(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.


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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altScaling Down:  Living Large in a Smaller Space by Judi Culbertson and Marj Decker (Rodale, 2005)

Prepare NOW; don't let the headache of dealing with your estate be your children's last, vivid, and painful memory of their parents.

A good friend has recently been embroiled in our generation's nightmare:  moving her widowed mother out of her house-of-many-years and into assisted living, then having to clear out the house and sell it.  (Thank you, Dad, for having made the process as easy as it gets, and to all my siblings for staying friends and even having some fun through it all.)  Scaling Down is one of two books she recommended; it was available in our library, so I decided to check it out.

I wasn't expecting much, having already dealt with that heart- and headache.  And if you're like me, you'll almost give up in the first chapter, where you're asked to write a "mission statement."  But hang in there; the book's about a lot more than selling the old homestead, and you can easily ignore the annoying bits.  Anyone who is merging two households, moving into a smaller space—or moving, period—fending off sibling rivalry over Grandpa's Kitchenaid mixer, or simply feeling overwhelmed by "stuff," can benefit from the book's suggestions.

One thing that differentiates Scaling Down from other decluttering books is the authors' sympathy for the emotional complications attached to our belongings. Although they are very practical and sometimes in my judgement a little too harsh in their methods, they do provide some helpful ideas for keeping the feeling and/or memory without keeping everything.  Collectors, for example, are not asked to give up their collections, but to be wiser in their collecting:  financing quality by selling off quantity.

The chapter headings:

  • How Did We Get Here?
  • I Need to Do This But...
  • But Aunt Winnie Gave It to Me!
  • Collaring the Paper Tiger
  • The Tyranny of Collections
  • The Secret Live of Clothing
  • Clearing Out Your Family Home
  • Your Cuisinart or Mine?
  • Moving in a Hurry
  • The Saga of the Rain Bonnets
  • Finding Good Homes [for your stuff]
  • "This is Your Life!"
  • Shop Till You Drop ... Out
  • How to Keep from Cluttering Your New Place
  • Starting a New Adventure
  • Using Your Space for You

Did you catch "How to Keep from Cluttering Your New Place"?  I know from painful experience that without the exercise of an iron will, bigger refrigerators, bigger closets, and bigger homes all soon become just as crowded as the smaller counterparts they replaced.

Another surprising, but potentially life-changing idea is expressed by the last chapter:  Using your space for you.  Actually, it's a major theme throughout the book:  You stuff, from clothes to cupboards to collectibles, should be what pleases you, what makes you feel comfortable and happy, what works for the vision you have of what your home should be.  Quantity rarely provides that, but we keep buying things for all the wrong reasons, having never taken the time and effort to discover what we really like.  I suppose that seems obvious, but there are a lot of things I keep for no reason other than that I have them, and they work.  We still have the kitchen wallpaper that was there when we moved in, even though I'd never have chosen it out of a wallpaper book.  I don't think that's all bad—and I still dread the idea of even looking through a wallpaper book, let alone tearing up my kitchen—but the authors do have a point.  And I do like their answer to this objection:

"I don't want to make any changes that would hurt my home's resale value."

This statement strikes us as sad.  It is similar to someone buying a new car, then saying, "I'm only going to drive it when my other car is in the shop, because I want to keep the mileage low for the trade-in." That attitude makes you the caretaker of the property, keeping it nice for some future owner, instead of behaving like it's yours.  If you've always dreamed of a vaulted-ceiling library, and your garage is the perfect place to create one, why not do so?  You'll have years of pleasure, and if you or your heirs get a little less because it's too nice to park a car in, your satisfaction is worth the difference.  Most of the time individualizing a space actually adds to the selling price.  But even if it doesn't, don't sell yourself short.

I won't be buying the book, at least not yet.  But I'll keep it in the back of my mind, and might get it out again when I need to be re-inspired.  Not only is an organized, uncluttered home one of the best legacies we can leave our heirs, it also makes life a lot nicer in the meantime.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 6:53 am | Edit
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I may have missed it.  After all, I didn't watch much of the Olympics.  But what I did see was disturbing, and fits a disturbing pattern in the world today.

Who did the athletes often thank in their interviews?  Their mothers.  Who did one commercial sponsor feature frequently and prominently?  The moms.

Not that it's wrong to remember the encouragement and inspiration given the athletes by their mothers.  It's impossible to go over the top in honoring the maternal efforts and sacrifices made for the next generation.

But what about fathers?

We've gone from Father Knows Best to Father Knows Nothing.  And that's disturbing for two reasons.

  • It's wrong.  It's untrue.  Was your dad the foolish, bumbling, absent, or abusive father portrayed in sitcoms and on the news?  Does your husband deserve to be the inexhaustible staple of comedic routines?   We're allowing a few bad examples to distract us from the overwhelming evidence that today's fathers are engaged, supportive, and wise leaders in their children's lives, on an almost unprecedented level.  If their involvement is not exactly the same as a mother's, that is as it should be:  children thrive best under the different kinds of wisdom and nurturing that come from the male and the female perspectives.
  • It's foolish.  Even if there are some legitimate concerns about the state of fatherhood, repeatedly telling someone how bad he is will more likely have bad effects than good.  Fatherhood is difficult, sacrificial work; if a man's efforts are repeatedly met with denigration and derision, how long can a human be expected to persevere before giving himself up for lost?

Without taking anything away from the heroic efforts of mothers, let's not forget to give fathers their due.  They deserve much better than they are receiving at our hands.  Our children deserve better, also:  They need to be able to look up to their dads, and they need dads they can look up to.  Neither goal is served by belittling half of their parentage.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, August 19, 2012 at 6:50 am | Edit
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This is happening to a friend of a friend.  Really.  This is not an urban legend.  :)  f you don't believe me, you can watch the press conference video below.  But if it weren't for Facebook, I would probably not have discovered the connection.

Gavin and Carrie Jones, along with their eight-year-old son, Isaac, normally live in Papua New Guinea.  They came back to the U.S. so Gavin, a helicopter pilot, could upgrade his skills, and were given a gift that will extend their furlough a bit longer than planned:  Carrie just delivered (via a carefully planned and orchestrated c-section) five tiny babies, three boys and two girls.  Unlike others we've known in similarly difficult circumstances, they've chosen not to keep their story private.  As Gavin said, the more people who are praying for their babies, the better.

If you'd like, you can follow their story, and the progress of little Will, David, Marcie, Seth, and Grace on their blog.  I'm getting e-mail updates from my friend, and Facebook updates as well, but I still go to the blog for the full story.  I'm a sucker for babies....

The press conference is 35 minutes long, but neat to see.  I am so impressed by how poised and articulate the parents are, especially Carrie, who is dealing with five desperately needy babies and raging post-pregnancy hormones.  Even Isaac does well, though you can tell he's a bit shell-shocked.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Edit
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Skip this post if you are tired of reading about our fabulous grandchildren.  :)

I was talking with Janet the other day, and as I usually do, I asked what new cute things our grandkids were doing.

"Well," she replied, "Joseph counted nearly to 50."

This puzzled me, as numbers are his passion and a month ago he had happily counted past 150 for me.

Then she added, "in Japanese."

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, August 7, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Edit
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Edy's Double Fudge Brownie Ice Cream, Butterfingers, and their Swiss pedigree notwithstanding, Nestlé is not my favorite company.  They drain Florida's aquifer and sell our water out of state, while we suffer water restrictions and salt-water intrusion problems.  (Not that they're the only ones.)  They aggressively promote their infant formula in impoverished countries, where babies especially need the benefits of breast milk, and where improperly-prepared formula can be deadly.  They market sugar and chocolate to toddlers:


(I found this on the grocery shelves on a visit to Switzerland.  If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you'll see it is intended for children ages one to three.)

I guess if they're criticized for selling baby formula to the poor, we shouldn't complain if they turn their marketing skills toward the rich.  Still, Nestlé's attempt to bring their fabulously successful and oh-so-trendy capsule coffee system to the baby bottle set strikes me as over the top.  As my Swiss informant explained:  Capsule coffee machines are all the rage here and if you have a Nestlé machine you're in the top of coolness.  Now you can get one for your baby, only it serves formula not coffee.

Yes!  It's safe, it's foolproof, it's BabyNes!

BabyNes is the world’s first comprehensive nutrition system for infants and toddlers, and is based on Nestlé’s latest scientific achievements in baby nutrition and systems technology. With BabyNes, Nestlé builds on its unmatched expertise in baby nutrition gained over 145 years since the invention of Farine Lactée by Henri Nestlé.

Ahem.  The world's first comprehensive nutrition system for infants and toddlers is actually as old as mammals....

BabyNes offers single-serve formulas for infants and young children up to the age of three years. The composition of the six consecutive formulas meets the evolving nutritional needs in the first three years of life: four formulas in the first year, and one formula for each of the following two years. The customised composition of these products is tailored to suit the growth pattern in early life and the baby’s changing nutritional needs, while taking into account the steady introduction of solid food into the infant’s diet.

The single-serve portions are sealed in capsules, used in the proprietary BabyNes machine, which recognises each capsule and prepares the bottle with precisely the right dosage and temperature, at the push of a button, in less than one minute. The BabyNes machine combines state-of-the-art technology with the utmost safety and convenience, and ensures a hygienic, quick and easy bottle preparation.

Best of all, it's supercool!  (Even cooler because the demonstration is in French.)

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 26, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Edit
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Until June of 2010, homeschooling was legal in Sweden, albeit within some onerous regulations.  But with the passage of a comprehensive revision of the education system, the right of parents to direct the education of their own children has been virtually abolished, in apparent violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, Protocol 1, Article 2:

No person shall be denied the right to education. In the exercise of any functions which it assumes in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religions and philosophical convictions.

If you want to become depressed learn more, there are many stories, often heart-wrenching, at the Home School Legal Defense Association site.  (I may have some quarrels with the HSLDA's approach, left over from the early days of homeschooling, but that doesn't negate their importance as a source of homeschooling advocacy and information.)

As part of an effort to raise awareness of their plight, Swedish homeschoolers are staging a Walk to Freedom from Askö, Sweden to the Finnish island of Åland, to which many Swedish homeschooling refugee families have fled.  (No, they're not walking on water, but plan to secure the help of a ferry for the last leg.)  Their adventure begins tomorrow.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 10:32 am | Edit
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I'm not sure what to think of the latest buzz that sitting for more than three hours a day takes two years off your life, particularly such statements as, "Sitting, it turns out, can shorten life expectancy almost as much as smoking can."  As with many such generalized studies, I think it's making its splash long before there has been sufficient time for analysis and confirmation or contradiction.  Be that as it may, it's clear enough that the human body is more designed for movement than for sitting on our hind ends for extended periods.

The articles I've read about this new study recommend that we watch less television, cut down our computer time, and walk to a colleague's office rather than sending an e-mail.  Only the first is at all practical for those whose work involves the computer, and whose colleagues may be half a world away.  Our hope, I assume, lies in taking frequent breaks to get up and move around, although the value of such behavior may be hard to sell to an employer who is more worried about productivity than longevity.

But as long as they're considering impracticalities, I'm puzzled by the obvious omission in the articles:  Not one has addressed the long hours our children spend sitting in school, with less freedom of motion than an office worker with a swivel chair and the ability to walk at will to the bathroom.  When was the last time you heard a serious suggestion to keep school time to under three hours?  (Besides here, of course.)

Worse still, consider what we do to our children before school:  The hours tightly bound in car seats, or confined in other devices, aka baby shackles.  Little time spent on their tummies learning to become mobile.  Day care and early school where mobility is discouraged in the name of education or just plain crowd control.

No wonder we don't care to get off our duffs.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Edit
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I have so many things to write about, but am feeling a time crunch at the moment.  Just so you know I haven't forgotten you altogether, you get someone else's comments on homeschooling, in the form of a First Things article by Sally Thomas.  (H/T Conversion Diary).  Warning:  it may be a little intimidating if you happen to be feeling a bit insecure about your own homeschooling days.  But it's worth reading for the inspiration.

In recent years, as homeschooling has moved closer to the mainstream, much has been said about the successes of homeschooled children, especially regarding their statistically superior performance on standardized tests and the attractiveness of their transcripts and portfolios to college-admissions boards. Less, I think, has been said about how and why these successes happen. The fact is that homeschooling is an efficient way to teach and learn. It's time-effective, in that a homeschooled child, working independently or one-on-one with a parent or an older sibling, can get through more work or master a concept more quickly than a child who's one of twenty-five in a classroom.

To my mind, however, homeschooling's greatest efficiency lies in its capacity for a rightly ordered life. A child in school almost inevitably has a separate existence, a “school life,” that too easily weakens parental authority and values and that also encourages an artificial boundary between learning and everything else. Children come home exhausted from a day at school—and for a child with working parents, that day can be twelve hours long—and the last thing they want is to pick up a book or have a conversation. Television and video games demand relatively little, and they seem a blessed departure from what the children have been doing all day.

At home we can do what's nearly impossible in a school setting: We can weave learning into the fabric of our family life, so that the lines between “learning” and “everything else” have largely ceased to exist. The older children do a daily schedule of what I call sit-down work: math lessons, English and foreign-language exercises, and readings for history and science. The nine-year-old does roughly two hours of sit-down work a day, while the twelve-year-old spends three to four hours. But those hours hardly constitute the sum total of their education.

[W]hat looks like not that much on the daily surface of things proves in the living to be something greater than the schedule on the page suggests, a life in which English and math and science and history, contemplation and discussion and action, faith and learning, are not compartmentalized entities but elements in an integrated whole.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, May 25, 2012 at 3:17 pm | Edit
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