There has been a lot of discussion in the online world of “Catholic Twitter,” podcasts, and in the blogosphere about men and women — their complementarity, whether or not they are equal, and how they are different. Podcaster Timothy Gordon stated on The Matt Fradd Show that the Church has taught against married women working, and he said that the New Testament and natural law point to the idea that “men and women are utterly unequal,” though equal in dignity. He did not, however, go on to explain how they are “utterly unequal,” except to state that men are “bigger, stronger” and have a “different forebrain.” He holds that natural law proves, and Christian tradition supports, that a husband is the boss of his wife. Yet, the only argument he gave for this is that in all of human history this has been the case, and only since the feminist movements has the trend of men having authority over women and of men being seen as higher than women been questioned.
The problem with these statements about the inequality of men and women is that they overlook that, since they are human beings, members of the same species, men and women have all of the same powers. Thus, one cannot say that they are “utterly unequal.”
Women and men are first of all rational animals, human beings, made in the image of God. All humans have an intellectual power to reason, learn, understand and know God. Both men and women have wills where they can freely choose good or evil. They have passions and appetites that influence these choices and must be ruled over by reason. These abilities to do things are called their powers. Men and women have the power to love God, love others, see, speak, eat, walk, have conversations, make plans, teach others, use and create tools, and so many other things. They are the same in all of these things.
Somehow we have hit a rhythm that is working this semester. Maybe it is working for me because I get to sleep until my Lyme diseased body is ready to wake up, and the professor is doing the work of getting the children up for the day. But I think that perhaps he is okay with things as well, especially since we put our feet down earlier this year and made all the children ages 5 and up responsible for getting themselves ready and fed in the morning.
I have been waking up around 8 am most days to the sound of my children laughing and playing outside my door. By the time I am dressed and out of my room, the school aged children are hard at work at the dining room table, and the professor is working beside them. His sabbatical has become a semester of studious contemplation for us all. Once I am able to manage the school and teach the subjects that need teaching (about half of their work is independent requiring very little one on one instruction), the professor disappears to do his work away from the chaos of four children.
I guide the children through school until lunchtime at 12:30pm. We have fourth grader, second grader, kindergartner, and a three year old bundle of energy this year. Mostly the younger two entertain themselves with continual reminders to play somewhere else when they intrude upon school space. I do make time to work on math, reading, and handwriting with my kindergartner, and my preschooler is gleaning all sorts of things like counting, colors, playing blocks, building duplos, coloring, from his older sister.
We have found our rhythm in the elementary school level as well. I am used to our curriculum for each subject now (though fourth grade singapore math is getting intimidating–I can’t remember at what grade level I learned the order of operations…but we just covered it!), so teaching is going smoothly.
Lunchtime has become super easy as well since we instituted the “make your own lunch” rule. To clarify, we have guidelines about this for them–they choose from a small variety of healthy options. The older children then move the dishwasher along after lunch while listening to a fairy story from the Andrew Lang Fairy Books (which we learned recently were actually compiled by his wife and some of her friends!).
After lunch is nap time for the three year old and quiet time for the rest of us. The girls and I start of each quiet time with a short prayer time where I read the daily Mass readings to them and then we reflect quietly (or look through saint books or children’s Bibles) for ten minutes. They go off to their quiet time spots for an hour and I settled into reading theology for about an hour (trying to get through St. Gregory the Great’s Morals on the Book of Job before Christmas), and then whatever writing or editing work I need to do for that day.
We have streamlined dinner meals to be shorter an easier these last few years, so I can usually get away with working until 4:30 or so before I cook dinner (which I have been able to do these past two weeks…this Lyme will be beaten!).
At dinner we will often have a discussion topic. We cover one painting and one work of music a week. Lately, we have been reading through the Constitution and discussing it. About once a week we watch Ken Burn’s National Park’s documentary with dinner, and that sparks discussion as well–our kids are turning into environmentalists! Sometimes we will discuss a question from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae. Then the professor reads to us from the Bible–a chapter of the Old Testament and a chapter of the New Testament in order. We have been doing this for over three years and it is so great to hear it, and for the children to learn salvation history in a family setting.
After dinner, I take my crazy amount of meds (had a morning dose as well), and help the professor clean the kitchen.
We get the kids to bed in a leisurely way with family prayers, stories, and lots of “last drinks” and visits to the bathroom. The professor reads to the older kids from a chapter book. They just finished Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, and are reading The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle. It is the second time through for King Arthur, but the younger kids do not remember it.
Once everyone is in bed, the professor and I have been indulging in Star Trek: Enterprise. We were both into Star Trek in high school, gave it up in college, and tapped back into it our first years of marriage. This series is new to us, and has been a good way to enjoy the evening quiet while I have been sick. We usually have time for reading as well. I just finished Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, and am now plowing through my second reading of Framely Parsonage by Anthony Trollope.
So, despite the annoyance of being sick since we got back from our wonderful trip Out West, I am finding a peaceful enjoyment in the studiousness of our life these days. I think it is good for the kids and for us to spend our days in study, even if my two afternoon hours does not seem like that much, it does wonders for me. This is the home school life I dreamed of, and I wish the professor’s sabbatical would last forever…and maybe we could avoid all the extra curricular activities that have not yet started…
It is summer break time here in the Spencer home. This means that we get to experience all the benefits of having a professor in our home. The grading is finished except for a few stray papers, and we can enjoy each and everyday as a family.
The professor likes to spend his summer weekdays working. He starts work in his study shortly after the kids are dressed and fed or after we go to morning mass, and the girls go to play. I am experiencing a new freedom in having older children. They are mostly self sufficient when it comes to entertaining themselves. They go outside or stay inside and imagine and play all together.
I serve up the occasional snack, lend a hand in the occasional bodily need, and serve out just punishments when necessary. The baby tags along with the girls or plays on the floor wherever I am. It is slow, lazy, and wonderful.
I have a long list of things to do that I did not get to over the past few months when school time was the priority. We have weddings to go to soon and vacations planned. But we also have the long lazy days of summer. We have the grilled meats and vegetables, the cool salads, the iced tea and cold press coffee. We have the hours for reading and writing. We have the joys of family activities. We have the green things growing in the garden.
“But it is also well that the lilacs die. There is something enervating about too much spring vitality. One longs at moments, even as summer swells its glorious fruit, for the hard angles of Winter. To be ever soft and rococo, to turn the good sentiments of love to the banalities of tenderness and sentimentality–this is intolerable.”
The summer is only sweet because we have persevered through the winter. We had a lovely autumn, a cold winter, waited with anticipation at the bursts of warmth we had in spring and finally a final frost in mid-May, and now we can fully appreciate the glories of summer. But summer, too, will come to an end, as lilactime has. But for now, I am anticipating and savoring everyday of this warmth, and the joys of cold salads and cool drinks and lazy summer days.
My husband, aka “M”, aka “the professor”, started a blog this week. He has been talking about it for awhile. As I read his first two posts, I found something beautifully familiar. I found part of the reason I fell in love with him in the first place.
You see, I absolutely love to read his writing. It is so beautiful, the way he puts things, the way he describes things. And I am in absolute awe that he can write something so beautiful and flawless in 30 minutes. And he did it two days in a row! I expect that everyday will be beautiful and worth reading. I am excited to see the things he is thinking and feeling written down, day after day.
During our first year of college, we were in a weekly writer’s group which had been organized by a mutual friend. We read things we had been writing or had written to each other. It may have been a bit too much for college freshmen to handle and not fall in love with each other; I think that we already were inclined to like each other. But in hearing what he wrote, I found a kindred spirit.
And when I read what he has to say about beauty and romance in the springtime, it reminds me of the sonnets we used to write for each other when we were falling in love the first time.
The summer which we both read the book Severe Mercy by Sheldon VanAuken, which the professor mentioned today, we also wrote each other letters. He was walking across the country with other pro-life college students with the ministry Crossroads Pro-life, and I was taking five philosophy courses (to graduate a semester earlier) and working 40 hour weekends at Steubenville conferences.
It was that summer that we realized that we wanted to get married. We wrote each other letters. Mine arrived at the house I was living in for the summer and his were sent to host families who passed them onto him.
Those letters were wonderful to get. When one would arrive I would always take it to a quiet place and savor every word. And then I would read it again.
And the book, which is a memoir of a love story, gave us a guide on which to ground our relationship. It showed us that a purposeful planning of how to preserve our love was necessary if we wanted to maintain our “inloveness.” I believe that we still have our “inloveness’, and it grows deeper every year. And I wonder if as the professor writes his blog this summer and I read it that I will fall in love all over again.
When my husband and I began discussing ideas for our family life together, we wanted to develop the sacramental worldview in ourselves and in any children we would have. Now that we have four children, I think that we can safely say that some of our ideas are working: our children seem to have sacramental imaginations.
The place where humans process their experience of the world is in their imaginations. In the imagination, our sensory experience and our rationality meet. And it seems that having a well-developed, active imagination is essential to experiencing the true sacramentality of the world and living in a truly human way. With a good imagination, it is easy to experience God in our daily, mundane lives. And with a good imagination, a person is unable to reduce the world to a pure science, which the mentality that mainstream society has embraced.
There is that day after each pregnancy (well, besides the first one), that I have felt “normal” again. My mind is clear again; I feel like I have emerged from the fog that I was in since the beginning of pregnancy. And my old jeans fit again (the ones I got after baby #2).
It has been 11 months since T was born, and 11 weeks since my concussion, and the past few days I have felt myself again. I can’t remember exactly when it happened after the other babies. I think with my third it took over a year. With my second, I am not sure, maybe 10 months? I ran a 5k when she was that age. And with my first, it was not until my second was 10 months, because, you can never go back to your pre-first-baby self.
Another thing about this post-baby time is that this is the first time we have lived three years in one home since we were married. This is the first time we are coming to the end of four school years in one place and we are not moving somewhere else.
We are here, in Minnesota. The roots we make here are not going to be taken up, if life continues as it has been going. The friends we have made we are not about to leave. We are here, and it is a little strange, but it is also good.
Life is moving forward, but we also have stability. The school year is coming to an end. The professor is on campus more than normal, but the end is in sight with last week being the last week of classes. It will probably be the last week of home school classes as well. Math and English are wrapping up.
And I feel like a normal human being (as normal as I can be when I my values seem to be radically different from most of the rest of the people in my country). I have had a four-plus hour stretch of sleep in the middle of the wake ups at night for the past week. I am functioning above baseline this week.
And despite all the things going on the world, I feel that life is good. It is good that we are here, and we are so blessed.
In my research for writing the second installment of the story of my relationship with M, I have been reading my old prayer journals. First of all, why was everything so dramatic in college? Second, of all it has been fascinating seeing who I was then and seeing how I have changed, and how I still need to improve.
One of the things I came across was how I imagined family life would be. M and I had a lot of serious discussion during our time in Austria, and this was a topic that came up as we wondered if and when we should date again. It is kind of fun to see how I hoped life would be. Here are a few of the hopes that came true.
1. “Husband in charge of kids so that she can work on her book or read a novel” Now I have not written a book, but I am doing a lot more writing than I once did in my married life. I do feel that writing has been a kind of fulfillment for me these last few years that I had forgotten about when we first had children. Usually it happens not while M is watching the kids, but during our daily quiet times or after the kids are in bed. And I am finding plenty of time for reading novels and other things.
2. “Group of women to spend time with”Developing friendships always takes time, but it is worth the effort. Everytime I get together with lady friends or have a good conversation online, I am reminded of how important it is for women to support and have each other in their lives. It is especially helpful with family life to have the support of other women.
3. “Family meal time is sacred” When the professor works at home, we sometimes have all three meals together. In fact, he would forget to eat lunch sometimes if it were not for the family eating lunch with him (#philosopherproblems). Family mealtime has become crucial to our spiritual life and cultural life as well, since it is at these times we pray together, read Scripture together, or at lunch read fairy tales together.
4. “I do not want stacks”-This means “no clutter.” We are not always the best at this, especially on select spots on the counter, the dining room table which doubles as the pre-K craft table, but we have become pretty good at having a spot for everything, and eliminating the offending stacks fairly often. We also purge the house a couple of times a year of things we do not need.
5.”Children should be everywhere”–but God is in charge I had a strong desire for a large family in college, but also realized that when it comes to having children, we only have so much control. Bringing new people into the world/adding to the perfection of the universe is not something to be taken lightly. And I am so thankful I have been blessed with these four amazing human beings. Sometimes I look at them all together and it blows my mind that I bore them all in my womb, gave birth to them, and tended to their basic needs day in and day out. How did I get to four children already?
6. Home cooked meals I love home cooked meals, and I love cooking home cooked meals. But I also love the ease of ordering out when I need to, or just would like a break. Food is yummy!
7. Close tight-knit family This is something I had growing up in my own home. So far the kids are all really close, and I figure if we do what we can to promote a close family, it will probably happen.
1. I have not done quick takes in over a month. The thing is, they are not exactly quick to write, but I have about 30 minutes if the baby stays asleep, so I am going to give it a go.
2. A month ago, I was dying of lack of sleep. Seriously. Well, not really, but since then the baby has popped in two teeth, we did a bit of sleep training/letting him learn how to fall asleep without being bounced vigorously (yes, it was that bad). And instead of waking every 90 minutes and taking 40 to get back to sleep, he is we are getting stretches as long as 5 hours, and I am only waking most nights 2 times to nurse him. Guys, it is amazing. I feel like a person again.
3. Now that I am no longer a zombie, I am thinking a lot more clearly. When we finish a school day I can manage a chore or two before lunch rather than just staring off. When we make it to quiet time I am actually able to write things instead of a mindless Facebook experience. And we are getting at least one long nap a day out of the baby, the other one is usually not as good, but still. 4. Someone woke up.
It is tricky to type with a baby on your lap, but I am going to give it a go. Also, here you see my haircut I just got literally an hour ago. I always say two inches and add some layers and I feel like after the layers they have shorn off at least 4 inches.
5. I realized that I was getting boring back when T would not sleep as I was only and always talking about it, so I am going to really try to think of something else to write about, like how G finally got that one math concept down this week that we spent three agonizing days on and I finally asked M to explain it to her and she got it in five minutes. Or how the kids stopped screaming as much, well for like two days. My mom and dad are coming next week. I have not seen them since June, so we are pretty excited to see them. I think they are excited to see this baby who has doubled in weight since they last saw him. Oh, baby again. Sorry.
6. I finished two books in the last week. The first was Martin Chuzzlewit by Charles Dickens which was about as Dickensesque as you could want. He has a way of describing grimy, dirty places that just makes me feel icky and gritty and sometimes even nauseated. M suggested that I write about our free system of English laws, but I am not going to. Second book, the letters of Sts. Louis and Zelie Martin (A Call to a Deeper Love). It was soooo good. I am writing something up on it, so look for that soon. But really, just read it yourself, especially if you are married and a mom.
7. This week I started In This House of Brede by Rumor Godden. We found it at Loomes over Labor Day weekend, and it is beautiful so far. I like books that make me a better person, and this seems to be one of them. So were the letters. M this week finished Emma by Jane Austen and has decided that it is one of the most brilliant English language novels ever, and then he started Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.
And that about sums up life lately, baby, homeschooling, books, and writing projects. There are few coming out soon, stay tuned…
I don’t know how some moms do it all the time: parent for days without their husband or even make it through the night with an infant without their husband home and available for backup.
Some cute kid in Boston in the Summer of 2010.
The Professor went to a conference last weekend, and his wonderful mother cheerfully agreed to fly out from Michigan and help me while he was gone. The great thing about my MIL being here is that she makes not just bedtime and mealtime easier without M, but she makes all day long easier. The kids are happy to play with her, she is happy to give them all of her attention, but she also helps keep them disciplined. She even held baby T more than he normally gets held.
When I picked M up from the airport (30 minutes after dropping off his mother for her return flight), he said, “You know, it sounds like you actually had a good weekend.” And he was right, I think that I did. But I did because I put myself into survival mode, and anything beyond the minimum was a bonus. And we got beyond the minimum after the first day.
My biggest worries when M is gone revolve around sleeping. I worried the whole week leading up to his conference whether I would be able to handle the baby at night without him. I have said this before, but this baby is not the best at nursing right back down at night and often requires means beyond nursing to get to sleep. So, I was imagining being up ALL NIGHT, EVERY NIGHT and not being able to get the baby to sleep. (Keep in mind he has had teething bumps in his mouth getting bigger daily.)
But this was not the case Thursday night. Thursday night, I had no trouble getting T to go back to sleep when he woke up. The trouble was that he woke up every hour. I was such a zombie when he woke, that I did not think: maybe he is waking up because his diaper is full since he has nurse like 6 times already since 7pm or I am cold and maybe I should turn the furnace on and the baby might sleep better.
So, Friday it was the minimum, well even less than the minimum. The minimum required the morning at our twice a month co-op. I left F(normally I fight her to stay in the nursery classroom) at home with Grandma, and spent all of the co-op holding the baby and drinking coffee in the mom’s hangout/discussion part of co-op. In the afternoon I took a nap, and ordered pizza for dinner. I had planned a dinner that takes about 15 minutes to put together, but I could not even do that. That would mean explaining it to my MIL and I had no ability to do so. So, we ordered pizza. That was good.
I started asking people for prayers that T would let me get some sleep that night, and took a few precautionary measures for Friday night. I turned the furnace on so the baby would not get cold, and made a plan to not nurse him if he woke every hour but try walking and bouncing him instead. But he only woke every 2 hours, only requiring nursing, which was great in my book. And I got him back down every time!
Saturday went well. My goals for me were: grocery shopping, running, and showering. And we got them all done around playing with the girls, getting T to nap, and the afternoon quiet times. We went out to our favorite family restaurant for dinner and T slept the whole time there.
Saturday night: I had been reading Bl. Zelie Martin’s letters. In one she talked about how she had her daughter pray to the baby brother who had died in infancy to intercede for the healing of a two week long awful ear infection. The ear was better the next day. So, I thought, why not pray to our little one, JP, and ask for him to intercede for T to sleep comfortably, because I have been attributing bad sleep to teething. Well, we had three longer stretches, including a 3.5 hour one.
Then, Sunday Mass: WE ALL STAYED IN THE PEW! There may have been a lot of whispering from the younger girls, but for the most part, everyone behaved well. Hooray!
In the afternoon, we picked up the Professor, and as we were circling through the passenger pick up, waiting for M to be let off his plane, the girls reflected on how it is “just not the same with Daddy gone.”
And now my survival mode is over; we made it! This morning (thanks to academic schedules M was home most of today), we sat and drank our coffee chatting for about a half an hour before I had to start school. It was so pleasant to have a normal day begin, and I feel about 10x less stressed this week than I did last week, like I might be able to do something beyond home schooling this week.
I realized that the impending conference had been weighing on me, but I also realized that I can do the baby care alone at night if I need to. But it is still really nice at 5:30am when the baby won’t quite settle to be laying in bed, knowing that he will be put back to sleep by his father. What is even nicer is that M has such a good touch with this baby that he resettled him at nap (while I was running) and extended the baby’s nap by two hours. Baby is awake and kicking now, but and awake baby is much easier to blog next to than anyone else around here…
Apparently M and I went on our “second honeymoon” last week, deemed so by our philosopher friend who happened to be at the same conference in Idaho with his family (we will call them “the P’s”). Who wouldn’t want their second honeymoon to take place with a newborn tagging along at a philosophy conference on a lovely lake in Idaho.
What better topic to have in mind on a second honeymoon than that awkward “Interim State” between Death and the Resurrection of the body. Will that really be us existing without our bodies or do we need our bodies to be us? Or will we really us but just not as complete as we should be?
If you want to know these answers, look for some published papers that will be accepted for publication in the next 12-24 months and published in about 4-6 years once the journals make it through their backlog. Well, maybe some journals will manage to publish them in about 3…
The river and mountains between Boise and McCall, Idaho.
So, the story starts last Tuesday when, Aunt J and Uncle T arrived to spend the night. The next morning, after dropping M, baby T, and I at the airport, the girls and the relatives headed to the farm in Wisconsin for the duration of our trip.
We flew for the first time with any of our children this trip, and traveling with just a newborn (that happens to be our fourth newborn) is super easy. Plus, everyone is deceived into thinking your baby is well-behaved because he just acts like all other newborns: eat, poop, sleep, repeat. The worst part of it was nights, because my rocking chair did not fit on the airplane. I think that hotels should offer rocking chairs as well as roll-away cribs.
The mountain range around McCall.
So back to Wednesday, we were whisked through security at the airport and enjoyed a quiet early lunch. The flight was easy breezy as T slept the whole way until descent. He did not seem to mind the pressure changes. We enjoyed an early dinner and a local brew while we awaited our shuttle to McCall. A conference participant was on our flight, so they embarked on the philosophical discussion even then. It lasted the 2.5 hour whole shuttle ride with other conference participants. We met a lot of really neat philosophers at this conference. You would like them… even if some are wrong in their views… 😉
By the time we got to the hotel, T had had enough, and fussed for the next 4 hours until he fell asleep for 3 hours, woke up and then slept 3 more hours. So, Thursday morning, we were somewhat rested. Though I survived the morning on three cups of hotel coffee.
Ponderosa State Park, McCall, Idaho.
Thursday morning (while the Interim State was discussed in depth at the hotel by the conference participants) involved going to a state park with other philosophy families and their children and getting lost in the woods with some members of the P family. It was a nice hike. The one and four year old were really into the Idaho squirrel.
This is before we knew we were lost.
Being a fan of Terence Malick films has forever ruined being in the woods for me in that I hear Jim Caviezel’s voice in my head as I look up at trees saying things like, “all things shining” and “the glory”.
It was a beautiful day and I really did experience the glory in those woods.
Once we were rescued, we made it back to the hotel and I went out to lunch with M and a neat family (the B’s), napped with the baby in the hotel room while the conference went on, and then went out for a steak dinner with lots of participants and their families.
Friday morning was high 50s and windy, but we braved the beach and took in the view. When you are six weeks old on a day like this, you prefer to stay snuggled up to Mom.
The lake and the mountains were amazing. Once again we had lunch with the philosophers and rested in the hotel for the afternoon and watched the other families swim at the pool. Dinner involved fish and chips, two locally brewed beers, lively discussion on Purgatory, C.S. Lewis, and liturgy, and this amazing dessert! Since it is called a “grasshopper”, I highly recommend it for any feast of St. John the Baptist, except for his beheading when you have to eat cabbage.
Taste the glory.
And here is the first photo ever taken of just M and his son, which is not really, because we have all of those strangers mulling around in the background. I could not get him to smile. Maybe he is contemplating being in the Interim State and is not happy about it.
This was about as romantic as our “Second Honeymoon” got: A chilly walk to the lake as the sun was setting. I was longing for a sweater, and the baby was about to hit “fussy hour.”
Saturday, I leisurely read a book and drank coffee while the baby napped in his stroller and carseat. The conference ended at lunchtime, so we once again discussed philosophy over lunch (I mostly listened), and shuttled back to Boise for the night. Don’t even ask how the night at the Airport Inn went. Let’s just say we got coffee at the airport.
See, we went to the airport!
Here in this second photograph with “just” his son, M is kind of smiling, but the airport guy with the sticks is photo bombing.
We made it home safely to St. Paul, and Uncle T got us from the airport. The girls were happy and waiting for us.
So, ended our “second honeymoon.” I hope I get to go to another conference sometime before the next seven years are up…
A few last thoughts: -Philosophy conferences are fun! Free hotels and eating out every meal! Also, always lively discussions at every meal! -It takes three disposable baby wipes to do the work that one cloth wipe can do. -It is nice to be able to talk to other adults for 4 days without interruptions beyond that of a needy newborn. -I missed my other kids by the end. -Hotels really need to have rocking chairs in the rooms, not just wrought iron ones at the pool.