Announcing…

No, not another baby.

Though our oldest has repeatedly talked on and on about “all the other baby girls we’re going to have,” and the next in line is so effusive in his love toward our youngest that he literally told her, “You are my dweam come twue” – so if another should ever come to pass, we know that at least half the crew in this picture would be thrilled.

These Walls - Announcing - 1

But that’s not what this announcement is about. No.

This is to tell you that I’m starting a new blog! The kind folks at the Catholic Review (the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Baltimore) have invited me to start a blog on their site, which will “focus mainly on issues related to faithful citizenship – offering commentary on the political world, legislation, civic responsibility and the upcoming election.”

I was thrilled to accept. The Catholic Review is the best-written local paper I’ve come across. I’m continually impressed with their work and I feel honored to be able to contribute to it in some small way.

I will still be here at These Walls on matters of motherhood, family life, and the odd political thing that for whatever reason doesn’t seem to be a good fit for the Review. But most of my writings on politics and society will now be found over there, on my new blog, which will be called The Space Between.

The blog’s name comes from a conversation I had with a friend about what we see lacking in most political discussions today – a willingness to admit that each side is at least a little bit right, that most people come to their positions honestly, that there remains a space for real conversation – not just conflict.

I think the name is well illustrated by something I noticed the other day while praying at the grotto outside my parish in Libertytown: Two rocks stood against each other, similarly strong and stubborn-looking, with a slight gap between them. Through the gap, I could see light – sunlight filtered through the woods behind the grotto.

People tend to focus on the discord of politics – on fighting and nastiness and sides standing in opposition to one another. But I’m interested in that gap, that space between. I’m interested in the place where the sides bang up against each other, where we get to see how different (or not) they really are. I’m interested in getting to what we really mean, what we really care about, what really motivates us – and carrying on the conversation from there.

I want to use this blog to explore different political perspectives, to work through issues that divide us (especially those rising to the fore in the 2016 presidential campaign), to consider whether we’re well represented by the categories – political party and otherwise – that the real pundits like to put us in. I have a feeling we’re not. I have a feeling that we’re often better suited for the space between than we are the rocks pressing up against each other.

Read more in yesterday’s post – the blog’s first.

For the foreseeable future I plan to post links to each of that blog’s new posts on this one too. So if you’re subscribed here you’ll still receive notice of all my new posts. But I’d love if you could subscribe there too, and like the new blog’s new Facebook page.

Fair warning: if you’re a Facebook friend of mine, you’ll likely soon receive invitations to like both blogs’ pages. I promise to just do it once. (Or at least not again for a few years.)

Oh! And I’ve changed both my Twitter and Instagram handles to reflect my name rather than this blog’s. They are now both julievwalsh. I decided I could handle one new Facebook page, but I couldn’t handle duplicating all my social media accounts.

I think that’s it for now. I hope to see you over at the new place!

These Walls - Announcing

The ‘Right to be Comfortable’: Sloping Toward a Stepford Society

Lately I keep coming across stories asking whether we plugged-in, 21st-century folks can handle boredom anymore. Now that we have the internet at our fingertips 24/7, what incentive do we have to stare into space while we sit in a waiting room? What might we be losing as we fill up every spare moment of our day with ever more information, communication, and entertainment?

It’s a good question. And for someone who is as guilty of this fill ‘er up mentality as I am, it’s worth thinking on.

But the question I’ve really been thinking about lately is this: Can we plugged-in, 21st-century folks handle discomfort anymore? Can we handle being annoyed or offended? Now that we’re able to customize our shopping orders, our viewing line-up, and our social interactions with just a few taps of the screen, what incentive do we have to allow ourselves to be exposed to ideas that make us uncomfortable?

What might we be losing as we trim away the things that annoy or offend us?

What might we be losing as we increasingly shape the world we’re presented with to fit our opinion of how it should be?

P1210973

Thoughts on this topic have crossed my mind for some time, but they really gelled this past fall when I read Brendan O’Neill’s “Free speech is so last century. Today’s students want the ‘right to be comfortable’” in the UK’s The Spectator.

In the article, Mr. O’Neill describes an experience he’d recently had:

On Tuesday, I was supposed to take part in a debate about abortion at Christ Church, Oxford. I was invited by the Oxford Students for Life to put the pro-choice argument against the journalist Timothy Stanley, who is pro-life. But apparently it is forbidden for men to talk about abortion. A mob of furious feministic Oxford students, all robotically uttering the same stuff about feeling offended, set up a Facebook page littered with expletives and demands for the debate to be called off.

Believe it or not, the University actually capitulated to the protestors’ demands. As Mr. O’Neill characterized the decision:

So at one of the highest seats of learning on Earth, the democratic principle of free and open debate, of allowing differing opinions to slog it out in full view of discerning citizens, has been violated, and students have been rebranded as fragile creatures, overgrown children who need to be guarded against any idea that might prick their souls or challenge their prejudices.

On the abortion debate and on other issues, “Stepford Students,” as Mr. O’Neill calls them, have said it outright: “We have the right to feel comfortable.”

He observes:

We seem to have nurtured a new generation that believes its self-esteem is more important than everyone else’s liberty.

This is what those censorious Cambridgers meant when they kept saying they have the ‘right to be comfortable’. They weren’t talking about the freedom to lay down on a chaise longue — they meant the right never to be challenged by disturbing ideas or mind-battered by offensiveness.

You might think that in bringing up this topic, I mean to swing back to Charlie Hebdo. I don’t.

(I am indeed of the liberal – little ‘l’ – opinion that the right to free speech should be almost absolute. But in the wake of that horrible attack, I never could bring myself to proclaim, “Je suis Charlie.” I couldn’t express solidarity with a publication that routinely set out to offend. I think such a course only cheapens the notion of free speech. Offense should never be an end in itself; it should be a by-product, an unfortunate side-effect of messy, imperfect searches for the truth.)

No, I mean to swing back to vaccines.

In the few weeks since the measles began its march outward from Disneyland, the issue has surged in prominence. We’re hearing about it in the news (over 100 people have come down with the disease so far) and on social media; we’re talking about it at schools and extracurricular activities and doctors’ offices. The debate has roared back into life, tempers have flared, and feelings have been hurt.

And so we’re beginning to hear protestations akin to those of the ‘Stepford Students”: “Stop it with all the vaccine talk!” “I’ll block anyone who posts about vaccines!” “No one should be making anybody feel badly about their parenting choices!” It all boils down to the same thing: We have the right to feel comfortable.

Of course we don’t. There are as many definitions of what is comfortable as there are people on this planet. One simply can’t cater to them all. One can’t even cater to a small fraction of them without severely limiting the subjects on which it is acceptable to opine.

And anyway, freedom is more important than comfort.

On the flip side of the issue, we also don’t have the right to have our views represented in anybody else’s Facebook feed. So I’m not about to bleat that the discomfort-averse are infringing on others’ rights to free speech.

But I do (very firmly) believe that it is in the best interest of society to nurture a spirit of free and open debate. And I am made nervous by what I see as people’s increasing willingness to cut it off.

Because guess what? You and I and the people we interact with – we’re what make up society. When you and I begin to stop people from expressing ideas that we don’t like (or stop ourselves from seeing evidence that such ideas exist) – that’s when we step onto a slope that descends into a society that is not free, that does not think. That’s when we move towards becoming a ‘Stepford Society’, if you will.

So I say post about vaccines all you want. Maintain that everyone should have their children vaccinated. Protest that vaccines are unhealthy or immoral.

Talk about politics. Talk about religion. Talk about abortion and climate change and gay marriage. Support the ideas you agree with. Argue against those you disagree with. Or don’t.

Just don’t insist that no one offer those ideas in the first place.

Yes, I Worry About Religious Freedom

This past Sunday at mass, our priest told the story of a conversation he once had with a taxi driver. The man had noticed Father’s clothing and collar. “You’re a priest. I am a believer too.” Father expressed his approval and the man went on, “My faith is very dear to me, for it was handed down by blood.”

The man continued, “When my child tells me he doesn’t want to go to church, I tell him he will go, for his faith was won for him through the blood of his grandparents and great-grandparents. They paid with their lives, and here is my child in a place where he is free to worship. So he will go.”

Father went on to recount recent stories of Christians attacked, murdered – hacked to death, even – on account of their faith. Iraq, Pakistan, India, Nigeria – the examples go on and on. Yet, as Father noted, our eyes are dry. We look away. We do not mourn.

We should be feeling such atrocities acutely. Both for the sake of the people involved and because such crimes strike at the heart of what it means to be a free, thinking, feeling human. Our right to live in accord with our faith is as, if not more, fundamental to our freedom as our right to free speech. When I am able to speak freely, my mind is free. When I am able to worship freely, my heart and soul are free too.

When you look at the totality of the world’s population, true religious freedom is almost an anomaly. Billions of people live in countries where one is legally required to adhere to a certain faith, or permitted to belong only to select, approved sects, or, though legally free to worship as one chooses, restricted in practice by violence or intimidation.

Millions more live in Western societies that are increasingly, insidiously, hostile to religious practice. They look down on religious speech in public forums or prohibit religious garb in public spaces or compel religious people to act in conflict with their faith-informed ethical principles. They give notice that faith is only appropriate within the four walls of a church. And they maintain that a particular set of public values is somehow more valid and important than the individual’s right to determine his own way, in accord with his own mind, heart, and soul.

I’m no Chicken Little. I don’t think the United States is a modern-day Roman Empire teetering on the brink of collapse. I don’t think our government is two steps away from nailing “CONDEMNED” signs to all the church doors and requiring citizens to profess adherence to modern, secular liberalism.

But I do think we should be honest enough with ourselves to acknowledge that this thing can be messed up. This accident, this anomaly in human history – this brief period and narrow place in which we have been free to think and speak and pray and do as we like, without fear of legal or violent reprisal – this can, and probably will, pass away.

If our society can entertain the notion that climate change will eventually cause oceans to rise and landscapes to be altered, it should also consider the possibility that creeping infringements on our rights will eventually cause us to lose them altogether.

Because yes, that’s what we’re experiencing: creeping infringements on our rights. (Our real, most fundamental rights, that is – not our popularly-claimed, pseudo-rights to free contraception and abortion.) And yes, that’s what HHS did when it told Hobby Lobby’s owners that, despite their deeply-held and religiously-founded belief that human life is precious and worthy of protection, even from the moment of conception, they must pay for their employees to receive forms of “contraception” that can end real, precious, human lives – in the humble form of embryos – almost (not before) they have begun.

(Please note that Hobby Lobby already provides coverage for most types of contraceptives. Its owners have objected to four particular “contraceptive” methods because they can act not as true contraceptives – that is, by preventing conception – but rather as abortifacients, preventing an embryo from implanting in its mother’s uterus and thereby killing it.)

Many Americans seem to think that religious freedom is an issue for the history books. You’re given a blank stare if you express your concern for religious freedom abroad and you’re viewed as an alarmist or a zealot if you’re concerned that it’s under threat at home.

Nobody’s bombing churches here, right? The government doesn’t support a Church of America with our tax dollars and require all citizens to be its adherents, does it? So what is there to worry about?

I worry that we take too much for granted. That we vaguely recall a story about pilgrims… something, something… Church of England… something, something… and we think that concerns about religious freedom belong to another time.

I worry when so many of my friends and fellow Americans hear that the government aims to force people to do things that violate their deeply held religious beliefs and they… don’t care. Or worse, they fly to the defense of the government and demonize those targeted by it because the things that are to be done involve those most sacred of secular cows, contraception and abortion.

The fact is, there are slippery slopes all over the place. It’s quite fashionable to be concerned about government overreach insofar as it applies to email and phone records. But what about government overreach concerning what we believe and how our everyday lives reflect those beliefs?

I worry that we might not realize we’re on a slope until we’ve already slipped.

~~~

“Reason recognizes that religious freedom is a fundamental right of man, reflecting his highest dignity, that of seeking the truth and adhering to it, and recognizing it as an indispensable condition for realizing all his potential. Religious freedom is not simply freedom of thought or private worship. It is the freedom to live according to ethical principles, both privately and publicly, consequent to the truth one has found.” (Pope Francis, June 20, 2014)

7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 4)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

— 1 —

This has been one of those weeks when I feel like I’m behind on every front: My house is a mess; piles of (possibly damp and smelly) dirty laundry and baskets of unfolded, clean (yet probably still smelly) laundry seem to be taunting me; a rotating collection of dirty dishes has been occupying my kitchen counters; I owe a long list of emails and phone calls; I’ve been getting to bed too late and my boys have been waking up during the night (usually with their sheets soaked – seven crib sheets in three days!); and my list of interesting-looking articles to read has been growing and growing…

I guess I feel like I should be caught up on something. Like, if I’m going to neglect my house, at least my mind should be stimulated with interesting reads. Or if I’m not responding to people’s emails, it should be because I was busy eliminating the mountains of laundry and dishes.

— 2 —

Also, someone has vomited every day this week. As anybody who is friends with me on Facebook knows, my boys are prolific vomiters. Some parents deal with children who won’t sleep through the night, or are picky eaters, or throw major tantrums. Ours vomit. All the time. And it’s not because they’re sick – we’ve never been so unfortunate as to have a stomach virus visit us. (I say with trepidation, because you know that once I say it, we’ll get one.) The boys are gaggers. We have to go to ridiculous lengths to feed them food in such a way that they won’t gag and vomit. And when we get a respiratory bug with phlegm and coughing: Watch Out.

Anyway, last week I made the stupid mistake of saying to my husband, “Can you believe that we’ve gone almost a month without anybody throwing up? Maybe the boys have finally outgrown it! And even if they’ve haven’t entirely, at least #2 knows to lean over the side of his booster seat so he doesn’t get it on his clothes anymore and #1 runs to get a bowl to catch it! Win, win! I barely even have a mess to clean up anymore!”

Yeah. So on Sunday, the little one throws up on his Grandpa. (Sorry, Dad!) On Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, he throws up all over himself. On Wednesday, the big one gets carsick and throws up all over himself and his car seat. Once again, I have a load of vomity clothes to deal with. And a car seat to clean.

— 3 —

But. Yesterday when I came up the driveway, I saw this:

Hydrangeas

Isn’t it lovely? And have you ever seen a hydrangea with both blue and pink blooms? When I saw the bush after a long day out with the boys, I had kind of a funny response:

Wow, that’s beautiful. I love hydrangeas. I should cut some to put in vases around the house. That little white pitcher would look really nice filled with hydrangeas and placed on the kitchen mantle. But it’s covered with junk right now. What’s the use of going through the effort of cutting and arranging flowers when the house is so messy? I should clean. Really clean. I should do a big push and get the house in great shape and put hydrangeas everywhere.

Makes sense, right? That a five-second glance at a flowering shrub would turn into enthusiasm for cleaning my house? Whatever; I don’t care where the enthusiasm came from. After a week of vomit and no sleep and peed-on sheets, I’ll take whatever enthusiasm I can get. So let’s see what I can do today: Dishes and laundry and junk, here I come! Hydrangeas, don’t fail me!

— 4 —

I have to admit that part of the reason (besides the rough recovery from a full weekend and the boys not sleeping and the vomiting) that I’ve been in a funk this week (and btw, Grace Patton had a good post this week on being in a funk) is that I spent a couple of nights staying up waaay too late writing blog posts.

I am someone who is very easily distracted; I can’t concentrate well when there’s commotion around me. (Rachel Balducci had a good post this week about needing quiet in order to write.) So starting a blog with two toddler boys in the house was a great idea, wasn’t it? With my days full of monster roars and “pwetend kitty-cats” mewing at my feet and boys who like to act, alternately, like rock stars or members of a marching band, the quiet of a late-night, everybody-is-asleep-but-me house is oh so enticing. Enter one, two, or ahem three o’clock bedtimes. With 3:30 wake-up calls from a soaking wet 20-month-old. Yes, sometimes I am brilliant.

I’m nearly a month into the blog now and I’m trying to figure out how best to fit it into my life. Right now I feel like I’m in the trying-it-on phase. I’m hoping (hoping!) that once I’ve done it for a little while and examined its impact on the rest of my life, I can find the right balance of writing time to housework time to time with the boys. In the past year or so, I’ve done a pretty decent job of establishing some general guidelines for running my home and schedule to minimize my stress. Soon I’ll need to recalculate them to account for the blog.

— 5 —

In particular, I want to make space in my schedule to take on some meaty subjects. I was decently well-pleased with how these longer, more serious posts on my background, immigration, and parental love turned out. And I’ve done a few shorter ones that fall into the same mold. But I feel like most of what I’ve been writing so far has been light and focused on my home life. And though there’s nothing wrong with that (and I very much enjoy reading such things from other bloggers!), I’d like to keep a steady pace of at least one or two more meaty posts a week.

Like I said when I started the blog, I want this space to become a comfortable place for readers to dialog on some societal/religious/political issues. I don’t have in mind a certain number of visitors I want to attract; I only hope it’s enough to generate some good discussion in the comments section. So, (hint, hint!) speak up if you have something to say! For my part, I’ll try to keep up that steady pace.

Here are a few topics I’m thinking about right now, and on which I plan to write once I’ve read up on some of those interesting articles I mentioned in #1: The worth of the individual, religious freedom, Pope Francis and the liberal/conservative split, and global poverty. I hope you’ll come back to weigh in!

— 6 —

I spent a long time Wednesday night cooking a very complicated meal for my husband. On the one hand, doing so made me feel like a very good wife, because it took FOUR hours and like a million steps and it involved a couple of his favorite dishes: Spaghetti Bolognese (as in the real deal, with carrots and mushrooms, veal/pork/beef, wine, etc.) and a dark chocolate tart with a gingersnap crust (which, to be honest, sounds fancy and tastes divine, but isn’t all that hard to make).

Father's Day Dinner, 2013But on the other hand, Wednesday night made me feel like a bad wife, because (1) dinner wasn’t ready until 10pm, which (2) meant that the boys got their standard hot dogs instead of partaking in the deliciousness, (3) the whole reason we had a fancy dinner on Wednesday was to celebrate a belated Father’s Day because I wasn’t prepared on Sunday. (I’m blaming that one on our family reunion and the celebration of our son’s birthday, both this past weekend.) And (4) one of our gifts for my husband was the oh-so-thoughtful catalog in a gift bag, so he could pick out which item he wanted. (Though I was thoughtful about which catalog it was: The Great Courses, because we’re the kind of nerds who like to listen to recordings of university lectures.)

J Coloring Card

Working on a Father’s Day card for his grandpa — also belated.

— 7 —

I’ll sweeten the end of this mildly negative Quick Takes by leaving you with some of the cute/funny/stinkerish/sweet things our big 3-year-old boy said this week:

“I’m havin’ a bad, wough day!”

After being put into time-out for yelling a nasty “No, Mommy!” at me:
“I sorry for sayin’ a bad no to you, Mommy.”

“Dere’s a bug in my back! Es eatin’ me!”
(There actually was a bug under the back of his shirt; it was not eating him.)

“Yiyons and mans and bears, oh my!”

Lunging and dancing while singing into his new toy microphone:
“I yike a wock sar!”

Pointing out the sunset:
“Yook! A boo-ful sy!”

Just after I walked away from him and his little brother, who was pretending to be a cat. I’d heard the little one scream and marched back into the room, asking big brother what he’d done.
Him: “I hit da cat.”
Me: “Do you mean you hit your brother?”
Him: “No. I hit da cat.”
Me: “Did you hit the cat that is your brother?”
Him: “Yes.”

After I gave a quick kiss to his injured thumb:
“No, not a pwetend kiss! I want a weal kiss yike diss.”
(He demonstrates.)

“I’m a man washin’ my hands.”

Him: “Mommy! Da table is waffin’ at me!”
Me: “The table is laughing at you? Why?”
Him: “Because, es funny! I bedder take a nap.”
(He lays his head down on the table.)

Dark Chocolate Tart

“Dis is a tart.”

At the playground as I was pushing him on the swings:
“You’re good. You’re a nice mommy. Sank you pushing me SO fast.”

Now be sure to go vist Jen and all the rest of the Quick Take’ers!

The Best Gift A Parent Can Give

I heard a really moving story this morning on the radio. “Beating The Odds: Making The Grades Without A Mother’s Help” told about a Washington, D.C. teenager named Jennifer Hightower. Jennifer has excelled in school (earning a 3.9 GPA!) without the help of her mother, who has struggled with drug addiction and illness.

I’ll write more on it later, but I have something of a left/right ideological tug-of-war going on in my mind on some subjects. (On others there are no struggles at all – my mind is firmly on one side of the ideological divide.) Poverty-related issues most definitely fall into the “tug-of-war” category. Jennifer’s story was interesting to me in part because it satisfied both sides of my ideological leanings in this area: The left-leaning side was gratified that the story shone some light on the daunting (and often ugly) challenges that so many Americans face in their efforts to succeed – or even just to function – in our society. The right-leaning side was proud of Jennifer and her commendable efforts to excel despite those challenges. (Not to mention her happy, positive outlook on life and her forgiving attitude toward her mother.)

The story also broke my mommy heart a little. The idea of a small child taking on the responsibilities of keeping her home clean, cooking, and excelling in school without a mother’s guidance – it’s hard to take in. But a simple image is what touched me most: “I had to teach myself how to tie my own shoes,” Jennifer said. “I didn’t have somebody to sit down and tell me this bunny tie that you do. All that stuff you see on TV, I didn’t have that.”

For the umpteenth time since I became a parent, a small image of trial and deprivation took the wind out of my sails. On a daily basis, I worry about keeping my home orderly, washing the dishes, cooking decent meals for my family, getting my boys enough run-around-outside time. And yes, all of those things matter. But at the base of it, what really matters is that my husband and I love our boys powerfully, unreservedly, consistently… in all the best ways one can love. And that we take care of them in the big and the little ways. Our boys don’t have to wonder whether they are loved or whether they will have their needs met. Those thoughts don’t have to cross their innocent little minds. At times like these (thinking of Jennifer’s story), that seems like such a luxury. Countless children don’t get to have that sense of security. I feel so humbled and so very grateful that I received that gift from my parents – and that my husband and I are able to give it to our boys.

These Walls

Hello! I’m Julie Walsh, a stay-at-home mom to two toddler boys. I’m a former lobbyist, an all-day NPR listener, and an avid Catholic-mommy-blog reader. I love, love, love to get into a good conversation. About pretty much anything, but especially about my family, my faith, society, politics, current events… and how they all interact. I have this fantasy of sitting in a cozy coffee shop or a snug little bar and discussing the world’s problems with interesting people.

But I have these two adorable little responsibilities, you know? So the closest I get to my fantasy these days is the occasional play-date with a mommy friend, where we maybe fit in a five-minute visit to A Topic of Great Importance, in between our review of developmental milestones, childhood illnesses, and pregnancy experiences (interspersed with admonitions to share and play nicely and not-to-hit-your-brother). If we’re really lucky, we’re drinking a cup of coffee while we chat, sometimes daring to set it down on this lovely table:

Boys and train table

I’m approaching the three-year mark on my role as homemaker/stay-at-home mom, and in that time I’ve (1) spent entirely too much time on Facebook, (2) spoken lots of my political opinions aloud to the radio, and (3) developed wonderful one-sided friendships with a slew of excellent mommy bloggers who don’t even know who I am. I guess that’s the 21st-Century way of socializing a mother of young children, isn’t it? But still, I keep thinking to myself, I want to join that conversation! I want to say something more than what I can fit into a few lines on Facebook! So after almost three years of wanting to blog and thinking I don’t have time to blog and daydreaming topics for blogs and drafting/trashing blog themes, here I am, finally giving it a shot.

As indicated in the subtitle, I intend to blog about some of the goings-on within my own home. But I expect to focus more on the events and ideas and questions that sometimes seem so very far away from the daily tasks of a stay-at-home-mom. (Or this one, at least.) And aside from the physical walls referenced in the blog’s title, I can’t help but think of the figurative walls we so frequently put up between ourselves and others because of our opinions on any number of issues. I plan to explore these in the blog as well.

Overall, I’m stuck on that mental image of a cozy venue for deep conversation on those Topics of Great Importance (and also topics of regular importance). I hope this space becomes something like that. And I hope those who participate in the conversation will do so with respect and kindness, a sincere interest in growing in understanding… and maybe a tasty beverage in-hand.

Boys asleep wine on table