Friday, April 18, 2014

How To Give An Introvert An Ego Trip

To the introvert misfits of the world, this is our Shades of Gray. You might find yourself staying up to read the intro, and then, suddenly, preparing breakfast the next morning, followed by an exclamation to the world (via your pseudonym blog) that this is the most thrilling historical non-fiction psychoanalysis that's ever been written.
Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking reads like a conspiracy theory and self-help book in one. She laments the compromises of an extrovert-laden society, the perils of extrovert leadership, and the dilution of education from knowledge to extrovert personality training.

Fellow introverts, prepare to be affirmed and empowered.
Cain pulls from the stories of famous and successful introverts as she reinforces this idea that group learning and collaboration don't lead to productivity or innovation. Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, and the man who designed and built the prototype for the first personal computer gives this advice in his memoir:
"I don't believe anything really revolutionary has been invented by committee... Work alone. You're going to be best able to design revolutionary products and features if you're working on your own. Not on a committee. Not on a team."
Even to a hardcore introvert like myself, Wozniak's words sound extreme. I can't deny the synergy of a well-constructed committee. But I'll note that the most effective committees are led by introverts, gathering brilliant minds (not vocal heads), and then calling out and allowing synergy to occur.
Cain recognizes the value of shared brainpower in the creation of Linux, Wikipedia, and, all online collaborations that form an empire of knowledge, vastly greater than the sum of their parts. Yet she admonishes the responses of educators rushing to group learning and businesses forcing open office plans, underscoring that these forced collaborations remove the common denominators of successful group work: asynchronous, anonymous sharing of ideas, among individuals with the ability to self-monitor and improve independently.
For anyone who's ever been stuck in an extrovert-controlled work environment, it's all you can do to stand back and watch the train wreck. I wonder how many Fortune 500 companies have come to financial ruin, with the lynchpin to their solvency outlined on a legal pad in some introvert's desk drawer.
Malaysia's botched search for Flight 370 reeks of ego-laden bureaucrats more focused on self-preservation than answers. There was secrecy, misinformation, international experts tiptoeing on hold to preserve diplomatic relations. It's easy to blame Thailand for waiting a week before mentioning their satellite footprint of the aircraft on the night of its disappearance, excusing their silence with the somewhat casual dismissal that "no one had asked."
But why had no one asked? Malaysian authorities were ceremoniously directing international search efforts, projecting a feigned air of competence, and holding so tightly to "confidential" information that who would think they didn't already have the satellite record?
And then, once this new information is made available, the flawed process is not re-examined or even acknowledged, we simply blame the introvert and move on.
"Why didn't you speak up?!!" the leader-extroverts demand, once again enjoying their martyred wax poetic on a sinking ship -- wringing hands, dramatic pacing -- over any real search for answers.
Cain even looks at how an emphasis on extrovert qualities has shaped spirituality in America, visiting a megachurch in California to quantify the experience: "Everything in the service involved communication. Greeting people, the lengthy sermon, the singing. There was no emphasis on quiet, liturgy, ritual, things that give you space for contemplations."
She recognizes there's a place for these communication-oriented spiritual exercises. Even so, in evangelical America, where extroversion is often seen as an indicator of virtue, faith is perceived as less genuine if not accompanied by a gregarious smile, proselytizing strangers, and a loud singing voice. As Cain concludes, "many evangelicals have come to associate godliness with sociability," which could cause introverts among them to question the authenticity of their own faith.
Research repeatedly indicates more is rarely better in terms of in-person group collaboration. The larger a group, the fewer and less creative its ideas. Moreover, repeated studies show an increase in performance when people work alone, especially when creativity or efficiency are of the essence.
Interestingly, the one exception to this research is online brainstorming, which values inherent introvert skillsets. In this case, the larger the group, the better it performs. (As an aside, it's never failed that when I do a Facebook call-out for advice, I get more diverse, experienced, informed responses than any amount of personal online research could procure.)
In a disconcerting analysis on the U.S. education system, Cain notes that it's primary goal has shifted from imparting knowledge to crowd control. And as a result, pod seating, group projects and presentations prevail, components more accessible to extroverts than introverts. This approach reinforces fallacies of groupthink, misperceptions that the person who speaks the best is the most intelligent, and individual learning is sacrificed under the guise of "preparation for the real world," where collaborative workforces are the way of the future.
But what if cutting-edge businesses are realizing group work isn't the way of the future? Many progressive companies are shifting from conference room brainstorming sessions to the more ubiquitous approach of online chat forums. They're doing away with open office plans, opting instead for versatile workspace that transitions from meeting rooms to enclosed cubicles, or rotating private offices accessible to anyone who needs a couple hours of uninterrupted work.

For me, the greatest takeaway in Quiet is Susan Cain's refusal to oversimplify this concept, forcing everyone into a camp of either introvert or extrovert. She creates a fluid spectrum along which people can adjust, intentionally or unintentionally, through a lifetime. She also dedicates an entire chapter to the valuable skill of "faking it," stories of observant introverts who have so learned the mannerisms of extroverts that they seamlessly interact with both worlds (and then hide in bathroom stalls in conference halls to recover).

About halfway through the book, Cain digresses into what reads as a series of research publications, citing examples of introversion and extroversion in animals, the roots of nature and nurture in child development, the role of ethnicity, politics, economics, and social activism. Perhaps it's all relevant to the issue; I just found it less interesting than her intense, somewhat combative pro-introvert rally through the first several chapters. 

Nonetheless, she recovers with a couple chapters on how our career and relationship ambitions can complement our temperaments, and offers great advice for raising kids with tendencies toward introversion (notably: don't force extrovert behaviors). Overall, she writes with new perspective on a concept personal to everyone, and I enjoyed many "A-ha!" moments for myself, my work, and my relationships.
If you have an introvert in your life, share this book with them! ($2.99 on Amazon Kindle)

Friday, April 11, 2014

7 Quick Takes: I'm hungry and pregnant. With twins.

1. Breakfast Comes Early

I've been waking up famished at 4 am. My body's acting like I didn't eat four slices of Nutella toast and chocolate milk before falling asleep on the couch at 10 pm.

2. When Bacon Burns Our House Down

The other morning I set off the smoke alarm trying to make bacon. Let me rephrase that - I set off every smoke alarm in the house, trying to make bacon. At 4 am. The silence button doesn't work on our ultra-safe alarms, and they're wired in, so there's no popping out the batteries. And they're ultra-sensitive, so if you turn on the oven, they'll go off. The only way to silence these smoke detectors is to completely remove them from the wall and run them outside to fresh air -- siren blaring the whole time. Sometimes we forget to put them back, and they end up on the back porch for days. 

3. Lasting Repercussions

So now when I turn on the stove for pre-dawn Breakfast Number One, the dog runs into the bedroom and wakes up Wally like we're all gonna die. When he wanders into the kitchen, I usually offer a distracted and unconvincing, "Oh, I'm so sorry you're awake too." But I'm secretly glad that he's not getting sleep either.

4. Safer Alternatives
I've been sticking to scrambled eggs and cheese since the bacon debacle... 

5. A Twin-Pregnancy Meal Plan

...followed by Frosted Flakes at 8 am, trail mix through the morning, Lunch #1 at 11 am, Lunch #2 at 2 pm, granola bars at 4:30 pm, another egg while making dinner, Dinner #1 at 6 pm, ice cream or popcorn through the evening, and Dinner #2 at 10 pm.

6. Inevitable

And I'm still hungry all the time.

7. So It Figures

Women pregnant with twins are twice as likely to develop gestational diabetes. ::sigh::

Visit Jen at Conversion Diary for more Quick Takes!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Why Have Another Kid

Now that I'll be hugely pregnant with twins (surprise!) with a preschooler at each hand, I need to practice what to tell all the people (mostly strangers) who ask about our family planning style:

1. The 2-year-old and 4-year-old are no longer a challenge.

2. We finally caught up on sleep.

3. Our gene pool is awesome.

4. There's nothing on TV.

5. Two kids per room is not enough.

6. The 4-year-old keeps trying to play "baby" with the cat. (Yes, he has a baby doll.)

7. We're training for a survival reality TV show.

8. We want to play zone defense. We're tired of man-on-man. 

9. We haven't gotten our money's worth out of the cloth diapers yet.

10. There just aren't enough Baders in Texas.

11. We're filthy rich. (The 10-year-old Buick and South Carrollton residence are red herrings.)

12. The dog and cat aren't getting enough attention.

13. We need some demolition work done around the house. 

14. We don't trust social security to still be around when we're 65 70 95 100. But hey, we'll do our part.
15. We want it to mean something when our kids say, "Hey, you pick on one Bader, you pick on all of us!"

16. We're tired of NFP charting and are ready for a 9-month break.

17. Our attic is full of baby stuff, and we want to move it all back into the house. 

18. We've heard all the readings at Mass and don't need to hear them again for 5 years.

19. We're still 7 short of a baseball team.

20. The kitchen table seats 4 (when expanded), but we think we can fit a few more.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Is Free College Tuition A Good Idea?

Richard Eskow writes in the Huffington Post that "the time will come when we as a society will ask ourselves: How can we deny a higher education to any young person in this country just because she or he can't afford it?

Granted, I'm an advocate of public preschool, as an extension of the public K-12 school program. But that's because I have preschoolers, and I'm exhausted, and it would be like free educational childcare. So maybe I'm a hypocrite, and a freeloader.

Seriously though, how far are we going to run with this sense of entitlement?

Here's a fun game: replace "higher education" in Eskow's fervid opening sentence with "Corvette," "two-thousand square-foot home," and "annual international vacation," and listen to how stupid you sound.

   1. How can we deny a Corvette to any young person in this country just because she or he can't afford it?

   2. How can we deny a two-thousand square-foot home to any young person in this country just because she or he can't afford it?

   3. How can we deny an annual international vacation to any young person in this country just because she or he can't afford it?

Let's not even focus on the 49% tax on millionaires that the article suggests will cover the cost of higher education for all. Regardless of whether or not or how an initiative like this could be funded, is it actually necessary or integral to the benefit of society?

I am a proponent of government programs that actually contribute to the good of society. I like the idea of a national healthcare program (re: not a national health insurance program, i.e. Obamacare), because I know what it's like to work full-time hours and still not have access to medical care. Let's just be human here: basic healthcare should not be exclusive to those with the gold standard of salaried positions at large, for-profit companies.

But is higher education for all the golden ticket to opportunity? Advocates claim that if young people were provided free college tuition, it would translate to more income, more stability, and eventually, more tax revenue.

Look around at young people today. (Myself included.) Is a college degree really an indicator of future financial stability? For many young adults, steeped in college debt and under-employed, there could be strong arguments against the necessity of higher education.

For students who pursue college degrees, it undeniably extenuates the recent social phenomenon of delayed adolescence. In some ways, delayed adolescence indicates a healthier generation, seeking a better work-life balance, choosing to pursue interesting, unusual, or risky opportunities instead of the rat race of corporate America.

Up until now, these "emerging adults" have been protected (enabled?) by the security net of their parents. With free higher education, the government would become this safety net, ensuring the delayed adolescence of future generations (the same young people we're counting on to offset social security), generations marked by increased financial dependency and decreased social responsibility. (Biannual frat service projects noted.)

For those who say, "Amen! We need to completely privatize society and quit letting all the freeloaders live off our tax dollars," please recognize how ridiculous and hypocritical this sounds. If you feel that strongly about government programming, quit driving on our public roads, sending kids to our public schools, watching PBS, checking books out of our public libraries, and walking through our public parks.

Yes, there are government-funded initiatives well worth the public investment. Is higher education for all one of them? Not in my opinion.

Toga Parties should be an opportunity, nay a RIGHT, for every young American today!

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Sins That Matter: Letting Our Culture Shape Our Theology

With recent controversy over a Catholic school firing a pregnant, unmarried teacher, I offer these timely best practices in applying Christian moral code to the culture at large. It may seem haphazard, hypocritical, or even targeted, and well, it is.

Here's the bottom line: some sins matter and some don't. So before you go all passive-aggressive-social-media-crazy on the guy stealing paper from your company's office supplies, consider these crucial points (in particular #1 and #2 for the office scenario), and judge accordingly:

1. Who's committing the sin?

Women should probably know better, so if the culprit's a woman, more blame is called for. And a healthy dose of social stigma. Men are usually victims of their circumstances: a debilitating family experience during formative years, delayed adolescence, or that pesky, unavoidable testosterone-driven instinct that's just, frankly, beyond their control.

2. Will the person get caught?

It's a much less complicated bureaucracy if we could just look the other way on sins that don't catch our eye. You can balance out this approach by making a Really Big Deal over sins that do capture public attention. Label them. Ostracize them. Make it very clear that nobody else has ever committed this sin before, and their existence shames all of humanity. Hopefully they'll just get taken out by freak lightning, because redemption is not possible.

3. Can you identify the sin, just by looking at the person?

These are the worst, as in the above case of a pregnant, unmarried woman at a Catholic school. If only she could have kept the illicit sex a secret, without getting all inexplicably pregnant (like the still-employed, innately more innocent father of the child). Whether it's a greater sin to have an abortion or be single and pregnant, well, it's not a question for private Catholic schools. It's important to let the person know they're being judged (and rightly so!), and furthermore, that you, as a representative of civil society as a whole, find the whole thing wholly offensive. If you're uncomfortable speaking up with a simple "Well, I never," you can whisper it quietly, stare obtusely, or opt for the infallible ever-sanctimonious response of avoid, avoid, avoid!

4. Is the sin justified by an expressed holier calling?

These sins aren't that important, really not worth mentioning at all, except to silence that still, small, nagging voice in the back of some overly-sensitive souls. Just as prayer before a meal excuses gluttony, an expressed concern for the person in scandal, excuses gossip. (A good phrase with which to begin: "Now, I don't mean to judge, but I'm just concerned for her soul..."). Gluttony is also no big deal if it occurs at a church potluck or on a liturgical feast day, or after midnight or sunset or before sunrise or just because you were really, really hungry on a day of fasting.

So in that crucial decisive moment of weighing someone's eternal soul or karma due, please give these cultural considerations due deference. And perhaps most importantly, don't fall for any kind of "judge not" crap or "higher calling of love" nonsense.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

What the Affordable Care Act Means For Our Family

The past few months have been eye-opening and discouraging. I felt relief when the Affordable Care Act passed, and spent the last four years championing its cause among my friends, family, and coworkers.

I've come to realize, however, that access to health insurance doesn't at all mean access to healthcare. The health insurance companies met the ACA's requirements for accepting everyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions, covering basic wellness tests, and providing free contraception. But we can't legislate a shark into a guppy. Health insurance companies are for-profit organizations who will bend to the letter of the law, without changing the foundation of their business model: profits come from not paying for healthcare.

For most of the past 10 years, I haven't had access to traditional, employer-sponsored health insurance. This has been for many reasons, of which unemployment was only a brief and temporary cause. I've been a dance teacher, a grad student, spent several years with a contemporary dance company, student taught, and currently work part-time in an office. My husband is a contract employee at a sports station, picking up production truck work and umpire gigs on the weekends. We have two kids, ages 2 and 4, one of them has a pre-existing condition that requires regular medication and occasional trips to the ER.

We don't qualify for employer-sponsored health insurance, because we each work less than 40 hours a week. (Once the Affordable Care Act changed the requirement to 30 hours per week to qualify for employer-sponsored health insurance, subsequently delayed to 2015, my husband's job capped his hours even lower to prevent reaching the new threshold.) We also don't qualify for Medicaid, comprehensive healthcare for the very poor.

Before healthcare reform was even being discussed, we looked into independent plans through a variety of health insurance providers, and the cost-benefit ratio was abominable. It came as low as $400 a month for a catastrophic plan with absurd co-pays and co-insurance, an unreachable deductible, no coverage for maternity, nor any provision for pre-existing conditions. Basically, a guarantee for the health insurance provider that we would never use their health insurance.

We joined a healthcare co-op and started a savings account instead.

Interestingly, before the Affordable Care Act, not a single independent health insurance plan in my area covered maternity care. Talk about wiping out the middle class. To anyone between Medicaid and the gold standard of employer-sponsored health insurance: do not have children!

So I started out optimistic about Obamacare, because it would meet a very real need for my family. I'm still hopeful it can inaugurate comprehensive healthcare for all.

I signed up on to receive updates, before it was even launched. All of the anticipation and momentum leading to open enrollment left many, ourselves included, frustrated in the ensuing crash, followed by weeks without access, and months without the ability to update your information. (We're still in that phase of the roll-out, unable to adjust family income or size.)

There's this encouraging update, once you complete your application, before plan estimates are posted:

I'm so glad these are finally considered basic health care. (Or are they?)

According to the estimates that came up on the website, my family of 4 qualifies for health insurance plans ranging in price from $515 - $1308. These prices are not as offensive to me as the somewhat lower price quotes from health insurance companies last year, because these premiums include preventive care, prescriptions, doctor visits, maternity and newborn care, and hospitalization.

Based on the website, here's the breakdown of income qualifications for government subsidies:
  • 1 Person: $11,490 - $45,960
  • 2 People: $15,510 - $62,040
  • 3 People: $19,530 - $78,120
  • 4 People: $23,550 - $94,200
  • 5 People: $27,570 - $110,280
  • 6 People: $31,590 - $126,360
  • 7 People: $35,610 - $142,440
  • 8 People: $39,630 - $158,520
If you make under the minimum income level for each family size, you may qualify for coverage under Medicaid.

Finally our health insurance plan options started coming up on the screen. And I realized nothing had changed, except healthcare via health insurance was now more inaccessible than ever.

With a government subsidy, we would pay $358 each month for the lowest plan. At this level, the health insurance company pays for nothing -- sick visits, prescriptions, specialists, Emergency Room, surgeries -- until we meet an annual deductible of $12,700. For a middle-class family of four, we will be out-of-pocket $16,996 in one calendar year (including premiums), and the government will be out-of-pocket $2,016 in additional subsidies paid directly to the insurance company on our behalf, before any kind of health insurance assistance would begin. After this $19,012 up front, we would be responsible for 20% of all medical bills, until the calendar year turns over, at which point we'd need to meet $19,012 again before insurance began to help.

I know there are many levels of plan available on the healthcare exchange, and the sheer number of plans available would make you think it's simply a treasure hunt for the right plan. But, pardon the expression, a box of shit giftwrapped 200 different ways is still a box of shit. After analyzing all of our plan options on the new public health insurance exchange, we came to the same conclusion on every single plan: we would be out an ungodly amount of money before any kind of actual health care coverage begins.

I shouldn't have been surprised. The goal of the Affordable Care Act wasn't to create a non-profit healthcare system. Yet health insurance companies have turned our national healthcare campaign into a profit-generating scheme, collecting our tax dollars, in the form of government subsidies, while ensuring those who most need healthcare are no closer to receiving it.

One might say we don't have a reasonable understanding of medical costs, that there's a reason health insurance companies need middle-class consumers to be out-of-pocket $19,012 a year before coverage begins. But we've been self-pay healthcare consumers for two years now, with wellness visits, sick visit, several ER trips, and even surgery. Last year our out-of-pocket healthcare expenses totaled $7,495.30, which included two trips to the ER, one by ambulance, an eye infection, a kidney stone, craniosynostosis follow-up with a specialist, asthma maintenance, many prescriptions, and wellness visits for our kids. We spent an additional $3,810 in premiums toward a non-profit healthcare co-op, which has been the affordable solution for our family's medical needs.

Through the self-pay experience, supplemented by sharing costs through our healthcare co-op, we've realized the disparity between real healthcare costs and healthcare costs through a health insurance company.

I'm still compiling medical bills for our son's recent surgery to remove his adenoids. This included several pediatrician visits, specialist visits, pre-op scopes, anesthesia, and the use of a for-profit day-patient surgery center. Our pediatrician was thrilled that we were self-pay, when he diagnosed a problem with our son's breathing and referred him to a specialist. We could go directly to the best pediatric ENT in Dallas, no need to check networks. When we went to the specialist, he was also thrilled that we were self-pay. We could immediately take the course of action needed, without having to jump through bureaucratic hoops with the insurance company. There was no need for expensive additional tests at a sleep center, weeks of an expensive prescription regimen, or the added cost of pre-surgery ER trips to manage his breathing while the insurance company processed approval paperwork. When we paid the self-pay rate at the pediatric specialty surgery center (no financial aid included), the administrator told us we were actually paying less out-of-pocket than several patients who had health insurance, because their deductibles were so high.

Some might say I'm missing the entire point of health insurance, that it exists only for the very extreme and expensive needs of cancer, heart transplants, HIV, stroke, and the like. I think this would be a wonderful application of health insurance. I wouldn't mind having health insurance only for the most catastrophic health events. But we can't afford to pay 25% of our income toward this vague possible future, while continuing to pay 100% out-of-pocket for current, less serious healthcare needs. A $500 monthly premium toward a healthcare plan that we only use in the most extreme circumstances is just not feasible for anyone in the middle class.

At first, I thought it was just my family experiencing problems with healthcare access, but as we share our healthcare experiences, more and more people are coming to me with their stories, much more difficult than our own. Teachers are spending a quarter of their income, just on health insurance premiums, before any money is spent on their families' healthcare needs. Employers are opting for high-deductible plans, which keep healthcare inaccessible, even to those with health insurance. Companies are hiring more part-timers and cutting hours to avoid obligations to provide health insurance.

I'd like to propose that we work around health insurance companies in our national endeavor to ensure healthcare is as accessible to all as roads and education. Why do we even have a for-profit middleman in healthcare? It's awesome that the government wants to help my family with a $168 subsidy each month, but instead of sinking it into the murky profits of health insurance premiums, deposit it in a health savings account in our name. Or calculate it into our annual tax return. (Perhaps to cover the penalty tax of not carrying health insurance? Though, for the record, our not-for-profit healthcare co-op fulfills the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act that requires everyone to carry coverage.)

Our country's approach to health care is broken. The Affordable Care Act does not solve all of the problems, nor could it anticipate all of the problems. But it's something, and I'm grateful that someone's doing something. And I hope it can be restored, exchanged, or upgraded into a system that's sustainable and accessible for everyone.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Um... mea culpa.

When I was in elementary school, my Baptist church had a Sunday morning bus ministry. Retired school buses would drive through apartment parking lots, kids would stream out, fill the buses, and head to Sunday School. All the coolest volunteers were on their team, and the "apartment kids" were pretty much the coolest kids at church. It was a great program, even though trying to pull off a bus ministry today would probably just launch all kinds of lawsuits. (Things like permission slips, waivers of liability, and emergency contact information weren't a big deal in the eighties).

And then there was my family, ho-hum corralling into our 12-passenger van in our Sunday best, scrambling for prime seating after service. I'd watch the bus ministry kids playing outside before lunch, and their church experience always looked better than mine. They had special events, and to my 8-year-old eyes, it looked like monthly carnivals and weekly donuts, even though I'm sure it was something like Hi-C in Dixie cups with peanut butter sandwiches.

I've grown up, crossed the Tiber, and now have my own family that we wrangle into a van for church each week. But it seems like I'm still looking across the aisle, wondering why someone else is getting a better church experience than me.

"We need reserved accessible seating for families with little kids," I grumble, as we arrive 20 minutes early for a seat.

"The church should provide childcare so we can actually attend this stuff," I think, as the lector invites everyone to a new speaker series during the week.

"Why isn't there a playground for our kids to play after Mass?" I complain, as we pull our re-energized kids through the crowd of people leaving and arriving for services. 

It's easy for me to look in the mirror and see the stereotypical Catholic mom with multiple toddlers, basking in the martyrdom of how hard it is to be a parent today, frustrated with the parish for not catering more to families with young kids. Everyone in the church should designate their tithe toward a real nursery, volunteer their time in staffing it, prioritize staff and resources toward early childhood development programs, see my demographic as the most important one in this parish, and go out of their way to serve ME! Um, my family. I mean, serve my family, of course. 

Wally and I laughed as we left church on Sunday: "The Church is dying, if it's not crying!" Josh had been especially fussy, and we were pretty sure other parishioners didn't appreciate little kids throwing themselves on the floor during Consecration. (But his brother knelt where HE wanted to kneel!)

Cruciform church tantrum
Aside from the obvious -- the Church won't die, it will stand forever and ever, even without crying babies at Mass -- the people in our parishes are dying, and it's not just the martyred mommy bloggers. People are weary and tired and disillusioned, coming to the Church in search of rest, in search of the One who exchanges the burdens of this world with rest.

I've been so busy applauding myself for being an awesome Catholic that I missed all the signs that I've actually been a pretty crappy member of the Church, petitioning for it to be a one-issue, one-demographic, 20-minute delivery service instead of a universal call to holiness, universal.

It didn't occur to me that the bus ministry kids might not eat lunch, if the church didn't serve it. Or maybe they'd prefer to come to and from church with their family bickering in a van instead of the organized chaos of a bus.

Or the woman in a wheelchair who always sits by herself in the front half-pew could probably use a handicap-accessible door to the chapel, more than I need a row of rocking chairs across the back of the sanctuary.

I've spent several years asking why the church isn't doing more to make my life easier. But Jesus didn't leave us a fast-food restaurant. He didn't ask the apostles to build Playlands for families to send kids while they broke bread in the other room. Jesus spoke his vision for a Church that would be for all people in all times: feed his lambs, care for his sheep, feed his sheep.

There are parishioners facing end-of-life issues, deportation fears, living in poverty, experiencing daily prejudice, struggling in broken families, looking for jobs, love, answered prayers, an open door.

So, mea culpa, to anyone who's sighed through my mom-blogging-martyrdom about kids at church, full of whiny complaints about the church not being all about me and my super-awesome kids. I'll try to put disclaimers on future grumbling, or at least complain about more than just pre-Vatican II coloring sheets, the lack of kid-size toilets in the bathroom, or the fact that my church experience doesn't make me feel like a celebrity at a 5-star resort.

I'm just beginning to realize these aren't really good spiritual goals, for me or my family.

Jesus didn't incarnate eternity into time 2,000 years ago to establish the first family-friendly shopping mall, and he probably doesn't care whether social events provide real creamer for coffee, Cheerios receptacles in pews, close parking, comfortable seating, or expansive free childcare.