Monday Morning Miscellany (Vol. 6)

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I promised myself that I would stick something, even if just a bunch of miscellany, on the blog every Monday morning. I like myself some fresh reading material on Monday mornings, when I’m working to recover from the weekend and gear myself up for the week ahead. I thought perhaps you good people would too.

But more Mondays than not lately, it seems, I’ve written nothing. I blame morning sickness. And boys. But mostly morning sickness. Now that that fog is (hopefully? please?) beginning to lift, I’m trying to get back into it. I’ll start with a couple of updates:

— 1 —

That whole fiery, electrical knives stabbing me in the side of the head thing? In case any of you (maybe as many as two or three?) were wondering, it’s been resolved. I gave in and took myself to the doctor’s on Friday, who diagnosed my usual nemesis: sinus infection. She said that the faulty sinus was probably pressing on a nerve, thus all the burning, shocking, stabbing pain. Three days into my five-day antibiotic, I’m feeling worlds better. What a relief!

— 2 —

I still haven’t read that America piece on the Pope. Maybe this afternoon? After I’m done I’ll have to read a handful of the reactions/explanations, to get a little lay of the land on the controversy. I’ve been holding off on these pieces until I take a look at the original. Which is, I think, a good thing to do. Except that by the time I finally get through it all, I’ll be a good week behind everybody else. Such is how I roll.

— 3 —

My three-year-old had a massive temper tantrum on Sunday – possibly his worst ever. It couldn’t help but make me think of Ana and her girls’ expert tantrum-throwing abilities. (My sympathies, Ana!) But I have to admit that, ugly as it was, I couldn’t help but find some humor in the whole thing. Mostly because of the underlying reason for this tantrum: he did not want to be home.

This kid never wants to be home; every time we’re out somewhere, whether a play date or the doctor’s office, he wants to stay. In fact, he has never once asked to go home. Ever since he was a baby, he has fussed and whined (or worse) as we drive into our neighborhood. He knows the signs: x scenery = almost home. Nooooo!

This Sunday’s tantrum started on our way home from church, when the little guy asked, “Can we get wunch on da way home?” He didn’t like our answer. So we heard variations of “Wunch! I wan wunch out! Not at home! Don’t go home! Picnic wunch! Wunch at park! Paaarrrk! Go back! Not home! Stop! Stop dwiving, Mommy!” (when I wasn’t even the one driving) punctuated with sobs, for our entire twenty minute drive. He grew absolutely desperate as we came up the driveway: “NO! STOP! DON’T! GO BACK!”

We had to wrestle him out of the car seat (he tried to stop us from unbuckling him) and drag him into the house while he tried to throw himself on the ground and/or escape down the driveway. It only got worse when we came inside. He was inconsolable: lots more shouting and sobbing and thrashing around on the floor and trying to get out of the house.

I suppose I’m fortunate in that tantrums have no power over me. I think I see them as something distinct and separate that (so long as no one is getting hurt), I can just ignore. I tend to just zone out and wait for them to end. But I could tell that this one was starting to get to my husband, so I tried to calm my boy down. I held him on my lap and did my sweetest best, but it was no good. I finally had to carry him upstairs and put him in his crib. (Yes, he’s still in a crib. Yes, he’s three. I like to keep them contained as long as possible.)

Anyway, to make a long story less long, I’ll just say that the crib only served to kick his tantrum up a notch. He went wild. I’ve never heard him scream like that: I thought he’d lose his voice. But he also began to tire himself out. So after a while, I was able to bring him downstairs and start feeding him his “wunch” and the tantrum finally, finally broke. Whew.

— 4 —

There were, however, two upshots to the tantrum. First, this:

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They almost looked drugged, don’t they? My mom says it looks like I slipped something in their milk. But on my honor, I swear that it was nothing more than a missed nap on the little one’s part and The Big Tantrum on the big one’s.

— 5 —

But better than that short-break-because-the-boys-fell-asleep-on-the-sofa: we got a dinner invitation out of the tantrum! Woo-hoo! I complained about it on Facebook (of course) and one of my aunts commented something to the effect of: “Don’t make dinner tonight, Julie. Come over here. We’re eating at 5:30.”

Seriously? I complain about a tantrum and a boy who doesn’t want to be home and we get a dinner offer out of it? Yes, please! It was great: lots of yummy food, adult conversation, and lots of space and toys and cousins for my boys to run around with. I love this living-near-family thing. I did not grow up with it, but I feel oh so lucky to have it now. Thanks again, Aunt Barb!

— 6 —

To shift gears quite a bit here, what awful news we got this weekend from around the world, didn’t we? First (and still!) the attack on the mall in Nairobi, Kenya. And then yesterday, the attack on the Christian church in Peshawar, Pakistan. At least 60 people have been killed in the former, at least 80 were killed in the latter. Such horror. To suffer a shocking, sustained tragedy on what you thought would be a cheerful Saturday? It’s almost unimaginable. And worse yet, to be targeted in church, while you were worshipping God? It’s a special kind of horrible.

Do you know what I regret at this moment? I regret my reactions to these two terrible events. I normally feel such things acutely; they normally get to me regardless of how far away they seem. But this time, my reaction was muted. I said a few prayers, but mostly, I didn’t want to think about it. I was tired of tragedy. After Egypt and Syria and the anniversaries of September 11 and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, after the Navy Yard shooting last week, after hearing of a few very sad local deaths and incidents, I guess I was just tired of grieving.

I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to be numb to sad news and indifferent to others’ suffering. There’s quite a lot I need to work on right now, spiritually. I’ll be adding this one to the list.

Please, join me in praying for those affected by the awful attacks in Kenya and Pakistan.

— 7 —

Have a good week, everyone. I’m hopeful for a brightness, a lifting of my own mood. And I hope to be back in this space a few times in the coming days. ‘Till then, be well.

Fifty Years From Birmingham

This morning as I drove to mass, I heard this segment on NPR. I hadn’t realized beforehand, but today is the 50th anniversary of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. Which killed four little girls. In a church. Sunday, September 15, 1963: The event has always stuck out to me as exceptionally horrible. Layer upon layer of horrible.

I can only barely, a little bit, understand how people could have fought so hard to maintain a system of segregation that is (to my eyes) so obviously unjust. I assume that fear played a role – fear of change, fear of losing power. I think those fears have motivated an awful lot of horrible over the course of human history.

I understand less how people could escalate their resistance to change to the point of undertaking violence. How does one make that leap from using speeches and meetings and rules and laws (however unjust) to causing physical damage to a person or his property? I can only assume that the original seed of fear must have been long overtaken by anger. And I think anger poisons people.

But I don’t understand at all, not in the least, how people could bring violence to a church. How could any person, who has ever possessed even a morsel of faith or morality, bomb a church? On a Sunday morning? On the church’s youth Sunday, when a bunch of little girls were in the bathroom, excitedly preparing themselves to take visible roles in that morning’s church service? No purely human emotion helps me understand that one. Even anger isn’t sufficient.

I can only see evil. I can only surmise that people let evil in when they decided to nuture their fear. That the evil grew with their anger, each feeding the other. And that evil finally made itself obvious in that horrible act. A church. Four innocent children. Preparing to worship God. Evil must have rejoiced.

I cried as I drove to mass this morning, re-learning the story of the four little girls. I cried because I knew it was unjust; I knew it was wrong; I knew how unfair it was to those girls; I knew it must have torn apart their mothers’ hearts; I knew it had impacted so many more people than the victims themselves; and I knew that evil had had a say.

It’s a sobering thought on which to end my Sunday. As I drove to mass this morning, I hoped that my pastor would acknowledge this horrible anniversary. I wanted to feel uplifted. I wanted us to make some effort to remember what happened to those girls, to make a statement that their lives mattered. It didn’t happen. In my little corner of the world, no one seemed to remember.

But I hadn’t remembered either, not before that NPR segment. Which is why I write this post. With it, I’m issuing my own little remembrance. In these last few minutes of Sunday, September 15, 2003, let’s remember what happened exactly fifty years ago in Birmingham. Let’s say a prayer for those who lost their lives. Let’s say another for the family and friends who suffered their loss. And let’s say one more for the many who lost something less tangible that day. Because when evil scored with that horrible act, so much was lost.

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 13)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

— 1 —

Well, we survived the first day of school! Though by “survived,” I mean something different than most parents do in referencing that Big Day.

As expected, our big 3-year-old (and his parents) had no problem with the drop-off. He was so busy building with blocks that he barely even acknowledged our goodbyes. (Our 2-year-old, however, cried angry tears and shouted “No bye! No bye!”) Big boy did fine in class; I did fine without him (though it definitely felt strange to only have one child with me); and little brother did tolerably well. He was a little sullen and kept asking for “Beh boys” (his nickname for his brother), but there were no more hysterics.

So. No real problems there. It ended up being the pick-up, post pre-school day that we had to survive. While all of my boy’s classmates ran to their moms with shining, happy faces at pick-up time, my guy ran straight past me, grumbling and grumpy. As we neared the car, all became clear: “I don’t wanna go home!” Now there were tears. And wails. And refusals of my attempts to take yet more pictures of the poor kid: “You already did dat!” I had to wrestle him into his car seat (no small feat; the child weighs 40 pounds) as he continued to sob, “I DON’T WANNA GO HOME!” (What must strangers have imagined of our home life?)

On the drive home, he huffed, “But, I didn’t want to weave!” Once home, we barely made it through the door before he flung himself onto the floor – an action borne of exhaustion and an unwillingness to move himself further into the place where he did not! want! to! be! A few minutes later, when I told him that I’d missed him, he answered, “I didn’t miss you!” (Ouch!) It continued. Him: “Did Daddy miss me?” Me: “I’m sure he did!” Him: “Did my brother miss me?” Me: “He missed you very much. Did you miss him?” Him: “Nope.”

You’d think he’d take a really good nap after all that, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong. Two hours! Two hours I left those boys in their room before I finally gave in and retrieved their annoyingly-awake little selves. They talked and whined the whole time, except for the few minutes, here and there, where they’d be totally quiet, probably teasing me: “Shhh! Let’s pretend we’re asleep… Shhh… Wait for it… Wait for it… Ha! We’re awake! Fooled her!” Their beautiful behavior continued well into the evening.

I’m now torn between wanting him to go back to school again ASAP because it’s clearly where he wants to be, and never wanting him to go back again, because then he’ll never want to leave.

Here are the before pics:

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And here are the after:

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Sobbing because he doesn’t want to leave.

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— 2 —

Speaking of our 3-year-old and grumpiness… it’s been his M.O. lately. Evidence:

Nina, from the Sprout Goodnight Show: “Sproutlets, are you having a good night?”
Him: “No, I’m NOT havin’ a good night.”

He and I have been having a tough time of it the past few weeks. He shouts a mean-spirited “No!” or is otherwise obstinate in the face of my efforts to get him to… do normal things. Like go to the bathroom. Or wash his hands. Or eat. Or get in the car. So I get angry, and he gets put in time-out, so he melts down, and I get more angry… It’s been a little rough. (But please, do not tell me that “It’s not so much the terrible two’s as the terrible three’s!” At the moment, I cannot take the suggestion that this is going to last for another year.)

— 3 —

Per the above, the other day I happened to re-read a post I wrote a couple of months ago: A Love That Changes You. (If you haven’t read it yet, I hope you will. The re-read pushed it way up my list of favorites.) I wrote it right around my boy’s third birthday, and though the post hammers away at one of my favorite points – that each and every individual person is infinitely precious – it’s filled with love for this little guy in particular. It was good for me to revisit. In this season of “NO!” and “I didn’t miss you!” and “I don’t wanna go home!” it was good for me to recall that image of the rocking chair. It was good for me to read about my boy’s soft cheeks and long eyelashes. It was good for me to focus on my love for him, rather than my frustration.

— 4 —

That same post also touched me in a different, much sadder way, given recent events in Syria. More than a thousand people – many of them women and children – were killed in that chemical attack a couple of weeks ago. More than a hundred thousand have been killed in the two years since the fighting began. Millions have had to leave their homes, to live as refugees, to wander in search of safety.

I thought of them yesterday afternoon as I walked the trails of a local park with my boys. I looked out over the idyllic, peaceful scenery: forest, rolling hills, green farmland. I watched my boys run and squeal and crouch down to investigate small creatures, without a care in the world. We were safe. We were relaxed. We had the luxury of taking for granted our home and our family and our very lives.

Luxury. It’s easy to forget what a luxury such security is. But for millions of people living today, and for countless millions who lived before us, life has not been so much about seeking happiness as it has been about surviving.

There are mothers very much like me in Syria today. Mothers who dare not walk outside with their children for fear they will get caught in a crossfire. Other mothers who feel compelled to walk with their children, seeking refuge from a home that has become too dangerous. As I wrote in that post, “I hear about atrocities and I think of mothers rocking their babies.” It’s a powerful image for me.

I hope you’ll join me in answering Pope Francis’ call to prayer and fasting tomorrow, Saturday 7. Please pray for peace in Syria.

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— 5 —

The reason I re-read “A Love That Changes You” the other day is because I heard a compelling, sobering program on NPR’s Fresh Air. The story, called “Program Fights Gun Violence Bravado With ‘Story of Suffering,’” focused on a program at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. “Cradle to Grave” brings small groups of at-risk youth into the hospital to show them the repercussions of being shot. It traces the story of a 16-year-old who was killed in 2004, sharing the gritty details of the treatment he received, the instruments that were used on him, and the impact his death had on his family. To me, the piece pounded away at the “every life is precious” theme from my June post. It was at once sickening, sobering, edifying, and hopeful. It did something to recognize the victims of violence in our own country, to remember the communities in our own backyard where people can’t forget that security is a luxury.

— 6 —

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love Simcha Fischer. This week, I particularly loved her post, “The Allure of Either/Or.” In it, Simcha discusses recent debates regarding rape, modesty, men and women’s sexual attitudes towards each other. She notes how the debates tend to focus on one side or the other: either the burden for good behavior falls entirely on women or entirely on men. She writes:

Why does it have to be one or the other?  Why does it have to be either/or?  What ever happened to both/and?  I have boys and girls.  I tell my girls that they need to pay attention to what they wear, both for their own safety and sense of self-respect, and so as not to make trouble for people they meet.  And my husband tells my boys that they must respect women no matter what they wear; that somebody else’s dress or behavior, whether it’s intentional or clueless, is never an excuse for bad behavior on their part.  Both/and.

As Simcha points out, “both/and” applies to lots of issues. I feel her frustration all the time. Sometimes I shout at my radio: “Why do I have to choose a side? Why can’t both sides be a little right and a little wrong? Why can’t the answer be more nuanced?” I don’t feel that on every issue, of course, but there are an awful lot of political/societal issues that just aren’t easily answered. We shouldn’t feel compelled to answer them in an either/or fashion. I touched on this, on a very basic level, in my abortion post. One doesn’t have to be a pro-life Catholic or a social justice Catholic. It’s both/and. One is incomplete without the other.

— 7 —

Well, this 7 Quick Takes was a little heavier than my usual. So let me wrap up with a nice, simple little story.

Lately when we’ve encountered other families at the park (pretty rare, actually – we tend to go at everybody’s else’s naptime or dinnertime, I guess), we keep experiencing the same scenario: Our three-year-old is so excited to see the children that he follows them around, wanting to play with them. Inevitably he starts chasing them, roaring. He’s three. The kids, who are a few years older than him, plea to me with a whiny little “Can you tell him to stop chasing us?” I agree and then have to go break my little boy’s heart, because the wimpy eight-year-olds can’t handle some roaring. (Or more like it, they don’t want to play with a “little kid.”)

So when I saw a large group of older elementary and middle school kids, accompanied by a teenager, arrive at the park the other day, my heart sank. I braced myself for my little guy’s excitement and the big kids’ scorn. Perhaps with some disagreeable behavior and questionable language thrown in for good measure. But it never materialized. The big kids started straight in on a game and asked my boy if he wanted to play too. One took his hand and showed him what to do. They all talked to him and praised his ability on the playground equipment. (“Wow! That’s awesome! I can’t even do that!”) They commented, repeatedly, on how cute both of my boys were. Before I knew it, they’d taken the almost-two-year-old under their wings too.

Moreover, they were so nice to each other. There was no mean-spirited teasing, they were polite and kind, and they seemed genuinely concerned with each other’s wellbeing. It was enormously refreshing to witness – such a nice, simple little breath of fresh air for the middle of my week.

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Well, I guess that’s it. Have a great weekend, everyone, and don’t forget to stop by Jen’s to see all the rest of the Quick Takes!

A Tale of Two Soldiers

When we were in Minnesota last week visiting my husband’s family, we paid a couple of visits to Brennan’s stepfather, Ed, at his nursing home. Ed is the man who taught my husband about responsibility, who provided him with structure and support through his teenage years, who was there for Brennan in the difficult time after his own father passed away. Ed is also a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was wounded just days before the war ended.

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.

Standing in Ed’s nursing home room during this year’s visit, I was reminded powerfully of an exchange I had with another World War II veteran, 13 years ago. Then, I was sitting on a train platform outside Munich – exhausted, overwhelmed, and anxious – having just arrived hours before – by myself – for a summer studying German at a language institute in Bavaria.

The elderly, frail gentleman was sitting on a bench by himself. I’m sure he could tell I felt lost, looking around for a perch for myself and my unwieldy luggage. He indicated that I should sit next to him. Once it became obvious that I was an American (and quite possibly this was obvious before I even opened my mouth), he started speaking to me in English. We made small talk; I told him about my plans to study German that summer.

After a few minutes chatting cordially, he paused and looked at me intently. He said “An American did this to me.” Turning slightly, he revealed to me the shoulder that I could not, until then, see. It looked like a large chunk of flesh had been carved away from it. His scrawny arm hung lamely at his side. “I saw the man who did it,” he said. “I saw his eyes.”

Lightening his tone somewhat, he continued: “I don’t blame him. We were at war. We were doing what we were told. If he hadn’t shot me, I would have shot him.” (Pause – deathly still pause.) “War is an awful, horrible thing. It is always horrible. Don’t you ever forget that.”

Then, stripping away the tension entirely, the old soldier smiled and told me, “I love America. My wife and I visit New York with friends every year.” Before we parted, he raised his eyebrows at me and said, “Now, as soon as you arrive at your institute, you call your mother. You call your mother. She’ll be worried about you.”

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the experience.

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.

I still think of that old German soldier – a veteran of the same war as Ed. The war that forever damaged his shoulder and Ed’s lung. They fought on different sides. Maybe they had different aims, but I think they were probably both just doing what was expected of them. Years later, I get a glimpse of their service in that faraway time, and I wonder. Quite a thing to think about, isn’t it?

Full Disclosure

As I plan to write about some political and religious issues on this blog, I thought it would be useful to provide a little background on the evolution of my outlook in these areas. (I have all these country songs running through my head as I write this: “Where I Come From,” “God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you,” etc.)

I thought this little ‘disclosure of my biases,’ as I think of it, would be useful for a few reasons: (1) Political and religious subjects can be pretty touchy. (No surprise there.) (2) Our opinions on them usually have a strong basis in our own life experiences. (3) I aim to be as fair, open, and even-handed on this blog as I can be. And (4) I personally prefer news and commentary sources that either (a) represent both sides of an issue equally well or (b) openly disclose their opinions and make no pretense of impartiality. So I kind of thought I’d cover all my bases.

But before I go any further, let me say that this post makes me nervous and I had a hard time writing it. (Which is part of the reason I wrote so few posts this past week. I was trying to take this one in a different direction and it stumped me.) The words below represent my past and my thought processes and my faith, family, and friends, and it’s all very personal. It’s also probably a big ol’ case of TMI. But I felt like I needed to get all this out there before I proceed with a bunch of other posts I have lined up in my head.

So…

I was raised Catholic in that I regularly attended mass with my mother and I was provided with a religious education through our parish. But my father is not Catholic and there was little mention of faith in our (very happy) home. These days when I read blogs that mention a devotion to this saint, or a fondness for that novena, or a special attachment to such-and-such prayer, or a thousand little ways to live out the liturgical seasons, I feel kind of lost. Like I don’t fully fit into a community that should be my own. Yes, I’m Catholic. Yes, I love Christ, I am devoted to His Church, and faithful to its teachings. But no, I’m not familiar with all the trappings of my Faith.

While there wasn’t much discussion of religion in my family, there was a lot about politics. My grandfather was a local elected official, so I was exposed to campaigns and political chatter from a young age. Various family members worked on Granddad’s campaigns and we all helped on Election Day (which was just about my favorite day of the year when I was a child). My family was (and remains) very Republican in a very Democratic state, so I was instilled with a strong attachment to conservative ideals, but no illusion that these ideals were universal. (Rather, I understood that they were uncommon and needed to be defended.)

In my (public) high school I had a great group of smart, articulate, and religiously/politically diverse friends. And we liked a good debate. As the sole practicing Catholic and one of the only conservatives, I became the defender of all things Catholic and some things conservative. Just as my family’s experience as members of a minority party had prodded my attachment to conservatism, so my lunch-table debate experience bonded me to my Faith. Not that I understood it very well: eight years of Sunday school and one year of confirmation class do not a well-informed Catholic make. But my own little role as Defender of the Faith prompted me to research, ask questions, contemplate, and pray.

This all set the stage nicely for my next step: a political science major at a Catholic college. More lunch table discussions, this time with classmates and seminarians who had been raised in devoutly Catholic families, gave me glimpses of the depth and beauty awaiting me in the Church. Philosophy and theology classes helped me to better understand it. And my political science courses, not to mention informal discussions with friends and professors, gave me an appreciation for the broader context in which we live out our religious ideals. I had always been interested in the convergence of differing ideas; in college I became particularly interested in the convergence of politics and religion.

I wrote my senior thesis on “The American Catholic and the Two Political Parties,” which explored the poor fit between the Church’s teachings on matters of public policy and the ideological break-out of today’s American political parties. I also completed an internship with a Catholic organization that advocated on behalf of the Church’s public policy interests. Several years later, after a stint with the federal government, I returned to the organization to work as a lobbyist for the Church.

There, I was tasked with representing the Church’s positions on social justice matters, which included a wide range of issues related to poverty, housing, health care, and immigration. (Along with a few others.) Most of the positions were what Americans would call “liberal.” Which was a real challenge for me. Coming from a conservative background, I was comfortable with the Church’s teachings on abortion and marriage. I was comfortable promoting school choice. But the Church’s social justice teachings made me uncomfortable. I didn’t necessarily think they were wrong; it’s just that they challenged the political ideals under which I was raised and so they caused discomfort.

Oh, what a learning and growing experience it was for me. I read and I talked to people and I prayed.  I began to gain something of an understanding of people who faced challenges that I never had – people who struggled to feed their children and keep a roof over their heads, people who came to this country seeking a better life, people whose poor health or poor treatment by others or whose own poor decisions had stymied their chances of making it on their own – and even people who struggled to be able to function in society at all. I was changed and I was humbled.

I was grateful for the opportunity to give voice to these people’s concerns – and also for what I felt was an opportunity to bring people closer to Christ through this work of His Church. I feel like a cheesy ball of mush writing this, but I had so many moving experiences doing this work: I huddled in a group of elderly immigrant women and tried to convey to them (through our language barrier) that their Church was there for them. I spoke to crowds at parishes and pleaded with them to connect their own preferred cause for the “least of these” with another that was more challenging for them. I testified before lawmakers and told them, time and again, that all human life has value, regardless of its age or station.

Perhaps I have digressed. What I’m trying to explain is that, yes, I come from a particular place on the political spectrum. I get the conservative thing. But I have also been emerged in an unfamiliar (liberal) political territory, and I got to know it too. I feel richer for the experience.

When I was a lobbyist, I found that I could lobby more effectively when I put myself in the shoes of my opponents – imagining and even empathizing with their motivations. I think the same holds true when you’re discussing a difficult subject. All too often these days, people seem to regard consideration of and empathy with “the other side” as a sign of weakness, even foolishness. But it is such an asset. Sure, it helps you to build a solid case for your own cause. But more importantly, it helps you to explore your own opinions and motivations and be sure that you’re on the right course.

When you get together a group of people who all bring this kind of consideration to their conversation – well, that kind of discussion moves everyone forward in understanding. That is what I feel my background has prepared me for and that is what I hope to encourage with this blog.

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 2)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

— 1 —

When I started this blog (a whole 12 days ago) to take the place of some fantasy of time-spent-in-a-bar-or-coffee-shop-talking-about-interesting-things, I knew that it was going to be challenging to find time to write. (Not as challenging as all that fantasy time away from the house, mind you.)

But, c’mon.

I think I did pretty darned well that first week (six posts!), but this week has been pathetic. And what’s really getting to me is that I haven’t even been overly busy. It would be one thing if I could chalk up my lack of writing opportunities to a bunch of outings or something. But I’ve (mostly) been home! Doing dishes and other boring stuff! It’s just that every time I sit down to write, somebody climbs up into my lap, or has to go pee-pee, or pelts me with questions, or hauls in his toys to play right next to me. Because I am never, ever so interesting as when I am looking at a computer.

(Yes, yes I know that it’s wonderful that they want to be near me, and little children need their mommies, and these years go so fast, and blah, blah, blah… But mommies need breaks, too. This one needs just a little bit of quiet every day, to think and refresh, and feel like I’ve done something productive that won’t be destroyed in the next few hours.)

— 2 —

On a more hopeful note, see this little set-up here? Water table, boys wearing nothing but t-shirts and diapers, BABY GATE to keep said boys out of the fish pond in the background… This is my Hope For The Summer. Really, I’m depending on it way more than I should be. My plan is to stick the boys in here (frequently) and enjoy all sorts of little luxuries while they’re occupied with the water fun: planning interesting new meals, cooking without someone sitting on my feet, folding laundry on the same day it’s washed, gardening, walking some laps around the house, blogging… It’s going to be wonderful. Right? RIGHT?!?

Boy at water table

— 3 —

Sorry if I’m sounding a tad desperate here. It’s just that (as indicated in #1), we’ve had one of those weeks. On Wednesday things were so rough that half-way through I gathered my boys into my lap, wrapped my arms around them, and said, “Let’s make this a better day, boys.” And my (big) little stinker answered that no, he wanted to make the day worse. As in, “Da worst day ever!”

And then he proceeded to give it a good shot. So when my husband came home that evening (blissfully, at an actually very decent hour), I told him I needed to get out of the house for a while. And I did something I hadn’t done in over a year: I went for a walk by myself. I won’t deny that I was inspired, in part, by this post from the marvelous Simcha Fisher.

Field at Evening

Beautiful view, isn’t it? This was the beginning of my walk. I love when I catch the evening light at just the right moment, when the fields and woods have a golden quality to them. And I particularly love it at this time of year, when the temperature is comfortable and the air smells like honeysuckle.

I love most things about a walk, really, it’s just that I almost never make time for them anymore. One summer when I was in college, I took an hour-long walk every evening when I got home from work. That one, simple activity helped me lose 20 pounds and get into the best shape of my life. It also helped to clear my mind and feed my soul. (I did a lot of praying while I walked.) I could use more than a little of all those things in my life right now. Weight loss? More strength? Better health? Clearer mind? Fruitful prayer? Yes, please!

But how am I supposed to fit this into my schedule of morning-to-night childcare responsibilities? My hubby usually doesn’t get home from work until dusk. And the double stroller thing is hard to do when you live in a place with super narrow sidewalks and some seriously steep, hilly streets. Can someone please send me a sweet neighbor girl to babysit a few times a week?

— 4 —

We seem to be in a season of entertaining and weddings. Last night we hosted a small dinner party (so I guess my assessment of our busy-ness this week was a tad understated in #1), two weeks ago we hosted a larger one, a week from now we’ll host the after-party for our weekend-long family reunion, and a couple of weeks after that we’ll host a teenage friend/distant relative from Germany for a few weeks. (More on that one later.) Last weekend we had my aunt’s wedding and two weeks from now we have my uncle’s. Oh, and we also have our little guy’s THIRD birthday party in the mix for June and a family trip to Minnesota in July. I’m not complaining. I enjoy being with people and I love that my husband and I are creating a hospitable home. All the activity delights me at the same time as it makes my head spin.

— 5 —

I would love to get to the point in my time-management skills (I actually have been improving in this area) where I have a few moments before guests arrive to take pictures of the set-up. I love beautiful dishes and linens and I usually make time to display everything nicely. But inevitably, I’m still preparing food (or, ahem, getting myself ready) as guests arrived. Someday I’ll get there.

— 6 —

Speaking of getting ready, lately I’ve been listening to a lovely radio show while I get ready for mass on Sunday mornings. It’s On Being, which, as its website describes, is envisioned as “a program that would draw out the intellectual and spiritual content of religion that should nourish our common life, but that is often obscured precisely when religion enters the news.”

[W]hat we cover as “conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas” drives towards ancient, animating questions at the heart of the great traditions and beyond them: What does it mean to be human? What matters in a life? What matters in a death? How to love? How to be of service to each other and to the world? We explore these questions in all the variety, richness, and complexity with which they find expression in contemporary lives. We pursue wisdom and moral imagination as much as knowledge; we esteem nuance and poetry as much as fact.

It’s really a beautiful program. I don’t always agree with their interview subjects, but that’s kind of the point of exposing oneself to new ideas, isn’t it? Learning about someone else’s perspective, taking to heart the parts that you recognize as truth, and using the rest to exercise, if you will, your own thought process on the subject.

The tone of the program, if not always the subject matter, reminds me of a Washington Post series of the same name. (Here’s a link, but there doesn’t seem to be any content on the site right now.) It was a series of short videos of individuals who talked about their lives and explored being… whoever they were. I recall a video of a stay-at-home dad and his baby boy, a mother and her son with Down’s Syndrome, a young nun, and oh, lots and lots more. After the interview you’d find out what quality the individuals were representing: On being joyful, On being special, etc. I loved almost every single segment I saw. They were powerful, moving, thought-provoking – all sorts of good things. I wish they were still up so you could see them too!

— 7 —

To close, let me bring it back to the domestic realities that dominated this post with the following beautiful shot:

Messy kitchen

Yes, the post-dinner party dishes. You know what I’ll be doing today! Oh, and I forgot to put the wine away last night. Sigh… While I’m dealing with all that (not to mention the two toddlers who woke up THREE to FOUR hours earlier than usual!), you go check out the other Quick Takes over at Jen’s. I promise you it will be waaaay more fun than what I’ve got going on.