Category Archives: parenting

Please help us get a new van.

In 2008, I got my first motorized wheelchair, and we were blessed with an opportunity to buy a twice used 2000 Chevrolet Express 3500 wheelchair van, which was first a prison van and then a medical taxi (I call it our “Paddy Wagon,” since the expression came from stereotypical Irish cops collecting groups of stereotypical Irish drunks in police vans).
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The van has served us well for almost 9 years as our primary vehicle.  “We’ve” had to put some money into it to keep it going, but when it all adds up, it was less than we’d have paid even for a regular van in payments, much less for a handicapped van that can fit our family.

Me and kids at Roper

Me and my kids in 2013, after my aortic graft surgery

Our economic situation simple: we make a little less than enough to get by in modern America.  Unless I should obtain the time and inspiration to write a best-selling book, we strike the lottery or get a really good  investment, we’ll never make much more than we do now.
So when a major expense arises, we need help.
Every few months, something malfunctions in the van.
We had to purchase a second vehicle, using up the small amount of room we had in our budget to add another monthly payment, so we only have to use the van when we need the power chair and so we have a backup when it fails.  The very day we went to pick up the “new” car, the lift stopped working.  When my abdominal aneurysm ruptures or requires surgery, if I survive, I will most likely lose my ability to walk completely.  In the meantime, I need to be able to keep strain off my aorta to delay that surgery as long as possible.
It won’t be long before our eldest daughter has to use a scooter or power chair–technically she already should because she subluxes her ankles every time she walks very far, but we can’t get insurance to pay for one.
As communities, Muslims, Mormons and Evangelicals seem to be very good at rallying around their members.  We Catholics, as a community, need to show the same generosity with ourselves as we do with strangers, to provide the “safety net” that keeps people from falling completely into destitution.  On an individual basis, we have many wonderful Catholic friends who have helped us more than we can ever thank them for.  We know someone out there can afford to help us.
We’re hoping to get a used, 2015 or 2016 Ford Transit Wagon XLT 350, medium height, for around $25,000.  I figure we can modify it ourselves for around $3000-5000.
So accounting for fundraising fees, taxes, etc., we’re trying to raise about $30,000-35000 just for that, though if a generous benefactor wants to help with about $80000 in other expenses we expect to face in the near future, we’d be very grateful.  If someone out there reading this happens to own a car dealership or know a car dealer (I recently heard a rumor that a major Catholic donor in our state owns a dealership), I’m going to be bold and ask if, in the name of Our Lord, you could please donate a van directly?
Please share this post. Please share the link to our fundraiser.  Most of all, please pray that God opens people’s hearts to share, and that He profoundly blesses all those who have helped us.

Please click here to donate.

“Joy of Love”–What’s missing

The media are abuzz with Pope Francis’s long-anticipated Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation _Amoris Laetitia_, and from what I’ve seen on Facebook, the following Bingo game could be quickly won:

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I’ve read the first three chapters, and I’ve read that, like every other document from Pope Francis, the several assurances of orthodoxy in the first few chapters are followed up by a buried lied of “freedom of conscience” somewhere in the middle.

Let’s set aside that “freedom of conscience” and “Let’s adopt a new tone instead of authoritarianism” has been said over and over since  Vatican II.  Let’s set aside that some of the same people who, almost 20 years ago, were having conniptions over a very similar, but more more succinct, document from Rembert Weakland are now saying, “Let’s celebrate!  The Pope didn’t change doctrine!”

As usual, I sympathize, though don’t entirely agree with, the Pope’s critics from the “Right.”  My reaction thus far is really disappointment.  The document is the epitome of lukewarm.  It’s so insipid and boring I was outraged by the waste of time.  It really adds nothing to what previous documents have already said on any of the subjects at play.

When it comes to marriage and family issues, there are four groups of people:

1) Those who want a clear-cut, black and white moral code.

2) Those who “freedom of conscience” *from* the Church.

3) Those who simply don’t care.

4) Those who want to follow the Church but are struggling with difficult situations.

Group #2 are the only ones who have any cause for celebration in this document, and they are celebrating.  However, from what I’ve read directly or seen quoted, it *really* doesn’t say anything that isn’t somewhere in the post-Vatican II magisterium already.

Ostensibly, the whole point of the Synod was to address group 4, but so far it seems to be more of the same:

Yes, extreme circumstances may mitigate culpability.  However, this seems addressed in a way that’s more about alleviating the responsibility of pastors than providing mercy to those who struggle.  Emphasizing lack of culpability works out to the same as emphasizing sin in a punitive manner: both escape the Biblical responsibility of the clergy to help those who are in need.

This has always been my problem with group 2, the so-called “liberals” or “progressives”: too often, I’ve seen Acts of the Apostles cited by liberals to support socialism or communism rather than Christian community.

The Pope says we should “admire” and “be supportive” of families with disabled parents or children, single mothers, and so forth.  But “being supportive” is very different from “supporting”.  He mentions civic responsibility, but not clerical responsibility.

Instead, it’s the cop-out of “personal conscience.”  So much easier to say, “You’re not really responsible for the sins you commit out of  desperation” than to say, “We’re going to try to provide you with practical help so you don’t have to be put in a situation of desperation.”

 

To Hipster Dad and Trad Dad

A few days ago, Aleteia started the latest round of parents-at-mass wars by reprinting a CatholicMom.com column from last June, by one Thomas Tighe, a self-described “hipster dad,” who writes about one of those incidents I’ve blogged about before where people come up and say rude comments to parents trying their best to teach their kids how to behave at Mass.  Now, whether Mr. Tighe’s description of his attempts really qualifies as “his best” is a matter for debate but of prudential judgement.  I know, though, that when our kids were little, one of the major reasons we shunned the cry room as often as possible was to avoid the bad example of parents who brought snacks and non-relevant toys (we would always try to get the kids to bring religious books and sometimes religious toys).

Sometimes, a cry room is necessary.  Sometimes, a vestibule or a trip outside church is necessary.  Indeed, I got so used to taking my autistic son out of church that I realized at one point last year I preferred being outside, listening on the speaker.

I like the anecdote about Ven. Fulton Sheen, when a lady took a crying baby out of Mass during his homily: “Madame, you needn’t take the baby out on my account.  He isn’t bothering me.”
“No,” the lady replied, “but you’re  bothering the baby!”

Yes, parents of young or disabled children have no Mass obligation, but that is precisely why attending at all is an act of heroic virtue.

Nevertheless, I’m inclined to agree with Tighe, especially given the absolute vitriol that people were spewing in response to his column.  For example, Steve Skojec weighed in with the perspective of a “certain kind of traditionalist.”

Skojec takes the “absolute silence” perspective, including suggesting that it’s a sin to drop a book.  I’m sure he’d be deeply offended by the sound of my wheelchair or the number of times I drop things at Mass!

I wish I could get people like you to stop quoting Mark 10 as a justification for irresponsible parenting. I have always brought my children to Mass, letting the little children come unto Him…but I’ve also always reminded them that the Mass is a supreme act of worship of Our Lord on the Cross, not a friendly gathering where Jesus told the little guys cute parables. . . .

Yes, when the Apostles were complaining about children, they were mad that the children were being perfectly well behaved and wearing their blue blazers with brass buttons.  And when Jesus said you can’t get into Heaven unless you learn to be like children, He meant perfectly silent and well-dressed.

When people have offered actual help, or talked to our kids helpfully, I’ve welcomed it.  Once, when my kids got distracted by the Christmas Tree at the Christmas Eve vigil, the pastor gently said, “I realize you’re excited because it’s Christmas, but please wait till after Mass to look at the tree.” Another time, as my eldest daughter loudly proclaimed her responses at our parish, a lady behind us kept whispering in her ear.  I braced myself when the lady approached me after Mass.
“How old is she?” she asked.
“Five,” I said.
“You must have taken her to Mass since she was a baby.  I kept leaning over and telling her how impressed I was that she knew her responses.  I have a daughter who’s a nun now, and she knew her responses when she was 5, too.”
A few times, we went to Sunday evening Mass at my alma mater’s campus chapel.  We were flabbergasted when the young priest pointed to our kids as an example of how to behave at Mass!   “Those little children know how to behave at Mass better than you college students!” Then when the baby woke up and started crying, he said, “Now, see?  You’ve woken up the baby!”
I went to daily Mass there once with my son, when he was 2 or 3 but not yet diagnosed autistic.  Father asked if I wanted to lector.  I said, “What about him?”  “He’ll be fine!”   I shrugged my shoulders, got up to read, and my son started following.  I gestured to return to the seat, and he did.
My eldest daughter once got up and laid prostrate in front of the altar after a homily about kids at Mass.
She had grown up attending a monthly “Reform of the Reform” Latin Ordinary Form liturgy in Northern Virginia, and the occasional High Mass Extraordinary Form in Richmond.  When she was 2, she sang her Latin Mass parts well enough to impress a Juilliard-trained composer and choral director.
After we moved to SC, there was a monthly EF low Mass we would try to attend.  Once, when she was 5 or 6, confused by everyone being silent during the liturgy of the Eucharist, she began singing the “Salve Regina,” perfectly.  She was sitting a few rows behind me, with her godfather.  I turned to shush her, but almost everyone smiled and gestured as if to say, “she’s fine.”

A few years later, at another parish, I was sitting up front with the younger two, and an elderly couple behind us kept leaning over and whispering what I sensed were gentle admonitions to my son.  After Mass, they asked, “He’s autistic, right?”  I said, “Yes.  They both are.”  They said, “We have an autistic grandson.  We know how it is!”

But we’ve had enough nasty comments to know some people will never be satisfied.
One of the times I tried to bring my son to the low Mass, he whispered some questions but was relatively well-behaved.  Nevertheless, this older gentleman came up and yelled at me, saying, “I raised nine children, and I taught them to behave themselves at Mass!”  I really got the impression that he was as mad about my daughter’s devotion as about my son’s curiosity.  Two other ladies followed him and said, “Don’t listen to him, you’re doing great!”

I often tell the story of taking all four kids to a “Holy Hour” by myself. They’d been to Benediction many times, and knew some of Evening Prayer from my saying it at home.  I was holding the baby.  The then 6 and 4 year old were focusing on the prayers. My son was walking up and down the pews, but being quiet, as he’d done at the aforementioned college mass, which was a huge improvement for him.
They used illicit, barely recognizable, texts for Vespers and Benediction, politically correct, Charismatic and “interfaith friendly.”  At Benediction, they “voted” on which hymn to sing instead of “Tantum Ergo,” and sang “Amazing Grace.”
At the Magnificat, Divine Praises and other points, my kids said the correct translation with me.  Afterwards, the deacon who led it came up and told me how distracting my family was, and children shouldn’t be present at such a “solemn event.”

The last time we had a direct encounter, my wife was in the back with the younger two, who were both sleepy, as they often are, from their meds.  These two old ladies told my wife that our kids were distracting them by sleeping!

So, whether they’re actually being bad, or they’re actually participating, or they’re being quiet but sleeping, we’ve gotten both positive and negative feedback from strangers and clergy.

Yes, there are some people who are blessed with peaceful, well-behaved children, and like other people blessed with particular virtues, they shouldn’t lord it over others.  But there are also some whose kids’ perfect behavior can be a bit scary to the rest of us.

For the past several months, we’ve been regularly attending a Byzantine church that we have visited from time to time over the past 5 years, and I always found the kids seemed to be better behaved and attentive there.  In Advent, I suggested going to the OF Vigil Mass (it didn’t work out because we all got sick), and the kids said, “Do we have to?!”  They find the chanting both soothing and easy to participate in. They love having the icons to pray with. Like me, they find incense bothers them allergy-wise, but they also find it calming (even when they were smaller, they seemed to settle a bit at Vespers as soon as the Censer passed).  They like the community meal after Liturgy.  When there are a lot of children, the DRE gathers them and brings them up to sit in front of Father during the homily.

On Sunday, we were a bit late as usual.  It was Theophany, so there was an especially long liturgy.  I brought three because our middle daughter was sick, and my wife stayed home since I’m the one who usually does.

We stood/sat in the back.  In the second to last row, there was a visiting family–very obviously Latin Rite traditionalists.  The father and sons were all in suits.  The wife and daughters, all in dresses and veils (while veiling is traditional in the East, it’s not an “obligation,” and from my research veiling is usually avoided in the Melkite Church to avoid confusion with Muslims).   My two youngest ended up right behind them.  I was across the aisle.  My teenager was at the other end.  We’d been told to take empty holy water bottles when we came in.  So my son kept playing with his holy water bottle.  After a while, he came over and told me that he realized we had forgotten to get his morning pills before we left the house! I thanked him for holding it together so well, and took him out to the car to take his pills.  I was happy he was holding it together so well, but still trying to keep him in control.  He kept bugging his younger sister, and she kept shushing him.  The lady in the veil in front of her kept turning around and admonishing *her*.

Later in the afternoon, since I didn’t recognize the family, my wife asked our daughter if she recognized the lady.
“Which lady?”
“The lady who kept turning around and correcting you,” I said.
“Oh, *that* lady,” she sighed.  I should note that, of our four children, she’s the most resistant in matters of faith and has already developed the impression that God is a dictator Who just has a bunch of rules and wants to “get” people, in spite of our efforts to teach a balanced view of the faith.  If she grew up in one of these, “children should be seen and not heard” families, what would her faith be like?

What does it mean to be a “Successful” Parent?

Our Lady told St. Bernadette, “I cannot promise you happiness.” Many parents, however, say, “I just want you to be happy.” I say, “I just want you to be a Saint.” As Mother Angelica says in the opening sequence, “We are all called to be great Saints. Don’t miss the opportunity.” That should be every parent’s priority. Education is about formation of the person. Careers are how we provide for needs. They should also be apostolates–as CS Lewis and St. Josemaria, among so many others have said, being the best scientist, showing people a God’s hand in creation, or the best housewife, showing His love to everyone, is a more important and effective Apostolate than being a theologian–but work, like the Sabbath, was made for man. We treat our children like they exist only to be money-making or power-grabbing machines in a competitive world. It can be difficult to teach them how to honor God by doing their best to be their best while teaching them to avoid unnecessary stress or the “rat race.”There can be an equal temptation, though, to turn that quest for sanctity into a competition if its own, as if a formally recognized “St.” Degree, as Mother Angelica calls it, is the objective.  There is no more perfect formula to raising holy kids than there is to raising kids to be MDs or music stars.  

The popular but misused teaching of St. Augustine, dilige et quod vis fac, often mistranslated as “love and then do as you will,” really means “Love your duty and then do it.” Dilige is, after all, the root of “diligence,”though also of “delight,” etc.  Years ago,  I read a fantastic “testimony,” as the Evangelicals would say, by a Catholic “revert” who was led astray by the popular misuse of that expression.  I can’t find it offhand but here are a couple other sites that share the same critique of the popular version.  In reality, it’s the Little Way of St. Therese, or the maxim of Teresa of Avila (requoted by her popular namesakes) to do small things with great love and find God among the pots and pans.

Any parent who gets that message through is successful.

#NFPAwarenessWeek – Evangelizing By Testimony

Since Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae on July 25, 1968, the week containing July 25 is now considered #NFPWeek.
If someone is able-bodied, and effectively using NFP to space children, whether that means having 6 instead of 12 kids, or “stopping” at 2, or whatever, then I think it’s important to share stories.
If someone is struggling with NFP, pastors and other laity need to be aware of different methods to provide more effective help. It seems like proponents of almost every method say, “Ours is *the one*, and you don’t need to learn about the others,” but each method has advantages and disadvantages and are better suited to different couples and situations. For those who say, “Trust Providence,” I say that NFP *is* trusting Providence.
In our case, I think most people in our families assume we are experiencing secondary infertility. Just this evening, my wife was holding her brother’s new baby, and her sister said, “Next baby will be yours,” as if she’s presuming we’re “trying” but can’t. Yes, from time to time we pause to consider it, and, yes, we have had a few “close calls,” and if God blessed us with another baby, we’d figure it out, but as our close friends have put it, “If anybody has grave reasons, you two do.”
When we were first married, we used sympto-thermal method (CCLI), charting temperatures, getting up each morning to take temperatures, etc. Our first month of marriage, when “phase 2” rolled around, we were praying over whether to abstain.

We tried “Bible roulette,” prayed to the Holy Spirit and found a few passages about not worrying about what other people think, and that addressed a few of our other side issues. Then I looked up from the Bible and saw that my wife was wearing a t-shirt that said, “Consider the Lilies of the field. . . .”
The second month, on the first day of Phase 2, the Gospel was “Anyone who welcomes a child welcomes Me. . . . ”
So while we charted, our prayer led us to openness to a baby. One of our main concerns was my wife being the primary wage earner. We’d hoped I’d be done with my MA by the end of our first year of marriage and able to get a full time job. If that didn’t happen, we figured we should time a baby to be born in early summer, so after September, we began abstaining during Phase 2, until April when we figured we’d at least have Winter break, and in May, my wife woke me up one morning and said, “Good morning, Dad.”
I was never able to get full time work in spite of trying, so we made do withwe a lot of help for a couple years. Over Christmas 2002, when our eldest was 9 months old, the holiday got the better of us, and we got a bunch of signs from God, and we knew a baby had been conceived, and we would name that baby Lewis or Louise. It wasn’t the best timing but seemed to be God’s will. In March, we suffered a miscarriage.
As time went on, we learned how difficult it can be to use sympto-thermal method once you already have a baby, and if you’re using “ecological breastfeeding” as a form of child spacing. However, the charting we’d already done had given us a general sense of the “unofficial signs” of ovulation, such as ovulation pain. We moved from sympto-thermal to rhythm.
That June, we had a “method failure”–early ovulation, which nothing but abstaining from day 1 until 3 or 4 days after ovulation occurred could account for–but better timing in that by the time our second full-term baby was born, my wife’s short-term disability insurance’s maternity leave coverage would be in effect.
Lactational ammenorhea ended about 8 months of time after each birth. When that ended in October or November 2004, we started looking into Billings Ovulation Method, I misunderstood some signs, and by January 2005, we learned there was another baby on the way.
My own career had been on the upswing that year, and a week before our son was born, I started my first and only full time job. My wife was able to get a year of leave from her school district, and started tutoring online part time.
During that period of amenorrhea, we studied Billings Ovulation Model. We also tried practicing NFP more
“conservatively,” waiting from Day 1 till 3 days after we thought ovulation had occurred. That time, weren’t even sure when ovulation occurred, or how it was possible, but our youngest daughter was born in May 2007.
In the meantime, we had moved to SC, I had had a few health scares, and I began feeling a new kind of pain and pressure in my upper back. Over the next several months, I studied the various methods, indicators, and available devices in great detail. I found out that Marquette had developed a model using the ClearPlan Fertility Monitor, so we bought one of those. After a couple years, the device burnt out, and we started just using over the counter test strips because they’re cheaper, and we then knew how to read them. We found a website called myfertilitycharts.com, and we began using that to chart. Our youngest is now 8, during which time both of us have had health problems.
1) God sent us the method we needed it when we really needed it
2) If we had followed the more worldly advice of “waiting,” we might never have had kids at all (which we knew and was why we didn’t).

“but, Daddy, at school they said, . . .”: Why I homeschool

A few years ago, we tried brick and mortar.  We had our girls in a pretty good Catholic school and our son in a pretty good public school.  At Christmas that year (kindergarten), he started talking about the (alleged) religious symbolism of the candy cane.  We asked if he’s heard it at CCD, Lord’s Brigade, or on EWTN.  He said, “No.  From [my teacher].”  Indeed, our town’s general homeschool community, which my wife follows on Facebook to keep up with events, Is largely made up of secularists who find the local public schools too religious!”

But, still, even if you set aside questions of the moral and psychological dangers, bullying, peer pressure, subversive agendas, disputes about curriculum or teaching models, ability of the school to accommodate learning or physical disabilities, and so forth, those  two years, and the continuing aftermath, have highlighted a dilemma that troubled me my whole life.

My children’s generous uncles and aunts, starting with the Wii that I expected to be a one-time capitulation, have given them a steady stream of video game systems, so each of them now has at least one DS-whatever, and they’re constantly talking about the next thing they want.  I recall when I was laying in the hospital two years ago, watching my daughter play her DS, and thinking–whether I was actually hearing this or hallucinating, I may never know–the nurses, the hospital patieht rep, and others complaining about my kids having so many video games when we always say we’re struggling financially.  We are, and we’ve purchased very few of the games they have, and of course games have horrible resale value.  The point is that they’ve been roped into a materialistic cycle I’d always wanted to avoid.

My son’s hand me down DS broke over Thanksgiving.  His uncle sent him a hand me down Of what .i thought was the latest middle for first communion.  

Today, I took the kids to the park to fly a kite we bought at a dollar store.  We were having a good, old fashioned, inexpensive, fun time, but while I assembled the kite, I heard him talking about how he wants to save up for the latest model, which apparently is literally the “new 3DSXL.”  Within what I thought was reasonable for his fragile psyche, I lost it a bit and got a bit preachy.  We had a moment, hugged it out, but when I tried to talk about living in the moment, he said how at school they always talked about preparing for the future and planning for emergencies.  In his mind, having a second DS in case one breaks qualified as an emergency.   I’d been enjoying those 6 months when he carried around a box of Legos.

But how do you teach your child to be humble, to have poverty of spirit, to put others first, etc., when schools, and ironically Catholic schools especially, teach pride, ambition, and competitiveness?

The Jesuits have always been controversial for their accommodation of local cultures, and for their frequent interference in politics,  but I do not understand how an Order which rarely produces bishops or cardinals and has taken 500 years to produce a Pope because it teaches against pursuing advancement has contributed so much to the competitive approach to education we find in modernity.

When a dress code is not just about teaching modesty and obedience but wearing a “blue blazer with brass buttons,” is that teaching children to follow the examples of John the Baptist, Martin of Tours, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, or Pier Giorgio?  Even the Monarchs who’ve been canonized generally dressed below their stations.  

When a school advertises its “high academic standards,” makes students compete for titles like “valedictorian” even to the point of destroying friendships, gives awards for “perfect attendance,” etc., his is that teaching children to live the Beatitudes?   Help that homeless person you pass on the way to school, get a few minutes late, lose perfect attendance and lost the edge on being “#1.”  Besides, helping the homeless is dangerous, might be illegal, and you need to direct them to proper charities.  Is that a message that teaches kids to be Saints..

I know I could do a lot better as a parent, but I also know that what Ai consider better is the opposite of the World.

That’s why I homeschool.

What were the writers of _The Middle_ thinking?

To the Writers and Producers of <em>The Middle</em>
What were you thinking?

In the summer of 2012, a priest-friend on Facebook suggested your program as an example of one of the few truly wholesome, family-friendly sitcoms on the air today.

For the most part, we’ve found that to be true and have become huge fans of the show.  We’ve now seen every episode in reruns or first run and have watched most of them with our children.

However, the previous two episodes  (“Valentine’s Day VI” and “The Answer”) have left us scratching our heads.

There was a very clear contrast between the wholesome relationship of Darrin and Sue, and the implied fornication of Axl and Devin.  Axl, a stereotypical “millennial” college student, attending college just because he’s expected to, with no real career goals, surprises his girlfriend with a rented bounce house, paid for by what?  Credit card debt? Then comes home the next day to brag about having “celebrated” the night before.  Darrin, who already has a decent, well-paying job, surprises Sue with a “micro-house” that is paid for, and proposes marriage.

So, what happens?  Frankie sarcastically dismisses Axl’s “bragging,” and Mike hypocritically gives him a thumbs up over fornicating with some other man’s daughter while getting enraged that Axl’s friend has proposed marriage to *his* daughter.  Frankie and Mike convince Sue that’s she’s right to want to “experience” the world and accumulate a lifelong burden of debt rather than settling down with a man who loves her and has already demonstrated the ability to provide for her?

I suppose it’s sadly realistic to how most parents think in this culture, but it was so very disappointing.