Gently, gently 

My sister and I, mid 1980s.

So, like a bird on a wire, etc (RIP Leonard), I have tried, in my way, to be free of the painful legacy of abuse that’s been passed down, generation to generation, in my family. It hasn’t been easy and I haven’t been entirely successful, but I have managed to raise a few kids that aren’t afraid of me. 

Oh, sure, they might be afraid that the Xbox may actually get sold on Craigslist if they continue to let the dirty laundry moulder in their bedrooms, but not actually afraid that I am going to intentionally try to hurt them if they talk back or step out of line. When frustrated, I may make an idle threat to beat them with a belt, but they take it about as seriously as my threats to send them to the circus. Mom is obviously in need of caffeine and a couple Advil, you might want to avoid her.

For some families, that sort of fear-based discipline is their ideal and they are right now muttering darkly about disrespect and sparing the rod. For some families, they’re just horrified that anyone could ever hurt a child. For the rest of us, who knew good and well that failing to clean up your room or sassing your momma would mean a belt across your bottom at the least, it is a painful decision of another sort. Do you reject the way your own parents disciplined you? Do you inflict the same punishments on your own children, even knowing how much they hurt and how much damage they did to your relationship with your parents?

My children are not afraid of me, but that’s not the entire point of trying to raise them gently. They don’t flinch when I raise my hand, but they’re also not afraid to talk to me. And that, ultimately, has been the true reward for all the times when I wanted to just do the simple thing and smack them for any of the bazillion things they’ve done to annoy me. 

Because, let’s be honest, a lot of that “discipline” is just the parent venting their frustration. A child doesn’t deserve punishment for minor accidents like spilling milk, or for getting answers wrong to questions, or for being in the way when they’re not wanted around. To smack the child is to take the easy way out, to not actually deal with your own issues. And it breeds distrust and distance between parent and child. 

Not that my kids are some kind of paragons of virtue who made it easy on me, but the longer that I have tried to control my temper, the more it’s made me aware of all the other stuff going on in my children’s lives. When they’re not afraid of you, they can be honest. They can include you in their lives to a much lgreater extent. You never know all the secrets and all the stories, but you know a heck of a lot more than what my peers and I shared with our parents. 

There’s a downside, of course. When you do make up punishments, you have to be extra diligent about following through with them, otherwise you’ll seem ineffectual. But you also have to punish them less, anyway. If you can just be gentle with them and allow them the autonomy and respect that any human deserves, you’ll be surprised how very human, and humane, they are.  

It’s difficult to explain this when making up an IEP plan for your handicapped child, though. They always ask “what punishments do you use?” And I am always hard pressed to answer. If she makes a mess, she has to clean it up? If she is physically rough towards someone, she has to go to her room until she calms down. Really bad behavior might mean having her computer privileges taken away for an hour or two. I never know what they expect me to do– how do you punish someone who doesn’t understand your society, anyway? 

If you think about it, though, isn’t that the issue with all little humans? They just don’t understand our social rules yet. For some, like our autistic brethren, they may never quite “get” them. I never could see the point of whipping someone when what they need is compassion and instruction. It’s just anger being expressed, more than anything else. And there are usually better ways to get your point across. 

It’s difficult and I am not perfect. But I hope my grandchildren never have to fear a raised hand from their parents, and that they learn love and peace at home so they can spread it throughout the world.  

Progress, for a change 

So, I have been reading a lot this week. I took a couple of months off during the spring, which forced me to abandon my annual Goodreads reading challenge and my stated goal of reading 120 books thus year. That was painful, as part of my “I am managing quite well, thank you” identity is based on being able to read quickly and thoughtfully. 

But I had realized that reading a hundred and twenty ordinary novels a year was not actually making me happier or healthier or a better person. Mostly, the books were forgettable and I have little recollection of a large percentage of them. It was basically a substitute for watching television and not any more memorable than most episodes of a typical tv show. 

So, I stopped reading junky novels and I am happier. My to-read pile is monumental, however, so I am working hard to whittle it down.

I read Virginia Woolf’s first novel, Mrs Dalloway. It was actually very moving, mostly because I know that she eventually lost her battle against bipolar disorder and drowned herself in the river near her home. The interwoven stories of the various people in the book are interesting, and her style is just so sharp and bright that it makes the other postmodern hero, Joyce, seem like a conceited ass. I liked Mrs Dalloway very much.

The other novel I finished, A House for Mr Biswas, by V S Naipaul, was a good deal more difficult to love. It’s so episodic, and the main character such an unlikable jerk, that I had to read it in chunks. I think it’s an important work in terms of exploring the notion of mortality and family and the purpose of life, but it is not a book for the typical reader. Most people will quit long before the 650 pages are finished. I know, I quit it several times myself before finally pushing through to the end! I will probably go on to read more by Naipaul, however, as this book is supposed to be the only one with this weird structure. In the end, and interesting book, but maybe not a great one.

Next up is finishing Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence. I am about 2/3 of the way through it and it’s been a powerful experience so far. I think I would have finished it earlier if not for reading the Woolf novel, because Lawrence’s very elaborate, elegant, and slow images just were too much to handle after Woolf’s crisp style. 

Anyway, back to the fray. I think I will go in for something lighter after this, maybe Saul Bellow. I think reading Henry James right after Lawrence would be too much.


So, I have been updating my reading lists and found out that I am 27 titles short of finishing the Modern Library Top 100 novels list. 

I am going to try to make it through the list. I may not finish a few of them– Stegner’s Angle of Repose comes to mind– but I have learned a lot from working my way through the list. I may learn more if I finish it.

One thing that I have found, however, is that their particular list misses out on a ton of amazing literature. So, I have begun working through a list some Norwegians made by polling world class authors worldwide. It’s a much richer list, packed with books I have never even heard of before as well as plenty of Dostoyevsky and whatnot. I feel happy to have a new source for books to add to my unending to-read list. But, first, to finish those 27!

What I did wrong last year 

So, it’s that time of year, where the siren song of new curriculum is wooing the homeschooling mom with visions of educational bliss. And, sadly, also the time where you look at what you did in the previous year and grimace at your failures. My failures for the year are pretty simple, and I hope to avoid them next year. 

  1. I didn’t buy nearly enough school supplies in advance. It’s no fun to run out of markers and glue and have to pay the terrible non-sale price for replacements. This fall, I am going to buy crayons and markers by the case.
  2. I didn’t push through on bad days and get the basics done. We took a lot of days off for sickness and doctor visits and such, for me and their siblings both, which put us way behind on grammar and math. We’re still catching up. Next year, we will be doing the three basic subjects every day unless the kids are sick themselves. 
  3. I pushed my 6 year old too quickly and we ended up butting heads over everything. Stress on both of us. This year, I think he is ready for reading and math, but I will not push the extras if he can’t handle them. I want him to enjoy learning. 
  4. We didn’t do enough fun science! More science, all the time.
  5. We didn’t spend enough time outside. More time outdoors!

I think this year will be better. I am excited. And Amazon is just waiting for my money, hah.

The Summer of Movies

So, waaay back in September of last year, I mentioned that I wanted to finish watching the AFI’s Top 100 movies.

OK, since then, I have watched exactly 1 movie off the list, Taxi Driver.

In order to rectify this huge oversight, I am declaring this to be the Summer of Movies. We already watched “Jaws” this week– one of our summer traditions is to scare the bejeezus out of the kids so they won’t stray too far at the beach. It’s not an official traditional thing but, boy, it makes that first dip in the ocean more spine-tingling.

Anyway, I am going to use my poor lonely Twitter account to post updates on our magical summer of Movies and greasy popcorn, which is the only type worth eating. It’s lifesacuresong if you’re interested in following along.

See you there.

This Mom business

So, I have a new pet peeve. And it’s something I have done myself (see blog title.) Yes, this focus on motherhood, how we define our entire selves through that one aspect of our lives. I am tired of the mommy ghetto. I am tired of being simultaneously typecast and dismissed by virtue of my fertility.

And, boy, is that ironic for someone who has seven kids.

Because, of course, motherhood informs every aspect of my life, my thinking, and my philosophy. Once you have that first infant in your trembling arms, you have a choice– do I step up to the plate and start playing the parenting game in earnest, or do I just shrug it off and go on as if nothing has changed? I have seen the same person make a different decision for different offspring or at a later date for one child, so it’s not a one time offer. But it’s a qualitatively different experience than staying childless. I am sorry, but obtaining a puppy does not work the same on the human psyche. I have obtained puppies and children and they’re vastly different. Trust me on this.

Motherhood is not always a transformative experience, but it should be. It can make you a better person, more concerned about the injustices of the world, more sympathetic to others. Or, you know, it can turn you into a teary nervous wreck obsessed with the bowel movements of a newborn. Sometimes both.

Sometimes, *ok, most times*, one’s childless friends and relatives don’t see the transformation in a positive light. All they see is that their once-freewheeling friend is suddenly boring and unduly interested in crock pot recipes. They don’t want to hear a play-by-play of your toddler’s toilet training, or anything else, really– what happened to adult conversation? They notice the huge increase in your environmental footprint due to all those plastic items that are now cluttering up your home, not to mention diapers and wipes and little squeeze pouches of applesauce. The finer points of how a parent’s perspective on politics, the environment, and the future all change are lost in the constant flood of cute baby pics on Instagram.

So, it’s easy to dismiss us. Moms are boring. Moms are lame. Our brains are eaten up with petty concerns. What style, panache, or intelligence we may have once had, well . . . we are moms. Everyone has one, goodness, and how uncool was she!

And we play into it, on mommy blogs and Facebook and Twitter. The Mommy Wars are so brutal these days that you can’t express an opinion on parenting  without being harassed and subject to the vicious judgements of other people *with or without children. So most moms either try to channel a sort of neutral Mary Poppinsesque cheerfulness or a droll sarcastic tone with an emphasis on the daily wine consumption that allows them to cope.

All of which misses the point I was aiming for– while being a mother has changed my perspective over the years, I am still a conscious, intelligent, and passionate person in my own right. It is undoubtedly easier for me to say that, as I never had a life as an adult without children. I never experienced the loss of some previous childfree life, lived for however many years or decades. I have had to just go on about the business of living while dragging along my little band of miscreants.

Anyway, I think it limits one when we make these blogs and whatnot with a focus on the motherhood aspect of our lives. Men, ehhhh. There’s not enough of a Daddy Blogger cohort to really make the same argument. In my experience, men have blogs and careers and lives and they can mention that they have kids, even write about their kids and parenting experiences, without being dismissed as “just another dad.” Sure, you’re not going to write many articles about it for GQ or Maxim or Esquire, but the guy bloggers I see can and do argue about pretty much any topic without pause. If a Mommy does that, well, her audience will just be baffled. Where’s the freezer recipes for yet another way to use chicken breasts? Where’s the lament about the laundry? Where’s the *kids*?

So, I guess I am a failure at Mommy Blogging, but I have been failing at that for 18 years so, whatever. I’m probably going to switch back to using my oldest blog name, Scattershot Thought, since that describes what I do better.

It’s just so stupid. I am a mother. I live for my children. But they’re not all of my life, especially not my inner life and thoughts. I don’t want to pretend that I am not a mother but I don’t want someone’s impression of me to be “ah, just another mom talking about diaper brands and minivans.” So, what’s the right thing to do? Either way, it’s not perfect. I am tired of describing myself first as a mother, but it remains the best thing in my life. But is that the first thing I am? Am I not, first and foremost, a human, a creature living in relation to the creator? (Another pitfall– mentioning religion.) So. Yes. Life’s just filled with strange compromises.

I shouldn’t think out loud. That seems to be the only real takeaway from this. Hah.





Title: what, I have to title this random update?

So, I have been neglecting the blog. Not exactly unusual for a blog. I had good intentions. The switch from using a computer to using a smartphone, however, has been terrible for almost every activity that I used to enjoy. I just can’t do much on a phone.

My current ambitious plan is to get a new computer, with which (one hopes) I could do all those things that I planned to do originally. I don’t even want anything fancy, just something that will run a few open browser tabs and a word processing program. Oh, and Spotify. I am dying from a lack of music in the house. Headphones do not cut it. I am one of those people who has to have the bass speaker make the glass in the windows rattle.

So, yes. I am alive. And, oddly enough, hopeful. I am still learning about life. I am 42 and I probably should feel like I have it all figured out, but every day seems to have a lesson in it for me. They have been hard lessons this year. I was hoping that this year would be easy, but, yeah, that didn’t happen. Oh well.

So, any votes for what I should blog about?

Advent means preparing. .

And I am sadly still unprepared. Oh, spiritually, we aren’t doing badly– I made it to Reconciliation with the boys, we have been praying our special Advent prayers around the wreath each night, and even on days when homeschooling is a sad little afffair, we have been reading our chapters in their religion texts. It’s not perfect but it is progressing.

Commercially, I am a total loser. Only a single DVD and a lone cd are stashed in my closet. With seven offspring expecting presents, this could get a little messy.

I have been battling an extra dose of pain every day since the week before Thanksgiving, which cut my maternal effectiveness in half. Right now, we are hoping it is just reactive arthritis from some stray virus. The other options are icky– rheumatoid arthritis or lupus or something in that mode. Still waiting on lab results.

I’m hopeful, though. I’m better. I managed to hoist my giant cast iron Dutch oven into the oven today, full to the brim with pork and beans and other bits that will, please, form a tasty feijoada in a couple hours. I couldn’t heft the turkey on turkey day, so it is an improvement.

So, anyway, I am pushing the boys to get caught up with their schoolwork. At this stage, that means that I am reading aloud for hours but the results are pleasing so far. Their handwriting is a horror story but intelligent, interesting, analytical thought is peeking out here and there.

I am starting to press the 8 year old Ninja to write his responses more, but it’s a struggle with his joint laxity. I’m going to buy some various pencil grips on Amazon and see if those help. It’s no fun to be your own occupational therapist but the only other option is dealing with the school district. After fighting with this particular bunch for the past nine years, you can guess how appealing that sounds.

Ok, someone has to cook the rice to go with my authentic peasant version of feijoada. It’s totally authentic in that I threw in whatever pork products I could find with some black beans and hoped for the best, as generations of peasant cooks have done. I will update again soon. Honestly. I got a new phone but only installed the app today. My actual computer is now in our schoolroom and lost to me. I should have seen that coming . . ..

Winding up the year

So, the Catholic year begins with Advent, which is fast approaching.

I’m not ready for it. I’m not ready for anything. I’ve spent the past month just trying to stay alive, pretty much literally. I’ve been fighting off so many infections that I’m just barely hanging in there most days. My anemia is still pretty bad. So, all the wondrous things I had planned for the year are still just dreams and wishes instead of accomplished facts.

I guess staying alive is more important than staying up with your weight loss goals or your Goodreads goals or your blogging or NanoWriMo or your exercises or your home decor. It’s just that, when the surviving bit is over with, you’re still stuck with all the unrealized hopes and dreams. I’m 27 books from making my Goodreads goal, for example, and with only 6 weeks left in the year, it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that I’m not going to finish it in time. Bummer.

But, hey, I’m still upright! This is a good thing. If I manage to send Christmas cards or catch up on my voicemail or finally return that last library book that’s a month overdue, I’ll be doing quite well.

Ohhhh what a month

So, yeah, no posts so far this month. I can tell you why in one word: chaos.

I’ve been sick– over and over– basically since my Viking went to band camp in August. This week, I’ve really got it bad– a new respiratory virus on top of a chronic cough left over from the last one. Soooo . .. my lungs are full of gunk and my sinuses are plugged with gunk and there’s entirely too much gunk to go around.

Add to that the Quest to Get Miss Autism’s Teeth Fixed and you have a recipe for disaster. In order to have her teeth fixed, she had to have a power of attorney given to me and my husband. The surgery center didn’t want to proceed without one. In order to get a power of attorney, you have to get a notary to sign off on it. In order to get a notary to sign something in Texas, you have to have an official state id card or a driver’s license. In order to have one of those, you have to have a bunch of paperwork to prove who you are, then go to the driver’s license bureau that’s on the north end of town.

So, after the initial trip to the dentist, I had to find all those papers (which meant I had to gut our entire filing system and go through months of old paperwork.) Then I had to take Miss Autism out of school and to the DMV. Except we were missing proof of residency papers. Oops. Didn’t mention THOSE on the webpage where it listed the papers you needed. So, another day (since that day wore me out as it was), then another trip to take her out of school and down to the DMV and waiting for that. Then we had to take her to the doctor for a physical to make sure she was healthy enough for the anesthesia while waiting for the DMV to send her new id card.

Finally, they sent that, so I had to take her and all the little boys to the notary, which was a long process in itself. Then after that was done and the papers in hand, I had to force her through the “no eating or drinking after midnight” thing, then take her to the surgery center, then get through the whole mountain of paperwork for that, then endure the waiting and the recovery process. Miss Autism was terribly nervous and didn’t want to cooperate, but she did go along with it despite her misgivings. She was REALLY good for the IV placement and once that was in, we were gold.

Recovery was rough– she ate 3 popsicles and drank 2 12oz cans of Dr Pepper– mostly because she was VERY VERY upset about how many of her teeth had to be capped with stainless steel crowns. Since she is a tooth-grinder with a long history of eating wood and metal and hard plastic, she’s done a number on her teeth. But, after a couple bad days of acting out, she’s settled down and seems to have gotten over the initial shock. It has to help that her teeth are fixed and won’t be giving her any more pain.

But, after all that, this cold has just set me back badly. We struggled along with school last week in a lame way– not much got done by the Ninja, but he did manage his math and religion, and nothing got done by the Tank since he was sick all darn week. This week has been a total wash so far. I may have been able to get something done but the school sent Miss Autism home with “pinkeye” that absolutely is fiction. Once we had to go pick her up and then deal with her frustrated “I want to be at school” behaviors all day, homeschooling was not going to happen. I’m hoping to be actually less sick tomorrow so we can at least do the important stuff– math, phonics, religion, maybe a little history. Maybe I won’t be hacking up a lung for hours on end, who knows.

The weather hasn’t broken yet– these are supposed to be our big rain months but it’s dry as a bone and still in the mid-90s during the day. I just want this crap to be OVER with. I want to be well and I want the weather to be cooler and I want to be able to do the things I want to do with the boys– hiking and picnics and zoo trips and nature study.

I’ve managed to get a few things done despite everything– the Bear’s bedroom renovation is essentially done, all I need to do is sort her little knicknacks and move the storage boxes out of her corner, maybe find a cute picture to hang on her wall in one or two blank spots. Other than that, though, it’s finished– the closet painted and decorated, the linens all changed out, new rugs put in, all the junk sorted. The house is mostly decorated for Halloween. A lot of our books have been packed away, so the house looks less cluttered. It’s getting better. I’m just not where I want to be yet . . . Christmas is so close and the house is still icky. I need to paint a lot of stuff and clean a lot more. So much work . . ..

Well, I’m going to concentrate on getting well. Once I do that, the sky is the limit.