Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Our new puppy

John has been dreaming of getting a dog since we got married. In the past, it's been impractical, as we lived in apartments. But now we have a house with a yard, so we've had our eyes out for a puppy for a long time.

It's a puppy, specifically, that he wanted, not an adult dog. He wanted a puppy he could train and teach tricks to. He's been researching dog training and scanning Craigslist, hoping for a chance to get a puppy.

And here we are. Saturday, we finally found a puppy that could be ours. He's a black Lab, at least mostly, and nine weeks old. He's pretty mellow for a puppy, but he still does like to play.

We've named him Gilbert, after G.K. Chesterton. Marko is in love. If you calculate Gil's age in dog years, they're both toddlers. They are both rambunctious, destructive, and demanding. What we were thinking? On the bright side, the puppy is potty trained. I only wish I could say so much for Marko.

The lady we got the dog from explained that we have to watch the puppy to know when he needs to go out. Sounds like elimination communication to me! She said that puppies walk funny when they have to go. Only problem is, he's a puppy. He always walks funny. So I let him out every couple of hours, and he has only ever had one accident.

The only issue with this is that every time the puppy goes out, the baby wants to go too. And neither ever wants to come back in. So we have been spending a lot of time in the yard. They have a lot of fun, and don't get bored, but occasionally they get a little too interested in my green beans or try to get out the gate (the toddler can open it while the puppy makes a run for it!), so I have to drag them in. Generally that means carrying both of them, since neither comes when he's called if it means coming inside.

Marko gets pretty grabby with his puppy friend. At first I drove myself crazy trying to get him to leave the dog alone, but John reminded me that puppies play rough with each other, too, and that he doesn't seem to mind. So I just keep a close eye to keep Marko from, say, sitting on him.

The first night, the puppy slept great in the kitchen. The second night, he whined quite a bit at being shut up by himself. I was very tempted to bring him into our bed (hey, cosleeping solves a lot of problems!) but John said he would soon get used to the kitchen. And he did settle down with a chew toy and a blanket pretty quickly.

The only issue is that he gets up with John in the morning, at five, and then goes out. Which means he does not at all want to go back in the kitchen for another two hours while he waits for Marko and me to get up. This morning, when he started up his whining, I just got him and brought him into bed with me. By the time I got out of bed, I had the puppy, the kitty, and the baby, all in that bed. But I got to sleep till seven, so I'm not complaining.

I'm not going to lie: it is taking some adjustment and some extra effort from me to take care of this dog. But he's already providing some excitement to our life (or at least to Marko's life: the rest of us were plenty excited already), and once he's a little older, it will be easier and more fun.

And, anyway, he's awfully cute.

Monday, August 29, 2011

My past, part V

I ended Part IV in my spiritual director Sally's office. (Her name is not really Sally.)

I tried to tell her about my giant conversion experience and how I was really committed to Regnum Christi now and that I was sure I had a vocation. She wasn't really interested. She told me that it was way too soon to worry about whether or not I had a vocation.

What she really wanted to talk about was my Program of Life. This is a plan naming your primary vice (out of the three "dominant passions" Pride, Vanity, and Sensuality) and the virtue you want to work on that year. Then you list a bunch of resolutions that will help you defeat your vice and attain your virtue. I was supposed to make this over my retreat, but I wasn't even sure where to start.

"Well," she asked, "what do you think is your dominant passion?"

"It's definitely vanity," I said. "I really care what people think of me."

"I really don't think so," she said. "What else?"

"Well, then, it must be sensuality. I've got a lot of that. I'm very lazy. That's why I hate serving team so much."

"I don't think it's that either," she said.

"You think it's pride? I honestly don't think I have a lot of pride." That was the polite way of putting it. I was so filled with self-loathing and shame, I really didn't see room for any pride.

"That's definitely it," she said confidently. "Pride is what makes you hate criticism so much. That's why you try to defend yourself, because you think you know better than your formators. And when your feelings get hurt, it's because you think that you're too good to have failed like that. Shame is just a result of excessive pride. And the fact that you think you aren't proud, that's pride too."

I didn't really believe her. She didn't even know me that well. But I had been told that your spiritual director expresses God's will for you. So I figured, even if pride wasn't my main issue, I must have a little of it somewhere deep down, and God wanted me to expunge it from my soul. So I agreed. I made a nice little program about humility and imagining myself like Christ before Pilate every time I was corrected, never defending myself or speaking a word of argument. I was going to be perfect. We wouldn't have any more meltdowns or embarrassing tears. I'd be grown-up and mature and humble.

From the very beginning, it was difficult. It seemed my formators were singling me out for correction more and more often. My personal demon was sports. We played basketball and went jogging in the afternoons, which was the highlight of some people's day. Not mine. I have never been athletic, and I had never played basketball in my life when I arrived. And I had struggled with some health problems my first year. I had a hacking cough, and I often felt like there was a weight on my chest when I got out of breath, so that it was a struggle to breathe. Asthma was suspected, and I was dispensed from any running until they were able to get me to a specialist.

Only I didn't have asthma. The doctor was not interested in figuring out what was wrong, so he sent me home with a diagnosis of "Well, it's not asthma." So I was told I had to start running again. I think everyone thought I'd been faking the whole thing. I wasn't, and I still found physical activity incredibly difficult. Maybe it was just the humid air, or that I was so out of shape. It was just hard.

I tried hard, though. I felt I had to, if I was going to be perfect. There would be no excuses this time. I would run up and down the court the whole game (which lasted an hour). At least, that was my goal. In reality, I was never able to do it. By halfway through the game, I would be lagging and out of breath. And one consecrated woman from Colombia, whom we'll call Juanita, made it her personal crusade to motivate me. Chances are, this was a commandment from above, but I'll never know. Every day, she would take me aside and tell me that I didn't love Jesus because I wasn't really trying. Or that I should get into the game to make my companions happy. Or that I was just trying to get attention by pretending to be sick. One time that I'll never forget, she yelled in frustration, "Why can't you just be like everyone else?"

I felt shattered. If my goal should be like everyone else, that meant everyone else was better than me. I was the very worst person in the whole place.

I already felt that way. I was so lonely. I kept feeling like everyone else liked each other, but didn't like me. I was sure they all judged me for being such a crybaby and always being in trouble. Even in a place like that, there were still "popular girls." There was no particular test for this, but I could just tell. I would never be one of them.

And even if I had been "popular," I wouldn't have been any less lonely. We couldn't discuss our health, our spiritual lives, or anything negative. We never had the chance to get to know each other well, as our dining room seats and conversation groups were always changing. We also weren't supposed to hug each other, so months would go by without my touching another human being. As a huggy, snuggly girl from a huggy, snuggly family, that was really hard.

I started getting more and more depressed. I had the habit for awhile of spending my last free time before night prayers sitting in the living room writing in my journal, quoting Shakespeare to myself, and getting melancholy. But my spiritual director put a stop to that. She had me spend the time writing a memo to her instead. I would write about how my day had gone and how I'd tried to do better that day. Every night I poured my soul onto those memo slips for her to read. Nine times out of ten, they were returned with nothing but a check mark. I felt desolate.

My mopey, melancholy evenings disappeared, but I was feeling more and more unhappy. Without the emotional relief of thinking depressing thoughts and imagining my own funeral (remember, I was 15, which I think is the peak of teenage angst anyway), the tears started breaking out of me all the time. The slightest correction sent me into silent sobs. First, the shame that I had done wrong in the first place. And then, the shame of not having reacted correctly, of still being hurt, which showed I was as prideful as ever.

I was rebuked again and again for crying. I was told it was my duty to "keep my face for the others." The other girls deserved to see me happy. They did not want to be brought down and made depressed by my gloomy face. So I tried and tried. I stifled sobs under my pillow at night, hoping someone would notice and come over, and that whoever it was would not be mad at me. I locked myself in the basement bathroom and cried during recess. I would bite and scratch my arms and hands because the physical pain made the emotional pain a little less. The reason I admitted to myself was that I was just trying to keep myself from crying. The reason I didn't admit was that I hoped someone would see the marks and ask if I was okay. I would tell them that I was just trying to stay calm, to put the brave face on that they asked of me, and they would finally realize I was trying my best. They would say, "Wow, Sheila, I had no idea you were trying so hard. You really do love God. We should be easier on you." But that did not happen.

I developed daily headaches. I've always been prone to them, especially when I'm stressed, but they became constant. To my great relief, I was dispensed from having to ask permission every time I took an aspirin. I could just go to the medicine closet and get one from the consecrated in charge whenever my head hurt. And she would shake her head and say, "What are we to do with you?" We would talk from time to time, trying to figure out what was causing the headaches, but we never did figure anything out. Later, at a dentist visit, the dentist told me I was grinding my teeth a lot, producing a ton of wear and tear, "as if I'd been eating sand." So that was probably why.

This was around when 9/11 happened, by the way. It wasn't a huge deal to me, because I didn't really understand what was going on or what it meant. The numbers of victims were unreal to me. But when we got the news my dad would be deployed, that hit home well enough. A lot of the other girls had military dads, too, and we worried a lot.

My biggest consolation was my schoolwork. I loved school, every single subject. I tutored many of my classmates, and felt a big boost at being good at it. Literature was my favorite, though my grades weren't good. (I had a lot of "potential" I wasn't realizing, apparently.) I loved my history teacher, a motherly woman with a strong Boston accent and a sympathy for Rush Limbaugh. And I even excelled in math and science.

I was urged to become more organized and to actually plan my study time. But this was one area where I didn't bother to try to be perfect. I knew I was doing fine in school, and didn't see any reason to study things I wasn't in the mood for, just to follow a "plan." So I would write the plan, and then check things off as if I'd been following it. It was a white lie, I guess. Just like my habit of writing a term paper first, and then writing the outline later. I had my own way of doing things. I got a little grief over my disorganized habits, but not much, because I was a good student.

Around then, our world was shaken up all of a sudden.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Creative Ways to Introduce Your Picky Eater to New Foods

A treat for today: a guest post from Nadia Jones. This also marks the first guest post ever appearing on my blog. It needn't be the last, though -- if you'd like to guest post, you can contact me.

My 6-year-old nephew Sam is infatuated with chicken nuggets; so much in fact that he won't Linktouch anything else, especially if what's place in front of him is an "icky" green. It's incredibly frustrating for my sister who had such good luck with her other two boys—they ate just about everything as kids, the green stuff too. If you are all-too-familiar with what it's like to raise a picky-eater but still want to try to expose your child to a world filled with more than crispy fried strips of chicken, there are some creative ways that you may just be able to do it. To learn some fun and easy methods of introducing your young child to new foods, continue reading below.

Let Your Child Help in the Kitchen.

If your child ever seems to be remotely curious in what you're doing in the kitchen (he or she will start hovering around and asking questions) recruit him or her as your sous chef. One of the easiest ways to get your child to try new foods is to get him or her involved in the cooking process. This can include anything from allowing your child to choose what's for dinner by giving him or her three to four different entrĂ©e options (that way he or she won't feel like you're forcing something down his or her throat), to letting them stir, measure, and/or cut small fruits and vegetables with plastic knifes, to assembling "fun" and easy homemade foods like pizza bagels, mini tacos and vegetable pitas. If your child still thinks that everything "sounds" gross, then change the name so it appears more attractive—salad can easily be called dinosaur food instead.

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Turn Food into an Art Project.

For years parents have told their children not to play with their food, but doing so may just actually get your child to try a new vegetable or deli meat. We're talking about participating in "sandwich art"—decorating your child's sandwich in a way that it actually masks the fact that it's healthy. There are two options really. The first is that you, the parent, takes the initiative and transforms a healthy snack into something fun to encourage your child to try it. You can use anything really—cookie cutters, stencils, or a simple knife to create silly faces and shapes into your child's sandwich like the one featured below.

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The second option is to allow your child to be the artist and use white sandwich bread as a blank canvas. Disney's Family Fun Magazine offers a great recipe for "sandwich art" where parents can help their children create a palate of edible decorative water paints using milk and food coloring.

Turn Eating into an Educational Experience.

Lastly, you can imitate your child's school teacher and introduce your child to a new food after reading a good book. I will admit that in the beginning, I too was a stubborn child. I wouldn't touch scrambled eggs. Not ever. The texture used to repulse me. But after my first grade teacher read Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham and served a batch of scrambled eggs to our class one morning (after adding some green food coloring to it of course), I couldn't get enough. The same idea can be applied to other food-related books read at home. There are a ton of books available, but some of the more popular ones are Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Today is Monday, The Vegetables We Eat, and The Mighty Asparagus; as a bonus, there are some books that will teach your child about the importance of eating right, like Gregory, the Terrible Eater and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

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Author Bio:
This is a guest post by Nadia Jones who blogs at online college about education, college, student, teacher, money saving, movie related topics. You can reach her at nadia.jones5 @

Thanks, Nadia! I don't have a picky eater -- at least, not yet -- but I'll keep these tips in mind. Gentle readers, you may notice the book links are sponsored. If you follow them and actually buy something -- anything -- I will get a percentage. Just a heads-up.

Friday, August 26, 2011

My past, part IV

Like I said at the end of Part III, the cognitive dissonance was beginning to get to me. I had a lot of little sneaky things I did, as I said before -- from mentally composing fanfiction during "spiritual reading," to coming up with objections in my head to everything I learned during apostolic methodology. But I started to feel tired of fighting.

It didn't help that we were constantly hearing about "giving 100%," "holding nothing back from God," "being who we were meant to be," and so forth. I always tried to remind myself, "I am giving myself to Jesus, I'm just not giving myself to Regnum Christi," but I started to wonder if I was deceiving myself.

Periodically we had Regnum Christi incorporations, as girls turned sixteen and were eligible to join. There were promises, symbols (a crucifix, a Bible, a card with a list of commitments), and a celebratory breakfast afterwards. At one of these, I inexplicably started sobbing uncontrollably. I felt so envious of these girls, their chance to make a serious commitment, to more forward, to do something for God, and -- I have to admit -- to get a lot of attention. Later, at breakfast, I joked about how I'd been bawling my eyes out because it was so beautiful. The consecrated woman at our table said, "Bet you can't wait till it's your turn." My eyes dropped to my plate. "Yeah."

As summer approached, things started to be tougher on us freshmen. Our first year, it was assumed that we were "new PC's" and not really ready for much real responsibility. But soon we started being expected to step up to the plate. I was given the responsibility of organizing the readers during meals. I would make the schedule of readers, keep the place in the book (which varied from saints' lives to novels, though later we heard we would no longer be allowed to have novels), and keep track of the pronunciations of difficult words. I also had to get the Regnum Christi Statutes out of the locked cupboard where they were kept and have the reader read one paragraph a night. This one paragraph at a time was all we were allowed to read. But that was a special trust for us -- normal Regnum Christi members, we were told, were not allowed to read their statutes at all.

I also began to realize the reins were tightening for me. We had a rule that we had to leave the dorms in perfect condition when we went to the chapel in the morning. It was really hard to do, since we only had half an hour to shower and get ready along with making our beds and cleaning up. I had finally more-or-less mastered this skill when suddenly I was getting in trouble for it again. I would be in the middle of breakfast when I'd get a tap on my shoulder from the consecrated woman who had been inspecting. (I will call her "Mary." She usually was very sweet and I liked her a lot.) The first time it was something minor, like a sock left out. But I was very upset and embarrassed at having to get up in front of everyone. Maybe I talked back a little. I don't remember. I do know I cried all the way down the long hallway to the dorms.

But then it started happening every single day. Once I was sent back and nothing was out of place at all. "She must have mistaken my bed for someone else's," I thought, and headed back to breakfast. The next time, I went up, feeling positive I hadn't left anything out, only to find my bed was untucked. I knew I had tucked it in. I had been making every effort to be perfect so this would stop happening. But then I suddenly realized: the consecrated woman had untucked it. She had untucked it and made me go tuck it in, as a test. I wasn't upset that she had lied to me. I simply thought that I'd better have a perfect attitude as well as a perfect bed, and then I would pass the test. Apparently I did, because that never happened again.

But "Mary" still picked on me in other ways. It was always in a sort of apologetic tone, but the general gist was that I wasn't quite up to snuff and I had to get my act together. The big one that bothered me the most was in the chapel. In the middle of prayers or Mass, she would zip up the aisle and hand me a note, instructing me to hold my hymnbook with both hands or to stand up straight or to follow along in the missal. There was a certain way we were supposed to "do" Mass, and I wasn't doing it. Up till then, I had thought no one had noticed I wasn't always following along, but now was the crackdown, and I had to comply. This, too, made me cry. I hated so much having attention called to me. It was the most humiliating thing I could imagine. Soon I could barely pray anymore, for worrying what I might be doing to offend the consecrated who sat behind us.

Then came summer. We all had two weeks to go see our families -- the longest I'd gotten to visit since I'd left home. (My only other visit had been two days at Thanksgiving -- my family couldn't afford to bring me home for Christmas as well.) We were warned to pray hard and to keep up with all our usual commitments, in order to avoid losing our vocations. We had to follow all our usual rules, like always wearing skirts, and we also weren't allowed to go to movies or shows of any kind. If possible, we shouldn't say we were required to do these things -- instead we should stay that we preferred to wear skirts or that we weren't interested in the movie. People might not understand if we told them all our rules.

I had a great time at home. I went with the goal of making my family happy, and that's a great perspective to have. I felt closer to my mom than I ever had before, and we went to daily Mass together often. She was pregnant with my brother Joseph by this time, and I happily went maternity shopping with her.

When we got back from our home visits, it was time for the summer program. Finally, we "new PC's" wouldn't be the youngest people around. We were told that the summer program girls would be looking up to us, and we had to do our best. Something else happened that I didn't expect: most of the older girls were either team leaders in the summer program or volunteers at camps around the country. Everyone who got a "destination" to go to over the summer was thrilled. Those of us who were left behind ended up having to shoulder quite a bit of work to make up for their absence, especially as the school was packed with visitors.

That was really hard on me. The one thing I hated most, at the best of times, was serving team. That was when we had to work in the kitchen during meals. I was afraid of the giant dishwasher, bored by the pots and pans, and stressed out by refilling plates. I hated having to eat in a hurry and miss out on the only chance we usually got to relax and talk. But with half the girls gone, it stopped being a once-a-week chore and started being an almost daily event. And I never knew ahead of time. I'd be on my way into lunch and get "the tap" on my shoulder, diverting me into the kitchen. It seems like a small thing now, but back then it was my personal Calvary. I often shed tears into the pots and pans while a well-meaning companion would chirp, "Smile, God loves you!"

I tried so hard. I resolved to do better. I begged God to give me a day off. I hid in the chapel in my free times and cried and cried. Finally I told Jesus that it was okay if He made me do serving team again, I was going to be okay with it and I would not complain. It was just then that I was called aside. I expected to hear I was going to serve again that night -- but instead, I was given the "destination" of answering phones during the consecrated women's retreat, at their formation center. Two girls I very much liked were coming too. It was a dream come true. And we really enjoyed our eight days of freedom. We had one consecrated woman to answer to, the director of the formation center, but she was incredibly nice, and other than that, we set our own schedule. We took care of the work happily, and we didn't really keep silence at all. It was great.

When I came back, though, the pressure was back on. We got new assignments for spiritual directors. I was worried, because I really liked mine. She was nice and mostly let me talk about whatever I wanted to. When I got my slip of paper with the new name, it was "Sally." She was the absolute worst I could imagine. She directed the choir, which I was in, and choir practice had become the most stressful experience of the week. She never failed to single me out in front of everyone. How in the world could I ever open up to her about my spiritual life?! It felt like my one support, my old spiritual director, was being taken away from me, and now I would have nobody who understood me or listened to me. Especially since Mary was getting transferred. Consecrated women got transferred very often, about every three years, so there were a lot of new faces.

I got used to most of it. In Mary's place was a lady from Mexico who was pretty nice, though not so easy on us as Mary had been. But week after week went by and Sally still didn't have time to pencil me in for spiritual direction. It was kind of a relief, since I was so frightened of her, but it was hanging over my head the whole time.

Then it was time for Spiritual Exercises, our three-day silent retreat. I was really looking forward to it. When it came around, I really got into it. I prayed hard, ignored many of the meditations because I was too busy praying about something else, and enjoyed the extra free time to wander around the grounds and think.

On the last day, I was sitting in the tiny "oratory" chapel and praying. "What do you really want of me, God?" I asked. "Can you have brought me here to lead me to something different?" It seemed then that God answered. He said, "Why would I have brought you here if I didn't want you to be here?" It seemed absolutely clear to me that I had a vocation to Regnum Christi. I was going to join as soon as I turned sixteen, and then when I graduated I was getting consecrated. It was such a relief. No more fighting. I started laughing from pure relief and happiness, to the point that I had to leave the chapel and go outside.

As soon as I could, I got my new spiritual director to make an appointment with me so I could tell her the good news. I was finally committed to my vocation and was going to do everything right from now on.

Only things got worse instead of better ...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Liberty and food

When I met John, he was a monarchist. Now, he's a libertarian. And his views are more internally consistent than most people's. He just runs things by a basic standard: Government's role is to preserve the rights of its citizens. So a law may be made to prevent citizens from infringing on one another's rights, but a law may not be made to protect citizens from themselves. He believes the government should only ban what is harmful to others, not what is stupid, self-destructive, or sinful. That's the role of society, churches, and the individual conscience.

I talk about his political ideas because mine are still a bit of a muddle. I lay no claim to being internally consistent. And yet I think libertarian ideas are exactly what we need in one area: the food industry.

We keep hearing about food contamination. If it isn't e. coli on the spinach, it's salmonella in the peanut butter or bug parts in the baby formula. So it would be easy to say, "What we need is more government oversight."

The thing is, we have a ton of government oversight. It would just be impossible for them to test every single batch of every single product in the whole country, and without that, there is no way to be sure our food is not contaminated. Food processing plants are required to follow a long list of standards, but clearly this has not been enough to prevent contamination.

Meanwhile, in some ways we have way too much government oversight. I'm talking about FDA raids on small farms where they throw away huge quantities of cheese or raw milk, even though there is no contamination found or any report of sickness. Here in my state, it is illegal to buy raw milk at all.

You could argue all you want about the health benefits or the health risks of raw milk. But it wouldn't it be simpler to run it by John's standard? "The government's role is not to protect me from myself. If I want to risk my life or health, that's my business." The government does have a role, even according the most passionate libertarian, to prevent fraud or the adulteration of food. Raw milk must be labeled raw milk. Would it kill the FDA to slap a label on it saying, "This milk is unpasteurized and has not been tested or approved by the FDA. It may cause illness" and then let people buy it if they still wanted to?

Meanwhile, full disclosure is not required for foods the FDA approves. There is no label for genetically-modified foods. We have no way of knowing if foods are genetically modified or not. That's because the FDA is convinced they are safe, so we shouldn't need to know. But what if we want to know? Shouldn't we be provided with the information we need to make the food choices that we want to make?

Milk is also not labeled when it contains growth hormone. Currently, milk that doesn't contain it is usually labeled. But some people think that label shouldn't be allowed. Why? Some people might pick the hormone-free milk, and since we know that the hormones aren't harmful, it will harm the business of those who use the hormones without making the consumer any safer. In other words, we consumers don't know what we're talking about, so giving us more information will cause us to make choices for things that we think are better, while damaging the business of other products that are just as good.

Personally, I think we should be able to choose food with or without any ingredients we want, whether or not they are believed to be harmful. And yes, if enough people insist on GMO-free food, that will hurt the GMO business. I think that's okay. Perhaps the companies will switch to non-GMO products. That's called the market adjusting to demand. That's a good thing. I just fail to understand what would be so terrible about GMO's going out of style ... except, perhaps, for the companies that create them. But I don't think it's fair to deny millions of people a free choice just so that one company can succeed artificially.

Meanwhile, there's the issue of big agricultural companies vs. the small farm. The regulations are the same for all (more or less). But the big companies have an easier time following them. There are laws dictating the dimensions of hen houses and the design of meat packing plants, which are easy to follow if you're building a whole new place from scratch, but hard if you have a little money to start off with and would like to use your old chicken coop or pack the meat in your kitchen. This is something of a simplification. But the results are clear if you compare prices: very often it is more expensive to buy from your local small farmer than from Wal-Mart.

Regulations that favor small farmers -- or fewer regulations altogether, which would amount to the same thing -- would help a lot. Small farmers could more easily compete with big farmers. And that benefits everyone. When a single cow is contaminated with e. coli in a meat plant, its meat may end up mixed with the meat from hundreds of other cows. That's why it happens, every time there is a report of a recall, that this mean might be in dozens of states. Worse still, they don't recall "Johnson Farms Beef," they recall beef produced by some company you've never heard of, which may be labeled as Wal-Mart brand, Giant brand, or what-have-you. This is handy for the big farmers. You don't hear about a recall on the news and think, "Gee, I'm not going to buy that brand of meat anymore. I'll buy the competing brand." You would if you could, but meat is distributed under so many different labels that you have no idea which meat is produced by the recalled company and which isn't. Perhaps it all is.

With small farms and big farms competing on an even field, and each being required to be completely honest in its marketing, you would be able to choose between meat produced in Oklahoma and packed in Chicago and meat that you saw running around last month while you were on your way to work. Each would be labeled with where it came from and what company produced it. Ideally, you'd have a list of what the animal was given to eat and what conditions it lived in -- or at least be able to find out by going to the farm's website. Is that really so much to ask?

A blogger I read recently suggested eggs be packaged, not with "free range," "cage free," or "vegetarian diet," but with a picture of the henhouse where the chickens live. You could see if they're stacked in closely-packed cages with their beaks cut off, or roaming in a pleasant poultry yard and nesting in a cozy henhouse for the night. I think the battery method of chicken farming would quickly go out of business ... which is why they don't advertise their eggs that way.

Subsidies are another issue, one I don't completely understand. Basically, in an uncontrolled market, food prices sometimes fluctuate wildly based on the supply available. If the price of wheat, say, gets too high, people can't make bread. But if it gets too low, it bankrupts the farmers. So nowadays the government pays farmers for growing certain products. Corn farmers' profit, in particular, comes mainly from subsidies. As a result, we grow way more corn than we could ever need. It costs basically nothing -- because the government is paying farmers for every acre of corn they grow. We pay a small price -- much lower than what it costs the farmer to grow it -- and the government handles the rest so that farmers can survive and turn a profit.

The problem here is that we now have a huge excess of corn. Farmers in the Midwest stopped growing other things and just grew corn. So now we have to find something to do with all that corn -- make corn syrup, corn starch, corn oil, ethanol, and so forth. And that's what we do. But a lot of these foods aren't that healthy. As a result, foods like corn chips fried in corn oil and soda flavored with corn syrup are really cheap, while vegetables like tomatoes and lettuce are expensive because they have to be shipped in from California or Mexico.

I am not sure what the solution here is. Stopping the subsidies suddenly would ruin farmers across the country -- not something I would like to do! And some subsidies may be necessary to prevent bankruptcy in time of drought and things like that. But I think it's time to reassess what subsidies we really need. If more of that money could stay in our pockets (because it does come from our taxes, you know!), we could afford healthier food.

Unfortunately, the power to make these decisions is not in my hands. It's in the hands of the government, which listens to the people who are talking to it. Mostly, people who talk to the government about farming are the well-paid lobbyists of large agricultural conglomerates. It's not so likely to be you or me, and when we do speak up, we aren't heard quite as well without the deep pockets the big companies have. On the other hand, there are more of us. So it is possible that we could get our voices heard, too.

I don't have a ten-step plan for how to go about that. But I do have a few ideas:

1. Pay attention to what food-related and farm-related bills are going through Congress and your state legislature. Call your legislator and tell him what you think!

2. Find out what different elected officials think about these issues. Take it into account when you go to the polls each year! (Though I'm not saying you have to leave your other important issues to the side. It's all important.)

3. Vote with your feet. If you don't want to eat GMO's, call the companies and find out whether they use GMO's, and don't buy the ones that do. If you want raw milk, support the farms that produce it by buying raw milk or a milkshare. If you don't like hormones in your milk, buy the stuff without it. We have recently bought our first grass-fed beef and have no regrets at all. (It even cost less than Aldi beef, surprisingly!) And we're growing some of our own vegetables, buying others at the farmers' market when we can. That makes a big difference toward keeping the farms we like in business, so that they will be able to keep providing us with high-quality food.

Any other ideas? Do you agree with me, that less regulation would lead to more safety, or have I totally gone off the deep end here?

A look into the archives

I saw this neat thing over at Momsomniac the other day. You go through your archives and pick a post that fits each category. You can even add extra categories if you want to.

1. A Beautiful Post

This one, Grampy, still makes me feel a little misty. You don't have to read the other posts on here. But, if you haven't read that one, go read it now.

2. A Popular Post

I seem to remember someone reposting/retweeting my post The feminist dilemma. I really liked it myself, too. The fact is, it's really hard to create a society where women are equally able to choose any option. Society creates roles for us based on what most people do. Although I'd like to have more support for what I do, I think it's more important that others also have the freedom to do what they do than to create a society that only supports and values women who stay home with kids.

3. A Helpful Post

This post on Car safety tips is pretty helpful if you have kids. Since cars are one of the most likely places for a child to die -- I think the most likely -- it's important to make time in the car as safe as you can.

4. A Controversial Post

Far and away, my most controversial post was Why my son is intact. Circumcision is an issue I care a lot about, though I try not to bring it up too much because of the "ick" factor. Anyway, I got a ton of comments, many of which agreed with me, but all of which I appreciated.

5. A Surprisingly Successful Post

I wrote Rough couple of weeks just to vent about how awful things had been. And people loved it! I think we all spend too much time trying to make ourselves look graceful, successful, and happy, when what people really want is to know it isn't all roses for you, either. There's something comforting about reading the story of someone's awful day. Meanwhile, it's comforting to talk about it, too.

6. A Post That Didn't Get the Attention It Deserved

I remember being disappointed that no one commented on this post, Intellectual life of a stay-at-home mom. I had thought people would really relate to that. Then again, I don't even relate to it so much anymore -- I was less busy then and had more time to muck around on the internet. Now, I find myself singing "Ten Little Monkeys" so many times in a row that my brain is completely fried. So perhaps I didn't really know what I was talking about back then.

7. A Favorite Post

I did love this one, A spiritual take on breastfeeding. I remember those early days with the baby, how very "holy" I felt. It just felt so instinctive to do what was right, to love, to be patient. Now ... things aren't quite so easy. But that's okay.

To join in, go over to Momsomniac and link up your post!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Virginia earthquake

So, if you're on the East Coast (as many of my readers are), you probably felt the quake. If you're elsewhere, you've probably heard of it. On the off-chance you haven't, here's the news: there was a 5.8 earthquake in central Virginia today which was felt from New England to South Carolina.

So here's how I experienced it.

The baby woke up early from his nap, and started melting down pretty much right away. So I was alternately feeding him snacks and nursing him for about an hour. I was sitting at the computer, reading blogs while he was nursing, when I felt a slight rumble. My thought process went like this:

Huh, someone's moving around upstairs.
Wait, we don't live in an apartment anymore.
Is someone in the house?!
No, duh, it's a truck going by.
Except it feels like it's in the house.
Maybe it's that construction nearby.
Feels like an earthquake, except we don't have them here.

Then the rumbling suddenly changed gears and became really strong. The door started rattling loudly and the whole house shook. I grabbed the baby into my arms, pulled my shirt down, and headed for the door. The floor seemed to be tilting and my legs were unsteady. The cat rocketed through the house with her ears laid back. By this point I was thinking there had been some sort of underground explosion and there was no telling how serious it would be. So I dashed out of the house and into the yard.

Everyone else in the neighborhood was pouring out of their houses too, so I talked with the neighbor two doors down and her three boys. The boys were full of excitement and were retelling the story to each other over and over. The mom and I were both puzzling over what that was. "It really felt like an earthquake, but we don't get those here," was the general verdict. We wondered if it was an underground cave collapsing or a problem with the construction site. The older lady across the street said there is a fault line right across the river from us, and that was probably it. We all were excited that we'd felt something and wanted to call those family members who weren't with us and tell them all about it.

Then someone drove by and said they had just been on the phone with someone who had felt it in Vienna. We all were surprised: "All the way in Vienna? It must have been big!"

After awhile of no aftershocks, we slowly ventured back inside. I went on Facebook to tell them all about the earthquake and see if anyone else had felt it. And everyone else had felt it! The real shocker was when a friend from New York posted about it. I went back outside to call John (we have no reception inside), but couldn't reach him. Everyone else was out there, too, trying their cell phones, but the networks were overloaded and no one could get through.

I wasn't really concerned, but it was still a load off my mind when my mother-in-law posted on Facebook that John had managed to get through to her, and that he was all right. He had had a scarier time than me. In DC, most people thought it was a bomb or some kind of attack. Even when it was clear that it was an earthquake, it was still frightening, because there are many old and unstable buildings there. John's building is very old, and next door to it is an abandoned, crumbling building that could have easily fallen on it. He was evacuated from the building and eventually told to go home, because they weren't sure it was safe to go back inside. And then he had a nightmare getting home, as all the trains were on speed restriction in case of undiscovered track damage, and most of the bridges were closed. Everyone was trying to get home at once, so it was crazy. He finally got home about an hour late.

Here, I haven't seen any damage. I did hear some sirens right after the earthquake, but it may have been just the fire department checking out tripped alarms. In DC, there has been quite a bit of minor damage. The National Cathedral is missing the top of one spire, and there was quite a bit of fallen stone off the buildings. The city was just not ready for an earthquake.

Right where the epicenter was, it was a serious quake, bad enough to bring buildings down. Luckily, it was in the middle of farmland, where there were few if any buildings. It could have been much worse if the location had been just a little different. Thank God we are all safe.

Did you feel it?

The process of domestication

There may be some controversy about macroevolution -- whether or not all species in the world evolved from unicellular creatures by natural selection. But microevolution, the arising of different traits within a species by the same process, is an observable fact.

For instance, there is a species of moth that likes to rest on white trees. In nature, 90% of the moths are white, and about 10% are black. As you might imagine, the black tenth has it pretty rough -- they are not camouflaged against predators, so they are eaten by birds a lot more often than the white moths.

However, in one region where these moths lived, a factory was built which belched black coal smoke. The smoke settled on the white trees and turned them black. Some years later, scientists discovered that now 90% of the moths were black, and only 10% were white. How did the species adjust for its new circumstances? Simple natural selection. When the trees were black, suddenly the black moths had an evolutionary advantage. Due to their improved camouflage, they were more likely than the white moths to live to adulthood and pass on their genes for black wings to their descendents.

But humans can have a greater role in microevolution than merely providing the catalyst. We can select some plants or animals to reproduce based on the traits we want. For example, the wild dandelion is edible. But it has some flaws: it bolts (goes to seed) very quickly, after which it's much less palatable. It's also very bitter. A relative of the dandelion, lettuce, is domesticated. Humans selected only the slowest-bolting and sweetest plants to reproduce. Modern lettuce has a much longer season than dandelions, and it's mild enough to use raw as a base for salads.

Often, the traits we choose aren't the best for the plant's survival. The bitterness of dandelions makes them less likely to be eaten by animals, and their fast bolting allows them to go to seed quickly, before a rabbit or a lawn mower cuts them down. When we remove those traits, the plant is not as "fit to survive." In the wild, lettuce would quickly be overrun by dandelions. So we provide a controlled environment for our lettuce. Suddenly "fitness" doesn't matter as much as suitability for our needs. We decide to propagate the plant ourselves -- allowing it to shoulder out other plants and become an evolutionary success.

The same goes for fruiting plants. A plant only needs to produce enough fruit to make sure a few seeds will sprout. And it usually doesn't produce more than this, for fear of exhausting the nutrients it has available. But we select plants that overproduce their fruit, so that we will have plenty to eat, and we provide more nutrients to fuel this overproduction.

Our ultimate success has been the domestication of dogs. The actual origin of dogs is lost to history, but it is believed that humans selected the tamest, least aggressive wolves, generation after generation, until we had developed something new. Dogs, then, are actually designed -- by us -- to be our ideal pet. Their genes are much more flexible than most other animals, so that we were able to produce massive sheepdogs, tiny lapdogs, and everything in between. We can breed dogs for guarding, sniffing, hunting, digging, and pretty much anything else. By now we've bred and trained them to lead the blind and assist the disabled.

I recently watched a documentary by Nova called Dogs Decoded, which I found absolutely fascinating. Dogs, it turns out, are instinctively able to read human emotions, and inspect human faces the same way we do -- looking at the eyes first, then moving to the mouth. They can do what a chimp can't -- follow a human's cue to find a treat. The tiniest puppies were capable of learning to find a treat where a human was pointing -- whereas, even with training, wolves and chimps were incapable of this. Many of dogs' abilities would be useless in the wild -- but they are useful to us, so we encourage them and breed the dogs that possess them.

Overall, this process has been extremely beneficial to dogs. Dogs exist in vast numbers around the world, while their ancestors, wolves, are having trouble adjusting to a world with humans in it. Of course, we have to be careful. Sometimes our efforts result in problems for the dogs, like short-faced dogs that develop breathing problems. But this can be avoided with careful breeding and the avoidance of anything extreme.

I just find it so fascinating that we are able to affect our environment so drastically. Man is the one animal that is capable of using tools, but this doesn't just mean stone hammers and bone flutes. No, we can also turn wild grasses into wheat and wolves into companions. We are able to "have dominion" over the earth in a very real way, not as a harsh master, but as a careful steward who tends each creature.

Domestication is frowned on by some, who claim that we are simply "using" animals (and, perhaps, plants?) for our own purposes instead of considering what is best for them. But the fact is, those plants and animals that have been easily modified end up having a new kind of evolutionary advantage: they have learned to live in cooperation with humans. In a world where humans are almost everywhere, that's an important way to be able to live. We care for them, feed them, protect them, and allow them to reproduce. That is what plants and animals need, and, if they could talk, I doubt they'd complain about the symbiotic relationship they have developed with us.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Gender equality

I've been reading a lot about fundamentalism lately. It just kind of led naturally off of my research about spanking -- research that uncovered a lot of scary stuff, I'll admit. I was reading a testimony of someone who had endured tremendous spousal abuse within a fundamentalist group. She was talking about how she was never considered an equal, and quoted lots of stuff about the subordination of women. Then she tossed off something about how it's a throwback to that awful, terrible, woman-hating thing -- the Catholic Church.

I actually felt a little amused. This woman was beaten by her husband in the name of religion, and that's almost as bad as being Catholic. You know, that religion I grew up in and still possess, the one where I have spent 25 years being treated absolutely as an equal? Yeah, that one.

The thing is, people really do think that. They think that the Catholic Church hates women because women are not allowed to be priests.

Personally, I never felt bad about not being able to be a priest. Lots of people can't be priests: married men (in the Roman Rite at least), people with various disabilities, people incapable of living in total celibacy (which, hello, this is hard!), and, oh yeah, women. I can't be an astronaut either, because I'm out of shape and didn't major in the right stuff. It wasn't a big deal to me.

After all, priesthood is something that's meant to be about service to the Church. Admittedly, it hasn't always played out like that. But the best priests usually end up living a life of obscurity and self-sacrifice, rarely getting a break, being hated for what they represent, and being expected to be perfect. The life itself, if you're doing it right, isn't a path of roses.

And as far as "leadership" goes, since the Church can't change its doctrine, it's hard to say why exactly one would want to be a leader of it. Mainly you're there to be the front man, to take the fall when everything goes wrong (as it does all the time), and to spend your life quibbling with the quibblers and pushing papers around to get the right people in the right places. It's not as glamorous as it looks.

In any event, I don't have any particular argument to put forward about the male-only priesthood, except that, as I said, the Church doesn't change its doctrine. Since the male-only priesthood is what we received from Christ, that's what we have. I presume Our Lord knew what he was doing. It sure was useful back when the Church was started, and even now there are some practical advantages.

Instead, I'm thinking more about my own life. Am I, as a Catholic woman, equal to a man?

The standard answer is, "Men and women are equal, but different." However, that could play out a lot of different ways. Some people say, "Men and women are equal (in that they both get to go to heaven in the end), but different (in that they are supposed to be subordinate to every man, all the time)." So the only real way to see if men and women are equal is practically. Practically speaking, am I ever treated as less than an equal? Am I expected to limit my dreams and desires to make way for those of a man, or to fit an ideal of women that doesn't fit me?

The answer, in short, is no. Well, almost never. I have met men who do not treat me as an equal. I can detect a man like that after five minutes of conversation, and it ruins him in my mind forever. It happens when I join a political conversation men are having, and they nod to me, say hello, and then continue their conversation over my head. It happens when I give a contribution in a meeting of some kind, and they go on as if I haven't spoken. It happened when I was told I wasn't welcome at a certain party, because it was a "guys' night," and everyone came home having founded a debate society and voted each other into office. (Yeah, I'm still a little mad about that. It turned out okay though.) Chauvinism is still alive and well, and sadly some traditionally-minded people get it in their heads that chauvinism is "traditional" and "Catholic."

I even was once told by a philosophy professor that I did not have as much of the image and likeness of God as a man does, because reason is how we resemble God, and women are less rational. Need I even say that this is not a doctrine of the Catholic Church? I was steaming mad when I walked out of that class. Luckily all of my friends agreed with me completely, and my male classmates were the first to take on the professor in the class discussion.

The most basic level of equality is within marriage. Am I my husband's equal? Most definitely. In fact, I am often treated as more than an equal, because he takes his role as one of service and self-sacrifice, which often means giving up what he wants so I can have what I want. When it comes to decisions from choosing the ice cream flavor to choosing where we're going to live, John always puts his vote toward what will be best for me. I try to do the same for him, but ... well, butter pecan has a strong pull.

So far, we've never had a disagreement within our marriage that we couldn't solve by discussing it and coming to an agreement. Sometimes neither of us is all that happy with the compromise, but it never comes down to a strongman decision out of him.

Sure, our roles in the family are different. I stay home and he works. That tends to mean that I do more housework, and also that I'm the authority about when naptime is and what the baby gets for snack. John gets the privilege of traveling two hours each way to a job that he hates in order to make it possible for me to stay home doing what I love. It's what makes most sense for us right now. If it was more practical to do it the other way around, we might do that -- though I doubt that would happen. I am just so into being a stay-at-home mom, and John is hoping for an actual career in library science. But you never know.

What bothers me more than anything, though, is people's assumptions. I tend to stay out of the political fray and to be non-confrontational in relationships with others, but when I do come in, I tend to agree with John. So people say, "Well, of course you agree with him, he's your husband." And then they proceed to discount whatever I say. It has gotten to the point that people actively leave me out of discussions because obviously I'm just going to parrot whatever John says.

Needless to say, I find that kind of offensive.

John and I are both very opinionated people. In fact, a lot of our five-year friendship/courtship was a process of hashing out our opinions. I couldn't have married a man who didn't believe in homeschooling, for instance. He couldn't have married a woman who was closed to the idea of a large family. I would have broken up with him if he'd considered entering the military -- I know what I'm willing to do, and what I'm not. So by the time we got married, we agreed on all of our really important ideas. Either one of us had convinced the other, or we agreed from the beginning.

Sometimes he talks me into things. He's got me agreeing to put Ron Paul signs on the lawn. Sometimes I talk him into things. I've got him agreeing to a home birth next time. But neither of us believes we have the right to issue commands to the other. Sure, in a moment of need one of us might say, "I really, really need you to do this." The other usually answers, "I don't understand why you need that, but because I love and trust you, here goes." Sometimes it takes a lot of discussion to get that point. But I wouldn't have married this guy if I hadn't trusted him, so in the end I don't always insist things go my way (though they usually do).

There's that pesky Bible verse that always comes up: Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as to the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

I've heard that explained in this way: It's not telling wives to be subordinate, because they already were. That was the law and the standard of the times. It's saying, "When you are subordinate, do so as if it was to Jesus. That will make it easier. And husbands, don't be jerks about it, but see it as an opportunity for sacrifice." But even if you take it as a command, it still does say elsewhere that wives and husbands should be subordinate to one another, mutually. So there's no room for saying, "God intends women only to obey and men only to command." That's just never said, and I don't think it's true.

So, there you have it. I, as a Catholic woman, believe myself to be an equal of my husband. And as far as other men are concerned, they have no right to boss me around. I love to jump in on internet debates, and I usually find myself agreeing with my husband. That's because he's a smart guy and agrees with me. It doesn't mean I don't think for myself, that I think I have to agree with him, or that I think he has the right to tell me what to think. And I stay at home, but it's hardly a prison. It's the job I like to do, and I do it my way. I only wish my husband were so lucky in his work.

What is your opinion on men's and women's roles? Equal, not equal, equal but different?

Marko is so much fun

We seem to have broken out of a cranky stage, where Marko was testing his boundaries and frustrated with his abilities, into a new happy stage where he has mastered the abilities he wanted and is having fun practicing them. Every day he learns some new thing!

For instance, the other day, he was resisting getting his diaper changed. I happened to say, "Let me put on your diaper so we can go back into the living room." He heard the word "go" and got really excited. He repeated it over and over, while running back over to me so I could change his diaper. Once he had it on, he got his pants and had me put those on. Then he ran to the door and asked to go out. I said, "You can go out, but we have to stay in the yard!" But no, he ran right to the gate and started opening it. I said, "No go." He said, "Go! Park!" I said, "I really don't want to, and I don't have my shoes on." He ran back inside, helped me find them, and even tried to shove them on my feet!

Who can resist such enthusiasm? We went to the park and had a great time.

Or this afternoon. He hadn't napped at his "usual" time (that is, the time I always try) of eleven o' clock. I was thinking I'd try again at one. At a quarter to one, he pulled me into the bedroom, saying "Nee-nee. Rocker." I sat on the rocker and nursed him, and he fell right to sleep! Other times he will go into his bedroom and lie on his bed, demanding a diaper change, and then pretending to nap, saying "Nap! Nap!" He still can't fall asleep on his own, but he knows that it's what he wants when he's tired.

He can follow instructions very accurately. If I hand him the dustpan full of dirt, he can carry it over to the trash and dump it without help. (In fact, it must be without help. If I try to help, he pushes my hands away, declaring, "Mukko! Mukko!" Meaning, "Thanks for the offer, ma'am, but just leave it to the professional.") If I say, "Take this basket and push it into the laundry room," he can do that too. It thrills him to pieces to be included in the housework ... though I'll admit, it's still more trouble to me to let him help than to do it myself. I let him because he likes it, and because he may as well learn to do housework while he likes it instead of having it forced on him later when he hates it.

He is starting to play pretend. He'll hug his mouse or another stuffed animal, and shove them in my face to get me to kiss them. He has been found pouring milk on the mouse's nose (saying "Drink! Drink!") or putting it on the potty. Occasionally, with a twinkle in his eye, he'll point at me and say "Daddy!" I'm pretty sure he knows he's joking.

Sleep is a mixed bag. He's working on his schedule, and so am I, trying to find a way to get him to nap late enough that he's actually tired and will sleep, and early enough that it won't disrupt bedtime, and long enough that he's not a total crab when he wakes up, and short enough that he will still be tired by nine o'clock. I might be able to manage this if I had total control of when he sleeps and wakes. But who are we kidding? I try and try to get him to sleep at eleven, and he falls asleep at one. Next day, I think "One o'clock it is!" and he passes out at ten-thirty. One day he tried not to nap at all -- only to turn into a limp rag at 5:30, wake up screaming at six, and be hyper until eleven at night. That was not a fun day at all.

But for the most part, he is fairly happy nowadays. And I'm having a lot of fun. I love the level of interaction he's capable of, and how he can sit on the couch looking at a book or playing with his mouse without too much input. I love playing chase (or, as he calls it, "get you"), patty-cake, head-shoulders-knees-and-toes, and tickle. When he's getting tickled, he laughs hysterically -- but if I stop, he grabs my hand and pulls it back toward him, saying "Tickle. Neck. Belly," or wherever he wants to be tickled. This is not a kid who screams "no" without meaning it when he's getting tickled. (Perhaps because I do respect his "no" and always stop if he says it.) No, he is enthusiastic and vocal about his love of tickles.

I am just getting a kick out of this kid. For the first time in awhile, I don't feel a bit lonely during the week. I feel like I finally have someone to talk to.

"Really? So what about the primary election? Tell me more!"

Monday, August 15, 2011

Children are not evil

Here I am again, still agonizing over spanking. My general opinion remains that it may be right in some instances and for some kids, but wrong for others. I also believe that it is completely possible to raise good children without spanking -- because some of my awesome friends were spanked, and some weren't. I was. I think I'm an okay person. I don't resent my parents. I have a good relationship with them.

And yet I can't abide the opinion that spanking is required to raise a "moral" child. They cite Bible verses about sparing the rod and spoiling the child, and insist that you start hitting your children with a switch by the time they can walk. The whole thing strikes me as rather brutal, as well as encouraging parents to ignore everything they know about their child and all of their instincts, just so they can follow a plan which is touted as "biblical."

I got an answer back from Kimberly at Raising Olives on our discussion about disciplining toddlers. I had asked if she could provide more details about her system of discipline, by which she claimed she could teach one-year-olds to obey. Here's what she said:

Hi Sheila,

The most basic duty of a child is found in Ex.20:12, Deut. 5:16, Eph. 6:1-3, Col.3:20, jn.14:13-24 and more. Scripture is clear about the blessing and curse attached [to] children obeying their parents. This is about life and death.

The people responsible to teach them their duty: Deut.6:6-7, Eph. 6:4, Prov. 1:8;3:1, 4:1-2;6:20, Deut. 4:9-10, etc.

Tedd Tripp, in his book Shepherding a Child’s Heart, says this,

When your child is old enough to resist your directives, he is old enough to be disciplined. When he is resisting you, he is disobeying. If you fail to respond, those rebellious responses become entrenched. The longer you put off disciplining, the more intractable the disobedience will become.

The time and manner for teaching them: Deut. 6:7-9, Prov.29:15-17, 13:24, 23:13, 19:18.

Simply because our children are young we do not allow them to regularly participate in what God says will bring a curse and judgement to them. If our child is knowingly resisting our authority, he is sinning against God.

I actually looked up every single Bible verse she mentioned. All quotes are from the King James Version, which seemed the most likely one that she might be using. My source is, which is a really handy tool for searching the Bible.

The basic duty of a child:

Ex.20:12 - Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

Deut. 5:16 - Honour thy father and thy mother, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with thee, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.

Eph. 6:1-3 - Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honour thy father and mother; which is the first commandment with promise; That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.

Col.3:20 - Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is well pleasing unto the Lord.

Jn.14:13-24 - And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (continues for 11 more verses, but I still don't see the connection ... perhaps she meant a different verse)

The people responsible to teach them their duty:

Deut.6:6-7 - And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.

Eph. 6:4 - And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Prov. 1:8 - My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother.

Prov. 3:1 - My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments.

Prov. 4:1-2 - Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law.

Prov. 6:20 - My son, keep thy father's commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother.

Deut. 4:9-10 - Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons; Specially the day that thou stoodest before the LORD thy God in Horeb, when the LORD said unto me, Gather me the people together, and I will make them hear my words, that they may learn to fear me all the days that they shall live upon the earth, and that they may teach their children.

The time and manner for teaching them:

Deut. 6:7-9 - And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

Prov.29:15-17 - The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame. When the wicked are multiplied, transgression increaseth: but the righteous shall see their fall. Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest; yea, he shall give delight unto thy soul.

Prov. 13:24 - He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.

Prov. 23:13 - Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.

Prov. 19:18 - Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.

Okay, so I understand her argument: One of the commandments is to obey your parents. Parents are supposed to teach their children the commandments, including the one to obey their parents. And the way to do that is to start young, and to hit them with a rod.

However, it seems to me that there are some problems with this argument. First off, it's exclusively from the Old Testament, except for two verses. All the ones in Deuteronomy and Exodus are addressed specifically to the Jews. They take them quite literally and actually do bind the commandments on their foreheads and doorways. But my guess is that Kimberly does not. Why not? Two reasons: First, the Old Covenant is for the Jews, and we are not bound by the strictures of the Law (as you can easily find in the Epistles). Second, it was probably a poetic way of saying, "Keep the law always on your mind." Modern day Christians do this.

Can't we also say that the phrase "with a rod" might also not have been literal? My grandma might have said, "Smack 'em with a hairbrush," but I don't go around saying, "Only hairbrushes are appropriate to hit children with." She just meant smack the kids, but not hard, and in a way that means discipline. If she just said "hit 'em," I might have thought she meant to punch them in the nose. I don't see an actual difference between hitting with a rod and with the hand. You can tap lightly with a rod; you can kill someone with your bare hands; but it doesn't really make a difference what your tool is.

And as far as age, the only thing we hear is "betimes." I've also heard, "while he is young." Nothing states, "by the age of one" or "while he's a toddler." The word "toddler" wasn't even used in Biblical times. Children were called babies or infants or nurslings until they were weaned, which was about three years old. I'm not sure what form of discipline was common at the time, but I'm pretty sure kids were pretty much left to their mothers at that age. Often, in more primitive cultures, nursing toddlers are considered equivalent to babies and mainly left alone -- actual teaching would begin later. I'm no expert, but there's nothing in the Bible that suggests any differently.

In short, I don't think the Bible has anything that specific to say about the discipline of very young children. I think a bigger source of this point of view is people like this Tedd Tripp fellow and others, who write books about discipline and sell them by passing them off as "the Biblical way to raise children."

It was the rest of the comment that really bothered me: "If our child is knowingly resisting our authority, he is sinning against God."

First off, how old does a child have to be to commit a sin -- when does he "know" he is resisting? Is it when he tries to roll over at four months old because doesn't want a new diaper on? Is it when he puts his hands in front of his mouth at six months old because he doesn't want any more pudding? Is it when he crawls away laughing at nine months old, because he sees you chasing him and would like you to keep chasing him -- because it's fun? How can he really understand the concept of "authority" at that age? How can he know the difference between being chased for fun and being chased because we really want to catch him? These are subtle differences!

The Catholic Church generally considers the "age of reason" to be seven years old. Before that age, a child is incapable of sin because he's incapable of understanding what sin is. He is certainly capable of getting on our nerves, destroying property, and endangering his life, but he can't sin. We stop him from doing harmful things because we don't want him to do them, and because we want him to have good habits, but not because he is sinning.

There is, in my mind, no point in disciplining a child before he is capable of understanding the thing he is supposed to do. Once he can do it, we use age-appropriate strategies to get the child to do it.

For instance, Kimberly gives the example that a child of one year old can understand the command, "sit on your bottom." Perhaps what she means is that, when she tells her one-year-old, "sit on your bottom," the one-year-old sits down. Okay, fine. I'm all for that.

But someone could interpret what she said like this: A one-year-old is quite capable of understanding "sit on your bottom." When I tell my one-year-old to sit on his bottom, he doesn't do it. He must know what I meant and be willfully disobeying me. I will spank him every time he disobeys that command. By the time he's eighteen months, he will be sitting on his bottom when I ask him to.

What I ask is, how do you know a one-year-old understands? I am pretty darn sure my son didn't, at 12 months. At 15 months, he learned the word "sit," and would sit down and stand up saying "sit" and "stand," making a game of it. So I knew he knew what the word meant. But still, when I said "sit," he wouldn't necessarily sit. Sometimes he would sit and then stand, because that's the way his game goes. So when he is standing on a chair and I need him to sit, I gently sit him down. That way he understands that when I say sit, I mean sit down now and stay sitting.

At 16 months, he's beginning to get it. He doesn't know what "quiet" means, but perhaps in a few months he will. It's a process, and I'm finally beginning to feel confident about my ability to foster and respond to that process. At his age, if he insists on standing on a chair, I put him on the floor and take the chair somewhere he can't get to it. In another year, he will probably understand that chairs are never for standing, only sitting, and I won't have to remind him every time. Eventually, it won't be an issue, and I will be able to trust him not to stand on chairs at all.

So, are children evil? I don't believe so. I do believe that children have concupiscence, the effect of original sin. Concupiscence is interpreted so many different ways, but this is how I understand it: Concupiscence is why man is the only animal that doesn't want to do what is good for him. Every other animal has instincts that incline them to do what they are supposed to do. Wolves want to hunt, mosquitoes want to bite, bees want to obey the queen bee; but people become anorexic, suicidal, and self-hating. We are social animals, so it is good for us as a species to sacrifice ourselves for the good of others, but what is easy to an ant is difficult for us. Our instincts tell us a lot of useful things, but they don't teach us what we're supposed to do with these non-animal faculties we have -- reason and free will. Concupiscence means it's difficult to be human. Most importantly, we are not punished for having concupiscence, because it's not our fault.

So, when raising a child, you're raising a being with concupiscence -- a small person who naturally thinks of himself first and doesn't realize that other people have wants and needs too. It is hard for him to do the very things that are most necessary, like share his toys, eat only one cookie, and stay inside the front-yard fence. That doesn't mean he's evil -- just that he doesn't get it. He's going to spend his whole life struggling with this reality -- his inclination to sit in front of the TV eating cookies when he knows he has to go to work, his inclination to sleep with every girl he sees when he knows he can't operate that way, his inclination to lie or cheat or steal to get to the top. His reason will help him out in that struggle, and so will his good habits that he learns from his parents. But those negative inclinations aren't evil -- they are only a problem if he follows them. And they can't be trained out of him with enough spankings. He's always going to be tempted to do the wrong thing. But if he knows what the right thing is, when he sees it done by people he respects, and when he's stopped from doing the wrong thing so that it's never a habit, that will help him choose right.

No matter how hard we try, though, our children's choices are their own. We could do everything exactly right, and they could still grow up to choose all the wrong things, living a life that is harmful to themselves and others. Or we could do everything wrong, and live to see them turn their lives around and do exactly what they should. That's the mystery of free will.

The child-training types try to scare you with the fear that, if you don't train your child to be obedient by the time they are two or three, you will never raise a Godly child. In reality, kids are pretty flexible. Kids raised on no discipline can learn it once they're introduced to it. They know where the speed limit is 25 and where it's 50. As they get older, it gets harder, sure -- but there's no cut-off date for teaching children. Even after they leave home, children still care what their parents think of them, and we may influence them that way.

In short, I just don't believe that spanking is this magical, divinely-mandated discipline tool, and that we're bound to raise up little sinners without it. I think it's one way of disciplining -- one that doesn't really make much sense with a very young child who might or might not understand what is expected of him -- but that there are many more, and there's no need to feel obligated to use this one or that one. Instead, we should watch our children to figure out what they're capable of, and encourage them to do it however works best.

I don't think I could ever convince Kimberly, because my argument rests on the doctrine of the Catholic Church -- original sin, the age of reason, and a non-literal interpretation of Scripture -- which I don't think she would accept. But I have sufficiently convinced myself that I don't need to do things her way.

I am beginning to have a bit more confidence that I'm not going to ruin my child, that I know (at least a little bit) what I'm doing. After all, right now, he is a happy, fun, affectionate little boy who loves hugs, games, and pleasing his parents. I think we're doing okay.

What about you? Were you spanked? Do you spank? Do you think it is necessary?

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