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

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

So bear with me?

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

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

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

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—1—

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

Whew!

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

—2—

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

—3—

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

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

—4—

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

—5—

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

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

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

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

We homebodies are easily entertained.

—6—

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

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

—7—

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

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

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Baby Steps

Here I am after months of not writing, with too much to explain, too many ideas to number, too many things to catch you up on – and I have no idea where to start. So this will probably be a stumbling, disjointed post.

Baby steps.

I’ve been pondering how to jump back into blogging and the only thing that seems doable is for me to pop on here (with hopefully increasing regularity) with short, random thoughts. Like this one:

Back in December, I was waxing downright sentimental about a new “thing” in my life – a laptop. A brand-new laptop, one that wouldn’t be glitchy, one whose battery would hold a charge, one that wouldn’t shut off when you shifted its position, one that wasn’t so heavy and unwieldy it served more as desktop than laptop.

The month before, we’d bought me a newer, smaller, lighter, more versatile machine. And I was in computer heaven. Like, “La dee da, look at me: I’m a cute, modern lady with a cute, modern laptop. I love this thing and I will carry it around with me wherever I go. I will sit on the sofa with it because I can. I will tote it to the coffee shop because I can. I will carry it up to the bedroom because I… BANG.”

Foolish me dropped my beautiful new laptop.

It kind of limped on for a while, but now the thing issues a death siren every time I turn it on. So it sits in a drawer, waiting for me to get up the guts to see about getting it fixed. Because that’s how I go about my life: When I screw up, I shove whateveritis in a drawer and try not to think about it for a while. This is a very mature approach to life.

Ah, well… like I said, I’ve got too much to explain, too many ideas to number, too many things to catch you up on. And this sad new-computer story, written on my stupid old-computer, is but just one of them.

Baby steps.

But really, I have something so much better to tell you about. Something so much more important, so much more Catholic-mom-blog-ish:

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We’re expecting baby #5.

Unusually for me, I’ve waited quite a long time to make this pregnancy blog official. I’m already more than 20 weeks along. (More than half-way! That’s nuts!) We told our family at Easter, when I was, what, maybe 10 weeks? Then I took that pic and shared it on Facebook and Instagram around 14 weeks. But the neglected blog has remained neglected. Until now.

Baby steps.

Thanks be to God, all seems to be going well, pregnancy-wise. And THANKS be to God, I’m now feeling like a normal, functioning person again. My first-trimester-and-change was rough. (Maybe the roughest of all my pregnancies? It’s hard to gauge.) I’m just so relieved to be on the other side of it.

Anyway… due date! This little turkey is due on November 22, 2017 – just one day before Thanksgiving.

The kids are super excited – well, the ones who understand what’s going on are excited. Son #2, who is the most enthusiastically (read: aggressively) loving member of our family, promises that he’ll be a better brother to this baby than he is to his little sister. He’s been kissing my belly obsessively, saying ‘good morning’ and ‘good night’ to it, and the other day he told me, “I just can’t stop wuvin’ diss new baby!”

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Brennan and I are happy too. Happy and more relaxed than with my previous pregnancies, I think. Because when you’ve already had four? You kind of know how to deal with the pregnancy and new-baby things. Not that they don’t bring hardships! (See: morning sickness.) But pregnancy and infancy have long since ceased to be strange concepts around here, and that counts for a lot in my book.

Alright, I think that’s enough for my first little baby step back toward blogging. But I’ll be back soon! I’ve got a certain, always-interesting sonogram scheduled for Wednesday and you know what that means… (hopefully) we’ll have a gender reveal to share with you soon!

(In all seriousness, we’re well aware that the 20ish-week sono will tell us so much more about our baby than whether s/he’s a she or he. If you could spare a couple of prayers that baby proves to be healthy, we’d appreciate it.)

Thank you! May you all be well, as well.

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Talking About Hard Things (With Kids)

(Everyday Bravery, Day 4)

As I related on my other blog last month, my six-year-old son recently asked me about the Zika virus:

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.”

In reality, the conversation was a little longer than I made it out in my post. When he mentioned the babies that would be dying in their mommies’ tummies, I explained to him how Zika works. I told him that it impacts the brains of babies born to women with the virus, causing them to be too small. That the babies wouldn’t necessarily die from the illness, but that it would cause a lot of problems for them. I was as honest as I could be.

Because in our family, we talk about hard things with our kids.

We talk about death. We talk about life after death and about war and illness and guns and racism and bullying. We answer their questions as honestly as we can. We try to simplify these sometimes-complicated concepts so that our kids can begin to understand them.

Our boys know that all people – including them and us and other people they love – will die. We tell them that we hope it won’t happen for a long, long, long, long, long, long, LONG time, when we/they have become very, very old and have lived good, long lives – but that we just can’t know.

When they ask what happens to people when they die, I tell them that we hope they go to heaven. I say that we should try to be very, very good during our lives and to love Jesus very, very much – so much that when we die we go straight to heaven to be with Him. And I encourage them to pray for the dead: “Dear Lord, please help Grandpa Ed go to heaven to be with you.”

Our boys know that sometimes very sad things happen and that younger people – including children – die too. When we admonish them for dangerous behaviors, they routinely ask if they (or their siblings) could die from them. If they could, we tell them so. (The other day we caught one of them shaking the baby, so I brought up shaken baby syndrome.)

Sometimes I hate these conversations. I absolutely hated planting the horrible sadness of shaken baby syndrome in my kids’ minds. Sometimes I worry that we’ll make our children too fearful by talking about such things. (And I’m sure others will think we’re wrong to be so blunt.)

But so far, we haven’t made them too fearful. And so far, I think we’ve struck the right balance between honest information and loving tenderness.

We talk about hard things with our kids because we want our children to have their bearings. We want them to have a sense of the importance of it all, of consequences and underlying reasons. We want them to know that life here on earth is temporary, because you never know when that lesson will fly at them with ferocious sadness.

I listen to NPR almost all day long, in the car and in the kitchen, so my boys routinely hear snippets of war and shootings and unrest and disaster. (That’s how my son knew about the Zika virus.) Sometimes I turn it off if I think it’s gotten to be too much for them. But mostly, I welcome their questions about what they’re hearing and I try to help them process the information:

“Sometimes people become very angry with one another and they begin to fight. Sometimes people make mistakes. Sometimes people aren’t careful enough. Sometimes people don’t like other people because of how they look or what they believe about God. Sometimes the ground shakes. Sometimes big storms come.”

And then, “What do you do when you’re angry?” or “Do you sometimes make mistakes?” or “It’s all very, very sad. How about we pray for those people?”

We pray when something sad comes up on the news. We pray when we hear sirens. We pray when we learn that someone is hurt or ill or has died.

We talk about hard things. We try to help our children to understand them. We try to give them context. I do my best to plant the idea in my children’s minds that they have a role in it all – that they will encounter difficult things in life and that they will sometimes have opportunities to make them better. And that no matter how hopeless something seems, they can always pray.

I hope all of this – the talking about hard things, the honesty, the questions, the praying – I hope it encourages them to be brave.

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This post is the fourth 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.

 

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

I am about to do something stupid.

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

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Anyway!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. We snuggle our children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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You Won’t Hear Me Say I’m Done

The other night my mom stopped by with two of her girlfriends for a quick-ish visit.

Wait. Let me be clearer: These women didn’t simply stop by. No, they had driven an hour and a half for the express purpose of meeting my boys. Mom’s friends were in town from other parts of the country and amazingly, they’d decided that their visit just had to include this brand of mayhem:

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I could be wrong, but I think Mom’s (lovely, kind) friends are probably from smaller families, because they seemed equal parts delighted and exhausted by my boys’ lively, LOUD antics.

Either way, their reactions reminded me that most people in our society aren’t actually raising (soon-to-be) four children aged five and under. Huh. Imagine that. I’ve gotten so used to this madness that it’s easy for me to forget that some find it curious. (Also, I’m sufficiently immersed in the Catholic mom blog world that four seems like nothing in comparison to others’ six, eight, or ten.)

Then I go out in public with my three small boys and my not-so-small belly and I’m stared at and I remember: This intense, chaotic, busy, yes-I-have-my-hands-full life that I’m living? Most people are daunted by it, even if they’re kind enough to find it endearing. Most people I encounter have not, and would not choose it.

Sometimes I question whether I should have.

Sometimes I think of how much peace I would have in the middle of the day if I had just two children who were both in school full time. (Note that I said peace, not leisure – I’m well aware that running a household and a family makes for quite enough responsibilities to keep even the parents of smaller families perpetually well-occupied.)

Sometimes I see pictures of friends’ vacations and weekend camping trips and visits to museums and I pine for the freedom that one or two semi-reasonable, potty-trained children would give my family to enjoy the world around us.

Sometimes I hear other moms’ declarations that they couldn’t possibly handle any more than the two or three children they already have and I wonder whether I’m foolish to think that I can.

Sometimes I even post things like this on Facebook:

I’m making a real dinner tonight, which means I’ve had yet another opportunity to reflect on how OH MY GOSH THEY’RE DRIVING ME MAD I’M GOING TO LOSE MY FLIPPING MIND WHY DID GOD GIVE ME ALL BOYS? WHAT WAS I ON TO THINK I COULD HANDLE ALL THESE LITTLE KIDS AT ONCE?

But then.

Then I look at my boys’ sweet (or mischievous or even sobbing) faces and I thank God for my foolishness, for my lack of freedom and peace. I wonder how I could have ever lived without these infinitely precious little people in my life.

I thank Him for the experiences that lead me down this path to a larger-than-average family. And I look forward to where the path will take me.

Because as much work as it takes to raise a bunch of little kids, as much sleep and sanity as it costs you, the reward is mind-bogglingly huge.

Today, I get the love and snuggles and hilarious stories and charming questions. I get to witness my boys’ camaraderie. I get to watch my husband struggle to perch all three on his lap at once. I get to feel my boys’ jostling against my belly, vying to feel their baby sister move within it.

Tomorrow – many tomorrows from now, I hope to get so much more.

I hope to experience jolly, chaotic Christmases. I hope to never know which loved one will walk through the door next. I hope to have sons who will step forward to fix something around the house so their dad won’t have to. I hope my daughter and her sisters-in-law will bring each other meals when they have babies. I hope to have enough grandchildren running around this place to make my head spin.

I hope my children and grandchildren enjoy the security that I grew up with – the comfort of knowing that no matter what life brings, they will have plenty of people to love and care for them.

I am blessed to come from a very large, very close family. My mom’s family, in particular, includes her six siblings and their spouses, more than twenty grandchildren and (with only six of us having kids so far) another twenty some great-grandchildren. Plus, my family maintains close connections to many of my grandparents’ siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews (as well as great and great-great ones).

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All but four of us.

But beyond all the numbers, there is the love. There is the love that is expressed and the love that is shown in helpfulness and kindness and patience and laughter.

There is not perfection, but there is more food on the table than one family could possibly eat. There are jokes over late-night card games and extra hands when a new baby is born. There is medical advice from the nurses, real estate tips from the realtor, construction and renovation and decorating expertise from the family members in those fields.

There is the knowledge that should tragedy strike and someone be left without the one(s) he loves best, there are dozens prepared to stand there beside him.

I know that my extended family’s closeness is unusual in this day and age and I know that my husband and I have no guarantee that our own one-day family will echo it. But I’m hopeful that if we raise our children with as much love as my grandparents and parents did with theirs, then maybe we’ll have a pretty good shot.

So that’s what I look forward to. That’s what I hope to build. That’s what consoles me on the days when they’re pulling at my clothes and I’m pulling out my hair.

And that’s why you won’t hear me declaring that I’m done – that no way, no how could I handle another child.

Because as long as these days may be, these years – these years of exhaustion and NOISE and limitless responsibilities – I know that one day they’ll seem short. And that when they’re through, my husband and I will be left with the fruit of all our work: our people.

Our people.

No matter how many they number, I know that each and every one will seem infinitely precious to us. I’m sure I’ll wonder how I could have ever lived without them.

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If you liked this post, here are some more you might want to check out:

Wonderful Because They’re Them: Thoughts on Mothering All Boys
Here’s to Another Fifty-Four
Another to Love
The Unremarkable Worth Remembering
Honesty From a Fed-up Mommy
What Matters to Him

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These Walls - You Won't Hear Me Say I'm Done

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It’s so hard to be four years old.

It’s exhausting to feel all of the emotions, with all of the intensity that could possibly be mustered, only to have your mother banish you to the dining room until you can pull yourself together.

It’s frustrating to possess the creativity to build a replica of Elsa’s ice castle out of wooden blocks, but not the fine motor skills to prevent you from knocking it over.

It’s maddening to want so badly to help your father move a refrigerator, but, in his estimation, to be too small and fragile (and wiggly?) to be trusted with the task.

But tonight, mostly it’s tragic to have suffered the indignity of standing on your tippy-tippy toes to tuck the hand towel back onto its ring, only to lose your balance…

and reach down to catch yourself…

to find that you didn’t put the toilet lid back down.

SPLASH!

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It’s so hard to be four.

~~~

I know it’s been quiet around here lately. I have lots on my mind, lots I’d like to write, but last week my mother-in-law (who lives with us) underwent a knee replacement surgery. We have family in town to help with her recovery and we’re trying to help in our own ways too. Hopefully soon we’ll all get back to something approaching normal. If you would be so kind, we’d appreciate your prayers that Hilde heals well and gains mobility quickly. Thank you!

Sometimes Mommy Wars Are Worth Fighting: Let’s Have a Healthy Debate About Vaccines

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Vaccines.

There, I said it: vaccines, vaccines, vaccines.

I feel like the topic of childhood vaccinations has become something that people either GET REALLY, VERY ANGRY ABOUT or avoid altogether. I tend toward the latter. I’m 100% uninterested in online shouting matches, so I steer clear of anything that seems to be devolving into one.

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But I do have my (pro-vaccine) opinions on the matter and I am rather fond of sharing my opinions generally (hence the blog), so every once in a while I jump in when the jumping seems good.

A couple of days ago, I spotted just such an opportunity: a conversation was brewing in response to a Facebook friend’s post. I thought I’d answer another person’s comment with a little something calm and polite before the thread got too hot.

The commenter and I went back and forth a bit. We remained respectful. There were no fireworks. Still, she seemed a little hurt, a little defensive. She seemed to want affirmation. More than anything, she seemed to want people to be okay with her position.

I see that a lot on this topic. I don’t see many anti-vaxxers trying to convince the rest of us that they’re right. (Though maybe that’s just the crowd I run in.) I see them trying to convince us that their decision to not vaccinate should be just as acceptable as our decision to vaccinate.

In response to them, I generally see the combative pro-vaxxers SHOUT REALLY, VERY ANGRY THINGS and the peaceful pro-vaxxers come dangerously close (or completely buy in) to the “everything-is-equal” mentality. You know: We all need to make the decisions that are right for us. That kind of thing.

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Last week I was one of the many thousands of women, I’m sure, who laughed and then cried at Similac’s Mother ‘Hood video. In it, different parenting factions bump up against each other at a playground: the crunchy moms, the working moms, the babywearers, the breastfeeders, the bottle feeders, etc. They’re each convinced of their own superiority and they’re itching for a fight.

Until a stroller starts rolling down a hill.

Right on cue, all the parents rush to the stroller. They stop it in time, the baby is shown to be safe, and everyone is relieved. “No matter our beliefs, we’re parents first,” the ad says.

It’s incredibly touching; I whimper like a baby every time I see it.

But we’re just shown the two extremes. We parents seem to be expected to fit into one of two molds: Mommy War Combatants or Enlightened Pacifists.

What about the middle?

What about not seeing every disagreement as a FIGHT, but also not letting ourselves fall into the intellectually lazy, PC trap that is “let’s agree to disagree”?

What about having the courage to defend our beliefs and the openness to listen to others’ opinions? What about honoring the love that parents have for their children but recognizing that sometimes people make poor choices? What about distinguishing between parenting practices that are matters of taste and those that are matters of safety?

What about accepting that, as valid as our disagreements might be, sometimes they’re worth airing and sometimes they’re not?

Personally, I’m a stay-at-home, from-scratch cooking, no-organic buying, bottle feeding, stroller pushing and Ergo-wearing, time-out using, sometimes-yelling mom. But I’m not about to say a thing to convince crunchy, breastfeeding, exclusive baby-wearing, peaceful parenting moms that they’re wrong. I may disagree with elements of their parenting styles, but I concede that these are matters of taste. What works for me and my family will not be what works for another woman and her family.

Vaccines, though, are not a matter of taste; they are a matter of safety.

It’s blessedly easy for us to forget these days, but for most of human history, it was terribly dangerous to be a child. If you survived childbirth, you had to withstand round after round of disease (not to mention dangers related to hygiene and malnutrition). And if you survived the diseases, you had to withstand whatever effects they left on you. You might be left scarred or crippled or disabled in some other way.

Just walk around any old cemetery and take a look at the headstones – you’ll get a sense of how many children lost their lives too soon.

Thank goodness, these days most of us don’t have to think much about the possibility of losing a child. A major reason for this is childhood vaccinations. They’ve been keeping us safe for generations, in some cases bringing diseases close to the point of eradication. Or, in the case of smallpox, even getting to that point.

Until other diseases get there too, we’ve simply got to keep vaccinating.

We’ve each got to do our own part, as small as it may seem, to stop the spread of disease. When I get my child vaccinated, I not only protect him, but I protect those he comes in contact with. I protect those they come in contact with. And so on.

Some will rely on my protection (and that of others) because for medical reasons they are ineligible to be vaccinated (infants, those with compromised immune systems, those with allergies to vaccine components).

Others may not seem to need my protection because they’ve been vaccinated too. But nothing in this world is perfect. Though vaccines work the vast majority of the time, sometimes immune systems don’t respond as you would hope. Sometimes vaccinated people have to rely on that beautifully-termed “herd immunity” for protection, just as infants and otherwise medically-ineligible individuals have to.

That’s why, when I make the decision to vaccinate my child, I don’t just make the decision for my own family. I make it for yours too.

And – whether you’re thinking of us or not – when you make your decision regarding vaccination for your family, you do so for mine as well.

Please decide to protect us.

I have a 9-month-old baby, not yet old enough to have been vaccinated against the measles. Please decide to protect him.

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Combative pro-vaxxers: Please stop yelling. Please stop calling people names. Please stop questioning motives. Please try not to be so angry.

I know you care about this issue and you want anti-vaxxers to come to see it from your point of view, but anger rarely convinces anyone of anything. If you care enough to weigh in on an issue, you should care enough to try to be persuasive. So, persuade.

Calm down. Think about the issue from your opponents’ viewpoints and do your best to figure out how to make your points in ways that will resonate with them. Go forth and try to make a difference.

Peaceful pro-vaxxers: Please think for a moment about why you vaccinate your own children. If you’re convinced that vaccinations are necessary to keep them safe, then wouldn’t they also be necessary to keep other families’ children safe?

Please consider that maybe issues of safety are worth having a firm opinion on, even worth weighing in on – uncomfortable though they may be. I know you don’t want to hurt others’ feelings. So, don’t be hurtful.

Be brave. Think about the issue from your opponents’ viewpoints and do your best to figure out how to make your points in ways that will resonate with them. Go forth and try to make a difference.

Anti-vaxxers: Please think for a moment about why you don’t vaccinate your own children. If you’re convinced that vaccinations would be harmful to them, then wouldn’t they also be harmful to other families’ children?

If you feel confident in your decision to not vaccinate, then you should want to convince other parents to follow your example. If you feel confident in your decision to not vaccinate, then you should be able to defend your decision. Explain your rationale. Provide your evidence. Own it.

Do not seek affirmation for its own sake. Earn it by convincing others that your side is the right one.

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This is an important issue. Precious little lives are at stake. Let’s do right by our discussion of it.

Let’s fight the good fight – one conducted fairly, one for a worthy cause. Let’s remember that refusing to fight fairly is a mark of doubting your own position. And that refusing to enter the fray can be a mark of doubting its importance.

I Couldn’t Help But Cry

… this morning, when I heard this report:

Six heavily armed gunmen stormed a military school in Peshawar, Pakistan killing more than 130 people, mostly teenagers, and many the children of military officers. Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the deadly attack, possibly in retaliation for Pakistan’s military operations against it. The death toll makes this attack one of the worst in the region in decades and is a grim reminder of the ongoing political turmoil.

All those children, all those families. It’s overwhelming to think on what they must be going through right now.

Loving, of course, makes us vulnerable. And loving our children makes that vulnerability seem infinite. It’s hard to imagine a greater pain – a pain that will go on and on, perhaps overtaking us – than losing a child. To lose someone who is (in the case of a biological child) literally, physically part of you, to lose someone (in the case of any child, no matter how he or she came to be yours) into whom you have poured so much work and love, and in whom you have seen such beauty and promise… the magnitude of such a loss is difficult to comprehend.

Which is why the Taliban chose such a target. It’s why bitter, angry, attention-seeking, sometimes ill people choose, over and over again, to attack schools: They house the treasures we hold most dear – the treasures our minds and hearts go wild at the prospect of losing.

My own heart had a small scare last week as I sat in my eight-month-old’s room, listening to him wheeze, watching his torso heave as he struggled to breathe. But my fear was short-lived. Soon we were in the hospital where he was monitored and cared for; the assistance he needed was within easy reach and I was pacified. I felt badly for the discomfort he felt, but my fear was gone.

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Fear rears up, though, from time to time. I love. I’m vulnerable. I fear when my children gag on their food. (They gag all the time.) I fear when I see them ride away in someone else’s car. I fear when I call for them in the back yard and they take too long to respond. Soon enough, I’ll fear when I send them off to school – real school, all-day school. I’ll fear when they’re the ones driving the cars, when they begin to claim their independence from us, when they leave home altogether.

It’s horrible, all that fear. It’s also enticing in a perverse sort of way. If I let myself, I could roll around in it, enfold myself in it. It would be in my nature: I remember convincing myself as a child, time and again, that something horrible would happen to my parents and they’d be taken from me. The fear was quick to take over. It was hard to see through.

Now, with a little more perspective, I’ve come to realize how difficult it can be to enjoy something you’re too afraid of losing. (And I’ve come to see how hard it can be to enjoy life while focusing on all that can be taken from it.)

So I try, these days, not to let the fears rule me. (I’m fortunate that I’m in a good position to do so, of course – my children are healthy and we live in a safe, stable part of the world.) I try to remember that fearing someone’s loss is a symptom of truly loving them. So there’s some beauty in the fear. It’s horrible and beautiful, all at once.

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My friend Mary is currently losing her daughter Courtney. My friend Amanda continues, rightly, to mourn the stillbirth of her precious daughter Brianna, even as she has welcomed Brianna’s younger sister and brother into this world. My family remembers our little Leah, whom my aunt and uncle lost far too soon. I can’t begin to count the number of women I know who have suffered the loss of their babies through miscarriage.

Given the events in Peshawar, I can’t help but turn my mind today towards those who have lost their children. Those friends and family of mine, those parents of Peshawar, those of Sandy Hook and Beslan and Columbine, those of Syria, Iraq, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, those whose children have been taken by violence and disease.

All that grief, all that fear – the wild, the heavy, the sharp, the lingering kinds. They swirl in my mind today, they squeeze my heart.

Lord, be with these families. Bless them. Bring them your comfort.