Talking About Hard Things (With Kids)

(Everyday Bravery, Day 4)

As I related on my other blog last month, my six-year-old son recently asked me about the Zika virus:

While I was driving, my boy spotted a bug in the car and I told him that I’d seen a mosquito. “Is that mosquito virus here yet?” he asked.

“Mosquito virus? Do you mean Zika?”

He did.

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

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

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

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

In reality, the conversation was a little longer than I made it out in my post. When he mentioned the babies that would be dying in their mommies’ tummies, I explained to him how Zika works. I told him that it impacts the brains of babies born to women with the virus, causing them to be too small. That the babies wouldn’t necessarily die from the illness, but that it would cause a lot of problems for them. I was as honest as I could be.

Because in our family, we talk about hard things with our kids.

We talk about death. We talk about life after death and about war and illness and guns and racism and bullying. We answer their questions as honestly as we can. We try to simplify these sometimes-complicated concepts so that our kids can begin to understand them.

Our boys know that all people – including them and us and other people they love – will die. We tell them that we hope it won’t happen for a long, long, long, long, long, long, LONG time, when we/they have become very, very old and have lived good, long lives – but that we just can’t know.

When they ask what happens to people when they die, I tell them that we hope they go to heaven. I say that we should try to be very, very good during our lives and to love Jesus very, very much – so much that when we die we go straight to heaven to be with Him. And I encourage them to pray for the dead: “Dear Lord, please help Grandpa Ed go to heaven to be with you.”

Our boys know that sometimes very sad things happen and that younger people – including children – die too. When we admonish them for dangerous behaviors, they routinely ask if they (or their siblings) could die from them. If they could, we tell them so. (The other day we caught one of them shaking the baby, so I brought up shaken baby syndrome.)

Sometimes I hate these conversations. I absolutely hated planting the horrible sadness of shaken baby syndrome in my kids’ minds. Sometimes I worry that we’ll make our children too fearful by talking about such things. (And I’m sure others will think we’re wrong to be so blunt.)

But so far, we haven’t made them too fearful. And so far, I think we’ve struck the right balance between honest information and loving tenderness.

We talk about hard things with our kids because we want our children to have their bearings. We want them to have a sense of the importance of it all, of consequences and underlying reasons. We want them to know that life here on earth is temporary, because you never know when that lesson will fly at them with ferocious sadness.

I listen to NPR almost all day long, in the car and in the kitchen, so my boys routinely hear snippets of war and shootings and unrest and disaster. (That’s how my son knew about the Zika virus.) Sometimes I turn it off if I think it’s gotten to be too much for them. But mostly, I welcome their questions about what they’re hearing and I try to help them process the information:

“Sometimes people become very angry with one another and they begin to fight. Sometimes people make mistakes. Sometimes people aren’t careful enough. Sometimes people don’t like other people because of how they look or what they believe about God. Sometimes the ground shakes. Sometimes big storms come.”

And then, “What do you do when you’re angry?” or “Do you sometimes make mistakes?” or “It’s all very, very sad. How about we pray for those people?”

We pray when something sad comes up on the news. We pray when we hear sirens. We pray when we learn that someone is hurt or ill or has died.

We talk about hard things. We try to help our children to understand them. We try to give them context. I do my best to plant the idea in my children’s minds that they have a role in it all – that they will encounter difficult things in life and that they will sometimes have opportunities to make them better. And that no matter how hopeless something seems, they can always pray.

I hope all of this – the talking about hard things, the honesty, the questions, the praying – I hope it encourages them to be brave.



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

These Walls - Everyday Bravery


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


Kirby Delauter vs. The Liberal Media (Updated)

Have you heard of Kirby Delauter?

Until Tuesday, the only place I’d seen his name was on political posters stuck in people’s yards. (I don’t live in Frederick County, Maryland, so I’ve had neither the opportunity to vote for/against the guy, nor the obligation to learn anything about him. I just drive through the county every so often.)

Now, however, I’ve seen the Frederick Councilman’s name (Kirby Delauter) on Facebook and Twitter, as well as the Washington Post, BBC News, NPR, and of course, The Frederick News-Post. It (the name “Kirby Delauter”) is lots of other places too. In its now-famous editorial titled “Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter, Kirby Delauter,” the Frederick News-Post sums up the situation:

Knowing Councilman Kirby Delauter as we do, we weren’t surprised that he threatened The Frederick News-Post with a lawsuit because we had, he says — and we’re not making this up — been putting Kirby Delauter’s name in the paper without Kirby Delauter’s authorization. Attorneys would be called, Kirby Delauter said.

In fact, we spent quite some time laughing about it. Kirby Delauter, an elected official; Kirby Delauter, a public figure? Surely, Kirby Delauter can’t be serious? Kirby Delauter’s making a joke, right?

The editorial goes on in the most hilarious fashion for a couple of paragraphs. (The 13 paragraphs in the piece, by the way, are each started with a letter that, together, spell out the forbidden name: “Kirby Delauter.”) They include great stuff like:

Maybe we should just put his initials, “KD,” with an asterisk to a footnote (KD*), or refer to him as GLAT, the acronym for his campaign: “Govern Like A Taxpayer.” We could even make it sound a little hip-hop with a well-placed hyphen: G-Lat. Speaking of, could we get away with “K-Del”?


We found a great automatic online anagrammer that generated all kinds of alternatives and could make it a challenge for our readers to decode each time we have to reference the councilman: “Rebuked artily.” That was a good one. “Bakery diluter” is just silly but does have a ring about it. “Keyed rural bit” was another that caught our eye as somewhat telling, because Kirby Delauter’s pretty keyed up. We’re sure there’s a joke in “Brutelike Yard” somewhere.

The whole situation is just delightfully absurd. I giggled my way through the first half of the editorial. (Note: Kirby Delauter has now apologized.)

The second half, however, is where things get serious. It’s where the Frederick News Post counters the motivation behind Kirby Delauter’s idiotic attempt to prevent the paper from using his name:

Discernibly, though, Kirby Delauter’s ignorance of what journalism is and does is no joke, and illustrates one disturbing aspect too prevalent in conservatives’ beliefs: That the media are all-liberal stooges hell bent on pursuing some fictional leftwing agenda. Generally this “fact” is bleated when the facts on the ground differ from conservative talking points.

This, of course, is where I stopped giggling. Because I’m a conservative. As delightfully absurd as fools like Kirby Delauter can seem at first glance, it’s really not much fun when my side is represented by people like him.

Moreover, I think liberal bias in the media is a very real thing.

I’m no conspiracy theorist; I don’t think there’s some formal leftwing agenda that’s imposed on every news outlet in the country except for Fox News. I think the vast majority of reporters and editors share a similar worldview. And – surprise, surprise – I think that worldview is reflected in how they cover the news.

When I was in high school, I was involved in a competition (I’ll reveal my dorkiness by admitting it was for academic teams) that my school won. I lived in a socially divided county, however, where the poorer, blacker schools (including my own) were looked down upon by the wealthier, whiter schools. So when my team (Aberdeen) won this competition, our county newspaper reported the story not as “Aberdeen wins academic team competition,” but as “Bel Air earns second place in academic team competition.” The paper’s story was factual, but it was biased.

(You can be both, “facts on the ground” Frederick News Post – factual and biased.)

I think of that situation all the time as I listen to my beloved NPR and I read my Washington Post. There are many ways to tell a story, but I find, again and again, that most of the news outlets I follow do so in a way that reflects their liberal worldview.

What, to me, makes up “the liberal worldview?”

It’s the assumption that women are all of one mind when it comes to abortion and contraception, that women have a sacred right to those goods/services, and that those “reproductive rights” are as fundamental as the freedoms of speech or religion. (How long did it take for the media to finally, begrudgingly, begin to report on the Kermit Gosnell situation?)

It’s the disdain for those who uphold the value of traditional marriage, the intolerance of insisting that only conservatives need be tolerant of opposing views on the subject. (Seriously, take a look at the Washington Post’s coverage of gay marriage over the past few years – it’s as if it was indeed operating out of some coordinated playbook.)

It’s the characterization of conservative politicians as obstructionist troublemakers. Most in the media choose to operate from the (liberal) assumption that government is supposed to do more, while many conservatives start from the assumption that it should do less. The two sides just about speak a different language regarding what they want from government, but I tend to only hear the one language represented in the media. (I’ll note here that I actually disagree with many conservatives – certainly the tea party variety – on many such issues, but they have my sympathy for how they’re treated in the media. I can do that: I can disagree with people and still recognize that they’re portrayed unfairly.)

It’s the implication that conservatives are, as a rule, somehow less thoughtful than liberals. (Did you catch the disdain demonstrated by the Frederick News Post in that last paragraph I quoted?)

There are more issues to “the liberal worldview” than these, but I’ve opened quite enough cans of worms in this post already.

To be clear, I don’t yearn for a media that tells me exactly what I want to think. I don’t want a conservative media bias to replace the liberal one.

I want reporters to acknowledge that everyone looks at the world from a unique perspective, and that their own personal worldview can’t help but impact their reporting. I want editors to make themselves look at controversial subjects from opposing points of view, so as to bring more balance to their stories. I want reporters and editors to try to get to know those with whom they disagree. It’s hard to be impartial when you’re surrounded by people who think (and vote) the same way you do.

I would rather a media outlet be forthright about its political leanings than to pretend they don’t exist.


I pay attention to the news. (For the most part, I stick to staid news outlets like NPR/PBS/BBC/WaPo/NYT, because I’d rather roll my eyes and harrumph once in a while at their liberal bias than to suffer blood pressure spikes from sensational newsmongers like Fox News.) So I witness the liberal media bias all the time. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve shouted a re-phrased version of a biased statement back at the radio/television/computer. And I can’t begin to describe my frustration that the conventional formula of a NPR talk radio program seems to be conservative guest + liberal guest + liberal reporter + liberal radio host, which is somehow supposed to equal the balanced presentation of an issue.

(Part of me wishes that I regularly wrote down such examples, to present to you now in some sort of lengthy indictment. But honestly, my SAHM hands are far too busy changing diapers and washing dishes to be engaged in that sort of thing.)


When I worked as a lobbyist on the liberal side of things, advocating for policies and funding that helped the poor, I’d routinely strategize with colleagues from other organizations on how we could work together to, say, get X bill passed or preserve Y funding or raise Z awareness. Whenever the discussion turned to media strategies, people would start to suggest ways in which the media could help us. We’d discuss the pitches we could make to reporters, the news outlets that were most likely to run favorable stories, the editorial boards that would be most sympathetic, etc.

It never stopped shocking me.

Having come from a conservative background, it simply never occurred to me that one would go to reporters with policy proposals and ask for their help in advancing them. And I knew that the colleagues back in my own office, the ones working on pro-life or marriage issues, would not have that option. I wondered whether my liberal colleagues and their liberal media contacts ever stopped to think about how uneven the playing field was.


None of this (except the disdain thing) is meant to be a slight on the Frederick News Post. I’ve seen very little from it, so I have no opinion on the quality or fairness of its political coverage. (And I’m glad to know that it engages in political coverage at all – too few local papers do much of that these days.)

It’s just that I’m so tired of the media bleating on that there’s no such thing as bias in their work. If the media were truly balanced, truly unbiased, and I were to poll a hundred people (50 liberals and 50 conservatives), asking them whether the media is biased, what should I expect to find? I’d expect to find either (1) 100 people who think the media is unbiased or (2) 50 liberals who think the media has a conservative bias and 50 conservatives who think the media has a liberal bias.

But we all know that that’s not how it falls out in real life.

As far as I’m concerned, the very fact that so many conservatives find the media to be biased (and that liberals, largely, don’t) is proof that it is. One side is being represented at the expense of the other.

Again and again, the media tends to answer the bias allegation with a dismissive, “We’re not biased; we’re reporting the facts.” To which I can’t help but respond, “You can do both. You can report the facts and still demonstrate a bias.”

But what’s the use, really? Because by “We’re not biased; we’re reporting the facts,” what they really seem to mean is, “If you don’t see the world the way we do, you’re wrong.”



This morning as I moved around the kitchen getting my boys ready for their day, I found myself fighting tears because of what I was hearing on the radio. Again. For three mornings in a row, my empathetic soul has been focused on France and on the people who suffer in relation to the attack on Charlie Hebdo.

All of a sudden, I panicked at the thought that some could construe this morning’s post as a snub on the profession of journalism in general. Or at the very least, as insensitive given the fact that liberal journalists were so brutally targeted in France. After all, in the same paragraph of the Frederick News Post’s editorial that contains the “facts on the ground” statement that raised my hackles, the paper responds to the implication that journalists are cowards:

Cowards? Tell that to the families of the 60 journalists killed in 2014, or the 70 in 2013, or the 74 who died in 2012, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. All in pursuit of the truth, or the most reliable version of it at hand in the most dangerous regions of the world.

I in no way think journalists are cowards. I think they do a challenging, sometimes dangerous job, and that most of them do so in the best way they know how. I think journalism is essential to democracy – to civilization, even. I would be proud (if somewhat concerned for their ability to make ends meet) for any of my boys to choose journalism as a profession.

But I think journalists (like all of us, really) should always strive to improve their work – to be fairer, more thorough, and more thoughtful. I can mourn those who died at Charlie Hebdo and disagree with the “liberal media” (and even the dead themselves) on certain points. I can do both.

What Matters To Him

This weekend I was laid low by a fever and a few other bothersome symptoms, so today I took myself to the doctor to be checked out. Diagnosis: sinus infection. It’s my standard affliction – all-in-all, not such a big deal.

While I waited for my new insurance information to be processed, I noticed a sign on the counter:


Ebola. How awful that we – that anyone – should have to be worried about that horrible, alienating disease. I’d thought about Ebola victims over the weekend while in the chilled, achy throes of my fever. How much worse they must feel. How scared they must be. How much they must want to be helped and comforted by those they love.

Heck, I only had a 101 degree fever and I texted “Wah! I want my Mommy!” to that lucky lady.

On the drive home from the doctor’s office, the news program I was listening to also focused on Ebola: this time on the nurse in Dallas who’s been infected and that city’s efforts to keep residents informed and the disease contained. I was thinking on all of it as I walked to my back door.

But then I opened it and my beautiful little four-year-old turned his head to me with a horror-stricken look on his face. Someone had died, surely.

“I don’t get my treeeaaat!”

He had tears running down his face and peanut butter smeared all over his mouth. His hand was stuck in mid-air, holding a spoon full of the stuff. I looked to Brennan for an explanation.

“He was crumbling crackers – he made a huge mess for me to clean up, so he doesn’t get a treat.” (Please know that this is a long-standing issue with this child. Anytime we give him a food that crumbles, he crumbles it. Not in the normal, accidental way that any child is expected to do – no, this guy delights in crumbs; he makes piles of them and pushes them around the table and they go We’re working on it. And part of working on it is, you don’t get treated for good mealtime behavior when you don’t, um, exhibit good mealtime behavior.)

Anyway – Ebola. Here I was, stewing on death and fear and serious, grown-up issues, when I walked into my kitchen and found my little boy, devastated because he wouldn’t be allowed to have dessert.

I couldn’t help but smile. I hid my face while I tried to stop myself from laughing. It was just so beautiful, so delightful. My child was so safe and healthy, so loved, that he felt the loss of a handful of M&M’s as if it were a great tragedy.

What matters to him is being able to eat mediocre milk chocolate in a colorful candy shell. What matters to him is being able to play with his little brother’s new metal airplanes. What matters to him is getting to dump “avalanches” of animal and dinosaur toys onto himself and his brother. What matters to him is giving his father and me the right number of kisses on our cheeks.

These things matter greatly to him, and how I love him for that. He feels deeply. Someday he’ll mourn the wars and diseases of the world, but for now he’s consumed with treats and play and the people he loves.

Once I’d gotten my laughter under control, I walked over to my stricken little boy and held his face in my hands. I whispered some words to him, words meant to comfort but not to undermine his father’s authority. I hugged him and wiped the peanut butter off his face.

How lucky we are.

And how lucky this boy is, to have these be the things that matter to him. (Matter so much that his father’s heart softened and he gave the boy another chance.)



Courtney’s Love

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the Little Sisters of the Poor and their loving, life-giving ministry to those who are nearing the end of their lives. I’ve thought about that post, and the work of the Little Sisters, a lot since writing it.

I thought of it when learning of a friend’s death this summer from brain cancer. I thought (and continue to think) of it when hearing about Ebola victims in Liberia, where many die without the comfort of human touch or even simple, loving attention, due to the (well-founded) fears of transmitting the disease. I thought of it the other day while listening to yet another episode of the Diane Rehm Show, this one about “Being Mortal: What Matters In The End.”

And I have especially thought of it while reading Facebook and blog updates from Mary Lenaburg, of Passionate Perseverance. For those of you unfamiliar with her blog, Mary has a 22-year-old daughter, Courtney, with some very special needs. Courtney is unable to talk or walk, to feed herself, even to see. She also experiences frequent, frightening, and often severe seizures. Sadly, it now appears that Courtney’s life is nearing its end.

Mary and her family have spent years (and a not-insignificant amount of money) caring for Courtney and providing for her every need and comfort. Doctors’ visits, therapies, surgeries, medicines, tube feedings, illnesses, hygiene care, round after round of wrangling with insurance companies – the Lenaburgs have done it all.

That’s remarkable enough – the sheer work and angst of caring for a completely dependent, very ill child for 22 years. But what’s more remarkable, and more to the point, is that the Lenaburgs have loved.

Courtney Lenaburg has been loved unlike anyone I’ve ever encountered in my life.

Mary and Jerry Lenaburg and their son Jonathan have loved Courtney through their work to care for her. But they’ve also talked to her, prayed with her, read to her, laughed with her, held her, clasped her hands, given her massages, sewed her clothes, dressed her with great attention, made her surroundings beautiful and cheerful… and so much more.

Honestly, nothing I write here can come close to describing all the ways in which the Lenaburgs have loved Courtney.

Mary and Jerry have also, through their extended family, their church, and Mary’s blog (and many other avenues, I’m sure), built up an incredible community of friends around Courtney, and around themselves. They’ve loved those friends too. They’ve prayed for them, they’ve helped them, and they’ve afforded them the great privilege of doing the same.

(When I was in labor with my youngest, Mary sent me a message to tell me that she and Courtney were praying for me. I’m sure that I’m one of many, many people to have received such a message from the Lenaburgs through the years.)

I don’t know Mary well. We met last summer at Like Mother, Like Daughter’s DC meet-up. We enjoyed a great Cuban dinner together with another Mary friend a couple of months later. And my boys and I had the opportunity to visit with Mary and Courtney at their home this past spring. Yet I feel like I know Mary well. Part of that, I think, is the mark of a good blogger. But the bigger part of it is that Mary puts her love out there for the world to see, and that love has a way of catching you, of drawing you close and folding you up as if it were your own.

In this year of knowing Mary (and through her, Courtney), I’ve learned something about love. (An undefined, powerful kind of something that I feel in my chest, but can hardly describe except to say, “I’ve got to love more.”) I’ve learned something about loving your child, your husband, your friends, about loving God. I’ve learned something about loving through hardship, about tenacity and stretching to meet the challenges put before you.

And I’m just one person.

I have a hard time conceiving of just how many people have been touched and taught by the Lenaburgs. Courtney’s love has gone out into the world and done amazing things, I’m sure of it. It’s softened hearts, it’s shored-up relationships, it’s brought people closer to God. It’s spurred generosity and engendered gratitude. It’s helped people to see the value in those around them. What a beautiful legacy.

As Courtney’s time here comes to a close, I am comforted (not that I have any right to require comfort) by the knowledge that when she passes, Courtney will be surrounded by as much love as one could possibly be. And that she’ll be passing straight from the loving arms of her earthly family to the loving arms of her heavenly Father.

Love, love, love.

The beautiful thing, of course, about the Little Sisters of the Poor is also love – their love for Christ, their love for those whom they serve. Just as the Lenaburgs care for, love, and pray for Courtney, so do the Little Sisters care for, love, and pray for the elderly poor.

What a gift.

It is this love – between Mary and Courtney, between the members of the Lenaburg family, their friends, and their online community, between the Little Sisters of the Poor and the elderly poor – it is this love, a gift from God, which touches us and teaches us and gives us a glimpse of the divine.

Thank you, Mary, for sharing your love with us – for sharing Courtney with us.


To learn more about Mary and Courtney, please visit Passionate Perseverance. The Lenaburgs are having a particularly rough (and now in some ways, a particularly blessed) time of it right now. Not only are they caring for Courtney and preparing to say goodbye to her, but they’re also planning Courtney’s funeral. On top of that, Jerry is slated to be laid-off from his job at the end of the month. And (can you believe there’s an “and”?) they’ve just learned they’ll need to make some major (read: expensive) repairs to their sewage line.

In the past 24 hours (the 24 hours it took me to finish this post!) there’s been a tremendous upsurge of support for the Lenaburgs, so it looks like the repair costs will be taken care of. But they could still use help in covering the cost of Courtney’s funeral and in paying down their medical debt. I hope you’ll consider helping them out if you’re able. GoFundMe and PayPal buttons are located on Mary’s blog. Thanks in advance for any assistance you provide – and for your prayers!

Opening That Window To The World

One day this summer, my boys rediscovered the sprinkler in their grandma’s garden. I walked into the backyard to find them sopping wet, grinning from ear to ear. Even over their whooping and hollering, I could hear water sloshing in their rain boots.

It was a beautiful afternoon, unseasonably cool for the end of July, so I sat down on a nearby lawn chair and plopped the baby onto my lap. Together we watched his older brothers race back and forth through the spray.



The whole scene was just about a cliché of summer: the grass and trees were a beautiful, lush green; the children played happily under the warm late-day sun; the water droplets glowed gold as they fell through the air. At one point I laid the baby down so I could pull boots and soaking-wet socks off his brothers’ feet. The baby lay there in the grass and stared up at the leaves and the sky. It was positively idyllic.


An hour later we were back inside the house with the television turned to the evening news. The program opened with a report on the fighting in Gaza: footage of destroyed buildings, mostly. My four-year-old, who normally begs me to change the channel on the rare occasions that I turn on televised news, was captivated. He wanted to understand what was going on.

I tried to explain, as gently as possible, about fighting in another part of the world, which breaks buildings and hurts people. But soon enough footage of crying, injured children popped onto the screen and I scrambled to the remote to change the channel as quickly as I could. I didn’t want those images stuck in my boys’ minds.

My boys are still small – just four and almost-three – so they understand little of how the world is organized, let alone its potential for conflict. We’ve taught them their town and they know the name of our state, even if they don’t understand what a state is. They recognize the American flag, but probably wouldn’t be able to tell you what country we live in. In fact, they’d probably say something like, “Merican Fwag!”

They know we’re Catholic, though that probably doesn’t mean much more to them than that we attend church on Sundays, where we have to be really quiet because we’re there to pray to God and thank him for the good things in our lives. They have no inkling that many worship God in other ways, that others don’t worship Him at all, and that some people use God as an excuse to hurt one another.

We’ve talked about death. Indeed, the concept has so intrigued my four-year-old that he routinely asks, “If I do diss, could I die?” (Doing “diss” can apply to any number of daring/stupid things, such as jumping off the third-floor landing.) If you mention Jesus to him, the first (and probably only) thing he’ll say about Him is, “Jesus died on da sign of da cwoss!”

I think it’s important for all people to be aware of major events happening in other parts of the world. I think it’s important to be empathetic towards those who suffer and to be engaged in trying to alleviate suffering. I think it’s important to make your voice heard on issues of consequence.

I want to raise my children to do all of these things.

I want my children to pay attention to the news, to think critically about the information they’re given, to care about those who hurt, to pray and act towards just resolutions.

But right now they’re little, and at least one of them is very sensitive to all things scary. (Seriously, he has on more than one occasion been brought to tears because “Dat bad man!” stole Elmo’s blankie in a silly little Sesame Street movie.) Right now their nightmares center on monsters and shadows and “sary wobots.” I’d like to keep it that way as long as possible.

So how do I begin to break it to them that so many people around the world don’t enjoy the comfort and security we do? How do I make others’ experiences seem relevant to our lives? How do I inform them without scaring them?

I don’t really know. So far, they listen to NPR with me, though I’m sure they don’t pay attention to or understand most of what they hear. When they ask questions, I answer them. And on the rare occasions that I notice relevant, teachable moments in the daily experiences of preschoolers, I try to take advantage of them. Maybe I’ll try to watch televised news with them more often, but only if I’m prepared to make that scramble for the remote.

More experienced parents (and more thoughtful people, parents and non-parents alike), I’d love to hear from you: How much of the world’s suffering do you let into your children’s lives? At what age do you start? How do you inform your children about conflict, war, terrorism, and other scary things without making them feel unsafe? Does there come an age when “feeling safe” is no longer your goal?

I would love to hear from you! Please share your experience/insight/expertise/best guess in the comments. I could use them! Many thanks in advance.

Life, Even At The End

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

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

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

Horrible, horrible.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

SOTG, Mommy Triumphs, Personhood For Animals, Feminism, And More: 7 Quick Takes Friday(ish) (Vol. 28)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!—1—

Yes, I’m more than a little late to the 7 Quick Takes Friday game this week. Right now my free time seems to come in five to fifteen minute spurts. And my two-handed free time comes about once every six hours. (I know, I know… such is life with two preschoolers and a newborn. I know.)

As I mentioned in my {phfr} post the other day, this week I received a certain little book in the mail, one the Catholic blogosphere is all kinds of excited about – “Something Other Than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness And Accidentally Found It” written by none other than Ms. 7 Quick Takes Friday / Ms. Conversion Diary herself – Jennifer Fulwiler.

Anyone who reads Conversion Diary regularly will know that Jen has put an incredible amount of work into this book (SOTG). And let me tell you, even from just the first few chapters, it shows. I’ve been enjoying Conversion Diary for several years now, so I suppose I’m not the most unbiased reader. But seriously, this book, which tells Jen’s atheist-to-Catholic conversion story (and, um, how she “passionately sought happiness and accidentally found it”) is so well written. It’s captivating – the kind of book you don’t want to put down.

Except that, given the two preschoolers and the newborn, you kind of have to. Which is why it will take me longer to finish this book than any page-turner I’ve ever read before.

Also. Jen’s running all sorts of contests right now to celebrate her book’s launch. A couple of them involve taking pictures of the book – one is for “the most epic selfie” with SOTG, the other is for a picture of it in the weirdest place. I don’t have a chance in either category. I’m way too self-conscious to try for an epic selfie, and I’m sure that other folks have way weirder places to take book pictures than I do. All I can think of is to take pictures of my book on a big pile of laundry, or a counter covered in dishes, or like this:


Are you calling me weird?


Speaking of the two preschoolers and the newborn, let me tell you about a triumph I had the other day. At the grocery store. (Anybody who’s not currently a mommy to small children may as well just jump right over this take – I won’t blame you for being uninterested in the minute triumphs of life with littles.)

We were smack dab in the middle of a very busy day, just finishing up at the barber’s shop (both boys taken care of!), and everyone – especially the baby – was getting hungry. But we needed just a few things at the grocery store. So I took a gamble and decided to risk it. We walked straight into the store without stopping to stow the stroller in our van. Which left me with a conundrum: how to get a three-year-old, a two-year-old, a newborn, a stroller, and a load of groceries (too heavy for the stroller) through the store by myself?

Answer: You’re not by yourself! Put the littles to work! My three-year-old pushed the cart (a small one, but still!) by himself, with just a little help on the turns. My two-year-old pushed the stroller with some guidance from me.

20140501_124546 20140501_124551

Our little caravan must have made quite the sight, because people kept stopping to stare. “How old are they?” a few of them asked, looking bemused.

But the boys did great! They didn’t crash into anything or run over any toes, or even fight or take items off the shelves. I was quite the proud little mother hen. Especially when we returned to the car and I thanked the boys for being such good helpers. “Anytime, Mommy,” my older son told me. “You just wet me know when you need me.”


After developing something of an aversion to it at the end of my pregnancy (why? I have no idea), I’ve fallen back into my old NPR habit. So you can expect me to resume sprinkling random NPR-gleaned tidbits into my 7 Quick Takes. This week, I’ve got two:

First, for the amazing and courageous amidst the horrible. Last week, Fresh Air aired an interview with Tyler Hicks, a New York Times photographer who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his photographs of the 2013 mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya.

I found the interview to be more moving than I expected, especially the story behind the photograph of a mother and her two young children. The image shows them lying quiet and still, on the floor next to a counter covered in cups and saucers.

Of course Hicks had no way of knowing what became of the three. Shortly after he was awarded the Pulitzer, however, the woman made contact with him. She’d seen coverage of the prize and recognized herself amongst the photos.

It turns out that she and her children – a 10-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy – had spent five hours lying on that floor. Five hours of fear and the most incredible stress. The woman had spent the entire time talking and singing to her children, focused on keeping them calm and still and quiet.

I have a two-year-old boy.


Two-year-old boys are busy. They are not known for their ability to remain still and quiet. I have no idea how I’d get through that situation with him (and another child to boot!). No idea. Just thinking about it makes me sick. What an incredible mother. And what awful, horrific circumstances she found herself in.


This past Monday, the Diane Rehm Show aired a discussion on efforts to grant legal rights – indeed, personhood – to animals. At first I was puzzled to hear that Robert Destro, Catholic University law professor and director of their Interdisciplinary Program in Law and Religion, would be one of those participating in the discussion. Then, ahh, yes – it came to me:

Legal rights – personhood – for animals. Animals that are deemed sufficiently sophisticated on a cognitive level. A personhood that is based on intelligence, on ability, rather than on humanity. What a dangerous thing, to attach personhood to a set of cognitive criteria, to maintain that being a person is somehow distinct from being human.

Yes, this (false) person/human distinction calls to mind the debate on abortion. But it also begs us to consider those who have already been born. Newborns, perhaps even older infants, wouldn’t meet the criteria discussed for personhood. Neither would some people with cognitive disabilities. Do we really want to live in a society that grants legal personhood in such a way that a chimpanzee would qualify, but my four-week old would not?

Definitely a person.

Definitely a person.


I’ve never thought of myself as a feminist before, but I might just start doing so. Because Simcha Fisher is right, as usual:

Yes, some evil people call themselves feminists, and do dreadful things in the name of feminism. So what?  People do dreadful things in the name of democracy, and people do dreadful things in the name of beauty. People do dreadful things in the name of Christ our savior. That doesn’t mean we abandon the name. That means we rescue it, we rectify the misuse.


You know one of the things I love about my husband? In the evenings when he’s playing around with our boys, he captures them and holds them tight and when the little one yells, “Wet me det down! I wan det down!” He responds, “Oh, you want to get down? Okay!” and then forces the kid into a little disco dance, complete with music and hand motions.

Oh. My. Goodness. It’s hilarious. Sometimes it can be so entertaining to have small children (and good daddies) around.


It’s also entertaining to have good grandpas around. And my boys have the best:



Happy weekend, everyone! Don’t forget to stop over to Jen’s to check out all the other Quick Takes!

Crime and Punishment and Moving On

A This American Life episode from a couple of weeks ago tells the story of Mike Anderson, a married, suburban St. Louis father of four. Mr. Anderson owned a contracting business and built his family’s home from the ground up. He volunteered at church and coached his son’s football team. In short, he was a responsible, productive member of society.

But he had a secret. And one morning last summer, while Mr. Anderson was home alone with his two-year-old daughter, with his wife away on a business trip, a hard knock on the door brought his secret to light.

In 1999, when Mr. Anderson was 22 years old, he and a friend held up a Burger King manager while the man was making a night deposit at a bank. Mr. Anderson says he got “caught up with the wrong crowd that night.” He had no prior convictions and a full-time job. He said the robbery wasn’t his idea and that his friend’s weapon was just a BB gun. (It was never recovered.)

Nonetheless, Mr. Anderson was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He was out on bond filing appeals when the court ultimately determined that he did indeed have to serve his sentence. Mr. Anderson waited for a warrant to be issued so the police would come take him to prison. But it never happened. They didn’t come.

Due to a clerical error, the court had been informed that Mr. Anderson was already in prison. It wasn’t until 13 years later, when the system was preparing for his release, that they discovered he’d never been there at all. So they finally came for him.

In the meantime, Mr. Anderson had gone from expecting to be picked up at any moment, to thinking maybe it would never happen, to deciding to turn his life around. He went back to school and became a master carpenter. He married and became a family man. He never had another run-in with the law.

In the words of the segment’s narrator, “Thirteen years without going to prison did exactly what you’d hope 13 years in prison will do for a person: Mike reformed, became a model citizen. Which raises the question, do we want to send him to prison? It’ll cost the state of Missouri about $20,000 a year to house and feed him. And if Mike’s no longer a danger to society, what’s the point of having him sit in a cell when he could be out working, paying taxes, and raising his kids?”

As Mr. Anderson’s story has become known in the St. Louis area, many people have come to the opinion that if he’s been rehabilitated, he shouldn’t have to serve his prison sentence. Surprisingly, perhaps, one such person is the victim of Mr. Anderson’s crime. The victim, who was deeply impacted by the crime, was initially angry when he learned that Mr. Anderson didn’t serve his sentence. But thinking more on the situation, he has come to believe that what the State is doing to Mr. Anderson isn’t right. He says, “Yeah, he screwed up when he was little, but the law dropped the ball; the law ought to drop it completely. They need to leave the man alone.”


Sorry — I know this photo isn’t exactly pertinent to the post’s subject matter. But it’s the only behind-bars shot I’ve got. And These Walls IS about 90% mommy blog.

Mike Anderson’s story reminded me of a subject I’ve thought on for years – one on which my thoughts have most definitely evolved: What purpose do criminal sentences (namely prison terms) serve? Are they meant to be punishments, pure and simple? Are they meant to protect the public from dangerous individuals? Are they meant to rehabilitate criminals so they can be successfully returned to society?

It is my nature to view crime and punishment in very simple terms: If you commit a crime, you deserve to be punished. Period. (I’m a strong “J” on the Myers Briggs scale.) I remember thinking as a teenager, “If you do something wrong, you deserve whatever you get. Whatever you get.” I was in favor of capital punishment, three-strikes laws, building more prisons – you name it.

Over time, however, my thinking has changed… grown… become more nuanced. It’s become at once more compassionate and more practical.

The changes started with capital punishment. On that particular topic, my Catholic faith had a strong influence in changing my mind: statements from Pope John Paul II and lunch table conversations with seminarian friends ultimately convinced me to be more humble in my considerations. I went from thinking, “If you murder, you deserve to be killed,” to “It’s not so much about what murderers deserve as it is about what we choose to do with them.”

I later came to apply that thinking to the subject of crime and punishment in general. I figure that it’s never up to me to determine what someone deserves – that task is for God alone.

It is, of course, up to society to determine the best ways to keep its population safe and to prevent crimes from occurring in the future. And I think that is where our focus should be when considering crime and punishment. It’s not up to me (or people in general, and therefore the State) to dole out punishments simply for the sake of punishing. It’s up to us to be intelligent and deliberate about dealing with the fallout from crime and figuring out the best ways to prevent it from perpetuating.

Tragically, our criminal justice system does a terrible job of this. Small-time offenders leave prison with (1) fewer prospects for gainful employment than they had before establishing their criminal record and (2) experiences and contacts that better equip them for a life of crime than for anything else. No wonder recidivism rates are so high.

I think we need to be more practical about what we do with those found guilty of crimes. It’s one thing if someone has committed a crime that will earn him or her a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. (Which is, I think, what we should choose over capital punishment. For one, because taking a life is a grave, grave matter that should be avoided whenever possible. For another, because people should be given every possible opportunity to repent of their sins.) It’s quite another thing if a person’s crime will earn him or her a temporary prison sentence.

If a criminal is to be returned to society someday, then society should do everything possible to ensure that he or she re-enters it prepared to function legally. Crime should not be ex-offenders’ only real prospect for survival. They should be able to work, to earn, to contribute, to thrive. Everyone will be better off when a criminal can complete his or her sentence and then move on.

I’m not naïve; I know such a situation would be terribly hard to achieve. (And it will never be perfectly achieved.) Employers are (understandably) unwilling to hire people with criminal records. Solid communities are largely unwilling to take them in; subversive communities are all too willing. And people are imperfect. Some will continue to do wrong no matter how much assistance they are given.

But I think it’s worth trying.

Sentencing guidelines, prison conditions, hiring policies, resources for ex-offenders: they’re all areas where improvements can be made. And indeed the status quo on sentencing and prisons, at least, is in many cases currently doing more harm than good.

Just think of Mike Anderson. His business, his home, his children would not be here if he had reported to prison 13 years ago. He would not have paid taxes and contributed to the economy. He would not have been able to volunteer at that church or coach that team.

How many more empty spaces do we have today — ghosts, you might say, of those sitting in prison – spaces in our economy, our neighborhoods, our families, our communities, where people could be contributing rather than serving prison terms that harden and debilitate them?

As far as Mike Anderson is concerned, his attorney has filed a brief arguing that when the State forgot about Mr. Anderson for 13 years, it violated his right to due process or speedy punishment. If the effort fails, his only recourse is to petition Missouri’s governor for clemency. The governor has only granted clemency once. I pray that Mr. Anderson’s case prompts him to do so again.


This is post two 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.

Some Monday Musings On… Death (Yes, Death)


I’m (kind of) picking up my “Monday Morning Miscellany” idea again here because I’ve got another case of I-had-plenty-to-put-in-a-7-Quick-Takes-Friday-but-couldn’t-stay-awake-to-write-it. I don’t know whether it’s my schedule lately or the fact that I’m moving deeper into the third trimester, but I can’t remember the last post I wrote that I didn’t fall asleep on at some point. Including this one.

Hmm… and I wondered where these boys got it…



But this Monday’s collection of miscellany didn’t turn out to be so miscellaneous after all. As I started writing, I was surprised to realize just how much of what’s on my mind right now pertains to death. (Yes, DEATH.)

So here I go with some sober musings for this Monday: tragic deaths at the Mall in Columbia, the sadness of a death in the family, an NPR piece on a “death class,” remembering an experience at a cemetery in Ireland, the delicate task of explaining death to very little ones, and the (BIG) question of life after death.

What a cheerful way to begin the week!


I’ve got to start with this weekend’s big, awful news from our corner of the world: three people (including the shooter, it seems) were shot and killed inside the Mall in Columbia. It’s yet another senseless, heartbreaking episode of violence to splash across the national headlines. But this one is ours.

This is the mall we typically go to. I’m not familiar with the exact store where those poor people were killed, but I know that it’s very near the store where I buy my boys’ shoes… and the Starbucks I stop in for a pick-me-up… and the carousal my boys love to ride at the beginning of our shopping trips. So this one hit home.

Even so, (and I hate to say it) I reacted to the news with resignation. I was nervous to know whether any of my loved ones were at the mall and in harm’s way; I was concerned for all who were there at the time, whether I knew them or not. I prayed. I worried. But I wasn’t as surprised as I might have been. And my reaction was not as dramatic as it might have been.

The fact is, we’ve had enough of these tragedies in the U.S. in the past few years (not to mention the multitude of horrors that have happened abroad) that they’re no longer surprising to me. Even, apparently, when they’re in my own back yard.

The fact is, these tragedies lurk in my mind just about every time I head out in public – and certainly every time I head to the mall. That mall. For years now, I’ve walked into that mall aware that something like this could happen. So I only go when I have a particular errand I need to accomplish. I don’t stay long. I look around for exits. I think up strategies to keep my children as safe as I can.

Isn’t that awful?

It is. It’s sad. It’s a shame. But it’s simply an acknowledgement of the world we live in. And it’s only an echo of how so many people in other parts of the world live every day: in insecurity, in fear, perhaps in resignation. It is what it is.


It’s been a sad couple of weeks at our home, all-around. Two weeks ago yesterday, my husband’s stepfather died.

Brennan’s parents divorced when he was 10 or 11 years old and his mother remarried a couple of years later. Then when Brennan was barely 14, his father died. Similar situations have probably made for more than a few challenging stepfather/stepson relationships. But fortunately for our family, that’s not what happened with Ed and Brennan.

Brennan recalls his father’s memory with fondness and I know he wishes that he could have gotten to know him better. But he’s also very grateful for Ed’s presence in his life. I am too. Ed is the man who taught my husband about responsibility, about devotion to his wife, about a million little practical things that people need to learn in order to be independent adults. Brennan attributes part of who he is today to the lessons he learned from Ed.

As I mentioned over the summer and again on Veterans Day, Ed was a veteran of World War II who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded just before the war ended. I wrote then:

With my own parents still in their ‘50’s, it was more than a little difficult for me to get used to having a (step)father-in-law who is a member of the “greatest generation.” And I have to admit that, having seen him only once or twice a year for the past six years, I don’t know Ed very well. But I know that my husband loves and respects him. And I know that he has lived a long and interesting life, with his fair share of pain.

Some of it, of course, can be traced to his service in that awful war. Shortly before it ended, Ed found himself in Passau, Germany. In trying to rescue his sergeant, who had been shot, Ed was himself shot in the lung and the arm. He earned the bronze star for his actions. And he has lived with the repercussions of his injuries ever since…

Whenever I see an elderly person, particularly one who looks weak or ill, I wonder what kind of a life they’ve lived. I wonder at the events and the change they must have seen in their lifetime. Whenever I see an old man wearing one of those hats that veterans wear – the kind that denotes the ship they served on – I envision the young, strong man he must have been. I don’t know what to say or do, except to show a little kindness and maybe a little love. I want to ask, but I don’t want to intrude. I want to thank, but I don’t want to sound trite. So mostly I just wonder. And I say a little prayer.

With Ed, I know something of his story. But I still don’t know what to say. So I show some kindness and some love. I give him a hug and a kiss. I encourage the boys to do the same for their “Baba Ed.” Every once in a while, I have the boys color him a picture and we stick it in the mail. And I pray.

Ed had been seriously ill for some time and confined to a nursing home for a couple of years, so his death didn’t exactly come as a surprise. Still, it is an ending, and it is sad. It’s downright heart-breaking for Brennan’s mother, Hilde, who loves Ed with an attachment and a devotion that I’ve seldom witnessed.

So if you’re the praying type, we would greatly appreciate a few prayers at this sad time: for the repose of Ed’s soul, for comfort and strength for Hilde, and for peace for Ed’s children, step-children, and grand-children. Thank you.



I heard a fascinating piece on NPR last week. It was about a college course on death. Students in the class visit a funeral home, a cemetery, and other places that deal with death on a regular basis. They learn and talk about death in its most physical, scientific senses and also in more abstract, emotional ones. They talk and think about their own personal experiences with death.

What an idea.

We’re fortunate to live in a time and place where we can go years – maybe most of our lifetimes – without having an intimate experience with death. Due to good sanitary conditions, abundant food, and advanced medical practices, we can go through our lives expecting that we’ll make it safely through our own births, our childhoods, our sometimes-wild youths, our pregnancies and deliveries, our illnesses, and even our advanced years.

This is an incredible blessing. Yet is also removes us from one of the most basic realities of life: all of us will die. You, me, those we love – all of us.

So when we do encounter death, I think it can be rather more shocking and damaging to us than it’s been to those who have lived throughout most of human history, those who were more used to death than we are. I think it can also contribute to a lack of appreciation for just how precious life is.

Maybe it’s something we should work on.

When my husband and I were in Ireland for our honeymoon, we had the incredible opportunity to visit with some of his father’s cousins, who still live there. (Brennan’s grandfather came from Ireland.) Most unfortunately, one of the cousins had died just days before, from breast cancer. I believe she was in her early ‘50’s. We were fortunate enough to be able to pay our respects at her grave, as well as those of Brennan’s great-grandparents. While in the cemetery where his cousin had just been buried, we saw a young woman drive up, hop out of her car, walk over to the cousin’s grave, leave a flower, and pause for a few minutes in prayer. She then proceeded briskly away.

I was struck by the experience. How often do we see (or do) that here? Sure, we’re somewhat familiar with cemeteries from the burials we’ve attended. And if we’ve lost someone we love dearly, we may make repeat trips to visit their graves. But do we make such a practice common? Do we make a quick stop at the grave of a friend or acquaintance on a random Thursday, just to pray and pay our respects? When I remarked on the young woman’s visit, another of Brennan’s cousins said that such behavior is common in those parts, even for young people. She said something to the effect of “For the Irish, death is a very real and present thing.”


Ed’s death, of course, has prompted us to talk about death with our boys for the first time. Our two-year-old seems oblivious to the discussions, but our three-year-old has had a lot of questions: “Will I die? Will you die? Is our cold yike Gwanpa Ed’s?”

It’s been interesting and a little scary to answer his questions. It’s a challenge to explain death in a way that a three-year-old will understand, without making such a sensitive little guy too nervous. I keep having to tell him that yes, we will all die someday. Everything that lives will die. But Grandpa Ed was very old and very sick, and we are neither of those things. Hopefully we’ll all live a long, long, long, long, long time yet. And no, Grandpa Ed did not have our cold.

I’m also having to make my attempts at explaining to him what happens to people after they die. I know that a lot of people will tell their children (and really, often themselves) that when the people we love die, they go straight to heaven and become angels that will watch over us. But I see that as an over-simplified, fairy-tale kind of explanation. I don’t want to feed it to my children now, only to disabuse them of it when they’re older and starting to wrestle with moral questions. Because I don’t think heaven is a given for anyone.

I’m Catholic, and though I am no theologian, I think I’m in-line with Church teaching when I say that heaven and hell are not assigned to us “at the pearly gates.” And they’re certainly not assigned as popular culture seems to: everyone we love gets into heaven, while everyone who’s really, really bad, like murderers and child abusers, goes to hell. I think that if we’re truly close to God, we get to be with him after we die, and we call that heaven. If, however, we’ve removed ourselves from God, we are without him after we die, and we call that hell. I also believe that prayers count, even for the dead. I believe that it’s worthwhile to pray for our beloved dead, that they may become ever closer to God. I hope people will do so for me when I die.

So, what do I tell my boy? I tell him that we really hope that Grandpa Ed gets to be with God in heaven. And I invite him to pray with me to that end.


Somehow, I don’t think that’s quite the way to end this post. So let me just draw your attention back to that NPR piece: “‘Death Class’ Taught Students A Lot About Life.” I hope you’ll follow the link and listen to the story. It’s just five and a half minutes long. Perhaps it will pique your interest, like mine, in reading journalist Erika Hayasaki’s book about the class: “The Death Class: A True Story About Life.” And perhaps it will cause you, like me, to ponder death for a little while — your reactions to it, your fear of it, your appreciation of it (and therefore of life), what you think will come of it…

As repulsive as the subject might initially be, death isn’t really such a bad thing to think on for a bit. It seems like a worthwhile investment to me, at least.

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 18)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

— 1 —

I think I’ll lead off today with my weekly NPR recommendation. Like last week’s, this one is a little off-beat, but I found it fascinating. It’s from one of my new favorite NPR programs: The TED Radio Hour. Per its website, the show is “A journey through fascinating ideas, astonishing inventions, and new ways to think and create. Based on riveting TEDTalks from the world’s most remarkable minds.” (TED = Technology, Entertainment, Design. Check out more about TED here.)

Anyway, last weekend’s TED Radio Hour focused on “Why We Collaborate.” The whole thing was interesting, but the second segment stuck out to me the most: “Luis von Ahn: Can You Crowdsource Without Even Knowing It?”

You know those annoying little “CAPTCHA” codes you have to enter to register a comment, etc. with more and more websites all the time? The ones you (or maybe just I) can barely type in correctly, because they’re just so hard to discern? Mr. von Ahn helped to invent them. (And he seems to express the appropriate remorse.) Though of course CAPTCHA codes have their utility (to prevent computer programs from posing as individuals), they take about 10 seconds to complete. And that 10 seconds per person adds up to an awful lot of time when you’re talking about millions of computer users.

So Mr. von Ahn started to think about how those 10 seconds might be used collectively for some productive purpose. He ultimately founded reCAPTCHA, a company that uses images from old books as its CAPTCHA codes. Yes, actual old books. Because – get this – the company is harnessing those individual 10 seconds, from millions of computer users, to digitize the books. When an old text is scanned so that it can be digitized, software is used to read/input as much of it as possible, but there remain portions that the software can’t read properly. So real people need to do it. With reCAPTCHA, you and I get to be those real people. We see a snippet of text from some old book, we use our human eyes and minds to discern what it means, and we enter it into some massive database.

I have to admit that the idea just about made me giddy. Preserving the information in old books for the future? Love. Making efficient use of a (cumulative) massive amount of time? Love. Turning something super annoying into something actually useful? Love! I’m sure I’ll never enjoy typing in CAPTCHA codes, but I’ll probably find them significantly less annoying than I used to. I’ll certainly never look at them the same way again.

* I have to end this Take with a little caveat: When I gleefully told my husband about this digitizing-books-via-CAPTCHA-codes thing, his technical mind was a bit skeptical. How, he asked, does reCAPTCHA validate your answer if you’re the one producing it in the first place? Sometimes you type in your answer and you’re told it’s incorrect. If reCAPTCHA doesn’t already have the correct answer on file, how can it know that your answer is wrong? He’s a clever one, my husband. This problem hadn’t occurred to me. I wish the radio host had asked about it, because I really am interested to know the answer. There has got to be one!

— 2 —

That was long. I promise to make the rest of my Takes much quicker.

I think the following was my favorite image from this week:


“Twain masters get weawy firsty.” He had just said, with authority.

— 3 —

Also (and this is rather less endearing), a short while ago I caught him shoving his little brother. When I stopped him, he said, “Dat’s because I have muscles!”

Me: “You are not allowed to push your brother!” Him: “But I have muscles!” Me: “Yes, and you’re supposed to use them to help people, not hurt them.” I don’t think he was convinced.

— 4 —

Did you see Jen’s post this week on giant, stinging centipedes that you wake in the middle of the night to find on your FACE? (Shiver.) I still don’t have anything to compare with those horrible Texas critters. (“We are NEVER moving to Texas!” I told my husband last night.) But we still do have critters. Brennan’s back into pest control mode here. After finding a few vacated glue traps in the basement earlier this week, he decided to replace them with the standard snapping variety. (Shudder.)

Well, yesterday evening I cautiously opened the basement door to maybe get something I needed down there. I listened closely, and I heard it: a rustling around, whipping back-and-forth sound. I decided I didn’t need that item so badly after all. Instead, I sent Brennan after it when he got home from work. And sure enough, he found another snake on a glue trap. This time he refused to tell me how big it was. Which probably freaked me out more than if he’d just gone ahead and told me. I don’t think I’ll set foot in that basement again until next summer. At least.

— 5 —

Speaking of critters, it looks like nobody triumphed on my little beekeeping challenge from yesterday. (Though Betsy got kind of close!) For those of you who didn’t see, I included the following picture (taken on an apple-picking trip earlier this week) and asked if anyone knew why my beekeeper husband found it puzzling.


The answer is that (a) those hives are a lot taller than one would expect them to be this time of year, and (b) the boxes that make up the hives look to be “honey supers.” Supers are used for, yes… honey. Beekeepers generally only place them on their hives in the spring, for the bees to fill up with honey during the nectar flow. At honey harvest time (in this part of the country, that’s late June/early July), the supers are removed. Honey is extracted and the comb/supers are stored away for the following year. So fall/winter beehives are usually much shorter than their spring/summer counterparts.

As for why these particular beekeepers might have left supers on their hives, my husband could only assume that they’re being used for brood (that is the eggs/larvae/bees themselves) rather than honey. But who knows?

— 6 —

We’ve had a series of rainy days here this week and – seriously – I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time fantasizing about contraptions to channel my boys’ energy onto something other than myself. I am so very, very tired of being a human jungle gym. (Also, the noise, the noise! I think, for my sanity, I might need to invest in some noise-cancelling headphones.)


There is of course, the padded/bouncy room idea. On a smaller scale, I seriously wonder if I could buy them each a small trampoline and tie netting around each (trampoline, not boy) in such a way that the netting keeps the boys contained/safe/bouncing around happily. Similarly, I wish there were a safe way for me to stick them on the treadmill. And also, you know those lovely baby bouncers you can put a 9-month-old in to occupy them? Let’s see the toddler version. It would have to involve a major harness, a big-time bouncing capability, and various things to hit/bang/knock over.


Like this, only way more exciting.

— 7 —

All that said (and all my angsty Facebook complaining aside), I actually struck on a pretty good activity for the boys this afternoon. I suppose you might call it Pinteresty, though I’m not on Pinterest, so I wouldn’t really know. I call it motherly desperation. I threw a couple of bath towels on the kitchen table along with a bunch of measuring cups and spoons and various play kitchen items. Then I filled the bowls with water and told the boys to go at it (but not to tip over the bowls!) It kept the little one occupied for nearly an hour and the big one occupied for over two. I don’t think I’ve ever happened upon an activity (even our outdoor water table) that has held their interest for so long. I’m rather too proud of myself right now. (And yet also aware that this activity is probably a no-brainer to most mothers.)



On that note, let’s call it a week! Have a great weekend, all! Don’t forget to head on over to Jen’s to check out the rest of the Quick Takes. (And if you haven’t “liked” These Walls on Facebook, please do!)