Tag Archives: babies

Of Baby Spit-Up, Paternity, and Piety

19 Jun

Want to find parents of newborns in a crowd? Look for shoulder stains, especially on dads.

When my kids were babies, I was usually the last to know when a white splotch appeared on my upper back. Invariably it was at church, and we were passing around kids in a vain attempt to moderate the pew disturbances, and I’d end up with the youngest peering past my neck as she bounced in the BabyBjörn. Maybe I was trying to pay attention to the homily; maybe I was just trying to stay awake. Regardless, when the bouncing produced the inevitable blurp on my shirt, I’d remain oblivious, and the folks in the pew behind would enjoy a little little chuckle at my expense.

But I didn’t mind, because I was always proud of my shoulder spit-up stains. Even now, when I’m privileged to hold other people’s babies, I firmly rebuff offers of burping cloths. “Naah,” I say. “If she spits up, I’ll wear it as a badge of honor!” And I mean it. Shoulder spots that stem from cradling infants are marks of distinction. They say to the world, “I was entrusted for a time with a fragile imago Dei, and here’s proof!”

Of course, if my only claim to fame as a dad is that I’ve been known to sport spit on my shirt, then I’d have nothing to brag about. But hopefully that intermittent badge of honor was a decent hint of what I did shoulder in my paternal vocation – that I worked hard to provide for my family, for instance, and that I took pains to model the very virtues and discipline I called on my children to embrace.

In a sense, I’d like to think that spit-up residuals (and their moral equivalent) were clandestinely present all the time, not just when they visibly appeared during Sunday Mass. Fatherhood is about love, love entails sacrifice, and sacrifice always leaves scars of one kind or another. Sometimes you see them; most the time you don’t. But if they’re there, you’ll know it, because you’ll glimpse their associated fruits in the family.

The life of St. Juliana Falconieri, whose feast is today (June 19), illustrates what I’m getting at in a particularly vivid way. Born in 1270, Juliana was from a prominent, pious Florentine family. Her uncle, St. Alexis, was one of the Seven Founders of the Servites, and he took charge of Juliana’s religious formation after her father died prematurely. Inspired by her uncle, Juliana founded a women’s branch of the Servites while still a teen, but she waited to fully inaugurate its communal dimension until her mother died in 1305.

St. Juliana and her sisters led a life of fervent prayer and mortification which sustained them as they tirelessly cared for the sick. Juliana herself was particularly selfless in that work, and her example of service inspired her sisters whom she also led as superior for over 30 years until her death.

At the very end of her life, Juliana was unable to keep down solid food, and so she was deprived of the Holy Eucharist. Consequently, she made an unusual request: that a priest lay out a corporal on her chest and place a consecrated host there. “Shortly afterwards the Host disappeared and Juliana expired,” according to legend, “and the image of a cross, such as had been on the Host, was found on her breast.” This extraordinary occurrence is attested in the collect for Juliana’s feast, and images of the saint typically feature a communion host on her habit.

But that visible sign of communion with Christ would’ve meant little if it hadn’t penetrated into the life of Juliana and blossomed into Christlike charity. As it was, the outward sign was eminently backed up by an inward disposition that led, in turn, to Juliana’s generous outward actions. In any case, the extraordinary sign was truly extra: It wasn’t for Juliana’s benefit, but for ours. Today, it acts as a reminder of what’s supposed to happen in and through all of us who receive the Lord.

It’s the same idea that we encounter in today’s Gospel – the very Gospel we read on Ash Wednesday every year. “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them,” Jesus tells his disciples (Mt 6.1). So, give alms in secret, pray in a closet, fast with a smile on your face – which goes along with dads caring for their families behind the scenes.

But if somebody does happen to see us do those things – if somebody, for instance, spies the Lenten ashes on your forehead or the spit-up on your shoulder – don’t try to hide it. Be glad that your life can be a sign that points others to Christ, and then do your best to back up that sign with the hidden life it’s supposed to represent.
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A version of this meditation appeared on Catholic Exchange.

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Of Flicking Bubbles and Wrangling Babies

12 Oct

Jesus asks for childlike abandonment to the providence of our heavenly Father who takes care of his children’s smallest needs (CCC).

One of the hardest things to teach beginning nursing students is how to get rid of syringe bubbles. It’s an important part of learning to give shots – but not for the reasons you’d think.

Student nurses are like most folks in assuming that those renegade bubbles are really, really dangerous. “What if one gets into a vein or something,” they ask, eyebrows raised. “An air bubble can stop the heart, right?”

Wrong. It would take a whole lot more air than a tiny bubble’s worth to do that kind of damage – probably it would take a big syringe full. Our blood already carries a whole bunbuble-syringe-out2ch of dissolved gas – oxygen, for one thing, and CO2 for another – so a bit of air in a shot, even if it made its way directly into your blood vessels, would be absorbed pretty quickly and you’d breathe it out.

The more pressing concern with syringe bubbles is dosage accuracy. If a patient is supposed to get 20 units of insulin, for example, and a bubble displaces what would’ve been 2 of those units, then the patient actually ends up getting 10% less than he needs. In the case of some brittle diabetics, that could be a big deal indeed.

So, to preserve dosage accuracy means getting out those tenacious bubbles, and that entails flicking – no doubt you’ve seen nurses do it many times. With a fingernail or a pen, she’ll flick, flick, flick away at her syringe until the bubbles rise to the top and can be pushed out. After that, she can finish drawing up the correct dose of the medication without fear that extra air will mess things up.

Flicking bubbles effectively, however, is a tricky skill because it requires holding the syringe in such a way that it shakes a bit in the nurse’s hand. This takes some finesse, a light touch, and lots of practice: The nurse has to maintain enough control to prevent the syringe from flying across the room with the first determined flick, and she simultaneously has to allow movement to create adequate agitation within the syringe barrel. Without that gentle turbulence, the bubbles will cling to the sides of the barrel like barnacles, and the nurse will be flicking away until the proverbial cows come home.

New nursing students grasp the importance of eliminating syringe bubbles, and they take to the flicking with relish. What they don’t take to as readily is the idea of holding the syringe in such a way that it can move a smidgen with each tap. Instead, novice shot-givers have a tendency to clench their syringes – no doubt out of a healthy respect for family-in-church-202x300the sharp needles that are often attached – and so frustration abounds when the bubbles won’t budge, despite vigorous, even aggressive, flicking. Eventually, though, the students catch on, and they will all go on to develop great agility in holding while allowing movement.

This is precisely the same skill all parents learn when it comes to holding babies, especially in church – something I was reminded of recently when I had the privilege of holding my squirmy godson at Mass. Even though it’s been a number of years since I had to manage my own infant children in a pew, I think I did pretty well – like riding a bike, it’s a knack that comes back to you pretty quick. I held Dominic lightly, at one point encircling him under his arms but not embracing him, and then later placing him on my lap, but not actually holding him. Instead, I kept my arms out and about his frame, holding up my watch’s flex band for him to play with, and always on the alert in case he suddenly flung himself in one direction or another.

If you’re in church, and you have a fidgety kid, holding him tightly and restricting his movement too narrowly will only lead to squalls and maximum disturbance – in other words, papoose holds have no place in the pew. Instead, the key is to allow movement and activity, but within a limited range. You supervise the young’un, keeping him safe, preventing his fall or escape, but giving him as much freedom as possible to explore and manipulate his environment as you attempt to pay attention to Father’s homily or the canon of the Mass.

Perhaps, in time, after years of this kind of loose supervision, the child will, of his own accord, attend to what the parent seems intent on – namely, God. Until then, patience is a must, along with an unconditional surrender to distracted worship. Children for the most part will eventually follow the cues of the grownups in their lives, and they’ll be still when their parents are still; they’ll contemplate what dad is contemplating; they’ll attend to what mom is attending. But it’ll be the kids themselves who chonicolaesmaes_christblessingthechildrenose to be still and contemplate and attend – not because they have to, but because they want to.

It’s basically the template for all parenting, right? The delicate balance of healthy limits and true freedom is as elusive as it is essential, and even though it’s incredibly difficult to peg, we have to constantly recalibrate our parenting approach in order to achieve it as nearly and as often as possible.

In this, God the Father, not surprisingly, is our model and our only hope, for it’s exactly how he treats us as his own children. Yesterday at Mass, we heard St. Paul express it this way to the Galatians:

Before faith came, we were held in custody under law…. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a disciplinarian. For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus.

Like any good dad, he grants us plenty of freedom, but not without his constant superintendence and influence. By walking this divine tightrope, he somehow manages to give us the time and breathing room we need to choose what he would otherwise choose for us anyway. “God is the sovereign master of his plan,” the Catechism teaches us. “But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures’ co-operation.”

Think of it: The Creator of the universe bestows on us – bestows on me of all people! – the audacious privilege of cooperating with him in running the world. It’s wild and seemingly foolhardy, but there’s method in his apparent madness. Again, the Catechism:

This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God’s greatness and goodness. For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other.

It’s a dignity rooted in freedom, not compulsion. He nudges instead of regimenting, and the bubbles of our wounded and weak souls rise to the surface and dissipate. He gives us leeway to rebel, to make mistakes and learn from them, which allows us the time and space to adopt his divine will of our own accord.angel__guardian-basilica_window_detail_

It’s all gift, all grace – the light touch of the Father. Providence is another word for it, and we see it at work all the time in our lives: “Chance” meetings that lead to serendipitous relationships, even marriage; “coincidences” that alter the course of our careers, our fortunes, our lives; “accidental” events that clearly couldn’t have been accidents.

Ah, and he’s clever how he goes about it – very cagey and subtle – but we have the inside line on one aspect of his modus operandi: angels.

Just last week, we celebrated the feast of the Guardian Angels – the Church’s universal acknowledgement that God is intimately, quietly involved in our puny lives day to day, hour by hour, even minute by minute – remember your bedtime prayers?

Angel of God, my guardian dear,
To whom God’s love commits me here,
Ever this day, be at my side,
To light and guard, to rule and guide.

The guardian angels are God flicking at our bubbles; they’re God encircling us with his divine superintendence without smothering us. We grew up relying on God’s providence because we grew up believing in our guardian angels – talking with them, arguing with them, laughing with them.

Keep believing, and pass it on.

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A version of this essay appeared on Catholic Exchange.

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