[Part I of the series is here.]
[Part III is here.]
Bear with me as I expand on Apologia Pro Vita Schlub-a.
No, it was not all Blatz and Twinkies when I poped. Sure, the centrality of Christ, the theological structure, and the prospects of being able to find more to read than is possible in a lifetime--these beckoned joyfully. However, there was one slight, teensy, uncontroversial little teaching that I hadn't quite signed on to.
Yeah, that one.
It wasn't that I thought it wrong, either. Rather, I thought it impossible. And since my bride had also not exactly embraced it, it took some time to work it out. I confessed it regularly, but it was not until we both ran into a crotchety old priest in a Mount Clemens confessional that we managed to sign on, however nervously. Father was stern kindliness with me, pointing out that my old age would be unpleasant without children. He was rather more stern than kindly with Heather, but I let her tell that if she wishes. The point is, slapped upside the head with the Church's unadorned teaching, we decided to walk in faith.
Eleven months later, Madeleine was born. And, yes, we sent a word of thanks and appreciation to the faithful priest.
Those who teach you NFP tell you that it will work--and it can--and does. They'll also tell you you have to develop new methods of communicating love to your spouse during the no-no-unless-you-want-another phase. That is also true.
But they don't ever quite convey how damn difficult that is. That you will glare at a thermometer, verbally question its mating proclivities and stare hot-death hatred at it and its lying bastard chart accomplice at the worst of times.
NFP: You'll Learn To Die To Self--Very, Very, Very Slowly!
Oddly enough, that's not the motto on the box. But that's what it is.
And the kids kept a'comin. And the house kept a-stayin' the same size. Please, do not misunderstand, though: the children are wonderful, and I love all six of them a little more every day. They amaze, amuse and infuriate--often in the same action, but I wouldn't trade it for all the tea in China. Sure, there are always troubles, but each day is a little worse than the next in that regard. One day they'll all have moved out and I won't know what to do in the weird, off-putting quiet.
But that's hard to convey to those unfamiliar with the concept. And the incredulity of those unfamiliar with the notion of being "open to children" kept mounting. I would like to say that everyone was understanding, kind, and respected our decision to have more than 2.1 children, without putting a top-end number on it. I would like to, but that would be untrue. It strained relationships, some badly, and prompted total strangers to offer advice that would get them tased in a civilized society.
I'm going to snap one day and offer something like this:
Thank you for your not-at-all-creepy-or-inappropriate interest in my genitalia and their function! But frankly, I'm far, far more interested in yours! Oh, I'm sorry--do they no longer work properly?
And, of course, I'll be the bad guy.
Anyhoo, you may have noticed I digress some. So, to end the digression: Fr. Endearingly Cranky was the first Catholic cleric to personally confront us on contraception. As far as I can recall, in the 13 years since, there hasn't been another.
Let's call this NR!S (Nice Roof! Syndrome). Or The Most Well-Hidden Dogmatic Obsession Ever.
Now, believe it or not, the reference to NFP and our burgeoning family does have a larger point, in that it takes me back to our original neighborhood where we lived for 9 years. It was interesting, often in the same sense as the apocryphal Chinese curse. Actually, it was more than that--it was a thoroughly human place, with the potential for dozens of books, all of them worth reading.
We bought our house--naturally--just before the real estate bubble peaked in Michigan. And then housing values dove like kamikaze pilots. It was a renovated-and-flipped job, albeit somewhat low quality. No, really low quality. Jerktastic! We even learned that a previous owner had shot her dirtbag (?) husband (?) in it. No restless shades, but some really weird moments. Apart from being drafty, its real drawback was that we hadn't planned to live there for more than 4 years, as we knew in our bones that the real estate market just kept going up up up! Even in dicey suburban neighborhoods--flip it, baby! But the combination of rising family numbers and plummeting house value meant we lived there longer than planned.
By Year 9, I was calling it the Beige Submarine, and that was an accurate description of its cramped-ness. I've slept on roomier submarines--honest. And when it went up for a sheriff's sale, it sold at a little north of 10 percent of what we paid for it. We actually had a potential buyer offer a lot more than that, but the arcane world of finance meant foreclosure was better. Can't say as I care much for the banking world these days.
The neighbors were a variety of folks, from a robotics company supervisor and his then-not-Catholic-no-sir wife and family (whom we befriended), along with waitresses, a cop, school janitors, plumbers, retail service workers, flailing welfare recipients with Section 8 funds, recent immigrants and people with serious criminal records. Or on their way to developing them. We found out, only after the seemingly legal-residents were evicted, that two nearby houses held squatters. For years. In the main, though, it was working class people in starter homes with big mortgages, no matter how long they'd lived there. The Great Recession, which started earlier in Michigan, planted foreclosure stickers on the windows with plague-like finality. If I never see another clean-out dumpster in a driveway, it will be far too soon. Alas, they appear in our new neighborhood, too. Welcome to the New Normal.
It was loud, and the Stop signs which fronted our corner lot were given a wide variety of interpretations. It was War of the Stereos and Fireworks during the summer months, with our poor dog developing a twitch during warm weather that only faded with the first frost.
A couple of times, you could have filmed episodes of Cops on our street, complete with blurred-out-innocent-until-proven-guilty Solid Citizens screaming bleeped obscenities at remarkably patient suburban cops. Such as the time they had to remove Screaming Redneck Riot Mamma and her jerk offender son from their local criminal center. I was not surprised that the neighbors cheered the cops on and jeered--some, rather openly--the dysfunctional louts. Despite the problems, I really wouldn't call it a "bad" neighborhood. I liked the people, or at least most of them. It was a rough neighborhood, with rough people, but most had their hearts in the right place. Including across-the-street Mike, who greeted us when we moved in holding a Bud and wearing his best boxer shorts. He also let kids pick flowers from his rosebush and professed his love for his common-law wife of a couple decades (yeah, I know they don't exist any more, but that's what she was) to all and sundry. When his heart gave out suddenly a few years later, the whole neighborhood mourned.
Long after we settled in, we were informed by the neighborhood's human newsstand that we had become known as "the church people." She said it affectionately, to our relief. They saw us going to Mass every Sunday, and watched the kidlets appear every 18 months or so. For whatever reason, our little corner fridge box became a go-to place for people. For kids to play, sure. All the toys in the backyard! Someone seriously asked if we ran a home day care.
But also more dramatic, even harrowing stuff, including domestic disputes (one which involved a successful plan to sneak the victim and her kids out of the house, and the other a drive to a crappy part of Detroit on a Friday evening), being chased by bullies, the drunken and deeply-weird, the other drunk who needed an escort home (he came back sobered up--as he was periodically--and gave my kids stuffed animals), or even to dump off cats, whether healthy or seemingly undead. I'm not saying this as some kind of evidence of heroic virtue--ha! In fact, I think a great job for a priest the Archbishop of Detroit is annoyed with would be to assign him as a postulator for my cause. [Hysterical shriek: "There's nothing there--NOTHING! NOOOOOOTHINNNNGGGGG!!! I've never wanted so much to kill someone who's already dead--and then burn the ashes--and perform an exorcism--just to be sure!"]
The stories are really pretty endless about the folks of the old stomping grounds and the tragedies deserve mention, too: the sweetheart of a kid with fetal alcohol syndrome deformities, the two suicides--one a sweet old lady a block up, and the other, Vic, who was always nice to Heather and the kids when she went for a walk. Whom we last saw handing out Halloween candy before the demons made him pull the trigger.
Well, what's the point of describing my old neighborhood? It actually relates to the new Pope, and it's one of the things that cheers me about him: the reaching out to the working class, the poor, the marginalized, those barely hanging on. The thing is, we shouldn't have been "the church people." They all should have been. Sure, we did invite people to church, but our success on that score was limited to the Catholics-are-weird-no-way neighbors.
The thing is, they all should be. But they're not. And if your American parish is anything like mine, the working class of whatever race--the Fishtowners, to crib from a recent study--aren't there. They need to be, for the love of the Christ who died for them. But we need them, too, so we don't become self-absorbed in our middle class or higher bubbles/gated communities and concerns. So when the Pope visits these folks and reaches out to them, I'm right there with him. Amen. More. Bravo!
So, yes, kudos to the Holy Father for taking that approach, and may we all follow suit and do likewise.
And now on to Part III, wherein I'll probably tick off people by mentioning what freaks me out about the Pope.