27 August 2008

Baby O., Our Little Miracle

I have written before that I think each child comes with a life-affirming story. Each child is a survivor. If you have had enough children for enough time, you become very aware not only of how resilient children are, but also how fragile. God sustains them, and we parents look on with gratitude.

When I say Baby O. is a miracle, I mean it. It's ironic that I anticipated writing a very boring birth story for this child. Scheduled C-sections are so routine and uneventful, right? You show up, have surgery, out comes baby {sans drama and contractions} and two-and-a-half days later, you go home and start life with your new blessing. I joked with myself that I could write O.'s birth story beforehand and then come home and edit it for accuracy.

How wrong I was.

To begin this story, I must begin with Tuesday of last week, when O. was very still all day. However, that night he moved a lot, so when I saw my OB on Wednesday and he asked if the baby was moving, I explained what had happened, but that I thought the baby must be fine. The doctor spent extra time listening to O.'s heart and checking on him. His only comment was that O. seemed surprisingly small, considering that he had measured so large earlier in the pregnancy. But there were no indications of a problem, so I went home.

Wednesday night, O. didn't really move much. Thursday during the day, O. did not move. Thursday night, O. did not move. On Friday, I was shaken up. I had a pre-op appointment at the hospital, so I went through the motions and did what had to be done, but I couldn't stop thinking about how the baby wasn't moving. After lunch on Friday, we drove over to my OB's office, where I planned to request a nonstress test. I figured I was over-reacting, but that a test with good results would help me to not spend the weekend worrying.

The OB office was closed. My mom paged the doctor, and he sent us to the hospital for monitoring. At the time, I was annoyed. I didn't want to be one of those false-alarm mothers, but I also wanted to check on my baby. So I went. I called Si and asked him to meet me there. Deep inside, I really did have a bad feeling. My mom needed to take the other children home, and I didn't want to be at the hospital alone.

We got into the hospital and onto the monitors. About five minutes into the process, I had a contraction--not a bad one at all, but the monitor showed the baby's heart rate plunge from 150 to 60. The nurses ran in, said everything was "fine," but rolled me on my side and put an oxygen mask on my face. The nurse in charge of me made it clear we would not be going home. One of them called the OBGYN with the news. He said he could perhaps do a C-section after 7:00 p.m. His concern was that I had just eaten lunch and they try not to perform surgery on full tummies. Well, that was four hours away. Then another contraction happened. The heart rate dropped below 60 and disappeared for a short while. One nurse scrambled to adjust the monitor to locate the heartbeat. After a while, she found it again. It became consistent that with every contraction the baby's heartrate either dropped or disappeared. Other nurses began prepping me for an emergency C-section and urged the doctor by phone to come in immediately. The nurses were all very serious and worried.

Everything happened so fast after that. It was a whirlwind of getting everything ready so that the doctor could literally walk in the room and get O. out. When the baby came out, Si took a picture, but was told quickly to not do that. Then I saw the baby. He was so tiny and thin, even though he was full term. And he had the cord wrapped around his body five times. The anethesiologist counted aloud as each wrap was untied. Also, my amniotic fluid was full of meconium. The anethesiologist said that in all the 20,000 births he's attended, he has never seen a situation this bad result in a baby who survives.

The baby was limp. He was taken to a nearby table where, for two minutes, he did not breathe. Si watched from a few feet away as a doctor and nurses suctioned meconium from his throat and lungs. They pushed tubes down his throat and nose to pull out the sticky, black goo. He became horrified that he was watching O. die and could do nothing to stop it. I thought all was well because the anestheiologist said things were fine. He was concerned, though, but he told me they would clean him up and he would be fine.

The baby cried once and again went limp. The nurse kept slapping his foot to stimulate his senses. Another tube went down his throat. Two minutes went by. Then another cry. And another. A nurse finally checked the clock for his birth time. Si was pretty emotional at this point, but he told me that O. had black hair, like Q. did at birth. He was trying to give me something to think about other than my worries.

O. weighed 4 lbs, 15 oz. and was 18.5 inches long. The doctor later told us that the baby probably had the cord around his little body for three months, which prevented proper nutrition from getting to him. Even though his organs were functional, he had hardly any fat on his bones. His blood sugar was low, so they put him on an IV for a day. Because of all the IV and monitoring he required, he wasn't able to stay in our room with us that first night, though the nurses were kind enough to bring him to me and let me nurse him before he received his bottle feedings. I've been consistently nursing and supplementing with formula to get him chubby, but that will take some time.

He is truly our little miracle. Nurses {even from other departments!} stopped in the nursery to see the "lucky" baby. The anesthesiologist told us that O. must have a special purpose in the world, because he shouldn't have lived through that. I don't know about a specific calling on his life, but I do know his purpose is the same as all of ours. As the catechism says, "The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever."

Thank you all for your prayers. For now, we focus on helping O. grow, and also my recovery, as I ended up losing twice as much blood as usual and am quite weak.

If we could say anything about all of this, it would be that God alone guided O. to safety on Friday. There were so many things that could have been different, and we know that O. would not have made it through the weekend alive. We rejoice that God is faithful to protect and preserve!

23 August 2008

The Darndest Things: Censoring Scripture?

Sometimes, I wonder if we should be careful which verses our children are exposed to at which ages. Our son, for instance, was recently introduced to this verse:

But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Matthew 18:6


Within 48 hours of gaining this new wisdom and insight, he caught A. encouraging Q. to do something that is expressly against house rules. And do you know what he said to her? He said, "A.? Do you want to die? God is going to throw you into the ocean and drown you for doing that!"

Great.

22 August 2008

Chores and Capability

This morning, I found myself compiling a list of which chores each child is capable of performing. This doesn't mean that each child is actually responsible for these chores each day. But still, I was curious what they could do if I needed them to.

When I need them to.

Unfortunately for me, "giving birth" involves major surgery and I'm not one of those bounce-back-in-a-week type of ladies. I wish I were, but I'm not. I'm typically on the three-to-six-week plan.

Because of this, a lot of family is usually in and out of our home after a baby is born. And they help us a lot. But I thought it'd be nice to have a list so that they know what they can ask the kids to do. The kids like to help out and use their skills, plus this might keep others from overworking themselves.

Anyhow, this list is all about capability. It doesn't mean that each child performs each task every time it needs to be done. My babes are still small, and I don't feel the need to pull them away from what they are doing each time it needs to be done. Now, some chores have already been given to them as their job. This means that, barring strange circumstances, my son always puts his own folded clothes away, or my older daughter always puts away the clean silverware.

But if the trash needs to be emptied and my son is outside working on his composting project, I don't typically leave it there for later, nor do I call him in. I just do it myself. So even though he is capable of performing the task, it isn't yet his sole responsibility. And frankly, it will never be. Trash is a community affair, I think.

Anyhow, here is what I came up with. I am always curious what children of different ages are capable of doing, so I thought I'd post my list.

E., aged 6.25 years
  • Dress himself.
  • Make his bed.
  • Vacuum all floors.
  • Empty trashes.
  • Fold rags and put them away.
  • Put away his and Si's clean laundry {except hanging clothes--he is too short}.
  • Use Basic H to spot clean tile floors and clean his bathroom counter and mirror {he needs to be reminded to get the mirror completely dry so that it doesn't streak}.
  • Clear dining table.
  • Help put away groceries.
  • Put away clean dishes {yes he is allowed to stand on the counter to reach the high shelves...unless he has been outside barefoot!}.

A., aged 3.5 years
  • Dress herself {she might need help with buttons}.
  • Make her bed poorly.
  • Clean up all the toys in the playroom.
  • Scrub sinks with homemade nontoxic scrub.
  • Put away clean silverware.
  • Empty dryer and bring laundry to the person who will fold it.
  • Put away her clean folded laundry {not her hanging clothes...again she is too short}.
  • Dry dust living room, office, and master bedroom furniture with a microfiber cloth.
  • Clear her place after meals.

  • **Note: This child requires lots of supervision. She often sets out to do a job and forgets, so everything must be inspected when she reappears.

Q., aged 19 months
  • Push laundry baskets from room to room while someone else collects the dirty laundry.
  • Hand dirty laundry up to the person putting it into the washer.
  • Empty the dryer if someone opens it for her and sets up the basket.
  • Pick things up for people.
  • Help clean up toys.
  • Undo chores that other children have done while running wildly around the house in her older sister's toy high heels.

19 August 2008

The Darndest Things: A.'s First Haircut?

Daughter A. has never had a haircut, even thought she is three-and-a-half. She wasn't quite as bald as our firstborn, whose photos we could undoubtedly have used to raise money for childhood leukemia, but her hair was quite sparse. However, it grew in fairly even. And it had those cute little baby waves that disappear if you cut them off.

So I've just let it grow. It's finally past her shoulders and we're getting to do fun things like put it in a ponytail.

On Saturday, she apparently got quite the knot in her hair. It was her own fault, I'm sure. After all, she habitually twists her hair, plus she puts it in her mouth. That combo is sure to cause a few tangle disasters.

But I, The Mama, always take the time to gently comb them out.

I do not cut them out.

Do you see where this is going?

On Saturday, I did not see the knot. My dearly beloved did. And he's getting quite handy with the tools around here, so he did the manly thing and grabbed the scissors and whacked that knot right out of her hair.

I was slightly heartbroken. After all, does this count as a first haircut? And, if so, did I miss it? And was I supposed to save the lock?

I was aghast! I insisted that all future knots be referred to me for immediate attention.

And this morning, when I was putting her hair up in a ponytail, there was a suspiciously short section that stuck straight out into the air...

Odds and Ends: Finishing Well

This being the final week before we begin our new life as a family of six, there is a lot that is already done, and a lot that remains. And there are also the things I hoped I could fit in or work out that seem to be happening {by God's grace}.

School Update

We made it! Even though we moved, we were able to complete four full weeks of school by last Friday. This is a huge relief, for now I know that I can take off the time I need for recovery without worrying about getting in our goal, which is 180 days of school by June.

Cooking School

This week, we are not doing much in the way of reading, writing, and arithmetic {(at least not the way we do during our formal study sessions}. I'm focusing the week on preparing for the baby. One of the obstacles we face this time is that we will be providing more of our own food than ever before. In the past, friends have brought us meals, but the children's allergies are now so severe that it complicates simple things, like accepting a meal cooked by another family.

This is not to say that we aren't receiving any help or support. It's just different than before.

I'm trying to bake bread daily and freeze it. So far, I've baked seven loaves. One of them magically disappeared during breakfast this morning.

We also fit in a cookie baking session this morning. I found a new recipe, and so far it has received six thumbs up: two from me for being easy to prepare, and four from the older kids who thought they tasted great! If you are a GFCF family looking for something new to snack on, check out this recipe for Teff Peanut Butter Cookies. The ingredients are so healthful, you will feel quite comfy feeding your kids the results!

Tonight, I'll be baking four loaves of zucchini bread. And then tomorrow, we'll do more pumpkin bread and use up my canned organic pumpkin. If I stay out of labor long enough, I'll try to do a number of loaves of sandwich-type bread to help make lunch a bit easier during recovery.

Final Happy Memories

I've always had a tradition of taking my already-born children to the park once or twice before the arrival of a new baby. However, I doubted this would happen as it is August and last week there was a triple-digit heat wave predicted. So imagine my surprise when I awoke to a mysterious morning coolness. I doubted it would last long enough for me to get three kids ready and make it to the park before the heat arrived, but, just in case, I checked our local weather.

The high today is predicted to be only 89!

I was ecstatic. We skipped out on dishes and headed to the park for 45 minutes of play. The sun felt good to all of us, and Baby Q. enjoyed one of her only visits to the park. What a blessing that this worked out!

Chore Training

My goal all along was to train the children to perform as many chores as possible before the baby came. I typically have very difficult recoveries after my surgeries, and, frankly, I need all the help I can get. But besides this, I have learned that performing useful tasks keeps up the morale when times are hard. A mommy that is weak and in pain is a hard for a little one to bear.

Training has gone so well! My son has learned to clean most of the bathroom. A. has learned to scrub sinks. It helps that I discovered safe, non-toxic cleaners that will not stain their clothing. This way Mommy doesn't hover over them, worrying about this or that. Yesterday, both children enjoyed spot-cleaning the kitching and dining room floors while I made homemade pizza. I had no idea how entertaining such tasks would be for them!

The End

So I suppose that's about it. I try not to publish many vanity posts, but what can I say? In times like this, life gets much smaller.

18 August 2008

The Alarming Status Quo {Part II}

As I mentioned in my previous post, the hospital ticked me off a bit when I called about the vaccine and eye ointment waivers. I don't want to build this up to be a huge story, because it really isn't, though I do believe the conversation is symptomatic of the medical industry's approach to parents {i.e., trained professionals know more than the mother, even if the mother turns out to be well-informed and researched, or even a trained professional herself}.

Today, I want to explain why we are refusing the day-of-birth vaccine {which we would refuse even if we had not already decided not to vaccinate our children} and the eye ointment. Part of the reason I'm writing this is to remind myself why we decided this in case I have to answer impertinent questions on Friday when I go to get the waiver forms.

As an aside, I thought I'd mention that folks like me who choose to live outside the status quo when it comes to schooling, health care, or whatnot {choose your poison}, should take care to guard against offense. When someone does something that is different or unusual, the curiosity of others is naturally aroused. It is not rude for people to be curious, and questions are not inherently a sign of bad manners. My new approach is to, first of all, never give a hospital or doctor's office employee more information than they need. However, if another mother casually asks a question, I consider it an opportunity to encourage someone to think for herself. Most people ask questions because they are searching for information or they found something interesting. This isn't a reason to get defensive.

Ahem.

Moving ever onward...

Newborn Eye Ointment

I could go on and on about this subject, but instead I'm going to point to a couple handy references, and if any reader truly wants more information, they can click away. Newborn eye ointment is administered as standard procedure to pretty much every baby born in the US {as far as I know}. The purpose of newborn eye ointment is to defend babies against two types of blindness. The first is caused by gonorrhea and the second by chlamydia.

To read more about some of this, there is an interesting discussion in the archives at GentleBirth. There is also a great analysis of Neonatal Ocular Prophylaxis at Unhinderedliving.com.

What I'm going to talk about now is why we have made this decision. I'll make it fun and use bullet points. My husband loves bullet points.
  • Personal experience. Our oldest enjoyed the status quo to its fullest. By the time I met him, the hospital staff had gooped up his eyes until they looked like they were almost swollen shut. He ended up contracting a subsequent eye infection that required additional antibiotic ointment for a week. I was later told that the first ointment probably killed all the bad and good bacteria in his eyes, and left him vulnerable to the later infection. I spent five weeks cleaning his eyes with a warm washcloth after every single nap because of his excessive eye drainage.

    Our second child ended up in an even worse condition. She, too, looked like she was swollen after the administration of the ointment. She, however, ended up with plugged tear ducts. Her eyes would ooze during every nap, so badly that they sealed themselves shut. I had to prepare warm wet cloths and soak her eyes whenever she woke. I could tell it was painful to pry all of the sticky discharge out of her eyes. This continued to the point where the pediatrician mentioned more than once that she might require a surgery at one year if it didn't clear up. Thankfully, we didn't have to go to that extreme.

    Before the birth of our third child, I read that what my first two children experienced was considered a side effect of the eye ointment given at birth. When I realized that the sole purpose of the ointment was to protect them from diseases I couldn't possibly have, and which they could only contract during a normal delivery {and my children are all C-sections}, we considered the status quo to be too risky.

    Our third child was spared the ointment. She made much more eye contact from the very beginning. She never had disgusting eyes upon awakening. And, amazingly enough, she never went blind.
  • Logic. If I knew what I knew now about the ointment, I would refuse it even if I hadn't had the bad experiences with my older children. I am not a fan of administering medicine that is unnecessary. The ointment is to prevent a form of blindness caused by STDs that I couldn't possibly have. And such forms of blindness, by the way, are much more unlikely in a post-penicillin world even for babies born to moms who do have one or both diseases.

    But back to our personal situation. My husband and I, as Christians, take seriously the command to keep the marriage bed pure. We happened to be Christians before we ever met, so purity is something that has not only been a part of our marriage lately, but it actually preceded our marriage.

    I'm trying to be vague here, for the sake of discretion.

    Ahem.

    If the marriage bed is kept pure, it logically follows that the children resulting from the marriage do not need ointment.
  • An expression of freedom. When the hospitals require a certain action regardless of who the patient is and what diseases they do or do not have, they are treating patients in an impersonal, inhuman manner. Subjecting my child to a drug because some other mother somewhere has some disease which I do not have is putting me in bondage to that other, infected mother. Why must I reap what she has sown? Why must I pay for her deeds? And why must my child?

    In a truly free society, the government respects that parents are just that: parents. Parents have not only the right to make decisions for their children, they have the responsibility. Regardless of what decision is made for the child, I think the very act of making it a decision is a way of taking hold of my own position of parent. It is an act of love when I decide, as best I can, what is best for my child.

    I am not a slave, and no hospital employee should dictate my child's care.

Day-of-Birth Vaccine

The vaccine given on the day of birth is, I believe, for Hepatitis B. I say I believe, because my children were never offered vaccines on their days of birth before. I only inadvertantly found out from a friend that this would be a threat to our new baby and I would need to sign a waiver form. Times, they are changing, I suppose.

We do not vaccinate our children anymore. The primary reason for this concerns some specific ethical and religious beliefs. If you want to read about them, you may click here. A secondary reason we do not vaccinate is that our first two children have had multiple health issues {including severe vaccine reactions and possible vaccine injury} that {surprise, surprise} our third child does not share. Our third child is our healthiest child, and she is unvaccinated.

However, since my first few babies survived not being vaccinated on their first day of life, I see no reason to administer a shot to such a new soul, even if some government official somewhere out there decided to revamp the vaccine schedule.

But let's take a brief look at the Hepatits B shot, just for fun. What is Hepatitis B? Friends, this is the all-important question. According to the CDC website:
Hepatitis B is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis B virus {HBV}. It ranges in severity from a mild illness, lasting a few weeks {acute}, to a serious long-term {chronic} illness that can lead to liver disease or liver cancer.

Transmission: Contact with infectious blood, semen, and other body fluids from having sex with an infected person, sharing contaminated needles to inject drugs, or from an infected mother to her newborn.

Administering Hepatitis B on the day of birth is similar to the eye ointment situation: there is an underlying assumption that the mother is infected with a disease that is either an STD or a result of IV drug use.

Repeat after me: My baby is not at risk.

The only narcotics I've ever taken by IV were given to me by hospital staff expressly against my will. And I've already discussed the protection that purity offers mother and child. So my baby does not need a shot for this disease.

However, hospitals aren't exactly the cleanest places on earth. MRSA, for instance, has broken out in our local hospitals repeatedly. Anytime a person's skin is punctured, they lose one line of their body's natural defense. Open wounds, even small ones, are an opportunity for viruses and bacteria. So why allow a child to be vaccinated in a hospital, and receive a puncture wound in a particularly dangerous environment {hospitals being, I repeat, polluted by infectious agents}, when the shot can be given at a later date in the comparative safety of their doctor's office?

To me, this just makes sense. If we vaccinated, we would wait. We wouldn't allow our child's immune system to be compromised on the day of birth. Since our family is not at risk for Hepatitis B, and newborns aren't even capable of engaging in behavior that puts them at risk, I don't think there's any cause for concern here.

14 August 2008

The Alarming Status Quo {Part I}

Yesterday was a very productive day for me. Part of what was done had to do with phone calls, which I generally avoid. I don't like making calls, waiting on hold, or talking to strangers. But sometimes, a person has to do the things that are uncomfortable. Yesterday was like that.

So I called the pediatrician about post-delivery visits at the hospital and circumcision. And I called the hospital about getting the vaccine and eye ointment waivers.

And the hospital, quite frankly, ticked me off.

Beginning at the Beginning

Before I go on, I think there is a story in my past that might illuminate why I have a knee-jerk, slightly adversarial approach whenever I discuss what I want with hospital staff. It is all about what happened to me on a Saturday morning in May of 2002. You see, I was a young wife, in labor with my very first child. I didn't know much about birthing babies or taking care of them. I was very nervous. But I stood my ground on one sole issue: no drugs.

No matter how bad the pain got, I wanted to tough it out.

I don't remember why it was so important to me as I didn't know much about anything at the time. But that was the way I wanted it.

And on that Saturday morning, a nurse, to whom I had repeatedly refused drugs, took advantage of my husband's momentary absence and injected some sort of narcotic into my IV without my permission.

The impact was instantaneous. My tongue felt thick and fuzzy. My head felt dizzy. My stomach felt nauseous. I couldn't concentrate.

Si came back into the room and I remember feeling like a stroke victim. My brain was aware of everything, but I could hardly get my motor skills to cooperate. Somehow, I was able to mutter that the nurse had given me something and I didn't know what it was.

The next few hours of being under the influence were almost unbearable. This drug did not ease the pain. It simply limited my ability to respond or make myself comfortable {because I didn't have full control of my limbs}. The drug made me tired {and I had valued the idea of being aware and fully engaged as I experienced the birthing of my first child} and so I fell asleep in between contractions, only to be rudely awakened by pain that almost seemed heightened by the narcotic.

The story gets better, I suppose. After all, we all survived. I ended up requiring a shot in the back due to the necessity of a C-section. And the shot was welcome because who in their right mind would want to feel a surgery? So, you see, I was competent to accept help when really necessary.

What I learned in that morning was the complete arrogance on the part of the medical establishment. This nurse truly believed that because she had medical training and experience, she could overrule the fact that I had a soul, that I was the one given this child by God, that I had the right to make decisions. She proved to me that I could not trust a smiling face and pleasant bedside manner. In the end, she believed herself to be more competent that me, my husband, or any other family members to make decisions concerning my welfare.

So if I sound slightly alarmist when I write this series, please understand that experience has taught me to think this way.

The Final Push

Yesterday, I told Jeana that I felt great and thought that my stamina was holding up better than in any of my previous pregnancies. So naturally I spent yesterday evening eating my words. I've been having contractions nightly for some time now. I don't know if this is normal, but it happened in my last pregnancy, too, and everything was fine. Last night they were strong and fifteen minutes apart for hours.

And then they stopped so that I could get some sleep. He's a very polite little boy.

This morning I was exhausted from the "workout" {if I may call it that}, so I spent some time languishing on the couch.

So much for stamina.

Almost Ready

The last two days have been spent finalizing our preparations for Baby, among other things. Si went and retrieved the crib we had lent to friends. I was able to launder the linens and get it all set up. Last night, the contractions were bad enough that I packed a bit of our hospital bag, just in case we ended up needing it someday soon.

I finished designing the birth announcements {I find it's cheaper and more fun to make my own}, so now they are just waiting for all the pertinent information and cute photos. Or, hopefully the photos will be cute. Some of our babies cooperate more than others.

Prayers

If you want to be praying, the C-section is scheduled for August 25. I always get nervous about the surgery and recovery. It is painful, and I suppose I'm a bit of a wimp. We're also praying for a milk miracle, which is something we pray for every time. And then there are the normal prayers for children adjusting to a new brother and parents adjusting to sleep deprivation and exhaustion.

The Last Word

This isn't my final pre-baby post, at least I'm not planning for it. But I'm feeling at The End, so I thought I'd mention how thankful I am for all of you and your encouragement, especially those private emails that have meant so much in the last week. When I'm up nursing a newborn, I'll be praying for you, too. It's a good way to occupy the nighttime hours!

13 August 2008

Paranoia

Something is following me. I kid you not. Before the move, I distinctly remember packing trash into neat and tidy black bags. Said black bags were supposed to end up in the large trash can outside the old rental.

Now, I never saw the black bags leave the house and come to the new one. Obviously, I would have put and end to it and told whoever was carrying it that they could leave it in the trash, thank you.

But they followed me. Yes they did! I never saw them, but I am finding their contents unpacked into my cupboards!

I kid you not!

Take yesterday, for instance. I remember two of the children's games from our game collection. One, I packed into a box that was labeled GARAGE SALE. This was because the game, though very cool, could burn through a D battery in approximately 25 minutes. That, my friends, is a good reason to get rid of a game. So I thought I would sell it to some unsuspecting person. The other game, I remember throwing in the aforementioned black trash bags because it had broken and missing parts, and had also proven highly annoying.

Both of these games are now in the game closet here at the new house!

I tell you, I am being followed by my stuff!

Tonight, with Si as my witness, I am going to attempt to discard these games, along with a few other items that seem to have risen from the proverbial dead. After that, we'll see if they come crawling back to me or not. I'm hoping I'm just paranoid and my stuff isn't really following me around...

12 August 2008

Thoughts on Moral Virtue {Part III}

I feel the urge to have a disclaimer starting off. This is because I'm going to talk about attempting to raise good, morally virtuous children without ever having done so. It should go without saying that my thoughts are based on what I've read in Scripture, observed in the world around me, and picked up from wise older women. Since my oldest is only six, we have yet to know whether we have succeeded with any of our children.

All of this to say that this post is not intended as childrearing advice. It is simply a bit of sharing about what I'm learning right now and how this change what I do and how I do it.

While my sister-in-law was here, one of our most interesting discussions {to me, anyhow} was concerning the idea that children are real people. In our culture they are often thought of as inconveniences or burdens on the one hand, and really cute accessories on the other. Building the habit of thinking about them as people with souls can be a challenge.

As I was thinking about this fact--that my children are real, actual people with thoughts and feelings and wills of their own that deserve respect--my son had a day. Poor guy actually has a lot of days. But he had one shortly after the conversation. His day was mostly filled with failure. He had encountered lots of discipline. Now, granted it was his own fault. He didn't want to let things go, he allowed himself to blow things up out of proportion, and though we all tried to stop him, he plowed down that road determinedly.

And at the end of the day he seemed beaten down. He was also discouraged by other factors which were outside his control.

My heart had been pondering what to do with him all day long. To go back to the abstinence discussion from my first post, there were two potential responses to such a day that might fit. One would be to use reason and fear. I could have, for instance, told him all the bad things that would happen if he continued in his ways. We moms have wild imaginations when it comes to our children. I could have told him a tall tale about how if he never learned to submit, he would never be a good employee and he would lose his job and become homeless as a grownup! Some of this could be true. It certainly might be true of a percentage of the population of boys who act in such ways.

Another response might be the specialness response. I could have told him how smart he was and how his smartness makes him too good for such foolishness. I could have told him that he really is, deep inside, special and sweet and he should act accordingly.

Both of these responses might be true, and they might even be effective. But they didn't necessarily seem Biblical. Or, to say it another way, I was sure that the Bible had better advice that scaring my son into obedience, or building up his pride.

God inspired Si and I separately to each try something new with our children. I would call it a two-pronged approach, except that such a title sounds far too formal compared to what is actually happening in our home now. We are simply trying to add some new things into the mix that we think will encourage moral virtue in general, and build up our son in particular.

Reading His Word

It was heart-warming to hear my son begging his father to read Scripture to him before bed last night. I think he knew that Si would be tempted to take the night off since it was late, we were all tired, and we parents still had a two-hour project ahead of us {unpacking the office, if you must know}.

"Daddy!" I heard him say. "I love Scripture! I love Scripture! Please read me at least one chapter! Just one chapter..."

The Bible says that fathers are to bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. It dawned on me that usually parents are strong in one area and weak in the other. We are strong on discipline overall. We are scheduled, organized, consistent in responding to misbehavior, etc. Though we are far from perfect, discipline isn't necessarily our problem.

But instruction? Well, in the midst of the move, a lot of things fell to the wayside. Our children had had a long break from instruction, and we were beginning to reap that.

But really, it goes beyond this. If we want to consider what it takes to raise morally virtuous children over the long haul, a good verse to look at is:
How can a young man keep his way pure?
By keeping it according to Your word.
Psalm 119:9
Scripture guards our hearts and minds. If a man wants to pursue moral greatness, he must be fully immersed in Scripture. And yet here we were, expecting a youthful form of morality without grounding them enough in Scripture.

With our son, Si began a nightly time of reading, just the two of them. We have done family worship time in the past, but sometimes certain children will need special attention, I think. This is one of those times for our family where one-on-one discipleship will be key.

Commending His Works

What God has shown to me is that I need to encourage my children in a way that is distinct from the world. This doesn't mean that I never tell them when they have done a good job. We all need feedback. But I'm questioning whether some of my past actions really strengthened my children morally or even emotionally.

If I constantly tell one of my little girls that she is beautiful, I have set her up for disappointment, as beauty fades with time and cannot be relied upon. If I console a little boy by assuring him that he is smart or strong or talented, I set him up for hubris and pride, which can only lead to moral failure, and never that ultimate virtue of fortitude I mentioned in Part II.

However, if I teach my children to esteem not themselves, but rather their Maker, I have offered them a true source of strength. I have planted that seed of conviction that God is real, and He is good, a foundation for morality and goodness. If, at the end of the day, I say that the day was good, not because of what we accomplished, or because of the wonderful things we did {like hitting a homerun at the game}, but because God has made it {and aren't we amazed and how well He did so?}, I offer them true contentment.

Every day will not hold a victory. Every day will not bring us success. But every day is full of God's glory, and therefore every day can be rejoiced in. This is where children will learn to find not only their moral strength, but also their emotional strength. God, there during the dark valleys, leading them beside peaceful waters, will be their Source.

Commending His works to them becomes foundational for moral, spirtual, and emotional growth. In short, it encourages maturity.

End Note

So that night, with a discouraged little boy by my side, I decided to take a new approach. It felt a little awkward, as it wasn't something I had much practice at. But I assured Him that God is good. I never spoke of the failures of the day. Instead, I tried to find the points of light that both of us could delight in together. Isn't God good? we said together. For a few brief moments, we reflected on His gifts.

When I left him that night, he seemed more contented and peaceful than any evening past when I tried to shower him with a thousand praises, rather than teaching him to praise his King!

08 August 2008

Thoughts on Moral Virtue {Part II}

Mary had always been good. Sometimes she had been so good that Laura could hardly bear it. But now she seemed different. Once Laura asked her about it.

"You used to try all the time to be good," Laura said. "And you always were good. It made me so mad sometimes, I wanted to slap you. But now you are good without even trying."

Mary stopped still. "Oh, Laura, how awful! Do you ever want to slap me now?"

"No, never," Laura answered honestly.

"You honestly don't? You aren't just being gentle to me because I'm blind?"

"No! Really and honestly, no, Mary. I hardly think about your being blind. I--I'm just glad you're my sister. I wish I could be like you. But I guess I never can be," Laura sighed. "I don't know how you can be so good."

"I'm not really," Mary told her. "I do try, but if you could see how rebellious and mean I feel sometimes, if you could see what I really am, inside, you wouldn't want to be like me."

"I can see what you're like inside," Laura contradicted. "It shows all the time. You're always perfectly patient and never the least bit mean."

"I know why you wanted to slap me," Mary said. "It was because I was showing off. I wasn't really wanting to be good. I was showing off to myself, what a good little girl I was, and being vain and proud, and I deserved to be slapped for it."

Laura was shocked. Then suddenly she felt that she had known that, all the time. But, nevertheless, it was not true of Mary. She said, "Oh no, you're not like that, not really. You are good."

"We are all desperately wicked and inclined to evil as the sparks fly upwards," said Mary, using the Bible words. "But that doesn't matter."

"What!" cried Laura.

"I mean I don't believe we ought to think so much about ourselves, about whether we are bad or good," Mary explained.

"But, my goodness! How can anybody be good without thinking about it?" Laura demanded.

"I don't know, I guess we couldn't," Mary admitted. "I don't know how to say what I mean very well. But--it isn't so much thinking, as--as just knowing. Just being sure of the goodness of God."

[snip]

Everyone knows that God is good. But it seemed to Laura then that Mary must be sure of it in some special way.

"You are sure, aren't you?" Laura said.

"Yes, I am sure of it now all the time," Mary answered. "'The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, He leadeth me beside the still waters.' I think that's the loveliest Psalm of all."

-From Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
For the first two weeks of school, we spent some time studying Sandro Botticelli's Fortitude. Fortitude is part of a collection of seven works {Botticelli only painted the one} to appear in a sort of courthouse. The seven works were depicting the seven virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity {the theological virtues}, and Temperance, Prudence, Fortitude and Justice {the cardinal virtues}. Many consider fortitude to be the foremost virtue, or the virtue upon which all other virtues must rest.

But before I go into too much depth concerning this, I think it is important to note that the idea of virtue implies much more than good behavior. It implies strength. This is why we can look at a medicinal herb and discuss its virtues, even though it has not a will with which to make moral decisions. The virtue of the plant is where its power lies, what use it has in this world.

Fortitude itself is a virtue of strength. It is the virtue that can overcome our powerful emotions. It is the virtue which empowers us to sacrifice for others, to deny ourselves in favor of a greater good. It isn't mere courage, though courage is definitely involved here. Courage doesn't necessarily require good theology. However, fortitude rests in exactly what Mary mentioned in the long exerpt above: the conviction of the goodness of God. It does not negate fear, but it assures us that God is superior to our circumstances in every way, and that His ways are higher than ours.

Fortitude is transcendant, focusing on eternal matters.

So what does all of this have to do with yesterday's discussion concerning moral virtue in general and abstinence education as an example? Everything, friends. Everything.

Ours is an emotion-driven culture. Emotion-driven cultures are completely antithetical to the concept of fortitude. If we, for instance, try to encourage goodness through an appeal to the emotions {fear of consequences, confidence in one's own specialness and value, etc.} we will fail. We might either produce offspring who appear good while they are actually proud {and longterm such pride will result in sin for pride stands in opposition to a holy God}, or we will produce offspring who are tossed by the winds and waves of their circumstances. They will have no strength to stand, with only their own specialness to stand upon.

To go back to the Wilder excerpt, I find it interesting that the young, proud Mary and the older Mary both appeared to be good. But only the mature Mary, the Mary who rested in the conviction of God's goodness, truly attained virtue. It was this latter Mary who was able to stand in times of trouble.

So the next question for me is how do I attempt to cultivate true moral virtue in my children. I know that, on the whole, such a thing is an act of God's grace. However, I also firmly believe that I am capable of actions that direct my children toward or against true virtue. That gives me something to think about for the next post.

07 August 2008

Thoughts on Moral Virtue {Part I}

Lately, I've found myself pondering goodness from a number of different angles. I don't mean niceness. Niceness is a modern substitute for true moral goodness. I mean goodness in the way that Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia is good. Remember? He is good, but not always safe. Niceness is safe and comfy. Goodness runs deep and can be controversial at times.

Part of my thoughts on goodness are connected to different interactions I have had with the idea of abstinence education. Many organizations and churches that teach abstinence have a heart to see these youngsters grow up to be nice boys and girls who behave themselves until marriage. A lot of the abstinence education programs consist primarily of warnings: STDs will get you, babies are hard to raise, emotional baggage will be carried into your future marriage, etc. Now, all of these things are true, but I question how many teenagers know that and sin in spite of the facts.

Within this approach, the problem which results in promiscuity is defined as a lack of information. It is assumed that if only these people knew all the bad things that could result from such behavior, they would avoid it. And so the solution is defined as educational in nature. Here it is assumed that rattling off long lists of the horrible possible consequences, and especially using photos of particularly nasty diseases, will properly educate the students and eliminate the promiscuity problem.

Another approach to abstinence education {which is typically aimed at girls} is the "you're too special for promiscuity" message. This is where the teacher assumes that girls are promiscuous because they don't realize how special they are. Because the problem leading to promiscuity is assumed to be a lack of personal awareness of one's own specialness, the solution is necessarily some sort of building up of self-esteem. These are the abstinence programs that tell girls they are wonderful and special and should wait for their husbands because waiting for their husbands is the ultimate expression of how special they are.

Now, I'm not here to say we should halt all abstinence education programs. I'm not here to say that some of these methods are not effective. In fact, the point of my post isn't concerning abstinence at all. I just found the programs to be particularly useful examples.

I do have a few red flags raised when I consider these programs. The first is concerning the use of these approaches by Christians. Promiscuity is only one symptom of a society's general lack of moral virtue. The Bible never says that rampant sin {and absence of virtue} is caused by a lack of information, nor does it say that it is rooted in an unawareness of one's own specialness. The Bible also never suggests that information and/or self-esteem is a primary or even secondary means of reforming the morals of a society. Furthermore, I question whether these approaches reveal to the student their own need for God.

If the problem isn't defined as a need for salvation and sanctification, how will Jesus ever be the solution?

I was considering my own life, and the areas in which I personally am lacking in virtue. Many times, when I have noticed a fault in myself, I am inclined to take the first approach {education}. This means, I seek out a book or a stack of books. I believe that if I just become better informed on the subject, I will immediately be reformed in my soul.

Now, sometimes this is true. For instance, if I am truly trying to accomplish something and I just can't seem to get it right, information lack might be my problem. But I'm not talking about making mistakes. I'm talking about character flaws and lack of virtue.

When I see in myself, for instance, a lack of compassion or a certain selfishness, I can read stacks of books on what compassion is and how it plays out in real life. I can read Bible verses on why I shouldn't be selfish, but rather give of myself.

The problem is that I already know all of this. In these instances, my problem is that I need to be sanctified. I need to surrender to my Savior. I need to repent of my sin.

My problem, at its core, is rebellion. Rebellion will not be fixed by information, nor convincing myself that I am too special to waste my time sinning in certain ways. {In fact, some of my sin might be connected to thinking that I am more important than my neighbor. But I digress.}

Tomorrow, I want to explore the origins of moral goodness as revealed in the writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

The Darndest Things: Conversations with Q.

Baby Q.'s conversation skills have been hit-and-miss. She spoke early compared to our other two {but not compared to averages, I don't think}. Then she seemed to forget some of the words she used early on. She went through a time where she spoke very, very quietly. And then, for a while, she spoke actual words through an unmoving mouth. We had to listen very carefully to understand her.

Now, she uses "UH" with varying tones and emphases in order to get her point across.

We have no idea what she is saying.

A car ride goes like this:

Q.: Mommy?

Mommy: Yes, Q.?

Q.: UH uh UH uh uh.

Mommy: Oh. That's nice, Q.

Q.: Dah-ee?

Daddy: Yes, Q.?

Q.: UH uh UH uh uh.

Daddy: Yes, I was thinking that, too.
This scenario repeats itself through each and every car ride. Sometimes she points at something while saying this, other times her eyes seem to wander aimlessly while she talking.

Anyone care to translate for me?

06 August 2008

Getting Ready for Baby

On Saturday, I began a massive four-day project. This isn't something I would usually choose to do during a move where there are still boxes piled high in some areas of the house, but this project was a bit of a specialty. It was part of my preparation for Baby O. It dawned on me I was barely three weeks from my C-section, and I was having enough contractions at the time that I wondered if I would make it that long.

Besides, why start stacking boxes of boy baby clothes in the garage when they will be moved into the master bedroom within the month? It seemed highly inefficient.

Preparing for subsequent babies is different from preparing for the first baby. With the first baby, there are a lot of needs. Now, many Americans tend to define "needs" in a way I do not {this is not to say I think it is wrong to have extra things if a person can afford them}. For instance, our first never had his own designer nursery, never had an exersaucer or a bouncy chair. And he survived just fine. But Baby does need food, clothing, shelter, a place to sleep, etc.

My philosophy on future babies is that no supplies are as cheap as the ones we already own. Thankfully, we have always had enough storage space to capitalize on this fact. Even when our little family of three lived in 600 square feet, we were blessed with a basement where I could stash boxes of outgrown baby clothing.

It has been fun revisiting our old baby boy clothes, items we haven't seen for over six years. And, of course, we have been blessed with a number of new items from a small family shower that a generous aunt and cousin threw to celebrate Baby O.'s impending entrance into the world.

So getting ready for Baby around here involves very little shopping. I have a short list of things I need {mainly bottles since I have always had to supplement my milk supply}. Other than that, preparation involves moving furniture and doing a huge amount of laundry.

Emphasis on huge.

I think I have done fifteen loads of laundry in the last four days. Of course, this is including regular laundry also. But it is still a lot of washing, drying, folding, and putting away.

The new house is interesting. Our bedroom is slightly smaller than the one in our old place. However, the closet is larger. So this time the changing table and tower of drawers can go inside the closet. This makes the whole room look bigger and tidier! The only large baby item in our actual bedroom will be the crib!

The System

The real reason I am writing all of this {other than to bore you to tears} is because I realized that my storage system, which I learned from some book somewhere many years ago, really works. There was no blind searching through the garage, hoping that we would find baby clothes. They were all right where they should be, even though everything was in disarray from the move.

The secret is simple. In each child's closet, I keep a small cardboard box as a catch-all for outgrown clothes, shoes, socks, etc. When it is full, I go through it, tossing or donating items that I didn't like, don't want to keep, are too stained, etc. If the box is still full, I begin to pack it away for storage. Otherwise, I wait a bit longer.

Each box gets two 3x5 cards. On the cards, I write a number and a basic title, like "Boy Baby Clothes 0-3M." On the lines below, I write out exactly what is in the boxes. This list will say, for instance, "0-3M onesies" and then there will be tally marks next to it telling me how many are actually in the box. The two cards are identical. One, I tape to the outside of the storage box. The other, I put in my little card file that I keep in the house. Then, on the box, I write the number nice and large on each side of the box so that there is no missing it.

This process takes me about ten minutes, and saves me loads of time later on. It not only helps me find clothes for kids growing in and out of the various sizes, but it also helps me find clothes for folks we meet who are in need, even if it is just to borrow a 2T ski vest for the weekend.

So when I found my project starting this weekend, I took my numbered cards and went out and grabbed the necessary boxes. Three minutes later, the first load of laundry was underway. What a time saver!

Finished Project?

Last night, I tucked away the last clean burp cloth. The changing table is stocked, and later today I'll find a sheet to drape over it so that it doesn't collect dust while we wait for Baby.

But I'm not done.

Our second crib has been being used by some friends these past few months, and so we still have that to go get. Then I'll be back to laundry, this time preparing the bedding.

Did I Mentioned How We're Blessed?

I forgot to mention that I actually have new {to me} bedding this time around. My cousin was kind enough to bring over her son's old bedding. Frankly, it doesn't hardly look like it was used. The nice part is that it matches our bedroom perfectly. Six years ago when we registered for our first set of crib bedding, it matched our room. Then, when our sheets died, we replaced them with a different color. It is completely unnecessary for things to match, but I must say I think it will look so very nice! It was like receiving a surprise luxury item and it reminded me of the best advice I was ever given.

If I can ever find the camera and USB cord, I'll post a few photos of our cutest baby things...

04 August 2008

And the Dust Begins to Settle

Wow. What a two-week whirlwind we have had! And yet, somehow, we are all moved in, we are rid of the old rental, and life is beginning to slow back down.

That is, until the baby is born and it all speeds back up into that eerie form of slow-motion that is the endless stream of days and nights when nursing a newborn.

But I digress.

There are boxes, boxes everywhere, but we are unpacked enough to be able to live daily life without too much interruption. Even though this new house is about 100 square feet smaller than our previous house, it has so much of the space in the right places that I don't think it matters. In the long run, I think it'll work out better.

I learned a lot in this move. We started Moving Week fairly successfully. I was feeling very productive, even though I am very pregnant. {Emphasis on very.} Then, my brother-in-law arrived with his family. They started helping with the moving process. Even though I felt like I was doing well on my own, I really appreciated the help.

Then my ankles swelled up.

And then the swelling traveled to my knees.

Seriously, from the knees down you would think I weighed 300 pounds.

Ahem.

That is when the doctor told me I was swelling from being on my feet too much and needed to lay on my left side. I didn't bother to tell him that we were in the process of moving. He already assumes I don't sit down because I have three kids.

So I became quite in need of help. I cannot imagine what we would have done without our family visiting. My sister-in-law packed my entire kitchen for me the day before we moved. Thankfully, we think similarly about kitchens, so she did it just the way I would have done it, but better. My brother-in-law helped Si move his desk over so that the cable company could hook up our internet access.

I really have no idea how we would have pulled this off without them. They were God's gift to us during these past couple weeks.

And they left last night.

It was really strange. Because they moved with us, we had gotten used to them here in the house. We were like one big happy family. The girls even begged for their cousin at bedtime {Baby S., my only favorite niece, shared a room with them during the visit}. At dinner, we accidently set places for them. We will miss them.

But we really must move on, swollen feet and all. I find that everything takes longer here because I don't have any rythym here yet. I have no routine. I don't even know where everything is, at least not automatically.

Back in School

This morning, however, we managed to crank out a school day. I think it was good to jump back in. I had planned a light day for the first day. But really, with nothing to do other than unpack breakable objects whenever I turn my back, the children will do better with lessons to learn.

And by the way, A. is up to the letter D. The alphabet is coming along nicely.

Give Me a Backyard, and Make It Snappy

A. was also attacked by a yellow jacket on one of our first days here. So now she is terrified of going outside. However, E. is seeming very restless and loud. This is only a problem because they are used to going outside together and complain when they are separated. Add to this that temperatures are in the hundreds and there is nothing out there but what looks like a desert, and I don't blame them for preferring the Great Indoors.

Which is why I would like to publicly encourage my husband to plan the backyard. Soon. Pronto. For the love of his wife's sanity.

Back in the Saddle?

Other than all of the above mundane details, I can only say that I don't know where I stand in relation to blogging. I didn't expect the swelling-feet-contractions-lay-on-your-side issues to arise. So we will see how it goes.

I still have a great post swirling around in the back corner of my brain. I hope it isn't mediocre by the time I set my hand to the keyboard.