On Turning 40

Last month I turned 40. I can’t really say that I ever thought on that age with dread, but it does seem strange to have reached it. Can I be at that point already? Did my thirties fly by so quickly? Am I really twice the age I was when I walked that college campus, just beginning to get to know adulthood?

I wonder if the age of my children makes the whole thing seem more incongruous to me. I didn’t meet my husband until my late twenties and we didn’t marry until our early thirties, so I reached 40 with an oldest child of eight years and a youngest of one. When my mother turned 40, her children were 17 and 15.

Yes, 40 feels strange. But it’s not unwelcome. It’s even kind of exciting.

Lately I’ve been thinking on the arc of my life and looking back to how I felt on the cusp of my twenties and thirties.

At twenty, I didn’t have any idea what lay ahead. Where would I live? What would I do for work? Would I marry? Travel? Have children? Twenty was thrilling and terrifying.

Photo of Julie in college

(College photo shamelessly stolen from a friend. I’m in the white.)

My twenties, thankfully, ended up being quite good. I did interesting, fulfilling work. I traveled to seven countries and twenty states. I lived in fun, walkable, urban areas with coffee shops and ethnic restaurants a-plenty. But the decade was also hard. Oh, was I lonely. I spent those supposedly “best time of your life” twenties pining for a husband and children. I couldn’t enjoy where I was because I was worried I’d be stuck there forever.

Then lo and behold, at thirty I married the husband. Which was also thrilling and terrifying. What would marriage be like? Would we be happy? Could we have children? Where would we settle?

Wedding photo

That decade, too, turned out to be good. I welcomed healthy, happy children. We bought a big, beautiful Victorian. I stayed home and kept house and cooked from scratch. But my thirties were also hard. Wonderful and beautiful and hard. Three months into them I married and two months after that I became pregnant with our first child. Thus began a decade of morning sickness and sleepless nights, of frayed nerves and aching joints. A decade of change and acclimation and learning to put others’ needs before my own. Indeed, a decade of learning that my life is bigger than me.

And oh, was I down. I spent my “don’t blink or you’ll miss it” thirties pining for freedom, for quiet, for physical autonomy. I couldn’t enjoy where I was because I was worried I’d be stuck there forever.

It’s only in the past year, as I’ve nudged up against 40, that my vision has cleared and my attitude has brightened. A whole series of small realizations have unburdened me of baggage I didn’t even know I was carrying. And I’m finally feeling the gratitude that my mind has acknowledged all along.

I am so privileged. I was born into a wonderful family and I am raising a (new) wonderful family with a wonderful man. I have had a string of beautiful, life-giving experiences and I have had opportunities and successes that I did not deserve.

And yet for years, I’ve focused more on what I did not have than what I did.

I know how obnoxious that sounds. I apologize for being that person. I am sorry for my gloom, for my pining, for wasting chances to be, and to do, good.

At this point all I can do is thank the good Lord that something has shifted within me, and move forward.

Forty is not thrilling and terrifying. It’s a sort of hopeful-joyful excitement. At forty, I know what my adult life looks like. I know that it’s centered on a family of five noisy, inquisitive, passionate kids and a blessedly patient husband. I know that it involves an exhausting, never-ending amount of work, but that it also comes with the most precious of rewards.

Photo of Julie's children

I know that my quiet moments are becoming less rare and more fruitful, and I’m hopeful that in my forties I can forge the divide that defined my previous two decades. In one I focused on career and longed for family, in the other I focused on family and longed for career. This decade will undoubtedly bring its own challenges. (You never know what life has in store for you!) But I am hopeful that this will be a decade without pining — one in which gratitude is keenly felt, and one in which I can be both wife and mother and… something else. What else exactly? I don’t know. But I’m excited to figure it out.

Photo of Julie

Title image

Against Assisted Suicide

Last week, after a long and emotional floor debate, the Maryland House of Delegates passed a bill that would legalize assisted suicide in the State. Today, the Senate committee considering the bill could vote to advance it to the full Senate.

This means that we Marylanders could be just a few steps away from living in a society that enables terminally ill patients to end their own lives.

What does the bill do?

According to the Maryland Catholic Conference, the bill “would allow terminally ill patients to be prescribed a lethal dose of a controlled dangerous substance, which they would then pick-up at their local pharmacy and ingest without medical supervision to end their life.”

The Conference goes on to argue that “This bill, in addition to having no regard for the worth and dignity of every human life, establishes suicide as a societal norm, places large quantities of Schedule II prescription drugs into our communities with no measures in place for take-back or disposal, and leaves those suffering from mental illness, persons with developmental and intellectual disabilities, and our elderly at risk of coercion and undue influence by family members or caregivers.”

Where might this lead?

Advocates of assisted suicide focus on a narrow and short-sighted solution to what is a worthy goal: relieving the suffering of terminally ill individuals. In pursuing their solution, they dismiss concerns about the grave and lasting damage it could do to our society in the long run.

Here’s where this bill might one day lead:

  • To a health insurance industry that has little patience for efforts aimed at extending the lives or improving the experiences of patients who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses.
  • To a medical culture that encourages terminally ill people to end their lives, just as it already encourages the parents of unborn children with illnesses or deformities to abort.
  • To a society that is bolder in its utilitarianism – valuing individuals not for their own sake, but according to what they can do for the rest of us.
  • To a culture that encourages ill and old people to end their lives, that views those who want to live on in their suffering as selfish – as takers of resources, as wanting to drag their families along with them in their suffering.
  • To the expansion of assisted suicide laws, enabling minors and those with mental illnesses, even depression, to end their lives. (Indeed, this has already come to pass in some European countries.)

What impact might it have on families?

My grandmother died in September.

She was 95, a fiercely independent and stubborn lady who lived on her own until the last two weeks of her life. She died of an infection that her body was too frail to fight, so thankfully, she did not suffer long.

But she did suffer. And our family watched, suffering with her.

Some forty hours before she died, I sat by my Mom-mom’s bed, surrounded by over a dozen family members, and I watched her breathe.

In and out, in and out, slowly, haltingly – she labored to breathe. I watched her dry lips, her closed eyes, her skin that seemed to stretch ever tighter over her fragile, precious bones. I watched each breath, wondering if it would be her last.

I watched each breath, wanting and not wanting it to be her last.

In the months since my grandmother’s death, I have felt regret and gratitude in almost equal measure. There is so much to unpack. How we lived, how she died. What went unsaid, what went undone. All the love that was poured out and spread around.

But in the wake of last week’s vote in the House of Delegates, I have found something new to be grateful for: that while my grandmother was dying and our family was dealing with her decline, we were in a place and time and situation where assisted suicide was not an option.

What a luxury. What a gift.

I am so grateful that we got to deal with my grandmother’s illness and death without wrangling over the question of whether she wanted to end her life, or whether loved ones wanted her to put a stop to her suffering, or whether doctors thought that the most prudent course. We were so lucky to not have those questions hanging over our heads.

Discussion around assisted suicide primarily focuses on the physical suffering of terminally ill individuals. But I fear that in reality, it will have a much broader impact on the emotional and spiritual suffering of entire families.

I fear that, if passed, this legislation will lead to suffering that won’t end with the death of the sick person. I fear that it will cause suffering that lives on in families, trickling down through generations.

If families can be divided by property disputes and ill-chosen words, imagine the damage that will result from disagreements over how and when a beloved family member should die.

Imagine the anguish of children who don’t want to see their mom end her own life. Or the anguish of a mother who wonders if it’s time to stop being a burden to her children. Or the anguish of a family in which some desperately want dad to hang on and others think it’s time for him to be done.

What can we control?

Besides that (worthy) goal of alleviating suffering, advocates of assisted suicide aim for another goal: control. They want terminally ill patients to be able to control their own end.

But there’s another element of control that must be considered when it comes to assisted suicide – control over the thing itself.

Supporters of the legislation will say that it includes sufficient safeguards, that the choice to end one’s life will belong to the patient alone – not her doctors, not her insurers, not her family.

But there’s only so much they can control.

They can’t control what kind of pressures patients will experience. They can’t distinguish between overt coercion and the low-grade kind that builds up over time.

They can’t control the shift of societal opinion towards death as duty. They can’t control how the medical and insurance industries will react, and even use, that shift to their own ends.

And they can’t control what kind of impact assisted suicide – even the option of assisted suicide – will have on families. If for no other reason than this, let’s encourage the Maryland Senate to set aside this legislation.

Let’s allow families dealing with the grave illness of a loved one to handle their situation without the burden of struggling with another, perhaps longer-lasting, kind of pain.

 

If you are a resident of Maryland who would like to register opposition to this legislation, please visit the website of the Maryland Catholic Conference.

Against Assisted Suicide

The Lonely Way (or Why I’m not on your side)

Wednesday morning I was listening to the 1A’s discussion on the book The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics when one of its authors made a comment about Trump supporters that stood out to me:

People wanted to be part of something bigger than themselves.

I’ve thought a lot on this “something bigger” idea over the years. I’ve always found it interesting that people become so absorbed with groups they’re part of. Just look at fans of sports teams, or proud university alumni, or my fellow Marylanders who wear socks, shorts, and even bikinis emblazoned with the Maryland flag. I guess it’s natural for people to want to feel like they’re part of a group, but sometimes I think that ‘belonging’ takes on an outsized importance.

We want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Who knows – maybe it’s some sort of tribal instinct in us.

There’s nothing inherently wrong about this. We’re a social species; it’s natural for us to want to come together. But there’s nothing inherently good about it, either. Just as this longing to be part of a group can lead us to the good of forming, say, service-focused organizations, so can it lead to the ill of cliques and exclusion and even active hatred toward those who aren’t like us.

Sometimes we need to say no to the groups available to us. (Think of the KKK in its heyday in the 1920’s.) Sometimes we’re better off alone. Better to be by yourself, upright and ethical, than to be surrounded by company that leads you astray.

This kind of talk, of course, is more applicable to political groups than it is to people who wear Maryland bikinis. And it’s in this context that I’ve done most of my thinking on the subject.

I have this rose-tinged memory of my grandparents’ dining room when I was eight or nine years old: The grown-ups were talking politics and I was tossing little snippets into their conversation that made them chuckle. It was a wonderful feeling: a mixture of security and confidence and pride – a sense of belonging.

My family was politically engaged; my grandfather was a farmer and a county councilman, and through farming and/or politics, he knew many of the players in our small state. My aunts and uncles participated in his campaigns and others’. And we were stalwart Republicans, which put us in the minority in very liberal Maryland. We were used to feeling maligned or ignored.

I think that the two combined – the engagement and the knowledge that we were in the minority – produced a strong attachment to the Republican Party in my family. At least it did for me. And the attachment felt good. It feels good to belong. It feels good to be proud of those you’re politically affiliated with. It feels good to be planted firmly on the “right side” of something.

Only now, I find myself almost completely stripped of that attachment.

It’s not that my political views have changed so much (though some have) – it’s that the Republican Party has become something I hardly recognize. Where once I saw a party that prized hard work, fairness, opportunity, fiscal responsibility, and a robust role for America on the world stage, I now see a muddle of protectionism, isolationism, exclusion, and conspiracy-mongering.

The Republican Party I grew up with preached hope; today’s version peddles fear.

After the 2016 presidential election, I saw plenty of Democrats answer this degradation of Republican ideals with the demand that people “join the Resistance!” Meaning, essentially, the Democratic party. Or at least a wing of it. I guess it seemed only natural to Democrats that those disenchanted with the Republican Party would want to join theirs. Nevermind any serious policy disagreements. Nevermind moral judgments that stand in opposition to one another. The calculation was too simple: If Team Trump (or Team Republican) is bad, then you’d better join Team Democrat.

But of course, there’s no rule stating that only one side at a time can be bad. And there’s plenty for conservative-minded me to dislike about the Democratic Party.

And so I find myself alone.

For a while, I hoped for a third way. I looked for those independent-minded Republicans who spoke out against Trump. I looked for a leader, a movement that I could get behind. Man, it would feel good to be part of something again.

But I don’t see such a thing emerging anytime soon. And so I’ll take the lonely way – the way that refuses to choose sides when the sides aren’t worth choosing.

To be clear, I’m not really talking about party affiliation here. (I’m still a registered Republican because I don’t want to give up my right to vote in primaries.) I’m talking about something more important than that: the multitude of small, everyday decisions we make about where we’ll put our loyalty.

We can choose, as so many do today, to put our loyalty behind our party and its politicians. (Think of all the Trump voters who are deciding on candidates based on how willing they are to pledge their support to the President.) We can choose to believe the truth of news outlets that support our way of thinking and the lies of those that don’t. We can stick up for our side come hell or high water.

Or, we can choose to put our loyalty behind our values. We can detach ourselves from the pull of party, freeing us to consider each candidate, each question, each development as it comes.

That’s the lonely way. And my choice of it — that’s why I’m not on your side.

TW - The Lonely Way

To listen to an audio recording of this post (complete with baby noises and microwave beeps), click here:

A New(ish) Addition

Happy New Year! It’s been forever and I have a long-overdue update for you, and it’s the best kind:

The baby’s here.

She’s been here for some time, actually – Baby Girl was two months old yesterday! I wasn’t blogging when children numbers one and two were born, but I think it took me one day to blog a birth announcement for my third child and about two weeks to blog child number four’s birth. If we ever have another, I expect I’ll tell you about it around the kid’s first birthday.

Anyway! Here we go: On Tuesday, November 21 Brennan and I welcomed baby #5 and girl #2, our biggest newborn (9 pounds, 9 ounces!), who was delivered after my longest labor (15 hours).

Introducing: Ilsa Genevieve Walsh.

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 1

Yes, that’s “Ilsa,” like “Elsa” but with an “I”. Poor kid – we’re always going to have to be clarifying that.

Because I rarely name them on the blog and because I’d like to demonstrate how (I think) Baby Ilsa’s name rounds out the others’ so nicely, here’s a full list of our crew:

  1. John Breckenridge – Called “Breck,” he’s named for my great-uncle and great-great-uncle, both of whom were John Breckenridge and called Breck.
  2. Anthony Jude – He’s named for Brennan’s late father, but we preferred his middle name, so our boy goes by Jude.
  3. Isaac Charles – He’s Isaac because we liked it, Charles for my grandfather. He’s our first child to actually go by his first name.
  4. Josephine Marie – Called “Josie,” she’s Josephine for my great-grandmother, Marie for my mother and myself. (For our middle names, that is.)
  5. Ilsa Genevieve – She’s Ilsa because we liked it, Genevieve for Brennan’s grandmother.

In all, we are now Brennan, Julie, Breck, Jude, Isaac, Josie, and Ilsa. B-J-B-J-I-J-I (I am a person who likes lists, and I like that list in particular.)

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 17

I think I’m glad that we’ve hit the two-month mark. While part of me is a little sad that my baby’s gotten so big (I think she’s around 12 pounds now?) so fast, most of me is relieved to have gotten through the newborn haze. I always feel a little more ‘with it’ once we’ve gotten to two months. That’s when things seem a little more normal, a little more doable to me.

My recovery this time was pretty good, I guess. At least it wasn’t very painful; the most bothersome thing was just an extended period (two to three weeks?) of feeling weak and woozy. I always forget how long that can last.

I wasn’t thrilled with how the birth went, though. Like all the others, I was induced. But unlike the others, this time it took what felt to me like foreeever. With each of the other four, I delivered within 7 to 8 hours of getting my Pitocin. This time it took twice that. It also took me longer to push with Ilsa than it took with the previous two. (Thanks, nurse who suggested I up my epidural dosage.)

Maybe because of the birthing situation, but probably mostly because of whatever weird things hormones do, I’ve had my longest-ever period of the Baby Blues this time. With two of my other babies it lasted about three weeks. With the other two I didn’t have it at all. This time I’ve just been very gradually improving for months. It’s been mild, but still – I’m ready to feel like myself again.

Everyone else is doing great. The kids absolutely love her. They coo at her and say how cute she is and clamor to hold her as often as we’ll let them. (Which hasn’t been as much as anyone would have liked. It’s hard to have a baby in cold and flu season!)

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 3

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 4

It’s hard for me to say what ‘kind’ of a baby she is. So far Ilsa is pretty easy during the day and difficult in the evening. Then she’ll sleep from midnight to three or five in the morning and I’ll nurse her in bed or in the rocker until it’s time to get up. If I were someone who loved co-sleeping this would be fine. But I’m not. I just don’t sleep well with a baby next to me; I seem to hold perfectly still for fear of hurting her, and then I wake with aches and pains from my efforts.

Oh, well! Do you want to see some more baby pictures?

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 5

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 6

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 7

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 8

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 9

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 10

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 12

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 12

 

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 11

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 13

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 14

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 15

These Walls - A Newish Addition - 16

Isn’t she lovely?

Welcome to our world, Ilsa Genevieve. We’re so glad you’re here. All the Baby Blues and aches and pains and evasive actions to protect you from your germy siblings are so totally worth it. We love you.

These Walls - A Newish Addition

Hope and Love (and the Same Old Pitfalls) in a New Season (7 Quick Takes, Vol. 45)

Goodness, it’s been too long. Again. As always. The prudent thing for me to do at this point in non-blogging would probably be to throw up my arms and walk away with a liiittle dignity. But I can’t give it up. I can shove it aside and starve it and neglect it, apparently, but I can’t give it up.

So, here you have me.

Since it’s been so long, I thought I’d do a little 7 Quick Takes to tell you how the 7 (seven?!) members of our family are faring these days. Beginning with…

—1—

Myself. Because I’m the blogger.

These Walls - 7QT45 - 1

(Would you believe that this, I think, is the first ‘baby bump’ photo I’ve taken this pregnancy? You may not be able to see the whole bump because of my hanger-on, but I think she adds a certain something to the picture.)

Looking at my calendar, I see that I’m now 35 weeks into this pregnancy. (Yes, I had to look at the calendar to figure that out.) Somehow, I’m feeling simultaneously comfortable/healthy/energetic and uncomfortable/unhealthy/fatigued. Part of it just depends on the day – some days I feel great and other days I am whooped. (My blood pressure has been really low this whole pregnancy and boy have I been feeling it.)

But I think a lot of it has to do with how I’m carrying this baby. She’s hanging out really low – almost entirely below my belly button. So on the one hand, I can breathe comfortably and (from my vantage, if not yours) I don’t even look that big. But on the other hand, I’m having some difficulty walking and sitting. It feels like she’s cozying right up into my hip bones. And like she might just decide to pop out at any moment.

My OB thinks that Baby’s positioning might mean that I’ll actually go into labor on my own this time. But I’m skeptical. I’ve needed Pitocin for every labor so far – even the one in which my water broke ten days early. I can hardly imagine what it would be like to experience labor without it.

Other than the pregnancy stuff, I’m fine, I guess? I’m currently feeling pretty overwhelmed about the (disgusting) state of my house, but I just don’t have the energy to get to most of it. At least not with my kids underfoot. There’s such an incredible difference between what I can accomplish alone vs. what I can do with them around me. Not just because of their (constant) needs, but also because I really struggle to focus on the tasks in front of me. I’ve found that if I put on my noise-cancelling headphones and listen to a good podcast, I can work happily and productively for a good long while. But while trying to monitor the kids, ‘focus’ is pretty much a lost cause.

Fortunately, I now have two little ones who will nap pretty much every afternoon while their brothers are at school. Would you believe that, seven years into parenthood, this is the first time I’ve experienced that wondrous, almost mythical afternoon break that is a reliable naptime? My first child was a terrible napper and my second gave it up early, and until now I’ve had at least one of them home every afternoon anyway. But with the two big boys at school, Mommy has some freedom in the afternoons. Woo-hoo! Something to celebrate!

For another month or so, that is – until we add a newborn into the mix.

So far I’ve been using naptimes to do housework or prep dinner or even take the occasional cat-nap, but I’d really like to see if I could claim at least some of it for writing. (I have so much on my mind! So much I’d like to chew on with you!) We’ll see. I’d like to promise that I will, but I feel like I’ve broken enough promises in this space.

—2—

On that cheery note, let’s move on to the baby!

These Walls - 7QT45 - 2

Not much to report here. Baby Girl’s pretty quiet for now. (I mean, obviously. But she’s also pretty quiet, activity-wise. I’m thinking she’ll have a more sedate personality. We shall see!)

She’s shaping up to be just as big at her arrival as her siblings were at theirs. At my 32-week sono they estimated her weight to be 5lbs, 3oz, which sets her up to weigh around 9 pounds at birth. Imagine that. Her big sibs were 8lbs, 10oz (4 days late), 8lbs 15oz (10 days early), 9lbs, 1oz (7 days early), and 9lbs even (4 days late). So I’d say that 9 pounds is a pretty good guess!

We still haven’t chosen a name for her, and as we’ve barely talked about it, I don’t see us coming up with one anytime soon. But that’s pretty typical for us. We don’t usually get very serious about our baby-naming discussions until a few weeks from delivery, when I’m so hormonal and weepy about it that Brennan takes pity on me. Then we whittle down our list to a couple of options and decide when we see the baby.

Okay, on from Baby Girl No Name to…

—3—

Baby Girl who shouldn’t really be called Baby Girl anymore!

These Walls - 7QT45 - 3

Can you believe this little one is now 20 months old? She’s a real toddler! And, toddler-like, she’s starting to express some opinions, exert some independence, sneak in some misdeeds, etc. Overall, though, she remains super sweet and easygoing, and we are completely in love with her.

It’s been really interesting to see how she’s coming along developmentally as compared to the boys. She’s been saying a decent number of words for months, and now she regularly uses little phrases and sentences. (She ends every meal by holding up her plate and saying, “I done, Mama!” At which point I promptly melt into a puddle of maternal mush.)

These Walls - 7QT45 - 4

She’s absolutely in love with babies and baby dolls, so I think she’s going to be preeetty happy here in about a month. We’re just going to have a big task ahead of us, keeping her eager little hands in check around her baby sister. Oh, well. That’s better than the alternative!

—4—

This one started preschool this fall. Can you believe it?

These Walls - 7QT45 - 5

I’m not sure I can, yet I rejoice in the development. (I mean, seriously, the Hallelujah Chorus would have been completely appropriate for the start of this school year.)

And it’s not just me. I think he is also much happier these days, what with the fun school to attend twice a week, the relative peace on the other three weekdays while his big brothers are at school, and a generally reliable rhythm to his days. I think this is a kid who likes to know his schedule.

He’s still a screamer, but as his language skills (slowly) improve, he’s expressing more and more and screaming (a little) less. The other day he told me, “I so angy!” and I almost laughed for joy. (But I didn’t. Because it would be really annoying for your mom to laugh while you were telling her how angry you were.)

These Walls - 7QT45 - 6

He’s gotten to be a (mostly) sweet big brother and good playmate to his sister, which I’m just pinching myself over. I did not see that coming. He also regularly pulls off what is possibly the cutest moment of my day, when he comes down the stairs after his nap all sleepy-eyed, smiling and whispering “Good morning, Mommy!” Again – I melt.

—5—

This one has entered Kindergarten. Kindergarten: real-deal, all-day, away-from-Mommy school. And he’s done great.

These Walls - 7QT45 - 7

I thought he might not. He’s my mama’s boy, the one who clings to me and smothers me with hugs and kisses each day. I thought he’d be afraid, that being away from home all day would be hard on him. But he seems fine! He loves his teacher and he’s making friends and he hasn’t complained once about going to school. It’s been such a relief.

We celebrated his sixth birthday at the end of September and I think it may well have been the happiest day of his life. We held his party at a local bounce-house place where he and a bunch of his friends and cousins were able to run and jump themselves silly. He had a Star Wars cake and got a bunch of nice (mostly Star-Wars-themed) gifts, and at the end of it all we revealed his biggest gift to him: a guinea pig.

(We should cue the Hallelujah Chorus again here.)

I am not a pet person. I have nothing against animals; they just don’t do much for me. I don’t care to really touch them or play with them, so why would I ever want to go through the trouble of caring for them? Brennan is more of a pet person than I am, but he’s also more of a practical person than I am, so it’s been easy for him to say no up until now.

These Walls - 7QT45 - 8

But this child. He just loves animals. (This past Sunday as we left his religious education class, he announced to me, “I want to be a saint, Mommy. I want to be an animal saint like Saint Francis, because I love animals so much.”) He loves them consistently and passionately, and it might have been the time he wanted to keep a cricket he found at the drug store, or the time he cuddled and kissed a baby snake he found in the yard, but he finally wore me down. And so Brennan and I decided it was finally time for a pet.

A caged one, but a pet nonetheless. Meet Houston:

These Walls - 7QT45 - 9

The kids are in love. Brennan seems to like him pretty well, and I’m guess I’m warming up to him. He is pretty cute. And thankfully, he seems to have a good temperament for being surrounded by a bunch of little kids. Our house now smells like guinea pig cage, but whatever – our house kind of smelled to begin with.

—6—

Now onto this one.

These Walls - 7QT45 - 9

My boy! My sweet, thoughtful, growing-too-fast firstborn. He’s in second grade now, old enough for me to start seeing glimpses of what he’ll look like, and what he’ll be like, as an older kid. It’s bittersweet.

This child has lately been my reminder and my hope regarding seasons of life and difficult phases and how they pass. The last half of the summer (the slower half) was hard for him. He’s super social and loves people and I’m seeing now that he’s a much happier person when he has people and work to occupy him. For a while there, he’d just about pulled into the lead on the ‘most challenging child’ front, but once school started, he perked up immediately. Second grade, including his lovely teacher and (from what I hear) great class have been so good for him.

Except for tiffs with the brother nearest in age to him (and what’s new in that, right?), he is such a good big brother. Our daughter adores him. She’s taken to walking next to him with her hand in his, and backing herself right into his lap when she sees him sitting still. He reads to her, and the other day I caught him helping her down one of our terrace walls in the yard: He climbed down one level, she reached her arms out to him, and he put his around her waist and lifted her down. Then he climbed down the remaining level and did the same. (Again with the melting!)

These Walls - 7QT45 - 10

He always humors the 3-year-old when he wants someone to play outside with him, he helps him and reads to him, and he does a pretty good job of keeping tabs on the little guy.

And even with his just-15-months-younger-than-himself brother, he can be so generous. When he received his first little cash gift from the tooth fairy, he gifted one of his (two) dollars to his brother. And he seems to have done so every time since. This week I was kind of annoyed when the 6-year-old held out his hand to receive one of the 7-year-old’s tooth fairy dollars, tossing out a flippant, “It’s mine, right? I get one every time the tooth fairy brings you two?” But there was no hesitation or annoyance on the big brother’s part: “Yes, you do. It’s yours,” he said. For all their squabbling, I think they view each other as partners, and that partnership is one of the greatest gifts in my life right now.

—7—

Now for my husband.

These Walls - 7QT45 - 11

I guess I’d say Brennan is doing pretty well these days. After a frustrating run at work for a good long while, he has finally started a new position. Brennan (a software engineer) has done this several times since I’ve known him, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him shift from work that was so dull to work that interests him as much as this new job looks to do. I’m relieved!

At home, Brennan has been keeping busy with projects, of course. He recently finished a section of iron fencing on a couple of the walls that surround our back patio. It was a long, dirty process: the fencing arrived unfinished, so Brennan had to grind them down, prime them, paint them, attach feet to them, and install them himself. He also added one light post, moved another, and painted all three. Here’s the final result:

These Walls - 7QT45 - 12

Isn’t it pretty? Now we just have to host an outdoor cocktail party or something. Once we pull all the weeds growing out of the patio. And move the sandbox out of the way. And get rid of all the junky, broken toys. And buy patio furniture. And, like, have a little TIME on our hands…

Which these guys pretty much never allow us.

These Walls - 7QT45 - 13

These Walls - 7QT45 - 14

Brennan has also just finished painting the boys’ new bedroom. (The room shuffle goes like this: All three boys will be moving up to a room on the third floor. Our daughter will move into what was her brothers’ room, and we’ll put the new baby in the nursery for now. When she starts sleeping through the night decently well, we’ll put her in the same room as her sister.) Brennan’s next project? Building bunk beds!

***

Alright, I’ve bored you plenty by now. I hope that you and yours are all well and that the beginning of this new season/school year has been as good for you as it has for us. I hope to “see” you back here soon. Hope. We’ll see. Maybe you shouldn’t be surprised either way.

Also, don’t forget to hop on over to Kelly’s for the rest of this week’s Quick Takes!

These Walls - 7QT45

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:

7 Quick Takes - hosted at This Aint the Lyceum

—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:

These Walls - All Over the Place 7QT44 - 1

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!

These Walls - All Over the Place 7QT44 - 2

(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.

~~~

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

These Walls - All Over the Place 7QT44

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:

These Walls - Baby Steps - 1

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!”

These Walls - Baby Steps - 2

These Walls - Baby Steps - 3

These Walls - Baby Steps - 4

These Walls - Baby Steps - 5

These Walls - Baby Steps - 6

These Walls - Baby Steps - 7

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.

These Walls - Baby Steps - 1

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

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

3) Babies are blessings.

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

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

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

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

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

That’s life.

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

These Walls - Babies Are Blessings - 1

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

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

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

I don’t care.

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

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

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

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

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

These Walls - Babies Are Blessings - 2

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

These Walls - Babies Are Blessings

Snapshot (Not) Saturday: Fits and Spurts

(Everyday Bravery, Day 11)

What was that about blogging every day this month?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These Walls - Snapshot Not Saturday - Fits and Spurts

~~~

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

These Walls - Everyday Bravery

~~~

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

The Kids Are Alright (And the Parents Are Too)

(Everyday Bravery, Day 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And of course:

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

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

these-walls-the-kids-are-alright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

These Walls - Everyday Bravery

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

~~~

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