On being Catholic and voting


Are you tired of the election yet? Seems like every time I check my phone there’s some breaking news announcement about a controversial email exchange, or yet another report about a very bad thing that a candidate did–and got away with. It’s becoming hard to keep up, not that I necessarily even want to. More memes about cats and koalas, please!

I’ve steered completely clear of making any public political statements, up to this point. I don’t really like arguing online, mostly because it never changes minds and always stresses me out. Who needs it, right? I’ll generally only talk politics with people who I know won’t totally hate me when we’re done. What’s funny, though, about this particular election season is that a lot of us are in the same boat: voting for a candidate we think is kind of a loser. Or a crook. (Not addressing third-party candidates here because, well, let’s face it. This is a two-party system and that won’t be changing anytime soon. If you’re voting for a third-party candidate you now think I’m part of the problem of perpetuating this system, but whatever. You’re potentially taking votes away from my crooked candidate, so we’re even.) But the thing about not saying anything at all is that I’m a blogger, and I’m kind of supposed to say stuff. I can’t spend all of the remaining weeks before the election humming to myself in a corner, watching youtubes of dogs with party hats. You wouldn’t want to read about that, and frankly I don’t want to write about it either. Plus, I think this stuff matters. So today I’m jumping in (or is it out?), and sharing a little bit of my perspective on the upcoming election.

It’s kind of scary though. Because in spite of most folks being unified in the belief that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump is remotely even close to being models of excellence, we’re also seeing what can only be the effects of a deeply divided electorate. I can’t remember the last time I saw, for example, such discord and pigeon-holing on social media. Nobody’s pretending they love who they’re voting for, yet everyone has strong opinions about the implications of those votes. More than in any other election season, I find myself extremely reticent to say ANYTHING about the way I’ll be marking my ballot, for fear of being accused of being a horrible person, or of supporting Very Bad Things That Very Entitled Wealthy People With No Moral Backbone Apparently Do.

So. For the record. Obviously I’m appalled by the disturbing sexual behaviors we’re hearing about from Donald Trump, whose use of crude language is really nothing in comparison to his actions that demonstrate, at best, an egregious misunderstanding of what human sexuality is supposed to be. (At worst, he’s a predatory creep who needs to keep his hands and eyes to himself. Yuck.) He did apologize, yes, but was it really sincere? We can’t know. Trump is of course not the first presidential candidate accused of sexually assaulting a woman or two, and I’m finding myself even more disturbed as we revisit Bill Clinton’s past sins, and Hillary’s subsequent response to those victims. Then there is the issue with Ms. Clinton and national security. Oh and remember Whitewater, and Travelgate? What a terrible mess we find ourselves in, those of us who care about virtue and truth and, ultimately, the witness of the Catholic Church.

The problem as I see it is that things in politics are inextricably bound together–it is hard to separate Hillary Clinton from the nefarious Planned Parenthood that backs her, or Donald Trump from the very likeable and pro-life Mike Pence (who, as far as I can see, is a shining star in an otherwise gloomy race. For the record I also prefer Tim Kaine to his respective running mate–why aren’t these guys the ones in the race for the presidency?) Each candidate represents more than just the sum total of his or her misdeeds and, conversely, his or her accomplishments. There is the policy, the platform, the people he or she will appoint as members of his or her cabinet. Among Catholics in particular, there is legitimate concern right now over the politics of abortion and the appointing of Supreme Court justices, and also issues surrounding religious freedom and the meaning of marriage. We continue hoping for a reversal of Roe v. Wade, but not of the Hyde Amendment. We worry that we are at risk of losing our ability to freely practice our faith. We marvel at how quickly the culture is drifting away from the traditional family model that was designed by God to sustain and nourish children and, consequently, society at large.

We sense that this election is important, but we aren’t thrilled with the choices set before us. They seem in fact to become less and less appealing with each passing day, and I’ve long wondered if it’s even possible for a person of any real integrity to ascend to any sort of significant political position. I suspect Netflix’s popular series “House of Cards” is more realistic than any of us would like to believe.

We are without a doubt living in a difficult time. The popular makeup company Cover Girl just announced their newest model is, in fact, a boy. A Protestant Christian minister has written an opinion piece in which she uses faith to justify, of all things, her abortion. (Ironically, the image accompanying the article is the silhouette of a very pregnant woman, with a cross over her womb. Hmmmm.) Divorce and brokenness continue to plague and threaten marriage and children. And so we must carefully consider not just the candidates but the various things that accompany them.

No one should be looking for a political savior, or for a president to somehow Fix All The Things. (Even if I were, this would clearly not be the year to find them!) But I do think that legislation has the potential to shape the direction in which the culture moves, and I like me some pragmatism, so I confess that I will not cast a vote for a politician running on a staunchly pro-abortion platform. People may accuse me of being simple minded, anti-woman, or even downright stupid, but it’s the truth. Cecil Richards herself said that she is very concerned about the future of abortion in our country if Hillary Clinton is not elected.

And it’s really not just that one issue, either. There are some foundational things at stake here (religious freedom, for example), that go far beyond what is happening to 3,000 unborn American children (and their mothers and fathers) on a daily basis. I’m voting for and against platforms at this point, and from that perspective, I believe the choice is clear. And though I may disagree I respect your decision, if you are voting for Clinton (or an obscure third-party candidate who won’t get elected). I get it. Sort of. Just kidding. Sort of.

Will this admission cause me to lose followers, credibility and friends? Judging by the vitriol and razor-sharp division exploding all over my Facebook feed, quite possibly. But that’s where I’m at. I cannot in good faith support the present platform of the Democratic Party. On November 8th, I will not vote for Hillary Clinton. I am instead planning to vote for the dude that owns casinos and beauty pageants. Sigh. Because of the platforms. 

If that’s hard to understand, well, feel free to chalk it up to my being an unthinking, backwards Catholic.

And now, back to the dogs in party hats.

(For a far superior read on Catholics and voting, check out my Archbishop’s recent article in the Denver Catholic Register.)

On listening and racial injustice


I’ve been quiet on here lately. Things have been busy, yes, but honestly? Sometimes it is so dang hard to know what to write.

The news cycle right now is of course focused largely on issues related to race, and policing. (Also, the election, but I steer realllllll clear of that one.) Bloggers are supposed to say stuff about the stuff that’s going on in the world, but I have found myself intentionally remaining quiet. I tend to stick to safe topics in my Catholic columns (you know, like birth control and Humanae Vitae), because it’s just easier and there is less chance of being misunderstood. But here in this space I feel like I should be saying something, but I don’t, because I don’t want to offend or say the wrong thing.

It’s not that I don’t have opinions about the racial issues in our country. Because actually, I do. Just ask my husband. No, I’ve been quiet because I am trying to listen, and to think, and to choose my words Very Carefully. So many angry opinions and harsh sentiments are flying around the internet these days, and I just plain refuse to engage. Maybe that’s the wrong way to go about it when you’re a blogger, but I really don’t have much space in my life for that kind of thing.

But today I wanted to share what I’ve been thinking about. I of course have a personal vested interest in the subject of racial injustice, because I have four black children–including two black sons. My boys are young still (just nearly twelve), but they are growing up. And I am loving who they’re growing into, by the way. They are witty, smart, and athletic. One is orderly and (usually) plays by the rules, and the other is spontaneous and carefree as all get out. (And occasionally a stickler for rules.) They are hard workers. They swim, play soccer, and have most recently taken up the sport of cross country. (“Mom! Can I please have five dollars, because we’re running two miles to Dairy Queen after school today?” my son asked me last week, in his earnest and exuberant way.)

My black sons were born in the East African country of Ethiopia. They don’t remember anything about their lives there, sadly, because they were just shy of a year and a half old when they joined our family and became Californians, and now Coloradans. But in a sense, where they were born doesn’t so much matter when we’re talking about race–African American or Ethiopian American, they are black, which is how the world sees them and how they see themselves.

Over the years, my sons have at times been the target of racism. Not too terribly often, but on occasion. Last year for example, some kid at school said some really cruel, stupid things to one of my boys, which I only heard about because a kid who witnessed it told one of my other children. This necessitated yet another discussion with my sons about how those sorts of insults need to be reported, either to the teacher or to me (so the teacher and principal can be told.) We have always made it a point to keep an open dialogue around here about our differences, adoption, and race, but things sure do kick up a notch when your children are going to school and encountering other kids. I’m a big believer in empowering all of my kids, every last one of them, and affirming them in who they are, so I take this stuff seriously. So far my sons have a healthy dose of self-confidence and lead a relatively carefree existence, but I am not so naïve as to believe that racial injustice will never touch them in a more deeply significant way.

And this is partly because, well, I’m white. I do not have the experience of living as a black person, my relatives were not captured and transported from their homes, only to be enslaved first by plantation masters, and then by Jim Crow laws. My family does not have a history of being racially profiled. Nobody sees me and assumes I’m this or that way, or suspects me of being a person who would be more likely to commit a crime.

I have, however, had a scary experience with a police officer. Long story short my husband was driving and we were getting rerouted in a ton of traffic, but we were confused as to what the barricades meant and where the highway patrolmen were wanting us to drive, and where we could exit the highway. And as our minivan inched along at about two miles per hour, we apparently didn’t do what we were supposed to. An officer came running over and yelling, and yanked with all his might on my husband’s door handle, trying to jerk it open. Thank goodness it was locked–I honestly don’t know what would have happened if he’d been able to open it. Or, if my husband had been black. Because this gentleman was SO amped up, overstressed, he was cussing and furious. So we were all, um, we’re sorry. It’s not clear what we’re supposed to be doing here. Thankfully we were able to drive away, but it was pretty terrifying. In hindsight we should have gotten his name and filed a report, because it really scares me to think he carries a weapon on the regular.

Some of our kids were in the car with us that day. They remember that. (I have explained to them of course that I believe the vast majority of police officers are there to help us, but that this man was obviously having a bad day and quite possibly should not have a job in law enforcement. I have also reminded them that when Alice had a breath-holding spell and went unconscious, I was very grateful for the calm and compassionate deputy who showed up to my home to make sure we were okay.) And so I can see why over time, a group of people could come to really distrust law enforcement, in general, if they are repeatedly having bad encounters with the police, or hearing about loved ones having bad encounters with the police. In fact, two of the departments where we live (the sheriff’s office and the Denver Police Department) have been in trouble in recent years when it comes to the use of excessive force. I know they’re really trying to improve community relations, and Denver has a black police chief now. That’s a good thing. But we have to acknowledge that the problems in urban neighborhoods are complex, and that many in the black community perceive themselves to be at greater risk of being hurt and/or killed by those in law enforcement. I would like to see more statistics on the demographic breakdown of what’s happening during traffic stops in different parts of the country, because that seems like it would be helpful in understanding what is going on and where.

But regardless what the statistical reality is, what black men and women are expressing should matter. Period. Because black lives matter. Period.

The term “white privilege” has become somewhat of an overused buzzword in my opinion, but the concept is very real. There are all kinds of privilege that children are born into, so I’m not sure why the acknowledgment of white privilege is so controversial. And because I am white, I will not attempt to speak for black people or pretend to understand their unique cultural experience. We may all be citizens of the same country, but blacks have a very different history in the United States than, say, I do. This is part of why I refrain from publicly commenting too much on these matters–I want to be an ally but I also have no interest in being a voice for people who can absolutely speak for themselves. And, I think social media, the mainstream media, and conservative media are all contributing in their own respective, insidious ways to making race relations even worse than they already are.

What is the answer? I’m not really sure. I believe we must all pursue justice, love and peace, to the best of our abilities, first in our own homes and then in our communities. I believe that the laws of the land should be upheld, but also that our justice system (like most things in this world) is imperfect, and susceptible to being exploited. I would like to see more police officers of color, and better relations between the police and communities. I would like to see hate and prejudice banished from every heart, and a greater capacity for listening before speaking. (Talking to myself there!) And that is the main thing I try to do, by the way, when it comes to the subject of racial injustice. I want to listen to a variety of black people and hear their various perspectives. I don’t ever want to minimize a person’s experience simply because I have not experienced it myself. The video of the recent shooting, where the wife is yelling for the police not to shoot, and for her husband to stay in the car, was horrific to watch. Lives changed, tragically, in an instant. But I watched it because as heart wrenching as it is, it is also someone’s reality, and that reality deserves to be known. And back when those police officers were tragically shot and killed in Dallas, I read and watched that coverage as well, for the same reason. Those men and their reality deserves to be seen and understood, too.

It is not, at least I don’t think it is anyhow, an either/or proposition here. We can address the very real issues of racial injustice and support the black community, while opposing violent assaults on members of law enforcement. We can hear what others are saying, stick up for them, and give them the space to share without automatically being anti-cop or, conversely, anti-black. White people like me can sit and think things through as we scroll through our newsfeeds, putting ourselves in another’s shoes and choosing hope and empathy over cynicism and hate.

Finally, I’ll close by sharing that I recently discovered Lt. Tim McMillan’s Facebook page. He’s become a bit of an overnight social media star because of a status he shared recently, after pulling someone over for texting and driving:

When I went to talk to the driver, I found a young black male, who was looking at me like he was absolutely terrified with his hands up. He said, “What do you want me to do officer?” His voice was quivering. He was genuinely scared.

I just looked at him for a moment, because what I was seeing made me sad. I said, “I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

In which he replied, with his voice still shaking, “Do you want me to get out of the car.”
I said, “No, I don’t want you to text and drive. I don’t want you to get in a wreck. I want your mom to always have her baby boy. I want you to grow up and be somebody. I don’t even want to write you a ticket. Just please pay attention, and put the phone down. I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

I truly don’t even care who’s fault it is that young man was so scared to have a police officer at his window. Blame the media, blame bad cops, blame protestors, or Colin Kaepernick if you want. It doesn’t matter to me who’s to blame. I just wish somebody would fix it.

And so, that is where I’m at these days. I too wish somebody would fix it. I see the news reports about all these shootings, I see people complaining about how other people are protesting, I see all the finger-pointing, I see when rioting leads to violence, and it’s discouraging. We are a nation deeply divided, but then I also suspect that many of us (regardless of race or party affiliation) really do want the same things, deep down. And when there are problems, it’s important to speak up, and to say it’s not okay. Martin Luther King, Jr. once called rioting “the language of the unheard.” So, I hereby recommit myself to listening and to learning, to speaking out for the dignity of all people, and to raising up my black sons as best I can. (One of them wants to be a police officer when he grows up, incidentally, and I think he’d make a darn good one.) And if you have been a victim of injustice, racial or otherwise, I am truly sorry. Most days it feels like there’s not much someone like me can do, so I just want to go on record as saying: I am a person who believes justice very much matters, racism is a terrible scourge on society, hatred is a serious evil, and you are seen. We are, collectively, capable of so much more.

Introducing Beatrice Julianne


Hey!  Over here!  Sets down purse overflowing with diapers and old receipts, and waves frantically with one hand while balancing the two-month-old in the other.  It’s me!  I’m back!

Back to blogging, back to the real world that consists of more than just sitting out by the backyard pool or driving kids to swim practice, back to the grind of school uniforms and fall sports and early bedtimes and meal planning.

I didn’t make a conscious effort to take a summer writing sabbatical, it just kind of happened.  The weather got all warm and nice, my kids were home and milling around, and also?  I had my baby!  Yessirree, on June 22nd I gave birth to sweet little Beatrice Julianne.  Pictured above.  She was born, incidentally, on our fourteenth wedding anniversary.  I woke up at 3 am and I thought to myself, Hmmm.  I have a bad stomachache.  That seems to come with cramps every ten minutes.  Then after awhile I realized that actually, no, it was labor, and I should probably wake my husband and let him know.

We showed up to the hospital at 7 am–and Bea was born one hour later.  I’ll have to share more about the whole thing at some point because the story’s a good one.  Think a nurse who decided I wasn’t in labor, and a doctor who sprinted to my bedside in running clothes.  The main thing to know for now, though, is that Beatrice is here and has more than lived up to her name, which means “bringer of joy.”

Beatrice is our ninth child, and my fifth baby.  (Four of my kids are adopted.)  This summer has been such a precious time of getting to know her and really just being together as a family, especially because my husband took a bunch of time off work.  Lots of swimming, card playing, and laughing.  We also attended the usual swim meets, the kids went roller skating, we took our annual family trip to Elitch Gardens, and our old kitchen was more or less gutted (with remodeling into an entryway/office space beginning soon).  We got rid of a ton of stuff, and got garages organized.  All the while with Beatrice in tow, of course.

It’s a big deal any time a new baby is born.  A huge deal, really.  The anticipation and the planning, and then the transition once she arrives.  We may be a large family but that doesn’t mean we take the gift of a new child lightly–an assumption I think a lot of people probably make.  I got the “Don’t you have a TV?” question the other day, belying the sincere and widespread confusion as to why someone would go on to have a ninth kid, when you already have eight, and surely that is enough.  But the truth is that I don’t sit around contemplating numbers, and my children are all profound gifts beyond anything I deserve.  Each and every one of them is, respectively, more than enough.  In any case, Beatrice was very much hoped and prayed for, and I am quite thankful to be in a position where we’ve been able to welcome sweet new babies into our family every few years or so.

And, yes.  We do own a television.  :)

The transition this time around has gone pretty smoothly.  The biggest initial challenge (aside from the inevitable early breastfeeding woes) was the crowd of Heldt kids swarming around baby and me ALL OF THE TIME, for the first few weeks.  Personal space can be hard to come by when a new baby draws siblings like moths to a flame.  Also, having a newborn is exhausting.  And emotional.  And life doesn’t really stop when you already have kids, several of whom have social lives and activities and Very Important Places to Be.  But, you know, you find your groove.  You get through the day.  Sometimes all you did was nurse and change diapers and cuddle, but that is really okay because oh, how the time flies, and babies are only small for so long.  Plus, that’s actually kind of an awesome way to spend the day because hello, you can do it from your couch!

With each new baby I have found myself learning to embrace my vocation (marriage and, consequently, motherhood) all over again.  With older kids, I can occasionally choose to tune them out (although I shouldn’t), or believe that I’m a free agent around here (which I’m obviously not because all these kids have needs, even if they have reached the age when they can successfully wipe themselves).  But babies are SO incredibly dependent.  They are game-changers.  They force you to slow down.  To give everything you have.  And, to forget about yourself and your normal daily hygiene routine.  It would be so easy in these early months to resent, begrudge, and bemoan.  Because going to the store, getting ready for Mass, running a kid to a friend’s house–all of those things used to be so much more simple before a newborn entered the picture.

And this is why, I think, a lot of folks decide that once they have Big Kids, the ones that use the bathroom unassisted, babies are more trouble than they’re worth.  Big Kids go places and need help with homework, and Big Kids like to talk and yell and cry on your shoulder.  Big Kids need to be driven to Confession and youth group and soccer practice.  Big Kids have moved on, and therefore so have we, and to have a baby is to start over.


Big Kids–the ones that leave their brand new socks outside overnight for some unknown reason, who thunder through the house like a pack of wild, rabid elephants and who, on occasion, talk back to their parents or snap at their siblings with an attitude–have a special place in their angsty preteen hearts for, of all things, babies.  They come home exhausted from a sleepover with their friends, but make a giddy beeline for Beatrice, with a big smile on their face.  They appear in my doorway on Saturday mornings to get a glimpse of her, and see how she slept.  When they draw pictures or fill out surveys during the first week of school, about how their summer went or what’s important to them, Beatrice is there on the page, in a prominent spot.  Beatrice, being a game-changer, inevitably changes things.  She grows and softens hearts.  She realigns priorities.  She is loved, and she brings love, this itty-bitty baby with so many needs.

And so I am reminded that being a mom is a whole lot about simply being.  THAT is the essence of my vocation.  It’s showing up in my big van at the end of the school day to collect some combination of tired, grumpy, and amped-up kids.  It’s getting home and listening to long stories about how a Big Kid couldn’t get his locker open and missed most of his lunch period, it’s gathering for family prayer time in the evening when I can barely keep my eyes open, it’s giving hugs and gentle, hopefully-comforting words when one of my Big Kids is feeling emotional about something.  I of course did this stuff before June 22nd, but now I do these things with Beatrice in my arms or at my breast.  In some ways, starting over again with a baby makes me more present to my Big Kids, and more conscious of what the Lord has called me to do–even if I am also sleepy and unshowered.

So if anybody out there is contemplating having another cute little baby, but wondering how it might affect their Big Kids, well, it will.  But in the very best of ways, for the most part.  There will be sacrifices, yes, and the occasional “I CAN’T HELP YOU WITH THAT RIGHT NOW BECAUSE THE BABY IS UPSET”, but it is worth it.  Worth.it.  I have not once regretted being open to life in my marriage, and especially not when I look at little Beatrice cooing and smiling at me first thing in the morning.  Or when I see the love my husband and Big Kids have for her.  This whole thing is God’s design, and it is good.  So, so good.

Is life perfect?  No way.  Is being a mother hard?  Absolutely.  Is having a new baby exhausting and all-consuming?  You bet.  But sometimes hard stuff also brings really good things.  So, we are happy.  Because Beatrice is here!  Seven of the kids are back in school as of this week.  Which means I’m running around getting everyone settled, scheduling multiple IEP meetings, and obtaining a 504 plan for a kiddo who needs some help staying focused and organized in the classroom.  Blogging remains a dying art form, but I’m hoping to keep at it anyhow, and I’m still writing my humble little column at the National Catholic Register.  I haven’t recorded a new radio show in ages but hey, maybe I can get back into that too.  As always, thanks for reading and following along. And, for stopping by to meet Beatrice!

On Not Hiding Behind the Curtain


Four of my kids recently performed in a musical production of The Wizard of Oz.  We had a tot, a city father, a winkie guard, and a crow–and for the second performance, the winkie guard also doubled as part of the tornado.

Of course they were all very small roles, but still a good experience for the kids all the way around–having to audition individually for the teacher, committing to several months’ worth of after-school rehearsals, and the joys of being part of a cast.  Most of my kids weren’t initially interested in participating, but I encouraged them to do it anyway because I felt it was valuable.  How will you know whether you like or excel at something if you never give it a shot?

Plus, I confess I always did love the movie.  I grew up watching mean old Mrs. Gulch get her witch’s comeuppance, and the songs were so much fun, and Glinda’s sparkling dress captivated my little girl imagination and heart over and over again.  For whatever reason, though, as an adult watching an amateur children’s performance of the film, I was most struck by the image of the wizard.  Hiding behind his (or her, in the case of our little play) curtain and sounding mean and tough, but then being found out as just a mere (wo)man, and only upon accepting the realities of his own station and insecurities, conveying such lovely gifts as courage, a brain, and a heart.

There is some sort of deeper meaning to be found there, I think.  As a Catholic wife, mother, friend, and writer, that kind of self-awareness and authenticity is something worthy of my reflection and, I fear, my pursuit.  I say “fear”, because it sounds like an awful lot of difficult and time-consuming work to not only know who you are and where you stand, but also to be perfectly comfortable with not only your own limitations, but also the resulting perceptions.

So even though the rehearsals and performances are all over, and the constant singing and humming of Judy Garland tunes around my house seems to have (mercifully!) subsided, I’m still thinking about the wizard, and about the curtain.

I wrote something a couple of weeks ago that sparked some conversation on my normally quiet blog and social media accounts.  (Leave it to me to publish something about USING THE RESTROOM, and have it go viral-ish.  My inner-ten-year-old finds this hilarious, by the way, and my very-mature-mother-to-eight self is, well, kind of embarrassed.) For the most part it was good dialogue, but I did find myself feeling a little exposed in my feeble attempt at outlining one aspect of a compassionate approach to men and women made in the image of God.

Especially considering the fact that I’m not some credentialed college professor or uber fancy blogger.  I’m just me, sitting in my pajamas at my keyboard, while my three-year-old dresses her dolls and goes in and out of the house a million times to play with the cats that I’m allergic to.  Sometimes she lets them in, like she did ten minutes ago, and I have to chase them out.  I watch the clock to know when I need to leave to pick up my kindergartner, I throw in a load of laundry, I take a break to empty the dishwasher.  The only reason I started writing in the first place was to chronicle an adoption process for myself, and though I do now provide content for public consumption, I don’t see myself as an ambassador for a whole lot of anything besides “people recently and passionately addicted to Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter.”

Being a writer is, inevitably, vulnerable.

My piece about some of the Christian response to Target’s restroom policy was not intended to provide a Catholic perspective on gender identity vs. sex, homosexuality, marriage, or the sorry state of our culture.  It was not intended to be a wholesale critique of people opposed to the policy, nor was it intended to marginalize those supporting it.  It was really just an honest, personal, and admittedly human reflection upon the matter.  From an at-home mom trying to raise confident, faith-filled, and loving children in a world marked by suffering, confusion, and self-centeredness. Pope Francis speaks often of mercy, of the Church being a field hospital, and of the need to seek after those in the margins. There are countless ways to do that, certainly, and my concern (which continues to grow) was simply that this beautiful vision of living out our faith may be at odds with the way some Christians approach online engagement.

I confess that after having been accused of contributing to the moral decline of society, I found myself wondering if I should have just avoided the silly topic of retail spaces and bathrooms altogether. Did I write something that was, in fact, at odds with what I know to be God’s plan for men and women?  I certainly believe both sexes are created in God’s image, that marriage is a Sacrament to be entered into between one man and one woman and, furthermore, that marriage is ordered towards the procreation of children.  (Those crazy Catholics!  This is why I have so many kids!)  I agree with Pope Francis when he writes in Amoris Laetitia that “the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created” (no. 285).  So should I have simply remained quiet if I didn’t want to approach the subject of transgenderism from a dogmatic, adversarial or philosophical perspective?

And, was it WRONG to leave out the troubling statistics regarding transition and sex reassignment surgery, or the guidelines set forth by mental health professionals?  They don’t paint a very happy or optimistic picture.  And I wholeheartedly believe those things are absolutely crucial to the much larger conversation, partly because as parents, we MUST be informed, aware, and prepared (as best we can be) to answer hard questions from our children regarding sexuality, life, and love.  Who is to say that none of my kids will ever have questions about their own self-identity, or that they won’t ever have a transgendered friend?  We must seek after the truth, every last one of us, and do our best to live and express that truth.

My husband is fond of saying that kindness goes a long way.  He is right.  And though I do have somewhat of an online platform here (gosh I hate that word), I find social media falls horribly short when it comes to relationships and conversations.  And, I also think that you can approach objective truths and realities from different, nuanced directions.  You can hold the Catholic Church’s views on creation and sexuality while simultaneously being concerned about how those ascribing to alternative ideas are being treated or characterized online.

But in any case, the more I think about that trembling old wizard and about what it means to make yourself known, I’m really not sorry I wrote from the angle I did.  Nor do I believe it belies some sort of aversion to sharing life-giving truth on my part.  Speaking openly about perceived injustices or the mistreatment of individuals is something I simply do not regret.  If my words did not represent the sort of thing you’d prefer to see written about the subject of transgenderism, that’s okay!  No doubt other (far more talented than I!) writers out there are publishing those kinds of things–they are probably also people who don’t write in their pajamas or chase cats and toddlers around the house.  I get that a lot of conservative-leaning folks (regardless their religious affiliation) feel like their ideals and values are under attack from the media, and like this necessitates a certain defensiveness–but then I also think that the media is just that: the media.  A two-dimensional screen.  If politics steal your joy, take up all your time, or land you in near-constant online arguments, feel free to turn off your TV, get off of Facebook, and get to know people in your churches and neighborhoods and schools instead.  Build real relationships, host coffee dates, extend a smile to fellow tired moms.

Because really, friends?

At the end of the day, life is just plain hard enough.  Even without all the noise.  Or the division.  Or the polemics and shouting.  I love truth, clarity, and straight-talk, but I also love kindness, context, and approachability. Maybe that’s a darn near impossible balance to strike as a writer but meh, I don’t really care.  I’ll probably try to do it anyway.  Same way I explain truths of the faith to my children, while also encouraging them to love others, period.

Truth be told I want to become less like L. Frank Baum’s wizard–both in real life, and online.  Less cloaked, less hidden, more comfortable with being known.  Sounds simple but for an introvert like me, that is a lifelong journey!  I care WAY TOO MUCH what people think of me.  I am insecure.  But I’m also just plain tired of FEAR.  Fear of the future, fear of the election, fear of speaking up for others, fear of being exposed for caring about the wrong kinds of people, fear of criticism.  Fear serves a right and healthy purpose, but it can also be deceiving, crippling, and thieving.

And, I figure you could spend your whole life hiding behind that curtain, saying all the right things and honing your image, speaking in a loud and confident voice and convincing people that you are the biggest, the strongest, the most right–or maybe just simply that you’re “one of them”.  A member of the inner circle, that elite group that says all the stuff they’re supposed to say, in the way they’re supposed to say it.  It is certainly safer to remain in those shadows, to avoid the risk of being misunderstood or written off.  It is easier to draw lines from afar and decide who’s in and who’s out.  And I’ve seen these tendencies afoot in the pro-life movement, apologetics circles, the blogosphere, various social media sites, and of course also in real life.

But, I don’t want to live that way.  I want to be human, and I want to see others as human.  When Toto exposes the wizard for who he really is, it is only then that the frightened old man can give a heart, courage, and brains to Dorothy’s friends.  It seems too that as Christians, it is when we are authentic, kind, honest, and engaged, that we can bring Jesus’ love to a world desperately hungry for it.  This is not the same thing as embracing moral relativism, or an “I’m okay/you’re okay” paradigm–the truth is that not one of us is okay.  We are clumsy, broken, wounded, struggling. But we also have the potential to live and to thrive in the hope we have in Christ!  We can make the most of our time here on earth, we can choose to live in the light of joy and to pursue love above all things.  We can seek, embrace, and honor hard-and-fast truth while also maintaining a general predisposition to kindness towards others.

Most of my life as a wife, mother, writer, and friend is lived right there in that tension, anyhow.  We belong to two public school communities, my children play on assorted sports teams, and we have a number of non-Catholic family members and friends. Yet I don’t often find myself in real-life situations necessitating fierce doctrinal or political debates, the type I see playing out every.single.day. on Facebook and Twitter feeds.  And I suspect it’s the same for most people.  So why the disconnect?  Is it perhaps a problem that we are so willing to engage in what I can only call aggressive behavior online, where we wizards can hide behind our digital curtains and reduce human beings to who they vote for or what they think about xyz, when most of real life is not lived in that space and, what’s more, should not be lived in that space?

Of course nobody will ever all agree upon the “right” way to discuss a particular topic, or the “best” way to influence the culture for good.  I sure as heck don’t have the answers, though you can read a few of my humble thoughts on that here.  But I will do my best to be myself, and to stand for truth, and to pursue love.  If I write something, you can be sure I mean it.  And I hope that my integrity as a woman and a blogger always stems not only from maintaining a consistent moral and religious ethic (which I certainly hope to do!), but also from the fact that I don’t want to live behind a curtain, too afraid to speak honestly about assorted things for fear of losing followers, looking a certain way, or losing people’s respect. It’s why you’ll find me saying that hormonal birth control is pretty much one of the worst things ever to happen to women, and why I said Christians should stop using social media accounts to make fun of those in the transgender community, and why most recently, I wrote something critical of the federal government’s joint resolution on students and gender identity.  People are of course always and forever free to disagree, criticize, and form opinions about me or my ideas–that’s what writers do, is throw something out there for thought and discussion.  I refuse to be one of those bloggers that says stuff and then wonders why it nets some amount of negative feedback.  If I can say it, I am determined to accept the fall-out.  I’ll stand by my words, right out in front. Even if I’m shaking like a leaf.

And, I hereby cordially invite you to join me, and consider coming out from behind your own curtain.  We all have one, no matter what it is–perhaps you struggle to make authentic social connections in real life, or find yourself wracked with shame over things in the past.  Maybe you’re angry about the direction your life has taken, are hurting over a broken relationship, or feel like you have nothing to offer other people.  Maybe it’s nothing so dramatic, you just want to be more intentional about what you do or honest about who you are.  Whatever it is, your community needs your voice and your input, and ultimately, it needs you.

Because where would the tin man, scarecrow, and lion be, were the wizard still hiding?

On Having Compassion, Shopping at Target, and Using the Restroom


Back in my college days in California–oh, the yore!–my plan was to get an advanced degree in Psychology, and become a licensed counselor of some sort.  This however was only after a lively detour through Agricultural Business and Political Science, because I wanted to be a lobbyist, too.  Tough decisions, I tell you!  Now of course I’m a mom and a freelancer, though I like to think I do a fair bit of psychoanalysis and counseling on a daily basis, here, around the house.  I also occasionally yell things like WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT?! and DON’T MAKE DUMB DECISIONS!, which I’m assuming people in the helping profession do NOT do–but I never did earn my degree, because I got married and then got pregnant, instead.  More detours.  So I’m telling myself that I must have missed that particular class, the one on “things not to say to small human beings”.

Anyway, a couple of nights ago I was reminiscing to my husband (forever privy to All Of The Things Rattling Around in My Brain) about a particular class I took as part of my psychology major.  “Human Sexuality” was credit/no credit, helped fulfill my graduation requirements, and frankly?  It sounded fairly interesting.  I guess I’m weird like that, this whole being fascinated by human behavior thing that compels me to buy books by the likes of Erik Erikson, Margaret Sanger, and Betty Freidan.  That I sit and read.  For fun.  But I digress.

In case you’re wondering (and I know you are, particularly if you did not attend a secular state university like I did), we studied the usual stuff–STDs, the historical significance of the Kinsey Institute, and the science behind the sexual response cycle.  The latter was probably not necessary for college-aged students to be studying in-depth (and the accompanying video was beyond disturbing for way too many reasons to list here), but hey, it was an easy class that helped me maintain my GPA.  So I may have been blushing, but I wasn’t complaining.

There was one class period, though, that I can still remember quite clearly and which was (in my opinion) really very valuable.  A panel of men and women representing a range of what I shall call (remember, I’m just a clumsy amateur) “alternative sexualities” came to answer questions, and talk about their lives.  There was a lesbian college student, two transgendered women, and a transgendered man.  They explained when they first felt “different”, what the transition had been like, how devastating it was to experience divorce and some level of estrangement from family and friends.  One of the women-who-was-born-a-man shared about how hard it was initially for her son to see his father become a woman, and how that relationship was uncomfortable and awkward for a long time.

The other man-to-woman talked about being a successful engineer at a local power plant, and about how embarrassing it was going through this transition in the workplace, among co-workers she’d known for many years. Particularly when she needed to use the restroom.

My thought at the time was that the entire matter of gender dysphoria was incredibly sad–I have no idea how it feels to be born one way and yet feel another, I had never experienced a wholesale identity shift that resulted in fractured relationships, and at nineteen years old I had never even thought to question my sexuality or gender.  It had simply, truly never occurred to me. I was a woman, I was attracted to men, I had a boyfriend.  I also had a handful of gay friends, and I would ask them questions and listen to what they had to say, and I could sympathize with what they were going through.  (Disapproval from family members, the complexities of coming out, being othered.)  But it wasn’t personal for me, and in any case they were all just people, anyhow.  Not so very different from me in most ways.

So while I have always believed in God’s design for marriage, men and women, I have never seen that as being mutually exclusive with recognizing a person’s dignity–which to me includes not only how they were created but also their struggles, wounds, and experiences.  Statistically speaking, men and women identifying as transgender are more likely to be depressed, are at greater risk for being victims of violence, and they have a higher incidence of suicidal thoughts.  Not an easy road, obviously.  Modern clinicians try to say that these negative effects are mostly the result of the discrimination transgender individuals experience throughout society, but personally I don’t think that tells the whole story. Gender variance is complex.  Feeling isolated and shamed certainly doesn’t help, but it doesn’t explain all of the inner turmoil or anguish experienced by these dear people.  There’s more going on there.

And that brings me to this whole recent uproar over Target’s restroom policy.

A lot of conservative-leaning Christians are upset, because the retail chain (that we all know and desperately, desperately love) came out and stated that shoppers and employees are free to use the bathroom of the gender they identify as.

Cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Truth be told, I believe there is good reason for some of the concern.  As a woman, I don’t really want some weird dude possessing the legal right to hang out in my bathroom.  Because what happens if a very bad person uses this policy as an opportunity to hurt someone?  I’m not talking about people identifying as transgender by the way, just opportunistic wackos who are evil and creepy.  Therefore, these sorts of policies may set a bad precedent, and I wonder why they’re necessary in the first place–because wouldn’t most folks identifying as transgender more or less appear as the gender they identify as?  So they could head into the bathroom of their choice without anybody caring? Seems like maybe this is more a situation of Target hoping to protect themselves from legal problems, which I really can’t fault them for, either.  I also think there is a danger in the societal normalization of what is really a very serious mental struggle for people.  There is the potential for the spreading of further confusion, and the confirming of that confusion.  You can read my related articles about Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner here and here.

All of that to say that if you’re concerned about this policy opening the door to bad-things-only-mildly-related-to-transgenderism, I hear you.

But on the other hand, well, I can’t shake that afternoon all those years ago, sitting in Human Sexuality, when the middle aged MTW expressed deep anxiety over using the restrooms at work. This person was not a criminal and wasn’t looking to do anything weird.  They weren’t trying to make anyone uncomfortable and they certainly weren’t pushing any sort of agenda.  But they experience a disconnect in an area that most of us take for granted, and that is where I think perhaps the Christian community is missing something in all of the angry hand-wringing and pearl-clutching and mocking of the transgender community.

And this is terribly tangential, but I think we Christians occasionally do a less-than-honorable job of extending mercy, grace, and hope to people.  Particularly people: living alternative lifestyles, the mentally ill, and women in difficult relationships or circumstances.  Just this morning I read an excellent article in Slate about the pitfalls (read: nightmares) of unregulated “Christian-based” counseling.  I have also done a fair amount of reading and reflecting upon the conservative Christian homeschooling bubble.  And I have written multiple times about the challenges implicit in raising differently-abled children in a community of typical, perfect-seeming families.  And this is just my two cents, but we need to tread carefully when we’re talking about human beings.  My experiences, my feelings, and my struggles may be different from yours.  Doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as objective reality, and it doesn’t mean we should suppress truthful and difficult solutions for fear of giving offense, but we need to be very careful in how we approach people and their unique situations.  We need to ask ourselves if we are hurting more than helping.  We need to consider whether making fun of people and their challenges is advancing any sort of cause beyond just making ourselves feel good–photographing yourself in a pirate costume, for example, and asking if that makes you a pirate, is not going to change anyone’s mind or heart or policies.  It IS going to be good for a few laughs with your friends, and alienating anyone experiencing gender dysphoria or confusion.

Now.  In the interest of full disclosure, I try to avoid public restrooms in general–because germs, and who doesn’t prefer to poop at home?–but I’m afraid I’m a Christian who won’t be boycotting Target.  The company (and everywhere else I shop) probably espouses all kinds of values related to things I don’t fully 100% agree with.  Lest someone tries to write me off as some sort of heretic (though that is certainly your prerogative), I will also tell you that I think in general, if you were born a man?  You’re a man, and should probably use the restroom with the picture of the man-with-triangular-limbs on the door.  That just seems like common sense to me, and a way of showing respect to us ladies.  Then again, if you appear to be/consider yourself a woman in spite of having been born a man, maybe that changes things.  Basically, if you’re just going in to do your business and using my restroom alleviates your anxiety, it’s fine by me.  Either way, I’ll be in my own stall, with the door locked, peeing.

But more than any of that–and what I’m trying to say here–is that I’m deeply bothered by the Christian demonizing of an entire sub-group of individuals, the painting of transgendered men and women as deviants and terrible people just out looking for someone to hurt.

If you find Target’s restroom policies reprehensible, fine.  I get it.  Use your social media account to explain to your followers why it’s a problem for you, decide what you’re going to do about it, and move on.  No need to disparage men and women who are no doubt just trying to earn a living or buy a throw pillow.  I have actually seen several friends of mine share their views in a respectful way, which I appreciate.  That’s probably why we’re friends.

Incidentally, my twelve-year-old daughter and I stopped at Target a couple of months ago to pick up a gift for a birthday party.  (Don’t worry, I’ve been there several times since then as well.)  As I was paying the cashier for the card game and candy she’d decided upon, my daughter whispered, “Mom!  Is that a boy or a girl over there at that other register?”  When I looked up and saw who she was talking about, my instinct was to laugh and say that OBviously it’s a woman, because can’t you see she has breasts–oh the naivete of children–but then I heard the person speak.  And it was a male voice.  Which is what my daughter had noticed in the first place, and what had led to her confusion.

So as we left the parking lot, my daughter ironically taping a black mustache to her face–that was the theme of the party–I told her that although God makes men and women distinct from one another, and that He makes each of us just the way He wants us, occasionally people aren’t happy with how they were created.  Sometimes it’s kind of mysterious how that happens, other times maybe it’s more clear.  I told her that life can be so hard sometimes, and that teenagers in particular can feel depressed or anxious or a little bit confused about who they are.  And that for some people, living as a different gender than the one God gave them may feel or seem like a good solution.  I said I was pretty sure that the young Target employee had been born male, but somewhere along the way he decided to grow out his hair and obtain a (rather impressive) female-looking chest, and maybe he feels more at ease that way.  Maybe someone told him he should do that, and that it would make everything better, but that I suspect it won’t solve the deeper issues.  I told my daughter that this person probably continues to struggle.  And that all of this can be hard to understand, but that it’s just part of the mixed-up topsy-turvy world we live in, and that God wants us to love everyone.  Especially people prone to feeling unlovable, or who get made fun of, or who don’t fit in a neat little box.  I said we all want to be accepted so very desperately, and that we are so blessed to have our faith and to know we are loved unconditionally by a good and merciful God.

I said that the person we saw was a person.  Period.

Most of you know that I am Catholic.  This means (among other things, like not using birth control and being the proud owner of assorted religious statues) that I believe in the historic teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church.  So I don’t tell my kids that gender is fluid or that sex doesn’t matter.  I don’t personally believe that all manifestations of sexuality or sexual behavior are morally equal, or that consent alone drives whether something is good for a person, family, or society.  Mostly I teach my kids about Jesus and how much He loves them, but I also talk to them about God’s beautiful design for men and women.  I tell them what marriage is and isn’t, and about what our bodies tell us about God’s plan.

But I also make sure to tell them that people are people, and our role as Christians is to love them.

And when it comes to gender, I think we have to fight the temptation to give in to fear.  I didn’t bat an eye for example when my son, at three years old, loved carrying around a purple princess purse, I don’t tend to overemphasize gender differences/roles around our home (every one of my kids can rock both a rake and toilet brush), and I don’t think that gender dysphoria or gender variance ought to relegate a person to the margins of society.  I just don’t.

Hopefully I’ve made it clear here that while I’m saddened by all of the angry rhetoric floating around, I don’t mean to minimize the potential fall-out from these sorts of policies (where the aforementioned creeps now have legal license to hang out in the women’s restroom), and I especially don’t mean to trivialize the related issue of school locker rooms.  I would not, for example, allow my daughters to undress in the presence of boys (regardless how they identify), and vice-versa.  I think there are real concerns here that should be addressed.  But we can do that without all the fear and suspicion, and approach the situation with respect and consideration for both women and people identifying as transgender.  We can be Christians who listen and who love.

At least, in my unprofessional-because-I-dropped-out-of-school-and-had-babies-instead opinion, I certainly think so.

On Answering Questions (About My Large Family)


My three-year-old, Alice, has pretty much the sweetest relationship with her six-year-old sister Tigist.  When the bus arrives at our house each morning, Alice waves Tigist off for the day–and when the bus returns in the afternoon, Alice races towards the street to greet her as I shout WAIT FOR THE BUS TO STOP FIRST!!!  A couple of days ago, I caught the girls playing Duck Duck Goose on our trampoline, just the two of them giggling in the sunshine, happily taking turns when it came to who was supposed to be “it.”

Tigist of course has Trisomy 21, otherwise known as Down syndrome.  For her this has manifested itself in heart defects, developmental delays, challenges when it comes to communicating, and significant sensory processing issues.  She is really a fun and happy kid at home most of the time, loves to dance and can rock a cartwheel, but definitely also has her struggles.  And, Alice doesn’t care.  About any of it.  Not only is Tigist her sister, she also happens to be Alice’s best friend.

And so lately they’ve taken to holding hands when we arrive for Mass, and then on the walk from Mass to the parish hall for donuts afterwards.  They have a general history of jockeying for who exactly is herding whom when it comes to navigating parking lots, but these days they seem content walking along, side-by-side, hand-in-hand, together.

Moments like that make me feel like maybe our crazy, gigantic family is doing okay, and like maybe it really is acceptable to have a crazy, gigantic family in the first place.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure why everyone finds crazy, gigantic families quite so intriguing (how many kids do you want?  are you done having kids?  when do you find time to sleep?!), but if the number of questions I get when I’m out in public with my children is any indication, folks are pretty much all-out captivated by this subject.

The worst, I must confess, is when people assume that because I have a large family, I must REALLY REALLY care about the number of children they have–when they seem defensive I want to say, um, I’m too busy pushing a rug in my stroller to even notice, much less formulate some type of opinion, when it comes to your personal life choices.

What I think is at the bottom of a lot of these queries and assumptions, though, is the million dollar question of: Why do you choose to have a lot of kids when most people don’t do that, and when it’s much easier not to?  And also, Why are the children you presently have somehow not enough?  And as hard as it is to have your life, sexuality, and parenting choices under the microscope every single time you pull out of your driveway in your screams-homeschooling-and-denim-jumper-wearing 15-passenger van, I kind of get it.  We’re weird.  We have four transracially adopted children in addition to our four biological children, we have two daughters with Down syndrome, and I am presently hugely pregnant–the latter being a dead giveaway that in spite of all the little people distributing raspberry jelly onto ALL OF THE WALLS and peeing in their pants, my husband and I are apparently still throwing caution to the wind, and eschewing what are presumed to be Responsible Things When It Comes to Adulting.  Like condoms.

Of course there was probably a time in history when you could have just dismissively shrugged your shoulders and said “Oh, we’re Catholic”, and people would nod knowingly while secretly giving thanks for their own birth-control-embracing religious tradition.  But the time for that has passed, because a lot of Catholics today do utilize contraception.  And so it seems strangely empty to the average Costco shopper for a person like me to explain away my sample-consuming, shopping-cart-clinging gaggle of kids with a simple religious label.  (Turns out that most of these people are also not interested in a mini-lesson on the history of Christianity, or in a philosophical discussion about the true aims of feminism and the ironic suppression of the healthy female body.  They just want to buy their toilet paper and cheese.  Go figure.)

And in any case, when it comes to being open to having children?  There are really a million reasons why it can potentially be a Really Good Thing–dogmas and doctrines related to words like “magisterium”, “infallible”, and “apostolic succession” aside.  These are the things I think about most often these days, and the reasons I tend to offer to people when they ask me questions in the bread aisle.

Before I go any further, though, no–I’m not suggesting that it’s ever a good thing to saddle women with unbearable burdens, nor am I meaning to say that kids will somehow magically repair a broken marriage or that people living in difficult marriages should keep on keepin’ on in the being-sexually-active-while-ovulating department, as if more babies will automatically equal more love, respect, or a healthier relationship.  Babies ought to be the fruit and sign of love, and ideally an opportunity for an increase in love between spouses, but that is a different thing.  Nor am I saying that quality of life doesn’t matter or that assorted circumstances shouldn’t be taken into account.  People who fail to see these distinctions, and many do, misunderstand what Catholics in the bread aisle believe.  But now we’re veering off towards the afore-mentioned Doctrine Land.  Anyway.

The truth is that in spite of my core beliefs about marriage and children and the gift of new life (based upon what I believe is God’s design and intention for humankind, as reflected in Catholic doctrine), I did used to occasionally worry about the ramifications of my kids having so many brothers and sisters.  I did not personally grow up with siblings, and therefore have no frame of reference whatsoever for: squabbles over who gets to pour the morning’s breakfast cereal, riding in an embarrassingly large car, or sharing a bedroom.  I did not have the experiences of getting thrown up on in my sleep or of being supervised at recess by a bossy older-brother-turned-recess-monitor, who wears a neon vest and gossips like an old woman with my friends.

So, yeah.  I would have these twinges of Oh my goodness we are RUINING THE CHILDREN every now and again, and I would picture eerily quiet future holidays where, in spite of having so many kids, my husband and I are left to eat a thirty-pound turkey and our mashed potatoes alone–because the poor adult children remain so dang traumatized by all of the poop, or by the time so-and-so pushed too many buttons and got stuck in an elevator, or when so-and-so got left–briefly!–at home, by accident.  Forget saving up for their college funds–we should really be preparing for their impending therapy bills and eventual lawsuits.

But as my kids are getting a little bit older, I’m worrying less and less about this depressingly bleak holiday scenario.  These days I’m much more inclined instead to chalk stuff up to this is just the reality of life in a family, and won’t this make for a funny story later.  I see way too many positives to dwell much on the negatives.  I see the self-confidence with which my six-year-old carries herself, and how when she tries new things, a bunch of siblings cheer her on; I see the way my eleven-year-old goes out of his way to make sure his younger sister makes it to the right classroom for play practice; I see how all the faces light up when we remember when such-and-such happened–the time that typically mild-mannered sister threw a huge temper tantrum in a crowded food court, the day we had a fender-bender and had to sit, sweating, by the side of the hot highway, or the night I went into labor with our sweet Alice, and we roused kids to join us at the hospital for the birth.  I see how those same kids still talk about how incredible it was witnessing their beloved sister come into the world.  I see how my bigger kids gush over how far their sisters with special needs have come, and I see how four of my children, the ones who had lost most of their family and cultural roots, are building new ones.  That grow deeper every single day.  It’s no replacement certainly, but I figure it’s at least something.  I see the friendships, ups and downs, and maybe best of all, the great capacity for love, even among the littlest of hearts.

We are, of course, not a perfect family.  And I credit God with any good or beauty around these here parts, because most days I honestly have no clue what the heck I’m doing.  I don’t read parenting books for one thing (maybe that’s my problem?), and I swear I’ll be lucky to make it to forty years old, because these kids keep me more than a little bit busy and more than a little bit crazy.  But, you know, it’s like I tell people all the time: It’s wild but it’s also pretty fun.  And it’s worth it.  The diapers, the mishaps, the humiliations.  The encounters at the grocery store with scandalized onlookers, the places I don’t go because I know I won’t be able to park my van without crashing into another car, the nights I fall into bed and yell to my husband JUST TURN THE TV ON SO I DON’T HAVE TO THINK ANYMORE AND SO I CAN PRETEND I’M IN THE FBI.

All of it.  Worth it.

But it’s decidedly hard to convey that to someone in twenty five words or less, whilst loading your cart with fruit and frozen green beans.  It’s a lot easier to just say I’m one of those weirdo antiquated papists, or that hormonal birth control just about near ruined my life once upon a time, or that yes indeed I am running a daycare.  And yet I think what people are really, truly wanting to know is if it’s possible to find happiness as a mother.  If the things we do in the quiet and unseen spaces of our lives are enough to sustain and fulfill.  We are tempted to think that if we can just move on to bigger, better, and less mundane activities, then our lives will finally begin in earnest.  But what being a mom-to-many has taught me so far is that life is lived now, today, right here.  It’s taught me that relationships are what matter above all else.  And that love can look a lot of ways–it can be noisy, messy, small, or darn near imperceptible.  I’ve learned that some of the sweetest victories will seem like no big deal to other people, and that what I do isn’t as important as who I am.

For all the different perspectives on family planning–and on whether or not old, religious, celibate men ought to have a perspective on family planning–it’s intangible stuff like this that makes me grateful for my many children.  It’s stuff that the average onlooker doesn’t see all of the time, it’s stuff that no doctrinal statement can quite fully capture, and it’s stuff that would slip right past me had I not made a conscious decision to watch for it.  It is not, and has never been, about numbers, cult-like adherence to man-made rules, or a full quiver.  It IS about love, togetherness, and an openness to looking life (and in my case, womanhood)–with all of its rich facets, defects, and joys–square in the face and saying yes.  To all of the things.  To love.

I suppose that is what all of those stuffy encyclicals, and writings by early church fathers with funny names, are trying to say.  They’re easily dismissed nowadays because they seem largely irrelevant to people in our culture in general–much less to frantic mothers just trying to survive until bedtime.  But I think those guys were on to something, because my personal experience has confirmed time and again that the things that grow out of a family are, indeed, very good things.  So I will continue guiding and nurturing and cleaning, occasionally yelling, and mostly just living.  And when someone asks me about my my many kids, well, I’ll tell them the truth.  Yes, we’re Catholic.  And yes these kids are crazy and messy and noisy and silly, but they’re pretty amazing too, and they’re the best of friends.  And it’s worth it.

On pushing a rug in a stroller


When you find an area rug at the mall and you’re with two kids and a stroller, you kick the kids out and push the rug. Obvs.


Another week (or two), another unintentional break from blogging.

Of course I haven’t been on any exotic vacations or doing any exciting things, mind you, just incubating the baby and wrapping up our kitchen remodel–which would have been wrapped up long ago, save for the incompetence of multiple companies, leading to a months-long delay in getting us our faux-wood beam.  I am nearly certain the thing is cursed at this point, all nineteen-plus feet of it.

I am also nearly certain that I am suffering from a severe case of decision fatigue.  Every time I think I won’t need to make any more choices about height, spacing, color, or dimmers vs. non-dimmers, up crops a situation necessitating my input.  Not that I’m complaining, because my kitchen is gorgeous, and is going to be super functional, and I absolutely cannot wait to get all moved in.  But I’m pregnant, and I’m tired.  So yeah.

I have taken on a fun new project as of late, which I’m excited about in my own “I’m-probably-too-tired-to-be-excited” sort of way.  I am now officially a blogger for the National Catholic Register!  I’ve published two articles there so far–please feel free to take a look!  I’m also attempting to submit more of my freelance work to various publications, though it can be tricky writing in the mornings with a chatty three-year-old underfoot.  Plus I have no dedicated office space right now (though that will change once we demo our present kitchen and convert the space into an entryway/office), so my choices are to write: from my bed (what usually ends up happening and what occasionally leads to watching shows on Amazon or taking a nap instead), our dwelling-in-the-kitchen picnic table, the couch in the dark and depressing downstairs playroom (where a former resident’s cat with a bleeding face used to live, and which triggers my adult-onset cat allergies), or the ping-pong table down in the dungeon (aka basement), where a former owner’s casino sign–it reads “Beat the Dealer”–hangs on the wall.

Now you totally want to visit my house.  I know you do.

Of course once our kitchen project’s all done I’ll have my family room back, and then at that point I’ll probably work/watch TV/sleep from there.

What else is there to report?  Well, not a whole lot.  Just plugging along in life, I’d say.  My kids are presently involved in what feels like a mad number of extracurricular activities–from drama to geography club to soccer–and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I am SO READY FOR SUMMER.  Not that long days with everyone at home aren’t challenging either.  Hmmmm.

Speaking of challenging, I am having a heck of a time choosing throw pillows for my new dark brown leather couches, and this is exacerbated by the fact that I am also having a heck of a time choosing an area rug for the same room.

Bought a dark grey one last week that is nice, but after laying it out and living with it for a couple of days I decided it didn’t look so good with the couches or the pretty white mantle and shelving my contractor built for me.  Then yesterday afternoon I had to go pick up a freezer part from an out-of-the-way Subzero warehouse (hashtag things-you-do-when-you-buy-used-appliances), which happened to be near a mall, so I stopped at the mall.

Of course I made sure to bring my stroller for Alice this time because, well, read the link.  Anyway.  I found an area rug there that I thought could maybe actually work (I need something fairly light in color, but also something to hide ALL OF THE DIRT), but I had no cart because I had the stroller instead.  Alice had of course long since vacated the stroller, in order to rip the tags off a stuffed pig (other shenanigans of the day included wearing a pair of sunglasses out of a store, only to be discovered after we’d already walked a fair distance away).  So I decided to utilize the stroller to push the rug.

See photo above.

Unfortunately, though, our car was parked quite a ways from the Super Target where I got the rug, and so necessitated our traipsing across parking lots and around various delivery trucks.  At one point we had to cut across a curb and through the dirt, temporarily losing the rug in the process.  But not to worry, because we eventually arrived at our car and then to our home–only to discover our beam had, finally, been delivered.

Just another day of living the dream.

I don’t know about you, but I do a lot of laughing at myself these days.  Being a mom is kind of no joke, except that mostly it really kind of is a joke.  A big, fat joke.  You do weird stuff and your kids do weird stuff, and life looks all messy to people on the outside, people who no doubt saw a pregnant lady pushing a rug in a stroller with two little blonde girls in tow and probably thought: What is wrong with that lady, why doesn’t she have a proper cart, and why does she take her kids to the store only for them to steal bright pink, star-shaped sunglasses and tear the tags off inanimate porcine creatures?

And if they actually said what they were thinking aloud, I would laugh and reply, “Those are good questions.  There is probably plenty wrong with me, but what first comes to mind is that I cannot find the right throw pillows to complement my dark couches.  Also my wrist still kind of hurts from when I tripped at my kid’s soccer game Monday night, but that is another story for another time.  The reason I don’t have a cart is because I have a stroller, because the last time I came here without a stroller my kid spilled her lemonade and slipped and fell in Chinese chicken grease.  I brought these kids along because I rather enjoy the company of my kids, and when you have eight of them, hanging out with just two feels like a real vacation.  It’s apparently worth enduring things like temporary theft and petty vandalism to find good bargains at the Gap.”  Then I would resume pushing my rug through the parking lot, and hissing at the children to stay away from the loading dock.

In any case, don’t believe the lie that being an at-home mother is boring, a waste of time, or mutually exclusive with owning cute rugs.  The key to survival, I suspect, is making peace with who you are, one stretch mark and embarrassing outing at a time.

Then you can laugh at stuff and not let it bother you so much.  You can browse around multiple stores with your kids during the day, in an effort to find cute cardigans and the perfect rug for all those little feet racing around your house.  And you can order ginormous and over-priced fake pieces of wood that never seem to arrive, until you pull into your driveway and see that they have.

On Braving the Blizzard, ADHD, and the Hard Work of Love


Sure it’s March and all of that, but in true Denver style, I woke up to a blizzard yesterday morning–that and what sounded like wild horses galloping across my bedroom ceiling.  More raccoons?  I don’t think so, because the movements and noises aren’t the same (namely no skittering, sliding or chattering), plus we’ve sealed everything off.  A website my husband found said something about potential possums (or is it opossoms?), and also something about feral pigs.  Based on the level of noise, I’m rolling with the pigs.

Oh and while I’m on the subject of early morning shenanigans, To Whom It May Concern at Jefferson County School District: I did not need the 5:50 am telephone call (and resulting combination of adrenaline rush/pregnant bladder control test) saying that district transportation and enrichment activities were cancelled for the day.  It’s SPRING BREAK, for goodness’ sake.  And, you know, a blizzard.  And it’s hard enough to get a good night’s sleep around here as it is, without you calling and waking me up on what is already a non-school day.

Adding to the morning’s excitement was the fact that I had to venture out in the blizzard to drive my dear husband to the mechanic’s shop, to pick up his antique of a commuter car.  1988 was a good year for Toyota Corollas, apparently, because the little family car my parents bought when I was six years old is still alive and kicking, and getting my husband to work each day.  Well, almost each day–he ran into some problems on Monday morning, hence the need for the repairs.  Hashtag living-with-an-old-car.  The repairs, because I’m sure you’re dying to know, totaled $10.  The legend of the Corolla lives on.

Now in spite of the blowing snow, that little trip was mostly uneventful (what’s a little fish-tailing between friends?), and I hoped my next blizzard excursion would follow suit.  Yes, in spite of the district’s urgent weather warnings, I had to leave my house for a second time that day–because I’d scheduled an evaluation for one of my dear children in conjunction with some recent academic assessments he’d been given.  Long story short this child has ADHD, which we’ve known for a long time, but we are just now seeking a formal medical diagnosis.  Why did we wait so long, you may ask?  Well, the last time I attempted to discuss this with a physician I was matter-of-factly informed that ADHD is overblown, and kids just know how to push their parents’ buttons.  Which may very well be the case, except that it wasn’t so much him pushing my buttons as his perpetually struggling to focus, and to keep track of his socks.  The truth is that he has all kinds of risk factors for the condition, meets the criteria, and now his school evaluations all point to the same thing.  Good, old-fashioned, overblown ADHD (inattentive type, for the most part.)

What we’re seeing these days is that he’s a good kid with a good behavior record at school, compliant and friendly and genuine and caring.  But his brain works a little differently than most, and as a result he really faces some challenges in the classroom.  On the other hand, he has some really fantastic strengths, some of which are the direct result of said brain and said ADHD.  I point this out, lest we focus only on the negative, which I refuse to do–because did I mention this is one heck of a great kid?  In our former life as a homeschoolers, a formal diagnosis wasn’t so necessary, but my son is in school now and scores too high to qualify for an IEP…so he has to access accommodations through something called a 504 Plan.  And needs a medical diagnosis to do so.

And that is why a blizzardy morning found us setting off for the doctor’s office, amidst the wind and snow, in our trusty minivan.  Which incidentally performs terribly in the snow but, you know, details.  It came as no surprise, then, and quickly became clear that the typically three-minute drive down the street to the pediatrician’s office was going to be filled with much sliding and little traction–and then there was a faulty red light that refused to turn green, and which we eventually decided to drive/slip through anyhow, traffic laws be darned.  My poor son must have cried “BE CAREFUL MOM!” at least a dozen times, but at least he laughed when we tried to move forward but couldn’t because we were stuck.  Through a miracle of sorts (is there a patron saint of stupidly leaving your house when you should be staying home?  getting long-overdue help for over-diagnosed medical conditions?  families with wildlife living in their attic?) we did somehow manage to become unstuck, and inch our way through the red light and intersection–only to skid past what should have been the turn into the appropriate parking lot.  Darn.  Not to worry, though–just some circling around and more warnings from my son and, somehow, someway, we found ourselves parking in a real and legitimate parking space, and trudging into the building.

Oh, and meanwhile some sub-contractors had shown up to my house somewhat unexpectedly, throwing the young babysitter off-guard.  Who called me while I was stuck in the snow and ice, at the red light, saying there was some dude in the house.  They also said he had a beer in his hand when he showed up at the door at 8:45 in the morning, which added to their concerns, but turns out it was just an energy drink.  Good times.

But, you know, we saw the doctor.  She spent so much time with us, had a really positive outlook, and supplied me with the necessary forms for obtaining the diagnosis.  We have set things in motion and have a plan for going forward.  Hopefully we’ll be in a really good place by the time my son begins middle school (!) next year.  For the first time ever, really, I feel like we have some allies when it comes to his health, education, and general well-being.

Parenting is a long and, dare I say, arduous road.  Maybe it’s just the harrowing morning I’d had or the lack of sleep talking, but boy things can get real complicated real fast!  We do our best to nurture and love our children when they’re small through hugs and cuddles and the copious distribution of band-aids, but then they get bigger, and their problems get bigger too.  As they transition into the tweens and beyond, our role as advocate seems to become more important than ever, as we have to make tough decisions about school and medication and friends and who knows what all else.

PLEASE let there not be anything else.

I’m reading a memoir right now (in all my spare time, when I’m not changing diapers or fish-tailing across the front range), written by a father detailing his journey through his son’s drug addiction.  Beautiful Boy is heart-wrenching, honest, and disturbingly real.  It is not so hard to imagine living author David Sheff’s experience, not even a little bit, because above all he is a parent who loves his son.  Desperately.  Just like I love my children.  And in the face of inevitable stigma and judgement that has always seemed to attach itself to the subject of addiction, Sheff shares his story–not his son’s story so much as his own painful experience–in hopes of helping others.  What I’ve been thinking about since beginning the book is, simply, that love is hard work.  You can’t control every single little thing in your kids’ lives.  You can’t make all of their choices for them, you can’t prevent them from engaging with a world filled with Very Sad And Dangerous Things, and you can’t change their brain chemistry.  What you CAN do is love. Guide.  Instruct.  Explain.  Advocate.  Facilitate.  Pray.

And, you can daily place your faith in a God who is weaving together not only your life but their life, too.  He is a God who promises to make all things new and exchange beauty for ashes.  He is a God who gives us hope.

In so many ways, my children grow more and more independent with each passing year.  It is bittersweet, to be sure, the slipping away of time and silly daily rituals, like eating goldfish crackers and watching the Wiggles. But in others?  Don’t tell my kids I said this, but I think they need me even more.  Their questions, worries, and challenges loom larger than ever these days, it seems.

And so I navigate, ever so clumsily, things like 504 Plans, and meetings around a big table with multiple school employees, where everyone sits and talks about my son.  I find myself braving an all-out blizzard and the notorious-for-getting-stuck Wadsworth/Jefferson intersection, with my son, to get him help.  He likes the doctor, he says, “because she’s nice”, and he also says he likes these little outings with me.  When I white-knuckle the steering wheel and tell him to pray we don’t have to abandon our car in the middle of the road, he cheerfully assures me it’s not such a far walk back to our house.  When we do finally arrive home (via automobile, thank goodness) an hour and a half later, he rounds up his siblings for a rousing game of dice–or three, it turns out, because we’re having so much fun.

In between rolls and keeping score, I sit and wonder what life would be like if my son’s brain worked differently than it does, if he hadn’t spent eighteen months living in orphanages and going hungry, if he hadn’t been hospitalized for pneumonia and parasites and eventually diagnosed with having failure to thrive.

If he wasn’t a kid from a hard place.

In my heart of hearts, I know it’s very likely that he’d need less help with his fifth-grade reading and writing assignments. He’d probably navigate relationships, schoolwork, and activities with greater ease and consistency.  He would be able to remember exactly where he put his shin guards after last week’s practice, wouldn’t feel the need to construct stories to fill in the gaps of what he doesn’t know but knows he should, and could more accurately assess the risks and consequences associated with the daily adventures of an eleven-year-old boy.

But then it frightens me to think that he wouldn’t be the boy that I know, either.  He might not be as generally friendly and outgoing, or as inclined to look out for his buddies.  Maybe not as willing to engage his little sister in a game of dollhouse, or as resilient to schoolyard bullying and teasing.  His infectious smile, ready enthusiasm, and ability to overlook an insult would most likely be, at the very least, different.  It is highly possible that his self-esteem and self-confidence–which are ever-brimming to the point that I am convinced they are wholly impenetrable–would be diminished.

Of course, these are all things that I can never know for sure, because love it or hate it, this is my son’s journey.  You only get one life, one shot, and his includes a very difficult early beginning–with an ensuing set of challenges to overcome.  These things may take a lifetime, but he remains undaunted and, as his mother, I will not give up either.  I will continue advocating, learning, and loving.  I will cheer his successes, show him how to pick up any broken pieces, and facilitate his healing.  I will show up to the big table and pursue a good and fair education for him, because he is so very capable and can go on to do great things.  I can’t (and won’t!) live his life for him, but I am his adoptive mother.  And so I will do my very best to do right by God, by my son’s first mother, and by my son.

Who jumps and shouts excitedly when he beats me–at the eleventh hour and by a narrow margin, no less–at our game of dice.  In a subsequent game he’ll do much worse and finish in last place, groaning good-naturedly and saying how bad he is, but in this particular moment–he’s always in this particular moment–he couldn’t be happier.

Forms to be filled out by teachers and parents, and brochures about therapies and medications, cover the nearby desk.  I figure they can wait, because the day’s battles were already fought and, on this day anyhow, won.  Feral pigs didn’t fall through my ceiling, I got my husband to his car and off to another day’s work, my son and I (and our minivan) survived a harrowing trek to and from the doctor’s office, and my family spent the rest of the day playing games and laughing.

Until after dinnertime.  Which was when I got really tired, declared that I’d had enough of this day, and shouted for everyone to go to bed.

Life is a journey.

ADHD is something, but it’s not everything.

Love is hard work.

Bridging the Gap Between School and Home



Last fall, we placed our children in traditional schools for the very first time.

Up until that point, we’d been homeschoolers.  We homeschooled, in fact, for five years.

Which is really a pretty long time because in some ways I think homeschooling years are maybe a little bit like dog years.  They count for more.  It’s a lot of effort, and the kids are, you know, always there–I never gave it a whole lot of thought except for the time someone asked me how I, as an introvert, manage staying sane and healthy when I’m always around so many people.  She had a good point.  I wasn’t really sure, but I told her that I did enforce naps and quiet times each afternoon, which helped a lot.  And really, it did.

What I discovered, though, towards the end of our homeschooling journey was that as my kids got older, those small daily reprieves simply were not enough.  The constant activity and “being around eight people”, coupled with the mental and emotional burden of educating six of them–three of whom have significant learning disabilities–was just too much. I wasn’t enjoying it anymore.  I COULD do it, but I didn’t want to.  And frankly, I wasn’t doing it particularly well in many respects.  My children deserved more.  So we placed them in school.

Insert deep breath.  Cue the band.  Release the balloons.

We (mostly) love school!

But I will tell you that after so many years of having them home I honestly wasn’t sure how to navigate this transition for our family. It had always been just Mom and siblings during the day, but now they’d have school friends I didn’t know, additional authority figures in their lives, homework, and a real honest-to-goodness schedule, not just the loose hourly one I’d come up with every year, spend a few weeks scrambling and yelling to enforce, and eventually drop because it stressed me out.

Initially, the switch was very hard.  I knew our home life and family time were super important, but how should it fit with what was happening during the other eight hours a day?  Faith was at the center of our lives and always had been, but how do you encourage and nurture that in the few waking hours the kids are with you?  Plus now they were regularly encountering fellow students with vastly different situations, beliefs, and standards at home, and it seemed like we were having a lot of conversations about how and why we do things the way we do things.  I’d say I never doubted our decision to stop homeschooling, except I totally did and pulled my kids back out.  For a week.  Basically until I got over a horrible upper respiratory virus (that had clearly clouded my vision) and looked around at all the same problems that had compelled me to put them in school in the first place, completely freaked out because WHAT HAVE I DONE, and emailed the sweet principal asking if we might be able to return.

That was embarrassing.

If I’m honest, it really wasn’t just my failing health that led to my wishy-washy, back and forth-ness.  It was this transitory period, too, the difficult process of figuring out all this new stuff and attempting to find our family’s footing again.  Who are we when homeschooling is not part of our identity?  How do we carry our family’s values into the school-day?  Add to that the pressure of belonging to a circle of Catholics who really prized homeschooling. Thankfully we didn’t give up because, in the end, traditional schooling has been so very good for all of us. Really.  Every last one of us.

So I’m sharing some things today that have helped me and my family maintain our sense of stability, and retain the values and priorities that are important to us as Catholics.  Hopefully this will be helpful for folks also making the transition, or who have already made it.  Homeschooling seems to have grown quite a bit among Catholics by the way–when we joined the Church four years ago, we only encountered fellow homeschoolers for the most part, which struck me as interesting because historically it’s definitely been more of a Protestant thing.  And I’ve found that when homeschooling is at least partially driven by religious motivation, it’s extra hard to walk away.  And while it really was a good fit for our family in the early years, when it ceased to be, I’m glad we felt the freedom to try something new.

1. Remember that there are good people at work in the schools.  

Two of our daughters have Down syndrome, and they were the first of our kids (by about a month) to enter the school system.  So theirs was the first experience we’d had with teachers, paraprofessionals, and special education providers.  And oh my goodness–I was floored.  Astounded, really.  These people were caring, respectful, friendly, and kind.  They worked crazy hard and had huge hearts for my daughters and our family.  After overhearing so many snarky, negative comments about public school teachers for so many years, I discovered that all of that was pretty much wrong.  We have been so blessed by all of our kids’ teachers, administrators, and bus drivers.  These people are there because they want to be, investing in my children and inspiring them to do and be their best.  I tell my kids to respect and treat these people well, because they work so very hard.

2. Be present in the schoolbuilding. 

It can be hard to figure out how much involvement a parent ought to have in what their kids do.  I’m not a helicopter mom by any means–even if I wanted to be I really can’t, because I just have too many dang kids–but sending them off into a schoolbuilding with a bunch of strangers felt wrong, too.  I was able to meet teachers and principals prior to the first day of school, which helped, but I knew I wanted a little more of a presence there on campus, too.  It’s good for my kids to see and know that I’m comfortable moving in and out of their world, and for them to realize they won’t be getting away with anything because I’m on the same page as their teachers.  I’ve been a room mom for one child’s class since last year, I attend parent/teacher conferences, I’ve chaperoned on several field trips, and just last week I attended a middle school social.  If it sounds like all of this is very time-consuming, it really isn’t.  Most days my only contact with the school is the car line.  But those little visits here and there really go a long way towards establishing a more seamless connection between home and school, for all of us.

3. Develop relationships with teachers, administrators, and staff members.

This is yet another benefit (and natural result) of being physically present in the school.  It has been really quite beneficial for me to get to know the many people working with my kids.  Not only do you wind up meeting some pretty fantastic professionals, you also set your child up for the best possible educational experience.  There was a situation at the beginning of this year, where one of my children had a pretty horrible thing happen at school.  Things really escalated to the point where this child completely flipped out and shut down, something very out of character for her, and I received a phone call about it from the teacher.  Now this teacher was brand new at the school and we’d not yet met, so I felt frustrated and helpless because it just seemed like she’d made up her mind about things.  I wondered if this might be a horrible fit for my kids.  But over the course of the year, through meetings, a field trip, and conferences, I have come to really respect and like this person.  A lot.  Plus my kids are thriving.  She and I get along quite well.  I also have good relationships with the other people working with my many kids–the clinic aid, receptionists, teachers, principals, reading specialists, etc.  They know me, I know them, and I’m confident that if something arises?  We can work it out together, with the best interests of my kids at heart.  We are on the same side, because we have a positive relationship based on mutual respect.

4. Meet other parents.

When we were homeschooling, I belonged to various co-ops and enrichment programs throughout the years.  I had many close friends in these groups, and I knew all the parents of my kids’ friends.  As you can imagine, sending my babies off to traditional schools was a big shift in this regard.  I really didn’t know a whole lot of anyone!  I felt a little disoriented and nervous, as a result.  And I wanted to meet other parents, so we made sure to attend a family picnic right before school started.  I struck up conversations with people at class parties and on field trips.  I started a very small meetup for moms and dads, where we got together before school one morning each month.  And, guess what?  I’ve met some really great people as a result!  These parents are passionate about their kids’ educations, and want pretty much all the same things I want.  Plus it’s good to have fellow friends in the trenches, it allows for the comparing notes, and it’s a wonderful way to engage with your neighborhood and community.

5. Confront problems in a timely manner with openness, vulnerability, and a long view.

As happy as I am to be sending my kids to traditional schools (one is a neighborhood school, and the other a classical charter school), I’m not gonna lie: sometimes stuff happens.  Hard stuff.  Overwhelming stuff.  But if I’m honest, stuff used to happen at home, too, and even a normal day could be pretty draining.  Now though, most of my days have lots of margin, my kids are so happy, and they’re learning a TON.  So even with the occasional bad thrown in, I figure we’re still winning.  Not that dealing with hard things is particularly fun for me.  I have had to have difficult conversations with administrators and teachers.  I have had to advocate for my kids.  Most recently I had to contact the school’s director with my concerns regarding some safety loopholes in the technology at school.  I detest confrontation and I’ve really had to do some growth in this area, because my tendency is to become VERY ANXIOUS IF SOMETHING IS GOING WRONG WITH MY KID.  But do you know what?  I’m getting a lot better at this.  I’m learning to address things right away, that you can communicate honestly and directly without coming across as a jerk, and that advocating for your child is NOT the same as making excuses or being demanding.  Because I have relationships with staff members at the schools, we can engage in these conversations believing the best about one another.  Benefit of the doubt and all that.  When I go in for a meeting or conference now, I feel a bit more confident knowing that we can work together to get things solved.  As an example, about a month ago or so, I met with a learning specialist about some ongoing academic struggles one of my children is having.  I was terrified she might minimize my concerns, or attempt to blame this child’s challenges on a conscious decision to be lazy.  But no.  She is well-versed in the particular things he deals with, affirmed what I’ve been thinking all this time, and has been doing some assessments with him.  Which he’s actually really enjoyed.  I’m so glad we had the meeting, and I’ll be seeing her again today to discuss the results and a plan for going forward.


Hopefully this was helpful for you!  Do you have anything you’d add?  We have seen benefits to both homeschooling and traditional schooling and, ultimately, there is no perfect, fool-proof method for raising happy, holy, well-adjusted and well-educated kids. Bummer, right?  Well, maybe not.  Because this also means that we have the delightful freedom to try different things, and in the end know that God is there regardless.  Loving and guiding us.  No need to be afraid or paralyzed by fear.  And that right there, not unlike my semi-quiet home on weekdays during the school year, is good news!


Suffering and the Special Child


Visits from siblings in the ICU, after open heart surgery. Beauty amidst suffering.


When I wrote last month about how isolating it can be when you’re raising a child with special needs, I hadn’t imagined the simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking response I’d receive from readers.

It turns out a lot of women are feeling alone.  It turns out a lot of women have felt rejected by friends, family, and neighbors.  It turns out a lot of people are lonely for friendship, acceptance, and support.

Frankly, much of what I heard really bothered me.

As I read the emails, private messages, and comments, the theme that kept coming to mind was the idea of suffering. Yes, suffering, which sounds fairly dramatic but is more than appropriate to this context.  A lot of families suffer through the pain of diagnoses, surgeries, behaviors, destruction, financial strain, school issues, and therapies.  On a regular basis.  But on top of all of that, what might hurt just as much or even more, is loneliness.

To be lonely is to suffer, too.

When we adopted our sons from Ethiopia in early 2006, we were in our mid-twenties.  Few of our friends had children yet, much less adopted children.  We were definitely fortunate to have good friends who were incredibly supportive, adopted kids or not, but I also found myself grateful for the online friendships we forged, with parents on the same crazy journey as us, during that time.  Then some of those people became dear “in real life” friends when we moved to Denver in 2008, which was fantastic in part because transracial adoption became very normalized for our kids.

None of us felt alone.

I remember, in fact, pulling up to my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s home in a nearby suburb one evening, and a little boy was playing out front.  He was presumably a neighbor, and he was Asian (and my in-laws are not), and my kids excitedly cried, “Did Uncle Mike and Aunt Rachel adopt?!”  (I should clarify here that my kids do NOT assume that all children of color are adopted.  Just that a child of color outside of a white family’s home very well could be adopted, because doesn’t everybody adopt?)

The same is more or less true for our family’s experience with medical needs and developmental delays.  When my Ethiopian daughters joined our family four years ago, they not only had Down syndrome but also some profound delays related to institutionalization.  And, heart defects.  Pretty significant ones, too.  This necessitated their having heart procedures in the catheterization lab of the children’s hospital on the same day, and then open heart surgery for sweet Mekdes one month later.  In seemingly no time at all I’d become intimately acquainted with heart surgeons, anesthesiologists, and medical assistants in the cardiac clinic.  And normally these experiences–the agony of having your child put on a bypass machine while they open her chest, signing my name to things saying there was a real risk of death, and spending the night on a bed in the Cardiac ICU with a child nearby hooked up to all kinds of tubes–would have set us apart, further isolated our family, and ultimately led to a sort of loneliness.  Because really, who else does that?

But, we were part of a community of families with adopted children, many of whom were medically fragile as well.

Of course not everyone has that sort of support network.  And navigating medical or special needs is hard, period, even when you do.  But especially when you don’t.  There are things the average person might not understand, or for lack of a better way of saying it, be able to put up with.  I think it’s not uncommon for folks to have a hard time relating to you–maybe your parenting strategies are different or your child acts out, or your struggles are unique.  Maybe people wonder why you can’t just get your act together, or think that if only you’d ________ (insert words like “discipline”, “be consistent”, or “love them”) more, things would be better.

The sad irony is that these lonely mothers in the trenches, the ones that get the side-eye from other moms at the park when their child is tantruming or refusing to get back in the car, tend to make fabulously wonderful friends.  They are often compassionate, empathetic, and understanding.  They get it, all of it.  They know it’s hard and that we’re all doing our very best.

But oftentimes they suffer alone.  Sometimes their marriages are suffering too, buckling under the crushing weight of logistics and outbursts and what-do-we-do-now’s?  They love their kids, but why do things have to be so hard?

For whatever reason, we here in the good ol’ US of A don’t like to talk much about suffering.  We want everyone to be happy all the time, we believe we should be happy all the time, and we’re willing to do what it takes to achieve that end.  And don’t get me wrong–I’m really a very happy person.  I’m an optimist.  I loved that TV show Call the Midwife, but it was too stressful for me to watch right before bed–I like things that make me laugh, or offer an escape.  I’ve mercifully never been clinically depressed (knock on wood) and I want others around me to be happy, too.  But oh my goodness, who can deny that life is just plain wrought with suffering sometimes?  Consider that when people seem taken aback that we knowingly adopted children with medical needs and developmental delays, their surprise is not so much because these kids are seen as somehow undesirable or particularly abnormal, but really because it means we signed up to suffer.  We signed up for the cardiology clinic and the long IEP meetings and the will-they-ever-learn-to-use-the-toilet-independently’s.  We signed up for Very Hard Days on the school bus, and for the people who get frustrated because my kid is tackling theirs.

But what most parents in my position would tell you is that while YES, there are Hard Things implicit in raising a precious child with special needs and YES, it amounts to suffering at times, it is no reason to give up, turn away, or not do it in the first place.  And sure, sometimes I wonder what life is like “on the other side”, for folks who:

don’t have eight kids

don’t have two kids with heart problems

don’t have two kids with Down syndrome

don’t have a child with ADHD, dyslexia, and executive functioning issues.

It’s all palm trees and rainbows and cocktails out by the pool, right?  (Probably not.  Everybody has their stuff they struggle with.  But you know what I mean.)

But then I imagine not having these eight beautiful souls in my life, who make me laugh and think and teach me the meaning of courage, kindness, acceptance, and resilience.  I imagine who I might be, were I not impacted by this wild and crazy life the Lord has given me.  And that is a very, very sad picture–palm trees or not.

The honest truth is that four of my kids are survivors.  When they should have been watching Sesame Street and throwing silly tantrums in the shopping cart at the grocery store, they were busy battling malnutrition, pneumonia, institutionalization, and parasites.  It was largely my biological daughter’s existence that inspired our decision to adopt in the first place–she had so very much just by virtue of having a family and a roof over her head.  We knew other children did not, and we thought if not us, then who?  Who will stand up for these vulnerable little ones?  Who will say yes?

Who will enter into their suffering with them, so they don’t have to suffer alone?

This is, I think, the crux of what we do.

Parents, in general, are called to go deep into the life of another to nurture, love, and shape.  This makes me think about the Blessed Virgin Mary.  She knew not only what it was to be a mom in all the little ways, but also to watch a child suffer.  And, she knew what it was to feel isolated in her helplessness and pain.  She couldn’t fix or change things, she could only stand by and weep, and when you consider the obvious uniqueness of her situation, it seems clear that she would have felt dreadfully alone.

Not unlike all of the dear women who reached out to me with their stories.  I wish I could hug each and every one of you and say Yes!  I have been there!  I have gotten the phone call from the teacher, the disapproving look from the fellow mom, the news from the surgeon that a very invasive surgery was necessary and we can’t wait too long.  I have been through all of those things, just like you!  And I have all the same questions about the future, too, like whether some of my kids will still be living with me as adults or what certain behaviors will look like as they enter puberty and beyond.  It’s hard!  Sometimes I think people don’t get it.  But take heart, because you are NOT ALONE.  There are others of us out there to be sure, and we’re cheering you on, but even more than that?  Jesus, and also His Mother, they know allllllllll about suffering.  Way more than any of us, really.  So there is hope.  Always, always hope.  One day there will be no more crying or suffering, but in the meantime, when we do?  We are mysteriously bound up with Christ and His sufferings.  He is there, somehow, in all of it, and working things in our hearts and lives that really, really matter.  Even if it’s awful or we can’t really see what the point of it all is.  It matters.  Infinitely.

And, YOU matter.

Nothing happens, not even one little thing, that God doesn’t see or care very much about.

So I tell myself this in the moments when I think man, this stuff is tough.  Or wow, I hope this all turns out okay in the end.  I tell myself this when I am angry, hurt, or afraid.  I also think about other moms who might need community, desperately, but have a hard time finding it.  I remember I am oh so very blessed to have incredibly dear friends and family in my life, some walking similar roads as me, but then also many who are not, but who get me and love my family just the same.

Each and every parent has their burdens, their challenges, their sorrows.  They also have their joys.  And each is meant to be shared with a good friend.  We can take up the challenge of reaching out and fighting loneliness among mothers–through relationships, coffee dates, smiles, tears, and empathy.  We can listen, and understand.  If we happen to be the lonely ones, we can step out of our comfort zone and extend an invitation to someone.  And I get it, we’re all busy and it’s hard–I have this dumb, plastic picnic table wedged into my kitchen right now so, you know, not the ideal place to entertain guests.  Also, our dishwasher smells bad.

But genuine friendship doesn’t place big, unreasonable demands.

It merely asks for connection.

For a yes.

For a willingness to share the human experience and, by extension, the human experience of suffering.

So please be kind out there, dear friends.  Take heart if you’re raising children from difficult backgrounds, or children going through a tough phase, or children with special needs.  Because even when things are hard?  God sees, and He knows, and He loves.

Maybe we can all try to do a little bit more of that, too.

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