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Robins

Spring has sprung, more or less.   I’m sitting here bundled up like a bag lady because I absolutely refuse to buy heating oil in May — in MAY, for crying out loud — no matter how chilly the house is.  So we all wear double socks and triple sweaters and gaze longingly at the untouched bathing suits and sandals I optimistically took down from the attic a month ago.

The rest of nature seems unaware that it’s frickin’ freezing:  the tulips are in bloom, the bees and ants are working away, and the lilac tree outside my window is heavy with purple blossoms.  And every time I see that tree, I breathe a little prayer to a merciful God:  please, Lord, no robins this year.

We had robins last year.  I was utterly delighted:  right there outside our very window, something better than any science kit or home school nature unit.  There were the busy parents, manically dashing two and fro, following some blind compulsion to build and prepare.  With baffling skill and speed, the nest quickly formed, and it was a beautiful thing:   round as a cup, solid and lovely, a work of art.

And then the eggs.  Four of them appeared one day, in that unmatchable shade of blue.  We felt as if the whole thing were a gift to our family.  The children couldn’t get enough of check out these perfect little eggs.  We would all file outside and I would hold the kids up one by one, so they could gasp and coo over the secret little treasure in our tree.

One thing bothered me a little bit:  every time we got close to the fragile little nest, the mother bird would fly up in a panic . . . and rush out of there as fast as she could.  “Some mother,” I would mutter.  “Lucky for you we’re not a cat!  Aren’t you even going to try to peck us?”  But she would just hide herself in a nearby bush, keeping herself safe and letting the eggs fend for themselves.

Humph.  Well, she’s just a bird.  I knew I was taking the situation too personally, and that robins lay several eggs every year for a reason:  they’re not all going to make it, and that’s a fact.

Still,  I got madder and madder at this lousy mother bird.  Only a bird, sure, sure, but WHAT KIND OF A MOTHER ARE YOU?  I suppose you’ll just go ahead and LAY SOME MORE EGGS if these ones get ruined through your cowardice and neglect!  Who cares, they’re just your CHILDREN, that’s all — why go to any effort?  If there had been some Egg Protective Services hotline, I would have had it on speed dial.

But it just got worse.  When the baby birds were born . . . they were horrible.  Just painful to look at.  I don’t mean fragile, I don’t mean vulnerable or unfinished-looking — they were monstrosities.  Every scrap of their essence spelled out H-E-L-P-L-E-S-S in a way that was unendurable to me.  I forget if I was pregnant at the time, or trying to fatten up a baby who wouldn’t nurse properly, or if I was worried about an older kid who was struggling in school, or what, but every time I looked out this window, all I could see was this dreadful image of my own vocation in that smelly little nest.  It held the two indisputable facts of the life of a mother:

Number one, you must protect them.

Number two, you cannot protect them.

So.  One day they began to fly.  Sort of.  They left the nest, anyway.  I couldn’t keep myself from trying to keep track of these babies, because their parents were so lousy at it.  One, two, three — where’s number four?  WHERE’S NUMBER FOUR?  Ah, there you are.  Now where has the grayish one gone?  All right, he’s over in the driveway.  Once I stopped the lawnmower just in time before running over one fledgling, thrashing around helplessly in the tall grass.

Two of the little ones learned how to flutter around pretty well, and within a day or two, they were hopping from limb to limb in the tree in a convincingly birdlike way.  They had puffed up and feathered out, and their terrible nakedness was hidden and forgotten.  So far, so good.

The third baby bird got hit by a car.  Its little body flapped in the wind of the traffic for a day, and then something hungry carried it away.

And the fourth one was just gone.  I don’t know what happened to it.  Maybe it learned how to fly really quickly, and set out in a brave and forthright manner to start a family of its own, and it was healthy and successful, and sang happy songs every day.  I assume that this is what happened.

Is it wrong to pray for birds?  If I pray for those little robins, I think God will know what I really mean.

Please, Lord, no more robins this year.

 

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My children are not a statement.

On Friday, I’m going to announce my pregnancy at The Register.  I know that most of the readers will be gracious and congratulatory, just as you lovely people were here.  Most of my readers are fairly clear that news of a baby is always good news.  The timing may not always be great, and the circumstances might be tough, but the baby itself?  Good news, period.  Once the child is already conceived, the only civil thing to say is, “Congratulations!”   And if you can’t muster that up, you don’t say anything at all.

I’m horribly nervous.  I needed to make an announcement, partly because — well, it might explain why my posts get a little feeble from time to time, when I’m typing through waves of nausea; and also because — dammit, it’s good news!  I’m happy, my husband is happy, our other kids are happy, and good news wants to be told.

So, by way of announcement, I recycled an old post which I think is pretty funny.  But I still know that there are a certain number of people who will be disgusted, even outraged, when they hear that I’m having another baby.  And they will comment.  They will say that I’m irresponsible, mindless, and selfish.

I expect to get 90% nice comments, plus a few “Kill yourself now, you filthy breeder” comments.  I’m also expecting a couple of the following:

“I’m a Catholic, too, but I don’t see how it could be God’s plan to ruin the Earth with even more consumers.”

Well, I am at peace with this false dilemma.  First, our family is pretty green, and I feel sure that our children will be, too.  I’ve covered this here.

Second, even National Geographic, no conservative rag, openly calls for focusing on the betterment of living conditions, rather than on reducing fertility.

And third,  my personal family size has no effect — ZERO, whatsoever — on the overall physical well-being of the world.  Even if you still believe that the world is headed for a population explosion (which Hania Zlotnik, director of the UN Population Division, does not believe), then the fact is that the world can well afford for a family in rural New Hampshire to have nine children.  I could have a dozen more, and each of my children could do the same, and the environment wouldn’t break a sweat.  To think otherwise is just hysterical nonsense.

“I’m a Catholic, too, but you damn well better be able to pay for all these kids.  There’s nothing Catholic about financial imprudence.”  These folks are the ones that keep me up at night.  But my final conclusion is this:  if you should really only have a baby if you can pay for all the attendant expenses with cash on hand, then you’ve pretty much told all of Africa to go childless.  Think about it.  If you should only have a child when you’re 100% financially independent, then you’ve just turned a very basic and very dear gift from God into a perk for the wealthy.

I know that you can take this idea too far, and there truly is such a thing as financial imprudence, of course.  But — when we were very, very poor, the only beautiful thing in the house was our baby.  Her conception is the thing that brought me and my husband back to God.  I wish conservative Catholics would be much, much more careful about how they talk about money and children.

I only have one other thing to say.  I don’t think I’m holy because I have a lot of children.

I don’t think I’m a superstar, and I don’t consider it an achievement.

I don’t say or think everyone should have big families.

I try not to use my family size as a marketing tool, and I think I have expurgated all foolish notions about small families from my heart.

We have children for our own reasons, and aren’t trying to say — well, anything to anyone.  My children are human beings, not a statement.

And yet, people still see our very existence as a challenge or a rebuke, or an argument to refute.  This hurts me almost as much as it hurts me when they see me as a fool or a leech.  I don’t even know what’s in my own heart half the time, so why would I have a theory about why you, perfect stranger or casual acquaintance, have fewer children than I do?  I don’t need to hear your sterilization story or hear about how your voting history reflects your worldview and is superior to mine.

My baby does not deserve your contempt or need your approval.  My baby has nothing to do with you.  All I want is to take care of my family and to protect them, most of all the littlest one who has only been here for a few months.

Do I worry about bringing an innocent child in to a world with war, racism, pollution, and so on?  No, not really.  Probably the world we live in today would have seemed like a dystopian nightmare to our ancestors — and yet I love it so much, and I’m glad I’m here.

No, what I worry about is that, when my baby is born, people will not see a child.  They will not see the dark eyes, the sweet, milky, velvety neck, the dark downy hair, the tender, tender being who comes to me fresh from the arms of the very One who invented love itself.

They will see — a threat.  How can this be?  How can this have happened to the world?  It used to be that you didn’t have to have a reason to have a child — if you were married, it was what you did.  In my house, that is how it is.  I hope my children understand that.

And I hope that, when they have children of their own, they will have a circle of friends who can rejoice with them.  Because that is how it ought to be.  A baby is always good news.

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DID SOMEONE SAY BABY?

Today at the Register I am, of course, talking about nudists at church.

As to the very fair question of whether or not my husband is now missing an eye — well, the best I can recall, the conversation went something like this:

Me and my husband:  We have lots of good reasons to postpone the next pregnancy.

[Repeat every month for two years.]

Me and my husband in March:  Welllllll . . . how about in May, we think about trying for #9?

God:  DID SOMEONE SAY BABY?

So I now have a due date of December 9, and everybody’s happy.  The kids constantly ask for updates — “Is Shrimpy still the size of a blueberry?  Or is he as big as a kidney bean now?  Can he hear me?  HEY SHRIMPY, CAN YOU HEAR ME?”  etc.  So, happy days.  Thanks for all the good wishes!  You guys are the best.