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First I Took the Toys, Then I Took the Room

August 29, AD 2014 7 Comments

When we moved to the country two years ago, my dear husband fixed up a small 10 x 6 ft. space for me to use as my headquarters. The house is old, but a sound system had been installed, and the brains of it reside in that little room. I like the idea of a place to have some privacy. He added some nice wooden shelves; I named the room My Office. Then when we started homeschooling, I added some antique school desks. That room also became the School Room. (See short video tour here.) I like the idea of working together in that small space.

What would normally be the family room was the Toy Room because that’s where I put all the toys. It’s a big 30 x 20 foot room with old wood floors and wood paneling walls. The back wall is almost all glass, which opens up to a large screen-in deck that overlooks the tall pines and the lake. Year round, you feel like you’re almost outside when you’re in that room.

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My thinking was this: I would work at my desk while they worked at theirs, and we’d all get our school work done together so we could spend the rest of the day doing other stuff. But then I decided to write a thesis last Fall, and our routine became:

I work at my desk while they work at theirs.
I keep working at my desk while they are banished to the Toy Room.

Now, you might think that’s a good idea for a mom to have her own private working space, but here’s what happened in terms of kid thermodynamics. During the long winter months, without Mom present to diffuse the heat, the fights escalated, and I only got involved after the explosion. Plus, the toys never stayed picked up and the little sneaks would sneak across the hall into the kitchen and steal candy, hiding the evidence in the radiator, behind the bookshelves, and under the couch cushions. When it was time to clean up each week, there was more fighting because the mess was overwhelming and, hey, fighting with your sister over some perceived offense is easier than picking up your messes. That gorgeous old room looked like a junkyard most days.

Six months ago, I’d had enough of the mess, enough of the fighting, enough of the laziness. It was the M&M and Toothpaste Soup stashed and spilled behind the toy kitchen that set me off. No, that wasn’t it. It was the full round of denials from four oscillating heads that did it. Everyone blamed everyone else until the toddling brother said, “I made the Yum-Yum soup.” I knew he didn’t because the “Yum-Yums” are stored out of his reach. Alas, the Toy Room had become an anarchy in need of a leader.

But instead of leading, I took the toys away that day. All of them. Every last stuffed animal, plastic cup and saucer, bristle block, remote-controlled flashy green honking car, and every last hot pink Barbie stiletto. I threw out/recycled anything that was broken and packed away the rest to give back when they have their own children, or so I said.

The thing is, this year all four girls are going full force into schooling, grades 1, 3, 5, and 6. I’m going full force into teaching and studying. Last year, we were obviously already cramped in the 10 x 6 Schoolroom (really 8 x 5 because of the electronics). My solution? It was brilliant. Turn the Toyless Toy Room into My New Office! That’ll teach ‘em not to fight. Last week I moved a desk in there and ordered some filing cabinets and other stuff. Tada!

But the lesson to be learned was my own. I’ve been thinking about it all week.

A few years ago, I would not have thought, “Oh, the best way to get work done is to do it in midst of all the children!” (I mean, just shoot me already.) But now I see that, yes, that is the best way because it integrates and honors my priorities, my children. I made the decision to be home with them, and here I was hiding from them. They need me to supervise and guide them before their disagreements escalate to full blown explosions. By turning the Toy Room over to them without my supervision, I was missing some important mothering opportunities.

Is it loud? Yes, but that’s life around here. Loud! However, now there’s more laughter and less fighting. I’m finding now that I get just as much, if not more, done, and most importantly we are all less stressed. I’ve established my place among my darling rapscallions. This is an extension of the Alpha Mom lesson, I know, I know.

And, you’ll never guess what I did next! I gave them back some (not a lot) toys. I need one more thing. We need a large Crucifix to hang on the big wall. Does anyone know where I can get one?

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There are five desks in the room.

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There’s an electric piano for practice on the computer . . .

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“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” —Mother Teresa

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This is my now my desk, flanked by the little antique desks.

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These are the new filing cabinets. A must have!

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Kids playing Plants vs. Zombies—he invokes the Green Lantern.

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The other desk. Their math program will be on the computer this year.

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A toy table to keep the toys off the floor.

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The kids’ library (My old office is being converted into my Personal Library, pics later.)

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All tidy!

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The outside view and hairless horse (don’t ask).

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Kids on the porch putting frogs into toy pet hospital. Dogs also invoking the Green Lantern.

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The view from the porch!

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And here you can see how well I have things under control now.

Dear Chemistry Students

August 22, AD 2014 1 Comment

Water on Water

Dear Chemistry Student,

Once upon a time, at the ripe old age of 21, I was a high school chemistry teacher, not much older than you. I know people often have a bad reaction to studying chemistry. It seems difficult, abstract, and useless. Indeed, you don’t need to know that water molecules have a distorted tetrahedral arrangement in which the H—O—H angle is 104.5° to be able to get on with life each day. I get that. But I loved it when a struggling student’s mental eyes popped open, and for the first time, as if she’d just put on her first pair of glasses, her insight into her world grew sharper.

I loved chemistry so much, I went back to university and became a research chemist. I had the privilege of working at DuPont, a global chemical company, the one that started the slogan “Better Living Through Chemistry.” But I’ll tell you something I could never admit back then. I didn’t really believe in God; I mean I didn’t say I didn’t so maybe I still did a little, but I mostly didn’t think about God except for in those quiet moments I tried to avoid by staying super-busy. Know what? I knew there was more to life, but to me, perhaps like chemistry seems to you, faith seemed too difficult, too abstract, too useless. So I did what scientists do—shut up and calculate. That worked for a while.

However, as time went by, I realized my children needed me, that being a wife and a mother is my top priority. Why? Because the more I tried to do the right thing, the more all those questions about meaning and purpose started to come into focus. I left my career. I became Catholic a few years later. I am so happy now.

I’ve come full circle. Next week, I will again be a chemistry teacher, your chemistry teacher, this time using technology online where I can still be home to tend my priorities and you can still be at home under your parents’ love and guidance. Kolbe Academy, our institution, is a Catholic school named after St. Maximilian Kolbe, the saint who offered his life for that of a young father’s. Their method is Ignatian, a classical education in a contemporary world. I’ll say!

If you ask me why you need to know the bond angles of water, I’ll tell you because that little perfection is a key to understanding how our bodies and nature function. If you struggle with computation, I’ll tell you to keep trying because knowing the mathematical details of chemistry allows you to glimpse the language of the handiwork of God. You see, science can be a form of worship owed to the Creator. Science can also be a way to evangelize, for science unites us. All humanity together can appreciate the marvels of nature.

We will begin each class with a prayer. My prayer for you is that by knowing God better through the study of His creation, you will love God more so you can serve Him more and be happy with Him in Heaven forever. Amen.

Your Teacher,
Mrs. Trasancos

Let There Be Ice Cream In Cones: On Determinism and Miracles

August 18, AD 2014 4 Comments

Ice Cream Miracle2
Compliments of Elizabeth Pack Photography

Last week I wrote that determinism is not a new idea for physicists, and I wrote that Christian apologists do not accept the deterministic conclusion that everything has a fundamental microphysical underpinning. This bears explaining. The key word is “everything.”

As far as physics goes, the material world does seem determined.* Scientists expect matter to follow laws of physics, otherwise, they would not be able to form hypotheses to do experiments and gather data to make predictions. Here the atheist and believer alike can agree as thorough materialists.**

I also explained last week that an atheist usually has an axiomatic assumption that the physical realm is all that exists, hence “everything” is assumed to be determined by physical laws. The believer goes beyond the atheist though. “Everything” to the believer axiomatically includes the physical and the spiritual realm.

“I believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.”

Enter miracles. People often ask, “Does God contradict Himself by violating His own laws of physics?” I think of it like this.

Imagine there’s a father who loves his family immensely. He provides for them and guides them, and as the head of household, he establishes rules for the family. To the children’s chagrin, one of these rules happens to involve ice cream—no ice cream in cones because it’s too messy—and this steadfast rule is considered as firm as the Law of Universal Gravitation.

However, one evening, the father decides to override that rule because he wants to show his children his love in a special way, a personal love that goes beyond merely providing for them, guiding them, and being the Lawmaker of the Home. What does he do? He decides to take them out for ice cream and by-golly he orders them ice cream in cones, just this once. Why? Because he delights in seeing his children delight. Sure there are rules, but there’s more to life than rules.

This is like the miracle. The usual course of things is uniquely interrupted, but the miracle does not violate or change the rule. Rather, the gift is a revelation, a glimpse, of a greater truth. To quote C.S. Lewis, “By definition, miracles must of course interrupt the usual course of Nature; but if they are real they must, in the very act of so doing, assert all the more the unity and self-consistency of total reality at some deeper level.” Children need there to be order in the home, but that order is not all there is. Science needs there to be order in the universe, but that order is not all there is either. To understand this greater Truth, however, one has to accept this greater Love, rather than axiomatically decide this reality is impossible.

References and Further Reading

*As evidenced by the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics that occupied most of the twentieth century, this is debatable.
**This is why I think science is ripe grounds for ecumenism.

  • C.S. LewisMiracles: A Preliminary Study (United Kingdom: Harper Collings eBooks, 2009; original 1947), Chapter 8 “Miracles and the Laws of Nature.”
  • Christopher T. BaglowFaith, Science, and Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge (Mobile, AL: Midwest Theological Forum, 2011), Concluding Chapter “Miracles: Signs and Wonders at the Crossroads of Faith and Science.” Baglow quotes Lewis’ above essay in this chapter.

Photo Credit: This photo was taken for the essay by the superb photographer, Beth Pack. You can see more of her work on her Facebook page, Elizabeth Pack Photography. Beth has an inspired gift; she captures the spirit of childhood. Please say a prayer for the boy in yellow, Leo, who had surgery last week.

 Originally published at The Integrated Catholic Life™.

Is Free Will Scientifically Dead?

August 11, AD 2014 14 Comments

November 2013 040

Brian Greene, an American theoretical physicist at Colombia University and possibly the most well-known string theorist, was recently quoted by LiveScience, “I think free will bit the dust long before multiverse theory.” He said scientific equations can describe the particles that make up all matter, including humans, because everything has a “fundamental microphysical underpinning.” Determinism is not a new idea for physicists.

Of course, Christian apologists do not accept this conclusion about free will or determinism. Free will is a spiritual power endowed to humans by God. It seems a contradiction of the wildest sort for a scientist to conclude that free will is deader than multiverse theory. Science cannot prove or disprove spiritual truths. (Multiverse theory is another story.*)

However—and I understand having been a non-religious scientist myself once—Brian Greene is saying exactly what a non-believing physicist would logically conclude. The reasoning begins with an axiomatic disbelief in God, and follows. If there is no faith in God, there is no faith that anything spiritual exists. If there is nothing spiritual, free will only lives if it is explainable in physical terms.

A physical scientist must hold another axiomatic belief about the world. He must expect the world to be ordered and symmetrical, otherwise there is no basis to expect the predictive power of experiments or the correspondence of mathematics to the real world. To put the two axioms together, Greene’s conclusion is logical. If only matter exists and if matter obeys laws of physics, then humans are objects obeying determined laws of physics. Free will is akin to a sensation, real only because we feel it.

The problem is—and I knew this before I admitted it—those two axioms fail to explain why the world is ordered. I found the answer “it just is” unsatisfying, and that flatness aided my assent to supernatural faith. It was a most reasonable assent of the will, an assent beyond science.

I say that to highlight where, I think, the argument for free will ought to remain for apologists and physicists alike. It should remain in the a priori axiomatic reasoning before anyone gets to physics. Greene is doing that. Is free will scientifically dead as far as science can say? Well, yes. Free will was never scientifically alive.

For Catholics, one of the axioms is different and they both fit beautifully together. The Christian worldview expects to find order in the world too because it is created by God, the origin of rationality. It is de fide dogma that humans have a rational soul with the powers of intellect and free will. The soul is the form of the material body. As St. Anthony of Padua said, “The life of the body is the soul; the life of the soul is God.”

God grants free will to the human person just as He grants predictability to physical laws. Free will does not need a scientific space. To begin to understand free will you have to be open to faith, “the substance of things to be hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not.” Physics points to faith, but physics can’t explain what lives beyond physics.

 

References and Further Reading

  • Like I said before, I recommend Live Science. The writers do not reflect Catholic teaching (that’s not their purpose), but they provide good journalistic coverage of the latest science news.
  • I love this 2005 TED talk given by physicist Brian Greene. With engaging enthusiasm, he explains superstring theory, the idea that miniscule strands of energy vibrating in 11 dimensions create every particle and force in the universe.
  • The de fide dogma that man consists of two essential parts, a material body and a spiritual soul, were taught by the 4th Lateran Council and the Vatican Council. See Denzinger 428 and 1783. The de fide dogma that the rational soul is per se the essential form of the body was taught by the Council of Vienne. See Denzinger 481. The de fide dogma that every human being possesses an individual soul was taught by the Fifth General Lateran Council. See Denzinger 738.
  • These are summarized in Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Chapter 2, The Doctrine of the Revelation regarding Man or “Christian Anthropology,” I. The Nature of Man, § 14. The Essential Constituent Parts of Human Nature, Sections 1-3.
  • St. Thomas Aquinas on “faith,” Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 4, art. 1.

*I am not opposed to physicists studying multiverse theory, for a number of reasons, the main one being I am not a theoretical physicist and I think they should be the ones to decide. Secondarily, I realize strange sounding theories decorate the history of physics and such mathematical exploration was necessary. Would love to hear your thoughts, perhaps for a future essay. Email me.

Originally published at The Integrated Catholic Life™.

The Paradoxical Feeling of Letting Children Go

August 5, AD 2014 9 Comments

Grace Bunji Jumping

When I saw my baby—my baby—flying through the air attached to bungee cords at the county fair, I couldn’t breathe and my arms suddenly ached to hold her and keep her safe. She was so high, so far away. Sure, she’s nine, but still . . . the sight evoked an all too familiar feeling, the same one I had when she took her first step, rode her first bike, or giggled through her first sleep-over without me. Someday she’ll leave home, perhaps get married, and that same feeling will be there, the happy but sad paradox of letting her go.

I had that same feeling when I miscarried babies too, all five of them. I couldn’t breathe and my arms ached, a sadness pervaded my surface, but deep down I accepted that this is what mommies do. We learn to let go. We learn to find joy even in the pain of separation because we know separation doesn’t change the fact that we are mothers, nor does it sever a spiritual bond.

If we were nothing but matter, I wouldn’t be able to make sense of these feelings. The exhilaration of bungee cords would be a mere exercise in physics and elastics. Mothering would be nothing more than instinct. The pain of loss would be without faith, hope, and love. Believers, though, we are not just open to biological life; we are open to the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

Our earthly life can be heavy, as heavy as the stone memorials that mark our graves. I remember when life was particularly difficult because I was alone raising six kids while my husband worked in another state for an extended period of time. He was home one weekend, but so burdened was I that I started a fight the next morning. I piled the kids in the truck, sped away, and parked in front of a foggy graveyard so I could have a good cry. Soon, however, the kids were asking questions about death, which led to a talk about the Creed. I later looked it up in Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma and learned that the Scholastics described the resurrected and re-modeled body of the just as free of suffering, sorrow, sickness, and death, a spiritualized nature in which the body obeys the soul with the greatest of ease and freedom of movement. We will be agile, they said, not burdened by the laws of gravity. We will be light, filled with beauty and radiance.

Like bungee jumping.

I realize now that the burdens of life don’t go away, but through grace we are restored, lightened, and thus better able to navigate. Grace is often in the simple things too. You know, seeing my daughter (whose name is Grace) soar on bungee cords was kind of how I think of our lost babies. I let them go, but they are bound to me still, and I hope and pray for their salvation just as I do for all my children.

References and Further Reading:

I highly recommend Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma for parents. It is recognized as one of the best summaries of Catholic dogma. What the Church teaches, and how that teaching was developed, is given on specific topics in the Creed, along with the level of certainty from de fide (most certain) dogma to varieties of legitimately held theological opinions. It’s excellent for answering the probing questions of children.

Originally posted at The Integrated Catholic Life™.