Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Why We Don't Let the Neighbors Tell Us How to Raise The Kids

My dear fellow Catholics. My brothers and sisters.

We are, in fact, in a rather unique family, are we not?

Huge. Dysfunctional. Multitalented. Holy. Scandalous. Disappointing. Inspiring.

It's much like any other family, plus or minus about a billion members.

We have our quirks and our shortcomings, our saints and our sinners. We are imperfect and wonderfully weird and, first and foremost, we are universal.

That's unbelievably ambitious, by the way, for God to cobble something together from so many disparate and diverse members and call it holy and apostolic. If nothing else convinces you of the divinity behind the longevity of Catholicism, let it be this: that we haven't all killed each other yet.

And so now we have the internet. The 24/7 news cycle. The entire world up in each other's business in a way previously unfathomable to mankind. And there are pros and cons to this never-ending glut of information to process. I would offer as a giant con the seemingly global disability to process well, at least for 99% of the literate populace. We're very good at emoting and reacting. We're less adept at reasoning and reflecting.

Each era has its own challenges and triumphs. We live in the Information Age, for better or worse, and so we must learn what (and whether) to do with the information that is assaulting our eyeballs and our eardrums at literally every waking moment. Do we process it all? Filter it out? React to everything that moves us?

Social media complicates this further, because everyone has a platform and, therefore, the right to exercise it. It's the great equalizer, making would-be journalists and talking heads of us all.

But remember, not all sources of information are created equal. And not everyone with a loud microphone and a robust Twitter following has the capacity to speak thoughtfully and thoroughly on a given issue.

My biggest complaint with the Francis papacy, 2 years in, is the reaction of seemingly well-formed and practicing Catholics to the Things He Says Which Are Outrageous.

Let me back up and preface what is about to be said; it is true that this Holy Father of ours is not the most eloquent speaker. It is true that he speaks his heart readily, and that he uses culturally-hamstrung idioms and analogies. He is not an intellectual (and I don't think he would take offense at my saying so) and he is not a philosopher. His mind has not been sharpened by 40 years of rigorous theological study and debate, and his worldview was most decidedly not formed by the Western/European experience.

But he is the Pope. He is the Successor of Peter, chosen by his brother cardinals under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead the Church now, today, in the year 2015. Not in the year 2012 or 1987 or 1334. He's here for us, right now. Just as each of us were handpicked to live in such a time as this.

And if I don't agree with everything that comes out of his mouth (and I don't) and if some of what I read in his writings makes me squirm (and it does), there's one thing for certain: I'm sure as hell not going to let someone from outside the family tell me what I should think about it.

Now, there's nothing stopping my next door neighbor, my barista, or the lady at our local grocery store from commenting on how I'm raising my kids, how closely spaced they are, or what kinds of trash I'm serving up at the dinner table, but freedom of speech is not the same thing as rightful authority.

See what I'm saying?

Yes, the guy at Starbucks can comment on my mewling pack of toddlers and advise me to put a stranglehold on the flow of progeny issuing forth from our marital union, but I'm not about to invite him into our bedroom to pour over my NFP charts and help us decide if and when the time is right for another kid.

He can comment away all he likes, but I don't have to (and sure as hell shouldn't, in fact) listen.

Similarly, CNN, MSNBC, the AP, America magazine, your token crackpot SSPX blogger, and all the rest are very, very free to comment on every thing the Pope says and does, what it means, what it doesn't mean, and what you, as a Catholic, SIMPLY MUST DO ABOUT IT.

But you know better than to be getting your family business from the guy at the post office, don't you?

You're not really going to let someone outside the family - and as is often the case, utterly opposed to the very existence of the family - tell you your family business, are you?

Misquotable or not, Pope Francis is our Pope. He's our father. He's also a figure of contradiction and amusement and confusion and excitement and all the other adjectives for the rest of the world, looking on in wonder/disgust/mild curiosity. So yes, he will be in the news. And yes, all the things he says will be analyzed and dissected and translated and represented to you, the consumer, to ingest.

But it's your responsibility to monitor the quality.

I can't expect to have a well-formed opinion of or appreciation for the Pope if all I read about him comes through the secular media who simultaneously reviles the Catholic Church and desperately wants to see her fall into ruin. I can't seriously hope to allow the Holy Spirit to work through him on my little old heart if, instead of reading his encyclicals and his homilies, all I know of him is filtered through a Buzzfeed article or Rachel Maddow's stimulating commentary.

Come on.

Would you let someone talk about your biological father that way? Would you give them that same authority over your opinion of him?

I thought not.

It's an imperfect analogy, because yes, the Pope is a very public figure. But remember this: we have a responsibility before God to answer for the information we take in, be it in the form of entertainment or "news." We're not just open trash receptacles, and words and ideas have consequences. So don't let someone who doesn't have your - or your family's - best interests at heart be the one to tell you your family business.

Your mama raised you better than that.

(Some resources I do heartily endorse for your Papal reading pleasure:)

Catholic News Agency

Vatican Information Service

Vatican Radio

Aci Prensa (Espanol)

Eye of the Tiber

Friday, January 16, 2015

Promotions and Upgrades

I already shared with you guys the crazy news about my promotion to Catholic News Agency/EWTN, which should be fully in effect (read: new site will be live) the first week of February.

As these things often go, technical details abound and so it might be a little bit past the projected start date when things come on line. But then, anything good is worth waiting for, right?

Evie concurs. Or at least, she'll get there.

See, she's been promoted, too (along with her older brothers, who are already veterans in the role), and while we've been given a tentative start date for her new position to take effect, God only knows the precise timing.

Probably you see where this is going?

(It's also the reason I may be a tad behind on my comments and emails. But you'll forgive a tired, pregnant blogger, won't you?)

Baby Bing #4, debuting sometime early August. God is good.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

On Debt and Openness to Life

I was FB chatting with a friend earlier this week and she made a comment about how freeing their experience of being debt free has been, and I had a kind of "aha" moment while her words sunk in.

I also got really, really excited about the future, and about being able to experience that kind of freedom for myself.

Now, the friend in question has more than a handful of kids. And my mind immediately jumped to the conclusion that financial freedom was probably immensely liberating in the bedroom, too, in terms of family planning.

Does that seem far fetched?

I kept thinking about it all afternoon, considering the connection between our deeply-indebted culture and a general aversion to children, past the perfunctory one or two. (And I'm speaking here to couples who are intentionally avoiding additions to their family, not to those struggling with the heartache of infertility.)

I thought about our neighbors across the street, eager to hand me bags and bags full of darling little girl clothes, and equally happy to tell us on more than one occasion how very "done" they were because they simply "couldn't afford" any more children. That their youngest daughter, though very much loved, was very much a surprise.

They're a sweet family and she works hard to stay home with her girls, running an event planning business and keeping another baby 40 hours a week for a working mama. Their girls have the best toys and clothes, and they throw fantastical themed birthday parties every year - last year's fete for the 4-year-old was Frozen-themed and featured a live, rented reindeer, a snow machine, a karaoke set up, Elsa's wedding cake, and a spread of Swedish food that put Ikea to shame.

I have to wonder whether what they - and so many of us - consider to be necessary trappings to the ideal childhood are really just that: trappings.

I know that kids care about having cool stuff, but I think they can be coached into caring, can be educated into a certain lifestyle and level of expectation, just like any of us can.

On the other hand, I think that parents who are drowning in consumer debt, choked by student loans and car payments and ridiculous mortgages, are probably honest-to-God afraid of having more kids under such circumstances.

I am just wondering where the intersection is between "hot damn it's expensive to raise a family in this economy!" (and it is) and "you know, maybe we don't need to be racking up semiannual beach vacations on our credit cards (but mileage points!) and driving 2-year-old cars with all the best new features to have a happy family."

I wonder how many American couples are avoiding having any/more children because of debt. 

I wonder how much of the Very Real Struggle of NFP is tied up in financial insecurity.

I wonder if there's some kind of connection between generously and prudently managing one's money and one's fertility.

I am speaking to a stereotype here, but as is often the case with stereotypes, they issue forth from grains of truth.

Is it hella costly to raise and launch a kid into the world we live in?

Yes, yes it is.

But we all make choices, whether in our careers or in our decisions at the grocery store or the mall. We all decide how and where we're going to spend the money we've been entrusted with, and whether or not we're going to make debt a part of our lifestyle.

Some families have fewer options, whether due to underemployment, chronic poverty, or disability and restricted income potential, but I'm speaking here to the typical suburban American family, the one driving multiple car payments and buying brand new clothing and eating out in restaurants every week.

I wonder how much of our collective inability to manage money (and I'm looking in the mirror here) translates into our collective terror at the specter of Too Many Mouths To Feed (though that is hardly the real issue for 95% of us, let's be honest with ourselves.)

I think that being freed from the crushing burden of thousands of dollars of debt flowing out the door every month would go a long way to alleviate some of the fear of the unknown in terms of how many kids we might eventually be blessed with, creating some space for daring and generosity in hearts that are cramped and burdened by chronic stress and fear.

And I fully own that we made - and are making - the choices that got us here, and the choices that will set us free.

(And in the spirit of full disclosure, here's a little snapshot of our budgeting plan.)

What do you think? Totally reaching here, or maybe onto something? I can't be the only one thinking these crazy thoughts.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Blog Roll

I don't know about you guys, but I always love seeing who other bloggers are reading. I haven't updated ye olde sidebar blogroll in...uh, ever, actually, but I do have a fat handful of regular reads that I'd like to share, though I'm guessing you're already all over lots of them.

So, I present to you in no particular order, my regulars.

First up, my pick for girl most likely to be my bff/ person I'd most love to sit down to a beer with: Bonnie. (Don't be creeped out Bonnie, it's just that, I love you.) I always click if she has something new, because she always manages to be classy, forward (but not too forward, you know? Like me, for example), charitable, funny as hell, and real.

Best fashion blogger/I needed to laugh: Duh, it's Grace. And because she's always mucho self deprecating and all kinds of humble, I don't even hate her for looking like a teenage supermodel, 4 mewling babes notwithstanding.

Best life in the trenches/sprinkles of profound faith: Ana. Plus, we knew each other in real life, first! (Remember when I crashed your wedding Ana? I mean yes, technically I was invited, but I think I RSVP'd like one week out? And then came as they third wheel to my sister and (now) brother-in-law, because I'd just gotten dumped. Charmed, I'm sure she was.) Oh, Imma add Kathryn to this category too, as a late entry, because my brain failed. Her stuff during her sweet boy's NICU stay is especially poignant.

Best photography/design/boy mom stories: Carolyn. Love her stuff. And she's also a resident maternal supermodel, but again with the humility and grace.

Most supportive "we got this"/here's how you DIY it: Jenna. Can't believe I forgot her!

Favorite crunchy mama. Well this one's a toss up. I love Nell and Haley both so much, and I think it's incomplete to call either of them "crunchy" so I think I'll go with eclectically organic with a heaping side of orthodoxy. Both so fascinating and wise. Nell gets extra points for being the cheerleader of the entire internet, and mad props to Haley for her sick social media guru skills (I participated in one of her FB parties once and holy interactive, batman.) So, it's a tie.

Most likely to make me look around and sigh, wishing she were sitting in my living room drinking coffee (or wine) and watching Downton Abbey with me: Christy. Love her writing, can't believe how much she reads, and can't fathom the length of her winters.

Blogger I wish would post more frequently: oh gosh, this one's another tie. Kaitlin and Regina are both two of my favorites, and are both so busy and important they never have time for my blog reading pleasure. Ahem, ladies.

Most underrated Catholic blogger: Michele. And I don't mean underrated like "nobody reads her and they need to be, "(though if you're not, you do need to be!) but just that she seems to fly under the radar and her stuff is so, so good. She's also a published author so prooooobably she is focusing her energy on loftier stuff than blogging, but when she takes the time to write, you are never sorry you clicked over. Plus her daughters are darling.

Favorite local blogger: New-to-me fellow Denverite Megan. Love her writing, love her story, love her solidarity as I boycott Target and salvage our family finances.

Experienced (read: doesn't wring her hands and sob at bedtime every night daddy works late) mother I'd most like to apprentice to. Jen or Hallie. Really either of them could teach me everything I ever needed to know about not losing my damn mind in the next decade or so, I believe. Colleen would probably also slap some sense into me.

Sporty blog: I love Susan and her beautiful reflections on motherhood and running and being a rockstar wife.

Living faith: Molly. She handles the gritty, non-always-easy and sometimes makes your throat catch. But always beautiful.

Unknown(ish): Kristine's is a blog I've been creeping for years, I think I found her originally through Jen's old blog, but I honestly can't remember. Anyway she has 4 beautiful babies, runs ultra marathons and dresses like a runway model so...I can't look away. Also, minimalism + clean eating. Can't get enough.

Fav non-Catholic blog: another one I've been reading literally for years and years is NieNie's. She's LDS and definitely super into it, but I just skim the heavy religious posts, and honestly, her commitment to her faith and her family is admirable. Also, her clothes/house/kids/pics are stunning. She and her husband survived a horrific plane crash a few years ago and she's a burn survivor with an amazing comeback story.

Smartest blog: probably Anne. Her curated content is so interesting. I like Joanna too, but some of her stuff is morally questionable.

Fav male blogger: I don't read hardly any man blogs (sorry guys?) but I do like Daniel's and Dan's.

My political muse(s): Julie. Or maybe Mary. Gah, another toss up. Both are so smart and witty and generous in their coverage of "the other side." You'll be a better person for reading them.

Home decor: love the Nester. I really like Ashley's stuff too, and Caitlin's.

Girls I just want to close down the bar with: Kate. And Steph. And Katrina. And Lisa. And Cari. And Dwija. And Rosie. And Kelly. Okay, pretty much everyone on the aforementioned list.

Can I just tack a few more on here? I mean, who can remember the entire internet? Okay cool: Olivia,  AnneKendraMary, Agnes, Cam, Christine . . . (dot dot dot, because I'm sure I'll think up a few more.)

I'm sorry if I missed anyone! I tried to retrace my frequent trolling steps so I'll have to come back and add to this list if I encounter any omissions, because dang this got long, and my back hurts from siting, and the friggin Patriots just won and the friggin Seahawks are currently winning. Blergh.

Anyone you love who I'd love?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

State of the budget

Well well well, just over a week in and would you look at that...

I've made exactly zero impulse purchases since we started this little experiment. Nada. Not so much as a latte or an "it's only $3.99 and the library taaaaaakes so long" Kindle title."


Truly, this is amazing, for I am the most entitled and undisciplined woman on the face of the earth.

Had a rough day with the kids? Pint of Ben and Jerry's! Oh, and maybe that latest copy of Real Simple while I'm standing there in the checkout.

Can't find something to wear? Well there's probably something amazing on the Target clearance rack that would be the elusive keystone to my wardrobe that will unify every scrap of subpar made-in-Kackiztanz non-designer piece in my closet.



I know it's poor form to express so much enthusiasm this early into the marathon, but I'm honestly stunned at how effective simply putting some hard and fast boundaries around my spending has been.

There was a particular day earlier this week that was just...rough. The kids were finally well enough to leave the house, but it was 11 degrees, so. Yeah. We loaded them up in the filthy winter-splatttered minivan and hightailed it to the Cherry Creek Mall (can I get a what what, locals?) for some immunity-boosting indoor play time on the soft play area.

It was heinously crowded, smelled like diapers, and was crawling with running toddlers and noses. And I wanted a Starbucks.

I even went so far as to ask Dave to grab me one on his way back from a stop into a store there, but he forgot, and I just kind of sat with the craving for a while and it just... dissipated. And then I was sitting there, latte-less, $4 richer, and feeling like I'd just summited Mt. Everest.

It's a little thing, but the past week has been filled with lots of little things that seem like they're going to add up to big things:

- No weird impulses in the grocery store. Just, you know, milk and bananas.

- No frantic texts at 5:19 pm begging for a rush hour pitstop at Chipotle for dinner delivery. Because meal planning! (Actually, that's a lie. There's no planning. It's a motley assortment that hits the table every night; but it's homemade!)

- No unplanned Amazon clicks resulting in unexpected visits from the UPS man at dinner time. Heh, I don't remember even ordering that. Weird!

Stuff like that.

It's been so good. It's been so liberating to finally feel like we're in that sweet spot where we're really only spending money according to the plan we've made with it, using the budget as a ruler an not a sledgehammer.

And yeah, it's early on, but we've already had a couple "hiccups" in the form of an ER visit and a surprisingly high dental bill, but that's fine because those are the inevitable variables in family life...heck, in life, period. Whereas my inability to stop myself from buying 4 clearance onesies and a pack of hair bows for Evie every third day of the week because I just needed to "pick up a few things" at the Bullseye was the very opposite of inevitable. It was evitable, even. I was the problem, not our circumstances. I was causing them.

So there's my take on it all, 8 whole days into the new year. But I've got a sneaking suspicion it's going to keep being really, really good.

(Of course, I'm still living off the fat of my Up and Up diaper stash. For now. Still haven't quite resigned my heart to the drop off at the end of the road...)