Robyn Barberry writes, teaches, and sells houses.  Most importantly, she is the doting wife of her high school sweetheart and the mother of three precocious little boys.


August 2014
July 2014

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We all need to speak less and listen more. Maybe an occasional bout of laryngitis would help us to remember that!


I think as business owners, they should have the right to do this. They are not banning children, just loud mis-behaving children. The lack of strollers, high chairs, and booster chairs however, is a bit unaccommodating to well-behaved children, and in general the high chairs, boosters, and strollers themselves do not "create a distraction". This being said, I think the sign should also have no using electronic devices including cellular phones, hands-free devices, laptops, tablets, and flash photography as they "are a distraction to other diners. As such are not allowed in the dining room."



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Back to school

When I put in my resignation letter to the public school system after delivering Leo in October, I didn’t think I’d ever find myself in this position again. I envisioned the end of August as being a time for me to prepare my own children for school, while anticipating a much-needed respite for myself. Instead, I’ve found myself surrounded by my own books, binders, posters, markers, and crayons, as I tumble into a great new teaching – and learning - adventure.

This time, it’s a whole new world for Mrs. Barberry. I spent the past 8 years teaching English, Creative Writing, Yearbook, and Drama to high school students in some of the most challenging public schools in the metropolitan area. And now? Art! - to preK-8 students at St. Joan of Arc (SJA) in Aberdeen.

I was honored when the school’s principal, Virginia Bahr, offered me the position. I’d mentioned that I’m certified to teach art a few years ago when I ran into her after Mass. She hadn’t forgotten, the opportunity had opened up, and the rest is history!

We were just getting ready to register Collin for kindergarten at SJA, when Mrs. Bahr invited me to join her faculty. It couldn’t have come at a better time, as we were struggling to find a way to pay his tuition on one salary. I prayed, and God answered. Now, I have to face the challenge of having my own child as a student!

But beyond the gift of additional income, I also feel that God has called me to SJA for a purpose. I’m not sure what that may be quite yet, but I imagine He may want me to help bring out the artist in every student, particularly those who lack the confidence to harness the creativity He instills in them. I aim to believe in my students the way my favorite art teacher, Mrs. Dunaway, did. “Anyone can learn to draw,” she said on the first day of 9th grade. “But, first you must learn how to see.”

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons/See-ming Lee

I’ve never been so excited about going back to school as I am this year. There are a number of reasons why:

1. I entered college as an Art Education major and only switched to English because writing papers was so much easier for me (Thanks, Mrs. Strong!). But art was my first love. I continue to pursue art classes and creative endeavors on my own and am so excited about sharing one of my greatest passions with budding young artists.

2. Coming from a big family and a busy neighborhood, I have been surrounded by children my whole life!  Even though I’ve spent the majority of my career working with high school students, elementary and middle school students have the same basic needs: to be loved and to feel like they belong. In working with younger students, I will approach my students needs at a different level (literally and figuratively). I’m looking forward to witnessing the fruits of all of their imaginations. Now, I’ll channel my inner Julie Andrews…

3. There was very little parental involvement in my former schools. This is not the case at St. Joan of Arc. After all, these parents are extending themselves to ensure their children are well educated. I can relate to the SJA parents, because I am one of them. I share their concerns and can comprehend the depths to which they love their children. I aim to be a partner with my students’ parents in ensuring their children’s success in art class and beyond.

4. St. Joan of Arc is a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM school), so integrating technology into my lessons is a must! I started teaching with an overhead projector, walking around with the trademark green smear on the side of my wrist. Now, I have an LCD projector linked to my iPad, so I can show YouTube videos (try making sense of that sentence 20 years ago…but, wait, in 20 years, what will they say about it?!?!) I’m also excited about using technology to bridge cross-curricular content, so that my students can be learning about Ancient Egypt in social studies and making hieroglyphics in my class.

5. By far, the most exciting thing about teaching about St. Joan of Arc is that God is welcome there. I can (and will) begin each class with a prayer. I can teach about Michelangelo’s “Sistine Chapel,” “Pieta,” and “Madonna at Brughes.” My friend who teaches art at a public school told me, “I can’t even show a picture of Jesus…There goes the entire Italian Renaissance!” But, centuries of art created in the name of faith will have a safe place in my classroom. So, too, will the masterpieces my students make, with the hand of the Holy Spirit guiding each pencil mark and brushstroke.  
I still have a little over a week until my first students arrive, but I will be ready for them with a smile and plenty of paper, waiting for them to make their mark. 

August 19, 2014 02:15
By Robyn Barberry


One of my best childhood vacations was when I was 9 and it rained the entire time we went to the Outer Banks with 10 of my cousins. I devoured Roald Dahl’s Matilda while my brother conquered Ninja Turtles on his Gameboy.

But our main pastime was gathering with our cousins around a TV the size of some computer monitors to watch Hook on VHS. In this story, the grown up Peter Pan has abandoned the child inside of him in favor of joining the regimented adult world in which he’s chosen to be a workaholic lawyer. His son and daughter, whom he treats coldly, are kidnapped by Captain Hook and taken to Neverland, where Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys educate and encourage Peter to find the boy he once was so that he can rescue his children.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons/Tom Simpson

The play button was pushed at the first hint of sunlight. We fought with swords we bought at a T-shirt shop while the tape rewound. Soon, we were reciting every line, laughing at the same jokes, taking turns playing roles, eating every one of our meals on paper plates in front of the TV so that we didn’t miss a moment. We fell asleep watching Hook and allowed Peter Pan and Captain Hook to commandeer our dreams. We were the Lost Boys (and girls). This was the movie that defined my childhood.

Fast forward 20+ years. Unlike the Lost Boys, my cousins and I have grown into teachers, engineers, physical therapists, and musicians. We still love pirates and even throw occasional pirate costume parties. We’ve never forgotten that summer and how we refused to let a washed-out beach week threaten our fun.

This summer I took my own children to Ocean City. The weather was far from gorgeous. Friday night, after a delicious meal at Lombardi’s, was the perfect kind of day to introduce Collin to Hook.

He sat down next to me on the love seat and was unusually quiet for the majority of the movie, as was I. It was the first time I had watched the movie since I was a child. The frightening part was that I saw so much of myself in Peter Pan, the father who was always on his phone (which is the size of a shoebox), fails to acknowledge his children when he’s preoccupied by a seemingly more important task, and explosively loses his patience. How did I end up like that?

The shame I felt began to disappear when Peter became reacquainted with the Lost Boys. There’s a scene when they’re having an imaginary food fight and Peter begins to remember who he used to be. At that point in the film, so did I. I thought back to myself as a teenager, babysitting for every kid in the neighborhood, making up games and songs, playing dress-up, telling stories. What happened to that girl? She was the mom I always wanted to be. I had to bring her back.

At the end of the movie, there were tears, but not mine. Collin held on to me, sniffling, his tears running down my arm. I didn’t think a 5-year-old could sense the gravity of such a movie. I know I didn’t before now. So, I asked why he was crying.

“Why did the baby in the carriage roll away?” he asked.

I hugged him, my heart pounding at the recollection of the image. It was more disturbing than I had remembered. I squeezed him tighter, brushing a hot tear from his sunburned cheek. “Ohhh, it’s okay, Collin. Why are you worried?”

“The baby’s going to get hurt!”

“The baby is fine. He rolled away because he didn’t want to grow up, but he grows up to be Peter Pan.”

“But, I don’t want to grow up!” he said.

“We all have to grow up sometime,” I told him, recording in my mind the softness of his skin and hair as I rubbed his head, knowing I would not be able to hold him like this forever, “but that doesn’t mean we have to stop having fun.”

I thought about my own words as they came out of my mouth. What happened to my imagination and how can I get it back? Could I postpone a phone call for five minutes so I can build a tall tower of blocks? Is it possible to get silly rather than getting angry over small things? How can I remember to pray for the patience it takes to address my children’s needs?

Collin has made it clear that he doesn’t like Hook and that’s okay. Maybe he’ll give it another shot when he’s older, and he’ll get something else out of it. I know I did.
***I began writing this piece after returning from Ocean City in July. On August 11th, I learned of Robin Williams’ tragic death. Oddly enough, I didn’t immediately associate the immensely talented actor with Hook until my cousin posted a photo from the film on Facebook and tagged my cousins, my brother and I. It started a conversation among us that took me straight back to that epic vacation when we learned the real meaning of the word “Bangarang!” Peter Pan was never Robin Williams to me. He was Peter Pan. That’s what good actors do.

For me, Robin Williams’ greatest talent was playing a father in crisis, who loved his kids so much it hurt, and who learned in big and little ways, through trial and error, how to be a better parent. I imagine that in the real world he was the same way. May his children be blessed. I thank Mr. Williams for helping me to see my faults as a parent and for guiding me toward what’s really important when it comes to raising children. 

August 14, 2014 02:52
By Robyn Barberry

Apology to a mother wolf spider

I first spotted you outside my back door on my return trip from taking out the trash. You were about the size of a quarter, coffee brown with eight legs, a gazillion eyes, and a lumpy back. You looked like a brown recluse, the type of spider that bit my mom just before my wedding. The scar was so horrendous, her satin periwinkle dress had to be altered to cover it. I was afraid you’d bite one of my children. I was wearing flip-flops, so I tracked down the nearest blunt object, a citronella candle in a red, white, and blue striped metal pail, and squashed you.

Normally, this type of extermination is strictly business. Just ask the ants who manage to find their way onto my kitchen counter after a big rain. For a vegetarian, I’m surprisingly ruthless when it comes to insects (and arachnids, like yourself) invading my turf. But, when I killed you underneath of the porch light, it was different.

Immediately after I squished you to pieces, I was amazed at how many pieces there were, and how far they were spreading, and how they appeared to be moving. They were. Within moments of your death, thousands of teeny tiny spiders, the size of couscous grains, scurried about in every direction.

I didn’t know what to do. The protective mother lion in me thought I’d better squish them all before my home was overturned by an infestation only seen in nightmares and horror movies. But I chose to watch and wait. I assumed that you were pregnant, and that these little guys were stolen from your womb too soon. By the looks of them, they wouldn’t last a day. I set down the candle and headed to my bed.

Like any curious and/or confused American, I Googled the situation and learned that you were a wolf spider. (The Brown Recluse looks similar, but has a characteristic “violin” on its back). Although you do have venom and aren’t afraid to use it, you’re relatively harmless to humans. In fact, you seldom enter people’s homes, preferring to stalk the outside perimeter at night, searching for food. And you carry your babies (spiderlings) on your back until they’re big enough to make it on their own.

I sighed, put down the phone, turned out the light, and lay awake on my pillow, gazing into the moonlight outside of my window, replaying our encounter over and over again. You didn’t deserve to die. You were a creature of God, designed for motherhood. Like me, you took your babies everywhere, you were always on the lookout for food, and you were vigilant about keeping your precious little ones safe. But then again, that’s why I squashed you in the first place. Now that I know the difference between you and your dangerous doppelganger, the Brown Recluse, I’ll spare the next mama wolf spider I find.     

August 11, 2014 10:36
By Robyn Barberry

Vow of Silence: Lessons learned from laryngitis

I have been without a voice for five days. With very little warning, it was gone when I woke up Saturday morning. Instead, I was left with a coarse whisper and occasional bursts of pitchy, creaky utterances. I feel fine, but I sound terrible. I’m not sure when my real voice will return, but I’ve come to think of this time as a learning experience. I’ll share my lessons with you:

1.     Without a voice, parenting becomes even more complicated. Though I wouldn’t say I “yell at” my children, I do from time to time raise my voice at them from across the room, particularly if they are at risk of hurting themselves or each other. Leo finds one of Collin’s Legos and puts it in his mouth. Frank jumps off the back of the sofa. No matter how childproof I try to make my home, they always find trouble. For that reason, until my “mommy voice” returns, I keep Frank and Leo at arm’s reach, literally. I don’t get done everything I normally would accomplish, but at least they’re safe. Collin seldom finds himself in danger, but at 5, he’s still needy. Unfortunately, he doesn’t read fluently yet, so writing notes to him is out of the question. Instead, I croak out responses to his questions and demands. He keeps asking where my voice went. Wouldn’t I like to know.

2.    I’ve become very selective about choosing when to speak. What I have to say must be important, as should be the recipient of my message. I’ve just about abandoned the Bluetooth that enables me to hold phone conversations through my car’s audio system. I’m more focused on the road now. When I’m not in the car, I count on text messages and social media to speak for me, unless I’m in a quiet, one-on-one conversation - the briefer I speak, the better.

3.    I’m becoming a better listener. At Patrick’s surprise birthday party, I didn’t talk about what was going on in our lives, I got some organization tips from Alex as she discussed her new built-in cabinets in the den, discovered the benefits of Melissa’s interesting new “cruelty-free” diet, and learned how Ms. Joan’s grandkids got their names - a topic I’ve always loved. At Mass, I concentrated on every word of the Apostle’s Creed, rather than mumbling along as I tend to do. I also have a better appreciation for nuances in music and have even come to love the whir of the ceiling fan as I fold laundry.

4.    I’ve had a taste of what it must be like to have a disability. I got frustrated within a few hours of whispering Saturday morning. There were so many words in my head that I wanted to get out, but I couldn’t. This must be how Frank feels, I told myself. No wonder he bites! On Sunday, we spent some time with our friends and their two children, one of whom is deaf. She and I were frustrated because we could not communicate unless our faces nearly touched. It made me wish I knew sign language. I also faced challenges handling customer service phone calls, making requests of Siri, ordering my lunch (Pita Pit because Chipotle is too noisy), and yelling “Stop!” at the woman who was about to back into the grocery cart containing my children. Thank God for Good Samaritans.

You may be familiar with the phrase, “Let your voice be heard.” In many instances, this is true, such as standing up for your faith or protecting your children. But, I know I tend to overuse my voice and underuse my ears. When my vocal cords finally decide to return from their summer vacation, I’ll remember what I’ve learned during this time of silent reflection.

August 06, 2014 03:53
By Robyn Barberry

Family unfriendly dining

A popular California restaurant has installed a "no children" policy, including a prominent sign which reads, "No Strollers.  No High Chairs.  No Booster Seats.  Children crying or making loud noises are a distraction to other diners, and as such are not allowed in the dining room."  My brother sent me a link to the article detailing the situation and asked me my opinion.  He was surprised by my response.

Patrick and I established a rule when Collin was an infant that if a restaurant has high chairs and a children’s menu, no one should complain about the presence of our children.  We go out to eat rather frequently, leaning toward not-quite fast food places like Noodles & Company and Chipotle, who offer menu options to cover a broad range of dietary needs at a fair price in less than fifteen minutes. These are the kind of places where the occasional screaming child fades into the background of loud music and the bustle of diners rushing through their meals so they can get to their next destination.

Sometimes we find ourselves in fancier establishments where the meal itself is the destination. We walk in the door, towing three tidy little boys in collared shirts and khakis. There’s always at least one person who shoots us a look of disgust when we’re seated at a nearby table with two high chairs on the end. Usually the wait staff are courteous, offering crayons and children’s menus if they are available. I’ve seen some parents bring iPads to keep their children occupied, but we’ve chosen to train the boys to learn how to wait patiently without electronics (except in a few dire circumstances), mainly by enjoying conversation with each other and playing silly games like, “Find something red.” Collin and Frank do their best to eat neatly, but seeing as how they’re still trying to master their fine motor skills, sometimes they make a mess. Even in a restaurant, we still pick up under their chairs. If the server has been particularly attentive to our children’s needs, as are the phenomenal waitresses at Chopstix in Forest Hill, I tend to tip higher. Usually when we leave, that person who gave us the dirty look smiles and compliments their good behavior.

Why do my children know how to act in a restaurant?  Because they’ve had a lot of practice – at home and in the real world.  Just playing “restaurant” teaches kids the behavior expected of them at a dinner table other than their own.  And when restaurants open their doors to children, they are offering them the opportunity to gain the experience they will need as adult diners.  

  Image via KSBW

Dining in a restaurant with small children is possible, but only as long as families are made to feel welcome.  Chris Shake, the owner of Old Fisherman’s Grotto in Monterey, California, has made it clear that he doesn’t want children in his dining room. Some people are infuriated over this issue.  “Kids have rights, too,” they cry.  Though there are many important laws to protect children, none exist to guarantee them the right to be in any public place other than a classroom. Sadly, there are some people out there who just can’t tolerate kids. Maybe they never got to be kids themselves or forgot what it is like, but for whatever reason, the mere sight, and particularly, sound, of children is agonizing for them.

Fortunately I am not, and presumably you are not, those people.  Still, it’s best to heed their signs when they are posted, lest we deprive ourselves of a good time by patronizing a stuffy establishment.  And if there are no signs?   I learned a long time ago to ignore fellow diners (and even parishoners) who glare at me if one of my children makes a sudden loud noise.  It’s the same squeal the young woman a table over makes when a small black box containing a very shiny ring opens before her.  It’s the same resounding clunk the busboy makes when he drops a plastic tub of silverware.  It’s Grandma’s loud cell phone conversation with her podiatrist in the back booth. It’s that guy at the bar with the room-clearing sneeze…during allergy season.  Kids are loud sometimes, but so are adults.

Noise seems to be the primary complaint of those who dislike children.  It may be as simple as a sensitivity to the high pitches of their little voices or it could simply be how jarring and abrupt their noises can be.  It’s hard to control what comes out of children’s mouths, such as the random happy screaming phase Frank went through just before he turned one.  If we were in a restaurant, Patrick or I would take him outside immediately after the first scream, covering his mouth on the way out the door.  I know I remember it, but I doubt any particular diner was scarred for life by it.  Fortunately none of my boys had colic, but I imagine it must be difficult to go anywhere when the poor baby just can’t stop crying.  Collin’s first two days were like that.  Overwhelmed, I broke down and the nurse told me, “He didn’t ask to be here.” I think of that every time I hear a baby crying uncontrollably.

Thankfully, there are those people who understand when your kids are acting up.  The kind who shoot you a kind, sympathetic smile when your jaw is so tense you’re about to crack a tooth.  Sometimes you can even find them in fancy restaurants and almost always in churches, but probably not at Old Fisherman’s Grotto.  And that’s okay. 

Some people go out to eat to celebrate special occasions, or maybe because it’s Tuesday, and they’re entitled to the right to a peaceful meal.  But there will always be families like mine who run the risk of disturbing this special time, unless we are made aware up front that we are not welcome.  Having a restaurant where rowdy crowds are not allowed is similar to housing developments designed exclusively for college students or senior citizens.  Though a particular group of people is being excluded, it’s in the name of comfort for those being served and not as a means of intentionally harming the excluded group.  If I’m excluded from something, I tend to conclude that I’m not missing out on any people, places, or things I would be interested in.  My family doesn’t plan on visiting Monterey any time soon, but if we do, I know where we won’t be dining.  



July 31, 2014 03:27
By Robyn Barberry

The only word he knew: Go!

For Frank’s second birthday in May, I gave him a book called Go! Go! Go! Stop!  It was an ironic purchase, made based solely on the title, since Frank refuses to sit still long enough for me to read to him.  (For a parent with an English background, it’s almost painful.) I wrote him a little note inside, praising his curiosity and tenacity.  I also wished for him the power of speech.

The fact that Frank can’t tolerate being read to was one of the concerns addressed by the special educator and speech therapist at Frank’s evaluation by Harford County’s Infants and Toddlers program.  They observed as he buzzed about the room, pollinating one toy and the next.  They struggled to get him to tend to the tabletop tasks required by the testing books before them.  After a laborious session, they diagnosed him with a nine month speech delay and a fourteen month social-emotional delay.

I spent two days speculating over the causes, questioning his life events (being displaced from his home as an infant; gaining a sibling when he was still a baby, himself), blaming myself, consulting trusted friends and relatives, and praying.  I ultimately decided that “Why?” wasn’t as important as, “So what do I do now?” and began to take action.

It will be a month before the special education teacher and speech therapist from the Infants and Toddlers Program will begin visiting our house every week.  In the interim, based on advice I’ve read and received by friends in the field, I plan to do the following:

  • Encourage Frank to use words like, “juice,” “milk,” “more,” and, silly as it might be, “nummies” when he wants something to eat or drink.  Attaching meaning to words will make him more likely to see them as a commodity.

  • Think aloud.  Describe each purchase I make at the store.  Narrate as I cook dinner.  Talk about each toy as I clean up at the end of the day.     

  • Read.  Read even if he’s bouncing from one place to another.  Or, on the contrary, put him in a position where he is “forced” to hear me read.
Such was the case this morning.  As we sat down at our round table to a breakfast of Cheerios, watermelon and blueberries, Leo in his highchair and Frank strapped into his booster, I saw an opportunity to capture Frank’s attention just long enough to squeeze in a story or two.

I started with a board book about the parts of the body, an area in which Frank is deficient.  Leo seemed more interested, raising his eyebrows at babies’ faces expressing a range of emotions.  Frank stared down at Buzz and Woody peering up through the holes of his Cheerios.

Next, we tried Frank was a Monster who Wanted to Dance¸ a silly book about Frankenstein.  It brought Collin over and inspired occasional glances from my own Frank whenever he heard his name.

An animated rendition of Green Eggs and Ham drew bursts of attention whenever I read really loud and really fast, but we lost him with the kitten book.

Finally, we brought out Go! Go! Go! Stop!, which has become one of Collin’s favorites.  We read it at least twice a day in the oversized green chair under the windows, while Frank strews toys and stuffed animals about the room and Leo pokes at them.  At this point in our breakfast book club, Frank was throwing his blueberries on the floor and the “Get me out of here!” meltdown was upon us.  I knew I’d have to rush.  And so I began,

“One day, Little Green said a word.  It was his first word.  He had never spoken before.  The word was…”

Frank stopped everything he was doing and yelled, “Go!”

I began to tear up.  As it turns out, he does listen when I read, just in a different way.  As we turned our way through the story, about a busy construction site in need of a functioning traffic light, Frank stayed with us the whole time, shouting “Go!” at the appropriate moments.  He hasn’t figured out “Stop!” or “Slow down!” yet, but as soon as he does, I think Frank will start to catch up.     

July 25, 2014 02:34
By Robyn Barberry

St. Ignatius Martyr in Austin, Texas

Every year for our anniversary, Patrick and I try to visit someplace different. This year landed us in Austin, Texas, thanks to a recommendation by a longtime friend who is an artist. Plus, Austin is known for great food and music. We’d heard the phrase “Keep Austin Weird,” and proceeded with caution and curiosity.

We didn’t find Austin to be all that weird. People were quite friendly. The food was even better than we’d imagined. And we found ourselves most impressed by the architecture of the houses in the neighborhoods we traversed in our journey from one restaurant to the next. Every house was unique, many were colorful, and great care was taken in adding the little touches that whispered, “home.”

We stayed in a cottage ourselves, and our incredibly helpful innkeeper, Sovay, was glad to oblige when we asked her to help us find a mission-style Catholic church. She led us to St. Ignatius Martyr, a short bus ride away.

I admit I was a little disappointed when I first saw the building. I was hoping to step back in time in a historical, pueblo-style church. This cream bricked church looked to be about the same age as mine, which was built in 1965 (I later discovered that they’re exactly the same age). It did, however, boast the characteristic mission arches I was looking for. At the center of the second story stood an intricate stained glass image of St. Ignatius in reds, yellows, and many shades of blue.

Inside, an alabaster glow exuded from the white marble on the altar. The risen Christ superimposed on the crucifix saw over the space. Two mission-paned glass rooms flanked the altar, with the one on the left housing the musicians and choir. Four sections of oak pews were lit by a gilded chandelier with faux pillar candles, dozens of radiant white and chrome pendant lights, and predominately blue stained glass skylights. The whole place felt warm, and I’m not talking about the Texas heat.

Mass began with the priest asking us to greet each other. I wondered if this was the way “peace” is shared in the Archdiocese of Austin, but we shook hands again after saying the “Our Father.” The music was outstanding, as is to be expected in Austin. I couldn’t even keep track of the instruments, strings and woodwinds so diverse and yet so harmonic. According to Patrick, the cantor sung, “Like a Disney Princess,” which is a huge compliment in our household.

Before giving us our final blessing, the priest asked anyone who had a birthday that week to stand for a blessing. Mine was the Monday before, but I didn’t think it counted. Then, he asked who was having an anniversary. Ours was the next day, so we stood and were blessed. Lastly, he asked the visitors to stand and blessed us as the ushers handed out information cards and pocket-sized wooden crosses. I’m going to use mine as a Christmas ornament to honor our visit to this special place.

After Mass, I perused the small store set up in the vestibule, where they sold religious jewelry, music, DVDs, crucifixes, and cards of saints I’d never even heard of. People I’d never seen before stopped over to wish me a happy anniversary and welcome me to their parish. I found some things I liked in the store, then realized I only brought enough cash for the collection. Still, it was fun to window shop for Catholic gifts.  

I consider my parish to be very welcoming, comfortable place for visitors, and I was elated to feel the same way at St. Ignatius Martyr. The whole experience was a reminder to me that the building itself is a very small part of what makes up a church. 

July 07, 2014 02:55
By Robyn Barberry

Lessons from a juggler

“I’m not coming to the circus,” I tell Patrick over the phone, referring to the Kelly Miller Circus being held on our farm that night.

It had been the worst day I’d had in a long time, and I certainly didn’t need to add more drama to my life. Frank had to be evaluated for his speech delay first thing in the morning. Then there were swim lessons and a host of other tasks to be completed in Bel Air, where my parents live. Even though they weren’t home, we decided to use their house as a layover space between appointments.

As I was putting Collin’s wet bathing suit into the washer, Frank threw a Yankee Candle into the toilet. Collin simultaneously spilled a box of tiny pasta all over the floor. Somehow a chocolate granola bar melted to the back of Leo’s neck while he was in his car seat. The boys were covered in food, diapers needed to be changed, and we were already running late for Frank’s hearing test.

Of course, Collin tried to talk the audiologist’s ear off while she was evaluating Frank. Then Leo started crying. And Frank, being Frank, refused to sit still. Even the audiologist looked like she was about to scream.

That’s when I told Patrick I wasn’t going to the circus. We went home, instead of going back to my parents’ house. After some bubbles and ball play in the yard, we had reset. We were ready to stop by Collin’s camp orientation and head to the circus, after all.

From the second we entered the tent, Frank wailed. (He doesn’t like the dark.) So, I held him outside the tent doors and we watched from there. It was peaceful, a cool early summer evening, the smell of cotton candy and popcorn filling the air. I tried several times to bring him into the tent. He almost always cried, until the last time when an Ethiopian man bounced into the ring, dropping rubber balls into a sideways drum, dribbling six without dropping one. He put on a few more dizzying juggling displays, and was on a roll until he dropped one. His face and his posture dropped.

An assistant brought out a 10 foot ladder and held on to the balls – seven of them. As the man tried to steady the ladder, it wobbled. But, seeming rushed, he moved to the next step and tried harder to balance than he had before. The outcome was even worse. By the time he got to the top, the ladder was as jittery and unstable as a Model T missing a tire. The assistant tossed him the balls. As soon as he bounced the first one, the rest of the balls went flying, with the ladder and juggler crashing down behind them.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons/Garry Knight

The juggler looked as though he was melting under the lights, crumbling under the ash in front of a thousand sets of eyes, but he shrugged and forced a smile.

“Would you like to see him try again?” the announcer asked.

The crowd roared and the juggler consented. This time, he waited until the ladder was steady before moving to the next step. He double checked his footing before asking the assistant for the balls. He kept his focus on each of the seven balls as he juggled them from the ground to his rapidly moving hands, 10 feet above. He didn’t have to think about his balance because it was already there. When the act was finished, he descended gracefully and bowed gratefully.

I cheered louder than anyone, for he had taught me a valuable lesson. I can juggle anything, but only if I have a sturdy foundation and a sense of balance. My day was a lot like his:

·                    Just like the juggler starting up the ladder after a disappointing failure, I started out the day negatively, imagining how stressed out I would be rather than picturing myself accomplishing each task.

·                    That day, I was hastily climbing the ladder, checking off my to-do list, dragging the boys with me like how the juggler skipped to the next wrung before mastering the first.

·                    Like the juggler, I tried to force a weak foundation to work at the peak of my stress.

·                    “I’m not coming to the circus,” was me crashing.

·                    I nearly gave up when we returned home, but I took the opportunity to “reset,” just as the juggler did before he began his second climb.

·                    When I decided to go to the circus after all, I changed my attitude, which enabled me to handle Frank’s distress and appreciate the circus, particularly the juggler. I needed no applause, but he deserved his.

June 16, 2014 04:18
By Robyn Barberry

Communication breakdown

On the morning of Frank’s second birthday, Collin was more excited than the boy of the hour about the events of the day.

As I was getting the boys into their Orioles party gear, Collin chattered away: “And we’re going to have cupcakes … and all my friends and cousins are coming over … and they’re bringing presents! And now Frank will talk the right way because he’s two!”

I thought back to Collin’s second birthday and remembered him speaking in complete sentences. I thought about how clearly my cousin in Boston’s little girl speaks, and she turned two a few weeks earlier. Frank, “a man of few words,” according to my aunt, has a vocabulary of about a dozen words and gross motor skills more sophisticated than Collin’s. I revealed this information to my cousin in New York, an elementary school teacher, in a recent phone conversation, and she grew quiet.

I didn’t think anything was wrong because Collin’s verbal skills were always off the charts. I just assumed (there’s that word) that Frank was at a normal level. The second and third times around I haven’t been as vigilant about reading up on milestones, and now I wish I had.

Image via Flickr, Oleg Dulin

When I took Frank for his two year check-up, my pediatrician had me fill out a questionnaire including questions like “can string two words together,” “follows multiple step directions,” and “behaves aggressively when unable to communicate” (Frank bites and head butts when frustrated).  Frank scored a 20 percent. The doctor diagnosed him with a speech delay and recommended we contact an organization called “Infants and Toddlers” through the local school district.

Like most mothers I know, I began Googling “speech delay” to learn more about it. I searched for milestones and found this. At 24 months, Frank should know about 50 words. His vocabulary consists of the names of his immediate family and grandparents, “no,” “ball,” “shoe,” “apple,” “bubble,” “more,” and “me.” He also knows most of his ABCs and can count to 15.

Of course, when I continued my search, what I found was extreme. I began panicking about autism, something Frank shows some other signs of. Would I be able to handle raising a child with a severe disability?

I began to question what I’ve done wrong? Do I give Frank less attention because he’s my middle child? Do I work too much? Do I not read to him enough? Is it what I feed him or his sleeping patterns or the toothpaste we use?

I consulted another cousin, a speech therapist in Seattle, who’d recently visited. She reassured me that Frank would receive the care he needs and that it’s common for boys, especially the second son, especially when the oldest brother talks incessantly.

She also said he seemed quite social during her recent visit, so autism shouldn’t be my first concern. I made appointments for Frank’s hearing test and evaluation and called two of my friends whose sons received speech therapy through Infants and Toddlers. They informed me that the program helped their boys make great strides, one over the course of two years for a congenital defect and the other over a much longer time for autism. The therapists come to the house or in the case of more intense treatment, a bus comes to the house to take the child to a school setting.

When I started putting speech therapy in the context of tutoring, rather than radical medical treatment, I started to feel better. I want my child to have the gift of communication and will build a nest of support through research, friends and family (including my many wise and talented cousins), and speech therapy programs. I will also pray, particularly requesting the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, for me and for him.

June 05, 2014 03:43
By Robyn Barberry

A picture's worth

As we were straggling out of Collin’s end-of-preschool picnic at Annie’s Playground, Ms. Andrews, his teacher, called after him, “Collin!  Wait!  I have to give you a hug!”

She came dashing over to us in her turquoise trapeze tank, her asymmetrical dark hair swaying, big sunglasses in place, trusty spray bottle in hand.  (She uses it to “surprise” her students with a cooling mist on warm days.)  Collin, a contrast with pale blonde hair and a faded light blue t-shirt, ran down to meet her at the base of the hill.  She crouched to the ground on one knee, set the spray bottle down and said, “Look what I found!” 

It was a puffy white dandelion, ripe for wish making.  She picked it.  Collin folded himself under her arm and right up next to her.  Together they blew, seeds speckling the landscape scene behind them of a nearly clean pavilion to the left and to the right a maze of firetrucks and fortresses to be climbed.

Photo via Flickr/Creative Commons via r. nial bradshaw

Everything about the scene before me was beautiful.  I thought about snapping a photo with my phone, but I was frozen.  So I had to use my mind.  Click.  A teacher and a student saying goodbye over a dandelion.  Click.  Fill in the details.  Now that I have a mental picture, what is it about?  Now:  That moment when the past and future meet.  Change.  Good change.

“Now there are a million new dandelions out there,” Ms. Andrews said with a smile as she put down the stem and picked up her squirt bottle.  “Make sure you bring tissues to graduation,” she told me.  “The slide show pictures will have you boo-hoo-ing.”

I was about to cry right then, especially because I didn’t take a picture of this special little moment in my son’s ever-growing life.  As she walked away, I wanted to call her back and have her reenact the dandelion scene one more time after I deleted some pictures from my phone.  I decided it wasn’t worth it.  The sentiment behind the image would be lost.  I will pay closer attention the next time a scene unfolds before me.  This time I’ll have a camera ready.

Why does these little moments matter?  Because in life we are witnesses to God’s presence.  He reveals Himself to us when we stop what we’re doing and focus on the beauty before us.  Those glimpses of heaven are all around us.  It’s why photographers and artists labor over every detail so that we can see the world with their eyes.  It’s why we carry cameras around with us everywhere.  You never know when you’ll catch a glimpse of God.  We just have to remember to use them.      

When I picked Collin up from school the next day, I noticed a collage of students’ pictures on a poster by the door.  They were all blowing dandelions.  And in his book bag?  An entire flash drive full of pictures from every day of the school year.  Thank you, Ms. Andrews!

May 22, 2014 02:08
By Robyn Barberry

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