Say hello to Lucia Rose

Lucia Rose, wide awakeMeet my new daughter, Lucia Rose. She was born today, 1/3/13 at 1300 (i.e. 1 p.m.). She was 7lbs, 2oz, and 18–1/2 inches long and had a full head of dark brunette hair.

Lucia shares a birthday with my favorite author, J.R.R. Tolkien, born this day in 1892, and the famed pianist/humorist Victor Borge. Her feast day is the Holy Name of Jesus and St. Genevieve.

This was a scheduled c-section, since Melanie has 4 caesarean sections already and the option for natural birth is long in the past. However, the schedule was not exactly the schedule we thought. Lucia was supposed to be born on 12/31, but Melanie had caught a cold over Christmas and then a stomach bug and was in such bad shape for her pre-op appointment last Sunday that they re-scheduled her. But as they say all things work out in the end for good, since not only does Lucia get this auspicious day for her birthday, Melanie also managed to get her favorite OB, Dr. Shaw, for the surgery.

Untitled Dr. Shaw does not have a private practice, but only does hospital work. She takes unexpected c-sections mainly and she delivered Anthony, who came earlier than his scheduled date. She has an amazing bedside manner and is acknowledged as one of the best OB surgeons in the area. (The nursing staff both times gushed over Dr. Shaw, which tells you something.) As it turned out, Melanie said this was the easiest of her deliveries, with the least anxiety and the least pain, during and after. Let’s hope this is a sign of things to come as recovery always seems to take forever for her.

As we were preparing to head to the hospital this morning, I took a moment to review how I captured the moment for the other four births. Each one has been chronicled in one way or another online.

UntitledFor instance, with Isabella in May 2006, I took a photo in the recovery room and posted it online later that evening when I was back home on my iMac. The next morning, I wrote a blog post with all the details of her birth. Since that was before the ascendancy of Twitter and Facebook (remember those days?), that was the extent of it.

By the time Sophia was born in March 2008, Twitter had come along and so after a brief post to the blog from my oh-so-barely-adequate Blackberry, I tweeted some updates, but also had a series of blog posts over the next few days as we tried to get her to come out naturally before having to resort to c-section. (A harbinger of stubbornness to come.) Happily, the hospital now had Wifi and so we had our laptops in the room during labor and afterward. Melanie even blogged during labor.


When Ben came around in July 2009, the social media revolution was in full swing and so in addition to updates on Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr, I had a nice blog entry introducing my son. Interestingly, Benedict got the most media exposure as Michael Paulson, who was then covering the religion beat for the Boston Globe, featured our naming of Benedict after Pope Benedict, in his blog at the Globe’s website. (The comments were a mix of nice remarks and the usual troll-droppings you find in newspaper comboxes.)

And then there was Anthony in February 2011. By the time of his birth, live tweeting was old hat. I now had an iPhone that I could take pictures with, post online, write tweets and status updates and all the rest. Interestingly, I primarily used the web services Posterous at the time to simultaneously post to my blog, Twitter, and Facebook. Since then the service pivoted to providing a different kind of experience and then was acquired by Twitter.

7 lbs 2oz. 18-1/2 inches. Born on 1/3/13 at 13:00

So now we have Lucia in January 2013. I was able to use the Buffer web service as an able replacement for Posterous that can post to Facebook, Twitter, and, all at the same time. I also used the new Flickr app on my iPhone to post photos to Twitter and Facebook. I took a short video of Lucia in the OR to send via iMessage to my mother-in-law so she could show her to the other kids at home. Interestingly, for the birthing center staff this raised not a single eyebrow. Whereas for the first three kids at least, the presence of computers and smartphones was occasion for at least a little surprise, for the last two it is clear this has become commonplace.


I had hoped I could up my game this time and live videostream the delivery, but Melanie was dead set against it. (Kidding! Although the nurse did say that they sometimes Skype the delivery so that servicemen overseas can take part.)

So now I am home with the kids in bed while my mother-in-law stays with Melanie and Lucia in the hospital. And all is right with the world. What a great beginning to 2013. I can only hope it stays up like this.

The world they inherit will have smartphones

Sophia, who is 4, and Isabella, almost 6, came to me and Melanie the other day with a little game they were playing. Sophia had a stack of colorful cardboard cards with difference colors and patterns on them, telling us that this was her phone. Not to be outdone, Isabella carried over a stack of small Beatrix Potter books she declared were her phone. I captured it in videos.



What a world they will live in. What amazing inventions they take and will take for granted as just the way things are.


The Life of the Mind for a Good Marriage

Before I was married I used to lead a Bible study in my parish that brought together mainly young adults. As the resident guy with the Theology degree, I became the study leader, leading the discussion and doing the research into what we were reading at the time. I enjoyed it immensely, because it was a great social gathering (we always went for food and drink at Salem Beer Works afterward) as much as a wonderful intellectual and spiritual stimulation. I loved exercising those theology muscles again.

(The memory of the Bible study is also near and dear to my heart because it’s where I truly started the courtship of Melanie. After our near-disastrous beginning, she started coming to Bible study with her roommate and she saw I wasn’t just an impetuous cad.)

We haven’t had anything like the Bible study in a long time. After we and our friends started getting married and having kids, getting a free night to have people over the house became more and more difficult. Then we had to up and move to the South Shore of Boston, at least an hour away from our old place (at best). I’ve been attending the Men’s Group in our parish, but it’s not the same.

However, Melanie just started something new, which brings back the old theological joy, while also making me appreciate all over again what a smart, intellectual woman I married. Someone (I forget who, sorry) linked to 2006 academic article by Dr. Scott Hahn published in the journal “Letter & Spirit”. It was entitled “The Authority of Mystery: The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI” (PDF). It looked intriguing so I downloaded it to my iPad, but I was having the hardest time reading it. Maybe it’s the lack of hard theological reading lately or just the many nights of sleep interrupted by wakeful children, but I couldn’t grasp it.

However, when I mentioned this, Melanie asked me to start reading it aloud to her. So I did as she cooked and cleaned in the kitchen, with punctuations from children seeking a drink or something. And what do you know? It worked. Suddenly I was grasping it. Not only that, but we start discussing it as we went, digging into the meaning, applying to our own situations or more broadly. As if by magic, we were back in our dating days, when we’d have long intellectual discussions while sitting in my car in front of Melanie’s house, as I was dropping her off from a date. Or standing by the door of my house after Bible study, her hand on the doorknob, for two hours.

A large part of our mutual attraction was indeed the intellectual curiosity and capacity of the other, but as we settled into the routine of family life, we seemed to have let that slide somewhat.

(While I’m shallow enough to admit that Melanie’s good looks were an equal part of my attraction to her, I’m also lucky that when Melanie considered me, looks were not as important as intellect.)

I’m reminded again what a blessing it is to have a wife with whom I share not just so many interests, but whose differences from me are also intriguing. I’m not a big poetry or “literature” fan (I like books just fine, but serious English Lit eludes me), but with Melanie I can begin to appreciate it. Likewise, Melanie has never been big on politics or science, but she likes to talk with me about them. And when it comes to faith and theology, that is a shared love we dig deep in together.

Some of the best husband-wife couples I know include two great intellects in them, which seems to spur both on to greater accomplishments. I’m thinking of Scot and Kimberly Hahn for one and Phil and Leila Lawler for another. Certainly, the life of the mind is a key element to a happy marriage, I think.


They should have had a Lifehammer in Logan, Utah

Perhaps you’ve heard the news story out of Utah about the car with a dad and three kids that flipped into an icy river. Eight men in passing cars leapt into the river to rescue them, including one man who shot out a window with his handgun and another who had a knife to cut them from the seatbelts. It sounds like they’re all going to make it, but it’s a scary scenario right out of my nightmares.

Living in Massachusetts, I can’t count on passersby having a handy handgun or knife to help us in a similar situation, which is why I purchased two Lifehammers, one for my car and one for Melanie’s. They are designed for the single purpose of getting you out of your car in an emergency. One end has a pointed steel hammer that punches readily through tempered auto glass while the other has a razor in a safety position for cutting through seat belts.

They sit right in the little map pocket by the driver’s door for at-hand access. I keep in mind that it’s not just for an accident that I may get into or Melanie, God forbid, but if like in the story above, we encounter others in similar need.

(Note: Although that’s an Amazon affiliate link, I don’t have any interest in Lifehammer other than wanting people to be safe when driving with their kids or to be able to help others at need.)


Rediscovering conversation in our marriage


As Melanie and I drove 2 hours each way to my mom and sister’s house in Maine, we rediscovered something about our relationship. We really have great conversations in the car. (Today, we talked about the coming development of theology concerning the body-soul hybrid of personhood as well as the development of a theology of the single state in life; the relative merits of Google+ and Facebook and the challenges facing each; a book Melanie is reading of correspondence in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, between a New York TV writer and an antiquarian bookshop in London, which spawned a conversation about Internet retailing versus personalized care from small local businesses; and so on.)

Even from our very first date, when we sat in my car in front of her house for hours after I brought her home, we knew that the best part of our relationship was our intellectual and spiritual compatibility.

But we also realized today how rare these conversations have become. Every night, after finally getting all the kids in bed and cleaning up dinner and the kids’ clutter, we want nothing more than to plop down in front of the TV or the computer for an hour or two before hauling ourselves off to bed. Often, we just can’t muster the energy for deep conversation.

However, we recognize that we have to maintain that aspect of our relationship if we’re going to remain strong, because it’s such a vital part of who we are together. So more long car trips are in order (my mom will be pleased), but we are also going to try to get at least a monthly date night for the two of us (with the aid of the kids and my sister-in-law who would babysit).

We think it will add a spark back to our relationship that 4 kids in 6 years has pushed to the side somewhat. I’m looking forward to it.

Photo by kevindooley –

The Butterfly Place

IMG 1444As I’m on vacation this week, we decided to take the kids on a day trip yesterday. As few weeks ago, the Get My Perks website, a Groupon clone, offered a deal for The Butterfly Place, a small family-run butterfly house about an hour away in Westford, MA.

The kids love butterflies, especially Isabella, and she can identify many of the species by name. For her birthday, she received a butterfly-raising kit, which we used to raise some Painted Lady butterflies and then release them. I even made up a bedtime story for her when she was toddler called “Fly away, butterfly.”

So you imagine how entranced she was when we entered the butterfly house and she saw hundreds of butterflies of all shapes and colors and sizes flying around her. It’s not a large building at all, a few hundred square feet, and it contains dozens of butterfly friendly plants strewn among stone paths. And yet it was quite magical at times. Some of the butterflies would flit past your face while others would land just inches away on leaves and flowers.

I even seemed to attract more than my fair share with butterflies spontaneously landing on my hat and arms and legs with no prompting by me. I later realized that as a diabetic there’s a larger than normal amount of sugar in my sweat and that must have been what attracted them.

It doesn’t take long to walk through, but it’s nice to just stand or sit in one place and be entranced by the beautiful, flitting things.

With the Get My Perks deal, we paid $20 for two adults and two kids (three and over), plus an identification guide to the butterflies. Without it, the cost would have been $40, which might have been enough to dissuade us from going, but I’m glad it didn’t. The pure joy on the kids’ faces would have been worth the trip and cost at that price.

Bella’s first job

Piggy Bank

Isabella received a nice, crisp dollar bill for her birthday back in May, which was very exciting for her as it was her first money of her own. She spent a lot of time thinking about how she could spend it, and eventually she did spend it at Target… on a gift for her younger brother, Benedict.

This is very admirable and praiseworthy. (She has been emulating a book my mom gave her about doing small kindnesses for others.) But after she spent it, she was sad to realize she had no more money, which while being an important lesson, is very hard for a little girl who now must wait months until Christmas or even longer to her birthday to replenish her store.

So I decided to teach her about working for pay. I’m not a big believer in allowances, as it’s often money for doing what the children should already be doing by contributing to the household as they can. But I do want to teach Bella that if she does something above and beyond what she’s expected to do, she can receive remuneration.

Now, I don’t want to discourage generosity of spirit, so we’ve made clear that she doesn’t get paid for doing good deeds, but we do encourage it. Instead, we will agree on the task and the pay in advance and she will only be paid upon completion. She can ask us if we have jobs for her to do, but if we don’t (because this could get quickly out of hand), she’ll just have to wait until we do.

Obviously, this will need refinement as we go along. Today I offered the princely sum of $1 (the usual pay for most jobs is a quarter) to pick up all the toys and other items laying about in the yard so I could mow. I hate doing this backbreaking work so it was worth it to me. Bella only got so far, however, before she declared herself too hot and tired to continue. So rather than pay her nothing, I decided she ‘d done half the job and she got paid half, which she was happy with.

I look forward to continuing the economics education of the kids with a lesson on saving and tithing and seeing where we can go with this.

Photo by SimonAlparaz –


What car should a growing family buy?

Our Buick Terraza

It’s time for our family to start thinking about a new vehicle to transport us around. Our lease is up in February and we want to plan for the future. Unfortunately, the options for large and growing families are limited.

For the past four years, Melanie and I have been driving a 2006 Buick Terraza, or as I like to call it “the minivan no one has heard of”. It’s a decent enough vehicle, with two sliding doors and three rows of seats. It even has an in-car DVD/TV system, although we’ve used it just a couple of times total. (Our kids don’t watch much in the way of movies or videos.) On the downside, the rear seats don’t flat, like those in newer, more popular minivans and so in order to haul anything big, you have to take the massive and awkward contraptions out and store them somewhere. (And since we don’t have a garage, storage options are limited.) And when the seats are not folded flat, the view to the rear through the headrests on those seats is somewhat limited.

The Terraza seats six, at least when there are four kids in car sears. Two adults in front, two car seats in the middle bucket seats, and two in the rear bench. In Massachusetts, child must ride in car seats until they are five, and then they can use a booster until they are 4’9”. Bella just turned five so we’ve picked up a booster seat, which should allow us to get a slim adult, like my sister-in-law, in the back between Bella and Sophia, getting us up to seven and just barely allowing everyone in our house to travel places in one car.

We lease the Terraza from a company I’ve been doing business with for about 14 years, which leases out one- or two-year-old vehicles, mainly from rental fleets. I got my Dodge Stratus from them way back in 1998 and then upgraded to the Dodge Intrepid. About 18 months after we were married and when Bells was six months it was time to bow to the inevitable and move up to the minivan. The way this company works, when you get into the last year of your lease, which I’ve generally taken for five years at a time, they offer to let you get a new lease early. They keep a loyal customer and I get a newer car. So now we’ve just received the letter from them and we’re starting to think of a new vehicle.

So what kind of car will we want to have for the next four or five years? We have had four children in the past five years. We hope to … slow that pace down from here, but we are open to God sending us more children. Melanie conceivably (pun intended) has another 10 years of possible child-bearing. (To reiterate, we are not expecting another child at this time.) Meanwhile, in four years Isabella, Sophia, and Benedict will have moved up to booster seats, but will not yet be old enough to go without. Anthony will be just about to move to a booster. Yet there could one, two, or even three more kids. (Eep!)

So the big questions is: What do we get?

I asked this over on Facebook and got a variety of answers, including 12-passenger van, 15-passenger van, Chevy Suburban, Honda Odyssey, GMC Acadia, and even a school bus (though that was tongue-in-cheek.)

I think I will eliminate the Odyssey and Acadia right off the bat, although they are both nice looking vehicles. The Odyssey’s main seating advantage over the Terraza is that the middle seats are a bench, not buckets so you get on extra there. And the Acadia has no seating advantage over the Terraza. Otherwise, both are very nice vehicles with lots of interesting options, although the Odyssey is so popular it will be hard to find used and the Acadia is just pretty expensive.

800px 2007 Chevrolet Suburban LT 07 10 2010 1

I’ve seen a lot of families go for the large-capacity vans, especially since there are so many in the used-car market and they just have capacity galore. I’ve been told by some who’ve owned them that I should go for the 15-passenger variant instead of the 12 because the 12’s back seat butts right up against the rear door, leaving almost no cargo room, unless I take out the rear bench (cf. no garage, no storage, above). Some have warned that these are difficult to drive in the snow, get terrible gas mileage, and big and bulky to drive and park in general. Melanie will be driving it most of the time so difficulty, especially in snow, is a concern. But my sister just got a full-size van so we’ll ask her how she feels about it.

And then there’s the Suburban. My brother owns one of these to carry his family with six kids and has taken many long road trips in it. With front and middle bench seats, it can also seat nine, although the ninth passenger sitting in the middle between the driver and the right-side passenger has to be over 12 years old. Still, even without that seat, you can get a good six in the back, which is two more than we can do now.

So we’re still thinking about it. What should we get? What do you big families drive and how many of your kids are in car seats still?


Worrying about my kids’ faith formation

Cradle Catholic

Now that Isabella is five years old (where id the time go?!), Melanie and I have been talking about her education, which we expect to begin formally in the fall as homeschooling. While Melanie is taking the lead here, I want to be involved, especially in the subjects in which I have competence including her faith formation.

I want to make sure that all of our kids are better off than many of the kids I used to see in religious education, many of whom couldn’t name the Ten Commandments or the 12 Apostles and didn’t recognize who Adam or Noah were. Now, as I’ve chronicled here and on my Facebook page, it’s obvious that our four children are doing pretty well in this area and by their prayers and how they talk to us we know that they are developing a personal relationship with Christ. Yet I was emphasizing to Melanie how important it is that Isabella learn some things by rote as well. I want her to be able to answer the question, “Why did God create me?” I want her to be able to name the 12 Apostles and the Ten Commandments and to know the Patriarchs of the Old Testament and all that stuff that I didn’t learn in my hippy-dippy “Jesus is my pal” religious education back in the ’70s.

But Melanie assured me that Bella and the others are doing okay. For a five year old, Isabella is very advanced. And I saw proof of it this morning. Before breakfast, she was sitting on the couch with me and she picked a children’s book of the Way of the Cross. Even though she can’t read, she was able to identify by the images all of the Stations of the Cross and give them their proper names. She picked out St. Veronica and declared her to be her new favorite saint. In the back of the book she recognized the Regina Caeli, even though she cannot yet read, and then began to sing it. In Latin. A few minutes later, she went to take care business in the bathroom and while in there she regaled the whole house with the Litany of the Saints.

So I guess I don’t have to worry too much about whether she’s learning her faith. I don’t want to relax too much, but I think I don’t have to be afraid as long as she keeps reading good books, still loves to go to Mass, we keep praying with her, and we keep modeling our own faith to her. In the end, we have to leave the rest of it up to the Holy Spirit.

This parenting stuff is hard.


The seatbelt generation gap

The Seatbelt of Death

I’m sure it was the same way for my parents and my grandparents, but I’m confronted every day with the ways that the world my kids are growing up in is different from the one I grew up in. (In fact, this could be a whole series of posts.) Today’s food for thought concerns riding in cars.

When I was a kid my mom drove a station wagon, several different kinds over the years. After all, she had five kids she needed to haul around along with our assorted gear and we just weren’t all going to fit into a four-door K-car. But if you do a quick count of the number of seat belts in an average station wagon of the time, you’re going to come up a little short of the required six or seven (depending on whether my dad was with us). The fact is that I just don’t remember ever putting one of those seat belts on in one of my parents’ cars. Nor do I remember ever sitting in a car seat. No, we were free to bounce around the back seat and what we called the “back back,” i.e. the storage area behind the back seat. I remember piling into the car and on long trips laying on my back and watching the trees flash by across the sky or looking back at the semis behind us on the highway and trying to get them to blow their air horn. The only seat restraint I experienced was my dad’s arm thrown across my body if he had to stop short while I was riding in the passenger seat.

Today, we go nowhere unless every child is strapped into a seat that looks like it was taken from a Formula 1 racer and has more cup holders than my first car. We struggle to fit our whole family in one vehicle and have reached maximum capacity with four kids in seats and two adults. If anyone else would like to ride with us, well, sorry no vacancy. If we have one more child, we’re taking two cars everywhere. That is, unless we go the route of nearly every family with 5+ kids that I know which is to buy a 12- or 15-passenger van big enough to transport prison chain gangs and taking up more than its share of the driveway.

The kids themselves are so indoctrinated into the use of car seats that if I so much as put the car into drive before they have their four-point harnesses buckled they start wailing as if they believe the G-forces will crush them against the roof of the car. (This can be an advantageous prompt when they dawdle about putting their belts on.)

I’m not saying it would be better to go without seat belts nor do I think my parents did anything wrong. My brothers and sisters all survived our childhoods, even the car accidents that we got into ourselves (including the one when my brother and his buddy were fighting over a Susie Q the day we went to the beach and he drove over a stop sign; or the one where we got rear-ended coming home from the high school Super Bowl game his senior year; or the one …. well, I better stop there). The fact is that, according to the US Dept of Transportation, traffic fatalities have decreased between 1975, when they first started recording the data, and 2009; from 44,525 deaths to 33,808 deaths.


Although the U.S. population has been growing steadily since 1975, the rate of motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 population has declined by 47 percent. During the 35 years in which national fatal crash data have been collected, the death rate per 100,000 population in 2009 was as low as or the lowest it has ever been in every category but motorcyclists.

As for seat belt use:


According to a national daytime observational survey of motorists, seat belt use was 85 percent among front seat occupants in 20104 and 74 percent among rear seat occupants in 2008.5 Unrestrained vehicle occupants are more likely than restrained occupants to be fatally injured in a crash so that belt use is much lower among fatally injured occupants. Among fatally injured passenger vehicle occupants 13 and older in 2009, 44 percent of passengers and 40 percent of drivers were belted.

So, we’re probably better off with our kids wanting and demanding to be in car seats and seat belts, despite the inconvenience for big families. It’s just funny to consider the parts of my childhood that I take for granted as the tapestry of my life that they will never have. (In a related vein: riding in the back of a pickup truck. Yup, never going to happen.)

Photo by Simmy. –