Thirty-nine for the First Time

Today I turn 39. My mother quipped that this will be the first and only time I’ll be able to say that it’s my 39th birthday and mean it.

Mom wanted to know if I can believe I’m getting so close to 40. A couple of years ago I might have waffled on that answer, but now I don’t hesitate: I can absolutely believe it.

This morning I looked down at the four-month-old in my arms, all fat and soft and rosy, and I thanked God for these little lives in my care. They’re each incredible blessings in their own right, but they do something else for this almost-40 mama: They trick me into thinking I’m young. For a moment, at least. Until I go to rise out of the rocker and my hip screams at me. Until my back muscles object at lifting a child. Until my knees ever-so-reluctantly haul me up the stairs.

It’s been a hard few months. We pushed through the first month or so of baby’s life in decently good health, thank goodness. We made it through Christmas. But the following week we were each hit with bugs, one falling after the next.

Then on New Year’s Day I stepped out of the shower and experienced such intense pain that I could barely walk. My old problem joint, the one at the base of my spine, between my hips (my sacrum), felt like it would crumble to pieces. My husband stayed home from work for a few days; I couldn’t sit up in bed without his help, let alone lift the baby. But after some ibuprofen and physical therapy and lidocaine patches and time, the pain faded. Soon my hobbling turned to limping, and then that went away too.

But my cough — the one I’d started the week after Christmas — it did not fade. It got worse and my exhaustion grew and one night I experienced a stabbing pain in my neck. The next day there was a rash at the spot, and soon I was diagnosed with shingles. And bronchitis. Weeks of coughing and pain and exhaustion followed. I got two more respiratory viruses on top of the one I couldn’t kick. And to top it all off, I got a stomach bug.

It was a very Lent-ish beginning to Lent.

March was quieter. The cough went away; my energy increased. My pain was spotty and weak. I began to hurry up stairs and walk around the yard. I tried on health and hoped it would fit for a while.

But now April has struck. The day after Easter I bent over to put away a child’s boot and the muscles around my sacrum clenched in pain. Not as badly as on New Year’s, thank goodness, but badly enough to keep me from lifting the baby. Badly enough to force me back into my old-lady hobble.

Today the joint feels bruised and my back muscles feel strained from compensating for it. My shingles pain is flaring up. And I’m coughing again. A new virus seems to have settled into my lungs; their crackling sounds have me worried about another bout of bronchitis.

It’s as if my body wants to be very clear: You’re at the point, lady, where birthdays begin to chart your decline.

Or maybe the message is: You have to be careful with yourself. You’re not as resilient as you used to be.

I haven’t posted much about these woes because I didn’t want to complain. (Or to be seen as complaining — take your pick.) But at this point I’m just past caring. This is what my life has been lately, and so I want to write about it.

I feel like my body — or maybe the Holy Spirit — has grabbed me by my shoulders, spun me around, and pointed me at the next decade of my life.

These Walls - Thirty-nine for the First Time - 1

I spent my twenties as a young professional — working, traveling, reading, listening to music, eating whatever I wanted for dinner, and pining after a family of my own.

I’ve spent my thirties as a stay-at-home mother — caring for children, making a home, listening to NPR, eating dinner in spurts between refilling little plates, and pining after a professional life that I’ve missed more than I expected to.

I daydream about my forties being a marriage of the two: Maybe I’ll get to do some meaningful work from home while the kids are in school during the day and then I’ll get to be fully present to them in the evenings. Maybe I’ll finally get my calendar and my household chores under control. Maybe I’ll have everything running like clockwork so I can have empty hours in which to pursue my creative interests. Maybe I won’t have to pine after anything at all.

I feel like the past few months have been a reality check on those daydreams. A big, fat “HA” from my body or the Holy Spirit or whatever. These months have reminded me that even when life is good, it is not without suffering.

I am getting older. My body is weaker than I’d like. And even if I can ease it back into better health and shape (which I would love to do), I will still be at the mercy of age and genetics and real life. There will always be something to trip me up.

So I stand here (a little askew because of the pain in my sacrum) and stare down the road toward 40. I want to start gearing up for my next decade. I want to work to heal my body so it doesn’t stop me short. I want to be realistic enough about my time and abilities to know that my home life will never run like clockwork, but I also want to stop letting my struggles and imperfections keep me from pursuing work that makes me feel alive.

Today I’m 39. My forties will be here before I know it; I want to be ready for them.


These Walls - Thirty-nine for the First Time

Catching Up: In Our Home And On My Mind

My posts have lately been too few and far between, so I thought I’d do some catching up on what we’ve been up to in our home. And on what I’ve been thinking on a slew of random, recent current events. Maybe that way I can settle my mind well enough to tackle properly focused, one-subject posts here soon!

That Blasted Knee

As far as home and family go, my mother-in-law (who lives with us) had her knee replaced in mid-February. Thankfully, the surgery went well and she suffered no complications. My husband’s brother flew in from Minnesota the very day Hilde came home from the hospital to help her kick off (no pun intended) her recovery. It was quite the busy week and I honestly have no idea how I could have managed it by myself. THANK GOODNESS my brother-in-law was here to help.

Besides being relieved for Hilde’s sake that her blasted knee has finally been fixed, we’re all so glad that the surgery no longer looms before us. I feel like I spent half the winter worried that we’d pass on our illness-of-the-moment to Hilde and the other half worried that we’d get some illness that we’d then pass on to her. The surgery could have been postponed! We could have been left without any help during her recovery! It was a nail-biter to the bitter end: Hilde beat a cold just in time and we had a snowstorm the night before the surgery, prompting my husband to hit the driveway with his snow-blower at 4:00 am so he could get her to the hospital in time.

Not the same storm -- but close.

Not the same storm — but close.

But! Now we’re past it and I want to CELEBRATE! Cue the margaritas and the music! Let down your hair! And LET’S BRING ON THE PLAYDATES! GERMS NO LONGER SCARE ME! Your child has a runny nose and a hacking cough? I don’t care! Get us sick! As long as we get some social interaction and views beyond these here walls before we’re felled by the sickness du jour, it will have been worth it!

[Would you believe that within two hours of typing these words, my son started throwing up? Perhaps I should have been more specific: Cold germs no longer scare me. Stomach bug germs most definitely do!]

But… My Back

So we get past the surgery and my brother-in-law’s visit and we get (mostly) back to our usual habits and routines. Then, less than a week later (during which we’d suffered through something like three snow/ice storms), I was just the kind of stupid, out-of-shape idiot to swing my ginormous baby (in his heavy, carrier car seat) into the middle seat of our minivan and WHAM. I injured my back badly enough that three days later I was pretty much immobile, unable to think of anything other than the pain, even while taking painkillers and muscle relaxers.


Mr. Massive

But the meds and the heating pad and time ultimately did their jobs (and my saintly mother came to help me so I could put off carrying Massive Baby for as long as possible), so by last Tuesday, I was pretty much back to normal. On Wednesday, I felt good.

Until some lady drove her car into ours.

We were parked in a grocery store parking lot – me crouched in the rear of our van, about to unbuckle the boys from their car seats – when a woman drove into us, head-on. She’d been trying to park, so the collision wasn’t that fast or that serious, but I was knocked over and my muscles knew it.

Blah, blah, blah… enough with my sob stories. The bottom line is that I was stiff and sore for a few days AND I’M REALLY READY FOR THIS SEASON TO BE OVER.

Come on, spring! Come on, activity! Come on, season of not being invalids!

(Alright, I think I’m done using ALL CAPS for the rest of this post.)

On Maybe / Kind of / Almost Being Considered A Smart Blog

Back in January, I told you that I’d been nominated for a Sheenazing Award in the “Smartest Blog” category. And then I never fessed up to the fact that I did not end up winning said award. I’m sorry for that. I should have updated the kind souls who voted for me.

But I’m not sorry that I didn’t win. Because I shouldn’t have! Mama Needs Coffee won, and I’m glad for it, because Jenny is one of the smartest things out there. She’s witty, she’s funny, and she writes about tough issues like the Church’s teachings on sex and marriage with great bravery and clarity.

I’m so proud that These Walls was listed alongside blogs like hers and like I Have to Sit Down, Unequally Yoked, Through A Glass Brightly, etc. It’s a great list to be on.

On Current Events

Maryland is one of several states currently considering legislation that would legalize physician-assisted suicide. I think it’s a terribly scary idea. Such legislation is problematic on many counts, but the one that gets to me most is a “what if?” related to the idea of becoming burdensome. None of us want to become a burden to our loved ones in our illness or old age, but what if we really had a choice about it? What if physician-assisted suicide were to be legalized? What if it became normalized, even to the point of being routinely undertaken? What if people started to choose it, not because they don’t want to suffer, but because they don’t want to become a burden to the people they love? What if we started to expect our loved ones to choose physician-assisted suicide so they don’t become burdens to us?

Learn more about the legislation at Maryland Against Physician Assisted Suicide. And if you’re a Maryland Catholic who hasn’t done so already, contact your legislators via the Maryland Catholic Conference’s Catholic Advocacy Network.

My husband and I had a big argument the other day over the 47 Republican Senators’ letter to the government of Iran. I thought the letter was shameful and inappropriate; he thought it was a proper response to President Obama’s negotiations with that country. I like Michael Gerson’s take on the thing. (Just as I like his take on most subjects.) Brennan and I ended our political debate on the subject with a huffy sort of agreement: though we’re both Republican, neither of us will even consider donating to the party right now. He refuses to support one wing of it; I refuse to support the other.

The Diane Rehm Show’s treatment of the above-mentioned letter provided me with one of my favorite quotes ever, I think: “If your first reaction to hearing of problems of partisanship is to blame the other party, you’re not helping the situation.” (David Rothkopf) This has sort of been my thing, politically, for the past few years. I think people are right to call Washington broken, I just wish they’d recognize their own role in making it so.

And Hilary Clinton totally should have used a State Department email address for official business. Totally. Not only does choosing a personal account over a government one show disregard for the spirit of the rules (and maybe the letter), but it shows a serious lack of foresight. How in the world could she not have expected this to become an issue?

Oh, and this isn’t related to the political kind of current events, but it is current: I saw The Drop Box. The movie was beautiful and powerful and gave me so much to think about. However, I didn’t like that it was immediately followed (and preceded, actually) by a Focus on the Family-driven presentation on the film. That approach may work for audiences sitting in (evangelical) churches, but it felt odd for a public movie theater. As a Catholic, I found the tone of the presentation unfamiliar and (though I know it probably wasn’t, really) artificial. To a truly secular viewer, I imagine it would have been off-putting. The film would have been more powerful if it were presented on its own.

Well, that’s it for now! See you back here soon!

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 24): Joys of Boys, Breastfeeding in the Sistine Chapel, and… Vomit

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Let’s just pretend you’re reading this on Friday evening (when it was written) rather than Saturday morning (when I finally posted it), alright?


Just as Jen said this morning that it was taking all of her effort not to write her entire 7QT about the FitBit, so it is taking all of my effort not to write my entire 7QT about vomit. Yes, that’s right, vomit.

Aren’t you lucky to be reading my post?

As anyone who’s been friends with me on Facebook for more than a few months will know, my primary parenting cross is vomit. It is not sleepless nights, it is not picky eaters, it is not stubbornly-unwilling potty-trainers. It is my boys’ copious and relentless opportunities to vomit all over the place.

And they’ve never even (until now?) had a stomach bug. They’re gaggers. They vomit because they’re gagging on food that is too big/crunchy/mushy/varied in texture/unpleasant in texture/generally undesirable. They vomit because they’re congested. They vomit because they’re carsick. They vomit because they’re upset.

They have vomited in bed, in the car, at the kitchen table, at restaurant tables, and in what feels like every room of our house. We have gone weeks at a time with at least one vomit episode per day. We have gone months at a time with at least one per week.

But fear not: tempted as I am, I will not burden you with an entire 7QT of vomit. I’ll just burden you with two Takes. If you’ve got a queasy stomach, jump down to Take number three.


My boys’ vomit no longer holds any power over me.

I discovered this last night, when my two-year-old vomited for the third time in less than 24 hours. (It’s still not clear whether the poor guy has a stomach bug or a respiratory thing.) I knelt next to him, catching what I could in my hands, and my stomach didn’t churn even one little bit. I am immune. I know the routine: catch vomit, call for older son to retrieve receptacle for vomit, clean me up, clean little guy up, clean the rug, wash vomity laundry. And it’s smart to wait on that last one a bit, because if somebody vomits once, they’re likely to do so again.

Last night couldn’t help but remind me of my hands-down, all-time, most frenetic evening of parenthood. It was a little over a year ago and even in my pre-blogging days, it made such an impression that I wrote it all down:

We had quite the busy little evening here. The idea was for Brennan and I to scarf down a quick carry-out dinner and then B would take care of the boys while I went to the grocery store. BUT we were thwarted.

As soon as we sit down for our sneaky attempt at eating, the little guy interrupts us. So we get him settled in his high chair. As we sit back down, Brennan knocks over a glass of water. We deal with the mess. As we sit back down, the big guy wakes up from his nap. I get him out of bed and then shovel down my (now cold) food. Then I finish my grocery list while Brennan tries to feed big guy (fail) and little guy (partial fail). I clean up half of little guy’s meal from the floor and run upstairs to throw in a load of laundry before I leave for the store. I come back down to the family room to find little guy throwing up all over the place (because he got hold of a piece of food too big for him) and big guy throwing up all over the place (because he’s watching little guy).

Brennan and I are shouting a confusing mix of “Go into the other room!” and “Don’t move!” at big guy, who runs over to look at little guy, throws up, runs away, hears little guy throw up again, and runs back to see what’s going on. Repeat. We end up in the kitchen to clean off the boys, where big guy throws up again. So, bathtime. I bathe the boys while Brennan cleans up the vomity family room and kitchen. Little guy pees in the water and then immediately scoops up the pee water with a cup and pours it onto the bath rug. We get the boys dry and dressed and I settle in the nursery to give little guy a bottle and get him to sleep. As soon as I lay the nearly-asleep baby in the crib, he starts to cough and then (of course) throw up again. Into my hands and onto his bedding, pajamas, and bumper. I call to Brennan for help. I deal with the crib; he deals with the baby. I go back downstairs in defeat. Four hours of nonstop activity and still no groceries.


That was fun, wasn’t it? Believe me, I’m a barrel of laughs right now.

There’s the fact that both of my boys are sick at the moment, there’s the sleep deficit that has been compounded by the boys’ sicknesses, there’s my own post-nasal drip that I just feel starting up, there are a couple of other things I’ll tell you about next week, and there’s my bruised-feeling arm from a shot I got on Wednesday.

I’m really not a big wimp when it comes to needles, especially during pregnancy. (I can put up with so much more when I’m doing it for someone else’s benefit.) But that darned TDaP shot! It hurts! Not so badly at first, but by the end of the day, I was in pain to the point of distraction, to the point of nausea. When Brennan came home, I pretty much turned everything over to him and told him that I wasn’t planning to lift my arm. I had to sit still, my arm stretched out at my side, perfectly immobile. It was all I could do to avoid the waves of pain that made me feel like I was going to lose it.

Yeah, I don’t have the highest pain tolerance.

Which makes me more than a little nervous about an appointment I’m to have next week. It’s for an anesthesiology consultation at the hospital where I’ll deliver the baby. They’re to review my records regarding the stupid herniated-disc-in-my-neck thing and decide whether I can have an epidural for this baby. (Note that I had epidurals for both of my previous deliveries, no problem.) I dread the docs telling me that this time, it’s off-limits. As Jenny so perfectly put it, when I get to the hospital, I want to be able to greet the staff with, “Hello, this is my third delivery, and I don’t want to feel anything but joy.”


Things I would rather do than deal with doctors’ offices / insurance companies / medical bills:

There are more, I’m sure.


When I wrote that boys-are-not-easy post a couple of weeks ago, I forgot to include a quick story that (like the others) illustrates my life with boys quite well:

It was the evening of St. Nicholas Day and my body had responded to the stress of having eighteen children aged four and under in my home that morning by flooding my head with pain. Not quite TDaP-level pain, but painful enough to make me pretty much useless in the parenting department.

I tried. I kept up the child-tending motions as long as I could. But there came a point when I simply sat down on the kitchen floor and let the pain wash over me. Not to be deterred by the sight of Mommy sitting on the middle of the kitchen floor with her eyes glazed over (indeed, they were probably intrigued), my boys, whose absolute favorite thing to do in the evenings is rough-house with their daddy, seemed to decide I was a good target.

So they ran directly at me and I did all I could think of to defend myself: I stuck out my arms and faced a palm at each of them in a silent “stop” gesture. They bounced right off my hands. And they thought. it. was. hilarious. So that’s how they occupied themselves – running at me, bouncing off my outstretched hands, falling onto the floor, and giggling like mad. Repeat. For quite a while.

The scenario perfectly represents how I feel about parenting boys on the hardest of days: they keep coming at you, again and again. And they take delight in doing so, even when all you can muster is a simple, feeble attempt at basic defense.


Goodness, I’m cheery today, aren’t I? Let’s brighten it up for the last two takes.

Sometimes, when I watch my boys play together, I wince at the little reflections of myself I see in them, bossing each other around with shouts of “No!” or “Dat makes me vewwy unhappy!” But lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of my love and encouragement reflected in their play too. I see lots and lots of hugs amidst the wrestling. I hear lots of “I wuv you.” and “You are so cute, Jude.” And “Good job!” and “Dat’s a gweat idea!” My favorites are my three-year-old’s sighs of, “I sink Jude wuvs me… (smile) I wuv you, too, Jude.” And this one, from last weekend, was the absolute best:

3yo: “I sink Jude wuvs me.”
Grandpa: “And do you love Jude?”
3yo: “Yes. I don’t want him to be taken by a wobot.”



I’m fading fast, so I’m going to make this last one actually quick, as opposed to my usual faux quick. Maybe I’ll revisit this topic later to stuff in all the commentary I’d planned to include here.

Anyway. You’ve seen all the headlines lately about Pope Francis encouraging women to breastfeed their hungry babies in the Sistine Chapel, right? Well, Brianna Heldt had a great post this week on when she breastfed her own baby in the Sistine Chapel, in the days of Benedict XVI. Here’s an excerpt. Be sure to click here to read the whole thing.

[I]n a last-ditch attempt to soothe my poor child and avoid Vatican employee ire, I darted towards what I hoped would be a nondescript corner and pulled out my trusty nursing cover.  “Pleeeeeeeease, God, don’t let the guards see me!,” I prayed, since I was breaking the whole “no sitting allowed” rule, not to mention breastfeeding an 18-month-old in, you know, the Sistine Chapel, which I reckoned was also off-limits.  People can be touchy about that sort of thing.

And wouldn’t you know it, not long after I began nursing, two guards made a beeline for me.  Like a really direct, obvious, can’t-get-there-fast-enough beeline.  Obviously they had some sort of superhuman ability to detect sneaky rule-breaking, noisy babies and distressed, humiliated, perspiring mothers.  Here it is.  I’m about to get kicked out of the Sistine Chapel for breastfeeding a screaming baby.  International incident, anyone?

Then the guards bent down with wild gestures and earnest words that I couldn’t quite make out, and so I stood up and fixed my shirt and clutched my baby and averted eye contact, all while imagining Pope Benedict XVI’s stern head shaking and tsk tsking when he was briefed that evening about this most horrible breach of Official Catholic Etiquette by Non Catholic People, in the Sistine Chapel of all places.

But no, the guards were actually gesturing me and my husband in the opposite direction of the exit.  Ohmygoodness, are they hauling us into some sort of Vatican office?  Are we going to be fined?  Yelled at?  But no, they were unroping a cordoned-off area, up at the front.  Where tourists aren’t allowed to go.  And then they began pointing and, well, pretty much forcing us to sit on the bench.

They weren’t asking me to leave.

They weren’t shushing my baby.

They weren’t appalled that the American lady was doing something so banal as breastfeeding a child, amidst the world’s most magnificent masterpieces.

No, they weren’t doing any of those things.

They simply weren’t going to permit a mother to breastfeed her baby on the floor.

So there my weary and disheveled little family sat, in a part of the chapel not typically accessible to the public.  Up by the altar.  We got to enjoy the art and the beauty from what was arguably the best seat in the house, at our own leisure, and with the knowledge that we were welcome there.  We experienced a reprieve from what had been an exhausting several days (that had incidentally included meeting the girls who would become our two new daughters, and all of the respective birth mothers of our adopted children–emotional overload much?).

See it appeared that in spite of all the people incredulous that an uncivilized 18-month-old dared be present on their tour of St. Peter’s, well, the Vatican and presumably Pope Benedict XVI thought otherwise.  And I will never, ever forget that.  Incidentally Mary had transformed into a calm and happy child sitting there on the special bench, and rarely have I felt such peace as I did in those moments, gazing at the ceiling and the colors and the gold with my husband and little girl.

And it’s funny because my fear and hand-wringing and the entire global village of tourists hates us and our baby! were, in the end, 100% unfounded and inconsequential.  Well except for the part about all the people hating us, because they really kind of did.  But that didn’t much matter in the end, and do you know why?

Because The Powers That Be around there, aka those belonging to and representing Jesus’ Church, have this upside-down idea that human beings are created with dignity, that motherhood is a high calling and important vocation, and that Jesus welcomes–especially welcomes–”the least of these”, be it a fussy baby, exhausted mother or all of the above.

G’night, all! Happy weekend! And don’t forget to head on over to Jen’s to check out the rest of the Quick Takes.

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 10)

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Maybe I should call this “7QT: Uncomfortable Revelations Edition.” Or how about “7QT: Grumbling Introspection Edition”? Or maybe I shouldn’t classify it as a Quick Takes anyway, because it’s anything but quick. (And by the way, I’m still embracing the Friday in the title, because even though I’m posting on Saturday, 90% of the post was written Friday. So it totally counts.)

Whatever you want to call it (or not call it), this week’s 7QT is a departure from my usual peppy jumble of household goings-on and NPR recommendations. I’m simply not feeling them this week. That said, to perk up this otherwise serious post a bit, I’m throwing in some wholly unrelated, happy pictures from the week. So if you’re not in the mood for discomfort and grumbling, just take a quick glance at the cute kids and move on to greener blog pastures.

— 1 —

First, the set-up: Wednesday evening I came home from a long, tiring day out with the boys and I wanted to just sit still for a few minutes in front of my computer. I was hoping that a few of my favorite bloggers had posted something new so I’d have fresh material to read. But when I discovered that a bunch of them had, was I happy? Nope. Not a bit. All I could think was: “Look at all those bloggers posting new material. They’re busier than I am, they have more kids than I do, and they were able to get something posted mid-week. Why couldn’t I?” Mope, mope, whine.

Nevermind that I had just spent 7.5 hours at the county fair with two toddlers. That I had risen and left the house a good two hours earlier than usual. That I’d wrangled my boys into (mostly) quiet behavior for hours while we (er, I) watched my cousins show their pigs. That for the second time that week, I’d caught my younger son’s vomit in my hands because on-the-fly fair eating (that is, not bothering to cut everything up into teeny tiny bits) doesn’t agree with him. That by the time we came home, we were sweaty, sticky, thirsty, dusty, muddy, and (dare I say it?) smelling of manure. And that – despite or because of it all – we’d had a great day together.


I was coming off all that busyness and stress and fun, and I allowed myself to be plunged into the doldrums because bloggers I like had actually, you know, blogged. Because people I admired were doing something I admired. Because it wasn’t me.

Enter: Julie’s latest round of introspection. (They come frequently.) Between my observation of the aforementioned situation and the content of a few of the blog posts that I (reluctantly) read that evening, I began to think in earnest about how this (still new to me) blogging thing is affecting my mood, outlook, etc. Grumbling and thinking about it all in the most haphazard of fashions, I had the following uncomfortable revelations:

— 2 —

My old, familiar insecurities live on in my blogging, just as they do in the rest of my life.

Surprising, isn’t it? I don’t know why I hadn’t expected this. I guess I thought of starting the blog as turning a new page – a bright, shiny, open-horizon kind of page. Just like I once thought that becoming a stay-at-home-mother would cause me to shed my old work-related hang-ups. But of course, we are who we are. We have backgrounds and inclinations and personalities that affect how we act and how we interpret what happens around us. They don’t go away when we take on something new.


To touch on a few of my insecurities (because they should add meaning to the rest of this post), let me just admit the following:

I often feel inadequate, particularly when it comes to matters of the mind. I compare myself to those whom I admire and I tend to feel like no matter how hard I try, I’ll never fit in with the truly intelligent and articulate. Or the holy.

I am unhappy with my appearance, especially insofar as it relates to my weight. This unhappiness is not a reaction to my age or to having borne children, nor is it simply some perception thing. I have been actually, technically, officially overweight for much of the past 20 years.

If it seems to me that someone easily masters those things which I find particularly challenging (see above), I’m likely to be jealous of them. I work on this one, I really do. But it lurks.

These are really unique insecurities, aren’t they? I mean, nobody else has feelings of inadequacy or jealousy or unhappiness with their appearance, right?


— 3 —

People don’t simply have different tastes, they react with astounding difference to the same innocently-conceived material, based on their own struggles and hang-ups.

Let me point you to the following three blog posts:

Pretty, Gritty, Real: How to Read Blogs, by Simcha Fisher

Glimpses of Momentary Victory, by Hallie Lord

5 Favs (Fav # 5), by Jenny Uebbing

I feel like this is like a Russian doll version of blog suggestions: Hallie’s post is a focus of Simcha’s post, which is a focus of Jenny’s post. (And if you’re going to read only one, go with Simcha’s, which is the most thorough.) The moral that I took away from reading all three is something like this: People write blogs for different reasons; they read blogs for different reasons. Something that appeals to one person may agitate another. As a reader, you should know yourself and avoid the blogs that make you “want to punch somebody” as Simcha and Jenny put it. As a blogger – not that you should sweat the divergence in tastes too much – you should be thoughtful about how you present your life in your writing, because even innocent stories/remarks have the potential to cause pain for your readers.


As far as taste is concerned, I like a pretty decent variety of Catholic mommy blogs. I like a few of the “gritty” ones, which share stories of messes and meltdowns and parental failures. They make me laugh and take myself a little less seriously. I like a few of the sentimental, pretty blogs, which cause me to daydream of loveliness and which inspire me to try harder to make the home and traditions I want my boys to grow up with. I love the blogs that jump into deeper subjects and challenge me to adjust my thinking and to live more fully/thoughtfully/prayerfully/generously, etc.

The only classification of mommy blog that I avoid entirely is the fashion blog. Because if I’m not feeling great about my weight, why would I want to look at pretty clothes and the prettier women wearing them? So on this count, I plan to keep on taking Simcha’s advice:

You can just stop reading, you know.  Or just read something else.  It’s in your control.

Take a good look at what happens to your state of mind if you check out this blog or that website or so-and-so’s Facebook or Twitter or Instagram persona.  Is something having a bad effect on you?  Every time you read a certain author, does it make you feel inadequate or self-righteous, discouraged or contemptuous?  Do you spend the rest of the afternoon criticizing yourself or other people?   Then just skip it — or look elsewhere…

Know thyself!  Take control!  It’s a big world, and one of the few parts you can actually do something about is deciding where to spend your time.


— 4 —

Though I flatter myself as someone who is easily able to see different sides of a political issue, I’m often unable or unwilling to understand where people are coming from on personal issues that are particularly touchy for me.

With that one (fashion) exception, I don’t exclude whole classes of blogs because of my personal hang-ups. But I consistently come across material – single posts, single phrases, even – from my favorite bloggers that really push my buttons. Here are the primary examples:

Skinny bloggers who complain that they’re not skinny enough.

  • During their pregnancies, they say things like “Look at this picture of my HUGE baby bump! Strangers keep asking if I’m going to pop!” when they look all perky and thin with a lovely, smallish round belly – way smaller at 9 months than mine ever was at 5 months.
  • Post-pregnancy, it’s “I still can’t fit into my pre-baby jeans and s/he is FOUR months old!” Sorry, lady – no sympathy. Your stomach is flatter after three babies than mine was in high school.
  • And of course they always seem to be going on about their diets/exercise regimens and how they’re going to hell-in-a-handbasket because they indulged in one full-sugar soda. Excuse me while I throw a pillow or something.

The following also get to me, albeit in more of an eye-rolling, huffing kind of way:

  • Extreme purgers. I understand needing to declutter because your home is actually cluttered. I do not understand tossing 90% of your possessions because you get some kind of high out of it.
  • Romantic home/natural birthers. For one, I’m just not interested in birth stories. For another, I simply don’t understand some women’s need to have a spiritual/meaningful/transcendent birth “experience”. The only things that matter to me about giving birth are ending up with a healthy baby and mommy at the end. Pump me with drugs; brighten the lights; bring a half-dozen medical students through my room; I don’t care. Just give me a healthy baby and a healthy me.


I realize that much of that was rather uncharitable. But it was the “before.” Here’s the “after” – the charity that this week’s revelations inspired:

Those skinny ladies? Reading between the lines, I sense that some of them have really struggled with their self-image. Maybe they’ve suffered through actual eating disorders. Maybe they’ve dealt with less severe, but still unsettling issues with food, exercise, and weight. You don’t have to reach a certain number on the scales to feel insecure about how you look.

And me? Even though I’ve been technically, medically overweight for most of the past 20 years and even though my weight always has and still does bother me, I am crazy blessed that I never had any inclination to confuse my appearance with my worth. For that reason, I escaped so many of the issues other women struggled through. I am so. incredibly. grateful.

And pregnancy? Pregnancy makes every woman bigger. No wonder that every woman feels bigger. Whether you wear a size 0 or a size 20, pregnancy changes and grows your body into a form that’s likely to feel uncomfortable and strange. I need to just go ahead and give the pregnant skinnies a break.

The purging thing? Even though part of me (I always say I have a bit of the Great Depression in me) cringes at the idea of throwing away objects that are still useful, that’s me. That’s my preference. Who am I to peg it on someone else? Maybe for some people it’s not so much that purging gives them a high, but rather that being surrounded by things makes them feel low.

The birthing thing? The home birthing trend will always bother me, because I think that every mother has a duty to do what she can to ensure a safe outcome for herself and her child. And removing oneself from the medical care available in a hospital just doesn’t make any sense to me. (Think of how many women in impoverished parts of the world would love to have the luxury of giving birth in a hospital!) And whether we like to think of it or not, women and babies still die in childbirth. We are not immune simply because we live in a wealthy country.

But the rest of it? The high value on having a certain birth “experience”? Why should I care if a woman wants to birth naturally, with low lights and scented oils? Maybe this is how she’s dealing with her fear. Because we might not want to talk about it, but we women are afraid when we head into childbirth: Of the pain. Of the lack of control we have over our own bodies. Of how our lives are about to change. Of something going wrong.

I need to remember these things when I come across blog material that bugs me. I need to be better about giving people the benefit of the doubt. And I need to be better about clicking away from something that bugs me, without taking any annoyed or self-righteous baggage with me when I go.


They’re in a boat, surrounded by big, blue waves. Can’t you tell?

— 5 —

We often don’t see the hard work behind someone else’s attractive life.

It’s not just the sadness and hardship we miss when we look longingly at something that seems to come easily to another – we miss the hard work, too. In my single days, I saw the love and companionship in my friends’ marriages; I didn’t see the compromise and the tolerance and the putting someone else first. Before I had my own children, I saw the dimples and the curls and the sweet little dresses. I didn’t see the many hours my friends spent on their feet, the crumbs they swept off the floor, the vomit they caught with their bare hands.

Lately, a few kind souls have complimented me on my boys’ good behavior in public. I should be gracious enough to simply smile and say thank-you. But on the harder days, I’ve grumbled out an, “It’s hard work!” Because for all they know, I’ve been blessed with two amazingly compliant little cutie pies. But I’ve actually been blessed with two very real little boys – two very dramatic, energetic, independent little boys. They behave well in public because their father and I have worked our butts off in an untold number of small, tedious ways, teaching them to listen, to respond, to sit still when we need them to.

Recently I had a little “aha” moment when I realized that all those skinny ladies – the ones who are more attractive and fashionable than I think I’m capable of ever being – the ones who complain about their diets and workouts – those ladies work hard to be that way. Exercise is hard work. Eating right is hard work. Doing both while mothering a bunch of little kids is really hard work. I may look at their figures and clothes and see ease, but they most certainly do not.


— 6 —

My own blog – this little thing that hardly anybody reads – can cause pain even when I’m careful.

Before reading Simcha’s post, this hadn’t really occurred to me. I knew I had to be careful about how I dealt with touchy political subjects. I had a sense that I should present my life as fairly and realistically as possible – beauty and warts. And I knew that I had a fair chance of annoying somebody with any given post. But I didn’t think about how my thoughts, my ideas, my ways of parenting, my home, my marriage, and heck, an untold number of things I can’t even think of right now could actually cause pain to someone who’s been nice enough to stop by to see what I have to say. It’s a weighty thing and there’s not exactly a solution to it. I suppose it’s just something I need to remember.


— 7 —

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.


Now, go on over to Jen’s and check out all the other Quick (much quicker than mine, I’m sure) Takes!