I’m at a point in my life where I know a lot of other women who are expecting babies. Many of my friends, family members, and former students who have entered the “adult” phase of their lives, are simultaneously sharing the experience of carrying and growing a life.
I found out I was pregnant on November 1st and learned that my baby would arrive sometime around July 9th. With the exception of one friend who is sharing a due date with me, I could line up all of my fellow moms-to-be on a continuum based on when their babies are expected to arrive. As time has passed, there have been women before me and women behind me. “Like being on an escalator,” I told Patrick.
Time moves without stopping, just as an escalator does. Inevitably, some of my friends with due dates before mine, have reached the top and exited into a beautiful new life, their babies nestled in their arms. As I move up on the escalator, I get closer to the top and look over my shoulder to find more friends filing in behind me, their bellies growing in time with the incline.
One of these days, I will reach the top and there will be no one else in front of me. Then, it will be my time to step off of this ride and take my daughter, Teagan, in my arms. I can’t wait to explore the next level, but I’m a little nervous. What if something bad happens? Suppose I fall or get stuck? What if the escalator stops and ceases forward progress? (At 38 weeks, it feels like this sometimes.)
Then, I remind myself to trust in God. He is in control of that escalator. He knows when and how I will get off of it. He knows what awaits me on the second floor. He is always good.
The final weeks of this ascending journey are the hardest. (Sometimes I feel like I’m on the never-ending escalator at Camden Yards.) This is my fourth time here, but it doesn’t make it easy. I do, however, have some coping strategies that have helped me in the past and are providing me peace now as I wait:
3. Stay busy. It’s summer, so I’m off from teaching, but I’m trying to get into work one day a week to clean and organize for next school year. I’ve also planned fun activities for myself and the boys, like a visit to an “escape room” with some old friends and a trip to the movies with Collin and his godparents to see Finding Dory. I even had an artist friend paint a giant, rosy teapot on my belly. I try to have at least one small activity to look forward to each day.
5. Snowballs. Right after I told Patrick about my escalator analogy, we visited the Emmorton snowball stand where I ran into a former student who was rapidly approaching her due date. We talk online regularly and have both agreed that a Styrofoam cup of ice drenched in sugary syrup is exactly what we need to cool us down – body and mind. I couldn’t help but think about the irony of her waiting in the long line before me, both of us eagerly awaiting the moment we finally embraced our icy treat. I watched longingly as she received her snowball, indulging in that first taste of sweetness. I was anxious to meet my own frosty bundle. Before I knew it, I was back in the car, savoring every spoonful of my new arrival.
A few days later, my student had her baby, an adorable little boy named Theo.
That meant there were only two women I knew before me, waiting just a few more weeks – or even days -- to get off the escalator. One delivered a healthy boy three days ago. The other and I are eager for July 9th-ish to meet our fourth babies.
Hopefully by next week, I’ll be writing about meeting my daughter for the first time, but if not, I’ll be trusting God to get me there safe, sound, and soon…and consuming my fair share of snowballs!
June 27, 2016 02:34
By Robyn Barberry
If you’re looking for something fun, free, and fantastic to do this weekend, head over to the Baltimore Museum of Art to meet Josh Copus and participate in his interactive Brick Factory, which is part of his greater project “Building Community.”
My mom, the boys, and I visited the museum on Thursday, June 16th to celebrate my birthday (and because when your mom is an art teacher, there is no summer vacation from learning!). After visiting the exquisite sculpture garden, we headed over to the lawn on the opposite side of the museum where we found Copus, elbow deep in clay harvested in Perryville, just a few miles from our house.
“Welcome to the Brick Factory!” he said. “Would you like to help me make some bricks?”
Collin joined Copus on the other side of the table where he explained the history of brick-making and the vision behind his project. While Collin and Copus filled a wooden frame with the terra-cotta colored clay, Copus explained that the after the bricks hardened, they could be stamped with letters and etched with designs. His goal is to create a public installation with all of the bricks created by museum-goers. Every brick will be unique, yet all formed of the same material and the same process. It will be one small way to bring Baltimore together.
After they packed the frame with the clay, Copus lifted the frame and, like magic, six perfectly formed bricks appeared before our eyes.
Copus set them aside to dry, explaining that after they became “leather hard,” they would be fired. But first, they needed to be stamped and decorated.
Each of the boys made a brick, stamping their names with plastic letters and a rubber mallet.
Collin used pottery tools to draw people and sharks on his brick.
As we worked, I learned that Copus is from North Carolina and that he creates other ceramic works of art, as well. He’s enjoying his visit to Baltimore and visibly loves his chosen line of work. His energy was so contagious that we chose to spend most of our afternoon working with him rather than taking in Monsieurs Matisse and Degas. There’s nothing like spending time in the presence of a living artist.
Before we left, Copus gave us a brick with the word “COMMUNITY” stamped on it.
Copus asked Collin what community meant.
“Like a whole city of people coming together,” he said.
“That’s exactly right!” Copus said. “And that’s what this is all about!”
It was a great way to spend a summer afternoon. We were, in a sense, our own community of artists, contributing to an even greater community called Baltimore. I’m looking forward to seeing Copus’ final production, where every one is more than just another brick in the wall.
You can catch Copus and the Brick Factory throughout the weekend at the Baltimore Museum of Art. It’s a fun, free way to participate in Baltimore’s art community. Here’s more on Copus and his Building Community project.
June 17, 2016 01:14
By Robyn Barberry
In a few short weeks, I will meet my daughter for the first time. I’ve spent the past three months trying to wrap my head around what it’s going to be like to parent a girl, seeing as how I’ve been raising three boys up until this point.
I was worried about things like braiding her hair and when to let her get her ears pierced until the story of the Stanford rape case took over my Facebook newsfeed. Brock Turner, a Stanford University swimmer, received a six-month sentence for raping a woman in January 2015 after a campus party. The sentence could have been up to 14 years, but the judge decided that a long, harsh sentence would have “a severe impact” on him.
I took the time to read the victim’s statement
. It is one of the most harrowing things I have ever read. Her words and the vivid pictures they form haunt me.
She could be my daughter. He could be one of my sons.
What, if anything, can I do to prevent my children from finding themselves on either end of a situation like this? What should I tell my sons? What should I tell my daughter?
I read what some of my friends were saying on Facebook. Many of my friends are teachers, writers and parents, like myself, but scrolling down my news feed is like looking through a kaleidoscope of opinions from the left, the right, and everywhere in between. I decided to take a risk and bring them all together on my page and asked “What should I be teaching my sons about respecting women and their bodies? What should I be teaching my daughter about protecting herself? Where does our role begin and end here?”
I was overwhelmed by the intelligent and prudent responses from my friends, some of whom include a school psychologist, a military sexual-assault prevention-and-response coordinator, a foster parent and a sex abuse survivor. Though their perspectives varied, all responded with the same message: What happened in Stanford is NOT okay. We all have to prepare our children for life in a time and place where “rape culture” exists. We all want to change that. We all know that it starts with us. The only issue is that we all disagree on what to teach our kids about rape prevention.
There was no consensus when it comes to the notion of consent. A friend pointed out that he and his wife have taught their daughter that if she doesn’t want to hug someone, she doesn’t have to (even if it’s “Great Aunt Marge.”) Some people disagree and think that withholding acts of affection will cause a child to become insensitive and cold. Several friends shared this tongue-in-cheek British video
using “making tea” for someone as an analogy for sexual consent.
The discussion of revealing clothing and excessive alcohol consumption turned up with staunch supporters on each camp. Some believed that dressing and drinking conservatively are crucial shields women can use to deter rapists. Others said that we shouldn’t have to teach girls to protect themselves; rather, it’s the boys who needed to be taught to respect women.
I’ve come to the conclusion that we shouldn’t be just educating our daughters or just educating our sons. They both need to hear messages catered to their genders’ needs as well as universal messages that apply to all people of all ages. The key is delivery.
My school psychologist friend said that we need to be careful about talking with kids at their current level. Allowing little ones like my own to “choose” to give and receive hugs while telling them they should never feel uncomfortable when touching another person, is a good place to start.
A fellow teacher said she encourages her middle school students to think about whether they’re “helping” someone or “hurting” someone in every encounter.
A high school librarian said she believes more attention needs to be paid to "developing a clear understanding of what sexual assault is, particularly for boys and the consequences.” She offered two book titles for me to read (and I will!) about raising boys to be responsible men who treat women properly, "Season of Life" by Joe Ehrmann (a former Baltimore Colt) and Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. Her students are at the prime time for that conversation, perhaps through the Green Dot
program that is being used to educate students about sexual assault in high schools.
Here’s what I decided to tell my kids while they’re under my watch:
- Our family is Catholic. Not every family is like ours, and that’s okay. But we will share our values with you.
- We believe that our bodies are a gift from God. It’s up to us to take good care of them with healthy food, exercise, and safe contact with other bodies. (That also means stop hitting each other!)
- Our faith teaches us that the best thing to do is to wait until we’re married to have sex. It keeps us healthy, saves us from a lot of heartache, adds depth to our marriages, can make parenting easier, and makes God happy.
- Since we’re all born sinners, that doesn’t always happen. When it comes to sex, we have the choice to obey God or to do as we will. But, sometimes someone else makes that decision for us by forcing their body on ours. This is called rape and it is NOT YOUR FAULT. It makes you feel bad about yourself, but you did nothing wrong. And because of that, this is something that you would never do to someone else.
- You are more than just your body. You are your mind and your spirit. Your relationships with others should reflect all of those things.
- You are biologically more vulnerable than your male counterparts. You’re smaller than most men. You probably have less muscle tone. Your private parts go in, not out.
- Sometimes clothing matters. You don’t wear jeans to a job interview because your prospective employer will think you don’t take them (or yourself) seriously, no matter how nice or smart you are. In a similar fashion, the more skin you show, the more attention you’ll receive. Whether you intend it to be or not, some men see this as an invitation to touch your body. Be prepared to respond accordingly.
- Male sexual predators do exist and it seems like certain situations make them more likely to attack, like if they see you alone in an isolated area. Stay as safe and in control as you can everywhere you go. If you start to feel uncomfortable, GET OUT. Make an excuse. Call someone. Walk away. Run if you have to.
- Rape can’t always be avoided or prevented. Sometimes it’s not about alcohol or short skirts or walking alone or flirting. The Stanford victim wore a beige cardigan to the party where she was raped. Even if those are factors, they are NEVER excuses for a man to force himself upon a woman.
- You should NEVER be blamed if your body is violated against your will.
- Not all men are bad. In fact, most of them are good, like your brothers, father, uncles, and grandfathers. Sure there are “bad guys,” but the entire male population isn’t out to get you.
- Sexual assault can happen to you, too. If someone touches you anywhere, and it makes you feel uncomfortable, you need to tell someone.
- If a woman is wearing revealing clothing, it does not automatically mean she is making herself available to you.
- Women are not objects. The sex industry wants you to believe that, but it’s not true. Women are people with feelings, not just bodies to be used for your pleasure.
- Many women are also sisters, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers like your own. Think of how much you love us when you see them. Chances are someone loves them, too.
- Treat people and all living things with respect and dignity.
- Don’t touch anyone without their permission. Likewise, no one should touch you without your permission. (Including rude people in the grocery store who poked you when you were in my belly.)
- Socialize responsibly. Surround yourself with friends. Never take an eye off your drink. Know when you’ve had enough. Know when someone else has had enough. Call if you need us to come get you. No questions asked.
- “No means no” at any point of a conversation. If you hear the word “no,” that means your plans must change at that moment. Remove yourself from the situation if at all possible.
- If someone violates you after you have told them “no,” it’s not your fault; it’s theirs.
- If something happens to you that makes you feel violated, tell someone. A friend, a guidance counselor, the police, anyone who can help. But, we’d hope you would come to us first. It is NOT YOUR FAULT. Let us help you.
- If you violate another human being in any way, you will be punished. If not by the fullest extent of the law (which we would encourage), then by us and by God. We will never stop loving you, but we will not stand up for you. We will not stand beside you. We will not stand by you. We raised you better than that.
As of right now, that’s my road map for getting through the tough conversations I have ahead with my sons and daughter. Some of those seeds need to be planted now when my children still think I’m a celebrity and others are lines that will take me several years to memorize before delivering them to an audience of eye-rolling adolescents who think I’m an embarrassment. (At the very least, they can check my blog archive and pull this up as a reference when they’re away at college.)
Not all parents raise their children like my friends and I are raising ours. Unfortunately it will take a very long time before every man in the world knows that a woman’s body is hers and not his for the taking, no matter what she’s wearing or what she’s had to drink or what she said earlier that night before she changed her mind. We may never reach that point. But we can try. And it starts by talking to our girls AND our boys, early and often.
June 13, 2016 10:22
By Robyn Barberry
Collin became a big brother for the first time in 2012, just shy of his third birthday, when Frank joined our family. Almost a year and a half later, Leo appeared on the scene, bolstering Collin’s oldest sibling status and adding a confused and (to an extent) reluctant Frank to the “big brother club.” Each time, they received t-shirts advertising their important roles, small gifts from the new addition, and the paparazzi treatment from mom, dad, grandparents, and countless friends and family members.
For the most part, our transitions from a family of two, three, four and five have gone pretty smoothly. (Except for the whole Frank biting Leo ordeal, which still hasn’t fully resolved itself. We blame their narrow age gap and opposite personalities on top of Frank’s developmental delays.) Collin, especially, loves being around toddlers and babies, who are always a captive audience to his silly antics.
For most of my dwindling pregnancy, Collin has been excited about Teagan’s arrival. He likes picking out decorations for her room and tiny little girl clothes. He even draws pictures of her. But, over the past few weeks, he’s started to show some anxiety about her arrival.
I bought him a book called The Big Sibling Book, which is a baby book that an older brother or sister fills out for his or her family’s new little one. The first section is intended to be filled out before the baby is born, so one day after school Collin and I started working on it together. At one point, he wrote that he was nervous about his sister’s arrival because he thought Mommy and Daddy weren’t going to have time for him. I tried to reassure him that we’d find special things to do together, but he still seemed anxious.
I talked to our school guidance counselor who advised me to arrange for “dates” with Collin (and the little boys, too). I started on it right away, taking Collin to run errands with me after school, stopping to buy a cool new Orioles hat, snack on some sushi, and listen to Teagan’s heartbeat at my OB’s office. (She even let Collin use the Doppler machine. He was so excited.)
On the way home, I asked Collin to think of some things he’d like to do with Patrick and me over the summer. Maybe we’ll catch an Aberdeen Ironbirds game or walk to our new snowball stand or play a round of mini-golf. Whatever we do, we will make sure Collin knows that he is more than just a big brother, he’s our oldest son, and he matters to us as an individual.
Frank and Leo probably have no idea that the baby is coming. Or maybe they do… When I lift them my shirt to show them my belly, they say, “Goodnight baby!” in an indignant tone and pull my shirt back down with the kind of tug one uses to close a window shade. They haven’t been around many babies, so we will have to practice being gentle and kind, maybe with one of the cute dolls Teagan’s already acquired. We also have some great books on the exciting things that happen when you become a big brother. (Frank probably needs a refresher course.) The adjustment is sure to be difficult for them, especially our current “baby,” two-and-a-half-year-old Leo, but if I follow our guidance counselor’s advice and make time for puzzles, stories, and bubbles with each of them, they’ll get the attention they need to feel important and loved.
June 07, 2016 10:49
By Robyn Barberry
Choosing a name for a baby is a daunting task for any expectant parent. After all, it’s the one constant that will stay with a person from the day they’re born until the day they die. It’s the first thing we usually share about ourselves. It’s what we answer to. It’s who we are.
So, hey, moms and dads-to-be…no pressure.
Baby naming is an especially difficult obligation for teachers, like myself. You don’t want your child’s first name to be followed by an initial, so you stay away from anything too common or too trendy. You want your child to stand out. At the same time, you don’t want to choose a name that’s weird or hard to pronounce.
It must be a name that sounds good whispered or hollered. It must look good on paper. It earns bonus points for carrying special meaning, like a virtue or a nod to cultural heritage. And it MUST blissfully coexist with your last name (which is why, despite it being one of my favorite places on Earth
, there will never be a Kerry Barberry).
If you’re me, a saint’s name must reside between the first and the last. And, of course, the initials can’t spell out anything crass or embarrassing.
Finally, it has to work well with sibling’s names. In my case, there are three older brothers on the line. Which means that my list of boys’ names was a short and slim as a piece of gum. And every bit as sticky.
Fortunately, I’m having a little girl (I found out my baby’s gender for the first time ever back in March
), so the debate between Christopher, Sean, Anthony, and Vincent rests. I contemplated the girls’ names I conjured up for each of my previous pregnancies – Magdolyn (Maggie for short), Lillian (my grandmother’s name), Hope, Grace, and a slew of other whimsies – but decided that this little girl needed a name of her own, rather than one set aside for the daughters I imagined, who ultimately became my sons.
When I found out that the name Teagan can mean “beautiful” or “little poet,” I fell in love. (I also decided it would be cute to call her “Sweet Tea” for short.) Just as I did with my current youngest, Leo, I began to imagine her when I settled on the name. It was the next-to-the-last piece to the puzzle within me. Now, all I need is to see her face.
The middle name was a point of contention. Patrick’s not crazy about the names Brigid or Kateri, who are two of my favorite saints, but we ultimately settled on Rose, especially after I read up on St. Rose of Lima
. It’s a classic, feminine name that will help diminish telemarketer’s confusion when they call to speak to a victim, er, prospective customer, with a quasi-androgynous name.
I was initially going to keep the name a secret, like I did with Leo, but on the night I found out I was having a girl, I immediately ordered some gorgeous fabric from England with teapots and roses on it, along with a teacup-embellished hat and some rose headbands. Coincidentally, my neighbor gave me a Beleek teacup. I knew then that I had to share Teagan Rose’s name with the world…or else I’d burst.
So, I assembled some clues in a box and had my family guess her name on Easter. Most people got Rose right away, but few were familiar with the name Teagan. Once they saw it all spelled out in Scrabble letters, they were happy to learn a little more about the special person who will be joining us sometime around July 9th.
Yesterday, my beloved coworkers hosted a lovely shower for me and Teagan. The gifts were adorable (I never thought I’d love pink so much), the food was delicious, the decorations were gorgeous, and the company was splendid. But, the most special thing was seeing her name on a beautiful cake baked by my wonderful friend, Gina. At that moment, I knew for sure that this is really happening! I’m going to have a daughter!
May 19, 2016 10:49
By Robyn Barberry
My boys and I suffer from both dry, sensitive skin and even drier, complicated hair. Typical, drug-store brand skin and hair products only make our problems worse. For years, I’ve struggled to find a company that makes soaps, lotions, shampoos and conditioners that offer us the gentle, yet rich moisture we need. I also prefer to use the least amount of chemicals on and around my kids that I possibly can, sticking to natural ingredients. Oh, and I’d like to do all this without breaking the bank. (Three kids can go through a bottle of bath wash pretty quickly!)
I stumbled upon Shea Moisture
’s Olive & Marula Baby Head-to-Toe Wash & Shampoo back in January in the Target clearance rack. I was killing time waiting for a prescription, so I read the label, and found myself impressed by the natural ingredients that were in it, like avocado oil, jojoba, and, of course, shea butter. Equally impressive was the list of all the yucky chemicals that weren’t included in the product. I unscrewed the lid to see what it smelled like. (Sometimes natural products have a funky, overpowering incense-like scent.) It had a fresh, green tea aroma that would work for any member of my family. Next, I looked up product reviews on Amazon. It had a high rating and only a few people claimed the fragrance was too strong. So, I bought the twin-pack of Head-to-Toe Wash & Shampoo and Head-to-Toe Lotion for $15.
Fast forward three months and I want to shout from the rooftops about the dramatic changes Shea Moisture’s Head-to-Toe Wash & Shampoo and Lotion have made for my boys’ skin – and mine. Winter is especially damaging to our skin. We often find ourselves broken out in eczema. Sometimes our skin cracks so much it bleeds. But, we managed to get through this past winter with skin that was toned, even radiant, thanks to Shea Moisture. In fact, the Wash is so effective, that I only need to use the lotion once a week.
I found that Walgreen’s also carries Shea Moisture products and that periodically they run a buy-one-get-one-50% off (or even FREE!) sale. I stocked up in February, and Yesenia, the beauty advisor in the Aberdeen store, suggested I try She Moisture’s hair products. I have a frustrating mane of elbow-length naturally curly (more like frizzy) hair and am always on the look-out for new products to help me tame the beast. I tried Shea Moisture’s Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Shine Shampoo, Conditioner, Curl Enhancing Smoothie, and Frizz-Free Curl Mousse and developed the perfect formula for soft, strong curls that shine without crunching or flaking. I’m finding I wear my hair down far more often than I usually do. I can’t believe I’ve been battling for three decades without this stuff!
My favorite Shea Moisture product has got to be the Raw Shea Cupuacu Mommy Stretch Mark Intensive Repair Oil. I managed to get through my first two pregnancies with minimal stretch marks, thanks to Palmer’s Cocoa Butter, but when my 3rd-timer, 12-pounder occupied my belly, no amount of moisturizer could protect my skin from the damage of carrying that monster of a baby. Fortunately, between that pregnancy and this one, my skin has improved. But, I can’t help but wonder how much better my abdominal skin could be if I had discovered Shea Moisture’s Mommy Stretch Mark Intensive Repair Oil a little sooner. Here I am, nearly seven months into my pregnancy, and my belly is as smooth as it was before I discovered I was having my fourth child. She is also shaping up to be a monster baby, but it looks like my belly is going to escape largely unscathed, thanks to Shea Moisture. (Sorry, but I'm not including a picture. I'm very modest. You'll just have to take my word for it!)
By far the coolest thing about Shea Moisture, is the story behind it:
Sofi Tucker started selling Shea Nuts at the village market in Bonthe, Sierra Leone in 1912. By age 19, the widowed mother of four was selling Shea Butter, African Black Soap and her homemade hair and skin preparations all over the countryside. Sofi Tucker was our Grandmother and SheaMoisture is her legacy.
Shea Moisture is fair trade, organic, sustainable and free of animal cruelty. I like to purchase from ethically-minded companies like this, particularly those that use nature as a source for solutions to human problems. You'll pay a little bit more than you would typical brands, but it lasts a long time and you're paying for quality. Besides, I think it’s what God would want us to do.
You can find Shea Moisture in most drug stores, usually on a top or bottom shelf, or in an ethnic skin and hair care section. I only discussed the varieties that work for my family's skin and hair needs, but they have something for everyone! Try it. I’m sure you’ll love it!
April 26, 2016 04:36
By Robyn Barberry
It’s Primary Tuesday in Maryland, and just about everyone on my social media feed is bombarding me with reminders to vote. I’ve even had several people tell me that if I don’t vote, I don’t have a right to complain. There’s just one problem: I can’t.
I generally don’t like to discuss politics, for several reasons.
1. I can’t stand the arguing and the tension political debates cause.
2. I don’t consider myself an “expert” on “the issues.” (With 3.75 kids and a career, I’m too busy to keep up with all that.)
-- and –
3. There are so many more interesting things to talk about. (Like the Orioles.)
I’ve also found it difficult to find others who share my views on how the government should be run. I don’t side with the Republicans or the Democrats, or any other party for that matter. For that reason, I am a registered independent.
Unfortunately, in the state of Maryland, that means that I am ineligible to vote in the primaries. Personally, I find that that policy puts voters in an unfair “forced choice” situation. I chose not to decide. (And according to the band Rush, I still have made a choice.)
Honestly, even if I could vote today, I’d be hard-pressed to find a candidate who would govern this country according to my prolife, prosocial values. Our president should look out for the welfare of all U.S. citizens, born, unborn, incarcerated, impoverished, in public service, and in turmoil. Our next president should work toward economic stability, international and domestic tranquility, and environmental security. Unfortunately, my ideal candidate is ineligible because he’s not an American citizen, and he already has his hands full at his current job. (His name is Pope Francis.)
Pope Francis has already been vocal on American politicians' statements on immigration. And Bernie Sanders recently attended a Vatican conference on social justice. Sanders admits to admiring Pope Francis, but, his pro-choice beliefs still cause him to fall short of earning the votes of some Christians.
It’s tough being Catholic during elections like this, when so many of our values are split between two starkly opposite parties. So, while I wait for the president of my dreams, I will pray that our country will find itself in the best hands possible. God bless America!
April 26, 2016 01:25
By Robyn Barberry
What's it gonna be? Blue or pink?
From the moment I announced that I was expecting my fourth child, friends and strangers alike have asked the inevitable question every pregnant woman finds herself answering over and over again: “Are you finding out what you’re having?”
“I never have,” was my consistent reply.
It’s true. Unlike most women (at least the ones I know), I chose to wait until each of my first three children made their grand entrances into the world to find out whether I’d have a son or a daughter. And each time, my OB shouted out “It’s a boy!”
Part of me always wanted a girl. There’s a line from the song “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire that goes, “Can’t you understand/that I want a daughter while I’m still young?/I want to hold her hand and show her some beauty before the damage is done./But if it’s too much to ask/if it’s too much to ask/send me a son.” All I ever wanted was a healthy baby, but I couldn’t help but wonder what it might be like to have a little girl.
All of my prom dresses hang in the back of Collin and Frank’s closet, just in case I had a daughter who liked to play dress-up (or wanted to wear something vintage to a high school dance). I’d held on to my wrought iron bed and some of my favorite books and my American Girl doll (Felicity) because I wanted to relive a few slices of my childhood vicariously through my own little girl. I wanted someone to get pedicures with me and watch the kind of movies where nothing blows up. I wanted to shop for a First Communion dress and help plan her wedding and hold her baby one day. I wanted to raise a young lady who wasn’t the damsel in distress, but a benevolent force who would improve every corner of the world she touches – just by being her strong, sweet self.
My best friend Melissa has two amazing little girls. They’re spunky and, even though they love princesses, they’re not your typical “girly-girls.” (Two-year-old Nora’s favorite color is blue and four-year-old Stella is a huge Darth Vader fan.) The boys adore the girls and treat them like sisters. I know that if I ever had a little girl, Collin, Frank, and Leo would protect her, play with her, and pester her, just as big brothers should.
In December, while we were visiting Melissa and the girls, I told Melissa that I was going to break tradition and find out what I was having. It was hard to explain why, though.
When it comes down to it, I suppose it’s about preparation and planning. In general, I’m not much of a planner. I tend to make loose plans and graciously accept the twists and turns God sends my way as an opportunity to hone my on-the-spot problem-solving skills and discover the great plans He has in store for me, rather than the ones I orchestrate for myself.
On the other hand, having a large family calls for a little bit more organization on my part. I will always accept what God sends my way, but I think He’d like for me to be prepared, as well. Adding a fourth child means rearranging bedrooms and having all the clothing, blankets, and other essentials ready for his or her big arrival. Since I consider myself a pro at this now, I have a good idea of what my newborn will require to be safe, comfortable, and content(-ish) in the early days of his or her life. I’ve acquired a massive amount of stuff for little boys over the years, but I couldn’t help but wonder…what would happen if I had a little girl?
She’d wear the green, yellow, and white gender-neutral attire her brothers wore in their early days, and I supposed she and Leo would share a jungle-themed room. I didn’t want to drown her in pink. Or did I?
Melissa and just-born Collin (in his gender-neutral sheep sleeper.)
I asked myself if I really needed to wait for the OB to tell me I had a son or a daughter in the harried moments before the baby is placed on my chest. Wouldn’t I be equally surprised if I found out sooner rather than later? It’s not like I had a say in the matter. God had already chosen whether I was having a boy or a girl. My job was to accept the gift with open arms. But, there wasn’t any harm in peeking, right?
“And here’s the best part,” I told Melissa. “You’re going to reveal it at our St. Patrick’s Day party.” Her blue-green eyes widened and she let out one of her enthusiastic signature laughs.
Fast forward a few months and Patrick and I are having our sonogram done by the same woman who gave us a peek at Collin, Frank, and Leo when they were the size of a banana. “You don’t want to find out what you’re having, right?” she asked. Patrick and I looked at each other. “Actually, we do,” I explained, “but not today.” She told us to look away and wrote our baby’s gender on a small piece of paper which she promptly sealed in an envelope, which Melissa picked up a few days later. Our fate was in her hands.
Our St. Patrick’s Day party is one of the highlights of our year. All of our friends and family gather to celebrate our Irish heritage (actual or adopted for the day). It fell on Melissa’s birthday this year, and I’m honored that she chose to celebrate by preparing a special surprise for us. Only Melissa, her husband, Mark, and another of our closest friends, Bob, knew about our secret plan. When just about everyone arrived, I gave Melissa the nod. Bob cued up the video camera on his phone as Melissa and the girls entered the room with an enormous box decorated to look like a leprechaun’s hat.
“We swore we’d never do this, but we’ve decided to find out what we’re having!” I told everyone. Patrick and I pulled the tape on the top of the box and…four pink balloons came flying out! The entire room cheered. I jumped up and down. Patrick’s grandmother shed tears of joy. Leo was just happy to have a balloon (but I’m not quite sure how happy he’s going to be to have a baby sister).
Since then, I’ve been preparing for my little girl’s arrival. The day after the St. Patrick’s Day party, my mom and I picked out a gorgeous bohemian-inspired, elephant-themed bedding set for her room.
We moved all three of the boys to one bedroom. (They love it!) I bought the baby a few irresistible dresses and, of course, headbands to match.
Meanwhile, I gave most of the boys’ baby clothes to a former student who is having a little boy. Patrick and I settled on a name we love. (You’ll find out next time!). I even booked her baptism.
I like new experiences, and I’m glad I decided to find out my baby’s gender this time around. I’m generally a person who enjoys mystery, even ambiguity, but I have found that this time it’s easier to imagine what life is going to be like when she (isn’t that nice to say?) gets here. There will be hair to be braided and jewelry to be collected and Irish dances to be performed and so many aspects of her personality to be discovered. And when she arrives, we’ll be ready for her.
April 17, 2016 02:23
By Robyn Barberry
Friday March 11th was the best day Frank and I have ever spent together. Like always, he woke up smiling, eager to start another day of adventures. He ran into school and immediately sat down in the big circle with his friends. He said “goodbye” to them and his teacher when I picked him up. He even used their names. He explained and demonstrated how to make a peanut butter sandwich during speech therapy and played quietly with foam letters during the St. Joan of Arc School Lenten Souper, spelling as many words as he could. He was the perfect date during my St. Patrick’s Day party shopping trip. (His favorite part was checking out the vegetables.) He fell asleep in my arms when we got home.
Although this was a good day for Frank, it wasn’t a typical day. Sometimes he chooses not to listen. Sometimes he chooses to wander. Sometimes he chooses to be difficult rather than cooperate. Because of his developmental delays, Frank’s behavior can be unpredictable.
Fortunately, Frank was born to the right mother. I might not be the most organized person in the world, but I am flexible, patient, calm, and compassionate. I possess all the characteristics required to raise a child with special needs, and that’s why God gave Frank to me.
Don’t get me wrong. Taking care of Frank is far from easy. Sometimes it’s exhausting. It’s a constant game of testing limits (his and mine), adjusting expectations, on-the-spot problem solving, overcoming heartaches and celebrating small victories. I am his teacher, his coach, his cheerleader, his security guard, his advocate, his voice. Frank has taught me that the kind of love a mother has for her child with special needs is almost as great as the unconditional love God has for all of His children.
Over the past few days, I’ve had to make some difficult decisions about Frank’s future. During what was supposed to be a fun sports class, Frank couldn’t leave the cones alone that his coach had set up for a slalom course to the basketball hoop. He kept interfering with the other kids’ game, so we left. Since this wasn’t the first time Frank struggled to understand the rules, I had him permanently removed from the class. I want Frank to have the chance to gain social skills in a group environment, but this wasn’t a good situation for him, his coaches, his teammates, or their parents.
I cried the whole way home, not only because he couldn’t make it in the class at the gym, but also because Patrick and I have decided that St. Joan of Arc’s preschool isn’t going to be the best place for him, either. As wonderful as SJA's preschool is, between his IEP and the admissions testing, we don't think Frank is quite ready for such a rigorous program. Frank has made remarkable progress over the past two years, but he still has a long way to go.
I had imagined seeing him in his uniform, and teaching him how to paint, and watching him on the playground next year. I knew that if there was a problem, I could be there in an instant. When you have a child who needs you, you want to be close to them, too. But, sometimes in pursuing what we want for our child, we are missing what he really needs.
We’re searching for a more suitable environment where Frank can get the kind of attention he needs. It’s not easy. His language and social deficits make it hard for him to perform at the same level as his peers. But, the more time he spends with kids his age, observing them and engaging with them, the more he will grow. Since he's been in a three-year-old preschool program, I’ve even seen progress in the way Frank plays with his brothers. (Hopefully he will be equally kind to our new baby.)
Finding a teacher who is willing to put in the extra work it takes to work with a child like Frank is the hardest part. Not everyone has what it takes to teach students with special needs. It requires more patience, more flexibility, more effort, more willpower, and more kindness than it does to teach "normal" kids. Special education teachers embrace the opportunity to grow and help someone else grow, knowing that the moments where you want to tear your hair out are soon followed by moments of incomparable triumph.
Frank is named after my grandfather, Frank A. Chrest, who was a gifted special educator. I wish he was here now to give me advice about how to be a better parent and teacher for Frank. I like to think that he passed along his gift for working with the most challenging students to me. It’s what grants me the fortitude to reach the kinds of kids that other teachers dismiss. It’s what enables me to understand Frank when it seems like no one else does. It’s one way I can approach others with open arms like Jesus did.
March 28, 2016 01:38
By Robyn Barberry
I’m blessed to live a life where I am constantly surrounded by reminders of my faith. Teaching in a Catholic school and passing by my church every day, I seldom forget the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made for me and find myself expressing my gratitude to God for all of His blessings more often than I think I would if I weren’t so immersed in my faith.
This is especially true during Holy Week, when it’s impossible to avoid solemn observations of Jesus’ death and the glory of his Resurrection in my home, work, and parish lives. Here are a few of the ways I found myself reflecting upon this most sacred time – without ever leaving my neighborhood.
The Art of the Cross
All of my students made crosses this week in art class.
Younger students used popsicle sticks and embroidery thread.
Older students used nails, wire, and beads.
Our amazing youth minister and middle school religion teacher Nate Nocket and the 7th grade class prepared and performed an impressive living Stations of the Cross production. The music was beautiful and included two songs I’ve fallen in love with, "Good, Good Father," by Chris Tomlin and "Shoulders" by For King and Country. Our 7th grade class is full of musically gifted students, so their performance was outstanding.
Ecumenical Cross Walk
In conjunction with neighboring parishes Grove Presbyterian Church and Grace United Methodist Church, St. Joan of Arc Church participated in a moving procession of the Cross, pausing to reflect upon the Stations and singing “Were You There?” Even Frank chimed in with “Tremble, tremble, tremble…” from the stroller. Over 100 people participated. We shared a light lunch in the SJA parish hall afterwards. It was a nice time to get to know other followers of Christ.
I haven’t been taking both Frank (3) and Leo (2) to Mass, but on Easter, our whole family celebrated Jesus’ victory over death. Even more exciting was seeing so many of my students and their families. I think even Frank and Leo could sense the excitement in the air. I wish I’d taken a picture of all of us outside of church, but here’s a nice family photo from my aunt’s house, where we gathered with our loved ones to celebrate our faith.
March 28, 2016 12:51
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By Robyn Barberry