Didn’t you know how important they were?

Like many Catholics these days, my mind has been so full of the Church’s sexual abuse scandal that I hardly know what to do. I hardly know what to write. I hardly know where to begin.

But over and again as I read the accounts of abuse and cover-up, I return to one elemental, heart-rending cry:

“Didn’t you know how important they were?”

I imagine the abuser staring at his prey, the bishop staring at a pile of unwelcome paperwork, and I want to shake them both by the shoulders.

Those children – didn’t you know how important they were?

When I stare at my own children, when I notice their outlines – the places where their hair, their skin, their eyes meet the world, I see the brush-strokes of a master. I see art. I see treasure.

I stop to consider my children – their personalities, their histories, their particular sets of talents and challenges – and I am struck by the enormity of their presence. Each, so full of his own ideas, so full of possibility, seems to contain an entire universe.

Someone stared at those children, the ones who were abused, that way. Their mothers, probably. But if not their mothers or their fathers, then definitely God the Father, who could number every hair on their heads.

Didn’t you know how important they were?

Didn’t you, Father? Didn’t you, your Excellency? Your Eminence? Didn’t you, lay brothers and sisters who knew things, but didn’t tell? Who suspected, but didn’t help?

Didn’t you know how important they were?

That’s the angriest, most sincere cry of my heart right now. It has called out many times, in many situations, regarding victims of terrorism, war, abortion, racism, harassment, and other sin. But this time it’s got an edge.

It is harsher for being directed at people who should have known better.

Our Church is the one that speaks about the sanctity of life from conception to natural death. It is the one that protests at abortion clinics and detention centers and execution chambers. It is the one that testifies to the importance of each individual life, no matter how humble.

Men who promised to serve that Church should have recognized the sanctity of their victims’ lives – of their subordinates’ victims’ lives.

Instead, some treated those children as objects. Abusers saw them as pathways to pleasure, as perks of power. They were things to them, to be enjoyed and used up.

Those who covered up the abuse saw its victims as problems to be smoothed over, as causes of scandal rather than results of it.

Too many of today’s bishops seem to see abuse victims primarily as public relations disasters.

Didn’t you know how important they were?

Don’t you see it now? Now, when we are so well acquainted with the sins of the past? Now, when we can see how those sins wreaked havoc on victims’ lives? Now, when we see the effects of those sins rippling outward, driving people away from Christ?

We are a Church in crisis. Because of the abuse and the cover-ups and the sin that undergirds it all, yes. But also because of what this situation says about us – about what we value. Too many of us have cared more about trappings than people. The trappings of office, of power, of achievement, of reputation, even of liturgy and politics.

While our society has grown ever more factionalized, ever more tribal, so have we in the Church. And the danger here (the relevant danger; there are many) is that when we think in terms of tribe, we cease to properly value individuals.

Priests may rush to the defense of their brother priests, bishops to their brother bishops, conservatives to the champions of their causes, liberals to theirs. We don’t want to think ill of our kin. We hate to think that a favorite son of our neighborhood, our city, our nationality, our side could possibly do evil. We are convinced that our goals are so worthy, they’re worth brushing aside the faults of their proponents.

What I want to know is, will we keep walking this path? Will we read news articles and bishops’ statements and the Vigano testimony and believe them only insofar as they align with our preferences? Or will we – clerics and lay people alike – resolve to seek the truth wherever it leads us?

Will we remember the cry: “Didn’t you know how important they were?”

Will we value the victims of the past and present? Will we value the youth of today? Will we be brave enough to challenge the people and the systems we’ve loved? Or will we cling to trappings, unable to let go?

 

To listen to an audio recording of this post, please click below:

 

These Walls - Didn't you know how important they were

 

Reeling

Yesterday morning I sat in Mass and cried.

I cried for those who were abused by their priests. I cried for those who were not believed, who were hushed, who were too scared to come forward.

I cried for the parents who could not protect their children – the ones who found out too late that they had misplaced their trust, the ones who didn’t know how to help their babies pick up the pieces.

I cried for those who have been, and who will be, pushed away from Christ by this disaster.

I cried as I imagined evil making its way through this mess, spurring men and women to do its bidding: sneaking, touching, hurting, pressing, obscuring, shushing, pretending, lying, demoralizing, denying, dividing, destroying.

I cried for those who cooperated in the evil, for those who still do.

As I walked up to receive the Eucharist under the gaze of Christ crucified, I cried for Mary, whose feast we were celebrating. Mary, who witnessed her own son’s abuse. While the evil one might not have targeted Christ with sexual abuse, he did use humiliation, betrayal, pain, and exhaustion. He used mankind to subject Mary’s beloved son to physical, emotional, even spiritual torture.

I cried for Christ, who bore all that suffering for us two thousand years ago, and who must surely continue to bear it today.

Men who were charged with bearing Christ’s light into the world instead chose the enemy’s darkness. People who should have protected His lambs instead left them vulnerable to wolves.

~~~

Like so many Catholics, I’m reeling from the news of the last few weeks. First (former) Cardinal McCarrick, and now hundreds more in Pennsylvania. Except of course there’s no “first” about it. This is a problem we’ve known about for more than 15 years.

Do I get to reel now if I didn’t back then?

Back then I thought it was awful, but it didn’t seem so overwhelming. It didn’t come with one-thousand detailed pages. It didn’t (to my knowledge) involve people I knew.

Today it feels so incredibly heavy. So pervasive. I’m reading the report (and if you’re a Catholic who wants to be part of the solution, you should consider reading it too). I’m feeling all the horror of the evils I’m learning about. And I’m experiencing a conflicted sort of disgust from knowing a few of the characters involved.

I’m also seeing it with a mother’s eyes.

I read about these victims and I see my own boys and girls in their places. I cannot grasp how anyone could do such horrific damage to a child. My instinct is to want to save these kids, to pull them out of their abusers’ clutches, to spirit them away. I don’t know why our bishops didn’t have the same impulse.

Such evil. Such evil has persisted through all of this.

A few years ago I wrote about the evil I saw in ISIS’s actions and I connected it to the evils we cooperate with in our own everyday lives. I wasn’t thinking about the clerical abuse crisis when I wrote it, but re-reading it now, I might as well have been.

I am stunned to trace the evil in these cases: It is a winding way swirling about the abuser, his victims, the adults who were supposed to protect them, the superiors who should have stopped it all. It continues through each life it touches, causing mental, spiritual, and physical anguish that can last a lifetime. It jumps from those individuals to others around them.

Do I get to reel now if I didn’t back then? I don’t know. Maybe I’m a hypocrite. But I’d rather be wrong in this direction – wrong not to have fully accepted the depth of the problem in the past, but moving to shoulder it now – than to persist in my milder disapproval.

I am sorry for not feeling then as I do now.

I am sorry for wanting the issue to just go away.

I am sorry for treating those who brought it up with anything other than respect.

If you have been personally impacted by the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, please allow me to say I’m sorry – for what you went through, for my own actions and inactions, for the sins and insufficiencies of my Church.

I am so sorry.

 

To listen to an audio recording of this post, please click below:

 

These Walls -- Reeling

The Lonely Way (or Why I’m not on your side)

Wednesday morning I was listening to the 1A’s discussion on the book The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics when one of its authors made a comment about Trump supporters that stood out to me:

People wanted to be part of something bigger than themselves.

I’ve thought a lot on this “something bigger” idea over the years. I’ve always found it interesting that people become so absorbed with groups they’re part of. Just look at fans of sports teams, or proud university alumni, or my fellow Marylanders who wear socks, shorts, and even bikinis emblazoned with the Maryland flag. I guess it’s natural for people to want to feel like they’re part of a group, but sometimes I think that ‘belonging’ takes on an outsized importance.

We want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Who knows – maybe it’s some sort of tribal instinct in us.

There’s nothing inherently wrong about this. We’re a social species; it’s natural for us to want to come together. But there’s nothing inherently good about it, either. Just as this longing to be part of a group can lead us to the good of forming, say, service-focused organizations, so can it lead to the ill of cliques and exclusion and even active hatred toward those who aren’t like us.

Sometimes we need to say no to the groups available to us. (Think of the KKK in its heyday in the 1920’s.) Sometimes we’re better off alone. Better to be by yourself, upright and ethical, than to be surrounded by company that leads you astray.

This kind of talk, of course, is more applicable to political groups than it is to people who wear Maryland bikinis. And it’s in this context that I’ve done most of my thinking on the subject.

I have this rose-tinged memory of my grandparents’ dining room when I was eight or nine years old: The grown-ups were talking politics and I was tossing little snippets into their conversation that made them chuckle. It was a wonderful feeling: a mixture of security and confidence and pride – a sense of belonging.

My family was politically engaged; my grandfather was a farmer and a county councilman, and through farming and/or politics, he knew many of the players in our small state. My aunts and uncles participated in his campaigns and others’. And we were stalwart Republicans, which put us in the minority in very liberal Maryland. We were used to feeling maligned or ignored.

I think that the two combined – the engagement and the knowledge that we were in the minority – produced a strong attachment to the Republican Party in my family. At least it did for me. And the attachment felt good. It feels good to belong. It feels good to be proud of those you’re politically affiliated with. It feels good to be planted firmly on the “right side” of something.

Only now, I find myself almost completely stripped of that attachment.

It’s not that my political views have changed so much (though some have) – it’s that the Republican Party has become something I hardly recognize. Where once I saw a party that prized hard work, fairness, opportunity, fiscal responsibility, and a robust role for America on the world stage, I now see a muddle of protectionism, isolationism, exclusion, and conspiracy-mongering.

The Republican Party I grew up with preached hope; today’s version peddles fear.

After the 2016 presidential election, I saw plenty of Democrats answer this degradation of Republican ideals with the demand that people “join the Resistance!” Meaning, essentially, the Democratic party. Or at least a wing of it. I guess it seemed only natural to Democrats that those disenchanted with the Republican Party would want to join theirs. Nevermind any serious policy disagreements. Nevermind moral judgments that stand in opposition to one another. The calculation was too simple: If Team Trump (or Team Republican) is bad, then you’d better join Team Democrat.

But of course, there’s no rule stating that only one side at a time can be bad. And there’s plenty for conservative-minded me to dislike about the Democratic Party.

And so I find myself alone.

For a while, I hoped for a third way. I looked for those independent-minded Republicans who spoke out against Trump. I looked for a leader, a movement that I could get behind. Man, it would feel good to be part of something again.

But I don’t see such a thing emerging anytime soon. And so I’ll take the lonely way – the way that refuses to choose sides when the sides aren’t worth choosing.

To be clear, I’m not really talking about party affiliation here. (I’m still a registered Republican because I don’t want to give up my right to vote in primaries.) I’m talking about something more important than that: the multitude of small, everyday decisions we make about where we’ll put our loyalty.

We can choose, as so many do today, to put our loyalty behind our party and its politicians. (Think of all the Trump voters who are deciding on candidates based on how willing they are to pledge their support to the President.) We can choose to believe the truth of news outlets that support our way of thinking and the lies of those that don’t. We can stick up for our side come hell or high water.

Or, we can choose to put our loyalty behind our values. We can detach ourselves from the pull of party, freeing us to consider each candidate, each question, each development as it comes.

That’s the lonely way. And my choice of it — that’s why I’m not on your side.

TW - The Lonely Way

To listen to an audio recording of this post (complete with baby noises and microwave beeps), click here:

Footnotes

On Tuesday I declared that I was diving back into blogging. And in the days since, a funny thing has happened: I haven’t regretted it.

Normally I approach writing (and life, really) with a sense of angst – inadequacy mixed with embarrassment, even hopelessness. So normally the days following a declaration like Tuesday’s would be full of self-doubt; I’d be sure I was about to fall flat on my face.

This time I haven’t really thought much about it. I’ve been a mellow kind of excited, if that makes any sense. I’m so tired of feeling helpless/guilty/unworthy/amateurish. I’m ready to move forward.

Okay, so there were several points I cut out of my last post and more I’ve thought about since then, and I want to get them up here on the blog before I move too far forward. They’re like footnotes to Tuesday’s post, I guess.

So here we go:

(1) At this point I don’t have much of a plan. I’m going to try to capitalize on the fact that, unlike my first years of blogging, I currently do have small children who will nap. I’m going to try to get a couple of posts up per week, but if life happens – then life happens. I hope to not let any little stumbles or delays keep me from bouncing back.

(2) I’m going to focus almost exclusively on politics – or rather, on my struggles with it. I’ll write up my thoughts on the issues of the day, my concern for the direction in which our country is heading, and my worries about what it might be doing to our moral development. I’ll write on the “walls within” I discussed in Tuesday’s post.

(3) At least for now, I think I’m done with the cute kid stories and musings on motherhood. I see lots of other women doing that well already. What I don’t see are many relatable writers who want to tackle the turmoil our society has stepped into, but not yell about it. Chew, not yell: That’s the place I aim to be.

(4) I’ll still be posting the cute kid pics and stories on Instagram. You’re welcome to follow me there!

(5) I’m going to re-work my website a bit. Five years of that set-up was enough; if I’m shifting my goals, I should probably shift how I present them.

(6) I think I’d also like to experiment with recording each of my posts so folks can listen to them if they want. Nothing fancy, and nothing so ambitious as a podcast (yet), but I know that I love to listen to other people’s thoughts as I go about my chores; maybe somebody out there might like to do the same with mine. If you’d like to listen to my stuff rather than read it, just look for the audio file at the end of my posts.

(7) One big challenge with trying to get going again: Facebook. You might be aware that Facebook has recently changed its algorithm. Ostensibly, this was to better connect people with their family and friends, but what it’s really meant is that they’re showing you fewer unpaid posts in the hopes that the businesses and blogs you follow will pay to get their posts into your newsfeeds. For every hundred followers a page has, Facebook might show twenty of them its posts. But as I don’t make any money from blogging, I’m not about to pay to boost my posts on Facebook. So! If you think you’d like to actually read what I’m writing, I highly encourage you to subscribe to my posts right here on my blog. (Look over there to the right: “Follow These Walls via Email.”) You submit your email address, WordPress will ensure that every blog post is delivered to your inbox. Easy.

(8) Speaking of the email thing, apparently the Europeans have gone and passed a privacy law that applies to pretty much anybody on the internet who has a European subscriber. And that includes me. So allow me to tell you now (and I’ll find a more permanent place on the blog to put this) that if you sign up to receive my blog posts via email, then… you’ll receive my blog posts via email. You’re welcome to unsubscribe whenever you like. And if you use your email address to comment, then… you’ll have used your email address to comment. In both cases I’ll be able to see your email address. But I’ll only ever use it for the reason you provided it: either to send you my blog posts or possibly answer a comment. That’s it! Simple!

(9) And speaking of commenting: For a long time I’ve held up this lofty goal of “encouraging discourse,” as I put it in my tagline. It’s a worthy thing, trying to get people to discuss their differences and come to some higher level of understanding. I commend anyone who attempts it. But you know what? I’m tired. I’m busy with five little kids under the age of eight and I simply don’t have the time or the emotional bandwidth to be monitoring other people’s political discussions. I’d rather focus on writing. So if you want to comment here or on my Facebook posts, feel free. But I reserve the right to preserve my time (and sanity?) by stepping away.

Ever since the 2016 presidential election, I have felt unequal to the moment. (Both for reasons related to the election and unrelated to it.) I have had too little energy and too little emotional space to engage on the issues of the day. And so I’ve waited. I’ve waited until I’ve felt better, until issues have been resolved. I’ve waited until I can do this perfectly.

Now, I’m tired of waiting. And I’m recognizing that perfection shouldn’t even be on the table. So I’ll see you next week, friends.

 

These Walls - Footnotes

The Walls Within

This month this little blog turns five. When I started it I had a two-year-old and a one-year-old and a new-to-us house that I hadn’t even finished unpacking. I was (am) highly distractible and my kids hardly napped at all, so I mostly wrote at night after everyone else had gone to bed.

Lots of nights I fell asleep at my laptop. Some days I drove myself batty trying to fit in blogging during TV time or “quiet” play. But I plodded along at a decently steady rate for a while, writing about motherhood and our home life and whatever political issue was bugging me at the moment.

Then I had another baby. And another. And another. And my kids got older and busier and I was spread even more thin than I had been at first. Before I knew it, I’d let a couple of years go by, hardly writing anything at all.

These Walls - The Walls Within - 1

2013

These Walls - The Walls Within - 2

2014

These Walls - The Walls Within - 3

2015

These Walls - The Walls Within - 4

2016

These Walls - The Walls Within - 5

2017

These Walls - The Walls Within - 6

2018

When I was tossing around ideas for this blog back in the spring of 2013 I landed on the title “These Walls” because I was looking for something that could work for both of the topic areas I wanted to write on: my home life and my politics. I didn’t love the title, but I thought that with my tagline (“Sharing stories from within the walls of my home; encouraging discourse on the wider world outside them”) it expressed my general goal decently well.

There was another, more fluid, line of thinking behind the title too. I mention it somewhere in my About Me (don’t go looking it up; that section is in desperate need of updating) or in one of my first blog posts: I liked the idea of discussing the figurative walls that people put up between each other when it comes to politics.

But these days there’s another kind of wall that most occupies my attention (and no, it’s not Mr. Trump’s). These days, in this age of political upheaval, of shifting loyalties, of upside-down values, I’ve come to focus on the walls within.

The walls within me. The ones I’ve hidden behind, the ones I’ve found refuge in, the ones I’ve broached, the ones I struggle to abandon.

I fancy myself a fair person. I like to think that I take in a decent representation of information and viewpoints, weigh them, critique them, and come to my conclusions based on impartial reason. I rail against those who would treat social and political issues like players on their favorite professional sports team. You know: if he’s my guy I love him, if he’s yours I hate him.

But the truth is, I’ve been struggling with my allegiances and my prejudices, my values and fears for a long time. On some issues, I’ve changed my mind. On some, I’ve become more resolved. On some, I wince and cling to my home team – not convicted, but not ready to let go either.

Which brings me back to the blog.

I’ve been struggling mightily over the thing. Not a day goes by that I don’t have a “walls within” kind of idea for These Walls and long to bring it to fruition. Not a single day.

But also – not a day goes by that I don’t remind myself how limited my time is, or how poorly I’ve been feeling, or how ill-equipped I am, personality-wise, to be a reliable presence on the internet.

Yet for months now (ironically, the same period of time in which I’ve been sick*), I have felt an almost constant pressure to get back to writing. The messages have come from many quarters, and they’ve been relentless. Whether it’s been from my spiritual reading or podcast listening or prayer life or social-media observing (or now Jennifer Fulwiler’s new book), I feel like I’ve been barraged by the following messages:

  1. You have a job to do.
  2. It’s going to require hard work.
  3. Stop getting in your own way.
  4. You don’t have to be perfect to do good.

So I think I’d better stop fighting it.

Maybe this post was starting to read as a good bye, but it’s actually far from that. It is, I pray, a hearty hello. I expect things to look different around here, content-wise, but I’m excited to be back.

I think I’d better get out of my own way and get busy doing the work I feel like I’m supposed to do. Even if I don’t feel well. Even if I have little time. Even if I have lots of little people underfoot.

Tomorrow I’m going to flesh out my plans for the blog; check back here to see where I hope to take it.

These Walls - The Walls Within

*Those of you who follow Jennifer Fulwiler on Instagram – did you see her IG Stories on Resistance yesterday? I couldn’t help but recognize it in my own life. Did you recognize it in yours?

Also (I’m experimenting with this), if you’d rather listen to this post than read it, click here. (But realize that you’ll be getting a low-quality recording with baby noises in the background!)

Thirty-nine for the First Time

Today I turn 39. My mother quipped that this will be the first and only time I’ll be able to say that it’s my 39th birthday and mean it.

Mom wanted to know if I can believe I’m getting so close to 40. A couple of years ago I might have waffled on that answer, but now I don’t hesitate: I can absolutely believe it.

This morning I looked down at the four-month-old in my arms, all fat and soft and rosy, and I thanked God for these little lives in my care. They’re each incredible blessings in their own right, but they do something else for this almost-40 mama: They trick me into thinking I’m young. For a moment, at least. Until I go to rise out of the rocker and my hip screams at me. Until my back muscles object at lifting a child. Until my knees ever-so-reluctantly haul me up the stairs.

It’s been a hard few months. We pushed through the first month or so of baby’s life in decently good health, thank goodness. We made it through Christmas. But the following week we were each hit with bugs, one falling after the next.

Then on New Year’s Day I stepped out of the shower and experienced such intense pain that I could barely walk. My old problem joint, the one at the base of my spine, between my hips (my sacrum), felt like it would crumble to pieces. My husband stayed home from work for a few days; I couldn’t sit up in bed without his help, let alone lift the baby. But after some ibuprofen and physical therapy and lidocaine patches and time, the pain faded. Soon my hobbling turned to limping, and then that went away too.

But my cough — the one I’d started the week after Christmas — it did not fade. It got worse and my exhaustion grew and one night I experienced a stabbing pain in my neck. The next day there was a rash at the spot, and soon I was diagnosed with shingles. And bronchitis. Weeks of coughing and pain and exhaustion followed. I got two more respiratory viruses on top of the one I couldn’t kick. And to top it all off, I got a stomach bug.

It was a very Lent-ish beginning to Lent.

March was quieter. The cough went away; my energy increased. My pain was spotty and weak. I began to hurry up stairs and walk around the yard. I tried on health and hoped it would fit for a while.

But now April has struck. The day after Easter I bent over to put away a child’s boot and the muscles around my sacrum clenched in pain. Not as badly as on New Year’s, thank goodness, but badly enough to keep me from lifting the baby. Badly enough to force me back into my old-lady hobble.

Today the joint feels bruised and my back muscles feel strained from compensating for it. My shingles pain is flaring up. And I’m coughing again. A new virus seems to have settled into my lungs; their crackling sounds have me worried about another bout of bronchitis.

It’s as if my body wants to be very clear: You’re at the point, lady, where birthdays begin to chart your decline.

Or maybe the message is: You have to be careful with yourself. You’re not as resilient as you used to be.

I haven’t posted much about these woes because I didn’t want to complain. (Or to be seen as complaining — take your pick.) But at this point I’m just past caring. This is what my life has been lately, and so I want to write about it.

I feel like my body — or maybe the Holy Spirit — has grabbed me by my shoulders, spun me around, and pointed me at the next decade of my life.

These Walls - Thirty-nine for the First Time - 1

I spent my twenties as a young professional — working, traveling, reading, listening to music, eating whatever I wanted for dinner, and pining after a family of my own.

I’ve spent my thirties as a stay-at-home mother — caring for children, making a home, listening to NPR, eating dinner in spurts between refilling little plates, and pining after a professional life that I’ve missed more than I expected to.

I daydream about my forties being a marriage of the two: Maybe I’ll get to do some meaningful work from home while the kids are in school during the day and then I’ll get to be fully present to them in the evenings. Maybe I’ll finally get my calendar and my household chores under control. Maybe I’ll have everything running like clockwork so I can have empty hours in which to pursue my creative interests. Maybe I won’t have to pine after anything at all.

I feel like the past few months have been a reality check on those daydreams. A big, fat “HA” from my body or the Holy Spirit or whatever. These months have reminded me that even when life is good, it is not without suffering.

I am getting older. My body is weaker than I’d like. And even if I can ease it back into better health and shape (which I would love to do), I will still be at the mercy of age and genetics and real life. There will always be something to trip me up.

So I stand here (a little askew because of the pain in my sacrum) and stare down the road toward 40. I want to start gearing up for my next decade. I want to work to heal my body so it doesn’t stop me short. I want to be realistic enough about my time and abilities to know that my home life will never run like clockwork, but I also want to stop letting my struggles and imperfections keep me from pursuing work that makes me feel alive.

Today I’m 39. My forties will be here before I know it; I want to be ready for them.

 

These Walls - Thirty-nine for the First Time

A New(ish) Addition

Happy New Year! It’s been forever and I have a long-overdue update for you, and it’s the best kind:

The baby’s here.

She’s been here for some time, actually – Baby Girl was two months old yesterday! I wasn’t blogging when children numbers one and two were born, but I think it took me one day to blog a birth announcement for my third child and about two weeks to blog child number four’s birth. If we ever have another, I expect I’ll tell you about it around the kid’s first birthday.

Anyway! Here we go: On Tuesday, November 21 Brennan and I welcomed baby #5 and girl #2, our biggest newborn (9 pounds, 9 ounces!), who was delivered after my longest labor (15 hours).

Introducing: Ilsa Genevieve Walsh.

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 1

Yes, that’s “Ilsa,” like “Elsa” but with an “I”. Poor kid – we’re always going to have to be clarifying that.

Because I rarely name them on the blog and because I’d like to demonstrate how (I think) Baby Ilsa’s name rounds out the others’ so nicely, here’s a full list of our crew:

  1. John Breckenridge – Called “Breck,” he’s named for my great-uncle and great-great-uncle, both of whom were John Breckenridge and called Breck.
  2. Anthony Jude – He’s named for Brennan’s late father, but we preferred his middle name, so our boy goes by Jude.
  3. Isaac Charles – He’s Isaac because we liked it, Charles for my grandfather. He’s our first child to actually go by his first name.
  4. Josephine Marie – Called “Josie,” she’s Josephine for my great-grandmother, Marie for my mother and myself. (For our middle names, that is.)
  5. Ilsa Genevieve – She’s Ilsa because we liked it, Genevieve for Brennan’s grandmother.

In all, we are now Brennan, Julie, Breck, Jude, Isaac, Josie, and Ilsa. B-J-B-J-I-J-I (I am a person who likes lists, and I like that list in particular.)

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 17

I think I’m glad that we’ve hit the two-month mark. While part of me is a little sad that my baby’s gotten so big (I think she’s around 12 pounds now?) so fast, most of me is relieved to have gotten through the newborn haze. I always feel a little more ‘with it’ once we’ve gotten to two months. That’s when things seem a little more normal, a little more doable to me.

My recovery this time was pretty good, I guess. At least it wasn’t very painful; the most bothersome thing was just an extended period (two to three weeks?) of feeling weak and woozy. I always forget how long that can last.

I wasn’t thrilled with how the birth went, though. Like all the others, I was induced. But unlike the others, this time it took what felt to me like foreeever. With each of the other four, I delivered within 7 to 8 hours of getting my Pitocin. This time it took twice that. It also took me longer to push with Ilsa than it took with the previous two. (Thanks, nurse who suggested I up my epidural dosage.)

Maybe because of the birthing situation, but probably mostly because of whatever weird things hormones do, I’ve had my longest-ever period of the Baby Blues this time. With two of my other babies it lasted about three weeks. With the other two I didn’t have it at all. This time I’ve just been very gradually improving for months. It’s been mild, but still – I’m ready to feel like myself again.

Everyone else is doing great. The kids absolutely love her. They coo at her and say how cute she is and clamor to hold her as often as we’ll let them. (Which hasn’t been as much as anyone would have liked. It’s hard to have a baby in cold and flu season!)

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 3

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 4

It’s hard for me to say what ‘kind’ of a baby she is. So far Ilsa is pretty easy during the day and difficult in the evening. Then she’ll sleep from midnight to three or five in the morning and I’ll nurse her in bed or in the rocker until it’s time to get up. If I were someone who loved co-sleeping this would be fine. But I’m not. I just don’t sleep well with a baby next to me; I seem to hold perfectly still for fear of hurting her, and then I wake with aches and pains from my efforts.

Oh, well! Do you want to see some more baby pictures?

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 5

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 6

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 7

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 8

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 9

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 10

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 12

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 12

 

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 11

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 13

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 14

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 15

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 16

Isn’t she lovely?

Welcome to our world, Ilsa Genevieve. We’re so glad you’re here. All the Baby Blues and aches and pains and evasive actions to protect you from your germy siblings are so totally worth it. We love you.

These Walls - A Newish Addition

Hope and Love (and the Same Old Pitfalls) in a New Season (7 Quick Takes, Vol. 45)

Goodness, it’s been too long. Again. As always. The prudent thing for me to do at this point in non-blogging would probably be to throw up my arms and walk away with a liiittle dignity. But I can’t give it up. I can shove it aside and starve it and neglect it, apparently, but I can’t give it up.

So, here you have me.

Since it’s been so long, I thought I’d do a little 7 Quick Takes to tell you how the 7 (seven?!) members of our family are faring these days. Beginning with…

—1—

Myself. Because I’m the blogger.

These Walls - 7QT45 - 1

(Would you believe that this, I think, is the first ‘baby bump’ photo I’ve taken this pregnancy? You may not be able to see the whole bump because of my hanger-on, but I think she adds a certain something to the picture.)

Looking at my calendar, I see that I’m now 35 weeks into this pregnancy. (Yes, I had to look at the calendar to figure that out.) Somehow, I’m feeling simultaneously comfortable/healthy/energetic and uncomfortable/unhealthy/fatigued. Part of it just depends on the day – some days I feel great and other days I am whooped. (My blood pressure has been really low this whole pregnancy and boy have I been feeling it.)

But I think a lot of it has to do with how I’m carrying this baby. She’s hanging out really low – almost entirely below my belly button. So on the one hand, I can breathe comfortably and (from my vantage, if not yours) I don’t even look that big. But on the other hand, I’m having some difficulty walking and sitting. It feels like she’s cozying right up into my hip bones. And like she might just decide to pop out at any moment.

My OB thinks that Baby’s positioning might mean that I’ll actually go into labor on my own this time. But I’m skeptical. I’ve needed Pitocin for every labor so far – even the one in which my water broke ten days early. I can hardly imagine what it would be like to experience labor without it.

Other than the pregnancy stuff, I’m fine, I guess? I’m currently feeling pretty overwhelmed about the (disgusting) state of my house, but I just don’t have the energy to get to most of it. At least not with my kids underfoot. There’s such an incredible difference between what I can accomplish alone vs. what I can do with them around me. Not just because of their (constant) needs, but also because I really struggle to focus on the tasks in front of me. I’ve found that if I put on my noise-cancelling headphones and listen to a good podcast, I can work happily and productively for a good long while. But while trying to monitor the kids, ‘focus’ is pretty much a lost cause.

Fortunately, I now have two little ones who will nap pretty much every afternoon while their brothers are at school. Would you believe that, seven years into parenthood, this is the first time I’ve experienced that wondrous, almost mythical afternoon break that is a reliable naptime? My first child was a terrible napper and my second gave it up early, and until now I’ve had at least one of them home every afternoon anyway. But with the two big boys at school, Mommy has some freedom in the afternoons. Woo-hoo! Something to celebrate!

For another month or so, that is – until we add a newborn into the mix.

So far I’ve been using naptimes to do housework or prep dinner or even take the occasional cat-nap, but I’d really like to see if I could claim at least some of it for writing. (I have so much on my mind! So much I’d like to chew on with you!) We’ll see. I’d like to promise that I will, but I feel like I’ve broken enough promises in this space.

—2—

On that cheery note, let’s move on to the baby!

These Walls - 7QT45 - 2

Not much to report here. Baby Girl’s pretty quiet for now. (I mean, obviously. But she’s also pretty quiet, activity-wise. I’m thinking she’ll have a more sedate personality. We shall see!)

She’s shaping up to be just as big at her arrival as her siblings were at theirs. At my 32-week sono they estimated her weight to be 5lbs, 3oz, which sets her up to weigh around 9 pounds at birth. Imagine that. Her big sibs were 8lbs, 10oz (4 days late), 8lbs 15oz (10 days early), 9lbs, 1oz (7 days early), and 9lbs even (4 days late). So I’d say that 9 pounds is a pretty good guess!

We still haven’t chosen a name for her, and as we’ve barely talked about it, I don’t see us coming up with one anytime soon. But that’s pretty typical for us. We don’t usually get very serious about our baby-naming discussions until a few weeks from delivery, when I’m so hormonal and weepy about it that Brennan takes pity on me. Then we whittle down our list to a couple of options and decide when we see the baby.

Okay, on from Baby Girl No Name to…

—3—

Baby Girl who shouldn’t really be called Baby Girl anymore!

These Walls - 7QT45 - 3

Can you believe this little one is now 20 months old? She’s a real toddler! And, toddler-like, she’s starting to express some opinions, exert some independence, sneak in some misdeeds, etc. Overall, though, she remains super sweet and easygoing, and we are completely in love with her.

It’s been really interesting to see how she’s coming along developmentally as compared to the boys. She’s been saying a decent number of words for months, and now she regularly uses little phrases and sentences. (She ends every meal by holding up her plate and saying, “I done, Mama!” At which point I promptly melt into a puddle of maternal mush.)

These Walls - 7QT45 - 4

She’s absolutely in love with babies and baby dolls, so I think she’s going to be preeetty happy here in about a month. We’re just going to have a big task ahead of us, keeping her eager little hands in check around her baby sister. Oh, well. That’s better than the alternative!

—4—

This one started preschool this fall. Can you believe it?

These Walls - 7QT45 - 5

I’m not sure I can, yet I rejoice in the development. (I mean, seriously, the Hallelujah Chorus would have been completely appropriate for the start of this school year.)

And it’s not just me. I think he is also much happier these days, what with the fun school to attend twice a week, the relative peace on the other three weekdays while his big brothers are at school, and a generally reliable rhythm to his days. I think this is a kid who likes to know his schedule.

He’s still a screamer, but as his language skills (slowly) improve, he’s expressing more and more and screaming (a little) less. The other day he told me, “I so angy!” and I almost laughed for joy. (But I didn’t. Because it would be really annoying for your mom to laugh while you were telling her how angry you were.)

These Walls - 7QT45 - 6

He’s gotten to be a (mostly) sweet big brother and good playmate to his sister, which I’m just pinching myself over. I did not see that coming. He also regularly pulls off what is possibly the cutest moment of my day, when he comes down the stairs after his nap all sleepy-eyed, smiling and whispering “Good morning, Mommy!” Again – I melt.

—5—

This one has entered Kindergarten. Kindergarten: real-deal, all-day, away-from-Mommy school. And he’s done great.

These Walls - 7QT45 - 7

I thought he might not. He’s my mama’s boy, the one who clings to me and smothers me with hugs and kisses each day. I thought he’d be afraid, that being away from home all day would be hard on him. But he seems fine! He loves his teacher and he’s making friends and he hasn’t complained once about going to school. It’s been such a relief.

We celebrated his sixth birthday at the end of September and I think it may well have been the happiest day of his life. We held his party at a local bounce-house place where he and a bunch of his friends and cousins were able to run and jump themselves silly. He had a Star Wars cake and got a bunch of nice (mostly Star-Wars-themed) gifts, and at the end of it all we revealed his biggest gift to him: a guinea pig.

(We should cue the Hallelujah Chorus again here.)

I am not a pet person. I have nothing against animals; they just don’t do much for me. I don’t care to really touch them or play with them, so why would I ever want to go through the trouble of caring for them? Brennan is more of a pet person than I am, but he’s also more of a practical person than I am, so it’s been easy for him to say no up until now.

These Walls - 7QT45 - 8

But this child. He just loves animals. (This past Sunday as we left his religious education class, he announced to me, “I want to be a saint, Mommy. I want to be an animal saint like Saint Francis, because I love animals so much.”) He loves them consistently and passionately, and it might have been the time he wanted to keep a cricket he found at the drug store, or the time he cuddled and kissed a baby snake he found in the yard, but he finally wore me down. And so Brennan and I decided it was finally time for a pet.

A caged one, but a pet nonetheless. Meet Houston:

These Walls - 7QT45 - 9

The kids are in love. Brennan seems to like him pretty well, and I’m guess I’m warming up to him. He is pretty cute. And thankfully, he seems to have a good temperament for being surrounded by a bunch of little kids. Our house now smells like guinea pig cage, but whatever – our house kind of smelled to begin with.

—6—

Now onto this one.

These Walls - 7QT45 - 9

My boy! My sweet, thoughtful, growing-too-fast firstborn. He’s in second grade now, old enough for me to start seeing glimpses of what he’ll look like, and what he’ll be like, as an older kid. It’s bittersweet.

This child has lately been my reminder and my hope regarding seasons of life and difficult phases and how they pass. The last half of the summer (the slower half) was hard for him. He’s super social and loves people and I’m seeing now that he’s a much happier person when he has people and work to occupy him. For a while there, he’d just about pulled into the lead on the ‘most challenging child’ front, but once school started, he perked up immediately. Second grade, including his lovely teacher and (from what I hear) great class have been so good for him.

Except for tiffs with the brother nearest in age to him (and what’s new in that, right?), he is such a good big brother. Our daughter adores him. She’s taken to walking next to him with her hand in his, and backing herself right into his lap when she sees him sitting still. He reads to her, and the other day I caught him helping her down one of our terrace walls in the yard: He climbed down one level, she reached her arms out to him, and he put his around her waist and lifted her down. Then he climbed down the remaining level and did the same. (Again with the melting!)

These Walls - 7QT45 - 10

He always humors the 3-year-old when he wants someone to play outside with him, he helps him and reads to him, and he does a pretty good job of keeping tabs on the little guy.

And even with his just-15-months-younger-than-himself brother, he can be so generous. When he received his first little cash gift from the tooth fairy, he gifted one of his (two) dollars to his brother. And he seems to have done so every time since. This week I was kind of annoyed when the 6-year-old held out his hand to receive one of the 7-year-old’s tooth fairy dollars, tossing out a flippant, “It’s mine, right? I get one every time the tooth fairy brings you two?” But there was no hesitation or annoyance on the big brother’s part: “Yes, you do. It’s yours,” he said. For all their squabbling, I think they view each other as partners, and that partnership is one of the greatest gifts in my life right now.

—7—

Now for my husband.

These Walls - 7QT45 - 11

I guess I’d say Brennan is doing pretty well these days. After a frustrating run at work for a good long while, he has finally started a new position. Brennan (a software engineer) has done this several times since I’ve known him, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him shift from work that was so dull to work that interests him as much as this new job looks to do. I’m relieved!

At home, Brennan has been keeping busy with projects, of course. He recently finished a section of iron fencing on a couple of the walls that surround our back patio. It was a long, dirty process: the fencing arrived unfinished, so Brennan had to grind them down, prime them, paint them, attach feet to them, and install them himself. He also added one light post, moved another, and painted all three. Here’s the final result:

These Walls - 7QT45 - 12

Isn’t it pretty? Now we just have to host an outdoor cocktail party or something. Once we pull all the weeds growing out of the patio. And move the sandbox out of the way. And get rid of all the junky, broken toys. And buy patio furniture. And, like, have a little TIME on our hands…

Which these guys pretty much never allow us.

These Walls - 7QT45 - 13

These Walls - 7QT45 - 14

Brennan has also just finished painting the boys’ new bedroom. (The room shuffle goes like this: All three boys will be moving up to a room on the third floor. Our daughter will move into what was her brothers’ room, and we’ll put the new baby in the nursery for now. When she starts sleeping through the night decently well, we’ll put her in the same room as her sister.) Brennan’s next project? Building bunk beds!

***

Alright, I’ve bored you plenty by now. I hope that you and yours are all well and that the beginning of this new season/school year has been as good for you as it has for us. I hope to “see” you back here soon. Hope. We’ll see. Maybe you shouldn’t be surprised either way.

Also, don’t forget to hop on over to Kelly’s for the rest of this week’s Quick Takes!

These Walls - 7QT45

Not Regretting Motherhood (but Resenting It a Little)

Last night I found myself crying in the bathroom. I was tired and overwhelmed and I felt like I just couldn’t do anything right. That, and my five-year-old had just spilled his cup of water onto my laptop (the one I didn’t recently drop and break), so I was prematurely mourning the loss of four little lifetimes’ worth of photos.

(Thank goodness, somehow Old Faithful withstood the spill.)

As I cried, I felt a miserable sort of irony at the scene. Here I was, fresh off a string of admiring “I don’t know how you do it” comments from friends and acquaintances, and the truth was that I’m not actually all that satisfied with how I do it.

“It” being raising four, almost five small kids. Doing the work necessary for their care and for the maintenance of a household and a marriage, all while putting on a smiling face for the world.

I don’t think I’m a wreck; I don’t think I’m a bad mom. I know that my kids are well cared for, that they feel loved, and that on many days, I truly am doing my best. (So please don’t feel like you need to affirm me here.)

But I also know my own heart. I know that I’m selfish and resentful and intolerant, and in some ways I’ve wasted these precious first years of marriage and motherhood by wishing them to be something other than they are.

I’ve resisted the limitations that these beautiful kids have put on me. I’ve railed against my constraints. I’ve reveled in the kisses and hugs and wide-eyed stories, but wished that even they could be limited to set, predictable hours of the day.

I’ve focused on what I don’t have: physical autonomy and a wide-open mental space for ideas and accomplishments and order. Freedom.

(Just now I jumped out of my skin at two boys who were playing too loudly while I was trying to finish this post. Like, “How dare you be kids while I’m trying to think?”)

+++

A few nights ago I had a dream about my old workplace. I was visiting it for some reason, wanting to help out my old colleagues, I think. But underneath the official excuse (whatever it was), I know I was there because I wanted a taste of my old life.

I wanted to be in on interesting things. I wanted to push my mind, not just my physical stamina. I wanted to be around people who make things happen. I wanted to see my accomplishments listed out, easily numbered. I wanted to feel important.

Not that I don’t think I’m doing important things now. I know I am; I feel the awful, awesome weight of this responsibility down to my core. But in the day to day living of it, motherhood’s importance is the kind you can take for granted.

Shuttling groceries in and out of the house doesn’t feel important. Wiping crumbs from under the table doesn’t feel important. Dressing wiggly, screechy little bodies doesn’t feel important. (And forcing them to sit on the potty is downright miserable.)

And so the time passes. You focus on what needs to get done in the here and now, and you can lose sight of why you do it. Children grow quickly, but they grow slowly too.

If we could get glimpses into our futures, of the men and women our children would become, perhaps we would find the drudgery more noble. Perhaps it would be easier to set aside the daydreams of freedom and the memories of what our lives were like before they were tied up (or down) by the next generation. Perhaps it would be more tempting to see these years as precious.

I will admit that I’m not there right now.

Right now, I’m so wistful for space and freedom that I push away kids who want closeness. Right now, I’m made anxious and agitated by the mess, yet I’m unable to keep up the pace necessary to deal with it. Right now, I’m distracted by my own disorganization. Right now, I’m desperate for an active life of the mind, yet I can’t focus well enough to pursue it.

This gig is relentless, and I don’t take too kindly to Relentless.

While I absolutely do not regret giving my entire thirties over to the dishes and the diapers and the dirty laundry that come with having children and caring for them 24/7, I do resent it a little. I miss what else might have been done in these years. (Which is ironic, considering that I spent my entire twenties resenting the things I was doing instead of having children.)

For the first time, I think I understand the desire to pursue career alongside motherhood, or even instead of it. I know that those paths were not for me, but I see their attraction.

+++

Now back to that bathroom, I guess. Last night I cried because my pictures might be gone. And because the kids were too much for me. And because I wasn’t enough for them.

I cried because I never get around to backing up the photos, or even printing them out to display in our home. I cried because I can’t be trusted not to break my computers. I cried because I haven’t had a clear kitchen sink in a week. I cried because my backyard gardens look like jungles and my driveway is growing over with weeds and I never get around to them, either. I cried because I’m behind on getting my kids to do their summer homework and I haven’t taken them to the library in years. (Literally: years.)

I cried because I’ve been feeling uncharacteristically jealous of other moms lately – the ones who print pictures and do yardwork and go to the library. The ones who travel and take their kids to shows. The ones who can count professional accomplishments alongside parental ones.

And then I cried because here I am, crying about overgrown flower beds and summer homework when we might be going to (nuclear) war with North Korea. And an entire generation of Syrian children have been scarred, forever damaged by a war thrust upon them by grown-ups who care more about power than people. And plenty of kids here in our own country go without food and love and stable places to live, let alone trips to the library.

+++

I’m not trying to say that I regret my choices. I love my kids more than I could possibly express. I love my husband and I’m glad to be pursuing this worthwhile work alongside him. I love my life.

But somehow that doesn’t stop me from resenting it a little too. The world is big and our lives are short and there’s only so much we can fit into our day-to-day. I think it’s okay to mourn the stuff we can’t fit, as long as we don’t lose sight of all that we can.

And I know that I need to do a better job of that.

These Walls - Not Regretting Motherhood but Resenting It a Little

All Over the Place (7 Quick Takes, Vol. 44)

Guys, I am so rusty. I swear, in the however-many-months I wasn’t writing, my brain calcified or something. I feel like I’ve forgotten how to do this – how to sit at the computer for an extended period of time, stringing words together in a way that will convey coherent thoughts.

So bear with me?

I think whatever writing I do here for a while is likely to be all over the place. Like, right now the things I most want to write about include (1) the Republicans’ new immigration bill (blech), (2) privilege and poverty, and (3) my noise-cancelling headphones, which are probably the best thing to happen to me this year.

Except for New Baby Girl, of course. (Can I insert heart emoji into a blog post?)

Anyway, Quick Takes. They seem to be about my speed at the present moment. Here we go:

7 Quick Takes - hosted at This Aint the Lyceum

—1—

I’m always trying to get organized, so me trying isn’t exactly newsworthy. But me making some actual progress is! Lately we’ve gone through a ton of clothes and household items and donated them to a local thrift store. I’ve tackled our dining room and our disaster of a bedroom. I’ve folded piles of laundry so old they’d begun to feel like permanent fixtures. I’ve gone through papers and toys and boxes and dishes. I’ve been filling in my new Blessed is She planner (which is beautiful!) with months’ worth of doctor’s appointments, meetings, and school holidays.

Whew!

I still have so much to do. I’m not done with all the scheduling and all the many tasks that the scheduling reminds me to take care of. I want to get the kids’ bedroom stuff organized so we can move them around. And I want to get last year’s school papers cleared out before this year’s start coming in. Still, progress is progress!

—2—

But don’t let me fool you. These days I’m driving around with a bottle of Windex in my front seat because I keep forgetting to ask my husband to refill my van’s wiper fluid. I am on. the. ball.

—3—

Last Sunday I took the following pic of my kiddos after Mass:

These Walls - All Over the Place 7QT44 - 1

I do believe it might be my favorite in a long, long time.

—4—

I’m helping to organize my 20th high school reunion this fall. Twentieth, you guys. Twen.ti.eth.

—5—

We’re going on a vacation! It’s only for four days (travel included) and it’s not to anywhere very far away, but I am so, so excited. We haven’t been on a family vacation in four whole years (meaning only two of our kids have ever been on a vacation before, and those two probably have no memory of it). And this will be our first vacation to somewhere other than Minnesota or Indiana (i.e. places where we were visiting family.)

We’re going to be staying in a hotel! And eating out! And doing touristy stuff! I know that we’ll be exhausted and that packing/traveling/sightseeing with the kids will be a hassle, but I’m still thrilled. We homebodies are getting awaaay!

These Walls - All Over the Place 7QT44 - 2

(Not the moment we told them. We actually haven’t told them yet, so if you see us in person soon, don’t you tell them either!)

Oh, I should have told you where we’re going: Williamsburg, Virginia. We’re going to visit Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown (where I have some neat family history), and we’re going to swim in the hotel pool.

We homebodies are easily entertained.

—6—

If you’re a Catholic lady heading to the Edel Gathering in Austin this weekend, I hope you have an amazing time. I was fortunate enough to attend the first Edel Gathering, and it was incredible.

Here’s a post I wrote in the run-up to the second Edel Gathering (which I could not attend). All those hopes for those ladies back then – I’m hoping them for you today. Enjoy!

—7—

Please keep baby Edith, Rosie Hill’s daughter, in your prayers today. She’s undergoing surgery this morning to remove some masses from her lungs. May her surgery and recovery all proceed smoothly, and may her family be comforted in this stressful time.

~~~

Have a great weekend, and be sure to hop on over to Kelly’s for the rest of this week’s Quick Takes!

These Walls - All Over the Place 7QT44