Happy Friday, Y’all. Summer is finally in full swing around here after all the rain and cold. It’s still fairly cool, and even when it gets into the 80’s and everyone complains about the heat, Ryan still laughs at them.
I survived Fort Bragg in the summer, for years! Washington holds no terrors for me.
Saturdays are the day that Mommy and Daddy are both off, but that doesn’t mean it’s all partying and frolicking and whimsical nonesuch. It is a serious work day, with all manner of noble tasks to be undertaken.
For instance, we harvested some of our compost.
And placed it around our kiwis to slow down the desiccation of the soil around it.
Mommy was also working very hard to make a pink champagne cake for the Moergeli picnic which was on Sunday. It took all day, and she only finished it right before bedtime prayers, but isn’t it pretty?!
But she still had time to have a toenail party (that’s what it’s called, right) with the girls.
Our Japanese plum is starting to come into season!
It is loaded with fruit, compared to last year when we only got about three tiny little plums off it. It’s hard to tell when they are ripe, because they don’t turn purple, they just go from yellow to a slightly more translucent shade of yellow. And we have been having trouble keeping the small ones away, since they ate three of the unripe plums off the lower branches a few nights ago. Silly childs! Yeah, they’ll pucker up your mouth, but it’s probably good for the intestinal health so whatever.
Also, a note about that picture, Kathleen is carrying an empty champagne bottle not because that’s how we party after the girls go to sleep, but because neither of us like champagne, so we dumped what was left from the cake in the compost. Judging by the whooping and hollering and carrying on, the worms seem to have enjoyed it.
Sunday was the Moergeli picnic. We drove up to Enumclaw to get our Moergel on for a few hours. Kathleen has been discovering handwritten recipes tucked in the pages of her 1908 cookbook, and brought it up in the hopes that some of the older folks might be able to identify the handwriting and maybe decipher the ingredients, since some of the abbreviations are unfamiliar.
The consensus was that most of it belonged to Great-Grandma Gerald, and at least one of the abbreviations probably stands for “sweet” milk, by which the Aunts believe she meant condensed milk.
Dude knows how to throw a party for the Ellie! Just bring fresh picked berries. Which reminds me. Dude’s blueberries are coming on, which means we’ll need to find a day to get up and pick them in the next couple weeks.
Kathleen found Evie some new workbooks with a dry erase pen so that she can use them over and over again. She has a math workbook, a penmanship (cursive) workbook, and a phonics workbook.
She loves the Math one, kind of enjoys the cursive one, and has no interest in the phonics at all.
In that respect she is her mother’s daughter.
Let’s see, what else…
Oh, Evie and Ellie are both convinced that the food on Mommy’s plate is definitely more delicious than the food on their own plates, even when it is patently clear that it is the same kind of food.
Ellie likes to try on Daddy’s sandals:
And Ryan finally got the fence fixed, with a gate and everything!
If you are wondering why the diagonal bracing is not a perfect “X” it’s because the 2×4 was two inches too short, and Ryan was not willing to run to the store and buy another one. It works and doesn’t looke terrible. The only problem is that the new post that Ryan set is plumb, or pretty darn close thereto, but the old post that the hinges are set on is NOT! Not even close. You can see how this makes the whole fence sag into the neighbor’s yard, and makes the bottom of the gate not flush with the pole.
It hurts Ryan’s soul, but not enough to dig out the old post, chip away the cement and reset it. It’s going to stay as it is.
And that’s all for this week, folks. We hope you have a great weekend, don’t forget to pray everyday for us and for your own families.
The one on the right is a Texas skillet Ryan has bought probably about six or seven years ago, which he has used and abused until last summer. After a couple failed attempts to strip it and cure it, we ended up putting it on the shelf until we would have time to strip it again. This summer, Kathleen found a recipe for curing a cast-iron skillet in her 1908 cookbook, By boiling potato skins in it for an afternoon, then heating it over the stove top and coating it with a very very light coat of oil. It has since worked quite well, and between uses we scour it out with coarse salt, heat it over the stove and coat it with a light coat of oil.
A pan on the left belonged to to Kathleen’s great grandma Agatha who immigrated to the area from Switzerland in 1910. We don’t know when she bought this particular cast-iron pan, but we do know that she must have used it for a good portion of her life. Compared to the new cast-iron the difference is quite remarkable.
The old cast-iron pan is thinner than the new one, but it’s unevenly thinner as if it once was thicker and has been worn down in areas. The very bottom of the pan is slightly warped from being heated and cooled repeatedly for a few decades.
The inner surface is where the magic really is, it is as smooth as glass From decades of being scoured out with ash or sand or salt or some other grit and then re-weld reheated and used over and over again. Eggs and even cheese slide off this thing like butter.
It reminds me of a place I saw in Louisiana about seven years ago when I went down to give a talk at a Catholic school there. The school was built on an old manor house, and the drive up to the old building was flanked on either side by giant oak trees that have been planted there prior to the turn of the 20th century. About 15 years later they were transplanted further out to make a wider lane to accommodate the new motor cars that were just coming into Vogue at the time. Now close to a century after they were first planted, Hey for me truly magnificent tunnel of green over this old gravel drive up to a giant brick building that now houses a content in Catholic school.
In both cases, the cast-iron and the oak trees on the drive, the foundation was laid by somebody who would never see the final result. We in our generation are benefiting from their diligence and foresight a century or more ago. My own cast iron has a long way to go before it reaches anything like that level of smoothness and perfect finish, but if we keep at it and work very hard, maybe our great grandchildren will get the chance to enjoy this Texas skillet the way we enjoy a great grandma Agatha’s frypan.
Enumclaw Washington is one of those rare towns that still observes a very old and noble tradition, that of visiting the cemeteries to honor the graves of the dead. Kathleen’s family generally visits the cemetery on Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, and Father’s Day. In fact, our very first Family Friday ever was about Memorial Day cemetery flowers. The local Catholic parish used to go to the Old Crane cemetery on All Souls Day (not sure if they still do), and a lot of Enumclawnians go to the newer Enumclaw cemetery to put candles on the graves of loved ones.
We went up there today for the Memorial Day weekend, and planted flags and flowers.
And of course, as with most of you, my facebook feed has been flooded with “Remember the Fallen,” posts all day. My friends are pretty evenly divided between military guys and their families who honor the fallen with a fierce, almost touchy respect, that almost dares you to go ahead and say something against our fallen servicemen and women; and the more left-leaning crowd who gently acknowledge that, yes, they were brave to lay down their lives, and we can respect that sacrifice, but let’s take a moment to question the political and economic structures of violence and oppression that sent them over there in the first place.
And then there are the folks that are more like: “Any excuse for a BBQ, y’all!”
My own thoughts on memorial day, patriotism, sacrifice, courage, honor, the military service, politics, violence, peace etc. are too complex and complicated to deal with here. I have known my share of guys who were wounded, inside and outside, by the war. I have attended more military funerals than I wished to. It is definitely right and just to honor the fallen.
But as a Catholic, as I was walking through that cemetery today, a phrase kept repeating itself in my head:
Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis. Requiescant in pace. Amen.
From the Traditional Requeim Mass
You see, I’ve known a few military guys in my time. Most were decent sort of guys, according to their lights. Some few were humble, heroic giants among men. A few were sleaze-balls. But all were sinners.
This is where the Catholic understanding of visiting cemeteries differs from that of most people in the world. For us it is not primarily about remembering our loved ones, or honoring the courage of those who laid down their lives, or trying to connect with our past. These are all good things, but they are not the real reason we go. The real reason we go is to pray for their souls.
There is a tendency in our world to eulogize the dead, especially the military dead. We no longer say “funeral” we say “Memorial service” or “celebration of life.” We say “so-and-so is in a better place now,” or is “with Jesus.”We tell stories that cast our loved ones in the best possible light, magnify their virtues, minimize or make light of their faults. These are good and healthy instincts. Time should soften our memories, make us deal mercifully with those who went before, as we hope to be dealt mercifully with we go. But that is not the real business of the funeral Mass, the Requiem, and the subsequent visits to the cemetery.
The Church’s business is to remind us of the hard truth that we are all sinners. The greatest saint stands in need of mercy. We have forgotten the doctrines of hell and purgatory. Some people may be refusing friendship with God, even down to the last minute. Many more may be putting it off, or ignoring it, or too distracted or busy to think about it, or bound up in some addiction and unable to accept it. We say “So-and-so is in heaven now” but what we should say is that we hope they are in heaven. The truth is we don’t know.
This may sound harsh. It is not meant to be. As I said it is good and healthy to remember the best, forgive and forget the worst, and hope all things on God’s infinite mercy. That is exactly the point. Instead of prematurely canonizing our loved ones when they die, we should be praying for them. Offering sacrifices for them. Requesting Masses be said for them.
I have known a few military guys who are no longer here. None of them were saints, any more than I am. All were sinners, just as I am. I honor them with flags and flowers, with my training, with our gardening and barbecuing. But I also pray for them, as I hope someday someone will pray for me:
I recently heard a soldier say, “Ugh, I never want to have kids. Babies are SO GROSS! All they do is drool and poop all over everything.”
I have heard other (female) soldiers say that they never want kids because “when you get pregnant your legs swell up and you feel like a whale.”
One male soldier told me, “I would make a terrible dad, but I make a great uncle. Being an uncle is the best, you enjoy the cuteness and the fun and then give them right back to the parents.”
I cannot deny the facts of these accusations (with some careful caveats about the uncle comments). Indeed, I would go farther and say that they grossly (hee hee! see what I did there?) understate the case. For instance, just a day after that adorable picture (above) of the newborn sleeping Ellie was taken, this picture of the two-year-old nauseous Evie was taken…
Immediately after this picture she puked on Kathleen and Ellie, right as Ellie was starting to breastfeed. The interlocuter mentioned above had understated his case because as Kathleen pointed out, “He totally forgot about vomit. Until you’ve flown across the country with a toddler with the two-bucket disease…”
Drool? Meh. That’s nothing. Just good clean saliva and wonderfully exfoliative, especially in the teething phase. Poop? Usually pretty well contained, and exclusively breastfed poop even has a delightfully earthy scent to it, never, alas, to be equaled by the poops of subsequent diets. It’s the snot that gets you, especially when the baby likes to wipe it off with her hand, and then wipe her hand off on you. The snotty faceplant is another favorite.
But vomit is king, when it comes to bodily fluids. It is sudden, it is copious, it is uncontained. It bursts forth with a magnificent freedom, untrammeled by social norms or constraining receptacles. It inspires imitation by the weak-of-stomach (we call them “sympathetic pukers”).
The pregnancy issues are even graver, and definitely understated. While it is a sociological fact that 90% of people think pregnant ladies are cute with a pregnancy-specific form of cuteness (a.k.a. “the glow”)…
It is equally a sociological fact that 99.99% of pregnant ladies do not think that they specifically are cute. Leg swelling, tiredness, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, constipation, hemorrhoids, weight gain… all of these are potentially real accoutrements of pregnancy. Nor should we stop there. It is a disservice not to mention the actual serious potential outcomes, e.g. pre-eclampsia, eclampsia, previa, abruptio, breech, C-section, hemorrhage, miscarriage, nuchal cord, post-natal depression, to name a few. Nor do the problems stop with child birth, as anyone who has struggled with milk supply and failure to thrive can tell you. Everything from the stomach bug to seizures to teenage rebellion is on the cards for you if you decide to have kids, or if you have kids as an unintended result of your decisions (which is not the same thing).
As for the uncle thing, I can’t deny it is true, but I do deny it is manly. I won’t get into that discussion right now, but I’ll let Jim Wendler sum it up.
The truth is that, yes, kids are gross. The truth is that kids are also adorable.
You might say that the purpose of children’s cuteness is to help their parents get past the grossness. It is also true that the purpose of children’s grossness is to help parents get past the cuteness.
The truth is that, yes, having kids hurts. It takes the spring out of your step, the shape out of your waist, the clean out of your house, the hours out of your day, and the money out of your bank. The truth is also that having kids heals you, if you let it. It puts wonder into the world, purpose into your pudge, life into your deadness, meaning into your time, and rescues your money from useless places like savings accounts and stock options.
Family is an invitation to enter a love that can kill your prejudice. I am using the term “prejudice” in a slightly broader sense than its narrow, modern, intersectional political sense, to mean simply any personal preference that I hold onto. (I am also distinguishing a preference from a conviction, for obvious reasons). There is nothing wrong with having a preference, for without it we would have no desire or drive. But there is everything wrong with holding a preference, because then it becomes a prejudice and limits us, even if it is for something as relatively trivial as rice over potatoes. The kind of person who insists upon rice rather than allowing for potatoes remains a person who limits himself to one kind of starch. Worse, he runs the risk of becoming the kind of person who demands that the entire world bend to his prejudice and take away its damn potatoes and give him rice! (Change that to mac-and-cheese or crusts cut off the sandwich and you have pretty much every toddler ever.)
You may be the kind of person who insists upon not getting puked on. Kids are your gateway to broadening your horizons.
Kids will kill your prejudice, if you have any capacity whatsoever for letting go of it. I am not talking about putting on a wry face and simply putting up with not getting your way. I am talking about loving another human being so much that you no longer even really have a way. There is an ecstasy of love (I use the word “ecstasy” in its strictest possible definition, i.e. “to stand outside oneself”) that comes once in a while when you truly love someone else so much that you forget yourself. I do not meant that you sacrifice yourself, I mean that you simply no longer exist in your own mind. That little part of you that is always keeping an eye on your thoughts, your options, your feelings, your reactions, your wants… it just stops. You don’t even realize it has stopped until later, because you aren’t looking at yourself anymore. The very fact of noticing that it has stopped means, by definition, that it has started back up again. You may not even have realized that in that moment of total absorption in someone else’s need or pain or pleasure, that you yourself were more deliriously and wholly alive than you have ever been before, even in war. It is the fullest moment of your life not simply despite the fact that you were not aware of it, but specifically because you were not aware of it.
It is the closest experience I have ever had to heaven on earth.
One of the best examples of this I have ever seen was Kathleen when Evie was in the hospital with seizures. Kathleen is ordinarily the kind of person who has a prejudice for 10-12 hours of sleep uninterrupted sleep per night. It is important to her, but has often been denied by the realities of family life, never more so than when Evie was admitted to Mary-Bridge. Kathleen did not sleep for two days. She did not valiantly struggle to keep herself awake. She just didn’t sleep. Her entire being was focused on Evie and her needs and the thought of sleeping through this never occurred to her. She didn’t even realize she hadn’t slept until the next day.
This is the kind of self-forgetfulness that only comes from love. When you love in a family, the opportunity for it comes a hundred times a day. Hardly once or twice in a year, outside the honeymoon phase, will you experience that ecstasy of utter absorption in the other. It is useless and self-defeating to try to experience it. It must come as an unsought gift, or not at all, and anyway, this isn’t about using your wife and kids to manufacture some kind of transcendent experience. It is about living for your wife and kids in every mundane experience. That is how you can practice it every day, a hundred times a day, without ever knowing you are doing so.
The refusal to have kids because they are gross, or bothersome, or expensive, is pusillanimous. It is the same as refusing to get married because you don’t want to share your bathroom sink (is it possible to be any more small-souled than that?!) It is like saying, “No thanks, I don’t want to hike up to the top of a mountain, and experience fresh-air and healthful activity and human interaction. Netflix sounds like a lot less trouble.”
The only thing in the world worth living for is love. I pity those who are not willing to sell everything they think they own to purchase it.
In one of Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s recent posts he explores the problem of rage that is currently dividing and consuming our nation. This is an excerpt (which I originally read in his book on Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing) that has given me pause many times before this.
In my book Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing I explore the roots of our emotions and suggest that our adult emotions are rooted in the earliest experiences of our lives. Here’s an example: I was once asked to help a fifteen year old boy who had suddenly become irrationally angry and rebellious. He had been a sweet looking kid, sang in the church choir and had been delightful. At fifteen he became a “Goth”. Black hair, black leathers, eye make up…the works. He also started stealing cars. We asked him why he did so. He didn’t know. We asked if he knew that he would go to jail. He did, but didn’t care. He was in a tailspin, and there was no rational explanation. He said he was mad at his Mom and Dad and found external reasons, but they were all groundless.
In an attempt to discover the roots of his rage we asked him mother about his early years. She said he was adopted, and that he was conceived in the back seat of a car when his mother was fifteen. She carried him for nine months in an attitude of rage, frustration, rebellion and hatred. The other priest I was working with realized that in some strange way the boy was acting out not just his own rage, but the rage and rebellion of his mother. He was working through and acting out (according to the priest’s theory) the disturbing circumstances that lay at the very foundation of his personality
The first experiences of life take place while we are still in a sub-linguistic and sub-rational existence. For the infant, and certainly for the unborn child, life is nothing but a stream of emotional and instinctive stimuli and reactions. We exist in those pre-rational and pre-linguistic years in an emotional and instinctive soup, and the reason this is important is that just as in these early years our mind and body is forming, so our emotional life and emotional resources are forming.
This is why God ordains that we are conceived in a moment of self giving and beautiful love between a man and a woman, and that this conception takes place within the sacrament of marriage so it is also blessed and inspired by God. Likewise, the first nine months in the womb are to be a time of peace, health, love and happiness for mother and child. As the child receives nourishment from the mother, so he also receives love, confidence and peace. These contribute to a healthy and confident child. If the atmosphere is also one of spiritual nurture, prayer and worship, then the child’s spiritual life also receives a healthy and confident foundation.
I happen to agree that the pre-conscious and pre-linguistic period of formation in the life of a child is of incredible importance in the shaping of that child’s later emotional resources. I know, for instance, from my studies in neuroscience, that metagenetic mechanisms preferentially select more or less functional stress reaction pathways (cortisol and its related enzymes, to name one specific mechanism).
Now, I want to avoid the appearance that I am suggesting anything remotely deterministic. I am positing that the pre-conscious and pre-linguistic experience of every human influences their subsequent development in profound ways. Nor do I wish to suggest that these alterations are necessarily unmanageable or cannot be overcome by better later life environment, training and decisions (c.f “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains” as well as numerous more scholarly researches on the role of neuroplasticity in overcoming negative behavioral and cognitive patterns.)
I also want it to be understood that a stress-free environment for a child, even if such a thing were possible in this world, would most likely be just as bad as, if not worse than, an environment filled with fear and neglect. Stress in the right types and amounts provides an adaptive function in nature, especially in human nature. Just as bones that are not stressed in childhood are weak and brittle, so are personalities that are never stressed. Problem solving is developed as a response to stress, and is absolutely essential to functional existence in society.
Nor, finally, do I want to suggest that these modern insights into some (likely only a fraction) of the possible mechanisms for this reality represent any real increase in knowledge. We have ALWAYS know that it was bad for children and babies to be in fear for their lives, to be treated with neglect, contempt or abuse, or even to be simply unwanted, unloved or uncared for. We have always known that the role of the family is to provide a stable, nurturing, and challenging environment for children to develop stable, nurturing and challenging selves. These three qualities are prerequisites for learning to love, and love is the only goal worthy of a human person.
It does, however, cause us to think and to re-evaluate what is most important in our lives. The only thing that matters is teaching children how to love, or providing a space for other people to teach their children how to love. It puts my own profession into perspective, at any rate, or rather professions (i.e. warfare and medicine). My warfare is pointless self-aggrandizement and thrill seeking if it does not help someone, in America or Afghanistan or wherever, live at peace and raise their children free of warfare. My medicine is meaningless unless the people I treat are real people instead of Medical Record Numbers or lists of signs, symptoms and diagnoses. My task is not to make them live longer but to help them live well.
And of course, both of those professions are meaningless if I am not there for my own family, within the limitations of doing my duty to others. It means that my ability to protect another man family’s right to raise their children in peace flows directly from my family’s sacrifice of peaceful time with me at home. Whether it is crippled or empowered by that sacrifice remains to be seen.
Which brings me to one of my favorite quotes from C. S. Lewis, with which I will close:
The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden — that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time. In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. (Mere Christianity)
Since Daddy won’t be around for a long time to sing bedtime songs with you, I wanted to save this video for you to watch. I love you, and I will come back to you. Remember, it is okay to be sad. When you are sad because you miss me, don’t be naughty and disobey Mommy. Instead, tell Mommy that you are sad, and ask for a hug, so she can help you feel better. You can ask Deedee and Papa too, or Gracie, or Uncle Adam and Maryanne, and they will be happy to give you hugs and help you feel happy again.
Remember, even when Daddy isn’t around, Jesus and Mama Mary will always be with you.
A friend of mine shared this picture on Facebook, recently. It caught my eye, and I shared some thoughts in a comment, but I have been thinking more about it since then and I want to look at it a little more in depth.
The first question was, what did Dr. Dobson mean by “respect” and was it the same as what the maker of the graphic thought he meant by it?
The second question was exactly what the both meant by “reflection.”
Unable to determine the answer to either question I interpreted both according to my own experiences. When I hear the word “respect” I think “leadership” and when I see that list I read “challenges.” However, I suspect the maker of the graphic has a different interpretation, since they cross out the respect quotation and replace it with a list of modifying factors and link it with fear in the bold words at the bottom. “Respect” for parents comes from fear and is opposed to raising your child with joy and understanding.
Last Saturday we took Evie and Ellie to the YMCA to go swimming. Ellie loves the water. We call her our little water-baby. She likes to float on her back and grin and giggle, then stick her feet up out in the air and grab her toes, and then she arches her back and splashes her own face and laughs some more. Let me tell you it is freakin’ adorable.
Evie is very different. She has never liked water, especially water on her face. She is terrified to float, she can’t let herself relax, and if water gets on her face in the bathtub she cries for a towel to dry it off. So taking her to the pool is mostly about carrying her around in the water, convincing her to ride on a foam noodle, and just getting her to kick her feet.
On Saturday we worked on getting her to relax. I held her on her back with one hand under her bottom and one hand under her shoulder blades. She kept trying to sit up, and I kept coaching her to lie back, to straighten out her body, to relax, to take deep breaths. She was frightened, and she just didn’t want to practice that. She wanted to go play in the other pool and just do whatever she wanted.
However, after about five minutes of coaching and coaxing and counting breaths with her, she lay flat on her back for twenty slow, deep breaths in a row. By the end of those breaths her lower body was relaxed enough to float without my hand supporting her, and I was maintaining only a light touch under her shoulder blades.
The list of things mentioned in the graphic are certainly factors in a child’s behavior, as they are in anyone else’s behavior. However I want to caveat that admission with a few points from my own experience.
First, these adverse influences such as fear, anger, hunger, fatigue, stress and brain “wiring” a.k.a. neural pathways are present throughout life. They don’t end when we reach adulthood, if anything they get worse. Part of being an adult is learning to act responsibly, courteously and compassionately even when we are tired, hungry, stress, angry or have a tendency the opposite behavior. For that reason the role of a parent includes the responsibility to coach children how to overcome these negative influences (obviously at an age appropriate level, topic for a good deal of discussion in its own right.)
Secondly, these things are not determinants of behavior, but rather influences on behavior. To say that behavior is a reflection of these things, and the inclusion of age, brain development and wiring in the same list as other modifiable factors such as blood sugar is to suggest that a child’s behavior flows automatically from these factors to some inevitable behavioral outcome. It glosses over the fact that the parent’s management of these factors and their example and teaching are also factors in a child’s behavior. The parents should represent the role of reason and discipline in modifying and overcoming the negative influences according to realistic expectations based on knowledge of that individual child’s capabilities.*
Thirdly, I want to talk a little bit about the concept of “wiring.” It is an imprecise concept, much in vogue on the slightly deterministic side of popular and even academic psychology, but basically presumes that levels of neurotransmitters and patterns of neural firing are the root cause of moods and attitudes and their disorders. This is certainly partially true about certain aspects of neural development. For instance the early development of motor, language and social milestones seems to follow a fairly predictable path which holds true across cultures and is minimally modifiable by parental input. However, the older the person gets the less true this becomes. For instance the process of synaptic pruning (the deletion of unused synapses that occurs during childhood) seems to happen deterministically on a pre-programed timeline. However,which synapses get pruned is based on which ones are being used most regularly. The ones that are used get preserved and reinforced, the unused ones get deleted. Even in adulthood, neural plasticity has been demonstrated throughout the lifespan. In short, your brain “wiring” influences your thoughts, attitudes and moods, but your mental habits also shape and reshape your brain wiring. Healthy habits of thought and behavior breed healthy neural circuits, all other things being equal.
This is not to say that primary pathology, genetic susceptibility and hormonal irregularities may not play a role in the development of neural and psychological pathology. They certainly do. However, these are less modifiable, while mental habits and choices are modifiable. Part of the purpose of challenging children with hard but achievable standards of behavior in childhood is to cement the neural pathways that enable the behavior we call “courage,” which is the ability to do what is right no matter what hardships, risks or consequences it may entail. This habit of mind and its attendant neural pathway is, in my opinion, the strongest of the natural defenses against depression, anxiety and the general purposelessness that is endemic in our society.
Fourthly, I want to talk about the concept of respect and its role in this process. Respect is not the same as fear. Fear is based solely on consequences and can be instill fairly quickly. Respect is based on consistency, fairness, and integrity and can only be developed over time. The child must have a long term experience of Daddy and Mommy saying what they mean and meaning what they say; enforcing consistent, achievable standards; and of practicing what the preach. To suggest that respect is not an influence, and even a very strong influence is to ignore experience, or to betray a lack of experience with real respect. Simply put, Evie would not have laid still as long as she did for her Aunt or Uncle, probably not even for Deedee or Papa. Only her mom or I could have gotten her to do that. Her behavior for an adult that she knows and respects will always be better than it will be for someone else in the same challenging circumstances.
In summary, we should teach our children that even when we are tired, hungry, stressed or angry, we still need to behave courteously and compassionately. We do this by teaching that obstacles are not determinants of behavior, but can be overcome by the child herself. This must not be an academic knowledge, but must be supported by long practice until it becomes an unspoken habit of mind. This is developed in the midst of challenge, but in order for the child to navigate the challenge successfully, she must trust and respect her parents. She must know that they will never ask her to do something that they won’t do, that they will always have a good reason for what they ask, and that they will not ask the impossible. The difficult, perhaps, but never the impossible.*
Respect is the result of leadership.
*We try never to ask Evie to do things she is not capable of, although we have misjudged that in the past and have had to adjust our expectations. You can’t be afraid to admit when you are wrong and readjust when needed.
*First of all she said to herself: “That Mommying-noise means something. You don’t get a Mommying-noise like that, just Mommying and Mommying, without it’s meaning something. If there’s a Mommying-noise, somebody’s making a Mommying-noise, and the only reason for making a Mommying-noise that I know of is because you’re a Mommy.
Then she thought another long time, and said: “And the only reason for being a Mommy that I know of is making milk.”
Then she started screaming, and said: “And the only reason for making milk is so as I can eat it.”
*Adapted from A. A. Milne, although if you need to be told that you are an uncultured clod.
This has been a busy week, what with Daddy doing surgical rotation, and Mommy feeding a newborn every couple of hours. We still managed to find time to do some fun things.
We had a get together at Auntie Diana’s house.
It went spectacularly until Ellie pooped all over Diana’s bathroom, and Evie, not to be outdone, pooped her undies.
But I digress.
There was a Chinese lantern display at the Puyallup fairgrounds. We went to go see it, and it was pretty neat. Some of the lanterns were pretty spectacular. The tickets were courtesy of Ben and Christine. Thanks guys!
We got rained out of it after we had been there about 40 minutes or so, but it was okay. We had an umbrella and Ellie was in the baby wrap bundled up inside Daddy’s jacked, so she stayed nice and roasty-toasty, and Evie was a trooper as usual.
Uncle Adam and Aunt Maryanne came over to meet their new baby niece.
Adam is Ellie’s godfather, so he brought her a gift for her birth.
Evie and Edmund got to have tea together (chamomile vanilla tea cut with eggnog).
Daddy and Evie made 3-dozen chip-chocolate-oatmeal-raisin cookies, using the recipe Grandma used to use when Daddy was little.
They were quite delicious, but someone ate them all.
Other than that it has been mostly family time, with Evie being goofy.
Playing hide and seek.
Of course there has been lots of tiredness. We have been so tired that even Evie has been feeling snuggly.
And lots of this.
We will try to have some baptism pictures next week, but that’s all for now.
A long time ago, (by which I mean probably about a decade) a book by Rick Warren entitled, “The Purpose Driven Life,” was topping the bestseller chart. It had already taken the evangelical Christian world by storm, and even topped the New York Times Best Seller List. I was on active duty at the time and I remember chaplains handing out copies by the crateful, and book study groups forming at every base. You could find copies flying off the pinewood shelves in the major FOBs in Afghanistan, and even on offer in any of the smaller FOBs that sported a chapel.
I never read the book.
I am not sure why, since I was reading probably well over a hundred books per year in those days (I could kick myself when I recall how I took that ability for granted) but I just never was that interested in it. I suppose I thought the title said it all.
Life should be about a purpose. I had a purpose (becoming Special Forces) and I was ordering my entire life around that goal. Or rather, my purpose was to become a consummate warrior-poet-mystic, triple-role which Brad Miner would dub “The Compleat Gentleman,” and Special Forces was the path I was following to pursue one arm of that purpose.
In the regular Army I was an anomaly, but not so terribly much of one as I thought I was. I was one of the very few who not only wanted, but intended, to become Special Forces, but I was not the only one with a purpose. In fact, most of the guys had a purpose higher than themselves. They had long term goals for themselves, for their families, for their careers,. One of my best friends, Mike, was thinking about going Special Forces with me, but he was then the age that I am now, and he had met someone, and he was feeling the need to settle down and raise a family. As he put it, “At some point you have to decide whether you want to go on being John Rambo, or whether you need to become a good Christian husband and father while you have the chance.”
Perhaps it was our closeness with mortality, but the few in the unit who had no purpose other than making it back to the civilian world so they could smoke weed again, were actually in a minority.
Then when I got into the Q course I was surrounded by purpose driven men day in and day out. Those who were not so driven didn’t last long.
Now I wonder if I might not have done well to read Warren’s book. Being an evangelical Christian he might have pointed out the error in my thinking, namely, that my purpose was not high enough.
This is the great truth of Christianity that I have slowly come to learn, that God has created each human person specially and intentionally and for a purpose, and that our purpose, (your purpose and my purpose) is to exist in relationship with Him.
It is really that simple, no other purpose will satisfy. No career, no family, no retirement, no American dream, no vacation, no adventure, no mission, no glory, no achievement… nothing will satisfy except relationship with Him.
“For you have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” as St. Augustine says in his “Confession.”
Or as Saint Paul would say, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.
This purpose is the beginning and end, the alpha and omega, the source and summit, the starting point and the goal of every choice, every thought and every affection.
But on the other hand, the fact that this is our only purpose as Christians does not negate other, lesser purposes. To the contrary, it places them in context and gives them their true meaning. It is because God has called me to be a husband and father that it has transcendental and essential meaning, rather than merely accidental meaning. It is because He has called me to pursue the path of the warrior-poet-mystic that my training takes on an enduring and spiritual significance, rather than being merely a hobby.
In the light of the One purpose, everything matters. I will offer one example, the thought which triggered the writing of this blog, that is, the placement of my cellphone charger.
For me an important part of pursuing that relationship with God is starting the day with an hour of prayer. I make exceptions for emergencies, (such as staying up all night with a newborn) but in the main I try to pray for an hour every morning.
In order to do this, I need an alarm to wake me up in the morning. That alarm is provided by my cellphone, a recording either of Josquin de Prez’s “Ave Maria for Four Voices” or of Trope’s “Kyrie – Virginitatis Amator.” By a sort of operant condition, it is enough to wake me from even the soundest sleep, despite being very quiet and beautiful. But if I can reach it without getting out of bed, then I can hit the snooze button (or worse, the “stop” button). I have done this without even waking up a couple of times. Or, if I am not quite asleep enough for that, I can argue myself into setting a backup alarm for an hour later, and going back to sleep.
Then that second alarm goes off an hour later and I wake up, realizing that I have now missed my prayer hour, and I have a terrible choice ahead of me. You see, immediately after my prayer hour is my workout time. Training is still a duty for me, and I don’t like to miss my scheduled workout. But, if I haven’t said my prayers, then I am faced with the dilemma. Should I skip them and try to make up a rosary or something in the car, and get on with the workout? Or skip the workout, and do my prayer time, instead.
Or maybe I will just go back to sleep and not do either. That has happened more than once.
So I keep the phone in the bathroom down the hall, on top of my gym clothes on the sink. In order to turn it off I have to get out of bed and walk into another room and pick it up off the stack of gym clothes. If I had to I would put a bottle of cold brew coffee next to it.
That is what I mean by purpose. It is the choice to hem yourself in when the purpose is strong in you, against those moments when the purpose is weak.
“Chivalry is only a word for that general spirit or state of mind which inspires a man to heroic and generous actions and keeps him conversant with all that is pure and beautiful in the intellectual worlds.
— Kenelm Henry Digby, “Maxims of Christian Chivalry”