Parenthood brain dump

parenthoodSo my big kids are all away at school and my house is quiet, so let’s talk about the SEASON PREMIERE OF PARENTHOOD LAST NIGHT.

Also, I know.

The show is by NO MEANS a bastion of good moral decisions and yes, it’s probably a waste of precious time and brain cells when I don’t have either to spare, but oh my goodness–I just can’t help it.  I got hooked watching online last January when I had strep throat, and I’ve gotten all caught up, and I’m ready for the FINAL SEASON.

First?  I’m SO SAD it’s the final season.  Waaaaaahhhhhhh!  Why, oh why, does every good thing have to come to an end?  Dear NBC, puhhhhleeease don’t stop filming this show.  And if you kill Zeke off I’m going to be really upset.  Big-time.

Now, we need to talk about last night’s episode.  NEED to talk.  And let’s just get this out of the way first: was Amber’s baby conceived when Ryan was in the hospital?!  All battered and bruised and bloody and injured?  How romantic.  Ew.

Moving on to less disturbing things, I heart Hank.  Have been pulling for him and Sarah to be together all along.  But the ex-wife coming back?  I honestly felt kind of sorry for her and now I feel torn because of course they have a daughter, and so now I’m thinking, shoot.  Are they going to make us choose here?  This is a real dilemma.  Especially since as much as I love Sarah, she’s a bit self-destructive and maybe she doesn’t deserve Hank.  Ack.

And is it me or does Kristina cry and/or whine every single episode?  PLEASE STOP WITH ALL THE CRYING AND WHINING I want to tell her.  I’m sorry if you love her character or loved her in Patch Adams but ugh.  It’s just too much.

Mini-Braverman-anecdote: did you know the actor playing Adam was the guy in the limo going to the neo-Nazi rally on Seinfeld?  You’re welcome.

Now.  On to the VERY IMPORTANT THINGS.

Joel and Julia.

Why, Julia, WHY?!

Joel is a good guy.  I know he left and all, but in all fairness you DID kiss the guy that used to play Roy on The Office.  Now you’ve taken up with this lawyer at your firm after randomly falling for the headmaster of Adam and Kristina’s school, and apparently have no interest in reconciling with your husband and father of your children.

Boo!  Hiss!

Part of me thinks Joel is TOO GOOD FOR YOU and the other part is pulling for ya’ll to wind up happy again in your cool modern house with IKEA furniture.  Either way, though, you do not deserve to be happy if you’re not with Joel.  Who’s still wearing his wedding ring and remaining faithful to you, by the way.

So.  What I REALLY want to know is what YOU, dear reader, thought about last night’s episode?  Are you Team Joel or Team Julia or Team Joel-and-Julia?  Does Kristina’s personality drive anyone else crazy?  WHAT DO YOU THINK IS GOING TO HAPPEN?

Camping with kids {and friends}

 

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Earlier this month we and several of our closest friends descended upon Glenwood Springs for some camping, hiking, and smore making.

And yes we did pretty much take over the entire campground.  Which could scarcely contain our awesomeness, because really–look at that great group of people!  Every family was responsible for their own meals, which really simplified things, and we all ate together in the big common area.  So.much.fun.

 

088Technically it was “cheater camping”, because we stayed in KOA cabins instead of tents.  But whatever.  Beds, heat and showers make for happy campers.  Cabins for the win!

 

077It might seem counterintuitive but I’ve found camping to be a good vacation option for families with kids.  Why?  Because kids get all excited about the food you don’t normally buy but which is a MUST for camping, they can run around outside and yell and scream and play to their hearts’ content, it’s relatively affordable (especially if you have a lot of kids like we do), and it’s conducive to doing as a group.  See how happy they all are to be setting out on our adventure?

 

083We only stayed two nights, but oh, the fun we had.

 

115There was hiking Hanging Lake.  With eight kids.  Easier said than done.

 

113Taking in stunning views.  With the many pounds I had strapped to me for the entire ascent/descent.  At least she’s cute.

 

110Taking a break from walking.  Tigist’s face is kind of how I felt when we had to begin the long trek back.  :)

 

glenwoodhumantunnelMaking a tunnel for the heroic dads who made it down the treacherous mountain with lots of tired littles.  Best.dads.ever.  Also?  That’s my friend Summer on the right, who hikes when she’s pregnant and always looks so pretty doing it.

 

084Making a mess with bagels and cream cheese.  At least she’s cute.

It was obviously a great trip.  Memories were made and there’s always this deep and abiding sense of relief accomplishment you feel after surviving something with your eight kids that you probably shouldn’t have attempted with your eight kids.  They all had a blast though and hey, that’s what counts.

Next September we’re planning to take this camping show on the road to Philadelphia and Washington, DC!

Yes, I’m being completely serious.

So how about you?  Do you ever vacation with other families?  What kinds of trips and activities have/haven’t worked for your own family? 

The boring domestication of marriage

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Dinner downtown this past summer, amidst the gay pride festivities. Because apparently that’s what you do on your twelfth wedding anniversary.

Why yes, I DID read a Huffington Post article on marriage yesterday that got me all riled up, and which I KNEW would get me all riled up, but I read it anyway.  Then I had some laughs with a friend of mine in a combox about the rabbi author’s use of the term ”erotic friction”, which somehow made it all worth it.  Oh, Facebook.

And while I’m really not interested in deconstructing the entire piece here, I will share the basic gist (because I know you’re just dying to hear): Rabbi Shmuley Boteach suggested that men are secretly fearful of their wives attracting other men, and therefore oppress them and put them in a box and desexualize them–and ALL OF THESE THINGS (read: motherhood) lead to the eventual “boring domestication of marriage.”

Well.

I suppose if women are ultimately meant to be glamorous, flirtatious sex-objects 100% of the time, then sure.  My existence as an at-home mother to eight children and subsequent daily tasks of making oatmeal and changing diapers, along with the occasional cleaning of vomit, render me (and my marriage) utterly and hopelessly boring.

And I suppose if women are so extremely fragile that we can’t help but allow our sniveling selves to be defined by and oppressed by our fearful husbands and, ahem, need men to speak for us in the Huffington Post, then absolutely.  We’ve lost ourselves and our ability to self-actualize.  Sniff, sniff.

Look.  I’m not a marriage expert.  I’ve been married to my husband for twelve years now and we have a happy relationship, but I don’t pretend to understand the inner-workings of anyone else’s marriage.  Relationships are unique after all, and who has time to meddle in others’ affairs when you’re working on your own?  Not this lady!

But I WILL say that married life isn’t boring, at least no more so than any other lifelong pursuit marked by hard work, occasional-to-regular conflict, and sleeping in painfully close quarters with the same person night after night.  Not that I mind though, because I rather like sharing a life and a bed with my dear husband.  When I said earlier that I’m happy in my marriage, I really meant it.  My husband makes me laugh, is a great conversationalist, he reads smart books, doesn’t get mad at me when I fall asleep while we’re watching a movie, and works hard to provide for our family.  He’s a great dad.  Etc. etc. etc.  And we hold relatively traditional gender roles in our home, because my staying home to raise our kids is a huge value for BOTH of us.  Such a huge value, in fact, that we discussed it long before ever walking down the aisle at First Baptist Church that glorious summer afternoon in June.  Yes, First Baptist Church–those were the days!

And see, here’s the thing.

Part of what the rabbi misses in his estimation of women and men is the idea that love encompasses the WHOLE PERSON–not just their sexuality, and of course not excluding their sexuality.  As in, you can’t exactly divorce sex from real life, from bad days at work and that argument you had about spending too much money this month and the five hours you spent in IEP meetings this week.

I did that, by the way.  Five whole hours.  Two meetings.  Two different schools.  Two different KIDS.  I’ll be receiving my “IEP Superstar” medal in the mail any day now, right?

And, the hormones.  Oh, the hormones.  Women do not cease to be sexual, attractive, self-actualized or empowered simply because, in addition to pursuing intimacy with their respective husbands, they are also responsible for putting in a day at the office or dragging a reluctant screaming toddler to the dentist.  All while facing down PMS or PPD or UBI (what I have just dubbed as ”Unspecified Breastfeeding Issues”, in case you didn’t know.)  Because that’s REALITY.

And what about people for whom marriage is NOT a happy thing?  Is it a complete and utter waste of time and human effort?  Um, no.  No, it’s not.  Some of the strongest, most heroic women (and men) are those who are about the long, hard work of love even when things are unpleasant on the home front.  They know that this life is not all there is, and they know that this mysterious act of taking up one’s cross and loving like Jesus will bring more fulfillment and true peace than running off to find someone new to self-actualize with.

Also?  If we can’t somehow learn to embrace this tension?  This give-and-take in roles and responsibilities and demands on our time and affections?  We will be crushed.  Defeated.  Unsettled.  We might start to believe the lie that the work we do as wives and/or mothers really IS intrinsically hurting us or, at the very least, standing in the way of a truly loving and fulfilling marriage.

Which, I would argue, is one of the most destructive ideas of our modern time.

Misguided expectations about marriage, beauty, and love.

Now a little note to the men: if you think the key to a good marriage is the attainment of some sort of ridiculous standard, please stop.  And instead, pursue virtue for yourself.  Love your wife.  Make time for the things you both enjoy and work to understand what an integrated love looks like.  And I’ll give you a hint: it’s nothing like what secular society says love is.  It includes but does not over-emphasize romance, because this married love is most often found amongst the everydayness of errands and parenthood and exhaustion. 

Where you end the day laughing together because your wife got bored with you watching football and wandered off to find some show on Netflix called “I Escaped a Cult”, and watched it alone in the dark, and it’s precisely the weird and macabre sort of thing she’d do.

And you know this about her because you’re married, and the idiosyncrasies and silliness and frailty and joy are all part of the oh-so-predictable deal.

Truth be told,  so far I’m kind of in love with the boring domestication of marriage.

IEP times two

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Yesterday was our very first set of IEP meetings.  Eek!

Our adopted daughters both have Down syndrome, and joined our family three years ago.

And we made the decision early on that Mekdes and Tigist (ages 4 and 2 upon homecoming) should learn to live in a family before boarding a bus and attending school every single day.  They tired easily and their communication was limited, and we didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of them being away from us for 20-40 hours a week.  We anticipated that the day would come when they would join their peers at school, but for the past three years they’ve been home with their parents and siblings, meeting milestones and participating in family life and, ultimately, healing.

Towards the end of last spring though I sensed that it was probably time, that we had reached the place where they could not only successfully navigate and enjoy school but also really benefit from some things that frankly, I was not interested in taking on.  I want to see them grow and achieve and thrive, but I’d prefer to outsource their academic instruction (modifications and accommodations and everything in between) to people who are trained in, and love, what they do.  So I can simply be my daughters’ cheerleader and lunch-packer and, most importantly, mother.

The problem is though that the system is not set up for kids like mine, who come in post-infancy (or post-preschool) with significant needs.  And who, therefore, need to start at the neighborhood school without an IEP.

And this is an extra huge deal because our neighborhood school is not one of our district’s “center schools”, meaning there are no children there with developmental or cognitive delays like the ones my daughters have.  But this is where they needed to go to have their assessments done in order for IEPs to be written–and an eventual school placement to be determined.  The district provided a paraprofessional to help the girls through the day but I was worried.  Because Down syndrome.  And typical classrooms.  And classmates who might be mean.  And teachers who might be frustrated.  And, toileting issues.

And so yesterday was the BIG GINORMOUS TWO-AND-A-HALF-HOUR IEP MEETING.  You know the type.  Where parents regularly hire advocates and argue over “least restrictive environment”s, and where all sorts of people sit around a table and evaluate your kid.  Including an entire team of special education professionals and the vice-principal and school psychologist and my husband and me.

And do you know what?

It.could.not.have.gone.better.

It was positive, enlightening, and friendly.

They gave us what we wanted, and it was what they wanted, too.  Bonus.

There was no arguing or fighting.

They genuinely enjoy my daughters, and our family.

They want what’s best for my daughters, and our family.

Also?

Mekdes and Tigist LOVE SCHOOL.  Like really, really, big-puffy-heart love it.  And they have FRIENDS, kids greeting them every day with huge “hello!”s and waves, and laughing with Tigist on the swings at recess and helping Mekdes choose a book to look at during independent reading time.

When my husband and I finally walked through the door last night, exhausted, at 6:15 pm, I asked him what he’d thought about the meeting.

And he paused and then spoke in a serious tone, “There are some really amazing people working in the schools.”

And I could not agree more.  This is our first year venturing out into public education (our other four school-age children are attending a brand-new classical charter school this year), and we have been touched beyond belief by the warmth, care, and professionalism we’ve seen thus far.  I cannot say enough about the many dedicated individuals who care so very much for the well-being of not only my kids but also our entire family.

So I guess I want to say that while there is so much negativity surrounding the issue of education these days, and while I won’t deny that there are problems, and big problems at that, there are also some fan.tas.tic. things happening in classrooms and on playgrounds.  I’ve seen it.  Pretty much every single day, since my kids enrolled in school.

And the stakes are admittedly so much higher when you have a child with special needs and/or learning delays, because you have to navigate a complicated web of procedures and providers and systems, and there is no shortage of nightmare stories about IEPs that go wrong and parents who really have to go to the mat for their kids.  As they should.  Battling school districts and teachers and administrators.  As they should.

Because we love our kids and we know they are capable, ever so capable, of doing great things.  If only given the chance.

So I get how hard it can be, and that’s why I’m ever so grateful that my girlies have begun their school career with such a great support team.  Mekdes’ birthmother, who wanted so badly for her daughter to receive help and a good education, and who expressed that in no uncertain terms to us, would have been so proud and pleased at that meeting.  And this may not always be the case, but for now?

Everything is awesome.

Back to school

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How is school going, you say?

I’m so glad you asked.

And, frankly, not so well.  Pull up a chair, pour yourself a cup of coffee, and settle in as I proceed to complain about ALL OF THE THINGS.

Less than a week into the school year, we got hit with some sort of horrible respiratory virus.  Think fevers, coughing, yucky noses, coughing, fevers, coughing, yucky noses, etc.  Think all ten of us.  Think early mornings and packing lunches and managing homework and living in a messy house and preparing for a camping trip we’d had on the calendar for months.  With the fevers and the coughing and the yucky noses.

(Disclaimer: I was not sending kids to school with fevers.  They stayed home when they had one.  But they were still sick.)

And think this formerly-homeschooling-mama finally crying uncle after three weeks of this, and declaring WE CANNOT GO TO SCHOOL ANYMORE.  THERE IS SOMETHING IN OUR GENES THAT PREVENTS US FROM GOING TO SCHOOL.  WE HAVE TO DROP OUT OF SCHOOL.

No, I’m not even kidding.  I wish I was.  I emailed the principal of our charter school last week and apologized and told her how great the school was and how much we’d loved it, but that we can’t seem to get our sorry act together and everybody’s tired and sick and dying.  This dear woman was so kind, and offered me part-time enrollment, but I was firm in my resolve.  I signed my kids up for a homeschool enrichment program and our church’s co-op.  I told my friends.  I told my kids.

Who took the news like a boss but they were disappointed.  Really, truly disappointed.  “But I won’t get to go on the fieldtrip to the Butterfly Pavillion!”  “But we were learning cursive!”  “But what about my heritage essay?”  “But I’ll miss my teacher!”  And then they went for their last day and their dear teachers gave them gifts and wrote them cards and the school secretary told them to come visit, and we went camping for the weekend.

I felt terribly sad and conflicted about our decision for the entire trip and especially on the drive home.  As I sifted through their school things for the first time WITHOUT A FEVER and saw what they’d been working on, and in particular discovered the precious family portrait my seven-year-old had drawn in her class, I was suddenly seized with regret.  Suspected we’d not given school a fair shot.  I considered how my sons had performed so well in a highly-structured classroom setting, and how it had seemed a particularly good fit for my son with ADHD.  I saw how my sons were now actually INTERESTED IN READING.  For fun.  And how my eldest’s handwriting had improved drastically in only three weeks.

I realized that we should have taken the week (or two–honestly this thing was awful) to stay home and circle the wagons and get well, as opposed to, you know, UNENROLLING FROM THE SCHOOL.

Rookie, feverish, formerly-homeschooling-mom mistake.

It was like waking up with a hangover where you’re all, ohmygosh, WHAT DID I DO LAST NIGHT?

(Not that I’d know, because I’ve never been drunk or hung over.  Goody-two-shoes, I know.)

So I humbly contacted the dear principal again, apologized again, and asked if we could come back to school.

She said yes.  She is one of the most incredible, professional people I’ve ever worked with.  I am convinced she could fix the entire education system given the chance.  LOVE.HER.

So.  Monday my kids return to class.  We would’ve missed this past week anyway as they were all sick, but we do have to haul all the school supplies back that the school had formerly returned to us.  Oh and I promised everybody that I WILL NOT MAKE ANY DECISIONS EVER AGAIN WHEN I AM SICK FOR AN ENTIRE MONTH.

And because I didn’t get the chance to do it before, I will now introduce you to my precious children, who it is admittedly hard for me to share with other people for seven hours a day, but who are doing so extremely well in every possible way.  I’m a proud mama.

 

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Meet Tigist.  Kindergartener.  She presently attends our neighborhood school but will be transferring very soon to a school equipped to accommodate her needs.  Overall she is enjoying school and is so loved by all of her classmates.

 

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This is Mekdes.  Second grade.  She is in a typical classroom all day long at our neighborhood school, and LOVES it.  She will be transferring soon with Tigist to a school that provides services for kids as awesome as her.

 

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This is Kaitlyn.  Second grade.  She LOVES her class and rocked a couple of spelling games, for which she won a prize.  Also?  Her teacher is beyond fantastic.  SO good with the kids, high expectations, all of it.

 

132This is Biniam.  Fourth grade.  He too is so enjoying school and THRIVING with the structure, routine and clear expectations.  His teacher is INCREDIBLE and expects a lot out of the kids, while being totally realistic about the fact that they are, well, kids.

 

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Yosef.  Fourth grade.  (Yes, he and Biniam are twins.  Of the fraternal variety.)  Loves school and thrives on rules.  Yes, rules.  He loves rules.  He has the same teacher as his brother and she’s great.

 

133Anna.  Fifth grade.  And no, I don’t know how that happened.  She is so enthusiastic about school and was noted by a classmate as being inclusive at recess, which just about made my heart burst.  Her teacher is just the sweetest and Anna loves her so much.

 

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My Alice, and my Mary Lu.  Oh, these girlies.  They don’t go to school, and instead keep me company during drop-offs and pick-ups and of course, in-between.  They cause trouble at Walmart and have lunch with me at Subway.  And don’t say it loud because I’m in total denial about this, but Mary will start Kindergarten next year.

So that is my crew, and I love them so much, and it’s been a rocky start to the year but shoot, we’re pressing on.  And going back to school.  Again.

And now for something entirely different

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Well friends, the rumors are true: my kids are going to real, live school this fall!

Yesterday was their first day!

And yes, it’s kind of exciting, and yes, it’s kind of sad, all at the same time.  Because people, I’ve truly loved homeschooling.  It is very much in line with both my general life values and my rebellious, tea-party-ish, Parental Rights Trump All Things attitude.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if we did it again at some point, because really, who can know?  There are so many great things about it.

Though not when my son writes something mean about his twin brother in his twin brother’s spelling book.  However, do note the irony there.  Ahem.

So why the decision to stop?  For us it’s less about choosing NOT to do something, and more about choosing TO do something.  And that something happens to be enrolling my kids in a new classical charter school that’s literally four minutes from my front door.  Along with a number of other amazing families whom we already know.  Much of the curriculum the school will use is exactly what we’ve been using at home.  They can accommodate IEPs and my sons can get extra help in some areas where they struggle.  (Like spelling, apparently.)  The principal is fantastic.  No common-core.  Mandatory uniforms.  Required cursive writing instruction.  High structure and clear expectations.  Music every single day.

And yet if it doesn’t work out and we hate it, no big deal, we’ll just go back to doing what we were doing before.  My HOPE is though that each of my children will be academically challenged in new ways, and that I can take on more of an encourager/supporter role in their education, as opposed to grouchy and impatient taskmaster.  I’ve always longed for my children to be classically educated, and we’ve attempted to more or less do that here, but this just seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.

**My daughters with Down syndrome are going to a local public school.  And they LOVE it.  My general parenting style is admittedly to say, “Go play!  Go entertain yourselves!”, but they simply need more than that.  They’ll have the ability to thrive and receive services in a positive environment tailored to their needs.  Win-win.**

**My two littlest girlies will be home with me.  Thank goodness.  Lots of cuddles and laughs to be had, and maybe I can take them to Starbucks and pretend I’m one of those trendy moms with a small car and two well-groomed kids.  The opportunities are endless.**

My biggest fear in all of this?  That my kids will somehow lose their close sibling relationships.  Seven hours is a long time to be away from home each day, and I will positively die if my two oldest daughters, three years apart but such good friends, drift away from one another.  Oh.my.heart.

And if my littles aren’t buddies with the bigs any longer?

*Please excuse me while I sob uncontrollably and attempt to regain my composure.*

The transition is going well but I’m definitely feeling the loss of community.  The vast majority of my online and in-real-life “mommy support” has consisted of fellow homeschoolers for the past few years, and all of a sudden I’m silently dropping out of Facebook groups and slinking away from our delightful parish co-op and it’s so, so sad.  Also?  There’s a handful of homeschoolers that think you’re doing something Officially Morally Objectionable when you send your children to school.

Gah!

Obviously this is replete with ALL THE FEELS.

But the thing is that I have never pretended to be a homeschool-or-die, public school hater.  I have never been comfortable with the portion of the homeschooling community that homeschools from a place of intense fear.  I have always taken this thing one messy day at a time.  For better or worse.  Knowing that at any given point, if the right circumstances presented themselves, I’d be open to sending my children to a brick-and-mortar school.

And I’m really kind of thrilled about this new season.  I have kids all over the map academically (some with minor and some with not-so-minor learning delays!), and I’ve been doing this homeschooling thing now for FIVE YEARS–and all of it on top of pregnancies and adoptions and heart surgeries and moves and blogging and semi-regular trips across the world.  I’m ready to shake things up a little and trade some physical energy–getting kids to and from school and waking up early and packing lunches–for the mental energy of BEING 100% RESPONSIBLE FOR THE CHILDREN’S ACADEMICS.  Yes there will now be homework and keeping to a schedule, and I’m sure I’ll want to rip my hair out a little the first time my kid has a science fair project, but you know?  I’ll gladly do it (minus the project because DO YOU REMEMBER THIS) if it means not having to think or worry about the implications of whether or not so-and-so is reading yet, or why, oh why a different so-and-so still has illegible handwriting.  Because teachers!, and positive peer pressure!, while I get to be MOM.

So, that’s our big news.  All kinds of mixed-up feelings, a lot of excitement, plenty of anxiety, and some real sadness.  I have SO much more to say about this, and about how homeschooling “support” communities tend to function, but I will save that for later.

For now I will simply say, bring it on, school!  My kids had a fabulous day yesterday, and I’m hoping for more fabulousness to come.

P.S.  I reserve the right to bring my kids back home if things don’t pan out, and you don’t get to say “I told you so.”

P.P.S.  If any of you homeschoolers give me the sanctimonious “Oh it’s okay, homeschooling isn’t for EVERYONE”, while fanning yourself with your collection of Charlotte Mason books and handmade Montessori tools, I am going to flip my lid.  Flip.my.lid.  Thank you for your concern in this regard.

What I say when there’s nothing to say

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My poor, defunct, neglected little blog.

I’m still here, FYI, in spite of falling off the face of the digital earth after my trip to Austin.

And speaking of Austin, I had a post all written up about the Edel Gathering like a dutiful blogger should–but I just wasn’t thrilled with it so I kept attempting to re-write and re-fashion what I had, then I decided that you know what it’s good enough and went to post it, but then there was some sort of formatting glitch that I couldn’t get figured out and which annoyed me to no end, and then all manner of horrific things surfaced in the news and now Robin Williams has died and, well, suddenly my introversion woes at a cocktail party seem petty and unimportant in comparison.

The thing is that I don’t want to write about sad things like Christians being martyred or mental illness and suicide because, well, I feel like they’re not my stories to tell.  Everybody who’s anybody is talking about this stuff, and they should be, and yet I know enough to know I have nothing to bring to the table here.  Nothing to do my brothers and sisters in Christ justice.  Certainly my heart hurts when I consider the suffering that so many endure for Jesus and the Gospel, but I know that the best I can do is pray and continue loving the people around me.  And of course it’s terrible to think about the hopelessness Robin Williams battled throughout his entire adult life but I can’t fix any of that now, so again, I can pray and love the people in my life.  That’s it.

And yet I don’t want to write about silly, surface-level things either because everything in the world right now is just so heavy.  I don’t feel comfortable just moving on and being all hey, check out the new at-home freezer meal business I’ve started! or aren’t my kids so cute?  It feels like maybe this isn’t the time for all of that.

So now what?  What is a blogger to do?  Apparently, I have no idea.  Hence the quiet ghost-town of a blog.

At the very least, it DOES seem that the time for posting about karaoke and about how I exposed Abby Johnson to my horrible dance moves (yes, THE Abby Johnson) at the Edel Gathering has probably passed, but the one thing I guess I’ll mention from the event is the observation that people are really longing for FRIENDSHIP, and that’s something I’m not always good at, but I’m trying to do better.  When I showed up there in Austin I really didn’t know much of anyone, and for the fiiiiiiiiirst time in foreeeeeeever (sorry, couldn’t resist) I had to stick out my arm and shake peoples’ hands and introduce myself.  Eek!  Add to that my perception that most of the people already knew each other (which maybe they didn’t but it seemed that way to me) and oh my goodness, it was intimidating.  I also noted that people seemed to know a lot about one another from their respective blogs, and it occurred to me that my own blog has increasingly ceased to be a place where I am known and has become moreso a place where I write articles I’m attempting to launch into freelance land, with admittedly limited success.  Hmmm.

Suffice it to say I’m thinking a bit about human connection lately, and thanks to my aforementioned new business (I’m an independent representative with Wildtree, which I’m actually pretty excited about) I’ve had the chance to reconnect with some different people from different parts of my life, and it’s been fantastic.  See I love my friends and a good party too, but as an introvert I’m inclined to stay inside of myself or I believe that I should only share personal things that are important or matter or are relevant.  I assume that nobody really wants to hear about that time my kid had a horrific diaper incident in front of all the Pretty Moms At The Pool, or about how I cured a migraine with airline peanuts and a nap.  I figure the mundane details of my days making oatmeal (every single morning) and doing laundry (I mix colors together and wash on the “cold” cycle) are precisely that, mundane–maybe worthy of sharing with my husband, but nobody else.  Hence I probably remain somewhat of a closed book, both online and in real life.

But that is profoundly stupid.

Because here’s the thing: life is short.  The future is uncertain.  God has placed me here, now, doing this crazy thing of being a wife and a mother to eight small but growing children.  I want to use my time wisely and love people well, and be better about allowing others in.  My online presence is admittedly tricky because there are some people who read here who really, truly hate me because of things I’ve written about women, contraception and abortion, thus making it uncomfortable to share personal things–but I’m officially choosing NOT TO CARE.  My blog, my space, my life.  So there.

ANYWAY.  This is where I’m at.  My life goes on in spite of such heartbreaking news from around the world, and I’m disturbed and appalled, and so I hope.  I hope in Christ, and in His love and mercy.  I hope for Heaven and for peace.  I hope for joy and beauty, even on earth.  And I see it, I do, and I don’t even have to look farther than my own home.  Still I don’t understand why we were born here in relative comfort and ease when so many dear Iraqi men and women were not–but then I’ve been asking myself those questions for years, ever since we adopted our children and came face to face with extreme poverty–of every kind.  Why them, and not us?  And I honestly don’t know.  I really don’t.  There is evil in the world, and so there will always be grief mingled with the joy, until Jesus returns and makes all things right again.  In the meantime some are left to suffer, and we see a mysterious dignity in that suffering and uniting oneself with Jesus on the cross, even as we work to alleviate these horrific atrocities because THEY SHOULD NOT HAPPEN.

So.

I’m posting a random photo of me and sweet friends at a Texas cocktail party.

I’m furious and upset and sick about what is happening to Christians around the world, and I long for justice, and I want these people rescued.

I’m broken-hearted over Robin Williams’ tragic death and oh, how I hate suicide.

And I’m grateful for love and friendship, both of which make life a little more beautiful.

This might just be the most disjointed post I’ve ever published, and I am ever-aware that my corner of the blogosphere could disappear tomorrow and we’d all more than survive.  BUT, I also know that friendships and encouragement and hope can take root in the strangest of places.  And, I hope that happens here.

Tupac sighting at Forever 21

254Well.

Tomorrow I’m off to the Edel Gathering!  It’s a meetup/conference for Catholic women in Austin, Texas, and my introverted self has been slightly nervous because I’m going solo, without any bff’s–which ultimately means I might be awkwardly lurking around all weekend.  But when your friend Jen Fulwiler texts you and invites you to help out at the cool event she and Hallie Lord are putting together, you say yes.  Because Jen Fulwiler.  And Hallie Lord.

FYI I’m leaving for the airport before dawn and I still have virtually nothing packed, a huge mountain of laundry to wash, a Target run yet to make, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to be getting my eyebrows done at 6 am (Mom, you’re willing to do my eyebrows at 6 am, right????!!!!) since I wasn’t able to squeeze that in today.  BECAUSE I WAS TOO BUSY SHOPPING AT FOREVER 21 WITH EIGHT KIDS .

True story.

My apologies to any shoppers who had their toes nearly cut off by my sons pushing the two errant and wayward strollers that don’t turn or roll properly.  My apologies to the employee about whom one of my children noisily asked “IS THAT A BOY OR A GIRL?” and about whom I had to honestly answer ”I DON’T KNOW.”  And, I finally must also apologize to the sales clerk who attempted to inform me that I was not in the right place for the line, and who I brusquely informed that I’d been waiting five minutes already and had gotten in line behind someone (thus believing it to be the line) and I wasn’t going to wait for the other new people who magically knew where the line was supposed to be but had not been waiting as long as me, because my baby was screaming and my seven year old had developed a migraine and I NEEDED TO GET OUT OF THIS STORE.

I am, apparently, not forever 21.  In part because I do not prefer dresses that don’t fully cover my backside or upper thighs–sorry dressing room mirror for subjecting you to the horror that was every single dress I tried on.  I will be sure to visit a tanning booth, gym, and time machine before I stop in again.

It wasn’t ALL bad, though.  The best part about my kid-o-licious afternoon shopping spree was, by far, the Tupac shirt.  Which, if you’ve read Jen’s book Something Other Than God, you know is particularly meaningful.  OH how I wanted to buy and proudly wear that shirt to Edel, but it would have shown my entire midriff and, well, that would have been super awkward.  And frankly, nothing to be proud of.  So I took a picture instead to the sound of my kids asking “Why are you photographing that shirt with the man’s face all over it?”, and me saying “It’s a famous rapper” while humming “Changes” in my head.  The penitentiary’s PACKED…

Anyhow, I have to put down the laptop and go get some things done because hello, I’m leaving in the morning and I just remembered my fingernails are all blue and chippy.

Looking forward to seeing you in Austin!

The myth about siblings

siblingsfieldHello, my name is Brianna.

I have eight kids.

Which means each and every one of my children has seven siblings.

And someday they might have more because we’re some of those crazy people that remain open to children.  There’s no real reason for us not to be, and have you noticed how cute newborn babies are?  Also, my kids started begging for another baby by the time Alice was six months old.  So there’s that.

I’m an only child so I can’t know for sure, but I would assume that growing up in a large family probably has its challenges.  Then again, I think that’s every family.  The challenges might look different but they’ll still be there, whether you have two kids or ten.  So I figure you may as well keep having cute babies, amIright?

There is, understandably, a lot of fear when it comes to large families.  It’s something many couples assume they can’t do.  It’s something many couples assume only super-human or gluttons-for-punishment types do do.  Can I give my kids enough love, how will we pay for college, what is the mommy-sanity tipping point?  And, is it intrinsically unfair to a child to raise him or her with lots of siblings?

I’ll be honest and say that over ten years into this parenting thing, I’m pretty much convinced–convinced, I tell you!–that that last one is the silliest objection of them all.  Really.  My kids occasionally argue or hurt each other’s feelings, but most of the time?  They get along.  They’re buddies.  They miss one another if someone is gone, ride bikes on the driveway for hours and hours, and whisper long after they’ve been tucked into bed for the night.  They pray before a little sister with Down syndrome goes in for surgery and cheer for an older brother when he finally manages to swim across the entire pool.

There is something to be said for the whole shared experiences/rooms/family culture thing.  In spite of there being so many kids and only two parents it just works, because we’re a FAMILY.

What I guess I find fascinating though is the common assumption that having multiple children means more fighting and arguing and disharmony, and a lower quality of life for all–as if home life were a pie chart, with a limited number of available resources, where each child competes for his or her share.  Child psychiatrist David Levy popularized the term “sibling rivalry” in the 1930s, and had this to say in reference to older siblings:  “the aggressive response to the new baby is so typical that it is safe to say it is a common feature of family life.” 

And I think, really?  Is that really true?  This has never been our experience.  Not even once.  Not when a new baby has been born to us, and not when a new child has joined our family through adoption.  What can only be described as a thoroughly evolutionary worldview leaves little room for love or humanity or, ultimately, for God.  Who created the family and love between spouses, from whence children come.

But people believe it.  To the point where this idea has been quietly assimilated into the culture and become part of our modern parenting lexicon.   And I’m not saying that a toddler won’t occasionally envy the baby sitting in mom’s lap or that a ten-year-old child won’t complain about not having his or her own room every once in awhile.  That’s normal.  Because kids are impatient, and because kids complain.  But that does NOT mean that they are better off without each other.  Or that we should be forced into thinking that to have siblings is to be at a disadvantage or in a position to receive less of the love necessary to a good childhood.  Because that’s just plain WRONG.  Inaccurate.  Upside-down.

Frankly, I suspect some of this is the result of self-fulfilling prophecy: if we are unequivocally excited about a new baby on the way, and speak in terms that reflect how this little life is a gift to our entire family, our other children will see that excitement and at some point begin to manifest it themselves.  But if we tiptoe around it, go out of our way to focus on how “you won’t be replaced!” and “are you okay about having another baby join our family?” and “I’m so sorry you’ll have to make lots and lots of sacrifices”, our kids might actually start suspecting there’s a reason to feel threatened.  And that siblings pose a direct challenge to their personal well-being, which admittedly sounds pretty scary.  See how that works?

It’s the great big secular lie that tells us that family life is like the aforementioned pie-chart, with a finite number of resources–love, food, attention, material goods–and that the more people there are sharing that pie, the less each individual family member gets.  When seen this way, a large family becomes a scandal.  Because all of a sudden, what ought to be seen as a generous “yes” to life becomes an intrinsically selfish act, where everybody gets a smaller piece of that darned pie.  And an institution created to foster love and peace and formation becomes a breeding ground (pun intended) for resentment and competition.

It’s not exaggerating to say that the pie-chart model remains a grossly impoverished lens through which to view the mystery of marriage and ultimately of love.  God designed babies to bond family members together, not drive us apart.  What we may “lose” in our ability to regularly eat out at nice restaurants or drive a fancy compact car we gain in the joy and delight of another little soul at our dining room table.  We experience in a unique way the reality that life is filled with ups and downs and small victories and slow progress.  Our hearts are strengthened when we witness the human capacity for love, in action, a love that can somehow keep growing to include new babies in the womb and new brothers and sisters from another continent.  We see children growing in confidence, and who are supremely comfortable with their place in the world because they are literally surrounded by love.

And we should probably be skeptical of something that everyone takes for granted now, even though it wasn’t really on anyone’s radar seventy years ago.

Of course all of this is pretty much in the abstract, and if I could I’d invite you into my home so you could see the excited crowd that gathers around Alice anytime she does something new.  So you’ll just have to take my word for it that my kids are happy, they enjoy having brothers and sisters to play with, and new babies do not necessarily trigger an aggressive response in older siblings.  The family was designed by God to be a place of love, and really–who doesn’t love a baby?

Hobby Lobby vs. women

SCOTUS2-blog480Has anyone else been thinking less about yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling, and more about the general reaction to yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling?  While I (as a Catholic with a lot of Christian friends) know plenty of people happy about the outcome, I also know folks who are FURIOUS.  Like F-bomb dropping, name-calling FURIOUS.  How dare a bunch of conservative old guys decide that an employer doesn’t have to pay for our morning-after pill?  And, why are women’s rights being trampled in a time of supposed equality and modernity?  These are the questions they’re asking.  Minus the profanity, because I like to keep it G-rated around here.

Now I don’t personally use artificial contraception of any sort, and while I used to take the pill, I’ve (thankfully!) been off it for over ten years–so clearly I’m not disappointed in how the whole Hobby Lobby thing turned out.  I am, on the contrary, glad that religious freedom ruled the day.  To those who disagree, well, for people like me–who believe that life begins at conception–something like the morning-after pill is a Really Big Deal.  And employers shouldn’t have to cover it, because it has the potential to take the life of another human being.  It’s what’s called an abortifacient, and it’s (part of) why any sort of hormonal birth control (IUD, pills, shots) is wrought with ethical and moral problems.  It’s why I ultimately stopped taking the pill, all those years ago.

And you know?  That was really scary.  I’ll go right ahead and admit it, right in front of all my pious Catholic readers.  It was scary to throw out my birth control.  And not because I was somehow in a bad position to have children (I was married and my husband had a good job) or because I didn’t want to be a mother (I looked forward to growing our family).  No, it was scary because it meant giving up control.  It was scary because it meant losing my freedom.  It was scary because I believed that women need birth control to be happy.

So even though I don’t believe that anymore, and now believe quite the opposite–that artificial contraception is incredibly HARMFUL to women–I can understand why so many women do consider hormonal birth control vital to a liberated womanhood.  Because I’ve been there.  And I also understand why, as a result, so many women are offended by the SCOTUS decision.  It sounds restricting, limiting, and bound up in some really personal things like the female body and female sexual expression.  And here these out-of-touch old men said NO, corporations don’t have to pay for your pills.  And women and men alike are mad, not because they’re no longer able to access the drugs, but because somebody (technically five somebodies) indirectly passed moral judgment on something they either use or may want to use.  And that’s intrinsically offensive.

If nothing else, I suppose the ruling has everyone talking about the moral and communal implications of birth control.  I’m reading Margaret Sanger’s The Pivot of Civilization right now, and needless to say it’s fascinating!  The birth control movement she founded once upon a time was actually rooted in a disturbing manifestation of Darwinism, and built upon the horrific foundation of the eugenics movement–as opposed to the more modern (and seemingly harmless) view that women should have the ability to enjoy unrestricted sex without any consequences.

No doubt a secular product of her time, Margaret viewed sexuality as an irrepressible instinct, believed that the poor, infirm, imprisoned, and “mentally defective” ought not be breeding (and therefore destroying the human race), and so believed that sterilization and contraception were integral to solving the world’s problems.  (Back in 1922, when the book was published, Margaret identified some of these problems as poverty, world hunger, the public school system, moral decay, and the financial drain of the mentally and physically disabled on society.)  She more or less envisioned a future where only educated and upright families of means were reproducing, and even received glowing endorsements from Martin Luther King, Jr. for her work in urban African American neighborhoods.

File that one away under “things that make you go, hmmmm.”

Sanger was, ultimately, an activist for social reformAnd many of the problems she describes are at least mildly related to sex.  But her solutions are all based upon the false (and terribly destructive) premises that a) one does not possess inherent dignity solely on account of being a person, and b) that it’s virtually impossible to not have sex.

It is a horrible lie that you have to be wealthy, brilliant, or in possession of all of your limbs or mental faculties to have value as a human being.  Margaret Sanger’s vision for the future however was fueled by this idea that a flourishing society is one in which there are no weak members.  She writes about how charitable giving and aid are intrinsically bad for a society because they sentimentalize poverty and need, and apparently make it harder to weed those people out and secure a civilization’s happy future.  The historical Christian worldview, however, tells us to care for the vulnerable, sick, hurting, and broken.  It tells us that a person matters NOT for what he or she gives to society, but because he or she was created by God, body and soul.  With dignity.

And as to Sanger’s idea that we operate only off of instinct and therefore have no choice but to engage in indiscriminate sex, well, if we were but mere animals I suppose that would be true.  Except we’re not.  We’re people. With free will and the ability to make choices and exercise self-control.  Not that we always do nor are we all necessarily equally culpable for those choices, which are not made in a vacuum but shaped through family upbringing and religious background and past traumas and experiences.  But we CAN.  Therefore a poor, single, uneducated woman laboring in a workhouse, with five small children at home, does not have to be sterilized to avoid further pregnancy.  She can choose to be abstinent.  She can choose to practice NFP.  She can choose to have sex and become pregnant.  No matter what, there is some sort of choice.

The thing I keep coming back to as I read Sanger’s cold and calculated words (and desire to see much of the population wiped off the map), with the sounds of my many happy kids splashing in the pool in the background (you don’t read Margaret Sanger at the pool?), is that so very many of the world’s problems boil down to the oppression of women and, more specifically, the oppression of women at the hands of men.  We see it over and over again, this burden that women carry, particularly when it comes to procreation.  Margaret Sanger actually isn’t wrong to point out that many problems do find their origin in sexual expression and the unequal footing of women in this regard.

And I suspect this is why so many women have bristled at the recent Supreme Court decision.  Women feel like they’re being told what they can’t do or have by men, and that it somehow condemns us to a life of bearing the consequences of men, and so we’re angry.  We want freedom.  And equality.  And the ability to choose for ourselves.

But the thing is, we HAVE a choice!  We really, truly do.  That was of course what I didn’t quite understand when I first heard that hormonal birth control was not in keeping with the pro-life worldview I held, and so I recoiled in disgust because THAT CAN’T BE TRUE! and WELL WHAT DO THESE ANTI-HORMONAL-BIRTH-CONTROL CHRISTIANS THINK WOMEN ARE SUPPOSED TO DO?!

I didn’t yet see how God created procreation to go right along with sexual expression, or how children are actually the tangible result and sign of married love and commitment.  However once I began to accept the reality of these incredible mysteries–and it was an incremental process to be sure–I saw that it actually all makes perfect sense.  And we women do have a choice, because a choice to participate in the act that brings forth children is the conscious assent to potential motherhood that Margaret Sanger writes about.  Karol Wojtyla describes it in Love and Responsibility as “I may become a mother” or “I may become a father.”  Choice.  Freedom.  To co-create a human person, with God.

It’s sad that the founder of what is now called Planned Parenthood (a name Sanger herself resisted because she felt it “too euphemistic”) so clearly saw what she referred to as ”the power of procreation”, yet failed to grasp its intrinsic connection to sexuality.  It is also curious that Margaret Sanger was personally anti-abortion–oh yes, she was–and I wonder how she might respond to the knowledge that today’s hormonal contraception bears an abortifacient effect.  Obviously we’ll never know, but what I do know is that these justices who yesterday upheld the concept of religious freedom, and Hobby Lobby’s right to refuse payment for the morning-after pill?  They are not the problem.  They are not the oppressors.  They are not the ones hurting women or destroying freedoms.

The secular, utilitarian culture; the thoughtless men who use women for supposed sex without the babies; trusted Christian leaders who promote hormonal birth control as safe and effective when it is, in reality, neither: THESE ARE THE PROBLEM.

My hope is that women will continue to rethink their options and have the courage to choose dignity and life–for themselves, their relationships, their children, and their communities.  In the meantime I, as a woman who believes strongly in women’s rights and freedoms, applaud Hobby Lobby’s tenacity and commitment to positive values.  May it embolden other individuals and corporations to stand by their own moral convictions, especially those convictions that are undeniably good for women.