Choosing International Adoption



Recently I jumped into an online discussion about international adoption.

I know, I  know.

Why do I do this to myself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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Hope, Reality, and Advent



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More of that, please.

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

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

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

On Fighting the Cleaning Wars


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


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

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

Reason #507 to Have a Bunch of Kids.

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

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

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

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

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

We have to be able to BEND.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Back to Normal


Well, I’m back!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, well, it is.

Kids are wild.

Parenthood is wild.

Life is kind of wild.

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

And in the best, most beautiful way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Announcement: My New Radio Show

JUST SHOWING UPradiographic


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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe NOT the IUD

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Skip the sex.

Put on some sweats.

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

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

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

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

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

What is the Deal With the Pope?



My husband and I had every intention of packing up our 15-passenger-beast this week, and roadtripping to Philadelphia.  Actually we were planning to go to Washington, DC first, to see the Very Historical Sites around our nation’s capitol (like the puffy shirt from Seinfeld that supposedly resides in the Smithsonian), and then we’d make our way to the city of brotherly love (or whatever it’s called.  I think I remember Wheel of Fortune being broadcast from Philadelphia once when I was a kid, and them showing that famous “love” sign during the intro, while some song called “Philadelphia Freedom” played in the background.  Good times.)

Why?  Because Pope Francis arrives in the United States today, for the World Meeting of Families.  We Heldts are long overdue for a big family vacay, so we thought we’d head east this time and call it good.  (Normally we go west.  That’s why my only frame of reference for Philadelphia is from a 1980s game show.  Don’t judge.)

Except that, well, we’re not.  As it turns out, the thought of taking on so much during a busy part of the school year, combined with the fact that Kevin and I are going to Rome next month (oh yes, we are), was enough to scare us into hiding at home instead, and catching footage on EWTN in our pajamas.  It’s kind of my philosophy on everything these days–why pay money to see “American Sniper” in the theater, when I can watch at home from my bed and yell at the TV?  So no real regrets about not making it to the top of Rocky’s steps, though part of me wishes I’d gone the selfish route, ditched the “quaint family road trip” idea from the beginning, and scored some sort of media pass to the event.  Because, you know, I am a VERY IMPORTANT BLOGGER.  Cough.

Now while I won’t be posting or tweeting any actual real-time updates about the WMOF (unless the pope makes a detour to a part of Denver that doesn’t require paid parking), I do want to talk about the papacy, in general, for all my friends who aren’t really sure what the whole pope thing is about.  (Not that I’M necessarily even sure what the whole thing is about.  Learning curve.)

I have to tell you that when I first began reading Catholic books, I didn’t like the idea of the pope.  He was celibate by choice, super old, and seemed kind of bossy.  We already had Jesus, so why did we need another guy?

The truth is that I honestly didn’t know a thing about the pope.  And I’d made a lot of assumptions.  And once I discovered what Catholics actually believed about the pope, I didn’t find it quite so repugnant, and eventually came to accept it all as true.  And not because I change my mind like the wind (although let’s face it, sometimes I do), but because it all makes fantastic sense and is supported by tradition, the Bible, and history.  Important stuff, amIright?  In any case, here is what I discovered, straight from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

First of all,

874 Christ is himself the source of ministry in the Church. He instituted the Church. He gave her authority and mission, orientation and goal.

And then,

881 The Lord made Simon alone, whom he named Peter, the “rock” of his Church. He gave him the keys of his Church and instituted him shepherd of the whole flock, and

882 The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.”402 “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”403

So Pope Francis is the head of Christ’s Church on earth.  He’s the Bishop of Rome.  He’s not a power-hungry wizard that can change doctrines and dogmas from one thing to another, and his office is what can be traced back to Saint Peter.  (Not his biological heritage.  Not that I ever thought that.  Ahem.)  He is a man, a human being.  Not everybody agrees that all of his words or decisions are the right thing for the Church, but in the end we’ll come out all right because the Holy Spirit prevents the Church from teaching heresy in an official capacity.  And, what I once perceived as blind worship of a mere human being is, typically, more akin to love and devotion.  People really care about their shepherd.  Being a convert, I confess that this depth of devotion doesn’t come naturally to me–I don’t refer to the pope as “Papa” or feel a particularly strong connection with him.  I’ve enjoyed reading Evangelii Gaudium and he absolutely has good things to say, but Pope Francis is not necessarily a huge part of my daily, conscious spiritual life.  (This could also have something to do with the fact that I’m not a super emotional or sentimental person, in general.  As in, I don’t watch sappy Hallmark movies and I rarely ever cry.  Sorry.)

One thing I WILL say is that Pope Francis’ capacity for love and mercy, and desire to reach people in the margins of society, is profoundly beautiful.  And something to aspire to.  And maybe it’s my evangelical background talking but I also kind of love his ecumenical approach to faith, when it comes to his willingness to engage Protestants.  More of that, please!

Also?  Jesus is the ultimate head of the church.  It’s Jesus’ Church.  The pope doesn’t diminish or take away from that, not in the least.  Quite the opposite, really.

Yesterday as I drove to pick up my kids from school, I heard two secular radio show hosts discussing Pope Francis’ visit, and it was clear they didn’t really know how to talk about his visit.  Funny, because it reminded me of myself all those years ago when I didn’t “get” the whole pope thing.  They were making statements like “I mean it’s cool, but I wouldn’t compare it to meeting someone like the president”, “Oh I think it’s very much like meeting the president”, and “A few years ago I remember meeting, um, Pope Ratzinger.”  Sprinkled with lots of ums and awkward pauses, their conversation belied their simultaneous discomfort and fascination with Catholicism.  Some people really don’t like Catholics, and sometimes I see this reflected in the media–but most, I think, are merely curious, like the people on the radio.  (P.S.  There is no person who goes by the title “Pope Ratzinger.”)

So even though I’m slightly sad to not be tooling around the East Coast this week, hiking miles into the city each day with eight perpetually thirsty and grumpy kids in tow while I yell for them to STOP WHINING RIGHT THIS SECOND and DON’T YOU DARE PEE YOUR PANTS, I’ll hopefully still get the chance to do some blogging about what’s going on.  The pope is super mysterious to a lot of Americans, and if you’re anything like I used to be, you’re asking yourself Who does this guy think he is?

The answer is, of course, Pope Francis.  The head of Christ’s Church on earth.  Here for a visit.

And in case you were wondering, we’re throwing around the idea of a family trip to California next summer, instead.  If the pope would like to accompany us to Disneyland, he is hereby formally invited to do so.

010: IEP meetings, War Room, and why Christians should watch Selma


New podcast up today!

So if you want to hear about yesterday’s mega IEP meetings for my daughters with Down syndrome, or about why I’m not a huge fan of overtly Christian movies, you should check it out.  (Yes, that’s right.  I didn’t like “Fireproof”.)  Also, my apologies for the little two-year-old chattering in the background.  #momblogproblems.