Hard Plans Changing a Hard Heart: Empathy for immigrants fearing deportation

When I worked as a lobbyist, I dealt with no issue more wrapped up in emotion and anxiety than immigration. It was the only one I ever had people call and scream at me about, it was the only one that tested my personal relationships, it was the only one that made me feel attacked and betrayed.

But it was also the only issue to really change something in my heart.

Having come from a conservative background, there was something in me that was wary of the immigration question – not opposed, exactly, to immigrants or immigration, but cautious, skeptical, reluctant. Soon after diving into the issue, however, my heart was changed. It was changed by the warmth of the immigrants I encountered and by their anxiety too; it was changed by their stories, their hopes, and their fears.

It was also changed by their plans.

There is nothing from that immigrant-advocacy period of my life that has stuck with me more than the memory of undocumented immigrants making contingency plans for their own arrest, imprisonment, and deportation. . .

(Read the rest at the Catholic Review.)

The Space Between - Hard Plans Changing a Hard Heart

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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.

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

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

3) Babies are blessings.

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

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

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

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

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

That’s life.

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

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

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

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

I don’t care.

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

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

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

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

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

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

These Walls - Babies Are Blessings

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.

 

Weighing the Politics of Death and Destruction

I can’t quite decide how I feel about one of the major themes of this year’s presidential election: Death and Destruction. That is, “Our country has been/is being/will be destroyed and we’re all going to DIE.”

Yes, that’s hyperbolic, but is it far off base?

Donald Trump’s rise was fueled to a large degree by people who think that President Obama or liberal politicians or establishment politicians in general have been running our country into the ground. In their telling, the great country we once knew is either dead and gone or on its way to becoming so.

On the other side of it, many Americans worry (and I confess to indulging in such worries myself) that Trump’s election could trigger the very destruction that his supporters see as already in motion.

Oh, and some of us are Very, Very worried that we’ll die at the hands of violent Islamic terrorists. Or violent criminals – especially the immigrant sort. Others of us are Very, Very worried that we’ll die at the hands of NRA-card-carrying, gun-toting fanatics.

Read the rest at the Catholic Review.

The Space Between - Weighing the Politics of Death and Destruction

Praying for Paris

Given tonight’s events in Paris, I couldn’t bring myself to publish a perky, wonder-filled sequel to this morning’s post. The sequel will come, but not until it stops feeling so dissonant to me.

As of my 9pm writing of this post, I’ve been listening to NPR and BBC coverage of the attacks for several hours. In that time, the numbers of dead have been jumping ever higher. Eighteen to thirty to sixty, and then with the storming of a concert hall where a hostage situation had been underway, some one-hundred more.

It’s all just too much, isn’t it?

Ever since September 11, this is the kind of terrorist attack I’ve been fearing: a series of smaller-scale attacks – one after another and another – in unpredictable locations. As I learned that day, it’s very different to be horrified by something that is happening elsewhere, in one defined and impersonal location, than to be scared for your own safety. It is, in my mind, the difference between horror and terror.

Tonight, I look on (or rather, listen in) from a safe distance. I have no loved ones who were in harm’s way. I feel tremendous sadness: I’m struck by imaginings of what the victims might have been feeling in their last moments and I’m heartsick for those who are wondering tonight whether their children or siblings or friends are among the dead. But I’m not feeling that fear of not knowing whether the attack is done, not knowing what or where could be next, not knowing whether I’m in danger.

I remember what it was to feel that way. It’s a primal kind of fear, one that strips away everything but the logistics of survival and the most elemental longings of the human heart.

I mourn the fact that so many today know that fear: Tonight it was Parisians. Yesterday (literally – yesterday) it was the people of Beirut. Lately it’s been Syrians, Iraqis, Afghans, and far, far too many others.

Yes, it’s all just too much.

Lord, have mercy. Mary, our Mother, comfort and sustain your children. St. Genevieve, patroness of Paris, pray for her people.

Praying for Paris

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.

The Blue Sky Day, Revisited

I wrote this post last year as an attempt to deal with my memories of September 11, which continue to trouble me. I re-post it now because I find that it still represents my feelings about that day. And because I don’t know whether I’ll ever again be able to bring myself to write on the subject. Maybe I’ll simply re-post this piece every year, until this little blog is done.

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Twelve years ago this morning, I was sitting at my desk in Crystal City, Virginia, about a half-mile south of the Pentagon. I was a month into my first job out of college, working in a government office, in a block of buildings filled to the brim with government and government contractor offices. I’d joked to my friends that I’d never frequented a more polite place in my life: Everywhere you turned, there were military personnel and former military personnel who held doors for you, offered you their seats, and called you “Miss” or “Ma’am.” To a nervous, small-town girl alone in a big city for the first time, it was reassuring.

The weather that day was absolutely gorgeous. I had noticed it on my metro ride into work. I’d blinked at the bright sunlight as my train emerged from its Washington, D.C. tunnel and climbed across the bridge over the Potomac, into Virginia. I’d searched the brilliant blue sky for a cloud and couldn’t find even one before we descended again, the Pentagon looming on our right.

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Thank goodness today’s sky has a touch of cloud.

I had watched people get off the train that morning at the Pentagon station. I’d recognized a few of them; you start to do that when you commute on public transportation at the same time every day.

Sitting at my desk, happy and proud that I was settling into a real, grown-up job, I was unprepared for the horror and fear that the day would bring. Who wasn’t?

Along with the rest of the country, I soon began to learn, bit-by-bit, what was happening. First in New York. Then again in New York. Then horror turned to fear: There was an attack in my own backyard. Then – was another one coming? Would it hit the White House? The Capitol? If it aimed for the Pentagon, could it overshoot and get us instead? No, that one went down in Pennsylvania. Guilty relief. Are there more?

My boss made his way back from a meeting at our main office, near the White House. Roads were blocked and no public or private transportation was moving anyway, so he walked. He walked for miles, at midday, an overweight man nearing retirement-age. He looked so red-faced, exhausted, and stricken when he arrived that we were sincerely afraid he would have a heart-attack. But I suppose that’s what you do when structure breaks down, when you fear that the place you’re standing in at the moment might soon be under attack: You walk. Even if it’s from downtown Washington, D.C., across a bridge, to Northern Virginia. You walk a route that is normally only driven at high speed, in much traffic.

And then there was the heartache of the World Trade Center collapsing. The slow realization of the enormity of the event that was unfolding around us. The tears and the near-hyperventilation. The world turning upside down as I watched the streets outside my building fill with people, the highway clogged with cars that wouldn’t move for hours, police with big guns emerging from what felt like nowhere. And worst of all: the acrid smoke that hung in the air. In it, I felt the horror physically – stinging the back of my throat.

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And there were the questions. Not just “Who did this?” but “Is it over?” And “Will our highways or our bridges or our metros be attacked next?” “Will we be able to get home?” “Should we scrounge for food and prepare to stay in the office overnight?” “Should we evacuate?” And the loneliest question: “Where will we be safe?”

Much later, when it had been hours since the last attack, a touch of the normal came back. The metro reopened, allowing me to return home, albeit via a detour. We were rushed, without stopping, through a Pentagon station that smelled strongly of smoke. All were numb, quiet. It was beyond strange to know that every single person I saw was thinking about the same thing. It was awful to know that our glances at each other were both sympathetic and suspicious. We didn’t know who was at fault, or if they were done. The weight of it all was oppressive.

But still, that sky was blue. It was blue and horrible and sickening. It shouldn’t have been so pretty. It should have cried.

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That night I stood outside in the dark next to my uncle, looking at the big sky from the vantage of his small farm, where I was living at the time. He’d brought me out there to make me look at that awful, clear expanse. “Look; there are no planes in the sky. You’ll never see this again,” he told me.

I went back to work the next day, because We’re not going to let those terrorists get to us! I crossed that bridge over the Potomac once again. The sky was still blue, but this time I saw large white clouds of smoke or dust or steam billowing up from the Pentagon. We sped through the station again, smelling the smoke. We would do so — speed through without stopping — for days, perhaps weeks. Every time we did, I thought of the faces I’d seen getting off at that station that morning. I wondered where those people were, whether they were safe. I never saw them again.

The following day, I stayed home. I was exhausted and I needed to process what had happened.

I think I’m still working on it.

I know that my experience is nothing compared to that of those who escaped the Twin Towers, or who were injured in the Pentagon, or who searched frantically for information about their loved ones on that awful day and the ones that followed it. I don’t forget that thousands of people were lost and that thousands more continue to feel those losses acutely. I know that countless people feel like their lives were ripped apart that day.

Mine was not. I lost nothing more than some peace of mind.

And yet, to this day the sight of a clear, cloudless sky just about sends me into a panic attack. I don’t dwell on the yearly memorials, because I can hardly handle them. Re-reading my journal entry from that day, hearing a mention on the radio, seeing a “never forget” bumper sticker or Facebook meme – even just thinking about September 11th – it causes the anxiety to mount. I have to switch gears before it overwhelms me.

Why do I write all this? Because oddly enough, it’s countering the anxiety that always rises to the surface this time of the year. And because it’s my way of saying “never forget” without relying on the memes that sucker-punch me. Never forget: that day was real; its impact lives on; those lives were valuable.

I suppose it’s some long-overdue processing.

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God bless those who were lost that day. God bless those they left behind. God have mercy on those responsible.

And please? Don’t forget the Pentagon.

Thoughts From This Side of L&D

So here I am, just days (hours? please?) before welcoming baby boy #3, and – surprise, surprise – I have a bunch of pregnancy/labor/delivery things stewing in my mind. I’m scheduled to be induced this Friday, April 4. (Though you’re welcome to come sooner if you like, little guy!) And I feel like I’m on something of a precipice:

I’m coming off of this (really, quite good) pregnancy a little tired and uncomfortable and ready to move on, but also wistful, not knowing whether I’ll ever experience another. I’m trying to enjoy and appreciate my littlest boy’s movements while I still have them all to myself.

I’m also looking out onto the always-daunting prospects of labor and delivery, not to mention the readjustment to life with a newborn. That’s some scary stuff, there. I’m trying not to dwell on it. (Praying? Yes. Dwelling? No.) I give you, therefore, mostly lighter thoughts from this side of the Labor & Delivery unit:

—1—

It’s really funny to see what search terms people use to find my blog. The other day I had “enormous belly pic week,” “huge tummy pic week,” and “belly pic comparison bigger.” Umm… what are you trying to tell me, Mr. Search Engine?

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38.5 weeks — probably the last belly pic for this pregnancy!

 

—2—

No, really, it’s okay. I know that a lot of women have issues with how their bodies change during pregnancy, but as I’m naturally pretty thick-waisted and round-bellied (can’t believe I’m admitting that on the internet), I’ve never found that I have much to mourn in the figure department when I’m pregnant. So really, bring on the belly. It’s just nice, for those nine months or so, to be able to toss out a happy little response when people ask me when I’m due, rather than wincing and squirming and trying to find a non-mortifying way of telling them I’m not pregnant.

All that is to say: my “bump” doesn’t bother me and I’m not particularly eager to get rid of it. Except for one annoying thing:

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I tried to get my feet in the pic, but honestly — there was no way.

 

Please tell me that I’m not the only pregnant lady whose belly becomes a magnet for bits of food. And water – I’ve found it impossible to wash my face without soaking my belly, even though I’m standing on my tippy-toes trying to bend (my short-waisted, 5’3” frame) over far enough to reach the sink.

—3—

I haven’t registered any weight gain at all at my past two doctor’s appointments (though baby boy has) and thank goodness, because boy oh boy, have I had an appetite lately. I’ve been finding myself ready for a meal just about two hours after finishing my last one. At first I think, “Nah, you can’t really be hungry again.” And then soon enough I’m conceding, “Okay, okay! You are hungry! I get it!”

The other night I was hungry as I got ready for bed – in spite of having consumed my second dinner not long before – but figured I should just push through and go to sleep. So I woke in the middle of the night, famished. I pushed through again, and sure enough, I just about bounded out of bed the next morning to make a dash to the kitchen. I’ll be interested to see what I weigh at my appointment tomorrow. Could my body be burning that many calories right now, or is baby boy gouging himself on my caloric excesses and my reserves?

—4—

Speaking of which… if, at around lunchtime today, you happened to see some very strange, very sweaty, huge pregnant lady actually buy food from one vendor while in the line to buy food from another – yeah, that was totally me. I admit it. I was in the middle of a blood sugar crash, desperate to make it through the line at Subway without passing out, when – behold! – I noticed that the new soft pretzel counter was open! And there was even somebody working there! I ordered a cup of cinnamon pretzel bites while standing in the Subway line; I had devoured them by the time our sandwiches were complete. I have no shame.

—5—

Need I even point out that today is April Fool’s Day? Between this being my late grandfather’s birthday and exactly ten days before my due date (which is when my water broke with my last baby), and it being, I don’t know, a date that just seems… fitting, today’s the day I’ve had a hunch about all along. But, as we’re already more than 18 hours in and I’m not feeling anything suspicious… I think April 1 is a no-go for me. Boo…

(Though – Yay! One of my cousins had her baby today! Congratulations, Bibi and Kris! I was hoping the two babes would be born on the same day, but we’ll just have to content ourselves with the same week.)

—6—

This one has nothing to do with baby, but everything to do with the date: Each year on April Fool’s Day, a bunch of my silly cousins call our grandfather to inform him that the cows have gotten out. (As in, out of the field, through the fence, and into the road.) Granddad’s last cows were sold something like 15 years ago and his once-beautiful fields now grow nothing but houses. Jolly good sport that he is, however, Granddad always plays along. I love my family.

—7—

You would never know it by the piles of unfolded baby clothes all over the nursery or the disassembled basinet and car seat pieces strewn across its floor, but I think this is the most prepared we’ve been for any of our babies. All the furniture is in the right room, a few things are even hung on the walls, most of the baby clothes are washed, and though not all the gear is assembled, most of it is clean. What a relief. As much as I was hoping that today would be The Day, it will be nice if we can get our few loose ends tied up in the next couple of days so we can bring baby home to a completed nursery.

—8—

Why, oh why can’t I experience that most amazing of phenomena: nesting? Everybody I talk to and read about lists off a litany of tasks they’ve completed and obscure places they’ve cleaned before having their babies. Me? I’ve never had a late-pregnancy energy spurt. I drag myself through a task, rest for a while, and then maybe attempt another.

Besides the aforementioned nursery stuff, I have several dirty floors and bathrooms that could use my attention before this baby is born. Hello… Nesting? Nesting, are you out there? How about you come by to pay me a visit?

—9—

Yesterday afternoon my mother-in-law asked me what I plan to do if I go into labor while Brennan’s at work. I replied something like, “I don’t know… call him to come home?” (He works 40 minutes away.) She made a funny face and said, “This is your third baby – what if your labor goes quickly?” Again, I stumbled. “Umm… I’ll just have to see who’s available?”

How could I not have given more thought to this scenario?

The honest truth is that I think I’ve always assumed that this pregnancy would end in another induction. It seems to be the only way my contractions will start. (Even when my water broke on its own last time, I needed Pitocin to start the contractions.)

And I guess I’ve also had in the back of my mind that if I needed help quickly, I’d probably just put out a plea on Facebook. I figure that would do as good a job as anything else of filtering out local folks who are available to help. And in the absence of any other game plan, that’s as good as I’ve got. Local friends and family: please be on notice.

(And yes, if I were absolutely desperate, my mother-in-law could drive me to the hospital. Though with her new to our roads and not a city driver, heaven help us if she has to get us through the Beltway while I’m in labor.)

—10—

To end on a more sober note, I’m going to just admit that I’ve been a complete and total sap when it comes to my boys this week. I look at them and think on how much I love them and how desperately I want to see them grow… and my throat catches.

Labor and delivery are scary things. Though I have no expectation that anything will go wrong – I’m in good health, I’ll be in a good hospital, I’ll have good medical professionals assisting me – you never know what will happen. I don’t forget that childbirth has always been dangerous for women and babies. And that sometimes it still is.

In my middle-class, 21st-Century, semi-rural, American life, bearing a child is one of the most dangerous things I will ever do. I’m not so worried about the pain – I like to get an epidural if it’s possible; if for some reason it’s not, I know the pain is something I can get through. But, safety, health – those are what I worry about.

Not terribly – I don’t work myself up over it. The worry lingers at the back of my mind, rearing up a bit when I gaze sappily at those beautiful boys. I’m sure I’ll shed a few tears on Friday morning when I kiss their (probably sleeping) faces before I leave for the hospital. But then I’ll say some more prayers, grit my teeth, and get on with it all.

And, God-willing, some hours later my baby and I will be safely through his birth. I’ll hold him in my arms and know that every discomfort, every pain, every worry was completely worth it. Until that moment, I’d appreciate if you could send a prayer or two heavenward on our behalf.

Thank you.

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Fifty Years From Birmingham

This morning as I drove to mass, I heard this segment on NPR. I hadn’t realized beforehand, but today is the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Which killed four little girls. In a church. Sunday, September 15, 1963: The event has always stuck out to me as exceptionally horrible. Layer upon layer of horrible.

I can only barely, a little bit, understand how people could have fought so hard to maintain a system of segregation that is (to my eyes) so obviously unjust. I assume that fear played a role – fear of change, fear of losing power. I think those fears have motivated an awful lot of horrible over the course of human history.

I understand less how people could escalate their resistance to change to the point of undertaking violence. How does one make that leap from using speeches and meetings and rules and laws (however unjust) to causing physical damage to a person or his property? I can only assume that the original seed of fear must have been long overtaken by anger. And I think anger poisons people.

But I don’t understand at all, not in the least, how people could bring violence to a church. How could any person, who has ever possessed even a morsel of faith or morality, bomb a church? On a Sunday morning? On the church’s youth Sunday, when a bunch of little girls were in the bathroom, excitedly preparing themselves to take visible roles in that morning’s church service? No purely human emotion helps me understand that one. Even anger isn’t sufficient.

I can only see evil. I can only surmise that people let evil in when they decided to nuture their fear. That the evil grew with their anger, each feeding the other. And that evil finally made itself obvious in that horrible act. A church. Four innocent children. Preparing to worship God. Evil must have rejoiced.

I cried as I drove to mass this morning, re-learning the story of the four little girls. I cried because I knew it was unjust; I knew it was wrong; I knew how unfair it was to those girls; I knew it must have torn apart their mothers’ hearts; I knew it had impacted so many more people than the victims themselves; and I knew that evil had had a say.

It’s a sobering thought on which to end my Sunday. As I drove to mass this morning, I hoped that my pastor would acknowledge this horrible anniversary. I wanted to feel uplifted. I wanted us to make some effort to remember what happened to those girls, to make a statement that their lives mattered. It didn’t happen. In my little corner of the world, no one seemed to remember.

But I hadn’t remembered either, not before that NPR segment. Which is why I write this post. With it, I’m issuing my own little remembrance. In these last few minutes of Sunday, September 15, 2003, let’s remember what happened exactly fifty years ago in Birmingham. Let’s say a prayer for those who lost their lives. Let’s say another for the family and friends who suffered their loss. And let’s say one more for the many who lost something less tangible that day. Because when evil scored with that horrible act, so much was lost.

The Blue-Sky Day

Twelve years ago this morning, I was sitting at my desk in Crystal City, Virginia, about a half-mile south of the Pentagon. I was a month into my first job out of college, working in a government office, in a block of buildings filled to the brim with government and government contractor offices. I’d joked to my friends that I’d never frequented a more polite place in my life: Everywhere you turned, there were military personnel and former military personnel who held doors for you, offered you their seats, and called you “Miss” or “Ma’am.” To a nervous, small-town girl alone in a big city for the first time, it was reassuring.

The weather that day was absolutely gorgeous. I had noticed it on my metro ride into work. I’d blinked at the bright sunlight as my train emerged from its Washington, D.C. tunnel and climbed across the bridge over the Potomac, into Virginia. I’d searched the brilliant blue sky for a cloud and couldn’t find even one before we descended again, the Pentagon looming on our right.

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Thank goodness today’s sky has a touch of cloud.

I had watched people get off the train that morning at the Pentagon station. I’d recognized a few of them; you start to do that when you commute on public transportation at the same time every day.

Sitting at my desk, happy and proud that I was settling into a real, grown-up job, I was unprepared for the horror and fear that the day would bring. Who wasn’t?

Along with the rest of the country, I soon began to learn, bit-by-bit, what was happening. First in New York. Then again in New York. Then horror turned to fear: There was an attack in my own backyard. Then – was another one coming? Would it hit the White House? The Capitol? If it aimed for the Pentagon, could it overshoot and get us instead? No, that one went down in Pennsylvania. Guilty relief. Are there more?

My boss made his way back from a meeting at our main office, near the White House. Roads were blocked and no public or private transportation was moving anyway, so he walked. He walked for miles, at midday, an overweight man nearing retirement-age. He looked so red-faced, exhausted, and stricken when he arrived that we were sincerely afraid he would have a heart-attack. But I suppose that’s what you do when structure breaks down, when you fear that the place you’re standing in at the moment might soon be under attack: You walk. Even if it’s from downtown Washington, D.C., across a bridge, to Northern Virginia. You walk a route that is normally only driven at high speed, in much traffic.

And then there was the heartache of the World Trade Center collapsing. The slow realization of the enormity of the event that was unfolding around us. The tears and the near-hyperventilation. The world turning upside down as I watched the streets outside my building fill with people, the highway clogged with cars that wouldn’t move for hours, police with big guns emerging from what felt like nowhere. And worst of all: the acrid smoke that hung in the air. In it, I felt the horror physically – stinging the back of my throat.

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And there were the questions. Not just “Who did this?” but “Is it over?” And “Will our highways or our bridges or our metros be attacked next?” “Will we be able to get home?” “Should we scrounge for food and prepare to stay in the office overnight?” “Should we evacuate?” And the loneliest question: “Where will we be safe?”

Much later, when it had been hours since the last attack, a touch of the normal came back. The metro reopened, allowing me to return home, albeit via a detour. We were rushed, without stopping, through a Pentagon station that smelled strongly of smoke. All were numb, quiet. It was beyond strange to know that every single person I saw was thinking about the same thing. It was awful to know that our glances at each other were both sympathetic and suspicious. We didn’t know who was at fault, or if they were done. The weight of it all was oppressive.

But still, that sky was blue. It was blue and horrible and sickening. It shouldn’t have been so pretty. It should have cried.

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That night I stood outside in the dark next to my uncle, looking at the big sky from the vantage of his small farm, where I was living at the time. He’d brought me out there to make me look at that awful, clear expanse. “Look; there are no planes in the sky. You’ll never see this again,” he told me.

I went back to work the next day, because We’re not going to let those terrorists get to us! I crossed that bridge over the Potomac once again. The sky was still blue, but this time I saw large white clouds of smoke or dust or steam billowing up from the Pentagon. We sped through the station again, smelling the smoke. We would do so — speed through without stopping — for days, perhaps weeks. Every time we did, I thought of the faces I’d seen getting off at that station that morning. I wondered where those people were, whether they were safe. I never saw them again.

The following day, I stayed home. I was exhausted and I needed to process what had happened.

I think I’m still working on it.

I know that my experience is nothing compared to that of those who escaped the Twin Towers, or who were injured in the Pentagon, or who searched frantically for information about their loved ones on that awful day and the ones that followed it. I don’t forget that thousands of people were lost and that thousands more continue to feel those losses acutely. I know that countless people feel like their lives were ripped apart that day.

Mine was not. I lost nothing more than some peace of mind.

And yet, to this day the sight of a clear, cloudless sky just about sends me into a panic attack. I don’t dwell on the yearly memorials, because I can hardly handle them. Re-reading my journal entry from that day, hearing a mention on the radio, seeing a “never forget” bumper sticker or Facebook meme – even just thinking about September 11th – it causes the anxiety to mount. I have to switch gears before it overwhelms me.

Why do I write all this? Because oddly enough, it’s countering the anxiety that always rises to the surface this time of the year. And because it’s my way of saying “never forget” without relying on the memes that sucker-punch me. Never forget: that day was real; its impact lives on; those lives were valuable.

I suppose it’s some long-overdue processing.

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God bless those who were lost that day. God bless those they left behind. God have mercy on those responsible.

And please? Don’t forget the Pentagon.