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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To the Ladies of Edel

This evening a couple hundred Catholic women will gather in Charleston to share laughter, stories, drink, glimpses of some truly outrageous shoes, and the giddiness that comes from getting a break from their everyday lives.

I wish I could be there. I can’t, and that’s fine – this weekend we have two family weddings and my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary party to attend, plus my husband and I will (quietly) celebrate our own sixth wedding anniversary. (‘Tis the season, hm?)

But I was fortunate enough to get to attend last year’s Edel Gathering (that time in Austin), so today I’m thinking back on those sweet memories and praying for the women who will be making similar ones this weekend.

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I have so many hopes for you, dear ladies of Edel!

I hope that you’re able to relax – that you can think back on your home and family, confident that they’re well cared for, and (without reservation!) step into a weekend of few responsibilities and lots of “Wait a minute – no one is hanging on me or needing me to cut their food or wipe their bottom? Whatever shall I do with myself?”

I hope that you’re able to connect – that, walking among those crowds of strangers, you’re able to find a few kindred souls. And that you realize, whether a fellow attendee is drawing a crowd or having a wallflower moment, she’s there for the same reason – to enjoy being with you and those like you.

I hope that if you fear you won’t fit in, you’ll not only recognize that we all have such fears, but also that the very act of choosing to attend Edel makes you one who is supposed to be there.

I hope that if you’ve brought a baby with you, you’ll embrace his or her presence and realize that everyone else will do the same. Do whatever you need to do to make the weekend as comfortable as possible for you and your little one.

I hope that if you’re bottle-feeding your baby (like I was last year), you won’t freak out about not being able to fully breastfeed. Like, ahem, I did.

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I hope that if you’re the mother of a large family, you’ll draw strength from the knowledge that you’re surrounded by lots of women who know that particular gift and struggle.

I hope that if you’re the mother of few, or if you’ve struggled with infertility, that you know you’re in good company too. There are more women there who come from your ranks than you can imagine.

I hope that if you’re still waiting to become a mother or a wife, you’ll know that everyone around you was once in your position. And that – marriage and pregnancy and mothering-talk aside – many of them still feel the heaviness of that wait.

I hope that if you’re long past your child-bearing and rearing years, you’ll find some who share your perspective, but that you’ll also find many to whom it will be helpful.

I hope your soul will be fed.

I hope your fears will be calmed.

I hope you have a few fun drinks.

I hope you sit down to your meals with a little sigh and a prayer of gratitude for food prepared by someone else and dishes you won’t have to wash.

I hope you take lots of selfies. Don’t be too shy to record the memories you want to hold on to. (Here’s the only selfie I have from #Edel14, which I only have because I stole it from Heather Schieder.)

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I hope you realize that this weekend is likely to be the beginning of more friendships than you can count – even if they’re only nurtured bit by bit via social media.

I hope you grab the weekend’s opportunities as they come at you – on the plane, in the airport, passing you in the lobby, sitting next to you at dinner.

I hope that if you’re a dancer you dance your heart out on Saturday night. And that if you’re not, you find someone interesting to sit and talk with (and together, enjoy the fabulous show).

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I hope you go home more joyful, more refreshed, and more tired than you expected to.

I hope you get exactly what you need to get out of #Edel15. The hands-down, number-one, most incredible thing I saw at last year’s Gathering was how it fed people in different ways. Some struggled with difficult pasts, some with the burdens of their everyday workload, some felt anxiety or a lack of confidence or belonging, some sought new possibilities – and all types were fed. All types found what they needed, though they needed very different things.

I hope and pray that this year’s Edel Gathering does the same, and better: I hope it conveys God’s love to each and every participant and to those they come in contact with. I hope it facilitates friendship and understanding and beauty – and indeed hope itself.

Ladies of Edel – enjoy!

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Another to Love

On Saturday I wished a happy Independence Day to my friends and family and the blog’s Facebook page with the following photo, captioned:

Happy Fourth of July from me and my FOUR!

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Yes! We’re expecting our fourth baby! This newest little guy/gal (who are we kidding – it’s probably a guy) is due to arrive around January 31st, 2016. I’m currently about ten weeks along.

In the interest of openness / I can’t seem to get anything else posted these days anyway, I thought I’d pre-emptively answer a few of your questions. (Assuming your questions are anything like the others I’ve received lately.)

1) How are you feeling?

Awful. Thanks for asking.

I’m not actually throwing up, so I know I shouldn’t be complaining (especially because I have a couple of relatives who had that truly awful hyperemesis gravidarum – IV’s and hospitalizations and all), but being nauseous all day, every day really sucks.

(Can I say here how appreciative I am of my ability to get pregnant and how much I love and empathize for my friends who are unable to? And that I realize I’ve been given a tremendous gift in this child? But… that… um… I still don’t like feeling so sick all the time?)

My afternoons have been especially bad, leaving me lying on the sofa trying to keep it together while my boys use me as a prop in their doctor/hairdresser/wild animal play.

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2) Are you hoping for a girl this time?

Yes. Absolutely. You will not catch me denying it.

Were we trying for a girl? Nope – but do I relish the idea of pretty little dresses and dolls and pink finally making their way into this overly-boyish home? YES.

Not that I think our chances are all that great. Last week I found out that my two girlfriends who had their firsts the same year I did and are now expecting their fourths have each stuck with their own streaks: one is expecting her fourth girl and the other is expecting her fourth boy. So even though I greet 3 boy/1 girl families with “You give me hope!” I can’t help but think our own family is in this all-boy thing for the long haul.

Not that I’d mind having another boy! My boys are three of the best things to ever happen to me and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Not for girls, not for the world. Should Little One #4 prove to be another boy, I’m sure I’ll feel the same about him.

Indeed, I think my husband would be very happy to welcome another boy. When I announced my pregnancy to him, this big grin spread across his face and he said, long and slow, “Four boys!”

3) What do your boys think about welcoming another baby into the family?

They’re thrilled! They want to know how big the baby’s getting and what she looks like, when they can feel her move in my belly and when she’ll come out. (I say “she” and “her” because they’ve decided they’d like a “sister baby” this time, so of course the baby has got to be a girl. I keep reminding them that they might be getting another brother.)

The five-year-old told me (very seriously) that he knows how much work babies are, so he’ll be sure to help us take care of this new one.

The three-year-old keeps telling people, “My Mommy’s going to have two babies!” To which I quickly follow up: “He means our current baby and the new one. We keep trying to tell him that his little brother will no longer be a baby by the time this new one is born!”

The fifteen-month-old is clueless. It’s probably better that way.

4) Are you sure you’re only ten weeks along? And that you’re not having twins? Because I see that picture of you up there and you definitely look more pregnant than you should.

(Note: This one really should be addressed to nice old ladies at church and kind but nosy grocery clerks.)

Yes, I’m sure about the date and I’m sure I’m not having twins. Yes, I concede that I look more pregnant than I should. Welcome to my world. Some women are shaped like apples, some like pears – I’m shaped like pregnancy.

I don’t really look all that different now than I did before I became pregnant, it’s just that now that I feel so gross, I figure I may as well wear comfy maternity clothes.

That said, I’ve actually lost a few pounds so far from not eating much, yet my non-maternity clothes are fitting a little more snugly around the waist. So I guess my body is already changing shape? I suppose that’s what you get when you’re pregnant for the fourth time in six years!

5) So are we ever going to see you around these parts again? Why haven’t you been blogging lately?

Sadly, I have to point you back to #1. I was so excited at the beginning of the summer to really dig into some good writing, but for the past month I’ve just been feeling so sick. Not only do I feel nauseous and woozy, but I swear my brain has been affected. I have been writing, but I’m having such a hard time putting my ideas together and tying up loose ends that I haven’t been able to finish anything.

Remember that mother’s helper I have coming once a week to watch my boys so I can get in some writing? Well, since the morning sickness kicked in, I’ve spent a couple of those mornings wrestling with words and ideas that just won’t fit into place. And during the other, I took a nap.

I’ve probably got another three to four weeks of feeling sick. I’m really looking forward to August. Though I expect to start feeling better just in time for my mother’s helper to head off to college. (Gah!)

I’m not giving up entirely – I’m going to keep plugging away, keep trying to finish my thoughts – I just can’t make any promises that I’ll succeed.

Until then – whenever “then” may be – I hope you’re well and that you’re enjoying a fun, relaxing summer. I’ll be right here, probably lying on the sofa, surrounded by my hooligans – and waiting on another to love.

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Working With My Weakness

Last week included a higher-than-average number of meltdowns at our house. Not my boys’, mind you – my own.

One day I informed Facebook of my misery by announcing that I was researching au pair programs. (I was about 95% joking, but the remaining 5% was engaged in some serious fantasizing about how amazing life would be with live-in help.) Later that night I ushered in the boys’ early bedtime with a plea for cocktail recipes. I was tempted to follow one friend’s advice and just take a swig of each bottle:

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Another day I ran around in a serious (and probably very scary) frenzy, shouting and shooing the boys out the door to an appointment. I was nearly wild from the pressure of getting everybody dressed, feeding lunch, brushing teeth, loading bags, wiping bottoms, and pinning down a certain (screaming, thrashing) baby in order to change his poopy diaper. In my mind, I screamed “I DO NOT UNDERSTAND PEOPLE WHO ARE ABLE TO ARRIVE ON TIME!” In the car, I forbade the boys from speaking for the first few minutes of our trip so I could focus on calming my bad self down.

Yesterday evening, I put an end to hours of (my own) agitation by plopping the baby in the stroller, taking the boys over to my husband (who was working in the garage), yelling “I’M GOING TO LOSE MY MIND!” and running back to the house empty-handed. (I literally ran, waving my arms and jumping around like some sort of madwoman.)

They deserve better.

They deserve better.

I’m not cut out for this.

It’s all I could think as I came back inside from the garage: I’m not cut out for this. I love my boys. I love being a mother. I love taking care of my home and my family. I believe that I’m the right one for the job. But I am not cut out to do it every hour of every day.

My brain can’t handle that constant stimulation. There comes a point in any given day around here, on any given task, when I just shut down. I sit surrounded by my work and by others’ needs and I fail to see a single thing I could do to make the situation any better.

I feel paralyzed.

I’ve already said it about a million times on this blog, but I am very easily overwhelmed. For heaven’s sake, I can hardly function in Target – let alone a shopping mall – I’m so affected by the overabundance of sights and sounds. So a day’s worth of demands and arguments and diapers and meals and chores and interruptions and interruptions and interruptions… they often put me on what feels like the brink of sanity.

Like this. And this. And this.

Thank goodness for sweet boys.

Thank goodness for sweet boys who bring flowers to their mama.

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Goofballs.

Not that it really matters, but I’m beginning to think that this thing about me is maybe an actual, diagnosable thing. (Lately I keep hearing about adult ADD. Could that be it? I’m honestly not inclined to find out.)

Why doesn’t it matter? Because whether or not anyone else views my thing as a thing, I have finally accepted it as a part of who I am – just as inseparable from my personality as my love for people or my inclination to broadcast my opinions. And after years of being frustrated with myself for my highly-distracted, easily-overwhelmed ways, I’ve finally (mostly) stopped beating myself up over them.

I’ve stopped telling myself that my personality is my fault. I’ve stopped convincing myself that I can just get over an elemental part of who I am.

I’ve started to figure out how to work with my weakness.

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How? I’m giving it – them (I have many) – a lot of thought. I’m trying to understand how my weaknesses interact with my experiences and responsibilities. I’m strategizing ways to minimize their effects.

I’m paying attention to my triggers – the things that shut me down or heat me up. I’m doing little things to address the little ones. I’m chewing on how I should resolve the big ones.

I’m recognizing that clutter and unfinished tasks are deadly powerful (and harmful) stimuli to me.

I’m acknowledging that when I don’t take care of myself, I’m ill-equipped to handle not only the stimuli, but also the people I love.

And (after my week of meltdowns) I’m finally accepting that I indeed need help in caring for my children. I don’t need a lot of it, but I do need a few reliable daytime hours a week when I’m not ‘on.’

So I’m working on it.

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Tomorrow, I’ll provide some examples of how I’m going about this work. (You know – in case any of you happen to share my particular weaknesses – or enjoy watching the sideshow that is the frazzled, overwhelmed, procrastinating, perfectionist, impatient, stay-at-home mommy trying to deal with herself.)

But until then, I’ll ask you this: Is there a part of you that trips you up? If there is, do you face it head-on, or do you wish it away?

I Built a Fort

Lately I’ve been thinking about how I interact with my boys. I’ve been wondering how much they’ll remember of our lives in this particular here-and-now. I’ve been imagining how they might remember their mother when they’re grown.

And it makes me sad.

Because I have such a temper. I have such a temper and such an inability to deal, that I routinely switch straight from ‘I’m being a nice, calm, gentle Mommy who can handle distractions and misbehavior and loud dinosaur shrieks’ to ‘OH MY GOSH I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD YOU DO THAT TO YOUR BROTHER?!’

Sometimes they take my outbursts in stride, but sometimes I frighten them. And oh, how hollow that makes me feel.

Other times my guilt comes from not having taken enough time to teach them, to read to them, to enjoy their play. It comes from my distractible mind and my inability to ever feel like I’ve accomplished what I need to.

If my boys (heaven forbid) had only this season’s worth of memories of me to draw upon, I know they would know I love them. I bestow an abundance of hugs and kisses on my little guys. I tell them I love them all the time.

I think they would know I worked hard to care for them.

But I fear they would think me impatient and harsh. I fear they might even think I’m uninterested in spending time with them.

So yesterday, I built a fort.

I’m trying to be more aware of our interactions. I’m trying to be more patient and more playful. So, a fort:

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Yesterday I put their lunches in bowls and I let them eat in their fort.

I put the bowls on a tray and I let them help me carry it into the family room while saying, “Wunch is served.”

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Yesterday I crawled into their fort to get a tour. I sat in there with them and read them stories. (Brennan read their bedtime stories in there too.)

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Yesterday I tried harder not to overreact when one boy pushed the other, when he hit the other.

Yesterday I did some laundry, but I didn’t clean. I did dishes, but I didn’t make dinner. I didn’t try to cram in as much as I usually do.

Yesterday, I built a fort.

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Honored

Would you believe that my blog has been nominated for an award?

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I know. I can’t believe it either. Crazy stuff.

But it’s true! These Walls has been nominated for the 2015 Sheenazing Awards in the “Smartest Blog” category. (Smartest blog!) Bonnie of A Knotted Life is so generous and supportive to her fellow Catholic bloggers that she’s been hosting her “Sheenazing Awards” for the past few years. In Bonnie’s words:

The Sheenazing Blogger Awards get their name from Venerable Fulton J. Sheen, who was amazing at using the newest forms of media to communicate the beauty of the Catholic Church and his love of Christ to the world. They are a fun way to celebrate the excellence of the Catholic blogosphere and honor Venerable Sheen.

There will be a winner and a runner up in each category. The winners will earn a firm virtual handshake, the pride in knowing that they’ve been named the Best of something by a fairly obscure blog, and the right to display the following on their site:

Except it will say "Winner".

Except it will say “Winner”

Obscure or not, I’m super honored to be part of it all. Thank you for your work in coordinating the effort, Bonnie, and thank you to the kind souls (whoever you are) who nominated me!

So.

If you’d like to – ahem – cast your vote in my direction, kindly click here. Or don’t vote for me. There are lots of other terrific blogs to check out while you’re there, which are probably more worthy of your vote. Besides Smartest Blog, Sheenazing Awards categories include Funniest Blog, Most Inspiring Blog, Best Under-Appreciated Blog, Coolest Blogger, Miss Congeniality, and Best Blog By A Non-Papist. (I’m not making that up.)

In case any of you need a refresher on what my particular shtick is here at These Walls – or if you’re visiting for the first time (Hello! Welcome!) – I thought I’d give you a little summary.

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Things I love – and love to write about – include my husband, my three little boys, the rest of my amazing family, my old house, my faith, politics, and good, meaty debates on controversial subjects. Stoking fires just for the fun of it isn’t my thing, but here are some things that are:

Let’s just say I take a “holistic” approach to politics – I care about the morality of an issue – not whether it’s labeled Left or Right:

I write about big moments in my life:

I tend to wax sentimental on motherhood:

And sometimes I keep it really real:

Also, my boys fall asleep – all the time, all over the place. I like to share that joy with you.

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Thanks again to whoever nominated me! (And also, while I’m at it, to Jenny Uebbing of Mama Needs Coffee for calling me one of her “Political Muses” the other day. That was so cool!)

I’ve got a whole list of topics I’m itching to get into this year. And even though I still have Christmas decorations to put away and boxes of ten-year-old papers lurking in my corners and closets, I’m feeling energized about digging in.

See you here soon!

It Meant More Than It Was

Last fall (I think it was last fall) when Jen Fulwiler and Hallie Lord announced that they were planning an Austin, Texas gathering geared toward Catholic mothers, I told my husband, “I really, really, really, really, really want to go.”

And I’ll have you know that those were some determined-sounding “really’s.”

I knew almost nothing about it, yet I wanted to go to The Edel Gathering more than I’d wanted anything in a long time. I can’t fully tell you why. Yes, a break sounded lovely. Yes, it was exciting to think of traveling to a new city and beyond exciting to think of getting to meet so many women whose writing I had come to love.

But there was something more. When I thought of Edel, more than anything else, I thought of opportunity. I felt like there was some special opportunity tied up with this event that I would be foolish to miss.

So I darned well made sure not to miss it.

As Edel (which was held the last weekend of July) drew near and as I began to see excited Facebook posts from my fellow attendees-to-be, I mostly lost sight of that first, powerful feeling regarding the gathering. Rather, I began to daydream about those things that Edel purported to aim for: relaxation, friendship, encouragement in my vocation as a mother.

I was going away for the weekend. I would be staying in a fancy hotel. I would be responsible for only one child. I would be surrounded by grown-ups. I would be eating delicious food and drinking wine (and maybe margaritas) and not doing the dishes. Any stay-at-home mother would be blinded by the prospect of such brilliance.

So imagine my surprise, as the weekend progressed, to realize that for me, Edel didn’t end up being about those things after all.

(This is where I pause to tell you why. This is where I tell you about how very tired I was and how it was cumbersome to have a baby with me – even a very good one. About how the baby had a major blowout in the middle of a popular restaurant. About how I kept running over people’s feet with my stroller. About how I didn’t spend as much time with my fellow Edel attendees as I would have liked, because of my exhaustion and my baby and my not fitting through crowds with my stroller. They’re all very exceptional challenges, you know.)

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Yes, he’s naked in public for just the reason you think: an insufficient diaper and an unprepared mama. Thankfully, Grandma’s arms are nice and cozy.

In short, the weekend was not, on its face, quite as enjoyable as I had hoped it would be. And yet, it turned out that The Edel Gathering meant more to me than I could have ever anticipated.

In her opening remarks on Saturday, Hallie spoke about how she and Jen saw, again and again, the influence of the Holy Spirit in bringing The Edel Gathering to be.

Maybe you’re not the type who looks for traces of the Holy Spirit in everyday life. Maybe such talk seems a little superstitious to you. But I figure that if I believe in God, I’ve got to believe in more than an abstract concept. I’ve got to believe that God can have a tangible influence on my life, and that sometimes His influence can be sensed powerfully.

So it was for me last weekend. And so it seems to have been for many other women who attended The Edel Gathering. In countless Facebook and blog posts this past week, Edel attendees recounted the words that touched them, the support they found, and the messages they felt they were meant to receive.

Many seem to have taken to heart the words, “You are not alone.” And, “Your work is hard.” And, “There is no one way to be a good Catholic.” They are excellent messages to be sure, but they’re not the one that resonated most with me. If my own message could be put into a few words, it would be, “You are to work toward something more.”

I felt like I received a cascade of that message last weekend (and in the days that followed) – again and again, layer upon layer. The message seemed to be just about falling over itself to be known to me.

I felt like I was – I feel like I am – being instructed to consider my future beyond my role as a mother. Which seems sort of ironic, doesn’t it, to have come from an event that was meant to lift up the vocation of motherhood?

When I left my job as a lobbyist (which I loved) to stay home with my firstborn son, I was asked, again and again, “So when are you coming back?” It was difficult for me to convince people that I wasn’t just leaving for one year or for the few years it would take for my son to be old enough to go to school. “Well, I don’t know how many children we’ll have!” I would say. But it was more than that. I was ready to begin the child-rearing phase of my life and I wanted to do it whole-hog. I was in it for the long haul.

So other than a few cursory thoughts about some things I maybe, who knows, we’ll see might like to do when my boys go off to college, I hadn’t given much consideration to my own future. But at Edel it finally became clear to me: I still have most of my life ahead of me. (God willing.) I won’t forever be a mother to small children.

I assure you that I’m crazy about my boys and I love staying home with them, but can I tell you what a liberating thought that was for me? That I have my own personal future – not just that which is wrapped up in my family’s? And do you know what was almost as exciting to think of? That I may be called to do something in particular with my future – something that makes use of my natural talents and interests.

I work better when I have a plan, and I now realize that for years, I’ve been functioning without one. I’ve been so busy trying to get through the day in front of me that I haven’t been giving thought to the years. So this past week while I worked in my home – doing the same cooking and feeding and diapering I always do – I was pondering my life’s direction. And I did so with a sense of purpose and peace.

I am so thankful for that weekend. I’m thankful to Jen and Hallie for all their hard work in putting together The Edel Gathering. I’m thankful to all the wonderful women there who showed each other kindness and solidarity and Christ’s love. I’m thankful to the Holy Spirit for using the event to touch so many people and for pounding me over and over with a message that (I think) was meant just for me.

I’m thankful for the peace and the hope and the sense of opportunity I now feel.

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All My Life, Preparing For This

(Alternately titled: Ms. Smarty-Pants Becomes A Mother And Finally Realizes She Doesn’t Know Everything)

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A little over four years ago I lay on a hospital delivery bed, reeling not only from the intensity of having birthed my first child, but also from the other-worldly experience of having prayed a continuous loop of Hail Mary’s, pleading for the child’s life.

He had been born with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck.

As soon as the baby emerged, the feeling of the room had changed. It became cool, focused, urgent. First my nurses tended to him, then the NICU staff rushed in. I felt as if I were in a tunnel, the sounds and activity muted, only the Hail Mary’s ringing loudly in my mind.

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Soon enough, though, the activity abated and there at the end of the tunnel was a screaming baby boy. He was fine – completely, totally fine. Thank you, Lord.

I looked up to my left and saw him lying in a sterile plastic basinet in the corner of the room, screaming, panicking. He seemed so scared, so alone. I couldn’t reach him because I was being tugged and pressed and stitched up by my doctor. But my heart went out to him and I did what I could: “It’s okay, Baby. It’s okay, Baby.” I cooed to him, over and over, five feet from his side.

He stopped crying. He became still and he listened and my mother said, “He knows your voice.”

An incredible feeling washed over me: gratitude and joy, fear and wonder, all mixed together. An incredible realization, too: This is my baby. He knows my voice. I am his mother and I can calm him like no one else can.

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I had spent years holding and loving and caring for other women’s babies. Now I finally had one of my own.

~~~

I come from a big extended family (including twenty-five first cousins younger than myself) and my parents had always surrounded our little, immediate-family unit with a large network of good friends, most of whom had children. So I knew my way around a baby. And a toddler. And a little kid.

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I had been baby-crazy since I was a little girl, preferring to spend most barbecues and holiday parties “mothering” the little ones, rather than hanging out with kids my own age. I babysat – boy, did I babysit – more than any other teenager I knew. When I was a single young professional, I’d swing by my aunt’s house to take her kids on outings. One time I even cared for them for several days running while their parents were out of town. I told everyone I was “playing working mom.”

So I went into parenthood feeling pretty well prepared in the childcare department. I was an old-hand at diapering and bottle-feeding and bathing. I had kissed boo-boo’s and paced with screaming babies. I had a pretty good sense of which kinds of discipline worked and which didn’t.

I had also heard enough of my aunts’ and my mom’s friends’ chatter to know that parenting was hard. I had no illusions of serene domesticity.

Which all made me a pretty smug, smarty-pants kind of first-time mother. I felt like I had spent most of my 31 years watching, practicing, preparing for this opportunity. Why should I read parenting books? Why should I seek advice? I already had enough knowledge to get it right. On my own. (Or rather, with only my husband.) Pity the mother who tried to give me tips.

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It probably sounds like I’m setting you up for a tale of complete and utter failure, doesn’t it? But that’s not quite what happened. In fact, if you’d asked me, a year or two into motherhood, whether it was what I expected, I would have told you (as I did, in fact, tell many people) that the only thing that surprised me about motherhood was how physical it was. (i.e. Having to wrestle toddlers into submission so that I could change their diapers.) Just call me Ms. Smarty-Pants.

But now, four years and three children into motherhood, I have more perspective. I now realize that those first couple of years were really hard on me. I realize that while I may have been prepared for the nuts and bolts of the work that goes into caring for children, I was woefully unprepared for dealing with the emotional strain of motherhood.

Just because I knew what I was doing, doesn’t mean I knew how to deal with the intensity of doing it all the time, without a break, for little people who relied almost entirely on me. It doesn’t mean I knew how to get through the baby blues or withstand the sound of my baby crying for hours on end or handle the heart-wrenching truth that I couldn’t produce enough milk to feed my own child.

Motherhood was so much harder than the “making dinner while trying to calm a screeching baby” kind of hard I expected. It was “feeling useless because my mother was making us pancakes” hard. And “crying on the kitchen floor because my toddler won’t leave me alone” hard. And “sobbing in the front passenger seat because my husband wasn’t being the right kind of supportive” hard.

It is less hard today.

It’s not less hard because it’s less work. (With three boys now, parenting necessarily involves much more work today than it did at first.) Motherhood is less hard simply because I’m more used to it. The idea of being constantly on-call has by now been absorbed so completely that I wouldn’t know what to do if I weren’t responsible for my boys. And now when I find myself emotional and despairing of whatever it is that seems so hard at the moment, I know enough to recognize that whatever it is is simply the next in a long line of real but passing hardships.

I know that I have more hardships ahead of me and I know that some of them will make their season of motherhood feel more difficult than the one I’m in now. But at least then I’ll have the benefit of even more perspective – that which I will have gained from my own experience and that which I will have gained from parents whom I’m not too much of a smarty-pants to listen to.

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When I was Little Ms. Smug, Smarty-Pants, First-Time Mother, I offered lots of advice to newer moms than myself. I may have personally eschewed parenting books and advice from other mothers, but I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to tell somebody else what she should be doing. These days, I try to bite my tongue. I don’t always succeed, but I try to remind myself of how much I wanted to find my own way when I was in those shoes.

These days, I try to offer words of comfort rather than advice. Because I think the best thing you can say to a first-time mother is, “It gets easier. It gets better.”

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~~~

This post is part of a “blog hop” hosted by Amy of Go Forth And Mother. Amy has just kicked off a year-long life betterment project called “The Happy Wife Project.” To get things going, she’s asked ten bloggers to post about their expectations of motherhood… and how reality stacked up. In the coming days, please be sure to “hop” on over to the other participants too:

July 21 – Amy @ Go Forth and Mother
July 22 – Julie @ These Walls
July 23 – Kelly @ This Ain’t the Lyceum
July 24 – Sarah @ Fumbling Toward Grace
July 25 – Nichole @ Yackity Shmackity
July 26 – Colleen @ Martin Family Moments
July 27 – Lindsay @ Lindsay Sews
July 28 – Olivia @ To the Heights
July 29 – Ana @ Time Flies When You’re Having Babies
July 30 – Jamie Jo @ Make Me a Saint
July 31 – Michele @ My Domestic Monastery

Nothing Like A Sum Of Its Parts: One Hot Mess (Vol. 2)

I hate feeding my children.

In my imagination, where there are peaceful, still-warm meals in which everyone is actually seated, I love feeding my children. But in real life, I hate it.

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He dropped his cupcake. I stayed up late last night making the stupid things from scratch, so that my son could bring them into preschool for his (un)birthday celebration. All that groggy work and the stupid things fell in on themselves. Ugly, ugly cupcakes. Still, his was a devastating loss.

Our meals are disjointed and loud and stressful. They are full of: “Face the table.” “Sit on your bottom.” “Start eating, please.” “Don’t bang your fork on the table.” “Just try it; you’ve always liked it before!” “Sit on your bottom. No, actually on your bottom.” “Stop dropping your cup on the floor.” “Turn around and face the table.” “Stop it with the fork!” “Sit on your bottom.” “Eat! Your! Food!

They also include a million-and-one parental hops up from the table to retrieve any number of food and cutlery items. Plus a hovering parent or two, feeding children bites of food because apparently preschoolers are unable to do something so taxing as lift a fork to their mouth.

Also, it’s not uncommon for mealtimes at our house to include vomit.

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No, it’s not vomit. I wouldn’t do that to you. This is the banana my son told me he’d eaten so that he could get his cupcake.

Hate it.

Do you know what else I hate? Dishes. And diapering. And bathtime. And changing pee-pee sheets. And cutting food into small bites. And wrestling wiggly little limbs into pajamas.

When broken down into bits, I hate just about everything involved in caring for my children and my home. So it would make sense, wouldn’t it, for me to hate being a stay-at-home-mom?

But I don’t. Not at all.

It’s a peculiar thing, isn’t it? I have found that parenthood is nothing like a sum of its parts. My daily tasks are unpleasant, yet I love what I do.

I really, truly, love what I do. Even when I hate it.

There is something there – love, I suppose – that makes such a contradiction possible. Whatever it is, I’m grateful for it. I am happier now than I have ever been in my life – here in the midst of the diapering and the clothing and the cleaning and the bathing. And the feeding – even the feeding.

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Another meal, another mess.

Be sure to stop over to Blythe’s to check out more hot messes!

Unreliable Equation: {pretty, happy, funny, real} (Vol. 13)

It’s funny, isn’t it, how you can feed the same variables into the homemaking/mothering equation day in and day out, and yet get completely different outcomes? All. the. time. Same mother, same children, same schedule, and one day turns out to be sunshine and roses while the next is miserable misery.

Yesterday afternoon while waiting for my husband to come home early from work (yippee!), I pondered what I might write for my {p,h,f,r}. Despite not feeling my best, I was very much in the sunshine-and-roses mindset. (Sing it: Home early from work!!!) My mind was full of pretty, pretty, pretty…

Until it wasn’t.

Six hours into fussy baby, hungry baby, FUSSY baby, HUNGRY baby, fussy, fussy, FUSSY baby… I’d had it. I was done, cooked. Everything was suddenly very, very real.

Grump, grump, grumpity, grump.

After developing an awful crick in my neck from falling asleep nursing little-mister-nearly-four-weeks-old (which STILL didn’t do the trick), I finally deposited the unhappy little bugger in his Rock-n-Play (seriously, our absolute favorite piece of baby gear, hands-down) and tossed dirty dishes into the dishwasher with rather too much vigor. I’m lucky I didn’t break anything.

Thank goodness for daddies who are good with babies.

And thank goodness for those sunshine-and-roses moments, which feed the soul and soothe the mind and which will surely, surely come again.

Until they do, I’ll just go ahead and remind myself of the following:

{pretty}

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I think this little guy will be serving as my {pretty} for quite some time. He really is a dear, isn’t he?

{happy}

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The boys are {happy} to have something as exciting as Grandma’s new garden going in the backyard. I’m happy to have the boys outside. Grandma’s happy to have her own piece of dirt at her new home. Brennan’s happy to be done digging.

I’m also happy to finally have these new titles in my hot little hands:

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(For those who don’t already know, the books are written by two wonderful bloggers. “The Little Oratory: A Beginner’s Guide to Praying in the Home” is co-authored by Leila Lawler of Like Mother, Like Daughter and “Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It” is written by Jennifer Fulwiler  of Conversion Diary. I’ve started both and can’t wait to get through them. I’ll report back when I do.)

{funny}

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Oh my, has this little guy been funny lately. He is such a ham.

Yesterday afternoon when I scolded him for waking up the baby, he said, “But Mommy, I was just twying to teach him to dance!”

A moment later he walked back into the kitchen looking like this:

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When he repeated the ensemble for his father that evening (this time with the lovely addition of oven mitts on his feet), he said “I yook fashion!” and “C’mon, everybody, yet’s CWAZY shake! Yet’s have some fun!”

{real}

Need I include anything more in this category?

How about the beautiful, moving kind of brotherly love that also kind of drives you nuts because you know it will result in a woken up/disturbed/crying baby? Yep, that’s {real}.

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He loves that baby so, so much.

So do I. (Grumble, grumble…)

 

Head on over to Like Mother, Like Daughter for more in the way of {pretty, happy, funny, real}!

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