Friday, August 31, 2012

Some links of note

Each of these links has been waiting in my tabs for a blog post of its own.  But let's be realistic -- all those blog posts are never going to get written, and I have to restart my computer sometime.  So here's a blurb for each.

FDA - Interstate Raw Milk Ban
This is a ruling of the FDA in which they say that we don't have the right to eat what we want, to buy what we want from someone willing to sell it to us, or to feed our children what we want.  We don't have the right to health or to freedom of contract.

Immune Disorder at the Root of Autism
I can get behind this theory, though I still maintain that autism almost certainly has more than one cause.  Some cases might be genetic and others environmental, for instance.  But definitely our modern immune systems tend toward inflammation, and a lack of healthy gut flora is a contributing factor.  On the other hand, curing autism with worms?  Ick.

Giving Birth to a "Rapist's Child"
This  scholarly article was really enlightening.  The main point is that there should be more legal protection for mothers who choose to raise children conceived in rape, in order to ensure the rapist is not given custody of the child.  (Few states have any law on this topic at all.)  But along the way, it addressed so many other stereotypes: that a woman who conceives in rape will necessarily want an abortion, that if she doesn't want an abortion it means she wasn't really raped, or that most rapists are brought to justice.  (An estimated 98% aren't, and of those who are convicted, the average sentence is 11 months.)  It's full of citations from scholarly sources, proving the falsehood of many of these stereotypes.  And it points out that fewer rape victims might choose abortion if only they could be certain they would be given exclusive custody of their children, rather than having to take a chance on a family court ruling in their favor.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Why I wear pants

Yes, it's a hot-button issue for Catholic women, and I've never touched it before.  The skirts-only crowd and the sometimes-pants crowd go back and forth online all the time, and I usually keep out of it because I don't think clothes are that big of a deal.

But let me just say here upfront: I often wear pants.  Probably at least five days a week.

There's some history behind this.  When I was about thirteen I decided I loved skirts.  I had this huge cream-colored skirt which I called my "confidence skirt" because I always felt so self-assured in it.  Probably because I didn't have to worry about where I put my feet, since no one could see them.  Or else because it was so vast I felt bigger than I was in real life (which, at the time, was about 90 pounds).  I wore pants often enough at home, but if I was going somewhere I usually wore a skirt.

Then at boarding school I wore skirts exclusively -- even at the beach or while playing basketball -- because it was a rule.  It was a really big deal for some people to wear only skirts, apparently.  It wasn't a big deal for me.  That is, until all my clothes were given to Goodwill and I was forced to buy new ones that better fit what a "Woman of the Kingdom" should look like.  My mom was furious because, on the one hand, she had liked my clothes and would have liked to keep them (many were handmedowns from her), and on the other, buying all new clothes for me was an expense my family didn't need.

I didn't care for the way I looked in the new clothes, particularly.  I liked big billowy skirts; I was put in tailored shortish skirts.  Skirts that required dress shoes instead of prairie boots.  I freely admit that I had no sense of style as a preteen.  But it was my style and I liked wearing clothes I had picked myself.

When I left boarding school, I kept wearing skirts exclusively for a full year.  After all, I was trying to get back there, and there was no way I was slacking off on the rules just because I wasn't there at the moment.  I found pants uncomfortable anyway.  They weren't always practical, but I stuck with them -- despite embarrassing moments like trying to fly my grandpa's airplane with the stick between my legs, so that my skirt was hiked right up my thighs; or the time I was bushwhacking through the greenbelt near our house and sunk into some mud almost up to the waist, meaning I had to drag myself home with a soggy, muddy skirt plastered to my legs.

But eventually -- I think for the sake of horseback riding -- I put on a pair of pants, my dad's old camo pants.  I stuck with those till I went to college; they were my only pair and I mostly wore them to mow the lawn.  When I went to college, I bought a pair of jeans and a pair of cargo pants, thinking that maybe I would wear them a bit more so as not to be quite so weird.

Only something happened to change that.  A few days into being at college, I had made a friend.  She was nice and very friendly, and had mentioned in passing that she only attended the Latin Mass.  (I learned later she was actually a sedevacantist.)  She seemed to single me out to be her friend, and I was quite flattered.  But after knowing her a few days, she let slip the reason: "It's nice to know someone else who doesn't wear pants."

I had been wearing skirts because I liked them.  I owned pants.  But I felt so tied in by her opinion.  Now that I was identified as an "only skirts" girl, I couldn't ever wear pants.  If I did, what if my friend didn't like me anymore?  In fact, I didn't wear them for a whole semester.  During finals week, I finally got up the guts to wear pants once.  No one even recognized me at first.  When they did, I got comment after comment on them.

That whole debacle was just frustrating to me.  Was I really so defined by what I wore?  I am not a person who cares about clothes.  Once I put them on, I would forget about them.  But apparently everyone else was keeping careful track.

Nowadays I wear pants more often than not.  They are eminently practical, I don't mind getting them dirty, they are easy to sit on the floor in.  I am not now, and have never been, all that ladylike.  I like to be feminine, but not upper-class.  I like to be able to move, dig in the garden, lie on the floor and do airplanes with the baby on my knees.  The most important thing lately is that shorts and skirts leave one very vulnerable to mosquitoes.  Skirt-wearers like to pride themselves on being able to do any activity in a skirt that you can do in pants ("except things that are unladylike anyway"), but they haven't been able to tell me any other way to keep bugs off without getting heatstroke.

I don't think pants are immodest.  Like any garment, it depends on the pants!  I guarantee you, my pants and skirts are both quite frumpy enough to satisfy anyone.  The advantage of pants is that they remain equally modest no matter what position you're in.  I heard of a girl who managed not to get raped because her attacker couldn't wrench off her skinny jeans.  Next best thing to a chastity belt!  Can't say that of a skirt.

Now I'm not anti-skirt.  I have several skirts that I love.  Most of them are enormous -- I like to be able to MOVE.  You won't see me in a pencil skirt, but I like hippie skirts and prairie skirts and circle skirts.  But I refuse to identify myself by my clothes.  I am to the point that I don't care how people will judge me: if they see me in pants, they might call me immodest; if they see me in a skirt, they might think I'm super-traditionalist; but I am darn well going to wear what is most comfortable and practical for me to wear.

And I refuse to let anyone else tell me what I should be wearing.  I don't exist to be looked at.  I like to look nice for my husband, which is why I grew my hair out even though I prefer it short, but no one besides my husband has any reason to stare at my lower half anyway.  I don't care if they find me too unfeminine; let them get to know me and they'll find I'm feminine enough.  (In a medieval-peasant sort of way.)  And I admit I wear pants more than I otherwise would just because I am aware of the pressure to wear skirts.  I don't like to be pushed around, and sometimes my pushing-back involves pants.

I wrote this post while wearing a skirt.  Just so you know.

If you are female, do you wear skirts, pants, or either?  If you are male, why the heck did you plow through a whole post about women's clothing?

Friday, August 24, 2012


I have been very sloppy and remiss when it comes to my sidebar.  I threw some links up there years ago and for the most part have just left them.  I couldn't possibly link to everyone I read -- I subscribe to dozens of blogs.  But I wanted to have some good stuff up there for people who want to find something new.  Every blog on my link list is one I read frequently and which I think my readers might like.  The only exception is that my two old blogs are on there -- Enchiridion and Sniffles Predominating.  That's in case you want to stalk my past self or whatever.

If you're a regular reader and you write a blog you think my other readers might like, please comment on this post.  Also please comment if you ever find a broken link in there!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Virginia in August

All through the month of July, I griped about the weather. It truly was miserable, but my complaining just raised the question, from those who don't have to put up with Virginia in July, "Then why do you want to live there?!"

Of course part of the reason is practical: work and housing and all. It took us years to get established here, and we are not interested in starting over from scratch somewhere else. But we actually did want to live here. In July, I was scratching my head to think of one good reason why.

Now it's August and it's all coming back to me. Cicadas. Crickets. Mimosa trees. Thunderstorms. Hot sun and cool breeze. Fertile soil and bountiful harvests. Windows open day and night.

You see, I am in love with fresh air. I want the maximum number of "outside days" I can get.  Virginia isn't perfect, but it scores pretty high.

The problem is that the placement of the outside days throws me for a loop. They start in April, when I don't expect them. I enjoy them for a bit, but then I start to take them for granted, because soon it will be summer and it will be even nicer, right?

Then June hit and we had to shut up all the windows in the heat of the day, then all day. We'd play outside, but it was always either too hot or too buggy. July was the same only worse and with more thunderstorms. This summer it would be over 100 degrees for a week. The garden turned into a jungle of weeds.

But now it's August and so, so lovely. I don't want to let it slip by like the spring did. I reckon we'll get till late October, and then I'll have to shut all the windows again. When we start homeschooling, I'll make a schedule that respects our climate: school during summer and winter only, with holidays on pleasant days.

A few more things I love about where I live:

The rolling hills. As a Westerner, I don't call them mountains, but that doesn't mean I'm not fond of them. I love the way you can drive along them and get long views of the valley below around every bend. The vineyards and farmland look like another era, with wisps of smoke and mist drifting up out of hollows. It reminds me of Assisi, one of my favorite places in the world.

My neighborhood. It reminds me of the one I grew up in. 1950's factory workers' homes, along a quiet street where no one drives but your own neighbors. Kids ride their bikes up and down and no one complains. Everyone's got a front porch, and sometimes I hear them calling from porch to porch. They're happy to share a bag of cherry tomatoes or help pick up fallen branches in our yard.

Our town. Sure, it's a little rundown and junky; there are way more sleazy hotels and tattoo parlors than you'd think one town could support. But it's open and friendly. It's near some lovely farm country. There's a great parish with lots of young families and a bus that takes me around for 50 cents.

We've been making friends, getting involved, really putting down roots here. I'm not saying we'll never leave, but for now I am very content to stay right where I am.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The actually-eat-lunch challenge

Lately it's come to my attention that I don't eat actual meals.  I sort of graze.  I think that's fine in general, except what I was eating wasn't that good for me.  I mean, I was living off of PBJ crusts, chunks of cheese, and bites of cookie dough and wondering why I wasn't feeling quite right.  Meanwhile Marko was mainly forgetting to eat until suddenly he was starving, and then he wanted nothing other than a peanut butter sandwich because he has no imagination when it comes to food.  And then my friend's mom gave me a talking-to about how, as the mother, it's my job to take good care of myself so I can nourish my babies, and I was sold.  I decided to make a point of actually planning what I'm going to eat, and actually eating it at a relatively regular time.  In short, I am going to eat lunch.

Dinner is no problem; I always eat a good dinner because I make it for the family.  Breakfast I tend to keep light, but I do eat it -- usually either yogurt or fruit and bread.  Lunch is the clincher.  If I can eat a good lunch daily, I will actually achieve the famed Three Squares a Day for the first time since college.

Last time I went to the store, I made a point of buying things for lunch. That meant buying things that I like and will eat.  I don't generally eat meat for lunch very often.  I like my lunches to include a lot of veggies, if possible.  I don't like always eating the same thing.  It has to be fairly quick to make, but interesting and tasty.  So I stocked up on my favorite whole grain bread, tortillas, fruit, and fresh vegetables.  I purposely bought only two pounds of cheese for two weeks instead of the usual three, because I know if cheese is around I eat nothing else.

Here are some things I have been eating for lunch:

Veggie wraps: I slather a tortilla in homemade mayo and toss in whatever veggies I can find, along with cheese cubes or chickpeas to give it a bit more protein.  They usually include tomato, lettuce, cucumber, and/or purslane.  I've had these most days this week and they are YUM.  I mean delicious.

Pasta: This is a pretty easy dish to make and you can put anything on it you want.  Yesterday I had some slow-roasted tomatoes and some green beans from my garden, so I put those in some noodles along with onions, olive oil, and parmesan cheese.  So good.

Sandwiches:  I love a good tomato-and-cheese sandwich.  Bacon optional if it's available.  Other good additions are cucumber, lettuce, or spinach.  Oh, and you know what else would be good?  Sprouts!  >makes mental note<

Smoothies:  These are more of a midafternoon snack.  We always have a snack around here, and I like it best if it's not PBJ again.  Some favorites are pumpkin smoothies, strawberry smoothies, and peach smoothies.  Aldi has bags of frozen fruit which I use for the last two.  For the first, I take pumpkin from my garden, spice it up like pie filling, and stick it in the freezer till it's getting a little frozen.  Then I blend it with homemade yogurt.

Quesadillas:  With just cheese, these are a little boring and a little lacking in the veggie department.  But there's nothing stopping you from throwing in some pico de gallo (I make my own), green peppers, heck, even beans if you've got them around.  Though at that point it's easier to turn it into a burrito.

The wonderful benefit of eating lunch?  Marko sees me eating my special, delicious meal that I made just for me out of things that I particularly like, and he's drawn like a bee to honey.  He only eats a few bites, and I make sure I've made plenty so I can share.  The important thing is that he's eating nutritious, flavorful things which help make up for the rather uniform diet he eats otherwise.  (I don't need to say the word PBJ again, do I?)

What do you like to eat for lunch?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Nursing two not-so-different babies

Marko was so hard to nurse.  So, so hard.  A lot of things went wrong, and I didn't really have any idea what I was doing.  I hadn't read a single book about breastfeeding.  I assumed that having seen it done was all I was going to need.

After he was weaned, I was looking forward to having another baby and getting it right this time.  The next would be easier.  And it has been -- but it still hasn't been effortless.  It's required some thought, and I've spent awhile trying to figure out various issues.  On the other hand, it's cast a lot of light on the problems I had with Marko.

With Marko, you may remember, he didn't nurse right away when he was born.  He was taken away from me to suction and didn't show any interest in nursing when I got him back.  I was told that he would sleep for about twelve hours and I could feed him when he woke up.  About nine hours into his epic sleep (only as a second-time mom do I now realize how weird it is for a baby to sleep twelve hours!) a lactation consultant had me wake him.  He still showed no interest in nursing.  He was sleepy and wasn't rooting at all.  The LC kind of shoved his face at the breast a few times, and when that didn't work, she told me I had flat nipples and he would never be able to latch.  Then she gave me a silicone shield, and we got him to latch with that.

It was only the next day that I learned that it's very hard to wean a baby off a shield, and also it might harm my supply.  The second LC told me I would have to pump after every feed.  I was very upset.  I had thought nursing was going to be so easy, and all of a sudden it was getting really complicated.  It was only the third LC I saw in the hospital that actually got Marko to latch on without the shield ... once.  But then I was discharged and it took me 11 weeks to get him off that shield for good.

When I weaned Marko off the shield, my supply went through the roof, and my cycles, which had returned, went away again.  (I have never heard of this happening to anyone else!)  Clearly that shield was doing some harm.  I was thrilled to have more milk and all was well for about ... a week.  But then suddenly Marko started doing something strange.  He would cry as if he were hungry, and I would put him to the breast, but he'd turn his head away and scream.

That got worse and worse for about two months.  I had to fight to get him to nurse at all.  Some weeks I had success by nursing him really often -- like every 45 minutes.  Some weeks he would only nurse lying down, or while I was walking around.  Going on a strict every-two-hour schedule helped more than anything, which was a surprise to me.  It didn't mean ignoring his cues, because he never asked to nurse.  I had been just nursing whenever he fussed because it was the only cue I had.  When, at nine months, he crawled into my lap and lunged at the breast, I almost cried.  It was the first time in his life he'd ever shown that he actually wanted to nurse.

I considered many issues: teething, oversupply, undersupply, overactive letdown, underactive letdown, tongue tie.  I dismissed tongue tie, though, because he seemed to be swallowing fine when I did get him to nurse, and because I wasn't having any pain.  It couldn't be undersupply because I could easily express milk when he was refusing it.  It really seemed to me like nursing was hurting him somehow.   I suspected reflux, and went on an elimination diet which did help, or which at least seemed to help.  Occasionally, when stressed or overstimulated, he still refused to nurse occasionally.

When, at five and a half months, he was looking pretty thin (he'd been quite chubby at three months, but had actually lost a little weight during the worst month) I let him grab food off of my plate like he'd been trying to do for weeks.  He scarfed it right down.  There was very little he tolerated at that age -- mostly just meat and beans -- but he was soon eating three meals a day and loving it.  He still nursed in a businesslike way, though usually because I offered it.  He was easily fussy and frustrated while nursing; the only way to calm him was to let him play with (read: pull) my hair.

He nursed till 19 months, when excruciating pain confirmed that I did not at all want to nurse through pregnancy.  He hasn't seemed to miss it, and I don't really have any regrets about that.  I figured we'd had a good run.

Well, let me tell you, it was a huge shock to me when I noticed one day, while brushing his teeth, that he has a tongue tie.  A very visible one -- a thread under his tongue that you can see whenever he lifts it.  When I asked him to stick out his tongue, he could only get it a little way out,and it turned heart-shaped.  I asked him to touch his nose with his tongue, which I did to show him, and he could barely get it over his upper lip.

All I could say was no.freaking.wonder I had trouble nursing this child!  It was actually a relief, realizing it wasn't all my fault.  That silicone shield might have been the only thing that got him nursing at all, when his mouth was still tiny and nursing would have been hardest.  And I have recently learned that nursing with a tongue tie may be painful for the baby and not for the mother.  Stretching the tongue up to nurse makes that tight frenulum hurt.  I wonder if that could have been one reason he was so resistant to nursing.  On the other hand, a tongue tie can also cause reflux, because it gets the baby swallowing air.  So he might have had that too.

So then I had another baby.  Michael had a much smoother start.  He latched on within thirty minutes of birth.  And then he pretty much stayed latched on for the first 48 hours or so.  Once my milk came in, he shifted to nursing every hour or so, which was delightful to me -- I could eat and go to the bathroom!  It was pretty obvious to me from the start that I had an oversupply.  I had a lot of milk with Marko, but this was way more.  Michael was sometimes overwhelmed by it, choking and pulling off to let the milk spray everywhere.  But it didn't discourage him from wanting to eat all the time.

He is a very burpy, spitty baby.  Our biggest issue with cosleeping was having to get up after each feed to burp the baby.  It was hard for awhile to get him to burp at all -- it's much easier now.  But he still spits up a lot.  I wondered for awhile if he could possibly be keeping anything down, but he was gaining weight at a phenomenal pace, so clearly some was getting through.  But around three months old, I started trying to work on that oversupply by doing block feeding.  Nothing drastic -- just trying to make sure he was emptying one side before offering the other.  I'd made the mistake up to then of switching sides every time he pulled off to burp, when really he wasn't finished.

Only that was not a success.  Michael does not want a half-empty breast.  He wants a full breast.  He wants the milk to let down instantly, and he wants it to flow so fast he can barely keep up.  He might be choking, but he likes that.  I think he is used to it.  If I put him on the emptier side, he fusses and yanks at it.  The same for after the letdown is over -- he pulls off and on again, or clamps his gums and pulls.  There is definitely milk there; I can express it easily.  But it isn't hosing him in the face like he's used to.  Like Marko, he always unlatches himself when he's done.  He rarely stays on for a leisurely nursing marathon -- instead the yanking-off increases until I declare the nursing session is over.  Once I've burped him, he doesn't often want to get back on again, unless I give him the other side.  But if I give him the other side, he spits it all back up again.  Occasionally he does what I dread more than anything -- flings his head away from the breast and screams.  Luckily I can deal with that easily enough, especially compared to Marko (who once starved himself for four hours, screaming the entire time, before I calmed him down enough to eat).  I just calm him down, do something else, and try again later.  Or I put him in the wrap and he falls asleep instead.  I'm not worried because he still nurses really often.

Elimination communication has been very reassuring to me, because I have been able to see that he isn't at all dehydrated and has been getting plenty of milk.  On the other hand, he is rather constipated.  (Yes, I know exclusively breastfed babies aren't supposed to get constipated.  But he IS!)

It's frustrating though.  I thought with this one it was supposed to be easy!

I can't be quite sure Michael does not have a tongue tie.  He doesn't have an obvious one like Marko has.  He does have an upper lip tie, but that is stretched out enough now that he has no trouble flipping his lip out correctly when he latches on.  But I know there is such a thing as a posterior tongue tie that isn't visible.  I don't know of any local expert who could tell if he has one or not.  They do run in families, so it is quite possible that I could have multiple children with tongue ties.  (If you are interested in the genetic causes of tongue tie, read the last link on this page -- apparently one issue is not being able to turn folic acid into folate, which leads to a folate deficiency resulting in tongue tie and other problems in a woman's unborn children.  Certainly motivated me to eat my liver instead of relying on prenatal vitamins, whether or not I have this mutation.)

It could also just be that he's accustomed to a fast flow now, and doesn't want it to slow down.  He never learned to suck hard because he never had to learn.  So now he's kind of lazy about it.  He can't keep a pacifier in either.  He'll suck on it for a bit, and then it falls out.  Marko was the same.  Neither of them has ever been willing to nurse on an empty breast to increase supply.  They could be starving, but once they realize the milk isn't going to come rushing out, they scream and refuse to try.  It's of course hard to say, because I have so much milk that this rarely happens and so maybe they just haven't been hungry enough to try.  All I know is, they have both preferred a full breast and a quick letdown.

Here are some links that I've found helpful.  The first two are about oversupply and the second two are about tongue tie.  You'll notice that a lot of the symptoms are the same for both.  And if I have oversupply AND the kids have tongue tie ... would those help cancel each other out?  Most tongue tied babies have trouble getting enough, and supply goes down.  In that case oversupply might be a blessing.

Colic in the Breastfed Baby

Gaining, Gulping, and Grimacing

Feeding problems from a tongue tie

One genetic cause of tongue tie 

I'm going to see if I can get to a La Leche League meeting, just to ask around for some tips.  Since Michael is eating well -- albeit every hour, with lots of puking -- and gaining just fine, I'm not exactly worried.  But I'd like to know what's going on.  Is this his personality, or is he honestly having trouble?  And am I going to have to nurse five kids before I can say I know what I'm doing?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

But ARE they spoiled?

You hear it constantly.  American children are spoiled.  There's no question about that.  The question asked is always WHY they are so spoiled.  And then book after book is written that is supposed to "cure" your child of being spoiled.  French parenting, tiger mothering, Biblical discipline, whatever it is, the goal is to stop your child from being spoiled like "all the other kids nowadays."

But I think that before answering that question, we first need to figure out what exactly we mean by the word "spoiled," and perhaps consider what factors contribute to kids being spoiled -- if, in fact, they are spoiled at all.

The other day I read an article in the New Yorker called Why Are American Children So Spoiled? It compared American children with children of primitive tribes.  The big stand-out point was that the primitive children were, at the age of six, capable of taking care of themselves and contributing to the tribe, whereas American children are constantly needing their shoes tied or snacks to be prepared for them.  We wouldn't imagine making a six-year-old responsible for taking care of himself.

But as I read through it more carefully, it seemed to be conflating two completely different things: children who lack the ability to do certain tasks, and children who are spoiled by parents "giving in to them."  The author seemed to think that "just saying no" more often would help.  But a mother quoted in the article was talking about how she had made her son take out the trash.  He had done it, but not fastened the lid back on tightly afterward.  A bear got into the trash and strewed it all over the yard.  The mother cleaned it up and reflected that having him do the work was much harder than just doing it herself.

Saying "no" more often isn't going to teach an eight-year-old how to take out the trash.  You have to actually teach the child to do the task.  Like tying shoes.  Most children reach an age where they really want to dress themselves.  But parents don't want to let them do it.  What they want is a child who is completely ready to get dressed with no input, in a short amount of time.  What they don't want is a child who is learning to dress himself and takes forever tying and retying his shoes, to get it right.  So they swoop in and "help," over the objections of the child, because they'll be late if they wait for the child to tie his own shoes.  Then a few years down the line we wonder why our kids can't tie their own shoes.

I don't think incapacity to do simple tasks is the same thing as being spoiled.  I just think the skills and habits necessary haven't been taught.  Teaching those things takes time, and it's much easier to do it ourselves ... until we find our kids are totally dependent on us, at an age where we'd rather be having them contribute a little.

I recently struggled with this issue with Marko.  He wanted something to eat, so he came to me and asked me for "summin deet," as he puts it.  I said, "Not right now, I can't get up to get it for you."  Well, he walked right into the kitchen, opened the fridge (what?! he can open the fridge?), got out a package of baloney (yeah, I know, I'm not as all-natural as I make myself sound), and brought it to me to open.  I had two opposing impulses at that point.  The first one was, "Oh, no, I can't have him opening the fridge.  I need to put a lock on it or teach him not to open it."  But the second was, "He can get his own snack all by himself!  I should encourage this!"

I chose the second.  Sure, I often have to get him to shut the fridge when he just holds it open and stares inside, like some new delicious thing is going to materialize if he waits long enough.  But don't teenage boys do that too?  And occasionally I have to keep sending him back to put the ketchup, the mustard, or the mayo back in the fridge.  But if I am careful about arranging my fridge with the Marko snacks on the bottom, and I make it a point not to buy things I'm not willing to share, I really can let him get his own snacks.  That's huge.  If at two he can get a piece of cheese or some baloney, maybe in another year or two I can teach him to pour his own milk and make his own sandwich, and I can wash my hands of making him snacks for good.  Since I want to have a lot of kids, this is definitely a goal I'd like to reach sooner rather than later.

I've mentioned before that, as parents, we tend to look for a way to train our children to do something, when really what they need is to be taught.  We struggle over getting kids to put away their toys, for instance, when the fact is they really don't know how and aren't being stubborn.  (Marko's getting there, but it's far from easy for him still.  He has to be directed the whole time.  But it's an investment.)

I'm not saying there's no such thing as a spoiled child.  There probably is.  I think I would define spoiled as "trained to expect something that society does not find it acceptable to expect."  Some cultures would think that a child wanting to be hugged or held is "spoiled," because their culture does not believe in hugging children.  But I don't consider this spoiled, because I think it's a reasonable expectation that I don't mind satisfying.  However, expecting me to buy a toy on every shopping trip, or provide candy at every meal, would be evidence of a spoiled child, because I do not intend to fulfill that expectation. 

Children expect what we teach them to expect.  If we make ourselves the one to do everything for a child, he expects that.  If we always make a special meal for a picky child, he expects that.  None of these things are really a problem if it's what you actually want to be doing.  "Spoiling" is relative to what you think a child should be expecting.  But if you, as the parent, expect a child who is completely independent and asks for nothing, when you've spent the child's whole life doing everything for him and never teaching him how to do more ... it's possible that you're the one with the wrong expectation.

Friday, August 17, 2012

What I do every day

I was making my to-do list today (still a work in progress ... that is to say, it's still in my head, and with the growth of my to-do list and the shrinkage of my brain space, this is no longer an efficient system) when I wondered if I should include those things that are on my to-do list every day.

So I started thinking over the things I have to do every day, and came up with this list:

Dress 3 people.  On average, change each person's clothes at least once.

Make breakfast

Make lunch

Make dinner

Make a snack

Sweep all floors (yes, daily, we have a very sheddy dog)

Do laundry

Wash dishes

Pick up toys, once only because I'm not superwoman here

Change Marko's diaper, x 6

Those times I neglected to change it fast enough, clean up puddles from when he took off his diaper and peed on the floor, x 4

Help Michael pee in the potty, x 20

Clean up pee misses, x 5

Occasionally go potty myself.  Maybe x 3.  Say loudly, "Wow, good for me!  I peed in the potty!"  Take razor away from toddler and put it out of reach.

Walk dog (he can exercise in the yard, but for several reasons it's better to walk him.  This is the big stressful event of my day.  Imagine a dog who is trying to drag me the length of the block, a baby in a wrap who insists on chewing on my thumb the whole time, and a toddler who mostly listens but occasionally just makes a run for it.)

Let out dog to pee, x 1-2

Put baby down for a nap, x 4 or more

Fetch baby who is crying after sleeping for half an hour, x 4

Fill up water pitcher, Marko's sippy cup, and my glass, x 6

Nurse baby, x 12-20

Clean up inevitable spitup, x 12-20

Comfort crying baby, varies

Comfort screaming Marko, varies

Put baby to bed

Pack John's lunch (Sun-Fri only)

Wake up at night with baby, x 2-6

Wake up at night with Marko, x 0-2

That's what I do every day, Saturday and Sunday included.  (John helps with some on the weekends, which is why I call them my "days off.")

Now I'm beginning to wonder if there's really room on my to-do list for the things I wanted to do today:

Mow lawn

Bathe cat

Write two thank-you cards

Wash kitchen floor

Clean, I mean actually clean and not spot-clean, bathroom

Fold ALL the laundry

Start broccoli and cabbage seedlings

More weeding

Finish library books so they will only be a week overdue when I return them tomorrow

Clean cat's litterbox

Put away tomato seeds that I saved and are ready for storage

Find out if the local La Leche League is on the local bus route, and when the next meeting is

Find citations from the Church Fathers giving interpretations of the book of Joshua

Package up a book I borrowed from my grandma so I can mail it back

Vacuum around the dog's kennel (this will take two minutes but it's hard because Marko is scared of the vacuum)

How much of these lists do you suppose I can accomplish?  Especially considering that I'm on here blogging instead of actually doing any of them?  Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


 Can you tell my boys apart yet?

And a few together because I can't help it:

Some fine-looking young men there, wouldn't you agree?

I'm a lucky woman

When I arrived at college -- eight years ago now -- I had it in my head that I would likely find my future husband there.  I wasn't exactly aiming for my MRS degree ... but college did seem a good place to find someone.

I had a list in my head of things I wanted in a husband.  My number-one thing was that he would make a good dad.  If I was going to have kids with someone, I wanted to make sure to give those future kids the best dad I could.  That meant several things: not only did he have to be good with kids, but he had to be responsible, mature, and a hard worker.  For myself, I was hoping for someone smart, easy to talk to, sensitive to my feelings, and with that particular sort of prickly temperament I happen to like.  (Turns out I'm drawn to melancholic/choleric INTJ's.  They aren't particularly easy to get along with, but I love 'em and have several close friends of this temperament.)  He also had to be hot -- my definition of hot, which I admit is not stereotypical at all.

I am not going to tell our whole love story here, because it took five years and would make another ten-part series.  And besides I don't even remember half of it anymore.  But the short version is that I met John, became good friends with him, and slowly became convinced that he was the exact personification of my "list."  Unfortunately I had a hard time convincing him of this fact; it took years but eventually I talked him around into turning our long friendship into something more.

The first-ever picture of the two of us together.  Soooo embarrassing.

(I mention this fact because I'm tired of reading everywhere, on every blog and book of "rules," that girls must never, ever, EVER go for the guys they like.  They should wait around until they're so desperate they'll take any comer.  And I can tell you for sure, there's a certain kind of guy who can't be captured that way.  I think it was only my utter ignorance about "the game" or "the rules" that allowed me to be a lot more straightforward with John and make the first move.  It worked for us.  Your mileage may vary.  You know your relationships much better than I do.  John is the only person I've ever been in a relationship with and we basically reinvented the wheel with it so I am NO GOOD at relationship advice.)

The knowledge that I chose my husband, that I sized him up with a calculating eye and decided he was the one for me, has been so important for me.  I know that I didn't settle, that when I chose him at eighteen years old I knew I might have many more options later, but decided on the one I had.  I also know that I had five years to change my mind, and many times when I saw John at his worst and very well could have changed my mind.  But I didn't.  I didn't because I knew I really couldn't do better ... that I had found the man for me, and I had no desire to trade him in for a better model.

Eight years later, I'd still choose him again.  Many great qualities have come out in him that I never could have recognized before, but the old things I loved about him are still around.  Here are a few:

He's absolutely brilliant.  I know he doesn't believe me; he thinks I'm the smart one because I'm a fast reader, a quick study with languages and science, and because I got better grades in college.  But John's the one with the analytical mind, the one who easily unweaves tangles in other people's reasoning and who clearly explains to me things like the electoral process or the economic principles of F. A. Hayek or the relationship between faith and reason.  Lately I've relied on him a lot as I've undertaken a study of Catholic doctrine and can come to him with anything I find confusing.  He always makes it clear and straightforward to me.  Last night, we talked about Vatican II for over an hour (yes, we're sleep-deprived, but who can catch up on sleep when there's Gaudium et Spes to talk about?) and all I could think was, "I have never met anyone who understands the Catholic faith as well as this one does."  Since I was rather confused about everything when I got out of boarding school, it's not just helpful to have a guy like that -- it's indispensable.  Everyone should have one.

He's conscientious.  This is the guy who used to leave at 5 a.m. and come home at 7 p.m., just to make ends meet for our family and give us a good life.  And because he wasn't content just to get by and not think of the future, he did his masters class in the evenings, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.  (Can I just say I'm glad those days are behind us?)  He pulls his weight in housework -- really more than his weight, if you consider the percentage of his time he gets to spend at home.  A large chunk of that is given over to doing the grocery shopping (with my carefully-prepared list that he follows to a T) or weedwhacking the yard.  And he takes an even bigger role with the kids.  As I dreamed he would be, he is a dad before anything else.  This is not one of those guys who says, "I bring home a paycheck, that's my contribution." This is a guy who wants to be the one who sings his son to sleep at night, who is always up for a snuggle or a silly game.  He's happy to have found an audience for his corny jokes for the next 18 years.  And, though he has a much harder time with being up at night than I do, he's handled almost all of the wakeups with Marko since Michael was born.

He's a planner.  I know a lot of girls find the guy with the day planner a little unsexy.  But let me tell you, I love it when he comes to me with a plan.  He's not a guy who says, "I don't know, what do you want to do?"  He's a guy who says, "Want to go yard-saling today?" and when I say yes, he pulls out a list of sales to hit up and directions to each.  He's the guy who, when we're walking out the door to a fun adventure with the kids, is tucking the sippy cup into the diaper bag.  I never have my head quite screwed on straight, and I find it so hot when he has everything taken care of so that I can just relax and enjoy the ride.

He's passionate.  Just get him going on racism or libertarianism (of course!) or economics.  Nothing is just an abstract topic; they all matter because ideas matter to him.  I have to admit I intentionally stir the pot by bringing up some controversial issue, just so I can watch him go.  I'm not laughing at him -- it's honestly what I find attractive.  Some girls like to watch guys lift weights.  I like watching mine tear down the arguments of the opposition.

He's hilarious.  Not everyone finds his personal brand of humor that funny -- it's dry, a little earthy and sometimes just straight-up silly.  But when he's doing little extemporaneous comedy routines, he tends to gather a crowd of listeners.

He's not an alpha male.  I find the stereotypical alpha male as unappealing as a guy with big burly muscles. I'm just not into that; I'm a smart, capable girl who doesn't need to be overwhelmed with a dominating man.  I wanted someone who would be an equal and treat me as a friend, and that's what I have.  On the other hand, though, John has a special kind of leadership that has him always bringing out the best in others.  He's rarely the official leader of a group, but he's always the brains behind the operation.  He has no interest in taking charge, but yet he's always finding himself followed by people who thought he looked like a guy who knows where he's going.

Most people who know him think he's a really cool guy.  They're always telling me, "Wow, your husband's so smart!  He's so eloquent!  What a guy!"  Then in the next breath they say, "I could not be married to him or I'd shoot myself."  What can I say, that prickly INTJ temperament does take some careful handling.  He has incredibly high standards for himself and gets frustrated when other people don't live up to them.  But I enjoy the challenge of explaining to him things like "human weakness" or "irrational decisions based on emotion."  I think he would agree with me that I help balance him out and make him a better person, like he does with me.

I'm not going to lie and say these three years of marriage, or the five years beforehand, have been all sunshine.  They've actually been pretty rough.  There was a huge change of identity for both of us in getting married and having kids.  We've never had very much money.  Earning enough money to live on always takes a lot of time; the pressure is high to keep working, save money, take care of our growing family.  Each of us has had some rough patches dealing with it all.  And if you're married, you know there's no such thing as one of you going through a rough patch.  Everything that affects one of you, affects both.

When things are tough, patience goes down and it's hard to see the immense value of the person you're married to.  There have been times when John's tendency to plan ahead drove me crazy as he crunched budgets for five years in the future, or made me angry when he asked me if the diaper bag is packed ("What am I, an airhead?  Oh right, the sippy cup").  There have been times when the last thing I wanted was to hear his opinion on the Republican primary.  There have been times, on a day where our interaction is limited to "Hello, which kid are you doing bedime for," before we both collapse into bed, asleep before our heads hit the pillow, that I thought, "What the heck did I bother getting married for?  This isn't any fun."

One of the few recent pictures of us together that I could find.

But when we've joined hands and pulled one another out of the morass that is the stress and worry and unhappiness that we suffer, when we stand side-by-side and behold the bright light of day, I have zero regrets.  I think the sunshine is brighter for the rains we've endured, and our relationship is so much stronger for all it's been through.  I look at my beautiful family -- beloved husband, two wonderful sons -- and I can only think how lucky I am ... and how glad I am I didn't just walk out the door on the bad days.

I'm so glad I married him, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

(This post was written as part of a deal: John wrote a post about me and I said that means I get to write about him!  Here's what he said.)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Night miseries

It's ten p.m.  John and I have just laid our heads on our pillows for a good night's sleep.  A few scattered dreams are beginning to flit across the surface of my consciousness.  And then I hear the sound.

hic hic hic hic

It's several rapid, gasping, hiccupy inhalations ... the sound a toddler makes when they're about to cry, or recovering from crying.  I freeze and hope I imagined it.

hic hic hic hic

John's head rises off the pillow.  "Is that Marko?"

"Yes.  I'm waiting to see if that's all."

Sometimes it is.  But this time it isn't.  A loud wail breaks the silence.  I start to throw the blankets off, but the sound stops.  I wait to see if it's going to start up again, but it doesn't for a whole minute.  Cautiously I start to lie back down.

The second my head touches the pillow it starts again.  A long, agonized cry.  I leap out of bed and down the hall.  As my hand touches the doorknob it stops.  I wait and listen.  There's no sound of movement, no feet hitting the floor.  Carefully, making no sound, I remove my hand from the knob.  Like an explosion the sound bursts forth again.


I explode into the room, expecting to see my son lying on the ground, standing by the door, anything.  But this time he is still in bed.

"Here I am, sweetie," I say.  "Mama's here."

The screaming redoubles.  WHAAAAAA EEEEEEE AAAAAAAAA!!  He flings himself away from me on the bed, squirming into the wall to get as far from me as possible.

"Okay, little guy, if you don't want me, I'm going to go."

Panic ensues.  Marko lunges toward me, shrieking hysterically.  EEEEEE EEEEE EEEEEE hic hic hic AAAAAAAAA!!

Who knows how this will end.  Sometimes we've been able to cut the whole thing short with a sippy cup of water and a touch of a button on his CD player.  Other times we take him out into the living room to get him all the way awake, and then start his bedtime routine over completely.  Sometimes, like last night, nothing works.  The screaming goes on for hours.

Sometimes he is relatively conscious, but upset:

I walk in the room.  "Noooo!  Want Mama!"

"Marko, it's me -- Mama's here!"

"Noooo!  Want Daddy!"

Sometimes he seems confused:

"Don't want that spider to be on youuuuuu!"

"Don't want him to be in here!"  "Who?"  "WHAAAAAAA!"

Sometimes he is completely hysterical and can't speak:

"Does something hurt?"  WHAAAAAAAAA!  "Are you thirsty?"   EEEEEEAAAAAAAH!  "Are you hungry?"  hic hic hic AAAAAAAAA!

Sometimes he's wide awake and cheerful:

"Want to be out in the living room.  Want to play.  Want a story."  If we say no, it's back to the screaming.  If we say yes, he will get as far as the living room before collapsing into sobs again.  If we try something soothing, like rocking or singing, he is pretty content and will even begin to drift off ... but a moment after his eyes close, his limbs start to jerk and twitch and he starts screaming again.

When Marko comes all the way awake and is able to communicate with us, but starts to scream whenever he begins to drift off, I call it a nightmare.  When he's completely incomprehensible and doesn't seem even aware of who we are, I call it a night terror.  But there isn't really any hard distinction; it's more of a continuum.

We've tried a number of things.  I'd come close to saying we've tried everything, but obviously a few of the ideas that come to mind at two a.m. aren't going to get tried: "I wonder if he would stay in his bed if I spanked him?  Perhaps if I cover his mouth he will stop screaming.  Doesn't vodka induce sleepiness?" 

Things we've tried:

*rushing in the instant he makes a peep in the hopes of resettling him before he works himself up -- fail.  That just works him up to get more upset.

*waiting from a few minutes to half an hour to see if he resettles on his own -- sometimes works.  But if he hasn't settled in five minutes, experience suggests he isn't going to.  Sometimes that's because he's mysteriously lying on the floor, even some distance from the bed.

*rocking him to sleep again -- sometimes works, but as he starts to shut his eyes and I start to relax, his legs and arms start twitching and thrashing and he wakes himself up screaming again.  Repeat forever.  Okay, sometimes he goes all the way to sleep, but usually after an hour or more.  Any pause in rocking, adjusting of arms, scratching nose, etc., starts the screaming up again and we're back to square one.  Or sometimes he will really go to sleep, but wake up if we try to lay him in bed.

*giving him a snack, drink, turning on his music, etc. and then leaving -- occasionally works if he's  not too upset.

*just getting him up and letting him sit on our lap until he feels tired again -- sometimes works, but takes an hour or longer.

*lying down with him -- probably the most effective, but only I can do it (the toddler bed is cramped for me and impossible for John) and of course if Michael wakes up I have to interrupt the whole thing to go nurse him.  And sometimes Marko is too upset for this anyway and doesn't want me to lie with him.  But when he'll accept it, it usually does calm him, and though he does do the startling-awake thing, an hour or so of this usually works.  Sometimes two hours.

*sitting on the bed, telling him I will stay as long as he is quiet, but if he screams I will leave.  If he tries to get out of bed, I put him back in, but otherwise I don't interact.  This occasionally works.  More often it's just used as a reprieve from other methods, because he is relatively quiet.  But again, as soon as he starts to drift off he starts to scream again.

*changing his diaper -- we went through a phase where he wanted a change at night, but that doesn't seem to be what it is this time.  He's in plastics at night so he doesn't feel wet or uncomfortable.

*putting him in bed, turning on his music, and leaving the room.  We have a child lock on his door so he can't get out.  But this hardly ever works.  If he's in just the right state of tiredness it might.  Otherwise he just works himself up, gets out of bed, and bangs on the door shrieking for approximately all night.

*letting him into our bed .... I have only tried this when John's gone, because we have a queen-sized bed with three people in it already.  It did work, that is to say after his usual cycle of twitching and waking himself up he did eventually fall into a deeper sleep.  But it's really no better than in his bed, except that I can have Michael with me at the same time.  Only I've learned that this is kind of a downside -- at my grandma's, I had them both, but every time Michael made a peep, Marko would wake up and start shrieking.

*giving him Benadryl.  This worked like a charm.  He would still startle and try to flail around, but he was clearly too zonked to put any spirit into it, and after about ten minutes he fell into a deep sleep.  The downside is, the label says NOT to use it as a sleep aid, and I don't think it's a good idea to be using it on a regular basis.  Melatonin would probably be better but A) I don't know where you get something like that, in a kid-safe dose, and B) I have been reading up and am not really sure whether or not it's safe, or whether anyone knows.  On the other hand, sleep deprivation is hardly healthy either.

One thing I want to do, which I think would help, is to get Marko falling asleep on his own.  He actually did that for awhile.  But then he stopped and went back to getting out of bed, hanging on the doorknob, and asking to come out.  So now he's back to having John put him to bed, which is a routine that's varied a bit over time but which always involves being put in bed asleep.  He doesn't have any trouble falling asleep in the evening, though, so long as he hasn't napped, so perhaps we could work toward having him go to sleep on his own.  Not completely sure how.  He doesn't mind being put down so long as he's not almost asleep (which makes him scream), but he doesn't go to sleep either.  He gets out of bed and plays, or lies in bed and kicks the wall and sings.  Ever since he was a baby I've laughed at people who told me to let him cry himself to sleep.  He never cried about being in his crib.  He just wouldn't sleep either.

I do not feel it's really a behavior issue though.  We've had whole spans of time when he successfully slept through the night.  And it's not like he wants anything at night.  He just screams.  I think something might hurt, but who knows what because he can't tell us.  Either that or he just is having some kind of nightmare or night terror.  He has also been known to sleepwalk.  (His room is as childproof as I could make it!)  Sleep problems run in the family.  Other than me, none of my siblings were good sleepers.  They wake up a lot, have trouble falling asleep, and just need less than other people.  Some scream at night without waking; some scream at night with waking, some wet the bed.  John's mother tells me he had sleep issues too.

Sometimes I don't like getting a lot of advice because I have TRIED everything people suggest.  But heck, let's put it all out there.  Give me all your sleep tips.  Or sympathy.  Mostly sympathy.  And tell me your child TOTALLY did this but suddenly stopped at 28 months and seven days.  That is what I want to hear.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A Catholic defends libertarianism

Only the Catholic in question is not me.  Because I'm still working things out.  I'm hoping to get a post together in awhile -- after I've finished reading Gaudium et spes -- that explains my own views.  Meanwhile, you will have to content yourselves with John's take on the question.  I think it's excellent.  I can't say whether or not I agree completely ... I have to finish working out my own ideas first.  (Because I do not borrow political ideas or any other sort of opinion wholesale from anyone, even if I'm married to them.  Believing the teachings of the Catholic Church wholesale is about as much of a leap of faith as any one person could be expected to make in one lifetime, I think.)

If you comment here, I'll give you my own answers, which might not be the same as what he'd say.  Or comment over there and talk to him.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The limits of government

Oh, dear.  I guess it's bound to happen, being a Catholic libertarian, something that's a minority at best, and a heretic at worst (depending on who you listen to).  I got challenged in the comments of the last post to define my political beliefs a little better.  I tried, but it really does merit its own post.

Here is the question, raised by long-time commenter some guy on the street: "When you say you don't think the state should "legislate morality", what is the state doing when it "protects the rights of individuals"? That is, what are these rights if they are not somehow a reflection of true morality, and how does the state protect them without legislation?"

In other words, when I say "the state should not legislate morality," what, exactly, do I mean?

Briefly, I guess I would say that the sort of things the law should forbid includes anything that infringes on another's rights.  If it infringes on another's rights, it should be illegal.  If it does not infringe on another's rights, even if it is morally wrong, it should not be controlled by the state.

For example, things that infringe on no one else's rights include the following: neglecting to wear a seatbelt, smoking cigarettes in one's own home, using drugs in one's own home (provided one doesn't then leave home and do irresponsible things, in which case some of those things might infringe another's rights), growing a garden in your front yard, refusing medical treatment, committing sodomy with a consenting partner, suicide.  Many of these things are sins.  But since they do not physically affect anyone but the person who commits them, they do not infringe on rights.  We should definitely try to stop people from doing the things in this list that are wrong.  But I don't think it's the government's job, because I think it's the government's job to provide an environment where we can exercise our rights.

Some things that do infringe on others' rights include the following: abortion (because the baby has a right to life), driving irresponsibly (though many libertarians think people should only be punished for this if they actually cause an accident; I'm not sure I agree with that), assault, fraud (for instance, labeling a food as "cheese" when it's really a processed substitute, or selling stock in a company that doesn't exist), and so forth.  The government has every right to ban these, because banning them will provide an environment where everyone else can freely exercise their rights.

The one issue I have with libertarianism is that it assumes everyone is an adult, and we all know not everyone is an adult.  What about children?  So there is a whole grey category of actions that could harm children, which I'm not sure about: circumcision, spanking, denial of medical care to a child, publishing pornography in a public place where children could see it.  Parents are, of course, the custodians of their children's rights, but how far can they be trusted to do so?  Are there some things they must not be allowed to do to their children?  As a Catholic, I believe in the principle of subsidiarity, which means that no higher level of authority (like the government) should interfere in a lower level (like the family) unless necessary ... but when, exactly, is it necessary?  I'm still struggling with this.

Of course to form a hard-and-fast rule, one must consider the question, what rights do we have?  Does a billboard owner have the right to free speech, or do I have the right to choose what sort of things I want to see?  What if 99% of the population doesn't want to see a certain billboard, and 1% wants to put that billboard up on their own property?  You see how thorny these things get.  I do think the Declaration of Independence is a good yardstick for this sort of thing.  We all have the right to life (which comes first and trumps all other rights).  And then the right to liberty, which isn't unlimited but suggests we should be able to do what we want, within certain limits.  Then the right to the pursuit of happiness, which has been defined by some as the right to property (something the Church insists on) but which could include other rights as well.  We also possess natural rights not mentioned, like the right to self-determination, the right to free association, and the right to conscience.

But for the rest, I think wisdom and vigilance are required on all our parts.  The Constitution alone isn't enough to rule us; laws are also needed that address specific cases.  For instance, I think the right to my own property is important.  I should be able plant a garden there, build a house there, or keep chickens there.  (My town bans chickens, unfortunately.)  But if what I do on my property bleeds over to other properties -- if, for instance, I pollute my 1/4 acre and the chemicals seep into the groundwater and pollute the Shendandoah -- I am infringing on the rights of others, and there's rightly a law against that.  But it all has to be taken case-by-case, and you and I might come to different conclusions about where to draw the line.  The principle, however, holds ... it's just a matter of defining rights.  In any event, I still do believe that anything private individuals do that does not affect others at all should never be legislated.

Right now we're struggling a lot with what people call the "culture wars."  There's a fight going on between one view of culture -- a more traditional view, where one man and one woman get married for life and have a bunch of children, no contraception, and no abortion; and a new view that includes as many sexual orientations as there are colors of the rainbow and as many versions of family as there are stars in the sky.  Which will win?  There's no saying, but I don't think this is primarily a realm for the law.

So many people look to government as the cure for all social ills.  When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  The fact is, to change the culture, we have to use different methods.  There's convincing other people, forming supportive groups, strengthening religion, encouraging your point of view via the media (like I do), and even raising children.  This last is something I consider far more powerful than political strong-arming.  If you get your guys into power, you might get the change you want for four years, but if the culture opposes you they will quickly change the law back.  But if you change hearts, you won't need a law.

Right now the situation seems rather dire, and I guess that's why people are turning to the law to solve everything.  And yet the law doesn't work any better than the other methods; in fact, it works much worse.  It's the same as what happens with spanking.  People say, "Oh, but this particular issue/child is so bad that I need to spank."  And I answer, "If it's ineffective with small problems, it will be even more ineffective with big ones, and the backlash will be worse!"

The government's job is to provide a safe and free environment for people to associate with one another.  Ideas meet and clash, and the government ensures this clash won't turn violent.  But it's the referee, not the dictator.  To this end, fewer laws seem to be a pretty good thing.

I'm going to have to save my doctrinal justification for all these ideas for the next post!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Some things I believe

If you're like me, you probably can't get away from talking about homosexuality lately.  It's always up on Facebook, and I'm in several debates on the topic.  Of course, as a Catholic, I believe the only acceptable use of the sexual faculty is within marriage and ordered to create life (even if, by no fault of the spouses, it cannot create life at the moment), and so I consider homosexual activity to be sinful.  That's not the subject of the debates, though.  I don't think people really mind so much that I have this belief, because it is part of my religion and there's nothing hateful about it; I simply think that certain actions are morally wrong and will separate you from God.

No, the debates are about how much discrimination against gays is too much. [My answer, "any discrimination at all," is straight from the Catechism, and yet people are shocked that I believe this.]  I find myself feeling very depressed.  Most of my friends are Catholic.  So when an issue comes up, I sort of expect that we will band together and all agree ... but what happens more often is that I'm saddened at how little we agree.  I do believe some things are up for debate, so of course there is room for disagreement.  But in other things, like the law of charity, it seems pretty cut and dried to me.  And worst of all, when I voice my opinion on something I truly believe is true and supported by Catholic teaching, I am sometimes told that I'm not Catholic at all.

So I decided to compile a list of some things I believe.  Some of these are unpopular among conservative Catholics.  Some of them are condemned as heresy by conservative Catholics, though they're not able to explain to me how that is.  Here goes.

1.  I believe that the supreme law is the law of charity.  If the only thing you get out of the Bible is "Love one another as I have loved you," you've gotten pretty far.  But if you get everything else out of the Bible BUT that one sentence, you're a gong clashing in the wilderness.  It's all just empty talk.  Believe everything else Jesus said and the Church teaches -- but if you think another doctrine contradicts the law of charity, you are understanding it wrong.  God never tells us that there are some people we can't love, or some excuses for not loving.

2.  I believe that charity is shown in actions, or it doesn't exist.  Charity is not a vague feeling of well-being toward all humanity.  If I see my brother shivering and starving, and say to him "Be warm and well-dressed," I am a hypocrite.  And if I spend my time judging others and excluding them based on my judgments, rather than worrying about the plank in my own eye, I'm being a lot more like the Pharisees than like Christ.

3.  I believe love drives me to seek the salvation of others.  There's nothing better than to see a sinner leave his sin and come to God.

4.  However, I believe that I cannot force the salvation of others.  If they don't want to leave their sin and come to God, there's nothing I can do but hope, pray, and stay close to them to give a good example and be there for them if they change their mind.  Trying to coerce someone through law, or punishing them with some form of discrimination until they change their mind, is wrong.

5.  Meanwhile I am aware that I'm a sinner too, and just because my sins are secret doesn't mean they aren't just as bad.  I know what it feels like to be attached to a specific sin.  Maybe you convince yourself it isn't sinful, or else you know it's bad but think you can't stop it.  And I know that there's never been anything someone else could do to free me from that sin.  I had to make that journey on my own.  Having people around rooting for me helped.  Having people judge, criticize, or exclude me didn't.

6.  I don't believe the state should legislate morality.  Morality is here defined as the law of God, rather than something people could arrive at purely through their own reason.  I believe the state's job is to protect the rights of individuals.  Laws should forbid actions which harm others.  Actions which don't harm others (smoking in one's own home, keeping a garden in your front yard, not wearing a seatbelt) should not be the province of law.  These things might be sins, but if so they are for God to punish.  Or they might be foolish, in which case they come with their own consequences.  But law exists to allow us to get along with one another, not to achieve perfect virtue.  Virtue is up to us and our churches.

(This is a controversial view for a Catholic to hold.  Many conservative Catholics disagree with me.  I admit that the view that the state must legislate morality, or that the separation between church and state is a mistake, is a common view of the Catholic hierarchy over the centuries.  But I don't believe it is actual infallible doctrine.  I am willing to change my mind if it is ever declared so, but for the present I believe I am free to think as I do without committing heresy.)

7.  I believe marriage is prior to the state and can't be controlled by the state.  I don't believe the state can give two men the right to marry any more than it can take away my right to marry a man, because marriage is something that human beings have done long before there was a state to control it.  Give that power to the state, and marriage becomes a privilege and not a right, one that it has the power to deny you because of race or any other reason.  I believe that marriage is a lifelong sacramental covenant between a man and a woman entered into before God for the purpose of sanctification and procreation ... but I do not believe the state should be hunting down anyone who makes a contract with another person that doesn't follow my definition.

8.  I believe that it is, and has always been, the role of the Church to stand up for the marginalized: the poor, the weak, the minority ... anyone who is the victim of oppression or discrimination.  I hate hearing conservative Catholics mock the poor, or make jokes about minorities, or support killing this or that group that is different from us.  That may be conservative, but it isn't Catholic.

9.  I believe that it is more important to be Catholic than conservative.  My faith shapes my political and social choices.  On the other hand, I believe that a Catholic may subscribe to a number of different political affiliations, since we do not all understand our faith in the same way.

10.  On that note, I believe that the Church leaves a great many things open to our own discernment.  There are relatively few teachings that we must believe.  Not everything that comes out of a Pope's mouth (or St. Thomas Aquinas's mouth) is dogma.  Was it said by a Pope (or council in union with the Pope), speaking in his official capacity, to the whole Church, on a matter of faith and morals, proposing something for belief?  No?  Then it isn't infallible.

11.  Jesus revealed everything we needed to know during his time on earth.  This is called the Deposit of Faith.  But we unpack it a little at a time.  I believe we are still unpacking some beautiful ideas about equality (of the sexes, for instance), about politics, about freedom of conscience, and so forth.  Many beliefs held by Catholics throughout the Middle Ages (like the subjection of women, or the favoring of monarchy) were never Church teaching, but rather the beliefs common in that age which they used scripture to defend.  But the seeds of a much more Christian view were there all along.  I mean, look how Christ treated women, and how he exalted his mother.  (I don't mean that women should be priests, but I do mean that we are equal and that this hasn't always been recognized.)  On that topic, Vatican II has some really neat stuff.  I don't think we've unpacked all the goodies from Vatican II either.  Instead some grabbed "English in the Mass" and pulled out their guitars, while others heard the words "English in the Mass" and became Eastern Orthodox.  Words like "religious freedom" didn't get nearly so much coverage, but they're a really big deal.

12.  If it can be possible to be a liberal orthodox Catholic -- that is, someone who accepts every single infallible teaching of the Catholic Church AND believes in feminism, fighting discrimination, the preferential option for the poor, care for the environment, and world peace -- I'm it.

13.  I am Catholic because I believe that Christ founded the Church and that the whole truth can only be found within it.  I research and investigate the doctrines of the Church and check them against my reason.  I do not believe God asks me to check my reason at the door.  I believe he made me with a brain so that I can know him, and through knowing him, love him more fully.  I am not Catholic because I agree with everything the bishops do, or my priest does, or my fellow parishioners do.  I am most certainly not Catholic because it gives me warm fuzzies ... it hasn't done that in a long time.  But I believe it is true, and so I stick with it.

So what do you think?  Am I a heretic for all this?  Or, if you're non-Catholic, is this what you thought Catholics believed?  I'm afraid a very narrow view of what Catholics believe is being broadcast lately, and I don't like it.  Who would want to be Catholic if we're all a bunch of hypocritical judgmental Pharisees?  But we're not, and I don't believe our religion teaches us to be.

(For more on the topic of homosexuality in particular, read John's blog post.  I would stand behind everything he said in this post.)

Our trip home

So, we made it back from our trip in one piece.  It was a ten-day trip -- from Sunday to Tuesday -- with just me and the two boys.  Let me tell you, though I'm glad I went, I hope never ever to travel without John again.  It was pretty tiring.

 Marko was really scared in the airport, especially when the stroller went through the X-ray machine, but nothing bad happened.  The TSA even lets moms with babies go through a plain metal detector without taking the baby out of its carrier.  (They did test my hands for explosives afterward.)  But it was a huge relief that there were no attempts to pat down my toddler.  And once we got on the plane, all was well ... at any rate, Marko was excited and liked watching the baggage trucks and eating fishy crackers.  Entertaining both kids the whole flight was exhausting, but there wasn't much crying from either of them.  One thing though -- I would certainly recommend leaving more than two hours to spare to check in.  I'm not kidding.  Everything takes longer with kids and you're always having to pause to nurse and change diapers.  Being able to nurse in a wrap (so you don't lose your place in line) is invaluable.

When we finally arrived, after an hour to the airport, two hours in the airport, five hours on the plane, half an hour getting out of the airport, and 2 1/2 hours driving to my grandma's ... I was exhausted, but Marko was all chipper (having napped) and got along great with my siblings at first.  I was a little disconcerted because he ran off with them and didn't come back for some time!  But that hopeful beginning was deceptive ... after a few nights of getting very little sleep in an unfamiliar bed, he started getting shy, crabby, fragile, and clingy.  My parents would look at him or say good morning and he would dissolve into tears and come running for me.  It wasn't constant, but it was often.

Michael was much more adaptable.  Three months is really a great age for traveling.  When he wasn't nursing or sleeping (and he could sleep anywhere), he was lying on the floor being loved on by his aunt and uncles.  They patted his belly, kissed him, tickled him, and never seemed to get bored with him.  Sometimes they would fight over him a little.  But other than that they were wonderful.  Michael was so happy and smiley the whole time, everyone was exclaiming what an "easy baby" he was.  Which I found hilarious considering what a needy baby he had been his first couple months.  And he did still nurse every hour or so.  But he was so happy all the time, I definitely had no complaints.  And with Marko demanding constant "up," it was nice that Michael wasn't asking for much from me.

My six-year-old sister was just the sweetest little mother you can imagine.  She not only helped with Michael, she clicked pretty well with Marko too and enjoyed reading him books or leading him around by the hand.  Sometimes she snapped him right out of a crabby mood with her loving attention.  But really all of my siblings were incredibly sweet and loving.  Credit to attachment parenting?  Credit to my mother's gentle and loving example?  I don't know, but I don't think I've seen more affectionate kids anywhere.

Never saw noisier kids either.  My family is very ... intense.  Some are intensely energetic and loud.  Some are intensely introverted and annoyed by noise.  Hardly any of us sleep well (I think I'm the only one who does).  It would go like this:

Joseph: Do you know the laws of thermodynamics?  The first one is ....

John Paul: On the way here, when we were at the airport ....

Juliana:  They had this craft booth that was "for foreigners only" so we got to make ...

John Paul:  I was telling the story, Juliana!

Juliana:  You're interrupting me!

Joseph: I'm going to study astrophysics when I grow up.  (Randomly hugs me.)

Charles: I'm a soldier and I'm going to shoot my guns at you!

Imagine all these things going on simultaneously.  I was thankful to have read about the trait of high sensitivity, because I was WAY out of my comfort zone with all the noise.  Of course knowing about it didn't make my siblings quiet down, but it was good to remember to take some quiet time for myself.  (I think some, if not all, of my siblings are highly sensitive too.  We are an intense family.  It's difficult to even get across how intense we are.)

Marko's Uncle Charles is only a year and a half older than him.  Charles is a few inches taller, but they both wear size 3T.  Marko was kind of terrified of Charles at first, due to Charles' habit of making scowly faces and shooty hands all the time, but after we left he kept asking to go back to "Charles's house" and for Charles to chase him.  So there you go.

 Nighttimes, I won't lie, were awful.  Awful and terrible.  Both kids slept with me, and they were constantly waking each other up.  When they were both awake, I was at a loss ... how to get one to sleep so I could focus on the other one, when the one I'm not holding is necessarily screaming?  And of course at nighttime, ONLY mama will do.  I ended up breaking my usual rules and just going out into the living room, turning on the light, and having awake time for awhile in the middle of the night.  It was better than waking the whole house with screaming, which we did kind of often.  My poor insomniac family.

The last two days we spent with some friends who live closer to the airport, and that was relaxing.  I mean, we were in a house with no other little kids and all the big kids completely focused on entertaining my kids.  And they had cows, goats, and chickens.  Need I say more?  Marko still didn't sleep worth a darn though.

Our trip back was harrowing.  Delayed plane, a long time spent on the jetway with the "fasten seatbelt" sign on ... which I enforced because the flight attendant told me we were leaving "right away" and that the plane would start moving suddenly, which didn't happen.  Then a lot of screaming on the plane because Marko's patience wore out and he was exhausted (of course).  Then a nap with both of them sprawled across me for two hours ... rather cramp-inducing, but I did get some sleep myself.  When we arrived in DC, we found our suitcase had arrived, but not our two carseats.  Doesn't get much worse than that, in terms of lost luggage.  We waited for a LONG time in a LONG line to file a claim for our luggage, and luckily United had loaner carseats available for just this situation.  Apparently it happens all the time.  (Not really that impressed with United lately.  The ONLY time anyone was pleasant, or took an effort for a harried mom with two small children, was when I accidentally blundered into the priority check-in line.  No one called me on it so I just checked in there.  Short lines, friendly agents, computers that actually worked, and they took my carseats themselves instead of making me walk all the way down to the TSA oversize bag check.)  But oh was it ever wonderful to get home to my own bed again ... once Marko finally went to sleep at 3 a.m. Eastern time.

Charles, Juliana, John Paul with Michael, Joseph, and Marko
 It was fun, I loved seeing my family, and it's great that Marko now knows who is grandparents, aunts, and uncles are, but let me tell you ... next time I am bringing John no matter what because I missed him awfully AND I felt at least two hands short.  Maybe four because John always seems to do more than you would think a human being could.
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