Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Birthday to Our Brothers!

Today, November 22, 2007--the feast of St. Cecilia and the day of Thanksgiving--we give God thanks and glory for his beautiful creations in the life of my brother Matt and in the life of Caleb's brother Micah.
Happy Birthday, Matt. We love you. I am so thankful that God sent you to our family. What would the three of us girls have done without you growing up with us (besides not receiving so many opportunities for embarrassment, meeting "Kansas City"?). We love you. Thank you for being my brother, my Confirmation sponsor, my friend. Thank you for loving us and now loving little Madge. What a lucky girl she is to have you and see you on your birthday! May God bless and guide you from this day forward and may you always know His love. Happy birthday, Buster!
Micah, happy birthday to you! We wish we could bilocate for the day and celebrate with you as well. That would also give you an opportunity to try out your "Boo" technique with Maddy as you did in Hawaii when you learned those fast head movements and whiplashing head turns. We love you. I am grateful to have you as a part of my life now through Caleb. We have so enjoyed our moments with you when you've come to visit, and we hope that those are just the start of many more. May God bless and guide your footsteps in the year ahead, and may you take every opportunity to live life to the fullest with God as your guide.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Witnessing Imitation and Personal Expression as Parents

It's weird as a parent to witness your children grow up. As we see our kids developing and maturing, the interplay between imitation and expression is exquisite.
  • Example of imitation: Maddy had a fear of our blender. (We love our fruit smoothies every morning for breakfast. Bring them on!) In order to overcome this fear, Mary and I would carry out a complex dance ritual to the rhythm of the blender every time we turn it on. Now, every time we turn on the blender, Maddy instinctively dances around and gets excited. Her behavior has been shaped (read "conditioned," "programmed," or whatever you want) through imitation. Much of our kids' behavior stems from imitation.
  • Example of expression: Maddy picked up her signature dance style all on her own. Whenever music comes on, she begins to dance. She lifts and shakes her right leg behind her in the air and bobs up and down on the left leg. She may even switch back and forth between legs. Oooh, I know: intimidating stuff, right? Personal expression is cool to witness as parents because we are able to cast a small glance into the unique personality developing in the child. Mary and I frequently look at each other and quip: Where did she get that? Perhaps we'll never know. (It's fun to blame other family members.)
Anyhow, I had a funny "imitation moment" yesterday evening. Maddy and I were taking a bath together. Like most little kids, initially Maddy was not a fan of getting her hair washed: Who likes water and shampoo flowing over and into their open eyes, nose, and mouth? Nevertheless, she watched how I would pour water over my head to rinse out the shampoo (the tear-free baby-kosher stuff, of course). I pretended to have such a good time of it. After a couple baths she wanted me to pour water over her head, too. I obliged. A couple months have since passed by; she continues to be very good in letting me wash her hair. Yesterday, after I washed my hair, she filled up the bath-bucket with water. She offered it to me and uttered her version of please ("leeeeze"). I poured the bucket of water over her head and, predictably, she bobbed her head sadly a bit as the shampoo ran over her facial orifices. I had to stop and think. Through imitation, Maddy not only does something that's not particularly enjoyable (though necessary, mind you), but she actively initiates it and says please. What a good little girl.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

St. Nick Came Early

Maddy is ready for December 6th; that's why she has no shoes on. They are already outside her door, waiting to be filled.

Hate Crimes and Catholicism

Recently the AP came out with its typical PC version of hate crime statistics. The FBI releases these statistics on an annual basis (the stats from 2005 and 2006). The absolute numbers matter, however, most analysts look at the increase/decrease rates for future trends and changes in public attitudes/behaviors. In such a light, the AP focused its report on the increase of those hate crimes that are racially-biased. Over half of the hate crimes in the U.S. are racially-biased (51.8%), an increase of 7.8%. Another source provides variant interpretations of the data. The increase in anti-black hate crimes was only 0.4% while the increase in anti-white hate crimes was 7.5%!

Anti-religion hate crimes increased by 19%. Yet, the teeming throngs of islamophobic American citizens saw an minimal increase in anti-Muslim crimes of 2%. Meanwhile, anti-Jewish crimes increased by 14% and anti-Catholic crimes increased by 31%. It would appear that we, the tolerant, are less becoming less than tolerable. I guess it's not a huge surprise. The Catholic principles of "turning the other cheek" and forgiveness, coupled perhaps with a timidity of speaking out, undoubtedly reduce the number of reported anti-Catholic hate crimes. We can expect to see these numbers increase in the near future. "If they persecute me, they will persecute you..."

Another interesting tidbit: anti-homosexual crimes up by 22%; anti-heterosexual crimes up by 24%! I won't comment.

Here is Wikipedia's entry on "hate crimes." While I understand why hate crimes have received legal status, I personally question whether they ought to exist as they are. I believe that they're superfluous.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fertility and Health Insurance

Have you ever looked through your health insurance policy manual (that quasi-intelligible, intentionally jargon-laiden, 300 page brick of a book) at the fertility section? Most health plans I have looked at seem to have a definite bias in that section. Instead of helping infertile couples conceive, their services focus on keeping fertile couples childless. In most health insurance plans, those covered end up paying 100% of the cost for any type of infertility treatment. However, there's exceptional coverage for abortions, birth control, contraceptions, hysterectomies, etc. Is it consumer demand in action or a blatant policy bias? I wish I had the answer, but I don't. Either way, it seems really hard to find a good health insurance for infertile couples.

Recently, the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM) published medical codes for natural family planning:
  • V25.04: Counseling and instruction in natural family planning to avoid pregnancy;
  • V26.41: Procreative counseling and advice using natural family planning.
I wish this meant Natural Family Planning would be now included in all insurance policies. However, this is a step in the right direction, legitimating NFP as a medical option for infertile couples. It does open a small window of possibilities by providing medical codes for insurance plans. Let's see if any of them choose to provide these services. I also hope that the insurance companies patronize decent NFP counselors.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Catholics and Politics

Any country with a democratically-flavored polity gives its citizens the right to participate in the political process, typically through voting. Without getting into the moral or civic imperative of whether or not to vote (let's all exchange our voting rights for ipods--woohoo), I imagine most people would agree that voting decisions should be based on beliefs and opinions. Religion is (or, at least, should be) a major influence over one's beliefs and opinions. The religion of a political candidate should make a difference. The religion of the voter should make a difference. The frequently-proclaimed divorce between Church and State exists in the public sphere and not in the individual person. As an integral person, it's psychologically unhealthy to split the human identity into public and private halves.

One of the beauties of the Catholic faith has been the consistency with which it has provided foundational moral principles for making sound decisions. I really look forward to the USCCB publication of a document entitled "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility From the Catholic Bishops of the United States". (I think it's great that there seems to be such a consensus on this document among U.S. bishops: the final vote was 221-4.) A shorter version of the 26-page document will be included in all parish bulletins. Stay tuned.

Recently the Bishop of Boston, Bishop O'Malley, explicitly stated that Catholics voting for pro-abortion politicians "border on scandal." Some bloggers and national newspapers find it contradictory that the Catholic Church states that voting for a pro-abortion politician can endanger the voter's eternal salvation. Needless to say, it's doctrinally false and unchristian to decry those in the wrong (anyone voting for a pro-abortion political candidate, anyone living in the state of mortal sin, etc.) of "going to hell". We should leave such judgment to God. I am sure that anyone believing that the Bishop said this misunderstood or twisted the meaning of his words. It's wonderful that the Catholic Church continues to clearly define the Catholic voter's duty and responsibility. There should be no room in the Catholic voter's mind when it comes to issues of life.

I also like the fact that Bishop O'Malley took umbrage with the Republican stance on various issues (immigration policy, capital punishment, economic issues, and the war in Iraq). Our primary duty as a voter is to our conscience, not to a political party. It's increasing difficult for me to identify with either political party. (I put myself in the independent political camp.) We should vote by issues, not by platforms. However, despite Bishop O'Malley's disagreement with the Republican party on the above-mentioned issues, he claims that abortion is a more important guide for Catholic voters.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Note to Self:


Check the 2 gallon soap re-filler when things are lost in the house. A little 3-foot midget may have deposited something(s) there. (Over these last couple of weeks, we have been wondering where Maddy's plastic ware has been. Last night I found it when I went to fill up the bathroom soap with our big soap re-filler, which was under the kitchen sink--a spot adjacent to "Maddy's Kitchen Cabinet" where she sits and sorts her plastic dishes. I was astounded to find all of her utensils, which she loves to use at every meal, carefully and successfully dropped into the spout of the liquid soap container. At least they'll be spick-n-span.)

"Get Kids Vaccinated or Else"

My sister-in-law, Jenny, recently forwarded to me an interesting article from the Washington Post, Get Kids Vaccinated or Else, Parents Told. The article details the threat of legal action that a Maryland county may take against parents (of more than 2,300 kids) who have failed to "meet the state's immunization requirements." Maryland's state immunization requirements are laid out in Maryland Code/Education/Title 7. Public Schools/Subtitle 4. Health and Safety of Students/§7-403. §7-403 serves as a legal foundation for Title 10. Department of Health and Mental Hygiene/Subtitle 6. Diseases/Chapter 4. School Health Services and Required Immunizations before Entry into School, or more simply COMAR 10-06-04. As you may have noticed by now if you looked at these documents, any attempt at understanding state immunization requirements means a foray into legalese, obviously intended for all of us non-lawyers. (Please note sarcasm: reference annotation 1.239.b. Article12.) It actually isn't all that bad once you can find the pertinent documents online. Most states publish a list of "required" vaccines, following individualized or CDC-recommended immunization schedules.

What happens if you don't want you kid to be immunized? We, as parents, have the right to look out for what we believe is in our children's best interest, do we not? We should cede that right to the state only if we want to (or are forced to, as in extreme circumstances). I have no problem with the state recommending immunizations. Requiring them is a different story. It's like the policy of having to opt out of donating your organs (proposed now in the UK and already a common practice in many countries) rather the current state in the U.S. of having to opt in. It becomes a real bear of a task for parents to choose conscientiously to opt out of immunizations. Anyone opting out has to fill out an exemption waiver, according to the particular state's policy. Most states allow immunization exemption for religious reasons (Maryland included) and for reasons of medical contraindication. What about those of us who object to immunizations on conscientious, philosophical, medical, or statistical grounds? Nope. Sorry. Only religious reasons will work in most states. I suppose conscientious reasoning can flow into one's personal, religious reasoning. It's a bit of stretch, though perhaps a necessary one at times. In principle, however, immunizations in the U.S. lack a strong philosophical underpinning.

Personally, it doesn't bother me whether you are for vaccines or against them. What does bother me is when public or private institutions implicitly assume through legal protocols that they can usurp parenting decisions anytime they're acting for the public good. (Public agencies always seem to work for the public good, right?) Pro-abortion feminists love to tout, "my body, my choice." Why can't we use that same mantra for opting out of immunizations? Shouldn't individuals, or their legal/biological guardians, be able to formulate choices for their own bodies?

(Mary can probably provide more links: the internet is full of information for the brave and curious.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Our First Fire


The cold outside last week urged us onwards to go get our first load of firewood: that we did. With coats on, the three of us headed out to gather a load of logs and rush back to crinkle balls of paper and stash them beneath a few splintered pieces of wood and set it ablaze. Our first fire was lit last week, and it was another "first" for Maddy, as this is her first winter since she entered the world almost sixteen months ago. As we watched the wood pop, crack, and make hushing sounds, little Madster sat in awe and gazed upon a peaceful fire in her warm and peaceful home.

Tent Time

Last week we were finishing up dinner and down Maddy went from her highchair to begin playing while we finished up dinner. Soon after she got up, we were all up and down, playing "Tent" and "Tunnel" in our living room. Caleb spread out a blanket across the hope chest and couch, and there was our cozy cubby hole. Such simple things in life can be the most fun, plus they can double as good ab workouts.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Co-Sleeping

The possibility of co-sleeping is one of the many benefits that a king-sized bed provides. Mary and I decided to give co-sleeping a try when we first had Maddy. It seems to be conducive to breastfeeding mothers and provides an array of other perks (see below for an example). The attachment parenting crowds advocate the practice. Even the NYTimes recently ran an article on co-sleeping. Part of me would love to see the practice increase in the U.S. and around the world. Part of me doesn't want it to become mainstream because I make it a habit and goal to avoid the mainstream. (If you feel like reading a myriad articles on the pros and cons of co-sleeping, you can google it to your heart's content.)

This morning I got an extra special dose of co-sleeping love. I normally start my day at 5:15am. Given such an early rise, I don't see Mary or Maddy until I return home from work in the afternoon. Every now and again one of them will be up to kiss me good-bye. Around 5am I felt something moving next to me. I opened my eyes to discover that Maddy had wrapped her little arms around my neck and had laid her head on my face. The sweet scent of baby shampoo still lingered in her hair from last night's bath. She lie next to me for a few minutes, resting her face on mine. She then climbed up on my chest and rested up there for a few minutes. The alarm clock hearkened the harsh reality of having to leave such a surreal reverie. I would never enjoy such moments if she were in her crib. Thank God for co-sleeping. These experiences leave an indelible mark on the heart of a dad; they create memories that will last a lifetime.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

My Dad

Here are a few photos of my dad when he came to visit us a few weeks ago. It's hard to describe in words how much my dad means to me. He was my best man for our wedding and has been my best friend throughout my entire life.



I sometimes rib my dad about staying in such good physical shape. He exercises physically with the same constancy and intensity that the prays: every day, never missing a beat. There was one funny occasion when we were having a webcam-dialogue (webcamalogue? I don't know!) with my dad. He kept the webcam on as he started to exercise. Mary, Maddy and I started doing the same exercises in our living room. Though some 600 miles separated us, we were united through our sit-ups and jumping-jacks. Upon asking my dad why he exercised so frequently, he responded that he wanted to stay in good shape to be around for his grandkids. Now, how great is that? I never had the opportunity of knowing either of my grandfathers. Both my parents had lost their fathers by my age. I am ecstatic that Maddy will have the opportunity of spending time with her grandfather. He goes by many names; the most common are Grandpa Tiej, Beeba, PapĂ , and Little Mickey. I can't say enough good things about my dad. The only problem is that he has set the bars of fatherhood and husbandhood so high that I already have my life's work cut out for me. The way that he interacts with Maddy brings tears to my eyes. He has an aura of sanctity and peace. She sits in his arms with that same peace and security. I love you, Dad. One day I hope to be the man you are.