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.)

These Walls - Babies Are Blessings

The Kids Are Alright (And the Parents Are Too)

(Everyday Bravery, Day 3)

In the years since I became a parent, there have been a series of signs I’ve wanted to hang on my person/child/stroller/grocery cart while my children and I roam in public. They include:

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And of course:

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But lately the one I’ve wanted to plaster all over everything (to be brave enough to shout to a world that often views children as burdens) is:

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Because the general public? They tend to see us at our worst.

They see me carrying a hefty two-year-old across the parking lot, his flailing body tucked under my arm. They see him screaming his way through the grocery store because that blasted place puts a blasted balloon every five freaking feet. They see me balancing a baby carrier, a massive mom purse, and a cup of coffee on one arm while dragging the two-year-old with the other. They see me shooing and barking the two older boys in the right direction like some sort of frizzy, frazzled herding dog.

They see us running late. They see us overwhelmed. They see us hushing little ones who are accustomed to yelling and singing and roaring as loud as they like. They see a toddler who is frustrated to have been put on a short leash and boys to whom tact is a foreign concept.

They don’t get to see us at home, at peace, actually enjoying one another.

(Not that home is always peaceful. I am thankful every day that the general public doesn’t get to see my sons flipping out because I’ve told them to pick up their toys or me shouting a crazed, wild-eyed JUST EAT YOUR FOOD, ALREADY.)

Ours is a happy home. It may be chaotic and disorganized and screamy, but it’s also full of love and imagination and wonder.

Those strangers don’t get to see my husband hoisting the boys up to the refrigerator door to see if they’ve become magnetic. They don’t get to hear me reading The Story of Ferdinand to that two-year-old at naptime. (“His mother saw that he was not lonesome, and because she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow, she let him just sit there and be happy.”) They don’t get to brush the curls off his forehead or kiss his great, big, squishy cheeks.

They don’t get to watch these boys build museums and castles and railways together. They don’t get to see them chase each other in their Star Wars fantasies. They don’t get to eat Brennan’s Saturday morning French toast or my killer chicken pot pie. They don’t get to see our baby girl kick and jump and squeal with glee when her brothers approach.

Brennan and I are almost always tired. We’re often worn thin, overwhelmed, frustrated with our kids – but in them we also find our greatest joy.

We delight in these children, and they delight in us and in each other.

So when you see us out and about, wrestling with a stroller or a car seat or a child, don’t pity us too much. Don’t think those brief moments of struggle or stress or embarrassment are accurate representations of our lives. The kids are alright. (And the parents are too.)

~~~

This post is the third 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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I’m also linking this post to Bobbi’s (of Revolution of Love) Weekly Writing in October link-up. Check it out to find other bloggers who are trying to get back into the writing groove this month.

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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.

Catching Up (7 Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 41)

—1—

Tap, tap, tap.

Is anyone there?

I’ve enjoyed writing at the Catholic Review for the past almost-two-months, but I’m afraid I’ve killed my (this) blog! The thought makes me so sad.

How can I find the right balance to it all? Between writing and everything else I’m responsible for, between this blog and the other, between political writing and more personal writing? I have no idea.

No idea.

I guess I’m just going to keep plugging away at it and hope it works out somehow?

—2—

My six-year-old boy started 1st grade this week. I’m currently a tad sappy about the passage of time and all that, but mostly just very proud of my boy.

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He’s been really interested in being helpful lately, so we’ve found some small jobs around the house he can do. He’s taking out the recycling and putting away the flatware and even making some sandwiches.

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Best of all, when it’s time for my crew to load into the van, he puts on the two-year-old’s shoes, ushers his little brothers outside, and then HE BUCKLES THEM INTO THEIR CAR SEATS. Truly, this is a life-changing level of helpfulness for me. I always thank him with something like, “Thank you so much! That is so helpful and it makes things so much easier for me!” He responds with a sweet little “No problem, Mommy! I like helping.”

I think I like six.

One more thing about my boy, which I already blogged about over on my Catholic Review version of 7 Quick Takes:

I had a sad but beautiful little exchange with my six-year-old son the other evening, courtesy of my almost-all-day-every-day NPR listening habit. While I was driving, my boy spotted a bug in the car and I told him that I’d seen a mosquito. “Is that mosquito virus here yet?” he asked.

“Mosquito virus? Do you mean Zika?”

He did.

“Well, it’s here in the United States,” I told him. “But it’s not here in our area. It’s in Florida.”

“Oh, that’s too bad for the babies there. There will be a lot of babies dying in their mommies’ tummies.”

Most people would probably be appalled to know that my six-year-old was thinking of such things. I’ll admit to feeling a little guilty about it. But mostly, I just felt proud. My boy is paying attention. He’s understanding. He’s asking questions. He’s caring. And he wrapped up our conversation by suggesting that we pray for the babies.

“God, please take care of the babies in their mommies’ tummies. Please keep them from getting the mosquito virus. That’s all.”

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—3—

My four-year-old boy is a funny kid. He’s been telling me he loves me for a long time now – like, laying it on thick: “Mommy, I wuuuuv you, Mommy. You’re da best Mommy in da whole world. You’re boodiful. I JUST WUV YOU SO MUCH. I wuv you more den Jesus wuvs you.”

I’m not complaining.

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But I am noticing that he tends to say these things when (1) he wants something from me, (2) I’m already helping him with something, or (3) he’s been naughty or annoying.

Clever kid, that one.

Lately he’s been adding the following into the mix: “Mommy, you’re da gweatest Mommy of aw time. You’re da gweatest PERSON of aw time! You’re MINE. You’re my mommy and no one else’s!”

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This morning when I asked him why he was doing this fake crying thing, he answered: “Sometimes people just cwy because you’re so boodiful.”

Whoah. Slow down there, kiddo.

It’s gotten to the point where every time I become visibly annoyed with him he grins at me and raises his eyebrows and whispers, “You’re mine. You’re MINE.”

And I crack up. This kid! This manipulative, clever little bugger. I think we’re going to be in real trouble when he becomes a teenager.

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—4—

Boy number three has been less charming lately. He is two. He is very, very much two. A couple of Sundays ago when our priest asked (playfully) why our boy had been screaming so loudly that we removed him from Mass, we explained that he has a major case of the TWO’s.

He is a screamer and though we are working on the screaming (i.e. lots of consequences for screaming), I will admit that the screaming is kind of driving me nutty. I do not like this phase.

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I’m hopeful (though I may be deluding myself) that the screaming has something to do with the fact that our almost two-and-a-half-year-old is not yet talking. He says twenty or so fairly indistinguishable words, but he doesn’t yet put them together and he hardly ever uses them. He mostly just grunts. And screams.

We have a speech evaluation scheduled for the end of this month. If they deem him to be more than 25% behind, he’ll qualify for free in-home speech therapy. I’ve never before thought much of looking into such services, but now I’m all, “SIGN HIM UP.”

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—5—

Our sweet baby girl, on the other hand, continues to be as sweet as she can possibly be. She’s still happy and laid-back and easy to handle. (Maybe she’s aware of our household’s overabundance of screaming?)

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She’s feeling very well and eating and growing like a champ, but she still has salmonella in her system. We’re waiting on the results of the latest stool test. The last one (in late July) was positive and they need two consecutive negatives before they’ll consider her clear. Fingers crossed that the latest (taken in mid-August) is negative; then we’ll just need to do one more.

Little girl is now sitting up fairly well (though she still falls over) and is just beginning to become really, actually mobile via that rolling and scooting thing that babies do. Yesterday I put her down on a quilt in the family room, walked into the kitchen, and returned to find her missing. It took a few moments of looking around and listening for her cries before I located her.

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I think she enjoys her new skill.

—6—

Apropos of nothing, I have recently been reminded of a few blogs I used to read. As in used to. As in no longer read. It’s been interesting to remember those blogs and what my life was like back when I was reading them and to realize that me no longer reading them actually has nothing to do with them.

It’s not you, old favorites – it’s me.

I’ve changed. I’ve moved, in some ways, into a new season of my life. What I needed then in terms of encouragement, inspiration, and commiseration, I no longer need. At least not right now.

I read different things these days, things that meet my current needs. Who knows where I’ll be looking for inspiration tomorrow.

The realization has helped me to calm down a bit re: my woe in Take #1. My readership isn’t what it used to be and there are probably a number of reasons for that. But one reason might just be that people move on and change and need things one day that they didn’t need the day before.

It’s a big ol’ lesson to me to just chill out and not worry too much about things you can’t control.

—7—

Can I tell you how excited I am about this weekend? I honestly can’t remember when I’ve had so many fun plans jammed into such a short span of time. Here’s the run-down:

Friday afternoon: Get my hair done! I plan to sit in that salon with a glass of wine and a good book and let everything having to do with Take number four just roll… off…. my… back.

Friday evening: Join one of my girlfriends and several of her girlfriends for a little mommies-only birthday party. We’re going to sit on her front porch in the cool evening air and drink cocktails and eat hors d’oeuvres and just enjoy being in each other’s company. I can hardly wait.

Saturday: Head to Virginia for this year’s Mid-Atlantic conference of the Catholic Women Bloggers Network. It’s being hosted by Rosie Hill of A Blog For My Mom and will feature Kelly Mantoan of This Ain’t the Lyceum and Mary Lenaburg of Passionate Perseverance and lots of other amazing ladies too. I’ll try to write about it when I get back. (I wrote about last year’s conference, which I hosted, here.)

Sunday: Drive to Annapolis with my husband for Mass at beautiful St. Mary’s Church (where we were married – see gratuitous wedding photo below), followed by a dedication and reception at the Charles Carroll House. Which was the Annapolis home of Charles Carroll of Carrolton, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. And on whose board of trustees I used to serve. (And, for those of you who keep up with the Catholic mommy blog world, where I once arranged a tour for Catholic All Year’s Tierney family.)


Whew! That’s a busy Labor Day weekend before even getting to Labor Day itself. I am so excited! Now let’s just pray that the hurricane/tropical storm working its way up the East Coast doesn’t dash our plans.
 

(I’m linking up with Kelly of This Ain’t The Lyceum for this week’s 7 Quick Takes. Be sure to stop by her place to see what she and the other 7-Quick-Taking crowd have been up to!)

***

Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and think “aloud” on motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls’ Facebook page. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

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Mamas, Don’t Let Your Babies Touch My Baby (An Update on Our Girl)

Last you heard from me I was writing to you from the hospital, where Baby Girl was being treated for pneumonia and some unknown stomach-something, which was suspected to be a bacterial infection. Three days into her hospital stay (she ended up being there for four days) we had our answer: salmonella poisoning.

Yes. Seriously. Our four-month-old infant who eats no food somehow got food poisoning.

We don’t know how it happened. It’s possible she picked it up from her brothers, who had played with some turtles in a nearby pond a couple of weeks earlier. (Apparently turtles are a common carrier of salmonella – who knew?) It’s also possible (probably more possible than not) that I gave it to her, that I contracted it by handling raw food or – ahem – eating raw brownie batter or something, and then touched her bottle or pacifier and passed it on to her. (You have no idea how guilty this possibility makes me feel.)

We’ve learned that it’s not uncommon for a healthy person to carry salmonella without experiencing symptoms of it. Which normally isn’t a big deal – not unless that person is in close contact with someone with an immature or compromised immune system. Like an infant.

Ugh.

Hence the title of this post. Not that I (at all!) blame Baby Girl’s illness on contact with random strangers, but I’ve always been something of a germophobe and those tendencies have been amplified by this experience. With any contact our baby has with another person, I worry that a new bacteria will get her sick.

I’ve been reverting to new-momma protective, squirming when strangers approach us in public and barking “DON’T TOUCH THE BABY” at her brothers. I’m sure we’ll mellow at some point, but right now it’s just all so fresh.

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But seriously – do you know how often people walk up to babies and grab their tiny hands? All the time.  (Don’t they know that babies stick their hands in their mouths?) When it’s a child, I usually feel comfortable enough to chirp, “You can touch her feet, but please don’t touch her hands!” But I’ll admit I have a harder time correcting an adult. Adults should know better.

Mamas, don’t let your babies touch my baby. (Or at least not her face and hands.) And don’t you do it either.

Sigh.

Babies are so vulnerable and fragile. And this whole thing has been such a tremendous bother.

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Baby Girl is mostly recovered now, but she was in pretty rough shape for her first couple of days at the hospital. She felt horrible, she wouldn’t eat, she was poked with needles again and again. She fussed with her IV. She slept or cried or just looked thoroughly pathetic.

Once home we had follow-up appointments and phone calls to manage, prescriptions to fill, more and more diarrhea to deal with (it can take two weeks to clear up), and (I hate to even write this) stool samples to collect from her big brothers.

Did I mention that this whole thing has been a bother? What a pain.

And we’re not done. Though (thankfully!) the first round of stool samples came back negative, we’ve got to do another round to be sure. And after a couple of days of normality, Baby Girl’s diarrhea returned, so now she’s been put on another round of antibiotics.

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Gosh, she’s just the sweetest little thing.

She’s so sweet and she’s been such a champ through all of this. I sure hope we’re about done with it.

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Wait. Was That Supposed to be Father’s Day?

Meet my husband, Brennan — the man who is completely, totally fine with our Father’s Day weekend not being being focused on him in the slightest.

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I guess it started last week, actually, when he took a day off work and was therefore standing in the driveway for a midday delivery from the UPS guy. I saw him collect the package with its contents advertised in a big! clear! photo! and stare at it in a confused sort of way. “Happy Father’s Day,” I yelled dully through the window.

Then Saturday we hosted a 6th birthday party for our oldest son. A Star Wars party. The kids wore little Jedi costumes, they played some poorly-thought-out games, we ate some carryout fried chicken and a cake that I didn’t have time to finish decorating.

But the little Jedis-in-training got to attack Darth Vader with silly string, so it was allllll good.

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You know this is what treadmills are for, right?

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Success on that front.

However, just as the party was beginning, our little peanut started to become sick. She spiked a fever, she had some diarrhea, and she was really, really not her usual smiley self.

We pushed through the party, Baby Girl was happy to be held by her grandma and great-grandmom, and we thought it was just a little passing thing due to her shots earlier in the week. But as the evening wore on, her diapers increased in frequency. By the morning, we knew we needed to take her to the ER.

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Her bloodwork came back a little worrisome and her chest x-ray showed some pneumonia, so they decided to admit her. Good thing, too: her fever was creeping up and she’d stopped eating.

So Brennan’s Father’s Day consisted mostly of wrangling our boys while he worried about our girl. But he did stop by the hospital for a visit in the evening. And Sweetie Pie rewarded him with her first smile of the day.

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We (she and I) are here still. (So forgive this smartphone-published blog post for any editing errors.) They’re keeping her another night, which is both sad and a relief. They think the diarrhea is caused by a bacterial infection, so she’ll get her second round of IV antibiotics sometime today.

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Hopefully tomorrow she’ll be feeling a great deal better, and they’ll have all her test results back, and she’ll be eating enough to stay hydrated. Hopefully.

Because we need to get this girl home to her Daddy and brothers. I’d like us to finally get a chance to celebrate Brennan, even if just a little bit. And I want to see this happy face again.

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Always Starting, Never Ending: Monday Morning Miscellany (Vol. 11)

—1—

I think you should know that I’m really, really good at starting blog posts. Like, you would be amazed at the quality of writing I can pour into three opening paragraphs on any given subject. Especially Donald Trump.

I’m about 15% tempted to start publishing blog posts akin to those group story-telling games we used to play at sleepovers. I’ll write the first three paragraphs, then another blogger can take the next three, and so on and so forth until we have some wacky, meandering, hilarious tale like nothing any of us could have created on our own.

—2—

This happened over the weekend:

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That’s right folks – stare at it while you can! All of my dishes were clean at the same time. I washed the dirty dishes, cleaned the counters, bleached the sink, and then went to bed. Which means: I woke up to a clean kitchen. Just amazing.

—3—

This girl. She’s now four months old. I can hardly describe how smitten with her we are.

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—4—

Oops – I didn’t post anything on the blog last week. See number 1.

—5—

Nearly six years into this stay-at-home-mom thing, I somehow still struggle with how relentless the work is. I spent this entire weekend waiting for a couple of hours to myself (To organize papers and clothing! Not even to do fun stuff!) and when those hours never appeared, I found myself on the brink of tears. Not because anything was really wrong, not because the weekend had really been bad, not because I was overly tired – just because my days all look the same.

Monday through Friday, I’m in charge of four small children for something like 14 hours a day, I take care of all the cooking and dishes and laundry and cleaning and familial logistics, and I’m at the whim of ever-interrupting hands and mouths and diapers. Call me crazy, but I’d like the weekends to look a little different.

Sometimes they do, but lots of times my husband (who really is a very involved father) works on (necessary! good!) home stuff, so isn’t available to help with much other than breakfast. One part of me gets that. The other part stands at the end of a Sunday night and looks toward Monday morning with something like desperation. Because this work is constant. It is never-ending. And I still haven’t gotten used to that.

—6—

We had some storms Sunday evening and when they cleared, the sky was breathtaking. Though it wasn’t quite amazing enough to knock me out of the aforementioned funk, it sure did remind me that funks are temporary. Thank goodness for beautiful skies.

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Can you spot the beehives?

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—7—

Thank goodness for breezes and low-humidity days too. We haven’t yet turned on the air conditioner, so lately I’ve felt like we lived in a jungle or a swamp, or on cooler days, England or Ireland. But today! Today is gorgeously clear, dry, and breezy. It’s just glorious. Hopefully this bodes well for the week!

Happy Monday!

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Intro to (My) Instagram {pretty, happy, funny, real} (Vol. 20)

It’s been forever since I’ve participated in {pretty, happy, funny, real} and I finally (accidentally) opened an Instagram account a couple of months ago, so I thought I’d do a quick {phfr} of some of my favorite Instagram pics so far. Mostly {pretty}, because ohmygosh – I’m a little obsessed with this girl:

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I really don’t know what I’m doing with Instagram (not that I necessarily know what I’m doing with Facebook either), but it seems like a good avenue for sharing the glut of photos that make me smile. I’m always wary of over-sharing such things on Facebook (surprising news to my FB friends, as I already share quite a lot), but I figure that if people didn’t want to see pretty pics, they wouldn’t be on Instagram! So anyway, my Instagram account will include pretty-ish pics of my children and our beautiful old house. If that interests you, follow along!

{pretty}

Baby girl is almost four months old and we are totally living that cliché: We have no idea where the time has gone, yet we have no idea how we ever lived without her. I’m biased, but she is so sweet and lovely and such a “good” baby that Brennan and I are sort of shaking our heads in wonder. What a blessing this child is to our family.

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Bonus {pretty} — flowers and a long-lashed, curly-headed boy:

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Prep for baby’s baptism party.

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{happy}

If that {pretty} wasn’t {happy} enough for you, well then let me just show you some more:

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{funny}

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Big Brother made a cow for Little Brother, who really just wants the tape off-camera.

{real}

And then there’s the {real}. I usually go kind of negative on this one, but this round I’ll just show you some snapshots of our everyday life – a beautiful kind of reality.

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The first time this table was clear of clutter in months. Literally.

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Well now, I believe this post officially qualifies as overkill. I hope that if you enjoyed the photos you’ll join me over at Instagram. And if it’s not your thing… don’t worry, I need only introduce you to my Instagram account once. Back to wordiness next time. (Speaking of which, did you see yesterday’s post on social media and how I kind of love it even though hating it seems to be en vogue?)

Enjoy the end of your week, all! And if you’re in this part of the world, ENJOY this long-awaited sunshine and warmth. May. it. last.

Please pop on over to Like Mother, Like Daughter for more {pretty, happy, funny, real}.

{pretty,happy,funny,real}

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In Pursuit of Good Behavior: Our 8-part strategy for getting kids to behave in church

I am about to do something stupid.

I’m about to hit “publish” on a blog post on how to get children to behave well in church, mere hours before taking my own children to Mass. They’re going to be terrible – I just know it.

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Anyway!

Generally speaking (and I cringe to say this – see above), my children are pretty well behaved at church. We – cringe – even receive compliments on their behavior. (Of course, these might better reflect our fellow parishioners’ expectations upon seeing three small boys and a baby ushered into a pew, but I’ll take them.)

Since it seems to be a perennial question on social media (and because I’m a glutton for punishment), I thought I’d share our strategy for getting our children to refrain from causing a ruckus during Mass. But I’m not going to lie to you – it is not made up of quick fixes. There is no magic bullet – at all, for anything – when it comes to children. There’s a lot of hard work, a few clever ideas, and a decent measure of luck.

In this post, I’m going to first offer you the two “hard work” elements of our strategy and then the six that might fall into the “clever ideas” category. The luck is up to you.

1. We have an expectation that our children will obey us.

Our kids operate under the assumption that when Mommy or Daddy say to do x,y,z, it is to be done. They certainly don’t obey us all the time, but we have reasonable confidence that when we give them a direction, they’ll follow it.

To some, this will seem so obvious as to not be worth mentioning. To others, it will seem like a pie-in-the-sky idea. Either way, unless you’ve been blessed with a child who is naturally mild-mannered (not us!) and pleasing to the general public, it’s the most basic of foundations for functioning well outside the home. (And inside the home too, I’d wager.) We have to trust that when we tell our child to stop and we raise an eyebrow and give him that look, he’ll stop.

How do we do this? How have we gotten to the point where we can reasonably expect our children to obey us, at least in public? Lots of hard work. Lots of consistency, follow-through, consequences… and some yelling. I’ll admit it.

2. Our children are able to sit for the duration of a meal.

I figure that if our children are unable to sit for any length of time in our home, they’ll be unable to do so anywhere else either. Partly for that reason, but mostly because I just think that meals should be eaten at tables, we insist that our children stay seated for the duration of every meal. This is not always easy. It is not uncommon for our meals to be punctuated with, “Sit on your bottom. Sit on your bottom. Sit on your bottom. I said, sit on your bottom.”

In our home, you stay strapped in a booster until you can demonstrate that you’re able to stay seated without it. We’re currently in the transition stage with our two-year-old. If the mood is right, we’ll let him sit there unstrapped, but once he starts trying to get up (and ignores our calls for him to sit back down), we strap him in. He’s learning.

At any rate, I really think the meal thing helps. Our boys are used to sitting in one place three times a day, for between 20 and 60 minutes a pop. So while sitting in church can be a challenge, it’s not a shock to the system.

3. We have age-appropriate expectations for how our children should behave in Mass.

First of all, let’s just make an exception for the 12-24 month range, shall we? My husband and I have found, with each of our children, that little babies in church are no big deal. Bigger babies may need some creative hushing when they become vocal, but they’re still not that difficult. But then you bang up against mobility. From the time our children can crawl through the time (somewhere around the age of two) we can begin to reason with them, there’s just really not much to be done. We can try all the strategies above and below, but it’s always going to be a crapshoot.

In that age range, we keep them in Mass as long as possible, but if they become disruptive, we take them to the back of the church. I prefer to stand in the vestibule with the child, letting him walk around but not run, hushing him when necessary, and demonstrating to him that I’m still paying attention to the Mass. My husband sometimes prefers to take the child downstairs or outside.

Beyond that age, we start with two simple requirements: Our child is to be quiet (not silent!) and he is to stay in the pew. He may whisper, he may move around, he may climb up onto the seat, off the seat, onto the seat, off the seat – he just has to stay in the pew.

Once our child has mastered those two expectations, we add more. He has to stop climbing… he has to stop talking… he has to sit. Ultimately, he’ll have to sit still. (Our oldest is five; we’re not to that last one yet.) We add requirements as our boys are able to handle them and we try to keep them as simple as possible.

4. We talk with our children beforehand about our expectations.

The first Mass behavior expectations we ever voiced to our oldest son were “Remember that you have to be quiet, you have to stay with Mommy and Daddy, and you should set a good example for your brother.” His brother was a baby – he was not yet paying attention to anyone’s example. But the idea that he was the big kid, that he had a big-kid responsibility – it stuck with our oldest. So we still use it.

On our way to Mass, or as we walk from the car into the church, we say something like, “Remember, you’ll be in church. We are not here to play; we are here to pray and to think about Jesus and to thank God for all the good things in our lives. You need to be quiet and you need to set a good example for your brothers.”

We also have particular instructions for those who need them. One of our sons has a tendency to end up sprawled across the pew, his head on our laps. So he is told to sit up straight. Talkers who think they are whisperers get told not to talk at all.

5. We model good Mass behavior. (In other words, we mostly ignore the kids.)

The last part of that line might get me in trouble. To be clear, I don’t mean that we actually ignore our children. I just mean that we utilize those eyes we have in the backs of our heads to monitor them and we reserve the ones in the fronts of our heads for the altar.

I try to keep track of what my boys are doing without making eye contact with them. That may sound cold, but I’m just trying to discourage my chatty guys from starting a conversation. Or from doing something silly to make me laugh. So I sit or stand or kneel (as the case may be), my body and mind oriented as much as possible toward the Mass, and I encourage my children to do the same.

6. We snuggle our children.

While I try not to engage directly with our children during Mass, I do try to take advantage of those quiet, holy moments to be lovingly, physically present to them. I sit with my arms around my boys, I stroke their backs, I give them a pat. When it’s time to sing, I open the hymnal with them, singing in their ears and tracing my finger across the notes on the page. I hope that our one hour in Mass every week begins to take hold in their little minds as a time for tenderness and love.

7. We explain things at appropriate moments. (And sometimes the most appropriate moment is after Mass.)

I want my kids to understand as much as possible about the Mass, and anyway I want to get/keep their interest, so when the time seems right, I’ll lean over and whisper a “Did you hear what Father said there?” or “Can you see what he’s doing?” I offer a quick explanation and then go back to my ignoring/snuggling strategy.

If my boys ask a genuine question that can be easily and simply answered, I go for it. But only if the timing seems appropriate and I don’t think we’ll be disruptive to our fellow parishioners. If they’re asking a question that requires a more complicated response, we tell them we’ll answer it when Mass is over.

8. We bring small distractions (just small ones) to church with us.

We are a thirsty family, never traveling anywhere without a beverage (and my boys are all pretty much addicted to milk), so I’m sure to always stow their sippy cups/bottle in my purse. They make for a great distraction when the first wave of wiggles hits. But beyond that, we keep it very spare. We never bring snacks, because crumbs and wrapper noises and my thing about thinking tables are important. Sometimes I will bring a couple of quiet toys for a baby, but mostly I keep it to one or two books per child. Just religious ones. The images contained in them not only help to keep the boys occupied, but provide a jumping-off point for their questions and imaginations. And I think that’s important.

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So that’s how we do it. I’ve probably seen dozens of strategies in my people-observing and blog-reading days, but this is the one that works for us. I offer it here for the curious or the desperate or the only vaguely annoyed. Good luck!

(And wish me luck too – we’re off to Mass shortly.)

These Walls - In Pursuit of Good Behavior - Our 8-part strategy for getting kids to behave in church

Spring and Baby Toes Are Good For the Soul: 7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 40)

—1—

All I can think about these days is blogging. Every time my mind wanders, that’s where it goes. Ideas, phrases, revisions, revisits… I feel like a dieting person who can’t stop thinking about steak. I can’t tell whether this is a nudge to find some solution to my current logistical hurdles (i.e. all the little children, all the time), or an unhealthy obsession. It’s probably the latter.

—2—

Speaking of unhealthy obsessions, I had such an election-day hangover on Wednesday. Whoo-wee, was I in a funk. Mostly because of Trump’s growing number of delegates and Rubio’s exit from the race, but also because too few people viewed my post and told me how right I was.

I just can’t describe how much this Donald Trump thing is bothering me. I honestly think his election, should it come to pass (please Lord, no) would be second only to September 11th in the ranking of Worst Things I’ve Ever Lived Through. Every time I think about it my blood pressure skyrockets.

—3—

So it is a DARNED GOOD THING that spring is beginning to make itself obvious. We’ve had such nice weather lately and I’ve been trying to overcome my homebody tendencies to take advantage of it.

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I’m getting really eager for summer.

—4—

Another good thing? This girl. My, how I love her.

 

With each of my other babies, I experienced periods of resentment during the newborn period. (Can I say that?) No, beloved boys who might one day read this – the resentment had nothing to do with you. I’m totally chalking it up to hormones, to those lovely baby blues. But this time I haven’t experienced them at all. (I have felt right on the edge of them, if that makes any sense, but I haven’t actually crossed over.) And it has been so, so nice to be able to look at my baby in full confidence that I’ll just feel love, not a mixed-up combination of love, dread, love, sadness, love, guilt, and love. (Did I mention love enough times there, boys? Because the love was always there too, right alongside the dread.)

—5—

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I made shepherd’s pie and Irish soda bread for dinner last night. I was proud of myself.

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Oh – and green cookies, which didn’t come out of the oven until 8:30 pm, so I was all, “Hurry, hurry boys! Eat those cookies quickly so we can brush your teeth!”

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(See, I’m such a bad blogger I didn’t even bother to make that picture all pretty-like. Nope, just a quick snap of yesterday’s cookies in a plastic storage bowl.) I got the recipe (to which I added lots of green food coloring) from an infinitely better blogger.

—5.5—

Oh, hey, I made a couple of flower arrangements recently for my mom and grandmom’s birthdays. I’m proud of myself for them too. Totally worth staying up until 2am.

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—6—

On a more serious note, those of you who have been reading for some time (or who are friends or family) might know that my mother-in-law has been living with us for a couple of years.

Well, almost exactly two years after she moved in, Hilde is getting ready to leave. It just wasn’t working. I would appreciate any prayers you could offer over the next couple of weeks that the transition goes smoothly for all involved. Vielen Dank.

—7—

Baby toes. Aren’t baby toes a great cure for what ails you?

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Well, I’m off to my favorite two hours of the week: Diane Rehm’s Friday News Round-Up. Let’s hope I can keep my blood pressure down.

 

Have a great weekend, everyone. Be sure to stop over to Kelly’s to check out all the other Quick Takes!

These Walls - Spring and Baby Toes Are Good For the Soul (7QT40)

Putting Out Fires

I’d forgotten what it was like to live like this — running nonstop, spending my entire day putting out fires.

Inching out from under the sleeping baby to nominally prepare myself for the day. Making the Kindergartener’s lunch. Preparing bottles for two, sippy cups for two. Waking and dressing three (except one never needs to be woken — he’s always squawking in his crib before I’m ready to get him). Feeding everyone. Cleaning up each in turn. Dealing with the inevitable spit-up and leaky diapers as they (sometimes literally) come at me. Brushing teeth and hair. Hugging and kissing my loves as they walk out the door.

Washing dishes, changing diapers, breaking up fights, nursing the baby, making bottles, preparing meals, wiping counters, attempting laundry, emptying the trash, stealing the spilled-over recycling back from the toddler. Over and over again.

Anticipating a break because everyone has finally been fed and the littlest ones are finally napping, only to have them both wake up on you. Rejoicing at getting all three boys to bed, only to have the baby wail for hours. Soaking in the quiet after everyone else in the house has fallen asleep, only to find it impossible to keep my eyes open.

The Kindergartener keeps asking to do his math games on my computer, but I’ve hardly turned it on in weeks, let alone taken the time to figure out the login his teacher sent home from school.

I’m not sure I’m feeding or bathing or holding the baby enough. This morning I left her in spit-up-soaked clothing for hours because she fell asleep before I had time to change her.

One child has been manufacturing drama to get my attention, another has been going overboard in telling me how much he loves me. The third just wants to be held. (Also, he’s about to turn two and expertly playing the part already.)

I’m edgy — worn thin and anxious about how little capacity I’ve had to tap out my thoughts (presidential campaign! drama at my alma mater! life with a new baby!) on the keyboard. Hence this quick attempt at a blog post via smartphone.

I’m tired, but the wired sort of tired where you hardly sit down for fear you won’t be able to get back up again. Brennan is more tired than I am — migraine tired, asleep-on-your-feet tired.

Yet it is good, living like this.

I’d forgotten how delightfully smushy a newborn feels in your arms. I’d forgotten how they smile in their sleep and splay their hands out in front of them. I’d forgotten how a baby’s big siblings will fall over each other to be close to her.

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I’d forgotten how much easier, despite all the work and all the rushing, it is to acclimate to having a new baby in your home when you’ve done it a few times already.

I’d forgotten how nice it is to hand off your baby to a room full of eager family members and then how much sweeter it is to get her back from them when the party’s over.

I’d forgotten how generous people can be.

I’d forgotten about all the looks of love and longing you see aimed in your direction when you carry a new baby around with you.

Yes. It is good, living like this.

(Even when you need to remind yourself of the fact as you run from one fire to the next.)

It is good.

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