Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Awwwww, Bunnies!!!

Well, well, it's a big news day in the Catholic-big-family realm. Let's look at a) what Pope Francis actually said, b) what Pope Francis actually meant, and c) (in therapist-talk): "How does that make you feel?" Except I'm going to jump to part c first.

When I read last night's headline, "Pope Francis Says Catholics Shouldn't Breed Like Rabbits," I first thought this was an article from The Onion. Or perhaps from Eye of the Tiber, a Catholic satirical news website. But no, it's legit. So, taking the quote out of context, (which, let's face it, is what almost all secular new outlets and folks who are hostile to the church our going to do), here was my initial reaction in a thread on a Catholic Facebook page: 

Well, I just got done putting my litter of seven bunnies to bed. And I do feel insulted. As someone else here said, it is a phrase used in a derogatory way against us large family folks who, you know, actually try to follow the church's teaching. Look, there *are* grave reasons to use NFP to avoid pregnancy for a time, but they go way beyond "not feeling like you can handle" having a child. If we go with that reasoning, then very few folks would ever have kids. But back to the Pope... I never thought I'd be made to feel personally insulted by the Pope. Do I get a badge for that?

And, after ruminating on it for another hour or so:

In thinking about it more, I think the problem with the phrase is that it is often used by people to imply that people with large families are stupid, animalistic, unable to control their bodily urges, and irresponsible. When really, most of us are intelligent, loving folks who are fully aware of all the work and responsibility it takes to bring another child into the world, and we CHOOSE to make those sacrifices. So, no, Pope Francis, you're right. Catholics don't have to breed like rabbits. And I'm not. I thought I was breeding like a *Catholic.*

And, after sleeping on it and reading more folks' comments this morning:

If the Pope meant to say specifically that Catholics in extreme poverty should be encouraged to learn and use NFP when necessary, then yes, and that's how he should have said it! The problem is that he tends to speak extemporaneously, in an off-the-cuff, inexact manner. And it seems like he feels like he's only speaking to a local audience, the people in that city, or in that room. But he is the POPE, and everything he says is going to reported everywhere, repeated endlessly by friend and foe alike, and becomes grist for the mill. I now have athiest/agnostic friends & family messaging me this morning, saying, "See what the Pope said? Catholics don't need to have so many kids anymore!" So the Pope... the POPE, for Pete's sake!!!!!.... has today made my having a large family more challenging due to ill-advised remarks. It is extremely frustrating.

Now. Let's look at what Pope Francis actually said. (part a)
(you can find the full transcript here. I'm sorry, it's America magazine.)

Christoph Schmidt (CIC): How does the Church respond to the criticisms about its position on birth control given that the world population is growing so much. And to the criticism that the poverty in the Philippines is due to the fact that Filipino women have an average of 3 children each?

PF:I think the number of 3 (children) per family that you mentioned, it is the one experts say is important to keep the population going,. three per couple. When it goes below this, the other extreme happens, like what is happing in Italy. I have heard, I do not know if it is true, that in 2024 there will be no money to pay pensioners (because of) the fall in population.

Therefore, to give you an answer, they key word is the one the Church always uses all the time and even I use it: it is responsible parenthood. how do we do this? With dialogue. Each person with his pastor seeks how to do that responsible parenthood .

That example I mentioned shortly before about that woman who was expecting her eighth (child) and already had seven who were born with caesareans. That is an irresponsibility (That woman might say) 'no but I trust in god' But God gives you methods to be responsible. Some think that, excuse me if i use that word, that in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood! This is clear and that is why in the church there are marriage groups, there are experts in this matter, there are pastors, one can seek and i know so many, many ways out that are licit and that have helped this. you did well to ask me this

Another thing in relation to this is that for the most poor people, a child is a treasure. It is true that you have to be prudent here too but for them a child is a treasure. (Some would say) 'God knows how to help me' and perhaps some of them are not prudent, this is true. Responsible paternity but let us also look at the generosity of that father and mother that see a treasure in every child.

Okaaaaaay. So let's unpack that a bit. Pope Francis is speaking following his trip to Manila, the Philippines. It is a highly Catholic country, 80%, with roughly 76 million Catholics. It also suffers from extreme poverty, miles and miles of huts constructed out of trash, More than one-quarter of the population falls below the poverty line, (27.6%), although that is an improvement , since in 1991 that figure was 33.1%. And that poverty line? 16,841 Philippine pesos per year, which equals about $378 USD. So, absolutely, the poverty is *real*. 

It would be easy to draw some quick conclusions: "The Philippines is highly Catholic. Catholics have big families. Therefore, the fact of too many children is causing the extreme poverty, and thus, they should have fewer (or no) children." Slap hands, neat tidy answer, done. But one could also say that while children suffer from poverty, that does not automatically make them the cause of it. They should be helped, families should receive aid, and opportunity... but just reducing family size will *not* solve the problems. There is also the matter of Corruption. With a capital "c". 

The Philippines is almost universally recognized as one of the most corrupt governments in the world. People my age will remember the astounding visual of Imelda Marcos' shoe collection, but it goes way beyond that. Their President Gloria Arroyo was arrested on graft charges in 2011. In June 2014, 2 senators and a veteran government official were arrested for embezzling over $5m from the Priority Development Assistance Fund. The list goes on and on, stretching back decades. Might not cleaning up the culture of corruption, graft, and bribery offer real relief to some of nation's poorest families? Here's what Pope Francis had to say about this:

"Corruption is the order of the day in today’s world, and the corrupt attitude easily and immediately finds a nest in the institutions, because an institution that has many branches here and there, so many chiefs and vice-chiefs, in this way it’s very easy for it to fall or provide a nest for corruption and every institution can fall into this. Corruption is taking from the people. The corrupt person who does corrupt deals or governs corruptly or associates himself with others in order to do corrupt deals robs the people. The victims are those -- where is he, the one with the (AGI) anniversary? -- they are those who you said were behind the luxury hotel, no? They are the victims of corruption. Corruption is not closed in on itself; it goes out and kills. Do you understand? Today corruption is a worldwide problem. Once, in 2001 more or less, I asked the chief of the cabinet of the president at that time, which was a government that we thought to be not so corrupt - and it was true, it was not so corrupt, the government: “Tell me, the aid that you send into the interior of the country, whether it be in cash or food or clothes, all these things, how much gets to the place.” Immediately this man, who is a true man, clean, (said), “35 percent.” That’s what he told me."

Clean up the vast political and financial corruption. Then you can lecture poor families, who are trying to follow the teachings of their church, about not having so many darned kids. And Pope Francis is right to point out: each child may be a treasure to their parents, no matter how tight the financial straits. Children bring hope. Joy. Laughter. Sweetness. At the risk of sounding like a baby shower greeting card, "The birth of a child makes all things new." Don't get me wrong, I know all the down and dirty of having lots of kids. Laundry, bickering, laundry, huge grocery bills, laundry, sibling rivalry, laundry, lack of personal space & "alone time." But it is absolutely worth it. It teaches each child...and the parents... to sacrifice for one another, to regard other people's needs as greater than one's own. Pope Francis himself also said, less than a month ago:

“In a world often marked by egoism, a large family is a school of solidarity and of mission that’s of benefit to the entire society."


“Every family is a cell of society, but large families are richer and more vital cells.”

Soooo... while Pope Francis is quite right to point out that Catholics in extreme poverty...such as the Philippines... should be encouraged to learn about and use NFP if they feel it is necessary, he was not telling Catholics the world over to stop having so many kids.That's a canard.
(bunny...canard....har har)

Indeed, earlier in the very same interview as the rabbit remark, he deplores what he calls the "Neo-Malthusian" mindset and the deplorable demographic death spiral of Western Europe.
So,  (cue Spanish accent),"I -do-not-think-it-means-what-you-think-it-means."

HOWEVER... it is very unfortunate that I, a mere laywoman up to her ears in laundry and fruity-scented markers, feel compelled to have to defend traditional church teaching against what the Pope ...the POPE!!... says. If I were able to give Pope Francis a message, it would be this: Please, pretty please, stop talking casually and extemporaneously to reporters on airplanes! Every colloquialism, every colorful turn of phrase, can and will be taken out of context and twisted around to fit someone else's agenda. And it makes life awfully challenging for us troops in the trenches. As St. Teresa of Avila said of the good God, "If this is the way you treat your friends, it's no wonder you have so few of them!!"

Saturday, January 03, 2015

The Horror-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named

I said I wasn't going to write this post. Because believe me, when you are in the thick of cleaning up after six other people with a stomach virus, the *last* thing you want to do when you find a free, non-gross moment is to sit down and wax eloquent on the experience.

I could draw some deep analogy and tell you how I found meaning in scraping bits of half-digested noodles off the hallway carpet. I could say that I was a veritable font of maternal comfort as I soothed fevered brows, proffered sips of water, and patted little bodies on their backs. But really... I was just very, very tired. And earnestly praying... BEGGING... that the last two children and myself would be spared this plague.

These two days did open my eyes, though. I am so spoiled by our cushy society that I get stressed out over trifles...the glasses having specks after a cycle in the dishwasher, or the 9 yr old not having all his multiplication tables memorized *yet*, or the smashed Lego tower that was left out on the floor. These things are unimportant in the grand scheme... when there are mothers all over the world, every single day, praying that their children will survive any number of assorted illnesses. Or desperate for clean water to give them. Or wondering where they will go when the soldiers come or the bombs start to fall.

So meanwhile, I will stuff yet another mound of spoiled blankets into the washing machine. And count myself lucky.

Friday, January 02, 2015

Back at it.

Ho-hum. New Year. "Hey, it's been two and a half years since you wrote on that blog of yours, want to get it going again?" asks part of my brain.Not the part that's been up since 5:30 with the baby, playing roly-poly with the faceless Mr. Potato Head; no, the part which just got jolted to life by the first cup of coffee. That's the one that comes up with ambitious Ideas. And projects from Pinterest that I really should try, ("See how easy it looks?")

"Seems like a lot of work...I've got a lot to do....I don't know..." whines Other Part, which wonders vaguely where all the Potato Head face pieces are.

"Oh come on, they're scattered in the basement. You know they are! Just go down there and FIND THEM!" urges Coffee Brain. Coffee Brain is enthusiastic, beaming, frenetic, kind of like Richard Simmons bouncing up and down on a mini-trampoline.

Base-Level Brain knows better. "Eh... I'd have to put the baby down. She'd cry. And that would wake up the 4 and 5-yr olds. Then they'll want breakfast, and then they need clean clothes, then the others will be up..." The day will avalanche onwards, and I either have to roll with it or stand still ad get smothered in five feet of ice and snow. When will I find time to blog about big family life when I am so busy living it??

But what they heck. Why not? If I don't, who will? Oh, well.... the Duggars will. They're all over that. Everywhere we go, I hear, "What, are you trying to be the Duggars?" Errr... no. Why, we're only a little over one-third of the Duggars! And we don't get paid $40k per episode either, so there's that. Here's what we're doing: we are just loving the children we've been given. And trying not to get buried in laundry piles.

P.S.  Since the last update to this blog, we've had one more miscarriage, and one more baby, a GIRL this time, which is unfathomable and awesome. So if I refer to something pink or frilly, you'll know I'm not just cross-dressing my boys. I'll leave that for the celebrity parents.

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Clan on Vacation

We are currently recuperating from our big family vacation. This is not an undertaking we tackle often, as you can imagine the amount of preparation, packing, planning, and patience it takes to take 8 people on a week-long trip. However, I do think it's important, at least once a year if possible, to make the effort. Children are truly only small for so long, and these are memories that they will have for their entire life.  "Remember when Daddy took us to the drive-in?" (yes, we really did find a still-operating drive-in!) "Remember when the GPS lead us down that scary, curvy, one-lane backroad through the woods?" "Remember the round of mini-golf at the amusement park when the toddler snatched up our ball and ran away with it down the path?" "Remember when Gregory dumped his caramel sundae all down his front in his car seat?" All of these things are small, and may seem insignificant to us grown-ups, but here's the thing: what the kids are really remembering is the time you spent together. The change in scenery and routine cements the memories in their minds, but it is the experience of being with you and interacting with you in a relaxed and fun manner that matters most.

You do not have to go to great expense; in fact you do not even have to travel far, geographically-speaking. We just tooled around Ohio's Amish country (where, incidentally, families with 6-8 children are the norm and we were not looked at as if we were completely insane. A nice change!) Daytrips and staycations can also fit the bill very well. But please... take the time. Make the memories. They will be grown before we know it.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Losing Baby Seven

It might be too soon to write this post. But it might always be too soon.

We lost our Baby Seven last week, at 14 wks gestation, or at least that's when we found out about the miscarriage. An ultrasound showed the gestational sac, but no baby, meaning that the child died soon after implantation. The nurse practitioner informed me it was a "blighted ovum," and said, "I'm so sorry this was not the outcome you had hoped for." Wow, what a very careful, boilerplate, CYA expression. It's a bit like saying "I'm sorry you were offended" when you're called upon to apologize to someone.  I'm sure they see all kinds of women in all kinds of situations, so they are trained not to refer to it as a "baby" or a "child," but still, one would think they might be able to tailor the response to the particular woman at hand.  If she's visibly upset, I think you could safely say,  "I'm so sorry for your loss."

If you think miscarriage is hard for adults to deal with, try explaining it to your young children. Our four-year-old at first thought it was a joke. A baby dying? That's crazy, babies don't die. Once he processed the info, though, he wants to share his grief with everyone. He goes up to folks we know and informs them, "I'm sad because the baby died in Mommy's tummy." I was going to admonish him for this, but on second thought, why shouldn't he be sad? And why shouldn't he tell people that? Miscarriage is not commonly discussed in our society, but since approximately 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, maybe it should be. I can't tell you how many women friends have contacted me, saying, "I know, I've been there."

It does help, having the wee ones at home. Not in the, "Well, at least you have other, healthy children." kind of way. But getting bouquets of dandelions and grimy hugs around one's knees never hurts. Plus, being so busy taking care of the littles gives me far less time to wallow in grief. Nothing reminds you that life goes on like diapers to change and dinners to cook and library books to be read together on the couch.

And nothing makes you realize how precious and precarious life is like losing one. Still we know we are not in charge of all this; even the children I have are not, strictly speaking, *mine;* I'm just taking care of them for a while here on earth.

"The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." Job 1:21. 

"Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and not one of them falls to the ground without your father knowing it. But the very hairs of your head are numbered." Matthew 10:29-30

How to Miss a Childhood

I don't usually post a lot of links on here, but this woman's post made such a good point, and made it so convincingly that I had to share.
Please check it out: The Hands-Free Mama: How to Miss a Childhood
It's a good reminder for all of us, and I most definitely include myself in that, as to what our kids see and feel when we are hunched over our "devices" all the time, instead of really being there with them in the moment. That being said, I need to go make breakfast for my babies! God bless you all this day.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Indoor Cats and Outdoor Cats

It never fails to amaze me how different in personality all my boys are. I could classify them by the introvert/extrovert axis (2 introverts, 4 extro); the temperament scale (2 choleric, 1 melancholic, 1 phlegmatic, 2 sanguine), the Myers-Brigg inventory (although they're a bit young to sit through all those extremely annoying repetitive questions.). But I prefer the much simpler Indoor/Outdoor Cat distinction.

If you have boys, you know that they have a LOT of energy, and if you don't find an outlet for them to release it, they do things like beating on their brother's head with a Nerf battle axe or coloring red marker on the baby's face. All boys benefit from unstructured outdoor play. There is something about the green of nature, whether it be a manicured lawn or a dappled woodsy glade, that simultaneously soothes and energizes boys' brains (See ""Last Child in the Woods", by Richard Louv.

But we've noticed that some of our boys, especially those with choleric tendencies, have such a visceral need to go outside everyday that they are like Outdoor Cats: standing at the sliding door, yeowling until they are set free. If they don't get to roam outside during the day due to weather or a busy schedule, they start doing the boy-equivalent of shredding your favorite shirt or peeing on the laundry pile. (I love to secretly watch my children play outside, when they don't know I am watching. Is that creepy?) Once outside, they will be the ones whipping the bushes with a torn off willow-branch or running around the house as many times as they can in 2 minutes, "just to see." My Indoor Cats also love to play outside; but they will be the ones playing sedately in the sandbox or soaring nicely on the swings. The Indoor Cats will also come back inside after 20 minutes, complaining that they're cold, and sit down to do a puzzle or a mind-bogglingly complex European strategy board game. The Outdoor Cats would happily stay out all day in the teeth of a Michigan blizzard, making legions of snow angels and hurling snowballs at the garbage cans. 

Trying to equalize their amount of outdoor play, or trying to turn Indoor Cats into Outdoor cats, is a recipe for disaster. So try and work with their tendencies. Direct the Outdoor Cats to the pile of scrap lumber to build a fort, or to the weeded-over garden patch to create their own vegetable kingdom. And make sure you have plenty of challenging books, puzzles, games, Legos, math manipulatives etc, to keep those Indoor Cats purring. 

How about you? Do you have Indoor/Outdoor cats too?
Indoor cat Josiah and his super Lego pyramid
Outdoor cat Caleb and his caterpillar