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

(Everyday Bravery, Day 12)

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

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

I get it.

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

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

Read the rest at the Catholic Review.

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

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

Seeking Home

Laura Kelly Fanucci recently wrote a beautiful post on the concept of going home and the question of where home is: Is it where you were raised? Where you hang your hat? Is it, ultimately, where you hope to rest when your days are done?

Right now I am home.

Sitting in the house that we own. Where we are raising our children. Where mail arrives daily bearing my name. Where we welcome family and entertain friends. Where I pull weeds and paint walls. Where my car pulls into the driveway and my shoes slip off in the doorway.

And I am writing about going home. Which is not here.

(Go to Laura’s blog, Mothering Spirit, for reliably beautiful writing. Every time I stop there, I feel as if I’m opening a book of poetry.)

I’ve given a lot of thought to the concept of home.

There is, of course, the home in which I was raised. My parents moved away from it a couple of years after I graduated from college. The change was hard for me to take and I was kind of bratty about it: Once when my mother asked whether I’d be coming home (to their new house) for the weekend, I sniffed that I’d be going to visit my parents – not home.

Home is where the parents are, Mom retorted.

During my single twenties I referred to a series of apartments as “home,” though none of them felt like it. Even my first house with my husband didn’t feel much like home: He’d bought it long before we met and it was nothing like what I would have chosen.

When we moved into this house a few years ago, I knew that it was our real, solid opportunity to build something that would be a home to our family for years to come – possibly for the rest of our lives. So surely there should have been a light switch or something – a switch that would flip on the feeling of home? Right?

This house contains our things and ourselves and our goals and even our dust, but I think it will take some years before it truly feels like home to me. More than ten years after my parents moved, it’s still our old house on Paradise Road that creeps its way into my dreams.

But through all my years – even those before Paradise Road – there’s been another place that feels most like home. It’s at once vague and particular. In the broadest sense, it’s Maryland. The Maryland of rolling hills and gauzy landscapes, of roadsides bordered with trees so draped with vines they seem like jungle, of farms that look a little rough around the edges, messy from long grass and wildflowers.

I crest a hill and catch my breath at glimpses of that Maryland – my version of it, which leaves off the urban and the flat and even the mountainous. For that’s the one that means home to me.

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More particularly, that version of home is embodied in my grandparents’ place. It used to fit the bill perfectly: a farm with a stream and clumps of forest and an overgrown back field, a barn that smelled dusty and sweet – hay sweet, old manure sweet. But since the end of my college days, this place, too, has become removed from that golden image of home. My grandparents are still there, but the farm has been developed. We enjoy the most important elements of that home – family and love and time spent together – but the fields are gone, the barn is gone, the cattle are gone, and so the feeling is different.

A couple of weeks ago, I drove up to what we still call “The Farm” via a road I don’t usually take. At first it felt so familiar, so like what I knew growing up. But as I neared that home, the one most dear to me, I saw trees growing where cattle once grazed. I saw my grandparents’ fields dotted with huge houses plopped here and there, spiting the natural curve of the land. I saw nearby hills marked not by tree lines, but by rooftops.

I sighed. It’s so hard to seek a home that can no longer be found.

There was a time when my sigh would have turned into a grumble, a growl of resentment. But just as this place has grown up, so have I. The new roads and traffic lights and neighborhoods and shopping centers may signal a loss to me, but to many others, they signal promise.

So it goes. Things change. Places change. People change.

It’s better to focus on the family and the love and the time spent together. And to accept that maybe promise is spread around to more than the newcomers – that maybe my future depends more on the new people than on the old fields.

I return home – to this home, the home of my husband and our boys and our dust. It’s a beautiful place. It’s full of the tradition and detail and imperfection and aged wood I long for. It’s sheltered by one of the loveliest old trees I’ve seen and it’s bordered by fields that remind me of those I used to gaze at through my bedroom window, chin propped on my arms in the dark, putting off sleep a little longer.

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I suppose I’ll know my feeling of home has caught up with reality when I dream of an 1860’s Victorian rather than a 1970’s rancher. Or maybe when I return from a trip and catch my breath as I mount our long driveway. Or perhaps it will be when I approach my grandparents’ neighborhood and forget to think of it as a farm.

Until then, I’m just so grateful to be here in this beautiful place, where I’ll surely someday find my home.

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Twenty-Three

In the interest of not completely neglecting my blog during this busy season of preparing our home for two new additions (not twins – just one baby and one mother-in-law), plus the actual welcoming of the mother-in-law and the ongoing prep for the new baby, I thought I should at least do a little catch-up post. But all I can muster is a list, so that’s what you get – a random collection of 23 goings-on, thoughts, and questions from the past week or so:

1)  We’ve been working very hard here – harder than we’ve worked since we moved into this house a year-and-a-half ago. May this (please) be our last push of purging and organizing and moving furniture for some time. (For years. Plural.)

2)  Everyone is very, very tired.

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3)  Pregnancy insomnia is one of the stupidest, most nonsensical things ever.

4)  On Saturday, a few of my lovely girlfriends took me to a lovely lunch to celebrate the impending arrival of baby boy #3. I felt just about giddy to be getting out of the house on a beautiful, spring-like day to hang out with my friends and eat delicious, wood-fire pizza. Mmmm… Thank you, ladies!

5)  There was absolutely nothing spring-like about yesterday, however. It snowed for something like ten hours straight. On March 25th. Will this winter never end?

6)  Change is hard. Or, at least it is for me. Every first day of school, every move, every new job, every new phase of life, every new child – every big change, no matter how wonderful – has been difficult for me to process. I know this about myself and yet I’m always somewhat taken aback when a round of change triggers its inevitable, big, emotional, revelatory moment (which necessarily involves tears). This round’s moment came to me on Sunday afternoon in that most glamorous of places: the driver’s seat of my minivan in the middle of the Safeway parking lot. Boo-hoo.

7)  In the scramble to get preparations wrapped up before Brennan’s mother’s arrival on Sunday evening – and the stress, and the exhaustion, and the pregnancy-related discomfort, I didn’t get to mass this weekend. I hate that. There’s no feeling of Catholic guilt quite like that of missing mass. Beyond the guilt-driven regret, though, I feel like I suffer a loss each time I miss Sunday mass. (Fortunately, it’s a rare occurrence.) Missing mass makes me realize how much I depend on it. Whether or not the little ones (or my own distracted brain) have let me pay attention to the readings, whether or not I’ve been wrestling a jumble of little arms and legs, whether or not I’ve been stressed out or agitated, the mass feeds me. Without it, I feel like I go into my week empty-handed. Missing this Sunday’s mass certainly wasn’t the way I wanted to go into this week of welcoming-the-mother-in-law and maybe-giving-birth.

8)  All that said, Hilde’s move into our home went just about as smoothly as it could have. She’s got quite a way to go to get things unpacked, but she’s safely here and we’re all getting acquainted with one another.

9)  Just about overnight, I have gone from feeling good-but-tired to feeling very uncomfortable and full-of-baby. I feel like this baby is coming soon – like, really soon. But what do I know?

10)  I had my weekly ob appointment (and sono) this morning and all went well. My doctor offered to go ahead and schedule my induction for 39 weeks on the dot, which is… next Friday! As long as the hospital’s got room for me, it looks like I should be having this baby by the 4th!

11)  I still think I’ll go before then, though. My discomfort level has been prompting many a game of “Is Julie in labor?” The answer so far has, of course, been “no” – but I’m making good progress on the dilation front, so… it could happen!

12)  Last week I bought the boys a copy of Frozen to occupy them after the baby is born. Yesterday afternoon I totally cracked and popped that sucker into the DVD player. I may regret it later, but at the moment I was glad to have bought myself precisely 108 minutes of quiet time in which to (finally) pack my hospital bag and (too soon) fret about whether I’m going into labor.

13)  Instead, I started writing this post. Priorities.

14)  Note: when you’re 8.5 months pregnant and threatening to go into labor at any minute, you should probably give your husband a little warning before venturing out at 6pm to give your mother-in-law a tour of her new town. Because when he arrives home from work to find no minivan, wife, boys, or mother on the premises, he’s likely to panic. Just a little.

15)  Another note: eating dinner at 5pm is waaayyy nicer than eating dinner at 9pm. I mean, it gives you actual free time in the evenings that doesn’t involve falling asleep on the sofa.

16)  I’ve got a little poll for the mamas out there: While in the hospital after having a baby, do you (a) change into your own clothes or (b) wear the hospital gown provided to you? My best friend and I were having a conversation about this yesterday. On the one hand, we’ve seen pictures of ladies in real clothes in hospital beds and all the cool mommy bloggers seem to dish out great advice on the comfiest clothes to pack in your overnight bag. But we, ahem, don’t understand the logistics of such a move. Real clothes seem awfully inconvenient for all the checking and prodding and poking everybody seems to want to do to you, like, every 20 minutes. And then there’s the not-wanting-to-ruin-our-clothes thing. Are we alone in going the practical, dowdy route or are there more mamas in our camp?

17)  One more important question: Is gorging oneself on delicious, home-made (but not by me) bar cookies a sign of imminent labor?

18)  We really enjoyed the brief visit from Brennan’s sister and uncle, who drove Hilde here from Minnesota. The boys especially enjoyed their aunt and uncle and were beautifully, pathetically disappointed to learn yesterday morning that they’d left before dawn. It was so heart-breaking/cute.

19)  I had to carry my two-year-old (under my arm – just about the only way the belly will allow) out of his big brother’s preschool classroom yesterday, literally kicking and screaming, because he didn’t want to leave. It was also heart-breaking/cute.

20)  Last week my three-year-old said two particularly cute things before heading to school. One morning, as soon as he woke up, he said, “Today is my wucky day!” Me: “Why is today your lucky day?” Him: “Because I get to go to school today!” His teacher loved that one.

21)  Another morning, on the drive into school, he said, “I’m going to have so much fun at school today! I’m going to be happy and be nice and behave…” Then, to his little brother, he said, “I pwomise not to do bad sings to you anymore. I won’t kick you or hit you ever, ever, ever, ever again. Okay? Okay? Okay?” Finally, his brother gave the obligatory reply: “Otay.”

22)  Big brother’s “pwomise” didn’t last long.

23)  Fortunately, the little one’s tough. Fierce, we call him. He can take it.

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Think Of Your Closets

If I had to choose one piece of advice to offer young people at this very moment, it would be: Don’t be a pack-rat. And if you absolutely can’t resist the urge to be a pack-rat, make sure to be an organized one.

Because one day you might find yourself eight-months pregnant, with two small children to care for, sifting through box after bag after box of your worldly possessions to make room for your mother-in-law and all of her worldly possessions.

You might find yourself putting all of your (admittedly, modest) energies into this work (and laundry – there will always be laundry), only to look around and count no less than 20 boxes and bags left to go. Just in one room.

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It looks more organized than it actually is: that cedar chest is packed full of junk.

And you’ll know that you can’t simply chuck all the boxes and bags, because for years you had no discernable organizational system and you have no idea what’s in them. You might recall that you once found your high school diploma in a box of junk mail.

You’ll likely realize that you won’t actually finish the task on this, your 26th round of attempting it, but you have to try, because with the impending addition of the mother-in-law and the baby, you’re running out of places to hide your stuff.

You might, ten years or so down the road, finally learn to rein in your pack-rat tendencies. They might not even be obvious to your future friends, because you’ll be so determined to be rid of them (the tendencies, not the friends) that you’ll refuse to allow clutter a permanent home in your main living spaces.

But your spare rooms and attics and closets will tell on you.

For once you build up that backlog of stuff, only moves and additions to the family and New Year’s resolutions will push you into tackling it.

Take it from me, the so, so tired pregnant lady who’s done eight loads of laundry today (in case it makes me seem any less ridiculous, please know that some loads included things like basinet and car seat liners) and who has at least another ten loads waiting in the wings.

The same tired pregnant lady who needs to figure out where to temporarily stick a dozen boxes and bags o’ junk (plus a big pile on the floor) so that furniture can be rearranged tomorrow. And who will, once all the furniture is in its proper place, still need to either sift through the junk or find permanent hiding spaces for it.

Trust me, this is not how you want to be spending your last days before welcoming a new baby (and a mother-in-law) into your family. This is not an oh-so-sweet round of “nesting.” There’s nothing fun about boxes of credit card offers, old magazines, and expired coupons.

Do yourself a favor and take my advice: Don’t be a pack-rat. Resist the temptation. Think of your future moves and babies and mothers-in-law. Think of your closets.

You’re welcome.

Sweet, Sweet Progress: {pretty, happy, funny, real} Vol. 12

I thought I’d take a brief break from the land of Making-Preparations-For-The-Impending-Arrival-Of- Mother-In-Law-And-New-Baby to sit down and type out a little progress report on that whole thing and a couple of others.

The good news is that we are, in fact, making progress. And oh, how sweet it feels. There’s nothing like productivity to tamp down the sense of panic rising in my chest.

We found out about the change in Brennan’s mom’s move-in date (from the end of May to the end of March) the weekend before last. At the time, our house was pretty much a wreck. The future nursery was so full of stuff that you could barely walk through it (which was problematic, as you have to pass through the room to get from one end of our second floor to the other). Our bedroom was overflowing with baskets of clean, unfolded laundry and my (absurdly large) handy-dandy laundry sorting unit was overflowing with heaps of dirty laundry. Our long-dead Christmas tree was still up and mostly decorated. And the rest of our main floor was also decked with dusty Christmas décor.

But now…

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Look! Nothing Christmasy! This room is as ready for spring as I am.

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The tree is down and out, its ornaments have been packed and stored, and nearly all the rest of the Christmas stuff has been put away too. Thank goodness. How good for the spirit, to not be constantly dragged down by seasonally-inappropriate reminders of just how behind you are.

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Our Room O’ Junk has been turned into… a room o’ less junk. In just over a week, it (the future nursery, that is) went from this:

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To this:

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Laundry has been washed and folded and put away, too-small children’s clothing has been sorted, baby clothes have been pulled out (still awaiting their own turn in the washer), items have been removed to their proper places, (some) papers have been gone through, and (most of) our baby gear has been stacked in one corner of the room. I’ve got a couple more days to finish clearing out the space before Brennan’s buddy comes over this weekend to help him shuffle furniture between four different rooms on three different floors, and the garage.

Speaking of help… though I really, truly didn’t intend my last post to be interpreted as a plea for help (I meant it more like a, “Hey, people to whom I write about my life, guess what BIG things are going on in it right now?”), several dear friends offered help anyway. Krista and Mary and lovely, non-blogging others offered to occupy the boys so I could get things done. Betsy watched my two-year-old (yet again!) while I helped at my three-year-old’s preschool – and she even did my dishes. Another friend brought us lunch and carried heavy, bulky things up and down the stairs for me. She and others will take care of the boys during my slew of upcoming doctors’ appointments. And yet more folks will help us with the grunt work of moving things around before and after Brennan’s mom arrives.

These people are wonderful.

I admit that receiving so many offers of help makes me feel a little awkward and uncomfortable. It’s humbling. But it also fills me with so much gratitude. The fact is, I really am tired. And we really could use the help. When I offer help to others, it’s because I really want to help them. I’m genuine in my offers and I want them to be accepted. So I figure I should assume the same of others. (Note: Never offer me help just to be polite. Ha!)

I am so happy to be part of a family and a community of friends who don’t hesitate to lend a hand when one is needed. Thank you, thank you, thank you, dear ones.

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This is the antique dresser we bought the same weekend as the boys’ beds. Due to Brennan’s mom’s impending move, we’ve had to rethink a lot of furniture placement in the house. One of the funny (but really, very happy to me) results was to put what was to be the boys’ dresser in the dining room. (To which I say “Yay! It looks so pretty in this room! And Yay! Storage for dining room linens! And YAY! A non-plastic surface off of which to serve food!”)

The dresser’s marble top has been sitting upstairs in the Room O’ Junk ever since we bought it. I’ve been asking Brennan to bring it downstairs so I can just check this room off my list, already, but he doesn’t seem to think the task is anything near a priority. So the other day, I set this lamp on (in?) the dresser, hoping B would get the hint.

I think I’m going to have to just ask again.

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It’s all how you look at it, isn’t it? I still have so, so much to do.

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There has been progress on other fronts too. For one, there’s this very pretty, very happy little scene:

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How could I help but include it? I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see crocuses in my life. I’ve certainly never before waited on spring with such anticipation. This week we had days in the 60’s and even the low 70’s. I don’t care that today was blustery and back into the 30’s. Progress is progress!

Of course, there’s also the pregnancy. Here’s my latest belly pic – 35 weeks, taken last Sunday after mass.

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Besides the obvious size and weight progression, I’m really starting to feel like I’m getting close. I feel good,* but close. At yesterday’s ob appointment, my doctor reviewed my most recent sono results (big ol’ baby), noted the (big ol’) size of my last baby, and said that as long as I’m sufficiently dilated, they’ll plan to induce me at 39 weeks.

Exciting stuff! (I’m totally fine with an induction. I needed Pitocin for both of my boys and did just fine with it. I honestly won’t know what to do with myself if contractions begin on their own this time around.) Also – ACK! I’ll be 36 weeks tomorrow, so I’m facing the real likelihood that I’ll be having this baby within the next three weeks, or thereabouts.

Between Hilde’s arrival in just over a week and that news from my ob, this is all starting to feel very… real.

*I think it’s funny that I’m still feeling (mostly) so comfortable this go-round. Though my weight is tracking right where it did with the other two pregnancies, and though I popped out very quickly this time, I feel like my expansion has slowed recently. Or at the very least, I must be carrying this baby and much of my weight differently than I did with the other two, because I just don’t feel as large. I can turn over in bed, I can sit comfortably, I can (even 50 pounds up from my wedding-day weight) still wear my wedding rings, I can cross my legs, and (this is the real kicker) I can still breathe. I swear, this still-breathing-normally-at-36-weeks thing is just… amazing… liberating… wonderful.

Thank goodness. It’s hard enough slogging through most of your random, pushed-aside possessions while you’re dragged down by fatigue. What a relief that my body is otherwise cooperating!

Okay, that’s enough from me. Head over to Like Mother, Like Daughter for other, less rambling looks at the {pretty, happy, funny, real} this week had to offer. And take care!

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The Thing About Having A Full Plate

This past weekend, my situation was clarified for me: I have quite the full plate at the moment. It’s not full of bad things or scattered, abstract things or things that are worth wasting time worrying about. It’s full of two big, hearty, substantial portions of meat, if you will. Two portions that simply must be dealt with. Now.

Here’s the deal: I’m due to have my third baby in a little over five weeks. And like all expectant couples, my husband and I have a lot to do before the little guy arrives. Here’s our (conservative, whittled-down-to-the-bare-minimum) list, because I’m a list-maker:

  • Finish the bigger boys’ Big Boy Room.
  • Transform this mess (I’m not even exaggerating, am I?) into a nursery/guest room/laundry sorting space/catch-all room.

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  • Do all that baby-readying stuff like washing baby clothes and linens, digging the baby gear out of the attic, cleaning it, etc.
  • Clean out the minivan and rearrange the seats and car seats.
  • Pack overnight bags for myself and the boys.
  • Put away the Christmas decorations. (What?! It’s only March.)
  • Deal with no fewer than a dozen boxes of papers and junk.
  • Move/construct no fewer than 20 pieces of furniture. (That job is reserved for the hubby, which would be obvious to you if you could see the way I’m waddle-limping around the house these days.)

What’s with the last two, you ask? Why would any sensible person tackle tasks like that a month before having a baby? Well, it’s because having a baby is just one of the Big Life Changes we’re preparing for right now. It’s just one of those substantial pieces of meat I was referencing.

We’re also about to welcome my mother-in-law into our home. Permanently. Brennan’s stepfather passed away in January, prompting Brennan’s mother’s need to find a new place to live. So she’s moving here, all the way from Minnesota.

While we’re aware that this new living situation will involve a tremendous adjustment for all of us, we’re confident that we’re doing the right thing. And we look forward to many wonderful things about having Hilde (pronounced “Hildy”) living with us. (First and foremost, our boys will actually get to know their grandmother! Currently, they only get to see her once a year. Also, you know how newborns want to be held at all times? Solution: Grandma!)

The original plan was for Hilde to arrive at the beginning of June. But now it looks like she’ll be here in… two-and-a-half weeks. So it’s not like we even have five whole weeks to accomplish the tasks on that list. For most of them, we’ve just got 2.5.

Two! Point! Five! To ready our home and household for two new people. With one of the primary workers partially incapacitated by third-trimester fatigue, a big huge belly, and a bum hip joint. It’s a lot of pressure. It’s a full plate.

But the thing about having a full plate, I’ve found, is that it tends to do what it did for me this past weekend: clarify things. All-of-a-sudden, necessary things are made more obvious and unnecessary things fade into the background. You (or at least I) become more business-like, more matter-of-fact about what you need to do. Those tasks that have been swimming languidly along in your mind for months are suddenly lined up, alert, standing at the ready.

So, despite my fatigue (and another annoying post-nasal-drip, sore-throat thing), I’m ready to get this thing done. Yesterday afternoon, I finally finished up a task that I’d left hanging for months. A handful of more afternoons like that and we’ll be in good shape.

At this point in the game, I’ve got to believe that all this is doable. I don’t have the luxury of worrying about it or letting it overwhelm me. I’ve just got to move forward with purpose and determination… and love. We’ll get there. And we’re doing it for a good reason, for people we love.

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Also, do you want to know a little bonus about having this particular kind of a full plate? I’ve been thinking so much about logistics in the past few days that I haven’t had any time at all to devote to the subject that had been lurking in my mind, making me uneasy: labor and delivery. Let’s just put that one off as long as possible, shall we?

Big Babies, A Child’s Innocence, Race, War, and Spring: 7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 25)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

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Giganto Baby #3

Because my due date is one whole day after my 35th birthday, I get to be classified with that lovely “Advanced Maternal Age” label for the whole of this pregnancy. (Seriously! One day!) The burdens/bonuses (depending how you look at it) of the AMA label include a handful of extra sonograms. I had one yesterday.

As I knew they would, the technician and doctor found that my baby is ginormous. At 32 weeks gestation, the kiddo is already estimated to weigh 5 pounds, 8 ounces. Now, I know that sonos can be well off when it comes to weight, but I’m inclined to believe this one: (1) because the estimate jives with the weights of my other two giganto babies, (2) because – just like my previous two pregnancies – my uterus has been consistently measuring ahead, and (3) because the sono estimates for my other two boys were both spot-on.

So, surprise, surprise, it looks like I’m in for another big one. Which is unlikely, of course, to be surprising at all to anyone who has had the honor/burden of lifting my 30-pound two-year-old or my 40-pound three-year-old.

Just… please, Lord, let me be able to deliver this kid safely! My second son, who came ten days early and weighed in at 8 pounds, 15 ounces, got stuck on his way out. We had a scary few minutes there when his heart rate was dropping and everyone was scrambling to get him out as soon! as! possible! If he had been any larger, I’m not sure we would have had such a good outcome.

So, Baby Boy, how about if, when you get to 8 and a half pounds or so, you decide that you’re ready to just come on out to play? I promise it’s nice out here. And I know a couple of other big boys who will be eager to meet you!

Giganto Baby #2 (Can't find one of #1 at the moment!)

Giganto Baby #2 (Can’t find one of #1 at the moment!)

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Corresponding Giganto Belly

Just shy of 33 weeks

Just shy of 33 weeks. Excuse the blurriness — really old mirror and really inadequate camera on my Android.

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Open Mind of a Child

My friend Krista, whom I’ve mentioned before, wrote a lovely blog post yesterday on her recent visit to the pool with her five-year-old daughter. Her daughter had brought a doll with her, which she proceeded to baptize in the baby pool. Krista writes:

Most of us recognize the story from the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus urges his disciples to bring the children to him, because “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” It is a story that tends to be linked to the idea that what is most valuable in children is their innocence and unworldliness. It seems to imply that children, in their dearth of experience, are better able to absorb the teachings of faith, and indeed of the world around them. I don’t believe that this is a strictly religious way of thinking. There is a common tendency to think of children as blank slates waiting to be written upon.

Children are certainly unworldly. There is necessarily an innocence to the way they approach their world. They have no basis of comparison. They have no prejudice. Their minds are open. They are open, but I don’t think they are waiting, passively, for us to shape them.

If I have learned anything about children and the way they approach life, it is that they do so through constant questioning and experimenting. They are endlessly pushing the boundaries of their universe. And these attributes apply equally to the way they understand faith and the way they process new facts.

When I think of my daughter, who is at that perfectly ripe age when the concepts of faith and fact are just coming within her intellectual grasp, I see nothing passive about her approach to the world. All I see is activity – a dynamic, unrestrained pursuit for more knowledge, a constant pushing and stretching of the limits of her understanding.

I hear her asking why, and no matter how thorough an answer I give, I hear her asking why again. I see her acting out, and re-enacting, what she is learning so that, through interpretation and experience, it becomes a part of who she is.

When I think of the idea that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these,” I don’t see it as a calling to submissiveness or innocence. I see it as a calling for us to approach faith — and reason — like children do – with flexibility, enthusiasm, ceaseless questioning, and a mind with ever-expanding boundaries. Those are the best things that children have to offer the world, and we adults should not forget that.

It’s a beautiful post, which somehow also includes a totally appropriate reference to… farts. I kid you not. I hope you’ll stop on over to Krista’s to read the rest of it.

—4—

Discovering Race

Reading Krista’s post, especially the following words: “Children are certainly unworldly. There is necessarily an innocence to the way they approach their world. They have no basis of comparison. They have no prejudice. Their minds are open.” I was reminded of one of the many half-written posts I’ve got sitting on my computer.

This particular one is on race. That oh-so-touchy, oh-so-important issue that I feel I have to get just right. Despite multiple re-writes and lots of hours, it’s not, yet, just right.

But its beginning, the only part of the piece to stay constant through all my re-writes, is illuminated, I think, by Krista’s words. (To clarify, her words are above. The following are my own.)

Not long ago, my three-year-old son pointed out to me that he and his brother, and me, and his father, all have “the same kind of skin.” We have light skin, he said. The implication being that there are people with skin that is other than ours.

His observation unsettled me a little. Is he so old, already, to be noticing such things?

A moment later, I was pacified by the recollection of reading recently (where did I read it?) that children start noticing race at the age of three. And I gave what I believe to be the appropriate response to his question: “Yes, in our family we all have light skin. Other people have different colors of skin, don’t they? It doesn’t matter, though. People are people. Sometimes our skin just looks a little different.”

Now, I don’t begrudge my son his curiosity or his interest in making observations. I wasn’t unsettled because his brain has registered a range of pigmentation. I was unsettled because with his observation, he’s on the cusp of inheriting the persistent, uncomfortable, even insidious burden of race.

The thought gives me a sinking feeling.

From my perspective – my white, middle-class, somewhat-southern, raised-in-a-diverse-community, now-living-in-a-decidedly-not-diverse-community perspective – I think race continues to divide and define our society more than we’d like to admit.

And I hate that. I hate the division. I hate the definition. I hate the not admitting. I hate that my boys’ background and skin color will place them in a camp that they bear no responsibility for constructing. I hate that the issue continues to hurt so many who likewise bear no responsibility for the camps they find themselves in. I hate that there’s no end in sight.

I know this is a gloomy little excerpt to be throwing in here, but at this point I don’t know when (if ever) I’ll take up the post again. Yet I thought this part of it was worth airing, especially if we’re already taking a moment to consider the world through the innocent, unworldly, unprejudiced, open mind of a child.

—5—

Neglect in Sarajevo

This is a fascinating series of photos of the abandoned sites of the 1984 Olympic Games in Sarajevo. It’s at once beautiful and sad and it gives me so much to reflect on.

Stripping away the historical context and the emotion that the context evokes, it’s just plain interesting to see how quickly nature takes back what was once its own. I live in the verdant Mid-Atlantic, where every patch of ground left untended for a short period of time will quickly turn to forest. The tiny backyard at our last, very suburban home, was evidence of that. Too many summers, occupied with graduate school (him), wedding planning (me), or new babies (both of us), we let (first his, then) our little patch of ground revert to its true jungle self. (Our poor neighbors!) Brennan always commented on how surprised his Minnesota family would be to see just how thickly and quickly our little forest grew. I always took secret comfort in it.

As I’ve mentioned before, my family has lived in this part of the country since the early 1600’s. In that span of time, of course, the changes made to the land have been nearly incalculable. Just in my own life, they’ve been obvious. In my grandparents’, they’ve been stunning. As I also mentioned in that post, I’ve mostly made peace with the fact that change happens and one can only control how one reacts to it. It’s better for me to see the good in the changes that have occurred, rather than resent them. But there remains a part of me that is grateful for the speed with which nature takes back its own. I am comforted by the fact that the land my family once worked is still there, hiding behind all the fancy new houses. If we humans were to step aside from it for a while, nature would quietly reassert itself.

Of course, there’s also a very human context to the Sarajevo photos, and that’s much more sobering to ponder. Less than ten years after the 1984 Olympic Games, the city that had been the center of the world’s attention for reasons of sporting excellence and international cooperation went on to capture the world’s attention for reasons far, far worse. From 1992 to 1996, Sarajevo suffered the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare. Some 9,500-14,000 people were killed.

I can’t help but look at those pictures of encroaching trees, crumbling concrete, draping vines, and quiet little nooks of moss and think of the human cost that enabled them.

—6—

Unrest Today

Today, of course, there are other Sarajevos – cities and towns and countryside in places like Syria, the Central African Republic, Ukraine, Venezuela – where conflict is destroying lives and damaging families and communities. Let us keep the people of such places in prayer.

—7—

Spring Comes

I can’t go out on those sad notes. Right now the sun is emerging from the clouds (literally – I’m not trying to be poetic or anything) and the ice is melting. This morning a strange, haunting mist rose off the snow, filling the area with a fog that looked like smoke rising from fields and hollows. Yesterday morning everything was white; this afternoon we see grass and ivy and dirt. Soon, I know (I hope?) we’ll see green shoots making their way up. I am so ready for spring this year. (As I imagine most people in the eastern half of the country are!) We might not be there just yet, but Spring is coming. It is.

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Thanks, as always, to Jen for hosting 7 Quick Takes Friday. Stop on over to see the rest!

How We Met

Grace of Camp Patton has been telling the story of how she met her husband and decided to turn it into a little “how we met” link-up. (So go check them out!) I have entirely too little time to be doing this right now, but…

Today is my wedding anniversary, and I did post this little piece yesterday in honor of my husband, and (it being just past midnight) I have just been drinking this glass of wine, and my husband did walk in with these lovely roses a few hours ago…

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So, all the stars seem to be aligned. I can’t resist. Now is the time for me to write about how Brennan and I met. (In a quickish amount of time, hopefully.)

To put it most simply (and I already mentioned this in my earlier piece), we met on eHarmony. Brennan and I had both been single for quite a long time. He (as always) was very pragmatic in his decision to join – it was just no big deal. I, on the other hand, had anguished over whether to try eHarmony or something like it. I just couldn’t imagine having to tell my family that I’d met someone online. The horror.

Eventually, though, I got over myself and decided to give it a shot. (To give credit where it’s due, I only got over myself when a friend of mine, someone whom I admired, became engaged to a really wonderful man she’d met on eHarmony. Kathleen, I’m looking at you. Thank you.)

By this time, I was in my late twenties and I had almost always been single. I’d had a couple of very quick, not very meaningful relationships looong before and another that went on (and off) for a couple of years, but was like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. More recently, I’d had a couple of guy friends who were maybe-more-than-friends (maybe?) but nothing ever seemed to progress. So I didn’t exactly have high hopes for this internet thing.

But, whaddy’a know? In the slew of guys I was matched with when I opened my account, there was this one who mentioned something about bees. Everybody else was saying how they liked to keep in shape or hang out with friends – one guy even went on and on about how much he loved his iPhone. But the bees… I was intrigued. We progressed through the million-and-one eHarmony steps (me waiting with baited breath each morning to see the response that would be waiting), until we finally spoke on the phone. And he was so nice and talking to him was so easy… it wasn’t long before we set our first date.

Brennan and I decided on the county fair – a fun place to walk around and see some sights; public enough for me to run away if I needed to. (I can be quite practical too, you know.) I did warn him, though: “The fair would be fun, but we’re liable to run into some of my family there. If you have a problem with that, we can go somewhere else.” But he didn’t – not at all. And it’s a good thing, because we did indeed run into some of my family – my great-uncle, a couple of my aunts, a few of my cousins… I think we hit ten of them in all.

But Brennan was such a great sport about it! And we had so much to talk about. It was easy and comfortable… and I was so happy. He was too; later he told me that he knew that very evening that I was the one for him. (Blush.)

Within the next couple of weeks, we went out a few more times, including one impromptu and very cozy weeknight date at a coffeehouse concert in my little city. The next day Brennan left for a family wedding back in his home state of Minnesota. Oh, how I missed him. I was trying not to call and bug him, but when I found out that I had the opportunity to go to a big, fancy dinner through my work – and I could bring a date – I had to call to see if he wanted to join me. He did – no question. When we went to said big, fancy dinner a couple of weeks later, Brennan introduced himself to our fellow guests as my boyfriend. It was hard for me to hide my excitement.

I won’t go on in any more detail. The basics are that a year later, we were engaged. Nine months after that, we were married. Eleven months later, we had our first child. After another fifteen months, we had our second. The time has FLOWN.

And today – exactly four years since we were married and just shy of six years since our first date – I am still amazed by how quickly my life changed. In June of 2007 I was 28 years old, long single, and (though yes, I was still hoping and trying to meet “the one”) just starting to come to terms with the idea that I might never marry. By August, my future husband knew that I was “the one” for him. Soon after, I knew it too.

The whole thing happened so easily and naturally and comfortably. (I think I might have typed the words “easy” or “easily” 13 times so far in this post.) After years of angsting over the whole business of meeting my hypothetical future husband, all of a sudden everything just fell into place. Like it was no big deal. How. Amazing. And what a blessing.

So… that is my own story. But maybe I can be so bold as to suggest that it might hold a little glimmer of hope for some of the long-single ladies out there. I’m not going to tell you “Don’t worry; it will happen.” (Because I hated when people told me that: They didn’t know what the heck would or wouldn’t happen in my life.) But I will tell you that you just never know. Whatever your life ends up looking like later, it will most definitely be different from how it looks right now. You just never know; change could happen soon. And it could happen quickly.

Wedding Pic 10

A Love That Changes You

I have always loved children. I was one of those girls people call a “Little Mother.” The kind who sit in the shade under a tree with all the strollers, “helping” the babies and their mommies, despite all the fun-looking older kids running around playing tag.

Later I was a prolific babysitter, my weekends full of watching cousins and neighbors and my mom’s friends’ children. I loved all those little kids: the angels and the troublemakers, the lively ones and the meek. (Or rather, I loved almost all of them – we won’t talk about the spoiled 12-year-old who locked me out of her house.)

I especially loved my cousins, and later my nieces: The children whom I loved not because they were cute or sweet (though of course they all were), but truly for their own sake. They were born and with us and part of our family and I loved them. It’s as simple as that.

J holding K, 1992

So it’s not like I entered motherhood as a complete novice in the baby department. I felt prepared for the work involved in caring for a child and I was aware that there would be a tremendous emotional strain to deal with. I also knew that I would feel a love for my own child that would be different from any I had yet experienced.

But I wasn’t prepared for my infant son to teach me something about the whole of humanity. Or for him to give me a humbling, awe-filled glimpse into the heart of God.

B as newborn

So many nights, I sat in the rocker and nursed my baby boy. I studied his perfection: smooth, clear skin; long eyelashes; soft, round cheeks; creases at his wrists and thighs; dimples on his hands; wispy, fair hair; chest moving gently as he breathed his sweet breath; heart thump- thump- thumping in that reassuring way… I could go (and I have gone) on. At any rate, I can provide the images, but I can’t express the depth of the love I felt in those moments.

B Thanksgiving 2010

B outside 2011

The love which, of course, I continue to feel. We just celebrated my son’s third birthday. These days when I kiss my boy’s forehead, I think more on the funny and imaginative things he says; on his hugs for his brother; on his flushed, sweaty face and bright blue eyes when he runs around the playground; on the way he likes to kiss both of my cheeks, like the little French boy he isn’t. And the feeling is the same. Stronger, perhaps.

B summer 2012

A couple of years ago I sat in a different rocking chair, listening to a C-SPAN Booknotes interview with Iris Chang on her book The Rape of Nanking. I won’t describe the horror of the event on which the book is centered; I will only say that I was horrified. More than horrified: I felt a pain that seemed to go straight to my soul.

I sat there rocking my baby as I listened and I had this powerful image in my mind of all those other women who had rocked their babies – the babies who grew to become the victims and perpetrators of this most terrible of crimes. I thought of how I stroked my own son’s skin as I held him, how I smoothed his hair and absorbed the feeling of his weight against me. I treasured my son. I saw him for the precious, important being that he was – a human life and a child of God. Surely, those mothers must have felt the same about their babies. They must have known exactly how precious those lives were.

And yet some of those lives were treated with contempt. They were brushed aside, abused, degraded. I felt like screaming, “Didn’t you know how important those people were?!” Others were degraded by their own actions. Their mothers rocked innocent babies who grew to do grave evil. I can’t imagine that any mother would want such a future for her child.

So it goes on. I hear about atrocities and I think of mothers rocking their babies: The Holocaust, the Rwandan Genocide, the rampage in Afghanistan, the murders in Newtown. I think of the victims, but I think of the perpetrators too. I can’t hate them. I mourn for them and the damage they did to their souls. I mourn for their mothers’ sakes. I mourn even for Kermit Gosnell, who took those most unfortunate of babies: the ones whose mothers did not protect them, did not rock them, did not realize how very precious they were.

But I firmly believe that someone else knew exactly how precious those babies were. I believe that God valued and loved those babies from the moment they were conceived. All of them: those of Nanking, the Holocaust, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Newtown, Gosnell, and so many other tragedies. And us too. We may think that we live normal, unremarkable, run-of-the-mill lives, but I believe that God views each and every one of us as unique and infinitely precious.

When I remember rocking my babies and I ponder the intense, indescribable love I feel for them, I think to myself, “If I love my boys this much, how much more must God love me?” When the answer sinks in, when I get that small glimpse into the heart of God, it just about takes my breath away. I am full of awe and gratitude and a keen awareness of how little I deserve that love. But I also know that I don’t have to deserve it. My boys don’t have to do a thing to earn my love. And there’s nothing they could do to stop me loving them.

I think most mothers would say the same. Through all of history and across all the world, mothers love their babies. They hold them tight and rock them. They treasure them. In them they see individuality and worth and promise. And all the while, God looks over their shoulders. He gazes at each and every one of us with a parent’s love, but greater. He loves and values us when our own parents fail to, when other people make victims of us, and even when we damage our souls with acts of evil.

Feeling that love, letting it all sink in and settle around you as you rock your child on a quiet afternoon, that’s a love that changes you.

Ring Bearer

Three Years In

Three years ago this month, I was put on bedrest to wait out the last few weeks of my first pregnancy. One day I was at work, surrounded by boxes and stacks of papers that I needed to go through before the baby came, and the next I was making my third “oh, never mind” trip to Labor and Delivery, at which point my doctor said, “Enough. Get thee into bed.” (Or something like that.) At any rate, the experience was something of a shock to my system. I went, overnight, from life as a professional, (officially) working woman to a stay-at-home mother and homemaker.

And it was hard. Not that it was physically or even mentally hard at first – I mean, I was mostly laying low, swollen feet up and massive belly resting uncomfortably. But it was emotionally hard. In part because my exit came sooner than I expected: I felt guilty for leaving my successor with so many loose ends and I didn’t get to have that last day at work to walk through the office and say goodbye to the people and the place and know that that’s what I was doing – saying goodbye. The greater part of it, though, was coming to terms with the fact that my life was changing in a big way. I’d spent nearly a decade as an independent, professional woman. And suddenly I was facing a vastly different way of living my life.

I’m not saying that I had doubts about what I was doing – I didn’t at all. I had always, since I was a little girl, wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I enjoyed my work and I was very grateful to have had the experiences that came along with it, but I had always hoped to be able to choose full-time motherhood over a career someday. And here it was: that opportunity, that blessing! But it was still hard to transition to that new way of living my life. I don’t know about you, but any change is a little difficult for me to accept and a big, life-defining change (wonderful as it might be) is a lot difficult. Transitioning from being single to being engaged? Hard to wrap my mind around. Becoming a wife? Harder. Becoming a mother and spending so much time within the four walls of my house and not seeing lots of other people on a daily basis and being fully dependent on someone else’s paycheck and having a tiny person rely on me every single moment of my day? Way harder.

Two days oldOf course, once the baby arrived, my day-to-day life (not just the idea of my life changing) was challenging in much more tangible ways. Life with a newborn is a special kind of difficult. It’s beautiful and full of wonder, but it’s also demanding and stressful and exhausting. Yes, before you know it, that short but intense period passes and you settle into to your new normal. But with that first baby, at the beginning of my “job” as mother and homemaker, I felt lost.

Which really shouldn’t have been all that surprising. I’d felt lost when I began my (other) two jobs, too. My first (well, my first grown-up, real-deal job) was straight out of college. I was working for the federal government, in a field I didn’t know, with people who spoke what sounded like an alphabet soup of a language. (Let me tell you, those Feds know how to do acronyms.) My second job was working as a lobbyist, in an environment I understood, but advocating on issues that were unfamiliar to me. Both times, I felt like I’d been thrown into a lake and told to swim – on a day so foggy I had no clue which direction I should head in, let alone any concept of what the coastline looked like or even how big the lake was.

But, of course, I figured it out. Soon enough that coastline emerged from the fog and I had a frame of reference. I began to develop an understanding of the issues with which I was tasked, and then I was able to discern the direction I needed to go in. With both jobs, I found that there was something special about the three-year mark: that point at which things fall into place and you suddenly just get it. You understand your environment, you know your role within it, and you have the tools to do the work that needs to be done.

That’s where I am right now, in my third and most important of jobs: mother/homemaker. Now, don’t hate me for saying that I suddenly get motherhood. I’m not claiming that the job is easy or that I have it all figured out. I’m just saying that it’s really nice not to feel lost anymore. There are plenty of things I mess up or I’m lazy about or that just plain ol’ throw me for a loop. But on the whole, I do get it now. My “job” makes sense to me and (on most days) I’m confident that I can do it well.

So, yes, this month I’m three years in, and I love that.