Friday, August 29, 2014

Ordinary Miracles

Tomorrow, the daughter who almost died on me twice as a newborn will turn a happy, healthy 4! We're far enough away from the drama of the NICU that I don't think about my daughter Teresa as an amazing miracle of grace everyday anymore. She's simply my kid. She is amazing to me when she remembers every song lyric to the entire musical of Frozen while wearing her shimmering Elsa costume dress. She's kind of annoying to me when she fastidiously demands to eat her Cheerios only from the already dirty red cereal bowl and violently eschews all of the other, more easily available, color choices.

Birthdays are good because they are a marker to remember where we came from and to reflect on where we are going in life.

My daughter Teresa had a rough start. It was desperately hard to be her Mama for her first month of life, even though I was well broken in since she was my 4th child. When I reread the blog posts about her life in the NICU today, I can only remember the incredible amount of love that surrounded us all at Children's National Hospital.

I'm so grateful for my Tess.

(For more background on my daughter's NICU journey, you can click on the NICU tab label to the right. To read an important reflection from a Doctor on how parents of sick babies are often unfairly bullied into a "medically necessary abortion" after an adverse prenatal diagnosis, please click on this link. It doesn't matter whether you are pro-choice, or pro-life, every parent who faces the sudden diagnosis of a sick child deserves respect, love, mercy and lots of prayer support.)

On Reading to Kids Who Don't Need It Anymore

My husband reads to all five of our kids before bed every night. We have a little Cape Cod house. Once you climb up the stairs to the second floor there is one big bedroom for the 3 little girls, and one tiny bedroom for the pre-teens, a small bathroom, and an even smaller central hallway nook. My husband parks a folding chair in the central hallway and reads to the kids in both bedrooms.

The process is a little chaotic. For some reason, the 7 year old and 4 year old fall asleep easily. Yet the 10 year old and 2 year old fight off sleep valiantly. My husband figured out that he has to get a book that is good, but not too good, because then the story line will encourage everyone to stay fully awake until the end of the chapter. "Origami Yoda," while a great favorite, was deemed 'too funny' for bedtime. Curiously, "The Hobbit" was not.

The bedtime reading, along with bedtime tooth brushing, and bed time rosary, is completely my husband's domain. I'm so tired from pregnancy, I don't usually even climb the stairs at bedtime. Sometimes, on the really bad days, my bedtime is 7:30 PM. On those nights, my kids reverse the process. Many of them will come in and chat, and kiss me goodnight inside my own first floor bedroom.

Lately, it's really gotten to me that every single book my 11 year old daughter and 7 year old daughter love is a Sci-Fi book. That is my husband's genre. It's great that there are some really cool female heroines in Hunger Games and Divergent. I've accepted the 'ship has sailed' in terms of ever getting my girls to love my favorite Children's Book, "Little Women". Yet I want them to discover that there are great books out there beyond the Sci-Fi category.

Last night, I asked my husband if we could start reading John Greene's "The Fault in Our Stars." This was my favorite read this past summer. I choose it primarily for my 11 year old, who started weeping (happily) next to me while we watched the movie "If I Stay" on Tuesday. "The Fault in Our Stars" is about the romance between two teenagers with cancer. The book is really, really funny. The writing is great. There is something lovely about an adult author who still 'gets' how teenagers think, feel, joke and love which so rare in the world.

I started reading the book to my kids last night. I said another gratitude prayer to my husband. Although I've subbed for him while reading, I didn't really get how frustrating it is to read a book that I love and want to share with my kids while they are so distracted and talkative at night. Somehow the hook of the story line finally got to my older kids. My 11 year old loved it instantly. I was surprised how much my 10 year old loved it too--I had kind of classified it as a 'girl book' in my own head.

My older kids kept interrupting my reading to talk about the characters of the book. They are getting ready to enter into adolescence themselves. I was surprised at how well they had thought out future issues like driving, and dating, and finding a true best friend.

I keep forgetting about the amazing power of reading. Art is beautiful for its own sake. Art also provokes conversation. It's an amazing feeling to read a book together, or listen to a song together, or watch a movie together, with a kid who is getting ready to be a teenager. There is a different element of intimacy that comes about when both of you are looking at a distant object at the same time.

I'm really grateful for a chance to read books to my kids who don't need me to read books to them at night anymore. I was a reader who read alone in her room at bedroom at night, as soon as she passed the 2nd grade. I feel like I'm blessed to have a parcel of kids in my home to remind me that reading doesn't have to be a solitary activity anymore. Reading forms a community. How beautiful is it to have a community of art lovers within my own home?

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Simply Do I Learn About Wisdom

I'm finally getting my morning prayer groove back! Thank heavens! I'm crazy dependent upon my morning prayer time the way other women need coffee or yoga. This pregnancy is the longest stretch that I've ever had morning sickness-- 7 1/2 months. I'm still getting those freak vomiting episodes, but at least I'm recovering now within minutes instead of hours. So I have energy to pray in the morning, instead of rolling in my bed with stomach flu like agony watching endless episodes of Law & Order. Victory!

Weird lay Catholics, like myself, voluntarily pray the Litany of the Hours in the morning. This is a specific set of Daily Prayers and Bible Readings that are prayed by Pope Francis, all the priests, all the monks, all the nuns, all the different secular orders from the Dominicans to the Carmelites, etc. in the world. Catholics have three kinds of prayer. There is our daily church service, called "The Mass." Then there is private prayer--that is meditation, reading the Bible, reflection. My Carmelite order calls this time "The Prayer of the Quiet." Then there is the structured community prayers, the Litany of the Hours, which is largely based on praying the Psalm of the Old Testament.

I used to hate Morning Prayer. My husband and I used to pray them together every morning before he left for work. I liked the feeling of praying next to him, but I hated the substance of the task we were doing. He's a melancholic and loves rules and structure. I'm a sanguine and a total free spirit. I hated the work of flipping between multiple pages and repeating these long dead words of King David which seemed to have no immediate application to my life. "Exactly when am I going to 'throw a spear into my enemy's heart' today?" I think sullenly. I used to approach Morning Prayer with the same enthusiasm I mastered for Trig my senior year in high school.

God is good! And funny! After the enforced absence caused by morning sickness, I'm attacking my Morning Prayer with vigor. Every time I pray the Litany of the Hours now, I'm so rewarded. Today's reading made my heart so happy.

The Book of Wisdom 7:13-14

Simply I learned about Wisdom, and ungrudingly do I share--
her riches I do not hide away.
For to men she is an unfailing treasure:
those who gain this treasure win the friendship of God,
to whom the gifts they have from discipline commend them.

The word that jumped out at me was "Simply." How much do I try to make my life complicated? I'm always trying to learn about God in ways that are complicated. I read a bunch of books. I go to lectures. I try big feats of virtue. It's like I don't have any confidence that I'm actually going to master the lessons of Faith--so at least I can look impressive while I study it.

I'm guilty of making Faith look too much like Law School.

"Simply I learned about Wisdom, and ungrudingly do I share--"

That second line for me is all about being a writer. Ugh! Writing is hard. It takes so much courage. Self-doubt flares up for me almost every day. "Who the hell am I to inflict my random thoughts onto someone else?"

I like the words "ungrudingly do I share." I like to write. It helps me live better. No one has to read it. I'm not inflicting my words onto random people standing next to me in the Target check-out line. That book, this blog, will be there if someone wants to read it. Reading, asking, questioning, its a choice. My job as a writer is to "ungrudingly share" the simple, plain lessons I've learned as a human being walking on this earth.

Thank you God for the exiles of Morning Sickness. Thank you King David for being both a great warrior and a great poet. You inspire me!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Struggle to Be Both a Faithful and Scientifically Reasonable Catholic

I walked into an intellectual fire-fight today. I went to my normal OB appointment at 30 weeks. My regular OB surprised me with an immediate referral to a highly trained High Risk Pregnancy Specialist. (I got to a major HMO in Washington DC, so there is tons of procedure to get a referral. I was told 10 weeks ago that there was no way I could see a specialist before 32 weeks because before then it was too early to track my specific placenta issues via ultrasound).

Jon had taken our kids to the local Mall to entertain them during my OB appointment. All the sudden, I'm alone in the ultrasound room of the super Guru who has the power to tell me that things look bad. Weirdly enough, I have my first ultrasound with an extra cheerful and chatty tech. It was such a change of pace. My ultrasound takes 50 minutes. She talks to me comfortably the whole time. Then she takes breaks every so often to tell me things look really good. 

I'm coming from 2 months of massive restrictions on this pregnancy--so I don't really believe her optimism that things look good. I feel like she's just being nice to me. Still, I'm really enjoying not sitting in fearful silence for an hour wondering what the frowns and the squints and the multiple shots of the same image mean for me and my youngest child.

So then the Guru comes in. This is my third time meeting with him. I met him for the first time while I was pregnant with my fifth child, Abigail Clare. I met him a second time for a consult after Leo's Death last November. This is my first time seeing him with this current pregnancy with Matthew. So I know the Guru--but I don't know him well. He's not one of my regular OB doctors.

He sits down next to the cheerful tech. She does a live viewing with him for more than 10 minutes. He tells me things look excellent.

So it's sort of a shock to me. Twice, my regular trusted OB told me absolutely that this pregnancy was going to end in a miscarriage. Once we got over that hurdle, since the standard ultrasound at 18 weeks, it's been "The baby looks great, but the placenta looks terrible. You could have major problems." There has been wave after wave of restrictions and trouble-shooting advice that's come down during every OB appointment.

So now, the Guru is looking at live shots of my uterus and saying "There are absolutely no problems here. There are 3 major risk factors for bad placenta problems and you have zero of them." So I'm trying to digest his diagnosis that there is an 85% to 90% chance that I can walk out of a sixth c-section with zero complications. Zero!

He tells me he's cancelling all the precautionary orders for my c-section surgery in 9 weeks. He's not going to ask that there is a special back-up surgeon on call. He's not going to have blood products pre-thawed in my surgery room.  I'm trying to resist the urge to argue with him. "Can't we even have extra blood on hand? Like I'm A Negative. I'd feel better if we had something ready in case I need some extra help during surgery." I tell myself, "Just enjoy this. This guy is the Guru. If he really thinks you're going to be safe in surgery, take that in rather than immediately start to doubt it."

Here comes the crazy part. In the middle of this incredibly positive High Risk Pregnancy Visit, the same doctor starts freaking out about a possible uterine rupture with a future pregnancy. He tells me "Get a Tubal Ligation!" during this c-section. I told him simply, "I'm Catholic. I can't do that." The Protestant Ultrasound Tech agrees, "She's Catholic. That's option isn't on the table." 

Somehow having two women tell him that this is against the Catholic Faith sets the Guru off. He starts this 10 minute tirade at me. He says "I'm a Catholic! There is Catholic and then there is Catholic! You've got to make your own decisions when it's Life and Death."

This Guru is highly agitated. I'm laying down calmly on the table with an ultrasound wand still stuck on me.  I start talking in a calm, smooth voice.  I say "Look I'm 40. I'm 100% comfortable with not having another baby. I respect you opinion that a seventh c-section might be dangerous. I just can't sign up for a tubal ligation."

This conversation with the Guru goes no where. He's so upset. He says "What happens if there is just an 'accident' with your tubes during the c-section?" I ask myself, "Am I in the middle of a Grey's Anatomy Script?" 

So then I change the subject back to this current sixth c-section surgery. We go over all the details again about how the surgery outcomes for this current pregnancy look so positive. The three of us chat for another 10 minutes.

Afterwards, I ask him about the follow-up procedure. "When do you need to see you again?"

The Guru tells me happily, "I'm signing off on all of your paperwork. You never need to see me again during this pregnancy!"

I say "Great!" 

The Guru says "In fact, I'd really like to never see you again. I'm serious, no seventh pregnancy. I grew up in a Catholic family. My Mom is a Devout Catholic. In fact. she's a former midwife. We are on opposite sides of the spectrum. She has no idea what I do all day. I just tell her, "I had an interesting consult today." She knows nothing about what I do in my practice."

(At this point, the ultrasound tech starts laughing). 

"There are Catholics and they have these rules. But they don't know reality. So I just don't tell them. You should take a page out of that playbook and just not tell them either." 

I'm completely silent. I'm sort of stunned that all this personal stuff comes roaring out of him in the middle of a medical appointment. The whole "My Mother doesn't approve of my work, so I don't tell her the truth" felt like such a non-sequitur. Then I reminded myself that this is what happens when I show up places with a giant pregnant belly. People just volunteer their inner most details.

Then I'm trying to figure out the take-away advice from his speech. Does the Guru want me to just lie to my priest and get a tubal ligation anyway? Because it's not like my local parish priest is forcing me to risk death in order to have another baby. I'm the one trying to figure out an ethical decision, for myself!

I stayed completely silent and walked out of there.

Then I went downstairs to the Lab to start my 1 hour glucose test. I tried to call Jon, but there was no answer on his cellphone. I took my number from the Receptionist Table and waited to be called back to the Lab Tech. While I waited, I could feel myself starting to shake with a pre-panic attack. Ugh! I hate panic attacks. I hate panic attacks, especially when they are in public places in front of total strangers.

I'm trying to calm myself down by saying "Things are fine. The baby is fine. You are fine. You are totally fine for the next 9 weeks. You are even cleared to have sex now, so there are no immediate worries."

 Even as I was reminding myself to stay in the moment, I felt this strong fear. I didn't know what I was supposed to do after the baby was born. I'm looking at years until I hit menopause. If it was seriously life-threatening to get pregnant, I knew that sterilization and a back-up abortion weren't an option. I knew that 10 years of abstinence wasn't going to happen. I've also had enough real-life experiences with NFP to know that I wasn't feeling a 100% confident I could completely avoid pregnancy for multiple years if my life really depended upon it.

I felt trapped. Trapped means that I get emotional asthma and stop being able to breath comfortably. 

Somehow, I survived another 3 hours and got home without an actual panic attack. My scientific husband started looking up actual Medical Journals online and soothed himself by reading the real data behind uterine rupture risks.

I started looking up the church teachings. I found this document from the Vatican written by Pope Benedict and approved by Saint John Paul II. Somehow, just knowing that my Catholic Church has already studied the issue and written an official guideline calmed my soul. I'm not just hanging out here having to guess "What would Jesus do?"

As I suspected, my Catholic doctor is wrong. The church makes a line between procedures necessary to immediately save my life during a c-section, and medical procedures that "might" help save my life in the future. I have no guilt about losing my uterus to complications from surgery. But I can't sign up for sterilization in order to safeguard against losing my uterus from complications in a future pregnancy.

This is my second time running into bad advice from a Catholic doctor. My first OB, who actually did a fantastic job during my pregnancy, encouraged me to use birth control at my 6 week post-natal check up even though it was against my Faith. She used the almost same line "Well, there are Catholics and then there are Catholics. You've got to decide, what kind of Catholic are you?"

I've got to say, that I've had more respect for my religious views as a Catholic from my Protestant and Jewish OBs, then I've had now with two self-professed Catholic OBs. When someone is not Catholic, they seem to get it. When an OB is a Catholic, but one who isn't entirely consistent with the Church's Teachings, I feel like there is all this extra pressure to bend the rules. "Don't be one of those nut jobs who obey everything the Vatican puts out. Live in the real world with me."

I am a Catholic who appreciates Modern Medicine. I'm not a Christian Scientist. I'm not a Jehovah's Witness. I'm not on some crazy death wish to die as a martyr in child birth. I'm quite happy to live my little life and stay-around a long time to watch my three youngest kids, ages 4, 2 and 0, graduate from college.

We live in a crazy culture. The hardest part for me, is that it's a struggle to get solid, medical facts. There are a lot of opinions. There is a lot of hysteria. There is little data, facts, and options. Honestly, I feel like I have to homeschool myself in Medical School just to be able to make informed decisions about my own medical care.

As a pain-in-then neck that it is to be Catholic somedays, I'm really grateful for my church. My church is wise and caring. I'm glad that I don't have to homeschool myself in spirituality and ethics too. The real issue behind sterilization is abortion. I know of so many regular people in my life who had sterilization procedures that didn't work. I don't think that a Catholic couple, like myself and my husband, who have worked this hard for twelve years to get six healthy children into the world should face having an abortion as a back-up birth control plan.

So I'm not consenting to a sterilization in October. I'm not consenting to a back-up abortion. I'm going to look around for help. I'm going to get a second medical opinion. I'm encouraging my husband to feed his inner Science Geek and read even more esoteric medical journal studies.  I'm going to talk to a few trusted people to find the balance between prudence and obedience in my Faith. Also, I'm keeping my assigned HMO High Risk Pregnancy Doctor in the loop about my decision-making process, because that's what responsible patients do.

It's not always comfortable to be a Catholic receiving medical care inside the USA. Sometimes, I wish I could just move to Italy during my pregnancies. (Gelato and Catholic Medical Care, heaven right?) Yet the body and the soul go together. St. John Paul the Second, reassures me that Faith and Reason fit together too!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Praying The News

I started praying for the family of James Foley as soon as I saw that gruesome image on CNN. I found out today that brave journalist was a member of my church.  It makes my prayers even more personal. I'm really impressed by the comments made by his Mom in this article. She's an inspiring example of Faith.

Update: Here is a link to a video of Foley's funeral Mass and a letter from captivity that he sent to his family.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Cost of Raising a Child

There is a new government report that states the average cost of raising a child from birth to age 18 is $240,340 for a middle-income family in 2013. There is so much public pessimism when it comes to high cost of raising a child. It's almost reassuring to see how our government worked it out as one giant math problem.

As someone who lives this economic reality, I would say the largest economic hit comes from one or both parents scaling back their career in order spend more time parenting. That decision is highly varied. Sometimes there is the typical "stay-at-home" Mom and full-time working Dad. Sometimes it's a stay-at-home Dad, and full-time working Mom. Sometimes both parents take part-time work. Sometimes it a major career shift for both parents-such as deciding to both in Academics instead of Corporate Consulting. Even for the full-time working parent, I think there is this general shift of putting family time ahead of the normal career track. So a working parent might turn down a promotion and pay raise that leads to more travel time or a longer commute.

I know many parents who decide to put family time ahead of straight cash. That value system can happen whether you have one child or ten. For me, the biggest cost in having another baby at age 40 comes from "lost economic opportunity" rather than a straight outlay of cash. Another baby means that my husband will have less time to take on extra freelance work due to being groggy from late night wake-up calls. My writing life will continue to sputter along somewhat half-hazardly for another 2 years. Yet at the end of the day, artists and writers don't tend to make much money. We're talking about losing $500 to $3,000 a year--not forfeiting $50,000 to $100,000.

Putting aside the lost economic opportunity issue, as an experienced Mother, it's hard for me to relate to the formal calculation of a large cash output for each baby.

This is a link to the USDA's "Expenditures on Children by Families."  If you are a policy wonk like me, you might like to check out their long explanation of housing costs. If you want to skip to the nitty gritty, go to the helpful graph on  page 23.

I'm frustrated that the USDA does everything in "aggregate" numbers and percentages. I'm a girl who uses a monthly family budget. That's how I track our spending. Quite honestly, I'd be both freaked out and confused if my husband said "the new baby Benjamin's clothing allowance should be $14,720 for the next 18 years." As a wife and mother, my response is: "Who shops for 18 years of clothes at the same time? Dude, you only get a paycheck every two weeks! Also, we have no idea if this kid choose to wear ratty sweatshirts and $80 basketball shoes, or $3 neatly pressed Oxford shirts from Goodwill. Lets slow down on the "obsessive planning for the future," and let our son make some of his own clothing decisions as he grows up."

Here's a breakdown of the math behind the sticker shock equation.

$245, 340 for 18 years.
$13, 630 per year*

(this isn't exact because 16 year old boys eat more than 2 year old boys, but lets go with easy numbers for clarity)

The government expects us to spend 30% on extra housing costs per child.
That's $4,089 a year or $340 per month

The government expects us to pay 16% on extra food costs per child
That is $2,180.80 a year or $181 per month.

The government expects us to pay 18% on extra childcare and education per child.
That is $2453 a year or $204 a month.

The government expects us to pay 14% on extra transportation costs per child.
That is $1908 per year or $159 per month.

The problem with these scary sticker shock numbers is that it doesn't work for the economy of scale.

I'd like to take one category--transportation--and show how real life can intersect at odd angels with the government's strange math equation on the cost of raising a child.

When I was pregnant with my first child in 2002, my husband drove a red Jeep that was full paid off and I drove Grand AM that was also paid off. There was nothing wrong with putting a car seat in the backseat of a Jeep that a roll-over bar and a snap on roof (or alternatively only driving the baby in my 4 door car). Yet it didn't feel "right" as new parents to own non-baby friendly Jeep anymore. So my husband decided to trade in his car for a gently used PT Cruiser with a car payment of $252 per month.

So for us--one baby equaled a transportation increase of $252 per month, instead of the government projected increase of $159 from our child free days.

In 2004, we moved out of State. I sold my car when I quit my job to become a stay-at-home Mother. For the next six years, we were a one-car family with only our PT Cruiser. Our maintenance costs went down dramatically by having only one, newish car. We added two more kids in 2005 and 2007. Instead of "moving up" in transportation cost, I went out and bought the skinniest booster seats that I could find. The government "per kid" calculation would have me at $159 x 3 kids, or $477 per month. Instead, I'm still paying $252.00 per month--for the same car at the same price as my first child. That is a savings under my government projected costs of 3 kids at $225 per month.

Honestly lets go on a tangent and talk about real life. I don't know many double income no kid couples that have a single car-payment of $252 per month. Most couples have 2 cars. Most couples have nice, new cars. I'm taking a wild stab here, but it would probably be normal for my husband to upgrade to a Jeep Cherokee and for me to upgrade to a Honda Accord. That's no BMW price--but we'd be looking at $800 in car payments by age 30 easy.

The people who decide to have only one used car, and stick 3 kids in the backseat in skinny car seats are parents. Parents are known as the thrift nuts who go to ridiculous lengths try to save money. When I was a working married wife without kids, I ordered a $2 Tim Hortons donut and a large black coffee special everyday before my commute to work. Now I beg my husband to make me frothy cappuccino with extra cheap coffee every morning at a cost of $0.15 per day. When you have kids, you have an extra incentive to save money.

Okay, tangent over. Back to my transportation story. In 2009, our lovely PT Cruiser broke down immediately after we emptied our entire savings account to pay for one kid's super expensive emergency dental surgery bill.  We started taking the City bus. For the next 2 years our transportation budget went $25 for an adult bus pass and $15 for a kids bus pass for a kid over age 5. We also added a new baby. The new baby, and the 3 year old rode free on the City Bus. Now our transportation bill was $25 + $25 +$15 +$15= $80. Now that is $80 for the entire transportation budget--no gas, no tolls, no maintenance fees. According to the standard of the government, I now have 3 kids--but I'm $79 ABOVE the budget for one single kid's transportation fee.

In 2011 we move out to the country and nine months later, I have a fifth baby. There is no bus system in the country, so I need to buy a car. Now my husband is making the same salary, but now I can afford to buy a car because my housing expenses to buy 3 bedroom house in the country is $850 per month (for all housing expenses including taxes) vs paying $1600 a month for a 2 bedroom apartment in a DC Suburb.

I picked out a two year old Chrysler Town and Country with low mileage from Carmax. My husband gets us sometime of crazy, extra maintenance coverage plan--so our $325 car-payment goes up to $455 per month. That car fits seven passengers, 2 adults and 5 kids or 1 adult and 6 kids (if Jon takes his own car whenever we go to church or the beach). I'm now at $455 per month for a regular car payment.

Under the government proposed cost plan, I should have $795 in monthly transportation costs for 5 kids ($159 x 5)  or  $954 for six kids ($159 x 6). But see my transportation costs don't go up that dramatically. I use slightly more gas to take an extra kid to the doctor or to Swim Team practice or to a play date. But I'm not at all close to $1,000 a month in extra gas or maintenance charges.

In fact, dragging around 6 kids under age 12, means that we pretty much use LESS gas than most 2 kid families that I know. It's a project getting 3 young kids out of the house. For months after a new baby, we voluntarily leave our home only for the essentials of doctor check-up visits, absolutely necessary grocery store runs, and required Sunday Mass. Everything else is like "Let just walk to the park and push the baby in the stroller today. Who wants to deal with the extra crying from infant car-seat trauma!"

Most families that I know use creative problem solving techniques to keep their budgets low. That ability to be prudent, joyful and a tad daring, is a financial skill that can come whether you have 1 kid, 2 kids, 4 kids or 10 kids.

In every category for "child rearing expenses" there is so much flexibility and choice.  For example, the government put educational expenses and child care at $204 a month per child. That just seems like a crazy, made up number. For an infant who needs 40 hours of daycare a week that comes out to roughly $1.28 an hour. I don't know who I would find to watch my newborn son at $1.28 an hour---but there is no way in hell that I would trust a stranger who I paid that little.

Educational costs come at such a wide range of prices. $204 a month might cover school supplies and school lunches for a public school kid starting at age 5. Yet we know some Catholic families who pay between $15,000 to $20,000 a year to send their kid to Catholic High School.

Then there is my family's budget for education and child care. We basically have $0 infant child care cost, $0 pre-school costs, and even if I really stretched us with all of my dream History glitter projects and our massive late library fines, I don't spend more than $30 a month for each elementary school student. For fun, I should present my husband proper billing for homeschooling. On the bill would be "Bribes to Teacher-$2 Dove Chocolate Bars, $15 Moms Night Out Movie Night, and $4 Carnations."

How much does it cost to raise a child?

It really depends.

Family budgeting is more of an Art than a Science. Along the way, there is so much room for discovery. I learned how to cook when I became a Mom. The other day, I introduced my 7 year old to the joy of Sun-Dried Tomatoes. I could have paid $15 a plate for nice Pasta Dish with my honey on a more regular basis if we stayed child-free. Yet there is something kind of cool with watching a future Chef eat a Sun-Dried Tomato for the first time. I'm glad I was there to catch my daughter in that unique moment.

I feel like I live a nice life with 5, almost 6, kids. I eat better. I dress better. I laugh more.

I'm someone who spent $85,000 on three years of law school where my memories are mostly of boredom in class, watching snowy grey skies from the Law Library Windows, and eating a $2 Budget Gourmet Frozen Meal every night for dinner. Somehow spending $245,340 (or far less!)  on gaining a new son in 2014, seems like a better economic deal.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Mom's Response To Seeing Photos From the Missouri Looting Incidents

I remember watching the TV video coverage of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots when I was a high school student in 1992. My Dad was a Political Science Professor at the time. As a result, the 6 O'Clock New Hour was a huge nightly event in our family. I remember having stacks and stacks of VHS tapes recording boring Senate Debates next to our VCR. As his daughter, I was a News Junkie before CNN became popular and the 24 Hour News cycle gained popularity. Yet Race was a topic my Dad never talked about in our all white home. I never had even one conversation with my Dad about the LA Riots while they were going on, which was a strange anomaly in my childhood.

A few years later, I majored in American History at Smith College in liberal Massachusetts.  I remember when we studied the LA riots in History Class. I looked forward to gaining clarity from a scholarly study of this historical event. I learned so much from studying the Iran Contra Scandal and Reagan's "Ketchup Counts as a Vegetable for School Lunch" controversy as a young adult. All the confusing mosaic of emotions and facts that I gathered only piecemeal as a daughter in my Father's House, got sorted, and reinterpreted in my own heart as an adult.

The American History Professor who lectured me on the LA Riots was young, male, and without tenure. He was nervous. He spoke quickly about the facts of the LA Riots--as a side note to his main lecture. I'm fairly certain this lecture happened well before the OJ Simpson Trial in 1995. Yet Race was already a tense topic in my college. (My college either invented the term Politically Correct, or was one of the first places to adopt the philosophy).  In the class discussion that followed the lecture, there were only 3 or 4 African-Americans who spoke up. This was a strange situation since my college's small class size encourages open discussions and I'd describe the typical Smith Student as "A Woman Who Holds Extremely Strong Opinions".

I raised my hand and asked my professor a questioned directly related to our reading assignment on the LA Riots. He looked at me with fear and didn't answer. He's eyes sort of said "We are not going to talk about that today!" I was confused because this man had assigned us 45 pages of reading material on the LA Riots, why were we not going to cover that event in class today?

Then I saw the glares coming from three African American woman across the circle of desks. There's is this special "Shaming Look" that can come between 19 year old women. The message of this look is more clear than a knife fight. "Don't go there girl!" I started to blush. I became accutely aware that I was white and because of my different race I was unqualified to talk about a Race Riot.

I was young. I took that shaming message to heart. I stopping talk in that class. I stopped talking up in any class where race became an issue--unless I said the "correct opinions" which is that as a white girl, I can't possibly understand the pressure of the Black Community. I shouldn't have an opinion about Riots or Looting other than to think that Police Brutality is Wrong and People are justified in showing their anger at an oppressive white system.

That's the vantage point that I've kept while reading about the Ferguson Riots in Missouri. Police Brutality is a serious sin. It happens. It's unfair and its wrong. It's our Constitutional Duty as Americans to prevent it and punish the guilty parties. One bad cop can send ripples through our society that hurts everyone--the victim, the family, the neighborhood, the good cops who now have a harder time doing their job, and millions of Americans far from the crime scene who see an erosion of basic Civil Liberties.

If I was uncomfortable with the night time looting that went on after the legitimate protests, as I white woman, I couldn't form an opinion about it. I couldn't possibly understand what it meant to be young, black, and afraid of the police killing me without reason. The looting only underscored the pain of a minority community suffering from police brutality, it didn't distract from it. So I read articles about the police brutality incident and skipped over almost all mention of the looting incidents.

Then I saw this picture from a Washington Post photographer who actually got beaten up badly while capturing this photos.

When I saw this photograph, I reacted as a Mom. My son is nearly 10. I've got enough humility to know that despite my husband and my best parenting efforts, this picture could totally be of my son at age 18. Boys have their own trouble streak that can appear whenever adrenaline and peer pressure are involved.

Yet, It's my job as a parent to tell my kids that this is NOT acceptable behavior.

I am a stay-at-home Mom in the trenches. I teach the "Thou Shall Not Steal" Commandment a thousand times every day. I say "It's not okay to sneak the Transformer Toy into Mom's Target Shopping Cart after she says No and hope she is so distracted by your 2 year old sister in the check out line that she pays for it unknowingly."

I say "It's not okay to be careless with library books because that is similar to stealing."

I say "No, you can't take your Sister's Happy Meal Toy Away from Her without asking." "No, stealing popsicles from a Baby is easy but not cool!"

When I saw that photo of the a looter, I was instantly in Mom mode. I thought "Those 3 wine bottles do not belong to you, put them back. Pull up your pants over your underwear. Put on your shirt. Walk away from Temptation--just because a crowd of friends are doing the wrong thing doesn't mean you have to join them!" Most importantly, I thought  "This is not the right way to express anger."

My kids are real people, not plastic toys. They feel injustice acutely--probably even more than me because they are young. When faced with injustice, my kids get mad at me. They get mad at their Dad. They get mad at their siblings. One of the first things they do when faced with injustice is to physically hit someone else. The toddler is mad that someone stole his favorite truck, so he slugs his playmate. The pre-teen is mad that I said No to a movie, or too short skirt or buying a new phone, so I get "Sass." As a Mom, I'm constantly teaching "Your feelings are okay, yet your expression of them is not."

Our job as adults is to hold the line. Our job is to say "there are right ways to express your anger at injustice and there are wrong ways." Peaceful assembly is good. Looting is not. Our young adults have their own minds and their own hearts. They might not always listen to us. Yet as the adults in a society, we should be unified in some common ground rules.

This morning I read the first journalism piece in six days that talked about some protesters themselves feeling saddened by the violence and looting. "It's not serving the purpose," said James Bryant, a 31-year-old from St. Louis, as he watched a young man rummage through a mobile-phone store after smashing a glass door. "The cause was to prevent police brutality."

Jarris Williams tried unsuccessfully to keep looters from the shop. As they flowed into the liquor store, the 19-year-old bent down on one knee and began to cry as he watched the destruction and theft.
"It's not about personal gain. We wanted to make it look different," he said.
God bless the Wall Street Journal because I did not hear any viewpoint like that quoted in the Post, The Times, CNN or NBC. Until reading that article this morning, I felt alone and weird--like I did as the stupid, outspoken white girl in my college history class.

We have this beautiful prayer in the Catholic Church. We pray an ancient Jewish Psalm that asks God for a day when "Justice and peace kiss each other." That is a prayer, that I'm carrying in my heart today. Please God, let "justice and peace kiss each other in Ferguson, Missouri."