A Quiet Place, or the Unbearable Blessing of Parenthood

AQuietPlaceCoverScary movies are not our favorite, but last weekend, Jodi, Gabe and I finally watched A Quiet Place, the unexpected, critically acclaimed monster/thriller from director John Krasinski (best know as quick-witted paper salesman Jim Halpert on the U.S. version of The Office TV series). Rated PG-13, the movie stars Krasinski and his real-life wife Emily Blunt (of Thorp favorites The Adjustment Bureau, Looper and Mary Poppins Returns) as a husband and wife trying to protect their children in a frightful world in which the sounds of day-to-day life are deadly.

Most horror movies and thrillers (honestly, most movies overall) are too violent, profane, explicit and/or gory to garner my attention, but the trailer for this one caught my eye, followed by a number of positive reviews, including this one (with spoilers; don’t read past the first paragraph if you want to view it fresh!) by Bishop Robert Barron in which he called A Quiet Place “the most unexpectedly religious film of the year.” Finally, my son Brendan and his fiance Becky recommended it to us, and it all became too much: It had to be seen. Continue reading

More Friends and Good People

I’ve added a few new sites to my Friends and Good People blogroll (to the right and below) — take a minute and check them out!

  • The Art of Manliness. Fr. Tyler at Prairie Father introduced me to The Art of Manliness site some years ago. Whatever you’d like to delve into among the masculine and gentlemanly arts, it’s here — from grooming and dressing, to proper tool use and survival skills, to sandwich recipes and a killer series on the history of manly honor. Do yourself a favor, men — check it out, then bookmark it for your sons.
  • House Unseen. Two blogging friends (Laura the Crazy Mama and Andrea at Reconciling Remus and Rome) shared a brilliant post on Natural Family Planning from Dwija at House Unseen (which I myself passed on a few weeks back). I went there, and read this: “We bought a house in rural Michigan sight-unseen off the internet. My husband quit his job in California and we moved our kids across the country. Dogs. Goats. Chickens. Homeschooling. Crazy. I like my sacraments Catholic and my beer cold.” I think we could be friends.
  • Practical Catholic Junto. An orthodox Catholic take on Benjamin Franklin’s club, dedicated to solving practical problems in the community. The blog has more of a political and current events flavor, with occasional, more substantial articles about applied Catholic teaching and Catholic living
  • The Imaginative Conservative. If you’ve begun to despair that folks have forgotten there is such as thing as a conservative intellectual tradition, go here. They’ll make you want to read, write, and think again.
Hope to see you around the neighborhood — if you visit these sites, let me know what you think!

Advocating for Life-Giving Love

What can happen when you say “Yes”…

Blogger’s Note: The links below are to good stuff, but not necessarily kids’ stuff. Use discretion.

Probably the most transformation part of my conversion to Catholicism — not just going to church on Sunday, but full-tilt “this is who I am and how I try to live” conversion — has been the reorientation of my thinking on the topics of marriage, sexuality, and procreation. See, the Catholic Church is perhaps the one institution on Earth that has refused to divorce these three things from each other…and when Jodi and I were preparing for marriage, I was not entirely on board with that.

In the years since, my thinking has changed — and along with it, my life, my marriage, my family, my entire conception of who I’m called to be.

Now Jodi and I speak at retreats for engaged couples, sharing with frankness how we were, in fact, where they are — crazy in love, uncertain about parenthood, frightened by the Church’s teachings, and unready to “risk” a baby. (What an awful phrase, in retrospect.) We share the Truth we’ve come to know as best we can — but I’m always looking for new ways of going about it. And once in a while, I stumble across really good stuff.

So — if you’re struggling to understand or explain the Church’s teachings marriage and sexuality, check out these links:

  • NFP Doesn’t Work…You Have So Many Kids!: Read your Genesis: fertility is the original blessing from God — and if it ain’t broke, don’t “fix” it! This blog post hits the nail on the head with humor and truth to spare.
  • How Premarital Sex Rewires the Brain: a simple, biology-based explanation for why relationships that get too serious too quickly last too long, crash so hard, and hurt so bad.
  • After Steubenville: 25 Things Our Sons Need to Know About Manhood: a mother’s poetic and heart-wrenching response to the teen sexual assault that made national headlines.
Not long ago, an old friend asked if I still had big plans for my career, as a writer, or maybe running for office. He had known me years before when I used to daydream about such possibilities. I told him that these days, if I raise my sons to respect women and my daughters to respect themselves, I’ll have done alright. 
Some kids are too young to hear this sort of material — but as parents, when the time is right, we’ve got to share it. I firmly believe it’s the only way we can redeem the culture. I’m grateful that, judging from the links above, others feel the same.

Our Monsterpiece

The Eyes Have It: Lily at a fundraiser dinner, taking it all in. That’s not Jodi holding her…she sucked in countless others that evening to do her bidding. (Photo: Michelle LeMonds at Michelle LeMonds Photography)
monsterpiece – n. – a perfectly created monster;
the pinnacle of a monster-maker’s handiwork*

She drinks you with those eyes. Draws you near in dumb adoration, cute-struck, closer and closer. Her spit-shined pink lips part in an open-mouth smile, toothless except on bottom, and saliva pools on her dimpled chin. She’s close enough now you can smell her baby-ness; she’s reaching with her long little fingers for your clothes, your hair, whatever she can grasp, all giggles and gasping shrieks of delight.
She’s got you.

* * * * *

In earlier December, I made the following prediction: “[W]e are having our tomboy, an active girl of about 10 pounds (plus or minus two ounces; 9-15 like her daddy would be just fine), 21 inches long or so. She’s gonna sleep alright, but when she starts moving about, she’ll be our first climber. We shall have our hands full. She will have a Thorp head, of course, and Jodi’s hazel eyes that look green in the right light.”

Dad always cautioned me that when it comes to children, “you get what you expect.” Six days after the official prediction, we were blessed with Lily, who emerged a little lighter (9 pounds, 4 ounces) and a little longer (23-1/2 inches), but very much an active girl and every bit a handful, with a Thorp head and captivating eyes. She sleeps alright, by which I mean not great, and she is fickle, demanding, and persistent. Perhaps we didn’t get a tomboy, but a diva…

* * * * *

If she sees you, then loses sight, she cries. If you initiate eye contact or conversation, then look away or fall silent, she cries. If you pick her up only to put her down  whether in her car seat or among her toys she cries. If you hold her close and sit, she wants to stand; if you stand, she wants to move…and again, if you look her in the eye, don’t be the first to look away. She cries.

Until two weeks ago she refused to take bottle. She wanted to nurse, exclusively and often, and would accept no substitute. To give Jodi a moment’s peace, for the first time in five children, we decided to try a pacifier. She bit it and spit it out. 

Finally her insatiable appetite got the best of her; now she demands the bottle. And when she wants it she wants it: four ounces at a minimum, no matter how much she’s nursed. Sometimes she still screams when you give it to her, but just try to take it from her…she cannot get it to her face on her own, but lie her on her back and she will clasp it to her chest with both hands. Sometimes if you try to help, she gets agitated — but step away, and invariably she will drop it and scream.

She won’t swallow baby cereal. She’ll eat a little pureed green beans, grimacing and shuddering the whole way — as though she knows the adage, “That which does not kill you makes you stronger.”

Whereas Trevor often insisted, verbally and mentally, the world match his ideas about it, Lily makes it so. We’ve tried to wait her out when she gets owly. Thus far she appears to have more time than we do. She’s like a first-quality air-raid siren: made to be heard in the worst conditions, and just as loud an hour or more later.

* * * * *

And she knows what she likes. One night while pacing the kitchen, trying to get her to sleep, I found myself unable to keep from nuzzling the black fuzz on the back of her head. Our other kids would duck away when I do this  they couldn’t stand the prickliness of my clipped goatee. Lily, by contrast, moved her head slowly side to side against my whiskers, then pressed it deliberately into my chin. I turned away, then back to her; again she rubbed her head on my chin, then leaned hard against it. 

Over time, she began to put her bare cheek against my whiskers, then her open mouth, and now, her nose and rapidly blinking eyes. She can barely stand it, but she persists nonetheless. That which does not kill you…

* * * * *

Will she be a climber? Time will tell. She is strong; she rolls easily, quickly, and repeatedly, and as of last week, spins quickly on her belly to orient herself toward whatever she desires, then arm-crawls across any terrain. If she reaches her objective, she grasps and consumes it, first with her eyes, then with her gaping, smiling mouth, toothless except on the bottom.

She’s our monsterpiece. As I’ve said countless times now: “Good thing she’s cute…”

Daddy’s Girls: Y’all realize the only thing keeping Lily where she’s at is the friction of my whiskers on her fuzzy little head — that’s why my head is tilted to hers. Not snuggling…nosiree! (Photo: Katrina Nielsen at Spiritus Capere Photography)


*”Monsterpiece” was coined by Rose and me a few weeks back, specifically to describe Lily.

Preparing for Baby Boggles the Mind

[Blogger’s Note: This is a classic Pooh mural my sister painted in the baby’s room in Michigan when Brendan was a toddler, just before Gabe came along. There was a plaque alongside with the following inscription: “Getting Tigger down,” said Eeyore, “and Not hurting anybody. Keep those two ideas in your head, Piglet, and you’ll be alright.” The rest of this post originally appeared in the Friday, Oct. 14, 1997, edition of The Pioneer daily newspaper, Big Rapids, Mich. The first third is a bit much, but I was excited at the time that people would pay to read this sort of thing. It is the column referenced in yesterday’s Almost There post.]

It’s Friday, and this is a Friday kind of column.

For those who looked in Tuesday’s paper to find my column, thank you. I appreciate those people in the community who have said that they enjoy my columns. (I would say “my work,” but do you realize what O’m paid to do? I get to write.) I appreciate those who enjoy them and do not say so. I appreciate those people who read my columns and don’t like them — tell me what you don’t like, and we’ll discuss it.

It might make fodder for another column.

It’s Friday. Not my usual day for a column — I would say that too much work kept me from writing Tuesday’s column, except that my column is part of that “too much work,” and so is no real excuse. I got my other work done…

I could tell you that other people’s columns took precedence, except that a day or two ago I was accused of writing with honesty, and to be honest, everyone including me expected I’d have a column in for Tuesday. I can’t even blame a lack of ideas — I’ve got no less than a dozen columns started right now. No ends in sight, though.

I have slowly discovered that I have a readership. (A readership!) It’s a good feeling, and a source of pressure. I like to write columns, and now I feel I have a responsibility to turn out quality material every Tuesday so as not to disappoint my readership. Several weeks back I ran a piece out of my college journal — I drove from Big Rapids to Remus and back in the middle of the night to deliver that piece to the paper because I hadn’t written my column and didn’t want to let the Taylors down.

Crazy, yes, but dedicated.

But, as our night editor used to say (at least once), “{People don’t want to see how the sausage is made.”

They want the product.

What follows is this week’s morsel.

October 8, Jodi and I signed our names and purchased a home — three bedrooms, a bath and a half, brick halfway up and a two-car garage. It’s on Maple Street. (Sounds homey, doesn’t in? A friend of mine, Ed Quon, lives on Micheltorena Street — which of us is married and expecting?)

We haven’t actually taken possession yet, and out baby is due Nov. 19, which means any day now. [Blogger’s Note: Too funny. Brendan was born what, 40 or so days later?] At this point, the baby has more stuff than his or her parents, and we’re anxious to get in, repaint the baby’s room, and decorate. We have to repaint the room — its current color just isn’t Classic Pooh.

Classic Pooh is that subtle, old-fashioned Pooh based on E.H. Shepard’s illustrations — very nice; cute and pricey. Will the baby like Classic Pooh? I don’t know.

All decorating and kidding aside, we need to make sure we’re ready for this child. Crib? Check. Carseat? Check. Stroller? Check — but not the one we registered for. Don’t get me wrong; it’s a very nice stroller, but the one we registered for had a reversible handle so the baby could ride facing toward you or away from you.

“Babies like to see their parents,” I’ve been told, by parents who wish they would have gotten the reversible handle.

I suspect parents like to see their babies. Even so, will the baby like the stroller we have?

Snugglie? [Blogger’s Note: Sic. Snugli, not Snuggie…] Not yet. Wedge-shaped pillow to keep baby sleeping on his or her side or back? Nope. Outlet covers? In a couple months, probably — we don’t know yet how many outlets we’ll need covered/

How about corner and door pads — have you seen these? The package proclaims, “Give your child the safety of a padded room,” or something like that.

My kids ought to be in a padded room — is that what they’re telling me?

With millions of products on the market that new parents “need,” how does any baby survive to age one in a family with average income?

Baby wipe warmers?

The retailers and manufacturers have expectant and anxious parents right where they want us. At the beginning of life, just as at the end, people are made to feel guilty unless they spare no expense.

How did babies survive before crib monitors and motion-sensitive night light/musical crib mobiles? How did parents survive before Diaper Genie? [Blogger’s Note: This is the one product about which we were both excited and sorely disappointed. Yes, it makes disposal of diapers relatively odor-free; the magically disappear and are locked away, sealed in scentless plastic…where they ferment for days until you are forced, gagging, to empty the “Genie.” Apparently the pail/bag in combination is somehow scentless, but a bag full of rotting waste on its own reeks regardless…]

What about names? We have two in mind for a boy — Brendan James (middle-named after me) or Zachary Venjohn (middle-named after Jodi, whose maiden name is Venjohn). We like Brendan James, because our oldest boy will be named after his dad. On the other hand, we like Zachary Venjohn because it’s unique, it would mean a lot to Jodi and her family, and he’ll still be named Thorp after his father and his father’s fathers.

For baby girls, it’s either Emily Rose or Rachel Elizabeth. Probably Emily, but will she like it? Is it too old-fashioned? Too cute? Will it serve her well in her profession?

Can you yell it out the back door?

We need to save enough money to cover Jodi’s time away from work and our bills. We need to find day care for when she goes back to work. I need to get a cell phone or a pager [Blogger’s Note: Remember pagers? I wound up with a “bag-phone,” which I lugged everywhere and dubbed Baby-Com.] — what if I miss the birth? Will Jodi remember to breathe? Will I?

With all these questions flitting around my head, how do you expect me to concentrate on a column?