Sweet Resignation

It is with some (small) measure of regret that I must hereby announce my resignation from MOAB: the Mothers Of All Boys club.

Yes, that’s right:

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

I. am. in. shock.

All (yesterday) morning, I prepared myself for my afternoon sonogram by gearing myself up for boy #4: “I’ll be able to say I have FOUR boys!” “The (soon-to-be-not) baby will have a brother close in age to him, just like the first two do.” “Every time somebody stops me in the grocery store to say, ‘Three boys?’ I’ll be able to chirp back, ‘Four!’” “We won’t have to buy new clothes. Or toys. Or anything else!”

And then the time came. I lie on the table looking up at the screen, thankful to get to watch my baby move his hands, his legs, his back. Thankful for a strong heartbeat. Thankful for organ after organ that checked out as they should.

But we were kept waiting on the bits we were most curious about. I stared at the screen, Brennan stared at it, my mom stared. Baby was uncooperative. He had his legs together; he was hunched into a ball.

Then finally, “he” was pronounced to be a “she”!

“How sure are you?” I asked the tech.

“Very sure.”

“Still a girl?” I asked again and again, while the tech moved on to other parts of my baby’s anatomy.

“Still a girl.”

I think it will take some time before this new reality settles in. I might not even fully believe it until I hold that baby in my arms. But for now, I’m so happy. Brennan is too, though his happiness is (and this is typical for us) more muted than my own. Me: “This is so exciting!” Him: “This will be fine.”

This evening we celebrated our baby girl (ack! I can’t believe I can say that!) with a nice dinner out, just the two of us. Then we stopped by the grocery store to pick up a bouquet of pink roses and went home to tell our boys that they’d be getting a sister.

The oldest jumped up and down. I don’t ever want to forget the look of joy on his face! The middle one – who has been insisting all along that the baby is a girl to be named “Saturday” – hugged me tight and squealed and said, “Mommy, I wuv you because you’re having a girl.” The (soon-to-be-not) baby just toddled around in his diaper, looking cute.

We’re so fortunate – to have each other, to be part of such a loving family, to have three beautiful boys and now a sure-to-be-wonderful girl.

Thank you, Lord, for these most incredible of blessings.

Thank you.

Updated to add: Head on over to the blog’s Facebook page to see a video of Brennan and me announcing the baby’s gender to HER big brothers! (And if you haven’t already, please ‘like’ the page!)

These Walls - Sweet Resignation

Thanksgiving Eve

This morning I sit surrounded by unexpected, soft quiet. From the corner of my eye, I see our first snow of the season. It falls fast and thick. My boys are entranced, and so am I.



How soothing that this lovely blanket has come to fall upon us, covering our unraked leaves and the toys my boys leave scattered behind our house. It smoothes our roughness, disguises our messes. It insulates us. And when we glance at our windows and see only a mottled span of white and gray, somehow the space inside our home seems softer and smoother too.


Of course, we don’t have to drive in it. We’re snug indoors, ready to commence the prepping and the baking for tomorrow. Butternut squash, onions, cranberries, cherries, and chocolate – they all lie in wait.

But I have a few minutes to think and pray on the things and people for whom I am grateful – and I’ll take them. I know how blessed I’ve been.

I have a lively, loving, little family and a big, beautiful home. I have an extended family who support and love and even entertain. I have layer upon layer of good, smart, interesting friends: The few I’ve known since childhood; those I acquired in high school and college, in Washington and Annapolis; those I’ve worked with and prayed with; those alongside whom I’m raising my children. I even have some I’ve never met in person: lovely, kind women I know through blogging and long, thoughtful emails.


We have sufficient heating oil and plentiful food. We have electricity and too many clothes. We have peace in our home and our community.

Layer upon layer of goodness.

And I know, of course, that there are far too many people who do not have these particular blessings. Loneliness, hunger, cold, unrest and violence visit too, too many. So alongside my gratitude, I think of and pray for them. For those who long for families of their own, who struggle to provide for the families they have, who suffer violence, who live in fear.

If you’re among them, know that you’re in my prayers.

And whether you are among them or you’re not, I hope that you too get a few soft, quiet moments in which to sit. I hope that this Thanksgiving, you feel the weight of your own particular blessings. And I hope that your blessings do nothing but increase in the coming seasons of Advent and Christmas.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, from me and mine.


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

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

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

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

But now…


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


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


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


To this:


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

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

These people are wonderful.

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

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



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

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

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



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

{more progress, more phfr}

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

pretty happy funny real[1]

This First Year Of Blogging: “Most” Posts and 2013 in 13 Photos

As we wrap up 2013 (Happy New Year, everyone!) and my first (calendar) year of blogging draws to a close, I can’t help but reflect a little on how it (the blogging thing, that is) has all gone.

Fortunately, two bloggers currently have link-ups that facilitate my reflection quite nicely. So, I’m game. And I’m totally going to cheat by doing both link-ups in one post. Sarah of Amongst Lovely Things is hosting a link-up of bloggers’ “Most” Posts of 2013: those with the most clicks, most comments, etc. Dwija of House Unseen, Life Unscripted is hosting one on 2013 in 13 Photos.

Below, I give you both. Plus some reflections on this first year (er… seven months — I started the blog at the tail-end of May) of blogging.

First, Sarah’s prompts:

Post With The Most Clicks

My most-viewed post, by far, was “A Crazy Good Night,” about attending Like Mother, Like Daughter’s “Crazy DC Meet-Up” this summer. I wish I could take more credit, but LMLD’s “Auntie” Leila linked to it on her blog’s Facebook page (so exciting!), which explains all the traffic.


Digging a little deeper, my next most-viewed post can also be credited to a (much) bigger blogger than myself. Grace of Camp Patton hosted a “How We Met” link-up, which has attracted a steady stream of traffic to this post for months.

And I’m just a tad embarrassed that I’ve got to dig down to number three to find a post that doesn’t owe its popularity to another blogger. Rather, it owes its popularity to a baby. Last month’s gender reveal announcement drew plenty of curious onlookers.

Post With The Most Comments

This would be “7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 14),” in which I announced my pregnancy. People are so nice… (Insert mental image of a smiley, grateful Julie.)


Post With The Best Picture

Oh, so many pictures… so hard to choose. I think I’ll just go with this one, which is fresh from yesterday’s post, “Oh, Boys.” It represents life in our home quite well, I think. (And when I posted it on Facebook, my brother observed that it looked like my boys had murdered a snowman.)


Post That Was Hardest To Write

That would have to be the one that took almost a week to write and nearly a month to move past: “The Weirdest of Them All.” Spinal injury + brain cyst = hard to write. (For an update on the medical situation, check out the post’s follow-up.)


Post That Was Your Personal Favorite

This is another tough one to choose. I think I’m going to have to go with “On Abortion: Paul Ryan and Two Simple Questions.” I like to think of this blog as a mix of family/parenting/household stuff and political thought, but in all honesty, I’ve done far more of the former than the latter. I like that this post was firmly in the meaty/political/philosophical camp. I also like that I was able to capture my thought process on this most difficult of subjects in what (I think) was a clear, logical way.


Okay, on to the second part of this post – seven more photos from this year to round out Dwija’s “2013 in 13 Photos.” I’m going to go with more pics that represent favorite posts:

I Don’t Treasure Every Moment


7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 22): Thanksgiving Edition


On Perspective… And Laundry


The Glamorous Looking-Back


The Blue-Sky Day


That Mommy Dance

Playground Climbing

A Love That Changes You

Ring Bearer

And third, (for anyone who’s still here!) some reflections on this first year of blogging:

Because I’m something of a numbers girl, I have to report that this here post is my 73rd. When I hit 50 posts in September, I was hopeful that I could get to 100 by the end of the year. But then I got that medical news, which tripped me up for about a month. And, you know… the holidays… and life… so I didn’t get anywhere close. Still, I’m proud of 73 posts in my first calendar year. That averages to about 10 posts a month and between two and three posts per week. Not bad for someone who has never been able to keep up journal writing for longer than a week at a time.

In a particularly angsty post from August, I described my reasons for blogging. In the interest of not re-creating the wheel (and at the risk of seeming a little full of myself), I’m just going to go ahead and quote what I wrote back then:

As much as I aim to write things that other people will want to read, at the end of the day, I have to write this blog for me.

Yes, there is this and this. Yes, I’d love to attract readers and get some interesting back-and-forth going in the comment sections. Yes, I love hearing that something I’ve written has amused or touched someone. Yes, I’d like to avoid hurting or even annoying people with my writing. But These Walls is really for me. It gives me an avenue to work through my thoughts and ideas and it allows me to feel like I’ve said my piece on subjects that matter to me.

I also write this blog for my boys. Hopefully I’ll live a long life and I’ll always have strong relationships with them both. But you never know. One of my worst fears is that something should happen to prevent me from raising my sons. And almost as bad is the idea that something should happen to estrange us in their adulthood. Unfounded as those fears are, I am comforted by the idea that should they (heaven forbid) ever materialize, the words I write here give me another shot at reaching out to my boys. I like to think they would give my boys a sense of my love for them, of the way I see the world, and the values I hope to impart to them.

Besides, These Walls has got to be for me (and my boys). There’s no possible way I can please or even interest everyone else. And there’s no way I can wholly avoid annoying/offending/hurting every single person who stops by this blog. All I can ever do is write posts that I like and that I can confidently stand behind. That’s it.

I’ve been trying to keep all this in mind. “I write this blog for me… avenue to work through my thoughts and ideas… allows me to feel like I’ve said my piece. I write this blog for my boys… gives them a sense of my love for them… the way I see the world… the values I hope to impart to them.” Those phrases have become something of a mantra to me. I revisit them to keep myself on-course as I write.

I am a slow writer. I rely on multiple drafts to get things right and I’m deliberate about the words I choose. It usually takes two to three days for me to write a post. And I’ve sunk far too much time into many a half-written post that may or may not ever see the light of the internet.

But I’m okay with that. Because “all I can ever do is write posts that I like and that I can confidently stand behind.”

So, I’m feeling pretty good about this first year of blogging. By and large, I like what I wrote. I feel happier and more peaceful for having pounded it out. I need to do a better job of balancing writing time with my responsibilities to my family, but I do feel like this blogging thing is valuable enough to deserve some small part of my time. At the end of this first year, I feel like I’m heading in the right direction.

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 22): Thanksgiving Edition

Today I figured I’d offer 7 Thanksgiving-related things that I’m thankful for. (Is that “Thanksgiving” enough for you?)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!


I am so incredibly thankful – and I feel it most acutely at this time of the year – to have a little family of my own. I’ve talked about it before (here and here), but Brennan and I both spent about a decade of our adult lives single (single single, as I put it in one of those pieces) before we started dating. For much of that time – with no boyfriend, no dates, not even any real prospects – I seriously wondered whether I would ever have a family of my own. I never took that “husband and kids” future for granted. I hoped and prayed for it, but eventually I had to try to come to terms with the idea that it might not happen.

For this reason, I feel a particular sympathy for singles, of course, but also for couples experiencing fertility problems. I’m sure I don’t understand half of what they go through, but I very much understand the heartache of wondering on that one, very important point: Will I ever have a family of my own?

When I think on gratitude (and I’m grateful to have had so many reasons to think on it), the image of walking tends to come to mind. “I walk with gratitude,” is how I think of it. With this step, I think with gratitude on the big, loving, supportive family I was born into. With this one, I think of all the friends who have added so much to my life. With these few, I think on how I’ve been blessed to be able to live out my interests in community, church, politics, history, music, and service. With this one, I think on my kind, handsome, interesting husband. With these two, I think on my lively, loving, gorgeous boys. With this one, I think on my tiny son moving within me.

And I am wowed. I have been so blessed.



I am thankful that my childhood Thanksgiving memories include something so wonderfully unusual for an American to have experienced: a blessing of the hounds before a fox hunt. When I was a child, my grandparents had a farm next to a historic manor that sat on something like 1,000 acres. On Thanksgiving morning, we and other members of the local community would pull into the Manor’s long drive and walk out onto a grassy area where the hunters and horses and hounds were all gathered. We kids would be giddy with excitement, staring at all the horse trailers and the beautiful animals with red-clad hunters on their backs. We’d walk out on the field, shivering yet showing off our holiday finest, trying to get glimpses of the hounds between all the people milling about. After a while, a priest would say a blessing over the hounds, and they would be off. Then we’d all pile back into our cars and drive next-door to my grandparents’ for our big (midday) dinner.


I’m thankful that with our big, pitch-in-together family, we get the benefits of a massive spread of food at Thanksgiving without anybody killing ourselves over it. My grandparents roast the turkey and do sweet potatoes and a cranberry salad while everyone else brings the appetizers, the other sides, and the desserts. Each of the dozen or so families that usually come bring 2-3 dishes, and we have more food (and a better selection!) than anybody could possibly want. Yet (I don’t think) any of us feel like we’re under the terrible stress that so many Thanksgiving cooks describe this time of the year.

(For anybody who cares about such things, here’s what our spread usually looks like: turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, sauerkraut, green bean casserole, corn pudding, spinach or broccoli casserole, green salad, cranberry salad, ambrosia or a Jello salad, rolls, a variety of dips or finger foods, pumpkin pie, apple pie, some other pie(s), pumpkin roll, cookies and/or brownies. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.)

I promise you it’s not as bad as it sounds: we generally have around 50 people to feed.


I’m SO thankful that this year… drum roll… my parents took my boys home with them on Thanksgiving night! And they’re keeping them until Saturday evening!

That’s like 48 child-free hours! I have about two weeks’ worth of tasks to fit into the 30 hours I’ve got left, so I’d better get cracking!


Following on number four, I’m thankful that this year I actually got to play cards with my family on Thanksgiving evening. My family is really into cards and board games and though I love them too, normally I’m chasing after small boys or my (deservedly) tired husband is itching to go home. But this year the boys went home with Mom and Dad and the hubby and I had driven separately, so mama was free! It felt marvelous.


I’m thankful that my husband fits into my side of the family so well. He’s from Minnesota and we’re in the greater DC area, so we don’t get to see his family as much as we’d like to. But Brennan really enjoys being around my family and especially loves talking politics and hunting with my brother, uncles, and cousins, so he looks forward to these gatherings as much as I do. My uncle has started a tradition of having a “turkey shoot” (really, a trap shoot) at his small farm on Thanksgiving morning, which Brennan looks forward to all year. So he starts Thanksgiving day there with the trap shoot and my aunt’s delicious homemade cinnamon buns, while the boys and I enjoy the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade with some homemade goodies of our own. Then we all meet up at my grandparents’ for dinner.



I’m thankful that, a couple of years ago, I had the good sense to decide to view the holidays through an ultra-realistic lens.

Before I was married with my own children, I had these perfect little images in my head of what it would be like to create perfect little holiday experiences for my perfect little hypothetical children. (Okay, I wasn’t that unrealistic: I had enough exposure to small children to know that none of them – my own someday-children included – would be perfect.) But I had enough invested in this idea of perfect, sparkly, greeting-card-worthy holiday scenes to become pretty darned disappointed with my own less-than-perfect first holidays as a wife and mother.

So after a couple of years, I knew I had to do something about it. I couldn’t walk away from every holiday, ever, for the rest of my life, feeling disappointed. I needed to lower my expectations. (That sounds horrible, doesn’t it? But it was true.) I needed to realize that any stresses, difficulties, or hang-ups I have with myself or with others on a normal day would be there on a holiday too.

I needed to give up my ideas of fancy special-occasion clothes and pretty place-settings for an elaborate holiday dinner. Because that’s just not what we do. In my family we do a rowdy, casual potluck for something like 50 people. We haven’t had an “adult table” and a “kid table” in years: we have people sitting on every chair, sofa, and patch of floor they can find. We no longer bring out the silver and the real plates: we’re smart enough to use disposables. We no longer have a roaring fire: it’s just too darned hot with all those bodies packed into a moderate-sized home.

In my family, the joy of the holiday is in being together. We do not prioritize taste or décor or even peace. All that counts is that we’re together.


(Let me express my pride for a moment that my one cousin who works in retail, a teenager, has her priorities enough in order that she gave up time-and-a-half at her workplace yesterday to come to our family Thanksgiving dinner. We’re thankful that she had a choice, and even more thankful that she chose us.)

I’m thankful to have finally embraced that “All that counts is that we’re together” thing. The first few holidays of my married life were the most miserable I ever experienced. The last few have been the absolute best. I attribute that entirely to two words: realistic expectations.


A belated Happy Thanksgiving to you all! Be sure to stop over to Jen’s to check out the rest of the Quick Takes!

On Perspective… And Laundry

When I do laundry, I tend to do all of the laundry. As in, every article of clothing my boys own. All of our towels, every sheet, and all of the items that my husband and I wear on a daily basis. It’s not unusual for me to do six loads in one day. (I’ve done twelve loads in a row more times than I care to admit.)


Why do I take pictures of such things?


No wonder I find laundry to be such an overwhelming task.

Yes, I know there are solutions to my problem. I know that I really just need to take the whole thing bit-by-bit. But I seem to be stuck in that all-or-nothing cycle: waiting until the laundry piles up, finally tackling the whole mountain at once, and then running away from the task. Rather than taking the initiative to make life easier on myself, too often I just sigh and groan and berate myself for landing knee-deep in stained shirts and soiled sheets. Again.

This Sunday, I visited my grandmother: my spunky, 90-year-old grandmother who personifies the following approach to life at an advanced age:


My Mom-mom had a little gift for me. “See this?” she said. “This is what I used to wash Sue’s laundry when we were living over the funeral parlor. I’d wash her things with it every day.” (Sue is my father’s older sister, who was just a baby when my grandparents lived in a small apartment over their little town’s funeral parlor.) Mom-mom was smiling. “You can even have the dirt!” she laughed.


The simple device hit me like a ton of bricks.

At home, I had the following waiting for me: three baskets of unfolded clean laundry, at least four more baskets of dirty laundry, and a newish, 2nd-floor washer and dryer. Oh, and boxes of disposable diapers. Because I know myself well enough to realize that cloth diapering might just push me over the edge.

Let’s recap here:

  • Modern-day laundry facilities on the same floor as our bedrooms + plenty of clothes and linens + disposable diapers = an overwhelmed Julie
  • A small washboard + only a few pieces of clothing + rudimentary cloth diapers = a contented Mom-mom

And that’s just the laundry. I have a dishwasher and a microwave and children’s television programs to occupy my boys when I need a break. I have plenty of space. I have the means to purchase as much good food as my family can eat. I have adequate heating and cooling, plumbing and electricity. I have a husband who changes diapers and cleans bathrooms.

My grandmother’s father abandoned her family when she was a toddler. Her mother was left to return to her parents’ home with their three small girls. They lived in the attic, where there was no heat in the winter and far too much of it in the summer. They shared the rest of the house – and its one bathroom – with Mom-mom’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, and the many railroad workers my great-grandmother fed on a daily basis. Mom-mom’s role in the family business was to stand on an overturned bucket at the sink and wash the workers’ dirty dishes. Later, my grandmother would raise six children in another one-bathroom house: this one the size of two of my fourteen rooms, combined.

So, do I feel like an ungrateful wretch, or what?

Kind of. Certainly that simple washboard – and my grandmother’s amused, happy face when she gave it to me – put me in my place a little. It reminded me of how fortunate I am. It made me view my household tasks differently. It made me think that I should approach my responsibilities with a little more perspective.

Now, I’m not big into unnecessary guilt trips. I’m not one to think that everything that is wrong is happening right now, right here: a symptom of excess in my own age and society. No culture has ever been without its struggles and sins. And just because I don’t share the particular stresses my grandmother experienced, it doesn’t mean I don’t have any.

It’s so easy to become overwhelmed with the daily tasks involved in caring for children and keeping a home. Undertaken individually, of course, the tasks aren’t particularly difficult: making a meal, changing a diaper, doing the dishes or the laundry – all simple things. But in real life they rarely are undertaken individually. Children sit on your feet and crawl between your legs while you cook dinner; they buck and kick and twist while you change their diapers; they whine and brawl while you work to ensure they have clean dishes and clothes. With good cause, we parents feel like we’re pulled in a hundred different directions. It’s understandable that we become overwhelmed.

But we still have a choice. We can choose to sulk and angst and convince ourselves that we just can’t win. Or we can choose to let all that frustration roll off our backs. Far too often, I do the former. Some people seem to be able to survey the mess in their homes, their uncooked meals, and their disheveled children and let out a good, hearty laugh. God bless those people. I am not one of them.

I’m the perfectionist, OCD type who sees flashing neon signs over every toy lying on the floor, every sink of dirty dishes, every scrap of dirty clothing: “WORK, WORK, WORK,” the signs say. I am easily overwhelmed, and I find all those signs, along with the chorus of calls and screams and roars from my boys, overwhelming. So I either attack all that work with abandon, or I shove it to the side and pretend it doesn’t exist (all the while feeling guilty). The former is not sustainable, the latter is not healthy.

But Mom-mom’s washboard gave me an idea.

I need to approach my work differently. I need to have more perspective. I need to relax. Not as in “Relax! This stuff doesn’t matter anyway!” But as in “Relax. This stuff isn’t nothing – it’s not something to be gotten over. It’s necessary work, worthy of your time and attention. It’s your part, your version of the same important work that women have always undertaken to care for their families.”

Regardless of whether I’m doing one load of laundry or twelve, I should be more at peace while I’m doing it. I should be grateful. I should remember the alternative: not just of a sentimental-looking washboard, but of generations of women who did (and still do) their washing in buckets and basins and rivers. I should sort and transfer and fold our clothes with care. I should use those moments to remember, to ponder, to imagine – not to berate myself. I should feel honored to have a small measure of labor that echoes those who came before me.

A little over three years into my role as mother and homemaker, I’m continuing to learn more about myself every day. I’m a better mother – a better, happier person, I think – than I was when I began this important work. I still frustrate and disappoint myself on a daily basis, but I’m improving. Slowly (slowly) but surely.

Thank you, Mom-mom, for that lovely washboard, and for all it represents.


A Love That Changes You

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

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

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

J holding K, 1992

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

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

B as newborn

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

B Thanksgiving 2010

B outside 2011

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

B summer 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ring Bearer