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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Jeanette, I can understand how to an outsider it would seem that the Catholic church has a skewed perspective on women. Please consider, however, that our faith has long held reverence for women, as visible in our dedication to Mary and many female saints. We don't worship them, but we respect them and look to their lives and works as examples of how to best serve God. Additionally, we were pioneers in the education of women. Catholic schools and universities have long served the demand for women seeking higher knowledge. Many of the Catholic women in my family hold advanced degrees and have dedicated our lives to meaningful careers outside of the home. We recognize that we cannot be priests, but if we feel called to serve the Church in other ways, there are plenty of opportunities available for us to do so. For many Catholic families, household responsibilities are evenly shared between spouses. In fact, I think my husband does twice as much laundry as I do. Raising children is not "women's work," rather than a combined effort between husband, wife, extended family, school and church, where our values, such as love and kindness for our fellow men and women, are passed down from generation to generation. Some women also believe that the Catholic church's teachings on contraception and birth control are misogynistic, but Catholic women share the belief that life begins at conception and that ending that life prematurely is not a viable option. We feel that the right to life bears more sanctity than our "right to choose" whether or not to become a mother to that child. In our eyes, that decision has already been made by God. I hope this helps you to understand our perspective. I'd like to reiterate that many of the points I make in my article about raising children in the rape culture are intended to empower women, and that I plan to raise my all of my children, male and female, to have reverence for their bodies and the bodies of others. Thank you, Robyn

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Unconditional

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


Big Brothers


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


By any other name


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.  

I’m still not sure exactly how I stumbled upon her name. (She won't be carrying on a legacy, like Frank, who is named after my grandfather.)  I know there’s an Irish pub in St. Louis that my husband once visited with a similar name, but I’m pretty sure it came from one of my visits to a “Baby Names of Ireland” website.

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


Shea Moisture: Skin and hair problems solved by nature -- for babies, kids and moms

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

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