Remembering Cardinal Keeler

I had planned to write on another topic today, but when I woke to see the news of Cardinal Keeler’s passing, all I could think about was him, so I thought I’d share those thoughts instead.

I am not someone who knew Cardinal Keeler well; like many hundreds if not thousands of others, I am someone who simply encountered the Cardinal, who met him and watched him and who feels blessed to have done so. But though I have no intimate or profound experiences to relate, I can tell you about the love and light I felt when I was around Cardinal Keeler, and which I feel now as I remember him.

I grew up in the Archdiocese of Baltimore – I was ten when Keeler was installed as Archbishop and nearly thirty when he retired – so to me, the Cardinal looms large as a representation of bishops, and of the Archdiocese, and indeed of the Church itself.

But not just because of his position.

Cardinal Keeler was one of those rare individuals who made everyone feel like they counted. He connected with people. He was funny and clever and he had this sparkle in his eye that made you feel like you were in on the joke. The Cardinal exuded love and warmth and an intangible quality that must have had something to do with the light of Christ. You just felt lucky to be around him.

(Read the rest at the Catholic Review.)

The Space Between - Remembering Cardinal Keeler

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

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

3) Babies are blessings.

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

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

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

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

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

That’s life.

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

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

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

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

I don’t care.

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

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

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

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

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

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

These Walls - Babies Are Blessings

The Kids Are Alright (And the Parents Are Too)

(Everyday Bravery, Day 3)

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

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And of course:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

These Walls - Everyday Bravery

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

~~~

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

Catching Up (7 Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 41)

—1—

Tap, tap, tap.

Is anyone there?

I’ve enjoyed writing at the Catholic Review for the past almost-two-months, but I’m afraid I’ve killed my (this) blog! The thought makes me so sad.

How can I find the right balance to it all? Between writing and everything else I’m responsible for, between this blog and the other, between political writing and more personal writing? I have no idea.

No idea.

I guess I’m just going to keep plugging away at it and hope it works out somehow?

—2—

My six-year-old boy started 1st grade this week. I’m currently a tad sappy about the passage of time and all that, but mostly just very proud of my boy.

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He’s been really interested in being helpful lately, so we’ve found some small jobs around the house he can do. He’s taking out the recycling and putting away the flatware and even making some sandwiches.

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Best of all, when it’s time for my crew to load into the van, he puts on the two-year-old’s shoes, ushers his little brothers outside, and then HE BUCKLES THEM INTO THEIR CAR SEATS. Truly, this is a life-changing level of helpfulness for me. I always thank him with something like, “Thank you so much! That is so helpful and it makes things so much easier for me!” He responds with a sweet little “No problem, Mommy! I like helping.”

I think I like six.

One more thing about my boy, which I already blogged about over on my Catholic Review version of 7 Quick Takes:

I had a sad but beautiful little exchange with my six-year-old son the other evening, courtesy of my almost-all-day-every-day NPR listening habit. While I was driving, my boy spotted a bug in the car and I told him that I’d seen a mosquito. “Is that mosquito virus here yet?” he asked.

“Mosquito virus? Do you mean Zika?”

He did.

“Well, it’s here in the United States,” I told him. “But it’s not here in our area. It’s in Florida.”

“Oh, that’s too bad for the babies there. There will be a lot of babies dying in their mommies’ tummies.”

Most people would probably be appalled to know that my six-year-old was thinking of such things. I’ll admit to feeling a little guilty about it. But mostly, I just felt proud. My boy is paying attention. He’s understanding. He’s asking questions. He’s caring. And he wrapped up our conversation by suggesting that we pray for the babies.

“God, please take care of the babies in their mommies’ tummies. Please keep them from getting the mosquito virus. That’s all.”

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—3—

My four-year-old boy is a funny kid. He’s been telling me he loves me for a long time now – like, laying it on thick: “Mommy, I wuuuuv you, Mommy. You’re da best Mommy in da whole world. You’re boodiful. I JUST WUV YOU SO MUCH. I wuv you more den Jesus wuvs you.”

I’m not complaining.

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But I am noticing that he tends to say these things when (1) he wants something from me, (2) I’m already helping him with something, or (3) he’s been naughty or annoying.

Clever kid, that one.

Lately he’s been adding the following into the mix: “Mommy, you’re da gweatest Mommy of aw time. You’re da gweatest PERSON of aw time! You’re MINE. You’re my mommy and no one else’s!”

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This morning when I asked him why he was doing this fake crying thing, he answered: “Sometimes people just cwy because you’re so boodiful.”

Whoah. Slow down there, kiddo.

It’s gotten to the point where every time I become visibly annoyed with him he grins at me and raises his eyebrows and whispers, “You’re mine. You’re MINE.”

And I crack up. This kid! This manipulative, clever little bugger. I think we’re going to be in real trouble when he becomes a teenager.

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—4—

Boy number three has been less charming lately. He is two. He is very, very much two. A couple of Sundays ago when our priest asked (playfully) why our boy had been screaming so loudly that we removed him from Mass, we explained that he has a major case of the TWO’s.

He is a screamer and though we are working on the screaming (i.e. lots of consequences for screaming), I will admit that the screaming is kind of driving me nutty. I do not like this phase.

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I’m hopeful (though I may be deluding myself) that the screaming has something to do with the fact that our almost two-and-a-half-year-old is not yet talking. He says twenty or so fairly indistinguishable words, but he doesn’t yet put them together and he hardly ever uses them. He mostly just grunts. And screams.

We have a speech evaluation scheduled for the end of this month. If they deem him to be more than 25% behind, he’ll qualify for free in-home speech therapy. I’ve never before thought much of looking into such services, but now I’m all, “SIGN HIM UP.”

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—5—

Our sweet baby girl, on the other hand, continues to be as sweet as she can possibly be. She’s still happy and laid-back and easy to handle. (Maybe she’s aware of our household’s overabundance of screaming?)

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She’s feeling very well and eating and growing like a champ, but she still has salmonella in her system. We’re waiting on the results of the latest stool test. The last one (in late July) was positive and they need two consecutive negatives before they’ll consider her clear. Fingers crossed that the latest (taken in mid-August) is negative; then we’ll just need to do one more.

Little girl is now sitting up fairly well (though she still falls over) and is just beginning to become really, actually mobile via that rolling and scooting thing that babies do. Yesterday I put her down on a quilt in the family room, walked into the kitchen, and returned to find her missing. It took a few moments of looking around and listening for her cries before I located her.

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I think she enjoys her new skill.

—6—

Apropos of nothing, I have recently been reminded of a few blogs I used to read. As in used to. As in no longer read. It’s been interesting to remember those blogs and what my life was like back when I was reading them and to realize that me no longer reading them actually has nothing to do with them.

It’s not you, old favorites – it’s me.

I’ve changed. I’ve moved, in some ways, into a new season of my life. What I needed then in terms of encouragement, inspiration, and commiseration, I no longer need. At least not right now.

I read different things these days, things that meet my current needs. Who knows where I’ll be looking for inspiration tomorrow.

The realization has helped me to calm down a bit re: my woe in Take #1. My readership isn’t what it used to be and there are probably a number of reasons for that. But one reason might just be that people move on and change and need things one day that they didn’t need the day before.

It’s a big ol’ lesson to me to just chill out and not worry too much about things you can’t control.

—7—

Can I tell you how excited I am about this weekend? I honestly can’t remember when I’ve had so many fun plans jammed into such a short span of time. Here’s the run-down:

Friday afternoon: Get my hair done! I plan to sit in that salon with a glass of wine and a good book and let everything having to do with Take number four just roll… off…. my… back.

Friday evening: Join one of my girlfriends and several of her girlfriends for a little mommies-only birthday party. We’re going to sit on her front porch in the cool evening air and drink cocktails and eat hors d’oeuvres and just enjoy being in each other’s company. I can hardly wait.

Saturday: Head to Virginia for this year’s Mid-Atlantic conference of the Catholic Women Bloggers Network. It’s being hosted by Rosie Hill of A Blog For My Mom and will feature Kelly Mantoan of This Ain’t the Lyceum and Mary Lenaburg of Passionate Perseverance and lots of other amazing ladies too. I’ll try to write about it when I get back. (I wrote about last year’s conference, which I hosted, here.)

Sunday: Drive to Annapolis with my husband for Mass at beautiful St. Mary’s Church (where we were married – see gratuitous wedding photo below), followed by a dedication and reception at the Charles Carroll House. Which was the Annapolis home of Charles Carroll of Carrolton, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. And on whose board of trustees I used to serve. (And, for those of you who keep up with the Catholic mommy blog world, where I once arranged a tour for Catholic All Year’s Tierney family.)


Whew! That’s a busy Labor Day weekend before even getting to Labor Day itself. I am so excited! Now let’s just pray that the hurricane/tropical storm working its way up the East Coast doesn’t dash our plans.
 

(I’m linking up with Kelly of This Ain’t The Lyceum for this week’s 7 Quick Takes. Be sure to stop by her place to see what she and the other 7-Quick-Taking crowd have been up to!)

***

Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and think “aloud” on motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls’ Facebook page. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

These Walls - Catching Up 7QT41

Intro to (My) Instagram {pretty, happy, funny, real} (Vol. 20)

It’s been forever since I’ve participated in {pretty, happy, funny, real} and I finally (accidentally) opened an Instagram account a couple of months ago, so I thought I’d do a quick {phfr} of some of my favorite Instagram pics so far. Mostly {pretty}, because ohmygosh – I’m a little obsessed with this girl:

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I really don’t know what I’m doing with Instagram (not that I necessarily know what I’m doing with Facebook either), but it seems like a good avenue for sharing the glut of photos that make me smile. I’m always wary of over-sharing such things on Facebook (surprising news to my FB friends, as I already share quite a lot), but I figure that if people didn’t want to see pretty pics, they wouldn’t be on Instagram! So anyway, my Instagram account will include pretty-ish pics of my children and our beautiful old house. If that interests you, follow along!

{pretty}

Baby girl is almost four months old and we are totally living that cliché: We have no idea where the time has gone, yet we have no idea how we ever lived without her. I’m biased, but she is so sweet and lovely and such a “good” baby that Brennan and I are sort of shaking our heads in wonder. What a blessing this child is to our family.

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Bonus {pretty} — flowers and a long-lashed, curly-headed boy:

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Prep for baby’s baptism party.

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{happy}

If that {pretty} wasn’t {happy} enough for you, well then let me just show you some more:

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{funny}

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Big Brother made a cow for Little Brother, who really just wants the tape off-camera.

{real}

And then there’s the {real}. I usually go kind of negative on this one, but this round I’ll just show you some snapshots of our everyday life – a beautiful kind of reality.

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The first time this table was clear of clutter in months. Literally.

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Well now, I believe this post officially qualifies as overkill. I hope that if you enjoyed the photos you’ll join me over at Instagram. And if it’s not your thing… don’t worry, I need only introduce you to my Instagram account once. Back to wordiness next time. (Speaking of which, did you see yesterday’s post on social media and how I kind of love it even though hating it seems to be en vogue?)

Enjoy the end of your week, all! And if you’re in this part of the world, ENJOY this long-awaited sunshine and warmth. May. it. last.

Please pop on over to Like Mother, Like Daughter for more {pretty, happy, funny, real}.

{pretty,happy,funny,real}

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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

Walking That (Parenting) Line

Yesterday I was feeling brave, so I decided to load all four kiddos into the van for some errands. The boys were in serious need of haircuts and we were overdue for a grocery run, so I thought we might as well mash it all together and stick a fast-food dinner in-between.

So we did the barber shop (but the wait was too long), then dinner, then back to the barber shop (success), then the liquor store to buy more of my new favorite wine from the mark-down cart. (I don’t know anything about this wine except that it is AMAZING. I highly recommend it if you like a white that’s dry and full but bright. Just amazing.)

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By then the baby was starting to fuss, so I decided to forgo the grocery run. (That is, I decided to have my husband take care of it on his way home.) We left for home, the baby fell asleep, and I threw caution to the wind by ushering all three boys into the tub almost as soon as we walked through the door. (Baths require almost as much courage as grocery runs in my book.) Afterward, I nursed the baby in her room while the boys played at my feet.

All this time – from the restaurant to the barber shop to the bath to the nursery – my four-year-old was naughty naughty naughty naughty naughty, varying only in the intensity of his misbehavior. “Stop it stop it stop it stop it,” I’d said, until I finally banished him from my presence. He was sent to his room.

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All was peaceful for about three minutes, until he decided to up the ante: he threw one of those little egg shaker musical instrument thingies into the nursery, cracking it in half and sending hundreds of tiny metal balls flying around the room.

TROUBLE.

I yelled, he laughed. I YELLED, and he stopped laughing. He was again sent to his room, this time to an early bedtime.

Oh how awful that was for him! The child screamed and called for me and begged to be let back downstairs. But I was busy with the baby and the brothers and the daddy calling from the grocery store. And anyway, he was being punished. It wasn’t supposed to be pleasant.

I did go up at one point, once I’d finished feeding the baby. I hugged him and tucked him back in, but told him that no, he would not be allowed back downstairs. He continued his tirade.

A short while later, I was scrolling Facebook when I saw a heartbreaking photo and caption. It was from Humans of New York (of course). A woman’s face conveys a sense of terrible pain and loss. “Two weeks after Max was diagnosed, he asked me if I’d be his Mommy forever,” a woman named Julie said. “Of course I will,” she told her son. “Even when I’m ninety?” he asked. “Yes.”

“I just couldn’t tell him,” she said. “God I was such a coward. I should have told him. I just couldn’t do it. Even toward the end… the whole last week I’m whispering in his ear: ‘Let go, let go. Please Max, let go.’ My seven-year-old son. I’m telling him to let go… And the whole time I never told him he was dying.”

You can imagine what this did to me.

Tears streamed down my face as I imagined this woman whispering “Let go,” to her dying child, a child she’d never told was dying. And there was my child, just a few feet above my head, screaming for me, begging for me to have mercy on him.

What a line we walk as parents.

We want to instruct, we want to form, we discipline in order to help our children learn to control themselves. Or to follow rules. Or to respect us. Or to not treat others badly.

At the same time, we treasure our children. They pull on our heartstrings and we’re happy to have them do it. We want to wrap them up in our arms and prevent them from feeling any pain.

But learning lessons often involves pain.

So it doesn’t seem to me that you can choose one side over the other. I’ve always thought that good parenting required a lot of discipline and a whole lot of love. A lack of either would be damaging to a child. We parents just have to walk that line, wherever we think it lies.

So how did I (try to) do it?

I went back upstairs. I told my boy that he could not come down, but that I would sit with him a while. I climbed onto his bed and held him in my lap and rocked him. Then I flipped on the light, grabbed a couple of books, and moved over to the armchair in his room. He sat on my lap as I read those wonderfully sappy Nancy Tillman books – “On the Night You Were Born” and “Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You”.

I read slowly, carefully. I let my tears drip down onto his face. He calmed down.

When the books had ended, we got up and got him back into his bed. I tucked him in for the third time. I kissed him and ruffled his newly-cut hair. Then I went back downstairs.

I don’t know if I did the best thing but it felt like the right thing. That’s all I can do. I try to walk that line wherever I find it, wherever it seems right given the circumstances of the moment.

These Walls - Walking That Parenting Line

In Pursuit of Good Behavior: Our 8-part strategy for getting kids to behave in church

I am about to do something stupid.

I’m about to hit “publish” on a blog post on how to get children to behave well in church, mere hours before taking my own children to Mass. They’re going to be terrible – I just know it.

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Anyway!

Generally speaking (and I cringe to say this – see above), my children are pretty well behaved at church. We – cringe – even receive compliments on their behavior. (Of course, these might better reflect our fellow parishioners’ expectations upon seeing three small boys and a baby ushered into a pew, but I’ll take them.)

Since it seems to be a perennial question on social media (and because I’m a glutton for punishment), I thought I’d share our strategy for getting our children to refrain from causing a ruckus during Mass. But I’m not going to lie to you – it is not made up of quick fixes. There is no magic bullet – at all, for anything – when it comes to children. There’s a lot of hard work, a few clever ideas, and a decent measure of luck.

In this post, I’m going to first offer you the two “hard work” elements of our strategy and then the six that might fall into the “clever ideas” category. The luck is up to you.

1. We have an expectation that our children will obey us.

Our kids operate under the assumption that when Mommy or Daddy say to do x,y,z, it is to be done. They certainly don’t obey us all the time, but we have reasonable confidence that when we give them a direction, they’ll follow it.

To some, this will seem so obvious as to not be worth mentioning. To others, it will seem like a pie-in-the-sky idea. Either way, unless you’ve been blessed with a child who is naturally mild-mannered (not us!) and pleasing to the general public, it’s the most basic of foundations for functioning well outside the home. (And inside the home too, I’d wager.) We have to trust that when we tell our child to stop and we raise an eyebrow and give him that look, he’ll stop.

How do we do this? How have we gotten to the point where we can reasonably expect our children to obey us, at least in public? Lots of hard work. Lots of consistency, follow-through, consequences… and some yelling. I’ll admit it.

2. Our children are able to sit for the duration of a meal.

I figure that if our children are unable to sit for any length of time in our home, they’ll be unable to do so anywhere else either. Partly for that reason, but mostly because I just think that meals should be eaten at tables, we insist that our children stay seated for the duration of every meal. This is not always easy. It is not uncommon for our meals to be punctuated with, “Sit on your bottom. Sit on your bottom. Sit on your bottom. I said, sit on your bottom.”

In our home, you stay strapped in a booster until you can demonstrate that you’re able to stay seated without it. We’re currently in the transition stage with our two-year-old. If the mood is right, we’ll let him sit there unstrapped, but once he starts trying to get up (and ignores our calls for him to sit back down), we strap him in. He’s learning.

At any rate, I really think the meal thing helps. Our boys are used to sitting in one place three times a day, for between 20 and 60 minutes a pop. So while sitting in church can be a challenge, it’s not a shock to the system.

3. We have age-appropriate expectations for how our children should behave in Mass.

First of all, let’s just make an exception for the 12-24 month range, shall we? My husband and I have found, with each of our children, that little babies in church are no big deal. Bigger babies may need some creative hushing when they become vocal, but they’re still not that difficult. But then you bang up against mobility. From the time our children can crawl through the time (somewhere around the age of two) we can begin to reason with them, there’s just really not much to be done. We can try all the strategies above and below, but it’s always going to be a crapshoot.

In that age range, we keep them in Mass as long as possible, but if they become disruptive, we take them to the back of the church. I prefer to stand in the vestibule with the child, letting him walk around but not run, hushing him when necessary, and demonstrating to him that I’m still paying attention to the Mass. My husband sometimes prefers to take the child downstairs or outside.

Beyond that age, we start with two simple requirements: Our child is to be quiet (not silent!) and he is to stay in the pew. He may whisper, he may move around, he may climb up onto the seat, off the seat, onto the seat, off the seat – he just has to stay in the pew.

Once our child has mastered those two expectations, we add more. He has to stop climbing… he has to stop talking… he has to sit. Ultimately, he’ll have to sit still. (Our oldest is five; we’re not to that last one yet.) We add requirements as our boys are able to handle them and we try to keep them as simple as possible.

4. We talk with our children beforehand about our expectations.

The first Mass behavior expectations we ever voiced to our oldest son were “Remember that you have to be quiet, you have to stay with Mommy and Daddy, and you should set a good example for your brother.” His brother was a baby – he was not yet paying attention to anyone’s example. But the idea that he was the big kid, that he had a big-kid responsibility – it stuck with our oldest. So we still use it.

On our way to Mass, or as we walk from the car into the church, we say something like, “Remember, you’ll be in church. We are not here to play; we are here to pray and to think about Jesus and to thank God for all the good things in our lives. You need to be quiet and you need to set a good example for your brothers.”

We also have particular instructions for those who need them. One of our sons has a tendency to end up sprawled across the pew, his head on our laps. So he is told to sit up straight. Talkers who think they are whisperers get told not to talk at all.

5. We model good Mass behavior. (In other words, we mostly ignore the kids.)

The last part of that line might get me in trouble. To be clear, I don’t mean that we actually ignore our children. I just mean that we utilize those eyes we have in the backs of our heads to monitor them and we reserve the ones in the fronts of our heads for the altar.

I try to keep track of what my boys are doing without making eye contact with them. That may sound cold, but I’m just trying to discourage my chatty guys from starting a conversation. Or from doing something silly to make me laugh. So I sit or stand or kneel (as the case may be), my body and mind oriented as much as possible toward the Mass, and I encourage my children to do the same.

6. We snuggle our children.

While I try not to engage directly with our children during Mass, I do try to take advantage of those quiet, holy moments to be lovingly, physically present to them. I sit with my arms around my boys, I stroke their backs, I give them a pat. When it’s time to sing, I open the hymnal with them, singing in their ears and tracing my finger across the notes on the page. I hope that our one hour in Mass every week begins to take hold in their little minds as a time for tenderness and love.

7. We explain things at appropriate moments. (And sometimes the most appropriate moment is after Mass.)

I want my kids to understand as much as possible about the Mass, and anyway I want to get/keep their interest, so when the time seems right, I’ll lean over and whisper a “Did you hear what Father said there?” or “Can you see what he’s doing?” I offer a quick explanation and then go back to my ignoring/snuggling strategy.

If my boys ask a genuine question that can be easily and simply answered, I go for it. But only if the timing seems appropriate and I don’t think we’ll be disruptive to our fellow parishioners. If they’re asking a question that requires a more complicated response, we tell them we’ll answer it when Mass is over.

8. We bring small distractions (just small ones) to church with us.

We are a thirsty family, never traveling anywhere without a beverage (and my boys are all pretty much addicted to milk), so I’m sure to always stow their sippy cups/bottle in my purse. They make for a great distraction when the first wave of wiggles hits. But beyond that, we keep it very spare. We never bring snacks, because crumbs and wrapper noises and my thing about thinking tables are important. Sometimes I will bring a couple of quiet toys for a baby, but mostly I keep it to one or two books per child. Just religious ones. The images contained in them not only help to keep the boys occupied, but provide a jumping-off point for their questions and imaginations. And I think that’s important.

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So that’s how we do it. I’ve probably seen dozens of strategies in my people-observing and blog-reading days, but this is the one that works for us. I offer it here for the curious or the desperate or the only vaguely annoyed. Good luck!

(And wish me luck too – we’re off to Mass shortly.)

These Walls - In Pursuit of Good Behavior - Our 8-part strategy for getting kids to behave in church

It is Good to be In Love

I am not the most patient mother.

I have a temper, I have a limited capacity for dealing with noise and activity, and I have zero tolerance for whining. (Seriously: we have a “no whining near Mommy” rule in our family. You may either whine or be in Mommy’s company, but you may not do the two simultaneously.)

So I go through lots and lots of seasons when my primary attitude towards motherhood is resentment or annoyance or a strangled sort of desperation.

But right now? I am just in love with my children.

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I always love them. The love is nothing new. What’s new or different or fresh in the feeling is that I’m mostly feeling it free of the things that pull it down. Often I love my children with a sort of “You’re driving me crazy, so I’ll remind myself over and over again how much I actually love you!” Or, “I love you, but do you have to be so difficult?”

Lately, for whatever reason, I’ve been looking at my children and only feeling the love.

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I glance at the baby and my heart does a big, cheesy leap. The toddler tugs at me, wanting my attention, and I smother him with kisses and tickles. I pick up my sons from school and I’m so happy to have them back with me that I cup their faces in my hands and smile kisses onto their soft cheeks.

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That may sound saccharine sweet. It may sound manufactured. But I’ll tell you what: It is such a relief to feel this way.

Too often, my feelings toward my children are a tug-of-war of love, frustration, anger, pride, enjoyment, resentment, and more. This is difficult work. It wears on a soul.

So moments like these – days, weeks, minutes when the peace and joy and love of parenting somehow overshadow everything else – they are so welcome. They are so important. They fill me up; they give me something to draw upon when times get hard.

These Walls - It is Good to be In Love

Softness in the Slog: Mother’s Day in the Season of Early Motherhood

Well, happy Mother’s Day to you! We haven’t had the smoothest build-up to the day, so I thought rather than posting anything overly sappy about my mom/me as a mom/motherhood in general, I’d keep it real.

Here’s what the past couple of days have looked like for me:

Friday. Rise early to yet another sore throat/ear ache combo. Wake the sick five-year-old so I can get both of us off to our doctors’ appointments. The poor kid has a high fever; he’s so upset about feeling sick and thirsty that he throws up all over the kitchen floor. Miraculously, he doesn’t get any of it on his clothes, so I hand him a bowl and hurry him into the car while my husband tackles the clean-up. I drive him and the baby first to my appointment (sinus infection), then to his (virus that could possibly be triggering his fifth ear infection of 2016).

My doctor sympathizes with my son, admires my baby, and tells me what a good mother I am.

The pediatrician engages my son before she does me. He accurately describes all his symptoms to her, answers all her questions, reads a sign off the wall (“You’re growing like a weed”) and tells her that he is indeed growing like a weed. She is delighted with him. I am delighted too.

We stop at the grocery store on the way home. I nurse the baby in the car; we pick up my prescription and a few groceries. We arrive home to find my mom watching the other two boys. The kitchen bears the marks of general neglect, husband having made pancakes, and an ant infestation in the cereal cabinet.

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Mom bottle-feeds the baby while I start to deal with the groceries/counters/ants/lunches/diapers/sick child/screaming children mess. After she leaves, I continue to deal with it. For hours. When there finally seems to be enough of a lull for me to nurse the baby again, I steal her away upstairs so the boys can’t find us. A few minutes later my little sickie yells for me from the bathroom. I reluctantly get up, fearing the viral worst. But no, it’s just “Mommy! There’s a string hanging off my sock!”

His fever reaches 104.7; my throat and ears hurt so badly I talk as if I’ve had my jaw numbed in a dental procedure. We. are. pathetic. Brennan arrives home from work; he takes care of most of the bedtime routine so I can be more thoroughly pathetic. He has brought me Mother’s Day flowers.

I fall asleep nursing the baby. A short while later, I (barely) wake to hear Brennan cleaning up one of the boys, who has vomited all over his bed. I wake again to find him lifting the baby out of my arms. He gives her a bottle so I can go to bed.

Saturday. I wake early to the tell-tale sounds of more vomit clean up. This time it’s the other boy. I go in to help but end up messing everything up by getting the toddler up and ready for the day. Brennan says it’s too early to get up. He puts the boys back to bed and I head back to our room to nurse the crying baby. Hours later I wake again. She and I have slept gloriously late; Brennan is making French toast downstairs.

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My throat and ears are feeling much better. My son’s fever is 103.9 but another round of Ibuprofen works its magic. The boys develop an elaborate scheme for attacking their father with Hot Wheels, toy airplanes, and a model aircraft carrier. The toddler naps while the bigger boys play outside and Brennan pulls weeds. I tackle the never-ending dishes and counter mess. My baby smiles at me. She coos. Sun shines in through the window, onto my flowers.

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One of my sons sings a little song to himself, “I wuv my own Mama! My Mama, my Mama! I wuv my Mama!”

Later our older boy throws up again. Brennan bathes him, then the other two. Shortly after they’ve been put to bed, the toddler’s diaper situation requires yet another bath. I do more dishes. Always, more dishes.

Is that tedious enough for you?

I don’t mean to bore you to tears, I only mean to show you how perfectly appropriate these couple of days leading up to Mother’s Day have actually been.

When I first became a mother, I hoped for Mother’s Days full of gifts or brunch or flower arrangements or time at the spa. (Or at the very least diapers, dinner, and dishes, done by someone other than myself.) In other words, I hoped for one day’s worth of a life that was not my own.

Maybe in the future, when my mothering responsibilities are less constant than they are now, I’ll have Mother’s Days more like those I originally envisioned. But for now, my Mother’s Days (and the days that lead up to them) are much like my everyday life as a mother: a constant slog of hard work, exhaustion, frustration – punctuated by the most beautiful moments of softness.

A compliment, a kind word, a game, a song, a smile, a flower. Hugs and kisses. Bad moods that can be dispensed with tickles and raspberries. The weight of a small child cuddled on my lap.

I did not wake this morning to breakfast in bed, or even choruses of “Happy Mother’s Day, Mommy!” I woke to find my four-year-old playing peek-a-boo with the baby. Soon he was singing and dancing for her from the top of the bed.

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Today, I’m sure, we’ll continue the slog. I’ll go to church with whichever of my children seem unlikely to infect the masses. Brennan will stay home with the sickies. We’ll get through, and we’ll keep collecting those sweet, soft moments. They’ll help me remember – like nothing else could – how lucky I am to be a mother.

A beautiful Mother’s Day to you and yours.

These Walls - Softness in the Slog