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.

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Yet, the Bible 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, all while I'm 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."


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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.