Hope and Love (and the Same Old Pitfalls) in a New Season (7 Quick Takes, Vol. 45)

Goodness, it’s been too long. Again. As always. The prudent thing for me to do at this point in non-blogging would probably be to throw up my arms and walk away with a liiittle dignity. But I can’t give it up. I can shove it aside and starve it and neglect it, apparently, but I can’t give it up.

So, here you have me.

Since it’s been so long, I thought I’d do a little 7 Quick Takes to tell you how the 7 (seven?!) members of our family are faring these days. Beginning with…

—1—

Myself. Because I’m the blogger.

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(Would you believe that this, I think, is the first ‘baby bump’ photo I’ve taken this pregnancy? You may not be able to see the whole bump because of my hanger-on, but I think she adds a certain something to the picture.)

Looking at my calendar, I see that I’m now 35 weeks into this pregnancy. (Yes, I had to look at the calendar to figure that out.) Somehow, I’m feeling simultaneously comfortable/healthy/energetic and uncomfortable/unhealthy/fatigued. Part of it just depends on the day – some days I feel great and other days I am whooped. (My blood pressure has been really low this whole pregnancy and boy have I been feeling it.)

But I think a lot of it has to do with how I’m carrying this baby. She’s hanging out really low – almost entirely below my belly button. So on the one hand, I can breathe comfortably and (from my vantage, if not yours) I don’t even look that big. But on the other hand, I’m having some difficulty walking and sitting. It feels like she’s cozying right up into my hip bones. And like she might just decide to pop out at any moment.

My OB thinks that Baby’s positioning might mean that I’ll actually go into labor on my own this time. But I’m skeptical. I’ve needed Pitocin for every labor so far – even the one in which my water broke ten days early. I can hardly imagine what it would be like to experience labor without it.

Other than the pregnancy stuff, I’m fine, I guess? I’m currently feeling pretty overwhelmed about the (disgusting) state of my house, but I just don’t have the energy to get to most of it. At least not with my kids underfoot. There’s such an incredible difference between what I can accomplish alone vs. what I can do with them around me. Not just because of their (constant) needs, but also because I really struggle to focus on the tasks in front of me. I’ve found that if I put on my noise-cancelling headphones and listen to a good podcast, I can work happily and productively for a good long while. But while trying to monitor the kids, ‘focus’ is pretty much a lost cause.

Fortunately, I now have two little ones who will nap pretty much every afternoon while their brothers are at school. Would you believe that, seven years into parenthood, this is the first time I’ve experienced that wondrous, almost mythical afternoon break that is a reliable naptime? My first child was a terrible napper and my second gave it up early, and until now I’ve had at least one of them home every afternoon anyway. But with the two big boys at school, Mommy has some freedom in the afternoons. Woo-hoo! Something to celebrate!

For another month or so, that is – until we add a newborn into the mix.

So far I’ve been using naptimes to do housework or prep dinner or even take the occasional cat-nap, but I’d really like to see if I could claim at least some of it for writing. (I have so much on my mind! So much I’d like to chew on with you!) We’ll see. I’d like to promise that I will, but I feel like I’ve broken enough promises in this space.

—2—

On that cheery note, let’s move on to the baby!

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Not much to report here. Baby Girl’s pretty quiet for now. (I mean, obviously. But she’s also pretty quiet, activity-wise. I’m thinking she’ll have a more sedate personality. We shall see!)

She’s shaping up to be just as big at her arrival as her siblings were at theirs. At my 32-week sono they estimated her weight to be 5lbs, 3oz, which sets her up to weigh around 9 pounds at birth. Imagine that. Her big sibs were 8lbs, 10oz (4 days late), 8lbs 15oz (10 days early), 9lbs, 1oz (7 days early), and 9lbs even (4 days late). So I’d say that 9 pounds is a pretty good guess!

We still haven’t chosen a name for her, and as we’ve barely talked about it, I don’t see us coming up with one anytime soon. But that’s pretty typical for us. We don’t usually get very serious about our baby-naming discussions until a few weeks from delivery, when I’m so hormonal and weepy about it that Brennan takes pity on me. Then we whittle down our list to a couple of options and decide when we see the baby.

Okay, on from Baby Girl No Name to…

—3—

Baby Girl who shouldn’t really be called Baby Girl anymore!

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Can you believe this little one is now 20 months old? She’s a real toddler! And, toddler-like, she’s starting to express some opinions, exert some independence, sneak in some misdeeds, etc. Overall, though, she remains super sweet and easygoing, and we are completely in love with her.

It’s been really interesting to see how she’s coming along developmentally as compared to the boys. She’s been saying a decent number of words for months, and now she regularly uses little phrases and sentences. (She ends every meal by holding up her plate and saying, “I done, Mama!” At which point I promptly melt into a puddle of maternal mush.)

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She’s absolutely in love with babies and baby dolls, so I think she’s going to be preeetty happy here in about a month. We’re just going to have a big task ahead of us, keeping her eager little hands in check around her baby sister. Oh, well. That’s better than the alternative!

—4—

This one started preschool this fall. Can you believe it?

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I’m not sure I can, yet I rejoice in the development. (I mean, seriously, the Hallelujah Chorus would have been completely appropriate for the start of this school year.)

And it’s not just me. I think he is also much happier these days, what with the fun school to attend twice a week, the relative peace on the other three weekdays while his big brothers are at school, and a generally reliable rhythm to his days. I think this is a kid who likes to know his schedule.

He’s still a screamer, but as his language skills (slowly) improve, he’s expressing more and more and screaming (a little) less. The other day he told me, “I so angy!” and I almost laughed for joy. (But I didn’t. Because it would be really annoying for your mom to laugh while you were telling her how angry you were.)

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He’s gotten to be a (mostly) sweet big brother and good playmate to his sister, which I’m just pinching myself over. I did not see that coming. He also regularly pulls off what is possibly the cutest moment of my day, when he comes down the stairs after his nap all sleepy-eyed, smiling and whispering “Good morning, Mommy!” Again – I melt.

—5—

This one has entered Kindergarten. Kindergarten: real-deal, all-day, away-from-Mommy school. And he’s done great.

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I thought he might not. He’s my mama’s boy, the one who clings to me and smothers me with hugs and kisses each day. I thought he’d be afraid, that being away from home all day would be hard on him. But he seems fine! He loves his teacher and he’s making friends and he hasn’t complained once about going to school. It’s been such a relief.

We celebrated his sixth birthday at the end of September and I think it may well have been the happiest day of his life. We held his party at a local bounce-house place where he and a bunch of his friends and cousins were able to run and jump themselves silly. He had a Star Wars cake and got a bunch of nice (mostly Star-Wars-themed) gifts, and at the end of it all we revealed his biggest gift to him: a guinea pig.

(We should cue the Hallelujah Chorus again here.)

I am not a pet person. I have nothing against animals; they just don’t do much for me. I don’t care to really touch them or play with them, so why would I ever want to go through the trouble of caring for them? Brennan is more of a pet person than I am, but he’s also more of a practical person than I am, so it’s been easy for him to say no up until now.

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But this child. He just loves animals. (This past Sunday as we left his religious education class, he announced to me, “I want to be a saint, Mommy. I want to be an animal saint like Saint Francis, because I love animals so much.”) He loves them consistently and passionately, and it might have been the time he wanted to keep a cricket he found at the drug store, or the time he cuddled and kissed a baby snake he found in the yard, but he finally wore me down. And so Brennan and I decided it was finally time for a pet.

A caged one, but a pet nonetheless. Meet Houston:

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The kids are in love. Brennan seems to like him pretty well, and I’m guess I’m warming up to him. He is pretty cute. And thankfully, he seems to have a good temperament for being surrounded by a bunch of little kids. Our house now smells like guinea pig cage, but whatever – our house kind of smelled to begin with.

—6—

Now onto this one.

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My boy! My sweet, thoughtful, growing-too-fast firstborn. He’s in second grade now, old enough for me to start seeing glimpses of what he’ll look like, and what he’ll be like, as an older kid. It’s bittersweet.

This child has lately been my reminder and my hope regarding seasons of life and difficult phases and how they pass. The last half of the summer (the slower half) was hard for him. He’s super social and loves people and I’m seeing now that he’s a much happier person when he has people and work to occupy him. For a while there, he’d just about pulled into the lead on the ‘most challenging child’ front, but once school started, he perked up immediately. Second grade, including his lovely teacher and (from what I hear) great class have been so good for him.

Except for tiffs with the brother nearest in age to him (and what’s new in that, right?), he is such a good big brother. Our daughter adores him. She’s taken to walking next to him with her hand in his, and backing herself right into his lap when she sees him sitting still. He reads to her, and the other day I caught him helping her down one of our terrace walls in the yard: He climbed down one level, she reached her arms out to him, and he put his around her waist and lifted her down. Then he climbed down the remaining level and did the same. (Again with the melting!)

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He always humors the 3-year-old when he wants someone to play outside with him, he helps him and reads to him, and he does a pretty good job of keeping tabs on the little guy.

And even with his just-15-months-younger-than-himself brother, he can be so generous. When he received his first little cash gift from the tooth fairy, he gifted one of his (two) dollars to his brother. And he seems to have done so every time since. This week I was kind of annoyed when the 6-year-old held out his hand to receive one of the 7-year-old’s tooth fairy dollars, tossing out a flippant, “It’s mine, right? I get one every time the tooth fairy brings you two?” But there was no hesitation or annoyance on the big brother’s part: “Yes, you do. It’s yours,” he said. For all their squabbling, I think they view each other as partners, and that partnership is one of the greatest gifts in my life right now.

—7—

Now for my husband.

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I guess I’d say Brennan is doing pretty well these days. After a frustrating run at work for a good long while, he has finally started a new position. Brennan (a software engineer) has done this several times since I’ve known him, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him shift from work that was so dull to work that interests him as much as this new job looks to do. I’m relieved!

At home, Brennan has been keeping busy with projects, of course. He recently finished a section of iron fencing on a couple of the walls that surround our back patio. It was a long, dirty process: the fencing arrived unfinished, so Brennan had to grind them down, prime them, paint them, attach feet to them, and install them himself. He also added one light post, moved another, and painted all three. Here’s the final result:

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Isn’t it pretty? Now we just have to host an outdoor cocktail party or something. Once we pull all the weeds growing out of the patio. And move the sandbox out of the way. And get rid of all the junky, broken toys. And buy patio furniture. And, like, have a little TIME on our hands…

Which these guys pretty much never allow us.

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Brennan has also just finished painting the boys’ new bedroom. (The room shuffle goes like this: All three boys will be moving up to a room on the third floor. Our daughter will move into what was her brothers’ room, and we’ll put the new baby in the nursery for now. When she starts sleeping through the night decently well, we’ll put her in the same room as her sister.) Brennan’s next project? Building bunk beds!

***

Alright, I’ve bored you plenty by now. I hope that you and yours are all well and that the beginning of this new season/school year has been as good for you as it has for us. I hope to “see” you back here soon. Hope. We’ll see. Maybe you shouldn’t be surprised either way.

Also, don’t forget to hop on over to Kelly’s for the rest of this week’s Quick Takes!

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Not Regretting Motherhood (but Resenting It a Little)

Last night I found myself crying in the bathroom. I was tired and overwhelmed and I felt like I just couldn’t do anything right. That, and my five-year-old had just spilled his cup of water onto my laptop (the one I didn’t recently drop and break), so I was prematurely mourning the loss of four little lifetimes’ worth of photos.

(Thank goodness, somehow Old Faithful withstood the spill.)

As I cried, I felt a miserable sort of irony at the scene. Here I was, fresh off a string of admiring “I don’t know how you do it” comments from friends and acquaintances, and the truth was that I’m not actually all that satisfied with how I do it.

“It” being raising four, almost five small kids. Doing the work necessary for their care and for the maintenance of a household and a marriage, all while putting on a smiling face for the world.

I don’t think I’m a wreck; I don’t think I’m a bad mom. I know that my kids are well cared for, that they feel loved, and that on many days, I truly am doing my best. (So please don’t feel like you need to affirm me here.)

But I also know my own heart. I know that I’m selfish and resentful and intolerant, and in some ways I’ve wasted these precious first years of marriage and motherhood by wishing them to be something other than they are.

I’ve resisted the limitations that these beautiful kids have put on me. I’ve railed against my constraints. I’ve reveled in the kisses and hugs and wide-eyed stories, but wished that even they could be limited to set, predictable hours of the day.

I’ve focused on what I don’t have: physical autonomy and a wide-open mental space for ideas and accomplishments and order. Freedom.

(Just now I jumped out of my skin at two boys who were playing too loudly while I was trying to finish this post. Like, “How dare you be kids while I’m trying to think?”)

+++

A few nights ago I had a dream about my old workplace. I was visiting it for some reason, wanting to help out my old colleagues, I think. But underneath the official excuse (whatever it was), I know I was there because I wanted a taste of my old life.

I wanted to be in on interesting things. I wanted to push my mind, not just my physical stamina. I wanted to be around people who make things happen. I wanted to see my accomplishments listed out, easily numbered. I wanted to feel important.

Not that I don’t think I’m doing important things now. I know I am; I feel the awful, awesome weight of this responsibility down to my core. But in the day to day living of it, motherhood’s importance is the kind you can take for granted.

Shuttling groceries in and out of the house doesn’t feel important. Wiping crumbs from under the table doesn’t feel important. Dressing wiggly, screechy little bodies doesn’t feel important. (And forcing them to sit on the potty is downright miserable.)

And so the time passes. You focus on what needs to get done in the here and now, and you can lose sight of why you do it. Children grow quickly, but they grow slowly too.

If we could get glimpses into our futures, of the men and women our children would become, perhaps we would find the drudgery more noble. Perhaps it would be easier to set aside the daydreams of freedom and the memories of what our lives were like before they were tied up (or down) by the next generation. Perhaps it would be more tempting to see these years as precious.

I will admit that I’m not there right now.

Right now, I’m so wistful for space and freedom that I push away kids who want closeness. Right now, I’m made anxious and agitated by the mess, yet I’m unable to keep up the pace necessary to deal with it. Right now, I’m distracted by my own disorganization. Right now, I’m desperate for an active life of the mind, yet I can’t focus well enough to pursue it.

This gig is relentless, and I don’t take too kindly to Relentless.

While I absolutely do not regret giving my entire thirties over to the dishes and the diapers and the dirty laundry that come with having children and caring for them 24/7, I do resent it a little. I miss what else might have been done in these years. (Which is ironic, considering that I spent my entire twenties resenting the things I was doing instead of having children.)

For the first time, I think I understand the desire to pursue career alongside motherhood, or even instead of it. I know that those paths were not for me, but I see their attraction.

+++

Now back to that bathroom, I guess. Last night I cried because my pictures might be gone. And because the kids were too much for me. And because I wasn’t enough for them.

I cried because I never get around to backing up the photos, or even printing them out to display in our home. I cried because I can’t be trusted not to break my computers. I cried because I haven’t had a clear kitchen sink in a week. I cried because my backyard gardens look like jungles and my driveway is growing over with weeds and I never get around to them, either. I cried because I’m behind on getting my kids to do their summer homework and I haven’t taken them to the library in years. (Literally: years.)

I cried because I’ve been feeling uncharacteristically jealous of other moms lately – the ones who print pictures and do yardwork and go to the library. The ones who travel and take their kids to shows. The ones who can count professional accomplishments alongside parental ones.

And then I cried because here I am, crying about overgrown flower beds and summer homework when we might be going to (nuclear) war with North Korea. And an entire generation of Syrian children have been scarred, forever damaged by a war thrust upon them by grown-ups who care more about power than people. And plenty of kids here in our own country go without food and love and stable places to live, let alone trips to the library.

+++

I’m not trying to say that I regret my choices. I love my kids more than I could possibly express. I love my husband and I’m glad to be pursuing this worthwhile work alongside him. I love my life.

But somehow that doesn’t stop me from resenting it a little too. The world is big and our lives are short and there’s only so much we can fit into our day-to-day. I think it’s okay to mourn the stuff we can’t fit, as long as we don’t lose sight of all that we can.

And I know that I need to do a better job of that.

These Walls - Not Regretting Motherhood but Resenting It a Little

Always Starting, Never Ending: Monday Morning Miscellany (Vol. 11)

—1—

I think you should know that I’m really, really good at starting blog posts. Like, you would be amazed at the quality of writing I can pour into three opening paragraphs on any given subject. Especially Donald Trump.

I’m about 15% tempted to start publishing blog posts akin to those group story-telling games we used to play at sleepovers. I’ll write the first three paragraphs, then another blogger can take the next three, and so on and so forth until we have some wacky, meandering, hilarious tale like nothing any of us could have created on our own.

—2—

This happened over the weekend:

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That’s right folks – stare at it while you can! All of my dishes were clean at the same time. I washed the dirty dishes, cleaned the counters, bleached the sink, and then went to bed. Which means: I woke up to a clean kitchen. Just amazing.

—3—

This girl. She’s now four months old. I can hardly describe how smitten with her we are.

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—4—

Oops – I didn’t post anything on the blog last week. See number 1.

—5—

Nearly six years into this stay-at-home-mom thing, I somehow still struggle with how relentless the work is. I spent this entire weekend waiting for a couple of hours to myself (To organize papers and clothing! Not even to do fun stuff!) and when those hours never appeared, I found myself on the brink of tears. Not because anything was really wrong, not because the weekend had really been bad, not because I was overly tired – just because my days all look the same.

Monday through Friday, I’m in charge of four small children for something like 14 hours a day, I take care of all the cooking and dishes and laundry and cleaning and familial logistics, and I’m at the whim of ever-interrupting hands and mouths and diapers. Call me crazy, but I’d like the weekends to look a little different.

Sometimes they do, but lots of times my husband (who really is a very involved father) works on (necessary! good!) home stuff, so isn’t available to help with much other than breakfast. One part of me gets that. The other part stands at the end of a Sunday night and looks toward Monday morning with something like desperation. Because this work is constant. It is never-ending. And I still haven’t gotten used to that.

—6—

We had some storms Sunday evening and when they cleared, the sky was breathtaking. Though it wasn’t quite amazing enough to knock me out of the aforementioned funk, it sure did remind me that funks are temporary. Thank goodness for beautiful skies.

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Can you spot the beehives?

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—7—

Thank goodness for breezes and low-humidity days too. We haven’t yet turned on the air conditioner, so lately I’ve felt like we lived in a jungle or a swamp, or on cooler days, England or Ireland. But today! Today is gorgeously clear, dry, and breezy. It’s just glorious. Hopefully this bodes well for the week!

Happy Monday!

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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.

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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.

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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

Three Year Itch

It’s been almost three years, you know. Three years since I began trading disaster-kitchens and toddler TV time for (interrupted) hours of mental stimulation courtesy of this little blog.

Goodness, how I miss it.

I’ve tried to be practical these last several months. We’ve been in survival mode or by-golly-I’m-going-to-make-all-this-work-somehow mode for most of that time, and I just haven’t felt like I could afford the luxury of writing (much). I’ve been pushing through my days, running running running (with the notable exception of social-media-fueled nursing sessions) from early morning to late night, desperately trying to get a handle on my mothering and housekeeping responsibilities.

And surprise, surprise – I can’t seem to keep up. No matter what little enjoyments I deny myself, there’s always something (lots of somethings!) left to do.

So at this point – nearly three months after baby #4’s birth and nearly three years after the blog’s – I’m ready to throw up my hands and say, “Hey, if it’s not going to all get done anyway, I may as well have a little fun around here.”

Tonight, I’m leaving the kitchen a disaster. Tonight, I’m eating a brownie and tapping away at my computer and scratching the itch that is wanting-so-badly-to-be-writing-but-never-feeling-like-I-have-the-time.

The blog will mark its third anniversary at the end of this month. To celebrate, I plan to gift myself with 30 minutes a day in which to just sit and write. (Dishes be damned.) I plan to publish blog posts (probably just short, simple ones – but still!) three times a week. And I’m going to work on a few “housekeeping” changes to the blog that I’ve been thinking about for some time.

I hope you’ll come back to check them out. ‘Till then!
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Frenzy, Grace, Repeat

Last week really whooped me.

It was probably more than this pregnant lady should have attempted, for each day was taken at a frenetic pace and each involved enough steps to make me regret no longer wearing my Fitbit. (Do you have any idea how much more accomplished I would feel to have had a device beeping surpassed goals at me all week?)

Fitbit or no, I’m confident that I burned enough calories to more than justify my three heaping bowlfuls of ice cream doused with crumbled-up Butterfinger.

Between rushing around the house to fit in all the cooking/baking/cleaning/laundering that had to be done before the deadlines of we need to leave and they’re almost here, and lugging my boys to and through four (count ‘em: FOUR) fall events o’ fun, I was nearly reduced to tears on Friday night. I drove home through a beautiful fall landscape, yet could barely keep it together.

I am so tired. My feet and hips ache. I think this is my breaking point. Brennan is working late, I’m on my own with three filthy, dirty little boys who still need to be fed, bathed, and put to bed – and I still need to change their sheets. How in the world am I supposed to manage it all?

I was thisclose to tears. Big ones. Great, heaving sobs of exhaustion and surrender. But then something occurred to me:

“Who do you think is the most tired, Boys?” (Waving my hand in the air) “Me! Me! Me! I win!”

“No you don’t! I’m more tired! I am! I win!”

“Nope! I’m the most tired! I think you boys had better carry me inside the house, feed me dinner, and put me to bed!”

“We can’t do that! You’re too big!”

“Sure you could! Two of you take my arms and one of you take my legs. We’ll be all set!”

Laughter, laughter, laughter.

Thank you, Lord, for that moment of grace.

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Thank you, too, for the grace-filled moments that filled our weekend.

Saturday morning, without guilt or hesitation (though I knew he had plans for a home repair project), I told Brennan that I needed some time – just a little time – to myself. He didn’t hesitate either.

I eased myself into the day, then I went out. I hit the library and the town museum. I walked around downtown. On my own, I enjoyed the blustery weather about a hundred times more than I would have if I’d been carrying a 30-pound toddler in one arm and shepherding two small boys with the other.

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That afternoon, instead of putting a stop to the toddler-climbing-on-top-of-me-and-my-reading-material behavior that usually drives me nuts, I caught my little guy smiling mischievously and I smiled back. We touched our foreheads together and rocked them back and forth – our little signal of love. He cooed and growled and we laughed. I pressed my face against his and held him tight.

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I heard my four-year-old say, “I wuv you, Mommy. I wuv you more den you wuv me!”

“That’s not possible!” I said as I snuggled and tickled him.

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I prepared dinner in the (rare) quiet. Brennan was busily, happily working outside, perched on scaffolding just beyond the kitchen window. He’d grinned at me through the glass when he got the first level up.

The bigger boys were watching a movie and (after I’d fed him a second lunch/first dinner) their little brother was happily toddling in and out of the kitchen. I stopped and stood and felt my gratitude for my family and our home and our ability to put a good meal on the table.

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Sunday morning, two little boys ended up in bed with us. They wiggled and whispered and one bonked his daddy on the face. But when I came out of the bathroom, Brennan held one captive in his lap, tickling him. The other was settled in his baby brother’s room, perched on a chair just beyond the crib, “reading” aloud to the no-longer-crying little one.

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We went downstairs and they played so nicely. They played something having to do with animals and serving food – I’m not sure, but I think I heard mention of a Lion Café. “I’m so glad they have each other,” I said to Brennan.

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We went to Mass and the toddler was pretty difficult – he screeched and threw his bottle into the aisle (twice) and had to be removed. But the four-year-old stuck his head out of the pew so he could watch the consecration.

Without the toddler grabbing for it, I could hold my hymnal and sing in peace. Afterwards, the five-year-old regaled us with the Alleluia he’d learned in the Children’s Liturgy.

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That afternoon and evening, Brennan took charge of the boys so I could work my way through stacks of paperwork and reminders. I did some of that, then I wrote the bulk of this post. The tasks were mundane, but somehow more refreshing than just about anything else I could have done with that time.

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Honestly, I’m astounded when I look back on the weekend to count just how many small graces I received after a week that, while it looked good on the surface, really, thoroughly wore me down. “I can’t remember when I have ever been so tired,” I might have said to my mother-in-law Friday night, wearing an exceptionally pathetic look on my face.

I don’t know why I find it so surprising – it’s not like I forget that paces change. It’s just that the difference seemed so stark to me: One day I was suffering under the abundance of good things in my family’s life, the next they were building me up.

The key difference was… me.

Yes, physical exhaustion had a great deal to do with it. A good night’s sleep, when you can get it, does wonders. But I was still tired over the weekend. I still had (most of) my usual responsibilities. Yet somehow I also had the graces of perspective, of taking my time, of stopping to notice the little joys bound up in and between my responsibilities.

I’m so thankful.

This week is another busy one. I’m sure I’ll find myself again running at a frenzied pace, again exhausted, again stretched thin. C’est la vie. But I’m sure more graces will follow – and indeed be found within the frenzy, if I take the time to notice them.

These Walls - Frenzy, Grace, Repeat

You Won’t Hear Me Say I’m Done

The other night my mom stopped by with two of her girlfriends for a quick-ish visit.

Wait. Let me be clearer: These women didn’t simply stop by. No, they had driven an hour and a half for the express purpose of meeting my boys. Mom’s friends were in town from other parts of the country and amazingly, they’d decided that their visit just had to include this brand of mayhem:

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I could be wrong, but I think Mom’s (lovely, kind) friends are probably from smaller families, because they seemed equal parts delighted and exhausted by my boys’ lively, LOUD antics.

Either way, their reactions reminded me that most people in our society aren’t actually raising (soon-to-be) four children aged five and under. Huh. Imagine that. I’ve gotten so used to this madness that it’s easy for me to forget that some find it curious. (Also, I’m sufficiently immersed in the Catholic mom blog world that four seems like nothing in comparison to others’ six, eight, or ten.)

Then I go out in public with my three small boys and my not-so-small belly and I’m stared at and I remember: This intense, chaotic, busy, yes-I-have-my-hands-full life that I’m living? Most people are daunted by it, even if they’re kind enough to find it endearing. Most people I encounter have not, and would not choose it.

Sometimes I question whether I should have.

Sometimes I think of how much peace I would have in the middle of the day if I had just two children who were both in school full time. (Note that I said peace, not leisure – I’m well aware that running a household and a family makes for quite enough responsibilities to keep even the parents of smaller families perpetually well-occupied.)

Sometimes I see pictures of friends’ vacations and weekend camping trips and visits to museums and I pine for the freedom that one or two semi-reasonable, potty-trained children would give my family to enjoy the world around us.

Sometimes I hear other moms’ declarations that they couldn’t possibly handle any more than the two or three children they already have and I wonder whether I’m foolish to think that I can.

Sometimes I even post things like this on Facebook:

I’m making a real dinner tonight, which means I’ve had yet another opportunity to reflect on how OH MY GOSH THEY’RE DRIVING ME MAD I’M GOING TO LOSE MY FLIPPING MIND WHY DID GOD GIVE ME ALL BOYS? WHAT WAS I ON TO THINK I COULD HANDLE ALL THESE LITTLE KIDS AT ONCE?

But then.

Then I look at my boys’ sweet (or mischievous or even sobbing) faces and I thank God for my foolishness, for my lack of freedom and peace. I wonder how I could have ever lived without these infinitely precious little people in my life.

I thank Him for the experiences that lead me down this path to a larger-than-average family. And I look forward to where the path will take me.

Because as much work as it takes to raise a bunch of little kids, as much sleep and sanity as it costs you, the reward is mind-bogglingly huge.

Today, I get the love and snuggles and hilarious stories and charming questions. I get to witness my boys’ camaraderie. I get to watch my husband struggle to perch all three on his lap at once. I get to feel my boys’ jostling against my belly, vying to feel their baby sister move within it.

Tomorrow – many tomorrows from now, I hope to get so much more.

I hope to experience jolly, chaotic Christmases. I hope to never know which loved one will walk through the door next. I hope to have sons who will step forward to fix something around the house so their dad won’t have to. I hope my daughter and her sisters-in-law will bring each other meals when they have babies. I hope to have enough grandchildren running around this place to make my head spin.

I hope my children and grandchildren enjoy the security that I grew up with – the comfort of knowing that no matter what life brings, they will have plenty of people to love and care for them.

I am blessed to come from a very large, very close family. My mom’s family, in particular, includes her six siblings and their spouses, more than twenty grandchildren and (with only six of us having kids so far) another twenty some great-grandchildren. Plus, my family maintains close connections to many of my grandparents’ siblings, cousins, nieces and nephews (as well as great and great-great ones).

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All but four of us.

But beyond all the numbers, there is the love. There is the love that is expressed and the love that is shown in helpfulness and kindness and patience and laughter.

There is not perfection, but there is more food on the table than one family could possibly eat. There are jokes over late-night card games and extra hands when a new baby is born. There is medical advice from the nurses, real estate tips from the realtor, construction and renovation and decorating expertise from the family members in those fields.

There is the knowledge that should tragedy strike and someone be left without the one(s) he loves best, there are dozens prepared to stand there beside him.

I know that my extended family’s closeness is unusual in this day and age and I know that my husband and I have no guarantee that our own one-day family will echo it. But I’m hopeful that if we raise our children with as much love as my grandparents and parents did with theirs, then maybe we’ll have a pretty good shot.

So that’s what I look forward to. That’s what I hope to build. That’s what consoles me on the days when they’re pulling at my clothes and I’m pulling out my hair.

And that’s why you won’t hear me declaring that I’m done – that no way, no how could I handle another child.

Because as long as these days may be, these years – these years of exhaustion and NOISE and limitless responsibilities – I know that one day they’ll seem short. And that when they’re through, my husband and I will be left with the fruit of all our work: our people.

Our people.

No matter how many they number, I know that each and every one will seem infinitely precious to us. I’m sure I’ll wonder how I could have ever lived without them.

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Are you new here? Welcome! I’m glad you’ve stopped by!

If you liked this post, here are some more you might want to check out:

Wonderful Because They’re Them: Thoughts on Mothering All Boys
Here’s to Another Fifty-Four
Another to Love
The Unremarkable Worth Remembering
Honesty From a Fed-up Mommy
What Matters to Him

To get an idea of what else to expect from These Walls, check out this post.

Think you might like to come back? You can subscribe to my posts over there to the right, or you can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Bloglovin.

I hope to “see” you back here soon!

These Walls - You Won't Hear Me Say I'm Done

Wonderful Because They’re Them: Thoughts on Mothering All Boys

This is post 2 of my series of 7 posts in 7 days. All the time, I run across news articles or blog posts or radio segments that make me want to answer them aloud with my own take on the situation. So that’s what I’m doing this week. For each of these seven days, I’ll take a recent item (by someone more original than myself) and I’ll comment on it. That’s it, but that’s something!

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This morning I had my 12-week sono. Thankfully, all went well – Baby Walsh #4 looks just as we hoped s/he would. As usual, I loved the chance to lie back and watch my baby on the screen, wiggling his body around and holding his hand up to his face. (Yes – I said “his.” No, I don’t know that the baby is a boy. It’s just that with three boys already, I’m much more used to the masculine pronouns than the feminine.)

As I watched, I couldn’t help but wonder who this little guy (or gal) is. I thought of my three boys at home and how little I knew of them when I first got this glimpse at their own wiggly little bodies. And how five, four, and almost two years later, I can’t imagine life without them. It boggles my mind to think of how much is yet to be revealed about this child, and how much I will love him.

I thought, too, on whether this child will be revealed to be our fourth boy or our first girl. Watching him, I realized that I can hardly help but think of him as a boy. It’s what I know. So as much as I’d love to have a girl, I know I’ll be fine if he indeed proves to be a he. He’ll feel familiar to me. And I’ll feel a surge of pride at having a pack of four fine boys to call my own.

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If the baby should prove to be a girl, well, I can only imagine that I’ll stumble out of that exam room in a stupor of disbelief (and joy).

As a mother of three boys, I run across “I Love Being A Boy Mom” blog posts all the time. Mostly, they don’t do anything for me. I find that they tend to either wallow in the misfortune of being surrounded by boy grossness, or serve as overly-enthusiastic cheers for Team Boy.

I’m in neither of those places. I happen to think that my boys are the most beautiful creatures on this earth, so I don’t exactly appreciate diatribes against the publicly-guffawed-about trademarks of their gender. But neither do I appreciate the assertions that “Boys are the awesomest ever! Because sports and loving their mamas and not being emotionally complicated!”

I don’t need to be told that my boys are wonderful because they’re boys. I know full well that they’re wonderful because they’re them.

All that said, a couple of months ago, I came across a Boy Mom post that hit me in just the right place. The author reviewed many of the challenges of having boys, but she did so lovingly, almost tenderly – I felt like I could see the smile she wore as she wrote.

When I’m introduced to another mother of only boys, there are a few seconds of expectation. As if maybe we are going to have a secret handshake. Or maybe we are going to say, “Hey, are there black handprint marks all over your walls? Me too!”

Instead, we just nod our heads and exchange a little smile, knowing we are kindred spirits. Having boys leads to a set of personality traits, namely that you’re not fussy and that you roll with the (actual) punches. If you have a bunch of boys, you’ve probably seen a femur up close. You can get blood out of anything.

Moreover, the author acknowledged what most of the Boy Mom posts don’t – the bittersweet sadness of never getting to mother a girl.

We boy moms won’t go prom dress shopping. We won’t pick the wedding venue. We won’t be in the delivery room. We won’t ever, ever sit on a toilet before thoroughly inspecting it first. But we will strive to raise kind, conscious, able young men. All of this is acknowledged when boy moms meet and exchange a little nod and a smile. The nod is for the food prep and the property damage. The smile is for all the rest: the sweetness of a little boy, and the way he grabs your heart with his dirty hands and never lets go.

This is where I am, even as I stare up at that screen, watching my baby. The one who is still completely mysterious to me. The one who could be our fourth boy, or our first girl: I’m a happy woman in love with my boys, who would gladly welcome another. But who, if I indeed end up with a pack of all men, will always think a little sadly on what I’ve missed.

And that’s fine. I am neither a wallower nor a cheerleader. I’m a mother. I don’t need to be told that my boys are wonderful because they’re boys. I know full well that they’re wonderful because they’re them.

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