Category Archives: Parenting

Team Hamstring

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So, on a completely different and personal note…

My son was part of a Flag Football League this year.   The last game was called off, and it was decided that it would be fun to have the team play against parents, coaches, and teachers.

My initial response was “This is not a good idea.”

My wife and son finally convinced me to play the game.

I am 48 years old, and I work at a desk.   I used to be a very good athlete.   Used to be.

Result:  Severely pulled hamstring.

But I was not alone.   Two other pulled hamstrings and a pulled calf muscle, and it was determined by more than just me that “maybe that was not a good idea.”

I’m on the mend, but it will be a few weeks before I can do any vigorous exercise.   Not that I did before.

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Moral Implications of Social Conformity

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The above video is fascinating.    It is also very revealing.

The experiment above is relatively benign.   But when i watched it, I couldn’t help but immediately tie the results into an answer to a question I have often asked myself:   “How could the acceptable standards of what is moral and what is not decline at the precipitous pace it has in the last few decades?”

We are all conditioned in many ways.   This doesn’t make us unthinking robots, but it is a natural part of our sense of community.    And I think God wired us that way so that we can condition ourselves rightly so that we can do good as a natural reaction without even thinking.   Of course, in a world where both good and evil resides, one can also be conditioned wrongly.

We need to take responsibility for our own conditioning, but it is without question that we are also greatly influenced by others, and we may not even realize it.    Parents try to form good habits in kids so that these kids just learn to do them.   Saying “please” and “thank you” is an act of conditioning.   I remember arguing with someone once about the value of doing simple things like opening the door for someone.   He argued that it wasn’t really “doing good” because it wasn’t so much an act of kindness or will as it was conditioning.   I argued that if someone cares enough to be conditioned or to have conditioned themselves to do a perpetually good thing that it doesn’t lose its value because you’ve made it a natural habit.  That’s ridiculous.

Unfortunately, as much as we’d all like to argue that TV, billboards, advertising, movies, music, etc. do not affect us, the reality is that it is probably nearly impossible to make that case.   Now, I will say that if you are morally grounded, confident in your faith, and resilient then it is entirely possible that you can consciously recognize when things are projecting their influence upon you, and it is more possible to ward off their impact.   But it would be silly to believe you cannot be influenced in the things you do, think, and believe by the culture and other influences around you.

And, truth be told, as God has been moved out of the public sphere and the minds of others, the moral code that people live by is a hodge-podge of ideas to start with.    So, now you start to introduce an acceptability to immodesty, different views on marriage, on sex, on violence, and so on can it really be as amazing as it seems to be that we’ve flipped our thinking upside-down on previously long-accepted ideas?

A perfect example of applying the concepts of the video above to the acceptance of cultural decay as something well and good is the typical University.   While there are some outstanding Catholic, Christian, and Conservative Universities we all know that these are exceptions.   It is a fact of the day that most Universities hold progressive views of what the rest of us see as cultural rot.   The administrations and faculty not only accept it themselves, but are open about it, promote it, and will in many cases shout down opposing opinions – ironically enough – in the name of tolerance.

If those who agree join in the vocalic of those positions while those who disagree stay silent, it will not take long for the pressure of conformity to kick in.   How many parents have lamented the fact that their “good kid” came back home after a year or two at school with all sorts of goofy ideas that go directly against the values they were raised with?    All those years, undone in nearly an instant.

As a parent, I watch this video, and I realize I need to share it with my kids and explain this very thing.    This happens not only with meaningless physical response, this is a very real and natural inclination.    Whenever your thinking and your beliefs are challenged and you seem to be standing alone, it still doesn’t mean that everyone else is right, or even makes any sense.   And they may not even know why they believe what they believe.

And on the flip side, this may be a good opportunity to evaluate whether or not any of us are accepting what we shouldn’t because it was just so easy to…

Tattoo or not Tattoo

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jesus-tattoo-by-dennis-wehler-728x868Let me lay all my biases out from the beginning:   This opinion comes from both a Catholic/Faith perspective, but also deeply on my own opinion of tattoos.   And I have yet to hear any argument that has convinced me that getting a tattoo – especially one of visual prominence – makes any sense whatever.   I think they are stupid, pure and simple.   I know that rankles people, but I have a right to my opinion.   So, I’m going to be evaluating the question from the perspective of someone coming from a good, Catholic, family who is debating the relative merits of getting a tattoo, but wanted to make clear my initial bias in this question.   I admit I will not be able to refuse my opinion of it from my personal bias, and actually I am not even going to try all that hard to do so, because quite honestly I think the reason I already feel that way (and always have) is because I did the more balance, honest evaluation of their merits years and years ago.

So, anyway, my wife has these occasional get-togethers with other homeschooling Catholic moms.   The families range in various sizes and in various stages of where they are in life.    Some have large families (8+ kids) with some kids already graduated and in adulthood, and it goes all the way down to those with a couple young kids just getting rolling.

Without exception, every family takes their faith life seriously, and it is important to them to pass on their Catholic faith to their children.   Of course, we all have our own approaches and styles, and one could debate the strategy of trying to make this happen all day long.  Ultimately, all this really tells me is that none of us our perfect and it shows the importance of relying on God all the more in our journey as parents.   One of my favorite little prayers to utter is “God, please help these kids turn out OK despite my own stupidity and laziness.”

One of the moms is struggling a bit because her 2nd oldest son has a couple tattoos.   And now the third one has a sizeable tattoo on his forearm and wants to get one on his other forearm.    She has tried to argue for why this isn’t a good idea, and as is typical of young men, they think they know better than their mom.    Now, these young men, to my knowledge, have not strayed in their Catholic faith, still find it important, and still practice it.   They do not see any conflict with the faith and getting a tattoo.

And this is where my opinion comes in.

First, let me be clear.    I do not think, nor will I suggest, that there is anything intrinsically evil or sinful with tattoos.   Like many things, the real question is a matter of what is driving someone to do something.   But I do think that someone really needs to be honest with themselves in evaluating why they want a tattoo if they are indeed considering one.   This shouldn’t be problematic – we really should do this with everything we do.  Why do a I want ten million dollars?   Because I want to give it away to the poor or because I want to have an easy life with little or no responsibility?   Most of us would fall somewhere in between those two extremes, and while most of us aren’t going to get ten million dollars it’s still a worthy mental exercise to go through an honest evaluation and promise yourself and God what it is you would plan to do with it if it ever happened.\

Here are my opinions and responses to some of the clever (or not so clever) arguments on the matter.

  • Argument: Getting a tattoo today is like getting your ear pierced years ago.   It has become much more accepted, and is not looked at as a big deal.    Full disclosure – I got my ear pierced in my college days.   I was in a rock band, admittedly liked the looks of it, and I did it.   I don’t even regret it.   I thought it looked cool.   There was no more motivation behind it than that.   But I am not being a hypocrite here, in my opinion, with that comparison.   Because even back then, I considered the questions, and even then there were people getting tattoos and doing all sorts of other things.    I knew and considered that at any time this was reversible.   I knew that at some point in my life, I may well consider the wearing of an earring silly or immature.    I knew I could take it out at any time if the situation called for it without needing to mask it.    It may or may not have been a dumb thing to do, and I may or may not have had other opinions of me diminished because of it, but the impact was minimal.    Also, I could switch it up for the right occasion – a simple stud for normal wear or something gaudier for a show, or nothing at all for a trip to the parents who I knew didn’t love it.    So, I get the comparison, and the social attitude may be comparable, but the reality of what you are doing is not comparable.
  • Argument: But <insert morally upright individual> has one, and if he has one, it can’t be all that bad!     In Catholic circles, the argument du jour is Father Stan Fortuna , who is a Catholic Priest with tattoos.    OK, this is always a stupid argument for many reasons, and I’ll address why.   Before I do, let me go on record as not intending in any way to disparage Father Stan Fortuna.   I honestly have no qualms about him doing what he does or having a tattoo – again, he knows why he does.    But whenever someone points to “a” person as the example among a sea of counterexamples, it is in no way an honest argument.   If you are truly going to make your life decisions based on the example of others, then you don’t look for exceptions to justify your own behavior.   You look for what the majority of people are doing that you admire and respect.   Exceptions are just that – exceptions.   And there’s a reason why they are exceptions.   Now, lest you think I am making an argument about just following the crowd, that’s misreading what I am saying.   Being a devout Catholic in and of itself is already not following the crowd.   But once you commit yourself, then you do want to follow the examples of other devout Catholics.    Most importantly, Venerables, Blesseds, Saints, and the other holy men and women we meet in our life should be very important role models, emulators, and mentors for us.   We should follow this crowd whenever the question is something that has a moral or spiritual component to it.    And in this case, the vast majority of examples in this group have not littered their body with tattoos.   Exceptions exist, of course.   But you have to acknowledge the predominant behavior and consider why that is the case.   And it is  a much stronger case.
  • Permanence Matters: My opinion.   But while young people don’t like to consider getting older or meeting other people or needing to be a good example for future children and all that, time moves quickly.   I’m 48 and I can still very clearly remember my high school and college days.   I remember how I thought about things, felt about things…   young people today have a difficult time thinking we can relate but I can tell you those youthful memories are very clear – we do get it.    I may think it’s stupid to color your hair pink, or pierce your nose, or wear some of the clothes you wear.   And I may argue why those things are stupid, and you may ignore me because I’m older and I don’t get it (even though I generally thought the same thing when I was young).    But ten years from now you won’t have that hair color any more, you probably won’t have the nose piercing, and you won’t be wearing those same clothes.   Because you’ll grow and mature and change the way you think, and for your own reasons decide that it’s time to move on from that experimentation.    But you ink a huge Eagle – or even a Cross – on your forearm or your back and it’s there forever unless you go through the agonizing and expensive experience of having it removed.    To not even rationally consider this element of getting a tattoo shows a lack of maturity and foresight, in my opinion.
  • Desecration of the Temple matters: OK, I want to reiterate that the heart is what matters.   And someone may really think and believe that they have a good reason for doing what they are doing.   And they may even think God likes them getting a religious tattoo.   But God still made you the way you are – without them.    Relating this to permanence, you are purposely changing yourself.    Others may disagree with me, but this smacks of someone thinking that they can improve upon what God has made you.    This isn’t trying to keep you healthy or fix a medical condition.   It’s fundamentally changing the intended design of who you are and how you were made.   Sure, it may be cosmetic in nature, but it’s also readily apparent for all to see.
  • Size matters: I am against all tattooing, but like all other things of questionable nature there is scale as well to consider.   If I see someone with a pierced nose, I may think it unnecessary and a bit silly, and I don’t really get the draw, but it’s not an overwhelming shock.    If I see someone with a nose, lip, eyebrow, and cheek pierced I am going to form an unfavorable opinion of that person in some way.   I try not to be judgmental, and I am not supposed to judge the heart, and I try my best not to.   But this person is also bringing a bit of this upon themselves by publicly mutilating their body.    My judgment isn’t really one about the salvation of the person.  It is more a general feeling that something is really missing in this person’s life that they are trying desperately to fill.    Others may go to other unfavorable thoughts of what that person might be like it.   And you can lecture as much as you want about that being wrong, but it is also human nature, and quite frankly it’s not 100% wrong.   We are given the discernment to separate out right from wrong and right things from wrong things.   Without even judging the heart of a person, I am not going to apologize for knowing that there is something wrong or problematic about the actual act and display of getting multiple piercings.   I will just try not to jump to conclusions about the person – though it can be very hard to separate the two.      Likewise, I could probably live with a small tattoo that may have some unknown personal meaning, but the more there are and the bigger they are is going to directly impact my first impression of you.   And as to the argument that it’s my problem and not yours, that’s dead to me.   Sure, any judgment may be my problem to an extent, but it’s also yours.   Whether endearing yourself to future in-laws, applying for work, making new friends, etc.  these things are all your problem.   And unless you never judge anyone for anything, you can’t expect others to act any differently.   And if nobody ever judges anything, then God help us all.

I could actually go on.   Believe it or not, there are still additional points I could make.   But I’ll leave it to this last thing:

  • Find older people in your Church who you know to be faithful people, who also have predominant tattoos. Get to know them and then ask them if they are glad they have them.     I have done this on a few occasions, and in most cases there is regret.   In some cases there is acceptance that they did what they did and it doesn’t bother them.    In no cases yet have I heard anyone thrilled to death about how great their tattoo is, and they’d do the same thing all over again, and only regret that they don’t have more.

 

Of course, I could be completely wrong.

Revisiting the Wood Tick Story

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When you embrace the idea of being a parent of a large family, you just accept that there will be plenty of stories to tell when it’s all over with.   Not all of these stories reflect well on you, but that’s usually what makes them funny.

This post was originally posted by me on a previous blog, but we are in the midst of tick season right now, and as a public service it is worth revisiting.   Don’t try this at home…

I am about to write a post that proves that a pair of college graduates – one of whom took his share of Chemistry, Physics, and other courses on the way to becoming an actuary – can do something so stupid that any reasonable person would ask “What were you thinking?” Believe me, if someone else had done it, I would be calling the other person an idiot. And therefore, for consistency’s sake, let me be the first to say to myself, “You are an idiot.”

With that out of the way, allow me to tell the true story of last Sunday evening. We had all had a long couple of days. Prayer time was finished and it was time for the tykes to get into bed. And then, the fateful words were uttered: “Alex has a wood tick in his head!”

Well, I have lived with ticks all my life, and it was not time to panic now. And so, my wife and I casually observed said wood tick. Sure enough, there it was, sucking the blood out of my eldest son’s head. Deep down, I was hoping it would suck out some of the thoughts that enter the kid’s brain from time to time, but I knew that was fantasy. I had to take care of the immediate problem at hand.

Well, my wife is generally proficient with the tweezers. Be it a sliver or a tick, when the tweezers come out, the kids scatter. But in the end, they are unable to escape the fate that belies them, and after a few screams along the lines of “You’re killing me!” my wife triumphantly raises the tweezers with the enemy foreign object, and screams her battle cry, “Oh, it wasn’t that bad!”

But this night would be different. The tick was in deep, and it had strategically burrowed itself in amongst numerous hair follicles. I believe the tick knew that this would cause immense pain to its victim when the victim’s mother would accidentally latch onto the surrounding follicles while trying to pull it out. In any case, the tweezers on this night were not doing the job.

It was time to explore the old wives tales.

My wife’s first suggestion was to light a match and hold it up to the tick. Apparently, the theory is that the tick is smart enough to feel the heat and try to escape by backing out. Now, we’re talking about an animal that burrows a hole into other living things, sucks blood until it’s so big it has to let go, and once it falls off it can’t move anywhere and lays around until it’s either crushed or eaten. Survival instinct just doesn’t appear to be high on the priority list.

I balked at the match idea, considering the fact that I would be holding a lit match near the head of my six year old son, who would most likely be diagnosed with ADHD if we ever concerned ourself with actually getting him looked at.

Instead, I moved onto the next brilliant wives tale. If you hold a bottle of alcohol over the tick, it will back out. I’ve been told it’s because it can’t breathe and the alcohol bothers them. Well, the first mistake was thinking that this kid would actually sit there and let me hold the bottle tight enough so it wouldn’t leak all over the place. After two minutes of hearing “You’re hurting me!” with a lot of corollary movement and rubbing alcohol having been sent flying everywhere, it was decided that this technique probably wouldn’t work anyway, but certainly wouldn’t work in our case.

Crying and doused in alchol, with wood-tick still engorged, the son is losing faith in his parents’ tick-fighting prowess.

All of our kids are witnessing this activity, save the four year old who fell asleep during prayer time, like he always does.

Now, here’s where the story gets ridiculous. And you will see it coming, and you’ll think, “Um… DUH!” or some variant thereof. As embarrassing as it is, I must go on.

My wife, frustrated at the stupidity in thinking this whole rubbing alcohol approach had any chance of working, and mad at herself for allowing me to talk her into the idea, says to me, “This is not working at all. Let’s try the match thing.” As a loving husband who wishes to please my wife, and desires to see my son tick-free, I eschew all sense of reason and all knowledge of all things science, and how one thing reacts with another, and I answer “Alright. Give me a match.”

Now, there was probably 10 seconds or so from the time I declared those words to the time that the lit match was approaching the tick. That should be enough time for someone who took two semesters of Organic Chemistry to remember that rubbing alcohol and fire are a great combination if you want to set your house on fire. They are not so great a combination if your desire is to not set your child on fire.

Unfortunately, all we could think of was getting that tick out. It blocked all other thoughts that were attempting to leap from synapse to synapse in a frenzy, attempting to pull back my hand and say “You fool! Don’t do this!” But they were too late. The match approached the tick. And then…

Poof! The entire back of my son’s head was in flames. Now, let me be clear here… within two seconds we had that flame out and it all happened so quick that there were no burns. But man, he freaked out – and rightly so. Screaming at the top of his lungs, he dove to the ground. The other kids also freaked. I lost track of my two daughters until they came charging towards Alex and doused him with water, which only freaked him out more. We yelled “What are you doing?” and they’re all like “He was on fire!”

Meanwhile, the tick was still enjoying its meal.

In the end, I called a nurse’s line, and explained about the tick and asked how best to get it out. I, um, forgot to relay the part about dousing my kid with rubbing alcohol and setting him on fire. Oops.

Anyway, she basically said you can forget about all these old wives tales. Just pull the thing out and hope for the best. Well, we did, and the head stayed behind. So, now we keep an eye on it and if we are unable to dig it out after the swelling goes down a bit, we’ll have to take him in and get it removed so it doesn’t get infected. [Edit: we never had to do that] It’s possible it will work out on its own, but we’ve heard that they often don’t. Yay. Unfortunately, we were unable to get it out without squeezing the body of it, which means some blood probably squirted into the wound. Now we have to watch for any indication of Lyme’s disease, as well, and get him treated if symptoms occur. [Edit:  Thankfully, no Lyme’s – though another child would contract it later on]

So let this be a lesson to you all. Not that you needed it, but never underestimate the stupid things you can do if the situation is just right. I’m still whacking myself in the head and asking how I could possibly have done such a stupid thing.

I guess it’s clear… I’m an idiot.

[Note: I now highly recommend a simple little device called a “Tick Twister.”   It works wonderfully, and has kept our children blaze-free for almost 9 years now.]

Dear God. Please Let me get through Prayer Time Without Killing Someone.

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Originally posted on http://digitaldiatribes.wordpress.com on March 6, 2007.

OK, so it’s not quite that bad…   Most of the time.  And I do not want to discourage anyone from having family prayer time.  In fact, just the opposite.  It is a good and rewarding thing.  The paradox is, you don’t realize until after the fact how good and rewarding it is, because when you have small children, it doesn’t feel like a well-oiled, grace-filled experience.  But there are moments of clarity where you say “OK, that’s really cool.”   In particular, when they start asking questions and real conversation evolves.

Every night, our family gathers in the living room for prayer time.  It’s the pre-bed ritual, which means the kids know that the longer they can put off prayer time, the later they can stay up.  And since they know they go to bed after prayer time, there is no incentive to cut it short, either.   At least the older daughters have this all figured out.  The boys still have the attention span of an ADD-ridden gnat, and so there is not a lot of logic to be found with their behavior.

We started this long enough ago that it’s a given by now.  It has become a beautiful routine that I truly believe brings our family together.  This is done through supernatural means, though, because I am no help in the matter.  I’m impatient with demonstrations of less-than-perfect piety, which means I am perpetually disappointed in someone’s less-than-perfect performance during prayer time.  Believe me, I am not bragging here.   Countless times I have called myself a less-than-perfect loser for making this more stressful than it need be.  I tried praying for patience, but I gave up, because God wasn’t responding fast enough.

Our ritual is this:  Read a blurb about the Saint of the Day – at this point, the 3 year old is fluffing a pillow and either the 2 year old or the 5 year old or both have received their first warning regarding some randomly unacceptable behavior; Read a Chapter from the Bible (we have just started Ecclesiasticus) – at this point, the 3-year old is settled in and very comfy and the five year old has been moved to a different location where he will stop causing trouble; During most of the year, we say a decade or two of the Rosary on most nights (It takes approximately two Hail Marys for the 3-year old to be out cold and another 3 Hail marys before all prayer has been stopped and some punishment has been doled out: 90% chance it’s the five year old), and once or twice a week we’ll say the whole Rosary.  During Lent we are doing the entire Rosary each night as a family, with an occasional Divine Mercy; We have a special little prayer to end abortion, and then finally we always end with a prayer to the Sacred Heart (since we enthroned our family to the Sacred Heart a couple years ago).  At the end of that prayer we do a Litany of Saints.  The three at the end of the prayer are the Immaculate Heart of Mary; St. Joseph, Protector of the Christian; Our Guardian Angels and Patron Saints.  For good measure, these favorites are usually added:  the Saint of the Day, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, St. Francis of Asissi, St. Francis Borgia, St. Odilia, St. Gerard, St. Jude, St. Lucy, St. Peregrin and whatever stikes our fancy at the time.  Thanks be to God, the five year old enjoys doing the Litany!

All this is wonderful, and I cannot express enough the importance of praying together as a family.

Now, if only I would listen to my own advice, and realize the joy of it while it’s happening.  I admit to getting too focused on behavior, and quite honestly I question the example I am setting.  Saying the Rosary should not be a blood-pressure elevating experience, for the love of Pete (whoever this Pete guy is…)

I have talked to other parents about their prayer time.  Some do less, some do more.  Everyone will gravitate to their own comfort zone over time.  When we started, we never did the Rosary, instead doing a number of other prayers.  After we were enthroned, we decided to stick with at least a partial Rosary every night. 

Prayer can be a challenge.  If you are not praying as a family yet, I highly recommend that you start somewhere.  Dive in!  Start small, with a greater goal in mind.  Once the routine of just gathering and doing it is firmly established and habitual, it’s much easier to do a little extra.  Pick prayers the whole family enjoys, or have everyone say a few words, or try the Rosary (with little kids, the Divine Mercy may be perfect – it doesn’t take near as long and even little kids pick up on it’s simplistic, yet powerful, prayer).   And I think it’s really a good idea to start reading the Bible together, as well, at least at some point.   Don’t take on so much that it seems unsustainable.  God will meet you where you are.  You’ll figure something out.  You’re smart people.

And, if you’re questioning the value of prayer at those times where you just don’t “feel” like praying, when you are going through the motions, etc.   I offer this consideration:  sure, it’s easy to pray when you feel like it.  It’s easy to pray when you get some direct benefit (a feeling of closeness to God, a petition for a desperate cause, or simply a feel-good emotional high of some sort that “raises the spirit”).  That is a good thing, to benefit.  But prayer is not really about you.  It’s primarily about God.  A relationship demands committment.  I personally believe that the prayers that God values most are those prayers we say when we force ourselves to take the time out, even when we have no emotional desire to do so.  It shows commitment, and it requires discipline.  I hold myself up as not a great example in this regard.  I am weak.  Would it not be for the commitment we have as a family, I have no doubt that I would not consistently follow through with my obligation.  Sad, but true.  I need His assistance with this on a constant basis.  We all need to buckle down and just do it!  (I hope using a shoe’s advertising slogan hasn’t cheapened the message.  At least I used an expensive shoe.)

 And while you’re at it, feel free to pray for me!