Archive for the 'Family' Category

Odds and ends

February 26, 2015
  • Roger Scruton has had his ups and downs, but has learned something along the way, about love, about parenting, about education, and many other things that are part of becoming a family. This old essay is well worth reading:

What we have discovered through marriage is not the first love that induced it but the second love that follows, as the vow weaves life and life together. Western romanticism has fostered the illusion that first love is the truest love, and what need has first love of marriage? But an older and wiser tradition recognizes that the best of love comes after marriage, not before.

  • The Academy Awards came and went. I note that Ida, one of my favourite films from last year, won in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Well done, Academy.
  • That film about Alan Turing was nominated for Best Picture, and lost. In much the same spirit, Ed Feser took a close look at the Turing Test and gave it a failing grade.
  • I did not see any of the films nominated in the Best Animated Feature category, but, just based on the trailer, I’m pretty sure I know which should have won. Check this out:

Baby boy Burrell

November 26, 2014

The purpose of this blog is not to chronicle my personal life, but every so often something sufficiently significant happens that it seems wrong to pass over it in silence. With that in mind, let me draw your attention to the set of alarms I currently have programmed into my beastly little phone:

And that is just a sampling.

Yes, that’s right: we have a new baby!

Our little boy, Joseph Arthur Owen Barthos Burrell, was born on 5 November 2014, weighing 4 lb 4 oz. Being a tad small, he spent his first few weeks in hospital, but is now home with his big sister, big brother, mom, and dad. We’re pretty delighted with the little guy.

Blogging, which has already been slow of late, is likely to remain so for some time.

Joseph is named for St. Joseph — whose name, fittingly, and, we hope, prophetically, means “He will increase”. His middle names honour his maternal grandfather and great-grandfather (Arthur) and St. Nicholas Owen, a man whom I have long admired for his discretion and courage and whose martyrdom bears some relation to the date of birth.

Family Advent traditions

November 29, 2012

Advent begins this Sunday, and my thoughts turn to how we might observe the season in our home this year. Our daughter is old enough now to understand that Christmas is near, and probably old enough to appreciate simple activities whereby we “get ready”.

A couple of years ago we did the Jesse Tree devotions, and I am thinking of trying that again. If we had a tree (which we don’t, yet) and some ornaments we could perhaps hang an ornament each day after the prescribed Scripture reading.

I know many families put out their nativity set, sans the baby Jesus, and have the wise men with their camels travel through the house during Advent, arriving finally at Christmas (or at Epiphany). This would be great, if we had a nativity set.

We have an Advent calendar, but it is one of those “Christmas is Santa and skating” affairs with chocolate treats behind the flaps. We’ll use it — our daughter, who is very keen on chocolate, asks every day if it is Advent-time (‘Ahwentyme’) yet — but this is not exactly what I am wanting.

We’ll have an Advent wreath, but the candles will probably only be lit for a brief interval on Sundays; open flames are perilous with these youngsters.


I am wondering what other families do to observe the season. If you have any suggestions for things you do, or things you’ve heard of, I would love to hear about them.

Beastly little things

October 25, 2012

I may have mentioned in this space before that I am under some pressure to get a cell phone. I have resisted for years, and certainly have no desire to have one, but the question has come up again, so I’d like to reflect briefly on my concerns, and solicit advice of those willing to offer it.

Of all the reasons that have been given me for having a cell phone, only one carries weight in my own mind: in case of emergency, it would give our children’s caregiver a reliable way to reach me while I am at work. True, I have a desk job, and amidst all the desk clutter is a telephone, but sometimes I am in the lab, and sometimes I am out and about, and at those times there is currently no way for someone to reach me, and there is no-one else whom the caregiver can call.

Yet there are a number of reasons why I am reluctant to have one.

First, I fear cell phone creep. It is one thing to say that you’re getting one only in case of emergencies, but another to confine its use to emergencies. I actually used to have a cell phone in my car when I was travelling long distances in the winter; it was in my glove box in case I went into a ditch and needed to call someone, but nobody knew the phone number (not even me), and so there was no problem with creep. Having a phone so that others can call me is another situation entirely: creep will be hard to avoid. Emergencies get defined down.

I suppose a deeper reason why I do not like cell phones is the reason many people do like them: they keep one always connected. I am a person whose well-being is fostered by doses of solitude, and I treasure those relatively rare occasions on which I can “disappear”, maybe just for half an hour, in order to be quiet and think about things, or to listen attentively to something beautiful, or to pray. That sense of being alone, well and truly, gives me space to breathe, and is unfailingly refreshing. Whether it is actually important for me to be “unreachable” at those times is, I must admit, debatable, but it feels important. I feel as though the weight of that phone in my pocket will be a burden on my mind.

On the other hand, who am I kidding? It is not as though dozens of people are clamouring to reach me; my social life is almost entirely domestic. It probably would be feasible to restrict the phone-aware social circle to my wife, our children’s caregivers, and my in-laws. Is it churlish to inconvenience them on account of my rather vague, and perhaps rather selfish, reservations?

But mention of our children raises another set of issues. There is now quite a lot of evidence about how digital media, and cell phones in particular, have a powerful, and, to my mind, powerfully deleterious, effect on the lives of teenagers. This is something that people of my age, who did not grow up with this technology, probably do not fully understand. Cell phones, particularly those with “texting” capabilities (which these days is pretty much all of them) have made it very difficult for teenagers to remove themselves from their social circles, to “turn off” the peer pressure, to leave that world outside and simply be alone or with their families. It used to be that one came home from school and, apart from a few phone calls perhaps (on a phone shared with others), one was at home with one’s family until morning. Now one’s friends are always potentially present: whether one is riding in the back seat of a car, or whether one is in bed at midnight, the “texts” keep flowing. This is bad enough at any age, but for teenagers, for whom peer social pressures are already so powerful and dominating, it is really very troubling. How will these young people have time and space for quiet reflection, or for prayer, or for simply being themselves, embodied, attentive to those around them? How much more difficult will it be for parents to guide their children through those often difficult years when there is no time or place in which the parents and children are really together, to the exclusion of others?

And there is, of course, also the issue of addiction to “texting” and other social media. They are not called Crackberries for nothing. This is a concern not only for me as a parent, but also for myself, for I know that I would not be immune to the Pavlovian lure of the beep.

The issue of social media and children is not the topic of this post, but I raise it in this context because, although our children are not teenagers, they will, God willing, be so one day, and I feel that I will be better positioned to moderate the use of these technologies if I am not myself a user of them. I will be able to show them, by my example, that one does not need them, and that in fact there are things to be gained from not having them. It can be argued, of course, that there is a middle ground between abstinence and addiction, and that it would be better to model the middle ground. This may be true. My feeling is that it’s better not to let the foot in the door. This may be true.

At the end of the day my concerns about cell phones, smartphones, and so forth circle around two related points: first, I am concerned about the way these devices can potentially alter our lives at a fairly deep level, from erasing (at least in principle) our solitude, to changing the way we relate to our friends and family, to mediating our very experience of the world; and second, I am concerned that once one crosses the Rubicon to join the cell phone culture, it is very hard to get back.


I am interested to hear, if anyone cares to offer, opinions about these matters. If you, like me, do not have a cell phone (and I am sure there must be at least four or five such people left), why not? If you do, how do you feel about it? If you are a parent, how do you manage your child’s access to technologies like this? Do you?



Parenting strategies at Mass

October 23, 2012

Be honest now: how do you keep your kids quiet during the homily?

Filial encouragement

October 8, 2012

A fragment of tonight’s bedtime conversation:

Daughter: Where is Mommy?

Me: Mommy is at the hospital taking care of the sick people. Mommy is a doctor and knows how to help them.

Daughter: What do you know how to do?

Me (hesitating): Well, I can calculate quantum transition amplitudes, and I can solve Einstein’s equations in certain special geometries…

Daughter: I think you can do better things than that.

Me + kids

February 27, 2012

Today I begin an extended period of paternity leave. I’ll be spending each and every day in the company of our two little angels. Although I have little experience looking after both of them on my own, I think I have a pretty good idea of what to expect:

This is going to be great!

Birth announcement

July 8, 2011

We are happy to announce that our son, Michael William Campion Barthos Burrell, was born Friday, 1 July 2011, at 3:13 am. He weighed 6 lbs 13 oz, and was 20 inches long. This gives him the rough dimensions of a string bean. He is a spectacular baby boy.

Things are likely to be quiet around here for the next few weeks, or longer. Last time, we thought that having a newborn was exhausting; it turns out that having a newborn and a toddler is even more so. Not that we’d want it any other way.

Please join us in giving thanks for the birth of this fine, healthy, young man!

(We have already had a few inquiries about his middle names. ‘William’ is in honour of my father; ‘Campion’ honours St. Edmund Campion.)

Local news

May 20, 2011

Lulla, lullay

November 18, 2010

This post is for any parents who may be reading. I am interested to hear about the lullabies you particularly like(d) to sing to your children.

I sing to our daughter nearly every night, and it is one of my favourite parts of the day. Last night I was warbling away, in my usual fashion, but each time I would finish a song she would raise her head from my shoulder and ask for another one. (“More.”) I tried to oblige, but after a time I ran out of ideas. When I began to entertain thoughts of singing “Enter Sandman”, I knew it was time for a fresh infusion of songs.

I have a small stock of lullabies that fall roughly into two groups: children’s songs and religious songs. In the former group are old and faithful tunes like “Lullaby and Good Night” and “Rock-a-bye Baby” as well as ditties like “How Much is that Doggy in the Window?” and “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” (I tend to turn slightly doleful as night falls.)

My repertoire of religious songs is rather spare. Mostly I rely on “Amazing Grace” and “Salve Regina”, with occasional forays to “Jesus Loves the Little Children”. I don’t much care for that latter one, but beggars can’t be choosers, and, somewhat to my surprise, I’m a beggar.

The comments are open if you would like to say a word or two about your favourite lullabies.