IEP times two

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Yesterday was our very first set of IEP meetings.  Eek!

Our adopted daughters both have Down syndrome, and joined our family three years ago.

And we made the decision early on that Mekdes and Tigist (ages 4 and 2 upon homecoming) should learn to live in a family before boarding a bus and attending school every single day.  They tired easily and their communication was limited, and we didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of them being away from us for 20-40 hours a week.  We anticipated that the day would come when they would join their peers at school, but for the past three years they’ve been home with their parents and siblings, meeting milestones and participating in family life and, ultimately, healing.

Towards the end of last spring though I sensed that it was probably time, that we had reached the place where they could not only successfully navigate and enjoy school but also really benefit from some things that frankly, I was not interested in taking on.  I want to see them grow and achieve and thrive, but I’d prefer to outsource their academic instruction (modifications and accommodations and everything in between) to people who are trained in, and love, what they do.  So I can simply be my daughters’ cheerleader and lunch-packer and, most importantly, mother.

The problem is though that the system is not set up for kids like mine, who come in post-infancy (or post-preschool) with significant needs.  And who, therefore, need to start at the neighborhood school without an IEP.

And this is an extra huge deal because our neighborhood school is not one of our district’s “center schools”, meaning there are no children there with developmental or cognitive delays like the ones my daughters have.  But this is where they needed to go to have their assessments done in order for IEPs to be written–and an eventual school placement to be determined.  The district provided a paraprofessional to help the girls through the day but I was worried.  Because Down syndrome.  And typical classrooms.  And classmates who might be mean.  And teachers who might be frustrated.  And, toileting issues.

And so yesterday was the BIG GINORMOUS TWO-AND-A-HALF-HOUR IEP MEETING.  You know the type.  Where parents regularly hire advocates and argue over “least restrictive environment”s, and where all sorts of people sit around a table and evaluate your kid.  Including an entire team of special education professionals and the vice-principal and school psychologist and my husband and me.

And do you know what?

It.could.not.have.gone.better.

It was positive, enlightening, and friendly.

They gave us what we wanted, and it was what they wanted, too.  Bonus.

There was no arguing or fighting.

They genuinely enjoy my daughters, and our family.

They want what’s best for my daughters, and our family.

Also?

Mekdes and Tigist LOVE SCHOOL.  Like really, really, big-puffy-heart love it.  And they have FRIENDS, kids greeting them every day with huge “hello!”s and waves, and laughing with Tigist on the swings at recess and helping Mekdes choose a book to look at during independent reading time.

When my husband and I finally walked through the door last night, exhausted, at 6:15 pm, I asked him what he’d thought about the meeting.

And he paused and then spoke in a serious tone, “There are some really amazing people working in the schools.”

And I could not agree more.  This is our first year venturing out into public education (our other four school-age children are attending a brand-new classical charter school this year), and we have been touched beyond belief by the warmth, care, and professionalism we’ve seen thus far.  I cannot say enough about the many dedicated individuals who care so very much for the well-being of not only my kids but also our entire family.

So I guess I want to say that while there is so much negativity surrounding the issue of education these days, and while I won’t deny that there are problems, and big problems at that, there are also some fan.tas.tic. things happening in classrooms and on playgrounds.  I’ve seen it.  Pretty much every single day, since my kids enrolled in school.

And the stakes are admittedly so much higher when you have a child with special needs and/or learning delays, because you have to navigate a complicated web of procedures and providers and systems, and there is no shortage of nightmare stories about IEPs that go wrong and parents who really have to go to the mat for their kids.  As they should.  Battling school districts and teachers and administrators.  As they should.

Because we love our kids and we know they are capable, ever so capable, of doing great things.  If only given the chance.

So I get how hard it can be, and that’s why I’m ever so grateful that my girlies have begun their school career with such a great support team.  Mekdes’ birthmother, who wanted so badly for her daughter to receive help and a good education, and who expressed that in no uncertain terms to us, would have been so proud and pleased at that meeting.  And this may not always be the case, but for now?

Everything is awesome.

Back to school

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How is school going, you say?

I’m so glad you asked.

And, frankly, not so well.  Pull up a chair, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and settle in as I proceed to complain about ALL OF THE THINGS.

Less than a week into the school year, we got hit with some sort of horrible respiratory virus.  Think fevers, coughing, yucky noses, coughing, fevers, coughing, yucky noses, etc.  Think all ten of us.  Think early mornings and packing lunches and managing homework and living in a messy house and preparing for a camping trip we’d had on the calendar for months.  With the fevers and the coughing and the yucky noses.

(Disclaimer: I was not sending kids to school with fevers.  They stayed home when they had one.  But they were still sick.)

And think this formerly-homeschooling-mama finally crying uncle after three weeks of this, and declaring WE CANNOT GO TO SCHOOL ANYMORE.  THERE IS SOMETHING IN OUR GENES THAT PREVENTS US FROM GOING TO SCHOOL.  WE HAVE TO DROP OUT OF SCHOOL.

No, I’m not even kidding.  I wish I was.  I emailed the principal of our charter school last week and apologized and told her how great the school was and how much we’d loved it, but that we can’t seem to get our sorry act together and everybody’s tired and sick and dying.  This dear woman was so kind, and offered me part-time enrollment, but I was firm in my resolve.  I signed my kids up for a homeschool enrichment program and our church’s co-op.  I told my friends.  I told my kids.

Who took the news like a boss but they were disappointed.  Really, truly disappointed.  “But I won’t get to go on the fieldtrip to the Butterfly Pavillion!”  “But we were learning cursive!”  “But what about my heritage essay?”  “But I’ll miss my teacher!”  And then they went for their last day and their dear teachers gave them gifts and wrote them cards and the school secretary told them to come visit, and we went camping for the weekend.

I felt terribly sad and conflicted about our decision for the entire trip and especially on the drive home.  As I sifted through their school things for the first time WITHOUT A FEVER and saw what they’d been working on, and in particular discovered the precious family portrait my seven-year-old had drawn in her class, I was suddenly seized with regret.  Suspected we’d not given school a fair shot.  I considered how my sons had performed so well in a highly-structured classroom setting, and how it had seemed a particularly good fit for my son with ADHD.  I saw how my sons were now actually INTERESTED IN READING.  For fun.  And how my eldest’s handwriting had improved drastically in only three weeks.

I realized that we should have taken the week (or two–honestly this thing was awful) to stay home and circle the wagons and get well, as opposed to, you know, UNENROLLING FROM THE SCHOOL.

Rookie, feverish, formerly-homeschooling-mom mistake.

It was like waking up with a hangover where you’re all, ohmygosh, WHAT DID I DO LAST NIGHT?

(Not that I’d know, because I’ve never been drunk or hung over.  Goody-two-shoes, I know.)

So I humbly contacted the dear principal again, apologized again, and asked if we could come back to school.

She said yes.  She is one of the most incredible, professional people I’ve ever worked with.  I am convinced she could fix the entire education system given the chance.  LOVE.HER.

So.  Monday my kids return to class.  We would’ve missed this past week anyway as they were all sick, but we do have to haul all the school supplies back that the school had formerly returned to us.  Oh and I promised everybody that I WILL NOT MAKE ANY DECISIONS EVER AGAIN WHEN I AM SICK FOR AN ENTIRE MONTH.

And because I didn’t get the chance to do it before, I will now introduce you to my precious children, who it is admittedly hard for me to share with other people for seven hours a day, but who are doing so extremely well in every possible way.  I’m a proud mama.

 

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Meet Tigist.  Kindergartener.  She presently attends our neighborhood school but will be transferring very soon to a school equipped to accommodate her needs.  Overall she is enjoying school and is so loved by all of her classmates.

 

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This is Mekdes.  Second grade.  She is in a typical classroom all day long at our neighborhood school, and LOVES it.  She will be transferring soon with Tigist to a school that provides services for kids as awesome as her.

 

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This is Kaitlyn.  Second grade.  She LOVES her class and rocked a couple of spelling games, for which she won a prize.  Also?  Her teacher is beyond fantastic.  SO good with the kids, high expectations, all of it.

 

132This is Biniam.  Fourth grade.  He too is so enjoying school and THRIVING with the structure, routine and clear expectations.  His teacher is INCREDIBLE and expects a lot out of the kids, while being totally realistic about the fact that they are, well, kids.

 

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Yosef.  Fourth grade.  (Yes, he and Biniam are twins.  Of the fraternal variety.)  Loves school and thrives on rules.  Yes, rules.  He loves rules.  He has the same teacher as his brother and she’s great.

 

133Anna.  Fifth grade.  And no, I don’t know how that happened.  She is so enthusiastic about school and was noted by a classmate as being inclusive at recess, which just about made my heart burst.  Her teacher is just the sweetest and Anna loves her so much.

 

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My Alice, and my Mary Lu.  Oh, these girlies.  They don’t go to school, and instead keep me company during drop-offs and pick-ups and of course, in-between.  They cause trouble at Walmart and have lunch with me at Subway.  And don’t say it loud because I’m in total denial about this, but Mary will start Kindergarten next year.

So that is my crew, and I love them so much, and it’s been a rocky start to the year but shoot, we’re pressing on.  And going back to school.  Again.

And now for something entirely different

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Well friends, the rumors are true: my kids are going to real, live school this fall!

Yesterday was their first day!

And yes, it’s kind of exciting, and yes, it’s kind of sad, all at the same time.  Because people, I’ve truly loved homeschooling.  It is very much in line with both my general life values and my rebellious, tea-party-ish, Parental Rights Trump All Things attitude.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if we did it again at some point, because really, who can know?  There are so many great things about it.

Though not when my son writes something mean about his twin brother in his twin brother’s spelling book.  However, do note the irony there.  Ahem.

So why the decision to stop?  For us it’s less about choosing NOT to do something, and more about choosing TO do something.  And that something happens to be enrolling my kids in a new classical charter school that’s literally four minutes from my front door.  Along with a number of other amazing families whom we already know.  Much of the curriculum the school will use is exactly what we’ve been using at home.  They can accommodate IEPs and my sons can get extra help in some areas where they struggle.  (Like spelling, apparently.)  The principal is fantastic.  No common-core.  Mandatory uniforms.  Required cursive writing instruction.  High structure and clear expectations.  Music every single day.

And yet if it doesn’t work out and we hate it, no big deal, we’ll just go back to doing what we were doing before.  My HOPE is though that each of my children will be academically challenged in new ways, and that I can take on more of an encourager/supporter role in their education, as opposed to grouchy and impatient taskmaster.  I’ve always longed for my children to be classically educated, and we’ve attempted to more or less do that here, but this just seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.

**My daughters with Down syndrome are going to a local public school.  And they LOVE it.  My general parenting style is admittedly to say, “Go play!  Go entertain yourselves!”, but they simply need more than that.  They’ll have the ability to thrive and receive services in a positive environment tailored to their needs.  Win-win.**

**My two littlest girlies will be home with me.  Thank goodness.  Lots of cuddles and laughs to be had, and maybe I can take them to Starbucks and pretend I’m one of those trendy moms with a small car and two well-groomed kids.  The opportunities are endless.**

My biggest fear in all of this?  That my kids will somehow lose their close sibling relationships.  Seven hours is a long time to be away from home each day, and I will positively die if my two oldest daughters, three years apart but such good friends, drift away from one another.  Oh.my.heart.

And if my littles aren’t buddies with the bigs any longer?

*Please excuse me while I sob uncontrollably and attempt to regain my composure.*

The transition is going well but I’m definitely feeling the loss of community.  The vast majority of my online and in-real-life “mommy support” has consisted of fellow homeschoolers for the past few years, and all of a sudden I’m silently dropping out of Facebook groups and slinking away from our delightful parish co-op and it’s so, so sad.  Also?  There’s a handful of homeschoolers that think you’re doing something Officially Morally Objectionable when you send your children to school.

Gah!

Obviously this is replete with ALL THE FEELS.

But the thing is that I have never pretended to be a homeschool-or-die, public school hater.  I have never been comfortable with the portion of the homeschooling community that homeschools from a place of intense fear.  I have always taken this thing one messy day at a time.  For better or worse.  Knowing that at any given point, if the right circumstances presented themselves, I’d be open to sending my children to a brick-and-mortar school.

And I’m really kind of thrilled about this new season.  I have kids all over the map academically (some with minor and some with not-so-minor learning delays!), and I’ve been doing this homeschooling thing now for FIVE YEARS–and all of it on top of pregnancies and adoptions and heart surgeries and moves and blogging and semi-regular trips across the world.  I’m ready to shake things up a little and trade some physical energy–getting kids to and from school and waking up early and packing lunches–for the mental energy of BEING 100% RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CHILDREN’S ACADEMICS.  Yes there will now be homework and keeping to a schedule, and I’m sure I’ll want to rip my hair out a little the first time my kid has a science fair project, but you know?  I’ll gladly do it (minus the project because DO YOU REMEMBER THIS) if it means not having to think or worry about the implications of whether or not so-and-so is reading yet, or why, oh why a different so-and-so still has illegible handwriting.  Because teachers!, and positive peer pressure!, while I get to be MOM.

So, that’s our big news.  All kinds of mixed-up feelings, a lot of excitement, plenty of anxiety, and some real sadness.  I have SO much more to say about this, and about how homeschooling “support” communities tend to function, but I will save that for later.

For now I will simply say, bring it on, school!  My kids had a fabulous day yesterday, and I’m hoping for more fabulousness to come.

P.S.  I reserve the right to bring my kids back home if things don’t pan out, and you don’t get to say “I told you so.”

P.P.S.  If any of you homeschoolers give me the sanctimonious “Oh it’s okay, homeschooling isn’t for EVERYONE”, while fanning yourself with your collection of Charlotte Mason books and handmade Montessori tools, I am going to flip my lid.  Flip.my.lid.  Thank you for your concern in this regard.

What I say when there’s nothing to say

edel2picmonkey

 

My poor, defunct, neglected little blog.

I’m still here, FYI, in spite of falling off the face of the digital earth after my trip to Austin.

And speaking of Austin, I had a post all written up about the Edel Gathering like a dutiful blogger should–but I just wasn’t thrilled with it so I kept attempting to re-write and re-fashion what I had, then I decided that you know what it’s good enough and went to post it, but then there was some sort of formatting glitch that I couldn’t get figured out and which annoyed me to no end, and then all manner of horrific things surfaced in the news and now Robin Williams has died and, well, suddenly my introversion woes at a cocktail party seem petty and unimportant in comparison.

The thing is that I don’t want to write about sad things like Christians being martyred or mental illness and suicide because, well, I feel like they’re not my stories to tell.  Everybody who’s anybody is talking about this stuff, and they should be, and yet I know enough to know I have nothing to bring to the table here.  Nothing to do my brothers and sisters in Christ justice.  Certainly my heart hurts when I consider the suffering that so many endure for Jesus and the Gospel, but I know that the best I can do is pray and continue loving the people around me.  And of course it’s terrible to think about the hopelessness Robin Williams battled throughout his entire adult life but I can’t fix any of that now, so again, I can pray and love the people in my life.  That’s it.

And yet I don’t want to write about silly, surface-level things either because everything in the world right now is just so heavy.  I don’t feel comfortable just moving on and being all hey, check out the new at-home freezer meal business I’ve started! or aren’t my kids so cute?  It feels like maybe this isn’t the time for all of that.

So now what?  What is a blogger to do?  Apparently, I have no idea.  Hence the quiet ghost-town of a blog.

At the very least, it DOES seem that the time for posting about karaoke and about how I exposed Abby Johnson to my horrible dance moves (yes, THE Abby Johnson) at the Edel Gathering has probably passed, but the one thing I guess I’ll mention from the event is the observation that people are really longing for FRIENDSHIP, and that’s something I’m not always good at, but I’m trying to do better.  When I showed up there in Austin I really didn’t know much of anyone, and for the fiiiiiiiiirst time in foreeeeeeever (sorry, couldn’t resist) I had to stick out my arm and shake peoples’ hands and introduce myself.  Eek!  Add to that my perception that most of the people already knew each other (which maybe they didn’t but it seemed that way to me) and oh my goodness, it was intimidating.  I also noted that people seemed to know a lot about one another from their respective blogs, and it occurred to me that my own blog has increasingly ceased to be a place where I am known and has become moreso a place where I write articles I’m attempting to launch into freelance land, with admittedly limited success.  Hmmm.

Suffice it to say I’m thinking a bit about human connection lately, and thanks to my aforementioned new business (I’m an independent representative with Wildtree, which I’m actually pretty excited about) I’ve had the chance to reconnect with some different people from different parts of my life, and it’s been fantastic.  See I love my friends and a good party too, but as an introvert I’m inclined to stay inside of myself or I believe that I should only share personal things that are important or matter or are relevant.  I assume that nobody really wants to hear about that time my kid had a horrific diaper incident in front of all the Pretty Moms At The Pool, or about how I cured a migraine with airline peanuts and a nap.  I figure the mundane details of my days making oatmeal (every single morning) and doing laundry (I mix colors together and wash on the “cold” cycle) are precisely that, mundane–maybe worthy of sharing with my husband, but nobody else.  Hence I probably remain somewhat of a closed book, both online and in real life.

But that is profoundly stupid.

Because here’s the thing: life is short.  The future is uncertain.  God has placed me here, now, doing this crazy thing of being a wife and a mother to eight small but growing children.  I want to use my time wisely and love people well, and be better about allowing others in.  My online presence is admittedly tricky because there are some people who read here who really, truly hate me because of things I’ve written about women, contraception and abortion, thus making it uncomfortable to share personal things–but I’m officially choosing NOT TO CARE.  My blog, my space, my life.  So there.

ANYWAY.  This is where I’m at.  My life goes on in spite of such heartbreaking news from around the world, and I’m disturbed and appalled, and so I hope.  I hope in Christ, and in His love and mercy.  I hope for Heaven and for peace.  I hope for joy and beauty, even on earth.  And I see it, I do, and I don’t even have to look farther than my own home.  Still I don’t understand why we were born here in relative comfort and ease when so many dear Iraqi men and women were not–but then I’ve been asking myself those questions for years, ever since we adopted our children and came face to face with extreme poverty–of every kind.  Why them, and not us?  And I honestly don’t know.  I really don’t.  There is evil in the world, and so there will always be grief mingled with the joy, until Jesus returns and makes all things right again.  In the meantime some are left to suffer, and we see a mysterious dignity in that suffering and uniting oneself with Jesus on the cross, even as we work to alleviate these horrific atrocities because THEY SHOULD NOT HAPPEN.

So.

I’m posting a random photo of me and sweet friends at a Texas cocktail party.

I’m furious and upset and sick about what is happening to Christians around the world, and I long for justice, and I want these people rescued.

I’m broken-hearted over Robin Williams’ tragic death and oh, how I hate suicide.

And I’m grateful for love and friendship, both of which make life a little more beautiful.

This might just be the most disjointed post I’ve ever published, and I am ever-aware that my corner of the blogosphere could disappear tomorrow and we’d all more than survive.  BUT, I also know that friendships and encouragement and hope can take root in the strangest of places.  And, I hope that happens here.

Tupac sighting at Forever 21

254Well.

Tomorrow I’m off to the Edel Gathering!  It’s a meetup/conference for Catholic women in Austin, Texas, and my introverted self has been slightly nervous because I’m going solo, without any bff’s–which ultimately means I might be awkwardly lurking around all weekend.  But when your friend Jen Fulwiler texts you and invites you to help out at the cool event she and Hallie Lord are putting together, you say yes.  Because Jen Fulwiler.  And Hallie Lord.

FYI I’m leaving for the airport before dawn and I still have virtually nothing packed, a huge mountain of laundry to wash, a Target run yet to make, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to be getting my eyebrows done at 6 am (Mom, you’re willing to do my eyebrows at 6 am, right????!!!!) since I wasn’t able to squeeze that in today.  BECAUSE I WAS TOO BUSY SHOPPING AT FOREVER 21 WITH EIGHT KIDS .

True story.

My apologies to any shoppers who had their toes nearly cut off by my sons pushing the two errant and wayward strollers that don’t turn or roll properly.  My apologies to the employee about whom one of my children noisily asked “IS THAT A BOY OR A GIRL?” and about whom I had to honestly answer ”I DON’T KNOW.”  And, I finally must also apologize to the sales clerk who attempted to inform me that I was not in the right place for the line, and who I brusquely informed that I’d been waiting five minutes already and had gotten in line behind someone (thus believing it to be the line) and I wasn’t going to wait for the other new people who magically knew where the line was supposed to be but had not been waiting as long as me, because my baby was screaming and my seven year old had developed a migraine and I NEEDED TO GET OUT OF THIS STORE.

I am, apparently, not forever 21.  In part because I do not prefer dresses that don’t fully cover my backside or upper thighs–sorry dressing room mirror for subjecting you to the horror that was every single dress I tried on.  I will be sure to visit a tanning booth, gym, and time machine before I stop in again.

It wasn’t ALL bad, though.  The best part about my kid-o-licious afternoon shopping spree was, by far, the Tupac shirt.  Which, if you’ve read Jen’s book Something Other Than God, you know is particularly meaningful.  OH how I wanted to buy and proudly wear that shirt to Edel, but it would have shown my entire midriff and, well, that would have been super awkward.  And frankly, nothing to be proud of.  So I took a picture instead to the sound of my kids asking “Why are you photographing that shirt with the man’s face all over it?”, and me saying “It’s a famous rapper” while humming “Changes” in my head.  The penitentiary’s PACKED…

Anyhow, I have to put down the laptop and go get some things done because hello, I’m leaving in the morning and I just remembered my fingernails are all blue and chippy.

Looking forward to seeing you in Austin!

The myth about siblings

siblingsfieldHello, my name is Brianna.

I have eight kids.

Which means each and every one of my children has seven siblings.

And someday they might have more because we’re some of those crazy people that remain open to children.  There’s no real reason for us not to be, and have you noticed how cute newborn babies are?  Also, my kids started begging for another baby by the time Alice was six months old.  So there’s that.

I’m an only child so I can’t know for sure, but I would assume that growing up in a large family probably has its challenges.  Then again, I think that’s every family.  The challenges might look different but they’ll still be there, whether you have two kids or ten.  So I figure you may as well keep having cute babies, amIright?

There is, understandably, a lot of fear when it comes to large families.  It’s something many couples assume they can’t do.  It’s something many couples assume only super-human or gluttons-for-punishment types do do.  Can I give my kids enough love, how will we pay for college, what is the mommy-sanity tipping point?  And, is it intrinsically unfair to a child to raise him or her with lots of siblings?

I’ll be honest and say that over ten years into this parenting thing, I’m pretty much convinced–convinced, I tell you!–that that last one is the silliest objection of them all.  Really.  My kids occasionally argue or hurt each other’s feelings, but most of the time?  They get along.  They’re buddies.  They miss one another if someone is gone, ride bikes on the driveway for hours and hours, and whisper long after they’ve been tucked into bed for the night.  They pray before a little sister with Down syndrome goes in for surgery and cheer for an older brother when he finally manages to swim across the entire pool.

There is something to be said for the whole shared experiences/rooms/family culture thing.  In spite of there being so many kids and only two parents it just works, because we’re a FAMILY.

What I guess I find fascinating though is the common assumption that having multiple children means more fighting and arguing and disharmony, and a lower quality of life for all–as if home life were a pie chart, with a limited number of available resources, where each child competes for his or her share.  Child psychiatrist David Levy popularized the term “sibling rivalry” in the 1930s, and had this to say in reference to older siblings:  “the aggressive response to the new baby is so typical that it is safe to say it is a common feature of family life.” 

And I think, really?  Is that really true?  This has never been our experience.  Not even once.  Not when a new baby has been born to us, and not when a new child has joined our family through adoption.  What can only be described as a thoroughly evolutionary worldview leaves little room for love or humanity or, ultimately, for God.  Who created the family and love between spouses, from whence children come.

But people believe it.  To the point where this idea has been quietly assimilated into the culture and become part of our modern parenting lexicon.   And I’m not saying that a toddler won’t occasionally envy the baby sitting in mom’s lap or that a ten-year-old child won’t complain about not having his or her own room every once in awhile.  That’s normal.  Because kids are impatient, and because kids complain.  But that does NOT mean that they are better off without each other.  Or that we should be forced into thinking that to have siblings is to be at a disadvantage or in a position to receive less of the love necessary to a good childhood.  Because that’s just plain WRONG.  Inaccurate.  Upside-down.

Frankly, I suspect some of this is the result of self-fulfilling prophecy: if we are unequivocally excited about a new baby on the way, and speak in terms that reflect how this little life is a gift to our entire family, our other children will see that excitement and at some point begin to manifest it themselves.  But if we tiptoe around it, go out of our way to focus on how “you won’t be replaced!” and “are you okay about having another baby join our family?” and “I’m so sorry you’ll have to make lots and lots of sacrifices”, our kids might actually start suspecting there’s a reason to feel threatened.  And that siblings pose a direct challenge to their personal well-being, which admittedly sounds pretty scary.  See how that works?

It’s the great big secular lie that tells us that family life is like the aforementioned pie-chart, with a finite number of resources–love, food, attention, material goods–and that the more people there are sharing that pie, the less each individual family member gets.  When seen this way, a large family becomes a scandal.  Because all of a sudden, what ought to be seen as a generous “yes” to life becomes an intrinsically selfish act, where everybody gets a smaller piece of that darned pie.  And an institution created to foster love and peace and formation becomes a breeding ground (pun intended) for resentment and competition.

It’s not exaggerating to say that the pie-chart model remains a grossly impoverished lens through which to view the mystery of marriage and ultimately of love.  God designed babies to bond family members together, not drive us apart.  What we may “lose” in our ability to regularly eat out at nice restaurants or drive a fancy compact car we gain in the joy and delight of another little soul at our dining room table.  We experience in a unique way the reality that life is filled with ups and downs and small victories and slow progress.  Our hearts are strengthened when we witness the human capacity for love, in action, a love that can somehow keep growing to include new babies in the womb and new brothers and sisters from another continent.  We see children growing in confidence, and who are supremely comfortable with their place in the world because they are literally surrounded by love.

And we should probably be skeptical of something that everyone takes for granted now, even though it wasn’t really on anyone’s radar seventy years ago.

Of course all of this is pretty much in the abstract, and if I could I’d invite you into my home so you could see the excited crowd that gathers around Alice anytime she does something new.  So you’ll just have to take my word for it that my kids are happy, they enjoy having brothers and sisters to play with, and new babies do not necessarily trigger an aggressive response in older siblings.  The family was designed by God to be a place of love, and really–who doesn’t love a baby?

Hobby Lobby vs. women

SCOTUS2-blog480Has anyone else been thinking less about yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling, and more about the general reaction to yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling?  While I (as a Catholic with a lot of Christian friends) know plenty of people happy about the outcome, I also know folks who are FURIOUS.  Like F-bomb dropping, name-calling FURIOUS.  How dare a bunch of conservative old guys decide that an employer doesn’t have to pay for our morning-after pill?  And, why are women’s rights being trampled in a time of supposed equality and modernity?  These are the questions they’re asking.  Minus the profanity, because I like to keep it G-rated around here.

Now I don’t personally use artificial contraception of any sort, and while I used to take the pill, I’ve (thankfully!) been off it for over ten years–so clearly I’m not disappointed in how the whole Hobby Lobby thing turned out.  I am, on the contrary, glad that religious freedom ruled the day.  To those who disagree, well, for people like me–who believe that life begins at conception–something like the morning-after pill is a Really Big Deal.  And employers shouldn’t have to cover it, because it has the potential to take the life of another human being.  It’s what’s called an abortifacient, and it’s (part of) why any sort of hormonal birth control (IUD, pills, shots) is wrought with ethical and moral problems.  It’s why I ultimately stopped taking the pill, all those years ago.

And you know?  That was really scary.  I’ll go right ahead and admit it, right in front of all my pious Catholic readers.  It was scary to throw out my birth control.  And not because I was somehow in a bad position to have children (I was married and my husband had a good job) or because I didn’t want to be a mother (I looked forward to growing our family).  No, it was scary because it meant giving up control.  It was scary because it meant losing my freedom.  It was scary because I believed that women need birth control to be happy.

So even though I don’t believe that anymore, and now believe quite the opposite–that artificial contraception is incredibly HARMFUL to women–I can understand why so many women do consider hormonal birth control vital to a liberated womanhood.  Because I’ve been there.  And I also understand why, as a result, so many women are offended by the SCOTUS decision.  It sounds restricting, limiting, and bound up in some really personal things like the female body and female sexual expression.  And here these out-of-touch old men said NO, corporations don’t have to pay for your pills.  And women and men alike are mad, not because they’re no longer able to access the drugs, but because somebody (technically five somebodies) indirectly passed moral judgment on something they either use or may want to use.  And that’s intrinsically offensive.

If nothing else, I suppose the ruling has everyone talking about the moral and communal implications of birth control.  I’m reading Margaret Sanger’s The Pivot of Civilization right now, and needless to say it’s fascinating!  The birth control movement she founded once upon a time was actually rooted in a disturbing manifestation of Darwinism, and built upon the horrific foundation of the eugenics movement–as opposed to the more modern (and seemingly harmless) view that women should have the ability to enjoy unrestricted sex without any consequences.

No doubt a secular product of her time, Margaret viewed sexuality as an irrepressible instinct, believed that the poor, infirm, imprisoned, and “mentally defective” ought not be breeding (and therefore destroying the human race), and so believed that sterilization and contraception were integral to solving the world’s problems.  (Back in 1922, when the book was published, Margaret identified some of these problems as poverty, world hunger, the public school system, moral decay, and the financial drain of the mentally and physically disabled on society.)  She more or less envisioned a future where only educated and upright families of means were reproducing, and even received glowing endorsements from Martin Luther King, Jr. for her work in urban African American neighborhoods.

File that one away under “things that make you go, hmmmm.”

Sanger was, ultimately, an activist for social reformAnd many of the problems she describes are at least mildly related to sex.  But her solutions are all based upon the false (and terribly destructive) premises that a) one does not possess inherent dignity solely on account of being a person, and b) that it’s virtually impossible to not have sex.

It is a horrible lie that you have to be wealthy, brilliant, or in possession of all of your limbs or mental faculties to have value as a human being.  Margaret Sanger’s vision for the future however was fueled by this idea that a flourishing society is one in which there are no weak members.  She writes about how charitable giving and aid are intrinsically bad for a society because they sentimentalize poverty and need, and apparently make it harder to weed those people out and secure a civilization’s happy future.  The historical Christian worldview, however, tells us to care for the vulnerable, sick, hurting, and broken.  It tells us that a person matters NOT for what he or she gives to society, but because he or she was created by God, body and soul.  With dignity.

And as to Sanger’s idea that we operate only off of instinct and therefore have no choice but to engage in indiscriminate sex, well, if we were but mere animals I suppose that would be true.  Except we’re not.  We’re people. With free will and the ability to make choices and exercise self-control.  Not that we always do nor are we all necessarily equally culpable for those choices, which are not made in a vacuum but shaped through family upbringing and religious background and past traumas and experiences.  But we CAN.  Therefore a poor, single, uneducated woman laboring in a workhouse, with five small children at home, does not have to be sterilized to avoid further pregnancy.  She can choose to be abstinent.  She can choose to practice NFP.  She can choose to have sex and become pregnant.  No matter what, there is some sort of choice.

The thing I keep coming back to as I read Sanger’s cold and calculated words (and desire to see much of the population wiped off the map), with the sounds of my many happy kids splashing in the pool in the background (you don’t read Margaret Sanger at the pool?), is that so very many of the world’s problems boil down to the oppression of women and, more specifically, the oppression of women at the hands of men.  We see it over and over again, this burden that women carry, particularly when it comes to procreation.  Margaret Sanger actually isn’t wrong to point out that many problems do find their origin in sexual expression and the unequal footing of women in this regard.

And I suspect this is why so many women have bristled at the recent Supreme Court decision.  Women feel like they’re being told what they can’t do or have by men, and that it somehow condemns us to a life of bearing the consequences of men, and so we’re angry.  We want freedom.  And equality.  And the ability to choose for ourselves.

But the thing is, we HAVE a choice!  We really, truly do.  That was of course what I didn’t quite understand when I first heard that hormonal birth control was not in keeping with the pro-life worldview I held, and so I recoiled in disgust because THAT CAN’T BE TRUE! and WELL WHAT DO THESE ANTI-HORMONAL-BIRTH-CONTROL CHRISTIANS THINK WOMEN ARE SUPPOSED TO DO?!

I didn’t yet see how God created procreation to go right along with sexual expression, or how children are actually the tangible result and sign of married love and commitment.  However once I began to accept the reality of these incredible mysteries–and it was an incremental process to be sure–I saw that it actually all makes perfect sense.  And we women do have a choice, because a choice to participate in the act that brings forth children is the conscious assent to potential motherhood that Margaret Sanger writes about.  Karol Wojtyla describes it in Love and Responsibility as “I may become a mother” or “I may become a father.”  Choice.  Freedom.  To co-create a human person, with God.

It’s sad that the founder of what is now called Planned Parenthood (a name Sanger herself resisted because she felt it “too euphemistic”) so clearly saw what she referred to as ”the power of procreation”, yet failed to grasp its intrinsic connection to sexuality.  It is also curious that Margaret Sanger was personally anti-abortion–oh yes, she was–and I wonder how she might respond to the knowledge that today’s hormonal contraception bears an abortifacient effect.  Obviously we’ll never know, but what I do know is that these justices who yesterday upheld the concept of religious freedom, and Hobby Lobby’s right to refuse payment for the morning-after pill?  They are not the problem.  They are not the oppressors.  They are not the ones hurting women or destroying freedoms.

The secular, utilitarian culture; the thoughtless men who use women for supposed sex without the babies; trusted Christian leaders who promote hormonal birth control as safe and effective when it is, in reality, neither: THESE ARE THE PROBLEM.

My hope is that women will continue to rethink their options and have the courage to choose dignity and life–for themselves, their relationships, their children, and their communities.  In the meantime I, as a woman who believes strongly in women’s rights and freedoms, applaud Hobby Lobby’s tenacity and commitment to positive values.  May it embolden other individuals and corporations to stand by their own moral convictions, especially those convictions that are undeniably good for women.

54

Pill_MainDid you know that on this day in 1960, the FDA approved the first oral contraceptive?

That’s fifty-four years ago!  So, kind of a long time.

Most of you probably know about how I used to take the birth control pill, but eventually stopped–because it made me sick and because it made my uterus an inhospitable place for a fertilized egg (aka human person) to implant and grow.  Ew.

Ever since I dumped my prescription in the trash, I’ve admittedly been fascinated by its complicated history and overall effect on society.  I’m convinced that the advent of hormonal birth control has shifted sexual norms and attitudes as much as–if not more–than anything else, and that we are just now beginning to see some of the consequences.  I’m sure some people think those consequences are overwhelmingly good, but I’m not one of those people.

No, I believe the divorce of sex from procreation has harmed women.  I believe the expectation that women will be available for purely recreational and uncommitted sex is a problem.  I believe that ingesting synthetic hormones carries major risks that are just not worth taking.

I believe that sex without the babies is a MYTH.

It’s interesting because when you read about the early feminist and birth control movements in the United States, you can see how the goals of those movements were undeniably pro-woman.  Equality, health, a conscious openness to motherhood, the potential for a good quality of life, all of those things are noble and very right aims.  The sad thing is though that none of them are best accomplished through the distribution of hormonal birth control!

Gender equality is not achieved through allowing yourself to be used by men.  Swallowing a carcinogen every single day is not healthy.  Engaging in sex itself is, by its very nature, a physical expression of an openness to motherhood.

Even though I know full-well that I’m in the minority of people who think hormonal birth control is a real problem, the whole national conversation about women’s reproductive rights doesn’t intimidate or scare me.  We SHOULD be talking about what’s good for women.  And it’s not enough to say “my church prohibits the use of artificial contraception” before rolling our eyes and pushing our baby stroller away–if the Lord says something is wrong, there are good reasons, and we need to be able to articulate those reasons.  No writing people off.  No running the other direction.  We need to engage.

Because I remember when I stopped using the pill.  I was terrified.  What are we supposed to DO? I wondered.  I felt trapped.  And anxious.  The pill is what young married couples used when they were newlyweds and one of them hadn’t graduated from college yet and THEY MUST NOT HAVE A BABY.

Maybe if you’ve never used contraception that sounds silly to you, but that is how I felt, and how a lot of women feel.  Because we’re told a lot of stuff by the culture.  Babies changed things.  Babies were inconvenient.  Babies could not be properly loved if you had not been married a minimum of three or four or five years.

But do you know what?  We had one of those babies.  And yeah she changed things.  And she did indeed arrive before I’d finished school.  And she was born when we’d only been married a year and a half.

And yet we’re still here!  The world did not end!  Our marriage did not implode!  It’s true that I don’t have a fancy degree hanging on my wall–nope, not even one–but I have my beautiful daughter, and seven other children now too.  And a happy marriage.  Worth it.  All the way.  My daughter being born when she was remains one of the greatest gifts God has given us.

So on this fifty-fourth birthday of the pill, I just wanted to drop in and say that I used to think I needed it even though I didn’t, and that I hope more and more women will stand up and make their voices heard.  And that more women using the pill will stop a moment and ask themselves, why?  And, what are the real results from this decades-long social experiment?

Frankly, women deserve better.

Catching up

downtownbdaySorry-not-sorry for the lack of bloggage these past couple of weeks!

I’d say the reason for my absence is that I’ve been vacationing in France, too busy staring at the Eiffel Tower to be bothered with the business of writing, but of course the truth is not nearly so exciting as that.

Really I’ve just been living Nothing too unusual.  Nothing too grand.  Just my life.  Just stuff like registering my kids for swim lessons, taking them to and from said swim lessons, hanging out at the park with friends, researching youth soccer clubs, acting as lifeguard in our backyard pool, finally getting up the motivation to mop my kitchen floor, buying margarita makings at the grocery store, looking at school stuff for the fall, going downtown for dinner to celebrate a friend’s birthday, laughing hysterically through “Parks and Recreation” every night before bed with the husband and a bowl of ice cream, and shopping at IKEA in spite of a tornado warning.

So I’d say nothing is new, but that’s not entirely true either.  Some fun changes are in store for us this upcoming school year, I’m flying to Austin next month for an event where I will know very few people, therefore triggering all manner of anxiety in my introverted heart, and I still have to tell you all about how we moved across town a few months ago after only being in our other home for 51 weeks.  I also have big plans to complain about the thankless and fruitless efforts I’ve made of late to do freelance work, and about how I keep reminding myself that Michael Jordan got cut from his high school basketball team–actually this is probably some sort of indicator as to why the freelancing isn’t panning out, my lame use of sports analogies for inspiration WHEN I HATE SPORTS.

Basically I’m woefully behind on all this mommy blogger newsy stuff, and hopefully I can get into a good summer routine to get you all caught up.  (I’m admittedly not motivated to sit inside at my laptop when the weather is so beautiful!  Also?  I hate the term mommy blogger.  Yet another topic to explore when I find the time and motivation.)

Anyhow, I hope you’re having a fabulous summer, that you don’t have a kid with a poopy diaper incident in front of all the other moms at the rec center NOT THAT THAT HAPPENED TO ME THIS WEEK, and we’ll talk soon.

P.S.  Did you know that you can subscribe to my blog, receive fabulous and important new posts like this one in your inbox, and like my page on Facebook?  You can!  Super easy.  Check out the ol’ sidebar.  And, you’re welcome.

 

The body shaming of Lindsey Stocker

stocker4Yesterday I saw this article about a Canadian high school junior–whose shorts allegedly violated the school dress code.  She apparently first got in trouble for wearing them, and then got in trouble for arguing with the administrators about it, and now she’s really upset about it because BODY SHAMINGIt was a hot day…I’m in trouble for showing my legs, and that’s a problem…why do they only target girls with these rules.  All sincere and heartfelt objections Lindsey makes in the video interview.

Now obviously this particular news story has little-to-nothing to do with me because a) our kids are homeschooled and thereby have to abide by MY rules–muahahahaha, and b) this happened in Canada, and I’ve never even been to Canada.  But it caught my attention anyway because it falls under the broader category of “women’s issues”, and some of the underlying stuff that Miss Stocker expresses here is hugely relevant.

First, a couple of disclaimers. 

1.)  Lindsey is a pretty girl.  And I think that is fabulous. 

2.)  She wants to be an empowered woman, is convinced the dress code rules are unjust, and is trying to take a stand for what she believes.  Seems completely age-appropriate for a teenager. 

3.)  I really don’t think she was intentionally dressing to look scandalous or provoke a scene.  I think it was, like she said, a hot day.  So she wore a pair of what were likely trendy, short shorts–just about the only type of shorts available for teens to buy at most stores in the grand year of 2014.  This I know because I recently went shopping for shorts, and the only ones I saw covered less than a string bikini.  Thankfully I’m 32 and know better.

4.)  Lindsey is absolutely correct when she says men should not feel entitled to women’s bodies.  And even if the shorts in question were a problem, Lindsey is giving voice to the fact that women are not sexual objects to be used by men.  She’s only in 11th grade.  So I say good for her. 

5.)  It’s possible that Lindsey’s just wanting to argue and complain and file some sort of lawsuit, but for the sake of argument I’m going to assume that she genuinely believes what she’s saying.

Now.  When I was in school (you know you’re getting old when you begin sentences with “when I was ____”), and public school at that, there was ALWAYS a dress code.  And it ALWAYS included shorts being at or past the fingertips.  And kids were ALWAYS expected to comply. It was just part of being a kid.  At school.  Where there were expectations for behavior, attendance, performance, and yes, appearance.  I’m sure it felt like a drag sometimes–every rule seems arbitrary when you’re young–but you know?  It was really NBD.  Of all the objectionable aspects of school, from snobby mean girls to failed geometry tests (oh how I hated geometry!), shorts-length was the least of them.     

I guess the question is, is it automatically “body shaming” to enact and enforce a dress code?  Is it anti-woman to restrict clothing options that typically only women wear?  While it certainly can be (there is NEVER a need to humiliate a girl for wearing something that’s against the rules, and it’s very possible that’s what happened here, and if so then Lindsey ought to be upset), I would say overall that no, it is most definitely NOT.

See my biggest problem with the whole body shaming claim?  It presumes that any attempt to cover parts of the female body or dictate what is appropriate for a woman to wear in a public setting (school, church, workplace) is equivalent to saying that bodies are bad.  When, really, it is actually quite the opposite:  I should care about how I present myself because God made ME, and my body is GOOD, and at the same time I am more than just my body.  I am a person.

And this is, ironically, something Lindsey sees–even if she doesn’t realize or acknowledge it.  It’s what she means when she tells the reporters that women aren’t sexual objects and what she implies when she argues that the rules specifically target women.  She knows she is more than her body.  She understands she is so much more than how much skin she’s showing on a hot spring day.  She refuses to buy into the notion that her identity is somehow rooted in her relation to the boys in her class.  And I hope she maintains, refines, and further develops these ideas in the coming years.  It could save her the heartache and trouble that come from caring too much about what random boys think.

Truth be told I might really kind of like Lindsey, but I think her approach and reasoning are misguided.  I think she should abide by the dress code.  I think she should not have argued with the powers-that-be when they attempted to enforce said dress code.  I think she should not be taking her activism cues from Tumblr.  I think she needs to stop seeing men as the enemy, although for all I know she has good reasons for that.  And, ultimately, I think she needs to take some time to think through what she is saying, because it is wildly inconsistent.

If we don’t want to appear like we want to be seen as mere sex objects, we shouldn’t wear clothing that says otherwise.  If we don’t want to appear like we want men reducing us to how we look or what we can do for them, we shouldn’t wear clothing that says otherwise.  Just like if we don’t want people to think we love Barney the purple dinosaur (ugh, remember him?), we shouldn’t wear a t-shirt with his picture plastered all over it.

And this isn’t some unjust way of letting men off the hook because this stuff actually has nothing to do with men–even if there wasn’t a man left on the planet Earth because they’d all been raptured away by Kirk Cameron, our clothing choices would still send messages about how we see ourselves and our sexuality.

So it’s important for me, as a woman, to consider whether or not what I wear reflects the dignity of personhood, according to context.  It would be inappropriate for me to wear my faded jeans and ripped sweatshirt I’ve had since college to a wedding.  I should probably not leave my house in a pair of shorts where my posterior is showing.  (Shudder.)  I wouldn’t wear a bathing suit top to a church service (oh wait–actually I did that!  But it was an accident!  Promise!)  Therefore I should also refrain from wearing anything that somehow demeans or reduces who I am as a woman.

And it’s not that I’m ashamed or repressed or hung up on modesty to the degree of obsession.  Because really, I’m not.  I love to shop.  I love fun clothes.  I love women.  I wear pants.  I don’t concern myself too much with judging what other people are wearing–we live in a modern secularized culture where people be showing some skin, and I have no desire to start writing everyone off because they happen to have a different standard than me.

The virtue of chastity is defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as “the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.”  It’s not something we talk much about and, frankly, when we do?  It is too often reduced to a set of rules and regulations couched in the word “modesty.”  No bikinis, no cleavage, no short shorts.  But chastity MAKES SENSE when seen as part of a beautifully holistic understanding of what it means to be human, and what it means to love.  Teenagers in particular though struggle to feel accepted and worthy of love, so why would they be interested in pursuing a chastity divorced from the Gospel and a greater understanding of  true charity?

We simply have not told them the truth.

Saint Pope John Paul II said that “Chastity is a difficult, long term matter; one must wait patiently for it to bear fruit, for the happiness of loving kindness which it must bring. But at the same time, chastity is the sure way to happiness.”

That right there is the crux of the issue, the thing that we must tell our sons and daughters over and over again: chastity is hard.  Temperance takes work.  Faith necessitates patience and long-suffering and dying to self. But it makes for a happy life, happy marriage, and happy sense of self.

If Lindsey wanted my input, I would tell her that as hard as it might be to see the connection between the length of her shorts and her dignity as a woman, it is real. I would tell her that I totally get though how she might not be able to see that right now, because she’s in high school.  And single.  And pretty.  And figuring life out. I would say that the rules make even less sense if you’ve never been told the whole story of God’s love for the world and the beauty of being created by God, as a woman.  And that she is loved desperately by this God, who cares about her heart and her mind and her dignity, and who will never leave or abandon her.

I would be kind.  And sweet.  And we would laugh together at the seeming absurdity of being suspended for wearing short shorts.  Because even though I think the school was within its rights to take action, it’s still funny.  Sorry school.

I would demand that she read Love and Responsibility when she’s old enough to not be bored by it, to in the meantime check out the Bible (universal appeal, people!), anything by CS Lewis, any of Saint Pope John Paul II’s letters/encyclicals/addresses, and Mother Teresa’s Come Be My Light, and to come have coffee with me sometime so we can discuss the aforementioned books.  (Though come to think of it, that would require a passport.  Details.  Also?  I realize I’m a book nerd.  And I have a general aversion/bias against contemporary, modern, light-reading books.  Sorry.)

And I will continue to hope and pray that my own daughters will feel, know, and most importantly believe with all that is in them that they too are loved by God, and that their dignity and value as women–as human persons–are worth protecting and nurturing.

For the sake of love.

May young women like Lindsey Stocker everywhere see that there is nothing remotely shaming about that!