Sweet, Sweet Progress: {pretty, happy, funny, real} Vol. 12

I thought I’d take a brief break from the land of Making-Preparations-For-The-Impending-Arrival-Of- Mother-In-Law-And-New-Baby to sit down and type out a little progress report on that whole thing and a couple of others.

The good news is that we are, in fact, making progress. And oh, how sweet it feels. There’s nothing like productivity to tamp down the sense of panic rising in my chest.

We found out about the change in Brennan’s mom’s move-in date (from the end of May to the end of March) the weekend before last. At the time, our house was pretty much a wreck. The future nursery was so full of stuff that you could barely walk through it (which was problematic, as you have to pass through the room to get from one end of our second floor to the other). Our bedroom was overflowing with baskets of clean, unfolded laundry and my (absurdly large) handy-dandy laundry sorting unit was overflowing with heaps of dirty laundry. Our long-dead Christmas tree was still up and mostly decorated. And the rest of our main floor was also decked with dusty Christmas décor.

But now…

{pretty}

Look! Nothing Christmasy! This room is as ready for spring as I am.

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The tree is down and out, its ornaments have been packed and stored, and nearly all the rest of the Christmas stuff has been put away too. Thank goodness. How good for the spirit, to not be constantly dragged down by seasonally-inappropriate reminders of just how behind you are.

{happy}

Our Room O’ Junk has been turned into… a room o’ less junk. In just over a week, it (the future nursery, that is) went from this:

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To this:

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Laundry has been washed and folded and put away, too-small children’s clothing has been sorted, baby clothes have been pulled out (still awaiting their own turn in the washer), items have been removed to their proper places, (some) papers have been gone through, and (most of) our baby gear has been stacked in one corner of the room. I’ve got a couple more days to finish clearing out the space before Brennan’s buddy comes over this weekend to help him shuffle furniture between four different rooms on three different floors, and the garage.

Speaking of help… though I really, truly didn’t intend my last post to be interpreted as a plea for help (I meant it more like a, “Hey, people to whom I write about my life, guess what BIG things are going on in it right now?”), several dear friends offered help anyway. Krista and Mary and lovely, non-blogging others offered to occupy the boys so I could get things done. Betsy watched my two-year-old (yet again!) while I helped at my three-year-old’s preschool – and she even did my dishes. Another friend brought us lunch and carried heavy, bulky things up and down the stairs for me. She and others will take care of the boys during my slew of upcoming doctors’ appointments. And yet more folks will help us with the grunt work of moving things around before and after Brennan’s mom arrives.

These people are wonderful.

I admit that receiving so many offers of help makes me feel a little awkward and uncomfortable. It’s humbling. But it also fills me with so much gratitude. The fact is, I really am tired. And we really could use the help. When I offer help to others, it’s because I really want to help them. I’m genuine in my offers and I want them to be accepted. So I figure I should assume the same of others. (Note: Never offer me help just to be polite. Ha!)

I am so happy to be part of a family and a community of friends who don’t hesitate to lend a hand when one is needed. Thank you, thank you, thank you, dear ones.

{funny}

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This is the antique dresser we bought the same weekend as the boys’ beds. Due to Brennan’s mom’s impending move, we’ve had to rethink a lot of furniture placement in the house. One of the funny (but really, very happy to me) results was to put what was to be the boys’ dresser in the dining room. (To which I say “Yay! It looks so pretty in this room! And Yay! Storage for dining room linens! And YAY! A non-plastic surface off of which to serve food!”)

The dresser’s marble top has been sitting upstairs in the Room O’ Junk ever since we bought it. I’ve been asking Brennan to bring it downstairs so I can just check this room off my list, already, but he doesn’t seem to think the task is anything near a priority. So the other day, I set this lamp on (in?) the dresser, hoping B would get the hint.

I think I’m going to have to just ask again.

{real}

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It’s all how you look at it, isn’t it? I still have so, so much to do.

{more progress, more phfr}

There has been progress on other fronts too. For one, there’s this very pretty, very happy little scene:

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How could I help but include it? I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see crocuses in my life. I’ve certainly never before waited on spring with such anticipation. This week we had days in the 60’s and even the low 70’s. I don’t care that today was blustery and back into the 30’s. Progress is progress!

Of course, there’s also the pregnancy. Here’s my latest belly pic – 35 weeks, taken last Sunday after mass.

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Besides the obvious size and weight progression, I’m really starting to feel like I’m getting close. I feel good,* but close. At yesterday’s ob appointment, my doctor reviewed my most recent sono results (big ol’ baby), noted the (big ol’) size of my last baby, and said that as long as I’m sufficiently dilated, they’ll plan to induce me at 39 weeks.

Exciting stuff! (I’m totally fine with an induction. I needed Pitocin for both of my boys and did just fine with it. I honestly won’t know what to do with myself if contractions begin on their own this time around.) Also – ACK! I’ll be 36 weeks tomorrow, so I’m facing the real likelihood that I’ll be having this baby within the next three weeks, or thereabouts.

Between Hilde’s arrival in just over a week and that news from my ob, this is all starting to feel very… real.

*I think it’s funny that I’m still feeling (mostly) so comfortable this go-round. Though my weight is tracking right where it did with the other two pregnancies, and though I popped out very quickly this time, I feel like my expansion has slowed recently. Or at the very least, I must be carrying this baby and much of my weight differently than I did with the other two, because I just don’t feel as large. I can turn over in bed, I can sit comfortably, I can (even 50 pounds up from my wedding-day weight) still wear my wedding rings, I can cross my legs, and (this is the real kicker) I can still breathe. I swear, this still-breathing-normally-at-36-weeks thing is just… amazing… liberating… wonderful.

Thank goodness. It’s hard enough slogging through most of your random, pushed-aside possessions while you’re dragged down by fatigue. What a relief that my body is otherwise cooperating!

Okay, that’s enough from me. Head over to Like Mother, Like Daughter for other, less rambling looks at the {pretty, happy, funny, real} this week had to offer. And take care!

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The Thing About Having A Full Plate

This past weekend, my situation was clarified for me: I have quite the full plate at the moment. It’s not full of bad things or scattered, abstract things or things that are worth wasting time worrying about. It’s full of two big, hearty, substantial portions of meat, if you will. Two portions that simply must be dealt with. Now.

Here’s the deal: I’m due to have my third baby in a little over five weeks. And like all expectant couples, my husband and I have a lot to do before the little guy arrives. Here’s our (conservative, whittled-down-to-the-bare-minimum) list, because I’m a list-maker:

  • Finish the bigger boys’ Big Boy Room.
  • Transform this mess (I’m not even exaggerating, am I?) into a nursery/guest room/laundry sorting space/catch-all room.

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  • Do all that baby-readying stuff like washing baby clothes and linens, digging the baby gear out of the attic, cleaning it, etc.
  • Clean out the minivan and rearrange the seats and car seats.
  • Pack overnight bags for myself and the boys.
  • Put away the Christmas decorations. (What?! It’s only March.)
  • Deal with no fewer than a dozen boxes of papers and junk.
  • Move/construct no fewer than 20 pieces of furniture. (That job is reserved for the hubby, which would be obvious to you if you could see the way I’m waddle-limping around the house these days.)

What’s with the last two, you ask? Why would any sensible person tackle tasks like that a month before having a baby? Well, it’s because having a baby is just one of the Big Life Changes we’re preparing for right now. It’s just one of those substantial pieces of meat I was referencing.

We’re also about to welcome my mother-in-law into our home. Permanently. Brennan’s stepfather passed away in January, prompting Brennan’s mother’s need to find a new place to live. So she’s moving here, all the way from Minnesota.

While we’re aware that this new living situation will involve a tremendous adjustment for all of us, we’re confident that we’re doing the right thing. And we look forward to many wonderful things about having Hilde (pronounced “Hildy”) living with us. (First and foremost, our boys will actually get to know their grandmother! Currently, they only get to see her once a year. Also, you know how newborns want to be held at all times? Solution: Grandma!)

The original plan was for Hilde to arrive at the beginning of June. But now it looks like she’ll be here in… two-and-a-half weeks. So it’s not like we even have five whole weeks to accomplish the tasks on that list. For most of them, we’ve just got 2.5.

Two! Point! Five! To ready our home and household for two new people. With one of the primary workers partially incapacitated by third-trimester fatigue, a big huge belly, and a bum hip joint. It’s a lot of pressure. It’s a full plate.

But the thing about having a full plate, I’ve found, is that it tends to do what it did for me this past weekend: clarify things. All-of-a-sudden, necessary things are made more obvious and unnecessary things fade into the background. You (or at least I) become more business-like, more matter-of-fact about what you need to do. Those tasks that have been swimming languidly along in your mind for months are suddenly lined up, alert, standing at the ready.

So, despite my fatigue (and another annoying post-nasal-drip, sore-throat thing), I’m ready to get this thing done. Yesterday afternoon, I finally finished up a task that I’d left hanging for months. A handful of more afternoons like that and we’ll be in good shape.

At this point in the game, I’ve got to believe that all this is doable. I don’t have the luxury of worrying about it or letting it overwhelm me. I’ve just got to move forward with purpose and determination… and love. We’ll get there. And we’re doing it for a good reason, for people we love.

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Also, do you want to know a little bonus about having this particular kind of a full plate? I’ve been thinking so much about logistics in the past few days that I haven’t had any time at all to devote to the subject that had been lurking in my mind, making me uneasy: labor and delivery. Let’s just put that one off as long as possible, shall we?

On Perspective… And Laundry

When I do laundry, I tend to do all of the laundry. As in, every article of clothing my boys own. All of our towels, every sheet, and all of the items that my husband and I wear on a daily basis. It’s not unusual for me to do six loads in one day. (I’ve done twelve loads in a row more times than I care to admit.)

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Why do I take pictures of such things?

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No wonder I find laundry to be such an overwhelming task.

Yes, I know there are solutions to my problem. I know that I really just need to take the whole thing bit-by-bit. But I seem to be stuck in that all-or-nothing cycle: waiting until the laundry piles up, finally tackling the whole mountain at once, and then running away from the task. Rather than taking the initiative to make life easier on myself, too often I just sigh and groan and berate myself for landing knee-deep in stained shirts and soiled sheets. Again.

This Sunday, I visited my grandmother: my spunky, 90-year-old grandmother who personifies the following approach to life at an advanced age:

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My Mom-mom had a little gift for me. “See this?” she said. “This is what I used to wash Sue’s laundry when we were living over the funeral parlor. I’d wash her things with it every day.” (Sue is my father’s older sister, who was just a baby when my grandparents lived in a small apartment over their little town’s funeral parlor.) Mom-mom was smiling. “You can even have the dirt!” she laughed.

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The simple device hit me like a ton of bricks.

At home, I had the following waiting for me: three baskets of unfolded clean laundry, at least four more baskets of dirty laundry, and a newish, 2nd-floor washer and dryer. Oh, and boxes of disposable diapers. Because I know myself well enough to realize that cloth diapering might just push me over the edge.

Let’s recap here:

  • Modern-day laundry facilities on the same floor as our bedrooms + plenty of clothes and linens + disposable diapers = an overwhelmed Julie
  • A small washboard + only a few pieces of clothing + rudimentary cloth diapers = a contented Mom-mom

And that’s just the laundry. I have a dishwasher and a microwave and children’s television programs to occupy my boys when I need a break. I have plenty of space. I have the means to purchase as much good food as my family can eat. I have adequate heating and cooling, plumbing and electricity. I have a husband who changes diapers and cleans bathrooms.

My grandmother’s father abandoned her family when she was a toddler. Her mother was left to return to her parents’ home with their three small girls. They lived in the attic, where there was no heat in the winter and far too much of it in the summer. They shared the rest of the house – and its one bathroom – with Mom-mom’s grandparents, aunts, uncles, and the many railroad workers my great-grandmother fed on a daily basis. Mom-mom’s role in the family business was to stand on an overturned bucket at the sink and wash the workers’ dirty dishes. Later, my grandmother would raise six children in another one-bathroom house: this one the size of two of my fourteen rooms, combined.

So, do I feel like an ungrateful wretch, or what?

Kind of. Certainly that simple washboard – and my grandmother’s amused, happy face when she gave it to me – put me in my place a little. It reminded me of how fortunate I am. It made me view my household tasks differently. It made me think that I should approach my responsibilities with a little more perspective.

Now, I’m not big into unnecessary guilt trips. I’m not one to think that everything that is wrong is happening right now, right here: a symptom of excess in my own age and society. No culture has ever been without its struggles and sins. And just because I don’t share the particular stresses my grandmother experienced, it doesn’t mean I don’t have any.

It’s so easy to become overwhelmed with the daily tasks involved in caring for children and keeping a home. Undertaken individually, of course, the tasks aren’t particularly difficult: making a meal, changing a diaper, doing the dishes or the laundry – all simple things. But in real life they rarely are undertaken individually. Children sit on your feet and crawl between your legs while you cook dinner; they buck and kick and twist while you change their diapers; they whine and brawl while you work to ensure they have clean dishes and clothes. With good cause, we parents feel like we’re pulled in a hundred different directions. It’s understandable that we become overwhelmed.

But we still have a choice. We can choose to sulk and angst and convince ourselves that we just can’t win. Or we can choose to let all that frustration roll off our backs. Far too often, I do the former. Some people seem to be able to survey the mess in their homes, their uncooked meals, and their disheveled children and let out a good, hearty laugh. God bless those people. I am not one of them.

I’m the perfectionist, OCD type who sees flashing neon signs over every toy lying on the floor, every sink of dirty dishes, every scrap of dirty clothing: “WORK, WORK, WORK,” the signs say. I am easily overwhelmed, and I find all those signs, along with the chorus of calls and screams and roars from my boys, overwhelming. So I either attack all that work with abandon, or I shove it to the side and pretend it doesn’t exist (all the while feeling guilty). The former is not sustainable, the latter is not healthy.

But Mom-mom’s washboard gave me an idea.

I need to approach my work differently. I need to have more perspective. I need to relax. Not as in “Relax! This stuff doesn’t matter anyway!” But as in “Relax. This stuff isn’t nothing – it’s not something to be gotten over. It’s necessary work, worthy of your time and attention. It’s your part, your version of the same important work that women have always undertaken to care for their families.”

Regardless of whether I’m doing one load of laundry or twelve, I should be more at peace while I’m doing it. I should be grateful. I should remember the alternative: not just of a sentimental-looking washboard, but of generations of women who did (and still do) their washing in buckets and basins and rivers. I should sort and transfer and fold our clothes with care. I should use those moments to remember, to ponder, to imagine – not to berate myself. I should feel honored to have a small measure of labor that echoes those who came before me.

A little over three years into my role as mother and homemaker, I’m continuing to learn more about myself every day. I’m a better mother – a better, happier person, I think – than I was when I began this important work. I still frustrate and disappoint myself on a daily basis, but I’m improving. Slowly (slowly) but surely.

Thank you, Mom-mom, for that lovely washboard, and for all it represents.

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The Blue-Sky Day

Twelve years ago this morning, I was sitting at my desk in Crystal City, Virginia, about a half-mile south of the Pentagon. I was a month into my first job out of college, working in a government office, in a block of buildings filled to the brim with government and government contractor offices. I’d joked to my friends that I’d never frequented a more polite place in my life: Everywhere you turned, there were military personnel and former military personnel who held doors for you, offered you their seats, and called you “Miss” or “Ma’am.” To a nervous, small-town girl alone in a big city for the first time, it was reassuring.

The weather that day was absolutely gorgeous. I had noticed it on my metro ride into work. I’d blinked at the bright sunlight as my train emerged from its Washington, D.C. tunnel and climbed across the bridge over the Potomac, into Virginia. I’d searched the brilliant blue sky for a cloud and couldn’t find even one before we descended again, the Pentagon looming on our right.

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Thank goodness today’s sky has a touch of cloud.

I had watched people get off the train that morning at the Pentagon station. I’d recognized a few of them; you start to do that when you commute on public transportation at the same time every day.

Sitting at my desk, happy and proud that I was settling into a real, grown-up job, I was unprepared for the horror and fear that the day would bring. Who wasn’t?

Along with the rest of the country, I soon began to learn, bit-by-bit, what was happening. First in New York. Then again in New York. Then horror turned to fear: There was an attack in my own backyard. Then – was another one coming? Would it hit the White House? The Capitol? If it aimed for the Pentagon, could it overshoot and get us instead? No, that one went down in Pennsylvania. Guilty relief. Are there more?

My boss made his way back from a meeting at our main office, near the White House. Roads were blocked and no public or private transportation was moving anyway, so he walked. He walked for miles, at midday, an overweight man nearing retirement-age. He looked so red-faced, exhausted, and stricken when he arrived that we were sincerely afraid he would have a heart-attack. But I suppose that’s what you do when structure breaks down, when you fear that the place you’re standing in at the moment might soon be under attack: You walk. Even if it’s from downtown Washington, D.C., across a bridge, to Northern Virginia. You walk a route that is normally only driven at high speed, in much traffic.

And then there was the heartache of the World Trade Center collapsing. The slow realization of the enormity of the event that was unfolding around us. The tears and the near-hyperventilation. The world turning upside down as I watched the streets outside my building fill with people, the highway clogged with cars that wouldn’t move for hours, police with big guns emerging from what felt like nowhere. And worst of all: the acrid smoke that hung in the air. In it, I felt the horror physically – stinging the back of my throat.

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And there were the questions. Not just “Who did this?” but “Is it over?” And “Will our highways or our bridges or our metros be attacked next?” “Will we be able to get home?” “Should we scrounge for food and prepare to stay in the office overnight?” “Should we evacuate?” And the loneliest question: “Where will we be safe?”

Much later, when it had been hours since the last attack, a touch of the normal came back. The metro reopened, allowing me to return home, albeit via a detour. We were rushed, without stopping, through a Pentagon station that smelled strongly of smoke. All were numb, quiet. It was beyond strange to know that every single person I saw was thinking about the same thing. It was awful to know that our glances at each other were both sympathetic and suspicious. We didn’t know who was at fault, or if they were done. The weight of it all was oppressive.

But still, that sky was blue. It was blue and horrible and sickening. It shouldn’t have been so pretty. It should have cried.

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That night I stood outside in the dark next to my uncle, looking at the big sky from the vantage of his small farm, where I was living at the time. He’d brought me out there to make me look at that awful, clear expanse. “Look; there are no planes in the sky. You’ll never see this again,” he told me.

I went back to work the next day, because We’re not going to let those terrorists get to us! I crossed that bridge over the Potomac once again. The sky was still blue, but this time I saw large white clouds of smoke or dust or steam billowing up from the Pentagon. We sped through the station again, smelling the smoke. We would do so — speed through without stopping — for days, perhaps weeks. Every time we did, I thought of the faces I’d seen getting off at that station that morning. I wondered where those people were, whether they were safe. I never saw them again.

The following day, I stayed home. I was exhausted and I needed to process what had happened.

I think I’m still working on it.

I know that my experience is nothing compared to that of those who escaped the Twin Towers, or who were injured in the Pentagon, or who searched frantically for information about their loved ones on that awful day and the ones that followed it. I don’t forget that thousands of people were lost and that thousands more continue to feel those losses acutely. I know that countless people feel like their lives were ripped apart that day.

Mine was not. I lost nothing more than some peace of mind.

And yet, to this day the sight of a clear, cloudless sky just about sends me into a panic attack. I don’t dwell on the yearly memorials, because I can hardly handle them. Re-reading my journal entry from that day, hearing a mention on the radio, seeing a “never forget” bumper sticker or Facebook meme – even just thinking about September 11th – it causes the anxiety to mount. I have to switch gears before it overwhelms me.

Why do I write all this? Because oddly enough, it’s countering the anxiety that always rises to the surface this time of the year. And because it’s my way of saying “never forget” without relying on the memes that sucker-punch me. Never forget: that day was real; its impact lives on; those lives were valuable.

I suppose it’s some long-overdue processing.

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God bless those who were lost that day. God bless those they left behind. God have mercy on those responsible.

And please? Don’t forget the Pentagon.

Five Favorites (Vol. 2): Anniversary Edition

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Linking up with Hallie for this week’s Five Favorites! Be sure to check out the rest!

(Updated to add that I’m also linking this post to Jenna’s “I Pray I Don’t Forget: What I Love About My Husband” at A Mama Collective. Check out those stories too!)

Tomorrow we’ll celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary. To mark the occasion, I thought I’d dedicate this week’s Five Favorites to my excellent husband, Brennan. So here’s some background on our relationship, Five of my Favorite things about B, and some of my favorite photos from our wedding. (Randomly placed and more than five, because I needed to break up the looong intro in #1.)

— 1 —

Brennan is interested in things – so many things.

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In passing, this may seem pretty inconsequential: “Umm, big deal, Julie. Everybody’s interested in something. Even lots of somethings.” So let me back up for a minute and give you a little background on what lead up to our relationship. It should give more meaning to this and some of the other Favorites. Or maybe I just like to provide more information than anyone could possibly care about. One of the two.

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Anyway, I was single for what felt like a looong time before I met Brennan. And I mean single single, not dating-but-not-yet-married “single.” Other than three very brief relationships in my early twenties, I was alone and lonely, day-dreaming of my ideal man. (Does that sound a little pathetic? Sorry. It was what it was.) Toward the end of my twenties I had the blessed insight that I needed to adjust my outlook on single life and my approach to maybe/hopefully finding the man with whom I could share a future. All-in-all, it’s a longer topic for another day. But the pertinent part is that I refined the list of qualities I hoped to find in my future husband. I realized that, most of all, I wanted to find a man who was good and kind, moral, responsible, hardworking – and interested in the world around him. I knew that I could never marry a man who didn’t have those values. And I figured that if my husband had an interest in the world, a hunger to learn and do, then our life together would be an open horizon – something to be explored.

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We walked to the church, which was super fun,
except for how worried I was about the hem of my dress.

When I met Brennan, everything fell into place very quickly. Good? Kind? Moral? Responsible? Hardworking? Check, check, check, check… and check. But the clincher was really that he was interested in so many things. He caught my eye on eHarmony (yep, that’s how we met) because he said he loved bees.

Bees? Who loves bees? My beekeeper of a hubby, that’s who. A few years before, Brennan had gotten to talking with a co-worker who kept bees as a hobby. B thought it was interesting, so he started to read up on it. He read and read and researched… and the next thing he knew, he was putting together hive boxes and picking up packages of buzzing bees from unhappy postal workers.

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We gave out little jars of Brennan’s honey as favors.

Brennan has done the same thing with other hobbies: skiing, target shooting, cooking, home improvement, etc. On the house front, he’s taught himself how to do all sorts of useful things: woodworking, plumbing, mechanics, painting, even pest control. Brennan identifies something he wants to know how to do and he just figures it out. There doesn’t seem to be a “What if?” with Brennan – just a “How?”

Likewise, Brennan has cultivated his interests in history, architecture, and politics by reading and reading and reading… The man loves the internet. And good nonfiction. And audio books that he can soak up on his commute to and from work.

Brennan didn’t grow up doing any of the above; he wasn’t influenced by beekeeper or carpenter or plumber or historian or architect or politician parents. He just happened upon something (many things) that interested him, he had an open mind, and he decided to pursue the new activities and ideas. With gusto. I love that. I can’t wait to see what will be inspiring my husband in ten or twenty years.

— 2 —

Brennan gets stuff done.

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Just as I love how Brennan is active in pursuing his many interests, I also love that he takes the initiative to just go ahead and do what needs to be done – even if it’s tedious or unpleasant. Me? I’m the procrastinating type. The type who avoids the things I find intimidating or disagreeable. But, big or small, Brennan does what needs to be done. Hours upon hours of schoolwork while also working full time? He does it. Paying the bills, going to the doctor, cleaning the bathroom? He does it. Doing preventative maintenance on our very old house? He does it. And not just that – he does it well, without a fuss, and with very few complaints. What a great example to set for our boys. (And, er… for me too.)

— 3 —

Brennan is a loving father and a patient teacher to our boys.

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On one of our first dates, Brennan and I visited an arboretum. Walking through the trees, Brennan spotted an insect hovering near some leaves. Very gently, he pointed it out to me, studied it a bit, and explained what it was doing. In that moment I thought to myself, “Wow. What a wonderful father he’ll be.” And he is. Brennan had very little experience with children before our boys were born, but he jumped in with both feet – doing all kinds of tedious tasks, showering the boys with hugs and kisses, playing all their wild games, teaching them about the world around them, and showing them great patience and a powerful love.

— 4 —

Brennan is a kind and supportive husband.

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This cake tasted so good that our guests gobbled it up before we could even get pieces ourselves!

I love staying home with my boys, but I am a social person by nature and I need to be around other adults. I need some mental stimulation and I need a bit of a break from the constant demands that come with having two very active young boys. I also need to feel like I’m giving something to my community. Brennan understands this, he supports me in my efforts to do things outside of the home, and he has never once complained about it. And it’s no small thing on his part: I serve on the board of a historic home an hour away from our house and I sing in our church’s choir. Both require my presence at times that necessitate B leaving work early. Sometimes hours early, meaning he has to make up those lost hours on another day. But Brennan says that if I really want to do something, I should do it.

— 5 —

Brennan has high standards.

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Gotta love the tiny spectators.

Brennan has high standards about lots of things – work, behavior, food, coffee and chocolate, goods and services that we buy – but let me feel flattered for a minute that he also had high standards when it came to finding the person he wanted to marry. When he was doing the eHarmony thing, going out on first date after first date, Brennan’s buddies at work started to give him a hard time. They’d joke about how he rarely made it to a second date. “What’s wrong with her this time?” was their standard question. One friend told him “everyone settles.” But my Brennan? He answered, “Not me.” He shared my conviction that it was better to be single than to be with the wrong person.

Perhaps this last Favorite sounds a bit self-gratifying. Certainly I’m glad that my husband didn’t “settle” for me. But more than that, I admire a person who will hold out and work hard for what he or she really wants. Too often these days, people expect instant gratification – in relationships, in their homes and careers, in their spare time. But Brennan couldn’t be farther from that. To achieve the kind of life he wants, Brennan works hard, he makes smart decisions, he sacrifices, and he is patient. He sets high standards for himself and he keeps to them.

I am so thankful that this man came into my life. I am grateful for all his hard work and careful planning. I am glad to have his love and his good company. I feel blessed to be building a life with him. Happy anniversary, Brennan. I love you.

Wedding Pic 9

All photos are credited to Gordon Eisner.

The Immigration Question

Yesterday and today the U.S. Senate has been discussing immigration reform, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to write up my thought process on the subject. This post is LONG, but immigration is a complicated issue and I think there’s been enough of distilling it into sound bites. I’m aiming for honest and thoughtful discussion on this blog. So you’re getting LONG on this subject.

I’m going to lay out my thought process in bullet points, because it would take me days to formulate my thoughts into a coherent essay. And, true-to-form, I don’t have days. I have stolen moments between meals and dishes and laundry and breaking up fights and pretending to be a “Mommy Wobot.”

So.

First, though the opinions below are my own, let me disclose that I worked on some immigration-related issues when I was a lobbyist. I represented the positions of the Catholic Church, which could (fairly, I think) be described as pro-immigrant. Second, let me acknowledge that this is most definitely one of those touchy issues. People bring very strong, personal opinions to the table. I get that. And I can empathize with many whose opinions conflict on the matter.

I found my work on immigration issues to be at once incredibly difficult and incredibly rewarding. More than any other issue I worked on, immigration seemed to bring out the anger, fear, and even hate in people. I had people yell and scream at me. I had them email hateful things to me. I had a guy blog (repeatedly) that I should be fired. But I also had people hug me and thank me. I encountered so many strong, brave, hard-working people with inspiring stories to tell. And I came to see immigration as a subject where there is real hope.

So here’s my own, personal thought process on the matter:

1)      People have always moved. (Diving right in to the looong view here.) Through all of human history, people have moved from place to place seeking food, better living conditions, and more freedom. They have fled famine, war, and persecution. They always will.

2)      People deserve a chance to protect and provide for themselves and their families. There are still plenty of places in the world where hunger and war abound. There are even more where corruption or drought or poor economic conditions stymie individuals’ abilities to provide their families with an adequate living. I would move to a different part of the world if doing so would protect my family and secure my future. You would too.

3)      Things change. My family has lived in my state for over 10 generations. The first ones came here in the 1630’s, the last came during the American Revolution. Other than being of Native American ancestry, I’m about as “native” as you can get. But in reality, my family lives in a very different place today than it did in the past. Our state has changed visibly since I was a child; it has changed dramatically since my parents were children. Not long ago, it was largely agrarian with a few long-settled, urban centers. It was the kind of place where the same handful of family names were seen, time and again, on businesses and place names and headstones.

Today it is mostly populated by people who came from someplace else. They came from different parts of the country and far-flung parts of the world. They drove massive development. They brought their own foods and languages and preferences and opinions. They are making this place their own. Never mind the families whose names still grace the towns and street signs. We have, in a sense, been relegated to the past.

But you know what? These newcomers became our friends and eventually, our family. (I, for one, married one of them.) They built businesses and gave us jobs. They brought their skills and came to work for us. In some communities they drove up costs to the point where we can no longer afford to live there. But they also drove growth in ways that have benefited us all.

At heart, I am a rural, small-town girl. I love my family, I am interested in our history, and the biggest part of me wants to live in a place where both are obviously present. It wants to live amongst people who share my values and my tastes. That’s just how I’m built. But things change. The old kind of community of my fantasies (and my family’s past) isn’t here anymore. I can let that frustrate and sadden me, or I can find the good in the way things have become. I choose to seek out the silver linings. I choose to cultivate that part of myself that rejoices in new experiences.

Yes, immigration will change our country. It has many times over. And yes, I can understand how that is an uncomfortable, even frightening prospect for some people. Sometimes I feel it too. But things change. At the end of the day, we can’t stop change from happening. We can only control how we react to it.

4)      Laws change. The United States is a nation of immigrants. All of our ancestors, at some point or another, came here from someplace else. The vast majority came in the past 200 years. It seems to me that most of us have this idea that our own families arrived in careful consideration of American immigration law. That they waited their turn and filed all the proper applications and did everything By The Books. But that’s just not the case. The kind of complicated immigration system we have today is a product of the past few decades. Until the 1920’s, American immigration was wide-open to almost all Europeans. Nearly everyone who arrived at Ellis Island was approved for entry. In the wake of World War I, immigration laws became more restrictive. Later, they became much more complicated.

Today, immigrants gain legal entry to the United States in three primary ways: (1) through the sponsorship of a close family member, (2) through the sponsorship of an employer, and (3) through the Diversity Lottery, which is designed to favor immigration from countries less well-represented in the first two avenues. People from countries that send a lot of emigrants to the United States via family or employer sponsorship are ineligible to apply for the Diversity Lottery. In 2013, people from the following countries are NOT eligible to apply for the Diversity Lottery: Bangladesh, Brazil, Canada, China (mainland-born), Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, United Kingdom (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and Vietnam.

So if I’m from England or Canada or Mexico or the Philippines and I don’t have a close family member or a prospective employer in the United States to sponsor my immigration, I can’t go. There is no line to wait in. There is no application to fill out. There is no such thing as “legal” immigration for me.

This is entirely different from the system under which my ancestors – and most Americans’ – came to the United States. Our ancestors had wide-open ports or lines at Ellis Island. They had a chance to seek their fortune in an entirely new land with no one to depend upon other than themselves. That system simply cannot be equated to today’s.

To inject a little humor here, I’ll add that when I used to testify on immigration matters, I would tell legislators (truthfully) that my last ancestor to arrive in America was a Hessian soldier paid to fight against the Americans in the War of Independence. And I’d quip, “How much more illegal can you get than that?”

5)      Families matter. It is right that people can sponsor close family members to immigrate into the United States. But the system should be better at ensuring that sponsorship actually results in a successful and timely family reunification. As it is, the immigration system is so backlogged that reunification can take years. It can take five years for a legal permanent resident to bring his or her spouse or minor child into the country. It can take twenty years for a U.S. citizen to bring his or her adult sibling here. (Here is an interesting story about efforts to bring over the adult children of Filipino veterans who fought for the U.S. Armed Services in World War II.)

The family is the most fundamental unit of society. It’s just basic human decency to allow spouses, siblings, and parents/children to be together. Can you imagine having to live without your spouse or small child for five years? Your siblings or adult children for a decade or even two?

6)      Skills matter. It is also right that employers can sponsor workers who will bring vital skills and knowledge to their companies. There should be more of this. There should also be more opportunities for entrepreneurs to come and establish their own businesses in this country. The United States’ success has, in large part, been due to our entrepreneurial spirit and our culture of encouraging ingenuity and innovation. We should unabashedly pursue the immigration of people who will feed that spirit and culture.

7)      The labor market doesn’t lie. When millions of people can come into the United States and find work despite their legal ineligibility to do so, it is proof that the labor market can support them. At the same time, it is understandable that low-skilled Americans would be fearful of competition from an influx of similarly-skilled immigrant workers. I have sympathy for those in that position. But I am also hopeful that higher numbers of legal workers would encourage more entrepreneurial activity, more business, and better opportunities for all.

8)      Long borders will never be 100% secure. The U.S. border with Mexico is nearly 2,000 miles long – just about equal to the length of the East Coast. It goes through deserts and rivers, remote areas and urban ones. And that’s just the Mexican border. Undoubtedly, border security can be improved. Even just fully-funding current programs would help. But insisting that immigration reform wait on complete border security is another way of saying reform should never happen.

9)      We should encourage immigrants to invest themselves in this country. I want people living in the United States to feel like they have a stake in its success. I want people to feel a connection to their communities. I want them to work hard, start businesses, pay taxes, buy houses, volunteer, report crimes, and help their neighbors. We encourage investment when we enable families to be together, when we bring people out of the shadows of illegal immigration, and when we provide people with an opportunity to someday become citizens. It is a terrible idea to legalize a person’s immigration status without providing them a path to citizenship. That sends the message, “We want your labor, but we don’t want you.”

So.

That’s my thought process on the matter. (Or most of it. As long as this post is, I’m sure I’m still forgetting some important points.) In sum, I’m in favor of immigration reform. But not just that – I’m in favor of more immigration. I understand why some oppose it and I’m sympathetic to their concerns. But that (the above) is where I am on the matter. Where are you?

Three Years In

Three years ago this month, I was put on bedrest to wait out the last few weeks of my first pregnancy. One day I was at work, surrounded by boxes and stacks of papers that I needed to go through before the baby came, and the next I was making my third “oh, never mind” trip to Labor and Delivery, at which point my doctor said, “Enough. Get thee into bed.” (Or something like that.) At any rate, the experience was something of a shock to my system. I went, overnight, from life as a professional, (officially) working woman to a stay-at-home mother and homemaker.

And it was hard. Not that it was physically or even mentally hard at first – I mean, I was mostly laying low, swollen feet up and massive belly resting uncomfortably. But it was emotionally hard. In part because my exit came sooner than I expected: I felt guilty for leaving my successor with so many loose ends and I didn’t get to have that last day at work to walk through the office and say goodbye to the people and the place and know that that’s what I was doing – saying goodbye. The greater part of it, though, was coming to terms with the fact that my life was changing in a big way. I’d spent nearly a decade as an independent, professional woman. And suddenly I was facing a vastly different way of living my life.

I’m not saying that I had doubts about what I was doing – I didn’t at all. I had always, since I was a little girl, wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I enjoyed my work and I was very grateful to have had the experiences that came along with it, but I had always hoped to be able to choose full-time motherhood over a career someday. And here it was: that opportunity, that blessing! But it was still hard to transition to that new way of living my life. I don’t know about you, but any change is a little difficult for me to accept and a big, life-defining change (wonderful as it might be) is a lot difficult. Transitioning from being single to being engaged? Hard to wrap my mind around. Becoming a wife? Harder. Becoming a mother and spending so much time within the four walls of my house and not seeing lots of other people on a daily basis and being fully dependent on someone else’s paycheck and having a tiny person rely on me every single moment of my day? Way harder.

Two days oldOf course, once the baby arrived, my day-to-day life (not just the idea of my life changing) was challenging in much more tangible ways. Life with a newborn is a special kind of difficult. It’s beautiful and full of wonder, but it’s also demanding and stressful and exhausting. Yes, before you know it, that short but intense period passes and you settle into to your new normal. But with that first baby, at the beginning of my “job” as mother and homemaker, I felt lost.

Which really shouldn’t have been all that surprising. I’d felt lost when I began my (other) two jobs, too. My first (well, my first grown-up, real-deal job) was straight out of college. I was working for the federal government, in a field I didn’t know, with people who spoke what sounded like an alphabet soup of a language. (Let me tell you, those Feds know how to do acronyms.) My second job was working as a lobbyist, in an environment I understood, but advocating on issues that were unfamiliar to me. Both times, I felt like I’d been thrown into a lake and told to swim – on a day so foggy I had no clue which direction I should head in, let alone any concept of what the coastline looked like or even how big the lake was.

But, of course, I figured it out. Soon enough that coastline emerged from the fog and I had a frame of reference. I began to develop an understanding of the issues with which I was tasked, and then I was able to discern the direction I needed to go in. With both jobs, I found that there was something special about the three-year mark: that point at which things fall into place and you suddenly just get it. You understand your environment, you know your role within it, and you have the tools to do the work that needs to be done.

That’s where I am right now, in my third and most important of jobs: mother/homemaker. Now, don’t hate me for saying that I suddenly get motherhood. I’m not claiming that the job is easy or that I have it all figured out. I’m just saying that it’s really nice not to feel lost anymore. There are plenty of things I mess up or I’m lazy about or that just plain ol’ throw me for a loop. But on the whole, I do get it now. My “job” makes sense to me and (on most days) I’m confident that I can do it well.

So, yes, this month I’m three years in, and I love that.