The Unexpected Blessing of Social Media

Can I say something that most people don’t seem to want to these days? I really kind of love social media. I know we’re supposed to be skeptical of it, nervous about it, burdened by it, bored with it – and I’ll admit that I was reluctant to get involved in it in the first place. But now? I’m so grateful for its place in my life.

So often social media is presented as a barrier to “real” relationships with people – as if people choose to stay home with their laptops and smartphones rather than go out into the world to be physically present to the people in their lives. Maybe that’s how it works for some. But for me, social media has been more boon than barrier.

Facebook allows me to connect with “IRL” family and friends better than pretty much anything else I can imagine, save a utopian walking community in which everyone’s backyards abut each other. My family is big and busy and mostly spread from one end of a sprawling metropolitan area to the other. Even if we saw each other more frequently than we do (and we see each other pretty frequently by most families’ standards), there’s only so much in-person catching up I could do with my 70-odd closest relatives (not exaggerating – I counted) given my responsibility for keeping track of these four relatives:

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And then there are the family members who live great distances from us. Because of Facebook, I know that my two little cousins in Maine are learning the art of beekeeping. I know that they’ve resumed their riding lessons and that they just swam in the lake for the first time this season. I get to cheer my cousin and his wife in San Diego as they run their (very intimidating and impressive to me) marathons and half-marathons. I get to watch my teenage and twenty-something cousins in St. Louis and Chicago and Nashville go off to proms and colleges and fall in love.

I get to know new friends more quickly and I get to know old friends better. I get to enjoy playdates where my girlfriends and I don’t feel like strangers from postponing a half-dozen times because somebody is always getting sick.

Social media also enables me to be “myself” better than any situation I can imagine. (Even my fantasy utopian communities have their limitations.) Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (I do limit it to the three) allow me to indulge in a custom mix of my favorite interests, values, and personalities – a cocktail of politics and history and faith, of smart/witty/wise/idealistic/self-deprecating Catholic writers, of home-making and child-rearing and beauty found in the ordinary.

They allow me to connect with people who share those interests and values, to make friendships that transcend geography.

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Social media gives me opportunities to understand people and to love them.

On a daily basis, it presents me with more diversity and a wider range of experiences and ideas than I would ever bump up against in my physical community. It helps me put myself in someone else’s shoes; it makes obvious to me the common threads that run through families and communities that seem so different.

Social media allows me to nurture a fondness, a tenderness, not just for my family and friends, but also for the loved ones of those I’ve loved somewhere along the way. (You should see the piercing blue eyes of my college roommate’s little girl and the deep brown eyes of my high school friend’s little boy. You should read the hilarious kid quotes. You should hear how beautifully my friends love their spouses, their siblings, their children, their parents.)

Social media allows me to feel my role in the Body of Christ, praying for and supporting those in need, working with others to accompany people through their trials.

Are there problems with social media and the role it has come to play in our lives? Of course there are. There are problems with just about every way in which we humans come together. When engaging in social media, we should hold to the same principles we (hopefully) do in other human interactions: be kind, consider where others are coming from, watch what you say, consider your own disposition, recognize that the world is full of people who are like and unlike you in a million important and not-so-important ways. Love. Enjoy the people you encounter. Accept the light they bring to your life and offer a little in return.

These Walls - The Unexpected Blessing of Social Media

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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Joyful Absurdity: {pretty, happy, funny, real} Vol. 17

{pretty}

Spring is my favorite time of year – there’s just so much {pretty} to be found outdoors. Everywhere you look there are pretty little discoveries, delightful surprises, reminders of what you’d forgotten during the long winter months.

These days I’m enjoying the tulips my mother-in-law planted. I’m soaking up the sounds of the fountain and the wind chimes, which drift through our open windows.

I’m watching my little boys dig in the dirt. They operate with more gentleness than I’d have guessed: rescuing worms, cradling moths in their cupped hands, mourning the deaths of ants almost too tiny to notice.

I’m rejoicing in the red buds and the beginnings of the lilac blooms. I’m eagerly awaiting my favorite: the Lilly of the Valley.

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{happy, funny, real}

To be honest, life has felt a little too full around here lately. And it’s for just the silliest of reasons: My boys have been taking swim lessons.

The lessons only last a half-hour, but they require us to be up and out of the house on the two days of the week when we’re not already up and out of the house for preschool. And it is so exhausting. I seriously don’t know how you working parents do it. I don’t know how you get everybody ready and out the door five mornings of the week, every week, for years on end. And you parents of school-aged children – you too!

Until this month, I had not realized how much I appreciate gentle starts to my day. Without them, I’m finding myself more frazzled and tired, more rushed, less peaceful and productive.

I tell you this to set the stage for the following:

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This isn’t a very good picture to represent my {happy, funny, real}, but as I have no documentarian recording my every move, there’s really no way I could provide you with one. Or with three, as the case may be.

You see, Wednesday was one of those rushed, not-peaceful, not-productive days. I started by dropping my oldest son off at his preschool and bringing my friend’s son home with me so she could help in the classroom. The two little boys played together, running in-and-out, in-and-out of the house. The baby napped. The boys required multiple snacks and potty breaks and attentions to their shoes. They followed me around and cuddled on my lap. They kept me very busy, though I didn’t feel like I had much time to be kept busy by them.

A friend was to come over for lunch. Mary was to come help me plan the set-up for the Catholic women bloggers’ conference I’m hosting next week, so I was trying to bake us a quiche. But little boys don’t care about quiches, do they?

No, they don’t.

So I sat with them a bit and cuddled. And when I got tired of my back bothering me, I laid down on the floor to stretch it out. “Don’t climb on me!” I said.

Futile warning.

Of course they climbed on me – all three of them. They were like ants swarming over a piece of food dropped from a picnic table. Before I knew it, I’d been pinned. I had a 3-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a 1-year-old lying on my head.

They yelled and laughed and clawed at my face. I writhed and resisted, but those boys – all 90 pounds of them – they proved formidable captors.

So I started laughing. And laughing and laughing and laughing until I cried. I couldn’t remember when anything had ever been so {funny} as this stupid situation I’d gotten myself into. All I could think of was the absurdity of the situation: Anyone who walked into the room would find a thrashing set of mom legs sticking out from under a writhing, shrieking pile of boy.

I could not get up. I could not extract myself from that pile.

So I kept laughing. I laughed harder than I had in years. I could. not. stop. What would my mother-in-law think if she came in? What would my friend think if she looked through the window and saw three boys sitting on my head? What would they think of the muffled, manic, unstoppable laughter coming through the little-boy giggles and yells?

I thought about how absurd it all was and I let go of all my pressures and my exhaustion and my deadlines and my responsibilities. I just laughed.

I think it took almost a full five minutes, but I finally wrestled my way out of the melee. My son was yelling, “Way back down, Mommy! Way back down!” But I had to get back to reality.

And at that moment, my reality looked very {real} to me indeed. My house was a wreck, my quiche was barely started, I wore disheveled clothes and no make-up, and I was due to be receiving a guest in a matter of minutes.

Mary arrived just after the blasted quiche (which took forever to bake) was finally shoved in the oven. We watched the boys play and fight and run and cry bloody murder in the backyard. I toured her around a messy, dirty house. I jumped up from our lunch at least a dozen times, trying to keep the boys “quiet” so Mary and I could “talk.”

After she left, I put the baby down for a nap and prepared to sit at my computer for what I hoped would be a quiet, restful hour.

It wasn’t. The baby woke too soon but was too tired to play. So I gave up. I sat on the sofa and held him in my arms. He dozed against my chest. I half-watched the boys’ movie, half-dozed too.

I relaxed. I let go – a different sort of letting go from the kind you do when you’re squashed under three small boys. I literally put up my feet. I rested my head on the sofa cushions and studied the curly head and soft cheeks lying just below my chin.

What a {happy} feeling.

The happiness grew as my other boys began to stir, picking their way towards us. They cuddled. They climbed behind me to play with my hair. One posed for a chain of selfies better suited to a teenaged girl.

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20150422_172824More absurdity, more joy. Always more joy.

Visit Like Mother, Like Daughter for more everyday contentment in {pretty, happy, funny, real}.

 

Life, Even At The End

Yesterday morning as I cleaned up the breakfast dishes and prepared dinner to go into the crock pot, I listened to NPR, just as I do most mornings. The Diane Rehm Show, with which I frequently disagree but which I nonetheless enjoy, was devoting its 11:00 hour to a discussion on assisted suicide.

Now, I earnestly believe that life is precious and worthy of protection from conception to natural death. And I believe that it is so regardless of an individual’s age or health or wealth or mental capacity. So I knew I would find the conversation disturbing. But I figured it would be good to take in anyway: I think there is an inherent good in hearing an argument fleshed out, whether or not I agree with it.

But about half-way through the program, the conversation got to be too much for me. It was indeed disturbing to hear a cancer patient ponder when her life would no longer be worth living, to hear the story of a 90-year-old-man who so wanted to die that he first tried overdosing on pain medication, then slitting his wrists, and then he shot himself.

Horrible, horrible.

Yes, yes, it’s good to hear an argument fleshed out. But it’s not good to go through the day with a lurking feeling of gloom, when I have little boys to feed and care for and love. So I turned off the radio. I chose peace over enlightenment.

A moment later, during a quick perusal of my Facebook feed, I came across the following video*. (I can’t embed it, so do be sure to click on the link and watch the first three-and-a-half minutes or so. I promise it’s worth it.) The video provides a brief glimpse into the work of the Little Sisters of the Poor. Or maybe I should say the joy of the Little Sisters of the Poor, because that’s really more like it. The video follows the Sisters, whose mission it is to care for the elderly poor, as they throw a small birthday celebration for an older priest. It includes a joy-filled Sister offering wine and happily telling how they were gifted with extra cases of beer. It shows another talking about why they do what they do:

“We celebrate the gift of life, the joy of living. When we care for the elderly poor, we try to make them happy in whatever way we can and sometimes that’s through parties, it’s through good care, good food. It’s love, attention.”

I was struck with the stark difference between the two pieces of media I had just consumed. In one, there was an over-arching sense of death and hopelessness. In the other, there was life and joy.

Yes, of course, the Little Sisters of the Poor video captured a birthday celebration; it didn’t show the Sisters caring for a desperately ill, horribly uncomfortable person. It didn’t show them holding vigil at a deathbed. But the Sisters do those things too. They do them day in and day out; they see more of age, of illness, of poverty, of death than most of us ever will. Yet they are filled with joy.

I have a friend who is a Sister in another order, who worked for a time in a nursing home. She often posted on Facebook about waiting with residents who were nearing death. Sister would sit at their bedside, talking to them and praying for them. She made sure they didn’t have to die alone.

That type of ministry touches me deeply. I think about my life, about all the people I have interacted with and known and loved and I wonder, who will be with me at my last moment? Will anyone be there at all? Lots of people state the vague, “I want to go in my sleep,” but I don’t know that that matters much. I just hope I have someone with me to hold my hand and pray for my soul.

As a Catholic, I recognize that suffering is part of life. I don’t mean that it’s not significant or difficult. I certainly don’t mean that God wills it. And I don’t mean that it’s wrong for a person to want their suffering to end. I only mean that we do ourselves a disservice when we think suffering makes life “not worth living.”

Our society pounds into us, again and again, this idea that life is for the healthy and the happy. And I’m not just talking about bright, shiny magazine spreads. I’m talking about the things we do in our homes and say to each other: We put our animals “to sleep” when they decline in health or ability; we recite a litany of “I don’t care if it’s a boy or a girl, so long as it’s healthy;” we jokingly ask others to put us out of our “misery;” we tut-tut others’ pain when they mourn a miscarriage or the loss of someone very old or very ill. (Seriously, would you ever say “Well, I suppose it was just his time” to the parent mourning the unexpected death of an 8-year-old boy or the widow reeling from the loss of her 32-year-old husband?)

Given all of this – this idea that a life’s value is measured by its vigor – it can be easy to act like very old or very ill people’s lives have ended before they’re actually dead. It can be easy, even, to want them to be actually dead. I won’t claim to be immune from such thoughts.

But I don’t think the Little Sisters of the Poor fall into that trap. Where others see nothing but pain and suffering, the Sisters see lives with as much dignity as those of the healthy and vigorous. They remember that our value does not depend on what we can do or how we feel.

Our lives are always worth living. When I near the end of my own, I hope I’m surrounded by people who remember that.

LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR MISSION, VISION and VALUES 2012

The Little Sisters of the Poor are an international congregation of Roman Catholic women religious founded in 1839 by Saint Jeanne Jugan. Together with a diverse network of collaborators, we serve the elderly poor in over 30 countries around the world.

Continuing the work of Saint Jeanne Jugan, our MISSION is to offer the neediest elderly of every race and religion a home where they will be welcomed as Christ, cared for as family and accompanied with dignity until God calls them to himself.

Our VISION is to contribute to the Culture of Life by nurturing communities where each person is valued, the solidarity of the human family and the wisdom of age are celebrated, and the compassionate love of Christ is shared with all.

Our VALUES

REVERENCE for the sacredness of human life and for the uniqueness of 
each person, especially those who are poorest and/or weakest. This is 
reflected in care that is holistic and person-centered.

FAMILY SPIRIT: a spirit of joyful hospitality embracing all with open arms, 
hearts and minds; fostering participation in the life of the home and rejecting 
all forms of discrimination.

HUMBLE SERVICE: the desire to raise others up and to put their needs before 
our own; an appreciation of simple, everyday tasks and experiences and humble 
means in accomplishing our work.

COMPASSION: empathy for sharing the weaknesses and sufferings of others; 
eagerness to relieve pain in all its forms and to make the elderly happy.

STEWARDSHIP: the recognition that life and all other goods are gifts from God
 and should therefore be used responsibly for the good of all; trust in God’s Providence 
and the generosity of others to provide for our needs; just compensation for our
 collaborators; a spirit of gratitude and sharing.

 

* I came across the video because the Little Sisters of the Poor were recently named to NOW’s “Dirty 100” (oh, the irony) list of organizations that have filed suit against HHS regarding the contraception mandate. See my last post for a few of my thoughts on that subject.

Announcing…

Our newest little (scratch that – our newest BIG) bundle of joy: Isaac Charles Walsh.

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Isaac was born at 4:11 pm. He’s delightfully pudgy and squishy, which shouldn’t be a surprise, given that he weighed in at a hefty NINE pounds, even. He measured 21 inches long.

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I’m happy to report that this was my easiest labor and delivery thus far. We are oh-so-thankful that Isaac and I both made it through in such good health and safety.

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We are so thankful, period. What an amazing blessing. Thank you to all who have been keeping us in prayer. We appreciate it, and you, so much.

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Their Favorite Thing In The Whole World, For Tonight

Is this rug:

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As I’ve mentioned, we’re in the process of turning our boys’ haphazard, never-fully-unpacked nursery into a real, comfy, all-set-up big boy room. At this point, I’d say we’re about two-thirds of the way there. Brennan still needs to clean and put together the boys’ beds. We need to bring their new reading chair and some more of their toys upstairs. And we’ve still got to buy mattresses, bed rails, and additional items with which to accessorize.

But tonight, all that matters is… this rug:

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I swear, their reaction to it was honestly, truly, one of the most joyful scenes I have ever witnessed. In my whole life.

To understand their response, you’ve got to know that there is no carpeting in our 150-year-old house. (Okay, fine, we’ve got some gross, decades-old carpeting on our main staircase, but I don’t exactly consider that living space.) And we’ve purchased very few rugs since we moved in. We have a nice wool one in our family room and a couple of cheapie, very thin ones in our parlor. That’s it – nothing soft, nothing particularly comfortable. The boys run and wrestle and crawl around on bare floor all day long.

So this soft, plush, almost shag rug just about boggled those little boys’ minds.

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They’ve been sleeping on the sofas in our family room for nearly three weeks, first due to Brennan painting their room, then due to the fumes and clean-up. Tonight, we were finally ready for them to sleep in their own beds (er, cribs) again. So I brought them upstairs while Daddy readied their bath, all “Come see your new room, boys! Daddy’s finished painting your room! Your cribs are ready for you! We even got you a rug!”

All I really needed to say was “rug.”

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The moment they spotted the thing, they squealed and shrieked and threw themselves down upon it. They rolled around, jumped up, and threw themselves back down. They laughed and oooh’d and aaah’d and snuggled into it and rolled some more.

“It’s so comfy and warm!”

“It’s white!” (It’s not.) “Did you know dat’s my favwite cowor?” (He has a different favorite color every time you ask.)

“It’s wike snow! Yet’s make snow angels!”

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They indeed made “snow” angels on the rug, then hopped up to run/skip circles around it. The little one copied everything his big brother said and did. They chased each other, jumping and leaping and dancing, kicking and saying, “Hi-ya! Take dat!” Once every minute or two, they’d throw themselves back onto the floor to revel in the rug some more.

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Big brother even used a new word: Joyful. As in, “I am so joyful!”

He was.

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I didn’t have my camera on me at the time. I nearly ran downstairs to grab it, but I didn’t want to miss a moment of their silly, genuine, intense joy. So I just sat there and grinned and tried to soak it all in. After the boys’ bath, I found my camera and grabbed a few shots of them enjoying the rug all over again. And then I soaked it in some more.

What a strange, thrilling, wonderful thing to end your day on – a rug.

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This is post seven of the 7 Posts in 7 Days challenge at Conversion Diary. Stop there to check out the hundreds of other bloggers who are also participating.

The Little Things

Today was just the kind of day my boys like: We left the house. And visited people. And ate in a “westawant” (er… it was really a cafeteria in a senior living facility, but close enough.) They got to run laps around a friend’s house. And stick their hands in dirt. And clean up crumbs with a broom. And carry around big sticks. They got to run in long hallways. (While I winced and prayed that they didn’t knock over any elderly people.) They got to pet a cute little dog. They got to take a bath. (We… um… don’t do baths nearly often enough, so they’re still a big deal: “Do you want to take a bath, boys?”)

For two- and three-year-olds, it really is the little things that bring joy.

By the end of the day, the most vivid image in our two-year-old’s mind must have been petting Toby the dog, a cute little guy belonging to one of the elderly gentlemen at my great-aunt’s retirement home. My boy spent a puzzling few minutes insisting that he was “Dopey” before I recalled the pup and realized he was trying to say “Toby.” Thereafter, he refused to answer to anything else and crawled around on the floor, yipping.

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Meanwhile, our three-year-old came out with a series of funnies today that I thought I’d share with you in lieu of my more thoughtful post on prison sentences. (Not kidding. Hmm… which should I post at 11:00 pm when I’m more than a little foggy-brained? Prison sentences: punishment vs rehabilitation or… cute kid quotes? I’ve got to go with the latter.) Stay tuned for prison talk tomorrow.

This morning as we drove toward our first destination, my boy said: “Wook, Mommy! A ammal shelter! A ammal shelter house! Dats where ammals wiv.” Then, predictably: “I want a dog.”

After I explained to him (not for the first time) that dogs are a lot of work, like babies, and we’re about to have a baby, so it’s not a good time to get a dog… he gasped and said: “I know! We can get a dog after da baby’s born!”

As I was describing to the boys whose house we were driving to and I told them that it was Miss Mary’s house, but not his little friend E.G.’s mommy Miss Mary’s house, he asked: “Is it da Mary dat has a baby Jesus?”

As we were leaving Mary’s house, which he had earlier been told was a “magic house” (for a reason that made sense at the time, though I can’t currently remember what it was), he said: “I had fun at da magic house, Mommy. I haffa tell Gwanma an Gwampa dat I went to a magic house yesserday!”

Walking away (really, floating on air) from Toby the dog, whom the boys had just been permitted to pet for a couple of minutes: “Toby wiked me, Mommy! He’s da best dog in da whole world. Toby is so cute! I want a dog.”

Telling his father about his day: “We got to see Miss Mary’s gardens! Where she has vetchtables! Did you know you can eat vetchtables?”

And… I can no longer keep my eyes open. So I’d better sign off now. See you tomorrow for Day 2 of Jen’s 7 Posts in 7 Days challenge!

Reminding Myself Of The Joy That Is Him: {pretty, happy, funny, real} Vol. 7

Yesterday was rough. It wasn’t exceptionally crazy; it didn’t contain a series of awful events. All the same, it was the kind of day that left me questioning, seriously, what I think I’m doing having children. The reason? I was in bad form that morning. I seriously lost my temper with the biggest little Mister. I won’t tell you what I did, because you’ll either think “Oh, that?! That’s nothing!” or “Tsk, tsk, tsk… for shame, Julie.” And I’m honestly not sure which response would be harder for me to receive.

But the what doesn’t even matter that much. What matters is what the what made me think about. Minutes after my little temper tantrum, I got the boys in the van to head out to do our first errands in almost a week. Namely, we had to go to the pediatrician’s office so my younger boy’s ear infection could be diagnosed (check) and we had to go to my ob’s so I could put an end to the month-long saga of trying to get my Rhogam shot (CHECK).

Anyway, we loaded up, made our way down our snowy, steep driveway, and got going. The littlest guy fell asleep almost right away, leaving nothing but uncomfortable silence between me and his older brother. Sniff, sniff, sniff… I kept glancing back to see my three-year-old staring off into space, looking sad. (And tired. The reasonable part of me has to remind myself that the morning’s drama stemmed, in part, from a big case of Tired Little Boy.)

I felt awful.

I asked my boy if he was okay. I told him I loved him. I apologized for my overreaction. He whispered a few “yeah’s” and “okay’s” before drifting off to sleep.

As we moved down the highway, I thought about how deeply I’d always desired to be a mother. I thought about how I’d always delighted in having lots of children around and how I always thought I was naturally cut out to be a mother of many. And it finally hit me: I don’t feel that way anymore. It’s not that I don’t still want the children – the two (and one in-process) that I already have and the however-many-more God sees fit to give us in the future – I just no longer feel like I’m naturally cut out for it.

I’m easily overwhelmed. I’m impatient. I’m stubborn. I’m a perfectionist. I’m a world-class procrastinator. I have a hot temper. I don’t have much tolerance for noise or activity or little people climbing all over me. I need a fair amount of alone time to keep from blowing my top. How in the world did I think I was a good fit for being a stay-at-home mother to lots of little ones?

But, here I am.

And here they are: these lively little guys who, after all, are only two and three years old. At the end of the day, even though I’ve told them a million-and-one times not to do x (say, stabbing at their brother with a fork or – yesterday’s trigger – roaring and charging at Mommy while she’s on the phone dealing with the Rhogam saga), they are just two and three years old.

That’s a hard pill for me to swallow. I think that children – even small children – are much more capable than our society gives them credit for. I think that if you want your children to be able to do things like sit still and follow rules and be considerate of others, both you and your children are best served by beginning to teach them how to do so when they’re very young. (Wouldn’t it be shocking to be five years old, entering Kindergarten, and find – for the first time in your life – that you’re expected to sit still for most of the day?) Still, I can attach myself too strongly to that concept, losing sight of the fact that they are just two and three years old. Yes, I should have high expectations for my children. But my expectations should also be realistic. This teaching children thing was never going to be easy.

And this boy is not easy. He is rather too like his mother. For I know that’s part of the problem between us: we have very similar personalities. We don’t do give-and-take with one another too well. We do the butting heads thing very well.

As I continued to drive down the highway, he slept while I thought. I thought about the disservices I’ve done to him. I thought about how amazing he is, and how he doesn’t deserve to be burdened with my short-tempered, overwhelmed outbursts. I thought about how much I love him.

When I saw Leila’s Facebook reminder about {pretty, happy, funny, real} yesterday evening, I brushed it aside at first. What kind of contentment could I dig up at the moment? But then I thought of my boy again, about how good he was in the afternoon, seemingly meeting my sadness with his sweetness. And I knew that at that moment, I needed to focus on the {pretty, happy, funny, real} that is him – the joy that is him.

{pretty}

And boy, is this boy {pretty}. I don’t care about anybody’s verbiage hang-ups: Someday he’ll be handsome; right now he’s pretty, he’s beautiful. He has these gorgeous, long eyelashes that any woman would envy. He has big, blue eyes. He has soft, round cheeks and thick, wavy hair. He has the sweetest smile.

This picture is obviously not from this week. But still -- pretty!

This picture is obviously not from this week. But still — pretty!

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{happy}

My boy loves being outdoors. When he was a baby, the instant we walked outside, he would quiet down and look around him in wonder. It was a great cure for meltdowns: step outside and they’d stop, like a switch had been flipped. On pleasant-weather days, I’d set him out on the deck in his stroller so I could eat lunch in peace.

Today, regardless of the temperature or the elements, he’d rather be outside than almost anywhere else. So when we, like much of the East Coast, had our biggest snow of the season this week, you know this boy wanted to go out to play. He was so {happy} to be chilly and rosy-cheeked and covered in snow.

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I don’t know what he was doing. Apparently “smile” now translates into “Cock your head and scrunch up your eyes.”

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Or, as in this case, it translates into “Show me your chin and the roof of your mouth.”

{funny}

After all the angst of the morning, he was so good yesterday afternoon. We went to two doctor’s offices, a sandwich shop, and the grocery store/pharmacy. At the store, I sat him in the back of the cart and he handled all the items being piled onto him with such good humor. It was so {funny}. Towards the end of the trip he voiced a little, “Umm… Mommy? I can’t weawy move anymore.” But still, a few minutes later as we were finishing up at the check-out and I was piling things back onto him, telling him “They’ll keep you warm!” he responded with a cheerful little, “Oh! Gweat!”

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{real}

And then of course there are all the little, everyday, {real} things that too often go unnoticed: the play, the helping, the creating, the reading and snuggling.

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Aren’t those toolboxes amazing? My very talented brother made them for the boys for Christmas.

That may look like a mustard bottle, but I’m told it’s glue.

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Before we moved his baby brother into his room with him, I used to visit my son’s room every night. I’d stand by his crib and watch him sleep. I’d soak him up. I’d pray for him. But then the baby went into the room and I was nervous about waking one of them up, so I stopped. I got out of the habit of walking into that room once they were asleep. It was painful at first, but after a while, I didn’t miss those moments so much.

But last night, I felt like I was overdue. I crept into the boys’ room and watched over them for a few minutes while they slept. I lingered especially over my older son’s crib, soaking him up, praying for him. I thought over the day and how I’d hurt my boy’s feelings and disappointed myself. I asked for help.

I don’t know how to wrap up this post, except to say that today I’m trying harder – to be understanding, to be kind, to not let my interactions with my boys devolve into the kind of mess we had yesterday. I still feel yesterday’s sadness echoing around here, but I’m trying.

Thanks, as always, to Leila and the other Lawler women for hosting {pretty, happy, funny , real.} Head on over there for glimpses at others’ contentment this week.

pretty happy funny real[1]

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 24): Joys of Boys, Breastfeeding in the Sistine Chapel, and… Vomit

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Let’s just pretend you’re reading this on Friday evening (when it was written) rather than Saturday morning (when I finally posted it), alright?

—1—

Just as Jen said this morning that it was taking all of her effort not to write her entire 7QT about the FitBit, so it is taking all of my effort not to write my entire 7QT about vomit. Yes, that’s right, vomit.

Aren’t you lucky to be reading my post?

As anyone who’s been friends with me on Facebook for more than a few months will know, my primary parenting cross is vomit. It is not sleepless nights, it is not picky eaters, it is not stubbornly-unwilling potty-trainers. It is my boys’ copious and relentless opportunities to vomit all over the place.

And they’ve never even (until now?) had a stomach bug. They’re gaggers. They vomit because they’re gagging on food that is too big/crunchy/mushy/varied in texture/unpleasant in texture/generally undesirable. They vomit because they’re congested. They vomit because they’re carsick. They vomit because they’re upset.

They have vomited in bed, in the car, at the kitchen table, at restaurant tables, and in what feels like every room of our house. We have gone weeks at a time with at least one vomit episode per day. We have gone months at a time with at least one per week.

But fear not: tempted as I am, I will not burden you with an entire 7QT of vomit. I’ll just burden you with two Takes. If you’ve got a queasy stomach, jump down to Take number three.

—2—

My boys’ vomit no longer holds any power over me.

I discovered this last night, when my two-year-old vomited for the third time in less than 24 hours. (It’s still not clear whether the poor guy has a stomach bug or a respiratory thing.) I knelt next to him, catching what I could in my hands, and my stomach didn’t churn even one little bit. I am immune. I know the routine: catch vomit, call for older son to retrieve receptacle for vomit, clean me up, clean little guy up, clean the rug, wash vomity laundry. And it’s smart to wait on that last one a bit, because if somebody vomits once, they’re likely to do so again.

Last night couldn’t help but remind me of my hands-down, all-time, most frenetic evening of parenthood. It was a little over a year ago and even in my pre-blogging days, it made such an impression that I wrote it all down:

We had quite the busy little evening here. The idea was for Brennan and I to scarf down a quick carry-out dinner and then B would take care of the boys while I went to the grocery store. BUT we were thwarted.

As soon as we sit down for our sneaky attempt at eating, the little guy interrupts us. So we get him settled in his high chair. As we sit back down, Brennan knocks over a glass of water. We deal with the mess. As we sit back down, the big guy wakes up from his nap. I get him out of bed and then shovel down my (now cold) food. Then I finish my grocery list while Brennan tries to feed big guy (fail) and little guy (partial fail). I clean up half of little guy’s meal from the floor and run upstairs to throw in a load of laundry before I leave for the store. I come back down to the family room to find little guy throwing up all over the place (because he got hold of a piece of food too big for him) and big guy throwing up all over the place (because he’s watching little guy).

Brennan and I are shouting a confusing mix of “Go into the other room!” and “Don’t move!” at big guy, who runs over to look at little guy, throws up, runs away, hears little guy throw up again, and runs back to see what’s going on. Repeat. We end up in the kitchen to clean off the boys, where big guy throws up again. So, bathtime. I bathe the boys while Brennan cleans up the vomity family room and kitchen. Little guy pees in the water and then immediately scoops up the pee water with a cup and pours it onto the bath rug. We get the boys dry and dressed and I settle in the nursery to give little guy a bottle and get him to sleep. As soon as I lay the nearly-asleep baby in the crib, he starts to cough and then (of course) throw up again. Into my hands and onto his bedding, pajamas, and bumper. I call to Brennan for help. I deal with the crib; he deals with the baby. I go back downstairs in defeat. Four hours of nonstop activity and still no groceries.

—3—

That was fun, wasn’t it? Believe me, I’m a barrel of laughs right now.

There’s the fact that both of my boys are sick at the moment, there’s the sleep deficit that has been compounded by the boys’ sicknesses, there’s my own post-nasal drip that I just feel starting up, there are a couple of other things I’ll tell you about next week, and there’s my bruised-feeling arm from a shot I got on Wednesday.

I’m really not a big wimp when it comes to needles, especially during pregnancy. (I can put up with so much more when I’m doing it for someone else’s benefit.) But that darned TDaP shot! It hurts! Not so badly at first, but by the end of the day, I was in pain to the point of distraction, to the point of nausea. When Brennan came home, I pretty much turned everything over to him and told him that I wasn’t planning to lift my arm. I had to sit still, my arm stretched out at my side, perfectly immobile. It was all I could do to avoid the waves of pain that made me feel like I was going to lose it.

Yeah, I don’t have the highest pain tolerance.

Which makes me more than a little nervous about an appointment I’m to have next week. It’s for an anesthesiology consultation at the hospital where I’ll deliver the baby. They’re to review my records regarding the stupid herniated-disc-in-my-neck thing and decide whether I can have an epidural for this baby. (Note that I had epidurals for both of my previous deliveries, no problem.) I dread the docs telling me that this time, it’s off-limits. As Jenny so perfectly put it, when I get to the hospital, I want to be able to greet the staff with, “Hello, this is my third delivery, and I don’t want to feel anything but joy.”

—4—

Things I would rather do than deal with doctors’ offices / insurance companies / medical bills:

There are more, I’m sure.

—5—

When I wrote that boys-are-not-easy post a couple of weeks ago, I forgot to include a quick story that (like the others) illustrates my life with boys quite well:

It was the evening of St. Nicholas Day and my body had responded to the stress of having eighteen children aged four and under in my home that morning by flooding my head with pain. Not quite TDaP-level pain, but painful enough to make me pretty much useless in the parenting department.

I tried. I kept up the child-tending motions as long as I could. But there came a point when I simply sat down on the kitchen floor and let the pain wash over me. Not to be deterred by the sight of Mommy sitting on the middle of the kitchen floor with her eyes glazed over (indeed, they were probably intrigued), my boys, whose absolute favorite thing to do in the evenings is rough-house with their daddy, seemed to decide I was a good target.

So they ran directly at me and I did all I could think of to defend myself: I stuck out my arms and faced a palm at each of them in a silent “stop” gesture. They bounced right off my hands. And they thought. it. was. hilarious. So that’s how they occupied themselves – running at me, bouncing off my outstretched hands, falling onto the floor, and giggling like mad. Repeat. For quite a while.

The scenario perfectly represents how I feel about parenting boys on the hardest of days: they keep coming at you, again and again. And they take delight in doing so, even when all you can muster is a simple, feeble attempt at basic defense.

—6—

Goodness, I’m cheery today, aren’t I? Let’s brighten it up for the last two takes.

Sometimes, when I watch my boys play together, I wince at the little reflections of myself I see in them, bossing each other around with shouts of “No!” or “Dat makes me vewwy unhappy!” But lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of my love and encouragement reflected in their play too. I see lots and lots of hugs amidst the wrestling. I hear lots of “I wuv you.” and “You are so cute, Jude.” And “Good job!” and “Dat’s a gweat idea!” My favorites are my three-year-old’s sighs of, “I sink Jude wuvs me… (smile) I wuv you, too, Jude.” And this one, from last weekend, was the absolute best:

3yo: “I sink Jude wuvs me.”
Grandpa: “And do you love Jude?”
3yo: “Yes. I don’t want him to be taken by a wobot.”

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—7—

I’m fading fast, so I’m going to make this last one actually quick, as opposed to my usual faux quick. Maybe I’ll revisit this topic later to stuff in all the commentary I’d planned to include here.

Anyway. You’ve seen all the headlines lately about Pope Francis encouraging women to breastfeed their hungry babies in the Sistine Chapel, right? Well, Brianna Heldt had a great post this week on when she breastfed her own baby in the Sistine Chapel, in the days of Benedict XVI. Here’s an excerpt. Be sure to click here to read the whole thing.

[I]n a last-ditch attempt to soothe my poor child and avoid Vatican employee ire, I darted towards what I hoped would be a nondescript corner and pulled out my trusty nursing cover.  “Pleeeeeeeease, God, don’t let the guards see me!,” I prayed, since I was breaking the whole “no sitting allowed” rule, not to mention breastfeeding an 18-month-old in, you know, the Sistine Chapel, which I reckoned was also off-limits.  People can be touchy about that sort of thing.

And wouldn’t you know it, not long after I began nursing, two guards made a beeline for me.  Like a really direct, obvious, can’t-get-there-fast-enough beeline.  Obviously they had some sort of superhuman ability to detect sneaky rule-breaking, noisy babies and distressed, humiliated, perspiring mothers.  Here it is.  I’m about to get kicked out of the Sistine Chapel for breastfeeding a screaming baby.  International incident, anyone?

Then the guards bent down with wild gestures and earnest words that I couldn’t quite make out, and so I stood up and fixed my shirt and clutched my baby and averted eye contact, all while imagining Pope Benedict XVI’s stern head shaking and tsk tsking when he was briefed that evening about this most horrible breach of Official Catholic Etiquette by Non Catholic People, in the Sistine Chapel of all places.

But no, the guards were actually gesturing me and my husband in the opposite direction of the exit.  Ohmygoodness, are they hauling us into some sort of Vatican office?  Are we going to be fined?  Yelled at?  But no, they were unroping a cordoned-off area, up at the front.  Where tourists aren’t allowed to go.  And then they began pointing and, well, pretty much forcing us to sit on the bench.

They weren’t asking me to leave.

They weren’t shushing my baby.

They weren’t appalled that the American lady was doing something so banal as breastfeeding a child, amidst the world’s most magnificent masterpieces.

No, they weren’t doing any of those things.

They simply weren’t going to permit a mother to breastfeed her baby on the floor.

So there my weary and disheveled little family sat, in a part of the chapel not typically accessible to the public.  Up by the altar.  We got to enjoy the art and the beauty from what was arguably the best seat in the house, at our own leisure, and with the knowledge that we were welcome there.  We experienced a reprieve from what had been an exhausting several days (that had incidentally included meeting the girls who would become our two new daughters, and all of the respective birth mothers of our adopted children–emotional overload much?).

See it appeared that in spite of all the people incredulous that an uncivilized 18-month-old dared be present on their tour of St. Peter’s, well, the Vatican and presumably Pope Benedict XVI thought otherwise.  And I will never, ever forget that.  Incidentally Mary had transformed into a calm and happy child sitting there on the special bench, and rarely have I felt such peace as I did in those moments, gazing at the ceiling and the colors and the gold with my husband and little girl.

And it’s funny because my fear and hand-wringing and the entire global village of tourists hates us and our baby! were, in the end, 100% unfounded and inconsequential.  Well except for the part about all the people hating us, because they really kind of did.  But that didn’t much matter in the end, and do you know why?

Because The Powers That Be around there, aka those belonging to and representing Jesus’ Church, have this upside-down idea that human beings are created with dignity, that motherhood is a high calling and important vocation, and that Jesus welcomes–especially welcomes–”the least of these”, be it a fussy baby, exhausted mother or all of the above.

G’night, all! Happy weekend! And don’t forget to head on over to Jen’s to check out the rest of the Quick Takes.

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 23): Skiing as a Metaphor for Life; We Parents as Enough

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—1—

This week…

Have you ever been skiing? You know how, when you look around from the top of the slopes, all the world spread out below you seems open and peaceful? And then you ready yourself to ski down the mountain and there’s this moment (for a wimpy beginner like myself, at least) when you’re right on the edge, wavering between that peacefulness and the scary/awful/fun/thrilling trip you’re about to make down the mountain?

That’s what this week has felt like for me.

It began quietly, a carryover from our quiet December. Then we had a couple days of teetering-tottering on the edge of peace/angst. Yesterday, I tipped over that edge and began my descent down the mountain. We moved, moved, moved through the day with much to do, much to contemplate. I imagine we’ll move ever faster through the next few months. There’s so much work to do, so much fun to be had, so much to figure out, so much tedium ahead. The thirteen weeks before this baby comes will fly, I am sure.

—2—

Speaking of which, do you want to get an idea of how huge I’m becoming? Over Christmas, it seems, my belly grew several sizes (something like the Grinch’s heart). I almost never think to take pictures of my “bump” (I hate that term), but just before our open house a couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me that maybe I should do so. And my dresser was momentarily not covered with piles of laundry, so it worked out just fine.

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25 Weeks. Two weeks later and I’m already way bigger.

I’ve started to get those sympathetic looks from strangers who think I must be nearly there. But nope! Three more months to go! And I’m actually feeling really good, only mildly uncomfortable when I bend over or stand up. So I offer a few cheerful words of comfort to those who realize they’ve seriously overestimated my gestational stage: “Oh, it’s okay! I’m always a big ol’ pregnant lady. You should see me when I’m nine months along!” They smile and look relieved that I’m not offended. All is well with the world.

—3—

But back to my skiing imagery. Let me share with you a bit of my top o’ the mountain peace and joy:

This weekend, we took the boys (3- and 2-years-old) to see “Frozen,” their first movie in a theater. This was a really big deal for us, because (1) Brennan and I never see movies. Seriously – I can’t even begin to tell you the last movie we saw at home, let alone in a theater. (2) We never go out to do fun things. We seem to spend every weekend doing laundry and home repairs. (3) Being out in public is such a novelty to our boys that they’re awestruck at the grocery store. The mall just about blows their minds. So a movie theater? Huge and mysteriously lit with lots of people and arcade games that blink and make noise? Beyond crazy. (4) Did I mention that they’re THREE and TWO?

So, you get it: this was a big deal. But we took some deep breaths and dove in. And believe it or not, it was GREAT. The boys sat quietly and (mostly) still. They didn’t seem to annoy anyone sitting near us. They paid attention to the whole movie, and they had a blast. Our 3-year-old, who is on the sensitive side, sat on his daddy’s lap the whole time, a little scared. But he said he enjoyed the movie and he was obviously paying attention to it, because he talked about it quite a bit afterward. Our 2-year-old unabashedly loved it. He sat on the edge of his seat and kept turning his head to look at me, grinning ear-to-ear. It was all warm-hearted goodness. We did a good thing for our boys.

—4—

And my teetering-tottering? On Tuesday we had this:

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What a lovely, peaceful, sweet shopping trip it was. Big brother at school, little brother asleep, would-be shoppers afraid to come out in the bitter cold… and a nice, warm Starbucks in my hand.

—5—

But then we also had TRIAL! TORMENT! TEARS! TINY TERRORISTS!

Nah… it wasn’t that bad. It’s just that we’ve gotten to one of those points where bad behaviors have gone unchecked for too long and parents can no longer deal with the consequences. One child has developed situational deafness: whenever Mommy speaks, he hears nothing. I’ve practically got to jump up and down in front of the kid to get him to listen to me. The other child, too cute for his own good, has become used to getting his way. And he turns downright surly when challenged.

So we’ve instituted a crackdown period: Stinkers get tossed in time-out for every. little. thing. It’s as fun as it sounds.

—6—

As for tipping over the edge and taking the plunge down the mountain…

Yesterday I drove our older son to and from pre-school, I delivered school flyers to eight locations in town, I took our younger son to story time at the library, I did that little “Mommy Dance,” I had coffee with a friend, I took the boys to get their hair cut, we went for a walk, and I attended a school meeting. Plus the usual feeding/diapering/keeping boys alive stuff.

The next couple of weeks are filled with play-dates and volunteering and doctor’s appointments. Weekends are booking up fast. There’s a long list of preparations to make and a shorter window in which to do them.

My head will spin if I let it.

So at this point, my plan is to try to enjoy the ride as long as I can. Deep breath, Julie… Take in the scenery wooshing past… Enjoy the ride…

—7—

And now for an almost wholly unrelated, far more beautiful, and yet heartbreaking Take.

When she was just eleven years old, my good friend Krista lost her mother to cancer. This week Krista marked the 23rd anniversary of her mother’s passing with a reflection not on what she lost when her mother died, but rather on what her mother lost when she died:

When my mom died, she didn’t just lose her own life. She lost her life with her children. For her, my life and my brother’s life, intertwined as they were with her own, ended when we were eleven and six.

I can’t even imagine how painful it must have been for her, when she finally accepted that the end was near, to know that she was about to lose her future with us. That she would miss all of the moments of our lives, big and small, for the rest of our lives. That she would never know us as adults, or meet the people who would become important to us as we matured. That she would never, ever, hold a grandchild in her arms…

When she knew that she was dying, she also had to know that she was letting go of a million moments with her children. That the past was all she would ever have with us. She must have experienced the kind of pain that pray I never have to face.

I have been hearing about Krista’s mom (a testament, I think, to the powerful impact she had on Krista’s life) ever since Krista and I became friends some sixteen years ago. I found this recent reflection so moving both because it brought another dimension to her mother’s story, and because it resonated with me in a personal way. I have what is perhaps an unreasonable fear of something happening to prevent me from raising my children, from seeing them grow. Oh, the ache of even contemplating such a thing.

But Krista doesn’t leave us there, ending on the ache. Nor does she admonish us to treasure every moment with our children. Rather, Krista simply asks that we parents worry a little less about our parenting, about whether we’re doing it right, or whether we’re doing enough.

Because if I have learned one thing after 23 years of being without my mother, I can tell you that what I missed, what I craved, was her. Her presence. The knowledge that the world contained her.

I didn’t need any extras. I didn’t need perfection. I would have preferred to have had her healthy, but to have had her at all was a blessing and, as I have learned, a luxury. To have had her, just as she was, was enough.

And if just having her was enough, then it follows that just having us, their parents, is enough for our own children. The fact that we are in their lives, that we are actively loving them, is enough. Our flaws and imperfections and mistakes do nothing to lessen the impact of our mere presence. Isn’t that a freeing thought?

It is indeed a freeing thought. And maybe it’s something of an invitation to just go ahead and enjoy the ride.

Be sure to check out Krista’s full post here. And as always, head over to Jen’s for more Quick Takes.