Sunday, December 4, 2016

Life Hacks For Large Families On A Budget

For anyone who's curious about how we live our lives with five kids six and younger... 

KIDS' ARTWORK

I'm a compulsive trasher. When there's clutter on the countertop, it's really satisfying to just sweep it all into the trash can. Our younger kids' artwork pretty much goes straight to the recycling bin, except for some handprints on the fridge. Our older kids each have a folder in which they can save papers. They know Mom trashes anything that's left around. 

SHOES

Each kid has three pairs of shoes at any given time: sandals, tennis shoes, and church shoes. I keep a box of extra shoes in the closet to save for hand-me-downs.

SHOES WHILE TRAVELING

Each child travels with one pair of shoes. For summer travel, their sandals are their church shoes. For winter travel, their tennis shoes are their church shoes. 

SOCKS

We buy one type of sock. It's black, so it's good with tennis shoes and church shoes. This is our sock pile after sorting the rest of the laundry: 



GATES

Our house looks like children live in it. But we can comfortably let kids play unsupervised in a room, knowing they won't break anything [valuable] or hurt themselves. Still, it's amazing what they find to break, and how any wall can cause a concussion.


Living Room (toddler play room) looking into Dining Room (kinder play room)

PRAY FOR IT

We pray for stuff, and God has provided in some pretty awesome ways. I can't tell you the things I've mentioned to the Lord in prayer that have shown up timely via a friend's hand-me-downs or a neighbor's trash pile -- a kickstand for my son's bike, a desk, an umbrella stroller, a pair of size 8 toddler tennis shoes, a play gate, a rain coat... And we join the circle of sharing too, passing on extras and anything that's still in good condition. (These prayers for stuff aren't fancy: "Lord, a desk would be nice, instead of this tray table and stack of boxes. But You know, whatever.")

NAP TIME / QUIET TIME

I insist on quiet time, if not nap time. As an introvert mom, I need a solid two hours without kids after lunch. Everyone is in their beds from 12-2 pm. Sometimes I let the older kids read instead of rest -- but still in their beds. 

Each bedroom has blackout curtains (or basic curtains doubled with a repurposed bed sheet). 

We're currently at two kids per bedroom, with the baby in the master with us. 

HAIRCUTS

We cut our own hair. You can buy clippers on Amazon for under $10. We spent a little more on some similar to this, because there's not time to change guides when cutting kids' hair. I'm sure there are YouTube videos to help, but we just kind of figure it out as we go along. 


And if all else fails, just put a hat on.
STUFF

We have a "To Repair" box in the laundry room and a "To Donate" box in a closet.

OUTERWEAR 

Each child has one sweatshirt, one light jacket, and one heavy coat. We live in Houston, so this is sufficient. No doubt colder climates would need more. 

CLOTHES

My ideal child's closet: 4 pairs of shorts, 4 pairs of pants, 4 short-sleeve shirts, 4 long-sleeve shirts, 4 pairs of pajamas, 4 pairs of socks, 4 pairs of underwear. 

I store extra clothes in labeled boxes. Anything that doesn't fit in the box is given away. 



PAJAMAS

We fold pajama shirts into their matching pajama pants, so the kids can easily find a matched set. This is kind of silly. Really, kids could just wear whatever they want to bed.


A stack of PJs. We store kids' clothes on shelves, just because we have more shelving than dressers. It's also easier to keep a pulse on clothing issues with open shelving.

BABY PAJAMAS

This is not a thing. The baby wears any combination of cotton shirts, onesies, and pants, and only gets an outfit change when he spits up or leaks a diaper (approx. every 12-18 hours). 

TOYS

We rotate toys and play stations. Whatever is in a room will end up all over the floor, so I try to limit the chaos. Current toys are...

Toddler Play Room (living room): Duplo Blocks, Kitchen + Kitchen Food, a Plastic Nativity Set, and a couple of cars.

Kinder Play Room (dining room): Wooden Train Tracks, Matchbox Cars, and a Train Table 

Patio: 2 Bounce Balls, 2 Tennis Balls, 2 Ride-Along Cars, 2 Lacrosse Sticks, 2 Baseball Bats, Plastic Slide

Craft Cabinet: Play-Do, Paper, Crayons, Markers, Pencils, Paint, Scissors, Glue, Stickers, Puzzles. (If it doesn't fit neatly in the craft cabinet, I give it away. Once kids are done with a craft at the table, all the pieces go back in the box, and the box goes back in the cabinet.)




Toy Closet (front entry coat closet): Lego, Nerf guns, Marble Runway, Stuffed Animals, Baby Toys. I'm the only one allowed in the Toy Closet.




BEDDING

Each bed has a fitted sheet, one blanket, one pillow, and one stuffed animal. The kids can trade for a different stuffed animal from the Stuffed Animal Box, but they only get one at a time. (I don't even like one stuffed animal on the bed, because all I can imagine is the dust, allergens, snot, and germs that they absorb and leech all over the house. I also like to keep laundry to a minimum when kids pee or throw up all over whatever is in their bed.) 

POTTY TRAINING

Potty training kids have this set-up next to their bed, because going to the actual bathroom is too scary at night:



MUD ROOM

We don't have a dedicated mud room, but there's a shelf in our laundry room, en route to the garage that holds all the kids' shoes and socks. This prevents that 20-minute scattering throughout the house that happens when everyone needs to put their shoes on five minutes before we leave. 



TUPPERWARE

I have two types of Tupperware. When I run out of Tupperware, we have an empty-the-fridge dinner.



BOOKS

We cycle kids' books like we cycle toys. There's a large box in the toy closet for books we're not currently reading. We also regularly pull out books to donate to their teachers and school. 



GROCERY SHOPPING

We mostly shop at Aldi, because the prices are really unbeatable. And there's an Aldi a mile down the sidewalk from us, and the walk wears out the kids for nap time. 

I only buy boneless meat at $2 or less per pound, because I can't handle the time or energy of removing bones. (But I tell myself it's because bones could be dangerous to the babies.) When someone's selling ground turkey for $1 a pound, I fill our freezer. Turkey's like tofu. You can pretty much flavor it to taste like anything.

Sometimes I'll go to Kroger if I'm shopping with *just* one or two kids and feeling classy. The fuel rewards are a good deal.

COOKING

We rotate through several basic meals, cooking with whatever meat is on sale or stocked in the freezer -- tacos, pasta, grilled sandwiches, enchiladas, taco salad, sliders -- and always willing to sub PB&J, cheese & crackers, or eggs & toast. I'll make a large cut of meat in the crock pot at the beginning of the week, and then use it for different meals throughout the week. For me, cooking is more a chore than a hobby, so I'm okay cutting corners here. 

KITCHEN TABLE 

The 3 kids who are 2 and younger sit in a row of booster seats with trays, next to the 4-person table. It's easy to serve baby-friendly food in one area of the kitchen and limit the mess. For me, it's easier to wash a tray in the sink with soapy water than to scrub a table where the baby sat and mashed beans into the woodgrain. 



PIT STOPS

We ride with our own potty chair. We use disposable diaper doublers (cheaper than diapers) to keep pee from splashing out en route to the next trash/gas stop. The potty chair doubles as a step stool for the back row carseats.



I hesitate to share any kind of "Best Practices," because when it comes to home and families, everyone's different, and everyone's homes will reflect whatever style of life and love they live. But if any of our systems can help others, then we're happy to share!


Thursday, November 10, 2016

In Defense of Therapy Dogs, Peaceful Protests, and Millennials In General

Here we go again with overly dramatic protesters who can't seem to let things go and somehow twist everything into a personal attack against themselves. We've raised a hyper-sensitive generation who can't even handle one of the most basic tenets of our republic. A legitimately-elected new president has sent young people whimpering into safe rooms, clamoring for support groups, and wandering city streets en masse in protest. My God, they're so fragile! 

You know who I go to when I've had a bad day? Millennial friends. You talk about people who get people. 

Far from being the self-centered dysfunction of their generational stereotype, millennials are adaptable, sympathetic, and driven for a good cause. They volunteer, they give, they collaborate, they prioritize people over productivity (and usually accomplish both). 

Most of these "ridiculous" millennials aren't protesting the legitimacy of the election. They recognize President-Elect Donald Trump is our new, duly-elected commander-in-chief. 

But we raised this empathetic, young generation to identify with the fear and insecurity of others. With the anti-bullying movement of the nineties, we taught these children to befriend an outcast on the playground, to stand up for the weird kid in the neighborhood, and include everyone when they play games. 

And now we're shocked that they grew into young adults with the same ideals? 

Many of my friends and family voted for Trump, and among these good people, I cannot name a single one who actually represents ideals of misogyny, racism, or homophobia. 

However, there were plenty of crisis moments throughout Donald Trump's campaign for president when Muslims, women, immigrants of Mexican and South American descent, and those who identify as LGBTQ, all had legitimate reason to fear a Trump presidency. 

And while I do not condone any of the violence that has accompanied a small number of the mostly-peaceful protests across America, I applaud millennials for reaching out to those who feel marginalized, and standing with them in solidarity. 

Yes, maybe we're cultivating a "soft" culture in a young generation that doesn't have the wherewithal to "suck it up and move on," who want to cuddle with therapy dogs, who crave group support, and who need to process feelings instead of feigning strength.

To me, this is both hopeful and wonderful. 

Our participation-trophy culture of helicopter moms softening every blow, and anti-bullying propaganda from Pre-K has produced the most empathetic, peaceful, generous people, and they fill me with hope for the future of our country. 


Sunday, October 9, 2016

Non-Partisan Catholic Voting Guide

Our parish priest gave a homily this morning citing "Five Non-Negotiables" for voting Catholics. 

He was referencing a pamphlet released in 2004, a voting guide put together by a well-meaning U.S. non-profit organization (Priests For Life). 

To clarify, this pamphlet is a synthesis of select Catholic beliefs; it is not a comprehensive catch-all to browse before entering the voting booth. While the five highlighted issues are legitimate Church teaching, and important issues at that, this pamphlet is not an exhaustive list of what we believe or how we should vote.

Neither the Vatican nor the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has issued statements recommending solely these five issues as non-negotiable. 

The USCCB has issued this 42-page document regarding conscientious voting as a Catholic: Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility. Below is a comprehensive list of issues Catholic citizens should consider with a well-formed conscience: 




These additional five sections are highlighted at the end of the document: 


There is certainly no fault if one's conscience directs them to vote according to one particular issue held by a particular party. In a similar vein, it is an act of good prudence to consider whether a candidate is likely to follow the position they've taken publicly on issues. We do not need to take candidates at face value. Consider their history, their words, their actions, how our democracy works, and the histories of our political parties. We can be both wise and sincere with our votes.

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

Finally, four people voting for four different candidates can all be voting in good conscience in accordance with our Catholic faith. We cannot willingly vote for evil. But we can vote for the candidate we believe will do the most good in accordance with a well-formed Catholic conscience (as outlined in the USCCB document above), with immunity to the evil that we did not will that might also be done on their watch.

There is plenty of time before November 8th to read through the USCCB's "voting guide," before placing your vote in good conscience for the candidate you think best to lead us forward on these issues.

Register to vote, find voting locations here

 
By Uoaei1 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Having Kids Or Working Out?

Just realized my casual, offensive comments to others about their intense workout commitments are the same casual, offensive comments that I get about how many kids I have!
Why would you do that? It looks exhausting.
Glad it’s you and not me. I’d be miserable.
Where do you get the money to do all that? 
But why would you want to do that every, single day? 
Well, sure it’s a natural thing our bodies do, but you know you don’t have to, right? 
Don't you want a break? 
But if you like doing it, then why do you not like doing it sometimes? Are you sure you like it?
Where do you get the motivation to do that? 
I'm sure it's rewarding in its own way, but is it really worth it? 
Some people do the same thing you're doing, just not as much. You know you don't have to do it this much, right? 
Wouldn't you rather be doing anything else? 
I think you're wasting your time. 
I guess it will be rewarding in like, 20 years.



Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Confessions of a Failed Home-School Mom

I'm an organized, scheduled, ambitious person. Or, I was, before trying to home-school my kids.

I can't name one thing that ultimately brought me down. It was just everything. If parenthood is the equivalent of ten different simultaneous full-time jobs, then home-schooling parenthood is like running a company while running a marathon while stopping to wipe the nose of every person in the crowd. 

I spent ten years doing admin and office management work before doing this full-time stay-at-home-mom thing, and it was glorious. In the office, I was a coffee-driven superhero bringing order to the world around me. 


Once I became a stay-at-home mom, everything I thought I knew about time management and collaborative success went out the window with three babies and the bath water. Except there wasn't actually any bath water, because with three babies, it's really just wet wipes and baby powder over and over and over. You know it.

My children hated homeschooling. I loved the idea of homeschooling, but in practice, it was like saving a puppy from a burning building, only to have it gather every dog in the neighborhood and run back in. It was making cookies while cleaning the septic tank, and accidentally licking your fingers. It was sitting next to a five-year-old on a six-hour flight who just learned the theme song to "Barney." It was adding caramel sauce to the wash cycle to help get out the ketchup stains. It was feeding ducks and watching turtles and hiking trails and stopping by church, on a good day. It was also muttered curses, crying in the closet, and endless to-do lists, on a good day. (Rarely was it reading, writing, tracing, memorizing, or phonics -- even on a good day.)

Home-schooling should be incorporated into both the summer and winter Olympics, because it takes resolve and skill like no other, and it never ends. (Actually, a lot of those Olympians home-school, so I guess it's represented alright.)

But for me, for this season, I will drag my weary soul onto the glistening island oasis of our neighborhood public school, feel the sun on my face, and thank God Almighty that He has made a better way.

What started as a bid for free babysitting in the midst of a three-month move with one-year-old twins in the third trimester of pregnancy has become a joy for my kids, and a new hope for me.

I wanted my kids in sports, but didn't want the evening games and club fees: PE! 

I wanted my kids to draw and paint and create, but I hate messes in my kitchen: Art Class! 

I wanted my kids to learn typing and technology, but their mysteriously sticky fingers on my Mac make me cringe: Computer Class! 

I wanted to check out books and attend story time at the library, but quietude is not a thing with a chorus of three babies: A School Library!

I wanted my kids to love reading and writing, and to feel kind of okay and functional at math: They love it all!

We might go back to home-schooling, someday, if we discern that it's the best route to our kids' academic, social, and moral success. 

But for now, the best education we can give our kids is at our local public school with amazing, caring professionals who did more in two months at the end of the school year than I did in the eight months preceding. (And it's not one of those "private public schools" made up of white, upper-class kids whose families can afford the real estate. This is a Title I neighborhood school that's just doing really great stuff with their students.)

And so, I will take your 40 hours of free babysitting a week, by the most amazing "babysitter" I've ever met -- music, art, sports, technology, all the basics, and hot lunch. 

And I will pay attention to my babies at home, so they aren't in speech therapy as two-year-olds, because no one has talked to them in two years. (Or we'll just do our best to recover from this purely hypothetical situation.)

And I will have special one-on-one time with my "big" kids in the evenings and on the weekends, and it will not be Mom raising her voice with empty threats and lowering it with expletives. Or well, hopefully, at least not most of the time.

Thank you, Public School.

NBD. It's just THEIR FUTURE we're talking about here.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Book Review: The Sinner's Guide to Natural Family Planning (In Observance of NFP Awareness Week. What? That's a Thing? Yeah.)

Because the sedan was big enough for one more baby, but not two. 

Because the minivan was big enough for three babies in two years, but not a fourth.

Because our four-year-old can eat a banana, two oranges, a PB&J sandwich, two cups of water, a handful of goldfish, and a scoop of raisins, and STILL be hungry. And our grocery budget is supposed to cover 7 people, not 1 preschooler.

Because our bedtime routine has gotten entirely out of hand. And if I start the clock at 4:15 with bath time, it puts everyone finally in bed, lights out, doors closed, calm, at 10 o'clock, on a good day. In time to nurse the baby again.

Because there are only so many minutes in an hour that one can spend cyclically changing dirty diapers without going absolutely insane.* 

There are lots of good reasons to delay having a baby. 

For people trying out the Natural Family Planning method, might I recommend a humorous, easy read along the way: 



I read this book while breastfeeding twins, and refereeing two preschoolers from the couch. And I've never felt more understood in my fears and frustrations. 

Just real quick, I need to pause and clear up a misconception: twin breastfeeding -- despite the twinsiverse lactivist propaganda -- is nothing like this:


Picture Source
It's this:


Picture Source
Okay, back on course.

Thankfully, unlike most bloggers-turned-authors, Simcha Fisher's first book is just as entertaining and insightful as her blog -- even when talking about the very personal and often annoying topic of NFP. 

(Yes, I can call it annoying. I have five kids, and the oldest is six.**)

A more accurate title might be, Sometimes NFP Sucks, But It Really Can Actually Be Good For Relationships, No Really, or as Simcha's written before, The Worst Possible Method, Except For All The Others.

She clears up some inaccuracies that don't get covered in a lot of Catholic marriage prep classes: how to not hate your spouse, how NFP can ruin your marriage, and that it's okay to laugh about sex. 

She even makes fun of the idea that NFP is all roses and romance and honeymoon, as it's often marketed by well-meaning advocates. 

I spent several years telling people that NFP is awesome and everyone should do it, and if you're not doing it, you're missing out. But really, that's a decision for each couple to discern on their own. 

For our family, it's the best choice, and it's been a good thing for our relationship. 

If you're thinking about jumping on the NFP bandwagon, I recommend downloading a copy of Simcha's book for a realistic and humorous primer. 


*Also, physical health, finances, and one's own conscientious determination. 


**By the way, if you like taking pregnancy tests as much as I do, you're going to want to know about Amazon's giant box of super-cheap test strips


Friday, July 22, 2016

Donald Trump And The American Dream

Donald Trump is a man of tenacity, self-confidence, and zero tact. And maybe that's just what our country needs. 

Wally and I feel like a lot of Americans, I think. Trampled by big government, our paychecks slipping away in inconsistent and indecipherable taxes, our $2 box of cereal is suddenly $3.28, and we're all but selling our souls for family health care. 

We're not sure what's wrong with the world, and for a long time, we've felt like it's something wrong with us. 

We're college educated. We've got a mortgage on a modest home. We work hard. We live in a budget.  We drive pretty dependable cars, even if they're getting up in miles. Why aren't we going anywhere? Why is it every time we seem to get ahead, we get pushed back again? 

We want the picket fence. We want a pension plan. We want to know that the money we save today is going to grow into something for our retirement. Will our children inherit anything from all our hard work? 

Mr. Trump promises to bring back the American Dream. He says, "Let's make America great again," and I want to believe him. 

One article says that he's a good candidate because he's a successful businessman. My immediate reaction was that's what we need at the helm of this country. 

By Darron Birgenheier from Reno, NV, USA (Donald Trump in Reno, Nevada) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
WHAT'S MORE AMERICAN THAN SUCCESSFULLY MAKING MILLIONS OF DOLLARS?

But why is Donald Trump a successful businessman? Is it because he invests in his employees, supports worthy charities, and builds up what is good in our nation? 

From what I've read -- and please, feel free to share otherwise, if you've found otherwise -- Donald Trump's towering wealth has been sustained on the sacrifices of his hardworking employees; he fulfills virtually zero of his highly-publicized charitable pledges; and his lasting legacy in the American business landscape? Casinos

Again, please, post otherwise, and if I'm wrong, I will delete this article from the internet and issue a public apology in its place. 

But it sure seems that Donald Trump is just like every other mega-million CEO out there, collecting profits by any means, skirting healthcare provision for his employee's families, skimping 401(k) contributions, retaining powerhouse litigators, and simply leaving contracted workers unpaid. 

Maybe that's just the way things are, the only way to make a buck in this country. And we shouldn't hold it against him that he's simply doing what it takes to be successful. (Though when the average CEO makes 300 times that of the average worker, I wonder whether a truly successful CEO couldn't build a strong business model that includes quality compensation for employees.)

I'm not convinced that Donald Trump really understands how we're fighting to stay afloat, and how to get us out of the exhaustion of treading water for too long, when his own millions are made from using other working middle-class citizens as a means to his own profitable end. 

Does he not realize that the same tactics used to secure his personal wealth are what have held us under for so long? 

We treat the role of president as a sacred trust that surely no one would demean as simply a bid to grow self-serving ambitions. And then we recall those who have abused this trust, and realize this hallowed position does not come with immunity from the human vices of its presider.

My concern is that Donald Trump has been driven to pursue personal wealth and power for so long, without pause to share his accrual with charities or his hardest working employees along the way, a new title over a great nation cannot change his true ambitions. How can he suddenly look out for the interests of forgotten middle-class Americans, when his track record indicates that he's yet to show interest in the first place? 

Maybe Donald Trump could be one heck of a president. Maybe we do need to change things up, and see what's the worst that could happen with a firecracker personality who wants America's ego to be as big as his own. (Although Tony Schwartz, the ghostwriter of his 1987 bestseller The Art of the Deal, has been quoted saying, "I genuinely believe that if Trump wins and gets the nuclear codes there is an excellent possibility it will lead to the end of civilization."

Regardless of whether Schwartz is offering hyperbole or foresight, it's irreconcilable to pretend that Donald Trump has a history of concerning himself with middle class concerns, or that the honor of a title as prestigious as President Of The United States could make that any more likely to occur. 


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Dear Pro-Lifers: You're Getting Played. Again.

Dear Pro-Lifers,

There's a reason pro-choicers are calling bullshit on our women's healthcare legislation that the Supreme Court just struck down 5-3

Let me ask: since when, in the history of Texas politics, have we ever cared about women's healthcare -- or anyone's healthcare?

Was it when we refused federal funding for Medicaid expansion contributing to the nation's highest uninsured rate? Or when we enacted "friendly" malpractice regulation to limit punitive damages for doctors who make mistakes? Or maybe it was before the Affordable Care Act when we spent decades overlooking a systemic health care problem in our state?*

All of a sudden, Texas lawmakers start proposing ambulatory surgery center standards on abortion providers in the name of health care, and we believe them?

No one's trying to help poor women with pneumonia, rotting teeth, false alarms, poor vision, PCOS, sprained ankles, kidney stones, asthma, arthritis, carpal tunnel, breast cancer, or brain tumors. But she wants an abortion, and all of a sudden, we only want the best for her?

Which is more likely: Texas legislators suddenly started caring about women's health and wrote a bill about it, or Texas legislators found another way to offend women by pretending to care about their health, with the ultimate goal of limiting abortion?

I don't know which is more a slap in the face: openly not doing anything about health care for years, or pretending to do something about healthcare, only to further your own agenda.

Look, we're right on this issue. A developing baby in utero, a fetus, is a human and deserves to live as much as any other human. Yes, we should protect these children.

But how dare we scream our truth and pray our prideful prayers and gossip about poor life choices and those poor babies while pretending to care about health care. We invite our "pro-life" politicians into our churches, smile for photos, and all the while they're skimming the offering. 

You know what would really change women's hearts about abortion?  

I don't, really. 

But I know it's not going to happen through sweeping legislation that makes women feel more manipulated, dismissed, and discarded.

Maybe a good place to start would be truly caring about quality, accessible, affordable health care in our state. 




*I reached out to my Texas legislators, multiple times, over several years, deploring that it was impossible to purchase a private health insurance plan in our state that covered maternity care. I never received more than a form letter in reply: thank you for sharing your concerns... we're not interested. This was before the Affordable Care Act, when my husband and I worked at or under 39 hours a week, so our employers weren't required to provide health insurance. At this time, the private market in Texas did not carry a single health insurance plan that would cover maternity care, even if purchased before a woman became pregnant. 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Judgey McJudgerson Shuts Her Mouth. Kind Of.

Something interesting happened at Mass this morning. I quit complaining about having too many young children to attend Mass as a family, and enjoyed the solitude of just one sweet little baby and me. 

This is our new normal since Baby Number Five In Seven Years arrived three months ago. 

Before having kids, I would judge parents who went to separate Masses to avoid bringing their little ones to church. (I think my current life is one huge immersive lesson in empathy to make up for all the ridiculous judging I did for the first 30 years.) Anyone who knows me knows I still have a judge-y mouth, but believe it or not, this is me, censored! It used to be worse!

Anyway, back to irresponsible Catholic parents who had too many children and then couldn't control them at Mass, I think I'm learning to embrace it. 

I sat through an entire Mass without a songbook dropping to the floor, peed pants, shoes falling off, kneelers crashing, queries on whats-for-lunch, urgent incomprehensible whispers, or tears over a scratchy pew. And it was nice. I will look forward to doing it again next week! 

And judge not, lest the Lord give you three children in two years!

Next thing you know we'll be contributing to building campaigns, applauding announcements before the Concluding Rite, and letting our kids play video games during the liturgy. 

Anyway, until we have a community in our new town who will usher our children to sit with their better trained, holier, older families, we'll just keep tag teaming Mass with our older kids and enjoying the season.





Monday, April 18, 2016

Andrew's Birth Story

This is an ENTIRELY UNEXCITING story. It's very difficult to write, because it is just so unexciting. 

1. My water broke. 
2. We went to the hospital. 
3. We had a baby. 

But it wouldn't be me telling the story, if it were less than 1,000 words, so here's some more story to go with it: 

We had twins 18 months ago, and were done, with everything. We both agreed that this was a good time to settle in and slow down. 

So naturally, in the year that followed the birth of our twins, I started a new job, we found out we were pregnant, Wally started a new job, we sold our house, lived in two households for three months, bought a house three hours away, moved all our stuff (while eight months pregnant), and had a baby, affectionately nicknamed Baby Number Five In Seven Years

Some people noticed I was a little grumpier through this pregnancy, to which I say: Yes, I absolutely was. 

Baby Number Five In Seven Years was due March 30th, but my husband only had 2 days of vacation at his new job and didn't qualify for paternity leave, my kids just started a new school, our new town didn't have friends or family who could show up on short notice and indefinitely take care of four kids six and younger, and my midwife was three hours away. 

Anytime I wonder about God's timing, I think of Andrew. He had the courtesy to arrive while we were in the same town as my midwife, while the kids were on Spring Break from school, and two days before my husband's weekend from work. And best of all, he provided just enough time after putting the kids in bed, for me to finish a cup of coffee with my dear friend, Holly, and my parents. 

Toward the end of our coffee chat, I either peed my pants, or my water broke. (Eight-and-a-half months pregnant after a day of pulling kids around in the wagon, kickboxing, and jumping on a trampoline, it could have been either.) I excused myself from the table, and jubilantly called out from the bathroom, "We're having a baby tonight!"

Seven years ago, I wouldn't have even mentioned I was going to the bathroom, much less talked loudly to other people while in the bathroom, much less about something like giving birth. I wish I could reclaim that luxurious modesty from years past of visiting the bathroom without a parade of children,  sweet children who urgently need to tell me something so important that it becomes tragically unimportant, if told two minutes prior or future. 

Holly had just stopped by to visit her god-son (one of the twins), and alleviate some of the frenzy of evening dinner and bedtime with four crazy kids, and now, here she was, just in time for Andrew's arrival! 

I gathered my thoughts, changed my pants, and asked my mom for a ride to the hospital. 

Holly offered to call Wally. Oh, right! We should tell Wally that his son is arriving! For the multiplicitous time in our friendship (and that day alone), I thanked the Lord for Holly. 

So at 8 pm on Tuesday, March 15th, my mom and I head to the hospital, and Holly calls Wally, who was three hours away, at our new home in Conroe. He was working on house projects after his shift at work. 

We checked into the hospital at 8:20 pm, my midwife arrived at 8:30, and I let her know we'd have a baby by 10 pm. Everyone agreed this would be very convenient. 

Just as paperwork and registration, introductions and IVs were completed, my contractions grew stronger, and I was no longer good company. But everything remained calm, bouncing on my pilates ball, breathing through contractions, small talk with my mom between contractions, and wondering how far along we were. 

I was surprised when my midwife said I could start pushing, whenever my body felt like it needed to push. Wow, we were already to pushing! Hooray! She anticipated my birth phases really well, because after one or two more contractions, I felt the transition to pushing labor. 

Contractions have always scared me; any kind of intense uncontrollable pain scares me. But for some reason, this time around, I could really focus. And instead of being consumed with "OH MY GOD, THIS IS SO RIDICULOUSLY PAINFUL AND AWFUL," everything was more controlled. My friend's brother had just died after a long illness, and I prayed for him as contractions intensified. It's amazing how tangible faith becomes in extreme situations. I was also really glad my mom was with me. Having been through it four times herself, she knew all the right things to say as we progressed. 

It's probably no surprise that Baby Number Five in Seven Years came crying into the world after only two pushes. And then I just got to relax and cuddle this sweet 6-pound-14-ounce little one. All I remember from those first few minutes is how much I loved baby Andrew, and how good it felt to not be pregnant anymore.

It was 10:15 pm.*

I still marvel at the timing of everything. One year ago, we didn't see any of this -- a new job in a new city, a new home, a new baby. At times it felt everything would collide into a colossal mess of poor planning. And yet, here we find ourselves, calmly and unpredictably living out this sweet life together! 



*Wally arrived from Conroe after everything calmed down, around 11:15 pm.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Just Another NFP Rant

I don't blame my midwife. She's looking out for what's best for her patient, and she's unintimidated by awkward conversations. (I suppose you'd have to be.)

Usually she waits until after the baby's born to bring up contraception, but this time she asked at my 32-week appointment:

"So, have you thought about birth control?"

I get it. We've had FOUR surprise babies in six years. Obviously our birth control of choice (natural family planning -- Billings method) isn't working the way we expected. (The one baby we did plan came with a twin. If that's not enough to make you throw your hands in the air and forego all future attempts at planning anything, I don't know what is.)

She focused on the financial concerns of more kids, which surprised me.  She knows I dealt with postpartum depression after the twins (who wouldn't have?) and that my body is tired. I thought, for sure, she'd focus on the need to rebuild emotional and physical reserves.

The truth is, the financial side of large families doesn't bother me. I understand that limited resources are being split among a growing number of needs. But if I choose to prioritize more family over annual family vacations, why is that a problem? I believe even poor kids can grow up happy, healthy, emotionally stable, mentally strong, and most importantly, kind.

Life in large families can seem not-so-glamorous compared to the marketed best practices of family life in our society: one room per child, one phone/laptop/iPad per child, annual family vacations, biannual technology upgrades, and an approach to parenthood that emphasizes its life-changing irreversible inconvenience over any inexplicable desire for building up future generations.

Should only the wealthy or most financially secure have children? Does having money make someone inherently more loving, more patient, more committed, more naturally endowed to be a good parent? Sure money can buy good resources, but it still can't buy the love or attention of a parent.

It's so easy to get excited about a first or second baby born into a certain income level with employer-sponsored health insurance. But incomes are fluid and health insurance fickle. Why judge a child's potential success or happiness on the stability of his or her parents at a passing moment in time? What if the poor kid has a special gift for laughter, and it doesn't bother her that much to miss back-to-school shopping each year? What if the rich kid born to a trust fund and sports-themed nursery becomes so self-centered that he accidentally kills four people while driving drunk and his actual defense is affluenza?

Convenient as it may be, money can't buy happy, functional kids, or happy, functional families. 

But the truth is, I am frustrated by natural family planning. And I'm frustrated with the Catholic Church for teaching against contraception. It's not that I think they're wrong. I completely agree that contraception is harmful to women and to marriage and to society. (And I can trace how each of our children has been a blessing to us in their unexpected arrivals!) But I also think that many young children can be harmful to women -- especially when she doesn't have the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical support to carry the load. (I know the Catholic Church doesn't overtly teach families must have a million children. But for those of us who really suck at NFP, it's kind of a consequence of being married and Catholic.)

Simcha Fisher describes Natural Family Planning perfectly: It's the worst possible method, except for all the others. (Follow that link if you're a Catholic who's frustrated with NFP. It won't solve all your problems, but you'll feel better knowing you're not alone in the world.) 

The Catholic Church has never seen poverty as a character flaw; if anything it's elevated to a virtue. Even Jesus chose to be poor when He walked among us. 

But I feel like we're in a Catch-22 with our faith. Why is it so many examinations of conscience ask parents if we're providing a Catholic education for our children, yet Catholic tuition isn't accessible to most large families? Sure we can always homeschool (which also takes significant financial reserves and mental capacity), and yes, there's so much more to a Catholic education than attending a school that happens to share property and a budget with the local parish. But there just seems to be a disconnect between teaching that children are a blessing, yet not helping families with all these blessings. All these blessings.

I actually cried (like gross cried, in front of strangers) on the first day that I attended a women's Bible study at a local parish that offered free childcare. It had been such a long time since being around other women without my children, and for someone with this many little kids, childcare or babysitting really is a luxury. As a result, spiritual formation and the sacraments become luxuries too.

I don't have answers. But honest dialogue is always a good place to start.


Not Rich Kids. But Mostly Happy.