Isolation and the Special Child


Nearly ten years ago now, my husband and I adopted twin boys from Ethiopia.  Our biological daughter was two years old at the time, so we were new not only to adoption but also relatively new to the whole parenting thing in general.  Those early days, weeks, and months spent together were exhausting, challenging, and beautiful.  We learned how to navigate stares and inquiries from strangers, medical and emotional issues, and perhaps most difficult of all, toddlerhood-times-three.

Back then we didn’t really know many other adoptive families, and it wasn’t until we moved to Colorado that we came to be part of an adoption community.  There are many families in Denver with transracially adopted children (particularly children adopted from Ethiopia), and thanks to my blog (and the handful of local readers who wanted to meet up with me), these were my first girlfriends east of the Rocky Mountains.  We came to spend countless hours together, from playdate picnics at the park to crazy shopping trips winding through the maze that is IKEA.  Occasionally we’d ditch the kids and meet up at a restaurant for dinner, where we’d laugh and talk until they kicked us out.  These adoptive mothers are some of the most compassionate, loving, brave women I have known.  They taught me to question conventional wisdom, to not be content with the status quo, and perhaps best of all, they taught me that no matter what?  It’s okay.

It’s okay if your kid poops all over the place, and it’s okay if he or she can’t read yet.  It’s okay to have a kid with ADHD and it’s okay when you don’t have it all together.  And, it’s okay to get ticked off about all of the above.  Within the context of these friendships there was grace, little room for judgment, and an overwhelming sense of acceptance among these women, these mothers raising children from hard places.  The only expectation was, simply, to show up.  To be human.  Nobody had to say “You’re doing your best and you’re doing a great job” because everybody knew that everybody else felt that way, but sometimes you said it anyhow because a mother needed to hear it.  Nobody had to feel badly about sharing something hard or frustrating about a child or their parenting journey for fear of their child being judged, because we loved everyone’s kids but also understood how incredibly hard it all was.  This was my introduction to much of large family life, and to playdates and “mom friends”, as my daughter calls it.

In 2011, three years after arriving in Denver, my husband and I were received into the Catholic Church.  For whatever reason my primary circle of people I spent time with shifted a bit, as I got to know the women in my parish and also in the local Catholic homeschooling community.  These women had large families as well, although few had adopted children like I did.  My daughters with Down syndrome, also from Ethiopia, joined our family right around this time.  Which meant that I was now showing up to our Catholic homeschooling co-op with crying and struggling-to-adjust children.  I had to skip an entire unit that year because we were managing their multiple heart surgeries.  Thankfully these women (many of whom remain dear friends in spite of the fact that I no longer homeschool) were gracious and kind, and they prayed for us and embraced our family.  They brought us meals and invited us over and cared for our other children on long surgery days.

We have been so very blessed, really from the moment we arrived in Denver, to be surrounded by good people.  I have many close friends who I can be myself with.  I am not in any way isolated, in spite of the many special circumstances regarding my family.

But something I have noticed over the years in general, and something of which I was recently reminded by a friend, is that there tend to be a lot of expectations among young-ish mothers.  Maybe especially in the homeschooling community, but elsewhere, too.  And when you have a child who is “different” in some way–perhaps a child with special needs or a medical condition, or a child carrying the wounds from a traumatic past–there is always the potential to feel, and then become, extremely isolated.

Because all of a sudden your primary concerns aren’t so much what everyone else’s seem to be.  Finding the perfect Easter ensemble for your perfectly posed kids, or the ideal Latin primer for your Charlotte-Mason-themed homeschool?  Forget about it.  You’re too busy frantically googling life expectancy rates or what a typical “prognosis” is for a syndrome you hadn’t heard of before yesterday, or trying to navigate early intervention or the IEP process, all while juggling therapies and maybe an inconsolable child.  Or two.  Not to mention your other kids, because they don’t cease to exist simply on account of having a sibling with unique circumstances.  And they, too, are impacted by all of the things happening in your home.

One of my adopted daughters still couldn’t eat solid foods when she joined our family at two years old.  She also couldn’t walk, crawl, or talk.  Although she can do all of those things now, she is a perpetually sensory seeking child and navigates the world the best she knows how, which is admittedly better on some days than others.  Her older sister has had an easier go of it overall but, like all children with Down syndrome, she has her challenges too.  I have received phone calls from a school principal threatening to terminate my daughter’s bus service if she wouldn’t learn to cooperate better in the afternoons, and I have received a phone call from a teacher because another daughter had a complete and utter breakdown at school.  Then I had to face all of these people at an IEP meeting for two and a half hours, and answer ridiculous questions about whether or not they play with puzzles at home.  Ummm, I know it’s good for fine motor development but, um, I don’t really like puzzles because they make a huge mess and my kids lose the pieces.  I have also had to explain (and apologize) to an upset parent why sometimes one of my daughters plays a bit too roughly.  Yes, it was embarrassing and yes, it was awkward.

The hard truth about all of this is that not everyone understands, or necessarily wants to understand.  Not everyone can fathom a universe that isn’t perfectly ordered, or a family raising a child who appears to be training for the Worldwide Wrestling Federation.  She’s learning.  She’s come so far.  She’s overstimulated and overtired.  She’s sorry.  We’re doing our most very best.  She doesn’t fully understand.  I won’t let it happen again.  She has Down syndrome.  

Humble pie.  All kinds of it.  Being served here on a semi-regular basis.

And you know, I guess I can’t blame anyone too much for not getting it because I also have children who pull down straight A’s with minimal effort, who excel in sports, who are popular with friends and teachers and coaches alike.  These children made homeschooling seem easy and, had they been my only children, would have had me fully convinced that this whole parenting thing is a piece of cake.  That kids and their behavior are not so very difficult to manage.  That I am a Very Good Mother because, well, Look At My Kids.

But that is not my family’s reality.  We are, instead, Lifetime Members of an exclusive club where children and families are hurting and struggling.  Where behaviors and relationships are predictable only in their unpredictability, and where hard stuff happens that doesn’t necessarily happen to other people.  We know adoptive families where children suffer from serious and complex mental illnesses, and we know families in the special needs community who mourn the loss of normalcy as they wonder if they have what it takes to continue fighting and advocating and loving every single day.  I’d say the one thing these families all have in common is the ongoing struggle to find acceptance in their respective communities–churches, schools, and neighborhoods.  They’re not looking for special treatment, but for friendship.  Affirmation.  Inclusivity.

What does that look like?  Well, I think it looks a whole lot like that adoption community we once belonged to, or like much of my parish community.  (Not the grouchy old man, though, who scolded my developmentally disabled daughter for not being able to recite the rosary on command.  That was really mean, and had I been around, we would have had some words.)  I can honestly remember times spent with my fellow adoptive mama friends when a child would accidentally hurt another child, or when an angry toddler would rage and shout and yell curse words at his foster mom.  These occasions were rare, but did happen.  And when they did, there was support and empathy.  We knew we were doing the hard, long work of parenting hurting kids.  We had front row seats to the messy business of life.  We had high standards for behavior but we also knew that brain function and past abuse and prior neglect leave their mark.  And, we had been sufficiently humbled by this fact from the moment we had become adoptive and/or foster mothers.

Recently during a conversation with a close friend, as she spoke candidly about isolation, I remembered back to the glorious sort of environment the adoption community was to raise kids in.  I thought about how stressful it is, instead, when your kids are doing weird stuff and people are like Why are those kids doing weird stuff?  Your friend at the gym may not understand why you’re investing a ton of time in therapies for a three-month-old, or why it’s just too stressful for you to attend the social gatherings you used to attend.  If you were a homeschooler before, maybe now you’re considering school, and people really don’t get that either.  Self-care and sanity preservation take on a whole new meaning when you’re raising special children with special circumstances.

And so I think about this when my six-year-old is rocking and sucking/chewing on her thumb all through the Mass, or when my eleven-year-old is struggling to complete a school project on account of his executive functioning issues.  In so many ways I’m just like pretty much any other mom, but I know that my reality is very, very different.  And I’m really playing this whole thing by ear, a la the trial and error method, which I’ve made total peace with.  I tell my kids to do their best.  I take lots and lots of deep breaths.  I tell myself I am doing my best. I instruct and encourage and correct and occasionally lose my temper, but in my most sane and lucid moments as a mother I can see good things in my family.

I see siblings who are (for the most part!) patient, kind, and accepting.  Who know first-hand that we all have different gifts and abilities, who take pride in helping a sister or brother who struggles to do the very things they take for granted.  Unlike many parents to kids with special needs, I more or less chose this life, but when you make that choice you don’t know all it will entail or what it will eventually mean.  But then who does, for that matter?  I am probably the least likely candidate on the face of the earth to be raising a large family, or to have multiple children with developmental delays.  I am selfish, impatient, and I love me a clean house.  Also, I don’t really like to cook.

But, here I am.  I don’t know the future, but I’m showing up.  In my big van, and with a lot of diapers.

So, please, let’s work towards building an inclusive community that is a safe space for mothers raising special children.  It’s not just moms to adopted kids or children born with chromosome disorders who are starving for companionship, either–all kinds of women are facing a potentially isolating circumstance in their family, whether it’s divorce or financial woes or a child’s destructive choices. And if you are one of those mothers, will you do yourself a favor?  Surround yourself with accepting and compassionate women who will love you and your child no matter what.  If you have to go outside of your present circle of friends to do that, so be it.  Find ladies that make you laugh, like to get out of the house for an occasional girls’ night, and aren’t easily scandalized.

Find people who believe in you and in your family.

The truth is that at some point most folks (even the pretty shiny ones, whose kids don’t poop their pants at the store after the acceptable age for that) do come face to face with the grittiness of life, it’s just that you and I are seeing it right the heck now.  Perhaps in some ways, that’s a gift.  Or not.  But in either case, raising special kids is no reason to be isolated.  Every child is different, and precious, and worth it.

And you are a Very Good Mom.  Because Look At Your Kids.



Living Life…Without (Much) Social Media











Well, well, well.

We meet again.  Or something.

Last we spoke I shared about my woefully pathetic inability to moderate my Facebook use in spite of kind of hating Facebook, and declared I was no longer going to be scrolling through statuses.

Weeks later, I’m both proud and, frankly, amazed that I’ve actually stuck to it.  If you see me liking things or leaving comments, it means something was at the top of my feed when I opened Facebook, which I occasionally still do.  And I cannot even tell you how much of a difference this seemingly small change has made in pretty much every area of my life.  It admittedly seems silly to say that because no, I had not been spending all day, every day parked in front of my computer or smart phone, but the mental and emotional space it took up was still apparently too much.  And I know this because I have since found the time and, even more difficult to come by, inspiration, to organize and clean stuff out that has been calling my name for years.  Leisure time feels more leisurely.  Last week I got back into touch with a dear friend from childhood whom I had not spoken to or heard from in three years (she’s not on social media, see), and it was so very good to hear her voice.  I am planning a major kitchen remodel with my husband and not  losing my sanity (yet).  I am reading good books.

And I don’t miss my social media habits in the least.

What I perhaps find most interesting about all of this is that I’m thinking more now about the things, relationships, and values that I really, actually care about.  Probably because there is, simply, more quiet in my life.  Fewer distractions and fewer superfluous interactions allow for a higher quality of interaction and a better understanding of yourself.  Go figure.

The thing is that I really have no issues with the medium (in this case, Facebook) itself.  I love being connected with the many people I’ve encountered throughout my life, people who knew me as a child or who discovered me through the blogosphere.  I don’t think it’s some huge objective mistake to engage on these platforms, nor do I think everybody should deactivate their accounts or get rid of their phones.  But how we use something is probably worth considering, and I do think that social media has the tendency to eclipse some pretty important things in the culture, namely authentic interaction within the context of face to face relationships, and also the possibility of quiet.  That is perhaps what finally drove me away in the end, the incessant noise.  The articles and arguing and hand-wringing and (un)professional posturing.  The things that I knew deep down had absolutely NO bearing on my actual life, which by the way is quite beautiful and worth protecting from the daily onslaught of frustration and anxiety.

Social media is here to stay and can be a fantastic tool, but I am no longer compelled to invest there like I used to.

It’s funny because when I made the initial decision to stop scrolling through my Facebook feed, it was mostly an experiment.  I was curious to know if I could do it, if I could simply say “no more!”, and walk away.  Turns out I could, and I really haven’t looked back.  I don’t believe I’ve lost anything, because I traded the feeling (more often than not, an illusion) of online connectedness for the fictional world of Harper Lee and the practical wisdom of Marie Kondo, who may actually be my long-lost soulmate–oh the things we could throw away together!  True story: I love getting rid of stuff.

So friends, what have I been filling this social media void with?  Most of my time lately has really been consumed by this kitchen project, none of which is DIY but all of which necessitates some sort of complex decision making.  Also, mathematics are involved.  So yay for a husband who actually enjoys numbers.  It has been a lot of fun but also a bit of a pain, too, and construction hasn’t even begun yet.  I am fairly certain that when the IKEA kitchen planner shows up at my home tomorrow morning to help us lay out our kitchen, she will not really have much work to do because we may or may not be the most control-freakish customers in all the world, who already have the whole thing planned out, right down to the inches and the sort of cabinets and drawers and pull-outs, and where they go, and how many inner drawers they contain.  Not that we stayed up until 1 am last night planning that out or anything.  Today I have to order a ginormous faux beam for the ceiling–unfinished–and figure out some sort of dark stain for it.  The sink is on its way, the range hood and pendant lights and garbage disposal are pending shipping, and I FINALLY chose a backsplash I actually like.  That was a real pain by the way, because it turns out there aren’t a lot of backsplash options I actually like.  And it turns out that 2″ x 8″ is not a particularly common size for white glossy glass modern rectangular tiles.  Who knew?

Meanwhile our contractor is getting ready to scrape and refinish ceilings, and cut into our floor and walls and stuff.  The nice thing is that we’re completely relocating the kitchen, so we won’t lose our current kitchen–with its malfunctioning and smelly appliances–during the process.  That’s winning, if I do say so myself.  I’ve had a lot of readers ask me to blog this process, which I will indeed do because what could be more inspirational than diving into a remodel when you’re pregnant and you have eight kids?

Wait.  Have I told you I’m pregnant?  Numero Nueve.  Due in June.  Couldn’t be more thrilled when I stop to think about it, but I admit that doesn’t happen all the time because I’m typically busy chasing my toddler through Target or squinting in front of the laptop pondering whether 15″ or 18″ drawer pulls are best.  (Three inches MATTERS, people!)  But in any case, another baby Heldt will be received by all with delight and joy this summer, and the toddler will become a Big Sister, allowing her further opportunity to control and dominate assorted vulnerable family members.

So that’s my life these days, in a nutshell.  If you’ve ever considered attempting to tame the beast that is social media, I highly encourage you to give it a shot.  You will have more time for reading, playing, the purging of belongings, and obsessive type-A planning.  You won’t necessarily be in the know about the latest cutting-edge remarks by Donald Trump or Pope Francis, but you also might not really care.  If you’re looking for a good place to start, choose the social media platform where you spend the most time, and decide not to scroll.  Easy peasy.

And then let me know how it goes!  Because now that I’m no longer scrolling in my spare time, I can always use a diversion.

Simple resolutions

kidstree2015Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how I spend my time.

A worthy subject when you have eight children, I suppose.  Time is something I’d say is in relatively high demand around here, although I refuse to fall into the I’m so busy habit because truly, we really aren’t usually all that busy.  Well, except for the past couple of weeks, filled with multiple school Christmas performances and holiday parties and date nights to see Jerry Seinfeld, who is pretty much the funniest ever.

Last week my husband came home and told me he picked up the book I’d placed a hold on at the library, except for the life of me I cannot remember selecting it nor the person or website who recommended it.  Kind of strange but regardless, I figured it looked like something that might be helpful.  The book, authored by Gretchen Rubin, is titled Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives.

And, I’m enjoying it so far.  It fits well with things I’d already been thinking about, particularly the fact that way too much of my time slips away when I sit scrolling through social media.  It’s especially annoying because I never find myself actually GLAD that I spent two hours reading Facebook status updates, and ultimately I’m not devoting my time to the things I actually, really want to do.  Things like reading good books, cleaning and organizing my house, and writing.  It recently occurred to me that there are MORE than enough hours in the day to keep up on my life and get my freelance on, but I’m just wasting too much time.  Then on Saturday a close friend of mine announced she’d deactivated her social media accounts, which sounded downright lovely, for the very reasons I’ve come to loathe social media.  (Too much of a time-sink, too aggravating, little actual benefit.)  So in a moment of inspiration I declared I wasn’t going to kill time on Facebook anymore, and I’m on day four of not scrolling.  And guess what?  It feels good.  I don’t miss it.  I’m still posting the occasional photo and update, I’m especially committed to maintaining my blog’s page (please do like it if you haven’t already!), and the messaging feature is handy.  But otherwise, I’m not engaging all that much.  I do anticipate that once I’ve broken the unfortunate time-wasting addiction, I will spend time there again.  But for now I’m loving the break!

Instead, we’ve been decorating our (real!  for the first time ever!) Christmas tree, playing games, watching British films, reading, sipping egg nog, and enjoying one another’s company.  I even found the time, finally, to get some work done.  And right before break I was able to purge a ton of things from our home, boxes filled with old toys and clothes and miscellaneous items (more like debris, really) we just plain don’t use or need any longer.  As we prepare to begin major remodeling work on our home, I’m wanting to be rid of all of the clutter and mess that makes keeping things tidy so much more difficult.  We’re even having a relatively simple Christmas with relatively few gifts per child (although they are good and useful gifts the kids will love)–I don’t like buying just to buy.

Basically, I’m hoping to start the new year with better habits in place that will make for a more healthy, balanced life.  For me that really boils down to de-cluttering and organization, in regards to my social media use and my brain and my home.  I’m also hoping to set some work goals for myself and really figure out what I’m wanting to do.

Do you make resolutions each year?  Any things you’re wanting to add in to your life?  If you’re looking for a good, inspiring read, I highly recommend Gretchen’s book–even though I still have no idea where I heard about it, it’s turning out to be perfect for the upcoming new year!

Grumpy Rants of the Day


Okay friends, I need to vent a little bit here.

Maybe more than a little bit.

Because I am officially More Convinced Than Ever that the internet has LOST ITS EVER-LOVING MIND.

There’s the incessant talking about Donald Trump, and there was the fancy schmancy Wild Kingdom light show at the Vatican, there are the usual blogosphere wars which I suspect are more about who’s in and who’s out than anything else (gatekeepers much?), and (of course this is most recently related to the aforementioned light show) there’s the usual Catholic popesplaining heard round the world.  Actually it’s probably a more general Catholicsplaining that’s the problem, but it plays out a lot with the pope these days.  Also, ISIS.  What is the deal with ISIS?  And gun control.

So I need to clear my writing brain and get these things out.  Because every time I get on the Facebook I’m bombarded with all this stuff that makes me want to shake my fist, until I lose interest and wander off to go do something else.  It’s always the same few issues that get recycled and thrown around, and the same types of responses from the same types of people.  My blog has gotten quieter and more boring as of late, I’m afraid, so today you’re getting a front row seat to the inner workings of my addled mom-brain.  You’re welcome.

First things first.  Donald Trump.  He’s a business guy, but mostly I think of him as a celebrity/actor (reality show TV counts as acting), and he has completely and single-handedly transformed this primary election season.  He says mean, wild stuff, and polarizes people.  He’s a jerk.  He’s a bully.  Who knows who this guy really is or what he really thinks, but as a registered Republican I know I sure as heck won’t be voting for him.  But all of that being said?  All the hand-wringing and Trump-supporter-shaming (is there really an app that tells you how many of your friends liked his page?) is just more publicity for the guy.  The media is hanging on his every word, and paying zero attention to anybody else.  Nobody cares about anybody else right now, Republican OR Democrat, because it’s all about Donald Trump.  And frankly, I think he’s somehow positioned himself very well, in spite of the crazy.  He’s set himself apart.  The rest of the candidates all kind of blend together in a vague conglomeration of vanilla Republican-ness, because everything they say is vague and vanilla.  Politician answers.  Business as usual.  It’s hard to distinguish between everybody’s policies and ideas because they are virtually indistinguishable.  And then along comes the insensitive rich dude with bad hair, who isn’t beholden to anyone, who blurts stuff out and talks real big about controversial issues like illegal immigration and radical Islam.  And who won’t apologize, give disclaimers, or back down when he makes people mad.  So even though he doesn’t have my vote, I admit that I see the general appeal of this sort of candidate, because we presently have a political arena marked by game-playing and ineffectuality, where nobody will really take much of  a stand on anything for fear of losing this vote or that vote.  If Trump wins the Republican nomination, we will absolutely have the media, the haters, and a long history of boring Republican candidates to thank.

Next stop: Disney-meets-St.-Peter’s-Basilica.  Otherwise known as the infamous climate change light show that every Catholic in the world is either ranting or raving about.  Personally?  I thought it was pretty much embarrassingly ridiculous.  Ohhh, look at the clown fish!  The pollution!  The parrot!  A climate change slideshow projected on the façade of a religious building housing dead saints and sacred altars and, you know, Michelangelo’s Pieta.  On top of which is the reality that the display was apparently funded by some groups that advocate for very un-Catholic things, like population control and abortion.  There is a context and a subtext there, which some people don’t want to acknowledge but which exists nonetheless.  AND, the show was held on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception–which seems potentially offensive to our Blessed Mother, not that she doesn’t love God’s creation or the spotted owl.  In any case, THAT is why people are furious and disappointed and confused and crying “scandal.”  As for me, I’m kind of unimpressed by assorted things coming out of the Vatican, in general, like the bank scandals and various other problems, so this happy little display seemed tame in comparison, and also not entirely surprising.  So I saw the news articles and I laughed, shook my head, and shrugged.  (I am adding here that Catholics SHOULD care about our planet, resources, and the proper stewarding of creation.  We SHOULD be pursuing best practices to ensure sustainability for the world.  I just think this whole spectacle was, taken in its totality, pretty dang weird.  Mmmkay?)

And this brings me to my next “thing”, the whole Catholic popesplaining phenom that has taken the Catholic interwebz by storm.  Every time Pope Francis says or does some things that get people talking and arguing, I find myself thinking, why?  Why the defensiveness and rushing to explain what he MUST have meant or CERTAINLY DIDN’T mean, or the declarations that HE IS THE POPE AND EVERYTHING HE IS EVEN TANGENTIALLY INVOLVED IN IS AWESOME?  Here’s the deal.  I like Pope Francis.  I get the impression that he really, truly loves people, is an extremely holy person, and that he wants good stuff for the Church.  But for the love of all things, he can speak for himself.  He probably makes mistakes sometimes.  He isn’t in total control of everything happening at the Vatican.  When he says we don’t have to reproduce like rabbits, and some people get upset about that, let them be upset.  Let his words stand as his words.  In the case of the light show, you can think it was silly without therefore meaning that POPE FRANCIS DID SOMETHING REALLY BAD.  You can really just mean that, well, it was an event far beneath the dignity of St. Peter’s Basilica on the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception.  I have no idea the level of the pope’s involvement in the show, but if I ran into him at the nearby gelateria and he asked me what I thought of it, I would tell him.  Then I’d offer to buy him a gelato while I asked what HE thought.  Heck, I might even ask what his favorite animal is.  Then we’d take a selfie and part ways because he is no doubt a very busy person, but then again so am I, with all my baby rabbits–er, kids.

Basically, I think there is definitely a “thing” where we Catholics feel compelled to make our church and pope look as flaw-free as possible, when it’s a partly human institution with plenty of sad stories to be found  throughout Catholic history.  I AM NOT SUGGESTING IT’S OKAY TO MAKE A HABIT OF AIRING DIRTY LAUNDRY, TO SLANDER POPE FRANCIS, OR TO LIVE WITH A CONSTANT”SKY IS FALLING” MENTALITY.  You won’t ever see me openly bashing the pope or ascribing unfair motives or responsibility to him.  Nothing but mad respect for the successor to St. Peter.  But if he shares something in an interview that folks find problematic and want to discuss online, eh, I think that can be okay.  And there are legitimate concerns over some things that have happened in recent synods–it doesn’t mean folks think the gates of Hell will prevail (standard accusation), just that they love the Church and they are concerned.

It reminds me of some of the chatter over the recent film Spotlight.  Some folks are uncomfortable with the conversation about abuse in the Church.  Probably because abuse is shameful, humiliating, and uncomfortable.  But it happened, there are real victims living with the emotional, psychological and spiritual wounds to prove it, and like it or not it took secular journalists telling the story for things to really start changing.  And no, abuse is not limited to the Catholic Church.  It exists in homes, schools, and other sorts of churches.  But it happened here, it really did, and it took awhile to acknowledge because of this culture of secrecy, of wanting things to appear fine.  When not everything IS fine 100% of the time.

Moving right along now, to the subject of the Catholic blogosphere.  This is a brutal place, ya’ll.  I once said it made me want to stab myself in the eye, and some people got mad because they assumed I was talking about them when I really wasn’t, but I still stand by what I said.  (Clearly hyperbolic, because who would actually want to stab their own eye?!)  The passive-aggressive-ness, the taking of sides, the lack of nuance or space for a balanced, intelligent conversation.  The blacklisting and the pigeon-holing.  Speaking of pigeon-holing, these are the roughly three oversimplified categories I see out there: the traditional-ish bloggers, the more left-leaning bloggers, and the mom bloggers.  (All for lack of better terms.  Obviously.  And I read and enjoy blogs written by people from every single one of those classifications, FYI.)  I’m not a card-carrying member of any of those groups, I just write random stuff on my own random and humble little blog, and the more I think about it the more I think freelance work may be my favorite.  I’d love to write a religion type of blog for a secular news site.  But the Catholic scene is tricky because there’s a lot of REAL CATHOLICS ARE SUPPOSED TO THINK/SAY/WRITE/BELIEVE THIS, and it gets real personal real quick.  People calling for other people to be fired, people making fun of other people, people ganging up on each other, eesh.  I’ll admit that some of it is beyond entertaining, some of it is necessary, but it’s occasionally kind of sad too.  Also, awkward.  Definitely awkward.

There’s no great segue that takes you from making trivial observations about the blogosphere into discussing ISIS and gun control, so I guess you can consider this next sentence the segue.  I am moving from talking about the blogosphere to talking about ISIS and gun control.  First of all, I cannot BELIEVE it took people so dang long to acknowledge that the San Bernardino shootings were, you know, a form of terrorism.  President Obama and media outlets, I am talking to you.  And why does a motive of radicalized religion have to preclude a conversation about increased gun control, anyhow?  I get that people think those agendas are mutually exclusive, and maybe in our world of polarized politics they are, but I’m one of those weirdos that thinks you should call out terrorism AND figure out something better when it comes to guns.  Yes, I vote Republican and favor gun control.  And yes, I am quite aware of the second amendment.  (I am also aware that terrorist types will manage to find guns regardless of the laws.)  But some of these assault weapons, are they really necessary for the general populace to have?  And what is the deal with the NRA?  They seem…kind of insensitive when it comes to gun violence.  Which it seems we have a fair amount of here in Colorado, by the way.

Confession: I am a closeted lover of Michael Moore documentaries, much to the dismay of my disapproving husband.  (“That guy’s just GRANDSTANDING!” I can hear him shouting.)  I finally just saw Bowling for Columbine, and though I didn’t agree with all of Moore’s implications, it was pretty thought-provoking–particularly the part about how FEARFUL everybody is, and about how various industries and the media really drive, and benefit from, that fear.  And it’s true, you know?  I think about my small circle of things I do and places I go, filled with all different kinds of good people, and were it not for social media or the news or whatever, I probably wouldn’t fear a whole lot of anything.  That being said I do think terrorism and violence are worthy of discussion, because nobody thinks they’ll ever touch their communities, until they do.  Not to mention that Christians (among others) are being brutally persecuted in other parts of the world, and who are we to assume that this sort of horrible violence could never visit us?

So what’s the answer?  I don’t know, because I’m just a mom and a blogger.  But I don’t think it’s unreasonable or intolerant to call something terrorism when it is, or to ask if maybe our violence problem necessitates better-thought-out gun laws.

And, well, that about sums up my rants for the day.  We are enjoying a lovely but painfully busy week of holiday parties and school performances, and I get to go see Jerry Seinfeld live tomorrow night, which I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT!  My husband is of course coming too, so it’s like a date night, except our seats are four rows apart because they didn’t have any more together.  We are true Seinfeld fans, however, so we bought them anyway.  Details.

Thanks, as always, for humoring me and listening to my various thoughts.  And, as always, feel free to share your own!

Choosing International Adoption



Recently I jumped into an online discussion about international adoption.

I know, I  know.

Why do I do this to myself?

Actually I know precisely why, in this instance, I shared my perspective on adopting children in need of families from overseas.  A woman on a Catholic forum had asked if it was pretty much impossible, both financially and logistically, to complete an international adoption.  And I have four internationally-adopted children.

And, a bunch of people were chiming in saying oh yes, my neighbor sat on a list for FIVE!!!  YEARS!!!, and DEFINITELY IMPOSSIBLE, because it costs like 30,000!!!! dollars, and YOU SHOULD BE ADOPTING KIDS IN THE UNITED STATES!!! FIRST.

That is why I braved the opinions and judgments to say, simply, NO.

It is NOT impossible to adopt a child from another country in need of a family.

On the contrary, if you discern that you would like to add to your family via adoption, it is really quite DOABLE.

And no, actually, I’m NOT being unrealistic.  I’ve done it.

The first thing I want to note is that there ARE currently a bajillion kids, right in your own county, needing a safe, secure, and loving family, either temporarily or permanently.  Some of these kids are infants, and some are teenagers.  Some have been abused and neglected.  Some have had multiple placements.  I have several friends licensed to provide foster care, or who have adopted through foster care, and I cannot recommend this path highly enough.  Whether you have zero kids or five kids, this right here is where it’s at.  It is generally free of charge, or very close, and occasionally even comes with a decent stipend.  Interested in being part of the solution to the refugee crisis?  Consider getting hooked up with the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program in your city, if you have one.  The thing about being a foster parent is that it is precisely that: being a parent.  What a beautiful way to be a mother or a father, and to love our neighbors, and the least of these that Jesus talks about.

So.  Why adopt internationally when kids right here are in need of a home?

Honestly, I think there are countless reasons for choosing one over the other, or vice versa.  Subsidiarity is a hallmark of Catholic social teaching and I think that as far as, say, government funding goes, we absolutely SHOULD be pouring resources into our local children before we send money overseas.  (Ideally, we do both.)  But I don’t think that from an individual family’s perspective, there’s necessarily an automatic “right thing to do” 100% of the time.

When we first began considering adoption, I spent a lot of time reading about the global orphan crisis.  It’s global, because it exists all over the world, here and there and everywhere.  These orphans, most of whom do have at least one living parent, are for any number of reasons languishing in deplorable and unstable situations, which makes them extremely vulnerable to abuse of all kinds (emotional, physical, and sexual.)  This is true for children in our foster care system, and for children in places like Haiti or Eastern Europe.  Just because the details may be slightly different–in South Korea for example, they utilize foster families, whereas in Guatemala you would be more likely to see an orphanage–the situation is roughly the same.  Our world is broken.  Poverty exists everywhere, and is not limited to finances.  The family is in crisis.  And it is oftentimes the children who suffer most, who pay the ultimate price for the things far out of their control (and usually far out of their parents’ control, too).  To be orphaned is to be, well, alone. 

And so we found ourselves compelled by this worldwide problem, because we knew that no child should ever be alone.  Our own daughter went to bed each night with a full stomach and parents who loved her.  We had two empty bedrooms in our home.  A refrigerator full of food.  Stable employment.  We desired more children and so we looked around and thought, why not?  Why not be open to children and to life in this beautiful and unexpected way?

Thus began the process of discerning where we might adopt from.  The choices seemed pretty endless.  Two guiding principles or thoughts we had in making our decision were that:

1.) EVERY child deserves a family, regardless where he or she lives, and

2.) We should seek to meet the largest need we could realistically meet.

Which meant that international adoption was most definitely not off the table.  Soon, it became the leading choice.  It seemed a relatively large need that through God’s provision, we could meet.

International adoption is generally expensive, and requires travel overseas.  It necessitates being open to a variety of medical needs (some serious, some less serious), and there are significant unknowns.  It usually precludes receiving a very young infant.  And, in most cases, would mean that we would be raising a child of a different race than ours.  A transracial adoption.

And none of those things were automatic deal breakers for us.  As we evaluated our options, we discovered that we actually DID have the means to pursue the adoption of a child from another country.  As we did more reading, we found ourselves heartbroken for the devastating fallout from the AIDS crisis in Africa, and drawn towards what was then a little-adopted-from country in East Africa: Ethiopia.  Only a few adoption agencies were placing children from Ethiopia at the time, and the one we settled on ran an orphanage that housed primarily older children, and children with medical needs.  They were the first agency to place HIV+ children.  So we began the process, and seven months later travelled to adopt twin 16-month-old boys.  We would return nearly six years after that to adopt a two-year-old and a four-year-old, both little girls this time, born with Down syndrome and severe heart defects.

The bitter truth is that adoption is only necessary because of some sort of initial loss and brokenness.  And there is something especially sad about a child losing their language, culture and homeland on top of it all.  International adoption is in that sense controversial, because there’s always the question of “Would it be better for these kids and their country if they could remain where they are?”  And I’m perfectly comfortable saying that, ideally?  In a close-to-perfect world?  YES.  Yes it would be.  It has been really encouraging over the past few years to see Ethiopia developing an infrastructure to care for orphaned children domestically.  I am REALLY happy any time I hear of a program whose aim is to keep children with their mother and/or father.  (More of that, please!)  And the more children who can be raised by grandparents, aunts and uncles, and safe neighbors, the better.  But for some kids, in some places, at some times, I do believe that international adoption is at the very least a viable solution for them, depending on their individual circumstances.  It can potentially be a decent stop-gap measure in a country’s orphan care system, provided people are committed to best practices.  Of course, that’s a big “if.”

Adoption is, no matter what, complicated.  It’s fraught with ethical questions and delicate considerations, no matter where your child was born.  In our case, we decided to adopt internationally.  Someday, we would love to be foster parents.  No matter what, I pray that God will continue using our family to be a safe place for whatever children He brings us.

If you are at all interested in international adoption, will you do me a favor?  PLEASE do not just dismiss it out of hand because you’ve heard it costs too much, or takes too long.  There are so many children in orphanages around the world, in desperate need of a family a lot like yours.  Most adoptive families I know are not wealthy.  Most adoptions I know of were completed within two years.  (Not to mention that any agency promising you a baby within a few months is probably one you should NOT be using.)  There are grants available to offset costs, discounted or waived legal fees for the adoption of older children or children with medical needs, and in 2015 (as in years past) there was a non-refundable adoption tax credit of up to $13, 400 per child.

Plus, keep in mind that you don’t pay all of the adoption fees at once.  You’ll usually pay a nominal application fee at the start of the process, then maybe $2,000 or so for a locally completed homestudy, you’ll submit half the country fee at the time you accept the referral, and then the balance right before you travel.  Something like a home equity line of credit can be helpful, too–we used one for some of the up-front costs–and remember, you can get at least some of that money back through the tax refund.  (I will add quickly that some families choose to fundraise, crowdfund, or ask friends and family for donations, in order to pay for their adoptions.  We did not, for a variety of reasons.  Obviously this is up to you.  I won’t get into the pros and cons of fundraising here, but I hope you’ll take the time to read this adult adoptee’s perspective, which I think is a much needed voice in this conversation.)

All of that to say, don’t rule out international adoption!  It’s certainly not for everyone, but it is absolutely something worth considering if you are hoping to adopt.  I would wish for family preservation above all else, but I know that it is simply not always possible, nor always necessarily the first choice of a birth mother.  So be wise, be realistic, be open.  Do your homework.  Look before you leap.  Learn about ethics and best practices in adoption, and what red flags to watch out for.  Remember that as daunting as the international adoption process may seem, THE PROCESS IS NOT THE MOST DIFFICULT PART OF ADOPTION.  These precious children are coming from painful situations, and have experienced an unbelievable amount of loss.  It is not unlikely that your internationally adopted child will at some time face attachment struggles, have a learning disability, ADHD, or sensory issues.  Your family will be stretched and tugged and pulled.  You will discover you’re maybe not as perfect a mother or father as you thought you were, and you will come face to face with your own pride.  It will be hard.


The redemption, beauty, compassion, and love I see in my home every single day are astounding.  I am beyond grateful to be a part of my adopted children’s stories, which continue to unfold in new, exciting, and occasionally challenging ways.  It is a huge responsibility and a heavy weight, this adoption thing, and sometimes I still wonder why God led our family down this amazing and humbling road.

And, maybe your family is being led there, too.

Like what you read?  Then pllllleeeeeassssse go like my Facebook page!  Thanks much!

Hope, Reality, and Advent



We were supposed to be taking a mini-road-trip today to see some of our out-of-town family, but yesterday’s snowstorm left highways too icy and roads too unsure so we are, instead, home.

There’s a fire in the wood-burning stove, kids in hats and mittens playing in the snow and drinking hot chocolate, my husband is reading a book I don’t really understand, and I’m sitting at my laptop, writing.

Thanksgiving was, by the way, lovely.  Mass in the morning and then a short drive to my parents’ home, where we feasted on turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes, and the very best candied yams I’ve tasted.  Football was watched, there was a Despicable Me marathon–fitting for the six year old with the brand new minion pajamas–and for dessert, not just pumpkin but also my mother’s homemade lemon meringue pie, one of my favorites.

Oh, and no Black Friday shopping in 2015–last year my born-of-curiosity venture to Kohl’s on Thanksgiving night found my mom and I standing in line for hours, overheated and thirsty and passing the time by laughing at the guy flexing his muscles as he admired himself in the mirror, trying on some sort of spandex regalia.  Then the things I bought that were such a good deal because of their mail-in rebates, never wound up actually getting rebated because, you know, I would have had to actually drop something into the mail, which in spite of owning a mailbox mere feet from my home I never, ever do.  So this year, instead, I made a couple of online purchases from the comfort of the couch, while the turkey was baking–a steam mop and two stick vacuums.  Obviously I have a lot of children and my floors are in desperate need of a cleaning.

And now we are approaching Advent, which if I’m honest I’ve given little thought to, up until quite recently.  There are absolutely logical reasons for that, being a mother to eight children spread between two different schools, this being a busy time of year, preparing to send my oldest to science camp on Monday, and assorted other things demanding my time and attention.  Ironically I have an article in a local newspaper right now all about how our family observes Advent, which I was probably the least qualified of all moms to write because, well, I’m not a great “liturgical season” person, in general.  What I mean by that is that I’m really lucky to even realize when it is a feast day, and then when I do I don’t really do much for it–no cookies in the shape of St. Nicholas’ staff (cane?), no coins in the shoes, no Mexican meal on December 12th.  I love the saints, I really do, but my domestic church is pretty much a no-frills affair.

Of all the liturgical seasons though, Advent may just be my favorite.  Maybe it’s the anticipation, maybe it’s because I have the personal first-hand experience of eagerly awaiting the birth of a baby, maybe it’s because “O Come O Come Emmanuel” is such a beautiful hymn, but for a long time now I’ve just really loved Advent.  There is something about the hope, about Jesus coming into the world vulnerable and small and yet ready to transform, well, everything, that speaks to my heart and stirs me to want to love and be better.  When I was contacted to write the piece about Advent I knew that I wanted to be authentic in what I said, because surely I’m not the only underachieving person out there when it comes to these liturgical matters, who feels like life is swirling around me and making crafts or baking specific liturgical-themed items is JUST TOO MUCH.  So I shared some really basic things we do, and how we do them.  Plan ahead.  Keep it small.  Maintain perspective.  Honor your own unique family culture.  I talked about our Advent wreath and candles and how we light them around the dinner table, about the Nativity sets we place around our home, and about keeping the main things the main things.  (Get to confession.  Prepare your heart.  Focus on the hope of Christ.)

Then last Sunday, someone mentioned to me that they read my article about Advent, and my eight year old daughter overheard, and asked sweetly, “What’s Advent?”

I told my friend he should probably write a letter to the publication’s editor, and let them know what a fraud I am.

For the record this particular child DOES know what Advent is (“Don’t you remember how each year we put out our wreath with the purple and pink candles, and we go to confession, and we prepare our hearts for Christmas and for Jesus?” I pleaded), but had forgotten.  Because, like I said, I have not given it terribly much thought or voice so far this year and we have not discussed it really, as a family.

But for the past couple of days now I have thought a little bit about it, our desperate need for Jesus and the pain with which we wait, with news story after news story about Very Bad Things, and certain corners of the Catholic internet gone awry (the blogosphere can be kind of a mean and vacuous place).  I recently viewed a documentary that included interviews with clerical sexual abuse victims and read a good review of the new film Spotlight, reminders that these poor people have suffered so very much at the hands of those they trusted, and continue to fight for healing and justice in a culture that occasionally wants to pretend it never happened.  Then I spent some time pondering the fact that there always seem to be self-appointed gatekeepers to our faith, the people that decide THIS IS _____ (insert your denomination/religion) and THIS IS NOT, or who tightly guard Influence and Platform as they choose The People We’re All Supposed to Listen To–and so our rich, wonderful, timeless faith becomes a weak composite of a very narrow set of personal interpretations and opinions that change like the wind.

In a time of social media and overstimulation most everywhere we look, a truly authentic, humble and quiet faith in a worldwide savior who unconditionally loves people is difficult to maintain.  It’s easy to become jaded, frustrated, angry, and callous.  Sometimes I shake my head and I think, what a mess we’ve all made of Christ’s bride, the Church.  We go about this thing people call the New Evangelization and we very publicly and loudly declare this and that, because people will SURELY be moved towards our side when we wrap our beliefs up in this particular style or avoid this sort of talk.  We dissect the mainstream culture and apply our own religious or secular grid to what we see, assigning motive and intent as some of us defend while others of us condemn, but either way we make much of things that in reality probably have little to do with much of anything real at all.

And isn’t that what we’re all really searching for anyway, something real?  Few things today are, if you ask me.  The Christian faith as lived in modernity pretends to dwell in tweets and viral blogposts and us vs. them but no, it’s not really there, at least not in its fullness.  You can better find it in the elderly man at your parish who hasn’t missed a day of Mass in the past sixty years, in your girlfriend suffering through a miscarriage while yet still clinging to the goodness of God, in the person who has been wounded over and over again again but keeps pressing on towards a God he or she knows must exist, out there, somewhere.

Advent gives us, I think, an unparalleled chance to stop, think, pray, and wait.  The things in the world that are real–relationships, joy, pain, suffering–are felt and experienced more acutely, more deeply, than all of that other noise.  In some ways, then, faith lived in real life is harder, but that is where I’m convinced Jesus is to be found.  So this Advent I’m going to try my darndest to tune out the stuff that isn’t really real, or is at least not as real as the really real stuff.  I want to live my relationship with God, friends and family, not merely move from task to social media account to task to social media account again.  News reporters, bloggers, and gatekeepers do not determine who Jesus is or what the Christian faith entails.

Taking time for face-to-face relationships is one of those things I’m trying to be better at.  Or perhaps I’m okay at it, but I need to be better at tuning out Facebook.  Either way, I recently needed to check out a used appliance for our upcoming kitchen remodel, in an unfamiliar part of town, next to a Pawn Shop.  Are we, um, meeting at a pawn shop? I texted the seller when I saw that the location was a little ambiguous, the seller being a legitimate appliance dealer who therefore probably laughed out loud at my mistake.  He might still be laughing about it, actually.  In any case I decided to take the opportunity to also text a friend, and see if she and her kids might like to caravan over there, make sure I made it out of the nondescript warehouse alive (which I did, now the proud owner of multiple new appliances), and have lunch together afterwards.  Though I love to be invited I don’t usually initiate hang-outs like that because, frankly, I’m a laid back homebody.  (So is my friend.  We get each other.)  She was happy to come along and so I drove to her house, got to see all her pretty new furniture, bought my appliances, and then we sat at lunch while the kids ate and played.  For hours.  Until I had to leave to pick up my older kids from school.  Laughs, good conversation, Cherry Coke, putting off the logistics of figuring out how to get those heavy appliances home, all of the things.  A downright great afternoon.  Stuff I couldn’t have done if I had stayed in my house.  Way better than leaving Facebook comments and likes, because she’s my friend, in real life.  In any case, the afternoon was the fun and spontaneous stuff that life really ought to be made of.

More of that, please.

More things, people, and experiences that are uplifting, enjoyable, and real.

So I hope you had a blessed Thanksgiving, and I hope you’ll have a blessed Advent too.  If you don’t know anything about Advent or feel woefully inadequate in your observations of Advent, hey, you’re not alone!  In a nutshell it’s a season of penance, waiting, preparation, and hope.  Lots and lots of hope.  For a world broken and buckling under the strain and weight of suffering, death, loss, imperfection, insincerity, deception, and abuse, Jesus’ birth is very, VERY good news.  This is the perfect time to enjoy the quiet, ignore all the noise and pesky gatekeepers, and consider what the Christian faith might mean for you, how to be better, and how to prepare for the life-changing gift of a small baby born to a virgin, otherwise known as the Son of God.  If you’re a Christian, be an authentically joy-filled light that the world and Church really need, and not primarily online but mostly in real life, in your school and church and neighborhood and family.  Definitely your family.  Be present.

We hope and wait patiently and expectantly through Advent, because we look toward the beauty, and reality, of Christmas.

On Fighting the Cleaning Wars


Prior to becoming Catholic, back in my non-denominational days, I did a lot of reading–usually the popular Christian titles de jour, which spanned various genres and theological perspectives.  Nobody over there agrees on much of anything, so you get quite a range of ideas.  The books that I could never quite fully embrace (aside from the one, beloved by many, suggesting that God actively willed a pit bull to bite a child’s face) were the ones with the pretty pink covers, telling women what it meant to be a woman, how late they ought to stay up folding the laundry, and why submission (read: stifling opinions and concerns at all costs) and putting on makeup are integral to keeping your husband happy.  It didn’t take long for me to see right through their brand of sappy Stepford sentimentalism, so I stopped reading anything by those particular authors–and yet they sold like crazy among Evangelicals like me.


I think because deep down, women really care.  We want to be good wives, good mothers, and maintain a nice home.  Plus we are privileged enough to have the leisure time to worry about that stuff, those of us in committed marriages, at home with our one baby all day long.  Methinks the birth mothers of my adopted children, for example, barely scraping by, were NOT sitting around contemplating whether or not they were cooking or cleaning well enough.

In general though, I have found less of that “virtuous woman” sentiment within most circles of Catholicism.  I think this is where I’m supposed to say “I’m not sure why…”, except I think I AM sure.  Catholics are still holding to the established and historic ideas of femininity, womanhood, marriage, and faith in general.  There’s just less room for niches of thought or the marketing of those kinds of ideas.  And frankly, many Catholic women are inundated with children, which also kind of turns those books on their heads because let me tell you, life gets REAL.  And you can’t necessarily worry yourself over whether your husband’s shirts are properly ironed 100% of the time when you’re busy scrubbing poop off the wall.

Reason #507 to Have a Bunch of Kids.

Recently, though, there was an article circulating around the Catholic Interwebz that was more or less in the vein of what I shall henceforth call “virtuous homemaking”.  Though it reminded me a tad of those books of old, it was overall a good piece, and from what I saw it inspired and encouraged a lot of people.  But it also frustrated a lot of people, mothers in particular, probably because the author is not a mother, but seemed to be writing to mothers.  (More on that later.)  So, I was inspired to write a response of sorts here, simply because I think these things are important.  Mommy wars and all of that.  I won’t be linking to the actual piece itself (and if this is wrong then please excuse my lack of knowledge when it comes to proper blogging etiquette), because the article in question is not really all that relevant to the more general discussion of “How do we approach the topic of homemaking and faith?”  (what a fabulous book title THAT would be!), and “Why did this woman’s post strike such a nerve in so many homemakers?”  (Could it be that we are on our LAST nerve?  I blame the children.)  I also strongly believe that the author’s intentions were good.  I largely agreed with most of the article’s general principles.  Maintaining a nice home, keeping up on things, having some personal touches around the house, all of that’s great.  And hiring out for help when you don’t have the time/wherewithal/misplaced ambition to do it yourself?  Brilliant.  I doubt anyone would seriously suggest otherwise.

And on a personal note, having a relatively clean home matters to me.  I start to get REAL twitchy when there’s too much clutter and sticky-nesses.  Just ask my poor kids.

But prescriptive posts like the one I read are inevitably tricky, especially when the person writing has never had to clean up vomit when three of her kids simultaneously had the stomach flu, or pretty much check out of life and cleaning your home, in general, because you have to clean and restore your ginormous rental instead, the one that those no-good, nasty tenants turned into a ginormous skunky indoor farm with fluorescent lights and multiple attack dogs.  Ahem.  NOT THAT I’D KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT ANY OF THAT.

Except of course I DO know about that.  I know about all of it.  Because I’ve lived it.  As a mother and a wife (and a landlord), I.have.been.there.  And you know, it’s just life, the ups and downs and maybe hardest of all, the unexpecteds.  The things that happen and when they do, it’s SO DANG HARD because I HAVE EIGHT KIDS and, therefore, little margin for driving forty minutes each way to paint chewed-up baseboards and chat with animal control.  But you do it because, well, you do what you gotta do.  And you learn that life is unpredictable, messy, and HARD.

Now I’m not saying you just plain give up or settle for perpetually grimy bathrooms.  If anything, the unexpecteds really kind of necessitate maintaining some sort of order around your house–so that things don’t COMPLETELY fall apart when the crap hits the fan.  I don’t think being a mom somehow gives you a pass in terms of the basic human need for order–of all people, we busy moms probably benefit the most from being in an attractive and clean environment.  But we are also in a season where STUFF HAPPENS.  Where we get sick and need to leave the dishes in the sink and put ourselves to bed, without guilt, because we need to get well.  Where we have a week of near-constant parent teacher conferences, and give ourselves permission to let the stuff at home wait, because we’re attending to the very important matter of our kids’ education.  Or where our husband is working crazy long hours, the lawn isn’t getting mowed, and family dinners are nearly nonexistent.  We mothers have a huge job, a huge responsibility, and there is NO ROOM for guilt, shame or “there is only one way to be a Good Catholic Mother.”

We have to be able to BEND.

A couple of weeks ago, my kids had some dental work done.  (They were both brave and skipped the nitrous oxide, saving me a total of $80.  Thanks, kids.)  It was a reschedule, because some of the employees had gotten sick and couldn’t come in on the original day we’d planned.  I got a frantic text the night before the original appointment from the scheduler, apologizing all over herself and asking if we could do another day.  And then at our appointment they handed me a thank you card (with a generous gift card inside), thanking me profusely for being willing to reschedule.  I laughed out loud and said “Oh my goodness, we’re nothing if not flexible!  We have to be!  But thank you!”  And, see, that’s the thing: we mamas just don’t have a choice.  We really do have to be flexible.  We just do.  There’s no way we could survive were we not able to roll with the punches.  Structured, yes–oh, how I love me some structure and routine–but flexible too.

So what is the balance between striving to be better, and accepting who you are right this very moment, when it comes to household management?  I’m not really sure so I can’t really say, but I would suggest that doing something with excellence is far more nuanced than having the shiniest counters or most manicured lawn in the neighborhood.  (At least, I hope so!)  And that’s something I want moms in the trenches to know, in spite of all the Pinterest-worthy photos out there, hosted on professional blogs whose header shots weren’t taken by the side of the highway, right after getting into a car accident.  Cough.

How I wish I could gift every single one of you with my profound spiritual gifts of eye rolling, spite, and just plain blowing stuff off when I don’t like or agree with it–but sadly not everyone possesses this special charism.  (I know, you’re jealous.)  So unlike me, who regularly reads stuff and thinks “Hmmm, that’s a whole lot of I-don’t-think-so” and moves on, some people really take what they read on the internet to heart.  (These are clearly the people who were gifted with emotions and sensitivity, as opposed to sarcasm and stubbornness.)  Moms of very young children in particular tend to feel a bit isolated and alone, and they look to the blogosphere for community, friendship, guidance, and affirmation.

This can be a great thing, but it can also be difficult, because these mamas are so wanting to do things right and so wanting measure up.  So when a blog post pretty much explicitly states that if we were only willing to sacrifice our daily Starbucks habit, THEN we could hire a housekeeper and a gardener, well, it stings for women who are really struggling to get by, who are under tremendous pressure just to put groceries on the table, who get little support from husbands and who spend all day long amidst diapers and spit-up and tyrannical toddlers.

And I know the blogger did NOT intend for these women to feel badly, and I am sure the piece was in some way a fair and very right response to the whole “Messy is Virtuous” movement that is afoot here and there and everywhere, but at the end of the day?  The details seemed to be somewhat out of touch with a large portion of mothers.  It struck a nerve.

Granted many women loved it, and I think these women are probably either super clean themselves OR felt it validated all of the work they put into maintaining their homes.  OR maybe they don’t fall into either of those categories, but found the piece inspiring and instructive and helpful.  And there’s truth to all of that.  Again, I like order and cleanliness, and I believe my children have a right to grow up in a home that is neat and tidy.  But I also felt a little bit like, Well that’s easy for YOU to say.  You don’t have sensory seeking kids in your home who insist on running their smudgy hands against the wall EVERY TIME they walk past, or a two year old sneaking into the chips in the cupboard and leaving a trail of crumbs behind her everywhere she goes.  Heck, maybe that’s why a mouse scurried across my bedroom floor last week, causing me to skip my nap.

It’s kind of like the “BE THE BESTEST PROVERBS 31 WIFE EVER” books in my Protestant past.  (Except not, because those books were super lame, and cleaning your house ISN’T super lame, and this author’s piece wasn’t super lame.  So disregard the analogy.)  Those books really resonated with no small number of women, because their pages gave meaning and purpose to what conservative Christian wives perceived as their role.  They gave shape and dimension to marriage.  They charted a course for what a Good Christian Wife should do, in a paradigm that otherwise eschews tradition and rules and “organized religion”.  (But the irony is that it merely set up an alternative set of prescriptives, a different thing to organize around and by which to measure yourself and, sadly, others.  Alas, I digress.)

So some personalities–like the Type-A one that I really do wish I had because oh, the things I could do!–are just more inclined to embrace all of this productive housework “you need to do this” talk.  They’re all YES MY HOUSE IS SO CLEAN LIKE THE GOOD LORD WANTS IT TO BE, and honestly?  They should be really proud of themselves!  Because it IS an accomplishment, and hard work IS virtuous, and if they have children, THEY should be writing to us mothers about how to do it all with kids in the mix.  Teach us your ways, cleaning mamas!  Particularly if they keep mice out of the house!

Which brings me to my next point (which I already alluded to), and perhaps my BIGGEST issue with the tone of the original article, which is that you’re walking on dangerous ground when you direct advice towards moms, as a non-mom yourself.  Hell hath no fury etc. etc.  Moms be all “Heck no, you don’t know my crazy life!”  And, well, it’s true.  When it comes to household stuff, it takes on a WHOLE new meaning with kids undoing, well, everything that you’re doing.  Just the other morning my daughter with Down syndrome sneakily (well, most likely inadvertently, but it failed to catch anyone’s attention, hence it was sneaky) made a paste out of her cereal and milk, which found its way all over her skin and her clothes, and found my husband scraping off said stickiness right up until the moment the bus pulled up to whisk her off to school.  Actually, PAST when the bus pulled up, because the driver had to wait for the de-stickifying to be completed.  I guess it’s not so much that we’re not cleaning, but moreso that we’re spending our time cleaning humans instead of the house.

The truth is that everybody is SO different, and every family is so different, and maybe I’m wrong but I just plain think that this is where there’s ROOM.  Room for different styles and different approaches, and room for phases and seasons.  Room for GRACE.

And before someone accuses me of being an unkempt hot mess of an unvirtuous housekeeper, merely trying to justify my soon-to-be-condemned-by-the-health-department ways, well, I’ll beat you to it.  I’m not perfect and neither is my home!  I don’t have hired help–although eventually I’d love to hire out for certain things–and the only reason my yard looks decent right now is because my peach of a dad put in a bunch of much-needed hours out there.  And I try to keep things tidy and clean, I really do, and mostly I do okay.  But sometimes?  I don’t feel like folding the laundry just yet, or loading the dishwasher.  Or vacuuming.  Oh and I was recently lead to confess in a mom’s group (filled with women who garden and stuff) that I–GASP!–don’t like to cook, but do it out of necessity.  Hashtag-lots-of-hungry-mouths-to-feed.  I do really value sanity, order, and general well-being, and I believe we all deserve to live in a happy home, and THAT is my main motivation to keep up on stuff.  But I DON’T think dusting is always (ever?) particularly urgent, and when I go to a friend’s house and see a little bit of mess, I breathe a big fat sigh of relief.  I don’t wear my shortcomings or my home’s various areas of disarray as a badge of honor–I LIKE things to be clean–but I also think that real life means that, well, sometimes life happens.

Two weeks ago, while I was blowing off folding the laundry, I watched a documentary about the on-set Edwardian historian for Downton Abbey.  (I could have done those things simultaneously, but then that really would have cut into my laying around time.  No bueno.)  Fascinating stuff, everything he has to plan out and explain and correct.  No, they wouldn’t have had that posture, or clinked glasses at a party, or shown that much emotion.  Everything was about impressing people, and wearing impractical things that would prevent you from doing any work.  The culture was fascinating, and kind of amazing, and driven by norms that frankly, we laugh at today.  And now thinking more about what all these moms have been saying in response to this article, I think culture plays a role here, too.  Different comfort levels with different types of mess or personal appearance or what have you.  Or the assumption that moms really are sitting around at Starbucks every day, which incidentally applies to NARY A MOM THAT I KNOW, so obviously that’s not the culture here in Denver.  Darn.   

In any case, I have mad solidarity with all you women out there who work really hard but continue to live a life of messy but beautiful imperfection.  I’m right there, too.  Don’t let a random blog post steal your joy or make you feel less-than.  If certain methods don’t work for you or make you feel ALL STRESSED OUT, just roll your eyes (you can learn this skill!) and ignore them.  You’re raising your babies and no doubt doing your best.  I suspect the aforementioned blogger and I are probably just describing different sides of the same coin, which is good, because balance and perspective are good.

So if you come visit me and wonder how I manage to have such a delightfully tidy house, well, don’t look in my closets.  If you come visit me and are scandalized by my broken oven door with the missing front panel, and sharp pieces of metal poking out in a threatening way, or by my unmopped floors, well, BOO ON YOU.  I’m redoing my kitchen in a few months so I’m not going to replace anything until then, and I’m presently researching mops because mine died a sad, torturous death amidst a cloud of steam and shame.  It’s just a snapshot in time over here, people, of my wild and crazy life as a mother to eight kids ages eleven and under.  So be quiet and pretend you don’t notice, pull up a sticky chair, and drink your coffee.

On second thought, maybe we should just meet at Starbucks instead.


If you liked what you read, hated what you read, or are simply curious about what my crazy life as a mother to eight kids looks like, please take a moment to like my Facebook page!

Back to Normal


Well, I’m back!

Back from Italy, back from Rome, back from the black hole of blogosphere oblivion where I have been dwelling in a fog of jetlag and exhaustion.  Ever since we touched down in Denver I’ve been playing catch-up on All of the Things–on housework, youth sports (oops, did I miss the deadline for indoor soccer signups?), kid dental appointments and surgeries, meal planning, radio shows, and parent teacher conferences.

Oh yes, I had a parent teacher conference less than twelve hours after our plane landed.  That is no joke, people!  (Thank goodness it was a good conference about a good kid doing good things at school.  My sleep-deprived brain could not have handled anything more!  Or, maybe I should say, less.)

I love to travel, I really do, but as my children are getting older it’s becoming increasingly difficult.  Probably because they DO stuff, important-to-them stuff, things-which-cannot-be-missed stuff.  And though my fearless parents somehow manage to shuttle them all around to the aforementioned stuff (and probably do a better job of getting them there on time than I typically do), it’s a lot to juggle and keep track of, and perhaps most of all, I hate missing out on all the stuff.  Soccer games of determined eight- and eleven-year-olds , my six-year-old’s first meeting of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, and then all the daily touch and go for which gelato and cappuccino are, surprisingly, no substitute.  Not that I’m complaining.  Because gelato and cappuccino.

Basically I had a great time in Rome, but I also love my life.  As is.  In all its messy and mundane glory.  It’s occasionally tempting to sit back and think hey, were it not for all these small people running around I could be doing other stuff, but all told I don’t want to be doing other stuff.  While we were off visiting Assisi and traversing the Amalfi Coast, I honestly really missed the late-night knocks on my bedroom door from the two-year-old, and I missed watching everybody pile out of the car at school in the morning with lunches and backpacks and “I love you Mom!”s.  Also, sticky hugs.  Can’t get enough of those.

It’s good, I think, to get away sometimes.  Even if just for a couple of hours, it’s good to miss your fighting kids and your broken dishwasher, and your hanging-on-by-a-thread oven door.  (That being said, January kitchen remodel, you cannot come soon enough.)

We attended an All Saints Day party yesterday afternoon, where we really didn’t know a whole lot of anyone.  And compared to everyone else there, we had A LOT OF KIDS, which is funny because mostly we spend time with people we know super well and who, even if they don’t have A LOT OF KIDS, are accustomed to us and our special brand of crazy.  And they love us anyway.  So I spent a large portion of the afternoon verifying that my people were keeping it together and keeping up appearances that we’re just your average family, even though the truth is that we’re really kind of…weird.  My kids’ saint costumes were all thrown together from random items found and scrounged in various closets, the stuffed raccoon my son used to complete his Saint Francis of Assisi get-up is extra funny to all of us because we had a family of real raccoons living in our house recently, my two-year-old likes to glare at other little kids in an effort to intimidate them and establish her alpha dominance, and none of us bats an eye when it comes to stuff like Down syndrome, melt-downs, happy-but-noisy car-rides, and the bikes and scooters forever littering our yard.  Sometimes we can barely make it past our little mudroom and into the house, for all the shoes and jackets lying all over the ground.  And once you do get into the house?  Beware that oven door hanging down onto the ground.

Over the years and the babies I’ve had to learn to pick my battles, to let go, to give stuff up.  To be okay with fingerprints on the windows and a kid going to school in an ill-fitting shirt every now and again.  I am accustomed to the occasional tantrum, display of sassy tween attitude, and that weird stuff your kid does that makes you say “WHY ARE THEY DOING THAT BECAUSE I NEVER TAUGHT THEM TO DO THAT”.  For a long time I was afraid to “be okay” with the whole “good enough” parenting philosophy, because I thought it meant I would be a bad mom or that my kids would wind up in a juvenile detention center by the time they graduated from Kindergarten.  And I would drive myself crazy trying to control, account for, and explain every little deviation from what I perceived was the norm for proper children’s behavior.  But now?  Now I realize that accepting things as they come, allowing for mistakes and not taking every single thing as a reflection on my own parenting abilities is actually, well, really healthy.  It’s good.  It is, ultimately, leaning into life, which is always shifting and changing and unbelievably messy.  Maybe we can live under the illusion that we’re in control for a time, but no matter who you are, it remains just that: an illusion.

And I guarantee that if you have enough kids or parent long enough, you’ll figure that out.  Your precious little snowflake will point at a lady in the store and yell that she looks like a witch, or your eight year old will toot during adoration, sending All of the Children into a fit of inappropriate laughter, right there in the Real Presence of Jesus–and, if you’re really lucky, the presence of disapproving elderly parishioners.  Your kid with ADHD will keep forgetting to bring his sloppy, wrinkled homework page home to work on it, and your dryer vent will be knocked down by children who insist on riding their bikes right up to the front door, no matter how many times you tell them NOT TO DO THAT.  You’ll find weird food in your kids’ bedrooms and your cute little two-year-old will pick up, and regularly execute the phrase, “What the heck”.

But I’m convinced that all of that doesn’t automatically mean you’ve lost the fight, given up, or become A Very Bad Mom.  It doesn’t mean your kids are destined to be jerks or social deviants or bad Christians.  It means, I think, that they are kids.  With their own unique personalities, gifts, and quirks.  Oh, the quirks!  There are so.many.quirks.  And so we all walk around comparing ourselves and our kids to other people, our ragtag All Saints Day costumes that include a pair of Dad’s old socks worn around the neck to look like part of a nun’s habit, and we get all insecure because we decide we don’t measure up.  Especially if you have a lot of kids, because look: I speak from experience when I say there is just plain nowhere to hide all the quirks when you have eight kids!  Someone is inevitably going to be smelling bad, being loud, tattling, or being generally all-around ridiculous and annoying.  People see us coming and they’re like, whoa, that is some wild stuff.  

And, well, it is.

Kids are wild.

Parenthood is wild.

Life is kind of wild.

You can try all you want to tame your life, but kids will mess it up.  Every.single.time.

And in the best, most beautiful way.

Because for every inconvenient or embarrassingly awkward thing my kids do, there are about a million amazing things, too.  The way my eight-year-old daughter with Down syndrome cheers on her siblings during their sports events.  How my son, in spite of his messy homework, spent a bunch of his scholar dollars he earned at school on cheesy books about child celebrities that he gifts to his sister for her birthday.  How that same son accepted all my other daughter’s trick-or-treated Laffy Taffy, in exchange for a bunch of his own better candy, because she can’t eat that taffy with her braces and expander.  How she noticed and came and told me how generous he had been, and how much it meant to her.  How my other son gets so excited about serving at the altar at Mass, and rings the bells and carries the big crucifix and takes it so seriously.  How my kids accept, love, and sacrifice for their siblings with special needs.  How my daughter earns awards at school and works so hard at everything she does.  How my two-year-old gives out hugs and kisses to her family members even if she tries to act real tough around other kids.

And the thing is that we do have high expectations, I do teach my kids to respect adults and be kind to one another and to get their homework done.  There are indeed time-outs and talkings-to for bad behavior, and I tell my daughter no, it’s not okay for toddlers to say “what the heck”, or to smuggle plastic smurf figurines out of the thrift store.  I do my best to maintain a relatively orderly and chaos-free home and, overall, we’re doing pretty good.  But I also accept that life happens, and that few things about my life as a mom are as pristine and majestic as what you see when you visit a place like St. Peter’s Basilica.  Instead, I lead an existence where raccoons invade my attic, and I have to spend hours in uncomfortable IEP meetings every single year, and one of my kids really needs her fingernails clipped but I keep forgetting to do it.  My children like a good poop joke and, right as we were leaving the party last evening, several of them filled up plastic cups of water for the five-minute car-ride home–as if we don’t ever give them water–and one of the cups spilled all over the hostess’ floor.

What was it I said about not being able to hide when you have eight kids?

So we journeyed home, disheveled saint costumes and cups of water and all, and then there were showers and good nights and a middle-schooler up late putting finishing touches on an essay about Pope John Paul II, while the toddler fell asleep on the couch.  Around midnight or so she knocked on our bedroom door, and my husband made her up a bed on our floor because she tends to kick and punch us in the face when she sleeps with us.  Then at 6:50 this morning it was getting up and getting dressed and seeing kids off to school, the start of another wild and crazy week.

Our beautiful, messy, insane-but-incredible normal.

Rome was amazing, but it’s so good to be back.

Big Announcement: My New Radio Show

JUST SHOWING UPradiographic


Okay dear friends, how excited am I to be sharing this announcement with you today?!

I’ve been offered my own weekly radio show, and I’m really kind of thrilled about it.  Terrified, because while I’ve appeared as a guest on various programs, and though I have a podcast, I’ve never had the privilege of hosting my own show, but I’m totally excited about the opportunity.

My blog has been up and running for ten years now, and while I enjoy it, so much has changed in the blogosphere.  So.very.much.  And as I look to the future, I find that I’m honestly most excited about new and different opportunities and avenues through which to share my work.  I’m hoping to increase the frequency of the freelancing and speaking that I do, I’m working on a book proposal, and now I’m a radio show host.  Eek!

I really hope you’ll give it a listen, and share with your friends.  You can get the Breadbox Media app, you can listen live, and you can hear it as a podcast once it’s up.

The show is going to largely be my rambling and occasionally incoherent thoughts on social issues, motherhood, current events, and my faith.  Also, raccoons.  I’m planning to host some fabulous interviews that I think you guys are going to love.  I’ll post the link to my show’s page once it’s up.

So tune in on Saturdays at 3 pm EST, or Sundays at 1 pm EST, starting TODAY!  Thank you so much for all of your support!

Maybe NOT the IUD

Saturday morning in Denver dawned cloudy and cold, and with no soccer games, either.  Which meant that I got to spend a few precious, lazy hours curled up on the couch with my coffee and my laptop, reading articles and browsing Facebook.  This sort of thing is a rare weekend treat now that my kids are involved in sports, and as much I love to watch them play, I do so also love to soak up these quieter, slower moments, which always harken back to a simpler time when children were little with no place to be.

And it was there in the (relative, because hello I have eight kids) quiet that I nearly spit out my beloved coffee all over my pajamas and my newly-slipcovered white couches, when I saw that NPR is running a story right now titled “Ladies, New York City Wants You to Consider An IUD.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I get to feeling more than a little bit feisty/rebellious/all kinds of contrarian when I hear that some impersonal city governing board wants me (or women like me) to think about putting a foreign object all up in my womb.  And no, it’s not because the Catholic lady with eight kids doesn’t know anything about birth control.  Truth be told I’m all kinds of familiar with artificial contraception.  I’ve used the birth control pill in all of its hormonal and headache, emotional instability and bloat-inducing glory, so I’m well aware of how this stuff goes.  You don’t get pregnant (even though you LOOK kind of pregnant thanks to the bloating), but you DO have to put up with a bunch of horrible side effects AND you find out after the fact that you’re now at greater risk for breast cancer and brain tumors, and that the pill has the potential to prevent a fertilized egg (read: human being) from implanting in the uterus.  Thanks, big pharma.

So I guess I’ve considered it, and no.  No thank you.  My uterus is happy and sufficient as-is.

But moving on.  Because now that we’ve gotten that resolved and since we’re on the subject, let’s talk a little bit about what’s happening with IUDs in the Big Apple.  Because that’s what NPR said they’re wanting us ladies to do, to have these conversations about birth control.  Granted I’m way over here in Denver (waves through a haze of pot smoke and essential oils), but as far as I know I have the same anatomy as women in New York.  At least, I hope so.

First, the gist: NPR tells us that the “New York City Health Department is at it again, this time with ads in the subway and on bus shelters chatting up the glories of IUDs.”  I guess some of the ads look like this:


Which of course begs lots (and lots) of questions, like who is this mystery person she’s spending the night with in Brooklyn, and what dude was she hanging out with back in Staten Island, and does the Brooklyn guy know about the Staten Island guy?  Is it possible she has a guy stationed in each of the boroughs?

Well, but it’s totes okay, because the health department is going to make sure that Mr. Brooklyn and Mr. Staten Island get to keep having fun with their travelling, subway-riding lady-friend WITHOUT becoming fathers.  Turns out this whole “getting pregnant by having sex thing” is a real problem, because as NPR tells us, “There’s good reason to think that not enough women know their options when it comes to birth control. Of every 10 pregnancies in New York City, Kaplan says, six are unintended.”

Unintended?  Really?  You can only get so far with that one.  Because I’m pretty sure it’s always an option to sit alone at home on Friday night in your sweats, and watch reruns of Parks and Rec.  In the interest of full disclosure, I’m an introvert, and not everybody will find dry humor and sarcasm as fulfilling a weekend activity as I, but I’ll tell you one thing.  You’re not gonna get pregnant that way.  Just sayin’.  And maybe the average woman doesn’t have a SUPER in-depth understanding of her cycles, but I would assume that most people know at the very least that babies are conceived through sexual intercourse.  If so many  pregnancies are coming as such a surprise, maybe it’s time for the city to revisit ninth grade health class and discuss the female and male reproductive systems, and remind people that whether you like it or not, sex is ordered towards procreation–and if you absolutely positively cannot have a baby at this point in your life, well, there’s only one fool-proof way to make sure that doesn’t happen.  Thank goodness for Amy Poehler.

Maybe the most critical and, dare I say dangerous, part of the article comes when NPR says “Kaplan wants women to have accurate information about it. Such as how it’s safe for women with a history of sexually transmitted infections. And how it can last for three to 10 years and can be removed at any time without affecting a woman’s future fertility.”

Did you hear that, ladies?  It’s safe.  Nothing to see here.  There’s no profiting-off-of-IUDs pharmaceutical company behind the curtain, and it’s NBD if you’ve had an STI.  THE IUD IS THE MOST VERY BEST BIRTH CONTROL IN ALL THE LAND.  And you NEED artificial birth control because “Sex is part of life.”!!!!!!  But babies?  Meh.  Sex and, ultimately, the female reproductive system, needn’t have ANYTHING to do with babies.  And “Being able to plan your pregnancies is a critical piece of moving forward with your goals around education”, dontcha know.

Never mind that, according to Drugwatch, “some women may experience dangerous, life-threatening side effects such as perforation of the uterus, pelvic inflammatory disease and ectopic pregnancy (pregnancy that occurs outside the uterus). The device may also spontaneously move from the uterus and embed in other parts of the body such as the uterine wall or abdomen, requiring difficult surgery to remove. Women who have experienced some of these side effects filed lawsuits against Bayer claiming that the company did not properly warn of these side effects.”  But New York City thinks IT’S WORTH IT.

And never mind that, while an IUD might mean that our friend doesn’t get pregnant over there in the most populous part of the city (and thereby thwart her ability to move forward with her goals around education), if her partner’s not also using a condom?  She’s at major risk for STI’s.  Bummer.  Oh well.  It’s whatevs.  I’m not entirely sure when people stopped caring about the transmission of this stuff, but I sure do remember being scared out of my wits in high school, seeing all the gonorrhea pictures.  I thought to myself, “That is really disgusting.  I don’t want that to happen to my private parts.”  See, back then, condoms were the big thing progressive “teenagers are going to be having sex anyway” types were pushing, but now it’s the pill and the IUD, and people don’t talk as much about the prevention of STIs.  Could it be that it’s NOT in the pharmaceutical companies’ interests to remind everybody that these methods do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to keep you from getting gonorrhea?  Methinks there might be something to that.  (Note that I am NOT advocating barrier methods or extramarital sex.  Just making the point that we’ve drifted even further from the ideal, and have become even more irresponsible in what we as a culture are promoting or suggesting as the norm.)

What’s interesting is that “Kaplan and her colleagues want women to understand their choices”, or so they say, except that for the life of me I can’t figure out how pushing this kind of thing is helping women understand anything.  Beyond enforcing the idea that there is something fundamentally wrong with my fabulously healthy and capable-of-sustaining-life uterus, and other than telling me that, consent be darned, sex just kind of inevitably happens like a bad cold or male pattern baldness, this IUD campaign isn’t educational in the least.  It’s certainly not empowering.  And it DEFINITELY doesn’t liberate women from the shackles of male-normative thinking (we MUST ERASE all traces of being a woman SO WE CAN BE LIKE A MAN, and so we can be used by men like Mr. Brooklyn and Mr. Staten Island).

Consider this paragraph written by Erika Bacchiochi.  It appeared in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy:

…I challenge the assumptions underlying the idea that pregnancy and motherhood necessarily undermine equality for women. I argue instead that abortion rights actually hinder the equality of women by taking the wombless male body as normative, thereby promoting cultural hostility toward pregnancy and motherhood. Only prolife feminism can promote the equality of women because it does not embrace the falsehood that equality requires women to deny their fertility and reject their children.


Granted we’re talking IUDs here and not abortion (although these devices absolutely have the potential to be abortifacient, and are only considered contraceptive on account of the fact that upon the advent of the birth control pill, the medical community conveniently shifted the beginning of life from the moment of fertilization to when the fertilized egg actually implants), but it’s the same root problem.  Women can’t be equal to men unless their womb stays child-free.  Women, regardless of their present ability to raise or provide for a child, have to be having lots of unattached sex to be equal to men.  Women must do all they can to suppress and restrict their natural fertility, risks and side-effects and future fertility be darned.  Something tells me this whole IUD campaign is the HEIGHT of a cultural hostility toward pregnancy and motherhood.

So what’s a modern and self-assured woman riding the subway in New York City to do?

Well, maybe it’s just the fact that I’ve HAD babies–so I know they’re not actually some fearfully destructive life force threatening to overtake Manhattan–but I’d say that just plain knowing yourself, and your body, is a good place to start.  Embrace the fact that you are, indeed, a woman.  With a pretty amazing ovulatory cycle.  Capable of conceiving and bearing a child.  Maybe you resent that fact a little bit.  But I can guarantee you that life is happier when you lean into it.  And you are WAY more than a mere sex object.  You can say no, or you can say yes, but own your choices and own that your body is designed in such a way as to bring forth life.  Awesome, right?

So my personal advice would be that, if you’re not wanting babies?  If you’ve got, what was it she said, Very Important educational goals?  That if interrupted by a kicking baby with a rockin’ heartbeat on an ultrasound, would result in much weeping and gnashing of teeth?

Skip the sex.

Put on some sweats.

Grab some girlfriends, a glass of wine, and your favorite funny TV show.

And familiarize yourself with something we Catholic ladies know all about, Natural Family Planning.  (Sometimes this goes by the term “Fertility Awareness Methods” in non-Catholic circles.)  It’s way cooler than it sounds, is all about the incredible bodies we women possess, and about how to know exactly what is happening with our bodies, and when.  You can use that information to figure out if you’re having a medical problem, to delay pregnancy, or best of all and my personal fave, to get pregnant.  I admit I’m kind of biased like that.  Because babies are cute, and good for marriage, and even if they show up in your uterus “unexpectedly” or before you have a husband, they are still really cute.  Motherhood, no matter what, is profoundly beautiful.  Promise.

Mothers of young girls, PLEASE talk to your daughters about this stuff. Don’t be caught unawares, don’t let a physician convince your teenager that she needs an IUD, and don’t believe the lie that a teenager isn’t capable of owning her choices and her sexuality.  Arm yourself with good information, let the science speak for itself, and empower your daughter to believe that the female body is an incredible and powerful thing.  Tell her the truth about her dignity, and about the feminine genius.

And if you remember only one thing I said here today, it’s that IUDs are for the (contracepting) birds.  No bueno.  Women deserve better, always and forever.

Dear New York City Health Department, ladies on the subway don’t need your IUDs.