In 9-year-old son’s handwriting, hanging on the wall:
Spring has sprung, more or less. I’m sitting here bundled up like a bag lady because I absolutely refuse to buy heating oil in May — in MAY, for crying out loud — no matter how chilly the house is. So we all wear double socks and triple sweaters and gaze longingly at the untouched bathing suits and sandals I optimistically took down from the attic a month ago.
The rest of nature seems unaware that it’s frickin’ freezing: the tulips are in bloom, the bees and ants are working away, and the lilac tree outside my window is heavy with purple blossoms. And every time I see that tree, I breathe a little prayer to a merciful God: please, Lord, no robins this year.
We had robins last year. I was utterly delighted: right there outside our very window, something better than any science kit or home school nature unit. There were the busy parents, manically dashing two and fro, following some blind compulsion to build and prepare. With baffling skill and speed, the nest quickly formed, and it was a beautiful thing: round as a cup, solid and lovely, a work of art.
And then the eggs. Four of them appeared one day, in that unmatchable shade of blue. We felt as if the whole thing were a gift to our family. The children couldn’t get enough of check out these perfect little eggs. We would all file outside and I would hold the kids up one by one, so they could gasp and coo over the secret little treasure in our tree.
One thing bothered me a little bit: every time we got close to the fragile little nest, the mother bird would fly up in a panic . . . and rush out of there as fast as she could. “Some mother,” I would mutter. “Lucky for you we’re not a cat! Aren’t you even going to try to peck us?” But she would just hide herself in a nearby bush, keeping herself safe and letting the eggs fend for themselves.
Humph. Well, she’s just a bird. I knew I was taking the situation too personally, and that robins lay several eggs every year for a reason: they’re not all going to make it, and that’s a fact.
Still, I got madder and madder at this lousy mother bird. Only a bird, sure, sure, but WHAT KIND OF A MOTHER ARE YOU? I suppose you’ll just go ahead and LAY SOME MORE EGGS if these ones get ruined through your cowardice and neglect! Who cares, they’re just your CHILDREN, that’s all — why go to any effort? If there had been some Egg Protective Services hotline, I would have had it on speed dial.
But it just got worse. When the baby birds were born . . . they were horrible. Just painful to look at. I don’t mean fragile, I don’t mean vulnerable or unfinished-looking — they were monstrosities. Every scrap of their essence spelled out H-E-L-P-L-E-S-S in a way that was unendurable to me. I forget if I was pregnant at the time, or trying to fatten up a baby who wouldn’t nurse properly, or if I was worried about an older kid who was struggling in school, or what, but every time I looked out this window, all I could see was this dreadful image of my own vocation in that smelly little nest. It held the two indisputable facts of the life of a mother:
Number one, you must protect them.
Number two, you cannot protect them.
So. One day they began to fly. Sort of. They left the nest, anyway. I couldn’t keep myself from trying to keep track of these babies, because their parents were so lousy at it. One, two, three — where’s number four? WHERE’S NUMBER FOUR? Ah, there you are. Now where has the grayish one gone? All right, he’s over in the driveway. Once I stopped the lawnmower just in time before running over one fledgling, thrashing around helplessly in the tall grass.
Two of the little ones learned how to flutter around pretty well, and within a day or two, they were hopping from limb to limb in the tree in a convincingly birdlike way. They had puffed up and feathered out, and their terrible nakedness was hidden and forgotten. So far, so good.
The third baby bird got hit by a car. Its little body flapped in the wind of the traffic for a day, and then something hungry carried it away.
And the fourth one was just gone. I don’t know what happened to it. Maybe it learned how to fly really quickly, and set out in a brave and forthright manner to start a family of its own, and it was healthy and successful, and sang happy songs every day. I assume that this is what happened.
Is it wrong to pray for birds? If I pray for those little robins, I think God will know what I really mean.
Please, Lord, no more robins this year.
On Friday, I’m going to announce my pregnancy at The Register. I know that most of the readers will be gracious and congratulatory, just as you lovely people were here. Most of my readers are fairly clear that news of a baby is always good news. The timing may not always be great, and the circumstances might be tough, but the baby itself? Good news, period. Once the child is already conceived, the only civil thing to say is, “Congratulations!” And if you can’t muster that up, you don’t say anything at all.
I’m horribly nervous. I needed to make an announcement, partly because — well, it might explain why my posts get a little feeble from time to time, when I’m typing through waves of nausea; and also because — dammit, it’s good news! I’m happy, my husband is happy, our other kids are happy, and good news wants to be told.
So, by way of announcement, I recycled an old post which I think is pretty funny. But I still know that there are a certain number of people who will be disgusted, even outraged, when they hear that I’m having another baby. And they will comment. They will say that I’m irresponsible, mindless, and selfish.
I expect to get 90% nice comments, plus a few “Kill yourself now, you filthy breeder” comments. I’m also expecting a couple of the following:
“I’m a Catholic, too, but I don’t see how it could be God’s plan to ruin the Earth with even more consumers.”
Well, I am at peace with this false dilemma. First, our family is pretty green, and I feel sure that our children will be, too. I’ve covered this here.
Second, even National Geographic, no conservative rag, openly calls for focusing on the betterment of living conditions, rather than on reducing fertility.
And third, my personal family size has no effect — ZERO, whatsoever — on the overall physical well-being of the world. Even if you still believe that the world is headed for a population explosion (which Hania Zlotnik, director of the UN Population Division, does not believe), then the fact is that the world can well afford for a family in rural New Hampshire to have nine children. I could have a dozen more, and each of my children could do the same, and the environment wouldn’t break a sweat. To think otherwise is just hysterical nonsense.
“I’m a Catholic, too, but you damn well better be able to pay for all these kids. There’s nothing Catholic about financial imprudence.” These folks are the ones that keep me up at night. But my final conclusion is this: if you should really only have a baby if you can pay for all the attendant expenses with cash on hand, then you’ve pretty much told all of Africa to go childless. Think about it. If you should only have a child when you’re 100% financially independent, then you’ve just turned a very basic and very dear gift from God into a perk for the wealthy.
I know that you can take this idea too far, and there truly is such a thing as financial imprudence, of course. But — when we were very, very poor, the only beautiful thing in the house was our baby. Her conception is the thing that brought me and my husband back to God. I wish conservative Catholics would be much, much more careful about how they talk about money and children.
I only have one other thing to say. I don’t think I’m holy because I have a lot of children.
I don’t think I’m a superstar, and I don’t consider it an achievement.
I don’t say or think everyone should have big families.
I try not to use my family size as a marketing tool, and I think I have expurgated all foolish notions about small families from my heart.
We have children for our own reasons, and aren’t trying to say — well, anything to anyone. My children are human beings, not a statement.
And yet, people still see our very existence as a challenge or a rebuke, or an argument to refute. This hurts me almost as much as it hurts me when they see me as a fool or a leech. I don’t even know what’s in my own heart half the time, so why would I have a theory about why you, perfect stranger or casual acquaintance, have fewer children than I do? I don’t need to hear your sterilization story or hear about how your voting history reflects your worldview and is superior to mine.
My baby does not deserve your contempt or need your approval. My baby has nothing to do with you. All I want is to take care of my family and to protect them, most of all the littlest one who has only been here for a few months.
Do I worry about bringing an innocent child in to a world with war, racism, pollution, and so on? No, not really. Probably the world we live in today would have seemed like a dystopian nightmare to our ancestors — and yet I love it so much, and I’m glad I’m here.
No, what I worry about is that, when my baby is born, people will not see a child. They will not see the dark eyes, the sweet, milky, velvety neck, the dark downy hair, the tender, tender being who comes to me fresh from the arms of the very One who invented love itself.
They will see — a threat. How can this be? How can this have happened to the world? It used to be that you didn’t have to have a reason to have a child — if you were married, it was what you did. In my house, that is how it is. I hope my children understand that.
And I hope that, when they have children of their own, they will have a circle of friends who can rejoice with them. Because that is how it ought to be. A baby is always good news.
Today at the Register I am, of course, talking about nudists at church.
As to the very fair question of whether or not my husband is now missing an eye — well, the best I can recall, the conversation went something like this:
Me and my husband: We have lots of good reasons to postpone the next pregnancy.
[Repeat every month for two years.]
Me and my husband in March: Welllllll . . . how about in May, we think about trying for #9?
God: DID SOMEONE SAY BABY?
So I now have a due date of December 9, and everybody’s happy. The kids constantly ask for updates — “Is Shrimpy still the size of a blueberry? Or is he as big as a kidney bean now? Can he hear me? HEY SHRIMPY, CAN YOU HEAR ME?” etc. So, happy days. Thanks for all the good wishes! You guys are the best.
Roland Joffé’s new movie, There Be Dragons, is about half a good movie. What is good is so good that it makes the bad parts doubly frustrating.
Let’s start with the good. The best part was, happily, Charlie Cox, who plays Opus Dei’s founder, Josemaria Escriva. Knowing very little about the actual man, I had none of the mental baggage that can trouble a fan (“That’s not how I pictured Mr. Tumnus!”). The Fr. Josemaria he portrays is a strong, happy, humorous man who is not like other men. When he commands a room with quiet authority, you feel it. Despite the drama that surrounds him, his actions are not hammy or melodramatic. You care about him, and want him to succeed. When he learns to love everyone he meets, you believe it, and you feel glad that you met him, even if only on screen through an actor. There are several original and memorable scenes which demonstrate the humanity, holiness, and appeal of the man.
When he’s not on screen, however, the movie is kind of a mess. The first half hour or so is so cluttered with flashbacks, flash forwards, voice overs, text explanations, and a panoply of cinematic hokeyness, it’s a struggle just to figure out what story is being told.
I know what happened here. The director knew he had a good story on his hands: Josemaria Escriva was an amazing guy living in amazing times. But if you just do a biopic of a Catholic boy who becomes a priest and starts a religious movement, who’s going to watch it? So they decided to give the story some theatrical heft by telling two stories simultaneously: Josemaria and his onetime friend, Manolo Torres, who works as a fascist government mole in the trenches with the communist rebels. But that’s not all: the dual story is being uncovered by the alienated son of Manolo, who is writing a book about Josemaria, who was friends with Manolo, who is telling his son not to write the book, who is writing it because he’s mad at his father, who is mad at Josemaria because he’s . . . if this is making any sense, I’m telling it wrong.
Any time Manolo, or his son, or Manolo’s rebel beloved, or the beloved’s lover are on screen, the movie descends into — how do you say? – silliness. The characters are paper thin, the dialog is contrived, the voice overs never clarify anything, and the acting stinks. Again, I think I know what happened: the director has seen one to many Francis Ford Coppola movies, and was desperate to do the whole “violence and sacraments” juxtaposition thing. A rosary next to a pistol! A shattered statue of Mary amid the rubble of war! An angel amid the lunatics in the asylum! Or is it a devil! I know it’s not fair to say, “This is no Godfather,” but what can I say? Coppola pulled it off; this guy didn’t. The effect is just squirmfully corny. You really can’t zoom in on someone’s eyes, and then turn the screen into a swirling, glowing snowglobe to signify that God Is Talking. You just can’t. I, the marginally sophisticated viewer, will not stand for it.
At the same time, so many moments that could have been incredibly powerful cinema are just squandered. For example: the sniper is on the hillside, squinting through his gunsight at Josemaria and his friends below as they celebrate a makeshift Mass during their perilous escape in the middle of the Pyrenees. That could have been a gorgeous scene. With a little movement by the camera, it could have been the pivotal point — could have carried the weight of the whole movie. Instead, they just kind of . . . filmed it: here’s the sniper, here’s the priest. Bang! Next scene. So frustrating.
At a certain point in the movie, I felt as if I was watching a slide show or an especially melodramatic Powerpoint presentation which covered the plot, more than an actual story. There was no rhythm to the way it was told, just lots of stopping and starting — which isn’t the same. There was no deeper meaning to the double stories, just added complexity — which isn’t the same. There were no deeper themes of fatherhood and faith and forgiveness, just lots of talking about those things — which isn’t the same. They could have cut thirty minutes and half the characters without losing anything.
Well, now I feel like a jerk. This was a very sincere movie, and believe it or not, I still recommend it. It made me interested in Josemaria Escriva — I just wish they had stuck with him more, and skipped all the tacked-on extras of the other plot. I think high school students and younger would probably be pretty impressed by this movie, and it would make a great introduction to the saint for a confirmation class. I can see someone leaving the theater inspired and encouraged by what happened on the screen. As I said, the good parts (which occur mostly in the middle third of this two-hour film) are quite good. The bad parts aren’t unwatchable so much as frustrating: you keep thinking how much better it could have been.
I guess I’m just not willing to go whole hog and rave about it, just because it presents Catholics in a good light and had a budget of more than $750. I’m awfully, awfully tired of Catholics being the boogeyman in popular culture, but I’m also awfully, awfully tired of being told that everything that’s wholesome is a MUST SEE, a piece of CINEMATIC BRILLIANCE that will CHANGE YOUR LIFE, and is about FIREMEN. So, this movie was okay. I liked it. But it wasn’t an especially good movie.
It was extremely refreshing to see the Catholic faith represented as something that inspires generosity, courage, manliness, and heroism. I just wish that someone had been inspired to edit this movie, and heavily.
You can see the official trailer here.
Speaking of Dostoevsky, I just heard that my dear literature professor, Dr. Mary Mumbach, the former dean and co-founder of Thomas More College, and now dean and co-founder of The Erasmus Institute of Liberal Arts, has just been awarded the2011 Russell Kirk Paideia Prize for Lifetime Contribution To Classical Education.
I am absolutely delighted to see Dr. Mumbach being recognized. This is a woman who eat, drinks, and breathes literature, and who has poured her entire life into passing her love on to hundreds and hundreds of college students. Last time I read The Brothers Karamazov, it was in her Russian Novel class . . . let’s see, about fifteen years ago, almost to the day, I think! And here I am picking up the book for the third or fourth time. How I would love to be able to sit in the cafeteria with a cup of coffee and have a chat with Dr. Mumbach.
Hey parents, if your kids are approaching college age, do yourself a favor and check out The Erasmus Institute, where Dr. Mumbach is Dean and professor. It is a small, rustic, intense place, joyfully Catholic and utterly dedicated to the love of learning. And there’s a Rome semester! And look at this curriculum! And if you act fast, your child could have the delightful experience not only of soaking up the best of Western Civilization, but of soaking it up in a chair next to such celebrities as my own brother, my niece, and my nephew.
Seriously, my three brothers and four sisters and I, my husband, and two of my husband’s siblings were all students of the folks who founded Erasmus. This is a good place – take a look.
One more thing: as I write, it occurs to me that, for some reason, I never thanked my teachers for the extraordinary education I got. I can see much more clearly now how much love, care, and energy went into each class, and I am very grateful! Thank you, Dr. Mumbach, and Dr. Sampo, Mr. Shea, Ms. Enos, Ms. Bonifield, and Mr. Syseskey. Life is so much richer because of those four years.
My husband and I have started rereading The Brothers Karamazov, and are zipping through it the blinding pace of nearly 2-3 chapters per week. At this rate, we’ll have it finished before our kids borrow the book for college. I thought you guys might appreciate this passage, as the monk Fr. Zosima recounts a conversation with a famous doctor:
‘I love mankind,’ [the doctor] said, ‘but I marvel at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love human beings in particular, separately, that is, as individual persons. In my dreams,’ he said, ‘I would often arrive at fervent plans of devotion to mankind and might very possibly have gone to the Cross for human beings, had that been suddenly required of me, and yet I am unable to spend two days in the same room with someone else, and this I know from experience. No sooner is that someone else close to me than her personality crushes my self-esteem and hampers my freedom. In the space of a day and a night I am capable of coming to hate even the best of human beings: one because he takes too long over dinner, another because he has a cold and is perpetually blowing his nose. I become the enemy of others,’ he said, ‘very nearly as soon as they come into contact with me. To compensate for this, however, it has always happened that the more I have hated human beings in particular, the more ardent has become my love for mankind in general.’
‘But then what is to be done? What is to be done in such a case? Is one to give oneself up to despair?’
[and Fr. Zosima responds:] No, for it sufficient that you grieve over it. Do what you are able, and it will be taken into consideration. In your case, much of the work has already been done, for you have been able to understand yourself so deeply and sincerely! If, however, you have spoken so sincerely to me now only in order to receive the kind of praise I have just given you for your truthfulness, then you will, of course, get nowhere in your heroic attempts at active love; it will all merely remain in your dreams, and the whole of your life will flit by like a wraith. You will also, of course, forget about the life to come, and you will end by somehow acquiring a kind of calm.
I’m also reading Jurassic Park. How about you? What book is currently lulling you to sleep or keeping you awake all night?
7-year-old son: BANG! BANG! BANG! I’M A ZOMBIE KILLER!
5-year-old daughter: Well, I’m not a zombie.
7-year-old son: Wait here, I’ll get my other gun.
Also, my post is up at the Register: Pro-Life Euphemisms: What Do You Think?
Also, last day to enter in the contest! Email your answers to simchafisher@ (sorry, I can’t seem to get WordPress to make that a live link). I have to say, I think I figured it out from other clues around the house . . . and NO ONE HAS GUESSED IT YET. So go ahead and make a second guess, if you like. If no one guesses it, I’ll just figure out some silly way of choosing a winner tomorrow.
cruel defeat for you all.
There were 116 entries, and nobody guessed it! Are you ready? Inside the bag was . . .
mix for making homemade vanilla ice cream. How can I be sure? After some deep cleaning, we noticed a carton which was split open, from which a stray bag might reasonably have been separated. The box held most of the pieces of an ice cream maker, as well as other little similar bags holding ice cream-making things, like rock salt. Also in the box were instructions (for an ICEE machine, but still). Also a piece of wood, and a blue sweater.
So I was fairly sure that I was dealing with something edible, so I opened the bag and smelled and tasted the contents. Yep, that’s what it was: ice cream mix. We actually went so far as to use the ice cream maker one time, and I remember the powdery, gritty texture of the mix and the odd, buttery smell. I did a dramatic Geraldo-esque video of myself opening it up, but my newly teenaged daughter just couldn’t resist turning the camera on herself from time to time, and the end result was not especially intelligible. Also “Panic In
New York Detroit” (definitely panic in somewhere!) was playing in the background for some reason, and drowned out most of what I was saying. (I was saying, “Oh, it’s ice cream mix.”)
So. Now what? I may have missed a few, but here are the guesses:
zombifying neurotoxin powder called Tetrodoxin
priming sugar for beer
beer bread mix
instant mashed potatoes
cornstarch and water
embossing powder for rubber stampers
cake mix (including Easy Bake) (16)
plaster of paris for hand/foot print, stepping stone, or misc. craft (19)
muffin or scone mix (4)
pancake mix (5)
tapioca flour or tapioca (2)
reagent powder for chemistry kit
drink or lemonade mix (2)
onion powder (4)
bubble gum kit mix
bulk vitamin C
pizza dough mix
wall paper paste
sand (from craft kit, ant farm, or Sinai Desert, or rock polishing kit) (8)
magic ecumenical fairy powder
vanilla pudding (5)
ice cream smoothie
I think that last one comes the closest, don’t you? And so . . .
I’m happy to announce that the winner of our stupid contest is Elaine Miletic!
Congratulations, Elaine! Please email me with your shipping address, and I will get your two-year subscription to Faith and Family set up!
And to everyone else, you won’t come away empty handed. To you, I impart this valuable piece of advice: making homemade ice cream once every thirteen years is about right.