A Kristin Lavransdatter Baptism

If Kristin Lavransdatter is any indication, in the history of Christendom, baptism was a Pretty Big Deal, and not for the heirloom gown or the pastel cupcakes. Instead, I was struck when reading it with how 14th century Norway Catholics took baptism really, deeply seriously. Like, don’t take your baby out of the house until he’s baptized seriously. Seriously.

Pippin’s baptism was not that way. It took awhile for us to decide for sure we’d baptize him Catholic (vs Anglican — we were a house divided at the time), and then to break the news to family who we thought might not be thrilled (they were, because they’re great). And then all the family wanted to be there, and our insanely generous former Anglican priest, which is wonderful, and suddenly, he was ten months old and too fat for the family baptism gown.


What would Kristin say?

Next up was Scout. She was born four weeks early, throwing our plans off and making us miss the mandatory baptism class, but we fared better: we managed to get her baptized when she was about seven weeks old. (And the party wasn’t too shabby, either.)

Warning: If you do a baptism this fast, YOU might be the one too fat for any appropriately baptismal gown.
But we want to take baptism as the solemn gift it is, as Kristin and her contemporaries did. I love the lacy gowns and (honestly, all) cupcakes, and I will cheerfully attend your kid’s baptism at any age, but even as late as my father’s childhood in the 1960s, the Church was instructing young catechists on how to perform emergency baptisms just in case of roadside accidents. This made me wonder if there was maybe new post-Vatican II teachings that supported why our parish priests had felt so unrushed in baptizing Pippin, and why we kept encountering a lot of resistance to scheduling in our current church.

Spoiler: There isn’t.

Instead, I talked to people far smarter than I am, and this is the sort of thing we found.

From the Catechism:

250 Born with a fallen human nature and tainted by original sin, children also have need of the new birth in Baptism to be freed from the power of darkness and brought into the realm of the freedom of the children of God, to which all men are called.50 The sheer gratuitousness of the grace of salvation is particularly manifest in infant Baptism. The Church and the parents would deny a child the priceless grace of becoming a child of God were they not to confer Baptism shortly after birth.

But maybe the Church has revised its teaching on the ultimate destination of the unbaptized? Maybe there’s a general shift toward greater reliance on God’s mercy? we wondered. And after all, infant mortality rates are way down from KL’s day. But elsewhere we’ve got this line:

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus’ tenderness toward children which caused him to say: “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,” 64 allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church’s call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

Canon Law reinforces this idea:

Can.  867 §1. Parents are obliged to take care that infants are baptized in the first few weeks; as soon as possible after the birth or even before it, they are to go to the pastor to request the sacrament for their child and to be prepared properly for it.

In talking to a wide range of American Catholics, I’ve found there’s a huge spectrum in how determined clergy and administration are to making that “first few weeks” thing happen — our church tries to schedule on only one Saturday a month and generally refuses to baptize Thanksgiving weekend, Advent or Lent. (Sometimes the argument is that these are penitential times, but baptism is, to my mind, penitential!) It seems like Tridentine churches often get on the ball sooner; big churches like ours seem to struggle most.

But it seems like a practice worth pushing back against. So we informed ourselves and got to politely advocating for a speedy baptism.

Roo’s big day came on her one week birthday. A scramble!
Here’s how we made it happen:

  1. Introduce extended family to your plan early. We have loved having our whole families attend previous baptisms but including them when they live so far away has contributed to a lag. Explain your reasons for baptizing promptly well before your due date so no one feels snubbed.
  2. Get godparents on board. You’ll need flexibility in their schedule or a willingness on their part to let you use proxies (which we did for Scout’s semi-prompt baptism). Roo’s godparents let the priest know she was born the next day and started trying to schedule right away on our behalf.
  3. Meet all parish guidelines in advance.
  4. Gather family heirlooms. I realized at 32 weeks we didn’t have the family baptismal gown here — it was still with my mother-in-law. Since my last baby was a 36-weeker, I made sure to ask my MIL right away if she’d be willing to mail the gown.
  5. Don’t worry much about a reception or party. We got the official time for the baptism less than 24 hours in advance, and promptly sent out text invites to everyone who had fed us and cared for us during that long, long pregnancy. We decided to do pizza and my mom made brownies and salad — other friends offered to bring cake and bread and Prosecco. We didn’t even worry about a final head count until after the sacrament, at which point we counted and called in an order of pizza. And you know what? It was fine.

Worth the rush


Commonplace Book, 40 (Before and After)

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

(If things feel scattered in this post, it’s because they are. I started it before Roo’s arrival, and am finishing it now, a few days later. I’ve got a lot to share, but it’s all over the map.)

What I’m fixing:

What I’m reading:

  • HP1. The audiobook and the hope of triggering labor were the only things keeping me waddling through chores.
  • The Joy of the Memorized Poem: The night before labor, we attended a Poems, Pints & Pies party, and this got me thinking in all kinds of ways. (I also think much of it applies to memorizing prayers and Scripture, too.) At the party, I realized I knew more poetry by heart than I had thought: “The Owl and the Pussycat“; most of “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent“; a soliloquy from Macbeth.
  • In the hospital, I read The Awakening of Miss Prim (finally!), and this passage reverberated with me after the fun of the poetry party:

“We know lots of parts of poems and stories by heart—it’s the first thing we do with all books,” said Teseris in her gentle voice. “He says it’s how you learn to love books; it’s got a lot to do with memory. He says that when men fall in love with women they learn their faces by heart so they can remember them later. They notice the color of their eyes, the color of their hair; whether they like music, prefer chocolate or biscuits, what their brothers and sisters are called, whether they write a diary, or have a cat . . . ” Miss Prim’s expression softened a little. There it was again, the strange, dark, concentrated delicacy, the infuriating male ego combined with unexpected streaks of grace. “It’s the same thing with books,” continued Teseris. “In lessons we learn bits by heart and recite them. Then we read the books and discuss them and then we read them again.”


Another passage I highlighted in Miss Prim was about domestic life, and worth sharing here, I think:

The range suggested an idyllic childhood. A childhood rich with the scent of freshly baked bread, of sweet sugary fritters, chocolate cake, biscuits, and doughnuts. The kind of childhood she herself had not had but which, in this somewhat chaotic house, she had to admit was a daily reality.

My takeaway here is that it’s a-OK for me to bake the kids all kinds of indulgent things, and also that a somewhat chaotic house has a certain charm. Phew.

This time last year:

Precipitation: Roo’s Birth Story

(Sweet Roo is here! Elizabeth Ann arrived on the evening of November 4. This is her arrival story.)

At my 37 week appointment the week before Halloween, the midwife gave me the green light to go into labor whenever — she said often mothers just need to feel ready for labor to begin. I had been reading a lot of Ina May Gaskin and this did not seem particularly insane. I came home from the midwife appointment and willed myself to go into labor. That Saturday night, I had a run of prodromal labor and began to feel close.

And then — nothing. Days slipped by. We celebrated Halloween and Pippin’s fifth birthday, and I breathed a sigh of relief that I wouldn’t have two Halloweeny babies, but then I began to despair.

Objectively, it was completely ridiculous, right? I was only 37, then 38 weeks. But when you’ve had babies ten days early and one month early, your sense of deadlines shifts. I was ready to be done, and it felt like that day would never come.

The next Saturday rolled around, and I was finally ten days from my due date. We went to vigil mass, then arranged an impromptu date night because if you’re going to be pregnant forever, you might as well eat tasty things and enjoy your husband. I overate, came home and stayed up late (ok, 9:30, whatev), then lay in bed, trying to fall asleep despite being hugely uncomfortable.

The first contraction hurt so much I thought it must be something else — my previous labors had started gently. I tried to welcome it in Ina May Gaskin peacefulness — finally! maybe the day has arrived! I am getting closer to meeting my baby! — but the second had me cussing under my breath. On the third, I texted J to come up from downstairs and started timing. I was already 1 minute on, 4 minutes apart.

J started to finish last minute work emails, then, watching me, stopped and called a friend about childcare. I felt ridiculously overeager — I’d been in labor maybe 10 or 15 minutes — but my teeth began to chatter.

While J was on the phone I began to finish packing our bags, but I was dropping to my hands and knees for every contraction, and I wasn’t able to time anymore. On all fours in the nursery, I emailed friends a broken update: this is labor, coming fast.

We headed downstairs just in time for me to start throwing up. Our friends arrived to watch the kids as I sat in the van, arms wrapped around my mixing bowl, shivering madly.

I don’t remember the hospital ride being painful or scary — I was working too hard to realize I must already be in transition and that there was a real chance of having the baby in the van. In the hospital intake room, I answered mundane questions while huddled in the fetal position, chattering and trying to relax, until I finally broke in — “I think I’m going to have to push soon.”

In the delivery room, I immediately lay down on my side as the midwife breezed in, wearing her pajamas. “OK,” she said calmly as nurses tried to remove my cardigan and set up the room. “I’ll check you when the next contraction ends.”

The contraction went on and on, and again, I don’t remember the pain so much as an absurd embarrassment that I was keeping everyone waiting. On and on and on and finally I squeaked out, “I’m sorry, I think I’m going to have to push now.”

“That’s OK!” said the midwife brightly, and everyone scurried to remove all the clothing I was still wearing. I hadn’t had an exam, or an IV, or a chance to fish out my birth plan, but with a roar and a couple pushes on my part, Roo was here before they could even remove my socks.

The entire labor had been well under an hour and a half. I hadn’t torn, and I was barely tired as Roo was placed on my chest, tiny as her sister, brunette, and perfect. The afterbirth was a bit complicated — who knew a placenta could turn inside out? — and I experienced some bleeding as a result, but the whole thing felt very slapdash and casual.

Throughout this pregnancy, people had wished me a fast labor and I’d been hesitant — parts of Scout’s four-hour labor were scary because I still envisioned a timeline where I would hurt at that level for fourteen hours, like with her brother. But this time, I went into labor prepared for the possibility of a precipitous birth, and the intensity of the experience kept me focused on the moment. It was by far the best of my three labors, but not something I can imagine enduring if it had been my first labor, or if I had entered labor committed to getting an epidural. For me, though, it was the perfect end to an unending, crappy pregnancy.


Let’s Waffle About Sponges

Remember how we talked about food safety? Let’s go back into the dark underbelly of kitchen horrors. Here’s something I mostly have tried to pretend isn’t a real concern: the sponge situation.

It’s just — sometimes I’m at other people’s houses doing dishes and I use a dishrag because they’re dishrag people, and I just can’t get anything clean. We switched years and years ago to stainless steel from nonstick pans for various semi-proven health reasons, and we cook A LOT with eggs and cheese, certifiably the stickiest foods on the planet, right? So I know that sponges carry a bunch of bacteria and also that they often stink (a penalty from which I’m exempt, ha ha!), but I just can’t quit them because hey, they do their job, at least, festering cesspools that they are.

So my solution the last few months? Microfiber kitchen scrubbers. They’re basically sponges you can toss in the wash each evening and use again, and since I have a pretty regular load of rags and cloth napkins going, it doesn’t add to my laundry burden. And when I start up on Scout’s horrible egg yolk high chair tray right after breakfast, I’ve got a sponge new every morning, like the good Lord’s grace.

Caveat: They definitely aren’t as scrubby as the scrubbiest disposable sponge (though scrubbier than a dishrag), but I’ve been using steel scouring pads for the worst messes since switching away from nonstick pans, anyway. Sometimes they get gnarly food bits stuck in them and need a pretty serious rinse, but at least they aren’t a moist, soft environment for breeding the next antibiotic-resistant plague, and they respond satisfyingly to elbow grease. (If you want to get really fancy or need something safe for cast iron, you can try what I always considered The Giant Fingernail but is apparently just a “pan scraper” to civilized folk.)

And this has been more than you ever wanted to think about sponges, dishrags, and washing up.

Do I need to say this isn’t a sponsored post? And that these aren’t affiliate links? I really just want to talk about sponges, because I’m that lame, apparently.



In Praise of Animal Fats

J and I have never been vegetarian (well, I think J was one Lent), but for a very long period of time, we weren’t eating very much meat or many vegetarian dishes.

I’ve heard it called “flexitarian,” but for us it just translated to “can’t afford meat as main dish.”

Recently we celebrated our comparative prosperity and invested in a quarter of a cow. This led to a carnivorous celebration called “Beef Week,” but also made me think about how we used to stretch meat.

Thekitchn.com is historically a good resource for thinking about meat as a condiment, not the main event. Here are some of the techniques we accumulated over our grad school years:

  1. Chicken stock. Our mainstay. If you can’t roast a chicken yourself yet, you can save up a couple rotisserie chickens or ask to take home the turkey carcass at Thanksgiving. (You weirdo.) Then you chuck it in the slow cooker overnight or in a stockpot for a couple hours and you end up with something rich and salty and nourishing with basically no effort. Use it in soups, especially cheap simple ones like this polenta soup where it will really shine. Or make your rice fancy by using it instead of water. (And if you don’t know how to roast a chicken, consider this slow cooker method.) Store leftovers in the freezer in 1- and 2-cup bags or jam jars for easy thawing. (Bonus: the gelatin in a good bone broth is really good for you, though I can’t say the same about bacon grease.)
  2. Bacon grease. People are generally secretly excited about this. Bacon by itself is an excellent way to make an otherwise vegetarian meal special (as with lenticchie con ditalini, baked potatoes, many soups) but you can save the grease (call it “renderings” if it makes you feel better, you foodie) in the fridge and use it for salad dressings, greasing cornbread pans, giant skillet cookies, and sautéing greens with vinegar.
  3. Duck fat. J recently called this an “essential oil.” We like it for roasting vegetables especially. It can be hard to find, though sometimes it’s affordable on Amazon.
Eat me with bacon fat. Or duck fat. Mmm.


Siriusly Old

This summer we bought our first van to make space for our third child. This was maybe evidence enough that I am getting on in years, but it really took our free trial of Sirius XM to bring it home to me.

After slowly mastering the headlights and how to park the behemoth, I moved on to exploring the dial, and found, to my slight embarrassment, that two of my favorite stations are Pop Rocks and Prime Country.

Both date me pretty seriously, especially when I cut through campus and pass college students who maybe weren’t even born when these tunes debuted.

And it’s weird, right, the alchemy that nostalgia plays on our tastes? There are, of course, songs that fill me with delight just like they did in 2000: anything from Dixie Chicks’ Fly album, for instance. But there are also songs I never owned or wanted to own, but which I now greet with enthusiasm, associated indelibly as they are with my pop-punk little sister when we were in high school, or my freshman college roommate, who had far better informed tastes than I ever developed.

I feel, cruising past today’s freshmen, a little embarrassed by my musical selection (as if even the hippest music blaring from a minivan might somehow impress undergrads).  I feel embarrassed, that is, until I think of my parents and their enduring love when I was growing up for both the local classic rock station and the “‘80s, ’90s and today” station. The memories of those songs form the soundtrack of my early childhood, of Saturdays when my dad washed the car and morning commutes to summer camp with my mom, so much more than whatever was hip at the time. (In fact, I remember being marveled at in third grade for not knowing who Boyz II Men were, even though I could have told the kids quite a lot about the Eagles.)

So, on balance, I’m grateful to have found a nostalgia niche for my generation, as the grey hair begins to fill my hairbrush and I stare down 32. I’m glad to be reminded, on my way to the grocery store, over the chatter of my chatty progeny, that before this era, I was mostly the same person: scrawny and introspective and shout-singing the same lyrics. It’s a world in which I hold a membership earned by those gray hairs, a world to which I can introduce my children, one scratchily, enthusiastically sung old hit at a time.

When you were young indeed.



Readers’ Advisory: Policemen

Shortly after Pippin turned four, he got into policemen in a big way. (It may have been a half dozen back to back screenings of Lego City on the way to Christmas in Florida. Oops.)

Since then, his previous stockpile of truck books has simply become a source of needle-and-haystack searches for police cars and policemen. When asked why he loves police so much, he answers matter-of-fairly, “I don’t know. I’m just into right and wrong.”

We would have preferred his Next Big Thing be something like knights or animals, but it’s hard to argue with a thirst for justice. Still, with police books being at least 80% less popular than firefighter and construction books (WHY?!), we’ve been on a long quest now for the best in police books. Some suggestions for your young cadet:

  • Detective LaRuein which a dog solves the crime for which he’s been framed, with lots of irony between his letters and the illustrations.
  • Officer Buckle and Gloria. Probably my favorite. A police officer’s safety presentations become lively when a police dog begins to accompany him on his school visits. Bonus: John Lithgow reads the book aloud.
  • The Boxcar Children series for gentle mysteries — these don’t always feature police but they do feature bad guys and mysteries to solve and are unbelievably mild. The audiobooks are also often easy to come by.
  • Sergeant Murphy’s Busy Day and some other Richard Scarry titles. The Scarry spinoff show Busy Town on Amazon Prime also passes the test for extremely gentle mystery.
This year’s school picture. Weird homeschooled kid.

Dishonorable Mentions

  • Detective Chase McCain series. These are pretty agonizing to read aloud, but I could see how they might be OK to lure a Lego- and police-loving kid into reading by himself, if he were a bit older. Total fluff, though.
  • Officer Panda: Fingerprint DetectiveA little too odd and meta for me.

Have you found any police books your kids loved? We are always on the hunt!