the joys of having a big family

Holly Pierlot, author of A Mother’s Rule of Life, has a website as an extension of her book. Moms who have questions about how to apply a “mother’s rule” to their life can ask Holly, and other readers are encouraged to respond as well. Recently, one woman, pregnant with her 5th child, asked for advice on handling those annoying people who feel like commenting on the size of your family.

One person offered this link which has some pretty funny retorts – not that I would ever remember any of them when the opportunity presents itself – as it does…OFTEN. And from there I found this t-shirt and suggested (to Bill) that it would be a great gift for mother’s day for the next time I have to spend all day in a public place – like the zoo – and I’ll meet person after person who will say the same thing (with some slight variation) all day long.

Meanwhile, my advice to those who are not as thick-skinned as I: leave a couple of kids home or with a neighbor whenever the opportunity presents itself. I try to do this to make errands a bit faster and less stressful, even though the comments are pretty amusing to me.

Wednesday, though, all the kids came along for the trip to the doctor for Pete’s 9 month check up.

They waited patiently in the waiting room.
They followed nicely to the exam room.
They used indoor-small space quiet voices in the room (mostly).
They entertained the doctor, who thinks they’re the greatest kids she knows.
They followed closely as we marched across the hallway to the immunization clinic.
They waited patiently again for our turn.
They were good in the tiny room where shots are given (next time, the appointment will be more controversial, but so far the shots he’s gotten are ok).
They said please and thank you for the stickers the nurse gave out.
They followed (again) nicely as we went to another part of the building to drop off the records.
They continued to stick together and not block traffic (too much) as we went to this horrible, huge, central waiting area for multiple offices and purposes including the pharmacy.

Pete has a diaper rash that’s become a yeast infection and I needed stuff to treat that. I got my “number” and found seats to wait. My ticket estimated my wait time to be 6 minutes. I thought we could manage that. We had been at the hospital for 1 hour and 20 minutes at this point. Six minutes was probable do-able, but seven would be pushing it.

Sure enough, 6 minutes came and went very quickly with no indication that our turn would ever come up. In those 6 minutes I managed to nurse Pete to sleep, which was really good because I needed to focus my attention on Jenny who wanted to be home eating noodles and everybody knew it because she was telling me so in a very loud voice. Even the other kids started to push the limits, but responded well to my lowly voiced death threats. We waited for about a half hour altogether, the latter 10 minutes of which I held a squirming toddler on my lap (with Pete sleeping on my chest). FINALLY, our number was called and we picked up the lotion and left. Boy, did I need a nap.

Yesterday, I really needed to go to the grocery store, but was not up to taking the whole crew after that whole deal at the doctor’s. Plus, we really needed to do school work. So I waited until last night when Bill was home. I took Pete, who wouldn’t have behaved as well for him as for me and drove my relatively empty 12 passanger van to the commissary.

In the store, I was happily pretending that I was a normal mother. One of those women who has one little baby. Remember those days? Quiet baby interested in all the sights and sounds. Nobody climbing on the cart. Nobody selecting other products from the shelves. Nobody walking backwards with his eyes closed.

Ah, peace.

And then, about 90 seconds into my bliss, a woman I have never seen before in my life with her toddler in the basket of the cart says, “So, are the other 4 children not yours?”

She was smiling. I was pink. “Oh, you’ve seen me somewhere with the rest?”

“Yes, I saw you yesterday at the pharmacy.” eeks!

“Oh. Yes. They’re all mine. Not the best day, yesterday. Bye.” And I hastily turned to the honeydew and canteloupe.

Gee, God, couldn’t I have had just a half hour to pretend to be something I’m not?



Since Bill wasn’t home in time to take him, we all went last night to Fritz’s Cub Scout den meeting. Fortunately, the meetings are in the Scout Hut and not someone’s house, so there was enough space to accommodate my family.

I chatted with another mom. She had seen Bill’s ashes at the beginning of Lent and was asking me a few questions. How long was Lent? When was Easter? It turns out that a girl in her daughter’s Brownie troop had said that she had given up beverages other than milk and water for Lent. Most of the girls had no clue what Lent was (South of the Mason-Dixon you’ll find pockets of Catholics, but whole swathes of country with nary a Catholic Church to be found), and this woman had explained Lent as best as a non-Catholic could.
Now I thought that it was a great sacrifice for a 9 year old girl to give up juice boxes and Kool-Aid and all those other beverages. It seems that every activity my kids belong to – from CCD to baseball – requires the parents to take turns bringing snacks and drinks. I am pretty sure that I never had snacks at my CCD classes oh so many years ago, and wonder about a generation of kids unable to go 2 hours without food or drink, but whatever. Giving up juice boxes when you’re 9 is a big deal. Kudos to her.

But then the woman said she just wanted to know how long the troop needed to continue to supply the girl with a water bottle in lieu of a juice box.

Now hold on there.

First of all, we are supposed to fast in secret. I don’t think it’s a big deal to add a “I gave it up for Lent” to a “No, thank you” when offered chocolate chip cookies or cake or some other treat at someone’s house. Sometimes it’s easier to say that than to have your declination be perceived as a rejection of the homemade delicacies. Such a statement implies, “I really WANT one of those brownies, and am being tortured by their very sight, but I can’t. Just ask me again in a few weeks and I’ll devour the whole plate!” And this will mollify a proud and sensitive baker (like me).

But if you are offered a juice box at a club meeting, all that is necessary is to say, “No, thank you.” No one will be offended if you don’t drink the store-bought Juicy-Juice. Maybe you’re just not thirsty.

Secondly, what sort of a sacrifice are you making if you give up something and then expect everybody to kow-tow to your situation? A friend of mine said her husband gave up cooked food one year for Lent. She then felt compelled to get creative in her meal preparation: chopping vegetables and fruit for him, shopping and scouring the aisles for acceptable alternative foods, etc. His sacrifice became her sacrifice. Perhaps a better Lenten sacrifice would be to fend for oneself for food during Lent – proclaim any dish prepared by someone other than yourself off limits.

Now, I don’t expect a 9 year old to be fully aware of the social niceties surrounding Lent. Besides, around here, at least, children are taught that everybody should accomodate their special requirements. Not only am I expected to provide a snack for my kids’ social functions, but I’m made aware of all the banned foods due to allergies. I’m lucky that my kids are, so far, free from allergies. I guess I should be more sympathetic to those who have to deal with and worry about this issue. But when I was a kid (yeah, one of those awful phrases), kids who had allergies brought their own snacks.

So, it’s no wonder that a young girl would expect the same treatment: I am entitled to a snack and drink; I can’t have juice; you must bring me water. But when the woman suggested mentioning the situation to the parents of the girl, I agreed completely. She really should bring her own water bottle.

We all need to look at our Lenten sacrifices and make sure others aren’t suffering with us. If we give up American Idol to pray the rosary – great! If we give up reading bedtime stories to the kids to do it – not so great.

freedom of religion for the insane

Too bad they didn’t have an insanity defense 2000 years ago. Or even a hundred years ago in Mexico. Think how many martyrs might have been spared a quick death, and just left to rot in a loony bin for the rest of their lives.

Regarding the Christian who is being tried for the crime of being a Christian in Afghanistan:

…prosecutor Sarinwal Zamari said questions have been raised about his mental fitness.
“We think he could be mad. He is not a normal person. He doesn’t talk like a normal person,” he told The Associated Press.

Of course not! Normal people aren’t willing to die for their beliefs. Time and time again, oppressors have managed to subdue the masses with threats of death for those who countered their mandates. You’ve GOT to be insane to stand up against that.

We got involved with this country, why?

Happy Birthday, Glenny-boy.

Happy Birthday to my big brother, Glenn.

This photo is from 1973 or 1974. Glenn is the gallant youth in blue and that’s me in pink/purple. Aren’t we cute? My daughter, Jenny, who is now 2 1/2, could have been the model for this photo of me. It’s nice to know she looks like me. My other daughter, Katie, is BEAUTIFUL, and looks nothing at all like me. Jenny, is BEAUTIFUL, too, so I get a nice ego-boost when people compliment her adorable features.

But Glenn is 36 today and he hasn’t changed a bit in the last 30 years!

Happy birthday, also, to my neice, Morgan who is 7. I’ll try and post her picture here later. I managed to get the one of me and Glenn posted, and the one of my family at bedtime in “In the Trenches Again” below. But blogger is too tired now, apparently. grrr.

NFP – It Doesn’t Work

OK, this was too funny to not post altogether. Monica, my apologies, but this article speaks more to my experience than yours. Here’s the link.

Making Babies: A Very Different Look at Natural Family Planning
By H. W. Crocker III

Natural family planning (NFP) needs a slogan, because as a “product”—if I might adopt business-speak—it’s not selling too well. According to some surveys, about 90 percent of professed Catholics reject the Church’s teaching on birth control. Even among priests, fewer than one in three considers artificial contraception to be “always” sinful.

So let me propose a new rallying cry: “Use NFP: It Doesn’t Work!”

You think I jest.

The case for NFP should, by rights, be the case for more babies. To have them is good. Not to have them is to be deprived. Every wife deserves to be a mother, and every mother’s son deserves a brother and a sister. And since a cat-o’-nine-tails has nine tails, surely having nine children is the proper way to scourge selfishness right out of one’s family.

As a slogan, “Use NFP: It Doesn’t Work!” has many strong arguments in its favor. First, it is true. NFP proponents tout its 99 percent effectiveness rate, but they neglect to mention that this is true only if the husband is in the Navy and assigned to extended, uninterrupted sea duty of three-year tours or longer. Otherwise, for most Catholics I know, NFP means a baby every two years or so, though the rate can slow with age, as the couples learn a proper respect—that is, fear—for each other and are too tired in any event for what Catholics call “the conjugal act.”

Now I know there will be inevitable protests and testimonials by those who swear by NFP. And who am I to say that my own experience is not colored by the fact that I am excessively virile? Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that this is the case.

But another reason for NFP’s allegedly high success rate is that couples who use it are prepared to welcome children and so don’t blame NFP for unexpected pregnancies. Four of my own five children came the NFP way—that is, totally unexpectedly—and that’s a good thing, because without them bouncing in as surprises, excuses to delay (the sort of excuses one might hear from a recruit in parachute training) might have gone on for a very long time. As it is, in a mere matter of ten years, my wife and I assembled a complete basketball team. And if menopause doesn’t strike my wife soon, who knows what sort of team we might assemble.

Rather than bite one’s nails to the quick at the prospect of baby number ten—which, if one marries in one’s early 20s and practices NFP, is a definite possibility—we should encourage the attitude of the more the merrier, which is a far more attractive case to make than all the goo-goo language about how NFP helps couples “communicate” and about the joy of charting temperatures and discharges and plotting one’s conjugal acts as a captain might chart a course for his ship.

Frankly, as far as I’m concerned, the charts can be thrown away (what’s so “natural” about them?). And to hell with improving “communication” as a dogmatic defense of NFP. For men, the whole point of marriage is to avoid communicating; all that dating conversation stuff can finally be foregone. Married communication, as successful husbands know, is best limited to grunts and hand signals—one upraised finger meaning, “I need a beer”; two upraised fingers meaning, “You need to change the brat’s diapers”; three upraised fingers meaning, “Honey, why don’t you mow the lawn while I watch football?,” and so on. No words are more doom-laden than a wife’s sitting down and saying, “Let’s talk.” Communication is, of course, the first step toward divorce.

Tom Hoopes pointed out in a recent issue of crisis that there are no apparent data to support the widely touted statistic that only 2 percent of NFP couples divorce [see “Letters,” page 8]. If there is any validity to this number, I suspect it lies in the fact that NFP couples have no time to communicate. The husband has to hold down several jobs to pay the family’s bills, and a wife with little ones barely has time to shower, let alone talk to her husband, save to pass a pregnancy test result across the breakfast table through splodges of spilt porridge as she sighs, “Here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into.”

I grant you, there is one form of communication that NFP certainly does advance—it makes a public statement. Not so very long ago, I was invited to speak at a Confederate Memorial Service. There I was with my Robert E. Lee tie, my wife (a blond California beach babe) wearing a Confederate battle flag scarf, and the five little members of our own Critter Company lined up in a row. A friendly chap meandered over and told us, apropos of nothing, “My daughter’s a Catholic, too. Three kids.”

No need for a secret handshake. Kids tell the story.

As a slogan, “Use NFP: It Doesn’t Work!” puts the focus where it belongs—on babies—and away from a technique, a technique that wrongly strikes most lay Catholics as medieval. If only it were medieval, then it would be effective: a sturdy, padlocked, handsomely designed, pewter chastity belt.

Instead, NFP is shiny, modern, and scientific, as its advocates are always quick to emphasize. In his book The Truth of Catholicism, George Weigel approvingly quotes several paragraphs from a woman in love with NFP. She reminds us that:

Natural Family Planning is not the justly ridiculed rhythm method, which involves vaguely guessing when the woman expects to ovulate and abstaining for a few days around day fourteen of her cycle. The full method involves charting a woman’s waking temperatures, changes in cervical fluid, and the position of the cervix.

Nothing unnatural or artificial about that, is there? Her raptures climax with NFP apparently transformed into “Narcissism For Pleasure”:

But the turning point came for me as I watched, month after month, as my temperature rose and fell and my hormones marched in perfect harmony. I had no idea I was so beautiful. I found myself near tears one day looking at my chart and thinking, “Truly, I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” My fertility is not a disease to be treated. It is a wonderful gift. I am a wonderful gift.

Er, if you say so, missy. If my wife talked like this, I’d have her committed. Happily, my wife, bless her heart, takes a more robust line: “Barefoot and pregnant is better than high-heeled and professional!” That’s the spirit!

There is no shortage of people wandering around these days thinking they are wonderful gifts. In fact, there are rather too many of them—and they shouldn’t be encouraged. What’s lacking are married couples who think that having a family big enough to fill up a minivan (or for the younger, stronger, and more ambitious, a small bus or modified hearse) is a wonderful gift.

A neighboring priest has noted how many young married women these days are without children but doting over dogs. One suspects that such women are less in need of NFP training than they are of a push into motherhood (and thereby full-fledged adulthood) with a reminder that children are what marriage and life are all about.

So rather than focusing on NFP, premarital preparation should go like this:

Father O’Counselor: “Now I want you two to understand that the primary and fundamental purpose of marriage is not companionship, not romantic love, not moonlit strolls on the beach, or any other balderdash but the begetting and raising of children—lots of ’em, and starting soon. The optimum number is enough so that you can lose a few at the grocery store and not notice. That’s giving without counting the cost, and at that point, you won’t care anyway. As a priest, my sacrifice for the good of the Church is celibacy. As a married couple, yours is to propagate children—who will incidentally annually propagate fierce storms of influenza in your house. If you haven’t already studied up on communicable diseases and basic first aid for children jumping off sofas, I’d do it now. But you will find children and their challenges to be the great tutor of not only the medical but the moral virtues.”

Potential Husband: “You mean, I’m screwed?”

Father O’Counselor: “In a manner of speaking, yes.”

Potential Husband: “Is it too late to enroll in the seminary?”

We can thus improve Catholic marriages and alleviate the priest shortage at the same time.

In fact, we forget how inspiring parents’ confessions are to priests:

Penitent: “Forgive me, Father, but I lost patience when my children used my wedding china as Frisbees, took my necklace and used it as a line and fishhook in the toilet, and took my toothpaste to give the cat a bath.”

Priest (sotto voce): “Thank God I’m celibate.”

Penitent: “What did you say, Father?”

Priest: “I mean to say, why not just laugh about it? These years will pass all too quickly. And when they’re over, you’ll know why you have gray hair and high blood pressure. Now, a Hail Mary and an Act of Contrition, if you please.”

So, let us step out boldly and fly the banner high. Say it proudly—“Use NFP: It Doesn’t Work!” But babies sure as heck do.

H. W. Crocker III is the author of Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church, A 2,000-Year History; the prize-winning comic novel The Old Limey; and Robert E. Lee on Leadership. All are available in paperback.

In the Trenches Again

As Bill bid me adieu for work yesterday, he had the air of one saying goodbye before heading to the executioners. I assured him it wouldn’t be that bad. We survived Kosovo. We survived Hurricane Katrina.

School is nearing an end for us, and once we get into summer, the other neighborhood kids will be out and I’ll have no limit of mother’s helpers and babysitters available.

However, yesterday’s workday of 12 1/2 hours (plus commute) would seem to be the norm for a “good” day, so I think this might be the extent of the kids’ time with Daddy during the week:

Bedtime stories with Dad. My view as I nurse Petey to sleep.