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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The revised edition.

I remember enough of it to proceed.

I have no idea who reads this blog. It says about 400+ page views per day, but apart from a core of 20 or so more-to-less regular commenters, I haven't a clue. From what I can tell, most are Christian, and run the gamut from traditionalist Catholics to Presbyterians to Pentecostals. Some are family (hi, Mom! Hi, Maria! Hi, Doug (check your e-mail)).

But that doesn't explain 400+ per day, unless the core is tapping the refresh bar with glazed-eyed Pavlovian relish.

So, since I don't know who I am speaking to, I get the distinct feeling that sometimes I have to loosen the deathgrip on the bar stool, put it down and find other ways to get my point across.

From what people tell me, being a parent is both much easier and much, much more difficult than it used to be. In the easier ledger is the available physical plant. Such things as disposable diapers, super strollers and baby monitors and even flame-retardant clothing.

But the "harder" column can't be ignored, and that stems directly from our wounded culture. Lest we forget, fellow Catholics and people of good will, we have it on good authority that we are living in a "culture of death." One of the most corrosive aspects of that culture is the Cult of Stuff.

I. Must. Have. More.

It's a supercharged, post-modern version of what is condemned by the 9th and 10th Commandments. The problem is that it has managed to go beyond the endless quest for material comfort and has resulted in the commodification of human beings, especially children.

Our so-advanced world teaches people to be profoundly ambivalent about children. This takes two forms: First, the limited blessing. They are good in small, carefully-calibrated doses. Kinda like chemo. You can see this in the offhanded, almost instinctive responses strangers make with respect to children. Heather and I ran into this repeatedly after Dale was born: "Oh, lucky you--you've had one of each. Now you can quit." After a couple of moments of consternation, Heather came up with a canned response--"Oh, but we need a tie-breaker."

My personal favorite was the smiling woman who told me point-blank, without a touch of malice in her voice: "Sounds like you need to get fixed."

I kid you not. Obviously, it's not broken, honey. No, I didn't say that. There was a demurring polite non-response in its place. I can't afford to verbally decapitate a judge's case manager. That, and it was still better than the raised and quickly-dropped rumination about the possibility of abortion I once heard from another very nice person, just after the announcement of our third pregnancy. I revealed my pro-life credentials by saying I'd "sooner cut my d**k off first."

Some people pray at abortion clinics.

I channel Tommy Chong.

The second source of ambivalence is the demand that those carefully-rationed little doses get everything they need to get ahead. Otherwise, you are manifestly A Bad Parent. Ever walk into a Babies R Us and start feeling a little defensive? Hence, the need to have two incomes so you can afford the good house in the good school district and meet their every need, with those needs defined by people who pay big bucks for the writing of lots and lots of ad copy. And it's not just ads. It's the magazines, and the news stories, and the mixed and often contradictory messages from physicians, psychologists, educators, and, yes, clergy.

Welcome to Ritalin Nation.

As a result, I think a lot of parents simply overload and decide they are going to try to stagger through to the finish line as best they can. Have fun at college!

In the modern world, common sense ain't. We have now going on two generations of people who are simply trying to keep their heads above water. Ever watch an episode of Super Nanny? There are a lot of very bright, very well off people who have no clue. In short, most people who purchase The Dolls haven't done so as the result of a carefully considered process, weighing positives and negatives. Instead it's something more like:

"Ah. 21st Century Barbie. Popular on TV. Want kids to fit in. Into cart, toy product. Have to get home to make supper, wash clothes, and clean 2000 sq. ft of living space before turning in at midnight."

Are they free moral agents? Yes. Are they still responsible for their actions? Yes, again. Have they been given the greatest responsibility under heaven, namely, the raising of human life? Yep-per. Must they be held accountable for it? Yes, and amen.

But I respectfully submit that some basic human sympathy is the first order of business. Uncorking the equivalent of "You suck!" at bewildered and exhausted parents guarantees only one thing--the flipping of the switch to "Off."

Yes, yes--"Jesus and St. Paul were pretty brutal in their rhetoric."

They sure were. Make sure to call me when (1) an ecumenical council is convoked to define the theological parameters of your person, and/or (2) when your writings are declared to be inspired and inerrant.

Which is not to say that there is never a time or place for it. Of course there is. I'd even say it's earlier than most, and warranted far more often than you see it. But that time isn't right after you ring the doorbell.

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