Here’s to Another Fifty-Four

Today is my sixth wedding anniversary and I’m not at all prepared: I have no card, no gift, and haven’t given any thought to how we might celebrate, except for some vague idea that we’ll go out to dinner once my morning sickness is over.

Rather than focusing on our own marriage this evening, Brennan and I will be celebrating the marriage of my cousin Zachary to his bride Susan and my cousin Jenny to her groom Colin. At pretty much the same time. (Yes – we’ll be running from one wedding to the other. We’ll hit the first wedding, then the second, than back to the reception of the first.)

Tomorrow, we’ll again gather together with much of our family to celebrate my grandparents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary.

It’s a marriage kind of weekend.

So I’m thinking about us – me and Brennan – and where we are today. I’m thinking about where we were on our own wedding day and how far we’ve come. I’m wondering where the coming years will take us.

And I’m just so grateful.

Our wedding day passed in a swirl of images and activity: skirts hiked high over brick sidewalks, our flower girl walking barefoot up the aisle, him waiting at the end of it for me, sailboats on the water, a broad dance floor under a white tent, the cake we never got to eat, hugs and good wishes, and just us – finally alone.

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Photo credit: Gordon Eisner

Our lives were so open and uncertain. Exciting, but uncertain.

Part of me wishes that we’d done the newlywed thing a little longer – gone on a few more trips, had a few more romantic dinners, enjoyed the (relative) freedom of being childless. But we were eager to have children. And thank goodness, children came easily: We welcomed our first a few weeks before our first anniversary. Our second came along 15 months later, and our third 30 months after that. Six years into our marriage, we’re now expecting our fourth.

I wouldn’t trade it – them, these years of worry and work – for the world. And I know Brennan feels the same.

Today we’re tired, we’re worn thin, we have to step over random objects (yesterday it was an empty milk jug on the family room floor) to get from point A to point B, but what an abundance of life we have in our home.

We get to watch our boys run and climb and jump and work together to catch “crocagators” and “pteranodonosauruses.” We get to hear them roar and shriek and tell long, long stories. I get to watch Brennan hold the big boys captive in his arms and my baby snuggle on his daddy’s chest. I get to see the way he teaches them, guides them, loves them. I get to hear him reading to them before bed and saying Grace with them before meals.

Our boys are getting older, more competent and independent. We’re entering the years in which we’ll teach them about the world and slowly back off as they learn to navigate it. Ten years from now, we might remember these small-child years as if through a fog. Thirty, forty years from now, our roles as parents will be altogether different.

Fifty-four years from now, when (God willing) we’ll celebrate our own sixtieth wedding anniversary, where will we be? What will we have gone through? How will we have weathered the challenges of our life together?

All I know is that despite the hard work and sleepless nights of caring for three small children and gestating a fourth, my life with Brennan is happier and fuller now than it was when we were newlyweds. That despite the fun we might have had on a few more childless trips and dates, nothing has built up our marriage like working alongside each other, making those difficult decisions together, and exchanging smiling glances as we watch our delightful, unruly brood roll around on the floor.

I can only hope that another 54 years of shared work, sacrifice, and small joys will add up to more love than I can imagine.

Grandmom and Granddad, congratulations on all you’ve accomplished together. Thank you for being such terrific parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Thank you especially for showing all of us such a beautiful example of marriage.

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Zachary and Susan, Jenny and Colin, congratulations on entering into your own marriages! I pray that six years from today, you look at each other with more love and commitment than you do this evening. I hope you’ll recognize the gift of having to work for and with each other and that someday you’ll receive the immeasurable blessing and joy of children.

Brennan, thank you for all you have been and done in the past six years. I love you and I’m so glad that you’re the one I get to walk (and stumble, and run) through life with. Here’s to another 54!

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7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 10)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

Maybe I should call this “7QT: Uncomfortable Revelations Edition.” Or how about “7QT: Grumbling Introspection Edition”? Or maybe I shouldn’t classify it as a Quick Takes anyway, because it’s anything but quick. (And by the way, I’m still embracing the Friday in the title, because even though I’m posting on Saturday, 90% of the post was written Friday. So it totally counts.)

Whatever you want to call it (or not call it), this week’s 7QT is a departure from my usual peppy jumble of household goings-on and NPR recommendations. I’m simply not feeling them this week. That said, to perk up this otherwise serious post a bit, I’m throwing in some wholly unrelated, happy pictures from the week. So if you’re not in the mood for discomfort and grumbling, just take a quick glance at the cute kids and move on to greener blog pastures.

— 1 —

First, the set-up: Wednesday evening I came home from a long, tiring day out with the boys and I wanted to just sit still for a few minutes in front of my computer. I was hoping that a few of my favorite bloggers had posted something new so I’d have fresh material to read. But when I discovered that a bunch of them had, was I happy? Nope. Not a bit. All I could think was: “Look at all those bloggers posting new material. They’re busier than I am, they have more kids than I do, and they were able to get something posted mid-week. Why couldn’t I?” Mope, mope, whine.

Nevermind that I had just spent 7.5 hours at the county fair with two toddlers. That I had risen and left the house a good two hours earlier than usual. That I’d wrangled my boys into (mostly) quiet behavior for hours while we (er, I) watched my cousins show their pigs. That for the second time that week, I’d caught my younger son’s vomit in my hands because on-the-fly fair eating (that is, not bothering to cut everything up into teeny tiny bits) doesn’t agree with him. That by the time we came home, we were sweaty, sticky, thirsty, dusty, muddy, and (dare I say it?) smelling of manure. And that – despite or because of it all – we’d had a great day together.


I was coming off all that busyness and stress and fun, and I allowed myself to be plunged into the doldrums because bloggers I like had actually, you know, blogged. Because people I admired were doing something I admired. Because it wasn’t me.

Enter: Julie’s latest round of introspection. (They come frequently.) Between my observation of the aforementioned situation and the content of a few of the blog posts that I (reluctantly) read that evening, I began to think in earnest about how this (still new to me) blogging thing is affecting my mood, outlook, etc. Grumbling and thinking about it all in the most haphazard of fashions, I had the following uncomfortable revelations:

— 2 —

My old, familiar insecurities live on in my blogging, just as they do in the rest of my life.

Surprising, isn’t it? I don’t know why I hadn’t expected this. I guess I thought of starting the blog as turning a new page – a bright, shiny, open-horizon kind of page. Just like I once thought that becoming a stay-at-home-mother would cause me to shed my old work-related hang-ups. But of course, we are who we are. We have backgrounds and inclinations and personalities that affect how we act and how we interpret what happens around us. They don’t go away when we take on something new.


To touch on a few of my insecurities (because they should add meaning to the rest of this post), let me just admit the following:

I often feel inadequate, particularly when it comes to matters of the mind. I compare myself to those whom I admire and I tend to feel like no matter how hard I try, I’ll never fit in with the truly intelligent and articulate. Or the holy.

I am unhappy with my appearance, especially insofar as it relates to my weight. This unhappiness is not a reaction to my age or to having borne children, nor is it simply some perception thing. I have been actually, technically, officially overweight for much of the past 20 years.

If it seems to me that someone easily masters those things which I find particularly challenging (see above), I’m likely to be jealous of them. I work on this one, I really do. But it lurks.

These are really unique insecurities, aren’t they? I mean, nobody else has feelings of inadequacy or jealousy or unhappiness with their appearance, right?


— 3 —

People don’t simply have different tastes, they react with astounding difference to the same innocently-conceived material, based on their own struggles and hang-ups.

Let me point you to the following three blog posts:

Pretty, Gritty, Real: How to Read Blogs, by Simcha Fisher

Glimpses of Momentary Victory, by Hallie Lord

5 Favs (Fav # 5), by Jenny Uebbing

I feel like this is like a Russian doll version of blog suggestions: Hallie’s post is a focus of Simcha’s post, which is a focus of Jenny’s post. (And if you’re going to read only one, go with Simcha’s, which is the most thorough.) The moral that I took away from reading all three is something like this: People write blogs for different reasons; they read blogs for different reasons. Something that appeals to one person may agitate another. As a reader, you should know yourself and avoid the blogs that make you “want to punch somebody” as Simcha and Jenny put it. As a blogger – not that you should sweat the divergence in tastes too much – you should be thoughtful about how you present your life in your writing, because even innocent stories/remarks have the potential to cause pain for your readers.


As far as taste is concerned, I like a pretty decent variety of Catholic mommy blogs. I like a few of the “gritty” ones, which share stories of messes and meltdowns and parental failures. They make me laugh and take myself a little less seriously. I like a few of the sentimental, pretty blogs, which cause me to daydream of loveliness and which inspire me to try harder to make the home and traditions I want my boys to grow up with. I love the blogs that jump into deeper subjects and challenge me to adjust my thinking and to live more fully/thoughtfully/prayerfully/generously, etc.

The only classification of mommy blog that I avoid entirely is the fashion blog. Because if I’m not feeling great about my weight, why would I want to look at pretty clothes and the prettier women wearing them? So on this count, I plan to keep on taking Simcha’s advice:

You can just stop reading, you know.  Or just read something else.  It’s in your control.

Take a good look at what happens to your state of mind if you check out this blog or that website or so-and-so’s Facebook or Twitter or Instagram persona.  Is something having a bad effect on you?  Every time you read a certain author, does it make you feel inadequate or self-righteous, discouraged or contemptuous?  Do you spend the rest of the afternoon criticizing yourself or other people?   Then just skip it — or look elsewhere…

Know thyself!  Take control!  It’s a big world, and one of the few parts you can actually do something about is deciding where to spend your time.


— 4 —

Though I flatter myself as someone who is easily able to see different sides of a political issue, I’m often unable or unwilling to understand where people are coming from on personal issues that are particularly touchy for me.

With that one (fashion) exception, I don’t exclude whole classes of blogs because of my personal hang-ups. But I consistently come across material – single posts, single phrases, even – from my favorite bloggers that really push my buttons. Here are the primary examples:

Skinny bloggers who complain that they’re not skinny enough.

  • During their pregnancies, they say things like “Look at this picture of my HUGE baby bump! Strangers keep asking if I’m going to pop!” when they look all perky and thin with a lovely, smallish round belly – way smaller at 9 months than mine ever was at 5 months.
  • Post-pregnancy, it’s “I still can’t fit into my pre-baby jeans and s/he is FOUR months old!” Sorry, lady – no sympathy. Your stomach is flatter after three babies than mine was in high school.
  • And of course they always seem to be going on about their diets/exercise regimens and how they’re going to hell-in-a-handbasket because they indulged in one full-sugar soda. Excuse me while I throw a pillow or something.

The following also get to me, albeit in more of an eye-rolling, huffing kind of way:

  • Extreme purgers. I understand needing to declutter because your home is actually cluttered. I do not understand tossing 90% of your possessions because you get some kind of high out of it.
  • Romantic home/natural birthers. For one, I’m just not interested in birth stories. For another, I simply don’t understand some women’s need to have a spiritual/meaningful/transcendent birth “experience”. The only things that matter to me about giving birth are ending up with a healthy baby and mommy at the end. Pump me with drugs; brighten the lights; bring a half-dozen medical students through my room; I don’t care. Just give me a healthy baby and a healthy me.


I realize that much of that was rather uncharitable. But it was the “before.” Here’s the “after” – the charity that this week’s revelations inspired:

Those skinny ladies? Reading between the lines, I sense that some of them have really struggled with their self-image. Maybe they’ve suffered through actual eating disorders. Maybe they’ve dealt with less severe, but still unsettling issues with food, exercise, and weight. You don’t have to reach a certain number on the scales to feel insecure about how you look.

And me? Even though I’ve been technically, medically overweight for most of the past 20 years and even though my weight always has and still does bother me, I am crazy blessed that I never had any inclination to confuse my appearance with my worth. For that reason, I escaped so many of the issues other women struggled through. I am so. incredibly. grateful.

And pregnancy? Pregnancy makes every woman bigger. No wonder that every woman feels bigger. Whether you wear a size 0 or a size 20, pregnancy changes and grows your body into a form that’s likely to feel uncomfortable and strange. I need to just go ahead and give the pregnant skinnies a break.

The purging thing? Even though part of me (I always say I have a bit of the Great Depression in me) cringes at the idea of throwing away objects that are still useful, that’s me. That’s my preference. Who am I to peg it on someone else? Maybe for some people it’s not so much that purging gives them a high, but rather that being surrounded by things makes them feel low.

The birthing thing? The home birthing trend will always bother me, because I think that every mother has a duty to do what she can to ensure a safe outcome for herself and her child. And removing oneself from the medical care available in a hospital just doesn’t make any sense to me. (Think of how many women in impoverished parts of the world would love to have the luxury of giving birth in a hospital!) And whether we like to think of it or not, women and babies still die in childbirth. We are not immune simply because we live in a wealthy country.

But the rest of it? The high value on having a certain birth “experience”? Why should I care if a woman wants to birth naturally, with low lights and scented oils? Maybe this is how she’s dealing with her fear. Because we might not want to talk about it, but we women are afraid when we head into childbirth: Of the pain. Of the lack of control we have over our own bodies. Of how our lives are about to change. Of something going wrong.

I need to remember these things when I come across blog material that bugs me. I need to be better about giving people the benefit of the doubt. And I need to be better about clicking away from something that bugs me, without taking any annoyed or self-righteous baggage with me when I go.


They’re in a boat, surrounded by big, blue waves. Can’t you tell?

— 5 —

We often don’t see the hard work behind someone else’s attractive life.

It’s not just the sadness and hardship we miss when we look longingly at something that seems to come easily to another – we miss the hard work, too. In my single days, I saw the love and companionship in my friends’ marriages; I didn’t see the compromise and the tolerance and the putting someone else first. Before I had my own children, I saw the dimples and the curls and the sweet little dresses. I didn’t see the many hours my friends spent on their feet, the crumbs they swept off the floor, the vomit they caught with their bare hands.

Lately, a few kind souls have complimented me on my boys’ good behavior in public. I should be gracious enough to simply smile and say thank-you. But on the harder days, I’ve grumbled out an, “It’s hard work!” Because for all they know, I’ve been blessed with two amazingly compliant little cutie pies. But I’ve actually been blessed with two very real little boys – two very dramatic, energetic, independent little boys. They behave well in public because their father and I have worked our butts off in an untold number of small, tedious ways, teaching them to listen, to respond, to sit still when we need them to.

Recently I had a little “aha” moment when I realized that all those skinny ladies – the ones who are more attractive and fashionable than I think I’m capable of ever being – the ones who complain about their diets and workouts – those ladies work hard to be that way. Exercise is hard work. Eating right is hard work. Doing both while mothering a bunch of little kids is really hard work. I may look at their figures and clothes and see ease, but they most certainly do not.


— 6 —

My own blog – this little thing that hardly anybody reads – can cause pain even when I’m careful.

Before reading Simcha’s post, this hadn’t really occurred to me. I knew I had to be careful about how I dealt with touchy political subjects. I had a sense that I should present my life as fairly and realistically as possible – beauty and warts. And I knew that I had a fair chance of annoying somebody with any given post. But I didn’t think about how my thoughts, my ideas, my ways of parenting, my home, my marriage, and heck, an untold number of things I can’t even think of right now could actually cause pain to someone who’s been nice enough to stop by to see what I have to say. It’s a weighty thing and there’s not exactly a solution to it. I suppose it’s just something I need to remember.


— 7 —

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.


Now, go on over to Jen’s and check out all the other Quick (much quicker than mine, I’m sure) Takes!