Staying Home

Big, wonderful news: we’ve decided I’m not going back to work at the end of this maternity leave. I’ve informed my employer and my parents, so it’s totally official.

I am thrilled, and excited, and terrified, and feeling kind of guilty… all at the same time.

It’s a change I’ve wanted to make since Alex was born and I had to go back to work after only six weeks, which really just plain sucked—this time, even if I went back, I had tacked on six weeks of unpaid family leave to the end of my six weeks of disability coverage so that I could be home for almost 3 full months. Leaving Alex when he was so, so tiny was the most heart-wrenching thing I’ve ever had to do. Don’t even get me started on being stuck in traffic on my commute home after being away from my tiny baby for 9 hours…

So I’d been dreaming about staying home. All the enriching activities we could do! How my house would be clean for once, even without the imminent threat of guests arriving! I would have time to exercise, to read, to sleep (perchance to dream)! The boys would have a more secure attachment, wouldn’t be so clingy when I WAS home, and maybe Alex would start speeding up his speech development?? All my problems could be solved and my whole life would be perfect!

Yeah. Well. Not so much. (Duh, Jessica.)

It turns out that caring for two tiny humans is actually a lot of work in itself. It’s hard. The rest of my personal goals and to-do lists have to take a backseat. And as obvious as that is, it’s also kind of a blow. If I can’t get those things done, is it really worth me being home? Am I being lazy? Am I just plain bad at this “full-time mom” thing? Am I mooching off my husband, who now has to provide 100% of our household income?

Society inundates us with conflicting messages about stay-at-home moms. Essential to healthy kids, or lazy slackers? Must everything be Pinterest-worthy, or is that putting undue pressure on other moms who can’t keep up? Is it normal to be frazzled, with dirty hair and stained yoga pants, or does that mean you’re a total disaster who deserves mockery and derision?

And the truth is, a lot of the questions come down to a fundamental problem of perspective, which is measuring a mom’s value through a lens of productivity. Capitalist, individualist societies like ours put a lot of emphasis on measurable improvement, visible production, and immediately tangible results. So the question gets put to mothers: what are you doing today? What have you made, or fixed, or earned? Nothing, really? Then you’ve wasted your time. You probably weren’t even trying.

It is REALLY HARD to get that perspective out of my head. Some part of me knows and truly believes that the important things in this life can’t be measured in those terms—that we are here to love, to learn to be virtuous, and to be sanctified through sacrifice—which are all things that stay-at-home moms are GREAT at—but I have to keep reminding myself of those things over and over, which tells me that the deepest part of my heart is still falling for the lies of the world.

Somewhere deep down, I keep falling for the idea that my worth lies in my ability to produce, not my capacity to love. That my value is determined by my visible output, not my innate dignity as a daughter of a divine King. That caring for my children could be done just as well or better by the nice ladies at the daycare, even though my boys clearly delight in my presence even as they are deliberately breaking the rules.

So I’m trying to remember that those messages ARE lies. That I know better.

And yet, it feels like I’m giving up and lowering my standards if I take some of the pressure off to have the perfect house, perfect body, perfect outfits, and perfect children that the world expects. Can it truly be allowed to just… let go of those things? Shouldn’t I try? Shouldn’t I drive myself and my kids crazy, trying? After all, I’m home now. I have more time available, so I must have something to show for it. (There’s the lie again—that every effort must have immediate, visible results to be worthwhile.)

Maybe the answer is that yes, I SHOULD try to work towards the good, valuable goals of a clean house, healthy body, and fulfilling hobbies around the more important but less measurable work of raising healthy, faithful, virtuous kids. But I should NOT drive myself crazy. Those other goals aren’t worth sacrificing my sanity or even my stress level. They’re good things, if they are approached in the right way–in voluntary service to self and others, not as necessary sacrifices to an idol of productivity. They aren’t essential, the way love is essential.

I’ll keep trying to internalize that.

I think I’ve made good progress by writing this blog post and letting a sink full of dirty dishes wait. High five to me.

Staying Home

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Seven Quick Takes: In Which I Offer No Explanation

Linking up with Kelly once again!

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And this week’s theme is pretty straightforward: seven takes on various situations and issues, offered with no (okay, little) explanation. Because they’re quick. But I’m still a blogger and can’t shut up when there’s a keyboard available.

Off we go!

 – 1 –

My older (2-year-old) son appears to be running on a 23-hour day, which means we wake up an hour earlier every day. Today started at 3:45 am. And he was chipper and cheery as all get out. My take: coffee coffee coffee and HOW DO WE FIX THIS?!

– 2 –

Does everyone hate politics this year as much as I do? Every candidate on every side is incredibly frustrating. My take: it’s time for another reset of the two party system. Every once in a while over the course of our country, a new party has formed and shifted the political landscape. That’s the only thing I can see that could get us out of this horrible mess.

– 3 –

Here’s a tip for social media users: if the only thing you do on Facebook is share other people’s political memes, you should not. use. Facebook.

– 4 –

This story about a woman suing a hospital because of a traumatic birth where nurses physically prevented the baby’s head from coming out while they forced the mom to turn over onto her back instead of in a physiologically normal position on her hands and knees, is horrifying. Anybody who’s pregnant should check out evidence-based birth and make sure your care providers are on board. It’s a travesty that America’s infant and maternal mortality rates are lower than dozens and dozens of other countries, and it’s all because we over-medicalize birth, thinking that will be safer… but it’s not.

– 5 –

Thanksgiving is almost here! In case you’re wondering, this is THE BEST pie crust recipe. So delicious, so flaky. And here’s a tutorial on rolling it out. Hooray for Smitten Kitchen! And this pumpkin pie recipe never lets me down. People have actually told me that they thought they didn’t like pumpkin pie, but they like *this* one. Ooooooh, yeah. Get in mah belly.

– 6 –

Also for Thanksgiving: you know what’s better than store-bought, super easy, and can be made ahead of time? Orange-zested cranberry sauce. DO IT.

– 7 –

Some other links you should check out:

Ideas from David Mills at Aleteia on how to help young families embrace the Church’s teachings on NFP, especially if/when it is a burden. Featuring Calah Alexander and Bonnie Engstrom!

A beautiful letter from a young Parisian Catholic to the recent attackers.

Simcha Fisher’s advice on a simple and manageable Advent (from last year–still so good!)

And a recent post from Simcha on Caitlyn Jenner’s comment that the hardest part of being a woman is choosing what to wear. Sigh.

Kendra at Catholic All Year takes on a controversial issue: girls as altar servers. Her daughters are not.

Another post from Aleteia – a great post on communication in marriage, that is a good reminder even for those of us in good marriages.

– 8 –

And a bonus take: Friday Night Lights is the best television show ever. It’s just a fact. Accept it or be wrong.

 

Have a great weekend!

Full House

Back when we were engaged, my husband and I bought a house. Not just any house, actually–a giant fixer-upper, a three-story, four-bedroom, 160-year-old Victorian. For two people and two cats. We were a bit… ambitious. And we had rosy dreams of growing into the house as our family grew up over the years.

Since, then, we have both changed jobs, got a dog, got rid of a dog, gave up a cat, had two kids, lowered our income (voluntarily, mostly), and put thousands of dollars and hours of backbreaking work into fixing this place up. It’s looking pretty good these days, although there are still a million things that could/should be done.

(Here’s a picture of our latest kid, just for fun:)

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And now… we can’t wait to get out of here.

The truth is, this house has eaten up a ton more money and time than we expected, and we’ve enjoyed the process a lot less than we had hoped. A fixer-upper that is too big for your family is not a blessing–not only is it a massive project, but also expensive, a lot of work to maintain, hard to keep clean (so. much. dusting. of spaces we don’t even use!), hard to keep free of clutter (“there’s room over there, just leave it in a pile.”), and definitely also expensive. Oh, and we had a period of about a year where we had to worry about Alex’s exposure to lead from… something… in the house. We replaced carpet and repainted a ton, and the lead levels in his blood dropped back to a normal level, but we still don’t know where the lead was coming from. I resent our antebellum house for that anxiety.

We’re hoping that I will be able to stay home full-time with the boys soon, but we need to lower our mortgage payment and get some things off our plate to make that happen. So we’ll move–to a smaller, more updated place. It will be awesome.

But when that happens, we will have to begin the home decorating process over again. I feel like it has taken all of the last six years for me to find a furniture arrangement that I like in this house, so I want to write down the biggest lesson I’ve learned before I forget it when we have to start from scratch again.

What was the secret to our final, comfortable, functional furniture arrangement in this big old beautiful awful house?

Less is more.

A little open space turned out to be way more valuable than another chair or table.

Clearing out some room gave us room to breathe. It made a space for little boys to run around and stack blocks and use a rocking chair. It made a space for doing a workout DVD without moving anything, or sitting on the floor to read a stack of books.

When we first moved in, Matt and I had to combine our previously separate belongings, and generous friends kept offering us free, hand-me-down pieces of furniture, which we would accept without a thought–free furniture! But before long, our house felt more like a Tetris board than a welcoming home. How can we fit in this chair? It’s a perfectly good chair!

Now, we’ve given away or sold a couple sizable things, and the house feels lighter, breezier, more welcoming–because people actually fit inside now. There is room to walk and room to relax. It’s a downright relief just looking around.

These days, if anyone is redecorating and getting rid of their old stuff, I have a few questions to consider before we accept anything new. Where would it go? Is that space more valuable when empty? How much work would it take to keep the item clean?  (Dusting. I hates it, precious.) A lot of the time, it turns out that the furniture isn’t worth bringing home–even if it’s free.

If we move to a smaller house, we’ll probably start out with too many things stuffed into our living spaces again. I hope I remember to just start clearing things out, to give us room to live lighter and better.

Getting rid of the clutter–even big, solid-wood pieces of clutter–makes everything better. Less is more. When in doubt, throw it out.

I’m sure there are plenty of metaphors and spiritual lessons I could throw in here for good measure (sin clutters the soul and mind? living lightly on the earth as good stewards of God’s creation? too much stuff = first world problem = luxury blinds us to the bigger sufferings of others?), but you know, sometimes you just need to remember the surface level lesson: if your house feels cramped and crowded, get rid of some stuff. It’ll help.

For When It Hurts

A few hours before the attacks in Paris occurred last Friday, I was reading an article about the student protests at the University of Missouri, and the article linked to an interview by NPR discussing the protests. Host Audie Cornish asked writer Roxanne Gay about the concept of “safe space” on college campuses.

CORNISH: Something that people may be hearing more that they may not totally be familiar with is this idea of a safe space – that students are saying that, I should feel protected and that this is something that the university or these environments should be invested in creating. Roxane, help us understand this for people who think that – who have described this as coddling.

GAY: I mean, what’s wrong with being coddled once in a while? This notion that we should just be thrown to the lions and make do is absurd. There is very little to be gained from suffering. And I think what students are looking for is a space where they don’t have to suffer emotionally.

And while I could go in about seven different directions from this point, six of them would be sarcastic ranty political directions, so I’ll stick with the seventh option, which is to focus on this line: “There is very little to be gained from suffering.

First of all, let’s state the obvious: suffering sucks. It’s unpleasant. That’s what suffering means. Most of us try to avoid it as much as possible, with varying degrees of success. But no one is entirely successful, are they? No one gets through life without a single bad day, without a single pang of sadness or remorse or humiliation. Suffering is a part of life. Misunderstandings, shame, natural disasters, hot tempers, old houses, finances, tense relationships, injuries–the potential for suffering is everywhere. We can’t avoid it all.

If we are inevitably going to have to deal with suffering in our lives, wouldn’t it help to prepare ourselves for it, acknowledge it, and find some meaning in it, rather than blithely suggest that “there is very little to be gained” in any of it? I can tell you that such a suggestion won’t bring any comfort or relief to people who are actually suffering right now, that’s for sure. “Sorry, guys, I know this sucks, and also it’s all totally pointless. So… good luck!”

The truth is, there is a lot that can be gained from suffering, if we can screw up the courage and the strength to endure.

Suffering is a great instructor. If we can hold on to our humanity in the midst of the storm, suffering teaches us compassion and empathy. It can deepen our capacity for love. It makes us rearrange our priorities, and focus on what’s really important. It gives us opportunities to serve each other, individually and in community.

Beyond its ability to school us, we also know that suffering has meaning because we worship a God who suffered. Our God is He who willingly carried a cross to Calvary and then was nailed to it. He suffered the most painful, humiliating death possible, through no fault of His own, out of perfect love for each one of us.

That’s the difference between Christianity and the rest of the world: we know that suffering can be meaningful. Suffering has been redeemed, and can be transformed, if we are brave enough to look it in the face and be open to the transformation.

God’s plans are often inscrutable to us puny humans, but we know that ultimately He is in control and wills good for us. Sometimes our suffering may be part of a larger plot line that we just don’t see yet; other times it may be a way of transforming us into the heroes we are meant to be. Sometimes it’s a total mystery–when it feels like nothing could possibly justify the scope of a tragedy.

When society says, “suffering is useless,” they are faced with two choices: attempt to eradicate suffering (which is impossible) or fall into despair.

As Christians and as Catholics, we can affirm that yes, suffering hurts. A lot. And we affirm that pain–cheerily chirping that “everything happens for a reason!” in the face of tragedy doesn’t make anyone feel any better. But it doesn’t have to be for nothing. It can be an opportunity for us to grow–in fortitude, in love, in service to others, or in trust in God. He knows what we are feeling. He has felt our pain Himself.

If suffering is useless, then ISIS has already won in Paris–they inflicted a serious wound on the City of Light. The pain is great. Our hearts are heavy.

But we say no. The world has responded to the call, and rallied around the victims with love and solidarity, helping to carry their burdens and bandage their wounds. We are called to be generous, giving “until it hurts” to those in need. We are called to stand up with courage and defy ISIS’ hope that we will crumble in fear and sorrow–to join together under a banner of hope.

We don’t seek suffering for its own sake, but it comes–as it always does eventually–we can choose how to respond. Despair or hope. Nihilism or meaning. Dark or light. The grave–or the Resurrection.

7 Quick Takes: In Which I Am Considering Homeschooling

Linking up with Kelly once again!

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This week,we’re looking into the future. Kind of.

My boys are still quite young, but I think every parent starts considering their schooling options pretty early, especially if you live in a not-stellar school district and don’t easily have room in the budget for parochial or private schools. So here we are: seven reasons I’m currently considering homeschooling (once we reach the school years).

Why I'm Considering Homeschooling

 – 1 – 

Especially as the mother of two boys, I am very concerned with the pattern of schools cutting free play time and recess in favor of more cramming for standardized tests. Kids learn best by playing in the early years, and they NEED to get their energy out in order to be able to focus on learning while sitting still. But a lot of schools insist they “don’t have time” for recess. Of course, the time they save by cutting it will probably result in more behavior problems in the classroom and poor learning anyway…

By homeschooling, we can build in movement throughout the day and take breaks whenever needed.

 

 – 2 – 

Many teachers express concerns about parents homeschooling when those parents have had no training in pedagogical methods, classroom management, etc. But the thing is, you don’t NEED classroom management skills when you’re instructing one-on-one. What you need are parenting skills to connect with your own specific child. And who’s better at that than mom?

Plus, in all honesty, I’m pretty smart. I’m confident in my ability to understand and transmit knowledge to my kids. I like writing (obviously–wouldn’t be blogging otherwise!), I’m good at math (started working as an actuary after college) (quit it) (but that’s another story), and I like to read about lots of varied subjects. I feel personally up to the job.

 

 – 3 –

I’m also really concerned about the fact that kids in school who learn at a slower pace than their classmates (which happens! Kids develop on their own timelines!) effectively learn that they are “dumb” by getting poor grades over and over at school. And once they label themselves as dumb, all sorts of other problems pop up, like a belief that they can’t learn, or don’t like learning At home, the comparison game can be avoided. Each kid can learn at his own pace in each subject, and hopefully enjoy it all more.

 

 – 4 –

The problem with Catholic school: the private schools are expensive (like, the nearby classical Catholic grade school is over $8 grand a year!), and the diocesan grade schools vary wildly in quality. The one nearby us is… okay? But I’m not thrilled about the prospect of paying even 3 or 4 thousand dollars a year for an “okay” school.

 

 – 5 – 

The problem with public school: sure, it’s free, but our school district is also only okay, and public schools also come with other issues. Specifically, the relativism, materialism, bullying, and gender-confusion so pervasive in our society.

I do not want my boys in the bathroom with females.

(Even accepting the shaky premise that biological sex and gender are independent things, why would bathroom use be based on gender identity and not body organs?!)

I might be tempted to overlook some of these things if we lived in a truly great school district (and combat them at home through discussion during the out-of-school hours), but we don’t. So why bother with them in the first place?

 

 – 6 –

Homeschooling also provides a good opportunity to build in catechesis. The religious education curricula in most schools and CCD programs aren’t in great shape, either.

I could go on and on about this topic, but suffice it to say: schools and CCD classes have too many felt banners and not enough of the actual Catechism. It’s such a shame. Our faith is full of beautiful ideas and solid reasoning, but most Catholics have never been exposed to so much of it.

 

 – 7 –

And then there’s the key, comforting aspect of homeschooling that makes it all possible: the knowledge that trying homeschooling for a year doesn’t lock us in forever. If all goes well, great! If not, well, to school we will go.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained… but it’s good to know there is an escape hatch available if necessary.

 

And that’s a wrap. Have a beautiful November weekend, lovely readers!

 

The Certainty of Sherlock

Sherlock Holmes is really having a moment these days. In the last few years, we’ve seen two movies with Robert Downey, Jr., as the brilliant investigator , plus the BBC’s excellent updated television adaptation, and now Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a new novel out about Sherlock’s brother (yes, THAT Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and apparently Johnny Depp has just signed on to voice a new movie character called, “Sherlock Gnome.”

It got me thinking over what is it about Sherlock that resonates so strongly right now. I have a theory.

Our culture is mired in relativism and uncertainty. These days, some of the most seemingly obvious facets of life are being questioned–what makes a man a man? Is that person a man or a woman? How do you know? These used to be easy questions, and pretty much everyone would answer the same way. Not anymore.

Parents used to be able to make decisions for their families and feel comfortable. Now we’ve got moms worried they’ll be carted off jail for making a reasoned judgment about their children’s abilities and maturity level.

Are colleges places for independent thought and free debate, or “safe spaces” where no one has to have their preconceived notions threatened?

And let’s not even get into the confusing morass of our current political landscape, where all the options are bad, and making a moral vote appears almost impossible.

We’re being taught in school that the opposite of a fact is an opinion, and that all moral statements are opinions–and therefore not worthy of debate. How can you debate opinions? And why bother? Why can’t we all just get along?

Everything is reduced to emotions and feelings. People are unmoored. Nothing is certain, and nothing can be satisfactorily settled. It’s a little terrifying, when you stop and think about it… so most people, including me most of the time, prefer to just get on with daily life and ignore the lurking existential angst.

And that’s what makes Sherlock Holmes so appealing. Not only does he offer a little literary escapism from the real world, but his stories offer an antidote to all this uncertainty. Sherlock uses straightforward observations and reason to make logical deductions, and actually solves serious crimes this way. No one needs to argue with him. To see something settled so cleanly feels remarkably like… relief.

Why relief? Because, of course, we are human beings, not animals. We have been created with the gift of reason, to appreciate the order of the created universe, and to learn to understand it in order to appreciate the wisdom of its divine Creator. We  are made to seek, to wish to know. So the lack of “knowing” that our culture has wrought is distinctly unnerving and unsatisfying. We need to recover our ability to make reasonable observations, make logical deductions, and come to conclusions–not just talk about our fears and our feelings. Emotions are valid, but they’re not everything. We need more than emotion to live virtuously and wisely. Being blown about by our emotions and passions will only lead to more unhappiness.

But there is a Reality, which can be studied and understood. There are moral truths, and they matter to our immortal souls. Fortunately, they can be discovered by those brave enough, honest enough, and serious enough to seek them.

And hey, a nice thing about Catholicism is that is is uniquely resistant to “going with the flow.” It’s actually a good thing that changes comes slowly to the Church-it immunizes Her from the winds of philosophical fads. And thank goodness. Christian teachings are founded on a much stronger basis, both of revelation and of philosophy, than a lot of the nonsense being bandied about nowadays.

So if you’re feeling confused and unsettled and lost in the winds of social outrage over something or other, read some Aquinas or Augustine or heck, even Aristotle. Or if you’re feeling a little less heavy… maybe some Sherlock Holmes.

Certainty of Sherlock

Seven Quick Takes: In Which I Plan to Ramble

Linking up with Kelly because nothing says, “back on the wagon” like two posts in two days after nearly a month’s silence.

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Also, I’m composing this on my phone with a sleep-nursing baby on my lap. Autocorrect errors are practically guaranteed. I’ll try to fix them all, of course, but PLEASE comment if you spot one I missed.

Buckle up, y’all.

(I lived in Texas for three years as a kid which comes with a lifetime pass to use “y’all.” But look at all this random rambling I’m wasting before I even get into the takes!)

– 1 –

Tommy continues to be adorable and a pretty easy baby.

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Thank God for you, Tommy.
He was at the fiftieth percentile for weight at his one-month checkup, which is such a relief to this mama. His older brother Alex spent his early months in the first five percentiles! Looking back at those days, I carried around a lot of anxiety about Alex’s small size.

– 2 –
I am feeling a pull to start praying intentionally for a saint friend. Like many people, I think, I have a few saints that I find interesting or admirable, but I tend to think of them as historical figures, not as heavenly people who care about current earthly things and who could still want to establish a deeper relationship with me. So I’ll pray about it.
Hopefully God will make it clear if there is a specific saint who wants to pray for me. Picking one out for myself feels a little like forcing my friendship on someone who may or may not be interested… But no, now that I type that out, it is complete nonsense since the saints have been perfected in love in heaven. But still, maybe there is a saint best suited to intercede for me. So I’ll still pray about it.

– 3 –

I could quote must of the movie Cars from memory at this point. If that makes me a bad parent, then a bad parent I am. C’est la vie. Alex wants to watch it endlessly, and at six in the morning, I am not up to perfect parenting yet. It originally was near the bottom of my list of preferred Pixar movies, but it’s really grown on me. I think I have Stockholm Syndrome.

– 4 –
Writing this on my phone is presenting some weird formatting options. I have no idea how this is going to show up. Blogging n00b!

– 5 –
Here’s a picture of a lion from the zoo this week.

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It came right up to the glass. Really cool.
The zoo has been a total lifesaver. We got a family membership for the year back in the spring, and now that I’m home with both boys by myself, we really depend on it as a way to get out of the house other than walking around the neighborhood. The baby gets worn in a wrap on my chest, Alex rides in a lightweight stroller or walks, and all our gear goes in a backpack. I’ve actually gotten compliments from the zoo staff about my expert setup. And since we have the membership, individual trips cost nothing at this point as long as I bring our own snacks… Unless we splurge on a train ride.

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Because someone loooooves the kiddie train.

– 6 –
Hmmm. I’m running low on things to ramble about. Did you see this great article on why we don’t have a more pro-life culture?

– 7 –
I’m tapped out. Have a lovely weekend!