Evangelization, Family Life, Parenting, toddlers

Thanksgiving acts of service with kids

November 20, 2018

This is the first year where we’re feeling like we can creep past bare minimum mode – just a single toe over the line, honestly – and attempt to do a little something extra for Thanksgiving.

I’m not hosting or even cooking all that much this year, so no doubt that inflates my sense of wellbeing. If you have a nursing baby who is under 6 months old, are pregnant, are postpartum to any sort of baby at all, have a child with special needs, a husband who works 120 hours a week, etc etc etc, then just stop reading and look away, you’re already maxed out on awesome acts of service.

If you are a mom to older kids and have this thing down already, then won’t you tip your hand and let us freshman have a peek at what you do to help your kids connect with the deeper meaning of this special holiday?

In years past, our friends who live closer to downtown Denver have bundled up early in the morning and brought Starbucks to the homeless people who congregate near the cathedral. I love that idea, but we’re a little far out in the suburbs to execute it. We do have some homeless people around, but no specific concentration where we could seek them out. It’s more like you’ll see someone at an intersection here or there. Our parish food pantry hosted a frozen turkey drive…yesterday. So that’s a miss for us, too.

I conducted a casual poll of mom friends asking for ideas and came away with some good suggestions: bringing treats to homeless people, passing out coffee, delivering donuts or sandwiches, handing out breakfast burritos, going to a park with hand warmers, hats and mittens, assembling blessing bags, etc. to distribute to panhandlers at intersections and freeway on ramps.

Some businesses will donate their products if you ask. A few businesses my friends said they’d had success partnering with:

  • Jimmy Johns: will sell day their day old loaves for $.50 a piece
  • Starbucks: will sometimes donate coffee with advance notice; will provide creamer, sugar, cups and lids at no charge when you order a coffee traveler
  • Dunkin Donuts: will sometimes donate with advance notice
  • Krispy Kreme: will donate day old donuts with advance notice  

I’m guessing many fast casual chains and coffee places would be willing to donate, especially bread places like Panera, etc, where if they don’t sell that day’s offering, they aren’t able to sell it the next morning.

I love the idea of giving food at Thanksgiving, especially since it tends to be a time when we as Americans overdo it in the consumption department. I also think it’s a super relatable way of doing charity with kids. Kids understand being hungry. Kids understand having an empty tummy, and the immediate gratification of someone handing you something good to eat because they love you.

If the idea of serving on Thanksgiving itself is overwhelming, I think taking back Black Friday as a day to serve instead of shop is pretty awesome.

I’d really like to take our kids to a nursing home or retirement community to visit with the residents and provide a little comic relief. I worked at a nursing home while I was in grad school, and it made a lasting impression on me. Most of my residents just wanted someone to talk to, and would light up whenever a child – especially a baby – came onsite. Many lived far from their families and had visitors only once a year, or even less frequently than that. It was so life giving for them to just sit and visit with someone, even if it was only me or one of the other staff members. I will never forget the kind of relational poverty I witnessed there. Now here I sit with a bumper crop of my own children and I’ve yet to make good on my vow to return and visit nursing homes one day when I became a mom. Maybe this year’s the year.

Finally, I don’t want to rule out serving within the home itself. Especially where little kids are involved, I’m forever underestimating what they’re capable of, and they’re forever surprising me with their competence. (Well, and other things. There are other surprises, too.)

Inviting them to set the table, peel potatoes, peel and cut apples for pie, fill a pot with water, use a pitcher to fill water glasses at the dining table, etc are all valuable and super #Montessoriandyouknowwhat ways to let kids participate in and contribute to the family economy, and not just for the holidays.

So I’m all ears guys, what does your family do that has become a tradition? What are you hoping to try out this year? Have you had any memorable flops, like taking toddlers to the soup kitchen and violating food safety standards (ahem Luke cough cough)? Anything you’d do again? Anything you’d advise against, at all costs?

About Me, toddlers

Luke is a verb

November 16, 2018

Lately I’ve been taking a little journey back to the period called “inexperienced motherhood.” It usually happens in Trader Joe’s or somewhere else in public, where I’ll look down next to my cart and see that someone has taken a massive bite out of a raw zucchini and then stashed it on the lower rack.

I make sure not to look down for too long though, because if I don’t keep my eyes on the whirring blonde ball of energy that is our resident three year old, he will be behind the counter and elbows-deep in the free sucker bucket, much to the consternation of whichever Trader Joe’s team member is lucky enough to be our cashier that day.

“Hey buddy,” the Hawaiian shirt clad stranger will begin, “you can’t be back here!” or else it’ll be the arched brow and the “Hey, mom, can you get him back on your side?” with a knowing look that plainly says “you’ll get the hang of this sooner or later, lady.”

Little do they know, these innocent bystanders who stand witness to our public displays of destruction, that Luke is not my first rodeo, or even my second, but my fourth.

I’ve had the opportunity to confess that to a few well-meaning good samaritans who stop to help me disentangle him from the climbing net at the park where he is hanging upside down, dangling from one leg, which he somehow managed to thread through 4 different squares of cargo netting.

Or at a splash park last summer when I would march him back naked (again) and unashamed from the edge of the pop jet fountain, white buns blazing under the hot Colorado sun for all the general public to observe. “Sun’s out, buns out!” the neighbor kids shouted gleefully all summer, watching Luke streak across the yard having freed himself once again from the shackles of swim trunks or his pull up.

I thought it would abate with potty training, but alas, he is now more naked and I am wiping more things off of more surfaces than I was before. At least diapers were a contained, albeit expensive, environment.

When Luke’s true nature first began to show itself around his second birthday, we told ourselves he was bidding for attention. Acting up because a new baby was coming. Having a hard time adjusting to all the big kids being in school some days.

Nope. Turns out this just is Luke. Or else he is having the longest and most persistent case of the terrible twos in recorded history.

He’s not terrible, though. He’s actually really sweet and funny and really, really smart. He tells strangers he is 7, that he is the oldest in his family, that he is going to learn how to drive soon. He tells anyone who will listen to him that he “used to live in Italy” (no, he did not) and that when he grows up he is going to be a daddy and a garbage truck driver. (lucky gal the one who scoops him up.)

He is always dirty, usually naked, and has single-handedly inflated our grocery bill by at least $150 a month. A typical breakfast might be 2 eggs, a bowl of oatmeal, and maybe a strip or four of bacon if there is any lying around. He eats like Gaston, he has the manners of Gaston, but he is much kinder than Gaston.

“Mommy I just love you! Come here, I’m going to kiss your mouth. Mommy when I grow up I’m going to live with you and come home every night for dinner (nope). You’re a good mommy, you do a good mommy job.”

It’s hard to stay mad at a guy like that, even when he manages to extract himself from his carseat and OPEN THE VAN DOOR WHILE WE’RE DRIVING THROUGH TRAFFIC.

Yesterday someone posted a viral video from like, home security cam footage and it showed a toddler hanging on and being lifted by the opening garage door while mom’s back was turned and I was like, “yep. That is for sure going to happen to me.”

When I meet boy moms with grown or older sons, I beg them for reassurance that he is going to make it safely to adulthood. Last week we thought an upstairs toilet needed a professional snake job, but then lo and behold, daddy’s amateur snake job turned up AN ENTIRE GREEN APPLE and we all looked in fascination and horror at the child who assured us “Mommy told me it was okay to flush apples down the toilet.”

Nope again.

Next fall Luke will start preschool in our sweet little Montessori atrium. And as much stock as I put in the great Maria Montessori’s methods, I do wonder if Luke might accidentally eat the class pet, punch a hole in the ceiling tiles with the red rods, or squirt his classmates in the face with the spray bottles they use to gently mist their succulent collection during the zenlike period known as “plant work.”

Also, he knows how to use matches.

I feel like we’re playing some strange new game in the raising of this child – one that doesn’t include a rule book – so we’re making them up as we go along, to varying degrees of success.

He wakes us up some mornings by dropping a shoulder into our slightly sticky bedroom door and flipping on the overhead light while bellowing out IT’S MORNING TIME I’M HUNGRY before turning abruptly and thundering down the stairs towards the kitchen. Thanks to DST reveille has been nudged forward to 5:50 am but who’s counting?

Other mornings he will creep around the side of the bed to find daddy and wiggle his still-saturated pullup-clad butt in between our sheet and and comforter, and let me tell you, the person who brings to market an aroma-based alarm clock is going to make some real money.

One memorable morning around 3 am earlier this Fall, I awoke in the midst of what I assumed was a home invasion when he’d pulled a stepping stool up to the bed and stood, 2 centimeters from my head, yelling WAKE UP MAN. (?????) I awakened. And spent the following hour trying to get my cortisol levels back down to sleep-able range.

We love our crazy Duke, don’t get me wrong. He is hilarious, loving, super personable and very, very good at getting his way with his 3 older siblings and 3 older cousins.

I recount some of his antics here for posterity’s sake, and also to demonstrate that no matter how many kids you’ve had, you might not be fully prepared for the immensity that is one of their personalities in particular. (Or maybe more than one! I’m looking at you Blythe). You never know what – or who – you’re gonna get. Which is part of the fun.

(And by fun I mean the kind of fun that you feel on a roller coaster ride, just to be clear.)

I’m curious – do you have a verb in your family? Is there one – or more – in every family?

oldie but goodie (gosh I’m glad I painted that kitchen…everything)


abuse, current events, Homosexuality, Living Humanae Vitae, Pope Francis, prayer, Rome, scandal, Sex, sin

Disillusionment with the Church

November 12, 2018

Remember believing in Santa? Shhhh, my kids still do. Maybe that’s a bad analogy. Maybe you never believed in Santa. What about this: maybe you believed your mom or your dad to be invincible. Kind of superhuman or untouchable. And then you weathered your first big blow up between parents and an adult child. Or a shocking cancer diagnosis or the revelation of some kind of massive failing. I’m reaching for that feeling of deflation and just raw sorrow, of sort of coming unmoored and feeling unrooted. That has been the past 5 months for me, as a Catholic laywoman.

The Church whom I trusted implicitly, all my life, has broken my heart. Every morning there is a new story about some scandal, a message in my inbox about a parish whose pastor went on “administrative leave,” was arrested following – or at least incriminated by – some new allegation come to light.

The weight of it has ceased being a conscious burden; now it just feels like a sort of lingering heaviness, not unlike the way a clinical depression blurs the edges of reality and tamps down the colors and delights of daily living. I don’t mean exactly that I feel depressed about the Church, but that my perception of the Church has been shattered.

Even writing “the Church,” I’m not longer entirely sure what I mean. Do I mean the Roman curia? The Pope? The local bishop, who is technically my reference point for the authority of the hierarchy? Do I mean the parish down the hill where we worship? Our wonderful priests there who hear hundreds of confessions a week?

In many ways living here in Denver with such a vibrant Catholic community we have been isolated from much of the pain and scandal on an immediate level. In another sense, this makes things very strange when I feel “safe” in my own parish but feel utterly ill at ease in “the Church” at large. The Universal Church.

Our time in Rome this Fall, however beautiful, was also painful. Walking on a tour through the Vatican gardens, for example – what should have been a thrilling opportunity – was marked with sadness. “Here is the monastery where Pope Benedict retired to. There is the place where he used to like to pray, when he was more mobile.” My heart clenched painfully as I wondered, not for the first time, why God has allowed this season in the Church to come to be.

Why are we here? What does God, in His Providence, plan to accomplish with this wreckage and chaos?

And what can I possibly do, a mom with five kids, a little bit of internet real estate, no theology degree and no real position of influence within the Church?

Pray, obviously, which I have been. But I want to be transparent with you guys about how much I’m struggling with this. Every other week or so I try to make it to confession (see above: amazing parish) and one of my predictable recurring sins right now is one against charity towards the Holy Father, towards the bishops.

My choleric and justice-oriented mind does not comprehend that while I have been hustling and doing my level best to hold up my end of the bargain with God (and failing over and over and over again, naturally, bc sinner) there have been predatory priests preying on children. Homosexual bishops grooming and raping seminarians. Company men more concerned with promotions than with the people whose souls they signed up to shepherd. (And yes, I know there are good priests. And mediocre priests. And priests who are struggling manfully with heavy habitual sins. These aren’t the guys I’m thinking about.)

Priests hearing the confessions of ordinary Catholics who come to the sacrament of absolution struggling to live chastely, who are wrestling with any kind of addiction, who are trying to get their temper, their lust, their appetite for whatever in check; who are failing, crying out to the Lord for mercy, asking for absolution, who are coming back again and again and swimming upstream in this miserable culture of death, priests who meet up with an illicit lover later that same night, who shuffle an abusive priest to another assignment, who turn a blind eye to the failings of their brother bishops and keep on keeping on…

It boggles the mind.

And so while the surprise has abated and the rage has cooled, the lethargic sorrow remains. I thought I knew what the Church was. I never believed the clergy to be above reproach or without sin, but it didn’t occur to me that there would be priests leading double lives. Why not? I don’t know, I guess I’m an idiot? An idealist?

I don’t have a good wrap up. And it’s not like I’m over here wallowing in sorrow and questioning the existence of God or anything. But I am wrestling with what it means to be Catholic right now. Not because I would ever walk away, but because I am so angry that none of these guys did.

I know so many good priests. Good bishops too. As a parent, this is probably the most frustrating part of the whole crisis: are my children safe in the Church? Can we trust the men who we do know and love, going forward? I trust our bishop, and our parish priests. I love and respect and believe the religious community who we share so much of our lives with. Is a personal relationship going to be the necessary litmus going forward? Trust but verify?

I hate this place for our family. And I hate it for our Church, even more. There is no such thing as a personal sin. All sin is corporate. And everything that is done in the darkness will be, eventually, revealed in the light.

(p.s. This was written last Friday. How much more appropriate it seems today.)

Catholic Spirituality, Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Culture of Death, Evangelization, Marriage, NFP, planned parenthood, pregnancy, Pro Life, scandal, Sex, sin

NFP for clergy

November 6, 2018

That title, right? I know. But, yes. Seriously.

After one of the talks I gave in Nashville last month, a group of nice young Catholic guys who were, I surmised, discerning the priesthood, came up to chat afterwards and to say thanks for being on campus. We got to talking and one of them in particular was a little taken aback when I enthusiastically expressed my hope for every priest and seminarian in formation to get a basic education from a trained professional (or an experienced married couple) in at least one method of Natural Family Planning.

“But why,” he wondered (sincerely and earnestly, I must say) “would a priest need to know about that…stuff?”

I smiled and started to tick off the reasons one one hand. “Well, for instructing engaged couples, for assistance when giving spiritual direction, for time in the confessional, of course, so that their homilies will be challenging and well informed, so they can walk alongside couples in their suffering and in their joy. Just to name a couple off the top of my head.”

His eyes widened as he nodded his head, “I guess I hadn’t thought about all the ways it could be helpful.”

For parish priests especially, the bulk of their flock will likely be made up of people who are married or will be eventually, so it would serve them well to be prepared to speak on something that is as foundational to marriage as sex and procreation.

Many, many priests with whom I have corresponded or spoken with over the years have reported having little to no formation or formal instruction, if any, on NFP. Is it any wonder that so few Catholics practice NFP when so few pastors have ever spoken of it from the pulpit, let alone in the confessional?

I don’t mean to imply that there are no good priests striving to teach and preach what the Church does on love and marriage. There are! But we need more of them.

Tomorrow morning I will have the privilege of speaking to a classroom full of seminarians, future priests all, God willing. I’ve been invited by their sexual ethics professor to talk about the “lived experience” of NFP, specifically:

“It would be great if you could:

– Offer your testimony.

– Show the different sufferings and difficulties of periodical abstinence/ with the Fertility Awareness Based Methods (NFP) for a couple. Don’t be afraid of making it real. That will be a great preparation for the seminarians.

– Touch on the just causes (psychological, physiological, financial, social) that may make NFP necessary. Why it is good that we (the Church) don’t have a concrete list of situations.

– The blessings of NFP – Even if it is very difficult, it is the only way of living with true love… How NFP has helped you or other couples in their communication… And therefore, why NFP is not “Catholic” contraception.

– Different methods of NFP and contraception.

– Of course your personal experience with couples opposed to NFP

– Experience about how contraception is different…”

So, you know, just the basics. Gulp. I figure I’ll at least have time to touch on what our own experience with NFP has been.

The elevator pitch version goes something like this: get engaged, sit inattentively through CCL (sympto thermal method) classes as part of marriage prep, disregard all charting with joyful abandon and conceive honeymoon-ish baby. Welcome another baby 18 months after that. Nervously learn Creighton (mucus based method) bc postpartum NFP is hell on wheels. Move overseas, change diet and lifestyle radically, conceive “method failure*” Creighton baby. Move back home. Conceive second Creighton baby, this one with some intentionality.  Learn Marquette (monitor based method). Successfully postpone for 18 months. Conceive “operator error” Marquette baby. And here we are now, almost 9 years into marriage and coming up on baby number five’s 1st birthday next month.

In sum? We’ve learned – and trial and errored – our way through 3 different NFP methods at this point. Marquette is the clear winner for us, for my physiological makeup, for our circumstances, etc. etc. etc. But we had to keep trying, keep making adjustments, and most of all, keep seeking out help and additional education.

(*None of our children were “unplanned,” or “mistakes.” We are fully aware that the nature of sex is ordered to procreation. That even if all the signs and symptoms point to infertility during a particular time in my cycle, each time we enter into the marital act we do so prepared to welcome new life.)

Fertility awareness based methods of family planning are not for the faint of heart. They aren’t “Catholic contraception,” though as with any human endeavor in this earthly life, they can be used in selfishness.

But they are inherently morally sound.

They require communication, selflessness, patience, sacrifice, continuing education and, yes, chastity. Chastity which is the universal call of every Christian. Chastity which our Church so desperately needs a remedial course in. Chastity which frees us rather than oppressing us, opening up the cramped enclosures of our naturally selfish hearts to be more receptive to the other, to be able to see more clearly the value and dignity of the beloved.

It ain’t easy, that’s for sure. And if you grew up in a family where contraception was the norm, went to public school where the Planned Parenthood sponsored health curriculum was taught from 5th grade on, started taking hormonal birth control yourself as a young teen with “skin problems,” it can sometimes feel like living in an actual alternate reality.

I always like to point out when discussing the current situation of the Catholic Church in America that our pastors were raised in the same cultural milieu we were. If you’ve never heard of NFP until you’re a twenty-something doing mandatory engagement courses in one of the dioceses that actually require NFP instruction, what makes you think that your 60-something pastor who went to Holy Mountain of Mediocrity for seminary in the seventies has ever learned anything about it himself?

We may be starting from a broad baseline of ignorance, in many ways. And it’s good to acknowledge that, yes, the Church has largely failed to transmit this teaching. The Church in the sense of we, the laity, have largely failed to receive this teaching. And the ambient culture has certainly rejected this teaching.

So we have work to do. Let us begin to make progress in supporting the couples who take up the cross of monitoring and consenting to the reality which is their actual fertility, whether it be high, low, or non-existent.

Let us ask more from our pastors, from our bishops, and from the men in formation to become our future priests. Let us take it upon ourselves, as laywomen and men, to continue to delve into the teachings of the rich Christian tradition of marriage and to pray for greater understanding and greater unity with our spouses and with our Lord.

Fathers, we need to hear from the pulpit, in the confessional, and in passing conversation that you understand what the Church teaches about married love, and why.

That you have yourself a basic working knowledge of NFP. That you have resources for your flock, and if you don’t, that you are working to provide them: things like subsidized instruction, free meeting space on church grounds, regular invitations to certified method instructors (multiple methods, please!) to come in and give weekend seminars and postpartum refresher courses for your parishioners. Qualified and orthodox teachers to share the wisdom of Theology of the Body and a basic knowledge of Fertility Awareness with your teens and young adults. Low or no cost babysitting (safe environment certified care providers, of course) for couples who need to learn a new method, or who never learned any kind of NFP at all.

Being a priest in 2018 is, I imagine, no easy row to hoe. We know you’re overworked and underpaid and stretched too thin, and we are profoundly grateful for your yes to Jesus.

We also wish there were more of you.

Teaching Catholic parents about openness to life and the ongoing art of discernment of family size could be a real, practical way to address the vocations shortage in the long haul. It’s no panacea, but it would certainly help.

And hey, fathers? We’re rooting for you.

coffee clicks

Coffee clicks: November! How did this happen?

November 2, 2018

Life is seriously playing at double speed these days. I can’t wrap my mind around November. Wasn’t it just September? Aren’t we still finding our back to school groove? My pulse quickened at the sight of a flash of Starbucks Christmas red in someone’s newsfeed this morning, and I know – I just know – it’s going to be December 24th in 5 minutes.

I’m clearing the house of all remaining tempting (read: chocolate) candy today after a 48 hour binge that more or less consisted of near criminal leves of behavioral regression on all parts (mine included. Fasting today to clear my shocked system of the 1000 grams of sugar consumed at the annual All Saints bash we hit up last night). Good news: there are no Snickers left. Bad news: see previous.

Are you getting straight into Christmas planning mode to try to knock it all out before Advent begins? I’ve always dreamed of being that person. Last year I made a valiant, very pregnant effort and ended up with WAY too many toys from the thrift store and a Christmas Eve stomach flu for my troubles. This year my loose plan is to wait until December 19th and then spend a solid 24 hours in hustle mode. I work well under pressure.

This effort in LA to pair willing homeowners with homeless and homeless families is intriguing. What do you think? Would you ever consider participating in a program like this?

I was shocked by the avalanche of positive responses to my Harry Potter confession. Thank you for being such wonderful readers! I really believe I know the smartest and most humble people on the internets.

This is actually heartening. I feel like our own culture has been slow to name the connection between porn and sexual violence. I got a good response last month in Nashville when I illustrated the connection between the two for a college-aged audience – there were some shocked faces in the crowd and good, thoughtful comments afterwards.

Makes me so sad. Blessed is She is heading to Dublin early in the new year to put on a retreat for women. What a gift that will be to the Irish Church!

Just incredible writing. Still reeling from the shock of the massacre in Pittsburgh. I briefly dated guy who lived in Squirrel Hill when I was in grad school, and we would walk past the Tree of Life Synagogue every weekend on our way to a local grocery store that sold amazing challah bread.

What are your weekend plans? I’m solo parenting tomorrow so I’m considering fleeing to my parent’s house for backup. And putting the whole family on a strict meat and vegetable regimen for at least a day. I felt a momentary pang of guilt sending them out the door to school this morning at their current decibel levels. Pray for all teachers on this most sugared out Friday.


The one about Harry

October 30, 2018

I’m about to do the unthinkably stupid and write the oft-requested post on why we don’t “do” Harry Potter.

How stupid is it for me to write this? Well, considering I got death threats over my iconic “dog mom in whole foods” manifesto from yonder years, I’m guessing it’s moderately stupid.

But here we go, nonetheless.

I have been feeling a nudge from the Lord to touch this topic for a few years now, to be perfectly transparent. And I have said to Him, in varying degrees of politeness, time after time, “no thank you. I have no desire to stake a public claim on this topic. I’d rather write about politics and yoga and dog moms and daylight savings time all wrapped into one post.”

Anyway, He kept asking. And this piece showed up in my newsfeed bright and early this morning and I knew it was go time.

Fine, Lord. Fine.

Just know that I do not relish writing this. That my fingers feel like lead and my chest feels uncomfortably tight as I go along.

When I was a young college student I had a deep love for Harry Potter. I’d jumped on the bandwagon around the time that book number 4 released, and I was hooked.

I loved them! I loved re-reading them over and over again, loved going to the movies as they were released into theaters, even loved getting in line at Barnes and Nobles (remember when bookstores were a thing?) and waiting in the chilly midnight air for the first shipment of the newly released title to be unboxed. I made wands with my friends and co-workers at the restaurant where I waitressed, and we stood in line slightly buzzed and wearing construction paper sorting hats.

So it sort of goes without saying that I was a superfan.

I was a grad student at Steubenville before I first encountered any sort of “anti” Harry Potter sentiment (I mean, apart from my mother’s) and I was dismissive, entertained by the idea that anyone could think these fun fantasy books could pose any sort of threat to a well-formed adult conscience.

I sought out other faithful Catholics who allowed their children to read the series and who read it themselves, reassuring myself that if “so and so” had it on his bookshelves, I was fine. More than fine! It was perfectly alright, because Fr. x had never expressed any reservations about it, and Fr. y had enjoyed the series himself.

Anyway, I was uncomfortable with the notion that there might be anything amiss, so I dismissed it. It bears asking, why did I care what other people thought about it? Why did it matter to me that Professor S let his kids read it, so therefore it must be fine?

I recognized later that my initial misgivings which were allayed by other people’s participation in the fun that was HP were the initial stirrings of a conscience that was not yet convicted, but was on its way.

These books are something a little different, and there was an element of unsettledness that I couldn’t shake. I’d read Lord of the Rings and I loved Star Wars and I’m no stranger to other fantasy and science fiction series, but I couldn’t really put my finger on what was different about HP.

A few years passed and I got married and became a mom. One night I happened to click and read an essay by Michael O’Brien, an author whose fiction I had devoured (repeatedly) over the years.

Suddenly those hazy misgivings I’d felt a few years back were cast into stark relief. I was deeply and immediately convicted that these books and movies had no place in my life and no place in our family’s home – just a 2-bedroom apartment with one baby in it at the time.

Had I read this essay a few years earlier, I probably would have laughed it (uncomfortably) off, labelling this guy as a nutter. But because the seeds of discomfort had been planted in my mind years earlier, they sprang up readily when watered with the truth from a man with whose scholarship and artistry I was long acquainted.

That night I woke up from a disturbing nightmare in the middle of the night. I was overcome with the need to remove Harry from our house. I piled all the books from the shelves in our living room into my arms and carried them out to the dumpster. I broke the DVDs in their cases and recycled the plastic. I explained to Dave what his crazy wife was doing, and why, and he encouraged me to do whatever I felt I needed to. He didn’t have a horse in that race, having never become interested in the books himself.

Afterwards I felt a little crazy. Maybe it was crazy. But I also felt lighter and freer. Our home felt safer, for lack of a better descriptor.

I didn’t advertise my actions to anyone outside a close circle of friends, and even then only gradually throughout the years. If someone asks “do we do Harry Potter” my answer has always been simply “no, it’s not for our family,” and that has been that, unless pressed for details.

Recently HP has spiked in new popularity, spurring a flurry of merchandise and clothing and costumes for a new generation. There is a podcast called “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text” which meditates lectio divina style on the books, line by line. (Yes, really.)

Some of our kids’ friends are dressing as Harry and company for trick or treating tomorrow night, and I had the slightly uncomfortable but honest conversation with a 9-year-old last week when he pressed me for reasons why my kids hadn’t seen the movies or read the books.

“Well, bud,” I started off haltingly and awkwardly, “we don’t get into those because the lines between good and evil are kind of blurred in that series. And because the stuff that they present to you as make believe – witchcraft and spell casting and hexes and summoning spirits – that stuff is all real, and it has the possibility to put you in danger.” I might have said one or two more things, but his eyes had definitely glazed over at that point, and I realized I was probably overdoing it for a 4th grader.

I want to pause here to emphasize with enormous charity and truthfulness that I bear no ill will towards any parent who discerns differently for their family, for their children. Full stop.

I was careful to express my respect for this child’s mother, a friend, and to emphasize what we had discerned for our family. I have wonderful, faithful, holy friends who enjoy Harry Potter, who decorate for birthday parties and holidays incorporating the trappings of the Potterverse in their homes. If you leave this post with nothing else today, let it be with the assurance of my sincere respect for you, even if you’ve come to a different conclusion than I have about Rowling’s works.

For me, having experienced firsthand the effects of dabbling in the occult, even incidentally and indirectly, I’ve developed what I’ll jokingly tell friends is an allergy to evil.

I don’t mean like I’m super holy and very far advanced in the spiritual life, (Far from it. Like really, really far. Ask my kids.) …but that my radar is sort of hyper-sensitized to anything that has even a tinge of the occult to it. I can’t watch a lot of TV shows and movies that are popular because of a deeper conversion in my sexuality, and along similar lines, I can’t (and won’t) consume content that references witchcraft, divination, aura-reading, tarot cards, etc.

It’s like once you’ve been burned by that stuff, you are more likely to yelp in pain if it brushes up against you. Also, once you’ve experienced real freedom from the experience of oppression, you never ever want to go back.

Now, if you’re still reading and haven’t slammed your screen down in disgust or rage-tweeted this to your followers or dumped it onto a GOMI thread, hear me out on this final point:

My job as a mother is to form my kids for heaven. To shape their hearts and souls to be receptive to the nudges and invitations from their Creator.

I can’t guarantee a good outcome by any means, but I can and must exercise any and all means to prepare them well to hear His voice when He speaks. And I can’t in good conscience put something in front of them which I know to be in competition with that voice.

My personal conviction about Harry Potter means I am duty bound to act in this area where my kids are concerned. I have to follow my conscience, knowing that my decision may be extremely and laughably unpopular, but knowing that even if I’m wrong, God will judge me on whether or not I followed my conscience.

Anyway, we do still trick or treat because there is nothing morally ambiguous about free candy, and I hope you’ll see the innocence of dressing up as Batman or a tiny fighter pilot as something different from pretending to cast spells and communicate with the spirit world.

Some people don’t see a huge difference there, I get it! I personally don’t see the harm in costumes, fake spider webs, or obviously fake decor that gives kids a little thrill. It’s not because Potter is all in good fun that I hold it in suspicion, after all, but because the subject matter it turns on is very, very real indeed.

The real life practice of witchcraft is on the rise in our part of the world and elsewhere. There are, in 2018, more professed and practicing Wiccans than there are practicing Presbyterians by Pew’s 2017 count. So that’s … chilling. And it doesn’t come out of a vacuum.

Will your kid become a witch because they love Hermione so much? I don’t know! I didn’t!

But why would I take the risk? Something is behind the devastating loss of faith and the growing embrace of secular humanism and materialism in the modern world. Is a single children’s book series responsible for the change? Of course not. But could it be a small contributing piece of the puzzle? My conscience won’t allow me to rule it out as a possibility.

So hopefully this is all clear as mud, and we can now return to our usually scheduled programming of musings on motherhood, Church documents, and the produce section at Trader Joe’s. Happy feast of all hallows eve to you and yours!

About Me, budgeting, Family Life, large family

The cost of having kids

October 26, 2018

Let’s start by stating the obvious: finances are pretty personal, and as such, everybody’s circumstances are going to look a little different. What seems like an insane amount of risk/exposure looks like daily life for another family. What seems like a nice, healthy income starts to seem a little anemic once you figure in the cost of living and housing in a hot market.

We started riding the Dave Ramsey train before we got married. We read through Total Money Makeover as an engaged couple, knocking out tens of thousands of dollars of debt (almost all of it student loans) in our first 5 years of marriage. We cash flowed our first two babies, lived in sketchy rentals, drove a single car, side hustled, etc, etc. We were ALL IN. And it worked really, really well until we pulled up our roots, sold all our worldly possessions, and moved half a world away to Rome.

After we returned to the US the following year and added baby number three to the mix, we started to see our debt snowball lose momentum. We had sold our (paid off) sensible sedan before our big move, and we found ourselves needing a car to live in the suburbs with 3 kids. We bought a well-used minivan and just like that we had a car payment again for the first time in years.

Time and babies have continued to pile up, and now we’re five kids deep and living in a wonderful home of our own that we hope to be buried in, because that’s about how long it will take us to pay off the mortgage.

We’re mostly happy we bought, except on the day that the mortgage payment is due.

I get a lot of questions about how we “afford” so many kids, and the short answer is: we don’t.

We’re probably overextended from a financial perspective. And yet, we have never gone without.

Working for the Church isn’t exactly lucrative, but it sure is nice getting sent to Rome every year or two for one reason or another.

Having kids is a pretty tremendous upfront cost, but hand-me-down baby stuff comes in handy for subsequent arrivals.

Daycare is exorbitant, but working from home during early mornings and late nights makes it possible to live on one-and-a-half incomes and avoid it.

A good Catholic school is expensive, but having a larger family enables us to apply for – and receive – generous financial aid.

All that to say, things seem to have had a way of working out. As I creep more solidly into my mid-30s, I’m happy we didn’t wait to have kids, or space them further apart.

I’m grateful we weren’t in a position where we felt like we had too.

I think being from large families ourselves, we both accepted early on that having kids meant going without certain things, and saying yes to being uncomfortable. I don’t mean like settling for mediocrity or being reckless, but just having a baseline level of familiarity with the unknown and a little bit of risk.

We’re both working like crazy to get our income up and to pay our debt down, but in the meantime, we’re still having babies, making memories, and learning how to perform a bunch of basic home repairs courtesy of Youtube.

What we don’t spend on lessons, activities, sports, and toys we definitely do spend at the grocery store and in doctor’s copays. We aren’t really saving for retirement or college, but I imagine we’ll get around to it once we’ve finally paid off my degree.

This has ended up forcing us to depend on God in a tangible way, and we’ve seen Him do some pretty remarkable things for us financially over the years.

I feel like it’s worth mentioning that we’ve been committed to tithing ten percent of our income for most of our marriage; it really does seem to open up space for God to work. I don’t mean like He’s magically multiplying our dollar signs (but come Lord Jesus, have your way with those), rather that there is room for Him to work because we need Him to work. We feel a little crazy making that first line item in our budget His, but we’ve never regretted spending “too much” on God.

(Some great causes to give to: FOCUS, the International Missionary Foundation, China Little Flower, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Classical, and CNEWA.)

Do I worry about how we’ll be able to continue to afford Catholic school? Yep. But I volunteer as much as I’m able, support our school financially as best as we can, and gratefully accept the financial aid they offer us, one school year at a time.

Am I worried about what would happen if one of us were to die young? Definitely. Our life insurance premiums are a priority in our budget, even while we’re still paying off those student loans.

I try not to get too far ahead of the present when I think about our family, the future, and what we’ll need when we get there.

We’re trying to strike a balance between prudence and generosity, and to work as if everything depends on us but, you know, trust like everything depends on God.

I will say my stress over finances has decreased as our family size has increased, and I have no earthly reason for that. I guess I’ve mellowed with age? Or perhaps it is the repeated exposure to divine providence; presenting the Lord with one need after another and watching Him come through, time and time again, in a spectacular variety of ways.

If you have any specific questions feel free to ask them, and I’ll try my best to answer in a way that’s helpful. Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list of all the expenses of having kids, and people have different priorities and consider different areas of the budget to be less negotiable than others. Eager to hear what other big or bigger than average families experience in the realm of personal finance!

About Me

What it’s like to have a 5th baby

October 23, 2018

I was reflecting on how life has sort of finally settled out for us as I exited the gym in the still dark morning, chatting with my neighbor who’d convinced me after months of suggesting to try a sprint spin class. Status: tried. Never again.

The main reason I was able to partake in such abuse? All 5 kids slept through the night last night. Maybe for the first time since Zelie was born? I can’t remember. All I know is I dropped into bed, exhausted, before 10 pm and so I was naturally(!!) awake by 5 this morning. Why not, what harm could it do?  I mumbled to myself sleepily, peeling back the covers and staggering downstairs to find my keys. (Discovery: my thighs. My thighs are what were harmed).

My friendly neighbors perched a few bikes down seemed happy and a little shocked to see me there, squinting and huffing like an out of shape old gal who hasn’t mounted a stationary bike since college. Because, well, I haven’t. But I did the class and it was fine and I’ll be able to say now, before I die, that once I rose before dawn and did a spin class while a stranger yelled at me to pull my shoulders back and dig deep.

When I got home, Zelie was riding happily in Dave’s arms while he flipped eggs onto a plate and brewed his coffee. I took the baby and cuddled her, setting her in her high chair for some breakfast to fling on the floor. I started rounding up big kids to get them suited up for school, remembering that kid number two, our grumpy old man, prefers to be woken up by a friendly baby. I doubled back and scooped her into my arms to go in search of the late sleepers.

As I watched my otherwise extremely morning-averse 6-year-old laugh and tickle the intruding baby sister I’d plopped on his bed, I gave thanks silently for the one millionth time since Zelie was born. She has brought so much grace, light, and joy into our family.

Things were great before. They’re better now.

She doesn’t have great clothes, I’ll just lead with that. She usually has a darling headband on, but from the neck down it’s a grab bag jumbled together with our hand me downs, (ahem, some of Luke’s, to be totally transparent) stuff from her aunties, random articles I’ve picked up at the thrift store, and sometimes just a plain old diaper.

I think I’ve bought her maybe 2 new outfits (onesie is outfit, yes?) in her 9.5 months of life. She is often sticky, receiving perhaps fewer baths than previous years’ models have. Our pediatrician had to remind me to feed her actual solid food at her 9 month visit because, ah, I kind of forgot that was a thing (She’s fiiiiine, by the way. She is easily drinking 40 ounces of the white stuff a day). She is often found napping in a car seat. Or screaming in a car seat. My mom says that babies 5 and onward “grow up in the car,” and, well, she’s not wrong.

But the good stuff? Oh, is she loved. By her parents, of course, but also by her 4 adoring to the point of smothering siblings. And her coterie of cousins. And even the 2 sweet neighbor kids across the street who drop their backpacks in my yard after school and vye for a chance to hold her. She has her every waking need anticipated and usually met, however sloppily, by a besotted 3 year old minder. She is greeted with the enthusiasm afforded to a beloved head of state upon our return home if ever I take her anywhere with me. She might not be getting three intentional squares a day, but she more than makes up for it with the scraps of Pirate’s Booty and shredded cheese she forages from the dining room floor.

She sleeps through the night because she is amazing, and also because her parents are older, wiser, and tireder. She takes bottles and eats non-organic bananas and is basically living the life that first time baby o’ mine couldn’t have fathomed, and she is very, very happy. First taste of sugar on her first birthday? Nah. We gave her gelato at 8 months old. Fancy high tech stroller? Please. She perches like a queen in a dirty 2012 model. That is, she does when I remember to bring a stroller somewhere. Mostly she rides on my hip or in a tattered old Ergo carrier that lives under the back seat of the car, or in a very sanitary shopping cart that confers upon its occupants the added bonus of non injected immunity from several common communicable diseases.

Other baby items that didn’t survive to round five: bibs, diaper bag, baby shoes, appropriate themed outfits/costumes for holidays, portable changing pad, and a million other things I’m sure I once considered essentials but now do not.

What she lacks in tot couture she gets back in sloppy older sibling kisses. An inappropriately late bedtime when she pops up at 10 pm for some quality time with mom and dad. An older, mellower mom who remembers specific moments of her babyhood: the first time she stood on her own, sat up, laughed… and knows well enough now to stop and take those moments in. A mom who doesn’t call the doctor for every fever, but knows to take a croupy cough straight in for steroids.

I was telling a friend recently that nobody ever comments on the size of our family in public anymore; maybe it’s because I’m too preoccupied with keeping everyone in line to notice gawking bystanders? I used to get at least two or three “you’ve got your hands fulls!” a week. Now? Nada. I’m not sure if we’re now just a single, solid mass of humanity to the naked eye or what, but at any rate, I don’t sweat taking all the kids somewhere by myself. Sunday Mass, maybe. I’ll have to give that one a whirl before the year’s out.

It has taken longer than usual to physically bounce back, especially to drop the baby weight. But I’ve also been much, much happier than I can ever remember being. For me, not breastfeeding has contributed significantly to better postpartum mental health and easier postpartum NFP. Breastfeeding is great! It’s also not everything. And it doesn’t work out for everyone. I’ve let go of the guilt that initially lingered when I wasn’t making enough milk for Zelie to thrive, and I’ve embraced the freedom that bottle feeding allows. There are blessings hidden behind hard things sometimes, you know? Like sleeping through the night and going away for a weekend. And having the emotional reserves to give yourself to your other kids, because you haven’t already given everything away to the baby.

(Super pro nursing, by the way. Did it for 40+ months. And I’m so, so grateful to my generous friends who make tons of milk and are happy to share. If nursing works for your family, that’s fantastic. If you use formula, also great. Let me know if you want the inside scoop on the best price for Baby’s Only.)

In sum, having another little person show up and make us an officially hard-to-seat party of 7 has been awesome. I’d probably do it again, truth be told. And very likely we will have more. People’s eyes usually bulge ever so slightly when I reply with “we don’t know” when asked “are you done?”

Because honestly, we don’t know. We’re tired, we’re financially stretched to the point of discomfort, and we sometimes lie awake worrying about the future and what it will look like for our kids when they inherit this mess of a world.

But we’re also deeply, deeply happy. Provided for in ways that are unexpected and impossible to predict. Busy? Absolutely. But the hardest days (at least the ones that don’t involve me losing my substantial temper) I usually fall into bed exhausted and really satisfied that I’m spending my life for something beautiful. And there is real happiness in that, and a peace that surpasses all understanding.

About Me, Catholic Spirituality, Contraception, current events, Evangelization, feast days, JPII, Living Humanae Vitae, NFP

Coffee clicks: Nashville, Instagram bullying, and Communism

October 19, 2018

Heading into a kind of weird weekend for our crew: 2 days off followed by a day and a half of school and then fall break. I don’t remember having fall break as a kid, so I sure hope mine appreciate it.

Dave will be doing the lion’s share of parenting – I’m heading to Nashville on Sunday for a series of talks I’m giving on Humanae Vitae, and I’m thrilled that the first two fall on Monday, October 22nd which is the feast of St. John Paul II. I’m really leaning on his intercession as I prep for my first big speaking events since having babies number 4 and 5, both of whom have been less than cooperative with my prep.

I’ll be at the pastoral outreach center for the diocese of Nashville at 10 am and 7 pm on Monday, and at Belmont University on Tuesday, location and time TBA. Love to see anyone who’s local!

This week was the advent of my favorite hashtag in a long time: #postcardsforMacron highlighted a whole internet full of smart, accomplished women with families of all sizes, many on the largish side, and oh yeah, they happened to have an impressive collection of degrees and academic honors to their names, too.

I had a gross experience on Instagram after commenting on an incredibly inspiring Humans of New York post about the Rwandan genocide. A must read if you haven’t been following. I was praising the pastor who’d smuggled 300 souls to safety by refusing to back down to the roving bands of murderers who kept coming to his door threatening him with a gruesome death. I said I hoped his courage and goodness in the face of complicity and evil could inspire us in our own country to work for a future free from abortion. I got a few death threats and curses for my trouble, and a hundred or so ad hominems last I heard. I’m not stupid enough to keep tabs on comment sections, so I’ll have to trust my IG friends on that one. This piece really resonated with me after this week – I’m not sure I would have agreed otherwise, having largely found Instagram to be the “friendly” social media platform.

I think most Millenials – myself included – would do well to remind ourselves about what Communism really looks like. This story of a Polish hero’s life and death is a good place to start.

Archbishop Chaput has such a gift for communication that is both concise and profound. This is a must read and a great take on the Synod currently underway in Rome.

A third missive from Archbishop Vigano was released this morning.

Have a wonderful weekend, and please say a quick prayer for me on Monday and Tuesday if you think of it!

coffee clicks

Coffee clicks: October 12

October 12, 2018

Happy Friday dear readers. Loved the avalanche of responses I received in response to this blog from the beginning of the week – it is so essential for women to tell their stories. Every time you speak up and share from your own experience, you are empowering other women to do the same. We have lost so much of our collective wisdom, and seen a breakdown in the generational transmission of “how to” insert-life-skill-here. That becomes painfully obvious during pregnancy and the postpartum period, perhaps more so than at almost any other time in a woman’s life. Let’s come along side new mothers and old mothers and any mothers who think they’re doomed to going it alone, and get to work on the reconstruction of that village

  1. Confusing news out of DC this morning. I admit when I read the details, I was more disappointed than I think I would be had nothing happened at all.
  2. This long form story from our editor, JD Flynn, detailing one victim’s experience of pursuing justice is important. I think we will hear many more such stories in the months ahead, and it is so important that they are told.
  3. I met the sweetest little namesake of this amazing man a couple weeks ago. His canonization – along with that of Bl. Pope Paul VI of Humanae Vitae fame – is coming up at the end of this month.
  4. This story about an extraordinary athlete brought tears to my eyes, and it was a beautiful thing to show my kids. However, I did have mixed feelings about the good publicity Nike will get for this, and about the monetization of the heartstring factor. I wonder if it does enough to respect the personhood of the subject, and whether it is right for companies to engage in this kind of corporate activism. This comment from a Youtube views kind of sums it up for me: “This is marketing at its best. NIKE trying to save face. What is next, is NIKE going to sign a puppy. Also, shame on you NIKE for using Justin as your puppy?” I do think his dignity is being respected in the video, but it feels a little exploitive at the same time, you know?
  5. Are you thinking about Advent yet? Blessed Is She released their gorgeous Advent study (available as an amazing bundle, too!) last week, and they always sell out fast.
  6. I’ll be speaking in Nashville October 21-23 on the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae and what the lay faithful can do to turn the ship around, so to speak, in the culture. I’ll share times and locations with you when I have them!

Have a relaxing weekend.