Monday, July 28, 2014

Mailbag: What Could I Have Done to Help My Miscarried Babies Get to Heaven?

It's mailbag time again . . . 

Hi Kendra, 

I love your blog and have especially enjoyed your posts on NFP this week. I have a question I was hoping you may be able to help me answer. I haven't been able to find an answer in the Catechism and keep meaning to just meet with my priest...but life gets in the way, etc. Anyway, 3 years ago, I miscarried twins. It was absolutely the hardest thing I've gone through... Just devastating. It's really weighed on me since if there is anything I need to do/should have done to ensure my babies ' entrance into heaven. My 3 other children are healthy and happy and baptized, but my twins have worried me. Coincidentally, right after losing the twins, we had girls 12 months and 4 days apart-shocking but so loved and so welcome almost-Irish "twins." Anyway, I'd love any guidance you can offer. Thank you and happy name day to you and Anita!!

Thanks! PEACE and comfort be with you. The Catholic Church's position is that you have every reason to expect that your babies are in Heaven waiting for you. 

The Catechism, no. 1257, states: “Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament.” That wouldn't apply to your babies. 

We have the example in the Bible of St. John the Baptist, who was baptized with a baptism of desire before his birth. You desired baptism for your babies and would have baptized them if you had had the opportunity. God knows your desire. And just like Jesus said that a man had committed adultery in his heart just by looking at a woman with lust, well, flip side of that: The Church teaches that a person who is prevented from Baptism, but who desires to be Baptized, either explicitly or implicitly, receives the effects of Baptism, i.e., salvation (Code of Canon Law, Canon 849). 

There's nothing you could have done that you haven't already done for your babies. You participated in their creation, you desired baptism and a relationship with God for them, and now you've done all you could do to succeed where all mothers hope to succeed. I truly believe your babies are in Heaven waiting for you. 

And as for your new babies, that sounds more like providence than coincidence. Congratulations!

This was my answer off the cuff with a quick Google search to back up what I already thought the answer was and to find the relevant Catechism and Canon Law numbers (I have revised it a bit here). But it's a complicated issue, and one upon which good Catholics have strongly held yet conflicting opinions. It's an issue upon which various Popes and various Saints have held conflicting opinions.

I didn't go into this when I first answered the question, since she didn't ask about it specifically, but maybe some of you are wondering: why am I not talking about Limbo? 

And now maybe some of you are wondering, why would I talk about Limbo? 

And NOW some of you are probably wondering what the deal is with that party. Where is everyone? I just don't know.

Limbo, or more specifically the Limbo of Infants (Latin limbus infantium) is a hypothesis constructed to solve the problem of babies who die without baptism. Limbo is understood to be a place of perfect natural happiness, where the souls of those babies who died with original sin would spend eternity in comfort, but apart from the beatific vision enjoyed by the souls in Heaven.

This theory was posited as early as the Church Fathers and continued to have adherents through the middle ages and into the modern era, although it was not, and has never been an official teaching of the Church. It has never been more than one proposed solution to a problem, and there have always been holy men and women on both sides of the issue.

Begun at the request of Pope St. John Paul II in 2005, and then released under the authorization of Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, the Vatican International Theological Commission conducted a study entitled: 

The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness, even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in Revelation. However, none of the considerations proposed in this text to motivate a new approach to the question may be used to negate the necessity of baptism, nor to delay the conferral of the sacrament. Rather, there are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible to do for them that what would have been most desirable— to baptize them in the faith of the Church and incorporate them visibly into the Body of Christ.
I've read some of this study (it's reeeeeeally looooooong) as well as quotes from church fathers and blog posts from modern Catholic thinkers.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and set my little ol' self at odds with Doctor of Philosophy Taylor Marshall and Doctor of the Church St. Augustine of Hippo. I think they are wrong on this one. I'm not sure how Dr. Marshall is going to take it, but I named a kid after St. Augustine, so I'm pretty sure he and I are cool.

To me, it comes down to this: our God is a God of justice AND a God of mercy. I can't see how a merciful God would condemn to eternal separation from himself people who not only had had no opportunity to be baptized, but who also had committed no personal sins. The Limbo advocates seem to be arguing from a place of justice, but I also can't see how a just God could do that.

But, unless and until the Church makes a doctrinal statement on this matter, it's an issue upon which good Catholics can disagree. Let's remember though, that for some families the discussion is more than theoretical, it's very personal.

Update, from a comment by Amanda on the Catholic All Year Facebook page:

I love the words of St. Bernard of Clairveuax and others may find it helpful. He wrote to a couple that had a miscarriage. In response to their question, “What is going to happen to my child? The child didn’t get baptized,” St. Bernard said, “Your faith spoke for this child. Baptism for this child was only delayed by time. Your faith suffices. The waters of your womb — were they not the waters of life for this child? Look at your tears. Are they not like the waters of baptism? Do not fear this. God’s ability to love is greater than our fears. Surrender everything to God.”

Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.


Mailbag: Do I Still Have to do NFP if My Life is at Risk?

I get a lot of emails from you swell readers. I answer them. I thought perhaps some of you might be interested in those answers. So I've decided to start a mailbag series featuring your questions and my answers. I'm going to do a few in a row here, then it will become an occasional series.

So here goes . . .


Hi Kendra,

I have seen your write about the joys of large families, and the trials of NFP. Fertility has not been a super simple journey for myself and as you wrote the other day it is not for many women. There is an issue that I have a lot of difficulty finding the Catholic response to. I have had repeat cesareans. I am - God willing- in a few months going to have my third cesarean (fourth baby). At a certain point repeat cesarean becomes not recommended. There can be issues with the placenta, early birth, ruptures etc. Of course all of these issues can happen without repeat cesareans, but the likelihood is much higher. So what is the Catholic thought on this? I have searched online for months now racking my brain as to what to do and how to proceed. I have considered talking with our priest as well, but wanted to ask a woman who seems to know stuff (like yourself). If I practice NFP I will end up with many babies, and many cesareans, putting myself and said babies at risk. I know this through trial and error as I do not have regular cycles at all. Some of the women I know have continued to have cesareans, one woman has even had 8, many of the other woman I know have stopped at three. I am so torn about this. I want to follow church teaching, but cannot seem to find it anywhere. 




This is a good question, and you're right, it's not something that gets talked about much in Catholic circles.

There are a couple of angles to consider:

1. There isn't a "mother's life is at risk" exception to the Church's teaching on using artificial contraception. Our options as faithful Catholics are NFP or, if necessary, abstinence. As I've written about before, we had trouble figuring out NFP because of my long cycles and confusing symptoms. But, by being extra cautious and widening our window of abstinence days, we were able to successfully practice NFP for over a year, until we decided we were ready to be open to another baby.

If I were in a position of needing to practice NFP again, I would consider consulting a naPro doctor. I listened to a great talk at the Behold conference by a naPro doctor and I understand better now that we are not necessarily stuck with things like weird cycles and confusing symptoms. Sometimes those things can be successfully treated.

Simcha Fisher wrote a post about her success with topical progesterone for regulating her cycle:
Progesterone cream (prescription and OTC) improved my Creighton NFP charting of cycles and now NFP is tolerable instead of intolerable

So, don't give up on NFP for yourself. I think it could still be something you could practice successfully, even long term.

But . . .

2. It might not be as necessary as you've been told. The three c-section limit is the standard line of OBs these days. But, as with everything, that's just an assessment of the risks and not a guarantee of safety or danger.

From the blog SkepticalOB:
What jumps out at me is just how low the risks really are. The death rate for a non-emergent primary C-section is 8/100,000 as compared to a death rate for vaginal delivery of 6/100,000, for a difference of only 2/100,000. And that difference is likely to be a dramatic overestimate in the case of a truly elective (vs. non-emergent) C-section.
It is true that the risk rises with every subsequent C-section. For the 4th C-section, the death rate is 39/100,000 as compared to 12/100,000 for a 4th vaginal delivery, for a difference of 27/100,000. Once again this is likely to be a vast overestimate.
. . . . The bottom line is that even multiple C-sections may have modest risks.
So, a 4th c-section is 0.031% more dangerous than a first c-section, and 0.024% more dangerous than a third c-section. The "modest risk" part is just just one OB's opinion, of course, but, as you mentioned, most of us know someone who has had more than the acceptable number of c-sections, and it's been fine.

Even though it can be scary, I honestly believe that this is an opportunity to surrender a bit, and to trust. If your gut tells you that you should seek to avoid another pregnancy, pray and trust and get good advice from a good supportive doctor and practice NFP. If you have really serious extenuating circumstances, you may need to prayerfully consider prayerful abstinence.

But if you have a desire in your heart for more children, pray and trust and get good advice from a good supportive doctor and be open to another baby.

This really is one of those situations where you need to inform your conscience and follow it.

St. Gianna Molla, pray for us.

And congratulations and good luck on baby number four! Please keep me posted!


Disclaimer: I am not a theologian, nor am I an official spokesperson for the Catholic Church. (You're thinking of this guy.) If you read anything on this blog that is contrary to Church teaching, please consider it my error (and let me know!). I'm not a doctor or an expert on anything in particular. I'm just one person with a lot of experience parenting little kids and a desire to share my joy in marriage, mothering, and my faith.

If you've got a question, please send it along to catholicallyear @ gmail . com . Please let me know if you prefer that I change your name if I use your question on the blog.


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Answer Me This . . . and all the recent feasting!

It's been a Week of Feasts at Casa Tierney. 

Wednesday was the Optional Memorial of St. Bridget:

You say "Optional Memorial," I hear "Excuse to Par-tay, Swedish-style." Or, I should say, my personal made-up Swedish-style. Since I am not Swedish and don't actually know anything about how Swedes do anything, except that my mother in law (also not Swedish) makes a mean Swedish meatball.

How'd we do?

Then we had the Feast of St. James, the Greater, which is the husband and father-in-law's nameday (because, is anyone named for St. James, the Less?).

And the Memorial of Sts. Joachim and Anne, Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary and nameday of my grandmother and daughter, both Anita, me, middle name Anne, and my mother-in-law's confirmation name, so she can come, too.

Sarah said we were supposed to have lobster. Who am I to argue with that?

I took the three youngest to the grocery store to get them. It was like a visit to the aquarium. Only you get to pick something from the tank and they'll steam it for you and you can eat it. So . . . also different from the aquarium. But they were about $10 each, which, for a special occasion, was doable for us. And I didn't have to cook them!

 Other recent feasts that we celebrated by having dessert and talking about the saint over dinner were:

St. Mary Magdalene:

St. Kateri Tekakwitha:

And Our Lady of Mt. Carmel:

Now for this week's questions . . .

1. What’s your favorite thing on YouTube?

I like a lot of stuff on YouTube. Blythe's video is on there. The swimming pool submarine and leaf-blower hovercraft that my dad made with the kids are on there. I'm even on there.

But it's not even close. This is my favorite thing on YouTube:

Punch that cougar in the face!

What's that in the weeds? It's a baby. Awesome.

2. Who taught you to drive?

My beloved grandfather gave me my first lessons. And then my dad put the finishing touches on. He thought I should know how to drive a stick shift, so my first car was a manual transmission.

not my exact car, but it was a silver Ford Festiva
Learning to drive a stick shift was SO frustrating! In the middle there, I was utterly convinced that it was impossible and could never be done. I remember stalling over and over again trying to get over the little hump in the driveway at my parents' house and finally just leaving the car there sticking out into the street and storming into the house in tears. I threw the keys at my dad and ran into my room. Instead of pointing out how unpleasant and unreasonable that was, he gently talked me back into the car and I was eventually able to get it into the garage. And, somehow, after that, it was pretty easy.

There's a lesson in there somewhere. Perseverance? The forest for the trees? Picking your parenting battles?

It's a Choose Your Own Adventure lesson. You get to pick.

3. What’s your favorite thing to cook?

My favorite thing is what I like to call "Pantry Challenge," where I haven't planned ahead and I stand there in front of the pantry and fridge and come up with something crazy for dinner. I do like a challenge.

But my favorite recipe is probably my grandfather Pop's (the same grandfather as the above driving lessons) German potato dumpling soup. We call it Spatzen Kartoffel Zuppa. But I'm sure Sophie can tell us whether that is actually German. Probably it's not.

I have such fond memories of cutting the little chunks of spazele dough into the soup with him as a little girl. Every time I make it now I flash right back to the kitchen at my grandparents' house.

I don't even have the recipe written down anywhere, but it goes something like this . . .

Dosé Family Spatzen Kartoffel Zuppa:

Into a 4 quart Dutch Oven or stock pot half-full of salted water, put a stick of butter, 2-3 medium onions cut into medium sized chunks, and 4-6 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
Make spatzele dough:
  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2cup water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Dash pepper
Put dough, one dollop (a cup or so) at a time onto a floured wooden cutting board with a handle, and cut off a little chunk at a time, with a wooden spatula, into the boiling soup. It cooks the dough and the extra flour thickens it.

It is super duper tasty comfort food.

4. Are you a hugger or a non-hugger? Why?

I am reflexivly a hugger. When I meet someone, usually I lean in for a hug. I hope I haven't been weirding everyone out.

5. Where do you pray best?

I pray best first thing in the morning and while moving. I have tried and tried to be a good prayer while sitting quietly, but I still have a lot of trouble staying focused in that situation. I do love sitting before the Blessed Sacrament, and there I have a little more luck with not letting my mind wander.

But I do my best praying on a run, out in God's creation. Even though I'm thinking of a thousand different things, somehow, in that environment, it feels like a conversation with God, and I'm always able to bring it back to my petitions and intentions and thanksgivings.

6. When is the last time you saw/spoke to your grandparents?

When I wrote this question, I meant it as, "Hey when did you last pick up the phone and call your grandmother?," since Saturday was the Feast of St. Anne, Grandmother of Our Lord.

But since many of us, me included, have lost most of our grandparents, this question could be a lot more intense. Please feel free to just skip it if it's too much. . . . 

I called my grandmother on Saturday to wish her a Happy Feast Day, since she is the Anita after which my Anita is named.

My mom and I took baby Lulu out to Memphis to meet her just a couple weeks ago.

My other three grandparents have passed away. The only last memory that comes to mind is Pop (my dad's dad). He was in hospice care at his home (which was such a beautiful thing) at the end of his life. I was in high school, and I would come over sometimes and read to him. Books, but mostly my essays from school. He would ask me to read them to him, it didn't seem odd at the time. I don't think he was just humoring me. He really did have a great interest in pretty much everything.

I had been there the day before we got the call that he had died, and the immediate family went over to the house. I remember being grateful that I was able to see him again, and be together with the family, even if I had missed his actual death. I guess it was like an Irish wake, but I had never heard of one of those.

But it just seemed like the natural thing to do. 

I've tried to allow death to be a part of my kids' lives, at least a little bit. I wrote about it here:


Okay, sorry, back to happy, back to happy!

For next week I'm tagging two more of my fellow Blessed Is She writers:

Anna at knit one, yarn over. Post to check out:

And Patty at A Modern Grace. Post to check out:

Next week's questions for Anna and Patty and you are . . .

1. When driving, are you more likely to listen to the radio, to CDs or an iPod, or nothing at all?

2. Do you prefer window or aisle?

3. Do you fall asleep on your side, back, or stomach? What position are you in when you wake up?

4. When is the last time you attended a zoo, circus, carnival, county fair, or parade?

5. Do you have a favorite quote or inspirational saying?

6. What's the best thing about summer?

Next week's installment will go live at 10pm Pacific Saturday night, and will be open until 10pm Wednesday night.

So, please, answer this week's questions for yourself in the comments. If you have a blog, answer the questions there, link back to this post, and link your blog post up below. For bonus points, you can even tag a couple other bloggers so THEY can play along too! So fun.

But always remember, in Answer Me This . . . there are no rules, and the points don't matter.


why I DON'T use birth control: an NFP Awareness Week Wrap Up

Did you all have a nice NFP Awareness Week? I do hope so.

These photos were my contribution to a great effort by CatholicSistas to counter a post at BuzzFeed.

i DON'T use birth control  . . . 

and . . .

These are my posts about NFP:



Thanks to everyone who commented on and shared my Dear Newlywed post. It has been pretty huge. It's a nice feeling when I manage to do justice in writing to a topic I feel strongly about. I did want to clarify, that that post really was intended for newlyweds, to share what I wish I had known back then, and in no way is meant to indicate that I don't support or encourage the use of NFP for couples who have discerned a need to limit their family size or space their children.

In fact, um . . .  ALL of my posts about NFP are kinda down on NFP aren't they?!

So, in light of my good-natured NFP bashing, just to clarify: as much as I don't like practicing NFP, I DO believe that being able to interpret our fertility is part of the fearful, wonderful way God made us and I trust the teaching authority of the Church that has allowed us to use this understanding of our fertility to make right and responsible decisions for our families.

Here's what Amanda Roe has to say on that topic:

We hear less from husbands on the topic of NFP, so I really enjoyed reading Daniel "Bearman" Stewart's take on it this week:

Why NFP is great for men, too.

And it's easy for those of us on the right (direction) side of the ol' sliding scale of fertility to forget what a blessing NFP and fertility awareness and naPro technology are to families with infertility and subfertility. When I hear "NFP" I think "Ugh, charts and stickers and abstinence." But for some women, NFP has meant a solution to their fertility issues, rather than a band-aid or a dismissal, and for some it's been an answer to their prayers for a family.

Here's what Kaitlin said at Haley's blog:

My kids will have a theoretical and practical knowledge of NFP before we're done with them. I mostly don't believe in withholding knowledge from kids in the hope that they won't misuse it. I prefer the idea of giving them the knowledge of how to do something AND the wisdom to use or not use that knowledge as the situation warrants. In general, ignorance as offense against immorality doesn't sit that well with me. 

I like Kelly's take on it:

NFP. Consider yourself made aware of it. Enjoy your weekend!


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Books to Love Whether or Not You Have a Big Family (but Especially if You Do)

One of the great things about a good novel is how it allows you to transport yourself into a place or time or situation completely unlike your own and see what that's like for a while. Great picture books can do the same thing, and help my kids delve into new and exciting characters and circumstances. Their minds can be expanded, their horizons broadened. All good.

But sometimes, it's also nice to have their own life experience interpreted and validated in the books we read. For kids growing up in a larger than average size family, it can be a challenge to find books that can do that.

But I like a challenge. So I have made it a point to search them out.

Here are my seven favorite . . .

Note: Book titles are Amazon Affiliate links, clicking and shopping through the links will help support this blog. Thanks! Or get them from the library. That's good, too.

Would it be weird if I told you The Country Bunny is my role model? That deserves its own post sometime. But she is. For me, this book is less a fictional story about how Easter Bunnies are chosen and more a parenting handbook for accomplishment-minded stay-at-home mothers of many.

The book began as a bedtime story Du Bose Heyward would tell his daughter, Jenifer. Little brown-skinned girl cottontail wants to be an Easter bunny (there are actually five, don’t you know), but is told by the “big white bunnies who lived in fine houses” and “Jack Rabbits with long legs” to “go back to the country and eat a carrot.” And “by and by she had a husband and then one day, much to her surprise there were twenty-one Cottontail babies to take care of.” Oops! But she doesn't defer her dream for long. She raises twenty-one industrious, self-sufficient little bunnies who both keep her house and help her nail her Easter-bunny audition. She then goes on to become an Easter-bunny legend for her bravery—bolstered and refined, of course, by raising almost two dozen rabbits. (more here)

Seriously, I want to be her.

But this was supposed to be about my kids, right? My kids love how each little bunny is given the right job for him, and how they help their mother. It's exactly the right blend of empowerment and domesticity, courtesy of 1939.

Not enough big families in picture books you say? Hey, how about a family with 999 children?

The illustrations are really stunning in this book by a Japanese author/illustrator combo, but so is the story.
"A Mother and Father frog smiled as they sat by a small pond admiring all their baby tadpoles ... all 999 of them! As the tadpoles grew, their small pond was simply too small for them and they began to complain mightily. They couldn't move, breath, and were sick and tired of being pushed around. Their Father stated, "We have a situation here," and it was decided that they needed to move to a larger pond. All 999 of the small frogs scrambled to the edge of the pond and began to hop away. Boing! Ribbit! Boing!"
The parents are loving to each other and their children. The sibling interactions between the tadpoles will be remarkably familiar to anyone with human children. The mother is nurturing, the father is brave, but it's the children (and the fact that there are so many of them), that saves the day.

We are big fans of the California Gold Rush story By the Great Horn Spoon! , around here, so when I saw this book, also by Sid Fleischman, on the dollar shelf at the used book store, I grabbed it. And, wow, what a lucky grab. We love it so much.

It's a tall-tale-style good ol' American story of Josh and Melissa McBroom and their eleven red-headed children: Will, Jill, Hester, Chester, Peter, Polly, Tim, Tom, Mary, Larry, and little Clarinda. They move west to Iowa to follow their dreams of having a farm, only to get swindled by an unscrupulous landowner, who sells them 80 acres stacked on top of each other, rather than the more traditional side-by-side arrangement.

The father of the family is loving, hardworking, and extraordinarily honest ("I'd as soon grab a skunk by the tail as tell a falsehood"). The whole family works hard together. And once they get that one-acre farm going, the results are not to be believed. It IS a tall tale after all.

It looks like a picture book, but it's really more of an easy-reader chapter book. It's long for a bedtime story, but good over a couple of nights, or as a long afternoon read, or for school-aged kids to read for themselves.

Looking into it for this review, I see that there are actually two more collections of McBroom stories McBroom's Wonderful One-Acre Farm: Three Tall Tales and Here Comes McBroom: Three More Tall Tales , that just went into my Amazon cart.

Tops and Bottoms is a traditional "trickster" tale, with roots in European folktales and slave stories of the American South, but everything about it feels clever and new.

You can't help but notice that the book opens top to bottom (see what they did there?) rather than side to side as usual. The painted illustrations are rich and vibrant.

Hare is a father of many who lost his land to his neighbor when that race with the tortoise didn't work out like he planned. Bear is a lazy landowning bachelor, who is letting all that land go fallow while he naps on his porch.

Hare comes up with a clever scheme to offer to do all the work planting the land and split the crops with Bear, fifty-fifty. He lets Bear choose tops or bottoms, then plants accordingly, taking the edible half for his family and leaving Bear with the inedible half of the plants.

It's a story that shows that the hard work of a big family can really pay off. Plus, it teaches kids which parts of which plants are the edible parts.

And although the story is all in good fun, it's an excellent jumping off point for a discussion with kids about the moral implications of Hare's actions. He never lies, but he does trick Bear. But that ends up teaching Bear a valuable lesson. And Hare's cleverness and industry raise his family out of poverty. So, all's well that ends well? Or not? It's a good discussion to have.

Mrs. Peters might just be the anti-Country Bunny. But I still love this sweet and hilarious rhyming tale about the very real joys and challenges of having a big family. And so do my kids. One can hardly stop them reciting the entire story along with one.

Even as poor Mrs. Peters is driven to distraction by the picky eating of her seven children, she's a beautiful example of hard work and self-sacrifice. And in the end, not only does everyone find a meal they can enjoy together, she didn't have to make it. And she's back to playing her neglected cello.

Old Grandfather Bunny would approve.

Sweet and gentle and funny and whimsical and old-fashioned and fun, there's a lot to like about it. And there's something extraordinarily soothing about the soft brown illustrations of this 1941 classic.

Mr. and Mrs. Mallard swim and fly around Boston looking for a safe place to nest, but they are always met with imperfect conditions, be it lack of peanuts to eat, or heedless bicyclists who threaten to mow them down as they stroll innocently down the sidewalk. Finally, a spot near Boston's Public Garden offers them an adequate home — no foxes or turtles to vex them, lots of peanuts from kindly park-goers, and the benevolence of a local police officer. (more here)

Once the eight little ducklings are hatched (Jack, Kack, Lack, Mack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack), Mr. Mallard goes off in search of a better home for their large family. He finds one, then Mrs. Mallard must (with the help of a friendly neighborhood policeman) navigate the streets of 1940s Boston with eight children in tow to reunite with her husband.

Simplicity abounds, and you may even learn a thing or two about ducks.

And my newest favorite for last. We discovered this book at a friend's house just a few days ago, I bought a copy for us as soon as we walked in the door back home, and I just knew I had to share it with you guys. It's that good.
The Acerra family had sixteen children, including twelve ball-playing boys. It was the
1930s, and many families had lots of kids. But only one had enough to field a baseball
team . . . with three on the bench! The Acerras were the longest-playing all-brother
team in baseball history. They loved the game, but more important, they cared for
and supported each other and stayed together as a team. Nothing life threw their way
could stop them.
This extraordinary true story is told in a unique, journalistic style, complete with quotes from the brothers.

It's inspiring but never preachy.

The retro-feel illustrations could not be more perfect.

It's long, and the subject matter is more complex than most picture books, but that meant it kept the attention of even my twelve year old son, especially him actually. It's really a story for the whole family, toddlers to grandparents.

linking up for the Svellerella edition of 7 Quick Takes while Jen and the rest are at Edel!

So, those are my favorite picture books about big families, did I miss any that you love?


The Littlest Apostolate, or: Why I Let My Kid Pick Up Trash

I let my kid pick up trash. Other people's trash. In public places. It's our own weird little apostolate.

I didn't always, of course. I was a first time mom once, too, trailing after my kid at the park, saying, "No, no, honey. Don't touch that. That's yucky."

But I've had enough kids and they've asked enough questions that I have had to evaluate exactly WHY I was spending so effort much keeping my children from picking up trash and throwing it away. Because, for whatever reason, picking up and throwing away trash is a thing each of my toddlers has been really interested in doing. Really, REALLY interested.

I would SAY, "No, that's yucky," but, for me, that wasn't really the reason. I don't have a thing about germs. Some folks do, I just don't. If you have a thing about germs, then this probably isn't the best little apostolate for you.

But, for me, that wasn't the reason. For me the reason was: There must be someone else to do that.

My kids saw a mess that needed cleaning. They saw a job that needed doing. They know trash when they see it. They know what we're supposed to do with trash. They wanted to do it. They saw a little way they could help.

But I saw something that wasn't our job. Something that, well, wasn't that just a little beneath us? To pick up other people's trash?

Don't they hire people to do that?

And other such grown-up-type thoughts. But grown-up-type thoughts aren't always the best thoughts. Sometimes, maybe more often than I'd like to admit, my children's childlike thoughts are way better.

At some point, I realized that if I didn't have a good answer to the question, "Why Mom? Why can't I throw it away?" Then the answer should be, "You can. That's awfully nice of you."

So now that's what we do. If they want to pick up trash, they may pick up trash. If they get sticky I wipe them off with a wipe. I might even tell them to go rinse their hands off in the drinking fountain. But I don't carry soap or hand sanitizer and we've never gotten any diseases. My kids don't get sick a lot in general anyway.

It's a little thing. A very little thing. But we get plenty out of it. The family that shows up at the playground after us gets a tidier park. I get to NOT say, "No" to something my kid wants to do. I get to teach my kids (or they get to teach me) that we're not so special that we can't do little things for other people. Even "yucky" little things.

And I get a good reminder that if something around me needs doing, who better than me to do it? When better than now? It's . . .


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Dear Newlywed, You're Probably Worried About the Wrong Thing

Dear Newlywed,

Congratulations! You're embarking on an exciting new chapter of your life. You've got hopes and dreams and plans. Plans, plans, plans. You've got the next few years mapped right out. You're going to finish school and you're going to pay off school and you're going to achieve your professional goals and you're going to make the world a better place.

THEN you're going to have just the right number of kids.

That's exactly where I was, thirteen years ago. My husband was starting graduate school. I was going to work until he was done with that, then we were going to have some kids. Probably four.

It didn't work out quite like that. We had kids right away, and lots of 'em.

You look at me and my kids. All my kids. All my so, so many kids. And maybe you think whew, plenty of time for that later. Or maybe you think, jeesh, I could never do that. Or maybe you cry a single tear, because "the environment," and "me time."

But, suffice to say, whatever your reasons, you don't want kids right yet. And anyway, you know that if you don't take steps to stop them from coming, you will have twelve children. Maybe fourteen. Maybe sixty-nine. Everyone knows that. 

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage. It's right there in the song. So, you'll have to do SOMETHING or you'll have a perfectly ridiculous number of children. Everyone knows that.

So, you learn NFP. And you do NFP. Or, maybe you decide that the having and not having of children is too important to trust to the old-fashioned teachings of the Catholic Church. So you resort to other measures to make sure you don't have all those children.

But here's the thing. It's actually pretty unlikely that you were ever going to have as many kids as I do. 

What I observe is that it's MUCH more likely that you won't have as many children as you'd like to have.

I get emails every week from women who always thought they'd have children, or more children. I get requests for prayers, and for support, and for sympathy. I get stopped in stores by women who tell me they wish they could have had a big family, but they weren't able to.

There is a general perception that the only thing keeping every woman of childbearing age from having fourteen children, is some method of family planning. But the facts really don't support that perception.

The total fertility rate in the United States after World War II peaked at about 3.8 children per woman in the late 1950s. In 1999 it was at 2 children, almost exactly the same total fertility rate as the period of 1930-1939. Certainly, there were forms of artificial birth control available then. The Lambeth Conference in the Anglican Church, which took place in 1930, ushered in Protestant acceptance of birth control. But it took a long time for that teaching, which they intended to be narrow, to be accepted and implemented by everyone. So it's likely that, for the majority of American women at that time, two children was just all they were able to have.

I have seven children, yes. I expect I'll have another couple before this part of my life is done. You never know, of course, but it seems likely. But I, and every other crazy passenger van mom you see, we are the exception. Not the rule.

In this generation of my immediate family, there are four happily married couples. None are taking steps to prevent pregnancies. My husband and I are just taking them as they come, not seeking to achieve or avoid pregnancy. But the other three couples, who have been married for between four and nine years, are actively pursuing the having of children. 

And those other loving families have two children, and two children, and zero children. 

Wanting more children -- or any children at all -- has been something I've watched my sisters struggle with for many years.

I used to look at a family with two children and think, "Well, they got their two, I guess they're done." Or I looked at a couple with no children and thought, "She must just really be focused on her career." And if the place I saw those families was in Mass, I most likely made some unfair assumptions about what they were up to. May God forgive me, I know better than to do that now.

I know that many of those families would gratefully have accepted more children. That many of them wished dearly to do so. That many of them had endured miscarriages, and treatments, and surgeries.

I have watched my sister-in-law gracefully field question after question about why they haven't started a family yet, knowing that's the thing she'd most like to do.

I'm not interested in fear mongering. I'm not trying to scare you. I'm not trying to tell you, or any other particular woman, that you won't have children, or that you won't have the number of children you wish to have.

But I do want you to know that, in general, our society is worried about exactly the wrong thing. We are worried about getting pregnant. We are told we should fear having children too soon. We are told we should fear having too many children. We are told it's the thing that will ruin our lives. That's what everyone says.

It's a lie. 

The true heartbreak lies in infertility, in subfertility. But "they" won't tell you that.

When I was a newlywed, it never would have occurred to me that I wouldn't have just as many kids as I could possibly want. And I have. But I know enough now to not take it for granted. I've brought hundreds of prayer requests from readers along with us on our pilgrimages, and almost HALF of them have been prayers for a child, or another child. 

It makes me grateful, now, for those times early in my marriage, when everything was still new and nothing was settled, when I sat there in tears over a pregnancy. Or another pregnancy. Because, despite all that conventional wisdom about how we were too young and too poor and too newly married and too unaccomplished to start a family, it all turned out all right. Better than all right. It all turned out so beautifully. Those early babies made my marriage stronger and made me a better person.

I now know dozens of women who have struggled with infertility and subfertility and secondary infertility and miscarriages. Most of them felt blindsided by the fact that getting pregnant and having many children wasn't automatic. Marriage can be hard, parenthood can be trying. I've certainly known many women who would say that. But I've never known a woman who wished she had fewer children.

You're just married. Maybe this really isn't a good time for you to have a baby. There ARE good reasons to wait. Reasons that even an old-fashioned church approves. NFP is a very useful thing to know. Understanding how your body works is helpful no matter which part of the journey you're on.

But just know, from me, that if you turn up pregnant despite your best efforts, it's likely to be the best thing that ever happens to you. Every single time. And if you don't turn up pregnant, despite your best efforts, it's likely to be the biggest cross of your life.

"They" won't tell you that. But you should know. So you won't be worried about the wrong things.

So much of this isn't in our own hands anyway, of course. Maybe, hopefully, you can learn not to worry about anything at all.