Flowers For My Boys (A Gender Reveal)

It’s been something like two weeks since I posted my little pregnancy announcement and told you that I was soon to have my 20(ish) week sono, so I feel like this post should be preceded by a looong drumroll.

Here we go.

. . .

. . .

. . .

Wait for it . . .

. . .

. . .

. . .

These Walls -- Sweet Resignation -- It's A Girl!

(I am so excited to get to use that graphic again.)

It’s a girl and she looks to be healthy, so I have no deeper, more interesting reason (thank goodness) for the delay in telling you other than the fact that I’ve been busy. (I’m always busy. Everyone’s busy. What a boring excuse. Let’s get back to the baby.)

It’s a girl – she’s a girl, and we’re so excited. The boys wanted another sister. Josie will, at some point I’m sure, be glad to have a sister. And as a sister-less woman myself, I feel so grateful for the opportunity to witness a sisterly relationship up close.

As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to have at least four kids: two boys and two girls. That way each child would know what it’s like to have a brother and a sister. As annoying as my brother was to me while we were growing up, and as much as we fought like cats and dogs, I am honestly so glad I have a brother. I am glad I have him. (Love you, Eric.)

But I would have loved to have had had a sister too. With this baby’s arrival, we will have hit my little daydream of a goal, and indeed done one better: three boys and two girls.

To be honest, I can’t begin to express to you just how grateful I am to have “hit that goal.” (And yes, I know that’s a terrible way to put it). After a lifetime of hoping to be a mother, I can still hardly believe that I’ve gotten to be one. And after a motherhood spent focusing on boys, I can still hardly believe that I’ve now been given daughters too. Truly, I feel the weight of these blessings.

These Walls - Flowers For My Boys - 1

These Walls - Flowers For My Boys - 2

Now that we know the baby’s gender, I’m eager to get our household – and our things – ready for New Baby Girl’s arrival. I want to switch the kids’ bedrooms around. I want to buy them a few new pieces of furniture. We might need to replace some random pieces of baby gear. We’ll definitely need to get a couple of new car seats and I really want to buy a new stroller. (I think it’s funny how we could coast so long on all our original baby gear and now everything seems to be giving out or wearing down at once. Four kids might be the limit for baby gear produced in 2010.)

Conveniently (HA!), everything else in our house seems to be giving out too. Air conditioning, refrigerator, dishwasher, random parts of our van . . . so I think this summer might go down as That One in Which We Spent All The Money.

Ah, well.

C’est la vie.

Not much more to say here, except to report that the morning of the sono, the boys wanted to know what color flowers we would bring home to them afterwards. “So is that what you want us to do? Bring home flowers, just like last time?”

That’s what they wanted.

So we obliged.

These Walls - Flowers For My Boys - 3

(Don’t you love pink?)

~~~

These Walls - Flowers For My Boys

Snapshot (Not) Saturday: Fits and Spurts

(Everyday Bravery, Day 11)

What was that about blogging every day this month?

Sheesh. By now I’ve lost count of how many days behind I am. Part of me feels guilty about this failure but the rest of me just throws my hands in the air and sighs and acknowledges that I’m not physically capable of every day blogging. At least not until I can get a nanny. (Ha!)

And by “physically,” I mean physically. Earlier this week my friend Rita (who is also doing – as in actually doing – the Write 31 Days challenge) asked me how I was doing with it. I answered with three photos. “This is how I’m doing. And this. And this.”

These Walls - Snapshot Not Saturday - Fits and Spurts - 1

These Walls - Snapshot Not Saturday - Fits and Spurts - 2

These Walls - Snapshot Not Saturday - Fits and Spurts - 3

My house has become a wreck, just as I feared it would. My paperwork/school organization has come undone, just as I feared it would. And I became sick, just as I feared I would. (On the mend now though, thanks.)

And that’s with me having not-blogged most days this week.

But I’m not giving up! Not entirely. I’m still enamored with this project and I want to see it through. (Plus, I figure that if I want this bravery thing to mean anything at all, I’ve got to finish what I started.)

I’m just acknowledging that it’s going to take a good bit longer than a month for me to hit that 31 days mark. If I were very clever and organized, I’d time it to end on Election Day. But I’m neither of those things, so that’s probably not such a safe bet. We’ll have to see.

For now, allow me to share a few more snapshots with you from the past few days. We’ve been busy: On Friday I helped at my oldest son’s school and then took my two younger sons on a pumpkin-picking field trip. (With the best, bumpiest hayride.) Then on Saturday we took all four kids to the zoo to belatedly celebrate our son’s birthday, and on Saturday night I took the two oldest boys to my cousin’s farm for his annual moonlight hayride and bonfire. So much fun.

These Walls - Snapshot Not Saturday - Fits and Spurts - 4

These Walls - Snapshot Not Saturday - Fits and Spurts - 5

These Walls - Snapshot Not Saturday - Fits and Spurts - 6

These Walls - Snapshot Not Saturday - Fits and Spurts - 7

These Walls - Snapshot Not Saturday - Fits and Spurts - 8

These Walls - Snapshot Not Saturday - Fits and Spurts - 9

These Walls - Snapshot Not Saturday - Fits and Spurts - 10

These Walls - Snapshot Not Saturday - Fits and Spurts - 15

These Walls - Snapshot Not Saturday - Fits and Spurts - 11

These Walls - Snapshot Not Saturday - Fits and Spurts - 12

These Walls - Snapshot Not Saturday - Fits and Spurts - 13

These Walls - Snapshot Not Saturday - Fits and Spurts - 14

Anyway, this afternoon, I give you this post. This evening, I’ll give you another. And I’m almost done with yet another, to be posted tomorrow. I suppose I’m doing this Write 31 Days thing in fits and spurts.

These Walls - Snapshot Not Saturday - Fits and Spurts

~~~

This post is the eleventh 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.

These Walls - Everyday Bravery

~~~

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 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:

these-walls-the-kids-are-alright-yes-i-have-my-hands-full

these-walls-the-kids-are-alright-sorry-this-is-his-naptime

these-walls-the-kids-are-alright-please-just-talk-to-him

these-walls-the-kids-are-alright-dont-touch-the-baby

these-walls-the-kids-are-alright-no-we-werent-trying-for-a-girl

these-walls-the-kids-are-alright-can-you-tell-hes-2

And of course:

these-walls-the-kids-are-alright-no-im-not-pregnant

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:

these-walls-the-kids-are-alright

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.

These Walls - Everyday Bravery

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.

~~~

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.

These Walls - Catching Up 7QT41 - 1

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.

These Walls - Catching Up 7QT41 - 2

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.”

These Walls - Catching Up 7QT41 - 3

—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.

These Walls - Catching Up 7QT41 - 4

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!”

These Walls - Catching Up 7QT41 - 5

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.

These Walls - Catching Up 7QT41 - 6

—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.

These Walls - Catching Up 7QT41 - 7

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.”

These Walls - Catching Up 7QT41 - 8

—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?)

These Walls - Catching Up 7QT41 - 9

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.

These Walls - Catching Up 7QT41 - 10

These Walls - Catching Up 7QT41 - 11

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.

These Walls - Catching Up 7QT41

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.

image

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.

image

You know this is what treadmills are for, right?

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

image

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.

image

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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:

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 1

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.

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 2

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 4

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 5

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 8

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 10

These Walls - It is Good to be In Love - 5

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 11

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

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 6

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 7

Prep for baby’s baptism party.

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 9

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 14

{happy}

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

These Walls - It is Good to be In Love - 1

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 3

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 15

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 20

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 16

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 17

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 18

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 19

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 12

{funny}

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 21

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 22

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 23

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 24

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 25

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 26

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 27

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.

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 27

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 28

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

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 29

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 30

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20 - 31

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}

These Walls - Intro to My Instagram phfr20

 

Sunday Coffee

A few weeks ago I resolved to mark my third year of blogging (the anniversary of which is this coming week, I think?) by taking 30 minutes each day to write and by posting on the blog at least three times per week. I’ve mostly succeeded. I think I’ve written almost every day, though a couple were such blurs of activity that I’m pretty sure they were left off. I did the thrice-weekly posting for the first two weeks, but this week I’m likely only fitting in two.

Oh well! On we march. The whole point of that little promise I made to myself was to exercise my writing muscle, so to speak, and I’m doing that.

These Walls - Sunday Coffee - 1

Being the weekend and all, I have my mind on lazy mornings and delicious coffee, and I’m thinking about what I would say to you if we were sitting down together for coffee.

First

I think I would mention this post and how some people seem to have gotten the impression that I had lost my cool with my son and was therefore writing from a place of regret.

(Now imagine me laughing while looking a little embarrassed.)

Um… if you think that was me losing my cool, you are far too generous. I promise that I am capable of some truly outrageous meltdowns. Like, spittle and popping veins outrageous. Once I was so mad I even had to go outside to run laps across the backyard.

So that post? That was just me recognizing the opposing tugs a parent feels while administering a punishment. And being decently comfortable that (in that one particular situation) I’d dealt with it the right way.

Next

I’d remember that I never updated anyone on how my children behaved at Mass last Sunday. The verdict? I mostly got off easy. My second son turned out to still be too ill to be taken to church, so he stayed home with Daddy. As did the toddler, because… toddler. So I was left with the five-year-old and the baby. And it all went fine except for the two minutes in which the baby spat up all down her front and the boy exclaimed, “She exploded!”

Then

I’d probably complain about being really, really tired of having somebody in the house sick for, like, two months straight. Currently we’ve got two boys (hopefully!) wrapping up their colds. I’m praying that we enjoy at least a small period of good health before somebody else goes down.

I’m sure I’d complain about all this cool, rainy weather we’ve been having. (Seriously – where did May go? Haven’t we been having March for like three months now?)

I’d tell you that I’d failed, once again, to find lamps to replace the ones my boys destroyed ages ago. It turns out it’s not so easy to find lighting that is (1) sturdy enough to withstand being knocked off tables by little boys and (2) not so sturdy that it will seriously injure little boys while falling off tables.

These Walls - Sunday Coffee - 2

Finally

If you and I had time to discuss all the ideas we have for our homes and gardens, a la this post, I would report that I exercised some restraint by only planting tomatoes and herbs when I really wanted to go whole-hog and establish The Most Amazing Kitchen Garden Ever.

These Walls - Sunday Coffee - 3

I’d tell you that we really need some fresh paint around here. And that I’m itching to hang more things on the walls. (Any idea as to how to get your husband to take up a task without nagging him to do it?)

I might admit to making myself yet another schedule to try to get a handle on my life.

I’d say how we really just need to decide whether to get a playset and patio furniture, already.

And that Brennan and I are leaning toward putting on that kitchen addition one of these days, but that we also daydream about having This Old House do an entire home renovation for us. (Oh, the dreams that boring 30-somethings can come up with…)

By this point I’d have bored you to tears – and we’re caught up by now anyway, so I’ll sign off. Time to see what kind of Mass behavior my boys give us this time.

Enjoy your Sunday!

These Walls - Sunday Coffee

Walking That (Parenting) Line

Yesterday I was feeling brave, so I decided to load all four kiddos into the van for some errands. The boys were in serious need of haircuts and we were overdue for a grocery run, so I thought we might as well mash it all together and stick a fast-food dinner in-between.

So we did the barber shop (but the wait was too long), then dinner, then back to the barber shop (success), then the liquor store to buy more of my new favorite wine from the mark-down cart. (I don’t know anything about this wine except that it is AMAZING. I highly recommend it if you like a white that’s dry and full but bright. Just amazing.)

These Walls - Walking That Parenting Line - 1

By then the baby was starting to fuss, so I decided to forgo the grocery run. (That is, I decided to have my husband take care of it on his way home.) We left for home, the baby fell asleep, and I threw caution to the wind by ushering all three boys into the tub almost as soon as we walked through the door. (Baths require almost as much courage as grocery runs in my book.) Afterward, I nursed the baby in her room while the boys played at my feet.

All this time – from the restaurant to the barber shop to the bath to the nursery – my four-year-old was naughty naughty naughty naughty naughty, varying only in the intensity of his misbehavior. “Stop it stop it stop it stop it,” I’d said, until I finally banished him from my presence. He was sent to his room.

These Walls - Walking That Parenting Line - 2

All was peaceful for about three minutes, until he decided to up the ante: he threw one of those little egg shaker musical instrument thingies into the nursery, cracking it in half and sending hundreds of tiny metal balls flying around the room.

TROUBLE.

I yelled, he laughed. I YELLED, and he stopped laughing. He was again sent to his room, this time to an early bedtime.

Oh how awful that was for him! The child screamed and called for me and begged to be let back downstairs. But I was busy with the baby and the brothers and the daddy calling from the grocery store. And anyway, he was being punished. It wasn’t supposed to be pleasant.

I did go up at one point, once I’d finished feeding the baby. I hugged him and tucked him back in, but told him that no, he would not be allowed back downstairs. He continued his tirade.

A short while later, I was scrolling Facebook when I saw a heartbreaking photo and caption. It was from Humans of New York (of course). A woman’s face conveys a sense of terrible pain and loss. “Two weeks after Max was diagnosed, he asked me if I’d be his Mommy forever,” a woman named Julie said. “Of course I will,” she told her son. “Even when I’m ninety?” he asked. “Yes.”

“I just couldn’t tell him,” she said. “God I was such a coward. I should have told him. I just couldn’t do it. Even toward the end… the whole last week I’m whispering in his ear: ‘Let go, let go. Please Max, let go.’ My seven-year-old son. I’m telling him to let go… And the whole time I never told him he was dying.”

You can imagine what this did to me.

Tears streamed down my face as I imagined this woman whispering “Let go,” to her dying child, a child she’d never told was dying. And there was my child, just a few feet above my head, screaming for me, begging for me to have mercy on him.

What a line we walk as parents.

We want to instruct, we want to form, we discipline in order to help our children learn to control themselves. Or to follow rules. Or to respect us. Or to not treat others badly.

At the same time, we treasure our children. They pull on our heartstrings and we’re happy to have them do it. We want to wrap them up in our arms and prevent them from feeling any pain.

But learning lessons often involves pain.

So it doesn’t seem to me that you can choose one side over the other. I’ve always thought that good parenting required a lot of discipline and a whole lot of love. A lack of either would be damaging to a child. We parents just have to walk that line, wherever we think it lies.

So how did I (try to) do it?

I went back upstairs. I told my boy that he could not come down, but that I would sit with him a while. I climbed onto his bed and held him in my lap and rocked him. Then I flipped on the light, grabbed a couple of books, and moved over to the armchair in his room. He sat on my lap as I read those wonderfully sappy Nancy Tillman books – “On the Night You Were Born” and “Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You”.

I read slowly, carefully. I let my tears drip down onto his face. He calmed down.

When the books had ended, we got up and got him back into his bed. I tucked him in for the third time. I kissed him and ruffled his newly-cut hair. Then I went back downstairs.

I don’t know if I did the best thing but it felt like the right thing. That’s all I can do. I try to walk that line wherever I find it, wherever it seems right given the circumstances of the moment.

These Walls - Walking That Parenting Line

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.

These Walls - In Pursuit of Good Behavior - Our 8-part strategy for getting kids to behave in church - 1

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.

These Walls - In Pursuit of Good Behavior - Our 8-part strategy for getting kids to behave in church - 2

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

It is Good to be In Love

I am not the most patient mother.

I have a temper, I have a limited capacity for dealing with noise and activity, and I have zero tolerance for whining. (Seriously: we have a “no whining near Mommy” rule in our family. You may either whine or be in Mommy’s company, but you may not do the two simultaneously.)

So I go through lots and lots of seasons when my primary attitude towards motherhood is resentment or annoyance or a strangled sort of desperation.

But right now? I am just in love with my children.

These Walls - It is Good to be In Love - 1

I always love them. The love is nothing new. What’s new or different or fresh in the feeling is that I’m mostly feeling it free of the things that pull it down. Often I love my children with a sort of “You’re driving me crazy, so I’ll remind myself over and over again how much I actually love you!” Or, “I love you, but do you have to be so difficult?”

Lately, for whatever reason, I’ve been looking at my children and only feeling the love.

These Walls - It is Good to be In Love - 2

These Walls - It is Good to be In Love - 3

These Walls - It is Good to be In Love - 4

I glance at the baby and my heart does a big, cheesy leap. The toddler tugs at me, wanting my attention, and I smother him with kisses and tickles. I pick up my sons from school and I’m so happy to have them back with me that I cup their faces in my hands and smile kisses onto their soft cheeks.

These Walls - It is Good to be In Love - 5

These Walls - It is Good to be In Love - 6

These Walls - It is Good to be In Love - 7

These Walls - It is Good to be In Love - 8

That may sound saccharine sweet. It may sound manufactured. But I’ll tell you what: It is such a relief to feel this way.

Too often, my feelings toward my children are a tug-of-war of love, frustration, anger, pride, enjoyment, resentment, and more. This is difficult work. It wears on a soul.

So moments like these – days, weeks, minutes when the peace and joy and love of parenting somehow overshadow everything else – they are so welcome. They are so important. They fill me up; they give me something to draw upon when times get hard.

These Walls - It is Good to be In Love