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}!

pretty happy funny real[1]

The Audacity to Breathe: Seven Thoughts on Taking a Break (7QT, Vol. 26)

I have breaks on the brain these days. Like, taking a break. Like, having the audacity to put one’s mothering tasks on-hold for hours (or days!) at a time to stop, step back, and breathe.

As I’m finally finishing up this piece on a Friday, and as I have an oh-so-convenient seven general thoughts to share on the subject, I figured I might as well link up with Conversion Diary’s 7 Quick Takes Friday. If you need a break, I hope you’ll find some comfort in my musings on the subject.

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

—1—

Everybody needs a break once in a while. But sometimes that need is acute.

Back in January, I spent a long weekend alone with the boys while my husband went to Minnesota for his stepfather’s funeral. I had originally planned to fill up that time jumping from one fun outing to the next, aiming to entertain and wear out my little ones while distracting myself from the fact that their father was gone. Then we all got sick. It was just a cold, but it was our brand of cold, which left me with copious amounts of vomit to deal with. (Congestion = coughing = gagging = vomiting. In case you were wondering.)

As you might expect, those four days were a little rough. It’s no fun to be on vomit duty by yourself for days on end. All in all, we did fine. We stayed in, we watched a lot of movies, and (most importantly) we kept our expectations way low. Still, a few hours before my husband’s flight was to arrive, I had reached my limit. I was tired. I was frustrated. I was cranky. I felt like I had nothing left to give.

It’s not an unfamiliar feeling.

And I know I’m not uncommon in my familiarity with it. Indeed, it’s probably one of the most universal feelings in modern motherhood: whether you work inside the home or outside, you’re constantly moving, working, doing, pushing, giving… And sometimes you’re just done. You’ve reached your limit. You need a break.

Then you need to figure out how to actually get one.

—2—

You yourself can be the greatest barrier to getting the breaks you need.

Lately, I’ve been very lucky in the break department. But not because I’ve been trying to do something good for myself. Rather, a random (providential?) combination of events and tasks – plus the generosity of others – have had the happy effect of giving me some time to myself.

I went to a morning retreat at church. I had my hair cut and highlighted. I did a bit of solo shopping. I went to a few doctors’ appointments and a board meeting. My parents gave my husband and me the (wonderful! amazing!) Christmas gift of a weekend at a B&B while they watched our boys.

For most of these “breaks” (yes, I realize that a doctor’s appointment probably shouldn’t be considered a “break,” but when you spend nearly every waking hour with little ones, you start to find breaks in unlikely places), I felt the need to justify my alone time to myself.

I went to the retreat because it was given for those involved in ministries. (I cantor and I’m in the choir.) I saw it as a way to deepen my involvement in my new parish. I had my hair cut and highlighted because… well… one needs to do that a few times a year, you know, if one aims to maintain a certain look. (Even if that look can be described as “Kind of taming an unruly, wavy/curly/strong-willed beast of a head of hair.”) I went shopping solo because I was already out by myself anyway, and it was more efficient, wasn’t it, for me to just pop into a couple of stores without boys to get in and out of cars and carts? I went to the doctors’ appointments because… well, that’s self-explanatory.

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The new ‘do (I love when they blow-dry my hair so it looks all fancy and put-together!) with (an old — 29-week) belly shot.

I know that I shouldn’t feel like I have to justify every little escape. I know that they’re good for me, and I know that that should be enough. But it’s so hard to let go of the idea that I should always be engaged in that moving, working, doing, pushing, giving. It’s so hard to not feel guilty about leaving my boys with a friend, or choosing my own need for a break over my husband’s need to get something accomplished at work or home. It’s really, really hard to just go ahead and do something for me. Unabashedly. Because I would benefit.

I’ll bet that’s a familiar feeling to other mothers too.

—3—

When it comes down to it, you’re going to have to just look around, take a deep breath, and leap in.

Or at least that’s what my gut tells me. I’m not very good at doing it. Sure, we hire a babysitter once in a while, but it’s almost always because we’re going out to celebrate a birthday or an anniversary or going to my husband’s annual work party. Usually, any “breaks” I get are at home, in the quiet afternoons when I put on a DVD for the boys and order them to lay on the sofas. (Older son has always been a terrible napper and this is the only way I can get him to lie still for an hour. Younger son goes out like a light about 3 minutes in. Which is why I have, like, a million pictures of him asleep on the sofa.)

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Or on the floor.

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Sometimes the big one even falls asleep.

Jenny’s been writing lately about hiring a mother’s helper and I think that makes so much sense. I probably have unrealistic expectations, but I imagine that if I had a mother’s helper for a few hours at a time, a couple of times a week, my life would be so different – more peaceful, more organized, more all-the-wonderful-things. I’m completely with her in that I would much, much rather have someone come take care of the boys than clean for me. My brain needs quiet, child-free time much more than it needs someone to whip my bathrooms into shape.

But. That decision takes two to make, doesn’t it? Don’t get me wrong – my husband is super helpful. He changes diapers, he cooks, he cleans, he gives just about all the baths and does bedtime nearly every night. He’s Superdad, for sure. And if I really, really insisted, I think he’d tolerate the mother’s helper thing. However, for a variety of reasons, he would not be happy about it. So right now, at this particular point in our family’s life, I don’t think it’s the right fit for us.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not right for you. Definitely check out Jenny’s posts. (Here, and especially here.) Let her, as she puts it, “bring you into the happy, light-filled place where well-rested and highly satisfied mothers dwell: the land of helpful teenagers.”

Of course there are ways other than a regular mother’s helper to get some breaks. There’s hiring a sitter or nailing down your husband (in my case, he’s got a long line of home improvement projects calling his name) to be in charge of the kids for the occasional Saturday afternoon. There’s switching off with another mom friend who’s in the same boat as you. There is – when you’re truly at your limit – trusting your gut enough to call your hubby home or a friend over so you can escape before you blow your top. (Note to my local gals: I would TOTALLY be that friend for you – call anytime.)

—4—

Even when you’ve got one right in front of you, it can be hard to let the break sink in.

Usually when I’m presented with the opportunity to take a break, I hardly know what to make of it at first. I sit down for my thrice-yearly visit to the hair salon just about shell-shocked: nervous, waiting on pins and needles for a small voice to start crying out for me. I feel like an animal newly emerged from hibernation, blinking at the bright sunlight. Without my boys, I feel like I’ve lost my bearings.

I am used to being tired. I am used to being pulled in different directions. I am used to deciphering squeals from shrieks from screams. I am used to running around, bending down, stepping over, and wrestling. I am used to feeling stressed out and annoyed and amused and joyful in a span of just a few minutes.

I am not used to quiet. I am not used to sitting still for extended periods of time. I am not used to people serving me. I am not used to choosing what I want to do.

Maybe this is just me. And (very likely) maybe I sound pathetic. But I find that it’s hard to make that adjustment from the whole moving, working, doing, pushing, giving thing to just… relaxing. Which is why I think it’s important to not let your breaks be too few and far between.

The Saturday after the aforementioned weekend-without-my-hubby, I had the good fortune to have just about the whole day to myself. I started with that retreat at church. For the first hour or so, I was antsy and distracted and (I regret to say so) too critical of the program. But as I got further into it, I began to relax enough to absorb and appreciate what I was in the middle of. By the time I got to the hair salon that afternoon, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I chatted happily with the hairdresser and didn’t feel as on-edge as I usually do when I’m there. A week later, I was able to set off on my weekend away with not a trace of guilt. It was great to get that little taste of freedom and even better to get to share it with my husband.

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—5—

Your breaks aren’t just good for you – they’re good for your family too.

When I was engaged to my husband, I came to the realization that every single time I went to mass – every time I sat in God’s presence, soaked in a little silence, engaged in prayer with the people around me, and took part in the Eucharist, I loved my husband more. I’d exit the church with a little spring in my step and a little more love in my heart.

Now that I’ve got a couple of little ones in tow, I may no longer have that spring in my step when I leave mass, but I most definitely have more love for my family.

And I feel the same way every time I come back from a break. Whether it’s a date night or a solo trip to Target, I return home loving my boys even more than I did when I left the house. My chances to breathe and relax and get a little distance (read: perspective) not only refresh me, but they intensify my love for the very beings that were driving me crazy just hours before.

That’s good for me, of course, but it’s good for them too.

When I take the opportunity to get away for a bit, they get me back happier, more relaxed, and more in love with them. Win, win, win. They’ve also had a chance to enjoy someone else’s company, become a little more independent, and maybe even grow more in love with me too. Win.

—6—

It’s also important to take breaks so that they’re there for you to draw upon when you need something to cling to.

Two days after my husband and I returned from our weekend away, I wrote the following, intending it for a blog post, which I never finished:

Fresh off a weekend AWAY (seriously – a weekend away, with my husband, without children), I started Monday feeling peaceful and refreshed – energized, even. Just before the boys woke, I stole a few minutes to begin a disgustingly cheerful post on how wonderful it feels to get a break. Given that I’d begun last week by ruminating on death, I dunno… I figured I should begin this one by blogging about something… happier, more hopeful, maybe.

Then it all came crashing down.

Now, I can’t blame this one on the boys. They did wake up a little extra-tired and grumpy from an indulgent weekend at Grandma’s (love you, Mom!), but we had a little “talk” in the morning about what Mommy’s willing to put up with, and it all went pretty well, considering.

No, I got some big news on the phone. Not necessarily bad news, mind you, but BIG news. News that, if it comes to fruition, will change all of our lives. And, if it indeed comes to fruition, I will undoubtedly blog all about it. (I know, I’m a brat for mentioning “the news” without telling you what it is. I hate when people do that. Shame on me.)

Then I heard about a sad, sad story from a friend, who, like me, had a nice start to her day before her fateful phone call. And then I read about more sad, sudden events on Facebook and in my email. There seemed to be a theme: you’re rolling along nicely, happily… whistling, maybe… then, WHAM! Something hits you and you realize just how fragile your peace is.

My day proceeded accordingly: I kept swinging between loving gazes at my beautiful boys, extra softness, extra hugs, extra cuddles – and snapping, hard and fast, at their misbehavior. Because underneath all the softness, I was brittle. The aforementioned news and sadness and stress had put my nerves on edge.

I’m trying, trying, trying to cling to the peace I felt early Monday morning – to the hope and brightness and energy that my weekend, and some other recent breaks, gave me. Monday, I mostly failed. Since then, with some sleep and time and perspective under my belt, I’m doing better.

I know that many of my posts lately have been kind of dig-in-my-heels-crotchety on the parenting front. I mean, there was the whole “I do NOT treasure every moment!” one and the “Boys are NOT easy!” one. I feel like both could have been followed up with a “Gosh darn it!” and a little stamping of my feet.

But lest you think I’m a perpetual pessimistic grump or currently hovering right at my breaking point, let me assure you that these posts belie my overarching mood these days. The fact is, we’re in a pretty good place right now. We’re settled in our home, content in our marriage, and we have two children who can do things like walk themselves to the car and bring me their sippy cups when they need more milk. One can even use the potty and put on his own shoes and coat! I’m well aware that in approximately 10 weeks’ time, we’ll be back into the helplessness that is baby mode.

So really, life is good right now. I just need to keep reminding myself of that. And those breathers I mentioned: I’m soaking them up, folks. I am soaking them up.

Thank goodness I had just had those breaks. Because they shored me up for the news and the worries awaiting me. I am so grateful that I was able to face them from a place of peace and rest rather than one of exhaustion and frayed nerves.

—7—

I’m going to try to be more deliberate and unashamed about pursuing breaks. You should too.

Given some impending big changes in our family (umm… baby?), I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to how our household functions, how we react to happenings in our daily lives, how we interact with each other, how I feel about it all, etc. I know that when the baby’s born, he’ll arrive bearing a massive wrench to throw at us. So I figure this is my last chance to get things in order for a while. (And I mean that in more than a physical sense.) I suppose it’s my way of nesting.

I remember the exhaustion of having a newborn. I remember the baby blues. I remember not feeling like I’d ever be able to dig out from it. But I also remember feeling like I had to do everything. Make everything work. All the time. No stopping.

This time, I want to go into the newborn period with a very different attitude – a more forgiving one. I want to be able to count it as a ‘win’ when we’ve all survived the day. I want us to be easier on each other, take a break from our other responsibilities, and just focus on the five people here in our little family.

Part of that, I know, will require me to be easier on myself, to make sure that I’m getting what I need to care for my children and love my husband. I’m going to need to be re-filled every once in a while. I’ll need some breaks.

And by gosh, I intend to get them.

Which is one of the reasons I was so intent on going to The Edel Gathering this coming July. I think it will be an amazing opportunity to meet some fabulous women. And it will be an incredible break from my daily life. I’m confident that I’ll return happier and more in love with my family than ever before.

They will benefit. But mostly, I’m doing it for me.

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

Greetings From the Land of Nod… Nod… Nodding Off

Hello, friends – I’ve been meaning to write. Actually, I have been writing. Every day. For, like, a solid five minutes at a time before my vision blurs and my eyelids droop. For weeks now, my evening writing sessions have looked something like this:

Julie, sitting at the kitchen table: Ugh. My hips hurt. My old, pregnant body can’t sit on this hard chair much longer. I’d better go sit on the sofa.

Julie, sitting on the sofa: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

Kind of like this.

Kind of like this.

Other than my evening sleepiness, I was doing rather well with this third-trimester-of-my-third-pregnancy, until a week ago. Monday the 10th, I was feeling decently energetic and healthy. I was beginning to feel that I’d gotten really lucky this time around, because I was far more perky than I remembered being in either of my two previous pregnancies.

Needless to say, that feeling came to an abrupt end on Tuesday the 11th. Come midday, I was pretty much useless. I think I spent most of the afternoon on the sofa with the boys, watching Cars and Planes and dozing off and on until the boys finally pestered me enough to get me into the kitchen to make them dinner.

Thus has the pattern been ever since: Julie has a modest amount of energy in the mornings. Julie crashes hard after lunch. Julie just about blacks out come 6pm.

I'm really very lucky that my boys don't yet know how to operate a camera.

I’m really very lucky that my boys don’t yet know how to operate a camera.

But, my dear blog, how I’ve missed you. Through the haze of third-trimester fatigue, I’ve sincerely tried to write something comprehensible. Unfortunately, my scattered thoughts and weak attempts at writing have felt much like trying to put together a 500-piece puzzle by pouring the pieces into a pile on the floor.

So, photos. I think I can manage some photos. And updates: I’ve got two blogging-related updates to share. Two is do-able, right?

If you can stay awake for it, Julie.

If you can stay awake for it, Julie.

First, I’m going to The Edel Gathering! It’s a weekend conference/get-away aimed at Catholic mothers. Edel, which is being organized by Jen Fulwiler and Hallie Lord (the bloggers at Conversion Diary and Moxie Wife, respectively) will be held in Austin, Texas in late July. (Yes, I realize that the weather will be HOT.) It looks like most of my favorite bloggers will be there, along with lots of other terrific ladies. I am very, very much looking forward to it. (!!!) Are you going? If so, please let me know!

By late July, of course, I will have a bouncing three-month-old baby boy needing my constant attention, so he’ll be coming along for the ride. (Thank goodness for event organizers who take nursing babies’ needs into account.) I think having baby in tow at Edel itself will be fine, but I admit to some nerves regarding getting there and back. Do you have any tips for flying solo with an infant? Really, the things I’m thinking about most are (1) whether to bring a stroller through the airport (con: wrangling a large piece of equipment onto and off of the plane; pro: having somewhere to put the baby when I need to use the restroom) and (2) the restroom thing. Seriously, if you don’t bring a stroller with you, what are you supposed to do with baby while you use the restroom? I might feel comfortable enough to leave my baby with a fellow passenger while we’re in the air, but almost certainly would not in an airport.

The last time I flew with a little one.

The last time I flew with a little one.

I’ve never had to do it alone, though.

Second, just as she did last summer, Jen Fulwiler is hosting another Epic Blogging Challenge. It’s scheduled to run from next Monday the 24th through Sunday, March the 2nd. Despite nearly every word in this post, I’m going to give it a try. I certainly have lots of ideas running through my tired brain – now to figure out which are simple enough to pound out before I pass out.

You know, like this.

You know, like this.

I think it’s time for the obligatory snow photos. We did, after all, get a whopping 18 inches last Thursday.

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And now for our decadent Valentine’s Day breakfast, courtesy of a care package from Grandma: red velvet pancakes with vanilla/cream cheese icing. I added the sprinkles for extra festivity, even if I only had blue to offer.

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Magnifique!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to lounge on the sofa for another viewing of Cars.

Sorry -- I have hundreds of these.

Sorry — I have hundreds of these.

A Mother’s Power

Both of my boys are sick right now. It’s nothing awful, just a run-of-the-mill respiratory virus. Still, my two-year-old seems miserable. He looks up at me with those watery blue eyes, flushed cheeks, and wet nose, and I just about melt. I am putty in his clammy little hands.

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I’m not normally the putty-in-my-child’s-hands type. My home is so full of activity and noise and life, that I’m usually pretty well consumed with just handling it all. I rely on rules and strategies to get us through. But then things slow down and quiet down a bit, and I take the opportunity to really think on it. On these precious, unique little souls that occupy my home and my heart. On the wondrous, heavy responsibility I bear as their mother.

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When I was a child and feeling unwell, I remember thinking that my mother could just magically fix it. I don’t know, perhaps I thought she could pull an I Dream of Jeannie or something, but I was convinced that if I told her how sick I felt, she could and would make me well. Just like that.

It’s sobering to think that my own children now think the same of me. What power I must hold in their little minds. And what other, fundamental, weighty ideas I must represent to them.

I am my boys’ first model of womanhood, perhaps of beauty. I am their first model of love, of kindness. Their father and I form for them their first understanding of marriage and more basically, of how people interact with one another. I will be my boys’ frame of reference when it comes to contemplating what to look for in a wife and in a mother to their own children.

It’s all a little scary to think about.

It’s a lot to live up to.

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But I suppose all I can do is keep thinking about it. Keep praying about it. Keep checking myself, keep holding that wondrous, heavy responsibility in my mind and my heart. What else could one possibly do with something so important?

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

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

—1—

This week…

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

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

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

—2—

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

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

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

—3—

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

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

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

—4—

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

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

—5—

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

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

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

—6—

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

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

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

My head will spin if I let it.

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

—7—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This First Year Of Blogging: “Most” Posts and 2013 in 13 Photos

As we wrap up 2013 (Happy New Year, everyone!) and my first (calendar) year of blogging draws to a close, I can’t help but reflect a little on how it (the blogging thing, that is) has all gone.

Fortunately, two bloggers currently have link-ups that facilitate my reflection quite nicely. So, I’m game. And I’m totally going to cheat by doing both link-ups in one post. Sarah of Amongst Lovely Things is hosting a link-up of bloggers’ “Most” Posts of 2013: those with the most clicks, most comments, etc. Dwija of House Unseen, Life Unscripted is hosting one on 2013 in 13 Photos.

Below, I give you both. Plus some reflections on this first year (er… seven months — I started the blog at the tail-end of May) of blogging.

First, Sarah’s prompts:

Post With The Most Clicks

My most-viewed post, by far, was “A Crazy Good Night,” about attending Like Mother, Like Daughter’s “Crazy DC Meet-Up” this summer. I wish I could take more credit, but LMLD’s “Auntie” Leila linked to it on her blog’s Facebook page (so exciting!), which explains all the traffic.

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Digging a little deeper, my next most-viewed post can also be credited to a (much) bigger blogger than myself. Grace of Camp Patton hosted a “How We Met” link-up, which has attracted a steady stream of traffic to this post for months.

And I’m just a tad embarrassed that I’ve got to dig down to number three to find a post that doesn’t owe its popularity to another blogger. Rather, it owes its popularity to a baby. Last month’s gender reveal announcement drew plenty of curious onlookers.

Post With The Most Comments

This would be “7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 14),” in which I announced my pregnancy. People are so nice… (Insert mental image of a smiley, grateful Julie.)

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Post With The Best Picture

Oh, so many pictures… so hard to choose. I think I’ll just go with this one, which is fresh from yesterday’s post, “Oh, Boys.” It represents life in our home quite well, I think. (And when I posted it on Facebook, my brother observed that it looked like my boys had murdered a snowman.)

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Post That Was Hardest To Write

That would have to be the one that took almost a week to write and nearly a month to move past: “The Weirdest of Them All.” Spinal injury + brain cyst = hard to write. (For an update on the medical situation, check out the post’s follow-up.)

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Post That Was Your Personal Favorite

This is another tough one to choose. I think I’m going to have to go with “On Abortion: Paul Ryan and Two Simple Questions.” I like to think of this blog as a mix of family/parenting/household stuff and political thought, but in all honesty, I’ve done far more of the former than the latter. I like that this post was firmly in the meaty/political/philosophical camp. I also like that I was able to capture my thought process on this most difficult of subjects in what (I think) was a clear, logical way.

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Okay, on to the second part of this post – seven more photos from this year to round out Dwija’s “2013 in 13 Photos.” I’m going to go with more pics that represent favorite posts:

I Don’t Treasure Every Moment

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7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 22): Thanksgiving Edition

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On Perspective… And Laundry

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The Glamorous Looking-Back

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The Blue-Sky Day

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That Mommy Dance

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A Love That Changes You

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And third, (for anyone who’s still here!) some reflections on this first year of blogging:

Because I’m something of a numbers girl, I have to report that this here post is my 73rd. When I hit 50 posts in September, I was hopeful that I could get to 100 by the end of the year. But then I got that medical news, which tripped me up for about a month. And, you know… the holidays… and life… so I didn’t get anywhere close. Still, I’m proud of 73 posts in my first calendar year. That averages to about 10 posts a month and between two and three posts per week. Not bad for someone who has never been able to keep up journal writing for longer than a week at a time.

In a particularly angsty post from August, I described my reasons for blogging. In the interest of not re-creating the wheel (and at the risk of seeming a little full of myself), I’m just going to go ahead and quote what I wrote back then:

As much as I aim to write things that other people will want to read, at the end of the day, I have to write this blog for me.

Yes, there is this and this. Yes, I’d love to attract readers and get some interesting back-and-forth going in the comment sections. Yes, I love hearing that something I’ve written has amused or touched someone. Yes, I’d like to avoid hurting or even annoying people with my writing. But These Walls is really for me. It gives me an avenue to work through my thoughts and ideas and it allows me to feel like I’ve said my piece on subjects that matter to me.

I also write this blog for my boys. Hopefully I’ll live a long life and I’ll always have strong relationships with them both. But you never know. One of my worst fears is that something should happen to prevent me from raising my sons. And almost as bad is the idea that something should happen to estrange us in their adulthood. Unfounded as those fears are, I am comforted by the idea that should they (heaven forbid) ever materialize, the words I write here give me another shot at reaching out to my boys. I like to think they would give my boys a sense of my love for them, of the way I see the world, and the values I hope to impart to them.

Besides, These Walls has got to be for me (and my boys). There’s no possible way I can please or even interest everyone else. And there’s no way I can wholly avoid annoying/offending/hurting every single person who stops by this blog. All I can ever do is write posts that I like and that I can confidently stand behind. That’s it.

I’ve been trying to keep all this in mind. “I write this blog for me… avenue to work through my thoughts and ideas… allows me to feel like I’ve said my piece. I write this blog for my boys… gives them a sense of my love for them… the way I see the world… the values I hope to impart to them.” Those phrases have become something of a mantra to me. I revisit them to keep myself on-course as I write.

I am a slow writer. I rely on multiple drafts to get things right and I’m deliberate about the words I choose. It usually takes two to three days for me to write a post. And I’ve sunk far too much time into many a half-written post that may or may not ever see the light of the internet.

But I’m okay with that. Because “all I can ever do is write posts that I like and that I can confidently stand behind.”

So, I’m feeling pretty good about this first year of blogging. By and large, I like what I wrote. I feel happier and more peaceful for having pounded it out. I need to do a better job of balancing writing time with my responsibilities to my family, but I do feel like this blogging thing is valuable enough to deserve some small part of my time. At the end of this first year, I feel like I’m heading in the right direction.

Oh, Boys

We had a lovely Christmas, we really did. Our prep, while time-consuming, came off without a hitch. The boys were thrilled with their gifts in the most simple, refreshingly non-greedy way. They had a blast playing with their cousins and wishing everyone a “Mawwy Chwimas!” / “Ma mas!” And we thoroughly enjoyed witnessing their joy. Like I said, it was lovely.

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But you know what came next, don’t you? The Day After Christmas. The one that you tell yourself will be great because children will be tired and they’ll have lots of new toys to play with and a couple of new movies to watch. But the problem is, children are exhausted and they have lots of new toys to feel possessive about and a couple of new movies to compete with their shouting matches. Or at least, that’s how it went in our house.

Towards the end of the (LOUD, jarring) day, my fried little brain started asking that unkind question: “Why, oh why, has God seen fit to give me all boys?”

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I can only assume that these boys are meant to give my patience and my intellect and my very soul a supreme work-out, because I promise you that I am not the kind of woman who is naturally suited to life with boys.

Don’t get me wrong: my boys are wonderful. They are ridiculously cute, more loving and cuddly than I could ever have hoped for, bright, cheerful, creative, even kind and polite. The cliché rings true: I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

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But still, I find life with small boys to be something like walking through an automatic carwash. You’re jostled, you’re sprayed (sorry – that one was too easy), you’re pelted, you’re surrounded by NOISE, you’re knocked down, you’re roughed up, and everything’s coming at you so quickly and furiously that pretty much all you can do is react. And duck.

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So, as much as I love, love, love my boys, do you know what comment from well-meaning strangers I find most irksome? It’s not, “You’ve got your hands full!” It’s not even “Treasure every moment!” It’s… wait for it… “Boys are easier than girls.”

I get that all. the. time.

Stranger: “Two little boys!”
Me: “Yep. And we’re expecting a third!”
Stranger: “Three boys! Well, at least boys are easier than girls!”

I’m generally very good at not letting strangers’ comments bother me; I think that most come from kindness or sympathy and I choose to take them that way. But this one bugs the heck out of me.

For one thing, if you haven’t noticed, I’m a girl. Or I was. And I was a girly girl too, so any drama/intrigue that you want to blame on girls, I’m sure I was guilty of at some point. Sue me for being a little defensive of my sex.

For another thing, my desire to someday have a daughter is quite genuine. It’s not so wobbly as to be shaken by strangers’ warnings that girls are particularly hard to parent. I could give you a whole list of reasons as to why I’d like to have a daughter. And cute little dresses don’t even feature prominently among them. (By the way, I loved this post. I loved seeing daughters celebrated, for once. Just because I don’t have girls of my own, doesn’t mean I want them to have a bad rap.)

But mostly, the comment bothers me because, this parenting boys thing? This is not easy. Wonderful in its own way? Most definitely. But easy? Absolutely not.

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Boys are LOUD*. They are destructive. They are aggressive, even violent. They think they are invincible. I know that parents bemoan the difficulty of dealing with girls’ emotions, but I personally feel better equipped to pick my way through the emotional morass than to constantly worry if my boys are going to break their necks. My mother used to say of my brother and me: “You have to worry about keeping Julie happy. You have to worry about keeping Eric alive.”

(*Yes, yes, yes – I know that there are exceptions to every rule. I know that there must be some rare docile male specimens out there, as well as some destructive females. But I’ve found that, by and large, there’s a truth to the aforementioned stereotype. Certainly, it’s borne out in my home.)

Boys, as little males, also think rather differently than we females do. And I confess, so often I just don’t get them. They delight in destruction, seeming to build only so they can tear down. (Seriously, why do we even have building blocks – aka sharp-edged projectiles – in our house?) They are often oblivious to others’ pain. Little brother can be lying on the floor, shrieking from a bleeding head wound, and big brother will be trying to tell me a story about how monsters can be scared away by dogs. They are forever in-the-moment, emotionally. The boys and I can have just emerged from a major, dramatic disagreement, involving (them, not me – I promise) wailing and throwing themselves on the floor, and all-of-a-sudden, they’re fine! I’m left all hot and huffy and they’re like no big deal! Let’s eat lollipops!

Would you believe that moments after this picture was taken, they dropped to the floor and started wrestling? At church? In front of the HOLY FAMILY?

Would you believe that moments after this picture was taken, they dropped to the floor and started wrestling? At church? In front of the HOLY FAMILY?

Let me paint you a picture of life in our home: Imagine a writhing bundle of boy, a tangled mess of arms and legs, shrieking as it rolls from one end of the house to the other. Imagine small boys chasing each other in circles, roaring, fangs and claws bared. Imagine a flurry of crumbs flying from their hands and mouths as they eat, because – didn’t you know – they’re sharks, not boys after all. Imagine pirates and lions and bears. Everywhere. All the time.

You try to sit and read them a book; they jump across the sofa, onto you. (Like, actually onto you – and they’re not particular as to which part of your body bears the brunt of their attack.) You hand them an old paper towel roll, it becomes a sword. You hand them a broom, it becomes a sword. You hand them a sword and a “Thefirsttimeyouhitsomeonewiththisitgoesaway!” and you hear screaming in about three minutes.

Imagine that your boy tells you he has made his dinosaur hairy. You’re momentarily puzzled, until you see this:

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And you realize he’s done this:

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Or even this:

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This Advent, I brought out our child-friendly nativity set to try to teach the boys the story of Christmas. Even though I’d really prefer to focus on the few precious moments when my boys were talking about Mary and Baby Jesus and tenderly moving the nativity pieces across the table, I fear that that the BANG! BANG! BANG!** I heard from the family room one day is closer to the truth. Because my boy was, indeed, smashing every figure of the (thankfully, plastic) nativity set to the floor with his (thankfully, also plastic) hammer.

And that hammer-on-Baby-Jesus scenario is regrettably still preferable to the manger-on-little-brother scenario that took place a couple of weeks earlier. Because, yes, my older son threw this:

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At his brother’s face. With force. From across the room.

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And even though that offense landed him in bed for a full hour, he still went ahead and repeated it the next day. (Though fortunately, that time he only got the little guy on the foot.)

(**Yes, all three offenses were greeted with the appropriate level of Catholic guilt, including stern exclamations that included the words “HOLY” and “GOD” and “CHRISTMAS.”)

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Oh, well – you get the idea. I’ve probably gone overboard with my picture-painting. The bottom line is that Boys ≠ Easy. Which isn’t to say that Girls = Easy. My grandmother, a mother to seven, boys and girls included, maintains that a five-year-old boy about equals a 15-year-old girl in difficulty. They’re both hard, she says – just at different times. The other day, my aunt told me much the same, except she emphasized that my hard (assuming I never have girls, that is) will be over in a few years. Girls’ hard, she said, is “a long, slow boil.”

That may well be true. I don’t know what it’s like to have teenaged boys, let alone teenaged girls. But I feel pretty sure that when I get to that point in parenthood, I still won’t think it’s easy. Easier, perhaps, than the little-boy years, but still not easy. One never stops being a parent, never stops worrying, never stops feeling some measure of responsibility. I expect that when I’m a mother to teenaged boys, my mind will be firmly trained on the self-sufficient, moral, responsible young men I’ll soon need to turn out into the world. My daily life may be less frantic then than it is now, but its consequences (other than the keeping-boys-alive thing, that is) will be weightier.

I’ll end on another boys-related comment I received from a stranger the other day. It was the week before Christmas, at the tail-end of our one-and-only mall shopping trip of the holiday season. I was exhausted, the boys were hyped-up. They were strapped into their double stroller, swatting and kicking each other, squealing. We were waiting to check out in always-cramped Gymboree (why in the world doesn’t a children’s clothing store leave more room for strollers?) and strict-mommy Julie had given up on trying to contain the boys’ enthusiastic aggression. I shrugged and gave the other waiting mommies a pathetic glance and said, “There comes a point when you just can’t do anything else.” They chuckled and smiled sympathetically and an older woman, a grandmother, replied, “Boys are different, aren’t they?”

I felt a weight lift from my shoulders. Yes. Yes, boys are different. Not better, not worse. Not easier. Boys are just different.

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P.S. If any of you are mothers-to-boys, in need of more sympathy and solidarity, be sure to check out Rachel Balducci’s blog, Testosterhome. Rachel is a mother to five boys – and one beautiful little girl. A friend gifted me with Rachel’s book when I had my first son. It gave me great joy, great comfort, and maybe just a little bit of fear too. It turned me on to Testosterhome, which later introduced me to more mommy blogs, which then introduced me to others. All of my favorite reads today can be traced back to Testosterhome, and for that – not to mention all the solidarity – I am sincerely grateful to Rachel. (And to Mary.)

I Don’t Treasure Every Moment

I feel like I’ve been bombarded lately with reflections on motherhood. Some have been my own, prompted by unpleasant interactions with my boys. Others have been on blogs that I read or in pieces shared by friends on Facebook. In turn, they’ve brought me down, given me comfort, and frustrated me.

When I review them together, I take away the following lessons: Keep reflecting. Keep trying. Always aim for improvement, but don’t aim for perfection. And above all: Don’t worry about treasuring every moment. Treasuring your children is enough.

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The “every moment” debate is hardly new. As soon as you have a baby, older mothers command you to “Treasure every moment! They grow up so fast!” You know they mean well and they miss having small children around, so you smile and nod. Even though you’re panicking inside: “I’m exhausted/hungry/uncomfortable/stressed out – how am I supposed to treasure this?” So you go to your good girlfriends and your favorite mommy blogs for comfort – the ones who know that there’s absolutely nothing to treasure about cleaning vomit off your child’s crib at midnight.

But increasingly, I keep seeing admonitions like “treasure every moment” and its relative, “babies don’t keep” from young mothers. From those who are in the thick of it, just like me. And I have to admit: coming from them, the message really gets under my skin. I don’t understand how those women are able to live their lives like that.

Now, I’m quite aware that our children are infinitely precious, that their lives can be fragile, and that our time as mothers to little ones is fleeting. I understand the feeling behind “treasure every moment” and “babies don’t keep.” And I concede that for some – those who have lost babies, or whose children have life-threatening illnesses, or who struggle with fertility issues – the messages must be especially powerful. I admire those who can keep them in the backs of their minds at all times.

But I don’t, honestly, understand how “treasure every moment” and “babies don’t keep” can be fully lived out on a real-life, day-to-day basis.

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Here’s an example of what I don’t get – some thoughts from a mother regarding her young daughter:

“What she doesn’t know is that I’d hold her every day just like this. She could ask me anytime, anywhere, and I would drop whatever I was doing to take her up into my arms and feel her warm little heart beating next to mine.”

It’s a lovely image, but it doesn’t resonate with me. I just don’t feel this way.

I know a lot of people will think I should. I know that lots of women will tell me that holding my child is more important than anything else I could do with my time. But here’s the thing (and this is where my circumstances differ from the author’s): My children aren’t the non-cuddly type for whom such requests are rare. Both of my boys ask to be hugged or held more times in a day than I could possibly count. Both of them are borderline OCD about bestowing kisses on not one, but both of my cheeks. Both of them would spend hours at my feet (like, literally at/on/between my feet) every day if I let them.

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Just the other day as I was trying to prepare lunch, my two-year-old came into the kitchen with a pathetic little face and a “Hod me, Mommy.” He did it again, and again, and again – roughly once every three minutes. The first few times, I obliged him. I knelt on the floor and threw my arms around him and held him tight and told him that I loved him. I gave him kisses and I absorbed his sweetness. Then I had to peel his arms off of me, I hoisted myself into a standing position, and I shooed him away so that I could resume making our lunch.

I did it again and again and again. And then I snapped. Because the lunches still needed to be made. I was fifteen minutes into the chore and all I’d done was warm the pan and pull out the bread and cheese. I wasn’t getting anywhere shifting my increasing bulk onto and up from the floor every three minutes to cuddle with my (admittedly very cute) little guy. So I yelled for him to go, GO into the other room. And yes, I felt guilty about it.

Those “treasure every moment” and “babies don’t keep” admonitions – they carry so much pressure. How in the world am I supposed to keep my household functioning and my children fed, clothed, and clean if I spend the whole day rocking, reading, and playing? And how in the world am I supposed to treasure every moment when I’m pulled in a hundred different directions and babies are crying and toddlers are fighting and toys are blaring and somebody’s sitting on my feet while I’m trying to make dinner?

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I can’t. I just can’t.

So I choose to pop the bubble of that pressure. Instead of giving in to it, I tell myself: Don’t worry about treasuring every moment. Treasuring your children is enough.

I don’t go so far as to treat motherhood as some awful, horrible burden. Those exaggerated articles bother me much more than the sugary-sweet “I would hold my children all day if they wanted me to” posts. But still, if someone were to listen in on the litany of grumpy thoughts that run through my head while reading those young mothers’ “treasure every moment/babies don’t keep” words, they might well be appalled. And they’d probably be even more appalled to listen in on the thoughts occupying my mind during my boys’ daily crying/whining/fighting/pleading fests, which, to be honest, feel like assaults on my senses. The listener might well think I take those boys for granted, that I think more of my own needs than theirs.

But it’s just not true.

I think my children are the most beautiful people in the world. I am in love with their long eyelashes, their soft cheeks, their twinkling eyes, their love for hugs and kisses, their curiosity, their kindness, their creativity, their spunk. A hundred times a day, I see my boys pass me and I feel a pang of gratitude for their precious little lives. I accompany almost every diaper change, hand washing, and car-seat buckling with a kiss. I can barely begin to describe how intensely I love those boys.

And through any number of decisions, in small and big ways, I put their needs first. My daily life revolves around serving them. P1170404

But my boys aren’t the only ones in my home who have needs. We parents have needs too. Some are simple: my husband needs to have big, hearty, healthy, home-cooked dinners more nights than not. (Which takes a not-insubstantial amount of planning, time, and effort on my part.)

Some needs are more complicated: I have a hot temper and an easily over-stimulated, overwhelmed mind. (And let me tell you, that’s not a great combination for a mother of small boys.) I have learned that in order for me to be able to handle all the noise and fighting and demands that come with little boys, I need to have an ordered background (note: ordered, not necessarily clean). I also need to have some short pauses of quiet during my day. (And if I have to get that quiet by turning on the television, so be it.) I am infinitely better equipped to be kind and patient with my boys when those needs are met.

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Telling me to forgo an ordered home and quiet personal moments in pursuit of “quality time” with my boys puts me in a hard place: It’s a choice between (a) personal sanity but supposedly neglected children and (b) stress and anger but supposedly loved children. Neither choice is acceptable.

So I choose instead to smash that “babies don’t keep” lens through which some view parenthood. I don’t think it’s accurate anyway. Parenthood is not an either/or situation. It’s an and/and/and situation.

My service to my boys is not limited to my “quality time” with them. Yes, I serve my boys when I read to them, play with them, and shower them with hugs and kisses. But I also serve my boys – and my husband – when I clean their clothes, when I prepare their meals, when I do the dishes. All of these tasks are part of my role as wife and mother. I do myself and my family a disservice when I treat some of them as unimportant.

That said, I’m never sure whether I’m striking the right balance. Sometimes I look happily around at my (rarely, I promise) clean kitchen and I spot a lonely little boy. Sometimes I put off all my chores to do fun things with my children, only to melt down later because I’m so overwhelmed by what has stacked up. Sometimes I find myself shouting “Go! GO into the other room!” too frequently.

That’s why I keep reflecting. That’s why I keep trying. I aim for improvement, but I cut myself a break by not aiming for perfection. I know that I’m not capable of it. I have my own set of struggles and inadequacies. So do my boys, and so does my husband.

By the grace of God, I’ve come to realize that I shouldn’t waste time ignoring or being ashamed of those struggles and inadequacies. Rather, I should take them into account. I should factor them into our plans. For me, a large part of that is granting myself the following: Don’t worry about treasuring every moment. Treasuring your children is enough.

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Tiny Conductor

Last week at my church choir practice, I was reveling in being part of a choir again. I was enjoying having to stretch my brain to achieve something. I was getting a kick out of adjusting my voice just so to fit in with everyone else’s. I was feeling competent.

Then last night, I took my two toddler sons with me.

It was a cold, rainy night. Past their bedtime. I am brilliant, let me tell you.

Yes, the two-year-old screamed and cried when we got there because he wanted to go home, to bed. (I felt like a terrific parent.) Yes, my fellow choir members kept having to fish the boys’ cars out from under chairs. Yes, the boys made a game of throwing their coats at each other as hard as they possibly could. Yes, they ultimately ended up in a rolling, writhing heap, wrestling at the choir director’s feet. Yes, I had to pry their screeching heads out of each other’s clutches.

But let’s not dwell on those mishaps. Let’s focus, instead, on the few moments when no one was screaming or throwing or wrestling. I didn’t notice it at first, distracted as I was by the two-year-old on my lap, but my older son was trying his hand at directing the choir. He was standing several feet away from our actual director, miming her motions. There was a very serious look on his face. Undoubtedly, the looks on the choir members’ faces were less so.

As the music went on, he got more and more into it. His arms started to flail. He began to jump and dance a little. Then the music really overtook him. He ran up the few steps onto the altar. With every big note we hit, he jumped down a step – still flailing his arms and dancing around. When he got to the bottom, he’d race back to the top to start all over again.

It was like watching some miniature, wild-looking orchestra conductor. If I’d just brought him in his little tux and had a crazy wig to stick on his head, the picture would have been complete. (As it was, he was wearing footie pajamas.) It was all I could do to stop myself from breaking down into a giggling, laughing, snorting mess. And I’m his mother; I’m used to his shenanigans. I don’t envy our (real) choir director at that moment. She had quite the competition.

Ring Bearer

The evening was stressful and exhausting for me. If I’d been a little more self-conscious, it would also have been embarrassing. But our director (a mother of six) and my fellow choir members couldn’t have been nicer about it. There were lots of mentions of their own children and grandchildren, there were lots of comments about how cute the boys are, and there was a reminder that, “Jesus said to let the little children come to him!” Those good people even (gasp!) said that the boys had done well.

Sure, I was bone tired by the time I got in the car to head home. Sure, I resorted to rewarding myself with a chocolate-peanut-butter sundae on the way home. (Yay for ice cream shop drive-thru’s!) Sure, I sat in the driveway until my husband returned home from work and I let him carry the boys inside and to bed.

But overall, I was left with thankfulness for the people we had just been with. And for the larger Catholic culture they represent: a culture that delights in people, in children, in new life. One that recognizes that real people are wonderfully imperfect. One that greets a couple of rowdy, excited toddlers with love and offers their worn-out mama words of comfort.

I was also left with that happy image of my boy delighting – powerfully, physically – in music. This child who makes up songs all the time, who sings loudly and proudly, even when it’s just gobbledygook coming from his mouth. This child who wants, more than anything else, a guitar for Christmas. I wonder how his love for music will factor into his life as he grows. Yet again, I wonder what kind of an adult he will become.

Given the stress I’d been under just a couple of hours before, these weren’t such bad thoughts to be ending my evening with.

The Glamorous Looking-Back

Last weekend I got a glimpse – just a small one – into my old life.

Now to be fair, it wasn’t so much a glimpse into my old life as a glimpse into the glimmering image of my old life that’s all-to-easy to become sentimental about. Especially when today’s version of life gets hard.

I tend to think of my adult life in two distinct phases: (1) the single, childless, responsible-for-no-one- but-myself twenties and (2) the married, mothering, responsible for very-important-little-lives thirties. If you don’t count college, I spent roughly eight years in the first phase. I’m about four years into the second.

Mine isn’t another tale of youthful, wild abandon given up for staid, respectable family life. Mine is a much tamer, perhaps more boring story of trying (and often not succeeding) to live a full and rich life, regardless of my circumstances.

Part of my single twenties was spent in Washington, DC. The corresponding glimmering images of that time involve exotic foods at cool restaurants; bars full of interesting, intelligent conversation; stimulating lectures by national and foreign leaders; formal dinners in fancy hotels; runs (I’ll just call them “runs,” even though I’ve never really managed more than a frantic-paced, arms-flailing kind of walk) on the Capitol grounds; lazy days at museums when I was – get this – free to sit and ponder and dawdle as long as I liked; and the exciting anticipation that comes from never knowing who you might meet next.

To some of you, that might sound like an enviable way to spend part of your twenties. To others (ahem, my brother), it might sound pretty dorky. To me, it’s downright dreamy. I look back on that time through a generous sort of haze – the kind that makes everything more beautiful/interesting/exciting than it could ever have been in real time. It glimmers.

And it is, of course, only part of the story. I spent the bulk of my time in Washington at work or at home or (so it felt) on the metro. I was bored and nervous and depressed. I was mugged. I was terrorized first by September 11th, then by the Beltway sniper attacks. I experienced heartache. I was the victim of a hit-and-run car accident. Most of all, I was lonely.

But last weekend, during two short trips into DC, I was ready to forget all of that. I went to a ball (thank you to my lovely friend Betsy and her husband Will for inviting us along as their guests) benefitting a very worthy charity, which was held at a gorgeous location just steps away from the White House. Black ties + beautiful dresses + live band + amazing setting = GLIMMER.

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I also spent an afternoon on the historic campus of Georgetown University to witness and celebrate the baptism of my best bud’s beautiful baby boy. (Thank you to my dearest Catey and her husband Eric for inviting us to be part of the big day.) Historic buildings + good company + lovely waterfront drive + witnessing a child I love enter the Church also = GLIMMER, as far as I’m concerned.

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As you might imagine, my weekend was punctuated with wistful sighs as I looked around at reminders of (the airbrushed version of) my past. While physically in the District, I permitted (indeed, I encouraged) myself to wax sentimental about the whole thing. But on the way home, I wizened up enough to take the longer view.

On the surface, my life these days seems exponentially less interesting than it was in my twenties. I get boys out of bed, I change diapers, I dress squirming bodies that act like they’re made of Jello, I prepare meal after meal after meal, I do dishes, I break up fights, I kiss boo-boo’s, I buy groceries, I wash clothes, I clean up vomit. Again and again and again.

I get to be alone once every two to three weeks for a solo trip to Target or church. Every three to four months, I have the luxury of two hours by myself at the hair salon. Gone are my heels and business suits, gone are my cute-ish going-out clothes. I now dress for basic public acceptability and the comfort that enables quick response times to boyish antics.

My life is common. It is tedious. It is not entirely my own. In looking back, I don’t think my future self will ever see this life glimmer.

But it just might see this life glow. This right-here life of mine has a few wonderful things that my glimmering, fancy-dress DC life never had: It has love, commitment, and contentment. It has three sets of arms to hug me. It has people who need me. It has the firm understanding that I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

To my own heart, nothing can compare to that.

The single, in-pursuit-of-the-interesting-and-exciting, unattached life can be wonderful. I wish I’d taken better advantage of it. I wish I’d done more of the lectures and the travels and the museum lounging. I wish that, while I was in the middle of it, I’d seen that period of my life as precious, rather than an annoying wait for my “real” life to start. Viewing your current life as less real or less important than some supposed future is no way to live.

Noticing and appreciating the beauty and opportunity in your own life – whatever phase you’re in – is, I think, the way to do it. I’m glad I got a pretty little glimpse into my “old” life last weekend. I’m glad my response to it was a loving sort of wistfulness. And I’m glad that the glimpse prompted gratitude for both that season of my life and for the one I’m in now. I was blessed back then; I am blessed now. And that’s worth remembering.

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