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The Home Front

Politics, culture, and American life — from the family perspective.

Books, Movies, and Mythical Innocence of Children



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Some of the most contentious discussions with parents usually begin with one of these sentences:

“Well, I just don’t let my kids watch . . . ”

or

“My children aren’t allowed to read . . . ”

You name it, there are parents who have drawn the line just shy of it: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, the news, Lord of the Rings, even Spongebob.  (Okay, that last one was me.)

There’s a certain very commonly held viewpoint that children are blank, pure slates. Our job as parents is to maintain their innocence and keep them from the filth that the world throws at them.

Rev. Paul Joiner, a reformed southern pastor, has been writing about these issues lately, to get parents to think clearly about how to raise our children in the modern world. Here is his three part series:

Why Read Literature, Watch Movies, Listen to Music, or See Plays

Why We Should Be Reading and Watching the Stories of the World.

Are You Raising Cultural Gluttons or Cultural Anorexics?

In a related conversation, Rebecca Cusey discusses this very issue as it pertains to movies in this article called:

Recognizing the Danger Within, Not Without

Both of these individuals frame the issue not as one of innocence lost but as vulnerabilities exposed. Our kids, after all, aren’t innocent; they’re vulnerable. We all are, but in different ways. The wisdom in choosing movies lies in understanding those vulnerabilities, not in preserving mythical innocence.

Do you have your lines? I certainly do. But these articles encourage us to consider carefully the reasons why we’re drawing them.

iPad Meets Coke Dispenser



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Are you a parent who doesn’t want all the sugar and caffeine in regular soda and isn’t sure what beverage to order your kid when grabbing a fast bite?

Prepare to be impressed!

Introducing the most awesome fast-food development since McDonald’s started taking credit cards and Chick-Fil-A started using those enormous ketchup packets. Have you seen this?

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Alert the Presses: Men and Women Are Different!



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In the comic strip Dustin, a couple driving a car passes a sign on the highway that reads, “Time to downtown: 26 minutes.” The woman, who’s in the passenger seat, says to the man, “So you’re saying a woman looks at that sign and thinks, ‘It’s nice to know I’ll be downtown in 26 minutes.’. . . But a man looks at it and thinks, ‘I can do it in 22.’”

This cartoon is apropos in light of a new study ofsex differences, published last week on the Public Library of Science website, which found that a mere 18 percent of men and women match in terms of personality profiles. The research, conducted by Marco Del Giudice of Italy and Tom Booth and Paul Irwing, both of Manchester, England, involved interviewing 10,000 Americans. The researchers concluded that men and women are vastly different creatures, feeling and behaving in markedly different ways. 

Such information is not the least bit shocking to those of us with common sense, or those of us who have both sons and daughters; but it’s “staggeringly different from the consensus view,” says Irwing. Indeed it is. That’s because it undermines the message feminists have been propagating for decades. 

The popular view is that men and women are so similar they’re practically interchangeable. It’s just that society socializes them to think and behave differently, say feminists. Mothers don’t really offer anything unique to babies or want to stay home with them more than fathers do, and men aren’t really more inclined to study math and science more than women. Little boys don’t really want to play with guns more than girls do, and girls don’t really want to play dress up more than boys do. It’s all a giant con game — and one we can undo with a little bit of effort.

Think I’m exaggerating? When Gloria Steinem was asked in an interview last year about her thoughts on the latest research on male and female brains, which shows an undeniable distinction between the sexes, Steinem’s response was, “Well, you know, every time there is a step forward, there’s a backlash. So now we’re seeing another backlash about brains, brain differences, gender differences centered in the brain. Even if they’re right, it doesn’t have to continue to be so. What makes human beings the species that has survived all this time is our adaptability.” When the interviewer pressed further and asked, “But aren’t there inherent differences we can’t ignore?” Steinem replied, “Society can certainly intervene at a cultural level to change that behavior.”

If you think Steinem is an anomaly, or someone whose time has come and gone, think again. There are plenty of young Steinems roaming around — in the media, in Hollywood, and on college campuses. And when they get wind of studies like these, watch out. Women’s studies professor Janet Shibley Hyde had this to say about this latest study: “[The global sex difference] is really uninterpretable. It doesn’t mean anything.”

The reason for Hyde’s denial, the reason for all feminist denial when it comes to research like this, is a deeply rooted fear of what it all means: that the feminist agenda is futile — and just plain silly. Feminism teaches that gender is not a fact of nature but a social or environmental construct created by old-fashioned stereotyped training. They consider it a given that women have been subordinated and discriminated against by an unjust male patriarchy and need government action by legislatures and courts to give women their rights. Consequently, they’re “afraid studies like ours will turn back the clock,” says Irwing.

They’re not shy about admitting their bias, either. Says Hyde, “This huge difference is not only scientifically false, it has unfortunate consequences for places like the workplace and education and romantic relationships.”

No, Ms. Hyde, findings like these have very fortunate consequences. Interpreted correctly, they allow people to accept, once and for all, that Americans have been sold a bill of goods by the feminist establishment.

Of course all women and all men are not the same (I, for example, would have looked at that highway sign and thought the same thing the man did), but that doesn’t change the fact that most men tend to function one way and most women tend to function another. The sexes may overlap on any number of occasions, but they will never be the same. 

Studies on sex differences are wonderful. They’re not designed to separate the sexes, Ms. Hyde. They’re designed to bring them together. They help men and women accept each other for who we are and not fight each other all the time. The battle of the sexes has been around long enough.

Don’t you think it’s time to give it a break?

– Suzanne Venker is co-author of the new book The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know — and Men Can’t Say. Her website is www.suzannevenker.com.

School Choice Can End the Battle over Sex Ed



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Many people’s first instinct when reading about the guidelines on sex education in public schools is to consider whether they agree with the specifics of the proposal: Do I think that all eighth-graders should be familiar with emergency contraception and that fifth-graders should be able to define sexual harassment?  Those are among the recommendations in a new report that was released by a consortium of health and education groups, which is receiving criticism from others who believe that abstinence should be a larger focus of all sex-education courses.

Yet course content really isn’t — or shouldn’t be — the main question. The real question is who gets to make the decision about what sex-ed curriculum a child is exposed to? 

The problem with our current system isn’t that sex-ed classes lean too far in one direction or another.  It’s that most parents have little control over such decisions because their child is assigned to a public school and has few options other than to enroll their child in that school. If parents had more control over such decisions — for example, if they had control of the $10,000 that is, on average, spent on each child in a public K–12 school and could use that money to pay tuition at any school they want — then they could select a program that reflects their values.  

Sex-ed-curriculum decisions are mostly seen through a culture-war lens — are we going to emphasize the importance of abstinence or condom-use to the next generation? — but it’s a war that could be largely defused if we all agreed to disagree and let parents make decisions about what’s right for their children.

— Carrie Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum.     

A Fall in the Night



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He fell in the middle of the night. A hard crash that woke me up. At first I thought he fell out of bed. He has done that a couple of times onto the carpet. No ill effects. But this was a fall in the hall by the closets, either coming out or going into the bathroom. I didn’t even have to shout, “What happened?” It was obvious what had happened as he lay there face down, crumpled on the floor, bleeding from a cut above his eyebrow. 

He hadn’t passed out. “I guess I slipped,” he said. He was wearing his socks; he’s always wearing his socks because he is cold in bed. His socks are slippery. I got a towel to try to stop the trickle of blood  that was running down his face. The blood was already pooling internally around his eye. He would be getting a tremendous shiner. 

“Let me help you up,” I said. But I couldn’t get him up. He tried to help, to turn over and push against the floor with his hands. “I can’t,” he said. “I can’t.” He was so very tired from the radiation and the chemo and from not eating much and from getting up five or six times a night to go to the bathroom.

 I brought the walker to see if it would help. I brought the sturdy dining-room chair. I tried to pull, to tug, to boost him. No luck. He isn’t heavy. In fact, he’s lost a lot of weight, but I still couldn’t get him up. It was about one in the morning. What were we going to do? “You have got to get up,” I said as if insisting on it would make it happen. “I can’t, I can’t,” he said and rolled over on his back and closed his eyes. 

“I better call 911. Do you want me to call 911?” I thought he would say no. He didn’t reply. And so I went to the phone and dialed. We were in our house in a small town in Connecticut, and in a minute the trooper was on the phone. He asked a battery of questions and said he was just a couple of roads away. He told me to put on the lights outside, and he would call EMS.

And in just a few minutes, the house was full of people: the trooper, members of the EMS team, even the town’s first selectwoman. All cheerful and concerned, checking him over, getting him first to sit up for a while and then moving him to bed.

They checked his pulse, his blood pressure, asked if he wanted to go to the hospital. And he perked up with the attention, apologizing for the trouble he was causing, assuring them that no, he didn’t need to go to the hospital. He would be all right in the morning. And was he really going to have a black eye? He had never had one before.

We came back to the city the next day. I wondered how many more country weekends we would be spending. It was safer to be in the city, in our apartment, where the doormen and the handymen are always around to help, and it was a short taxi ride to the hospital where his doctors were. “I can’t believe I couldn’t get up,” he kept saying as I drove us home. “I don’t know why I couldn’t get up,” he said.” He was very shaken by his fall. So was I.   

— Myrna Blyth is editor-in-chief of ThirdAge, where this first appeared. 

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Re: The Most Ridiculous Baby Toys



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Nancy,

As a parent who swore by the crib-tent . . .

 

. . . I would have bought this from that list for sure:

Do they make one for five-year-olds I wonder?

The Dark World of the Dragon Tattoo



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The novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has just hit the big screen in the Hollywood version. The American movie, like the Swedish version a few years ago, is very true to the book in the relentless darkness of the tale. I have no particular inside information as to what the author Stieg Larsson was trying to say. But the fact is, he has created a very grim world, full of violence against women and children: rape, torture, kidnapping, gruesome serial murders.

This malevolent world that Larson has created is not taking place in some benighted past, not in the Middle Ages, or even the Dreaded Fifties. This is our world, our time. Actually, the whole story takes place in that most enlightened country of the industrialized world, Sweden.

What went wrong? In the world of Lisbeth Salander, there are no functioning authority figures or structures. The fathers are abusive. The police are non-existent, at least in the first book. The legal system is corrupt. The wealthy do whatever they can get away with. This is the final end of the world without law. It is quite literally every man for himself.

Antinomians *of all parties and all denominations, take note. This sinister world without law is not a world of unlimited freedom: Lawlessness turns out to impose constraints of its own. Lisbeth Salander’s world shows what the law of the strongest looks like. As I said, I don’t know what Larsson intended to say. And I’m not claiming that the Swedish version of sexual liberation and the welfare state had to end this way. I only say that this world without any functioning authority structures is the world Larsson was drawn to create. He didn’t invent it completely out of whole cloth. He invented it out of the world he actually inhabits.

And the fact is, millions of people are drawn to these works. What is the attraction? I think that against all odds, we identify with Lisbeth. She is a mildly autistic, extremely smart, anti-social young woman, covered with piercings and tattoos. She is absolutely unique and pretty nearly alone. There is nothing typical about her.

I think many of us — liberal, conservative and moderate — experience ourselves as helpless and at the mercy of the System. Lisbeth is literally raped by the authority figures that should be keeping order in her life and protecting her from harm. We feel her pain, because in some sense, we feel we live in a hostile world that looks out only for itself — and not for us. We know Lisbeth shouldn’t be taking the law into her own hands. But we can’t help rooting for her when she does.

And this autistic savant is emotionally isolated. She is not literally and completely alone; she turns out to have more people on her side than she realizes. But I do think we identify with her isolation. Loneliness is the hallmark of our modern age. This is not how Scandinavian sexual openness or its American counterpart were supposed to end up.

*Antinomianism is derived from the Greek anti, which means “against” and nomos, which means law. As a general principle, antinomianism teaches that moral laws are relative in meaning and application instead of fixed or universal.

As a Christian theological teaching, antinomianism is used to refer to the idea that the Gospel frees a Christians from obedience to any law, scriptural, civil, or moral, and hence that salvation is attained solely through faith and the gift of divine grace rather than through obedience to any rules.

Watching the Debate with my Daughter



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Who would’ve thought that I’d just have to have a conversation with her about condoms?

In case you missed it, George Stephanopoulos asked Governor Romney if states should have the right to outlaw contraception. Governor Romney absolutely was befuddled, and finally said, “Contraception is working just fine!  Leave it alone.”

My husband and I laughed at the exchange, then my daughter turned around and looked at me blankly.

“Do you even know what that is?” I asked.

She sensed that she did not want to get into this conversation and excused herself. “I think I’ll just look it up in the Dictionary.”

She came back into the room with a little less innocence. Thank you, GOP debate!

The Most Ridiculous Baby Toys



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I’m always the mom who doesn’t have the basic necessities for kid care. Thankfully, I surround myself with responsible moms who can pull out Band-Aids, Kleenexes, or tire irons from their purses whenever the need arises.

That’s why this list got my attention: The Most Ridiculous Baby Toys. It includes “baby bangs,” toilet-hand protectors, and temperature test ducks. (My sister Mary Kate had a designer hospital gown when she delivered her cutie recently. Um, really, sis?)

When I wrote Red State of Mind (about some of my misadventures as a southerner living in Ithaca, Manhattan, and Philly), people didn’t believe some of the stories I accumulated from giving birth in Cayuga Medical Center and staying there for ten days while my baby healed from a difficult birth. But this product, the “placenta teddy bear,” is created by cutting, curing, and emulsifying the organ, before sewing it into the teddy bear with a kit. It was created by Alex Green for those who don’t necessarily want to eat their baby’s placenta, but want to pay their respects to the life-sustaining organ.

Though I don’t have access to data to back this up, I bet this product only sells well in Ithaca.

The Most ‘Red State’ and ‘Blue State’ Movies?



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Are you guys weary of the “red state/blue state” distinction? I even wrote a book about it back in 2006, and I sometimes get tired of it. However, it is an easy way to communicate the undeniable fact that there are pretty distinctive regions in America: geographic, political, cultural, and otherwise.

But what about movies? Is it possible to categorize movies according to the type of people who might enjoy them? This lists attempts to do just that. Do you agree with Rebecca’s choice for each category?  

Can Men and Women Be ‘Just Friends?’



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This short YouTube video (produced by independent filmmakers Jesse Budd and Patrick Romero) is about as effective at discussing the topic of male-female “friendships” as the 1989 film When Harry Met Sally:

My daughter Camille turned 13 over Christmas break, and I’m in the process of trying to raise her to understand dating, friendships, and guys in general.  Although she’s far from dating age (that’s about 35 now, right?), I think this video might be a fun discussion starter tonight. 

Plus, there’s no “I’ll have what she’s having” scene.

The Big-Government Barometer



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On Friday, the New York Times editorial “The School Lunch Barometer” complained that the federally run school-lunch program’s growing enrollment is evidence of the nation’s continued economic downturn. 

The economic downturn is driving more and more families into the ranks of the poor and the “near poor” who barely make it from paycheck to paycheck. This pattern is chillingly clear from the rising numbers of formerly middle-class children now qualifying for free or low-cost meals under the federally financed school lunch program. . . .

A recent analysis of federal data by The Times showed that the number of children receiving subsidized lunches rose to 21 million in the last school year from 18 million in 2006-7, a 17 percent increase. During that period, nearly a dozen states — including Nevada, Florida, Tennessee and New Jersey — experienced increases of 25 percent or more. In New York City, as of last month, a little more than 62 percent of the city’s children were eligible for free lunch — up from around 57 percent in 2007.

Indeed, it’s disturbing to consider that participation in the school-lunch program has increased a full 17 percent since 2006, but it is also important to understand just how kids are enrolled in this school-based welfare program in the first place. 

Kids are signed up in one of two ways: 1) parents take the steps to actually fill out and submit paperwork provided by the school so that their children can receive free or reduced-price meals; or, 2) a child is automatically enrolled using a process called “direct certification” whereby a school district obtains lists of families enrolled in other federal food-assistance programs (such as food stamps or TANF) and then automatically enrolls those children in the school meal program. 

In 2008, Congress kindly relieved parents of that bothersome paperwork by mandating direct certification of children whose families participate in the food-stamp program. This Congressional action sent a message to parents that they really aren’t expected to feed their kids and need not be involved in their children’s eating habits (which studies show really is the key to keeping kids healthy). Why take the extra step to get involved in your child’s nutrition if the government automatically enrolls kids in these feeding programs? After all, in most cases, kids are getting three meals a day at school. 

In 2010, parents were further marginalized when the direct-certification program expanded; allowing school districts to snoop into families’ Medicaid record. Now, in addition to food stamps and TANF, children reliant on Medicaid are now automatically enrolled in school feeding programs. 

There’s no doubt that families are suffering in this economy, and many families formerly able to survive without government assistance are now finding they need some extra help. But the increased participation in school feeding programs doesn’t just signal increased need; it is a sign of a bigger government — a government determined to take over the care and feeding of children by sidelining parents. 

The Iron Lady: Wonderfully, Conservatively Subversive



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Rebecca Cusey has a review of The Iron Lady, which opens tonight in New York and Los Angeles:

Conservatives have nothing to fear from the controversial and wonderfully subversive Margaret Thatcher biopic, “The Iron Lady.” Because the creators, whatever their personal political beliefs, had the artistic integrity to let Thatcher be Thatcher, the film becomes a rousing call to those who believe that “those who can do, must get up and DO.”

She also talks about the controversial framework of the film:

The controversy stems from the framework of the film, which depicts Thatcher as a befuddled elderly woman recalling the important events of her life between hallucinatory chats with her deceased husband (Jim Broadbent) and pestering of her living daughter (Olivia Colman). As a portrayal of the onset of dementia, it is brilliant, with Streep fearlessly emitting guttural sounds and half spoken words as emotions chase each other across her face. Confusion transforms into amusement; Annoyance, determination, exasperation all flit through her eyes and lips as fast as cloud shadows on a hillside on a summer’s day.

Conservatives have worried that this depiction of a powerful woman wrestling with age casts aspersions on her career and beliefs, as if succumbing to age invalidates what came before. I disagree. Instead, it adds pathos as the former most powerful woman in the world comes to require what can only be described as babysitters. It also does something more:  it strips away the details and shows the iron core of Margaret Thatcher.

Even in her confusion, she is all about principle.

Read the whole article here, which has a warning you might want to read before you take the kids.

A Response to Keith Ablow



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Celebrity therapist and “life coach” Dr. Keith Ablow just jumped on the “let’s get the government out of the marriage business” bandwagon. I have been writing against the “privatizing marriage” mantra, going all the way back to 2005. (See also here and here.) I do not wish to rehearse those arguments here. But Dr. Ablow’s contribution to this unfortunate genre is doubly regrettable. He is, first of all, deeply mistaken about the government’s role in discouraging people from marriage. As a psychiatrist, he has no particular expertise in policy analysis, and I am sorry to say, it shows. My second regret about his foray into policy analysis is that he forsakes the area of his greatest expertise, namely, helping people live happier lives. His proposal to “get the government out of the marriage business” substitutes an easy exit strategy for the genuine work of building up marriage and family relationships.

Dr. Ablow claims that government intrusion is the cause of marriage decline because marriage amounts to signing a “draconian contract with the state to manage the division of your estate in the event of a divorce.” Now he is certainly correct that under the current divorce regime, the family court micro-manages people’s private lives. But his argument is completely backwards. He has no explanation for why people are less inclined to marry now, and why government is more intrusive now than in say, 1960. I can answer that: no-fault divorce.

California instituted the first “no-fault” divorce in 1968, with other states quickly following suit. The state no longer recognized marriage as a lifelong union, dissolvable only for cause. Under no-fault, either party could get divorced for any reason or no reason. The current “marriage contract,” if you want to call it that, is less binding than a contract to purchase a home or to take delivery for a load of concrete. For sure, it is easier to end a marriage than for the L.A. Unified School District to fire a tenured teacher.

Most importantly, the legal change to the no-fault regime created unilateral divorce: The state now permits one party to break the marriage contract, regardless of the wishes of the other. This means that the divorce has to be enforced against the reluctant spouse. Somebody has to be separated from the joint assets of the marriage, most often, the family home and the children. The coercive machinery of the state is wheeled into place. The state begins the micromanaging of divorcing couples that Dr. Ablow rightly decries.

Dr Ablow is correct that people are not getting married because they are afraid of divorce, including the state’s involvement in their post-divorce lives. State governments undermine marriage by siding with the least committed spouse. Unilateral divorce was a policy change that just happened to increase the power of the state over people’s lives. No-fault, unilateral divorce is the policy that ought to be reversed. That is not “getting the government out of the marriage business.”

But Dr. Ablow’s ill-advised foray into policy analysis is not the least of the problems with his article. He comments, in an off-hand way, that in his clinical observations, “the vast majority of married people consider their unions a source of pain, not pleasure, and that too few of them are equipped with the psychological and behavioral tools to achieve true intimacy or maintain real passion.” Translation: People don’t have good enough relationship skills to get and stay married, so let’s give them an easier way out.

This statement is both illogical and appalling.

It is illogical because a therapist typically treats people who are having problems. Happily married people don’t usually go to a therapist. He really shouldn’t draw conclusions about the “vast majority of married people,” based on a sample of clients in his own practice.

But suppose his clients really and truly don’t have good relationship skills. His job as a life coach is precisely to give them those tools. It is appalling that he abandons that field, where he undoubtedly has something to contribute. Instead, he goes off on a tangent of abolishing marriage as a public institution. His policy proposal accommodates the present instability of marriage, when he should be leading the charge to combat it.

But, Dr. Ablow, isn’t it your clinical observation that people actually want to get married and stay married? Don’t people want intimacy and passion? And, don’t children want and deserve parents who remain committed to each other?

This is where our current debate over the definition of marriage has led us. A noted psychiatrist joins the parade of people celebrating a cockamamie scheme for destroying marriage as an object of public concern. In the process, he is diverted from the serious business of helping people develop their capacity for love and relationship.

What a loss.

The Going-To-The-Hospital Blues



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I have been spending a lot of time at a hospital lately. Too damn much time, one might say. And because I am not the patient, I’ve had time to observe all the things one can hate about hospitals besides having to go as a patient. Here is my list:

1. The lights. What is with those fluorescent bulbs that make everyone, including small children, look absolutely exhausted? Sick or not, under the dim but harsh lights everyone in a hospital everyone looks like they need to be in a hospital. Very depressing.

2. Nowadays I think doctors are really trying to work on their bedside manner and be more thoughtful and caring when dealing with patients. Nurses, by and large, are okay, too. But the check-you-in, tell-you-where-to-go staff, at least in some New York hospitals, seem to spend more time talking to each other than trying to be helpful. And when you dare to complain about their not being helpful, full-scale retaliation can kick in. Enough to make you sick. 

3. With all the blabber about electronic medical-record keeping, it seems no one has ever heard of reading a printout. Even though you hand over your medical insurance cards and fill out a form when you first go for treatment, and it is all entered into a computer, you need to do it again and again and again. Wonder how Steve Jobs reacted to this inability to effectively use technology. Now they explain this by saying they have to keep checking to make sure they are treating the right patient with the right protocol. But didn’t I read that over a hundred thousand people die in hospitals each year because of medical error? Wouldn’t it make sense that the fourth person asking you the same questions would at least read what you said before?

4. And then, of course, there is the waiting. You have an appointment at twelve o’clock, which means you really have an appointment at one o’clock or perhaps even later because they wanted you there early to fill out the information you have already given and assume it will take you more than half an hour. Or the doctor is running late. Or the staff is chit-chatting away and so the lab work is sent up later than it should be and everything slows down.

5. And, of course, the worst of all is you are in a hospital because you are sick or you are with someone who is sick and that is frightening and bewildering and makes you dependent on a whole batch of strangers. And so, under those fluorescent lights, you already feel you are in the shadows.

— Myrna Blyth is editor-in-chief of ThirdAge, where this first appeared.

Why Do I Write About the Military So Much?



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I got an interesting comment on my last article, which I wanted to respond to more publicly:

Mrs. French, I read NRO several times a week, and never miss entries in the Home Front blog. Thus, I read pretty much every word you write on here. I’m not sure that you’re aware of it, but it seems you mention your husband’s service in Iraq in roughly 3/4 of your columns. It grates, after a while. A lot of people have husbands, and wives, and brothers, and sisters, and on and on, who have served overseas, and yet they don’t feel the need to mention it at every turn. My cousin has a husband who served in Afghanistan for ten months, came home, buried their son, grieved for six months, then served another ten month tour in Kuwait. And yet his deployments (and, I might mention, their son’s death) are not the touchstone of her existence, mentioned as the backstop for every single story, observation and opinion. Just a thought, meant with respect.

First of all, I don’t really write about the military all the time, do I? Here’s my list of NRO columns, and — of the last fifty — I might have written about military matters about five or six times. I should also mention that at Evangelicals for Mitt, I write about why Christians should support Governor Romney for president, almost every day. At SixSeeds.tv, I write about faith and family issues. On What She Read, I write about the books I happen to be reading at any given moment. And on the French Revolution, my husband and I write about religious liberty, reality television, jihadism, adoption, politics, and religion. (Plus, I write celebrity memoirs, for people who don’t have anything to do with the military.)

However, the commenter is correct to point out — I do intentionally try to write about the military. Not only did I co-author a book called Home and Away: A Story of Family in a Time of War with my husband David, I also try to incorporate a military perspective into my writing here on National Review.

Why? The answer is simple. We’re going into our tenth year of war, yet you wouldn’t know it unless you turned to page 23 of any major newspaper. Scour the pages of the New York Times, USA Today, or even National Review and what do you see? Who’s writing from the perspective of people affected by the war?

This perspective is sadly and egregiously underrepresented in punditry and social commentators, so here I am. I know, many people have had a more difficult time than my family. Many deal with the pain of ultimate loss or the continued agony of injuries. And they deal with it stoically and, often, silently. However, silence can mean continued separation — and continued incomprehension from fellow citizens. So I do whatever I can to remind people there is still a war, and that some of us bear that cost in ways great and small.

The Hazards of Being a Wal-Mart Greeter



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Today, I read this story about how a belligerent customer (who was not a cop, as previously reported here) punched a 70-year-old Wal-Mart greeter in the face when the employee asked her to see her receipt on her way out of the store.

It reminded me of one harried day I was in Wal-Mart while my husband was in Iraq.  I’ll go ahead and admit that it wasn’t one of my best moments.  I’d stopped by the store to get some organizational bins so I could make my house more orderly, lost track of time while shopping, and realized I was already late to pick up the kids.

Hurriedly, I scooted past the elderly greeter, who stopped me.

“Ma’am,” she said. “I need to see your receipt.”

I later learned that if one of your items was not in a bag, they’re instructed to stop you to check.  Since I had a gigantic bin, she stopped me.  She was just doing her job.

Of course, I didn’t see it that way.  I saw it as further proof that I’d lost control of my life.  I’d just purchased the bin 20 seconds ago, but I’m not the type of person who sticks her receipt in a certain compartment in my purse in case I need to return it later.  I never return it later.  To return a defective item would require more organization than I  have the power to muster.  So when a cashier hands me a receipt, I crinkle it up, stick it in a pocket, or use it to get rid of my stale Doublemint.

“Do you really think I stole this?” I asked, rudely.  I must start brushing my hair and matching my clothes, I thought.   I envisioned the kids sitting in after-school care wondering why I wasn’t showing up.  All of the indignities and difficulties of the deployment seemed to rear their head right there in the entrance of Wal-Mart.  “I just bought it at that register.  You saw me!”

The older lady looked at me.  She’d probably seen a lot of inconsiderate, selfish people like me over the course of the day.  Then, she did something that completely shocked me.

“I love you, honey,” she said.  “Everything’s going to be all right.”

Perhaps she could see that I was about to lose it right there.  Maybe she could tell there was more going on with me than simply not knowing where I stuck that receipt.  But right there in the door of Wal-Mart in Columbia, Tenn., the greeter embraced me.  I literally cried right there in her arms. It was one of those moments during the year that defined the deployment for me, a stranger showing kindness in spite of my own inadequacies. 

I boo-hooed for probably a minute or two right there in her arms, and she didn’t say a word.  I never explained that my husband was in Iraq, that I feared for his safety, or that I felt as if I wasn’t doing a good job of mothering my two kids while he was away.

And when I was done, I wiped my eyes and found my receipt.  It was wadded up in my pocket.

She grabbed it, looked over it, glanced at my cart, and sent me on my way.  Just an average day in the life of a Wal-Mart greeter, I suppose.  But it still sticks with me, more than four years later.

Nanny-State Watch: New Year’s Day



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No, a real “nanny state, ” as in parents want the local government in Gloucestershire county (England) to take care of their kids on New Year’s Eve so they can get sauced.

What’s the Key to a Sane Family Christmas?



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Our houses are decorated, our stockings are hung, our perfectly decorated trees aren’t even big enough to provide a canopy over the large number of gifts we’ve bought.

So, why is it sometimes so hard to enjoy? Why do we gripe and snap? Why do we wake up with empty wallets and empty hearts, after snapping at our mothers? Griping at our fathers? Trying in vain to fight the resentment that builds in our hearts towards our sisters? After all, doesn’t she know I won’t fit into a medium sweater anymore? Is she trying to make a point that I haven’t maintained my figure? And seriously, who gives CDs anymore? Do I look like a KE$HA fan?

Sometimes magazine articles try to advise us on how to have the perfect Christmas. But we won’t ever have those, will we? After all, we’re . . . well, we’re us. During the season, we get everything we want — time off, sleeping late, that new Pottery Barn glassware — and suddenly we can see how much we idolize comfort and gadgets.

It’s not pretty.

So, what’s the key to a sane family Christmas?

Well, it’s a little late, isn’t it? After all, how can we suddenly be selfless? How can we make sure our kids don’t think too highly of themselves, beginning today? How can we ensure grateful hearts? How can we provide perspective on our wealth as Americans . . . even if the iPhone 4 we received wasn’t a 4s?

Christmas reveals the sin in our hearts, but it also gives us a solution. The very incarnation of Christ (and his subsequent death and resurrection) can miraculously free us from ourselves.

Instead of hoping they finally picked up on the 37th clue — a circle around New York on the map with a Post-It note which reads “airline tickets!” — the gospel liberates us to welcome the fact that we aren’t packing our luggage anytime soon. We can start looking forward to Mom’s bossy suggestion to add salt to the already too salty ham. We can try to enjoy the irritation when brother’s idea of “helping out in the kitchen” means licking his dessert plate clean. We can already appreciate that our older kids will have to go to the bathroom as soon as our younger kids finally falls asleep on the roadtrip. We can realize that our dads will probably belch through our kids’ flute rendition of “Silent Night.”

Why look forward to these invariable irritants? Because they show us what’s in our hearts. Christmas, in a weird way, allows us to see our own sin more dramatically: We are selfish, we are resentful, we give presents sometimes to show people how clever we are instead of trying to find something they’d really need, and we feel sorry for ourselves. And in that misery, in that turmoil, in that moment when we consider telling our spouses exactly where to stuff that new toaster oven, it dawns on us.

We need a savior. 

Thankfully, somewhere this season, we’ll see a manger scene . . . in the front yard of that weirdly evangelistic church off the interstate, on a commercial advertising insurance, or on the cheap wrapping paper our in-laws use.

But we see Him. He is a baby. In a manger. The son of God, who came to save the world from our sins. Immanuel. 

He, after all, is the only way to quiet the chaos of our homes over the holidays and the chaos of our hearts over the holidays. And this is true, even though his manger scene image is being used to wrap the Pyrex dishes your mother-in-law gave as a hint to cook more frequently.

For the Woman with a House Full of Boys



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Rachel Balducci is a “mom blogger“ and the author of How Do You Tuck In a Superhero?: And Other Delightful Mysteries of Raising Boys, which she talks about here.


KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ
: So how do you tuck in a superhero? 

RACHEL BALDUCCI: Very carefully! Tucking in a superhero takes a lot of work, but it’s always the most surprising time of day for me. When they are nestled in their beds, superheroes just want to chat for a few minutes and kiss their mama. That’s nice — the weapons are stashed away, the superhero capes are hanging on the bedpost. And suddenly you can catch your breath and see this amazing creature that is your son and you fall in love with him all over again.


LOPEZ: Do superheroes’ moms have superpowers?

BALDUCCI: Yes, many superpowers! I think the most important powers they must have are a strong dose of humility and a lavish sense of humor. If you have a son and you can’t laugh at yourself, life will seem very challenging indeed.


LOPEZ: Why did you write this book? So teachers would realize not to mess with superheroes?

BALDUCCI: You know, I kinda did! Really, I wrote the book for women (but men enjoy it too!) who are in the same boat as I — living in a home filled with boys and wondering, “How in the world did I get here?” It’s such a challenge for moms with boys — we weren’t boys when we were little! These creatures are so crazy and foreign. And it hit me one day that looking at my sons through my female lens, well it was driving me batty. I had to figure out how to really enjoy their amazing, God-given nature, without allowing them to burn down the house. It’s always a delicate balance.


LOPEZ: Can you have a bunch of boys and a nice lawn? And why does that matter?

BALDUCCI: Taking care of our things is important. We need to be good stewards of what God has given us. But at the same time, we need to have a realistic view of our life and family. I realized a few years ago that my lawn is not going to look right now in this season the way it might ten or 15 years from now. And instead of fretting about the patches of dirt (or actually, the patches of grass) I need to just enjoy this time with my boys in my home, sharing life with me. The grass will grow eventually, right? I’m not going to put the kibosh on a soccer game for the sake of my grass not getting torn up. That’s just sad.


LOPEZ: How long did it take for you to decipher between hurt crying and mad crying?

BALDUCCI: After several near heart attacks, I finally realized this: The word “mom” or “mommy” (in extreme cases) is always accompanied with true injury. That is the only difference.


LOPEZ: How long does it take to see the personality in each one, to determine his temperament, to see him as a little individual making his way in the world?

BALDUCCI: It’s quite amazing to me how quickly personality emerges. But I think as a younger mom I didn’t pick up on that. When we had our second and third sons, I figured I was on easy street. As crazy as it sounds, I thought that having the same gender child (over and over again) meant you had it all figured out. Not so! Each of our boys is so unique that it sometimes blows my mind. Of course there are generalities about boys, but dealing with them individually shows that we are all wonderfully made.


LOPEZ: Since writing your book, you’ve had a daughter. How has the breaking up of male-child monopoly changed things? Or is it too soon?

BALDUCCI: My daughter was born the week after my book was released, and my goodness the joy and sweetness she has brought in our lives! It’s so fun to hear her brothers walk in from basketball practice and remark on how pretty she looks. “You are the prettiest girl in the universe,” I heard my 15-year-old say to her the other day. That has been one of the best parts of having a daughter — the sweetness she elicits from her big brothers.


LOPEZ: “I have started to notice a trend,” you write. “On the days when I’ve grocery shopped and the boys come home to a stocked pantry and fridge, there is something in the air. It’s an excitement, a glee, that I don’t see on any other occasion. Christmas comes close, but it’s hard to compete with a ten-pound bucket of chocolate milk mix.” Does Michelle Obama’s anti-junk-food campaigning constitute the first lady who stole Christmas? Or just make you feel guilty?

BALDUCCI: I don’t feel guilty at all. She is free to have her opinions! But I know, as a mother of five boys, that “everything within reason” is the way to go. I have a plan for food distribution, when people get to eat what junk food. And sure when we’ve had our daily allotment I have to hide that ten-pound bucket of chocolate milk mix (last week, I tucked it in the reusable grocery bags), but I’d rather have a balance that includes some bright spots for my boys than an unnecessarily totalitarian approach. There’s no need for all or nothing here. My boys are outside and running around so much that they burn it off within minutes of eating it anyway.


LOPEZ: You add, “This is how my boys feel loved. The way to a man’s heart is indeed through his stomach.” Are you trafficking in stereotypes here?

BALDUCCI: You know, I would have thought so before I had all these boys. But I’m watching this unfold before my eyes and it really is the truth — it’s all about the food. One day it might be all about other things (my husband didn’t marry me for my amazing cooking talents), but I see how my boys feel when we have the food they love in our home. It really makes them feel cared for by me.


LOPEZ: “I will make my boys hygienic, despite their efforts to thwart me.” Is there a secret to it?

BALDUCCI: Threats and bribes.


LOPEZ: What’s so special about Calvin and Chuck Norris?

BALDUCCI: They are the Wild West, in human form. These guys appeal to a boy’s sense of adventure and truth and justice. With Calvin, there is the added bonus of girls having cooties. With Chuck, it’s the round house kick to the face.


LOPEZ: “Like mothers everywhere, I’m training my children to get the job done.” Incentives are actually important, at whatever age, aren’t they?

BALDUCCI: I am amazed at the things my boys will do for the right prize. It’s all about having a carrot dangling in front of them. Now that doesn’t mean spoiling a child — it’s all relative to the task. We have a weekly chore chart (one that includes personal hygiene!), and there is a little treat for that, maybe a Coca-Cola from the gas station or extra time on the computer. We don’t call it a reward, it’s a celebration — we’re celebrating a job well done (but one that is expected of you!).


LOPEZ: Does your determination to have success with standards in your house give you Tiger Mom envy? What did you make of that whole debate?

#more#

BALDUCCI: I was intrigued by the Tiger Mom debate. On the one hand she sounded totally over the top and as a mom with five boys, I found myself rolling my eyes, just a bit. Except, I totally agree with her as well! There is an unfortunate tendency in this day and age to coddle our children. And it’s not how we need to be raising tomorrow’s men. It’s all about balance in our home (that’s our goal anyway). My children aren’t all enrolled in Suzuki violin, and we aren’t on traveling sports teams. But I do have standards for how my boys keep their room, for how they do in school, and for how they talk and act. When it comes to kindness and respect, yes I’m a Tiger Mom.


LOPEZ: This comes through in stories in the book but has having so many boys in the house made you appreciate how a dad really is important in a child’s life in a whole new way?

BALDUCCI: My love and respect for my husband has grown exponentially as our boys have gotten older. Watching him relate to them, how patient but firm he is with them, it really amazes me. I trust him implicitly because he was once this strange little creature who I now don’t always understand. Instead of thrusting my own agenda on how boys will be, I often ask Paul “is this normal behavior” and trust his answer. I want my boys to turn out exactly like their dad.


LOPEZ: Do boys help you keep from overcomplicating things?

BALDUCCI: Women have a tendency to over-think things, and I’m definitely someone who struggles with that. With boys, what you see is what you get. It’s not that they’re neanderthals, and there is definitely a lot going on beneath the exterior. But once I stopped trying to read into every little crazy thing they did (“Why would they want to jump off the roof of our garage? What is wrong with them?!”) I became a much saner and happier woman.


LOPEZ: “There are those days when life feels like enough of a whirlwind without fixating on this one day with this one meal (and its abject lack of nutritional value). Some days I simply cannot stop long enough to nitpick about having enough purple or green or orange on the plate because I’m busy stopping the wrestling match in the front room or protecting my china cabinet from an errant soccer ball.” Did you write this so a corndog maker might sponsor your blog?

BALDUCCI: That would be so awesome. Do you know anyone at State Fair, makers of the best corn dogs in all the land!?

LOPEZ: You’re a Catholic mom who watches ESPN with the kids. Was that ever an issue — having a TV in the house?

BALDUCCI: Yes, and I tend to be a little extreme when it comes to the TV. We have a nice, big, flat screen so my sister sewed a nice little cover for it so I can “put it away.” There is so much junk on television, even (or especially) on the so-called “family channels” that I’ll want to just get rid of TV altogether. But we have cable because sports is a big part of our world. So we work hard to have a balance, no TV during the school week and then really guarding what the boys watch when it’s on. Most times the commercials seem worse than anything else!


LOPEZ: You write about your time before your daughter, being asked randomly if you wanted a girl. About this, you write, “It is not simply about being a mother who has sons or daughters, or even some of each. The journey of motherhood centers on being the person God has chosen out of all humanity and space and time to care for these souls, these beings who exist for all eternity.” Why was that important enough for you to write?

BALDUCCI: I have heard from so many moms of boys who have such an ache for a daughter. I can understand that, but it made me sad just the same. Because there are lots of families with only boys (and that was us for so long!). We have to realize that a child is indeed a gift from God, but that whatever emptiness we feel can’t be truly filled by anything other than God. We need to make sure we aren’t so focused on something we don’t have that we miss the gifts that are right in front of us.


LOPEZ: What made you turn to blogging and book writing? And tweeting! And now a TV show? Goodness knows you’re busy enough without them.

BALDUCCI: I started my blog when our fourth son was around three. My boys were driving me nuts and I realized I needed to figure out how to see the joy and humor in my life instead of always wanting to cry in my beer. I had been a newspaper reporter in a former life and have a master’s in Journalism, so writing is therapy. It saved me in some ways, because every time something outrageously crazy would happen, I’d start to process the event, “report it” to my readers, and in the end find the humor. That’s not to say we laugh at inappropriate behavior. but it helped me not get too crazy about everything either.


LOPEZ: What’s the unexpected best part of being a mom to this clubhouse of yours? (Which you occasionally worry is a frat house!)

BALDUCCI: Boys are awesome. I love being a part of this world. The best part is just watching them enjoy the world around them, watching them grow and develop into who they are going to be. It’s such a gift to have sons. But I also enjoy being a part of the process, of helping guide them in the way they should go. I think about the men they are going to be, and I’m humbled that I’m a part of that journey, of guiding them with my female perspective.

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