Interdependence and the Single-Car Family

The road to Kasese

In the upper-middle class suburban sprawl where J and I grew up, most of the kids at least had access to a car through high school. J and I entered marriage with two cars, but pretty immediately we spent six months in an impoverished corner of Uganda with no car at all, so when we got home and J’s dad talked about how much he’d enjoyed driving J’s little Echo, we sold it to him. (I recognize how privileged this is from a global perspective, but then again, our position was hardly unique.)

Boda boda life in Uganda

In over a decade since that initial decision, we’ve kept just one car, even as we upgraded from my gramps’s Accord to a hatchback, from the hatchback to a minivan. When we went to buy our first home, we intentionally chose one in town, close to campus, allowing J to easily walk or ride his bike to work, and with a park out back so we had plenty of at-home entertainment.

Still, here and there over the years the only way we’ve been able to attend certain things is through the generosity of friends who do own two cars. We would have missed parties and out-of-town events without these other people being willing to give one or the other of us a lift. At least once I would have missed work if a neighbor friend hadn’t loaned me back the Accord we’d sold him. I used to feel guilty because our choice means we rely on others, but then I decided that might actually be a strength.

Four wheels and freedom (from others)

There have been seasons, when we were low income in grad school, or when I was laid low by pregnancy, when we relied more heavily on others. Sharing a van now helps us maintain that reliance. Just because the system would be much less tenable if everyone we knew dropped down to one vehicle doesn’t mean it’s foolish (or worse, arrogant) of us to do.

Instead, we who are in the rare situation not to have so much vulnerability thrust upon us should look for opportunities to trust. Maybe your exercise in interdependence, in trusting in God’s Providence, is waiting to borrow kid snow gear from friends instead of just buying it, or trusting you can borrow camping supplies from your neighbor. Maybe you do something that terrifies me, like cohousing, or leaving your doors unlocked as a matter of principle, like friends of ours in New England. Maybe it’s as small as building your weekly menu off a farm share or the close out grocery instead of controlling every aspect and getting huffy when the big box store doesn’t carry that one ingredient, in or out of season.

Of course in twelve years of single cardom we’ve quarreled about whose need for the vehicle trumps the other’s. I have no idea if we’ve saved much money than keeping an old second beater, as we’ve spent comfortable spending more on our house location, really good soles for J’s shoes, and (too) many bikes. Certainly we’ve spent more time in the car together so we can drop someone off. (Probably not the worst thing, actually.) Quite possibly we’ve annoyed a person we’ve asked for a ride by our importunate request.

Inter-reliance runs those risks. The fortresses we build ourselves to protect against ever appearing mendicant prevent those risks, but introduce others: loneliness, a lack of resilience and flexibility when disaster and need do inevitably strike. We can pretend toward independence when everything is going well and never ask for any help, believing we never will need it. Or we can take baby steps toward trusting others with our needs, one rideshare at a time.

Making Friends with John Henry Newman

Maybe, like me and J, you took awhile to find your home in the Catholic church. After a not particularly well-catechized childhood in the Catholic church, I spent four years as a newlywed pilgrim in the Anglican denomination before finding my way back to Rome. Later on, my husband read and debated himself into Catholicism after stints in the Evangelical and Anglican churches. Maybe that’s why, after years of debate and vacillation, when my husband finally crossed the Tiber, he took Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman as his patron saint. Read More »

Candlemas, Kinship and Firstborn Sons

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I’m not entirely sure when I met my sister-in-law(-in-law).* But I think it was at the Evensong nights that sprung up about ten years ago. I had no idea of her future importance in my life, of course. She was just a college friend to both my new husband and his little brother.

And now she is someone I will see, in all likelihood, every Christmas for the rest of my life. She is aunt to all my children, and godmother to one. And last month, she gave me my very first nephew.Read More »

Detective Stories and Objective Truth

Murder mysteries are a strange place to go looking for stories that point out the sacred, but in reading The Last Policeman series I was reminded of the British period drama Foyle’s War we had watched and enjoyed several years ago. Although both stories center around a lone male detective, most similarities end there: one is the story of American Henry Palace in the world’s final days, the other the career of Englishman Christopher Foyle in the shadow of World War II.

Though both men cling to the mores of a dying world, challenged by those who find their allegiance to duty futile under the circumstances, neither detective is simply a bureaucratic ritualist adhering to mindless rules at the cost of his humanity. Instead, both Palace and Foyle highlight a strength of the murder mystery: its affirmation of the vital importance of morality even in the face of dire circumstances. Read More »

Dorothy Day’s Little Way of Motherhood

So, last month I finished On Pilgrimagethe first book I’ve read by Dorothy Day. If you’ve read it, you know it’s a weird experience — like if I printed out a year’s worth of blog posts, interspersed them with my diary entries, stapled it together, and called it a book. But only if I was as insanely interesting as Day, even at her most scattered.

One page struck me especially. We have a new tradition of mother’s blessings here, where we gather to pray for and encourage a friend as her pregnancy comes to its end, and maybe that’s why this passage struck me particularly.

Read More »

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.

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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.)

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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

Morning Sickness and Death

Now, let me draw the distinction right now between:

  1. Feeling like you’re dying
  2. Wanting to die
  3. Literally dying

I’m not kidding here. 1 is something I think most of us experience, if not in first trimester than in unending third trimester, or in labor, or in the newborn phase. 2 is something common enough when you feel really, really poorly (depression is actually a symptom of HG), but you should see a midwife or doctor for help. And 3 means you should see a doctor, too. I’ve done the IV, and it is amazing.

I’m reminded of a chapter from one of my favorites, What Mothers Do: Especially When It Looks Like Nothing. The author, Naomi Stadlen, spoke with many mothers over many years in new moms’ groups, and one of the most common refrains was, as the chapter title goes, “So tired I could die.”

These were mothers of newborns, but I feel this way often in pregnancy, especially in those unending early months. And I think what Stadlen argues of new motherhood in her book is true of pregnancy, too: you kind of are dying. Dying to your old life, your own expectations, your own definitions of success. It’s exhausting work, emotionally and physically.

In the same way that Haley Stewart argued that getting your life back may not be the point of Christian parenting, I would suggest that this death through pregnancy is maybe a difficult gift that prepares us for motherhood when the baby is here. It certainly makes me softer and less obsessed with doing for myself, less dedicated to my own ideas of how things should play out.

This pregnancy, I’ve gotten into the pretty metal Mary prayers they tuck at the end of the book. In the past, I’ve always found them almost comically intense (“this vale of tears” indeed!). Suddenly, though, I’m so grateful to have a prayer that acknowledges how “Sinking we strive and call to you for aid.” I’ve been sinking, that’s for sure. And if I’m buoyed now, it has everything to do with prayer and friendship and relenting hormones, and very little to do with epsom salts and Sea Bands and Zofran.

If you’re finding yourself on the same sinking ship of severe morning sickness, here are some of my favorite resources for processing those feelings. There seems to be a shortage of resources on managing the despair and anger that comes with feeling really, really bad while something really, really good happens to your body and your family — probably because desperately barfy women don’t tend to have great word output, and once you feel better, you rightly want to dwell on the baby and not how you felt like a trash fire in the early months. (I once threw the perfectly innocent but relentlessly cheerful Prayerfully Expecting: A Nine-Month Novena for Mothers to Be across the room when the author mentioned you might not feel up to mopping as often — at the time, all I could manage was scrubbing the toilet a bit as I lay beside it.) These writers understand the blessed awfulness of a trash fire pregnancy, and have helped me:

Getting my IV when I was so morning sick I didn’t realize I also had a stomach bug until in retrospect

 

 

Hurricane Thoughts

I’m a native Floridian. I’m also a professional worrier, so my mind last week was on Irma a lot, praying for friends and family in its path.

And coming after Hurricane Harvey, which probably elicited a Hail Mary or two from me, or the fires out West, which pretty much flew under my radar, I’m feeling some guilt about my completely arbitrary distribution of compassion.

I was talking about this with a friend recently, who at the time was fretting about what Hurricane Irma might do to her Outer Banks vacation, and of course feeling guilty about that, when so much greater suffering is occurring as a result. After all, while a hurricane might obligingly spin out to sea and leave everyone untouched, generally, if you’re praying for the safety of one set of people, you’re sort of sacrificing other sets who will end up in the storm’s path instead.

While we were talking, though, over breakfast in our church’s basement, she pointed to a poster with the photos of current seminarians in our diocese. She admitted that each year, as she comforted unruly babies during Mass, she’d pick, at random, one of the seminarians and pray for him over the course of the year. (I love this idea, don’t you?)

And suddenly, the arbitrary allotment of prayer didn’t seem so selfish. We are human; we are finite. (News fatigue is a thing, after all.) We form a connection, as deep as the third-generation Florida blood that runs in my veins or as serendipitous as a face chosen at random off a poster, and we devote our efforts deeply, if not broadly.

It’s the same reason, after all, that since returning from Uganda in 2009, J and I have devoted much of our (admittedly often limited) philanthropy and prayers to Uganda. We only spent six months there, almost ten years ago, but I have a bit of a better context to focus my prayers and guide my financial giving: I know the towns where the people we fund through Kiva live; I know bits of the Lhukonzo our Compassion International child speaks.

I can’t care as deeply for everyone affected by natural disaster as those living in the landscapes in which I’m mostly deeply rooted; I cannot grieve the losses of every child the way I pray for my Compassion child in the loss of his father. That’s not to say I can’t care more, pray more, give more — I have a very long way to go! It’s only to say that you have causes, and I have causes, and if each of us in the world take up a few causes of our own, dear to our hearts, and nourish them well, that might be a good starting place. Breaking the world into small, meaningful chunks and loving those around us as best we can — that seems like a plan we can just about manage.