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Raising Children to be Virtuous-Part One

Some of you may have read this:

“Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” By Amy Chua from the Wall Stree Journal:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html?mod=WSJ_hp_mostpop_read

Here is my initial response. I plan to write more on it later.

Chua is defending the way she raised her kids, but it does not seem like she is necessarily condemning those who raise children differently. There is a cultural difference; the way Westerners raise kids comes from the individualistic philosophy that was there at the founding of our country. I think a lot of the way Westerners raise their kids are excessive and are not the best for their children. Raising children to be virtuous holy people is hard work and discipline is a necessary aspect.

We are not allowing our children to watch TV or play computer games. First, we do not own a TV nor do we want to, and second I don’t think there is anything on TV that I want my children to watch that is not saturated with philosophies and ideas that I disagree with. I also do not want to be tempted to use the TV to “babysit” my kids. I want them to be able to entertain themselves. Gemma will sit and read books for up to 30 minutes sometimes and she is only 21 months old. We will show them certain movies when they are older, but there is no need now.

Also, I want our children to learn to be disciplined; this will lead to a virtuous life. I know that these are things I need to work on to. I think that the Chinese discipline, while it may get extreme, is probably better for building virtue than Western leniency.

Ch-ch-changes!

And apparently this blog is officially neglected. I have a post I saved back in July that I never finished. Since I last put up a real post, I have gone through 9 months of pregnancy and 6 weeks with a new baby! Yay!

So, now we have two little girls; one currently sleeping on my lap and the other in her crib. My main reason for writing it to discuss the adjustment of G. to our second child L.

G. was only 20.5 months when L. was born. Maybe we could have prepared her more for the several day separation, but when I went into labor 2.5 weeks early and we sent her to a friends house I was not entirely convinced that I really was in labor. She spent the two days I was away playing with one of her friends and being cared for by adults she knew well. The second night she even had Mark to take care of her. When she came to see me in the hospital, she first sat silent on my lap eating my snacks and then started playing with Mark’s mom whom she had not seen in 6 months and completely ignoring me.

When we came home with L., G. was a different child than I had remembered. She had been happy, smiling, and enjoyed playing alone; she was then clingy to me, crying all the time, and wanting constant attention. I loved having a newborn, but had a really hard time with how it affected G. The first night home I cried, because G. was so different. I missed my happy little girl. One night that first week I put G. down for bed (I had not been, because of labor recovery and I needed to pick her up to put her in her crib). As we rocked in the chair I started crying again, and then I started giving her kisses on her head and she started kissing me back and soon we were kissing and giggling; my little girl was still the same. I had glimpses of her old self as the weeks went by, and I think she is finally getting used to the change of not being the only child. She is more and more like her old self and hopefully will soon be less and less whiny.

G. also wants to do everything L. is doing; such as when L. is being burped she wants to be burped or burps her baby doll. The best story is how G. “nurses” Baby Jesus from the nativity set while I am nursing L. Or when L. is having tummy time, G. lays next to her and tries to have tummy time also, and I have to sit nearby or L. will get kicked in the head. Today we were “play toys” (G.’s words) with L. by holding them in front of her. G. thinks this is the greatest thing, even though L. completely ignores it for the most part.

As for me, I need to work to give G. the attention she needs, but also help her learn about sharing her mom with her sister. I have noticed that with G., if I play with her first thing in the morning and right away after nap, she is much happier playing alone later. She just needs to be reminded that she is still loved and that mom still has time for her. And with time, my hope is that my girls will soon be each others favorite people, and that we will all be helping each other become better and holier. 🙂

I do still exist…I think

The title of this post is slightly Cartesian. Apparently Descartes is “the fishes,” or so my husband tells me. I am not sure what that means, but he has been reading more about Descartes recently so I am sure it means something.

Today I told my boss that I will be leaving my job before the fall semester starts. Probably by August. It is freeing and sad for me. I think that I have really learned to appreciate and care for the people I work with. Even the elderly lady who comes in once a week and has always annoyed me-I finally found the best way to interact with her and to appreciate her help in the office. One of my coworkers is a sweetie to my daughter and I know I am really going to miss her and she is really going to miss us. Another one is very practical and has good opinions about liturgy and the Church, though I do not see her very often. My boss has been wonderful and so supportive of bringing a baby into the office, and she totally understands why it is time for us to leave the position.

The next issue is what am I going to do with all my time? The main reason for leaving is for the sake of my daughter; she needs more interaction that I cannot always give her while I work. I know she is still really young, but I would like to start focusing on pre-pre-homeschooling and homeschooling research. I also plan on volunteering at my old job once a week, more so that my daughter and the wonderful ladies there will still get to see each other. They are like adoptive aunts for her and even me with my parents out of town. I will need to use my time wisely and I really do hope to dabble in theology again. So, that is about it for now.

Almost Advent!

I just wanted to say that I am ridiculously excited about Advent this year. I kind of wish I thought of it as more penitential, but the time of preparation and waiting excites me. I think it is because the importance of the liturgical season of Advent was impressed upon me as a child. We never put up our tree until a few days before Christmas and sometimes did not even decorate it until Christmas Eve. We also did not listen to Christmas music until Christmas Eve. It was all very exciting when it finally came.

Instead we did the Jesse Tree readings daily, had and Advent Calendar, and lit our Advent wreath at dinner every night. M. and I are doing the same things now that we have a family together. I am realizing the importance of having these traditions to mark the different liturgical seasons of year and the specific holy days. I think because I have done them my whole life, Advent would not seem the same without these traditions. M. and I hope to implement traditions in all the important seasons. I wonder if doing something as simple as eating Italian when it is an Italian saint’s day would be a good way to honor a saint’s day.

It seems that there is a human need for these sorts of things, and it is expressed the way certain people excessively decorate for different seasons and holidays. I could explore this more here, but I don’t quite have my thoughts together and do not want to claim extreme points of view without a clearer way to express them. The basic idea is that the Church’s liturgical year satisfies a human need for the cycle of the year, the changes of season, the sacramental value of decorations in the home, work place, stores, and places of worship. They are all connected and are much more than physical decorations. They speak to the whole person. What would Advent be without the sign of the wreath and the empty manger? A lot of people live without that. For them Advent is Christmas decorations and it ends with the presents. For the Church, Advent is the waiting and the time of Christmas is longer. As the four seasons change, so do the liturgical seasons pass on, and we remember and wait for the Lord to come again.

The Souls of the Faithful Departed

Yesterday was All Souls Day, and I took the opportunity to pray for those in my family who have died, mainly those who I have known personally. The people I have been the closest to that have died were my dad’s parents.

My Grandpa H. died when I was in 5th grade. I remember crying a lot and missing him a lot. According to my grandma I was his favorite of 13 grandchildren; I’m not sure what I did to deserve that but I’ll take it. I never knew him to be a church-going man and at times I have wondered if he had any faith. I know that he was raised Catholic and that his children were raised Catholic, but I never saw him at Church (well except his funeral). After his funeral we had a party at my aunt’s house. I remember thinking I saw Grandpa sitting on the porch and then him not being there. It seemed like he was with us.

My Grandma H. died when I was a Freshman in college. She had been fighting cancer on and off for three years or so. I was nervous about going to school 10 hours from home, because I knew she would not live much longer. She was in the same parish as my parents, and I got to see her weekly. I think she must have been lonely after Grandpa died, but she always took the opportunity to be present in our lives. In conversations I have had with my mom, I learned that she was a very supportive mother-in-law, helping with the kids all the time. I have fond memories of going to Grandma and Grandpa’s house; they babysat us a lot. The thing I really appreciated about my grandma when I was in high school was that I got to share my faith community with her.

My second to last day in town at the end of Christmas break Freshman year, I spent the morning with Grandma. She had to get some blood drawn, so I went with her and sang to her to distract her from the needles. We then went to lunch together. She was worried about me studying Theology, because it was not a very career driven field. I assured her that I would be okay, and that I was just trying to do God’s will. She seemed happy for me. A few months later she had a surgery that she knew she might no recover from. When I went home for Spring break I went to see her in the hospital. My dad’s family sat with her in shifts making sure she had a family member with her 24/7. The hour I spent with her, she was asleep and not doing well. I did not really even talk to her; she looked so old and sick, I guess I was a little afraid. When a nurse came in, Grandma woke up. The nurse asked who I was and Grandma replied with a smile; she knew that I was there. However, she did not get better. She died the morning of the day Pope John Paul II died. I flew home for the funeral.

A few months after her death, one night around the anniversary of Grandpa’s death, I suddenly got the urge to pray for both of them. So, I did. That night I had a dream that they were together again and happy. I brought me great peace.

Since then I have had several dreams about Grandma. Always other members of my dad’s family are there, too. She never says anything, but just looks on as we all visit. I had a dream when I was pregnant and she was in the apartment and was happy. Another time I was traveling to St. Louis and there were other family members there, she seemed sad. Last night I had another dream with her in it. I don’t think it was a coincidence that it happened the night of All Souls Day. She was sad. In the dream she was still alive, but we all knew she was going to die soon. My one aunt suggested that we all go to church together, thinking that that might make Grandma happy, but Grandma still seemed sad. Today I realized that these dreams are maybe her wanting me to pray for her, but also for her family, many who have left the Church and many who do not believe in God at all. It must be hard to be a mother who wants children to believe the truth, and the children to not have faith. So, if you are reading this, please say a prayer for my Grandma and Grandpa, and also for those in my family who have left the Church.

May the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

The Examined Life

Between Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain, St. Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life, Blessed Gianna Beretta Molla: A Woman’s Life by Giuliana Pelluchi, and Space Vulture by Gary K. Wolf and Archbishop John J. Myers, I have had time to reflect on sainthood and the call every person has to it.

Merton reflected that every person is different, yet we are all called to be like God, and when we become holy we become like God; each individual person reflects God in a different way. We can all become super holy, be like God, but also be entirely different from each other! Which makes a lot of sense when you look at the variety of saints we have out there. Though they all have in common, a strong love of God and others and a life of prayer with loyalty to the Church and her teaching.

So, what can we learn from all these Saints. When I think about Saints, I often look at the seemingly glamorous things they did, by glamorous I mean attractive because they were super holy and beyond what the average person does, i.e. stigmata, martyrdom, extreme poverty. Then I think, wow my life is pretty boring and slow-paced compared to that, there is no way I could become a Saint. Plus, I fail at living up to my calling everyday; I sometimes think the only way I could be super holy is to experience extreme persecution or start having super mystical experiences. Seriously, that is the stuff you here about in the lives of the Saints that inspires you. When you read the little bio in the breviary or missal, you generally ignore the “she lived a really holy life” and skip straight to the she had her breasts cut off and they grew back and then she was martyred. But if you think about it it really was the holy life before these great acts of holiness that made them a Saint. St. Gianna already lived a saintly life before she gave up her life for her child. Thomas Merton had potential to become a Saint in his striving to become holy day by day and eliminating his tendencies to sin. Space Vulture could have become good if he turned from his mortal sins.

St. Francis de Sales lays out the framework for holiness in his book. He explains that to be holy one has to live an examined life–every detail surrounding sin must be explored and weeded out. It is a tedious process, and it is difficult, but with grace we all can become saints. It is the daily choice all saints make to pray, to love God and others, to grow in virtue, to embrace one’s state in life.

I feel very fortunate that my desire to be a wife and mother has been fulfilled so early in life, and now I am realizing that it is a day by day choice to love and serve. By doing this and by seeking God’s grace in all I do and allowing him to work through me; that is how I will become a saint. Pray for me.

A Book in which Everything that can go Wrong does go Wrong

A few weeks ago I finished Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. It is a book where once you get about 2/3 through, you don’t really want to finish it, because there seems to be no way it could turn out right in the end.

It centers around a girl name Tess, who through chance encounters with certain people, bad luck, a lack of common sense, and people being jerks has just about everything go wrong for her (and her family). I guess the problems start with her obedience to her parents and end with her no longer being obedient to her conscience. Anyway, it was a depressing book, and what I got from it is that sometimes people never get what they really deserve and then they die.

So, a depressing post for a depressing book. Also, there is no sense of redemptive suffering at all in the book. I suppose if Tess had not lost her faith through the unkindness of those she trusted, she may have at least had hope. Jean Valjean did no get a chance to save this Fantine, and the Jean Valjean who should have, could have, saved her failed to take the opportunity. So, maybe we can remember that sometimes it is too late to help someone, and help them when we have the chance.

There’s Something Different About Philosophers

We went out last night with M.’s adviser and his wife. While we were discussing a logic class and certain professor M. explained that this professor definitely made him speak and think clearly. I chimed in that because of that class, I have been corrected every time I say something imprecise. M.’s adviser’s wife said to me, “Welcome to the club!”

The Call to be Outcasts

I’ve been getting a lot of time to read lately, since I help the baby sleep by staying next to her. So, since mid-July I have been reading the unabridged Les Miserables. I’ve always loved the musical, and wanted to read the book in total which turned out to be about 1/2 social-political commentary and 1/2 plot. So if you want a republican, social justice view of 19th century France, this is your book! There also is a good amount of history, which I supplemented with wikipedia (lol). Anyway, I don’t know any French, but apparently “les miserables” translates into something like “the outcasts,” and if you look at each of the main characters, they are all some sort of outcast from society. You have Jean Valjean the exconvict, Fantine the former mistress of a wealthy student who was left with an illicit child, Cosette the orphan child being raised by the exconvict who is ignorant of the whole, the Thenardier family who spend their whole lives stealing from people, Javert who is a police officer standing outside society to keep order, Marius the orphan and republican student and so on.

The person I want to look at here is Jean Valjean. He spent 19 years in jail for things he realized he was stupid to do, but is filled with rage and hate. When he is on parole he discovers society’s terror of him because he is an exconvict and while the bishop shows him love and mercy, he always retains this horror of himself. So while he successfully disguises his former identity as a prosperous mayor and factory owner, he lives in fear of his former self. He knows it exists within him, and no matter how many good deeds he does and no matter how virtuous he becomes he is always aware of who he is, Jean Valjean the exconvict. It does not matter that all he did was break a window and steal a loaf of bread when he was starving, he is an exconvict. As soon as people know who he is they are afraid of him and think he is awful. Yet, when they do not know who he is they recognize his saintly deeds and virtue and admire him.

There are several turning points where Valjean struggles with choosing the morally right thing, after his meeting with the bishop his conscience always overcomes and the choice always leads to him exposing his true self and being condemned by those who respect him. So naturally he is terrified of his exconvict self as well. No one seems to believe that an exconvict can be any good, that is until at the end one person knows his criminal history, but also all the good he has done. This person recognizes that he is a saint.

Jean Valjean represents the life of a saint. He has a conversion, turns from his old life, never does a wrong thing again and is constantly running from his former sins. He seeks the life of virtue and union with God, but is always aware of his sinful nature. He constantly condemns himself when he is already so good. He continues to find his weaknesses and overcomes them until he has completely abandoned himself to the point of physical death. I think this is how we are called to overcome our sins, to become more and more selfless so that we completely lose ourselves in God. We need to be horrified at our ability to sin and our past sins. Fortunately, God is much more forgiving than society, and we must run to him.

If we truly live the call to sainthood, we will be cast out of society like Jean Valjean was, though not in the same way. He was legally an outcast, but the way he lived also set him apart. He lived on the bare minimum and his only luxury was his love for Cosette, and when he lost her, he died. We also need something to flourish on, and Valjean says that this is love–without love the human soul dies, the human dies. So we must live the lives of saints with those whom we love and not fear the call to be outcasts. Tough stuff…

The Tragedy of Prof. St. Peter

I recently finished reading The Professor’s House by Willa Cather. I was on a Willa Cather kick after reading My Antonia while on vacation, and M. gave me two volumes of her writings for my birthday. I have read several other novels of hers about fairly normal people living the not so interesting life they happened to be in; this book was a bit different. It struck me as more tragic than the other stories I had read by her. Life did not always turn out as the people expected, yet they made the most of it, but Prof. St. Peter had a good successful life and then found it to be empty and became apathetic about it, choosing to not draw pleasure from life anymore. It’s like he committed suicide without actually killing himself, but just letting himself live as if he were dead.

In the novel he almost let’s himself die on accident and is saved by the Catholic lady who sews for his daughters and wife. He is intrigued by the way this woman lived. Augusta seemed to have more dreams for herself, but never made it beyond being a seamstress. She was a practical woman, devoted to those she served. On the last page of the book the professor goes through his depressing transformation:
“All the afternoon he had sat there at table where now Augusta was reading, thinking over his life, trying to see where he had made his mistake. Perhaps the mistake was merely an attitude of mind. He had never learned to live without delight. And he would have to learn to, just as in Prohibition country, he supposed he would have to learn to live without sherry. Theoretically he knew that life is possible, may be even pleasant, without joy, without passionate griefs. But it had never occurred to him that he might have to live like that.”

This is where he makes his tragic mistake, he looks to Augusta as an example of living life in this way without delights. For him this is what the Catholic life is like. Cather seems fascinated with Catholicism, but always emphasizes the sacrifices Catholics choose to make seeing them as a rejection of a pleasurable life. This seems to be the wrong view of Catholicism–she misses the beauty of sacramentality entirely. Her writing is very sacramental, but it seems she missed the point of it all–union with God. When one has union with God, it seems that life cannot be without pleasure (esp of the spiritual kind). Prof. St. Peter rejects the possibility of this union by choosing to be apathetic-lukewarm. And this my friends, is a tragedy.