Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Open to Life, Open to Loss, Open to Love

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear." ~1 John 4:18

A lot of wonderful things have been written this week in the Catholic blogosphere about childbearing and the culture at large.

It occurs to me that the very root the issue of family size and motherhood even being an issue is that of fear.  We're afraid of having too many children.  We're afraid of the very process of childbirth.  We're afraid of infertility.  We're afraid of losing control.  We're afraid of what people will think of us.  We're afraid of losing our figures, our sanity, of having less money.  We're afraid of anything and everything connected to this great mystery of bringing new human life into being.

We all know fear is from the Evil One.  The book The Apostolate of Holy Motherhood is on my desk as I type this.  There is a lovely painting of the Madonna and Child by Murillo on the front cover.


Beautiful, isn't it?  You know what is absent from their faces?  Fear.  Mary knows that "a sword will pierce her heart." She knows the ultimate sacrifice she will be asked to make.  Jesus knew from all Eternity that the moment of His Passion would come.   They know that mankind would so often scorn that sacrifice, and return love with hatred or indifference.  Yet they possess a perfect peace, born of their perfect love.

Love simply doesn't have any room for fear.  It gives without thought for the suffering, or if it does think of the suffering, it sees past it toward the good to be obtained by it.  Love can look at the cross and see beauty, not merely ugliness and pain.  We can talk about the sufferings of motherhood and still find joy in it.

For us in our fallen human condition, there is inevitably suffering.  For the sufferings particular to the vocation of marriage, only love can cast out the fear of that suffering.  That's really the answer to the anti-child culture, is the need for love to counter the fear.  Love is fruitful of its very nature, flowing out from itself.  The greatest and most perfect Love is that of the persons of the Trinity.  The love of the Father and Son brings forth the Holy Spirit.  The love of God brought forth all of creation.  The love of husband and wife is ordered toward bringing forth children.

Love is not afraid of suffering.  On our human level, even though it is natural to not wish to suffer, we open ourselves to it any time we allow ourselves to love.  Our family and friends will hurt us at times.  People we love will die.  People we love will have sufferings of their own and we too will feel pain out of compassion for them.  Our anti-child culture is afraid of suffering.  And fear will always shrink away from love.

When a married couple simply allows God to send the children as He wills it, we certainly do open the floodgates to a whole new level of suffering.  Whether our particular cross is the pain of many miscarriages, of infertility, of having a child with special needs, of losing an older child to illness or accident, or the pain of seeing a child reject God, or whether it's simply the day-to-day sufferings of family life, we opened themselves to all of it when we made the choice to love each other and fully give ourselves to each other until death do us part.  There is no going back.  And we will find there is nothing to fear!

Friday, July 18, 2014

7 Quick Takes

No news on Europe.  There are posts opening in Geneva, but no news on whether an American might be taking one of those either. Je suis calme.

Stacy Ann recommended the Duolingo app to practice my French.  I've been using it for a week now and I like it. However, it has you saying smarmy French pickup lines from the very first lessons: "Je suis un homme et tu es une femme.  Je suis rich." ("I am a man and you are a woman.  I am rich.")  What more could you possibly need to know, girl?  Next I need to learn how to say, "He has ten thousand a year!"

TMI alert:  Potty Training Bootcamp.  Or Panty Camp.  It's not as scary as it sounds, but today's only day two. Yesterday we had five accidents.  I know Katie Rose is ready. In fact I think I should have done this months ago, but procrastinated.  She was actually doing a lot better three months ago.  Now we've pretty much completely regressed, even doing #2 in her pants which she's told me about beforehand for months!  By the end of the morning she was informing me right before she went, so... success? So far today we've kept the panties dry, even with an hour long walk around the neighborhood!

American Ninja Warrior. I just think you all should know that this exists.  My dad introduced us to this on our visit a couple of weeks ago.  This could have only come out of Japan, where it's called "Sasuke" and apparently it's a big deal.  It's as if someone said, "Hey, what if we made Super Mario Brothers real?" The obstacle courses are over-the-top elaborate and even comical, but the feats of strength required to get through are truly impressive.  One woman ever has beat the course.  This video is only the qualifier to do the full competition, but it gives you an idea.

Anthony is on his way to becoming an American Ninja Warrior.  We were at the playground with some friends this past week.  Anthony wanted me to give him a boost up to the monkey bars, but I was too busy helping toddlers to come immediately. He decided to climb directly up the pole and do the monkey bars rather than wait around for me.  Then he didn't want to drop from so high up, so he shimmied over to the other pole and slid down.  Then of course it was cool so he kept doing it, maybe about five times before we went home.  Independence win, but dang that's a strong four-year-old.

Kendra wrote this morning about how she would fix Frozen.  I've only seen it once, but the messed-up plot really bothered me too.  I totally was expecting Hans to kiss her and it wouldn't work, just like Kendra wrote!  Making Hans into a villian is just so contrived and off-puttingly post-modern.  So, supposing Disney had consulted Kendra and made the plot actually make sense, I have a great sequel.  Because you know there will be one.  My Frozen sequel would be based on Midsummer Night's Dream.   We already have our fairy folk trolls, and Elsa and Anna already have a great Helena/Hermia dynamic.  Clearly the final pairings ought to be Elsa/Hans and Anna/Kristoff.  Olaf and Sven would make a good Puckish team.  Or maybe I should write things that are not alternative universe Disney/Shakespeare fan fiction.

While we're being frivolous, what shall I do with my hair?  It's been a year since I've had a haircut, and it's definitely time.  It's not bad or unhealthy, but there's not much shape to it anymore and I'm in a ponytail/braid/bun rotation that's getting really boring.  I like when my hair has some texture to it, and when it's too long it just hangs limp.  Unless I blow dry it, which is never because it takes so dang long with my thick hair.  When we go to San Diego my hair will do waves like this:

Ali Larter's Graduated Bob

Which I really really like.  Doing it in Ohio would require me to, you know, use product and style it in the morning.  Which wouldn't be bad as long as it wouldn't require use of a blow dryer, thus stirring up children before their time. I would also love highlights or even to go a little more coppery in color but let's be real, I would never maintain any sort of coloring.  I guess I'm feeling very pale and Gothic-looking, because even though I'm outside all the time I will always be Irish and my makeup is always pretty much gone by the afternoon which doesn't help matters.

Bonus take:  Katie Rose is suddenly calling me "Mom".  I don't like it very much.  Really I think I would prefer Mama/Mother but I'm not insistent enough and "Mommy" is okay with me.  But "Mom"?  Not from a two-year-old.  Anthony never calls me "Mom" so I have no idea where that's coming from.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Pros and Cons of Grandparent Caregivers from a Total Outsider

Lately I've been surrounded by grandparents taking care of their grandchildren. There has often been a grandparent or two at story time or the playground, but lately there has been an explosion of them! By now I've seen a lot of the same faces often enough to get to know them a little bit. My observation seems to match an actual trend:  According to the last census, grandparents provide the primary childcare for 30% of working mothers with children under age five. As a mother at home, I have an outsiders' perspective on the whole dilemma of childcare, aside from the very very occasional babysitter or my babysitting buddy. I'm also certainly an outsider to the grandparents-providing-regular-childcare phenomenon, as my children's closest grandparents are nine hours' drive away.  But I still find it all fascinating.

One thing I have to say is I really admire their stamina! Some of these grandmothers are running circles around me at the playground. I get tired now; I can't imagine doing this every day when I'm in my sixties!

Caregiver who really loves the children.  Stability and security for the children, potential for closer relationship.  Grandparent care is bound to be incomparably better than what can be found at the local Kinder Care.

Family. Perhaps out of necessity moving back to a more inter-generational model of family life?  I think it's unnatural how the nuclear family model and people moving so far from where they were raised has made extended family some people you see at major holidays, but you don't share the day-to-day experiences with. Could be a step toward reversing that isolation. Obviously, it wouldn't have that effect if the family is already far apart, but for those that aren't, I could see it bringing families together for their original purpose, which is of course to raise the next generation.

Corollary to the above: Increasing respect for the wisdom of the previous generation. Mothers my age are so far removed from the "collective memory" that we are vulnerable to every stupid parenting fad marketed by the "experts".  Having one's own mother intimately involved in the raising of the children would cut down on a lot of that crap.

Tough on older/less healthy grandparents, and then by extension the children.  Clearly cannot work for everyone. Affects grandparents' social lives, ability to travel, and it's tiring!  Make no mistake, even if they love those children to pieces it is WORK.  I don't want to comment on any particular people I've met, but sometimes I think the grown children don't always appreciate the sacrifice entailed on the grandparents to take on this responsibility.  I think grandparents would be completely justified in saying, "I raised you, now you raise your children! I've done my time changing diapers!"

Potential to make family relationships sticky, with children caught in the middle. So individual that it's not really worth exploring it further, but I don't think it takes much imagination to see how this might happen.

Still inferior to parent as primary day-to-day caregiver.  Grandparents giving free childcare might make mother's job financially more worthwhile, therefore discouraging her from coming home. Here's where I'd get flamed, if I actually had any readers.  I completely understand and accept that in this day and age it is sometimes truly necessary for both parents to be employed, or there is a single parent, etc.  Let's take all the disclaimers as given.  However, it is not always necessary.  Very often it is a choice, made to serve the woman's own desire to do something important, live up to her potential, live a more glamorous lifestyle, whatever.  Some are nobler reasons than others. And also very often, those desires were instilled in her by her own parents. Many women were raised to value career.  Grandparents becoming regular babysitters is in part a logical corollary of the feminism of that generation.  Grandparents end up sacrificing more than they may have bargained for when they encouraged their daughter to "have it all."  So insofar as it's enabling feminist values, I'd have to assign that to the "con" side.  Obviously the grandparents I'm talking about would disagree.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Home Again, with a Big Possibility

Hi, Internet.  We are back after being in Pennsylvania for a week. A good time was had by all: We became godparents to the absolute sweetest baby Maria, saw lots of family we hadn't seen in a year or more, went on lots of hikes with the kids, and Ryan and I even had a day and a night away alone together! Most of the pictures in this post will be from Hershey Gardens, where we spent the morning of that little getaway.

We could grow these to cover our ugly brick posts, right?

 The timing of this trip couldn't have been better.  I certainly needed the break from routine. The week before we left I had been completely worn out by motherhood.  I was ready to just go get a job already so I could just go to Mass alone on my lunch break. Incoherent mommy burnout thought processes and a tearful phone call to a friend who has been there many times.  I did go to bed early that day and then took the Saturday before we left to paint a toddler bed for Katie Rose, which while it is yet another project it was something I found very relaxing.  Sleep and doing something creative but easy started getting me back to normal. No time for blogging it so here it is now:

She chose the color. Anybody surprised?
We also found out before this trip, just after the burnout day, that we may be moving to Paris for two or three years!  There is a position coming open in Ryan's company in August or September that Ryan could definitely fill.  It seems like a toss-up as to whether or not he'll be given the assignment or not. Not really doing anything about the possibility and above all not freaking out seemed like a good plan for the moment.

Weeping Beech
After a week away my house is still dirty and the basement of death is still there and my children haven't changed much either, and we don't know in which country we're going to be spending Christmas, but the thought of dealing with the day-to-day doesn't reduce me to tears. I can do an okay job. And I might be just leaving all the stuff behind anyway sooner than I think!

Of course there was a butterfly house.
Apart from all the obvious benefits of culture, broadening horizons, etc. of living in Paris for a few years, I think what is most appealing to me is the idea of just starting over.  Getting rid of all the stuff and paring down to what is absolutely essential in life.  I keep thinking of the many many immigrants who came through Ellis Island with just a few dollars in their pockets or maybe nothing at all and built a life and a family in a new land.  Now we wouldn't be anywhere close to their experience, of course. But if they could do it and be happy, I have no doubt we could too.  Of course, many more people just stayed where they were and made a life and a family successfully too!  Wherever we go, or don't go, we'll do fine. It would certainly be very hard to get used to being in Paris when none of us speak French, especially given the Parisians' reputation for rudeness to non-Francophones. (I have been working on Rosetta Stone willy-nilly, so I have a start anyway...) It would be hard to make new friends and give up the support system we've built up in Cincinnati. But there's no guarantee anywhere that life won't be hard.  In fact, there's more of a guarantee that life will be hard.  I figure it's in God's hands.

I'm sure I won't always be capable of such philosophy about the whole thing.  I probably seem like a big looney for writing about crying over day-to-day trials and then being so detached about something as big as moving to a different continent all in the same post!  But as weird as that is, that's how I'm experiencing it! Say a prayer for me, please, in anticipation of the inevitable shift in emotions! :-)  I'll certainly post when I have any news on this.  It may be several weeks before a decision is made.

Hiking in Codurus State Park. Both kids walked almost three miles!

Meanwhile, I need to find a new home for this guy:

The chick named for great-grandma Shar turned out to be rooster, as was suddenly apparent on returning home. We better find him a home fast, before the crowing gets loud!