I took the Front Porch Republic out of my news feed, not because what they had to say was bad, but because it was too good.  I was spending 'way too much time reading, and composing comments in my head—whether or not those comments ever made it into print.  But then they started sending me their weekly updates....

Here's a good article on immigration.  Normally I don't read about the topic, because it's so inflammatory; too many people, as they say, are enjoying the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.  This one is different, as are most FPR articles, whether I agree with them or not.  For one thing, he lambasts both the Republicans and the Democrats.  ("[A]s with nearly everything in establishment Republicanism, even when they are sincere they are still lying"; for the Democratic skewer, see below.)  For another, he acknowledges three points that I've long thought critical to the debate:

  1. Immigration in sufficient numbers inevitably and irrevocably transforms a culture; if we try to ignore or deny this and don't take steps to defend and preserve that which is good about our specific culture, it will be overrun just as surely as imperialism destroyed the native cultures of its colonies.
  2. We are repeatedly told that we need more immigrants because there are not enough Americans who are willing/qualified to do the jobs.  Whether it's a factory owner crying that he'd go out of business without illegal immigrants (shades of pre-Civil War Southern plantation owners' insistence on the necessity of slavery), or companies pushing for more H1-B visas because they can't find enough Americans to do their high-tech jobs (meaning, qualified Americans are asking for higher salaries than Indians and Moldovans)—the bottom line is not that Americans can't or won't do the jobs, but that we value low prices more than fair wages.
  3. We feel a need for large numbers of immigrants because our own birth rate is too low.  This reproductive minimalism is both an expression of our lack of appreciation for our own culture, and a great factor in its demise.*

I wonder if it is even possible to debate immigration honestly.  The Democratic party has bet big that the continued use of contraception among white Americans and the admission of peoples from the Latin south will, in the long term, tilt demography permanently in favor of its version of the welfare state, and, consequently, its sustained power.  Moreover, the turning away of Americans from marriage and the having of children suggests a lack of investment in, an apathy regarding, the future character of their country.  It is no more surprising that Americans should be resigned regarding the future of their culture than it is that Americans should desire immigrants to labor for the welfare state in lieu of the children who could have been. These trends are a tacit vote of assent to the Democratic strategy vastly more significant that any election-day tally. Further, neither Republicans nor Democrats seem to be capable of giving voice to a genuine love of country: one that does not base itself on being a jingoistic bully abroad, but rather on a reverent care to preserve and cultivate what we have, here, now, at home.

 


*I commend our children for their valiant countercultural efforts, aka grandchildren. Switzerland also needs help in this regard.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 17, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Edit
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The Romeikes have lost the latest round in their fight to keep from being sent back to Germany, where homeschooling is considered a sufficient reason to take custody of children away from their parents.  The ruling is being appealed.

On the bright side, the court did rule that "parents do have a right to direct the education and upbringing of their children."  However, they also said,

“Congress might have written the immigration laws to grant a safe haven to people living elsewhere in the world who face government strictures the United States Constitution prohibits,” the court ruled. “But it did not.”

[Attorney Michael] Farris said he finds great irony that the Obama administration is releasing thousands of illegal aliens—yet wants to send a family seeking political asylum back to Germany.

“Eleven million people are going to be allowed to stay freely—but this one family is going to be shipped back to Germany to be persecuted,” he said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Actually, it makes plenty of sense—if you consider only political expediency.  Immigration "reform" that supports an economy fueled by slave labor is considered a politically savvy move, while offending an important ally—Germany—is not.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 7:10 am | Edit
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I'm having a mid-life crisis.1

Theoretically that's good news, as apparently I'll be living past 120.  But it's still unnerving.  I'm haunted by the feeling that everything is all wrong.  We are not where we're supposed to be, and I know of no way to fix the problem.  To put it bluntly, we are too far away from our children and grandchildren.

That conclusion did not come easily.  I grew up with a good dose of American individualism and training in the idea that the most important family unit comprised father, mother, and children.  My father came from the state of Washington, my mother from Florida; they met in upstate New York, whither they had flown (figuratively speaking) without a backward glance, so far as I know, after graduating from their respective colleges.  Their siblings spread out as well, landing in California and the Midwest.  Our closest relatives were a five-hour drive away.  Cousins?  I had fourteen of them, but we were nearly strangers:  travel was much more difficult in the mid-20th century than it is now, despite not having to deal with the Transportation Security Administration.  Nor did I miss them much, I have to admit:  I had my parents, my three siblings, and a multitude of neighborhood friends, all quite enough for an introvert like me.  Or so I thought, not knowing any better.

Did my mother miss having her parents close by, especially when her children came along?  I don't know; if she ever talked about it, I don't remember.  I know my father thought she was better off 1000 miles away:  his mother-in-law had inherited a forceful personality from her own mother, who was quite a name in the business, political, educational, and social life of her adopted city.  My grandmother was a terrific person and a great cook, and I loved our biennial visits to her home.2  Still, there's no doubt she was a Force To Be Reckoned With, and my mother's personality probably blossomed more freely at a distance.

I had no choice, since my own mother had died by the time we had children.  My siblings were far away and much younger than I was.  (They still are.  Every year, they get older—but I seem to be outdistancing them.)  So childrearing was pretty much a solitary pursuit, as far as family went, anyway.  It didn't seem so onerous at the time:  most of my friends were separated from their families, too, so it seemed normal. Thanks to cheaper, modern transportation and deliberate effort, at least the kids knew their cousins better than I did mine.

It worked out.  The human family is remarkably resilient, and our extended family has managed to remain as close as any I know, and much closer than many.  It wasn't until I became a grandmother that I realized just how wrong the situation still was.

Children, after all, are supposed to become independent, to take wing, to create their own homes and families.  It hurt abominably (and still does) when our children were in pain or in need and we could not reach out to them, could not even give them reassuring hugs, but I learned to be thankful that they had friends—and later husbands—who could lend a hand and who would notice if they didn't show up when expected.  Sure, I envied my friends whose children went to college nearby, and who could attend their recitals, watch their games, and invite them home for an occasional dinner.  But it never felt quite as wrong as being so far from our grandchildren.

Unlike most animals, the human species lives long past the time of fertility.  Some have theorized that this "grandmother effect" had an evolutionary benefit, because the help of the grandparents increased the survival rate of the grandchildren.  In modern, Western society surviving may not be an issue, but thriving still is.  Grandparents can enrich the lives of their grandchildren not only directly, but also second-hand, by taking some of the 24/7/365 pressure off the parents.  Calmer parents are more creative, as well as more patient with their children.  This can't be done when you live a thousand miles apart, however.  Even fifty miles is pushing it, though my [insert much-needed term for "offspring's in-laws" here] frequently and heroically make the hour-each-way drive to spend half a day with their grandkids.

It is not "helicopter parenting" to want to help out for a day when your daughter is sick:  to feed the kids and take them to the playground so Mommy can nap.  I survived without that help, but how much better it would have been for the children to bake cookies with Grandma than to watch TV—the last resort of a mom who can't concentrate on anything other than not throwing up.

Even in the healthy times, children benefit from regular interactions with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  It's important for children to see the many sides of their own family:  how they are alike, how they differ.  What better way to learn to eat different foods than to spend the night with your cousins and be served something other than your favorite cereal for breakfast?  Making cookies with Grandma, knitting with Aunt Susan, birdwatching with Uncle Don ... mom and dad alone cannot provide the variety of learning experiences available through the wider family.  And how much better is it to have a crowd supporting you at your recital, or cheering from the sidelines for your soccer game?

When I was a young mother, I worried about the influence on our kids of family members with values that weren't completely aligned with ours.  That was a mistake.  Well, perhaps the concern wasn't entirely mistaken, but with experience I learned that (1) the differences were infinitesimal compared with the value, experience, and attitude differences they would encounter with their friends and their friends' families; and (2) such differences in those we love—or at the very least are obligated by the family bond not to merely ignore and avoid—provide an invaluable platform for teaching our children the essential life skill of getting along with—indeed, loving, respecting and learning from—those with whom we disagree, all without compromising our own standards.

It might be argued that with today's smaller families mothers don't need the help they once did.  It might be so argued—but I don't know of a single young mother who would agree!  And in any case, the scarcity of siblings makes the need for cousins all the more acute.  I will defend vigorously the "nuclear family" as an ideal—in the sense of children growing up with their own father and mother who are married in a lifelong commitment—in contrast with the many workable and sometimes necessary but inferior substitutes that abound today.  Too often, however, the term is used in another sense:  to mean "father/mother/two kids."  This I find far from ideal:  what we want is a clan.

Certainly there are ways to foster the clan feeling even when living far apart.  I'm thankful for modern transportation and communication:   for superhighways, jet planes, swift mail delivery, e-mail, and Skype.  I'm grateful for siblings and children who make the sacrifices and take the time to encourage extended family interaction.   Nonetheless, real physical presence, when it happens, still has somewhat of a "weekend dad" feeling:  very intense and somewhat indulgent interactions, rather than the calmer experiences of ordinary life.

Deprived of nearby extended family, we make do.  The human race is good at making do.  We find substitute "grandparents" and surrogate "grandchildren" in our own communities, and our children become more than ever dependent on their age-group friends.  It is good to have alternatives; friends and neighbors have their own place in our lives, and it's an important one.  But it's not the same as family.  Expecting them to fill that niche can stress those relationships unnecessarily.  Granted, in this fallen world there are unfortunate exceptions, but as a rule family implies a much higher level of emotional, psychological, physical, and financial commitment than can be expected of non-family relationships.  Churches try to fill the role, even calling themselves a "church family"—but Jesus himself stated that giving to God was no excuse for neglecting your own family (Matthew 15:5-6; see also 1 Timothy 5:8).

I know the problem; what I don't know is what can possibly be done about it.  Wendel Berry has written a lot about the importance of place (even more so than of family, based on the little I've read), and the folks at the Front Porch Republic are always talking about the importance of localized community.  But even if our children choose to live near one set of grandparents (and few do), most often that leaves the other set—and most cousins—out in the cold.  Even if we try to keep families together through the extremity of marrying our children off to other children in the nearby community—nearly impossible if they go to college, or to war, or on almost any other adventure—we're likely to end up small-minded, inbred (in the intellectual sense as well), parochial, and stale.

So we make do with substitutes.  But it's still not right.  It's like formula instead of breast milk; giving birth at a hospital instead of at home; turning our children over to others for the better part of the day instead of teaching them ourselves; homogenized, pasteurized milk from an agribusiness dairy versus a glass of raw milk from a local, pasture-raised cow; children (and adults!) who spend all day indoors instead of out in the fresh air and sunshine, learning nature's lessons and enjoying her bounty.  We're glad to have the alternatives available:  each is good in its proper place.  But no matter how important these may be, they are still only substitutes for the real, best thing, and it's wrong to pretend otherwise.

I'm grateful to all those who are standing in our stead for our children and grandchildren when we cannot, and for the many ways we can still serve them and connect with them without a physical presence.  I'm thankful beyond words for the means to travel to our far-flung family, and for a husband who understands how important it is to nourish these relationships.  I also realize that the problem is logically insoluble:  even if we wanted to leave everything here behind and move close to some of our grandchildren, we'd still be 3700 miles away from the others.3

So it's not so much a mid-life crisis I'm having, as a muddle.  My high calling and career, that which my heart yearns for and longs to throw itself into, I cannot do except limpingly.  That which I believe is so important for the health of our nation's children is that from which our society is fleeing with alarming determination.

So what to do?  Promote the extended family—the clan—when given the opportunity, do what we can with the means that we have to cultivate relationships, and daily put one foot in front of the other on the path as we see it, trusting that whenever God calls us to a task, he will provide the necessary means.

And take refuge in poetry.

When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait."

—John Milton, On His Blindness

 


1Well, I suppose "crisis" is too strong a word, given that I began this post in 2011, and am still plugging along.  Mother's Day seemed like a reasonable occasion to revive it.

2What wasn't to like for a kid?  My grandparents lived in a lovely old house two blocks from the World's Most Famous Beach and its awesome Broadwalk!  (Yes, Google, that's spelled correctly, even though you tried to change it to "boardwalk."  These days people do call it a boardwalk, but it was definitely "broad" when I enjoyed it.)  The house is now an attorney's office.  Sad, but at least it still stands; many from that era do not.

3Years ago, when people asked if we would consider moving away from Florida, I would reply that I might be tempted, once the kids settled down, to move halfway between them.  But it turns out that living on a houseboat in the middle of the North Atlantic won't solve the problem.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 5:57 am | Edit
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I can venture more with Davie than with another:  he obeys in a moment.

Thus the tutor in one of George MacDonald's novels explains how he dares take his young pupil on dangerous explorations to the roof of an old, crumbling Scottish castle.  Davie was allowed the exciting and perilous adventuring because his tutor knew that when he said, "Stay here until I return," Davie wouldn't go wandering and possibly falling off the edge.

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with Lift Up Your Hearts! knows I am a fan of Free-Range Kids and Lenore Skenazy's movement to restore for today's children some of the freedoms enjoyed by previous generations.  Parents are hovering over their children as never before:  they're afraid to let them out of sight, to walk to school, to ride bikes with their friends; afraid to let them risk getting hurt, even a little, whether they be infants negotiating stairs, children using knives, or teens travelling to a foreign country.  (Yet we expect teens to be sexually active, drive a car, and serve in the military.  Go figure.)  However, manageable risks and small hurts are necessary to growth.  Without them, our children don't learn to tell a reasonable risk from a ridiculous one, and we find that sparing them the lesser pain has made them exceptionally vulnerable to serious, even fatal, wounds.

Why do we bubble-wrap our young people?  The reasons are many and complex, but one of the greatest surely is that we no longer trust our children.  And why don't we trust our children?  Primarily, I would say, because they have not learned to be trustworthy.

They are not trustworthy because we have not given them the opportunity to learn obedience.

Obedience is an unpopular concept these days, perhaps because it conjures up images of harsh punishment, restricted lives, and children who go wild at college when released from their parents' strict rules and constant monitoring.  Or of totalitarian societies and blind adherence to evil laws.  ("I was only following orders.")  But no matter what ugliness it has been deformed into, obedience to a trustworthy and legitimate authority is a beautiful thing.  It's what makes society work.  From traffic to taxes, from banking to environmental protection—when enough people decide that the rules don't apply to them, disaster is not far off.

The Connecticut Science Center has ruled that children under the age of 16 must be supervised by an accompanying adult at all times during their visit.  Why such a ridiculous restriction?  You can blame the lawyers, of course, but what it boils down to is that the museum has learned that it cannot trust that demographic to obey the rules of the house, let alone the rules of common courtesy.  When that happens, peopleand expensive equipment—get hurt.

Similar restrictions have sprung up all over, ostensibly for the safety of the children.  I'm not sure I entirely believe that excuse.  When our children were young and energetic, people would sometimes tell them not to do such-and-such a thing, explaining, "I'm afraid you'll get hurt."  Well, maybe; it was pretty clear to me that what they were really afraid of was that the children would break, not their legs, but some material possession.  Be that as it may, young people—at an age when some of their ancestors were supporting themselves, raising their own families, fighting in wars, and even commanding ships—cannot, apparently, be relied on to walk through a museum without damaging something.

Thus the free-range childhood movement has two major fronts on which to fight:  (1) Convincing society that our children can and should be trusted to handle themselves at least as well as children did a generation or two ago, and (2) Preparing our children to be worthy of that trust.

As we explored Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii, I noted that there were no age restrictions on the trails; it was up to parents to decide how much to involve their children.  The trails themselves were safe enough, but often a sheer drop or a boiling spring was only a few feet away.  A child of any age who could be counted on to stay on the trail, and to freeze at a parent's, "Wait for us!" command, would have the freedom to enjoy an unforgettable experience; one who was accustomed to thinking of rules and restrictions as flexible could easily end up dead.  Too many of the latter will cause doors to slam shut for the former also.

"The world has changed," is the spell invoked to justify increasing restrictions on young people.  By this is mostly meant external changes, such as more sexual predators, more kidnappers, more terrorists.  (I'm absolutely convinced that the problem actually is more news coverage of these very rare crimes, but that's another issue.)  The world has changed, indeed, but what has changed most is closer to home:  our children are no longer growing up knowing and following the rules of proper use of stoves, knives, guns, hammers, saws, ropes, candles, campfires, boats, and other items they used to encounter—and be required to use—in everyday life.  Parents are also more reluctant—perhaps in fear of the evils that have become associated with distorted ideas of obedience—to teach their children respect for authority, and the importance of following legitimate rules.  If we want our communities to accept that our children are competent and trustworthy, it's up to us to make sure that they are.

(There is, I acknowledge, the opposite failing—teaching our children never to question authority, never to ask if the rules are legitimate.  But that is a different issue.)

Political action can pry open society's closed doors for our children, good publicity can pry open parental fingers from a death-grip on their children's leashes, but only deliberate parental effort can prepare those children for freedom.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 7:51 am | Edit
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Check out Janet's great article at Power of Moms!

No Time for a Break:  The Art of Resting when Parenting is Non-Stop

I knew the importance of rest going into motherhood, but for some reason, my beautiful and demanding son didn’t know that Sunday was my day off.   He somehow missed the memo that on this “day of rest” he should sleep through the night, take long naps, not need to nurse on my bleeding breasts, and not cry so that I can be refreshed and a good mother for the remainder of the week

Often as mothers we are either working or feeling guilty that we’re not working (and sometimes both at once!) We need to learn to rest guilt-free because rest isn’t restful if we’re feeling guilty!

Trust me (the objective, unbiased proud, excited mother), you'll want to read it all.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 7:42 am | Edit
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It's been more than a decade since a family tragedy forced me to look into how childbirth has changed in America since our chlidren were born.  It's still a major concern of mine, and so I read with heightened interest this profile of Suzanne Davis Arms in the May/June 2011 issue of the University of Rochester's Rochester Review.  (Yes, I realize that is two years ago.  Any regular reader of this blog knows I'm behind in practically everything.)

A few things made the article particularly interesting, beyond the basic subject.

  • Arms is a University of Rochester (alma mater of three of the four people in our family, and of my brother as well).
  • Betsy Naumburg, quoted in the article, was one of the doctors when Porter worked for the UR's Family Medicine Center.
  • Arms wrote Immaculate Deception: A New Look at Women in Childbirth in 1975.  Although I hadn't read it, her book clearly influenced the attitudes and options that were prevalent when our children were born in the late 70's and early 80's.  Her revised edition, Immaculate Deception II: Myth, Magic, and Birth came out in 1995, not long before my forced re-entry into the world of childbirth.  Perhaps if I had read it then, I would have been forewarned of the return of over-medicalized childbirth.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 8, 2013 at 7:15 am | Edit
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Why wrestle with how to express this story when thduggie has already done it so well?

Back in 2010, a German family was granted political asylum in Tennessee, because they had been homeschooling their children in a country that prosecutes, fines, and removes children from homeschooling parents. This immigration judge sent a strong message to the world: America is still a country where Liberty is writ large.  Today, the same family stands in danger of being deported back to Germany. Whether the appeal stems from a fear of offending an ally, or a fear of having immigration offices overrun (by legal immigrants), the message is the same: “We’re scared of our Liberty.”

The Romeike family's plight should be of concern to every American, because a threat to liberty, even—or maybe especially—on the part of an ally, is a threat to us all.  American homeschoolers, even though they currently enjoy educational freedom in every state, should be very concerned:  if our courts rule that educating one's own children is not one of the most basic human rights and responsibilities, that precedent could (and probably will) be used to attack our own hard-won liberty.

This is not, however, just a homeschooling issue.  If the forced removal of children from stable, loving families is not considered by the United States to be a heinous act, no one dare consider his family safe.

Even Al Jazeera has noticed the case.  Their article is actually the best summary I've seen of the situation.

I'm not, in general, a petition signer.  But today I registered with whitehouse.gov (a simple process) so that I could sign this petition to allow the Romeikes to remain in the United States, where they can education their children without fear of unthinkable reprisals.

Here is the text of the petition:

We, the undersigned, respectfully request that the Obama Administration grant full and permanent legal status to Uwe and Hannelore Romeike and their children. The Romeikes, a homeschooling family represented by HSLDA, were granted asylum in 2010 because Germany persecutes homeschoolers with fines, criminal prosecution, and forcible removal of children from their families. Every state in the United States of America recognizes the right to homeschool, and the U.S. has the world’s largest and most vibrant homeschool community. Regrettably, this family faces deportation in spite of the persecution they will suffer in Germany. The Romeikes hope for the same freedom our forefathers sought. Please grant the privilege of liberty to the Romeike family.

If 100,000 people sign a petition within 30 days of its creation, the Obama Administration will officially respond.  As of today, almost 60,000 more signatures are needed by April 18 in order to reach that threshold.

Please consider signing the petition, writing President Obama and/or your representatives, or otherwise publicizing the Romeikes' dire situation and this opportunity to set a precedent for or against not only our basic educational freedom, but even more, our commitment to Liberty itself.

Update 5 April:  Here's a brief chronology (full article) for those who want more information but don't want to sift through the articles.  (Emphasis mine.)

German law mandates that children attend a public or state-approved school. The local mayor informed the family that they would face fines and could lose the custody of their children if they did not attend school. The parents also faced potential jail time.

The government fined the family heavily and at one point seized the children to force them to attend school.

After trying to secure an exemption from the law, the Romeikes fled the country and immigrated to Tennessee in 2008. They had been fined well over $10,000 by the time they fled and faced escalating fines if they continued to homeschool their children.

The family applied for asylum in the United States and an immigration judge granted it to them, citing a well-founded fear of persecution if they returned to Germany.

However, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), appealed the ruling to the Board of Immigration Appeals.

The board overturned the original judge’s ruling and ordered the Romeikes deported to Germany. The Romeikes appealed their case to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, where their case will be heard April 23.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Edit
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Is this the end of The Onion?  When it becomes impossible to tell the difference between serious news articles and satire, where's the humor?

You've probably heard the story enough times by now (except perhaps the overseas contingent):

A 7-year-old Anne Arundel County boy was suspended for two days for chewing a breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun and saying, “Bang, bang”— an offense the school described as a threat to other students, according to his family.

So help me, it gets worse.  I am so, so, so glad I no longer have anything to do directly with the public schools, and I'm beginning to feel guilty about the tax money I give them.  The following quotes are from a letter sent home to the parents following the incident:

Dear Parents and Guardians:

I am writing to let you know about an incident that occurred this morning in one of our classrooms and encourage you to discuss this matter with your child in a manner you deem most appropriate.

During breakfast this morning, one of our students used food to make inappropriate gestures that disrupted the class. While no physical threats were made and no one was harmed, the student had to be removed from the classroom.

...

If your children express that they are troubled by today’s incident, please talk with them and help them share their feelings. Our school counselor is available to meet with any students who have the need to do so next week.  In general, please remind them of the importance of making good choices.

I am completely without (even minimally polite) words to address the important subject here.  I will for now restrict myself to three comments:

What was a subsidized breakfast program (funded by my tax dollars again, no doubt) doing feeding children Pop-Tarts?  And fake Pop-Tarts at that?

Any reasonable teacher would have taken the child by the hand and said, firmly, "Jimmy, food is not a toy; eat your pastry or give it to me."  (And enforced the action if necessary.)

Under no circumstances should people like this be responsible for the safety, mental health, and above all the education of children.  This is not just insanity; it is downright abuse.

(I found this so unbelieveable I checked with Snopes.com, which doesn't mention the incident.  Here's a Washington Post news article, and the letter to parents on the school district's own website.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Edit
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alt
(photo taken shortly after birth) 

Jeremiah Patrick Daley
Born 13 February 2013, 3 a.m.
Weight: 8 pounds, 2 ounces
Length: 20.5 inches

Having given birth five times, Heather could call herself an old hand at the whole pregnancy-birth-newborn process.  It's lovely to see the calm, matter-of-fact confidence that experience brings.  Sometimes, however, we get a gentle reminder that nothing should be taken for granted when it comes to babies.

Heather "always" goes into labor late.  Isaac came two days past his due date, and he was followed by Jonathan, Noah, and Faith, every single one of whom came exactly five days late.  True, Joy was then three days early, but there was some uncertainty about her due date that led Heather to believe that she was probably late as well.

Hence the confidence with which we scheduled our flights to New Hampshire a mere six days before the due date for the next baby.  Hence Heather's comfort when plans outside of their control had Jon returning from Seattle only a week before the date.  Hence a great deal of scrambling when Heather called, a full nine days early, to announce the early signs of labor. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, February 17, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Edit
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I Like Birds is a video story created by my cousin, D.B. McLaughlin.  The words, music, and photos are all his.

Think of this video as a children's book, read on a tablet by a caring adult to someone who is hungry to know more about their world. Pause the video or mute the music as you wish.

I hate to think of tablets replacing printed books, but that being said, this is great.  Perhaps some of his first cousins once removed would enjoy it.  (Update:  I see I wrote "once removed"; I had meant to say "twice removed," but no doubt the parents will enjoy it, too!)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 12, 2013 at 7:02 am | Edit
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altSimplicity Parenting:  Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne with Lisa M. Ross (Ballantine Books, 2009)

This review was interrupted so that I could write the Things Dr. Spock Won't Tell You post, simply so I could reference it here.  When I get around to updating my list of favorite childrearing books, Simplicity Parenting will be there.

Insert here the usual disclaimer:  I don't agree with all the author says.  But there is so much of value here; I'd recommend it to all parents and parents-to-be.  Grandparents, too, and even those without children in their lives.  Because the book is as much about simplicity as it is about parenting.

I won't be able to do justice to the content of the book—and I sent it back to the library in part because I knew that if I had it I'd take too much time trying to do just that.  But I'll attempt a one-line summary:  There are incalculable advantages to a child's well-being to be found in simplicity, rhythm, and clutter-free living

Most of the ideas in the book are not new to me.  Perhaps one reason I like it so much is that it resonates well with theories I'd already encountered (and appreciated) over the last thirty-odd years.  Simplicity Parenting connects the dots, and its strength lies in its comprehensiveness, its gentle encouragment, and above all in its practical suggestions.  No matter how hurried, harried, stressed, and cluttered your world is, Kim John Payne convinces you that the benefits of simplicity are possible, taken in small steps and beginning exactly where you are. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 7:02 am | Edit
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Once upon a time, we gave normal baby shower presents, like everyone else.  You know, crib sheets and diapers and cute little outfits....  As time went on, and as we became more experienced parents, we began to change:  we started giving books.  I suppose a copy of Dr. Spock would have been considered a normal gift, but the books we gave were different, the kind that most people might never run into.  They were chosen from a mental list of books, accumulated over the years, which we had found to be especially helpful in the adventure of childrearing.  I had quickly become fed up with all the popular parenting books, which seemed to be describing ... well, I don't know who they were describing, but it certainly wasn't our children.  These books, taken in toto, did a much better job of understanding the little ones in our care, and of addressing our own particular needs and concerns.  I hoped by the shower gifts to spare other parents my own long and confusing journey.  This was pre-Internet, remember, and information was harder to come by than anyone born after 1975 can fully imagine.

After a while we learned to be more cautious in our giving, as we discovered that not every new parent is excited about getting books, let alone ones that are ... odd.  But I kept the list, calling it The Things Dr. Spock Won't Tell You; over the years, it grew and changed a bit in content, though not in philosophy.

The version I'm publishing now is old, having not been updated since 2005.  There are other good books I should add, and perhaps one day I will.  It should probably get a new title, too:  Does anyone read Dr. Spock anymore?  But it is what it is, and I'm only posting it because (1) the blog is a good place to tuck away old writings, and (2) I want to reference it in a later post.

One thing that will become obvious to anyone who reads the books is that they contradict each other in places.  So what?  I don't agree with everything in any of them; the path of truth is strewn with paradox.  The point was never to push any particular view of childrearing, but that in each book we'd found something of great value.  Take what is useful, and leave what is not.

Despite their differences, these books tend to have two things in common that undergird our own childrearing philosophy.  One is a great respect for children, and a conviction that we as a society have underestimated them in many areas, from the physical to the intellectual to the spiritual.  The other is a great respect for parents, the belief that "an ounce of parent is worth a pound of expert." (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 6:35 am | Edit
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For Heather, Janet, and all who are great mothers but sometimes feel intimidated by how far they are from meeting their own standards.  Today's Family Circus says it all.

alt

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 16, 2012 at 8:31 am | Edit
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I didn't stay up till after 11 to hear the story, but I caught the teaser on the local evening news:

Children are getting hurt because their parents are texting at the playground instead of keeping their eyes on the kids.

At the playground.

Told in a shocked voice calculated to make you think of texting while a child swings as the latest form of heinous child endangerment.

I'm no fan of constant texting, but I doubt it's more distracting than what I did at the playground when our kids were young (preschool and early elementary age).  We'd walk together to the playground, they'd run off to explore all the cool equipment—including a merry-go-round and a tall, twisty slide, now gone for safety (read, "lawsuit") reasons
and I'd settle down on a bench with a book.  Trust me, the kids were a lot safer with my eyes glued to the page than with me watching.  You see, they were (and still are) the more adventuresome type.  Merely using the swings for their intended purpose was much too dull:  they preferred to shinny up the support posts, sit on the top bar and inch their way across, then slide down the support posts on the other side.  If a piece of equipment had a top, or an outside, or some other place not part of the designer's plan for children to bethat's where they were sure to climb.

They were (and are) good kids; if I'd asked them not to go there, they would have complied.  But I figured, why not let them explore?  Who says playground equipment must be used in only one way?  (Who says we must color between the lines, and all our trees be green and our skies blue?)  How do you learn physical competence except by stretching your boundaries?

The purpose of the book was to distract me.  Of course I took peeks at the kids now and then
mostly to revel in their competence and delightbut the book helped me to keep my fears in check and not communicate them to the happy explorers.  That was very important:  I knew even then that children are actually safer when adults aren't watching too closely.  On their own they are very intelligent when it comes to knowing which risks they can handle and which they can't.  (In the presence of other children, not so much, but that's more a reason to know your children's friends than to keep them in sight at all times.)

"Don't do that; it's not safe!"  "Watch out, you're going to fall!"  "Get down from there before you break your neck!"  Such talk makes some kids so fearful they lose their grips and their common sense, and actually do fall.  Other kids feel the need to prove their "manhood"
girls, tooand are driven to take foolish risks to show off.  Moreover, children who are accustomed to a tight leash can fail to develop a normal sense of risk:  "If I were doing anything dangerous, Mom would be yelling at me, so I'll just go on until she makes me stop."

We made it through our playground days with no broken bones.  Bruises, yes.  Scrapes, certainly.  How do you know you've had fun if you come out of an adventure with no battle scars?

But back to the news story.  While one of the anchors was building up the story with full drama and horror, another interjected, "But when we were young, our parents didn't watch our every move, and we survived."  I was encouraged that she had the wisdom and the courage to say so.

How did the world get so crazy when I wasn't looking?

Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, November 12, 2012 at 7:18 am | Edit
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Mea culpa!  It's been nearly a year since my post about Stephan's Dots book (numbers in four languages), and I never did update it with Joseph's response.  It was an immediate hit, and is still one of Joseph's very favorite books.

Here are a few videos showing Joseph and the book in action:

The book arrives!

The book has proved very durable under heavy use, and if the $70 cost seems extravagant, I'd say Joseph has definitely gotten his parents' money's worth already.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 8:37 pm | Edit
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