Undeserving, unremarkable, unreliable, and beloved

Odd for the magi to know enough to prostrate themselves, in their jewels and flowing robes, before the seemingly unremarkable but truly extraordinary son of Mary; odder still, odd times a billion, for that Son to prostrate Himself for us, who are truly unremarkable.

Why? Why would He do this?

Because, to Him, every last one of us is that child who is unlike any other child. Each one of us is cherished like the “little man” who is adorable just because he enjoys eating eggs, or sweet beyond compare just because he has learned to blow kisses, like billions of other babies. To Christ, each of us is that special one, that cherished child, that singularly beloved one who makes his parent’s heart swell with affection.

Read the rest of my latest post at The Catholic Weekly.

Image: detail of photo by Andreĭ Osipovich Karelin, Public Domain

Start with the Baby

Most years, we hear our priests gently (or irritably) reminding us that it’s still Advent! Not Christmas! Not Christmas yet! Stop with the “Merry Christmas,” because the Baby hasn’t been born yet!

So we’ve tried hard to keep Advent as a separate season: joyous anticipation rather than celebratory blow-out. It’s hard to hold off when the rest of the country is already whooping it up, but the restraint feels worthwhile when Christmas finally dawns.

So it landed with a bit of a thud last year when our bishop, Peter Libasci, issued a letter asking the Diocese of Manchester (NH) to make some changes in how we spend our Advent.

He encourages lively decorations that suggest life and hope, and calls for an emphasis on warm, personal hospitality, especially toward the poor; he exhorts us to “avoid whatever may encumber you during this time.”

These things are not too much different from what we already attempt, but this part is new:

Beginning with the FIRST Sunday of Advent, in every rectory, convent, Catholic school, diocesan institution and Catholic home, display the image of the Christ Child in a suitably decorated place of prominence and approachability. Not the crèche, just the infant.

and

Beginning with the FIRST Sunday of Advent and throughout the Advent Season, the music at Mass should include Christmas carols that enjoy the quality of a lullaby and center on the great mystery of the Incarnation and birth that did occur in history. (Away in a Manger, O Come Little Children, The First Noel, Little Town of Bethlehem.)

Huh! Really? Usually we stick to Advent music as much as possible, and if we put up a crèche, we keep the Baby Jesus packed away in tissue paper until Christmas morning. But I’m delighted to have a bishop who actually asks us to do stuff, so I’m game.

His directive to bring that baby right on in made me think of the Roots of Empathy program, which has teachers in poor, tough neighborhoods welcoming babies (real ones, not plaster statues!0 into their classrooms. They believe these visits, and subsequent discussions, teach the school kids empathy, rather than the lesson of “survival at any cost,” which is what they’re learning everywhere else they go. This story from the Washington Post says:

Roots pairs each classroom with a baby, who visits nine times throughout the year with his or her mom or dad, a volunteer recruited from the community. Each child has a chance to look the baby in the eye, squeeze its toe and say hello before the class settles into a circle around a green blanket.

They watch the baby respond to songs and games, and they talk about what he’s feeling and why he behaves as he does. The kids and the teachers have noticed a great change in the classroom: more peace, more respect, and better learning, too.

 The idea is that recognizing and caring about a baby’s emotions can open a gateway for children to learn bigger lessons about taking care of one another, considering others’ feelings, having patience.

Our bishop is looking for a similar transformation in his flock, putting the Baby right in front of us before the altar, and having us sing lullabies before we head back out to the world on Sunday morning. In his letter, he says:

during the Advent season, we take the INFANT as our centerpiece, remembering that He came as one of us. When an infant is in the house, everyone must be conscious of that presence and speak more softly, be more attentive, welcome family and visitors, exercise patience, accept inconvenience—even in the extreme, for the sake of the fragile life entrusted to our care.

Okay, but . . . the Church demands a bit more than being caring and considerate, yes? It’s all very well to acknowledge that babies can teach us to be kind, but the Incarnation was not some kind of inner city niceness project, and “considering others’ feelings” is not one of the Ten Commandments.

Can we not, as a millennia-old institution, set the bar a little higher?

No. We can’t.

Don’t you roll your eyes at me! The older I get, the more I realize that God usually wants us to do very basic, mundane things — and the more I realize how hard it is to do those mundane things well, with my whole heart.

And here’s the main part: The older I get, the more I realize that the whole point of the Incarnation is that the divine and the mundane are now inextricably linked. There cannot be a meaningless act of service, because of the incomprehensibly great service God has performed for us. There is no longer any such thing as a small act of love, since God, who is love, became small and asked us to care for Him. There is literally nothing greater, more meaningful, or more transcendent we can do than to care for each other for His sake. All acts of love are great. All acts of love make us more like Him.

In his letter, Bishop Libasci says,

To be judged as having achieved a fuller awareness of human fragility and potential, is to be judged as growing more closely to “the full stature of Christ.”

Anyone can blaze with righteous glory for a moment. Anyone can get wrapped up in an exquisitely arcane theological puzzle. But just treating each other well, day after day, in and out of season, whether they deserve it or not? That’s hard, hard, hard. As hard as caring for a baby who won’t stop crying no matter what you do. As hard as being that Baby, when you didn’t have to be.

Step beyond your duty and be actively generous. Be gentle when you could justifiably be harsh. Acknowledge that you are “disadvantaged,” that you think too much of your own survival and not enough about the unreasonable needs of the helpless people around you. Fight down the battle cry and substitute a lullaby.

The Baby’s needs are simple and basic. Start with those before you consider yourself ready to move on to higher things. There are no higher things. Start with the Baby, because that’s what God did.

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(This post originally ran, in a slightly different form, on Aleteia in 2015.)

Gender Reveal Parties and the Discernment of Amoral Issues

Baby_boy,_one_month_old

A reader writes:

I cannot understand why some practicing Catholics that I know do not agree that referring to a child by his/her gender and name before birth (as soon as it can be known) is MORE life-affirming than not doing so, and is clearly a moral issue because of the inherent dignity of the unborn.

Read my response at the Register.

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No, It’s Not Okay to Flip Off Your Sleeping Baby

In Slate, Education Columnist Rebecca Schuman shares a gallery of photos of herself flipping off her sleeping seven-month-old baby. Schuman explains why, so far, she hasn’t found a compelling reason to stop taking and sharing these photos.

She loves her baby, but the kid is a bad sleeper, and is making her very tired and frustrated.

Schuman says:

The reasons I take and post these pictures are varied. I crave emotional release after hours of increasingly desperate nursing, jiggling, rocking, walking, and, my personal favorite, walk-nursing (all wriggling, self-torpedoing 22 pounds of her). I’m also trying to amuse my husband, to diffuse what could otherwise be even more strain on two adults pushed to the boundaries of civility. And, of course, there’s the defiant gesture of Parenting Realness, an offshoot of the Go the Fuck to Sleep genre—that urge to fly in the face of decades of parenting decorum and admit that while we adore our children to smithereens, we’re not going to pretend to love the bare Sisyphean relentlessness that our days and nights have become.

She argues, I guess with tongue in cheek, that Kant and Artistotle would frown on her behavior. Kant, she says, would say that “what I’m doing isn’t necessarily bad for the baby per se, but it might be hardening my heart toward humanity in general”; and Aristotle would condemn her for “habituating” herself to “the wrong kind of actions.”

But, she argues, her actions don’t actually harm the baby in any way:

[I]s my current use of the one-digit salute warping my offspring’s fragile little mind? She’s a baby, so she doesn’t understand what the bird means yet. Also, she’s asleep, so she doesn’t know I’m doing it. And also, she’s a baby.

Let me be clear. I, like the author, despise the “lovin’ every minute of it” culture that is strangling American parenthood like so much sentimental kudzu. We’re expected to cherish every second we spend with our children, and we’re expected to be awash in joy and wonder at all times.

This is bullshit, and I’ve said so more times than I can count. It makes us into worse parents when we expect to be joyful and grateful all the time. Raising babies is hard, and there are lots of times when it just plain sucks. I recall telling my pediatrician, in a moment of sleep-deprived candor, that I wasn’t actually going to throw my always-screaming baby out the window, but I sure felt like I wanted to.

Speaking the truth about how we feel can be a great release. I have mountains of sympathy — oceans of sympathy, galaxies within galaxies of sympathy — for strung out parents who are exhausted beyond belief by the insane demands of babyhood. My own baby is six months old and is currently all angry all the time, because she thinks she can run, and her ridiculous doughy legs won’t cooperate. I’m hardly getting any sleep, and things are kind of awful right now. I’m having a hard time writing this post, because the baby won’t stop shouting at me.

But listen to what I said: the demands of babyhood are awful. That does not make your baby awful. One of the first things you need to learn, if you want to be a good parent, is to make sure you know the difference between “fuck this situation” and “fuck this baby.” The former is a universal experience. The latter is grotesque.

But why? The baby doesn’t know the difference, and I believe this mom who says she loves her baby. Isn’t this just some harmless, if tasteless, venting? Does it really matter what goes on around the head of someone who doesn’t and can’t understand what’s happening, which is really just a joke anyway?

Well, how would you feel if this were a gallery of photos of a fed up policeman flipping off people he’s put in handcuffs? Or a gallery of photo of an overworked heart surgeon flipping off a series of unconscious patients? Or a gallery of frustrated judges flipping off prisoners headed to jail? Or a gallery of exhausted nurses flipping off dementia patients? Or a gallery of under-appreciated ESL teachers flipping off a roomful of baffled foreign students who didn’t know what the middle finger signifies?

Not cool, right? Even if they are only venting, even if the people being flipped off had no idea it was happening. We expect more of people who do know what it means, because of their position of authority. Along with the authority and strength of their position comes the responsibility not to abuse the weaker person, even if the weaker person has made a lot of trouble for the stronger person, even if the weaker person doesn’t know it’s happening, even if the stronger person is very tired. If these policemen and judges and surgeons and teachers felt free to behave grotesquely and offensively toward the people under their authority — if they wrote jocularly about it in Slate magazine, and proudly provided a link to more photos — we’d freak the hell out, and rightly so.

We would demand that they treat the weaker person with the dignity they deserve because they are human beings. This is what we expect from people who are simply doing the jobs they are paid to do. Why should we expect less of a mother?

Just because someone can’t fight back, that doesn’t mean we can use them. Just because someone can’t fight back, that means we can’t use them.

Recall the infamous Army Private Lynndie England photos from Abu Ghraib. There were many photos showing prisoners being tortured and humiliated, but Americans were especially repulsed by the jaunty, thumbs-up “lookit me!” ones. The ones where the prisoners had bags on their heads, the ones that showed that the torturers thought the whole thing was kind of funny.

Recall: Schuman’s frivolous joke here; England’s hilarious prank here. 

 

No, the Slate writer’s baby isn’t be tortured. But there is something chillingly familiar about “HA, you can’t fight back!” attitude. You don’t need to look up your Aristotle to know that some things just aren’t funny. Even if it makes you feel better.

The very worst thing that you can do to another human being is to use him. I used to think this was just some abstract theological formulation meant to neaten up the codification of sins. But now I see that objectification of human beings lies at the heart of every sin. That’s what it always comes down to.

We don’t use people, even if they don’t know they’re being used. Especially if they don’t know they’re being used. And for God’s sake, especially not when it’s our own child.

 

Watch Planned Parenthood Arranging to Sell Fetal Livers, Brains, and Hearts Over Lunch

nucatola video

It helps to know which organs you are hoping to retrieve, Nucatola explains:

So then you’re just kind of cognizant of where you put your graspers, you try to intentionally go above and below the thorax, so that, you know, we’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m going to basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact. And with the calvarium [head], in general, some people will actually try to change the presentation so that it’s not vertex, because when it’s vertex presentation, you never have enough dilation at the beginning of the case, unless you have real, huge amount of dilation to deliver an intact calvarium.

Read the rest at the Register, including video highlights, full video, and full transcript

Big Families Say “Laudato Si!”

Just doing our part to save the world, one or two babies at a time.

Doing our part to save the world, one (or two) babies at a time.

 

Got a big family? Then you already know that you’re crazy, a traitor to feminism, and a slave to the patriarchy; you’re neglecting most of your kids and robbing the rest of their childhood; you’re a burden on the system in general, and you probably don’t own a TV.

But wait, there’s more! Don’t forget, you’re also destroying the earth.

It’s become fashionable, in the name of the planet, to denounce large families as irresponsible, even selfish. Some politicians and a good many combox blabbermouths even say that it should be illegal for people to have more than one or two “replacement” children. Illegal!

And yet, if we can get beyond the inflammatory rhetoric, do radical environmentalists have a point? Should we slow down a little? It almost seems like common sense, especially when you’re having one of those days when you do feel a little crowded by the swarms of ravening locusts — uh, I mean, treasured offspring who share your last name.

After all, aren’t Catholics supposed to be good stewards of the earth? Isn’t it true that we “lotsas” are using more than our share of natural resources, burning more than our share of carbon, and just plain taking up too much space?

Probably not. Moms of many already know that the work of caring for, for instance, seven children is not the same as caring for one child times seven. In some ways, it’s easier. In the same way, many large families actually have a smaller carbon footprint than a typical family with one or two kids. A household of nine is not like a household of three times three. It just doesn’t work that way.

Moreover, when larger families do have an environmentally friendly profile, it often occurs naturally as a result of the family’s large size, not despite it. It’s not the numbers that count; it’s the lifestyle.

As Pope Francis says in Laudato Si,

To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption. Besides, we know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and “whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor.”

By necessity or for convenience, big families tend to naturally fall into patterns of behavior that would make Pope Francis proud.

How? Here are a few ways:

Cars Count
Let’s start with that enormous van we drive — could it be eco-friendly? Sure. It’s certainly not fuel efficient; it’s just that it’s usually parked in the driveway. With ten kids in tow, I leave the house as close to zero times as possible, bringing our weekly mileage to far less than the national average (and if you’re calculating PMPG or “people miles per gallon” – that is, how many people get moved per gallon of gas — large families look even greener). My husband has a smaller, more fuel-efficient car, which we use if only a few kids are on board.
And how often do we fly? Well, the stewardess is still in therapy from the last time our family boarded a plane together, about twelve years ago. We’d rather get our kicks at the beach down the road than go through the agony of air travel, which the New York Times called the “biggest carbon sin.” 

Economy Size
How about electricity? Do twelve people use more than three or four? Not necessarily. Six kids playing Dinosaur Wedding do it by the light of a single light bulb, just like one or two kids would. Two or three kids fit in a bathtub at a time, and there aren’t enough hours in the day for all of us to shower daily. The oven stays on 350 degrees for 45 minutes, no matter how big the meatloaf.

Cozy Quarters
Most large families I know don’t live in energy-hogging giganto-mansions. They live in normal houses, they’re a little crowded, and they have lots of bunk beds. (They do, however, tend to go for big yards, lots of trees, and gardens. Natural wildlife preserves, you might say.)

Reduce and Re-use
Many large families also live with tight budgets. We happily trade a second or third income for another armful of babies. The quick and easy methods of saving the environment that make the news daily are hardly news to cash-strapped families: Turn down the heat, insulate, avoid anything disposable, buy in bulk, cook from scratch, breastfeed, don’t eat out, don’t waste this, don’t buy that. Turn out the light, close the door, unplug it, wash in cold water, make it do or do without. And if it does not get eaten for dinner, we serve it for lunch.
Even if we have plenty of money, the sheer clutter forces us to try and live simply and learn to do without excess stuff.
What a revelation! And so good for the earth.

Make Do
How about consumption of goods? My family and many Catholic families I know are almost complete failures as consumers. Our house is mostly furnished, from the couch to the car to the pots and pans and coffee cups, with used goods. We are not, for the most part, consuming new products, with all their attendant carbon costs in manufacture and transport. By taking in used things, we’re also preventing an entire houseful of stuff from clogging up the landfills.

Pregnancy is green 
Babies perform a service to the world before they’re even born: they excuse their moms from using (and sending to landfills) pads and tampons for nine months — longer, if they breastfeed enough for lactational amenorrhea.  And what about birth control pills? Catholics who refuse to use them are also refusing to excrete endocrine-disrupting hormones into the water supply.

Pass It On
Large families tend to buy used clothes, books, and toys, and we hang onto them, passing them down from child to child, even to the next generation. The thermal onesie on my baby last winter? It started life keeping my oldest nephew warm, then went on to clothe every one of my ten kids so far.

Not convinced? Still feeling some eco-guilt as you survey all the little consumers you’ve produced? Go ahead and plug your own family’s stats into one of the many carbon calculators available online (try SafeClimate.net). You may be surprised at how “be fruitful and multiply” translates quite naturally into treading lightly on mother earth.

Last time I took my family’s numbers and plugged them into the first three carbon calculators that Google turned up, we consumed and emitted less than the national average  for a family of three. And we were just trying to get through the week.

But what about the future?
This is all very well, some will say, as long as your many children all live with you in your little green shoe. You may be very thrifty today, but what about when they all grow up and move out? More people is more people, no matter how you slice it.

For this argument, I have two answers.

First is that grown children of large families tend to be what you might call natural conservationists. Children who grow up as one of many are likely to have learned that they’ll survive without buying stuff, that it’s okay to share, that material things come and go, and that, like it or not, we all depend on each other for survival.

So who will I be sending out into the world? A small crowd of perfect environmentalists.

Second, children of families that are open to life also know something much more important, something that rabidly utilitarian environmentalists still don’t seem to realize: A human soul is more than the sum of how many kilowatts he consumes. This is what it comes down to. Human beings are a gift to the world.

What can we say to people who do not realize that the human family is the very seat of love, and that procreation is the ultimate human imitation of the action of the Holy Trinity? What can you say to people who somehow truly believe that everything humanity does is something to be apologized for — that the only good human is a human who was never born?

There is nothing you can say. Satisfy yourself that you’re not being wasteful, and then answer not the fool according to his folly. Love your children, and teach them to love each other; and if you and your brood feel like a sign of contradiction, then that’s a good sign.

The call of Laudato Si is nothing new. The Catholic Church has been teaching this lifestyle for thousands of years: a lifestyle of welcoming children while being careful and generous with the way we live. There is no contradiction between loving and caring for the earth and supplying it with inhabitants: We are commanded to do both.

Was it short-sighted when God the Father explained these things to Adam? Was it hyperbole when Christ asked, “What does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?”

‘A Great Big Yes’
Our beloved Benedict XVI said of big families:

“Their Yes to one another in the patience of the journey and in the strength of the sacrament with which Christ had bound them together, had become a great Yes to themselves, their children, to God the Creator and to the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Thus, from the witness of these families a wave of joy reached us, not a superficial and scant gaiety that is all too soon dispelled, but a joy that developed also in suffering, a joy that reaches down to the depths and truly redeems man.”

Of course it’s Catholic to be an environmentalist. Of course it’s our job to care for the earth. But even more, it’s our job to remember, and to teach our children, that this world will not last, and to live accordingly.

“All flesh is as grass, and all its glory as the flower of grass; the grass withered, and the flower has fallen — but the word of the Lord endures forever” (Isaiah 40:6).

How will it endure, if there is no one to hear it? Let us answer the “No” of child-fearing radicals with a joyful and ancient “Yes.” The world needs big families.

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Related reading

Ignatius Press: Fr . Fessio, Vivian Dudro, Mark Brumley, and John Herreid discuss Laudato Si
Jen Fitz: The Terrible Problem with Laudato Si
Epic Pew: You won’t hear this from the mainstream media
Elizabeth Scalia: All Our Sin, All of Our Hatred On Trial
Tom McDonald Tweeting as he reads
Kathy Schiffer: This is completely Catholic
John Allen: The Pedigree of Laudato Si
George Weigel: It’s about us
Mark Shea: Chesterton on Laudato Si
Lisa HendeyLaudato Si and me
Stream: 11 Good Take-aways
Joseph Susanka: Advice as you prepare to read
CWR Encyclical focuses on Heart of Man
LarryD: Brace yourself…
Phil Lawler: It’s more provocative and less political than expected
Gregory Popcak: Something Fishy: Why is THIS missing from the encyclical?
Rebecca Hamilton: Fourteen Things Laudato Si Says. Nine Things It Does Not Say.
Laudato Si in hardcover from Ignatius Press
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This article originally ran, in a slightly different form in Faith and Family magazine in 2010.

Carve Out Time for These Few Essentials

AS0000019F08 Pregnancy, pregnant mother with child

You’ll also find regular exercise gives you more energy to do something that is absolutely essential: putting in some one-on-one time with your other kids. It’s all too easy for them to feel displaced and neglected when the new baby comes, so it is essential to carve out some special time to connect with them, consistently and intentionally, academically, emotionally, spiritually, and just for some plain old silly old mommy-and-me fun, or else they will grow up to be crack whores.

Read the rest at the Register. 

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I don’t know nothin’ about raisin’ no babies, apparently.

An experienced mother is never taken by surprise. Unless there is a shark in the house.

An experienced mother is never taken by surprise. Unless there is a shark in the house.

That’s not a naked bottom. That’s a grenade, and you are its next victim unless you take evasive action. I don’t care how many times the baby just pooped, how many gallons she produced, and how finished you reckon she must be by now. I’m telling you, before you take that diaper off, get another diaper ready NOW NOW NOW. Maybe two diapers. Maybe a towel you never cared for.

Read the rest at the Register. 

Welcome, baby! 12 gifts that new moms want the most

baby sleeping

The greatest gift of all: a nap.

New baby gifts! Fun to receive, fun to give, almost impossible to get wrong.

The only truly unwelcome baby present I’ve ever gotten was tucked into the bottom of a “welcome, new baby!” basket from my church: it was a pamphlet titled something like, “So, Hear Me Out, Now. There’s This Thing Called NFP That You Might Maybe Want to Try. . . “. And yes, this was after I had literally written the book on NFP.

I really can’t complain, though. I’m horrible about giving baby gifts, myself. I almost always just bring a fuzzy wuzzy outfit or an adorable bonnet, because it’s fun to shop for those things. But I’ve been on the receiving end of dozens of much more thoughtful, memorable gifts over the years. Here are some of my favorite ideas, which new moms seem to universally appreciate:

1.The tried and true meal. I never manage to prepare freezer meals ahead of time, and I always think, “Oh, we can get by with chicken nuggets and pasta for a while.” But nothing beats having the whole thing taken care of by someone else — whether it’s something elaborate and gourmet, or just a bunch of sandwiches ready to eat.

Best practice is to contact the new mom first, find out when the best time would be to drop by, and don’t plan to stay long — or, if you’re friends and know this would work out, offer to come over with groceries and cook a meal at the new mom’s house (and do the dishes afterwards!). Always ask if there are any allergies or preferences in the family.

And be specific.”What would you guys like to eat?” is great; but to a fuzzy-minded postpartum zombie, even better is “Would you rather have Specific Meal X, Y, or Z?” If you are feeling super helpful, include disposable plates and utensils, and don’t put the food in containers that you need back.

A variation: a gift card for take-out delivery. No matter how well a day starts out, things are guaranteed to look pretty bleak by dinner time. It’s a happy mom who knows that all she’ll have to do at 6 PM is open the door, open a pizza box, and call it a day.

2.The gift from the heart: cash (or gift cards). Not every family needs money, of course, but paternity leave is rare and many moms are losing income while they recover. There are always extra expenses when a baby is born, and nothing eases stress and speeds recovery like knowing, “Oh, I can pay for that.”

Also welcome are gift cards for Amazon or other stores where the family can pick out what they really need, whether it’s a frilly newborn dress, diapers and wipes, toilet paper and dog food, or a treat for the rest of the family when everyone’s stressed out. A friend once gave me thirty dollars, and I still remember how fabulous it felt to go out and splurge on a de-frumping postpartum haircut.

3.The favor that lightens the load. At our school, there is a monthly lottery for “Rock Star Parking” right next to the door.  I will never, ever win this, because you get entered by being on time all month. But my punctual friend Angy did win, and she donated the spot to me (as did another friend, Patrick, last time I had a baby). It may not sound like much, but when it’s icy and muddy and I’m lugging a baby in her seat and dragging an unwilling toddler in snow boots and an Elsa dress, a good parking spot makes my life significantly easier five times a week. Score!

Other possibilities in this category: an offer to pick up and drop off other kids at school, or an offer to do the weekly shopping — or maybe an offer to be a shopping companion, on those first difficult trips out with a baby. Think back to when you had a new baby in the house. What did you really struggle with? Is there any way you can lighten that load for a new mom and dad?

4. Treats for other young kids. The non-newborn kids can feel a little lost and overlooked in the first weeks. How nice for them (and for an over-extended mom) to find a few little (non-messy!!!) activities to keep them busy. Sidewalk chalk, new crayons, coloring books, picture books, small stuffed animals or dolls, or a DVD (something you know the mom approves of) can cheer up siblings and give mom a needed respite.

5. Treats for mom (or dad). No matter how happy we are to welcome a new baby (and not be insanely pregnant anymore), it’s a bit of a shock to suddenly stop being the pampered patient, and suddenly start being the round-the-clock caretaker. Most moms appreciate a thoughtful little token present to make them feel pretty or cared-for. A bottle of wine or a box of tea, some fancy chocolates, or something pretty for her hair or skin — or maybe a gift certificate for a manicure or massage — is a nice gesture that says, “You’re more than a diaper-changing machine.”

Something nice for the new dad would probably be welcome, too. They’re often nearly as worn out as their wives, but nobody’s fussing over them.

6. Sincere, specific offers for cleaning, babysitting, or other practical help. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do!” is a pleasant thing to hear, but a thousand times better is, “I would like to donate my teenagers for a couple of hours, if you need help with laundry or cleaning the bathrooms and kitchen, or if you’d like me to take your other kids to the library so you can nap. We are available on the following dates, so let me know if you’re interested.” Or even, “I would love to offer you a couple of weeks of housecleaning service. Would that be helpful to you, or would that be weird?” (Some families are too private for this kind of gift.) Lawn care, snow shoveling, or some credit with a diaper service might also be welcome.

7.Handmade, personalized, or heirloom items (with no strings attached). Hands down, handmade gifts are my favorite in the long run, and older kids love knowing that someone made them just for them, back when they were just a baby. A few that stand out: two blankets made by my sister (one crocheted with intertwined trees and a lovely shell pattern, cherished by the now three-year-old, and one quilted with upcycled denim and flannel, complete with pockets that delighted my son when he got older), and a life-changing co-sleeper built by my brother-in-law and sweetly painted with dancing dandelions. We also love the patron saint icons and medals that various godparents have sent.

Just remember, even if you spent a lot of time and thought on a gift, the new parents are not obligated to display it on their wall or dress the baby in it at Easter time. A gift is a gift, so give it with love and then let it go!

8.Photography session. If you are good with a camera, a newborn or family photography session could make a lovely gift. Just be clear that it’s just an offer, and you won’t be offended if the new mom isn’t up to getting everyone brushed and dressed right away.

9.Used or new baby clothes or equipment IF the mom confirms she really needs and wants them. Mothers of big families may have more baby stuff than they know what to do with, so another bag to sort through may or may not be helpful. On the other hand, mothers of big families have often completely lost track of their stash, or rashly given it all away, so don’t assume that she already has what she needs! The key is to ask.  And be clear whether you’re offering a loan or a gift, and if you’d like any unwanted items back, or if she should just dispose of them however she likes.

Baby equipment I’ve found most useful, besides a carseat and stroller: a Boppy pillow,useful for nursing, for propping up a baby’s chest, and for supporting a wobbly baby who is learning to sit; a Bumbo floor seat is a clever, portable, washable seat that we’ve found to be very handy. An extra-large and soft receiving blanket is also very useful for swaddling, as a sun cover, or for some privacy while nursing.

10.Prayer and words of encouragement. A Mass card or enrollment makes a nice keepsake, but Catholic moms also appreciate prayers of any kind. “We’ll offer Mass for you this week” or “We’ll remember you in our family rosary” is a gift that anyone can offer. If you’re not a pray-er, words of encouragement or admiration can also make a huge difference in those first exhausting, sometimes isolating weeks.

11.Gift certificate for a restaurant or hotel — with no expiration date. Some couples are dying to get away, but some would rather hunker down at home until baby’s much older; but most parents like to know they at least have the option to do some non-infant-related activity together at some point.

12.And you don’t have to wait for the baby to arrive. For some women, the last few weeks or months of pregnancy are physically and emotionally harder than the postpartum time, so any of the ideas above would probably be gratefully welcomed by an exhausted preggo who is starting to feel like her baby will never, ever come.

What’s missing from this list? What’s the best baby gift you’ve ever gotten?

Happy two weeks, baby Corrie!

Two weeks old!

Here is Corrie having a little snuggle and a big yawn:
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A moment of deep thought:

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and a little bit of friendly hazing:

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Listening very carefully to everything I say:

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And a schnoogly woogly woogly nap:

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Oh, those baby lips!

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Oh, those hairy werewolf ears!

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Here we decided to see who could do the best Corrie face. Entry 1 (The Seeker After Truth):

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Entry 2 (The Transient Anguish):

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Entry 3 (The Renegade Hand)

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Entry 4 (Babies Are Dopes):

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Entry 5 (Toddlers Don’t Understand This Game But Enjoy Having Their Pictures Taken):

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This pretzel is unrelated, but I found it on the wall and I feel like I need to tell someone:

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One more look at Corrie’s Neck of Magnificence:

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And another baby yawn, not that any of my readers enjoy seeing photos of yawning babies:

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Happy two weeks, Corrie, you happy, lovely baby!