I Want My Kid to Be the One Who Sticks Up For Your Kid: Empowering Children to Stand Up to Bullies

(Everyday Bravery, Day 14)

This morning I was supposed to find my son an orange shirt to wear to school for “Unity Day,” the point of which has something to do with not-bullying.

I’ll admit to rolling my eyes when I read the email.

First of all, because I didn’t think the kid had an orange shirt and I wasn’t sure how well he’d fit into one of his younger brothers.’ (And I thought it was ironic that my son could end up feeling all left out at school because he didn’t have the right shirt for not-bullying day.)

Secondly, (and more importantly) because I find this passive “let’s all talk about how bad bullying is” thing to be kind of maddening. I’m pretty new to parenting a school-aged child, so I’m not super familiar with anti-bullying initiatives. But in the past five to ten years of Bullying Awareness, most of the efforts I’ve heard of have seemed… vague? Unproductive? Misdirected?

(This morning when I told my son about the wearing-orange thing he wanted to know what wearing orange had to do with bullying. “I don’t know,” I told him. “It’s silly. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.”)

I’ve heard a lot about awareness, about educating, about something something policies and procedures and something something environments. I’ve heard a lot about celebrities jumping on the anti-bullying bandwagon. I’ve heard lots of iterations of the most obvious message possible: “Bullying is bad. You do not deserve to be bullied.”

Quite possibly there are some good, solid lessons hidden amidst all those policies and procedures, but I wish this whole movement didn’t come across as so gutless.

Because honestly, I think the best way to combat bullying is to teach our kids to have some guts.

I know I want my kids to. I’m doing my darnedest to teach my boys to stand up for what’s right and to work against what’s wrong.

As parents, one of our most fundamental responsibilities is to teach our children how to behave in relation to other people. Hopefully we try to teach our kids to be loving and kind and personable and welcoming. But we also need to teach them to be strong and protective and just.

My sons and I have had lots of discussions about bullying. Sometimes they’ve been in the abstract, sometimes they’ve been in reaction to playground meanness or brotherly squabbles. But the message always goes something like this:

You need to stand up for what’s right. Stick up for yourself. Stick up for anybody you see being bullied. Especially stick up for those who are younger or weaker than you.

You go right up to that bully and you tell him or her to STOP. Sometimes that will be enough (bullies aren’t used to being confronted), but if it’s not enough and if the situation really needs to be dealt with, tell a grown-up.

(Also: Don’t you be mean either. You are not a mean kid; don’t act like one.)

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Turns out he had an orange shirt after all.

Some might say that children shouldn’t have to deal with bullying to begin with, that we adults should be able to devise ways to prevent it. But there are lots of things children shouldn’t have to deal with – illness, loss, violence, etc. They happen anyway. We don’t do children any favors when we prepare them for a perfect, protective world. We’re better off preparing them for the one we’ve got.

I want to empower my kids to tackle these situations head-on, especially at these young ages. I want my three- and four- and five-year-olds to learn to stand up to the playground meanie so they’re equipped to deal with the schoolyard bully. I want them to learn to deal with the elementary school bully so they’re ready for the middle- and high-school varieties. I want them to learn to deal with them so they’ve got something to fall back on when they find themselves in contentious adult relationships.

Childhood is a training ground for adulthood. Here is where we plant the seeds for the habits and values we want to see in our adult children.

And anyway, even putting aside the concept of a “training ground,” I want my kids to tackle these situations because it’s the right thing to do. I would rather my child face negative consequences for doing what’s right than to slide by consequence-free because he kept silent in the face of injustice.

I know it can sound like a tall order. Some might say that children aren’t up to the task. But I know it’s possible because I did it. I did it as a kid, as a teenager, and I still do it when those unfortunate opportunities arise.

At the end of the day, I want my kid to be the one who sticks up for your kid. I want my kid to be the one who stands up to that kid. (And I hope against hope that my husband and I have made a sufficiently big deal about right and wrong that my kid will never become that kid himself.)

Let’s give our kids a shot. Let’s see what they can do. Let’s teach them to be brave, to stick up for others, to stand up to bullies, to be the kind of people who stand up for the right and against the wrong.



This post is the fourteenth 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.

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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.

The Kids Are Alright (And the Parents Are Too)

(Everyday Bravery, Day 3)

In the years since I became a parent, there have been a series of signs I’ve wanted to hang on my person/child/stroller/grocery cart while my children and I roam in public. They include:







And of course:


But lately the one I’ve wanted to plaster all over everything (to be brave enough to shout to a world that often views children as burdens) is:


Because the general public? They tend to see us at our worst.

They see me carrying a hefty two-year-old across the parking lot, his flailing body tucked under my arm. They see him screaming his way through the grocery store because that blasted place puts a blasted balloon every five freaking feet. They see me balancing a baby carrier, a massive mom purse, and a cup of coffee on one arm while dragging the two-year-old with the other. They see me shooing and barking the two older boys in the right direction like some sort of frizzy, frazzled herding dog.

They see us running late. They see us overwhelmed. They see us hushing little ones who are accustomed to yelling and singing and roaring as loud as they like. They see a toddler who is frustrated to have been put on a short leash and boys to whom tact is a foreign concept.

They don’t get to see us at home, at peace, actually enjoying one another.

(Not that home is always peaceful. I am thankful every day that the general public doesn’t get to see my sons flipping out because I’ve told them to pick up their toys or me shouting a crazed, wild-eyed JUST EAT YOUR FOOD, ALREADY.)

Ours is a happy home. It may be chaotic and disorganized and screamy, but it’s also full of love and imagination and wonder.

Those strangers don’t get to see my husband hoisting the boys up to the refrigerator door to see if they’ve become magnetic. They don’t get to hear me reading The Story of Ferdinand to that two-year-old at naptime. (“His mother saw that he was not lonesome, and because she was an understanding mother, even though she was a cow, she let him just sit there and be happy.”) They don’t get to brush the curls off his forehead or kiss his great, big, squishy cheeks.

They don’t get to watch these boys build museums and castles and railways together. They don’t get to see them chase each other in their Star Wars fantasies. They don’t get to eat Brennan’s Saturday morning French toast or my killer chicken pot pie. They don’t get to see our baby girl kick and jump and squeal with glee when her brothers approach.

Brennan and I are almost always tired. We’re often worn thin, overwhelmed, frustrated with our kids – but in them we also find our greatest joy.

We delight in these children, and they delight in us and in each other.

So when you see us out and about, wrestling with a stroller or a car seat or a child, don’t pity us too much. Don’t think those brief moments of struggle or stress or embarrassment are accurate representations of our lives. The kids are alright. (And the parents are too.)


This post is the third 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

I’m also linking this post to Bobbi’s (of Revolution of Love) Weekly Writing in October link-up. Check it out to find other bloggers who are trying to get back into the writing groove this month.


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.

Catching Up (7 Quick Takes Friday, Vol. 41)


Tap, tap, tap.

Is anyone there?

I’ve enjoyed writing at the Catholic Review for the past almost-two-months, but I’m afraid I’ve killed my (this) blog! The thought makes me so sad.

How can I find the right balance to it all? Between writing and everything else I’m responsible for, between this blog and the other, between political writing and more personal writing? I have no idea.

No idea.

I guess I’m just going to keep plugging away at it and hope it works out somehow?


My six-year-old boy started 1st grade this week. I’m currently a tad sappy about the passage of time and all that, but mostly just very proud of my boy.

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He’s been really interested in being helpful lately, so we’ve found some small jobs around the house he can do. He’s taking out the recycling and putting away the flatware and even making some sandwiches.

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Best of all, when it’s time for my crew to load into the van, he puts on the two-year-old’s shoes, ushers his little brothers outside, and then HE BUCKLES THEM INTO THEIR CAR SEATS. Truly, this is a life-changing level of helpfulness for me. I always thank him with something like, “Thank you so much! That is so helpful and it makes things so much easier for me!” He responds with a sweet little “No problem, Mommy! I like helping.”

I think I like six.

One more thing about my boy, which I already blogged about over on my Catholic Review version of 7 Quick Takes:

I had a sad but beautiful little exchange with my six-year-old son the other evening, courtesy of my almost-all-day-every-day NPR listening habit. 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.”

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My four-year-old boy is a funny kid. He’s been telling me he loves me for a long time now – like, laying it on thick: “Mommy, I wuuuuv you, Mommy. You’re da best Mommy in da whole world. You’re boodiful. I JUST WUV YOU SO MUCH. I wuv you more den Jesus wuvs you.”

I’m not complaining.

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But I am noticing that he tends to say these things when (1) he wants something from me, (2) I’m already helping him with something, or (3) he’s been naughty or annoying.

Clever kid, that one.

Lately he’s been adding the following into the mix: “Mommy, you’re da gweatest Mommy of aw time. You’re da gweatest PERSON of aw time! You’re MINE. You’re my mommy and no one else’s!”

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This morning when I asked him why he was doing this fake crying thing, he answered: “Sometimes people just cwy because you’re so boodiful.”

Whoah. Slow down there, kiddo.

It’s gotten to the point where every time I become visibly annoyed with him he grins at me and raises his eyebrows and whispers, “You’re mine. You’re MINE.”

And I crack up. This kid! This manipulative, clever little bugger. I think we’re going to be in real trouble when he becomes a teenager.

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Boy number three has been less charming lately. He is two. He is very, very much two. A couple of Sundays ago when our priest asked (playfully) why our boy had been screaming so loudly that we removed him from Mass, we explained that he has a major case of the TWO’s.

He is a screamer and though we are working on the screaming (i.e. lots of consequences for screaming), I will admit that the screaming is kind of driving me nutty. I do not like this phase.

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I’m hopeful (though I may be deluding myself) that the screaming has something to do with the fact that our almost two-and-a-half-year-old is not yet talking. He says twenty or so fairly indistinguishable words, but he doesn’t yet put them together and he hardly ever uses them. He mostly just grunts. And screams.

We have a speech evaluation scheduled for the end of this month. If they deem him to be more than 25% behind, he’ll qualify for free in-home speech therapy. I’ve never before thought much of looking into such services, but now I’m all, “SIGN HIM UP.”

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Our sweet baby girl, on the other hand, continues to be as sweet as she can possibly be. She’s still happy and laid-back and easy to handle. (Maybe she’s aware of our household’s overabundance of screaming?)

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She’s feeling very well and eating and growing like a champ, but she still has salmonella in her system. We’re waiting on the results of the latest stool test. The last one (in late July) was positive and they need two consecutive negatives before they’ll consider her clear. Fingers crossed that the latest (taken in mid-August) is negative; then we’ll just need to do one more.

Little girl is now sitting up fairly well (though she still falls over) and is just beginning to become really, actually mobile via that rolling and scooting thing that babies do. Yesterday I put her down on a quilt in the family room, walked into the kitchen, and returned to find her missing. It took a few moments of looking around and listening for her cries before I located her.

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I think she enjoys her new skill.


Apropos of nothing, I have recently been reminded of a few blogs I used to read. As in used to. As in no longer read. It’s been interesting to remember those blogs and what my life was like back when I was reading them and to realize that me no longer reading them actually has nothing to do with them.

It’s not you, old favorites – it’s me.

I’ve changed. I’ve moved, in some ways, into a new season of my life. What I needed then in terms of encouragement, inspiration, and commiseration, I no longer need. At least not right now.

I read different things these days, things that meet my current needs. Who knows where I’ll be looking for inspiration tomorrow.

The realization has helped me to calm down a bit re: my woe in Take #1. My readership isn’t what it used to be and there are probably a number of reasons for that. But one reason might just be that people move on and change and need things one day that they didn’t need the day before.

It’s a big ol’ lesson to me to just chill out and not worry too much about things you can’t control.


Can I tell you how excited I am about this weekend? I honestly can’t remember when I’ve had so many fun plans jammed into such a short span of time. Here’s the run-down:

Friday afternoon: Get my hair done! I plan to sit in that salon with a glass of wine and a good book and let everything having to do with Take number four just roll… off…. my… back.

Friday evening: Join one of my girlfriends and several of her girlfriends for a little mommies-only birthday party. We’re going to sit on her front porch in the cool evening air and drink cocktails and eat hors d’oeuvres and just enjoy being in each other’s company. I can hardly wait.

Saturday: Head to Virginia for this year’s Mid-Atlantic conference of the Catholic Women Bloggers Network. It’s being hosted by Rosie Hill of A Blog For My Mom and will feature Kelly Mantoan of This Ain’t the Lyceum and Mary Lenaburg of Passionate Perseverance and lots of other amazing ladies too. I’ll try to write about it when I get back. (I wrote about last year’s conference, which I hosted, here.)

Sunday: Drive to Annapolis with my husband for Mass at beautiful St. Mary’s Church (where we were married – see gratuitous wedding photo below), followed by a dedication and reception at the Charles Carroll House. Which was the Annapolis home of Charles Carroll of Carrolton, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence. And on whose board of trustees I used to serve. (And, for those of you who keep up with the Catholic mommy blog world, where I once arranged a tour for Catholic All Year’s Tierney family.)

Whew! That’s a busy Labor Day weekend before even getting to Labor Day itself. I am so excited! Now let’s just pray that the hurricane/tropical storm working its way up the East Coast doesn’t dash our plans.

(I’m linking up with Kelly of This Ain’t The Lyceum for this week’s 7 Quick Takes. Be sure to stop by her place to see what she and the other 7-Quick-Taking crowd have been up to!)


Interested in coming along with me as I share stories about my family and think “aloud” on motherhood, politics, and society? Like These Walls’ Facebook page. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram.

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Sunday Coffee

A few weeks ago I resolved to mark my third year of blogging (the anniversary of which is this coming week, I think?) by taking 30 minutes each day to write and by posting on the blog at least three times per week. I’ve mostly succeeded. I think I’ve written almost every day, though a couple were such blurs of activity that I’m pretty sure they were left off. I did the thrice-weekly posting for the first two weeks, but this week I’m likely only fitting in two.

Oh well! On we march. The whole point of that little promise I made to myself was to exercise my writing muscle, so to speak, and I’m doing that.

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Being the weekend and all, I have my mind on lazy mornings and delicious coffee, and I’m thinking about what I would say to you if we were sitting down together for coffee.


I think I would mention this post and how some people seem to have gotten the impression that I had lost my cool with my son and was therefore writing from a place of regret.

(Now imagine me laughing while looking a little embarrassed.)

Um… if you think that was me losing my cool, you are far too generous. I promise that I am capable of some truly outrageous meltdowns. Like, spittle and popping veins outrageous. Once I was so mad I even had to go outside to run laps across the backyard.

So that post? That was just me recognizing the opposing tugs a parent feels while administering a punishment. And being decently comfortable that (in that one particular situation) I’d dealt with it the right way.


I’d remember that I never updated anyone on how my children behaved at Mass last Sunday. The verdict? I mostly got off easy. My second son turned out to still be too ill to be taken to church, so he stayed home with Daddy. As did the toddler, because… toddler. So I was left with the five-year-old and the baby. And it all went fine except for the two minutes in which the baby spat up all down her front and the boy exclaimed, “She exploded!”


I’d probably complain about being really, really tired of having somebody in the house sick for, like, two months straight. Currently we’ve got two boys (hopefully!) wrapping up their colds. I’m praying that we enjoy at least a small period of good health before somebody else goes down.

I’m sure I’d complain about all this cool, rainy weather we’ve been having. (Seriously – where did May go? Haven’t we been having March for like three months now?)

I’d tell you that I’d failed, once again, to find lamps to replace the ones my boys destroyed ages ago. It turns out it’s not so easy to find lighting that is (1) sturdy enough to withstand being knocked off tables by little boys and (2) not so sturdy that it will seriously injure little boys while falling off tables.

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If you and I had time to discuss all the ideas we have for our homes and gardens, a la this post, I would report that I exercised some restraint by only planting tomatoes and herbs when I really wanted to go whole-hog and establish The Most Amazing Kitchen Garden Ever.

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I’d tell you that we really need some fresh paint around here. And that I’m itching to hang more things on the walls. (Any idea as to how to get your husband to take up a task without nagging him to do it?)

I might admit to making myself yet another schedule to try to get a handle on my life.

I’d say how we really just need to decide whether to get a playset and patio furniture, already.

And that Brennan and I are leaning toward putting on that kitchen addition one of these days, but that we also daydream about having This Old House do an entire home renovation for us. (Oh, the dreams that boring 30-somethings can come up with…)

By this point I’d have bored you to tears – and we’re caught up by now anyway, so I’ll sign off. Time to see what kind of Mass behavior my boys give us this time.

Enjoy your Sunday!

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Walking That (Parenting) Line

Yesterday I was feeling brave, so I decided to load all four kiddos into the van for some errands. The boys were in serious need of haircuts and we were overdue for a grocery run, so I thought we might as well mash it all together and stick a fast-food dinner in-between.

So we did the barber shop (but the wait was too long), then dinner, then back to the barber shop (success), then the liquor store to buy more of my new favorite wine from the mark-down cart. (I don’t know anything about this wine except that it is AMAZING. I highly recommend it if you like a white that’s dry and full but bright. Just amazing.)

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By then the baby was starting to fuss, so I decided to forgo the grocery run. (That is, I decided to have my husband take care of it on his way home.) We left for home, the baby fell asleep, and I threw caution to the wind by ushering all three boys into the tub almost as soon as we walked through the door. (Baths require almost as much courage as grocery runs in my book.) Afterward, I nursed the baby in her room while the boys played at my feet.

All this time – from the restaurant to the barber shop to the bath to the nursery – my four-year-old was naughty naughty naughty naughty naughty, varying only in the intensity of his misbehavior. “Stop it stop it stop it stop it,” I’d said, until I finally banished him from my presence. He was sent to his room.

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All was peaceful for about three minutes, until he decided to up the ante: he threw one of those little egg shaker musical instrument thingies into the nursery, cracking it in half and sending hundreds of tiny metal balls flying around the room.


I yelled, he laughed. I YELLED, and he stopped laughing. He was again sent to his room, this time to an early bedtime.

Oh how awful that was for him! The child screamed and called for me and begged to be let back downstairs. But I was busy with the baby and the brothers and the daddy calling from the grocery store. And anyway, he was being punished. It wasn’t supposed to be pleasant.

I did go up at one point, once I’d finished feeding the baby. I hugged him and tucked him back in, but told him that no, he would not be allowed back downstairs. He continued his tirade.

A short while later, I was scrolling Facebook when I saw a heartbreaking photo and caption. It was from Humans of New York (of course). A woman’s face conveys a sense of terrible pain and loss. “Two weeks after Max was diagnosed, he asked me if I’d be his Mommy forever,” a woman named Julie said. “Of course I will,” she told her son. “Even when I’m ninety?” he asked. “Yes.”

“I just couldn’t tell him,” she said. “God I was such a coward. I should have told him. I just couldn’t do it. Even toward the end… the whole last week I’m whispering in his ear: ‘Let go, let go. Please Max, let go.’ My seven-year-old son. I’m telling him to let go… And the whole time I never told him he was dying.”

You can imagine what this did to me.

Tears streamed down my face as I imagined this woman whispering “Let go,” to her dying child, a child she’d never told was dying. And there was my child, just a few feet above my head, screaming for me, begging for me to have mercy on him.

What a line we walk as parents.

We want to instruct, we want to form, we discipline in order to help our children learn to control themselves. Or to follow rules. Or to respect us. Or to not treat others badly.

At the same time, we treasure our children. They pull on our heartstrings and we’re happy to have them do it. We want to wrap them up in our arms and prevent them from feeling any pain.

But learning lessons often involves pain.

So it doesn’t seem to me that you can choose one side over the other. I’ve always thought that good parenting required a lot of discipline and a whole lot of love. A lack of either would be damaging to a child. We parents just have to walk that line, wherever we think it lies.

So how did I (try to) do it?

I went back upstairs. I told my boy that he could not come down, but that I would sit with him a while. I climbed onto his bed and held him in my lap and rocked him. Then I flipped on the light, grabbed a couple of books, and moved over to the armchair in his room. He sat on my lap as I read those wonderfully sappy Nancy Tillman books – “On the Night You Were Born” and “Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You”.

I read slowly, carefully. I let my tears drip down onto his face. He calmed down.

When the books had ended, we got up and got him back into his bed. I tucked him in for the third time. I kissed him and ruffled his newly-cut hair. Then I went back downstairs.

I don’t know if I did the best thing but it felt like the right thing. That’s all I can do. I try to walk that line wherever I find it, wherever it seems right given the circumstances of the moment.

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It is Good to be In Love

I am not the most patient mother.

I have a temper, I have a limited capacity for dealing with noise and activity, and I have zero tolerance for whining. (Seriously: we have a “no whining near Mommy” rule in our family. You may either whine or be in Mommy’s company, but you may not do the two simultaneously.)

So I go through lots and lots of seasons when my primary attitude towards motherhood is resentment or annoyance or a strangled sort of desperation.

But right now? I am just in love with my children.

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I always love them. The love is nothing new. What’s new or different or fresh in the feeling is that I’m mostly feeling it free of the things that pull it down. Often I love my children with a sort of “You’re driving me crazy, so I’ll remind myself over and over again how much I actually love you!” Or, “I love you, but do you have to be so difficult?”

Lately, for whatever reason, I’ve been looking at my children and only feeling the love.

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I glance at the baby and my heart does a big, cheesy leap. The toddler tugs at me, wanting my attention, and I smother him with kisses and tickles. I pick up my sons from school and I’m so happy to have them back with me that I cup their faces in my hands and smile kisses onto their soft cheeks.

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That may sound saccharine sweet. It may sound manufactured. But I’ll tell you what: It is such a relief to feel this way.

Too often, my feelings toward my children are a tug-of-war of love, frustration, anger, pride, enjoyment, resentment, and more. This is difficult work. It wears on a soul.

So moments like these – days, weeks, minutes when the peace and joy and love of parenting somehow overshadow everything else – they are so welcome. They are so important. They fill me up; they give me something to draw upon when times get hard.

These Walls - It is Good to be In Love

Portrait of a Good Daddy

Yesterday morning our littlest guy, nineteen-month-old Mr. Curly Head, followed his father around the kitchen, clutching a book and whining pathetically. He wanted Daddy to read to him.

The poor guy hadn’t gotten to see Daddy the night before, as Brennan had come home from work too late. And recently he’s become a real Daddy’s Boy anyway. (I wonder whether it’s my growing belly that’s prompted the change: I’ve always found that the youngest child attaches to Daddy just before he’s made to give up that precious birth-order position.)

Yesterday morning, however, Brennan was in a rush. He had to get our oldest to the bus stop and then he had to get himself to work. He really didn’t have time to sit down and read a book. So out he went, shooting a pained look towards our disappointed toddler.

But a few minutes later, Daddy came back.

Brennan had gotten our oldest on the bus and then turned right back around. He came into the house and found the boy and the book and he sat down to read.

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It was a simple scene, but it did my heart (and theirs) so much good.

A small boy had missed his Daddy. He’d snuggled into Daddy’s legs while they rushed through the morning motions. He’d held up a book bigger than his own head and grunted a request that couldn’t have been clearer: “Read to me, Daddy. Sit with me and hold me and love me.”

He’d been disappointed, but then Daddy came back. Daddy scooped him up and sat down to read the book. Daddy took the time to give him love and attention.

He’s such a good daddy.

I’m grateful for my husband for many reasons, but most of all, I’m grateful for the father he’s become. Brennan, who had little experience with children before our own boys were born, has proved to be a natural. He’s jumped into diapers and baths and feedings and vomit clean-up. He teaches, he comforts, he corrects, he snuggles, he guides, he loves.

This is what a good father looks like: A man who does the big-picture hard work of providing and protecting as well as the nitty-gritty hard work of chasing down and cleaning up. A man who plays with his children, who makes them laugh, who hugs them tight. A man who will make detours for them – even the ones that seem too small to possibly be worth it.

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This is a portrait of a good daddy.

These Walls - Portrait of a Good Daddy

7 Quick Takes… Monday? (Vol. 33) – A Mash-Up of Weddings, (Not) Delightful Baby Phases, and a Possibly Rabid Fox

Yes, I realize that 7 Quick Takes are supposed to be a Friday thing. And that it’s been months and months since I’ve linked up to 7QT (Hi Kelly! It’s my first time linking up with you!) But hey, my morning sickness is beginning to fade so I am blogging. That’s good enough for me.

Seven Quick Takes Friday


Other than the sobbing child who attempted to chase us down the driveway as we pulled out (stab me in the heart, why don’t you?), last last weekend’s wedding/anniversary festivities went really well.

On Saturday we jumped from (1) a formal wedding at a gorgeous gothic-style downtown church to (2) a more casual outdoor wedding at a country club just outside the city, then (3) back downtown for a waterfront reception on Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Whew!

Both weddings were lovely, both brides beautiful, both families happy. We were able to visit with both sides of my family, we enjoyed a delicious meal, great views, and even a special dance for our anniversary. I call that a win!

These Walls - 7QT33: A Mash-Up of Weddings, (Not) Delightful Baby Phases, and a Possibly Rabid Fox - 1

On Sunday we celebrated my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary with almost every member of my mom’s side of the family. With relatives having flown in from San Diego, St. Louis, and Chicago, I believe we hit over 60 people, missing only my Uncle’s family in Maine.

As one of my aunts put it, “So glad to be sharing the 60th celebration with these two in the same way we grew up – a casual picnic, surrounded by kids & adults alike running around catching frogs & lightning bugs, playing games, singing & dancing. Always someone passing a baby or toddler to another to enjoy, & simply catching up with the everyday events as the generations grow!”

She’s right – the anniversary party was very ‘us’ – a potluck meal, lots of talking and laughing, lawn games, group pictures, kids running around in packs, even random wildlife. Granddad kept saying that we shouldn’t have made such a fuss, but I think we made just the right kind of fuss.

These Walls - 7QT33: A Mash-Up of Weddings, (Not) Delightful Baby Phases, and a Possibly Rabid Fox - 2


I’m enjoying reading the recap posts from those who attended this year’s Edel Gathering. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I very much regret that I wasn’t able to hear Rachel Balducci’s talk, watch Jen Fulwiler record her radio show, witness Rachael Escandon’s craaaazy shoes, visit the beautiful city of Charleston, and hang out with so very, very many wonderful women. But I don’t at all regret missing out on the extreme humidity or (worse yet) the hotel’s plumbing problems. Not. at. all.


Here’s something I never thought I’d be glad to hear: “Jude spit on me!”

My poor little three-year-old was suffering a stomach bug last week. The other morning, once he finally seemed settled and the baby had gone down for his nap, I grabbed a quick shower. I’d given firm instructions to my oldest to run to get me if the baby started screaming or the three-year-old needed my help. So imagine the panic that set in when I heard a shriek shortly after I’d gotten out of the shower: “Mommy!… mumble, mumble… MOMMY!… indiscernible shouting (during which I imagined vomit sprayed over half my family room)… Mommy!… Jude spit on me!”

Aaah…. What a relief! I’ll take a brotherly spat over vomit clean-up any day.


And here’s something I never thought I’d have to say: “If you see a fox, I want you to run as fast as you can back to the house!”

My mother-in-law returned from her hair appointment the other day to tell us that her hairdresser had recently had a terrifying experience right in front of our house. The woman was walking up the street when she saw a skinny, mangy-looking fox run out of the woods. And it chased her! She started running, but it kept chasing her, and she was seriously frightened for her safety until some Jeep pulled up and placed itself between her and the fox. The fox attacked the Jeep’s tires and the woman ran to safety.

So that’s just great, isn’t it?

(And what a quick-thinking, amazingly helpful person that Jeep’s driver was!)

It looks like we have a very sick, possibly rabid fox in our neighborhood. I didn’t let the boys go outside to play (well, the one wasn’t feeling up to it anyway) for a few days, but I finally let them out with that warning. I can’t keep them indoors forever, can I?


We’re officially in the phase where I walk into the kitchen to find the baby standing on the table. I hate this phase.

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When it comes to caring for small children, workloads are a funny thing, aren’t they?

In some ways it doesn’t take that much more effort to care for three than it does for one – you’re already cooking the meals and doing the laundry and running the errands, so what’s a bit more? At any rate, my first child was much harder to work around than my three now are together. He wouldn’t let me out of his sight. He wanted me to be engaged with him during each of his waking moments. They have each other to play with, so they come to me for mommy things: comfort, nourishment, arbitration. They go to their brothers for entertainment.

But on the other hand, caring for three sometimes seems exponentially harder than caring for one. For instance, in the last two weeks, my two older boys attended swim lessons together while the baby and I participated in a little Mommy and Me swim class. (It seemed like the best way to keep him from screaming for the duration of the boys’ lessons.) It was great: the boys loved their lessons, I could watch their progress from the other side of the pool, and the baby was sometimes kinda sorta happy to be in the water. But it was so exhausting.

Getting everybody up and fed and dressed and out of the house each morning… keeping up with the pool bag and the towels and swimsuits… crouching on the pool deck to pull off boys’ shoes and shirts and hand them their “gobbles” (definitely my favorite preschool mispronunciation)… then rushing over to the other side of the pool to pull off my own cover-up and wrestle the baby into his swim diaper and suit… wrangling everybody into a changing room afterward… managing four rounds of showers and drying off and dressing…


The last two days of lessons, the three-year-old was in the middle of his stomach bug, so my husband went into work late so our oldest could still finish his lessons. The baby was left home too, for convenience’ sake. And it was so much easier! Taking one child to swim lessons is about 100 times easier than taking three and being in one of the classes yourself. I seriously felt like waving my (empty!) arms around to demonstrate just how freeeee I felt.

Next year’s kindergarten/preschool combo? I’m coming for you!

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As I mentioned above, my morning sickness seems to be fading away. Thank the Lord! I still have it for much of the day, but the intensity is decreasing and I’m actually starting to have some short windows in which I don’t feel sick at all. And I have some energy – what an amazing feeling!

So I think the time is right for a little jump-start to my blogging efforts. Partly inspired by the 7 drawings in 7 days Heather is just finishing up (they’re great! check them out!), I thought I’d commit to 7 posts in 7 days.

But, needing to not get too ahead of myself, these posts are going to be pretty simple. Every day I run across news articles or blog posts or radio segments that make me want to answer them aloud with my own take on the situation. So that’s what I’m going to do. For each of the next seven days, I’ll take a recent item (by someone much more original than myself) and I’ll comment on it. That’s it, but that’s something!

I hope to ‘see’ you back here this week for my itty bitty baby steps back to regular blogging. And I hope you’ll go check out the other Quick Takes over at Kelly’s. (For those of my readers who don’t regularly follow Quick Takes, 7QT used to be hosted by Jen Fulwiler of Conversion Diary, but now it’s hosted by Kelly Mantoan of This Ain’t the Lyceum.) Have a great week!


I Built a Fort

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

And it makes me sad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So yesterday, I built a fort.

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


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

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



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


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

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

Yesterday, I built a fort.





Sometimes Mommy Wars Are Worth Fighting: Let’s Have a Healthy Debate About Vaccines



There, I said it: vaccines, vaccines, vaccines.

I feel like the topic of childhood vaccinations has become something that people either GET REALLY, VERY ANGRY ABOUT or avoid altogether. I tend toward the latter. I’m 100% uninterested in online shouting matches, so I steer clear of anything that seems to be devolving into one.


But I do have my (pro-vaccine) opinions on the matter and I am rather fond of sharing my opinions generally (hence the blog), so every once in a while I jump in when the jumping seems good.

A couple of days ago, I spotted just such an opportunity: a conversation was brewing in response to a Facebook friend’s post. I thought I’d answer another person’s comment with a little something calm and polite before the thread got too hot.

The commenter and I went back and forth a bit. We remained respectful. There were no fireworks. Still, she seemed a little hurt, a little defensive. She seemed to want affirmation. More than anything, she seemed to want people to be okay with her position.

I see that a lot on this topic. I don’t see many anti-vaxxers trying to convince the rest of us that they’re right. (Though maybe that’s just the crowd I run in.) I see them trying to convince us that their decision to not vaccinate should be just as acceptable as our decision to vaccinate.

In response to them, I generally see the combative pro-vaxxers SHOUT REALLY, VERY ANGRY THINGS and the peaceful pro-vaxxers come dangerously close (or completely buy in) to the “everything-is-equal” mentality. You know: We all need to make the decisions that are right for us. That kind of thing.


Last week I was one of the many thousands of women, I’m sure, who laughed and then cried at Similac’s Mother ‘Hood video. In it, different parenting factions bump up against each other at a playground: the crunchy moms, the working moms, the babywearers, the breastfeeders, the bottle feeders, etc. They’re each convinced of their own superiority and they’re itching for a fight.

Until a stroller starts rolling down a hill.

Right on cue, all the parents rush to the stroller. They stop it in time, the baby is shown to be safe, and everyone is relieved. “No matter our beliefs, we’re parents first,” the ad says.

It’s incredibly touching; I whimper like a baby every time I see it.

But we’re just shown the two extremes. We parents seem to be expected to fit into one of two molds: Mommy War Combatants or Enlightened Pacifists.

What about the middle?

What about not seeing every disagreement as a FIGHT, but also not letting ourselves fall into the intellectually lazy, PC trap that is “let’s agree to disagree”?

What about having the courage to defend our beliefs and the openness to listen to others’ opinions? What about honoring the love that parents have for their children but recognizing that sometimes people make poor choices? What about distinguishing between parenting practices that are matters of taste and those that are matters of safety?

What about accepting that, as valid as our disagreements might be, sometimes they’re worth airing and sometimes they’re not?

Personally, I’m a stay-at-home, from-scratch cooking, no-organic buying, bottle feeding, stroller pushing and Ergo-wearing, time-out using, sometimes-yelling mom. But I’m not about to say a thing to convince crunchy, breastfeeding, exclusive baby-wearing, peaceful parenting moms that they’re wrong. I may disagree with elements of their parenting styles, but I concede that these are matters of taste. What works for me and my family will not be what works for another woman and her family.

Vaccines, though, are not a matter of taste; they are a matter of safety.

It’s blessedly easy for us to forget these days, but for most of human history, it was terribly dangerous to be a child. If you survived childbirth, you had to withstand round after round of disease (not to mention dangers related to hygiene and malnutrition). And if you survived the diseases, you had to withstand whatever effects they left on you. You might be left scarred or crippled or disabled in some other way.

Just walk around any old cemetery and take a look at the headstones – you’ll get a sense of how many children lost their lives too soon.

Thank goodness, these days most of us don’t have to think much about the possibility of losing a child. A major reason for this is childhood vaccinations. They’ve been keeping us safe for generations, in some cases bringing diseases close to the point of eradication. Or, in the case of smallpox, even getting to that point.

Until other diseases get there too, we’ve simply got to keep vaccinating.

We’ve each got to do our own part, as small as it may seem, to stop the spread of disease. When I get my child vaccinated, I not only protect him, but I protect those he comes in contact with. I protect those they come in contact with. And so on.

Some will rely on my protection (and that of others) because for medical reasons they are ineligible to be vaccinated (infants, those with compromised immune systems, those with allergies to vaccine components).

Others may not seem to need my protection because they’ve been vaccinated too. But nothing in this world is perfect. Though vaccines work the vast majority of the time, sometimes immune systems don’t respond as you would hope. Sometimes vaccinated people have to rely on that beautifully-termed “herd immunity” for protection, just as infants and otherwise medically-ineligible individuals have to.

That’s why, when I make the decision to vaccinate my child, I don’t just make the decision for my own family. I make it for yours too.

And – whether you’re thinking of us or not – when you make your decision regarding vaccination for your family, you do so for mine as well.

Please decide to protect us.

I have a 9-month-old baby, not yet old enough to have been vaccinated against the measles. Please decide to protect him.


Combative pro-vaxxers: Please stop yelling. Please stop calling people names. Please stop questioning motives. Please try not to be so angry.

I know you care about this issue and you want anti-vaxxers to come to see it from your point of view, but anger rarely convinces anyone of anything. If you care enough to weigh in on an issue, you should care enough to try to be persuasive. So, persuade.

Calm down. Think about the issue from your opponents’ viewpoints and do your best to figure out how to make your points in ways that will resonate with them. Go forth and try to make a difference.

Peaceful pro-vaxxers: Please think for a moment about why you vaccinate your own children. If you’re convinced that vaccinations are necessary to keep them safe, then wouldn’t they also be necessary to keep other families’ children safe?

Please consider that maybe issues of safety are worth having a firm opinion on, even worth weighing in on – uncomfortable though they may be. I know you don’t want to hurt others’ feelings. So, don’t be hurtful.

Be brave. Think about the issue from your opponents’ viewpoints and do your best to figure out how to make your points in ways that will resonate with them. Go forth and try to make a difference.

Anti-vaxxers: Please think for a moment about why you don’t vaccinate your own children. If you’re convinced that vaccinations would be harmful to them, then wouldn’t they also be harmful to other families’ children?

If you feel confident in your decision to not vaccinate, then you should want to convince other parents to follow your example. If you feel confident in your decision to not vaccinate, then you should be able to defend your decision. Explain your rationale. Provide your evidence. Own it.

Do not seek affirmation for its own sake. Earn it by convincing others that your side is the right one.


This is an important issue. Precious little lives are at stake. Let’s do right by our discussion of it.

Let’s fight the good fight – one conducted fairly, one for a worthy cause. Let’s remember that refusing to fight fairly is a mark of doubting your own position. And that refusing to enter the fray can be a mark of doubting its importance.