Sunday, October 30, 2011

"I believe..."

This looks like it could be grand. I have the highest respect for any one of these Christians, and fond memories of the glory days of First Things. Give it a try!

It's for sale here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

That bare minimum mode.

Jen over at Conversion Diary is asking about those seasons of life called "Bare Minimum Mode." And, oh, do I love to dish on the intimate details of those darkest days.

For our family, Bare Minimum Mode can be very, very long (I'm thinking the entire first year of Ana Therese's life), more to middling (those first three months of pregnancy), or a few days (flu season!). The longer stretches share several characteristics:

1. We ask for help. We have never, ever had the funds to hire a nanny or even a mother's helper. We beg. I have begged my parents to adopt my small children for three months and take me in as a patient. I have begged my deacon to find older couples to come cook, clean, and entertain kids. I have begged college students to donate hours of their time to change diapers or just take the kids away and return only for bedtime.

2. People come out of everywhere to help. Seriously, we have made the most wonderful friends during our Bare Minimum Time. Men from the Knights of Columbus have cooked amazing quantities of food. Their wives have played with babies. Students have taught my children how to read and paint and knit. Without exception, every person among them has thanked us profusely for asking for help. And we, of course, just gape and thank the good Lord for the communion of saints, for bringing us to our knees, and providing such company in the vale of tears.

3. Nap time becomes sacred. This echoes Jen, but ain't it the truth? Nothing touches the 1-4pm. No one. Nothing.

4. Post-dinner, too, is sacred. No one comes near the Philosopher Home after 8pm. This is time for nursing the baby down, catching a nap while Scientist Dad holds the baby, doing physical therapy, a just winding down and encouraging each other.

5. Laundry is not folded. Now we get to the knitty-gritty: I put two laundry baskets on th living room floor. One is for clean Grown-Up Clothing. The other is for clean Childrens Clothing. I don't care if the 6-year-old puts on the 3-year-old's underwear every day for a month. It's clean, the kids are warm, and I didn't spend my sleeping hours folding laundry.

6. The kids' routine is simplified, but not abandoned. They eat sitting together three times per day. They have snack. They may watch more movies, but also have play time (usually in the happy, morning hours). They have nap (or quiet-time). When their lives are sane, it's easier for the parents to stay sane.

7. Confession and Mass. Both mom and dad must cling to the sacraments. This is the hour. Whatever else goes away--homeschool, ballet class, recreational reading, exercise--these two sacraments must never go away. Monthly Confession and weekly Sunday Mass. It's hard, but these indeed are the Bare Minimum.

It sounds cliche, but it's so true: These times are passing. They come and they go. We always emerge from them blinking a little in the glare of day. Did that really happen? During the dark times, life becomes so physical but also so pure. Our focus is narrowed, but single-minded. We escape the distractions and flurry of ordinary life, and even in the suffering we find a certain peace.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

A little plug: UPDATED.

UPDATE: Here is the link to "Parenting Advice" (previously run here).

I haven't had much time to explore CatholicLane yet, but it looks like a great home-on-the-web for Catholics. My favorite bit so far is that they have two liturgical calendars: "In the Ordinary Form" and "In the Extraordinary Form." That's the spirit! No, literally. That's the spirit.

And I have a column going up there tomorrow. Keep your eyes peeled!

That pesky sixth commandment.

Miriam and I were reviewing the Ten Commandments this past week. She's regulation-oriented and loves a good "To Do" (or "Not To Do") list. I didn't censor any words, had a headache, and was relieved when we got through "Thou shalt not commit adultery" without comment.

We finished the list, and she turned to me and asked, "Mom, what's your favorite commandment?"

"Oh, gosh," I mumbled. "Uh, I guess the first. It sort of sets the whole stage for the rest."

"Mmmm," she nodded wisely, glancing up and down the list. "Well, that's okay. My favorite is, of course, number six."

Oh, she did not just say that, I choked, "Huh. Well, Miriam, why is that?"

"Well, I just need you to tell me what adultery is. Then I will explain."

Of course. "Okay, well. You know how Daddy and Mommy are married?"


"And what if I decided I was tired of being married and left Daddy to marry some other guy? That would be adultery. If you pretend someone is your husband who is not really your husband."

Her eyes grew very wide, "Oh, that would be a bad decision. That would make lots of people very sad. And if Daddy pretended there were more mommies, that would be bad, too."

"Yes," I concluded.

"Well," she sighed, "That's why it's my favorite commandment. Because I love just one mommy."

At this point Belly chirped in, "Well, I would like to have morwe mommys."

And that, as they, say, is that.

Friday, October 21, 2011


... it's Friday again?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Parenting advice from the brink.

The Gray Lady ran an opinion column this weekend by Emily Rapp, mother to 18-month-old Ronan. Ronan has Tay-Sachs disease and, by all medical estimates, will die in a particularly gruesome manner before he is three.

The subject is chilling, but I was particularly struck by her critical analysis--wisdom gained in suffering--of our parenting culture. Today's parenting advice, she writes, is entirely future-oriented:

"All parents want their children to prosper, to matter. We enroll our children in music class or take them to Mommy and Me swim class because we hope they will manifest some fabulous talent that will set them — and therefore us, the proud parents — apart. Traditional parenting naturally presumes a future where the child outlives the parent and ideally becomes successful, perhaps even achieves something spectacular. Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” is only the latest handbook for parents hoping to guide their children along this path. It’s animated by the idea that good, careful investments in your children will pay off in the form of happy endings, rich futures."

Then she throws the punch.

"But I have abandoned the future..."

Emily, I know you say that no one ever asks advice from the parents of a terminally ill infant. But I have learned so much from you, and from reading and knowing the mothers of children who have died. Your particular wisdom is this:

"But the day-to-day is often peaceful, even blissful. This was my day with my son: cuddling, feedings, naps. He can watch television if he wants to; he can have pudding and cheesecake for every meal. We are a very permissive household. We do our best for our kid, feed him fresh food, brush his teeth, make sure he’s clean and warm and well rested and ... healthy? Well, no. The only task here is to love, and we tell him we love him, not caring that he doesn’t understand the words. We encourage him to do what he can, though unlike us he is without ego or ambition."

While parents of dying children didn't ask to be signposts, they have in fact become reminders of a truth all parents forget at their own peril: Our children are not ours first. Their lives are not directed to an imagined future, a blank slate on which we get to draw what we would see. Children themselves are not future-oriented. They live now and today.

Miriam loves ballet class today, in this moment. She dreams of getting bigger and making stronger leaps and more powerful turns, but those dreams do not yet diminish the drills and little jumps she can make right now. Belly loves to work out puzzles and build towers, regardless of the future I imagine for her of mathematical prowess or craftsmanship.

For these little people, their lives are already a whole. If Miriam were to die tomorrow (and who knows what the hour is for any one of us?), Todd and I would be devastated and the world would wonder, "What could have been?"

But she would not.

The one who dies has made a complete life. The end and the beginning are known to her and to God.

So, before we parents of the healthy, strong children leave Emily Rapp and Ronan to the mercy of God, perhaps we can admire her wisdom and learn from her how to prepare our children for the only future we know: that moment when the veil between this world and the next lifts. Are they ready to step peacefully from God's hidden presence into his unhidden presence? Have we reassured them that death is not the end or the destruction of dreams? Is our confidence in the victory of life over death the guiding principle of our parenting style and our parenting advice (which we so freely dish when it comes to sleep schedules, slings, and breastfeeding)?

If first things are first, then in our homes, too, "the day-to-day is peaceful, even bliss." And the end will be awful, but it will not be the end.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

New look. Same blog.

It's finally time for a little makeover. For those who know me, this not-so-radical change will appear right in line with my more conservative tastes. They will also feel my melancholy as the blog of yesteryear turns to the blog of today.


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Holding on to Hope.

Before reviewing this book, I have to make a full disclosure: I have not actively done the exercises in it. I have read it, but not done it. And this is definitely a book that was written to be worked through, to be actively engaged. Sr. Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP, is the author of Surviving Depression and now brings us Holding on to Hope: The Journey Beyond Darkness. She intends this book as a sort of sequel or "something more" than her first. Holding onto Hope is for those who have survived depression and now are at a place in their lives when they are ready to be healed.

First, the good news. Sr. Kathryn's use of Scripture and her obvious love for the prophets and patriarchs is beautiful. Her choice of texts and some of her more personal stories are touching and really can give comfort and hope.

But the over-riding vocabulary of the book smacks often of contemporary psycho-babble. It is "therapy speak," with lots of dream-symbolism, discerning our "true feelings," and self-limitation and self-conceiving. I don't think it ever crosses the line and stands against the faith, but the packaging of her otherwise much-needed message of hope just turns me off.

The exercises provided by co-author Sr. Helene Cote, PM, are kind of silly. I'm not a licensed "inner healer," and these guided meditations may provide some real peace to some people. But I'd rather stick to a more traditional Scriptural meditation that does not include unScriptural "guided imagining."

On a happier note, it looks like Sr. Helene had nothing to do with Surviving Depression, so I might give that a gander. I also found an interesting recourse on Christian cognitive therapy over at Eighth Day Books; it looks a little more promising. I'll stick to Scripture and the Fathers for now.

This review was written as part of the Catholic book reviewer program from The Catholic Company, and the reviewer received a free copy of the text in exchange for her opinion. Visit The Catholic Company to find more information on Holding on to Hope. They also have great resources on and copies of icons.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A secret.

From Evlogia, via Melanie at Wine Dark Sea: How to do it all. I love this bit:

No one does it all and the more stretched a life, the less well it’s lived. It’s not about doing it all. It’s making sure that all you’re doing is the work He’s really given you. Not only the art of saying no, but the art of doing things unnoticed. The greatest lives are lived small, doing the little things that only God sees. A life magnified by grace.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Great books, great source.

Eighth Day Books' printed catalogue is in itself a source of great insights and fodder for blog posts. The little bookstore in Kansas has as its mission to offer "an eccentric community of books based on this organizing principle: if a book—be it literary, scientific, historical, or theological—sheds light on ultimate questions in an excellent way, then it's a worthy candidate for inclusion in our catalog.

"Reality doesn't divide itself into "religious" and "literary" and "secular" spheres, so we don't either. We're convinced that all truths are related and every truth, if we pay attention rightly, directs our gaze toward God. One of our customers found us "eclectic but orthodox." We like that

They manage to be eclectic without crossing the fine line between ecumenism and syncretism. I want to read everything they print.

For example, here is a little-known, 131-page book by Orthodox layman Jean-Claudet Larchet, The Theology of Illness. The bookstore's blurb-writer for the printed catalogue (how do I get that job?) begins:

"... Larchet makes a bold pronouncement, possibly even startling: 'There is no question that people today have far fewer resources than their ancestors did to deal with the entire problem [of physical illness].' While he accedes that modern medicine has acquired extraordinary skill in diagnosis, therapy and prevention, its treatment of the body addresses only our biology and not our spirituality. As strange as it sounds, being deprived of illness actually limits our means of dealing with death, doing little to help us assume the redemptive powers of suffering and humility."

Come to think of it, I don't know when I'll have time to read 131 pages. But a snippet like that will keep me thinking for a week. At least.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Can a creature so beautiful...

... have come from us? Yes, yes, she did.

SHE walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that 's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A little plug for classical education.

This email came from a friend this morning (reprinted with permission, names changed to protect the innocent). It gave me a chuckle as I prepared with some trepidation to distill the Viking Exploration for a 6-year-old:

"So, I found myself at a restaurant dinner recently with a nice middle-aged woman on my left and her college-aged son on my right. She was understandably proud of her handsome boy, Dave, and noted how well he was doing at a state university (major undeclared). To be polite, she asked about my son, Norman, a student at St. Gregory Academy, a conservative Catholic all-boys boarding high school that boasts 'no technology' as a policy. This point slipped into my succinct answer to her question, and it stunned her.

"'No Facebook? No iPads? No Google searches? No laptops? No software skills?'

"'No,' I said. 'We see it as a distinction between classical education and technical training. We think Norman can pick up applicable computer skills after we get his head filled with great thoughts. Our view, and that of the school, is that there are only so many hours in a day, and we’d rather have Norman spend time on Aquinas and Homer than PowerPoint and Excel.'

"'But you can’t just skip computers,' she said. 'All of Dave's school work is done with computers. And he knows all that classical stuff, too.'

"I turned to her son. 'Dave, what are the two great epic poems of Homer?'

"Dave smiled. 'Simpson?'”