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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Your words are always so inspiring. I also spent 12 years in Catholic school and chose to give my children a Catholic school education. It is the best decision we have ever made!

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I attended public school and taught in them as well. My husband attended catholic school K-12 grade. When our children were born, I was sure they'd attend the local public school. However, my husband asked me to go to the open house at St. Joan of Arc just to see it. I spent about an hour to an hour and a half and when I walked out, I called my husband and told him our kids were going to SJA without a doubt. I saw God everywhere, friendly faces and a welcoming family atmosphere. I realized that my kids could have God in their life daily and be with other like minded families and students rather than just think about God at home and on Sunday. Both my boys attended SJA through 8th grade and then went on to The John Carroll School and I was extremely satisfied with their education, both academic and spiritual. I'm so grateful that 15 years ago my husband asked me to visit a catholic school and consider it for our boys. Thank you Robyn for your insight!

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Unconditional

Guest blog: 5 reasons why I send my child to a Catholic school

I have asked several friends, co-workers, and family members to write about what a Catholic education means to them. Previously, Gina Sabo, the Technology Integration Specialist, at St. Joan of Arc School in Aberdeen, wrote about why she chooses to teach in a Catholic school. Today, she reveals 5 reasons why she and her husband, Jon, have decided to send their 7-year-old son, Danny, to St. Joan of Arc. I'm blessed to have the Sabo family in my life at home and at school.

Why do I send my son to a Catholic School? by Gina Sabo




My husband and I have been happily married for almost 10 years.  We have a beautiful, rambunctious, 7-year old boy, and two years ago, we had to make an important decision.  We had to consider serious, life-altering decisions (I was in the middle of changing jobs) on where we would want our young impressionable child to start his formal education.  


Now, my husband and I were both part of the “hybrid” Catholic School and public school upbringing.  We had attended both types of environments at some point in our educational career, so we knew what each type of school brought to the table.


The public school our son would be attending had several amazing teachers, great after school opportunities he could participate in, and many of his friends would attend the same school. Their test scores were high, and they had access to the public library programs right next door.  The before and after school program would allow for us to not make any major changes to our work schedules, however, it would cost as much for the Catholic School tuition.  With that being said, it was a serious contender in our discussions.


The Catholic School we were considering had students who performed well on standardized test scores, and the student-teacher ratio was something public school teachers dream about.  It offered Spanish, art, and music much like the public school, and SMART Boards, and iPads in every classroom.  But the most important difference we saw in the Catholic School that was lacking in the public school was the spirit you felt walking through the front door.


So here are just a few reasons why we choose to send our son to Catholic School:


Prayer...Prayer...Prayer

Like many families, we pray together as a family.  We say grace at mealtimes and we ask our guardian angels to watch over us when things get tough.  But we also try to pray throughout the day.  When we encounter an accident while we are traveling anywhere (the store, long trips to see family, etc.) we always say a quick prayer for whoever was involved. We thank God for all the beautiful things we encounter in nature.  At our school, we say morning prayers, Grace, a short prayer before classes start.  Sometimes we even pray the rosary together as a school.  My son is able to freely ask questions about his faith, and discuss how much he enjoys learning about God and praying with his friends.  It is my husband’s and my hope that through our guidance and the continued support from the school, that our son turns to God in times of need.


Uniforms

Okay, so this may seem like an odd reason to send my child to Catholic School, but hear me out.  Although uniforms can be expensive, most Catholic Schools participate in a uniform exchange program.  This helps keeping the cost down for many families.  Uniforms are also a timesaver in the morning.  Although I have to remember if it is a P.E. day or regular uniform, I don’t have to argue over whether or not a certain shirt is clean.  This allows for more family time in the morning before we trek to work and school.  While in school, it is clear that it is time to focus on the learning, and not who has the best label or newest shoes.  Everyone was created equal in the eyes of God, so why not extend that into the learning environment as well.


Wanting to Serve Others

In school, each grade level participates in outreach and service projects.  Students make sandwiches for the hungry, collect money for the poor.  This year, they participated in the Water Project to raise awareness and money for those who do not have access to clean water.  At Christmas time, the school rallies together and sponsors a family.  The students and their families gather gifts for those who are less fortunate.  In our own families, we volunteer for Faith Formation Classes, take food to those less fortunate for Thanksgiving, and help out with other church-sponsored activities.


Danny paints a bowl for the Empty Bowls program



It is my hope, that through my husband’s and my example, as well as through his experience in the Catholic School, that our son sees that we don’t do these things just to give back to the community (though this too is noble) but, that we are following in Jesus’s footsteps, and he will continue to do so as he gets older.


It’s Academic …. But Not the Most Important Thing

Yes, learning is an important aspect of any school.  However, it wouldn’t matter if the school had a state of the art Science lab, a robotics club, or drama.  I am more concerned that my child becomes a kind, selfless person.  The Catholic School practices the same values that we as parents “preach” at home.


Can’t Do It Alone


Jon and Danny Sabo on the first day of school.


Although I would like to believe that my husband and I would be able to provide all our son needs to have a personal relationship with God.  That he will grow up to value his Catholic faith and upbringing.  But I would be naive to believe that we could do that alone.  Children learn from example; not only from their parents/guardians, but also from other children and adults.  We do what we can at home, but in this day and age, we can use all the help we can get.  I am so thankful for the community of our Catholic School.




You see, our school is similar to the public school in many ways.  But it is clearly more than just a school.  It is a tight knit community.  Our students, faculty, and parents come together every day in a community of faith and warmth.  Something that has grown increasingly more important in a world of harsh realities.  Our school provides an important space for our students to feel a sense of belonging and a safe haven to openly discuss their beliefs, hopes, and dreams.  Yes, our school prepares their minds, but with the help of our Catholic Faith, it prepares their souls.

February 13, 2017 12:00
By Robyn Barberry


The Water Challenge


What is the one thing that every person in the world needs every day? Water. (5-13 gallons of it per day, to be exact.) In the United States, we are blessed to have access to an abundance of clean water for brushing our teeth, washing our clothes, our dishes, our bodies, cooking, and, of course, drinking. But over a billion people in developing countries, such as sub-Saharan Africa, do not have access to the very think that keeps us clean, healthy, and alive.  

At St. Joan of Arc School, we always strive to care for others and the environment. So, when we were asked to participate in The Water Challenge, through The Water Project, Inc., all of us joined the cause. Participants are asked to drink nothing but water in a reusable bottle for two weeks and document the milk, juice, soda, and coffee they eliminate. At the end of two weeks, each person donates the money they saved by choosing water over other drinks. The goal is for each person to raise $23. A few months after the money is returned to The Water Project, Inc., donors will receive a report of where their money went, including GPS coordinates! It turns their small sacrifice into something big and important.   




The idea is similar to the kind of fasting we do in Lent. The Water Challenge offers us the chance to think about those who have less than we do and to appreciate something we often take advantage. It also enables us to avoid the waste associated with disposable water bottles. Finally, it encourages us to take better care of our bodies by avoiding caffeinated and sugary drinks.

It was a rough start for many of the students, including my second-grader Collin. They were upset that they wouldn’t be able to enjoy the juices they ordered for hot lunch or the lemonade at our Chik-fil-a fundraiser night. It was a big change for little kids, but when teachers like myself rose up to the challenge, our involvement and the reminder wristbands they wore inspired the students to stay on board.

Now the students are excited about their small sacrifice to make the world a better place. Collin even got my tea-drinking parents involved. They send us photo updates to let us know that they’re drinking their H2O! (Now that we've got them hooked, we need to convert them to reusable water bottles!)
                                                                                                                                




It’s not too late for you or your organization to participate in The Water Challenge. If you’re not a fan of tap water, you can buy a filter for your sink or a pitcher for your refrigerator. Even my gym has an awesome water fountain filter! An excellent selection of reusable water bottles can be found in many stores and on Amazon.com. Nalgene, Camelback, and Tervis make excellent leak-proof bottles and cups in a variety of sizes. I’m a big fan of the coated aluminum canteens like the 32 oz. mint green one I have by Simple Modern. My water stays cold for 24 hours!  




Since we started The Water Project I have more energy and am more aware of my water usage in other settings. I’ve been thinking about those who suffer because of their limited access to potable water. I hope that the money we donate can help make their lives better. Above all, I thank God for providing my family with a safe, clean source of the one thing we need most.        

January 14, 2017 12:40
By Robyn Barberry


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


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


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


The reveal


What's it gonna be? Blue or pink?


From the moment I announced that I was expecting my fourth child, friends and strangers alike have asked the inevitable question every pregnant woman finds herself answering over and over again: “Are you finding out what you’re having?”

“I never have,” was my consistent reply.

It’s true. Unlike most women (at least the ones I know), I chose to wait until each of my first three children made their grand entrances into the world to find out whether I’d have a son or a daughter. And each time, my OB shouted out “It’s a boy!”

Part of me always wanted a girl. There’s a line from the song “The Suburbs” by Arcade Fire that goes, “Can’t you understand/that I want a daughter while I’m still young?/I want to hold her hand and show her some beauty before the damage is done./But if it’s too much to ask/if it’s too much to ask/send me a son.” All I ever wanted was a healthy baby, but I couldn’t help but wonder what it might be like to have a little girl.

All of my prom dresses hang in the back of Collin and Frank’s closet, just in case I had a daughter who liked to play dress-up (or wanted to wear something vintage to a high school dance). I’d held on to my wrought iron bed and some of my favorite books and my American Girl doll (Felicity) because I wanted to relive a few slices of my childhood vicariously through my own little girl. I wanted someone to get pedicures with me and watch the kind of movies where nothing blows up. I wanted to shop for a First Communion dress and help plan her wedding and hold her baby one day. I wanted to raise a young lady who wasn’t the damsel in distress, but a benevolent force who would improve every corner of the world she touches – just by being her strong, sweet self.

My best friend Melissa has two amazing little girls. They’re spunky and, even though they love princesses, they’re not your typical “girly-girls.” (Two-year-old Nora’s favorite color is blue and four-year-old Stella is a huge Darth Vader fan.) The boys adore the girls and treat them like sisters. I know that if I ever had a little girl, Collin, Frank, and Leo would protect her, play with her, and pester her, just as big brothers should.

In December, while we were visiting Melissa and the girls, I told Melissa that I was going to break tradition and find out what I was having. It was hard to explain why, though.

When it comes down to it, I suppose it’s about preparation and planning. In general, I’m not much of a planner. I tend to make loose plans and graciously accept the twists and turns God sends my way as an opportunity to hone my on-the-spot problem-solving skills and discover the great plans He has in store for me, rather than the ones I orchestrate for myself.

On the other hand, having a large family calls for a little bit more organization on my part. I will always accept what God sends my way, but I think He’d like for me to be prepared, as well. Adding a fourth child means rearranging bedrooms and having all the clothing, blankets, and other essentials ready for his or her big arrival. Since I consider myself a pro at this now, I have a good idea of what my newborn will require to be safe, comfortable, and content(-ish) in the early days of his or her life. I’ve acquired a massive amount of stuff for little boys over the years, but I couldn’t help but wonder…what would happen if I had a little girl?

She’d wear the green, yellow, and white gender-neutral attire her brothers wore in their early days, and I supposed she and Leo would share a jungle-themed room. I didn’t want to drown her in pink. Or did I?


Melissa and just-born Collin (in his gender-neutral sheep sleeper.)



I asked myself if I really needed to wait for the OB to tell me I had a son or a daughter in the harried moments before the baby is placed on my chest. Wouldn’t I be equally surprised if I found out sooner rather than later? It’s not like I had a say in the matter. God had already chosen whether I was having a boy or a girl. My job was to accept the gift with open arms. But, there wasn’t any harm in peeking, right?

 “And here’s the best part,” I told Melissa. “You’re going to reveal it at our St. Patrick’s Day party.” Her blue-green eyes widened and she let out one of her enthusiastic signature laughs.

Fast forward a few months and Patrick and I are having our sonogram done by the same woman who gave us a peek at Collin, Frank, and Leo when they were the size of a banana. “You don’t want to find out what you’re having, right?” she asked. Patrick and I looked at each other. “Actually, we do,” I explained, “but not today.” She told us to look away and wrote our baby’s gender on a small piece of paper which she promptly sealed in an envelope, which Melissa picked up a few days later. Our fate was in her hands.

Our St. Patrick’s Day party is one of the highlights of our year. All of our friends and family gather to celebrate our Irish heritage (actual or adopted for the day). It fell on Melissa’s birthday this year, and I’m honored that she chose to celebrate by preparing a special surprise for us. Only Melissa, her husband, Mark, and another of our closest friends, Bob, knew about our secret plan. When just about everyone arrived, I gave Melissa the nod. Bob cued up the video camera on his phone as Melissa and the girls entered the room with an enormous box decorated to look like a leprechaun’s hat.

“We swore we’d never do this, but we’ve decided to find out what we’re having!” I told everyone. Patrick and I pulled the tape on the top of the box and…four pink balloons came flying out! The entire room cheered. I jumped up and down. Patrick’s grandmother shed tears of joy. Leo was just happy to have a balloon (but I’m not quite sure how happy he’s going to be to have a baby sister).




Since then, I’ve been preparing for my little girl’s arrival. The day after the St. Patrick’s Day party, my mom and I picked out a gorgeous bohemian-inspired, elephant-themed bedding set for her room.



We moved all three of the boys to one bedroom. (They love it!) I bought the baby a few irresistible dresses and, of course, headbands to match.



Meanwhile, I gave most of the boys’ baby clothes to a former student who is having a little boy. Patrick and I settled on a name we love. (You’ll find out next time!). I even booked her baptism.   

I like new experiences, and I’m glad I decided to find out my baby’s gender this time around. I’m generally a person who enjoys mystery, even ambiguity, but I have found that this time it’s easier to imagine what life is going to be like when she (isn’t that nice to say?) gets here. There will be hair to be braided and jewelry to be collected and Irish dances to be performed and so many aspects of her personality to be discovered. And when she arrives, we’ll be ready for her.

April 17, 2016 02:23
By Robyn Barberry

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