okay.  Nah, it's just third-trimester insomnia, which of course is one of the chief causes of third-trimester exhaustion, unproductiveness, and crabbiness.  Sigh. 

Last night was pretty good.  I went to bed at 10, was almost asleep at 10:15 when I heard a cry.  It was Marko, who was too hot.  I took his blanket off and went back to bed, but then I couldn't sleep till almost 11.  Then I slept solid for six good hours (hooray!) before Michael woke up at five.  It's always iffy to get him back to sleep at that point, so I just lay with him in his bed till almost seven.  But I didn't sleep very well, because I was crammed into a toddler bed and because Marko barged into our room at six demanding breakfast.  (John got up with him so at least I didn't have to move and risk waking Michael.)

So, yeah, that's what we call a good night.  I feel pretty alive today -- haven't yelled at the kids, did the dishes before breakfast, mowed the lawn before lunch, and am now sore enough that I'm questioning when and how I'm going to get the sweeping done.  But the floor is just unacceptable, so I'll have to find a way.


My latest pregnancy whine is my abs.  Like pretty much every woman with a couple kids, I have a mild diastasis of the rectus abdominus ... that is, my abs are a bit separated in the middle.  I tried very hard to fix this with exercise after Michael was born, but no one really knows what sort of exercise helps (not crunches, is all I know for sure) and the pressure of a big ol' baby in there is pushing them apart again.

This is bad for a lot of reasons, firstly that it hurts, secondly that it fails to stabilize my wobbly pelvis and back so that those issues flare up again, thirdly that it lets baby move too freely and puts me at risk for breech birth, and fourthly that it puts me at risk for a hernia.  Delightful.

So I asked my midwife yesterday what the cure is, and she said that she too has separated abs -- and it's been a decade since she's had any kids!  Ugh.  I always believed that having babies doesn't destroy a woman's body; it's what we were designed to do, and if we take care of ourselves we should stay healthy before, during, and after childbearing.  But when I look around, every mother I know has at least one major or minor complaint -- weak pelvic floor, mild incontinence, thyroid or other hormonal issues, and so forth.  What the heck are we doing wrong?

Anyway, the midwife did suggest binding my abdomen with a belly band or wrap of some kind, just to stabilize the poor weak stretched-out muscles so they don't get any worse.  So I'm trying to figure out what I might have around that would do the job without being unbearably hot.


In GOOD news, the garden is at its most wonderful.  I just picked the first big tomatoes.  The Cherokee Purples win the race against the Pineapple, which makes me happy since the Purples are my own starts and the Pineapples were purchased at the farmers' market.  But really they got ripe at almost the same time, despite the Purples looking much spindlier at first.  I'm also harvesting cucumbers, green beans, chard still, broccoli, cabbage, and herbs.  The sugar snap peas aren't even dead, but they've pretty much petered out -- I get maybe one pod a week.

My neighbor just gave me a massive zucchini and some yellow squash.  I know what to do with the zucchini (shred it and freeze it in two-cup portions for my zucchini bread) but the yellow squash, I'm not sure.  I'm not a summer squash fan really, but on the other hand, free food, amiright?  So this morning I sauteed one of them with onions, added some black beans and salsa and cilantro, and then scrambled a couple of eggs in there.  Pretty tasty!  Michael thought so too, but Marko didn't eat any.  Maybe I should try frying them next; Marko likes most breaded and fried stuff (well, who doesn't?).


My most exciting news, I'm not supposed to share, for reasons which regular readers will readily understand.  Let's just say, you remember how I have had a deep and abiding longing for pet birds?  Well, I got the kind of pet birds I wanted, three of them, 16 weeks old.  They live in a dwelling that John built (it's really very impressive, how can he be good at carpentry on top of everything else?) and happily roam around the yard eating bugs and seeds and stuff.  They don't come running when I feed them, and in fact show very little interest in their food, because they are getting so much in my 1/4 acre near-jungle of a backyard.  I suppose winter will be different, but so far I am happy to be saving feed!

From henceforth they are "parakeets" and we're all going to keep this hush-hush, right?


I have somehow let myself get drawn into a heck of a lot of debates on Patheos lately.  Simcha Fisher's blog, in particular, is a favorite of mine, but it turns out that thanks to her "Issues Guy" who haunts her blog and disagrees with everything she says, if I comment there at all, I wind up in a fight.  He called me a lying shrew because I said I originally intended to obey my husband and later decided not to.  And said that if my husband thinks he's happy, it's only because he's too beaten down by me.

That made me very upset for about 24 hours.  I have a pretty thick skin about internet criticism (or I wouldn't do this stuff!) but it does play on my interior doubts that I could possibly be a good wife while doing things so differently from the way I was raised with, or the way dictated by a lot of Catholics.

And then I remembered that I do, in fact, submit to my husband all the time.  He thinks we should buy a new car?  Well, he knows more about cars and our finances than I do, so ... yeah, I asked some questions and then said, "Go for it."  I didn't need to see the car first.  I trust him.  He doesn't want to go to this Mass, but this other Mass?  If it's important to him, I think he should make the call.

The difference is that I don't think I am obligated in conscience to obey him.  When I know in my heart of hearts that I'm right, I don't think I'm a sinner if I stick to my guns.  And likewise, my husband is aware that the Bible never gives him the right to order me around, and so he doesn't.  He submits to me all the time too.  We're happy with it.  We don't see marriage as a competition about who's the boss -- we see it as an opportunity to become holier by serving each other.

And then I remembered that of course Issues Guy knows nothing about this, because he's never seen me, my husband, or our marriage in action.  Duh.  He's just talking based on what he thinks evil feminists are like.  So ..... can't let it get to me, you know?


34 weeks is supposed to be nesting time, right?  Well, for me it's procrastination time.  I think a part of my subconscious thinks that if I don't order the birth kit and gather labor supplies, I never have to go into labor.  Whereas even doing the slightest birth-related thing makes me think about being in labor, and I can't stand that thought.  I'm trying to pretend it's never going to happen to me.  The midwife says denial is okay; after all, it's not like it actually works!  Ready or not, I'm going to give birth one way or another.

That sucks.  The pendulum has swung back to "being pregnant isn't so bad" and I'm digging in my heels.  I have maybe a month left, but I want to get every week out of this pregnancy I can.  I am not going to be one of those women eating pineapple and going for long walks to force my body into labor -- I'm going to be drinking wine in the bathtub up to the very last minute to try to get those contractions to stop.  Because labor is scary and I remember it very well.  Also, I remember how little newborns sleep.


I did at least force myself to get the newborn clothes down from the attic.  I figured the kids would like to see just how tiny their new brother or sister is going to be.  They were very excited.  Really they are excited about every detail of babies right now -- though Michael is a little confused sometimes.  He says things like "the baby will drive the new car" or "I will bite the baby and the baby will cry and then I will hug the baby and kiss the baby and the baby will feel better!"  And I get a wee bit worried.

Anyway, after I did that I felt anxious because almost all the baby clothes are footie pajamas and on the one hand, it's going to be August, and on the other, I plan to be doing elimination communication from day one, and I can only imagine the trouble of snapping and unsnapping jammies every twenty minutes or so so that baby can use the potty.  So I took an old t-shirt of John's out of the rag box and made a baby nightgown, just by sewing up the sides and trimming down the sleeves.  I figure I can crank out a few more of those with no trouble, if I can summon the energy.  It's a sitting-down job, anyway.

Aaaaand .... I think that's it for the week.  Kinda late to link up to Conversion Diary, but I will.

Friday, July 4, 2014



Well, we're well into third trimester.  I'm reminded now that it isn't just first trimester that sucks.  It goes like this:

First trimester: Ugh, why did I have to get pregnant?
Second trimester: Hey, it's not so bad being pregnant.
Third trimester: I am so done being pregnant!

Funny how I started off with this terrified of having another baby, and now I'm like, bring on the baby!  Beats being pregnant!

I had a few days where I was having braxton-hicks contractions pretty much every time I stood up, despite all the magnesium I'm taking, on top of my pelvis getting totally screwed up all of a sudden.  I walked to the park on Tuesday and felt like I'd just finished a marathon .... that would be three blocks, at a snail's pace.  Of course the heat didn't help (it was 90) but my main thought was, "Oh woe, no more park till the baby is born!"  Because I was so afraid I'd put myself into labor just walking out there.

Well, for whatever reason that's all settled down (better hydration?  truly excessive amounts of magnesium lotion smeared on my belly?) and I don't think I'm going to give up the park just yet.  I'll play each week by ear.  Right now I'm almost 33 weeks.  I am thinking of it as "five weeks more" because Michael was born at 38 and Marko at almost 39, but of course it could well be another two months.  And you know, I'll survive if it is.  I'm not going to say no to more time with only two kids.


With discomfort, for me at least, comes massive amounts of whining.  It does make me feel better to complain -- the years that boarding school had me never complaining just led to me feeling miserable AND lonely -- and it wins me all kinds of sympathy from friends and family.  But on the other hand, I'm beginning to feel like the world's biggest whiner, and I am tired of it.  I feel like I'm bringing everyone down.  Everyone's happy to be sympathetic for a day or two, but if you whine every day for a month, they're going to get tired of it.  I especially feel bad for John, who is entitled every once in awhile to have a bad day himself and could perhaps use not to hear a list of complaints every single day.

So I'm trying to strike a balance.  Now that my back is better, my uterus has calmed down, and the kids had a good day today, I don't even feel the need to whine.  But I still reserve the right to whine as necessary.  If I never complain, I just end up crabby and no one knows why because I didn't tell them any of the reasons.


Marko seems to have hit his stride as a four-year-old.  Instead of the constant battles of the will we had when he was three, and for a month or two after, he's turned to constant questions.  Some of those questions are obviously just to make sure I am paying attention to him ("What are you doing, Mama?  Are you washing dishes?  Did you wash that dish already?  Are you going to wash that dish next?") but others are rather genius ("Why is the sun hot?  How does matter turn into energy?  What's gravity?  Are spiders mammals?").  And I just can't help trying to answer them all, even though I know there is no end to all of them, because I like to help him learn.

And because if I say "I'm so tired of all your incessant questions!" he'll only answer, "Why are you tired of questions?  What does incessant mean?"  He will repeat the same question over and over till he gets an answer.  I try to fight it sometimes, if only to prove to him I don't have to answer, but really, it's a losing battle.

In Chesterton's words, he will ask all the questions there are, and some there aren't.

He's finally interested in getting older and learning new things, instead of melting down crying at the thought of someday being older than he is.  (It helped that I told him that even if his hair turns brown when he gets older, like Daddy's did, he can always dye it back to blond if he wants to.  For some reason this was very important to him.)  He says he's going to have a real tractor when he grows up, as well as a house and twin boys who own remote control cars and are going to share with him.

And he's stopped insisting he can't read and never wants to learn, and now tells me that he can so read.  Which he pretty much can, if by "read" you mean flip through the book and tell you what's going on on every page, as well as recite the words, often enough.  Michael loves getting "read" to, and Marko enjoys going through a book even when I'm not willing to read to him.  (Either one of them would have me read to them all day, given the choice.)  Marko is also interested in the idea that letters make sounds, and he can spend fifteen minutes asking, "What sound does T make?  What sound does P make?  What sound does L make?  What word does TPLWR spell?"  (Then he'll answer himself, "It spells Constantinople.")  He doesn't recognize the shapes of all his letters, but he knows some, and we have fun with letter magnets and letter puzzle pieces, building words.  I'm following his interest with this -- he's only four and there's no rush, but if he wants to learn about letters, I'll set aside what I'm doing and do letters with him.

(Which goes to show that unschooling, even though it's child-led, is hardly free of the parent's influence.  When I say no to playing cars and yes to playing letters, I am sending a message about what things are important enough to get Mama's attention.)

He still can't write at all or draw very well at all, but this may be partly my fault .... I don't often let them color because it takes only seconds of my inattention for them to write on the walls.  I really should try to give him more chances, though.  I've noticed boys often have poor hand-eye coordination early on and thus terrible handwriting in first and second grade, and I wonder if it's because they don't spend as much time on drawing and other fine-motor activities.

But he's gradually getting more capable in other things.  He buckles his own seatbelt, and often will dress himself (though he'd still prefer I do it).  He can make his own (messy) peanut butter sandwich and give half to Michael.  He likes to help me with stuff, though he can be bad at following directions and end up being more of a hindrance sometimes.


Michael .... sigh.  The two words I can think of to describe him are "irrepressible" and "sleepless."  Yeah, he's still not regularly sleeping through the night, or even very often at all.  Sometimes he wakes up around when I get into bed, and I bring him into his bed in our room, where he might sleep great till morning.  But in Marko's room, he never sleeps as well.  He wakes up and squawks a little -- enough to wake me up and get me halfway out my bedroom door before I realize he's just making noise in his sleep -- every hour or two, before waking up for real between twelve and three and needing to be brought into our room.  I really want him to sleep in his own room all night, but I think I've missed the best window to do it ... now I am too tired to make the investment, and I'd sooner just bring him in our room to sleep.

But if he's on the mattress next to our bed, where is the baby going to sleep?  I was going to set up the crib there!  I don't like actually having a baby in bed with me all night; I can't get comfortable.  And I would hate to train my baby to be unable to sleep alone simply because I had nowhere else to put them!

Also this waking at 4:30 a.m. and not going back to sleep thing has to stop.  He doesn't always do it, but when he does, he and I are both miserable all day.  He spends the whole day collapsing into tears over being offered the wrong food, having Marko make a face at him, or being told no for any reason.  And I spend the day shrieking "WHY must you be so crabby?  Why can't you ever be happy?"  Which led to poor Michael staggering after me sobbing "I will be happy, I will be happy!"  Ugh, stab to the heart.  Not my proudest mother moment there.


I won't turn the wheels on your loom, Mama!  That is, not until your back is turned!

But the irrepressible side is really a delight, even though it's trouble of its own.  Most of the time, he's SO happy.  Big beaming smiles, hysterical laughter over the tiniest things.  He's also so affectionate -- loves hugs, and will come up behind me to give me one.  If he sees a booboo on me anymore -- or even a zit -- he has to kiss it.  He hugs his stuffed animals and carries them around.  If someone is sad, he has to do something about it.  This morning he insisted I nurse the crying baby in his book, so it would feel better.  And I did, because who can say no to that face?

His "crazy face"

Of course his irrepressible temperament and general lack of anxiety means that he isn't half as good a listener as Marko was at the same age.  (I supposed we could also put it down to the fact that I pay him less attention and he gets away with a lot Marko never did.)  If I said "No, dangerous," to Marko, he nodded solemnly and avoided the thing ever after.  If I say it to Michael, he gets a twinkle in his eye and sees how close he can get to it before I stop him.  All of our really solid rules -- no opening the front yard gate, hold hands in the parking lot -- he accepts, but I can't just make up new ones and expect him to follow them until I've enforced them quite a few times.

Some days it seems like he's almost done nursing -- other days I cut him off long before he's done because he will never be done, and it gets uncomfortable after awhile.  When I do he whimpers, "I will be still!  I will be still!"  That's because I cut him off if he's too fidgety ... but some days it's not the fidgets, it's nursing at all that's the problem.  And, well, he's two.  I don't feel guilty in the least about setting limits.

Overall they are getting along pretty well.  No biting each other.  They do get in this one argument over and over again -- who is going to hold the baby first when it's born.  Poor baby.


So, considering how terrible I am at keeping up with this blog, I decided to start another to neglect as well.  It's just for my spinning/dyeing/weaving stuff, because it felt like it would clutter up this blog, and that way I can share it on Ravelry without having to share this blog.  It's The Spindle Is Mightier Than the Sword.  You can see some of my projects on there and pour out effusive praise, if you feel so inclined.  Nothing has yet turned out the way I wanted, but it's still all fun and I love the colors I've been working with.  If I ever get around to posting what I'm working on now, you can see even cooler colors.  I just love color.


Hobby Lobby .... I'm tired of hearing about it.  It's really not such a landmark decision as far as I can figure; it's ringed about with exceptions so that it really won't apply to anything but this one case.  That should be a relief to some and a disappointment to others.  Me, I'm still annoyed that my husband's employer got to deny me coverage for a homebirth and a Rhogam shot, because it chose my insurance plan (obviously, since it purchased the plan) and made up its mind ahead of time about what it thought I needed and deserved.  Some reproductive freedom that is.

It's not surprising -- you make someone pay for something, you give them the power over that thing.  Government money means government power; corporation money means corporation power.  More and more I think paying cash would work better, but now it's illegal not to pay extortion money to an insurance company every month, so there isn't really any choice anymore in that direction.

More takes at Conversion Diary.  How was your week?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Quick takes


I haven't blogged in awhile.  Just .... life.  First I had this awful cold.  Then I got my birthday presents -- two kinds of wool -- so of course I couldn't blog because I was too busy spinning.  John was gone for a long weekend for his brother's wedding.  I looked up Call the Midwife online and discovered I had only five days to watch all eight episodes, so that took up all my evenings for a bit.  And then I stepped on a bee in my yard, and my foot swelled up and itched so that I couldn't do much of anything but try to stay off it.


Which, of course, the kids had no intention of letting me do.  If ever I feel like my average day is a lazy walk in the park and I just sit on my butt all day reading blogs, all I have to do is try a day when I actually try to sit down all day.  Things go to heck unbelievably fast, so I know I must be pretty busy on an average day.  Sure, I do sit around a lot.... in five-minute chunks, maybe.  But there's always someone needing something, and I jump up and down a lot.

Likewise, I don't really feel like I do much housework on the average day, but apparently I do .... because if I skip a day the house looks like a bomb went off and we have nothing to eat, wear, or eat off of.  I guess it's like college.  I always told people I didn't study much, and it didn't feel like I did, but somehow I never had time for other things so I must have been studying.  It's just that when something becomes a habit, you don't really take much notice of it.

What really makes me realize how far I've come is when I think of what used to pass as "acceptable" to me as far as housework goes, and now I do a great deal more, despite having more kids to distract me and more messes made.  I guess I just haven't noticed the progress I've made very much.  I am not at all "type-A" or "driven" or "organized," but you get into a rhythm and after awhile people start saying "how do you do it all?" or "you're a supermom!" and I realize I probably would have intimidated my new-mom self.


Right, so I had a birthday.  I'm 28 now, which kind of boggles the mind, but you know what?  The time has not actually flown by.  I do feel this old.  I think of myself at 18, and I hardly remember what that was like.

I was 18 when I met John, so I asked him if I'd changed much.  He said "a lot."  Apparently his impression of me at the time was that I didn't have very many opinions.  Well, I wasn't as opinionated as I am now, but I think a lot of that is that I was very shy about my opinions.  I was afraid of getting into a debate and getting argued down.  So I politely listened to him talk about the Latin Mass or the Civil War and disagreed with him absolutely, but I just smiled and nodded and asked questions like, "But if the South had won, who would have won World War I?"

I also was just beginning to be okay with emotions again, which meant that I was happy almost all the time, but absolutely prostrate with misery when I wasn't.  I didn't have a lot of emotional reserves.  I seemed shallow, but a lot of that was being very private.  I didn't want to talk about any of the things I felt deeply about (God, Regnum Christi, babies, the fantasy novels I was writing) so I kind of floated on the surface with everyone.  I didn't know how to make real friends, so I stuck with making the acquaintance of everyone.  People liked me, but I was in everyone's outer circle.

I'm really happy about how far I've come.  I have a lot more confidence, more courage, more strength.  I don't mind being opinionated, and I'm not afraid of getting into a debate about it.  My feelings are much harder to hurt, and if they are hurt, that doesn't stop me from keeping on with life.

It's hard to say how much of this is John's confidence rubbing off on me, how much is the strength you get from having kids, how much is from finally dealing with the trauma of Regnum Christi, and how much is just growing up.  But overall I'm pleased with the way I am at 28.

And, yeah, life is pretty good this year.


Have you ever had a bee sting on the bottom of your foot?  It happens to me at least once per year, because I'm an idiot.  I know perfectly well that walking barefoot through the clover is a dumb thing to do, but putting shoes on is such a hassle, so there you are.

Anyway, it never hurts that much at the time, but by the next day the itch is so extreme it's all I can think about.  All I want is to scratch it, but if I do the itch gets a million times worse, until I'm scratching at it madly and can't seem to stop.  I've tried all the treatments: baking soda, toothpaste, witch hazel, lavender oil, lidocaine spray, benadryl.  The benadryl at least lets me sleep at night, and thank goodness I'm not cosleeping these days so I could take it this time.  Nothing else does a lick of good that I can detect.

And, of course, it's not just scratching it that makes the itch a zillion times worse .... walking on it does just the same thing.  Feels nice at the time, especially when I'm walking on grass or carpet, because it scratches the itch, but the second I stop walking, the itch takes over and I'm involuntarily rubbing my foot on the ground to scratch that itch.  I can't seem to resist the impulse, even though I know it'll make it so much worse!  Shoes are just misery, because they touch the itch at every moment and shift around scratching it.

Well, two days later I could walk again without problems, but boy was it unpleasant at the time!


I got the kids a wading pool this past weekend.  It was only $10, and I've been wanting one to get us through some of the intense hot weather we're having.

What didn't occur to me was that now outside time is RUINED.  It used to be that the kids could sometimes play outside unattended because they knew the rules and followed them.  But they cannot be outside with a wading pool and not get in the pool.  And I don't want them to be in the pool unless I'm out there watching them.  So ..... no more kicking them out into the yard while I sweep the living room.

Also, we now have a "shoes in the yard" policy (on account of the bees), so they are doing their unauthorized climbing into the pool not just fully dressed, but with shoes on too.  Sigh.  I dumped it out today so we could get a break from it, but if the heat wave comes back I suppose I will fill it up and deal with the consequences.


So, Iraq is in bad shape, right?  I asked a friend of mine who lives there (well, in Kurdistan, luckily, which is quite stable and safe) what was going on, and she told me she can't understand why it's suddenly all over the American media -- the problems have been going on for six months, she said.  Her guess was that people are pushing Iraq to the front of the news because they are trying to sway public opinion to get us back there, which is as likely as anything.  Certainly I'm seeing more and more people suggest we should at least "do something."

I hate the American urge to "do something."  When the "something" involves military action, what we're saying is, "let's drop some bombs on them to show we care."  That won't cut it for me.  Just war theory requires a number of conditions before we can get involved, and one of those is a reasonable likelihood of success.

Does anyone think we have a reasonable likelihood of making Iraq peaceful in any permanent sense, especially with "just a few airstrikes"?  Our choices are either permanent occupation, or letting the place fall apart again as soon as we inevitably leave again.  If TEN YEARS couldn't do it, what will?

And that's setting aside the fact that Iraq's "legitimate" government under Maliki is hardly free, equal, or democratic, or that it happens to be allied with Iran.  This is Syria all over again -- there are no good guys.  There are bad guys and other bad guys.  If we give assistance against one batch, we are giving assistance to another batch.

No.  I can't support going back there.

Of course, it doesn't matter much what I think.  Obama still has the authorization to use military force which Congress gave Bush in 2002 and never revoked.  So he can waltz in there whenever he likes, and for once it would be perfectly legal for him to do it.

I hate helplessly watching while my government goes and kills people on my behalf.  And then I am expected to be grateful for it.


The garden is just ridiculous now.  We've reached the "jungle" phase of Virginia summer -- steamy heat interspersed with massive thunderstorms and pouring rain.  The plants LOVE it.  My biggest issues are keeping the tomatoes staked and the green beans from wandering everywhere.  The weeds have pretty much established themselves now; I try, but yikes that wire grass is awful.  Cuts up my hands when I try to pull it out, too.

Every single thing I planted has actually grown -- first time that has ever happened.  Usually there's at least one failure, but this time I had a bonus -- a pumpkin vine I didn't even plant growing out of my compost pile and right up the side porch.  Also quite a bit of dill self-seeded itself.  I had quite a bit of spinach before it bolted, more lettuce than I could eat which is now beginning to bolt, a few sugar snap peas to pick almost every day, and scads of chard which will keep producing all summer.  The other day I pulled half a dozen big beets (and oh dear, what a lot of greens came with them) and picked a couple cherry tomatoes.  The tomato plants are covered with flowers and green tomatoes, so the real harvest should be along soon.  The cucumbers, which were late in the ground and slow to get going, have flowers on them.  I picked one early broccoli floret and the cabbages are getting heads.

There is nothing more fun than heading out into the garden at 5 pm and going "shopping" for ingredients for dinner.  And then eating them before they've had a chance to notice they were picked!

I just need more recipes for chard.  I discovered you can make chips out of them, like you do with kale chips, and we like those, but I could still use some more ideas.  We had some in lasagna last night, and some in galettes for breakfast, and if the stuff lives up to its reputation, we'll be eating it for months to come.

Also, does anyone know a trick to keep things fresh in the fridge?  Lettuce especially .... I don't know if I've gotten spoiled, but a few hours in the fridge and it is just not the same.  It's limp and barely worth eating, and I don't know anything to do with wilted lettuce besides compost it.

How has your week been?

More quick takes at Team Whitaker this time, because Jennifer Fulwiler's on break.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Book review: Parenting beyond pink and blue

Subtitled How to raise your kids free of gender stereotypes, by Christia Spears Brown, PhD

This book caught my eye at the library and I snapped it up.  (Along with 12 other books ... I can read them all in two weeks, right?)  I am very interested in this topic, because I am constantly hearing "what boys are like" and my boys just aren't like that, especially Marko.  I worry a lot about people trying to make him feel bad for being sensitive and shy.

Well, it's a fascinating read.  First the author goes into the many, many places where gender stereotypes affect children.  It isn't just the obvious stuff, like people who tell your kids "girls don't like trucks" or who give them only gendered toys.  She explains that simply our constant use of the words "boy" and "girl" give kids the impression that our gender is the most important thing about us, and the way that teachers and parents segregate kids into groups of boys and girls emphasizes this.  The adults don't have to tell the kids what the girls or boys are supposed to be like -- children make up rules about what girls and boys are like on the slightest evidence!  It's part of our innate drive to categorize.  So children would say "boys are noisy" but also "girls like broccoli."  If they knew one girl who liked broccoli and one boy who didn't, it must be a gender trait.

I remember doing this as a kid!  I announced to my mother once that a certain girl I knew "didn't look like a boy."  I thought she must be a boy anyway because she had brown hair, and in our family the boy has brown hair and the girl has blond hair.  Two data points, and I had made a rule!  The book describes several studies where kids did the same, listing toys as "only for girls" or "only for boys" based on having seen one boy or girl playing with them, or based on the color of the box.  By kindergarten age, boys refused to play with anything they thought was associated with girls, and vice versa.  Boys and girls strove to fit in to their appropriate stereotypes as part of their natural social instincts.  And groups of boys and girls become more adamantly fixed in their gender stereotypes the more they play together.

We humans all love to categorize things, and once we've put something into a category, we're reluctant to change our opinion of it -- even if the evidence is against us.  The author tells of all kinds of studies where both adults and children focused in on information that confirmed stereotypes while ignoring or forgetting information that didn't.  That explains how people look at Marko running and say "What a typical boy!" and don't notice a thing when he then sits down singing to himself for the next hour.  It's confirmation bias; people notice what they expected to find and sift out other information.
The author also discusses unconscious ways adults make assumptions about their children and treat them differently.  For instance, parents talk about numbers three times as much with boy toddlers as with girls, and not nearly as much about feelings.  Boys have fewer words addressed to them altogether.  Even newborns get held differently -- based not on their actual gender, but based on what gender the adult test subject was told the newborn was!

With all that, it's clear that a great number of gender differences are socialized -- even those that begin at pretty young ages.  But the book goes on to talk about which gender differences do and do not actually exist in children.  Some do appear to exist, though we can't be certain that they are innate.  However, a lot more supposed differences don't actually hold up in a statistical study.  78% of those studied showed no difference at all.  And even those that do show a difference, show a relatively small effect size.  What this means is that even if the average boy is more aggressive than the average girl, it's only by a tiny bit.  The average boy might be more aggressive than 50 out of 100 boys .... and more aggressive than 52 out of 100 girls.  But in your average grade-school class, odds are good that the boys and girls you have fall along a bell curve from most to least aggressive, and that you wouldn't see more boys on the top of the scale than the bottom unless you had a very large class.

Now adults are different, both because they have had more years of socialization and because they have more sex hormones going through their bodies.  Children, I was surprised to learn, don't actually have much difference between their hormones.  There are surges in sex hormones at certain developmental stages (particularly prenatally), but on an average day, a boy and a girl have roughly equal levels of testosterone and other hormones.  I didn't know that!

Many of the "differences" we hear about are not really proven at all.  For instance, we all "know" that women have a larger corpus callosum, right?  And that is supposed to mean we are better at multitasking.  That study was published in the early 80's and everyone believes it -- but in fact, the study size was tiny (13 people) and no one has ever been able to replicate it.  Subsequent studies showed that men and women had corpus callosums that were the same size.  Neurologists still can't tell a male from a female brain on a scan of any kind.  And the famous "men are better at math" thing?  Not true at all!  Men usually think they are good at math while women are more likely to think they are bad at it, but they tend to score about the same.

But why does any of it matter?  Why shouldn't children sort themselves into groups?  Well, because humans are incredibly adaptable.  We are born with millions of connections in our brains.  The ones we don't use, wither and disappear.  So if a child grows up encouraged only to play certain games and do certain things, those skills and hobbies they don't use will become more difficult for them -- even if they were born with aptitude for those things!  So a girl who is always steered away from sports, or who just never plays because her girl friends don't want to and the boys won't let her join in, will never have the skills at sports she might have had.  There's an opportunity to develop large motor skills and physical fitness, gone.  For boys (in my opinion) it's even worse: their stereotypes include being rebellious, not into "school stuff," and bad at sitting still .... so their desire to conform to what is expected of them ends up crippling them at school achievement, and therefore limits their future job prospects.  Worse still, being discouraged from showing emotion and talking about feelings will cripple their ability to form healthy relationships for a lifetime.

Still, it's hard to know what to do with all this information.  The author warns that you only have your kids till they start preschool, and then they'll be picking up any number of influences from other kids and teachers.  When kids run in big groups, like at school, it's easier for them to self-segregate and then reinforce gender stereotypes among each other.  Girls who liked trucks and baseball will find themselves among a group of girls who all like pink and princesses -- or who have all decided that that's what they like -- and that will affect them no matter what you do.  She suggests counteracting all that with your own influence, reminding them that they should do what they like and that the stereotypes they repeat are false, but she also says you can't fight it altogether. 

It certainly makes me happy not to have any plan to send my kids to school.  I was raised without a whole lot of gender stereotypes.  Sure, I knew what other girls were into, but I played with anyone I could find, and I wasn't picky about what games we played.  My mom says, though, that my brother and I played together a lot more before we went to public school.  Once we went to school, my brother started saying things like "I don't play with girls, girls are silly" and I was much too concerned with trying to set up a playdate with a friend from school to spend as much time with my brother as I used to.  Maybe my kids' limited social life is a blessing -- they never pick friends based on gender.  (I wish they had a few more friends altogether, but that's not something I can fix right now.)

And I can see that in some ways it's a blessing that I've had two boys.  I never could compare them by gender; I've had to look at them as individuals and see their differences as what they are -- unique.  If Michael had been a girl, I would have said, "That's why she's so affectionate."  And if Marko had been a girl, I would have said, "That's why she's so emotional."  As it is, I realize they are just themselves.  And if this new baby is a girl, I am likely to find that she is no more different from the other two than they are from each other.

A couple of caveats about the book.  Despite a great deal of the book being dedicated to school, ADHD is never mentioned and autism is only mentioned once.  I'd love to hear her reasoning as to why these two disorders are so overwhelmingly more common among boys.  Would she suggest that they are overdiagnosed in boys and underdiagnosed in girls because we see in each gender what we expect to see?  Or would she agree that they are more common in boys and in that case might be underdiagnosed due to our assumption that it's normal for boys to be incapable of sitting still or late to learn to talk?

The other issue I have is how adamantly opposed she is to single-sex schooling.  I agree, after her arguments, that boys and girls don't need different teaching methods.  Individual kids do, but learning types aren't split along gender lines.  However, she also assumes that single-sex schools will tend to emphasize gender differences, just as happens in crowds of boys and girls on the same schoolyard, and I just don't think that's true.  My brother and I both went to single-sex high schools, and both of us flourished academically.  (If I didn't flourish in other ways, it wasn't due to the lack of boys!)  And my experience, like the experience of many others who went to single-sex schools, is that it's an environment which makes you not think about gender.  It just isn't something that comes up.  In high school, when kids are increasingly locked into gender roles and at the same time very distracted with the opposite sex, it is very nice to find a place where gender is a non-issue.  Everyone's a girl anyway.  So we weren't trying to impress the boys (far too many girls try to look dumb to impress boys) or to distinguish ourselves from them.  Some of us were sporty, some were intellectual, some were kind of ditzy, but no one had that over-blown girlyness that some high school girls have.

I think the best set-up any kid can have is a small, multi-age, co-ed group of a couple familiar families.  Since it's small, there's no separating into boys vs. girls, or big kids vs. little kids -- at least not all the time.  But if you're going to put kids in school, for high school at least, I think single-sex is very likely better.

Anyway, I would definitely recommend Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue, either if you already want to raise your kids without gender stereotypes, or if you're not convinced that gender stereotypes are a bad thing.  The author does an excellent job referencing scientific studies, developmental science, etc.  She is also balanced -- she isn't interested in proving gender is just a construct (she admits there are differences) or in making sure kids don't pick up any stereotypes (she promises they definitely will no matter what you do).  It's more a matter of trying not to let those stereotypes limit your children's interests and opportunities.  And I'm all for that.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Seven quick prog rock tracks

Recently I confessed that I never share my favorite music with people.  I have such unusual taste, especially for someone my age, that I always assume people will think I'm weird.  But it's time to be brave and throw out a few of my favorites.  All progressive rock this time, which is what I grew up with.


I have tried and tried, but I can't pin down my favorite band.  Sometimes I feel like The Moody Blues, and sometimes I feel like Rush.  It's certainly one of those two.

Rush is a Canadian band, flourishing late 70's to present (they are still touring and making new music) which is characterized by amazing lyrics.  Yeah, the music is awesome too; I love their sound, but the lyrics (all written by the drummer, Neil Peart) are incredibly poetic and insightful.

This song is, according to my interpretation, about being highly sensitive ("all my nerves are naked wires, tender to the touch").  At any rate, when I hear the song I know exactly what he is talking about -- and yet, if you don't know what he's talking about, it's almost impossible to describe.  Have you ever been doing something unrelated and then had a memory so vivid, it's like you were reliving a moment from a long time ago?  It comes with not just the images, but all the same emotions of that other time.

Oh, shoot, I told you I can't describe it.  If the song doesn't hit a nerve, it's probably something that's never happened to you!


This is just about the saddest song I know.  I sang it over and over as a kid just to make myself sad.

Through autumn's golden gown we used to kick our way,
You always loved this time of year.
Those fallen leaves lie undisturbed now,
'Cause you're not here.

Gah.  Still works.  Sniff.

(Ugh, YouTube/Blogger are teaming up to be an enormous pill and not letting me embed it; you have to go to YouTube to watch it. Forever Autumn, by Asia.)

The Alan Parson's Project's first album was based off the works of Edgar Alan Poe.  This kind of tells you something about prog rock and the subjects it likes to treat.  Romance?  Maybe once in awhile.  Literature?  Absolutely.  Also philosophy and politics, when it suits them.

This song is creepy as heck, but that's not why I like it.  I like the intertwining vocals and the synthesizers.


Another Alan Parsons one.  I said once that this song was about religion, and my dad said "No, it's about faith."  But I still think I was right -- religion, defined (as it was by my religion teacher) as the attitudes of a person seeking relationship with God -- is exactly what this song is about.

And those who came at first to scoff remained behind to pray.


Another lovesick one.  My brother and I used to rewind this one over and over, just because the first ten seconds are so awesome.  For best results, set the volume to max.


Rush again.  This song was my anthem the summer before I left for college: "When I leave I don't know what I'm hoping to find, and when I leave I don't know what I'm leaving behind."


Oh, fine, more Rush. It's okay to admit they're my current favorite. I'd give you some Yes, but we all know you're not going to listen to a 25-minute track just on my say-so. (Tales From Topographic Oceans is my favorite.) The video is pretty dated, but I really like it anyway. It doesn't come with lyrics, so if you can't make them out (Rush lends itself to misheard lyrics) you can read the lyrics here because they are awesome per usual.

More quick takes at Conversion Diary.

Friday, May 16, 2014

7 qt: the 12-day week


I forgot quick takes last week, because I forgot it was Friday.  And the reason I forgot it was Friday is because it wasn't really a Friday for me .... John worked the whole weekend through.  So, we are now wrapping up 12 straight days of work for him, including two days where he worked late!

It's what he had to do to save up some time off for his brother's wedding.  It's the only downside of his new job -- he doesn't have all the time off he saved up for it at his last job.  We were going to take a whole week and drive out there together.  Now, he's working ahead to earn a few days, and he's going to have to fly to make it there and back in time.  And that means it'll be just him, because we can't afford to fly us all.


I'm disappointed because I love visiting John's family, I like weddings, and the kids love being doted on by their many aunties.  But on the other hand, not having to drive 20 hours and stay in hotels with kids is kind of a plus.

The other downside is that John won't be here for my birthday.  I'm thinking of having a party for myself.  I know it's not the thing, but I would love to invite some girls over and eat cake.  I have learned my lesson from the last two birthdays and am NOT making a cake for just our family.  That always ends in too much cake eating for me.  I wish I had more willpower where cake is concerned.


For the past couple months, I've had this weird rash on the inside edges of a couple of my fingers.  It's just a few teeny tiny bumps, which turned out to be blisters.  I stopped wearing my rings, but that made no difference.  Recently it started spreading, itching, and getting much worse.  In fact, it reminded me of how my hands used to get all swollen and blistered from time to time when I was a kid.  That was utter misery.  The first time I could trace it to some hand lotion, but other times I couldn't figure out why just my hands had this rash when there hadn't been anything I'd put on my hands and not the rest of me.  The swelling and itching was the worst; I could barely bend my fingers and had to take benadryl to sleep at night.  I got a prescription cream from the doctor that didn't help.  It was only when my grandma put some witch hazel on my hands that the swelling and itching started to get better.

Well, it occurred to me that now I have the internet, like I didn't back then, and I looked it up.  Turns out it's called dyshidrotic eczema, or pompholyx.  (I can't decide which is more fun to say!)  Now, that's about all the useful information I discovered, because it can be caused by almost anything and there's no real cure.  I did find that it can be caused by an allergic reaction anywhere in the body -- even hay fever -- even though the blisters are only on the hands or feet.  I found that some people have it all the time, and felt quite thankful to have such a mild case.  And it did mention witch hazel, which I started putting on.

Sure enough, it cleared up in a few days.  And thank goodness, because those blisters were itchy and painful!  To say nothing of how miserable it was to do the dishes.


We have had alternating very hot, sunny weather and pouring rain.  I remember now this always happens this time of year.  That's when the garden shoots up while I'm not paying attention, and the weeds gain ground because it's either too hot to do anything or too pouring to be outside.  I'm trying to keep up on it better this time.  My tomato plants have BUDS on them, squeeee!  And the sweet potato plants are looking great, despite the fact that Michael yanked them up the day after I planted them and I had to stick them back in.  I've picked little bits of spinach and lettuce, and should be pulling radishes soon.  Amazing!


I have suddenly passed from the "occasional wiggles" stage of baby kicking and gotten (quite without warning, because I'm not even that big yet) to the "protruding limbs" stage.  A foot or elbow pokes out and has to be poked back in, only to reappear somewhere else.  It's crazy weird.  But kind of cool too ... makes me remember that there actually is somebody in there.


Oh, it's been so long since I've posted, I have all sorts of good news!

Good news #1: Michael is night weaned.  I used this method, more or less.  The advantage of it is that you are training your child to go to sleep in his bed rather than just substituting the nursing crutch for some other crutch, like rocking.  I was terrified to do it because Marko woke up exactly the same amount after he was weaned, but it took an hour to get him back to sleep instead of five minutes.  But Michael, after a few nights of whining "I want to nur-us, I want to nur-us," over and over again, started sleeping better than he had before.  It helped when I told him he could nurse when morning came, and if he was very fussy I whispered in his ear for awhile, just random comforting things, to get him to stop whining long enough to go to sleep.  Once we had phased nursing out altogether, he started going to sleep in five minutes just by me lying down with him, without having to nurse.  (Considering that he used to sometimes be up for half an hour nursing and kicking me, this is a huge improvement.)  And then he started .... WAKING LESS!  He usually gives me about six hours, sometimes even EIGHT, without waking at all.  Sometimes I hear him stir and put himself back to sleep.  It's nothing less than a miracle to me.

At five or so, when the light is shining in the window, I let him get in bed with me and nurse if he wants to.  Though I am thinking about phasing that out too, considering I don't actually want to get up for the day at five.  It's just that I'm afraid that with the light and the birds singing, he might not go back to sleep at all if I don't nurse him.  Even with nursing, he woke up at 4:45 this morning and never went back to sleep.  Ugh.  But he has a cold, so that's his excuse, I guess.

This has led to the conclusion that my depression and irritability is mostly just exhaustion, because the week we were working on night weaning, I wanted to crawl under a rock and DIE, and now I feel like a new person.  I am frequently even patient with the kids!


Good news #2: Marko has finally had about enough clinginess, which is likewise delightful.  I have been able to talk him into going into his room by himself to listen to music and play with legoes for an hour or two most days.  It's delightful for him, because he's an introvert and his clinginess was keeping him from getting any quiet time.  And it's delightful for me, because I get a BREAK!  I can lavish as much attention as I want on Michael without him getting jealous, and sometimes I can even have no one needing me at all!

Michael, though, hates it.  He's always asking if Marko is done yet or if he can go into the bedroom.  Reminds me of me .... my brother always wanted to be alone, and I always wanted company.  For the first time, I'm thinking maybe it's good for them all to have a third kid in the family.  That way Marko can seek solitude if he wants it and the other two can entertain each other.

Sure enough, Michael likes the idea of another baby, whereas Marko will scream his head off if it's mentioned.  This puts kind of a damper on midwife appointments.  He does like the midwife, though.  He and Michael play midwife as soon as she's gone.

Well, that's about it for the week.  How was yours?

More quick takes at Conversion Diary as always.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...