Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Why Doesn't God Just Give Me What I Want?

I've been trying to worship a God who's 70% American folklore and 30% Jewish heritage, the kind of generous deity that drops barbeque pits and picket fences into the lives of good followers, exacts vengeance on anyone I find offensive, and pours Middle Class bounty on anyone who can make it to church 3 out of 4 Sundays a month (all of whose attributes can be traced to the original Greek and Hebrew text of scripture).

Picture Source
Yet, if the Bible is divinely inspired, it shows a God who has no interest in blessing the status quo, or even bestowing blessings in the form of financial stability and social status. He seems far more preoccupied with random individuals --  someone who's lost everything, someone who's physically handicapped, someone who's insecure, someone with no reputable or formal education, someone who's loved and lost, someone who's socially marginalized.

So why in the world am I even interested in this God? All I want is self-sufficiency, a predictable income, good healthcare, nice kids, some social status, maybe publication in a respected periodical, good sleep, a dependable car that also looks nice, a little fun money on the side, some cool travel experiences, retirement security, a safe place to live, a reasonable commute to work, a grocery budget that includes ice cream, a dog, a cat, someone who can come by a few times a week to clean up after us and scoop the cat litter, home internet, and coffee every morning.

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I'm not sure how I jumped to the conclusion that God might not be God, because all of my Middle Class American dreams might change with the arrival of two new babies in just a few months. 

What if there's more to life than what I can accomplish and how much I can collect and how comfortable my life can be? I don't like that idea, because I want to be accomplished, rich, and comfortable. 

And while I'm searching out signs of God's existence in happy outcomes and an easier life, He's trying to condition a soul. He's trying to pour more love and more light into this world, to re-connect this wanderer with her beginning and her end, and I'm still preoccupied with securing finances for another year of cable TV.

I don't know what God's doing, in the world, or even in my own small life. I don't know why He gave us twins, which completely throws off our family planning, career ambitions, and financial goals. 

But I'm a little excited. Because it means God is bigger than my 21st Century American Dream, and Wally and I are a part of an unpredictable and wild, and somewhat scary, life. 

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Friday, July 11, 2014

How Conversations With My 4-Year-Old Helped Me Understand China's Domestic Policy

Me: Joseph, why is your brother crying?

Joseph: I don't know.

Me: It looks like he fell down. Did you push him down?

Joseph: No.

Me: Did he just fall down by himself?

Joseph: Well, I pushed him, and he fell down, but I didn't push him down. 

And now we can begin to understand this quote from Wang Haidong, a family planning official in China: "The family planning policy, as its name implies, allows planned reproduction. It does not ban anyone from reproducing."


Picture Source

Thursday, July 10, 2014

In Which DIY'ers Attempt to Contract

Wally and I are very hands-on when it comes to home improvements. Not knowledgeable, but willing to learn. Not wealthy, but able to budget. And enabled by Google, Youtube, family with tools to borrow, and "This Old House" reruns, we have the most important DIY trait of all: the audacity to believe we really can do anything.

One of my favorite past times is making updates and improvements using only materials we have on hand or can get for free. Closet organization, kid-size benches, and several outdoor play areas spring up out of random, re-purposed stuff around the house.

Plus, our lower-middle-class neighborhood has constant garage sales and great trash piles. I once pieced together a full swing set from a neighbor's trash pile and had my preschoolers help me drag it in pieces 50 yards down the sidewalk to reassemble in our garage.
With a 2-year-old, 4-year-old, and twins on the way, we considered outsourcing some of our home improvement projects, so we weren't caught in the middle of an eight-month bathroom renovation, working sleep-deprived with power tools.We did the math of bank account versus time saved versus personal skill sets, and brought in professionals to trim trees, build a fence, and replace our 14-year-old hot water heater.

We tried to contract our backyard deck replacement through Lowe's and Home Depot's advertised services, but we're not sure the associates who were supposed to call us back actually even exist. After a couple weeks of one-sided phone tag and no-show store appointments, we read the signs from the universe and overhauled the deck ourselves, squeezing in extra projects of a vegetable garden, gutter install, grill table, and cat perch along the way. 

We tried to contract out a little kitchen upgrade too, after my failed cabinet refinishing. (In my defense, you can only strip so many layers of paint off construction grade wood paneling. Still, the interim effect is less than pretty.) 

The lady who came out from Kitchen Concepts was very nice, moved efficiently through our galley kitchen, measuring windows, counters, and doors, and asking how we would describe our style.

"Ummm... clean? bright?" I felt like breaking into a kitchen musical rendition of Edelweiss. "Something not... ugly."

We've based most of our DIY design decisions on available resources, or the clearance room in Ikea's "As-Is" section. We weren't sure what to do with an open palate of options. 

Luckily, as it turns out, our kitchen design style doesn't matter after all. Once we got to the end of the meeting and we shared our available budget, the designer paused.

We thought the budget was pretty generous. We had doubled the cost of cabinets and counters at market price, to allow for labor, and decided against any kind of demolition, heavy construction, or new appliances.

The nice lady smiled, scheduled a follow-up meeting for 2 weeks later at their store, and left quickly. 

We arrived at the meeting, expecting to select stain colors for our cabinets, tiles for a back splash, and surfaces for counters, but were ushered into a small conference area instead. 

"Well," the owner said hesitantly -- her designer nowhere in sight. "With your budget, you can have this particle board cabinet, in this color, with this counter. And we had to go over your budget to put this together. But look - a corner cabinet with lazy Susan shelves!"

At this point, the designer poked her head in: "Oh no, we couldn't do the lazy Susan. It's just a regular corner cabinet."

I think our heads exploded, as we tried to calculate where all the money went. Maybe this wasn't a kitchen renovation store at all. I looked around at the European contemporary design, no other customers in sight. Come to think of it, had we ever seen cars in the parking lot? Was it all a front, funneling money to a Swedish mob? 

I felt like we should leave quickly, before they figured out we were on to them and found ourselves buried in fresh concrete at the back of an industrial strip center in Addison, Texas. 

We smiled, pointed to my growing belly, mumbled something about waiting till after the babies were born, and made it to safely to our car. And then laughed all the way home.  

I guess we'll just keep this on the end of our "To Do" list!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Baby Names! And How 21st Century Neonatal Technology Just Gives Moms More Stuff To Worry About.

We named our baby boys!

Jonathan James Paul Bader and David Timothy Paul Bader. The latest ultrasound shows David sucking his thumb, kicking and rolling down my left side, and Jonathan spread eagle on the right, showing his boy parts on the monitor every chance he gets.

"Paul" is a family name -- my husband's real name (though his sisters' nickname of "Wally" in high school has taken over), my brother's name, and a lineage of many "Saint Pauls" back through time.  Our babies' namesake is for Pope Paul VI, author of the encyclical Humanae Vitae, which he wrote on the dignity of each human life from conception to natural death, and a saint with a legacy of intercession for babies with special needs in the womb.

(I wanted their middle names to be "All-Saints" to really feel like we're calling down all of heaven on their behalf, but 20 years from now, we're afraid their takeaway would just be their parents were religious nuts.)

Wally and I laughed as the sonographer scanned through all their healthy, functioning organs, listened to the heartbeats, measured bones and head circumference, and then left the room to see if our midwife/nurse practitioner had made it back from a delivery.

"I'm so glad everything looks good," I remarked to Wally, waiting for them to return. "Or she has a really good poker face."

They both came back in, and the sonographer scanned the babies again, the screen cutting out after a view of their four little feet under my ribcage. As it turns out, she has a good poker face.

We find out our twins are identical, not fraternal, and they share a placenta, with blood passing unevenly through the placenta to each other. This usually results in one big baby, and one little baby: one grows too big, and his heart can't handle the extra blood supply, and the other becomes anemic from a limited blood supply.

I tell myself that Google is just full of outdated articles, as I spend the evening attempting to become a self-proclaimed expert before our perinatal specialist appointment the next day. My mind can't handle the statistics. To do nothing has a less than 5% survival rate for both twins. To repeatedly drain excess fluid via amniocentesis is risky, and only treats the symptom of too much amniotic fluid in one sac. There's a new laser ablation treatment that actually separates the blood supplies in the placenta, but it's not available in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. There don't seem to be any silver linings. I keep scanning for "good outcome if caught early" and "high success rate with this treatment." But article after article just ends with fact-spouting finality.

I start second-guessing everything I've done over the past 5 months of pregnancy. I shouldn't have lifted those cinder blocks two months ago. I shouldn't have hiked at high altitudes last week. I shouldn't have picked up my 2-year-old yesterday. But apparently it's all determined before you even know you're pregnant, something about the timing of when the cells split to form identical twins.*

Thankfully, the perinatal specialist is much more well-balanced and calm than any of the apocalyptic websites I'd sourced the night before. The amniotic fluid levels were uneven, and slightly outside "normal," and Jonathan had enlarged kidneys, but both babies were growing and moving well, with good circulation. She even checked the arteries through their brains for anemia, and the four chambers of their hearts for blood flow. 

So we're on weekly check-ups, 23 weeks gestation, making sure amniotic fluid levels are giving each boy the environment he needs, and that they're both continuing to grow.

I feel a little silly for choosing worry over sleep so many nights, but also reassured that Pope Paul VI and all the angels and saints in heaven are interceding with us for these two tiny little boys! Please join with us as we thank God for this fascinating, surprising gift of two small babies, and please keep David and Jonathan in your prayers.

Jonathan's hand, giving us the "Hey, guy!"
David, sucking his thumb
*If the cells split 3 days after conception, you have two babies growing in two separate amniotic sacs, pulling nutrients from two separate placentas. Statistically, this is the best case scenario for the health of both babies.

If the cells split 4-7 days after conception, you have two babies growing in two separate amniotic sacs, sharing one placenta. This appears to be the case for our babies, and due to the shared blood supply, can cause twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome.

If the cells split 7-11 days after conception, you have two babies sharing one amniotic sac and one placenta, and if the cells split after 12 days, the babies may be conjoined.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Real Proverbs 31 Woman

Does Mother's Day leave anyone else feeling down in the dumps? Please feel free to leave the names and numbers of your therapists in the comments, and mention if they do long-term pro bono work, house calls, and if there's a limit to the number of toddlers allowed in the room during sessions. It would also be great if they do dishes. 

I remember feeling alive, but lately, whenever I call up those moments of exhilaration, my mind conjures parallel images of trampled grass and dead vines. I don't like feeling defeated and weary. I want the world to see joy and laughter when they look at me, at my family. 

But I'm tired of my kids' poop and pee and spit and vomit. I'm tired of early mornings cooking oatmeal, resenting my boss for keeping me from my kids,  resenting my kids for keeping me from my work, putting down my phone to watch my two-year-old's twentieth rendition of crashing a tower of blocks, feeling guilty for not wanting to put down my phone and lose contact with the world outside my preschool prenatal microcosm. 

I'm tired of imagining the judgment of other moms whose kids don't recognize local drive-thrus by name, judging other moms who didn't breastfeed for a year while working full time and pumping milk on their lunch breaks in their cars, and then doing it all again a year later. 

I'm tired of saying no to stuff that's not in the budget but everyone else is doing and posting fabulous pictures of on Facebook.I'm tired of my first jaded thoughts when I see a youthful, smiling new mom post a first sonogram picture. Just wait, just wait, I inevitably think. 

I'm sure those who struggle with infertility must be exasperated at my calloused and seemingly unchecked fertility. I'm sorry. If it helps at all, I feel shallow and selfish at taking my family for granted.

I didn't realize how much sleep I would lose, how much personal time I took for granted, how personal space becomes indefinitely communal when you have children. I'd like to think my true self was who I was before kids --  someone I remember as pretty competent, level-headed, and even compassionate. But maybe I've always been this selfish, and the intensity of having kids just brought out true colors. 

I've been reflecting on that super amazing all competent woman held up as the ideal in Proverbs 31 (after the advice to give strong drink and wine to the perishing, distressed, and poor). And I come to realize, for the first time today, that even this woman has some kind of upper-middle class edge: "she rises while it is still night and provides tasks for her servant girls." 

Well geez, if I could have a few servant girls folding laundry or getting dinner going in a crockpot while I'm doing a midnight check on the baby, maybe I'd have it a little more together too! Maybe I could supply the merchants with sashes, consider a field and purchase it, and plant that vineyard she's got time to tend. 

But then, what of the servant girls? Do they stand any chance of becoming Proverbs 31 women too, or are they just destined to keep hopelessly balancing work and family, helping out the super awesome virtuous woman who gives middle-of-the-night orders? Anyway, I'm done with trying to be a Proverbs 31 woman until I get some maidservants. 

I didn't realize when Jesus said to die to ourselves for others, it wouldn't be something pretty and artistic. 

I didn't realize when God said two would become one in marriage that the sacrifice wouldn't always be romantic or big screen valiant.

I wanted Christianity to be a middle class demographic that would keep our kids moral and our family somewhat "normal."

But my compass must be totally off, because it seems God is far wilder than I expected. He gives us surprises that are bigger than the plans we make, and dreams that are crazier than the safe havens we create.

As my world keeps turning upside down, somehow the most regular event on my calendar is feeding the ducks. I'm okay with that.

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 MoveOn.org, 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!