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

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

Seven Quick Takes Friday

—1—

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

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

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

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

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

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

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—2—

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

—3—

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

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

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

—4—

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

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

So that’s just great, isn’t it?

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

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

—5—

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

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—6—

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

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

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

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

Exhausting!

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

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

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—7—

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

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

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

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

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To the Ladies of Edel

This evening a couple hundred Catholic women will gather in Charleston to share laughter, stories, drink, glimpses of some truly outrageous shoes, and the giddiness that comes from getting a break from their everyday lives.

I wish I could be there. I can’t, and that’s fine – this weekend we have two family weddings and my grandparents’ 60th wedding anniversary party to attend, plus my husband and I will (quietly) celebrate our own sixth wedding anniversary. (‘Tis the season, hm?)

But I was fortunate enough to get to attend last year’s Edel Gathering (that time in Austin), so today I’m thinking back on those sweet memories and praying for the women who will be making similar ones this weekend.

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I have so many hopes for you, dear ladies of Edel!

I hope that you’re able to relax – that you can think back on your home and family, confident that they’re well cared for, and (without reservation!) step into a weekend of few responsibilities and lots of “Wait a minute – no one is hanging on me or needing me to cut their food or wipe their bottom? Whatever shall I do with myself?”

I hope that you’re able to connect – that, walking among those crowds of strangers, you’re able to find a few kindred souls. And that you realize, whether a fellow attendee is drawing a crowd or having a wallflower moment, she’s there for the same reason – to enjoy being with you and those like you.

I hope that if you fear you won’t fit in, you’ll not only recognize that we all have such fears, but also that the very act of choosing to attend Edel makes you one who is supposed to be there.

I hope that if you’ve brought a baby with you, you’ll embrace his or her presence and realize that everyone else will do the same. Do whatever you need to do to make the weekend as comfortable as possible for you and your little one.

I hope that if you’re bottle-feeding your baby (like I was last year), you won’t freak out about not being able to fully breastfeed. Like, ahem, I did.

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I hope that if you’re the mother of a large family, you’ll draw strength from the knowledge that you’re surrounded by lots of women who know that particular gift and struggle.

I hope that if you’re the mother of few, or if you’ve struggled with infertility, that you know you’re in good company too. There are more women there who come from your ranks than you can imagine.

I hope that if you’re still waiting to become a mother or a wife, you’ll know that everyone around you was once in your position. And that – marriage and pregnancy and mothering-talk aside – many of them still feel the heaviness of that wait.

I hope that if you’re long past your child-bearing and rearing years, you’ll find some who share your perspective, but that you’ll also find many to whom it will be helpful.

I hope your soul will be fed.

I hope your fears will be calmed.

I hope you have a few fun drinks.

I hope you sit down to your meals with a little sigh and a prayer of gratitude for food prepared by someone else and dishes you won’t have to wash.

I hope you take lots of selfies. Don’t be too shy to record the memories you want to hold on to. (Here’s the only selfie I have from #Edel14, which I only have because I stole it from Heather Schieder.)

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I hope you realize that this weekend is likely to be the beginning of more friendships than you can count – even if they’re only nurtured bit by bit via social media.

I hope you grab the weekend’s opportunities as they come at you – on the plane, in the airport, passing you in the lobby, sitting next to you at dinner.

I hope that if you’re a dancer you dance your heart out on Saturday night. And that if you’re not, you find someone interesting to sit and talk with (and together, enjoy the fabulous show).

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I hope you go home more joyful, more refreshed, and more tired than you expected to.

I hope you get exactly what you need to get out of #Edel15. The hands-down, number-one, most incredible thing I saw at last year’s Gathering was how it fed people in different ways. Some struggled with difficult pasts, some with the burdens of their everyday workload, some felt anxiety or a lack of confidence or belonging, some sought new possibilities – and all types were fed. All types found what they needed, though they needed very different things.

I hope and pray that this year’s Edel Gathering does the same, and better: I hope it conveys God’s love to each and every participant and to those they come in contact with. I hope it facilitates friendship and understanding and beauty – and indeed hope itself.

Ladies of Edel – enjoy!

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It Meant More Than It Was

Last fall (I think it was last fall) when Jen Fulwiler and Hallie Lord announced that they were planning an Austin, Texas gathering geared toward Catholic mothers, I told my husband, “I really, really, really, really, really want to go.”

And I’ll have you know that those were some determined-sounding “really’s.”

I knew almost nothing about it, yet I wanted to go to The Edel Gathering more than I’d wanted anything in a long time. I can’t fully tell you why. Yes, a break sounded lovely. Yes, it was exciting to think of traveling to a new city and beyond exciting to think of getting to meet so many women whose writing I had come to love.

But there was something more. When I thought of Edel, more than anything else, I thought of opportunity. I felt like there was some special opportunity tied up with this event that I would be foolish to miss.

So I darned well made sure not to miss it.

As Edel (which was held the last weekend of July) drew near and as I began to see excited Facebook posts from my fellow attendees-to-be, I mostly lost sight of that first, powerful feeling regarding the gathering. Rather, I began to daydream about those things that Edel purported to aim for: relaxation, friendship, encouragement in my vocation as a mother.

I was going away for the weekend. I would be staying in a fancy hotel. I would be responsible for only one child. I would be surrounded by grown-ups. I would be eating delicious food and drinking wine (and maybe margaritas) and not doing the dishes. Any stay-at-home mother would be blinded by the prospect of such brilliance.

So imagine my surprise, as the weekend progressed, to realize that for me, Edel didn’t end up being about those things after all.

(This is where I pause to tell you why. This is where I tell you about how very tired I was and how it was cumbersome to have a baby with me – even a very good one. About how the baby had a major blowout in the middle of a popular restaurant. About how I kept running over people’s feet with my stroller. About how I didn’t spend as much time with my fellow Edel attendees as I would have liked, because of my exhaustion and my baby and my not fitting through crowds with my stroller. They’re all very exceptional challenges, you know.)

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Yes, he’s naked in public for just the reason you think: an insufficient diaper and an unprepared mama. Thankfully, Grandma’s arms are nice and cozy.

In short, the weekend was not, on its face, quite as enjoyable as I had hoped it would be. And yet, it turned out that The Edel Gathering meant more to me than I could have ever anticipated.

In her opening remarks on Saturday, Hallie spoke about how she and Jen saw, again and again, the influence of the Holy Spirit in bringing The Edel Gathering to be.

Maybe you’re not the type who looks for traces of the Holy Spirit in everyday life. Maybe such talk seems a little superstitious to you. But I figure that if I believe in God, I’ve got to believe in more than an abstract concept. I’ve got to believe that God can have a tangible influence on my life, and that sometimes His influence can be sensed powerfully.

So it was for me last weekend. And so it seems to have been for many other women who attended The Edel Gathering. In countless Facebook and blog posts this past week, Edel attendees recounted the words that touched them, the support they found, and the messages they felt they were meant to receive.

Many seem to have taken to heart the words, “You are not alone.” And, “Your work is hard.” And, “There is no one way to be a good Catholic.” They are excellent messages to be sure, but they’re not the one that resonated most with me. If my own message could be put into a few words, it would be, “You are to work toward something more.”

I felt like I received a cascade of that message last weekend (and in the days that followed) – again and again, layer upon layer. The message seemed to be just about falling over itself to be known to me.

I felt like I was – I feel like I am – being instructed to consider my future beyond my role as a mother. Which seems sort of ironic, doesn’t it, to have come from an event that was meant to lift up the vocation of motherhood?

When I left my job as a lobbyist (which I loved) to stay home with my firstborn son, I was asked, again and again, “So when are you coming back?” It was difficult for me to convince people that I wasn’t just leaving for one year or for the few years it would take for my son to be old enough to go to school. “Well, I don’t know how many children we’ll have!” I would say. But it was more than that. I was ready to begin the child-rearing phase of my life and I wanted to do it whole-hog. I was in it for the long haul.

So other than a few cursory thoughts about some things I maybe, who knows, we’ll see might like to do when my boys go off to college, I hadn’t given much consideration to my own future. But at Edel it finally became clear to me: I still have most of my life ahead of me. (God willing.) I won’t forever be a mother to small children.

I assure you that I’m crazy about my boys and I love staying home with them, but can I tell you what a liberating thought that was for me? That I have my own personal future – not just that which is wrapped up in my family’s? And do you know what was almost as exciting to think of? That I may be called to do something in particular with my future – something that makes use of my natural talents and interests.

I work better when I have a plan, and I now realize that for years, I’ve been functioning without one. I’ve been so busy trying to get through the day in front of me that I haven’t been giving thought to the years. So this past week while I worked in my home – doing the same cooking and feeding and diapering I always do – I was pondering my life’s direction. And I did so with a sense of purpose and peace.

I am so thankful for that weekend. I’m thankful to Jen and Hallie for all their hard work in putting together The Edel Gathering. I’m thankful to all the wonderful women there who showed each other kindness and solidarity and Christ’s love. I’m thankful to the Holy Spirit for using the event to touch so many people and for pounding me over and over with a message that (I think) was meant just for me.

I’m thankful for the peace and the hope and the sense of opportunity I now feel.

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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:

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—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

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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

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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

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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…

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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!

The Audacity to Breathe: Seven Thoughts on Taking a Break (7QT, Vol. 26)

I have breaks on the brain these days. Like, taking a break. Like, having the audacity to put one’s mothering tasks on-hold for hours (or days!) at a time to stop, step back, and breathe.

As I’m finally finishing up this piece on a Friday, and as I have an oh-so-convenient seven general thoughts to share on the subject, I figured I might as well link up with Conversion Diary’s 7 Quick Takes Friday. If you need a break, I hope you’ll find some comfort in my musings on the subject.

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—1—

Everybody needs a break once in a while. But sometimes that need is acute.

Back in January, I spent a long weekend alone with the boys while my husband went to Minnesota for his stepfather’s funeral. I had originally planned to fill up that time jumping from one fun outing to the next, aiming to entertain and wear out my little ones while distracting myself from the fact that their father was gone. Then we all got sick. It was just a cold, but it was our brand of cold, which left me with copious amounts of vomit to deal with. (Congestion = coughing = gagging = vomiting. In case you were wondering.)

As you might expect, those four days were a little rough. It’s no fun to be on vomit duty by yourself for days on end. All in all, we did fine. We stayed in, we watched a lot of movies, and (most importantly) we kept our expectations way low. Still, a few hours before my husband’s flight was to arrive, I had reached my limit. I was tired. I was frustrated. I was cranky. I felt like I had nothing left to give.

It’s not an unfamiliar feeling.

And I know I’m not uncommon in my familiarity with it. Indeed, it’s probably one of the most universal feelings in modern motherhood: whether you work inside the home or outside, you’re constantly moving, working, doing, pushing, giving… And sometimes you’re just done. You’ve reached your limit. You need a break.

Then you need to figure out how to actually get one.

—2—

You yourself can be the greatest barrier to getting the breaks you need.

Lately, I’ve been very lucky in the break department. But not because I’ve been trying to do something good for myself. Rather, a random (providential?) combination of events and tasks – plus the generosity of others – have had the happy effect of giving me some time to myself.

I went to a morning retreat at church. I had my hair cut and highlighted. I did a bit of solo shopping. I went to a few doctors’ appointments and a board meeting. My parents gave my husband and me the (wonderful! amazing!) Christmas gift of a weekend at a B&B while they watched our boys.

For most of these “breaks” (yes, I realize that a doctor’s appointment probably shouldn’t be considered a “break,” but when you spend nearly every waking hour with little ones, you start to find breaks in unlikely places), I felt the need to justify my alone time to myself.

I went to the retreat because it was given for those involved in ministries. (I cantor and I’m in the choir.) I saw it as a way to deepen my involvement in my new parish. I had my hair cut and highlighted because… well… one needs to do that a few times a year, you know, if one aims to maintain a certain look. (Even if that look can be described as “Kind of taming an unruly, wavy/curly/strong-willed beast of a head of hair.”) I went shopping solo because I was already out by myself anyway, and it was more efficient, wasn’t it, for me to just pop into a couple of stores without boys to get in and out of cars and carts? I went to the doctors’ appointments because… well, that’s self-explanatory.

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The new ‘do (I love when they blow-dry my hair so it looks all fancy and put-together!) with (an old — 29-week) belly shot.

I know that I shouldn’t feel like I have to justify every little escape. I know that they’re good for me, and I know that that should be enough. But it’s so hard to let go of the idea that I should always be engaged in that moving, working, doing, pushing, giving. It’s so hard to not feel guilty about leaving my boys with a friend, or choosing my own need for a break over my husband’s need to get something accomplished at work or home. It’s really, really hard to just go ahead and do something for me. Unabashedly. Because I would benefit.

I’ll bet that’s a familiar feeling to other mothers too.

—3—

When it comes down to it, you’re going to have to just look around, take a deep breath, and leap in.

Or at least that’s what my gut tells me. I’m not very good at doing it. Sure, we hire a babysitter once in a while, but it’s almost always because we’re going out to celebrate a birthday or an anniversary or going to my husband’s annual work party. Usually, any “breaks” I get are at home, in the quiet afternoons when I put on a DVD for the boys and order them to lay on the sofas. (Older son has always been a terrible napper and this is the only way I can get him to lie still for an hour. Younger son goes out like a light about 3 minutes in. Which is why I have, like, a million pictures of him asleep on the sofa.)

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Or on the floor.

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Sometimes the big one even falls asleep.

Jenny’s been writing lately about hiring a mother’s helper and I think that makes so much sense. I probably have unrealistic expectations, but I imagine that if I had a mother’s helper for a few hours at a time, a couple of times a week, my life would be so different – more peaceful, more organized, more all-the-wonderful-things. I’m completely with her in that I would much, much rather have someone come take care of the boys than clean for me. My brain needs quiet, child-free time much more than it needs someone to whip my bathrooms into shape.

But. That decision takes two to make, doesn’t it? Don’t get me wrong – my husband is super helpful. He changes diapers, he cooks, he cleans, he gives just about all the baths and does bedtime nearly every night. He’s Superdad, for sure. And if I really, really insisted, I think he’d tolerate the mother’s helper thing. However, for a variety of reasons, he would not be happy about it. So right now, at this particular point in our family’s life, I don’t think it’s the right fit for us.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not right for you. Definitely check out Jenny’s posts. (Here, and especially here.) Let her, as she puts it, “bring you into the happy, light-filled place where well-rested and highly satisfied mothers dwell: the land of helpful teenagers.”

Of course there are ways other than a regular mother’s helper to get some breaks. There’s hiring a sitter or nailing down your husband (in my case, he’s got a long line of home improvement projects calling his name) to be in charge of the kids for the occasional Saturday afternoon. There’s switching off with another mom friend who’s in the same boat as you. There is – when you’re truly at your limit – trusting your gut enough to call your hubby home or a friend over so you can escape before you blow your top. (Note to my local gals: I would TOTALLY be that friend for you – call anytime.)

—4—

Even when you’ve got one right in front of you, it can be hard to let the break sink in.

Usually when I’m presented with the opportunity to take a break, I hardly know what to make of it at first. I sit down for my thrice-yearly visit to the hair salon just about shell-shocked: nervous, waiting on pins and needles for a small voice to start crying out for me. I feel like an animal newly emerged from hibernation, blinking at the bright sunlight. Without my boys, I feel like I’ve lost my bearings.

I am used to being tired. I am used to being pulled in different directions. I am used to deciphering squeals from shrieks from screams. I am used to running around, bending down, stepping over, and wrestling. I am used to feeling stressed out and annoyed and amused and joyful in a span of just a few minutes.

I am not used to quiet. I am not used to sitting still for extended periods of time. I am not used to people serving me. I am not used to choosing what I want to do.

Maybe this is just me. And (very likely) maybe I sound pathetic. But I find that it’s hard to make that adjustment from the whole moving, working, doing, pushing, giving thing to just… relaxing. Which is why I think it’s important to not let your breaks be too few and far between.

The Saturday after the aforementioned weekend-without-my-hubby, I had the good fortune to have just about the whole day to myself. I started with that retreat at church. For the first hour or so, I was antsy and distracted and (I regret to say so) too critical of the program. But as I got further into it, I began to relax enough to absorb and appreciate what I was in the middle of. By the time I got to the hair salon that afternoon, I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I chatted happily with the hairdresser and didn’t feel as on-edge as I usually do when I’m there. A week later, I was able to set off on my weekend away with not a trace of guilt. It was great to get that little taste of freedom and even better to get to share it with my husband.

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—5—

Your breaks aren’t just good for you – they’re good for your family too.

When I was engaged to my husband, I came to the realization that every single time I went to mass – every time I sat in God’s presence, soaked in a little silence, engaged in prayer with the people around me, and took part in the Eucharist, I loved my husband more. I’d exit the church with a little spring in my step and a little more love in my heart.

Now that I’ve got a couple of little ones in tow, I may no longer have that spring in my step when I leave mass, but I most definitely have more love for my family.

And I feel the same way every time I come back from a break. Whether it’s a date night or a solo trip to Target, I return home loving my boys even more than I did when I left the house. My chances to breathe and relax and get a little distance (read: perspective) not only refresh me, but they intensify my love for the very beings that were driving me crazy just hours before.

That’s good for me, of course, but it’s good for them too.

When I take the opportunity to get away for a bit, they get me back happier, more relaxed, and more in love with them. Win, win, win. They’ve also had a chance to enjoy someone else’s company, become a little more independent, and maybe even grow more in love with me too. Win.

—6—

It’s also important to take breaks so that they’re there for you to draw upon when you need something to cling to.

Two days after my husband and I returned from our weekend away, I wrote the following, intending it for a blog post, which I never finished:

Fresh off a weekend AWAY (seriously – a weekend away, with my husband, without children), I started Monday feeling peaceful and refreshed – energized, even. Just before the boys woke, I stole a few minutes to begin a disgustingly cheerful post on how wonderful it feels to get a break. Given that I’d begun last week by ruminating on death, I dunno… I figured I should begin this one by blogging about something… happier, more hopeful, maybe.

Then it all came crashing down.

Now, I can’t blame this one on the boys. They did wake up a little extra-tired and grumpy from an indulgent weekend at Grandma’s (love you, Mom!), but we had a little “talk” in the morning about what Mommy’s willing to put up with, and it all went pretty well, considering.

No, I got some big news on the phone. Not necessarily bad news, mind you, but BIG news. News that, if it comes to fruition, will change all of our lives. And, if it indeed comes to fruition, I will undoubtedly blog all about it. (I know, I’m a brat for mentioning “the news” without telling you what it is. I hate when people do that. Shame on me.)

Then I heard about a sad, sad story from a friend, who, like me, had a nice start to her day before her fateful phone call. And then I read about more sad, sudden events on Facebook and in my email. There seemed to be a theme: you’re rolling along nicely, happily… whistling, maybe… then, WHAM! Something hits you and you realize just how fragile your peace is.

My day proceeded accordingly: I kept swinging between loving gazes at my beautiful boys, extra softness, extra hugs, extra cuddles – and snapping, hard and fast, at their misbehavior. Because underneath all the softness, I was brittle. The aforementioned news and sadness and stress had put my nerves on edge.

I’m trying, trying, trying to cling to the peace I felt early Monday morning – to the hope and brightness and energy that my weekend, and some other recent breaks, gave me. Monday, I mostly failed. Since then, with some sleep and time and perspective under my belt, I’m doing better.

I know that many of my posts lately have been kind of dig-in-my-heels-crotchety on the parenting front. I mean, there was the whole “I do NOT treasure every moment!” one and the “Boys are NOT easy!” one. I feel like both could have been followed up with a “Gosh darn it!” and a little stamping of my feet.

But lest you think I’m a perpetual pessimistic grump or currently hovering right at my breaking point, let me assure you that these posts belie my overarching mood these days. The fact is, we’re in a pretty good place right now. We’re settled in our home, content in our marriage, and we have two children who can do things like walk themselves to the car and bring me their sippy cups when they need more milk. One can even use the potty and put on his own shoes and coat! I’m well aware that in approximately 10 weeks’ time, we’ll be back into the helplessness that is baby mode.

So really, life is good right now. I just need to keep reminding myself of that. And those breathers I mentioned: I’m soaking them up, folks. I am soaking them up.

Thank goodness I had just had those breaks. Because they shored me up for the news and the worries awaiting me. I am so grateful that I was able to face them from a place of peace and rest rather than one of exhaustion and frayed nerves.

—7—

I’m going to try to be more deliberate and unashamed about pursuing breaks. You should too.

Given some impending big changes in our family (umm… baby?), I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to how our household functions, how we react to happenings in our daily lives, how we interact with each other, how I feel about it all, etc. I know that when the baby’s born, he’ll arrive bearing a massive wrench to throw at us. So I figure this is my last chance to get things in order for a while. (And I mean that in more than a physical sense.) I suppose it’s my way of nesting.

I remember the exhaustion of having a newborn. I remember the baby blues. I remember not feeling like I’d ever be able to dig out from it. But I also remember feeling like I had to do everything. Make everything work. All the time. No stopping.

This time, I want to go into the newborn period with a very different attitude – a more forgiving one. I want to be able to count it as a ‘win’ when we’ve all survived the day. I want us to be easier on each other, take a break from our other responsibilities, and just focus on the five people here in our little family.

Part of that, I know, will require me to be easier on myself, to make sure that I’m getting what I need to care for my children and love my husband. I’m going to need to be re-filled every once in a while. I’ll need some breaks.

And by gosh, I intend to get them.

Which is one of the reasons I was so intent on going to The Edel Gathering this coming July. I think it will be an amazing opportunity to meet some fabulous women. And it will be an incredible break from my daily life. I’m confident that I’ll return happier and more in love with my family than ever before.

They will benefit. But mostly, I’m doing it for me.

This is post five of the 7 Posts in 7 Days challenge at Conversion Diary. Stop there to check out the hundreds of other bloggers who are also participating.

Greetings From the Land of Nod… Nod… Nodding Off

Hello, friends – I’ve been meaning to write. Actually, I have been writing. Every day. For, like, a solid five minutes at a time before my vision blurs and my eyelids droop. For weeks now, my evening writing sessions have looked something like this:

Julie, sitting at the kitchen table: Ugh. My hips hurt. My old, pregnant body can’t sit on this hard chair much longer. I’d better go sit on the sofa.

Julie, sitting on the sofa: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

Kind of like this.

Kind of like this.

Other than my evening sleepiness, I was doing rather well with this third-trimester-of-my-third-pregnancy, until a week ago. Monday the 10th, I was feeling decently energetic and healthy. I was beginning to feel that I’d gotten really lucky this time around, because I was far more perky than I remembered being in either of my two previous pregnancies.

Needless to say, that feeling came to an abrupt end on Tuesday the 11th. Come midday, I was pretty much useless. I think I spent most of the afternoon on the sofa with the boys, watching Cars and Planes and dozing off and on until the boys finally pestered me enough to get me into the kitchen to make them dinner.

Thus has the pattern been ever since: Julie has a modest amount of energy in the mornings. Julie crashes hard after lunch. Julie just about blacks out come 6pm.

I'm really very lucky that my boys don't yet know how to operate a camera.

I’m really very lucky that my boys don’t yet know how to operate a camera.

But, my dear blog, how I’ve missed you. Through the haze of third-trimester fatigue, I’ve sincerely tried to write something comprehensible. Unfortunately, my scattered thoughts and weak attempts at writing have felt much like trying to put together a 500-piece puzzle by pouring the pieces into a pile on the floor.

So, photos. I think I can manage some photos. And updates: I’ve got two blogging-related updates to share. Two is do-able, right?

If you can stay awake for it, Julie.

If you can stay awake for it, Julie.

First, I’m going to The Edel Gathering! It’s a weekend conference/get-away aimed at Catholic mothers. Edel, which is being organized by Jen Fulwiler and Hallie Lord (the bloggers at Conversion Diary and Moxie Wife, respectively) will be held in Austin, Texas in late July. (Yes, I realize that the weather will be HOT.) It looks like most of my favorite bloggers will be there, along with lots of other terrific ladies. I am very, very much looking forward to it. (!!!) Are you going? If so, please let me know!

By late July, of course, I will have a bouncing three-month-old baby boy needing my constant attention, so he’ll be coming along for the ride. (Thank goodness for event organizers who take nursing babies’ needs into account.) I think having baby in tow at Edel itself will be fine, but I admit to some nerves regarding getting there and back. Do you have any tips for flying solo with an infant? Really, the things I’m thinking about most are (1) whether to bring a stroller through the airport (con: wrangling a large piece of equipment onto and off of the plane; pro: having somewhere to put the baby when I need to use the restroom) and (2) the restroom thing. Seriously, if you don’t bring a stroller with you, what are you supposed to do with baby while you use the restroom? I might feel comfortable enough to leave my baby with a fellow passenger while we’re in the air, but almost certainly would not in an airport.

The last time I flew with a little one.

The last time I flew with a little one.

I’ve never had to do it alone, though.

Second, just as she did last summer, Jen Fulwiler is hosting another Epic Blogging Challenge. It’s scheduled to run from next Monday the 24th through Sunday, March the 2nd. Despite nearly every word in this post, I’m going to give it a try. I certainly have lots of ideas running through my tired brain – now to figure out which are simple enough to pound out before I pass out.

You know, like this.

You know, like this.

I think it’s time for the obligatory snow photos. We did, after all, get a whopping 18 inches last Thursday.

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And now for our decadent Valentine’s Day breakfast, courtesy of a care package from Grandma: red velvet pancakes with vanilla/cream cheese icing. I added the sprinkles for extra festivity, even if I only had blue to offer.

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Magnifique!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to lounge on the sofa for another viewing of Cars.

Sorry -- I have hundreds of these.

Sorry — I have hundreds of these.