Opening That Window To The World

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

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

20140731_161030

20140731_161038

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

20140731_163142

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just A Little Slump

Yesterday afternoon I sat in my kitchen, brooding in a comfortable sort of way. The window was open and the day was cool and drowsy. If I’d spent it cuddled by a fire with a good book and no cares, it would have been lovely. As it was, the day felt like a lovely kind of somber. I was preoccupied with my vaguely depressed mood, my feeling of being in a state of “meh.”

I was perched on a pillow because of a ridiculous hip joint that’s been bothering me for a few days. (And by “bothering” I mean making me hobble around like the overweight old lady I feel like I am. And making me wonder whether I’m too old and out-of-shape to be popping out an adventurous man-baby every couple of years.)

But my five-month-old was napping in his swing while his two big brothers took their daily movie-watching-on-the-sofa “resting time.” (I choose my battles and I choose not to engage in that awful, horrible, no-good battle called “naptime.”) All three were quiet and still, so SCORE. Hip be damned.

20140916_155823

I had dishes in the sink, but not too many. I had a pile of papers sitting behind me, but not too tall. My kitchen floor was relatively free of clutter, but the dining room was covered with it. I had (ahem, have) loads of lovely emails and blog comments to answer (I love you people even when I take forever to get back to you!) and I’d meant to take care of them then, but instead I decided to finally, finally put school and choir dates in my planner.

I was feeling perpetually overdue, disorganized, and distracted. I was feeling like I don’t spend enough time doing fun things or educational things or creative things with my children. I was wondering whether I’ll ever get my act together. (Please don’t tell me I won’t.)

But I was also recognizing that I have healthy, polite, happy little boys. That they give and receive an abundance of cuddles. That I make dinner most every night and my boys eat reasonably well-rounded meals. That they have clothes that fit and we always seem to have clean laundry to wear, even if it has to be pulled, crumpled, from a pile at the foot of my bed.

In short, I may not feel all that successful at managing my home or my family (or my blog), but I’m keeping it together. Everything is at least functioning, if not flourishing. Meh.

wpid-20140917_143254.jpg

A short while later, wouldn’t you know, my boys reached down into my slump and started to pull me out of it – with some delightfully poor behavior. While I was trying to prepare their dinner, the four-year-old lay screaming at my feet, in full meltdown mode because I’d turned off his movie. I stepped over his flailing limbs, determined to ignore his temper tantrum.

Then I saw it: a wicked robot was advancing, in the form of my slowly-stomping two-year-old. He wore a menacing look on his face and he stretched out his wiry little arms and fingers into claws. He knew that his prey was vulnerable. And… he pounced.

Honestly, I thought it was a brilliant way to deal with a brother who had lost it. And I kind of enjoyed the ensuing ruckus: two boys rolling around on the floor, one sobbing and hollering and the other striking with his robot claws. (We don’t call that kid “fierce” for nothing.)

Soon the baby started screaming too, so I picked him up and sat in the rocker with him while we watched his brothers.

Today my slump has returned, and sunk a bit deeper. Today’s brooding doesn’t feel as lovely as yesterday’s. I’m feeling more discouraged about my hip and a little more grumpy, all around. Those “carefree” summer days seem long over; we’ve now re-entered the season of schedules and commitments and comparisons and knowing that time passes too quickly. I’m feeling sort of unequal to it.

But it’s just a little slump.

I have these wonderful little trouble-makers, you see, who are liable to make me jump out of it at any moment. I’m sort of looking forward to whatever-it-is they come up with next.

20140917_143736

For now, they’re pretending to be alligators.

 

20140917_145540

And the little one has brought back something interesting to their alligator nest — a trophy from his latest conquest, perhaps?

Reset, Catch Up, Move On: 7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 31)

Well, hello there.

It’s good to be back on the blog after my month-long, completely unintended break. I wish I had tales of fabulous travel to make up for my time “away,” but no, we’ve been here the whole time. We’ve been busy, but just in the ways young families are apt to be: We spent time at the county fair, at parks, and at more playdates than I can count. We celebrated my father’s 60th birthday with a good ol’ Maryland crab feast. We’ve been meeting new friends and catching up with old ones. My son has started his second year of preschool and I’ve been trying to organize my home and my mind in preparation for the upcoming season of school, celebrations, and hopefully, writing.

And on that last count, I’ve been stuck.

I had a tremendous response to my last post, the one on breastfeeding (or rather, on not breastfeeding) and I kind of didn’t know what to do with it. So I thought I’d wait a few days to process everything. (Bad idea, Julie. Bad idea.) Soon enough I became caught up and weighed down by all those horrible events going on around the world and I figured I needed to write on them before I did anything else. But (surprise, surprise) they’re not the easiest to write on, and it didn’t take long before I was stuck in the mire, both mentally and spiritually. After a couple of weeks of unproductive writing, I decided to work on cleaning up my physical space so at least something would be heading in the proper direction.

It was the right decision. And it brings me to where I am today: Reset. Catch up. Move on.

What better way to do that than with a 7 Quick Takes?

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

—1—

The biggest thing to happen in the past month, I suppose, is that my four-year-old started his second year of pre-school. I’m not the sappiest when it comes to the passage of time, but I admit that I’m really starting to feel the weight of having just one more year before I turn my first baby over to full-time, full-day school. Sniff, sniff.

P1200556

P1200565

His brothers and I went to the park to console ourselves.

P1200568

P1200571

P1200575

When we returned to pick up our guy after his class, the little one up there in green gave his big brother one of the tightest, most earnest hugs around the neck ever. Gosh, next year’s going to be hard.

—2—

My actual baby (five months old yesterday!) has the most pathetic-sounding hoarse voice right now. When I brought it to my husband’s attention the other day, he looked at me with these dull, accusatory eyes and said, “It’s because he’s been screaming so much at night before you go in to get him.”

WHAT?!

“No way!” I said, “I go in as soon as I hear him!” He just looked at me. With those eyes.

So that night, wouldn’t you know it, I woke in the middle of the night to find my husband standing in our room holding the unhappy baby. “He’s been screaming for quite a while,” he said over those awful, pathetic, hoarse little cries.

My poor baby. I don’t have a problem with babies being left to cry themselves to sleep when necessary, but how sad is it that my little guy has been screaming so much in the middle of the night that he’s gone hoarse? For no reason other than that I’ve been sleeping right through his cries? Oh, the guilt…

—3—

In my defense, though, I’ve been sleeping unusually poorly lately. This baby, like each of my boys, has always been a pretty good sleeper. Until the last few weeks. He seems to be in a phase (a growth spurt, maybe?) where he’s honest-to-goodness hungry in the middle of the night. I usually respond by offering him a pittance in the form of nursing for hours on end while I doze in the rocker. But frequently that’s not enough, so Brennan stumbles downstairs to make a bottle and I attempt to feed it to the baby without dropping either it or him. And every night lately I seem to find myself feeling around in the dark for my little pacifier-addict’s fix, praying and hoping that it does the trick so I don’t have to spend another couple of hours sitting on the tailbone killer.

Sleep, baby, sleep!

Sleep, baby, sleep!

Anyway, I don’t need to explain exhaustion to anyone who’s ever had a baby. I’ll just add that the situation has made me realize something: God sure knew what he was doing when he gave me the parenting cross (vomit) that he did. My boys have vomited enough to teach me that I’m actually pretty well-equipped to deal with the stuff. But exhaustion from the rare phases when my boys aren’t sleeping well? It makes me a wobbly, achy, dizzy, headachy crybaby. I’m being quite honest when I say I can hardly handle it.

I never thought I’d be grateful for vomit, but now I kind of am. At least, I’m grateful that I feel well-equipped to deal with our most bothersome parenting challenge.

What about you? What’s your parenting cross? Do you (strangely, maybe) feel that it suits you?

—4—

(Speaking of crosses…)

We’ve had another snake sighting. I was rounding the corner of the house to get the boys in the car when I saw it on the ground, just inches away from our feet. I LEAPT and ran and squealed and shuddered and my boys… they just stood there. They stared at me with gaping mouths and they were quick to not obey my pleas to RUN! GO BACK INSIDE! NO! COME HERE! JUST COME HERE AS FAST AS YOU CAN! Once they realized I was bleating on about a snake, they started in on the “But where is it? I want to see the snake! I want to see it! I wuv snakes!”

—5—

A few days later we had an exterminator here to check out some carpenter ants that my husband had discovered in the house. After he left, Brennan was updating me on what the exterminator had to say about the other pests we’ve had lately. (Bats, groundhogs, etc.)

Me: “What about the snakes?”

Him: “Snakes?”

Me: (Giving him the look this time.) “Yes, snakes.”

Him: “Oh! I didn’t even think about snakes. Did you want me to ask about snakes?”

Me:

Him: “Are you really concerned about them?”

Me: “Yes, I am concerned about the possibility of a nest of snakes under our parlor. I don’t exactly want more snakes slithering out of our children’s toys.”

So he proceeds to tell me how he found that some things in the basement had been disturbed and he figured it was probably because big, huge snakes had knocked them over while they were slithering every which way like they own the place. (Or something like that.)

That night I dreamed of snakes. Lots and lots of snakes. Everywhere.

—6—

A couple of weeks back we met some friends at a park and ended up having one of our coolest experiences all summer. The boys spotted one of these little guys:

20140819_111918

And then another, and another… climbing out of a little mound in the playground mulch. They had just hatched! It was so exciting, like those films you see of baby sea turtles floundering toward the surf.

20140819_111540

At first my friend and I wouldn’t let the boys touch the critters because we didn’t want them hurt. (The turtles, not the boys.) But then we realized that it probably wasn’t a good idea for baby turtles to be making their way to the middle of a playground on a bright, hot day with lots of littles swarming around. So we let our boys each pick up one or two and gently place them in the grass.

20140819_111731

(I realize that somebody out there might scold us for this, maintaining that we should never disturb wildlife for any reason, but I was not about to allow baby turtles to be squished by running little boy feet if I could help it. For the turtles’ sake and the boys’.)

20140819_111615

20140819_111527

20140819_111910

He’s pretending to be a turtle.

The boys were so sweet, and so interested. We could hardly divert them from their find for the rest of our visit. All I can think now is: Thank goodness it wasn’t snakes.

—7—

I’m a little hesitant to make this commitment, but I feel like I need to make some commitment to myself to get me back into writing regularly, so… here it goes…

I pledge to post every other day for the next two weeks.

It’s not quite 7 Posts in 7 Days, but for someone who hasn’t blogged for a month, it’s ambitious! Wish me luck, and stop on back to see if I keep my word.

 

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

All My Life, Preparing For This

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

~~~

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

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

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

01

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

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

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

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

IMG_4656

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

~~~

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

J holding K, 1992

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

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

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

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

IMG_3084

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

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

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

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

It is less hard today.

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

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

006

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

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

P1180384

P1180392

~~~

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

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

The World, My World, And Edel: 7 Quick Takes (Vol. 30)

This has most definitely been one of those weeks when the world seems to be just thick with things to think on – immigrant children pouring over our southern border, religious freedom under attack in the Senate, Iraqi Christians fleeing the terror of ISIS, another round of murders and attacks in Israel and Gaza, more killings by Boko Haram, Thursday’s downing of the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet…

And here I find myself, pacing through my home, cooking and feeding and nursing and picking up toys, those events and those people heavy on my mind. I would so love to lose myself at the computer, attempting to make sense of it all by piecing together words in just the right way.

But this week – perhaps because of my anniversary, now that I think of it – I’ve felt the pull of my own little world more strongly. I’ve felt the weight of my responsibilities to my home and my husband and my boys. So in lieu of a few involved (and perhaps self-indulgent) posts on The Worries Of The World, allow me to share with you a collection of things I’ve been thinking about this week:

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

—1—

Immigration

Oh so much has already been said about those kids trying so hard to get into our country. I hope to flesh out my thoughts on this particular situation sometime soon, but for now I’d just like to point you to a post I wrote last year on immigration reform, generally.

Here are the bullet points from my post: People have always moved. People deserve a chance to protect and provide for themselves and their families. Things change. Laws change. Families matter. Skills matter. The labor market doesn’t lie. Long borders will never be 100% secure. We should encourage immigrants to invest themselves in this country.

I hope you’ll take a few minutes to click over and read what I mean by those points.

—2—

Religious Freedom

There was a great discussion in the comments section of my post from a couple of weeks ago on religious freedom. I love that people were willing to ask honest, challenging questions and dialog in such a smart, respectful way. I know that comboxes have a horrible reputation, but, idealist that I am, the fantasy of discussions like that one drew me into blogging. Keep it up, people! You made me very happy.

—3—

Betterment and Expectations

Speaking of blogging, I’m honored to have been invited to participate in a little “blog hop” hosted by Amy of Go Forth And Mother. Amy has just kicked off a year-long life betterment project called “The Happy Wife Project.” To get things going, she’s asked ten bloggers to post about their expectations of motherhood… and how reality stacked up.

I’m excited to be one of the participants, because really, how fun is it to get to do something alongside these great ladies? But also because I’m intrigued by Amy’s project. Since becoming a stay-at-home mother, and especially since moving into this, our “forever” house, I’ve thought a lot on how I go about my daily work and how it – and the state of my household, and interactions with my family members, and any number of other things – impacts my sense of happiness and well-being. I know that being more purposeful about such things would bring more peace into my life. So I look forward to seeing what Amy shares and I hope the project will inspire me to make the right changes in my own life.

‘Till then, here are the participants and the schedule for The Happy Wife Project’s Expectations vs. Reality Blog Hop:

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

I hope you’ll stop by here next week for my contribution and then “hop” on over to the others for theirs.

—4—

This One and Love

P1200106

You know how women describe an incredible rush of all-consuming love when they have a baby? How they say things like, “I feel like I’ve known you forever” to their newborns? Well, I’ve started much smaller than that with each of mine. There has, of course, been love from the outset. But it’s been meek, awed, a little hesitant. I tend to ask, “Who are you?” to my new babies.

But my love grows. Each day, I love each of my boys more than I did the day before. And in some seasons, my love for them grows by leaps and bounds in just short stretches of time. So it is right now with this one. His smiles, his little fist grabbing onto my shirt, my growing comfort with how his shape fits in my arms… I am really feeling the love for this one this week.

—5—

This One and Mercy

P1190931

This beautiful little guy here – he’s got something of the stinker in him. He has that wicked little gleam in his eye, you know? To a point, he’s impervious to our corrections: he grimaces or grunts or laughs when we tell him not to do something. But past that point (and it can be hard to tell where it is – all I can guess is that there’s something about the tone of our voice) – he loses it. He is suddenly and deeply hurt/embarrassed/remorseful. He starts wailing and flings himself at us, clinging and gasping and looking so terribly pathetic.

After he’d done this a few times, it struck me: the boy is looking for mercy. His eyes become super wide as they search yours, pleading for it. So I give mercy: I hold him tight and assure him that I love him. I wait for him to calm down and I talk through his correction. Then I hug him again and send him on his way.

The situation has really gotten me to think on mercy. I think about it terms of my boys, but also about other people in my life, about times I’ve needed it myself, and about conflicts throughout the world in which people would surely benefit from it.

—6—

This One and Time

20140717_130319

This one in orange, that is.

The other day I had a big grocery trip to undertake and I dreaded the logistics: how was I to fit two preschoolers, an infant, and loads of food and household goods into one cart? So I took a little gamble: I let my four-year-old push the baby in the stroller while I pushed his two-year-old brother in the grocery cart.

And you know what? It was wonderful. Everybody was happy and (mostly) well-behaved and all of our purchases had somewhere to go. When we got home, my big boy even helped me unload the car. (Happily! Without being asked!) My sometimes dramatic, frequently challenging four-year-old made my day easier. And a shopping trip I had dreaded became one that I enjoyed.

It was yet another reminder of just how big and grown-up my little boy is becoming and what a neat kid he really is.

With three very small children to care for and a household to manage, I don’t spend much time trying to get to know my kids. But I should. I should remember, in the midst of the cooking and the diapering and the correcting and the stepping over toys, to appreciate my boys for the individuals they are. I should take the time to get to know their little-kid personalities and preferences and talents and to become excited for the big-kid ones that are coming next. Thanks for reminding me, Big Man.

—7—

The Edel Gathering

One week from today, I’ll be in Austin for The Edel Gathering! I’m super excited to get the opportunity to meet so many great women, including most of my favorite bloggers. And I’m really super excited to just get away. Nevermind that I’ll have the baby and the stroller and the luggage to deal with – I’ll get to revisit my old, glimmering, plane-hopping, fancy-hotel-staying past. And I’ll only have one-third of my usual workload to handle!

That said, I’m a little nervous too – about flying with the baby, about leaving my boys behind, about spending a weekend with dozens of people I don’t know. And, I’ll admit it, I’m a little intimidated at the prospect of plunging myself into the midst of all those Texans. (No offense intended, Texas. It’s just that you can be a bit daunting with all that “TEXAS IS THE BEST PLACE EVER!!!” stuff. A bit.)

I decided I needed a little something to arm myself against the jitters so…

P1200225

I chopped off my hair. I’m not sure about it yet. We’ll see how it looks after a wash and an air-dry return my curls to me. (Update: It’s not great. You win some, you lose some…)

—Bonus—

I have revived my Twitter account! My primary motivation in doing so was to be able to tweet while I’m at Edel, but I have to admit, I’m enjoying reading my Twitter feed much more than I expected to. If you’d like to follow me on Twitter, click here!

 

Well, that’s that. Be sure to stop over to Jen’s (whom I’ll see next week in Texas) for more Quick Takes!

Some Monday Musings On… Death (Yes, Death)

—1—

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

Hmm… and I wondered where these boys got it…

P1170891

P1170927

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

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

What a cheerful way to begin the week!

—2—

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

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

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

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

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

Isn’t that awful?

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

—3—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P1150669

—4—

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

What an idea.

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

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

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

Maybe it’s something we should work on.

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

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

—5—

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

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

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

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

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

—6—

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

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

Reminding Myself Of The Joy That Is Him: {pretty, happy, funny, real} Vol. 7

Yesterday was rough. It wasn’t exceptionally crazy; it didn’t contain a series of awful events. All the same, it was the kind of day that left me questioning, seriously, what I think I’m doing having children. The reason? I was in bad form that morning. I seriously lost my temper with the biggest little Mister. I won’t tell you what I did, because you’ll either think “Oh, that?! That’s nothing!” or “Tsk, tsk, tsk… for shame, Julie.” And I’m honestly not sure which response would be harder for me to receive.

But the what doesn’t even matter that much. What matters is what the what made me think about. Minutes after my little temper tantrum, I got the boys in the van to head out to do our first errands in almost a week. Namely, we had to go to the pediatrician’s office so my younger boy’s ear infection could be diagnosed (check) and we had to go to my ob’s so I could put an end to the month-long saga of trying to get my Rhogam shot (CHECK).

Anyway, we loaded up, made our way down our snowy, steep driveway, and got going. The littlest guy fell asleep almost right away, leaving nothing but uncomfortable silence between me and his older brother. Sniff, sniff, sniff… I kept glancing back to see my three-year-old staring off into space, looking sad. (And tired. The reasonable part of me has to remind myself that the morning’s drama stemmed, in part, from a big case of Tired Little Boy.)

I felt awful.

I asked my boy if he was okay. I told him I loved him. I apologized for my overreaction. He whispered a few “yeah’s” and “okay’s” before drifting off to sleep.

As we moved down the highway, I thought about how deeply I’d always desired to be a mother. I thought about how I’d always delighted in having lots of children around and how I always thought I was naturally cut out to be a mother of many. And it finally hit me: I don’t feel that way anymore. It’s not that I don’t still want the children – the two (and one in-process) that I already have and the however-many-more God sees fit to give us in the future – I just no longer feel like I’m naturally cut out for it.

I’m easily overwhelmed. I’m impatient. I’m stubborn. I’m a perfectionist. I’m a world-class procrastinator. I have a hot temper. I don’t have much tolerance for noise or activity or little people climbing all over me. I need a fair amount of alone time to keep from blowing my top. How in the world did I think I was a good fit for being a stay-at-home mother to lots of little ones?

But, here I am.

And here they are: these lively little guys who, after all, are only two and three years old. At the end of the day, even though I’ve told them a million-and-one times not to do x (say, stabbing at their brother with a fork or – yesterday’s trigger – roaring and charging at Mommy while she’s on the phone dealing with the Rhogam saga), they are just two and three years old.

That’s a hard pill for me to swallow. I think that children – even small children – are much more capable than our society gives them credit for. I think that if you want your children to be able to do things like sit still and follow rules and be considerate of others, both you and your children are best served by beginning to teach them how to do so when they’re very young. (Wouldn’t it be shocking to be five years old, entering Kindergarten, and find – for the first time in your life – that you’re expected to sit still for most of the day?) Still, I can attach myself too strongly to that concept, losing sight of the fact that they are just two and three years old. Yes, I should have high expectations for my children. But my expectations should also be realistic. This teaching children thing was never going to be easy.

And this boy is not easy. He is rather too like his mother. For I know that’s part of the problem between us: we have very similar personalities. We don’t do give-and-take with one another too well. We do the butting heads thing very well.

As I continued to drive down the highway, he slept while I thought. I thought about the disservices I’ve done to him. I thought about how amazing he is, and how he doesn’t deserve to be burdened with my short-tempered, overwhelmed outbursts. I thought about how much I love him.

When I saw Leila’s Facebook reminder about {pretty, happy, funny, real} yesterday evening, I brushed it aside at first. What kind of contentment could I dig up at the moment? But then I thought of my boy again, about how good he was in the afternoon, seemingly meeting my sadness with his sweetness. And I knew that at that moment, I needed to focus on the {pretty, happy, funny, real} that is him – the joy that is him.

{pretty}

And boy, is this boy {pretty}. I don’t care about anybody’s verbiage hang-ups: Someday he’ll be handsome; right now he’s pretty, he’s beautiful. He has these gorgeous, long eyelashes that any woman would envy. He has big, blue eyes. He has soft, round cheeks and thick, wavy hair. He has the sweetest smile.

This picture is obviously not from this week. But still -- pretty!

This picture is obviously not from this week. But still — pretty!

ry=400 2

{happy}

My boy loves being outdoors. When he was a baby, the instant we walked outside, he would quiet down and look around him in wonder. It was a great cure for meltdowns: step outside and they’d stop, like a switch had been flipped. On pleasant-weather days, I’d set him out on the deck in his stroller so I could eat lunch in peace.

Today, regardless of the temperature or the elements, he’d rather be outside than almost anywhere else. So when we, like much of the East Coast, had our biggest snow of the season this week, you know this boy wanted to go out to play. He was so {happy} to be chilly and rosy-cheeked and covered in snow.

P1170883

P1170886

I don’t know what he was doing. Apparently “smile” now translates into “Cock your head and scrunch up your eyes.”

P1170888

Or, as in this case, it translates into “Show me your chin and the roof of your mouth.”

{funny}

After all the angst of the morning, he was so good yesterday afternoon. We went to two doctor’s offices, a sandwich shop, and the grocery store/pharmacy. At the store, I sat him in the back of the cart and he handled all the items being piled onto him with such good humor. It was so {funny}. Towards the end of the trip he voiced a little, “Umm… Mommy? I can’t weawy move anymore.” But still, a few minutes later as we were finishing up at the check-out and I was piling things back onto him, telling him “They’ll keep you warm!” he responded with a cheerful little, “Oh! Gweat!”

20140122_172059

{real}

And then of course there are all the little, everyday, {real} things that too often go unnoticed: the play, the helping, the creating, the reading and snuggling.

20140117_140312

Aren’t those toolboxes amazing? My very talented brother made them for the boys for Christmas.

That may look like a mustard bottle, but I’m told it’s glue.

20140111_092222

20140119_152158

P1170894

Before we moved his baby brother into his room with him, I used to visit my son’s room every night. I’d stand by his crib and watch him sleep. I’d soak him up. I’d pray for him. But then the baby went into the room and I was nervous about waking one of them up, so I stopped. I got out of the habit of walking into that room once they were asleep. It was painful at first, but after a while, I didn’t miss those moments so much.

But last night, I felt like I was overdue. I crept into the boys’ room and watched over them for a few minutes while they slept. I lingered especially over my older son’s crib, soaking him up, praying for him. I thought over the day and how I’d hurt my boy’s feelings and disappointed myself. I asked for help.

I don’t know how to wrap up this post, except to say that today I’m trying harder – to be understanding, to be kind, to not let my interactions with my boys devolve into the kind of mess we had yesterday. I still feel yesterday’s sadness echoing around here, but I’m trying.

Thanks, as always, to Leila and the other Lawler women for hosting {pretty, happy, funny , real.} Head on over there for glimpses at others’ contentment this week.

pretty happy funny real[1]

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

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

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?

—1—

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.

—2—

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.

—3—

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.”

—4—

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

There are more, I’m sure.

—5—

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.

—6—

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.”

20140101_165640

—7—

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. 23): Skiing as a Metaphor for Life; We Parents as Enough

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

—1—

This week…

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

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

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

—2—

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

P1170646

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

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

—3—

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

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

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

—4—

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

1521214_10152177984878781_1282178950_n

1551684_10152177993023781_1558225027_n

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

—5—

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

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

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

—6—

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

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

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

My head will spin if I let it.

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

—7—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, Boys

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

1508020_10152147361243781_1381175953_n

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

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

P1170258

P1170259

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

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

P1170598

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

P1170255

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

I get that all. the. time.

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

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

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

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

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

P1170396

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P1170531

And you realize he’s done this:

P1170527

Or even this:

P1170533

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

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

P1170209

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

P1170199

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

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

P1170205

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

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

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

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

P1170511

P1170520

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