There are times I wonder how the human race ever survived past toddlerhood. I don’t expect toddlers have ever been other than they are, possessing more energy than judgment, and unreasonably confident of their own opinions. The fact that we all survived it is a testament to the hardihood of the species, if not necessarily to the genius and tact of parents. Indeed, I am more and more convinced every day that a great deal of maturing occurs in spite of, rather than because of, any given parenting strategy.

Ignore the basket of clean laundry on the table. It is a different basket of clean laundry than the one in Family Friday.

Everything in the picture above should be the sort of food that a human could not be picky about. We were cleaning out leftovers and we had leftover sausage, cheese, apple, and homemade pie crust. Some weeks are like that. So Ryan diced up the apple and sausage, fried it in butter, and topped it with cheese. He also wrapped apple slices in piecrust with cheese and cinnamon and baked them.

How could anyone refuse this? And yet, E1 picked out the apple and left everything else, and E2 picked out the sausage and left everything else.

All toddlers go through a picky eating stage I suppose. I sometimes muse on the possible reasons for that. Do baby monkeys do the same thing? Did our prehistoric forebears scream and throw their mammoth burgers on the cave floor when they were two and demand pterodactyl nuggets? What evolutionary or developmental purpose could it possibly serve?

Or, here is an interesting question. Did it serve an evolutionary or developmental purpose? Given that, most likely, during the vast majority of human history much of our species simply lacked the ability to provide much of a variety in the diet, particularly in agricultural societies. Most non-hunter-gatherer societies originally started out farming one or two staple crops that rotated on a seasonal basis. The majority of the diet of all but the wealthy members of urban centers likely ate the same thing, or variations on a theme, every day for most of their lives.

Also, most likely, there was a good deal less of it, not to mention the kids probably spent the bulk of their time out doors in the weather, moving and shaking with their peers in the larger social unit. Perhaps getting toddlers to clean their plate (or wooden spoon, or banana leaf, or fingers) did not present as much of a challenge to former generations of parents. The kids were hungrier, there was not an unlimited supply of choices for them to prefer (it’s hard to demand kraft mac-&-cheese when it hasn’t been invented yet) and the threat of “Eat fast or there won’t be any left” was not idle.

Also, I think it likely that parents prior to the relative prosperity of the 20th century simply didn’t concern themselves about it too much. The kids might like what was on offer, or he might not, but they weren’t going to starve themselves. They probably had fewer scruples about kids going to bed hungry.

In fact, I wonder if the “clean your plate” mantra isn’t rather a modern phenomenon, perhaps since the depression. I can see parents in the ’40’s and ’50’s who grew up with real hunger and deprivation priding themselves on their ability to put full plates in front of their kids, and subtly or not so subtly, insisting that all food be cleaned up at every meal. I can also see the arguments of those who blame our obesity epidemic (or their own obesity) in part on having been forced to clean their plates as kids. In other words, they were trained to stop eating based on an external signal (an empty plate or table) rather than an internal one (satiety).

All of this is empty speculation, which really has nothing to do with the problem at hand, i.e. how or whether to get the girls to eat when they don’t like what’s for supper.

Now mind you, we don’t go out of our way to cook things they won’t like. In fact, most of the time we take their last known likes into consideration, since that makes mealtime simpler and more pleasant for everyone. We do, however, object to having our menu dictated by a pair of pint-sized gourmands who can’t even agree to like the same things. We also object to cooking a separate menu for each person at the table. And finally, we do insist that they eat a somewhat balanced diet.

So usually we require them to eat some part of everything at the table. We serve what we consider a reasonable amount of each item, and they have a “get down pile” and a “dessert pile.” The “get down pile” is the bare minimum amount they need to eat in order to be allowed to say all-done-prayers and go about their business. It is what experience has taught us they need to eat in order to avoid the complaint of “Hungry! Meat!” (from E2) strategically at bed time. The bedtime routine is already involved enough without complicating it unnecessarily with low blood sugar and snacks, not to mention eating right before bed is not a great habit to get into.

The dessert pile is what they have to eat if they want dessert (assuming a dessert is on offer). This is based upon the theory that if you are hungry enough to want a bowl of sherbet, then you probably have room for a few more vegetables and some meat that will stay with you longer and nourish you more. And if they decide they don’t have room for that, they are welcome to do without the dessert. No hurt feelings.

It is really hard to teach most toddlers to say no to food that they really want but it is very possible to teach them how to eat food they do not want to eat. After several years of working on it, E1 can eat anything we put in front of her with only a little complaining. In this case E2 is so much easier to teach than E1 was. She doesn’t scream at the top of her lungs, at least, and she has her older sister’s example to follow most evenings. This, alas, is the burden of being the oldest. Your parents make you do it first, and then your siblings get to learn from your mistakes, if they are of the persuasion to do so.

It may seem like a lot of hassle and unnecessary thought, but there is a profound connection between how we handle ourselves in relation to food, and the whole rest of our mental and emotional and even spiritual health. The ability to say no to more food than is good for us is of obvious importance, but the ability to eat things we don’t like, cheerfully and without letting on that we don’t like them is hugely beneficial in life. For starters, it is the best way to learn to like new things. It opens up whole worlds of “acquired tastes” that are every bit worth the acquiring. It opens doors in every human culture. I cannot even count the number of times I have built bridges with people from other cultures and earned their welcome by doing absolutely nothing more than eating the food they offered me and thanking them for it. This is a very basic, but very meaningful form of courtesy, which begins the work that all courtesy is oriented towards. It takes us out of ourselves, and teaches us that we are not the center of our own little universes, but rather welcome guests in a universe that is greater, grander and more beautiful than anything we could possibly have imagined on our own.

Short Family Friday this week. It has been rather a rough week. It started out with Daddy doing a 10 mile ruck race on Saturday.

10 miles in 2 hours 2 minutes, with 65Lbs. Not terrible.

Then Mommy had to go to a baby shower for a work friend who is having a little baby girl in March. Yay! More babies! 🙂 But we don’t have any pictures of that.

Instead we have a chalk picture of our family.

Uncle Adam and Aunt Maryanne and Edmund and Annarose came over for supper on Sunday, but we did not take any pictures of that either. Good family time, and we had more important things to do than socially mediate.

The rest of the week was plagued by illness. It was just a standard runny nose (so far) with some coughing and sore throat, but it really has the ability to disrupt things. Babies are obligate nose breathers, which, I would submit, is their most serious design flaw. One little virus gets in there, stuffs up their little sinuses, and all of a sudden they literally cannot figure out how to get a breath. Evie is big enough that she can breathe through her mouth pretty comfortably, but Ellie is not. She still doesn’t do well when her nose is blocked.

It isn’t so bad during the day, when they are up and running around, but when she lies down to sleep the snot just collects in her sinuses and she starts bubbling and snorting a little piglet. Of course this makes it difficult for her to sleep unless she is propped up so that the snot can drain down her throat into her tummy. We can try pillows, but they only work until she rolls over in her sleep. The best proper-upper?

You guessed it! Mommy and Daddy.

It works, too. Ellie gets sleep and wakes up all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Mommy and Daddy, maybe not so much, but really, we can’t complain. It’s all in the fine print. And besides, we probably put our parents through as bad, and we can look forward to our grandkids putting our kids through it, quod si Deus vult.

Sissy! Wake up! It’s time to be awake!

Ellie is learning new words at an astonishing rate. A lot of her words are “B” words: Bubble, blueberry, poop (pronounced “boop”), boop (also pronounced “boop”), book (pronounced “boop” but with the soft oo as in look), belly button, and cup (pronounced “bup”). She also has other words without “B” in them, such as hat, truck, and hot!

And that was the story of this week.

Busy weekend ahead, and a lot of things to do, but we are checking them off our list one by one.

We hope you have a pleasant weekend. God Bless!

One of the hardest things about being big is that you have to do jobs. Poor Evie is figuring this out the hard way. Evie’s job is to put the silverware away… and it makes her very sad. (Well, now she has two jobs. Her other job is to pull her socks out of the pile of clean laundry and pair and fold them.)

On one occasion she was particularly unmotivated to put her silverware away, and she buried her head in her hands and cried out, “Dad! You’re hurting my life!”

I wasn’t quite sure how to take that. I thought that was a line she wasn’t supposed to come up with until she was at least 12, but she has always been precocious, and she goes to school so maybe she picked it up from some of the other kids. At any rate, I did as we usually do, i.e. calmly reiterated that she had a job to do and couldn’t do anything else until that job was done.

Evie goes to a Montessori school. I have done a lot of reading on the Montessori method, although not as much as I would like (competing interests, you know?) and one of the things that has always struck me most about the philosophy of Maria Montessori is her insistence on the inherent desire of a child to learn. She takes seriously what many grownups would call “play,” instead calling it by its proper name, “Work.” That is, when the child is engaged with all her senses in learning about her world, she is doing that work which is most proper to the child, and yet never ceases to be proper to the adult. The goal is to forestall the usual result of twelve years of American style public education which teaches kids to learn what they need to pass the tests, so they can get good grades, so they can go to college, so they can earn money… I don’t think we usually get past that part in our planning and ask why it is we want to earn money. Instead, Montessori education seeks to encourage and liberate a child’s natural intrinsic curiosity, and to let it flower and develop throughout her school career.

To that end, much of the learning in a Montessori school is self directed, i.e. students are given considerable leeway to choose tasks that they are spontaneously interested in, and only guided to less favorite tasks if the teacher sees that they are neglecting it too much. They are almost never set a task by someone else and told to accomplish it whether they like it or not.

That responsibility falls on the parents.

So you may ask, (as I ask myself) if we like the Montessori approach so much, and especially appreciate the use of intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic motivation, why then do we not follow suit at home? Why do we assign her a daily task that she must accomplish whether she likes it or not, and then enforce her completing it to standard by what can only be described as extrinsic motivation?

The simplest answer is… because that’s life.

No matter where she goes or what she does in life she will find herself under authority, and she will be directed by that authority to accomplish tasks. Maybe she will agree, maybe she won’t. Maybe she will like them, maybe she won’t. If she likes it, well and good. If not, she will need tools to fall back on, mental and emotional tools that allow her to get through things she does not want to do, and not just do them but do them well.

This is where the silverware comes in. It is an opportunity for teaching her skills like stress management (“if you feel yourself getting upset, it is okay to stop and take a deep breath to calm down); delayed gratification (I know you want to go do this other thing, but we cannot go until our jobs are done); organization of chaos (spoons go here, knives here, forks here); breaking a large, overwhelming task into smaller, more manageable subtasks (I know that pile of silverware looks huge, but how about you just pull one piece out of it? It’s a spoon! You can put one spoon away. Good job. Now you can pull out one more. That’s a fork! You have just put one more fork away. etc.); and pride in accomplishment (Good work! Do you see how nice and neat that drawer is? You did that all by yourself!)

But there is another reason for insisting on chores, which is subtler and more important. In fact, it underlies a good deal of our instances of saying no, or enforcing unpleasant things, e.g. eating food she doesn’t like, or not singing the same two song lines over and over again at the top of her lungs in the car.

Evie is still at the age where she is the center of her universe. Being a very articulate three-year-old, she expresses this in words unusually well, and not being an adult she has not yet learned to dissemble and hide her feelings under a socially acceptable veneer. So she has a couple of phrases that she throws out on a regular basis that chill us to the very soul, and all of them boil down to “But I want to do whatever I want to do.”

In a very real sense, that is what is wrong with our society. The overarching zeitgeist of 21st century America is “I want to do whatever I want to do.” It is completely natural, albeit unpleasant, in a toddler. It is death to any possibility of community in an adult. Mind you, most adults don’t fully grow out of that mindset, we just become more subtle about hiding it from other people. In fact, most of us hide it so well from others that we never suspect it ourselves. Most people don’t realize that this radical selfishness is alive and well in their souls and may even be the driving force behind most of their actions.

That’s a bit of a digression, but it is relevant because we do not want Evie to grow up that way. We do not expect her to be an utterly unselfish teenager, but we do expect her to be able to recognize that there are limits to her selfishness. That is, she may want to do whatever she wants, but she should know good and well that she cannot do whatever she wants. For people like Ryan (whose character trait, alas, this is and which she inherited in full force), this is the first step in learning empathy, sympathy, and ultimately love.

In the end we want her to be able to live in a community. The sine qua none of community is that its members must subordinate their wants to the good of the other members of the communities. This starts with household chores. Sure, putting silverware away is a great way to teach skills that will be advantageous to her in the workplace, whatever that might look like in the mid-21st century. But if all Evie learns from it is how to delay gratification and get rewarded for hard work it will have been worse than useless. No, the reason she puts silverware away is because it is good for the community. It is good for our family for us to be able to find our silverware when we need it, and for it to be clean and tidy, and not strewn all over the kitchen. This is a real task, with real value to the family, to Mommy and Daddy and Ellie, that Evie can really do. It really matters to us that she does it and does it well. It is a real contribution to the community.

This is the same reason we make her eat food she doesn’t like. The world does not revolve around Evie’s taste buds, and we can neither cook a separate supper for each person, nor always be all eating the same two or three meals that we know she will eat. It is good for her (as it is good for all of us) to be able to try and enjoy new things, to be able to eat a decent portion of something that someone else has made for us, without complaining, showing gratitude for the effort and consideration without letting on that it was not to our tastes (I cannot even count how many times this ability has stood me in good stead overseas).

Are we hard on her? I don’t think so. I think we set high standards and expect her to live up to them, because we love her, and because that is what she needs. She does not need us to pander to her whims, give in to her temper tantrums, or freak out with her emotional crises. These are all developmentally appropriate responses for her age, but not for our age. Our job is to model and teach better strategies, better coping skills, better responses, and a better outlook on life while being patient with her abilities right now. We are not enforcing behaviors, but teaching a way of looking at the world that is compassionate, responsible and selfless.

Of course the challenge implied in that mission is to be compassionate, responsible and selfless ourselves. Evie is a sharp cookie, and will never be impressed by words that are not backed up by actions.

For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Hebrews 12:6-11 RSVCE.

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)


This is a pink car on a book shelf.


Family Friday 159 (12)
And also a picture of Ryan’s Grandparents. And some books.

It is the most annoying pink car in the universe. It has a squeaky little cartoon voice that says things like, “Ha Ha Ha Ha!” and “Voom!” and “Here we go,” alternated with a silly little ditty about riding into town in a pink car with the top down, and the more classic and educational “ABC’s.” The slightest turn of the wheels causes one or another of these sounds to burst forth, the volume is loud, and the use of electricity, apparently, very efficient as the batteries have not yet died. The worst part is that the on/off switch is large and meaty and not the least bit hidden, easily found and manipulated by little fingers.

It is a great favorite of Evie and Edmund both, which is why the car has been living on that shelf non-stop since sometime last fall. That is, at least six months, maybe longer.

It was placed there during a visit from Uncle Adam and Aunt Maryanne, much to the consternation of the under-two crowd. They had been fighting over it non-stop for the whole evening, despite being warned that if they couldn’t share it, it would simply get taken away. They couldn’t share, and it did get taken away. Tears and mutual recriminations followed, but not the slightest sign of understanding or repentance, until five minutes later when the whole episode was completely forgotten.

We were none too anxious to have it returned to general population so there it languished through Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Birthdays, Easter, until one fateful day, a week or so ago.

Kathleen was upstairs, playing with the girls, Ryan was downstairs loading the dishwasher. All of a sudden Evie looked up at the shelf and said, “That’s the pink car. It got taken away because Edmund and I couldn’t share.”

Well, Kathleen and I were flabbergasted. I came to the top of the stairs and shook my head and made some comment about never taking for granted what Evie remembers or doesn’t remember. She didn’t seem to want the car at the time so we just left it there until a few days ago when she said, again out of the blue, “Mommy, may I have the pink car, please.”


So now we are enduring the squeaky cartoon voice every waking hour, but we are content with it. You have to enjoy the parenting victories when they happen.

Evie has inherited Daddy’s habit of retreating into her own little world and ignoring anything that she doesn’t like. Of course one of the things she doesn’t like is being told “no,” or having the relationship between choices and consequences explained to her. She likes to avert her eyes, start humming, kick her legs, spontaneously make up stories about “Cousin Masha…” anything and everything to distract herself from the discipline. We can’t break through her trance without resorting to corporal punishment or physical restraint, and most often those merely escalate the situation and make her pay attention even less, so we have to outwit it or maneuver around her blocks. Most often, we just have to outlast her.

That is the secret weapon of parents, I think. We can be more consistent, and we can last longer. We can afford not to be heard in the moment, we just can never give up repeating ourselves ad nauseum saecula saeculorum Amen. If it requires six months of fermentation in a three-year-old brain for a concept to sink in, so be it. If it takes the next fifteen years, so be it. We’ve got all the time in the world, kiddo. We can afford not to get freaked out in the short term. That’s the toddler’s job, and she does it magnificently. Our job is to keep our perspective and our cool and remember, we got this. One way or another, one day or another, you will get the point. It’s just a matter of time.





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.

The other day I had an interesting conversation with a buddy of mine. He knew that Ellie had been sick for the first half of the week because I had been a bit tired and groggy at work. On Thursday he asked if she was better and sleeping through the night again. I said that she was better and was almost sleeping through the night, plus Kathleen was home off night shift and home again at night.

“Oh, so she only got sick and couldn’t sleep when you really needed her to be asleep?”

I laughed. “Yep. That’s usually how it goes.”

“Gosh, dude, that sounds rough.”

Not wanting to lie I replied, “Yeah, it can be a little rough sometimes, but it’s still pretty awesome having kids.”

“How’s that?”

So I shared a thought with him that I have been formulating for the last few months. “You know, I think that the absolute worst tragedy that can befall any man, is to have no one who depends on him.”

He looked at me sheepishly. “Are you just trying to make me feel bad now?” (He is single with no kids).

“No, I’m just speaking in general terms. When you have children they depend on you for everything, so when they are at their most needy and demanding, they are also at their most fulfilling.”

He was quiet for a few seconds. Then he said, “I’ve never heard it said like that before. Mostly people just b—h about it.”

It is true, though. Having a wife and children has absorbed my focus so completely in the last few years that I have not had as much mental horsepower to think about myself. I don’t live inside my own head like I used to. I think about myself a little bit less, and I live for others a little bit more. When I do have time to think about myself, I notice that I am happier, more peaceful and more purposeful. Life is just better, as a sort of side effect of being surrounded by people more important than myself.

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I love this happy little goober 🙂


I highly recommend it. If you don’t already have someone to live for, find someone. Or just start living for the people around you.

Of course the idea “I am going to live for others so that I will be happier” is completely self-defeating, but that is a topic for another blog.

Happy Easter Week Everybody!!!!Family Friday 151 (1)We hope you have had a wonderful week of celebrating the Resurrection. Mommy and Daddy kicked off our celebration sundown on Saturday with some Guinness floats.Family Friday 151 (5)

No Easter Vigil for us this year. Alas, we decided that a 3-hour mass starting at bedtime was not a smart move with a toddler who refuses to acknowledge her need for sleep.

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We started out Easter like this.

Mommy was on call on Easter Sunday so we had to go to the really early Mass, 7:30 at Saint Andrew’s in Sumner. It was packed to the rafters, and bursting at the seams. Father Jerry extended an invitation to everyone to return next week as well, which would be great since next week is the feast of the Divine Mercy.

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Evie loved the Easter Flowers. 

We went home for a late breakfast and an early nap.

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She decided to improve her Easter look.

After nap we went up to Deedee and Papa’s house for Easter Dinner. The first thing we found when we got there was a gift for Evie.

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“Wings! I have wings, Daddy!”

She now has her very own pair of sparkly fairy wings. They are quite sparkly, just like Tinkerbell’s wings.

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She immediately became inseparable from those wings for the next two days. Family Friday 151 (14)

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She also has her can of “pixie dust” (a.k.a. silly string). (Pixie dust is an outside toy only).

Since Evie is the only egg-hunting grandchild so far, she had about 2-dozen eggs to find, all by herself, inside, in two rooms.

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Talk about shooting fish in a barrel!

Ellie needs to hurry up and get big so she can provide some competition.

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Ellie is very curious about her big sister’s new look.

She has been paying a lot more attention to Evie in the last few weeks.

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She can move all by herself!

She isn’t really sure what Evie is for. After all, she doesn’t do anything important, like feed Ellie or change her diaper. She must have some purpose because Mommy and Daddy certainly spend a lot of time with her. Ellie is very impressed with her big sister’s ability to stand up and move all by herself.

Ellie herself is learning all kinds of new skills.

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She can express herself with facial expressions.

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She can grab her toes.

Her exercise program is coming on apace. Daddy is training her in the art of the pushup, which is a noble and necessary skill, foundational for many functional movements which she may want to employ later in life (i.e. crawling, getting out of bed, mowing the lawn, etc). Family Friday 151 (23)

And she can sit up in her bumbo chair and eat her hanging toys, which is good exercise and good practice of essential life skills.

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The Swiss flag is especially delicious.

In fact, she will try to eat pretty much anything she can get her little hands on.

Sitting up turns out to be useful for eating other things as well.

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Rice Cereal! Yummmmmmmm!!!!!

She even has her first household chore already! When the weather is nice, she gets to help take out the compost. She can hold the compost bucket all by herself!

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Never too early to start earning her keep.

Nice weather also means she can enjoy the great outdoors.


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“Is this what you mean by ‘getting close to nature?'”


Since Mommy was working nights and Daddy was working days this week, the girls were living with Deedee and Papa from Sunday to Tuesday, and then Deedee and Papa were living at our hour until Thursday morning. It was a rough schedule for everyone except Evie.

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She decided she was a “tinker fairy” and she needed to fix Ellie’s toy. 

She never seems to run out of energy.

Ellie, on the other hand, had a terrible head cold from Saturday night through to Thursday morning. It was not a fun time, involving several wakeups every night for Daddy, and several wakeups every day for Mommy. Her poor little nose was so stuffy the only way she could sleep at all was propped up at an angle on a pillow, her chest and neck all covered with vicks vapor rub, and a humidifier going full bore in the bedroom. (There was a 2:00 AM run to Walmart for a humidifier for Deedee and Papa’s house, while Mommy nursed her and kept her in a steamy bathroom.

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Even when she is sick she is a happy baby.

Even with those measures there were many midnight steam sessions, and waking up to feed at all hours of the day and night because her little tummy was full of snot and she couldn’t eat normally. And there was the sneezing herself awake at 2:30 in the morning.

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Even Daddy got tired, and he usually has tons of energy.

Needless to say when she started feeling all better on Thursday we were all ecstatic.

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I love her happy little face!

Daddy has been very busy National Guarding all week, but one bit of good news from that is that he (finally) got promoted to E-7. At least now when he is away from his girls he will be sending home a few hundred more dollars per month.

Since the unit was too busy to do a formal promotion, Evie did the honors herself.

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Take off the old sticker.

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Put on the new sticker! 

(And ignore the unauthorized headgear.)

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Daddy caught a fish!

We like our family. Daddy is going to have to be away next week, so we are enjoying what family time we can right now.

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Mommy was coming home from work, Daddy was leaving for work, and the girls were just getting up, so we paused to take a picture.

I highly recommend you do the same. God Bless!



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See ya later!




Story Time with Mommy
She can read a story with one hand, keeping a daughter, a nephew and three neighbor kids still, while breastfeeding the other daughter with the other hand. She’s kind of a Super Mommy.

And that’s not the only way we’ve stepped up our hospitality game!

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Check out our new bird feeder and one of our first guests.

I (Ryan) was looking through my phone for pictures from this week and found that the only pictures I had were ones that Kathleen sent me during the week. That’s how busy we have been. So I shared one that I took back at New Years, because it illustrates just how awesome Kathleen is. And this is going to be a short Family Friday.


Both the girls have been sick this week, with coughs, sneezing, runny nose, tiredness, poor appetite, the works.

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Evie napped four hours that day. Four Hours!

Mommy is starting to get stuffy now, and Daddy has not been around long enough to catch anything, apparently, since he has come down with nothing except tiredness refractory to caffeine.



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He has even had to work from home this week. That’s never good.

Deedee and Papa came down to visit on Monday before the plague got too advanced.

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We just hope Deedee and Papa don’t catch it.

The thing is, even when they are sick, they are still pretty cheerful most of the time. Evie can be pitiful, if you let her, but if you keep her distracted with other things she forgets she feels crummy and has a good time.


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Evie the Red Nosed Child

And she has begun trying her hand at photography, when Mommy wasn’t looking.



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I think she needs to work on her framing. 

Then of course there was the time she pooped and peed her underpants, while standing above her baby sister, who then promptly blew out her own diaper. All while Daddy was at work, so Mommy had to deal with that all by herself.


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It’s okay, Mommy. Bath time is lots of fun!

But Evie is on the mend now, Ellie should be about a day behind her, and Daddy is home for the weekend. So things should be looking up now. Check back next week to see how that pans out. LOL!

Oh, and Ellie is now two months old! She is getting so big and chunky and she likes to kick her hands and feet and smile and coo with Mommy and Daddy.Family Friday 140 (8)