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Archive for March, 2008

Two articles, appearing on the same page with the heading “Little Darlings” in the weekend edition of the National Post, provided me with much food for thought.

The first article, which originally appeared in the Daily Telegraph, is written by someone who has tokophobia, which is defined as a “profound dread and avoidance of childbirth” and identified in 2000 in the British Journal of Psychiatry as a medical condition. Apparently, there is one in six women who is tokophobic. Although the article mentions that even today few people know about it, it asserts that “there must be tens of thousand of sufferers”. I remember anticipating childbirth every time I have been pregnant. I always told my husband that I must suffer from pre-natal amnesia because I could not seem to remember well enough what went on during labour and delivery. I think that must have been something in my brain trying to block out exact memories that would cause me to be overly frightened. But of course, the fact that I couldn’t seem to remember exactly how it was didn’t really do much to calm my nerves. I was always a little nervous. Of course, once the action started (that is, labour pains, contractions and the whole bit), the fog would start to lift from my mind. I started to remember. The truth is, even for an experienced mom like myself, it can be pretty frightening.

My children have asked me, at different times and during different pregnancies, if giving birth is painful. I’ve always strived to tell them the truth, without necessarily going into one graphic detail after another. As I gesture around my growing tummy to show them how big the baby is and will most likely get, I tell them that giving birth does hurt and I cry out a lot — but that once the baby comes out, that is the most important thing. I tell them that the pain of childbirth is worth it because the baby is finally there. I tell them this, not because I want to sugarcoat the truth, but because it is the absolute truth.

One part in the article really got me thinking, though. Very close to the end, the author writes:

I’ve often wondered how many parents would admit (if it was guaranteed that their answer would never be revealed) that they’d rather not have had children. I’ve seen a girlfriend beg to be committed to a psychiatric ward when her lack of bonding with her newborn was not taken seriously.

It saddened me that this woman who did not bond immediately with her newborn was not reassured that this was not abnormal. When my sixth child was born, I remember being so tired after having pushed so hard to get her out that when the nurse triumphantly held the baby up towards me with a joyful, “It’s a girl!”, all I could gasp out was, “When can I eat?” (I did so enjoy the first meal I had after that delivery……) The child I gave birth to then is now nearly seven years old and I do not love her any less than my other children just because I asked for food before I asked to hold her. Feelings are so much a part of human experiences — but they need not be the most important part of a person’s life. They are so fickle, after all.

And speaking of food — the second article is entitled, “The birth dearth shows kids not all that rewarding”. That pretty much sums up what the article is about too. This from the article:

According to Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist whose specialty is happiness, people don’t really enjoy rearing children.

“Economists have modelled the impact of many variables on people’s overall happiness and have consistently found that children have only a small impact. A small negative impact,” Gilbert says. He cites research that found people derive more satisfaction from eating, exercising, shopping, napping or watching television than taking care of their kids.

“Indeed, looking after the kids appears to be only slightly more pleasant than doing housework,” he writes in his best-selling [book] “Stumbling on Happiness”.

Mr. Gilbert further notes that the more children people have, the less happy they tend to be. I am sure that Mr. Gilbert is not a Harvard psychologist with a recognized specialty in happiness and author of a best-selling book for nothing. But I do wonder what someone like me is supposed to do now. Should I despair? Will I ever be happy? After all, a person with eight kids has got be in pretty bad shape!

Seriously, after all the hard work of labour and delivery, childbirth results in my having a new baby and a huge appetite afterwards. As much as I love my children, when I’m famished it is a nice, full meal that does satisfy me. But let’s get it straight: the food satisfies my hunger; it doesn’t fulfill a heartfelt desire to be happy.

I think it’s very important for us to really figure out what true happiness is all about. Even in suffering, in pain and sickness, in death, in hardship and sacrifice, happiness can be found. The problem with basing happiness on very transient and temporal things is that it cannot last. It is fleeting and can be superficial. True happiness is profoundly more than just a sum total of life experiences that satisfy one physically, professionally, emotionally or mentally. In my life, I have found happiness when I wasn’t necessarily looking for it. Rather, happiness found me when I thought of and took care of others. As trite as it may sound, it is true: I am happiest when I love.

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Hard Knocks

For a lot of people, this whole “suffering and death thing” is so passé — old-fashioned and to a certain extent inappropriate for any sort of modern or sophisticated conversation. They are topics cloaked in gloom and doom, relegated to the very farthest corners of the attic of one’s existential awareness. A lot of people wouldn’t mind pretending these things are not real and that they’ll never have to deal with them. The problem with this kind of thinking is — sooner or later — it comes back to bite.

Real life is not without its ups and downs, and one’s suffering will almost certainly not come in the form of scourging, a crown of thorns or being nailed to a wooden cross. A modern dictionary defines suffering as “experience or be subjected to (something bad or unpleasant)”. Whether it be physical, mental, emotional, within or outside of ourselves, anything that causes us to have a difficult, troublesome, annoying, irritating, miserable, hateful or dreadful incident or situation can be said to make us suffer. Think about it: in the course of a single day, I am almost certain you can come up with at least ten things that annoy or irritate you. Let’s see……

  1. Having to wake up and get out of bed when it is so much nicer to stay warm and cosy under the sheets.
  2. Having to wake someone up repeatedly because they won’t get out of bed and you know they’ll be late for school/work.
  3. Having prepared breakfast for someone who rushes out the door without eating because they don’t have time for breakfast.
  4. Dealing with rush hour traffic.
  5. Trying to merge onto another lane when other drivers don’t seem to be able to notice (or care) what you are trying to do even after you’ve put your signal light on.
  6. Having some driver tailgate you.
  7. Driving behind a very (very, very) slow driver.
  8. Having another driver cut you.
  9. Getting to your destination only to find out there is no parking spot available. Not a single one.
  10. Checking your email inbox and seeing that you need to sift through what must be 100 spam messages and/or 50 (or so….) forwarded email messages promising untold of riches if you only forward the same emails to 15 of your very closest friends.

That is, by no means, a list that comes close to even being complete — it’s only a beginning. But these little pinpricks of the day come to us and at us during many different moments of our life. How we deal with these pinpricks defines our attitude and outlook on life. If these little things that annoy, irritate and cause a bother are enough to ruin our mood or day, make us feel desperate or the situation hopeless — well what then do we do when something quite serious or major happens to us? Serious illness, financial setback, loss of a job, marriage trouble, a sudden death in the family: these are just some of the problems that can crop up without warning. If we do not or will not bear up to those little annoyances we encounter in our ordinary lives, how can we think to hold up against the challenges that a major difficulty can bring?

One of the best talks I ever heard was on how to teach our children the value of suffering. We do not want our children to grow up like marshmallows that cannot take the hard knocks that life deals them. A child that never has to deal with disappointment or failure never knows how it feels to fall or lose. Even the topic of death should not be off limits to our children because it is a part of life — their life too — that they need to come to terms with. We want our children to develop a spirit of resilience so that they will not be worn down by adversity or shun it when it comes along. We want them to know the truth and to live in it. We want them to love life but not live in fear of suffering because they know how to deal with it: by our example, by their experience and with a great deal of faith and hope.

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The Sound of Silence

At about two o’clock this afternoon, I will start off on a five-and-a-half-hour drive to Coteau du Lac in Quebec for my annual retreat. It is something I look forward to every year. And as I was explaining to my 12-year old son, it is something I not only want to do — it is something I truly feel I need to do.

Do you not ever feel as if you can barely hear yourself think? What with all the noise and sounds that make up our everyday life, it can be pretty difficult to find that moment of silence to reflect and ponder about life. What for, you might ask? Well, if we consider your life to be a journey of sorts, there are times when you and I must stop to rest, look around and think. Are we still on the right track? Have we fallen behind or gotten distracted? Did we take a wrong turn somewhere along the way? Are we moving too fast? Are we moving too slow? Have we been taking care of ourselves?

Call it a spiritual pit stop, if you will. We get off the highway of ordinary life that has a posted speed limit of a multi-tasker’s nightmare. We remove ourselves from the buzz and noise that we and others make in order to give ourselves a chance to hear the sound of silence. If you’re not used to it, it can actually be deafeningly loud. A sudden silence can shout out the absence of physical activity and perpetual motion. Many are not used to it. In fact, there are those who can bear “silence” only with some music quietly playing in the background. There is this need for others to fill this void that can be scary for those who are not used to it.

What does silence sound like? I suppose it is different for each person. For me, silence sounds like a breath of life slowly taken in and calmly blown out. It is the many familiar gestures of care and affection that go unnoticed. It is the rhythmic beating of a heart, unseen but felt. Silence sounds like the echoes of a life filled with laughter and tears, ups and downs and many things in between. It is the wordless prayers that form, almost unconsciously, on my lips.

A period of silence allows me to take a good look at my life and what I have done with what I have been given. It is not forced; rather, it is a choice I willingly make. The human being, regardless of religion, race or gender, is composed of body and soul. We spend an enormous amount of time and energy taking care of our physical bodies, to the point of indulgence at times. In the process, we often overlook that essential part of the person that, in fact, lives on even after our mortal bodies die.

In a sense, I could say my retreat is like a spiritual spa for my soul. I go in order to strengthen and refresh my spirit; to renew and refill my spiritual reserves. I am eager to go because I know how much I need this. I am a wife and a mother, firstly, and my family stands to benefit from what I gain at the retreat. The silence with which I surround myself will allow me to hear what my Father wants me to hear. The silence affords me the chance to talk to my Father in confidence and with great love, without rushing off to do this and that. This is my precious time with Him.

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There Snow Place Like Home

There are piles and mounds of the white stuff all over the place: in front of houses, in backyards, on the sidewalks, parking lots and on the sides of the roads. I spent about two hours in total yesterday shoveling the stuff off the ground into ever-growing mounds of old snow which is now more like crunchy, hard ice. I also spent a good deal of time on a step stool beside our full size tan van brushing the snow off the roof with a broom. It is a blue broom that stands taller than me and is quite a neat tool for getting the snow off the our van. I have to confess: I was kind of embarrassed to use it at first. After all, who uses a broom to clear snow of a vehicle? Well, I realized, I guess we do, especially when the vehicle happens to be a 12-seater van!

That was yesterday. Today, the weather forecast for the next few days looks like this:

weather-forecast.png Sigh. Great, more of the same, I thought, imagining the great fun (sarcasm is creeping in at this point…) I would have trying to reach up and across the roof of the van to push the snow off. And where else could I possiby put the snow that would be shoveled off the ground? The mounds of snow were getting so high, it was getting more difficult to add onto it.

But —

The snow is here because it snows in winter in this part of Canada. Our family has been in this country for eight years and eight months. Four of the children were born here. We came as immigrants and are now citizens of this great country that we live in. I think of the many friends we’ve made over the years and I realize how blessed we are to be where we are right now. I’ll take the snow and be happy about it.

And —

The full size, 12-seater tan van that sits in our driveway came into our lives on September 14, 2005, the day my husband brought it home from the dealer. It replaced the minivan that only seated eight (we were up to 7 kids by then…..) and which conked out on us during our family camping trip that summer. I had vehemently resisted the very idea of driving what I considered then to be a “monstrous” van. I sputtered in annoyance at the thought of having to drive such a big “thing” all over the place. And then I test drove it with the kids…….and never ever looked back again. Every child now had a proper place in the van; everyone belonged somewhere. My children could now sit comfortably and safely without feeling like sardines all the time.

I appreciate that van so much because it reminds me of every single child in our family. When I get asked if we’ll still have more kids, I often point out the fact that the van seats twelve, and now there are only 10 seats filled. I am grateful to have this van to drive around because it is there for my family and our needs. So I will happily clear the van of snow any time — but will not say no if my husband offers to do so for me. dscn0770.jpg

It is funny how something one considers a burden can be another’s blessing. In yesterday’s National Post, this news item appeared regarding cleaning and how more women were doing housework than men. Not really much news there — except for when it is mentioned that the luckiest group of people in the Canada are the ones who do not have to do any housework. If I believed that to be true, I would then have to say that I must be one of the most unfortunate Canadians. Imagine: a husband who is out of the house 10 to twelve hours a day plus eight children to take care of. That must be a “lucky” Canadian’s idea of a nightmare!

In truth, I consider myself to be extremely lucky and blessed to have the family I have. There are clothes to be laundered, meals to be cooked, beds to be fixed and a home to be cleaned because there are people who live in this home. They need caring for and help. My husband works hard at his job, and I do the same at mine — which happens to be keeping house and mothering our children. I dare say it is quite a privilege to be able to care for our children. They are not perfect, of course, but they are our children. We welcomed each one happily and are grateful for every single one of them.

I do not feel like a slave for doing housework because it is a conscious choice and commitment I have made as a wife and mother. Besides, when you do things for love, how can something like housework even be considered a burden? There are days, of course, when it will feel burdensome and tiring and a pain — but life is not just about feelings. At the end of the day, knowing the truth helps me to see what everything is all about. And that is something I am always grateful for.

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Two hours ago, my feet were icy cold. As I compose this blog entry, I am in our basement trying to stay warm in an old, grey sweater (my kids say it looks like a bathrobe….I think it looks chic…..) and someone’s thick, beige socks (definitely NOT chic). I say “someone” because no one had ever laid claim to these particular pair of socks — until I finally did when I couldn’t find a pair I recognized as my own. These warm, fuzzy socks that had once been relegated to the bag of abandoned socks (yes, one actually exists in our home) are now keeping my toes nice and comfortable. Now, I am quite grateful for these socks. They provide me with the warmth that my more fashionable yet sadly thinner socks couldn’t.

That gets me thinking about other things that aren’t fashionable or chic or trendy, yet prove their worth so many times over in the real world. The aforementioned grey sweater I wear at this very minute may not make anyone else’s top ten list of must-haves in their wardrobe, but it is a prized item in mine. It is big and long enough to cover me up on chilly and downright cold days (like today) regardless of my body size. By that I mean whether I am pregnant, not pregnant but sporting post-natal fat or just plain not pregnant. It’s definitely not trendy, but I don’t mind. It’s a definite keeper.

You know what else is unfashionable? Staying at home with the kids on a Sunday afternoon — which is what I am doing right now as I continue typing this up while wearing my favourite sweater and extremely useful thick socks. My eldest daughter is at a birthday party. My husband had to run some errands and has the three oldest boys. Which leaves me with the four youngest children. Right now, the next oldest person after me in this house is my eight-year old son. dscn0804.jpgHe’s trying to construct a “tent” on the futon with his comforter. My 6-year old daughter is wearing a skirt fashioned out of a bathrobe (they’re very creative this way), playing pretend with the 6-month old baby boy who’s unaware of his role as a “pretend baby”. The three-year old girl is trying to figure out a way to fashion a tent out of 1 pillow and a toddler-size comforter — to no avail. But she will not stop trying and I have to give her points for perseverance, really. Right now, this part of our basement looks like a mini construction site of condo-tents for little people.

What is the purpose served by staying home with the kids on a Sunday afternoon, you might ask? Why aren’t we skiing or ice-skating or sipping mugs of hot cocoa while happily counting marshmallows around the dining table? Well, we don’t ski (don’t know how to and it’s too expensive). I don’t skate (would love to but have a bad knee — long story). And the hot cocoa scenario with four children, ages 8 and under, only works if you have 8 arms, non-staining cocoa and can move around like Flash. None of that applies to me, and so we find ourselves all together in the basement making do with what we have: an over-abundance of imagination (all of us), an enormous amount of energy (them), an opportunity to blog (that’s me), and a chunk of time to just be with each other.

See, I don’t think I appreciate these moments enough because they don’t involve activities that make my heart beat faster or my adrenaline rushing. We’re not doing anything new or amazing. In fact, it’s downright ordinary — and that is precisely the beauty of it all. After a week of rushing around from one thing to another, keeping to a tight schedule, trying to get this and that done, it is an absolute pleasure to be able to spend time with the family on a quiet Sunday afternoon. This time serves to give us the chance to re-connect with each other at a slower pace. This moment allows us to rest from work and enjoy each other’s company. It is an opportunity afforded to us by a day on which we, as Christians, keep the Lord’s day holy.

dscn0809.jpgThere is always that temptation to try and do something new and exciting, especially on the weekend. After all, we mostly live our lives in ordinary time, doing mostly ordinary things. But even on a Sunday, when there aren’t too many thrills to go around, these same ordinary things take on extraordinary meaning because they are done for and with those whom we love and care.

As I end this entry, a drama involving an odd assortment of stuffed animals — including three bears, a walrus and Baby Bop — and the made-up voices of my 8-year old son is unfolding behind me. The tents have been abandoned by the girls — for now — in favour of playing the role of audience to their brother’s soap operatic attempts. The baby has fallen asleep in my arms. (Another reason for me to end this entry…..) Altogether, it has been a pretty good Sunday afternoon — a definite keeper.

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