Robyn Barberry is the doting wife of her high school sweetheart, the mother of three precocious boys, and the art teacher at St. Joan of Arc school in Aberdeen.

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Just absolutely beautiful!! Made me cry remembering when my own were young. Thank you for sharing especially with all of those working moms out there.

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What a beautiful read! You are an amazing friend, wife, and mother. I know these first few weeks, months, etc. will be difficult. But always remember you are loved here at work at least as much as you are at home. We all lift you and your family up in prayer every day. So glad we are together.

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Unconditional

It’s FUNdamental!



On most Friday nights, you can find the Barberry 6 relaxing at home, watching the Orioles or playing Kerplunk. It’s too hard for us to find a place that’s fun, affordable, and accommodating for our 3 boisterous boys and newborn girl. So, when I heard that FUNdamentals, an early learning and activity center in Forest Hill, was having an Olympic-themed event the whole family could enjoy, we signed up right away.

The owner, Natalie Henry, was a classmate in my high school’s “Working with Children” program, which gave students who were considering becoming teachers and day care workers the opportunity to experience firsthand what it would be like to teach preschool-aged students about colors, numbers, letters, and social skills. I remember Natalie being a standout instructor. Everyone wanted to be in her group. She’s creative, upbeat, and burning with energy, which are some of the most important characteristics to have when working with very young children. Natalie usually runs daytime and evening classes for kids from ages 18 months to 5 years, but she’s recently added themed events for the whole family on one Friday night a month.

At 5:30 pm on 8/26, Natalie warmly greeted my two friends, myself, and our combined total of seven children at the door of FUNdamentals. The lobby area was full of bright colors and festive red, white, and blue “Olympic” decorations, including a stage where the “winners” could pose with their medals at the end. Beyond the lobby was an enormous space (bigger than my house, for sure) full of moon bounces, a train table, a ball pit, hippity-hops, and tons of balloons. The little guys ran around on the cushy mat in socks and bare feet. There was so much to do that no one got into an argument – not even my Frank and Leo.


After about half an hour, Natalie very gently sang a song to gather the children around her so she could whisper the instructions to them. She was like the Pied Piper when she led the bigger kids off to a separate, smaller area to do some coloring and a toilet-paper tube and tissue paper “Olympic torch” craft and the little guys to a circle time exercise. They sang some silly songs, including one about sticking bubble gum to various parts of their bodies (the hair had to be the worst!) and played a few games.

The grand event was the series of activities and obstacle courses Natalie set up and demonstrated. There was a balance beam, some “weight-lifting,” basketball, and several other games to keep big kids and little kids engaged in a little fun Friday night competition. Even the adults got little chalkboards to “score” gymnastics.


As the petite gold medalists (they all were, of course) left the arena, Natalie made sure they took photographs at the photo booth and brought home some prizes – glow sticks, kites, anything and everything that could make a kid feel like he or she was a winner. (Even I felt victorious for finding a great place for my family to spend a Friday night --- for a grand total of $25!

While Natalie was acting as ring master, I took the time to talk to her family, who had all come to support her in this big new venture. I learned very quickly that she has always been gifted with children and that owning a place like FUNdamentals was always her dream, but that because she had children of her own, she wasn’t sure how she could balance working at home and running a business. When this place came on the market, she took it as a sign from God that it was meant to be…but she proceeded with caution for fear of having her heart broken.

When I asked her about it, Natalie said, “I’m trying to teach my children not to pray for selfish things. It was a test for me not to ask for this business to be mine. Instead, I asked for God to be my guide, to light my path, and I would follow.”




Natalie runs FUNdamentals with the mind of a natural teacher and the heart of Christian woman. There is no doubt that God made her for this wonderful place and this wonderful place was made for her. All of us left with our spirits uplifted.

We can’t wait to visit again this Friday, September 16th, at 5 pm for Super Hero Night! It’s $10 per child or $25 per family and people of all ages are invited to join in the FUNdamentals at 2211 Commerce Drive in Forest Hill, MD 21050. Hope to see you there!  

September 13, 2016 12:21
By Robyn Barberry


A letter to my baby – on my first day back to work

Dear Teagan,

For almost a year, we have been together. First you lived inside of me; then, in my arms. I haven’t left your side for longer than a few hours since the day you were born. On Wednesdays when your brothers were with your grandmother, I had you to myself. You’d nuzzle up to me in your carrier while we shopped for groceries. We were almost as close as when you were in my belly and there was no one else in the world but us. That was our time. No one can ever take those early days away.

Now, it’s time for you to share me with the rest of the world. Today is my first day back to work. It’s my first day being without you. But, it will be okay.

I teach art to kids in a small Catholic school so that I can provide nourishment for our family and for my spirit. My job could never bring me as much joy as you have in these past six weeks, but if I’m going to be away from you, I may as well be doing something else that I love. When I’m not your mommy, I’m Mrs. Barberry. And I like having both of those names. 

I can’t carry you around all day while I teach. You'd be too heavy. You'd get messy. And, you’re so cute that my young students wouldn’t pay attention to me. The girls would coo over you and comment on your outfit like you were a runway star. Most of the boys would ignore you, unless you spit up. (They'd probably like that.)

My students would compete for my attention, too, because I can’t stop gazing at you or smelling you or kissing you or brushing my fingertips across your rose petal skin. When I’m at work, I need to focus on my students. But, from time to time I glance over at the photographs of you and your brothers on my desk. They remind me that I’m working to make a better life for you. (It especially helps when my students are acting up!)

Your picture is all I have of you today. The one of you draped in my wedding dress and veil on my desk and the one I took of you yesterday in the coral dress my students’ mom made for you. (It’s the picture I’d share with my coworkers when they asked about you.) I snapped one last picture of you in your pajamas before getting you dressed.


 


I drank in every drop of you, Sweet Tea, before your Daddy loaded you up for a fun day at your Lovey’s. I kissed you goodbye as Daddy walked out the door. The second he closed the door, I cried, just as I did for each of your brothers. Even though I knew you were heading to another place where you’d be held close and surrounded by love, I wished that I could be the one to share the day with you. I breathed in the milky smell of your pjs (the ones with the little teal and purple birds on them that your brother’s teacher gave you.)

Throughout the day, I kept checking the clock and counting the hours until we’d be together again. Your grandmother sent a picture of you to my phone. It made me smile and boosted my energy. Before I knew it, the workday was over and you were back in my arms. I asked about your day. You hummed and purred. That will have to do for now.

As much as I wish I could be there for every moment of your life, I can’t. Sometimes the only place where I can hold you is in my heart. I know I’m going to miss some milestones. You may say your first word to a grandparent. A babysitter might be the first witness to your first go-round on a bike. That first tooth might fall out when you’re in someone else’s class. But, I will be there when you need me instead of someone else. I’ll read to you. I’ll listen to you practice your recorder (but only if I can wear ear plugs). I’ll wait for hours with you at the MVA to get your first license. I’ll cheer as you walk across a stage. I’ll sob when you down that aisle. If you call, I’ll always pick up the phone. And I’ll never stop praying for you.


Love,

Mommy




 

 

August 29, 2016 02:05
By Robyn Barberry


Great expectations: The secret to every successful relationship


While Patrick and I were preparing to be married, we attended Pre-Cana classes with Kevin and Gilly MacNamara. During one of our sessions, Kevin revealed to Patrick and me the secret to any successful relationship (especially marriage): clear expectations.

When meeting someone new or intensifying an established relationship, you can prevent conflict and hardship by finding out what the other person expects you to do and not do. At the same time, you let that person know what you do and do not expect to happen between the two of you. Then, you follow through. 

This rule has helped Patrick and me to have a very happy marriage, with minimal disagreements. Chores are spilt up, financial boundaries are established, and parenting decisions are agreed upon and mutually unforced. This philosophy has also helped me to get along better with other family members, friends, colleagues, and students. I’ve even started teaching Collin about the importance of meeting other people’s expectations, starting at school. “It’s a new year, with a new teacher, and new rules. Your job is to keep us your end of the promise, so that she can teach and you and your classmates can learn.”



Today, Collin started second grade in Mrs. Amato’s class at St. Joan of Arc School. In addition to being Collin’s teacher, she is also my colleague. She gave an excellent presentation at a faculty meeting last week about PBIS (positive behavioral intervention systems), or rewarding students who demonstrate expected behaviors. By informing students of, exemplifying, and modeling school rules, teachers make it easier for students to do the right thing.

We all laughed when Mrs. Amato described her method of teaching church etiquette. When the church is empty, she has half of the class stand before the altar, facing the congregation, and the rest of the class slouch, yawn, whisper, and otherwise fiddle around. Then they switch. “That’s what Father sees when he’s giving Mass,” she tells them.

Mrs. Amato even has a bulletin board describing what students should and should not do in her classroom. On the first day of class, she will go over each item with the students. She offers examples of how students can demonstrate our school’s expectations, “respect, responsibility, and leadership” by “using a quiet voice,” “using time wisely,” and “volunteering to help,” to name a few.  There are even morning and afternoon procedures and a protocol for keeping their desks organized. Mrs. Amato's students will have no doubts about the dos and don'ts of second grade.

Students will earn Class Dojo points and other incentives for exemplary behavior and negative consequences for failing to meet expectations. By using a rewards system, students become conditioned to make good decisions that will have a positive impact on the classroom climate.

When Collin gets home from school, we will talk about Mrs. Amato’s expectations, what they are and why they’re important. We will also develop some rules and routines at home that are fit for a big-kid second grader. Ultimately, more freedom, more responsibility, and more expectations will lead to more success at home, at school, and in life.  

August 29, 2016 10:43
By Robyn Barberry


Godparents: chosen by God


I wish I could say we thought long and hard about choosing godparents for each of our children, but it’s simpler than that. Before our babies are even born, we know instinctively who we will choose. It’s almost as if God whispers their names in our ears and we respond, “Yes! He’s the one. Yes! She’s the one.”

In keeping with Catholic tradition, our children have always had at least one Catholic godparent, often a family member. Most importantly, godparents are people who demonstrate the values we wish to instill upon our children. They work hard in their daily lives to make the world healthier, safer, kinder, closer, cooler, warmer, and brighter. They lift our spirits whenever they’re around.

We always wait until after our babies make their way into the world before asking the godparents if they’ll take on this special role in our child’s life. Sometimes it’s a picture frame. Sometimes it’s a card. Sometimes it’s over a nice dinner. But, this time, we couldn’t wait. So, when Teagan’s godparents came to visit us in the hospital, we had to ask right then and there if they’d guide our daughter on a life long journey of faith. After all, they’ve stuck with God through some crazy twists and turns.

Carrie and Buddy are our first godparents who are a couple. I’ve known Carrie since birth (she’s my cousin). In fact, we even attended preschool together at St. Michael’s Overlea.

Carrie (L), Katie A. (M), Me (R)


She continued there, but my family moved away. We stayed close by visiting each other often and spending two weeks together each summer on vacations we’ll never forget. During her senior year at Institute of Notre Dame, Carrie became pregnant. She chose life, and her boyfriend, Buddy, chose to stick around.

My family fell in love with Buddy from the moment we met him. Friendly and funny, he hardly seemed like the typical tough guy police officer. But, he worked hard to graduate from the police academy and put on the Baltimore County Police Department uniform.


(Side note: Over the past year, Buddy also trained hard for an obstacle race and triathlon with Patrick and some other family members.)

They were married in 2001. Carrie and Buddy now have two children whom I absolutely adore. They work hard to send their daughter to Catholic High and their son to St. Michael’s. On the baseball and softball diamonds, Carrie and Buddy are their biggest fans. Unless, of course, you factor in two sets of loving grandparents, my Uncle Tom and Aunt Judy and Buddy’s parents, Cliff and Kathy. Because of them, Carrie and Buddy have learned how to be great parents.

Part of the reason we think God led us to Carrie and Buddy as godparents is because we can learn a lot from them about being good parents, ourselves. They relentlessly ensure that all of their children’s physical, mental, social, and emotional needs are being met and refuse to give up. They ask for outside help when they need it. They go on fun outings together to amusement parks and concerts. They even open their homes to their kids’ friends, including those who live far away and need a place to stay for a week.

Even though their children are getting older, Carrie and Buddy keep their family close to each other and close to God. They’re models of caring, models of faith, and models of what it means to be good human beings with kind, gentle hearts. That’s what we want Teagan to learn from them.



It’s funny that Carrie was visiting when I was pregnant with Teagan and she said she wished she had a little baby girl to dress up. I already know that I wanted Carrie to be Teagan’s godmother, so I laughed a little bit on the inside. Of course, Carrie has already spoiled Teagan with dresses and bows, but more than that, I know that she will teach her how to be a woman of Christ. Lord knows, she teaches me.      


August 26, 2016 11:58
By Robyn Barberry


Godparents: chosen by God


I wish I could say we thought long and hard about choosing godparents for each of our children, but it’s simpler than that. Before our babies are even born, we know instinctively who we will choose. It’s almost as if God whispers their names in our ears and we respond, “Yes! He’s the one. Yes! She’s the one.”

In keeping with Catholic tradition, our children have always had at least one Catholic godparent, often a family member. Most importantly, godparents are people who demonstrate the values we wish to instill upon our children. They work hard in their daily lives to make the world healthier, safer, kinder, closer, cooler, warmer, and brighter. They lift our spirits whenever they’re around.

We always wait until after our babies make their way into the world before asking the godparents if they’ll take on this special role in our child’s life. Sometimes it’s a picture frame. Sometimes it’s a card. Sometimes it’s over a nice dinner. But, this time, we couldn’t wait. So, when Teagan’s godparents came to visit us in the hospital, we had to ask right then and there if they’d guide our daughter on a life long journey of faith. After all, they’ve stuck with God through some crazy twists and turns.

Carrie and Buddy are our first godparents who are a couple. I’ve known Carrie since birth (she’s my cousin). In fact, we even attended preschool together at St. Michael’s Overlea.

Carrie (L), Katie A. (M), Me (R)


She continued there, but my family moved away. We stayed close by visiting each other often and spending two weeks together each summer on vacations we’ll never forget. During her senior year at Institute of Notre Dame, Carrie became pregnant. She chose life, and her boyfriend, Buddy, chose to stick around.

My family fell in love with Buddy from the moment we met him. Friendly and funny, he hardly seemed like the typical tough guy police officer. But, he worked hard to graduate from the police academy and put on the Baltimore County Police Department uniform.


(Side note: he also trained hard for an obstacle race and triathlon with Patrick and some other family members.)

They were married in 2001. Carrie and Buddy now have two children whom I absolutely adore. They work hard to send their daughter to Catholic High and their son to St. Michael’s. On the baseball and softball diamonds, Carrie and Buddy are their biggest fans. Unless, of course, you factor in two sets of loving grandparents, my Uncle Tom and Aunt Judy and Buddy’s parents, Cliff and Kathy. Because of them, Carrie and Buddy have learned how to be great parents.

Part of the reason we think God led us to Carrie and Buddy as godparents is because we can learn a lot from them about being good parents, ourselves. They relentlessly ensure that all of their children’s physical, mental, social, and emotional needs are being met and refuse to give up. They ask for outside help when they need it. They go on fun outings together to amusement parks and concerts. They even open their homes to their kids’ friends, including those who live far away and need a place to stay for a week.

Even though their children are getting older, Carrie and Buddy keep their family close to each other and close to God. They’re models of caring, models of faith, and models of what it means to be good human beings with kind, gentle hearts. That’s what we want Teagan to learn from them.



It’s funny that Carrie was visiting when I was pregnant with Teagan and she said she wished she had a little baby girl to dress up. I already know that I wanted Carrie to be Teagan’s godmother, so I laughed a little bit on the inside. Of course, Carrie has already spoiled Teagan with dresses and bows, but more than that, I know that she will teach her how to be a woman of Christ. Lord knows, she teaches me.      


August 26, 2016 11:52
By Robyn Barberry


A lesson in gratitude


On the first morning of what was going to be one of the most important years of his childhood (loose teeth, bike rides, First Eucharist, cursive handwriting, acting classes), Collin woke up with a bad case of the greedy gimmes.  

He woke up begging me to open his gifts. With Patrick's permission, I presented Collin with the three small gifts we had picked out for him: a paint-your-own mini tile set, an Apples-to-Apples photo edition game, and a hardcover Lego book. We couldn't afford much, as we were hosting a small party for him at the local miniature golf course later that day, were going on vacation the following week, and were getting used to being a family of six since his sister had arrived two weeks earlier.

"Where are my other presents?" Collin asked on the morning of his 7th birthday.

"Maybe you'll get some from your friends at your party later on today," I said.

"Birthdays aren't about eating cake with your friends," he said. "It's about getting lots of presents."

"It's important to be with the people you love on your birthday," I told him. "Whether they give you presents or not. When they do, you should always thank them for taking the time to think of you and pick out something they thought you'd like to have. If you don't, you could really hurt their feelings. They might think you don't like their gift. They might think you don't like them.

So, here are the rules:

If they give you something you like, you say, 'thank you.'

If they give you something you don't like, you say, 'thank you.'

If they give you something you already have, you say, 'thank you.'

It's called gratitude. The more you show, the more you will receive. People are more likely to give you something if you show that you appreciate it. Even God likes it when we say 'thanks' for the blessings he's given us."

At his birthday party, Collin acted like the good friend I knew he was. He introduced his friends to his new sister, spent a little bit of time with everyone and demonstrated some genuine enthusiasm every time he opened a gift. I tried to encourage him to thank each of his friends personally for their gifts, but for added measure, we will spend tomorrow afternoon writing notes of gratitude on a stack of comic-style thank you cards, which Collin selected himself. After all, he has a lot to be grateful for.


July 31, 2016 10:11
By Robyn Barberry


Birth Announcement: 2016


It used to be that the news of a new baby’s arrival was shared with family and friends through a “birth announcement” printed on paper. It would include the baby’s parents’ names, birth date and time, weight, length, and, if you were lucky, a photograph, which was probably taken in the hospital. Sometimes there would be a “phone tree” in which the new arrival’s nearest and dearest relatives would speak with one of the parents then spread the news to their own extended families.

Flash forward to 2016 and everyone you know can find out everything they’d ever want to know about your newborn, including a plethora of pictures and live video, within moments of his or her grand entrance.

When I delivered my firstborn, Collin, seven years ago, Patrick and I did have Facebook and were able to post a picture of our new family a few hours after he was born.



The upload seemed to take forever and the Blackberry photo was both grainy and blurry, but a little less than a hundred of our Facebook friends, most of whom we knew from college, sent their congratulations soon thereafter. Most of our family members (especially folks who hadn’t recently graduated from college) weren’t partaking in social media, or even texting, so we arranged for all of them to come to our house for a “Welcome Home” party a few weeks later. (They also received phone calls from the hospital or from another family member.)

Three years later, in 2012, I delivered Frank. Again, we posted the news and photo on Facebook.




This time we had twice as many friends “like” our post, including some of our tech-savvy older relatives. But, a new etiquette had also been established in that it was no longer acceptable for your closest loved ones to find out important news on social media. They were entitled to a personalized text message with an appropriate wait-time before sharing the news with acquaintances. Naturally, we obliged…but we still had a big Welcome Home party for our extended family to get to see our little bundle.

The following year, we welcomed Leo on October 18th, 2013. In that short time almost all of my aunts, uncles, cousins, coworkers (past and present), former students, and casual friends were on Facebook. Almost 400 people liked the picture we posted of our giant 11 lb. 12 oz. monster of a baby.  Almost 300 of them wrote comments, mostly about his size or the fact that he looked identical to me or that we were going to have our hands full with three boys!



Our nearest and dearest received texts first, but there was no party. Some people didn’t get to meet him in person until Thanksgiving – or even later – but they were able to keep up with Leo on Facebook and through decent quality pictures I texted them with my iPhone.

On July 6th, 2016, God blessed our family with a beautiful “little” girl named Teagan Rose. I say “little” in quotes because she weighed almost as much as Leo (11 lbs. 10 oz.) and was the longest of all of my children at 24 ½ inches. She was born in four minutes. I was literally texting my three best friends who were checking in on me (thanks to technology we are practically omnipresent) when I realized it was time to deliver the baby. I thought I had a few hours left, but within an instant, Teagan was here.



After giving ourselves some time to get acquainted with the girl of our dreams, we sent out a picture of her and her stats via text. The last few times we sent text messages, it took a while to hear back from our friends and family. This time we heard from just about everyone in under thirty minutes. 



So, when we posted our announcement on Facebook, it didn’t take long for nearly six hundred people to give Teagan the “thumbs up” and offer congratulatory comments. I don't tell you this because I want you to think I'm popular. I tell you this to show how far our reach has become in the digital age. (And to show you how much the quality of photos has improved on smart phones in seven years!) As the messages poured in, we were overcome with joy that so many people were wishing us well.

Two days later, those same people were offering up prayers for Teagan, who ended up being admitted to the NICU for respiratory distress.

We were getting ready to be released when our nurse expressed concern about how rapidly her chest was moving up and down. A pediatrician saw her right away and ordered some tests to be done to ensure that she didn’t have pneumonia, an infection, or a congenital heart defect we were concerned about throughout the pregnancy.

I had never been so scared in my life as I was when they whisked her away. I prayed through my tears, feeling helpless, lost, even angry. But I knew that God would take care of her. And I knew that prayer does work. So, I posted about our ordeal on Facebook and asked my friends to pray for Teagan. Almost instantly, my Facebook page swelled with spiritual support from my Catholic friends, Protestant friends, Jewish friends, Muslim friends, and Hindu friends. Even my friends who haven’t found a connection with God sent up kind thoughts. 

Well wishes came from as far away as Australia from the woman who was making the Baptism invitations I had ordered from Etsy. These would serve as quasi-announcements for our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends who choose to live "off the grid." Besides, who doesn't like receiving something other than bills in the mail?



A few minutes after the messages of prayer and positive thoughts started popping up on my Facebook feed, our nurse told us that we could go back to see Teagan. She was in a bassinet with a few wires attached to her to monitor her heart rate and oxygen levels. I held on to her little finger and watched her chest rise and fall, quick and shallow. The pediatrician explained all her testing to us, including an EKG that was about to happen. But, we had to leave for a few minutes.

When I got back to the room, I sent another update, asking friends to pray that her EKG would go well. It did. I let them know when we found out her heart is flawless. All of us rejoiced and sent up prayers of gratitude.



Teagan still needed to stay in the NICU for several days because the doctor wanted to give her antibiotics. He couldn’t rule out infection without the results of blood tests that would take several days to be processed. I was anxious that we would need to go home and leave her at the hospital, but there was a gorgeous new NICU with room for both Patrick and I to stay and watch over her. Dr. Mena, our nurse Sara, and everyone who took care of Teagan also took care of us. They clearly explained the situation to us and regularly updated us on her progress and setbacks. The anxiety we felt earlier was replaced by confidence that Teagan was in the right hands -- God's and Dr. Mena's and his team. 

In a way, the NICU stay was a blessing. The doctor and nurses caught Teagan’s condition before we went home. She received the care she needed right away. It also offered us some additional time to get to know her while her brothers got some special time with their grandparents. We even got to go out to dinner because Teagan needed a procedure that we couldn’t be present for. “We left our daughter with the most highly qualified babysitters in the world!” I told Patrick as we chowed down on burgers and fries.

The medical team never could figure out exactly what was wrong with Teagan, but they suspect she aspirated on amniotic fluid because she was born so quickly. I attribute all of the prayers from my friends and family on Facebook and in the real world to the quick progress she made and the serenity I needed to get through a nerve-wracking experience. I especially appreciated the comments and messages from my friends who have had their babies in the NICU. If there’s one good thing about social media, it’s that you can always find someone who can relate to you. You’re never alone.

But, sometimes phone calls and more personal messages, rather than public comments, from people we’re closest to can be the most powerful form of communication. My lifelong best friend Rachel texted me a picture of the cover of a magazine, which had our wonderful doctor on it! She also told me, “The NICU doctors and nurses are absolutely amazing. Stay strong and take it day by day…she will be home and healthy before you know it.”

Within a few days, we were carrying Teagan Rose through our front door and into our lives for good! (And you better believe we posted that!)



 

                                                                                                                                                                   

July 27, 2016 12:02
By Robyn Barberry


Next in line: Waiting for baby


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:

1. Pray for patience, not the expedited arrival of the baby. (I wrote about this in the final weeks before I had Leo. It definitely helped.)

2. Accept that “This too Shall Pass,” including the rude comments from strangers, like the man at the gas station who shouted, “You’re gonna explode!” I thought he meant I was creating sparks by cleaning out my car while I filled up, but he wasn’t talking about spontaneous combustion. He was talking about my gigantic belly. I had a miserable final few weeks when I was pregnant with Frank (probably because he never stopped moving!), but the only thing that got me through the agony was knowing that he would eventually have to be born.

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.




4. Nesting and prepping. With the help of my mom, Patrick and I FINALLY cleaned out our garage and storage areas. We’ve also spent some time decorating Teagan’s room. It’s been fun sorting through her adorable little clothes and finding cute personalized things on Etsy. (Poor Leo didn’t get this much attention because he was born in October, our most chaotic time of the year.)






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


“Building Community”: One brick at a time

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


Speaking up: What I plan to teach my sons and daughter about rape




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.

Daughter

  • 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.
Sons

  • 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.

Both

  • 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

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