Thursday, May 30, 2013

It's a Conspiracy!: 7 Quick Takes XIV

--- 1 ---

Earlier this week, I wrote a post entitled: Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts: A Difference in Kind, not Just in Degree.

It was the Boy Scouts' much-publicized policy decision regarding gay boy scouts that prompted me to finally get to writing, but I've wanted to say something about how incompatible the values of the Girl Scouts are with our Catholic faith for quite some time.

With that in mind, I had asked my mom to send me some of our old photos of me as a Girl Scout, figuring to keep the mean commenters away by inspiring their pity with my awkwardness . . . but the photos didn't end up fitting in anywhere in the post.

I wouldn't want my mom to have gone to all that trouble for nothing, so, for your viewing pleasure, I present . . . me as a Girl Scout:

please note the accessories:
necktie, knee socks with tassels
and handy change pouch on the belt

if feathered hair ever comes back, you guys,
I am SO set
feathered is the natural state of my hair

that's me, front and center
I'd also be good if that
rainbow bangs thing comes back

how crafty is my mom?

--- 2 ---

I've had even more time to think about things since I wrote the post.  And now, after reading through the comments on the post and a bunch of emails I received from readers on the topic, my new chief concern has shifted.

We've all heard the assertion that what the same-sex marriage advocates want is not to gain marriage for themselves, but rather to destroy it as an institution.  (Sometimes we've heard it from the horse's mouth.)

I'm beginning to believe that the same case could be made in this situation.  I would argue (and I did in the comments) that the biggest immediate threat to Boy Scouts is not being overtaken by an influx of "active and avowed" homosexual boy scouts, but rather that the organization itself will be irreparably splintered.

There is a Catholic group attempting to start scouting over from scratch, and many good Christian families are just throwing their hands up and walking away from scouting altogether.

And, not to sound like I'm typing this in a tin-foil hat or anything . . . 

but what if that was the point the whole time?  Not to gain inclusion into the Boy Scouts for gay youth, but to destroy an institution that for over one hundred years has stood for the moral formation of Christian young men?  And still now, maintains that sexual activity is contrary to the virtues of scouting?

As for my family, we plan to stick with the Boy Scouts, and fight the good fight a little longer.

--- 3 ---

If you saw this post, you know that I quit making excuses and went away on retreat last weekend at the lovely Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California.

I'm assuming that there are some grownups involved in the day to day operations of Thomas Aquinas College during the school year.  But they were not in evidence over Memorial Day Weekend.  At all.

It was like some sort of very polite and quite Catholic Lord of the Flies.  The guy on the riding lawn mower was a kid.  The gal doing the watering was a kid.  The kitchen was staffed entirely by kids.  And mostly it seemed to be working just fine.  

The maintenance guy we found to try to address the issue of the subzero temperatures of the girls' dorm we were staying in, was also a kid.  And he had limited success in adjusting the temperature, since the thermostat for the bedrooms was in a locked box that didn't appear to have a key.  

Which brings me to . . . 

--- 4 ---

My NEXT conspiracy theory:

this is not me
but I like her

Are they using super A/C in the TAC girl's dorm as an incentive to modest dressing? 

this is how I wanted to be dressed in that dorm

So. Very. Cold.

--- 5 ---

I told Sarah at Oh My Soul that I would read Chesterton's The Everlasting Man with her.  I went so far as to pay like TWO DOLLARS to get it on my iPad, and then didn't read a word of it for months.

But then, I was going on retreat.  So I figured I would do some retreat-type spiritual reading AND keep a promise at the same time.  (Who says you can't multi-task on retreat?)

I only got about a third of the way through, but since I'm not thinking it's super-likely I'm going to be getting to the rest of it anytime soon, here is my review:

The first thing I ever read by Chesterton was Orthodoxy.  And I was blown away.  I felt like every single word in that little book screamed out TRUTH to me.  Every analogy was the best one I had ever heard.  I thought each and every paragraph ought to be highlighted and underlined and memorized-in-case-of-shipwreck.

Not so with The Everlasting Man.  Of course, I agreed with it, but I never felt astounded by it.

Maybe I just need to shake the cobwebs out, I have been reading mostly kid lit.  But I found it unpleasantly dense and also sometimes confusing.  There is A LOT of stuff about horses.

Of course, there are plenty of shining moments.  I pretty much love anything in Chesterton that follows the words "in short" or "in other words."  But I think my favorite quote was:

Both a baby and an old man walk with difficulty; but he who shall expect the old gentleman to lie on his back, and kick joyfully instead, will be disappointed.
It's Chesterton so, obviously, you should read it, and so should I.  But I won't tell if you don't, and then we could all just not read it.  Ya know?

--- 6 ---

While singing along at Mass, I made a little discovery . . . 

It would appear that in an earlier edition of "Celebrating the Eucharist" (a disposable missal/hymnal) the editors chose to replace the well known lyric "a wretch like me" as in:
Amazing grace!  How sweet the sound, That saved a wretch like me!
with the feel-good alternative "and strengthened me" as in: 
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, That saved and strengthened me! 
According to a note, the "wretch" phase has been "restored to respect the author's original text. An alternative text is provided in italic."  

So, anyone who is offended by the original 18th century autobiographical lyrics written by a former slave ship captain who considered himself worthy of the title "wretch" can instead feel free to use the peppier alternative.  

But I'm not surprised that there was some push back to the revision.

For a more scholarly take on the issue, see here.

--- 7 ---

And, finally, thanks to those of you who encouraged me to soldier on with the Classic Doctor Who episodes.  You're totally right.  Tom Baker, as the Fourth Doctor, is more what someone who has watched and loved the new episodes would expect from the classics.

He reminds me the most of the Eleventh Doctor, or vice versa I guess, especially with his quirky fashion choices.  That scarf is his bowtie.  Or the other way around.  Whatever.  It's a space-time-continuum issue.

In any case, the best thing for me is now that school is over, I've been able to watch a couple of these episodes with all the kids.  And they LOVE it.  They never could have sat through the sixties episodes and the reboot is just too full of innuendo for me to be comfortable with my kids watching it.  (Seriously, imagine me trying to explain what Captain Jack is talking about to an eleven year old.  Not going there.)

But Doctor Who of the eighties has been a treat for the whole family.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!


Brave: I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

For grownups, this movie would be worth watching just to see Merida's hair, and the dark and wild and beautiful setting.  For kids . . . I have my reservations.  

Things you've probably heard elsewhere . . .

It has magic:  Yes, but fairy tales do, and that's not an issue for me.  As in The Princess and the Frog, appropriate consequences are shown for using magic (against your mother).  

It's really scary:  Yep.  We watched it with the whole family and the kids (1.5-10) were pretty terrified during the bear fights.  But I think it's good for kids to be scared by movies.  It helps them to understand that feeling and cope with it in a low stakes situation, rather than confronting fear for the first time in a real life situation.

It's really sad:  Yes again.  Like any good Disney movie, it'll make your kids cry and cry and cry (Bambi, The Fox and the Hound, Up, I'm looking at you).  I think that's fine too.  See above.

None of those things are an issue for me. 

My concerns were with the visceral and hurtful arguments between Merida and her mother Elinor, and the bold and spiteful (and public) disobedience Merida shows.  I don't have teenage daughters yet, so honestly I don't know how that stage goes.  I know I certainly gave my own mother a good deal of trouble.  But regardless of how true Merida's feelings of rebellion are, I'm not sure I can make the case that it's good for my young children to witness them.  The same goes for her disobedience.  Unlike the situation in Tangled, when we can cheer Rapunzel's bravery as she struggles to shake off the yoke of her evil "mother's" distorted worldview, Elinor is a good queen and a loving mother who has always done what was right for her daughter.  She does NOT deserve the treatment she receives from Merida.  And I'm talking about even BEFORE the magic stuff starts.

I know, I know, it's a story of redemption.  How can Merida be redeemed if she doesn't fall to begin with?  But isn't this a movie meant for children?  Is teenage rebellion something we're all desperate to introduce to our little ones as soon as possible?

And while I LOVE that Merida finally learns to love and respect and emulate her mother and to take responsibility for the consequences of her bad behavior, so does her mother learn that she and all the traditions of her people were wrong too, and Merida was right.  Brave falls just to the right of center on the Girls Just Want to Have Fun scale of "Kids Are Right and Parents Are Wrong," the far right being The Lion King where Dad was all right all the time and the far left being The Little Mermaid where Ariel's dangerous and subversive disobedience earns her not only everything she wanted, but a humble bow from her Dad to go along with it.

Which isn't to say I'm an apologist for arranged teenage marriages.  I just wish that the script had been written differently so we could focus on MERIDA learning the lessons she needs to learn.  Queen Elinor deserves better than she gets.  And "I'm competing for my OWN hand?"  Please let us NOT go there.  But you do have to feel sorry that apparently she'll have to marry one of those three eventually.  Perhaps she can improve him.  That usually goes well.

And, here's a question:  In what way exactly is Merida ever "brave?"  She's feisty, and spirited, and passionate, and sporty, but I honestly can't think of how the title fits at all.  Rapunzel is brave.  Merida is the one who's tangled.  I'm just sayin'.  The original title of the movie was The Bear and the Bow.  Isn't that much more appropriate (not to mention cooler)?

What I liked: the marriage relationship between King Fergus and Queen Elinor is beyond adorable, and he is a pretty extraordinary character in every way himself.  As I mentioned before, Merida's hair is just beautiful and worth every bit of all the trouble they went to to create it.  I also loved her horse, Angus, and how the will o' the wisps were rendered, especially their sing-song childlike voices.  Haunting and spooky and very very cute.  The music was lovely and the scenery was breathtaking.

So basically, this is one I'm glad I saw and I'm okay with the kids having seen, but it's not going into high rotation around here.  I have no desire to fast forward my daughters towards teenage rebellion with the expectation that all it takes is a good old fashioned magical poisoning to get mom to come around to your point of view.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts: A Difference in Kind not Just in Degree

As a Catholic and a mother of sons, I was disappointed with the recent decision of the Boy Scouts of America to change their policy to allow the participation of "active and avowed" homosexual scouts.

I have long championed the Boy Scouts an an organization that has been willing to suffer and fight for what is best for boys in the face of the terrible pressure of political correctness and homosexual advocates and it was a sad day on which they caved into that pressure.

But . . . 

Our family has made the decision to continue our participation in Boy Scouts while we have never and will never participate in Girl Scouts.  Here is why.

First, let's look at what this change amounts to:  Previously the Boy Scouts had what was basically a "Don't ask, Don't tell" policy for its scouts.  Boys who had same sex attraction have always been welcome in Boy Scouts, and rightly so (CCC 2358).  What was not allowed was the participation of boys who were "active and avowed" homosexuals.  Now those boys, too, are allowed to participate in Boy Scouts.  (Adults are still bound by a 2005 Supreme Court decision that excludes same-sex-attracted leaders.)

I do not wish to downplay the seriousness and potential ill-effects in the future of this decision.  But the official position of the Boy Scouts has been, and continues to be, that:

Scouting is a youth program, and any sexual conduct, whether heterosexual or homosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.

The Girl Scouts have a different message.  It is an organization which is, at its core, dedicated to the mis-formation and corruption of the girls in its membership.  I do not believe that the mission of the Boy Scouts has yet been corrupted.  I certainly believe it's possible that it WILL be.  But I don't believe it's happened yet.

The leadership of the Girl Scouts believes it is their responsibility to inform girls about sex and sexual experimentation and relationships and contraception and abortion and domestic abuse and homosexuality and transgender identification.  They believe that it is their duty to have these conversations with girls ESPECIALLY if their parents do not wish them to.  The following is a quote from a research study of 8-12 year old girls on the Girl Scout website.

Just as young girls are confronted with difficult "teen" issues like dating and sex at an increasingly early age, they are learning that their family confidantes are often unwilling or unable to discuss such issues.  

I understand that any particular Girl Scout troop at a particular school or parish might be quite lovely and run by very well-meaning individuals, but the Girl Scouts is an organization that is rotten at the core and so, as girls progress up through the levels they are presented over and over with a world view that is utterly incompatible with our Catholic faith.

And when you pay your dues or buy Girl Scout cookies you are actively supporting the immoral activities (including established ties with Planned Parenthood) of the leadership of Girl Scouts and Girl Guides organizations all over the world.

This is just not the case (at least not yet) with Boy Scouts.  The Boy Scouts are still dedicated to the formation of boys and young men into future leaders.  The difference is easy to see when you compare the upcoming Boy and Girl Scout events:

The 2013 Boy Scout Jamboree features activities such as:  Mountain Biking, Zip Lines, Archery, and Rock Climbing.

The 2013 Girl Scout Girltopia Teen Summit features topics including: Fashion and Beauty, Building Healthy Relationships, Body Image and Self Esteem, and Self-Development and Goal-Setting.

One of the talks from the 2011 event was:
Building Healthy Relationships – Jasmine Ceja, Break the Cycle – Grades 9-12 Being in a relationship can make you feel like you’re on the top of the world, but sometimes the person you like, love, trust or cherish makes you feel abused physically, mentally or emotionally. Join the discussion about the core requirements for healthy relationships and include personal stories of survivors of dating abuse, and warning signs and obstacles to leaving an abusive relationship.

It's a far cry from the camping and crafts I remember from Girl Scouts.  Although I will say, I'm not sure the foundress of the Girl Scouts would be particularly dissapointed by their current state.

Certainly we must now be more wary of sending our sons off to any Boy Scout activities unsupervised by a parent from our own Boy Scout troop (my husband takes a very active role in our boys' Cub Scout and Boy Scout troops).  But, unlike the Girl Scouts who can't wait to get you away from your daughter so they can fill her head with their agenda, in our experience so far with Cub Scouts, parents are welcome and even required at all events.

It comes down to this:  The Boy Scouts are still a fundamentally good organization who have made a decision that is unfortunate and potentially damaging to some but that is unlikely to affect the majority of individual Boy Scouts.  The Girl Scouts, on the other hand, are a fundamentally immoral organization with an agenda that is incompatible with being a Christian.  And though they are actively trying to corrupt their members, apparently, some individual Girl Scouts have managed to avoid being corrupted.

I'll take my chances with the former, in light of the potential benefits for my sons in the form of organized outdoorsmanship, manly camaraderie, and achievements that can be easily recognized by college admissions departments.  I will never expose my daughters to the dangers of the latter.  Not for all the cookies and friendship bracelets in the world.

This is a good summary of the various ways in which the Girl Scouts are problematic for Catholics.  And this is an excellent Catholic perspective on the current Boy Scout situation.  And here is a link to the Little Flowers Girls' Club, the saints- and virtues-based Catholic girls' club that we use and love.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

I'm on a Retreat Right Now: Here's How

By the time you're reading this I'll have been on a retreat for a whole day with another day to go.

I know I OUGHT to make time to go on a retreat every year.  I know I'm always glad I went when I get back home.  But there were a few years, those years with all little ones, when I didn't go. I had my reasons, but I don't think they were particularly good. So, here's why I'm off on a retreat right now . . .

Thomas Aquinas College
(I am here)

1. Life can go on without me.

I love my kids and they love me.  I think my near-constant presence in their lives is absolutely the best thing I can do for them.  But for many years, I used that as an excuse for not going away on retreat.

I'm too important.  Our home couldn't possibly function without me.  The children would be scarred for life.

But none of that is true.  Yes, I am important.  Yes, I perform duties that are essential to our family on at least an hourly basis.  Yes, my children love me and enjoy and are accustomed to my company.  But their Dad is also great, and knows what he's doing, and they like him, too. 

My belief that no one could possibly get along without me was rooted more in my own pride than in a true concern for their welfare.  If I'm "just" a stay at home mom, and then I'm not AT home and everything is okay, what does that say about my place in the world?

I choose now to just look at it differently.  They will miss me. They will miss the things I do for them and they will miss my presence.  But they will be fine because they've usually got me and so they're prepared.  They KNOW how much I love them.  Plus I've prepared food for them in advance and I've made sure they have some clean clothes for the weekend and I picked a really awesome man to be their Dad.  They'll be fine without me BECAUSE of me.  (And all my newfound humility.)

2. I've still got work to do.

I skipped many a retreat because I wasn't nearly so bad as all those other people.

Which is an opinion that is officially frowned upon by institutions like the Catholic Church and people like Jesus.

I have a long way to go on my road to perfection, and sin -- even venial sin -- is worth any amount of trouble and sacrifice and effort to try to root out.

I have never had such insight into myself and my weaknesses and what I need to work on as I have had on retreats.  And because God is just that awesome, those potentially demoralizing insights have always been accompanied by an influx of grace and zeal for starting in on all that work on myself.

That's just not going to happen in the cooking and the dishes and the laundry and the schoolwork and the missing shoes of my everyday life.

3. This is my vocation.  

I owe God and my family my best effort and complete dedication to my vocation as wife and mother.  But, as a God-given vocation, it cannot possibly be that being a devoted mother and a devoted Catholic are in conflict with one another.

Pursued properly, my work at home will help me to love God more, and loving God more will help me to do my work better.

Going away on retreat helps me immeasurably in both areas.


I realize that not everyone has the same opportunity to go on a retreat that I do.  Some people would love to go and just can't.  *I* did not have insurmountable obstacles preventing me from going on retreat.  All *I* had was my pride and lukewarmess to keep me from going.  But all things are possible with God.  So, off I go to become a little bit better me.  Please keep me (and maybe even the husband, too) in your prayers this weekend. 

Have a great Memorial Day everyone.  I'll be offering a prayer of grateful thanks to all of the brave men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.  And for those they left behind.  I will remember your intentions too, especially those of you who asked me to pray for you on our pilgrimage in April.  I haven't forgetten!


Thursday, May 23, 2013

In Defense of Nudity in Film: 7 Quick Takes XIII

--- 1 ---

A pregnant lady at rest stays at rest and a pregnant lady in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced toddler.

--- 2 ---

Great Moments in Homeschooling . . . 

The husband to a boy on Betty and Bobby's soccer team:  You're homeschooled, right?  So are Betty and Bobby.
Boy: Oh, that makes sense.  I noticed they said "library" right.

--- 3 ---

While planning Jack's The Mysterious Benedict Society-themed birthday party, I ended up on this anagram-generator.  

It was there I discovered that "Clint Eastwood" is an anagram of "Old West Action."

mind = blown

So I wondered, are ALL anagrams so full of truth and wisdom?  You be the judge.

Catholic All Year = Chaotically Real
                    A Coach Literally
                    Archaic Alley Lot

Conversion Diary = A Corny Diversion
                   Scary Indoor Vein
                   Noisy Over Rancid

A Knotted Life = Deaf Tone Kilt
                 Faked Toe Lint
                 Kid Tale Often 

Mama Needs Coffee = Madame Fences Foe
                    Cafe Deafens Memo
                    Same Dame Offence

If you head over there with your own blog name, but sure to tell us what you find out your blog is actually about in the comments.

--- 4 ---

Dear California Government,

I don't think you understand what a REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRACY is. It's supposed to mean that we elect YOU to research and vote on things because the rest of us have other responsibilities and that's what we are paying you for.  But since you DON'T seem to get that, I got to spend MY free time researching the THREE DIFFERENT marijuana propositions that were on the ballot yesterday.  Plus, I get pestered by hippies outside Target who want me to sign their petitions (connecting the dots there).

Please stop wasting my time.


--- 5 ---

I wrote a post on why I teach my kids to make excuses for other people.  Megan Mella, in the comments of that post, directed my attention to the following totally awesome 2005 commencement speech by the late David Foster Wallace which pretty much says everything I said in my post, but much more poetically and with considerably more production value.  I considered just editing the post to be nothing but a link to his YouTube video, but then I thought, "That would be a LOT of holding down the backspace key."  So I'm just going to keep my post and put the YouTube video here.  It's less than 10 minutes long, and it really is great. 

--- 6 ---

More from the comments . . . In last week's 7 Quick Takes, I recommended Looper despite it's bit of nudity, because I think it's a smart movie with a great message. I was challeged (quite pleasantly) in the comments to defend the morality of nudity ever being in movies.  (Side note, I didn't realize it at the time, but I know the commenter and her husband who makes totally awesome movies in real life, which was a great reminder to always be polite in the comments!)

Since perhaps you don't always check back to see if I've added any comments to my earlier posts, I thought I'd put it here too:

Okay, I've had a couple of days to think about it and look into it and I'm going to get to continue to disagree with you, but now at least I know why.

As Catholics, we need not immediately dismiss as immoral all works of art containing nudity. The great works of art in the Sistine Chapel (re-nuded at the request of Blessed Pope John Paul II) and St. Peter's itself attest to that.

Neither does it being in a film rather than a painting or statue make it necessarily immoral, since films included on the 1995 Vatican Film List include nudity in both sexual and non-sexual contexts.

Nor does the consideration of workers in the film industry make all nudity in film immoral since there are other professions, like doctor, which may include seeing nudity as part of the job.

It comes down to: is the nudity meant only to titillate or is it meaningful? Even if that meaning is to show how debased a character has become, which is how I believe it functions in Looper.

Stephen Greydanus has a great article at Decent Films (my personal favorite review site) on The Vatican Film List, which covers this and other related topics.

--- 7 ---

I took a week off from Doctor Who-related quick takes.  But I wouldn't want you to think I have abandoned the Doctor.  Far from it.  In fact, I finished Season 6, which is the most recent season available on Netflix, and since I don't have cable I'm faced with the proposition of not being able to watch Season 7 for who knows how long!  And I've become such a junkie that I've started watching the Classic Doctor Who episodes.

So far, the fact that I'm still watching is nothing but a testament to how much I want to hide in my room during naptime, because the classic episodes are NOT super-awesome.

I've watched the few episodes they have of the First and Second Doctors and have started in on the Third Doctor, who looks exactly like Dustin Hoffman dressed up as Austin Powers for Halloween.

And the young lady "companions" seem to be there only to wear ridiculous clothes, emit ear-drum-shattering screams at aliens, and tell the Doctor how brilliant he is.

I do want to keep watching, but only because it's cool to see the earlier incarnations of the villains and adventures that the newer Doctors have faced.  I like to "get" the shows I watch.  But can anyone tell me:  Is it worth the lameness?  Do the costumes and plots and acting abilities get any better?  Are Doctors Four through Eight an improvement?

I'm thinking about just moving on to Sherlock.  Since, pop-culture-wise, I mostly just do what Bonnie says.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!


Cryin' Babies Go to Bed

Hey guys, it's me Frankie.

You may remember me from such posts as:

An Open Letter to the Church Lady Who Yelled at My Mom 


What Cranky Frankie Taught Me About God 

(my Mom wrote that one, but it's about me!)

So when Adam from Equipping Catholic Families asked how our family deals with cranky kids . . . I knew he had come to the right place.  My family has a system for just about everything.  And our policy on crankiness is that it's not allowed.  It's not just crankiness, either -- in our family unhappiness is not tolerated. It's against the rules.

My folks agree with this quote by Abraham Lincoln (maybe):
"People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be."  
And since, in my mom's experience, she's always been able to convince her kids that being happy is a lot more fun than the alternative, it's always worked out great.  Of course, that was before she met me . . .  but more on that later.

The main parts of the policy, from what I can see are:


My parents do not want their kids to react to challenges, or difficulties, or unfairness, or even injury, like this:

Ever.  (Did they ALL get poked in the eye?)  For one, it's un-American.  For another, it's not necessary.  Yes, as a kid, my first reaction to challenges, or difficulties, or unfairness, or injury, is to f-l-i-p out.  And then to get increasingly louder and more upset and more flipped out.  And then, in the midst of all the flipping out, to notice something I'd rather be doing, stop flipping out, and go do it.

My mom noticed that.  So now it's not allowed.  Even if we get hurt.  If we do get hurt, we are supposed to make this face:

and say "ouch, ouch, ouch."  Then we are reminded that it is hurting less and less, and off we go.  (It works so well, that my dad even pointed out to my mom that while he was filling in admit forms, she was pacing the hallway of the hospital in labor saying "ouch, ouch, ouch.")

And now that they're used to doing it that way, my brothers and sisters mostly don't get upset at all by life's little challenges or difficulties or unfairnesses (well, maybe not, they still do have trouble with that one) or injuries.  They just grimace and get on with their lives.  Not me, I still mostly pitch a fit, but more on me later . . . 


For grownups and school-age kids especially, it's really hard to stay cranky when faced with the reality of how good you really have it.

My parents remind us all the time how blessed we are to have our family and our faith and our health and our home and our country and our things.  We have been lucky enough to travel to other countries and see how happily (or sometimes unhappily, but mostly happily) other children live with much, much less in the way of opportunity and material goods.  We really have no right to be unhappy.  Ever.  (We also read and listen to great old books about children living happily and making do under difficult circumstances, it helps put things in perspective.)

We are not allowed to complain about what we are given to eat.  We are not allowed to appear less than totally thrilled with a gift we are given.  My brothers and sisters are not allowed to grumble about helping a sibling.  We are not allowed to complain about being hungry or tired or cold or hot -- not because we never are those things, but because complaining about it never ever makes us feel better.

If we forget, my mom likes to ask us, "What does God do to complainers?"  And then we have to say, "He sends snakes to bite them."

because it's true

We are not allowed to complain or ever forget how blessed we are.  It's bound to make us generally happier.  Maybe it will even work on me, eventually.


This one comes more easily to some kids (and grownups) than to others.  And my mom will be the first to admit that she struggles with it herself.  But kids are a whole lot happier if they can learn to control their emotions.  It's not necessary that I behave as if the whole world has come to an end if I get the green one instead of the yellow one.  I can learn to just chill, and be happy I got anything at all.  

When my brother Jack was in preschool, his teacher used to say:
"You get what you get and you don't get upset."

It still works for us.  (My mom does allow pleasant, non-whiny, non-guilt-tripping offers to trade.)


The more I hear about my brother Jack as a toddler, the more I realize how much he messed it up for the rest of us.  Apparently, he was nearly as much of a challenge as I am.  My mom learned a lot from parenting him (and watching the other moms and dads around her), but she thinks probably the most important thing she learned is that being swayed by the unhappiness of children is NOT effective in the long OR short-term as a parenting technique.

If my mom says I can't have something, then I throw a fit, then she gives it to me, she's taught me the lesson that being unhappy is an effective way to get things I want.  Of course, grownups know that bursting into tears is rarely an effective way to accomplish something.  My parents want us to learn that lesson sooner rather than later.


Sooooo . . . once my mom decided that she can't give me what I want when I'm throwing a fit, she had to figure out what to do with me instead.  Especially since sometimes it's just the late afternoon and I don't even know what I want, I just figure I'll hang on mom's leg and wail while she tries to cook dinner.  By her third baby mom realized that it wasn't doing anyone (the baby or the mom or the rest of the kids) any good to just let an unhappy-for-no-reason toddler make everyone crazy.

That's when she instituted "Cryin' Babies Go to Bed" (note: cryin' babies go to bed is NOT for babies, it's for toddlers).  

It's just what it sounds like.  If I'm wandering about the house shrieking and crying and hanging on mom, and my basic needs have been attended to but I am just being a pest . . . I get reminded that "Cryin' Babies Go to Bed."  Sometimes that's enough to settle me down.  It worked like a charm with my brothers and sisters.  As soon as my mom would walk away from my brother Bobby he would start calling down the hall after her, "Happy, Mama, happy!"  And he'd get to get out immediately.  But I'm pretty obstinate.  I like to make my parents suffer a bit before I finally come around on things.

My sister Anita sleep trained in one night.  It took me over two months.  Two very loud months.  I finally got the hang of it.  But I feel confident that I extracted my pound of flesh in exchange.

I am, so far, the unhappiest of my siblings.  But lucky for me, I have a mom who's even more obstinate than I am.  And she'll teach me to be tough and grateful and non-particular and understanding.  AND she'll get dinner made every night, even if I means I'm shouting all the worst stuff I can think of at her in baby jibberish from my crib.  None of these lessons has worked on me yet, but I'll learn.  And then I'll have that one more thing to be grateful about.

p.s. For an update clarifying some concerns some folks have had regarding this post, please check out THIS post.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A Mysterious Birthday Party (and a book review of the rest of The Mysterious Benedict Society series)

If you remember my review here, you'll know that I really enjoyed The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.  It's smart and exciting, the writing is clever, and the characters make the right choices when faced with moral dilemmas.  It even manages to avoid the standard kid-book and -movie kids-run-off-to-solve-problem-themselves-instead-of-asking-parents-or-police-for-help thing.

There are two more books in the series, plus a book of puzzles, and now a prequel (which I have yet to read).  I found book number two, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, to be the weakest of the three.  The author doesn't manage to tell his story without resorting to my above pet peeve.  The four children decide that it's up to them to save the day, so they run away from their parents and guardians to have their adventure.  Also, an authority figure that the children are told they can trust exhibits some weakness of character that I think could be confusing to kids.  (However he does save the day in a very self-sacrificing manner at the end of the book.)

Still, it's a charming adventure with plenty to keep you turning the pages.  Madge, Muchos Brazos, and Cannonball are excellent additions to the cast of characters.  Mr. Curtain and the Ten Men continue to be well-written, menacing, heartless villains.  Overall I was a bit disappointed in it in comparison with the first book, but I didn't find it problematic enough to keep my kids from reading it or to withhold my general recommendation.

Especially since it would be helpful to have read it before you read the third book, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma, and that one you DON'T want to miss.  It's another fun and creative story with plenty of danger and puzzles to solve, but without all the running away and disobeying grown-ups (Oops, Jack just reminded me that there IS some disobeying and running away in this one too <sigh>).  But the focus of the plot is on the children learning that they must each use their own special gifts but work together to save each other and Mr. Benedict and Stonetown and the world from the evil Mr. Curtain.  And I actually teared up a bit at the beautiful act of Christian charity that ends the book.

There is a plot involving one of the children being able to use mental telepathy.  I did not find it problematic.  I just discussed with my son that there isn't currently evidence to support that telepathy is scientifically possible.  I suppose some parents might have a stronger reaction against that aspect, especially since these books are set in our world not in an alternate world of magic.  But it's presented as an unusual and special physical ability she posses, not as anything magical or occult.

When I consider the dubious (or flat out immoral) worldview espoused in popular kids' series like Percy Jackson, A Series of Unfortunate Events, or His Dark Materials, it makes me really grateful that a fun, modern, moral, but non-preachy series like The Mysterious Benedict Society exists for my kids to read and enjoy.

It's right up there on my shelf and in my heart with series like The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Redwall, and Harry Potter.  

And my 10 year old son Jack enjoyed the books so much that he requested that his 11th birthday party be The Mysterious Benedict Society-themed.  I'm a big fan of homemade backyard birthday parties.  And it's especially great when it's Jack's birthday since he's old enough and tyrannical take-charge enough to plan and run the whole thing pretty much himself.  

I'm in charge of oversight, some of the decorations, the food, and the cake, Nana does the shopping for supplies, and Jack plans his games and keeps things running on the day of the party so the grownups can all just sit around and chat.

He even wrote his own riddle poem for his invitation!

There were games including
 a scavenger hunt, decoding a Morse Code message (that one ended in the discovery of a cache of water guns and silly string), an estimate the m&ms contest, a re-enactment of the prisoner's dilemma (for candy), and an anagram puzzle:

His birthday banner was a rebus:

The pinata was Mr. Curtain's Salamander:

And he specifically requested a cake that looked like the Whisperer.  His cake does look a lot like the Whisperer, but unfortunately that means it also looks quite a lot like I made my kid an electric chair birthday cake.  C'est la vie!

Jack's actual birthday isn't until late June, but we'll be out of town for the summer and he wanted to be able to celebrate with his friends here.  So, I'll wait until later to wish him a happy birthday.  But it was a lovely day and a great party.  

And I highly recommend The Mysterious Benedict Society series as fun summer reading for Moms and kids alike.

p.s. Frankie got a new letter from his penpal Adam over at Equipping Catholic Families.  He'll be answering the letter when and if he feels like it.  That's kind of how he rolls.