Seven Posts I Haven’t Yet Told You About (7 Quick Takes, Vol. 43)

Hello there!

Gosh, it’s been forever again, hasn’t it? Especially since I keep forgetting to cross-post my Catholic Review blog posts here. Argh. All that time writing and I don’t even share it with you. (Unless you follow me on Facebook. Then maybe you’ve seen my posts.)

When I started that blog I was pretty good about sticking a new post here every time I had one there. But then I started forgetting, and once I started forgetting, I felt like I had to catch up before I could post anything new. (Weirdo-OCD-perfectionist Julie.)

Anyway — this is me catching up!

Here are seven posts (one in two parts) I haven’t yet told you about. And because I’ve (kind of) hit the lucky number seven here, I’m linking up with Kelly for Seven Quick Takes. (By the way, if you haven’t yet read her latest 7QT post — don’t miss it! It’s This Ain’t the Lyceum GOLD.)

—1—

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“Our system is better designed to stop than to do, and for one who fears the direction of a new government, that should be a comfort.

(Conservatives saw the value in that uncooperative-cog concept in the last administration; liberals will undoubtedly see it this time.)

So as worrisome as political developments may seem, I retain my basic trust in that spread-out, clunky system. I may disagree with the people who make it up, I may see few prospects for positive developments, but I trust that if things become truly dangerous, some sticky cog will get in the way.

God bless those sticky cogs.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

—2—

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“Lately I feel like a failure at pretty much everything I try to do: mothering, managing my household, blogging, being a good friend and an involved member of my extended family. (I know I’m not actually a failure, but it sure feels like it at times, especially as the holidays multiply our obligations.)

I feel like I’m a failure at being an attentive and engaged citizen. My post-election sense of being overwhelmed has not gone away. I’ve found it difficult to keep up with the competing news stories and the competing narratives of single news stories. I haven’t weighed in on anything. I haven’t gotten my little “let’s get people of different political stripes together to talk” project off the ground. (Status: information gathered, dates not yet set.)

I feel kind of like I have writer’s block, except it has to do with the thinking of the whole thing, not the writing. As I become more consumed with events at home (some of them pretty stressful), I pay less attention to news from the outside. And as I pay less attention to the news, I feel increasingly less capable of any sort of mental and emotional wrangling with the world.

But I’ve been trying, when I think of it, to rely on a strategy from an earlier point in my life: putting aside my worries about what I’m not achieving and instead focusing on what I am doing in a particular moment. Usually (but not always), that “doing” is pretty constructive, even if it seems insignificant in the scheme of things.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

—3—

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“Why must we choose a side and hold onto it so tightly?

During the campaign, of course, the “side” thing was taken to a frenzied, fevered pitch. Third-party voters like myself were told in one breath that we were essentially voting for Clinton and in the next that we were essentially voting for Trump. (The supposed beneficiaries of our votes aligning perfectly with our critics’ bogeymen.) Our votes – our actual votes – weren’t good enough. We either had to hate Trump enough to vote for Clinton or hate Clinton enough to vote for Trump. People seemed downright blinded by the binary.

But that was then, back when we were facing a black-and-white choice on a ballot. What about now?

No doubt, many will choose to continue carrying on this way. Some will think we owe allegiance to one side or the other. Some will think that any kindness or concession to the opposing side is a blow to their own. Some will think that their own side’s transgressions must be overlooked in the interest of some Important Ultimate Goal.

But I think this attachment to the binary is the absolute worst course we could take as Americans, as lovers of democracy and liberty and justice. No one wins in the downward spiral of suspicious, spiteful, partisan politics.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

—4—

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“For all the focus on national-level politics, many (most?) of the programs and policy decisions that impact our everyday lives are formulated much closer to home than Washington, DC.

Schools, roads, assistance programs, the environment, hospitals and clinics, business incentives and regulations – the State of Maryland (and your state too, if you live elsewhere) has a hand in it all. And in turn, organizations that you and I care about – our faith communities, our schools, labor or business or other advocacy organizations – have a hand in the development of the laws, policies and regulations of the state . . .

Ninety days from now, the Senate will still be debating at least some of Trump’s appointments. We’ll still, I expect, be witnessing a tense back-and-forth between the president and the media. We’ll probably feel stuck on a whole range of issues and relationships.

But in that time, we’ll also have seen much movement at the state level. Maryland will have passed a budget and hundreds of other bills that will impact our lives for years to come. Let’s pay attention, because lot can happen in 90 days.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

—5—

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“Today as we inaugurate a new American president, I sit at home nervous, waiting, wondering what will come of this all. I haven’t decided whether I’ll watch. I’m more likely to listen, the radio humming in the background as I busy myself with lunch and laundry and little ones.

But I’m sure to be praying.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

—6—

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“It’s natural that we should vary in our attachment to various issues, so I don’t mean to tell one set of pro-lifers or another that they’re wrong in focusing their efforts on x,y,z. You do you: pray at an abortion clinic, volunteer at a soup kitchen, donate to Catholic Charities / Catholic Relief Services / National Right to Life. Do your part, whatever it is, to advance the dignity of human life.

But I do think that all pro-lifers should do a better job of talking about it all. Liberal pro-lifers should speak against abortion just as they speak against poverty and discrimination. Conservative pro-lifers should speak for the immigrant and the refugee just as they speak for the babies. Because this divide has become too divisive. There is too much resentment. There is too much misunderstanding. There is too much distrust. There is too much space for evil to sneak its way in.

And there are too many women who hear that pro-lifers “only care about babies until they’re born” and believe it.

The honest truth is, each side of this divide is incomplete without the other. If human life is to be respected, it’s to be respected at all stages. If human life is to be respected, it is to be respected in all forms. If we Catholic pro-lifers truly believe that each human being is created in the image and likeness of God, then we’d better talk like we do. We’d better dwell on that idea, chew on it, practice it by saying it aloud.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

—7—

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“I’m trying to decide when to panic.

Standing where I am (somewhere in the middle, I suppose) I turn to face my friends on the left and panic is pretty much all I see. Well, panic and its more sober, productive, currently-popular relation: resistance. I see people who are more than just dismayed at the direction in which our government is heading; they fear that the system upon which we rely – a system of justice and due process and free speech and equal opportunity – is coming undone. They fear that we could be nearing the end of the American experiment.

Turning to face my friends on the right, I mostly see amusement or bemusement or even satisfaction at the Left’s distress. They think the panic is overblown. If they supported Trump’s “bull in a china shop” campaign persona, they’re thrilled to see it carried over to his presidency. If they weren’t crazy about that persona then, well, they’re mostly just relieved to see Trump heading in the right direction. Clumsy steps in the right direction are better than agile steps in the wrong one, they seem to say.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

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“I used to think of myself as the stubborn, brave, independent type – the type who spoke the truth and stuck up for the oppressed no matter the consequences. After all, I was a kid who stood up to bullies. I regularly stick up for myself. I used to make my living advocating for the poor, the vulnerable, the stranger. I write on contentious issues – issues that wrangle with the concept of justice – all the time.

But the older, or the more self-aware, or the more flawed I become, the more I see how gutless I can be.”

(Click here to read the whole post.)

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Thanks for indulging my little catch-up! I hope you’ll check out the posts and I hope to have more for you (both here and there) soon. Have a great week!

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

Babies Are Blessings (And Other Lessons I Learned in 2016)

Alright! Here we are for the second round of “Lessons I Learned in 2016.” If you missed the first, which includes lesson numbers one and two, here it is. Now for number three:

3) Babies are blessings.

I mostly knew this one, in the sense that I’ve always loved babies, I’ve always wanted lots of them, and I’ve always fallen in love with the ones I’ve been given. But since becoming a mother, I’ve often felt unequal to the job. (Shocker, right?) And so I’ve often sunk into the gloom of thinking that I wasn’t cut out for this life, or that my kids were too much for me, or that I was foolish to think I could handle so many.

Fear. Underlying it all – especially during my pregnancy with my fourth child – was fear. Fear that I wasn’t enough, fear that we couldn’t handle the pressures that additional children would put on us, fear that another child would be bad for our family. Fear.

But something about baby #4 just broke through that fear. She’s a doll, to be sure. She’s adorable and sweet and easy to love. But beyond this individual baby’s attributes, there’s been something about having our fourth child that has made me realize how incredibly worth it babies really are.

Maybe I feel like I’m not enough. Oh well. Maybe I’m tired, overwhelmed, overworked, overstimulated. Oh well. Maybe my kids don’t get enough attention from me. Oh well. Maybe our family doesn’t get to do what other, smaller, more-easily-managed families do. Oh well!

At the end of the day, none of us are enough. All of us are tired. We’re all sometimes overwhelmed, overworked, overstimulated. We’re never able to devote as much attention as we’d like to all of the people and things we care about. That’s part of what it is to be human, to be in community, to be part of a family, to have a role in this world.

That’s life.

But this – this bright, beautiful, soft little pink thing who goes through about a million diapers and bottles a month? This is life too. This is the kind of life you can scoop up in your arms and squeeze and laugh with. None of those fears can compare to the joy we experience from having this life in ours.

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If we ever have another child, I’m sure I’ll worry about logistics. I’m sure I’ll be concerned about my health and I’ll be fearful of childbirth. Who knows – I might be worried about something that I can’t yet anticipate. But I hope I’ll never fear bringing another baby into our family. I hope I’ll remember that more than anything else, babies are blessings.

4) I don’t care much about becoming thin.

Maybe this isn’t the most obvious follow-on to that sappy start. (And maybe this isn’t so much a lesson as a realization.) But here I am, eleven months post-partum, many pounds overweight, only recently out of maternity clothing and I . . . don’t care.

I don’t care.

I used to care. I used to walk through a shopping mall and see shame reflected back at me from all the pretty storefronts. I used to fantasize about how it would feel to wear fashionable clothing. I used to embark on unpleasant and inconvenient weight-loss schemes and feel like a fat, sloppy, loser-sloth for failing at them.

But somewhere along the way – the way of motherhood and friendship and pursuing my creative interests and realizing that my husband is still attracted to me – I stopped caring.

I still want to be healthy. I still know that I should adjust my diet somewhat and up my physical activity a little. I want to be energetic enough to chase around my kids and I want to feel comfortable in my clothing (goal: public presentability with a touch of elegance). But I just have no interest in pursuing any dramatic changes. No Whole 30 could be worth the joy that peanut-butter ice cream brings to my life. No 5am workout could compensate for the anger I’d feel at rousing at such an hour.

More walks, a little time on the treadmill? Yes, I should do that. Cut back on the desserts? Okay, I can deal. More vegetables, less cheese? Sure.

But I’m done pining for a body that I’ll never have. Unless you’re lucky enough to have inherited those precious stay-thin-no-matter-what genes, you generally have to really, really want that trim, lithe, slender, shimmery mirage to suffer through everythingitwouldtake to get it. And I . . . don’t.

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Okay. I’ll be back soon for at least one more of these “Lessons” posts. And I still owe you all a good photo dump. (Baby steps back to regular blogging.)

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Decembers Are for Getting Sick (And Other Lessons I Learned in 2016)

Hello there! It’s been a while. I hope that you and yours enjoyed a lovely Christmas and that 2017 is seeming all bright-and-shiny new to you, exciting and full of hope.

I guess I’m there? Maybe? I’ve spent the past several weeks feeling alternately over-stressed and exasperated with myself – and cleaning up so! much! vomit! So I think I’m just ready enough to move on that I’m getting excited about the possibilities this new year holds.

Or I’m getting excited about having a crisp, fresh, new planner to fill out. One of the two.

Either way, it feels good to turn the page. And in turning it (so to speak), I thought I’d give you fine people a little dose of my end-of-year processing and beginning-of-year planning: lessons I learned in 2016. Plus some general catch-up stuff and cute kid pics.

I went way overboard writing it, though (length!), so I’m splitting the whole thing into more than one post. First, I give you:

(1) Decembers are for getting sick.

This lesson just about slapped me in the face the other day. At the beginning of December I was all hopeful and dreamy. “We had such a rough December last year,” I kept thinking to myself, “It will be great to actually enjoy this one!” I figured we’d, you know, be able to take care of our preparations on time, maybe bake a few cookies and invite some friends over, enjoy a few cheerful days with our extended family . . .

I don’t know what I was thinking.

Was I thinking that December owed us something? That last year’s bad December gave us immunity for any ailments that might try to strike us this time? That surely, surely we wouldn’t have two sick Christmases in a row?

It took until early January – weeks into a string of stomach bugs and the umpteen-million loads of vomity laundry that accompanied it – for me to remember: “Oh – that’s right. We’ve been here before.”

And in a flash I realized that we almost certainly will be again.

This year (er – 2016) we were mostly out of commission for weeks on end thanks to a long-lingering, family-wide stomach bug.

Last year we started the month with a series of weird pregnancy symptoms for me and ended the month with what was likely a mild case of Guillain-Barré syndrome for my husband. (So scary! So many hospital visits!)

Five years ago I began the month with a sinus infection, had an allergic reaction to the antibiotic I was given for it, and consequently suffered such a terrible, harsh cough that I damaged my vocal chords and was unable to speak above a whisper until mid-January. (So emotional! But I avoided surgery!)

In two of the intervening Decembers I was pregnant, all tired and unambitious-like.

So again – what was I thinking? For this small-kids season of life, at least, I think we should just expect that we’ll need to reserve Decembers for getting sick.

Which means that this year (2017), I want to get most of my Christmas prep work done before December even starts. I want to finish my Christmas shopping by Halloween. (Even the wrapping? Wouldn’t that be amazing?) I want to do a good “fall cleaning” of the house before Thanksgiving. I want to be ready to order my Christmas cards during the Black Friday sales. I want to decorate the house (and return the bins to the attic – somehow this step keeps getting left off) the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Come December, I want to have nothing left to do but decorate the tree and address those Christmas cards. By a roaring fire, preferably. And if we’re somehow able to escape whatever plague 2017 has in store for our neck of the woods, then gosh darn it I want us to be the kind of people who bake Christmas cookies and decorate gingerbread houses. Like those beautiful people on Instagram.

That’s my plan, and I’m totally writing it down in my crisp, fresh, new planner. Because …

(2) Planning is vital.

This one should be obvious – I know it should. But I am sometimes really slow on the uptake and so it is just now, at age 37, that is has clicked for me that life would be simpler if I sat down with my planner and planned things out. What a revolutionary idea.

I’ve only ever used my planner to record upcoming appointments. Never before have I thought to use it to mark out time to prepare for said appointments. Or due dates. Or holidays.

Generally what I do is know vaguely that I need to be preparing for x,y,z but spend my time wrapped up in the more pressing a,b,c items instead, so that when x,y,z comes due I’m startled and yes – unprepared.

But per the above, I’ve already framed out time for next year’s (this year’s? whatever) Christmas preparations in my planner. I need to sit down soon to do the same for other holidays and events. And I’d really like to reserve a weekly time for sifting through my papers and my planner and figuring out what I’ve got to tackle next.

I’m not under the delusion that I’ll ever be perfectly organized and prepared. But I tell you, the realization that I don’t have to go through life feeling startled every time I turn my planner’s page – it feels pretty darned great.

Okay. More lessons next time! ‘Till then, take a look at the front of this year’s Christmas card. (Isn’t he such a beautifully grumpy elf?)

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See you back here soon (I promise! It’s already written!) for the next installment of Lessons That Julie Just Now Learned But Everyone Else Already Knew.

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An Insufficient Response to the Election

(Everyday Bravery, Day 18)

I don’t know about you, but the results of last week’s election have left me feeling completely overwhelmed.

First it was the election itself: While I wasn’t totally shocked that Trump won, I was surprised, and I swear it’s taken me lots of mental heavy lifting to adjust from my Clinton-framed view of what the next four years might be like to a Trump-framed view. As I said on Facebook the morning after the election, “I always considered both prospects for the presidency to carry some big negatives and some less-negatives. I’m now trying to get used to a different set than I anticipated.”

Then there are the reactions of my loved ones – everything from despair to giddiness. Many have been thrust into something like mourning. Some are struggling to grapple with what has happened. Some are grasping at straws, trying for something, anything that might undo Trump’s election. Some have taken a more productive course of action, setting the stage for four years’ worth of opposition. Others seem to be pinching themselves, delighted that a culture that has been so dominated by one (progressive) view of the world has been disrupted. They’re eager for their chance to be heard.

(Read the rest at the Catholic Review.)

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This post is the eighteenth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month From October through however-long-it-takes-me-to-get-to-31-days I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

A Prayer For Our Country

(Everyday Bravery, Day 17)

A day before the election, I’m over at the Catholic Review offering a prayer for our country, including:

“Help us to give generously, to work hard, to understand that our citizenship conveys both opportunity and obligation.

Help us to elect upright, honorable individuals who will put the common good above personal gain.

Help us to remake our political parties so that they reflect different strategies for achieving human rights – not differences as to who deserves them.

Help us to weather this storm. Help us to awaken to its destructiveness and resolve to overcome it. Help us to renew our country, to remember its promise.”

(Read the rest.)

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This post is the seventeenth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month From October through however-long-it-takes-me-to-get-to-31-days I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

Why You Should Vote – Even When It Feels Like It Doesn’t Make a Difference

(Everyday Bravery, Day 16)

In which I make my case for why voting is so important, including a few points that voters in this particular election might keep in mind:

6) Assumptions can easily throw off a race. Are you assuming that the incumbent in your district is a shoe-in? Lots of other people are probably thinking the same thing. And when lots of people all make the same assumption… that’s when surprises happen. Maybe you like the guy, maybe you don’t – but when enough people stay home because they think he’s a sure thing, there’s a real chance that his opponent will catch him. Take challengers seriously. Don’t assume.

7) Your vote sends a message even when it’s not cast for the winner. Political types don’t just look to see who won a race. They look for how many people turned out, how close the margin was, how third-party candidates fared, etc. Maybe your guy won’t win. But if he does nearly as well as his opponent (or even just ‘better than expected’), that winner is more likely to tread carefully once he’s in office. Also, this election’s results may impact next elections’ prospects: a candidate who makes a good showing in one election cycle will likely have an easier time raising funds and attracting supporters in the next one.

9) Voting sends a message to your children that civic engagement is important. Maybe you live in a state (like I do) that’s completely dominated by one political party. Maybe you’ve rarely had one of your preferred candidates win an election. Maybe it feels like your vote has never mattered. But your children may find themselves in quite a different situation. They may go on to live in a different state, in a competitive district, where their vote makes a world of difference. Set the precedent now; help them to see voting as normal, as a responsibility and an honor.

Even if your children don’t end up in a district where they feel like they can make a difference, seeing you vote – in every election – will teach them something about stepping up. It will teach them something about doing their part, about trying to make a difference against all odds. Maybe it will even teach them something about bravery. Your example will serve them in more of life than just the voting booth.

Read the rest at the Catholic Review.

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This post is the sixteenth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month From October through however-long-it-takes-me-to-get-to-31-days I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

November 8 is Not the End: Sympathy Leading Me Forward

(Everyday Bravery, Day 15)

The turning point for me was Wednesday night’s debate. Specifically, the moment it became clear to me that Hillary Clinton was defending the indefensible (partial-birth abortion), I felt a surge in my chest: Sympathy. Every part of my clenched-up heart, which had for so long been agitated at the thought of all those pro-lifers supporting Donald Trump, just… released.

I still wasn’t there myself. I still wasn’t planning to ditch my write-in dreams. But when I heard Clinton express her support for that most tragic of offenses, I suddenly felt the weight of the obligation that many feel to support her opponent, whoever he may be. I experienced an explosive growth in the sympathy I feel towards pro-lifers who have come to a different conclusion than I have.

Read the rest at the Catholic Review.

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This post is the fifteenth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

I Want My Kid to Be the One Who Sticks Up For Your Kid: Empowering Children to Stand Up to Bullies

(Everyday Bravery, Day 14)

This morning I was supposed to find my son an orange shirt to wear to school for “Unity Day,” the point of which has something to do with not-bullying.

I’ll admit to rolling my eyes when I read the email.

First of all, because I didn’t think the kid had an orange shirt and I wasn’t sure how well he’d fit into one of his younger brothers.’ (And I thought it was ironic that my son could end up feeling all left out at school because he didn’t have the right shirt for not-bullying day.)

Secondly, (and more importantly) because I find this passive “let’s all talk about how bad bullying is” thing to be kind of maddening. I’m pretty new to parenting a school-aged child, so I’m not super familiar with anti-bullying initiatives. But in the past five to ten years of Bullying Awareness, most of the efforts I’ve heard of have seemed… vague? Unproductive? Misdirected?

(This morning when I told my son about the wearing-orange thing he wanted to know what wearing orange had to do with bullying. “I don’t know,” I told him. “It’s silly. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.”)

I’ve heard a lot about awareness, about educating, about something something policies and procedures and something something environments. I’ve heard a lot about celebrities jumping on the anti-bullying bandwagon. I’ve heard lots of iterations of the most obvious message possible: “Bullying is bad. You do not deserve to be bullied.”

Quite possibly there are some good, solid lessons hidden amidst all those policies and procedures, but I wish this whole movement didn’t come across as so gutless.

Because honestly, I think the best way to combat bullying is to teach our kids to have some guts.

I know I want my kids to. I’m doing my darnedest to teach my boys to stand up for what’s right and to work against what’s wrong.

As parents, one of our most fundamental responsibilities is to teach our children how to behave in relation to other people. Hopefully we try to teach our kids to be loving and kind and personable and welcoming. But we also need to teach them to be strong and protective and just.

My sons and I have had lots of discussions about bullying. Sometimes they’ve been in the abstract, sometimes they’ve been in reaction to playground meanness or brotherly squabbles. But the message always goes something like this:

You need to stand up for what’s right. Stick up for yourself. Stick up for anybody you see being bullied. Especially stick up for those who are younger or weaker than you.

You go right up to that bully and you tell him or her to STOP. Sometimes that will be enough (bullies aren’t used to being confronted), but if it’s not enough and if the situation really needs to be dealt with, tell a grown-up.

(Also: Don’t you be mean either. You are not a mean kid; don’t act like one.)

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Turns out he had an orange shirt after all.

Some might say that children shouldn’t have to deal with bullying to begin with, that we adults should be able to devise ways to prevent it. But there are lots of things children shouldn’t have to deal with – illness, loss, violence, etc. They happen anyway. We don’t do children any favors when we prepare them for a perfect, protective world. We’re better off preparing them for the one we’ve got.

I want to empower my kids to tackle these situations head-on, especially at these young ages. I want my three- and four- and five-year-olds to learn to stand up to the playground meanie so they’re equipped to deal with the schoolyard bully. I want them to learn to deal with the elementary school bully so they’re ready for the middle- and high-school varieties. I want them to learn to deal with them so they’ve got something to fall back on when they find themselves in contentious adult relationships.

Childhood is a training ground for adulthood. Here is where we plant the seeds for the habits and values we want to see in our adult children.

And anyway, even putting aside the concept of a “training ground,” I want my kids to tackle these situations because it’s the right thing to do. I would rather my child face negative consequences for doing what’s right than to slide by consequence-free because he kept silent in the face of injustice.

I know it can sound like a tall order. Some might say that children aren’t up to the task. But I know it’s possible because I did it. I did it as a kid, as a teenager, and I still do it when those unfortunate opportunities arise.

At the end of the day, I want my kid to be the one who sticks up for your kid. I want my kid to be the one who stands up to that kid. (And I hope against hope that my husband and I have made a sufficiently big deal about right and wrong that my kid will never become that kid himself.)

Let’s give our kids a shot. Let’s see what they can do. Let’s teach them to be brave, to stick up for others, to stand up to bullies, to be the kind of people who stand up for the right and against the wrong.

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This post is the fourteenth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

The Everyday Brave: Abigail Benjamin

(Everyday Bravery, Day 13)

Last year when I hosted a small conference for Catholic women bloggers living in the Mid-Atlantic, one of the women who came was named Abigail Benjamin. I had not previously been acquainted with her blog or her online persona and I had very little personal interaction with her that day. But it didn’t take me long afterwards to figure out what a gem we’d had among us.

Shortly after our conference, Abigail became our group’s greatest cheerleader. Each month she’d ask us what we were working on and what we were excited about. She’d rejoice with us, empathize with us, encourage us. In that group and on her own, she revealed herself to be bright, enthusiastic, compassionate, interested, and motivated. She had big ideas and a bigger heart.

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I shouldn’t be putting all this in the past tense, because Abigail is very much here and well and still inspiring me via social media. But in the past several months, I’ve been seeing Abigail as so much more than a kind-hearted cheerleader (though that’s a great thing to be) – I’ve been seeing her as an example of great bravery.

Abigail, who is a wife, a mother to six children, and a home educator to five of them, is also a lawyer. Until recently, however, she was not qualified to practice law in her home state of West Virginia.

Then came the summer of 2016. That summer (this summer), Abigail took the majority of her family’s small retirement savings and signed up to take the Bar Exam. She studied for eight to ten hours every weekday while being the primary parent for six kids aged 13 years to 18 months. She took the 12 hour test in 16 different legal subjects more than a decade after “retiring” at age 30 to become a stay-at-home mother. She passed the West Virginia Bar and was sworn in with little kids in tow.

Abigail did all of this without any certainty that she could practice law well once she resumed homeschooling her five children in the fall. Yet she persevered, for the sake of her family and herself, and for her rekindled passions for the environment, her community, and for justice.

I’m about 98% sure I could not pull off such a feat. (I can’t even pull off a write-every-day-for-31-days feat.) What bravery, what dedication, what tenacity, what hard work such a move requires. I’ve loved watching Abigail move towards her goal and I’m so excited to see what fruits this back-into-lawyering thing bears in her life.

(1) What in your upbringing – in your family and/or your faith – encouraged you to be brave?

I’m not sure that I felt brave while I took the test. Instead, I felt pretty stupid and terrified. My encouragement came from Pope Francis, specifically his encyclical on the environment called Laudato Si, published in 2015. After I saw the Pope briefly at a free Papal Parade event with my family in Washington DC in 2015, I decided to read Laudato Si with my parish priest. I spent three hours on two Wednesdays reading the Pope’s encyclical inside my parish hall. At the end of our study session, my parish priest said “I bless your mission.”

At that time, I thought my mission was about film promotion for environmental documentaries. Six months later, my mission expanded enough that I took the West Virginia Bar Exam to become an environmental lawyer in a State that I felt needed me. Nine months later, I opened a solo practice. Ten days after I opened my law firm, I was asked to represent a small environmental group pro bono in the middle of a 30 million dollar natural gas pipeline case.

Whenever I start to become intimidated by going against huge law firms with more than 15 years’ experience in this complex field, I tell myself mentally “I’m working for the Pope here.” Pope Francis might never know my name, but as a faithful Catholic, I feel that I get to claim Pope Francis as “my boss” in my work as well as in my Faith. The Pope’s words in Laudato Si guide me. The Pope’s energy for prayer and his love of people inspire me.

(2) What does bravery feel like to you?

To me, bravery is persistence. It’s doing the hard internal work of listening to God in the stillness of my heart and then working hard to reach God’s goal for me despite all obstacles.

(3) What most threatens your bravery?

I’m a perfectionist. I’m terrified of failure. Taking the bar in the summer of 2016 was a public commitment with a public result. I was afraid that people who knew me only as a mom of a lot of kids would think that I was dumb if I failed the Bar Exam.

(4) Do you think you’re brave enough?

I think our final act of bravery is dying with our hope in Christ. I have no idea if I can make that final challenge. I like to think of all the little acts of bravery like childbirth, or taking this Bar Exam, that will help add up to increase my bravery at the big final moment.

(5) Is there anything else you’d like to offer on the subject?

One thing that helped me was taking the example of specific saints, and tying them to the specific task at hand. I didn’t just pray abstractly to St. Francis of Assisi for help with my law practice. Instead, I might think “Saint Francis of Assisi would love to come help me write the addresses of thirteen lawyers involved in this natural gas pipeline case and then mail my packages at the Post Office with three grumpy children in tow.” That kind of prayer helped me view holiness as not something removed from my life, but very much connected to the daily irritations and hidden sacrifices of my life.

I also want to say that I found the decade that I spent as a housewife really grounded me during this transition. Now when I get a complex case with 144 documents from 13 lawyers I tell myself “this is just like doing the dishes.” I take that same pattern of not being overwhelmed, of matching like and like, and getting down to the nitty gritty without panic. Peaceful work is peaceful work. I’m really grateful to see work as a healthy companion to my prayer life. I’m finding the combination of Catholic, Wife, Mother, Lawyer, Teacher, and Writer to be a pretty nourishing mixture.

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This post is the thirteenth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.

Don’t Turn Away: Attempt the Politics You Really Want

(Everyday Bravery, Day 12)

I understand why people want to be done with this thing.

I understand why I’m seeing person after person complain on-line and in-person that they wish people would just stop talking about it. They want their Facebook newsfeeds to return to kids and puppy dogs. They want politics to stop encroaching on their neighborly conversations.

I get it.

But honestly, I don’t think we deserve that. I think we deserve to feel uncomfortable right now.

I don’t mean that as some sort of a punishment, some sort of Catholic guilt thing. (And I should probably find a better word for what I mean than “deserve.”) I just think that we should be present. We should inhabit the time in which we live. We should be attuned to the reality of our day, and today’s reality is uncomfortable.

Read the rest at the Catholic Review.

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This post is the twelfth in a series called Everyday Bravery: A Write 31 Days Challenge. Every day this month I’m publishing a blog post on Everyday bravery – not the heroic kind, not the kind that involves running into a burning building or overcoming some incredible hardship. Rather, the kinds of bravery that you and I can undertake in our real, regular lives. To see the full list of posts in the series, please check out its introduction.

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Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and chew on the topics of motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls on Facebook or follow the blog via email. (Click the link on the sidebar to the right.) You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram and you can find me at my politics blog at the Catholic Review, called The Space Between.