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


Guest blog: 5 reasons why I teach in a Catholic school


I asked several friends, coworkers, and family members to write about what Catholic schools mean to them. Today you will hear from my dear friend and colleague, Gina Sabo, who is the Technology Integration Specialist at St. Joan of Arc School in Aberdeen. It's been an honor to work with her over the past decade in several settings. We both agree that working at SJA has brought us tremendous happiness.




5 reasons why I teach in a Catholic school by Gina Sabo




The author and her son, Danny, on the first day of school.



Why do I teach in a Catholic School?


I have heard this question and many other as to my choice to teach in a Catholic school.  


“Aren’t you limiting yourself career wise? There’s not much room for growth!”


“Aren’t you afraid of your school closing?”


“You know you can get paid more in the public school, right?”


In reality, my school isn’t much different than that of a public school.  Our students come from all walks of life.  We have parents that email...some more than others.  We have meetings and professional development.  Behavior problems.  More meetings.  Standardized testing.  Budgets. And new standards to meet.


But the one thing that makes my school stand out - God.  My School’s Mission Statement describes a “faith community of educators, learners, and families using God’s gifts to develop 21st Century skills of innovation, collaboration, problem-solving, and reasoning to enrich the global society” (St. Joan of Arc School).  It is within this type of environment that I cannot imagine being without.  


So when I have to “defend” my decision to teach in the Catholic School, here are just five of the reasons:


Authentic Community

As I mentioned before, our school is a tight-knit community of teachers, students, parents, and administrators.  Some could say that it is because we all have that one thing that binds us together-faith, but I tend to lean more towards the fact that we truly care about each other.  We have students who return after graduation talking of how much they loved the sense of belonging they felt while attending our school.  As teachers, we bond together over shared students we have watched grow over the years.  The administration gets to know each child on an individual level, and cheers them on by name.  Even our Pastor, Father Willie Franken, offers words of wisdom and guidance to our families at just the right time.  Faculty, students, and parents all come together and pray for those who are sick, celebrate a new baby or wedding shower, or even provide a special gift to a student whose family needs to leave mid-year.




Encourages Me to Be a Better Christian and Role Model

Honestly, it doesn’t matter if you attend or teach at a public or Catholic school; all teachers are being watched daily by their students and parents.  Eyes are always watching to see how to react and how they should structure their behaviors.  Parents are personally making sure teachers are meeting their students’ needs.  In my school, however, students are also watching my devotion to the Lord.  My students can smell the difference between real and fake, so this encourages me to constantly keep myself in check and be authentic in my relationship with my students and God.


Everything is Geared Towards Christ

In the public school setting, I was constantly worried about offending someone.  I had to watch what I said and how I said it.  In the Catholic school, I am able to complement, discuss, and even explain my beliefs without worry of offending my students.  Often, I can praise a student “God has truly blessed you with the talent for drawing,” or thank a student for their help during Mass.  Students can openly discuss their love for God and our daily lessons are often linked to the Fruits of the Spirit.  


Holidays - Big and Small

In the Catholic school, the holidays - both big and small - are celebrated with a certain sort of style.  The Christmas season appears more humble throughout the school.  Giving, rather than receiving, is the moving force within the classrooms.  Students focus on service projects and the birth of Christ. In May we celebrate Mary, the mother of Jesus.  As a school, we meet in the “Grotto” outside our building and place the crown of flowers atop her head and recite a shortened version of the rosary.  It is these spiritual practices that, for me, make teaching in the Catholic School special.


Someone Always Has Your Back

No matter where you work, obstacles are always encountered.  Calling for help can include a conversation with technical support, help from a co-worker, or even a meeting with your boss.  Working in a Catholic School, you can seek help from a higher authority.  Our staff begins each week in prayer.  Just before the students enter the building, we gather together in our Faculty Lounge, and thank God for our abilities and blessings, and ask for his help.  Throughout the school year, we support each other in highs and lows.  We celebrate the small victories and pray over difficult times.  We are assured through our faith that no matter what happens, God’s love for us will be there forever.




February 12, 2017 12:35
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


Let there be light!

On the first day of creation, God said, "Let there be light!"

I said the same words the other day when my kitchen lights burned out -- while I was cooking dinner. So, while I sauteed greens under the dim light projecting from above my stove, Patrick ran out to Home Depot. He returned with new LED fixtures to replace the fluorescent bulbs overhead and reinstalled a blown glass pendant light he made.

When we flipped the switch, we could not believe how bright our kitchen was. It was pitch black dark outside, but daylight streamed through our kitchen. You could do surgery in there. The intense light highlighted every flaw: clutter, spatters we missed when wiping down the stove, hard water spots in the sink, crumbs on the floor...the list kept compounding.

Without delay, we began tidying and scrubbing the kitchen. The light led us to our problem areas and lingered until it was pleased enough for us to move on to the next project. (The fact that we had visitors arriving the next day certainly added to our effort.) By the time we finished, not only did we eliminated most of the ugliness from our kitchen, but we also discovered the beauty. Like the shiny turquoise cabinets, the nick knacks, photographs, and art on the windowsill, and an array of countertop appliances that save us time and energy. The perpetual presence of the bright light in our kitchen has compelled us to be neater, more organized people because our inadequacies and indiscretions as they pertain to housekeeping are far more visible.

We've heard over and over again that God is the light of the world. He summoned light to appear and used it to guide him as he created the universe and everything and everyone within it. God invites us to see the world under his light, which is infinitely more powerful than the LEDs watching over my kitchen, so he illuminates everything. He helps us to appreciate the beauty in all that is good, to warn us where darkness lies, and to see places in and around us that can be made better with a little bit of cleaning up.

In 2017, ask yourself: How can I increase the light in my life? The answer may be as simple as changing out a few lightbulbs.

December 31, 2016 04:29
By Robyn Barberry


New year, new frontier


After Mass this morning, Collin said, "Mom, I'm really scared of 2017. 2016 was such a good year and I'm not ready to see it end."

I stopped and thought about what he said. In many ways he was right. 2016 was a great year.  God blessed us with Teagan. We managed to stay afloat financially so that we had a roof over our heads and food in our bellies. We love being a part of St. Joan of Arc. And, thanks be to God, everyone we love is in good health.

I began to consider what 2017 might be like. We could suddenly lose everything if an unexpected event drained our finances. We might lose our house, go hungry and struggle to pay school tuition and other bills. There's also the uncertainty of what a new president might bring our country. Someone I love could become very sick or die. That is my worst nightmare.

I didn't know what to tell Collin because all of the sudden I was a little bit afraid of a new year. We group our life's experiences into 12 months, 365 days and label them "good" or "bad" years based on the frequency or positive or negative events. But, sometimes we need to look at each year as a kaleidoscope of events rather than a polarized passing of time. On December 31st, we should look back at everything that's happened since January 1st and think about the ways we've changed and how we got there.

"We don't know what's going to happen in 2017, but we do know that God will take care of us, no matter what happens," I said. We talked about what things we have to look forward to, like his First Communion, our summer vacation, and adventures beyond our imagination. Life will be far from perfect, even in a "good" year, but as long as we remain faithful, God will protect us -- here or in the great beyond.   

December 18, 2016 10:10
By Robyn Barberry


An afternoon with my Great-Great-Great Grandmother



Last Saturday, December 10th, 2016, my parents, Collin, and I visited the Irish Railroad Workers Museum on Lemmon Street in Baltimore for their Irish Christmas Celebration. Alongside the apple cider, scones, and Celtic Christmas ornament crafts, we received a tour of two tiny row houses, one of which represented an Irish family’s home during the 1860s. A family not unlike that of my Irish immigrant ancestors. And surprisingly, a family not unlike my own today. A family that could have been mine, not so long ago.







The Feeley family lived in a space the size of my living room and dining room (and my house isn't very big.) James, the head of the household, worked long, hard days as a boilermaker at the B&O railroad, while Mrs. Feeley raised the children and took in extra money by doing other people’s laundry over their hearth, hanging everything to dry in the small yard where their outhouse was.



There was no running water. Food was purchased at the Hollins Street Market, a short walk away. A winding, narrow, trepidacious staircase leads to the second floor. As I carried 5-month-old Teagan up and down the stairs, I thought for sure we'd stumble and meet a certain death. I wondered how Mrs. Feeley managed to make the trip upstairs and down carrying one of her children and laundry and water.The Feeley baby slept in a cradle in the parents’ bedroom while the older children shared a bed across the hall.



A simple ball and cup toy kept the children entertained.



The family worshiped at St. Peter’s Church, where the children attended school. (You can see it from their house. )



Not all of the children lived to adulthood due to diseases, such as cholera and typhoid fever, the latter of which was the cause of a major epidemic in Baltimore at this time. But, the Feeley family prevailed, like my own, passing along their heritage and their faith to future generations.

In 2016, I complain that my house is too small for my four children, my husband, our two cats, and myself. But, when I compared it to the size of the little house on Lemmon Street, I am amazed at how blessed we are. My husband works hard as a farmer, while I spend a considerable amount of time at home with my children. We have a spacious kitchen and an extremely efficient washer and dryer (though I STILL can't keep up with the laundry), as well as indoor plumbing. Our tap water is filtered. I have access to fresh food from all over the world at Wegman’s, but prefer to buy fruits and vegetables from my local farmer, Brad, in the growing season. Last year, I took a nasty spill down the wooden stairs to my second floor, but I survived. (I'm still apprehensive when I'm carrying something or someone.) Baby Teagan sleeps in a cradle beside my bed, while her brother shared a bed across the hall up until a few weeks ago when they got bunkbeds. The iPad is my boys' favorite toy. We are active members of our parish, St. Joan of Arc, where my son goes to school and I teach art. (We can see it from our house.) I pray every day for my children to stay healthy and live long lives. I am eternally grateful for the medical care we have available to us, particularly vaccines to prevent the kinds of diseases that took the lives of many children.

After visiting the Irish Railroad Workers Museum, I look at my household and lifestyle through new eyes.  What would my great-great grandmother say if she heard me complaining that the water in the shower was too hot because someone turned on the dishwasher? How would she feel if she saw me hydrating my flu-stricken sons with a magical potion called Pedialyte so that they could make a full recovery in just a few days? At the same time, how would she feel if she saw me walking my children to church on Sunday? My ungratefulness aside, I like to think that she would be proud. Our foundations on faith, family, and heritage have been passed down through the decades and preserved our Irish Catholic identity. Though modern conveniences, medicine, and workplace situations have changed, we should always remember where we came from and thank God for getting us here.

The Irish Railroad Workers Museum is located at 920 Lemmon St. in Baltimore and is open Friday and Saturday from 11 am - 2 pm and Sunday from 1-4 pm. I'd like to extend a special thanks to Luke and Cecelia for their hospitality and education.

December 17, 2016 10:23
By Robyn Barberry


Driven

We’ve all heard the saying, “Life is a Highway.” While some people might claim they want to “ride it all night long,” there are many of us frustrated by delays and accidents on our daily commutes and long adventures. Sometimes the road overwhelms us to the point where we need to sojourn to a rest stop and catch our breath.

For me, the quick moments of prayer and hour-long Mass I attend on Sundays are those well-needed breaks from the highway of my life. Being able to “pull over” and collect my thoughts and redirect myself is essential for giving me the energy to sustain the long haul.

But, what happens when I miss my exit and I drive too many long, hard miles alone? I steer off course. I am lost. My ability to handle the frustrations of my ride dwindles, and I find myself swerving into other lanes, broken down on the side of the road, or crashing. If I’m having a bad week, I stop and look to see if I skipped Mass on Sunday or haven’t been injecting my days with prayer.

The good news is that I can always find another place of respite in God’s love. And he offers free 24-hour maintenance. Just like I can pick up the phone to call AAA, I can check in with God at any time, remind myself of my blessings, and petition him for my needs.

Before too long, I’m on the road again, rejuvenated and ready to handle the obstacles ahead of me. I can roll down the window, turn up my favorite upbeat song, and relax knowing that God is my G.P.S.  

September 29, 2016 10:32
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


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


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




In a few short weeks, I will meet my daughter for the first time. I’ve spent the past three months trying to wrap my head around what it’s going to be like to parent a girl, seeing as how I’ve been raising three boys up until this point.

I was worried about things like braiding her hair and when to let her get her ears pierced until the story of the Stanford rape case took over my Facebook newsfeed. Brock Turner, a Stanford University swimmer, received a six-month sentence for raping a woman in January 2015 after a campus party. The sentence could have been up to 14 years, but the judge decided that a long, harsh sentence would have “a severe impact” on him.

I took the time to read the victim’s statement. It is one of the most harrowing things I have ever read. Her words and the vivid pictures they form haunt me.

She could be my daughter. He could be one of my sons.

What, if anything, can I do to prevent my children from finding themselves on either end of a situation like this? What should I tell my sons? What should I tell my daughter?

I read what some of my friends were saying on Facebook. Many of my friends are teachers, writers and parents, like myself, but scrolling down my news feed is like looking through a kaleidoscope of opinions from the left, the right, and everywhere in between. I decided to take a risk and bring them all together on my page and asked “What should I be teaching my sons about respecting women and their bodies? What should I be teaching my daughter about protecting herself? Where does our role begin and end here?”

I was overwhelmed by the intelligent and prudent responses from my friends, some of whom include a school psychologist, a military sexual-assault prevention-and-response coordinator, a foster parent and a sex abuse survivor. Though their perspectives varied, all responded with the same message: What happened in Stanford is NOT okay. We all have to prepare our children for life in a time and place where “rape culture” exists. We all want to change that. We all know that it starts with us. The only issue is that we all disagree on what to teach our kids about rape prevention.

There was no consensus when it comes to the notion of consent. A friend pointed out that he and his wife have taught their daughter that if she doesn’t want to hug someone, she doesn’t have to (even if it’s “Great Aunt Marge.”) Some people disagree and think that withholding acts of affection will cause a child to become insensitive and cold. Several friends shared this tongue-in-cheek British video using “making tea” for someone as an analogy for sexual consent.

The discussion of revealing clothing and excessive alcohol consumption turned up with staunch supporters on each camp. Some believed that dressing and drinking conservatively are crucial shields women can use to deter rapists. Others said that we shouldn’t have to teach girls to protect themselves; rather, it’s the boys who needed to be taught to respect women.

I’ve come to the conclusion that we shouldn’t be just educating our daughters or just educating our sons. They both need to hear messages catered to their genders’ needs as well as universal messages that apply to all people of all ages. The key is delivery.

My school psychologist friend said that we need to be careful about talking with kids at their current level. Allowing little ones like my own to “choose” to give and receive hugs while telling them they should never feel uncomfortable when touching another person, is a good place to start.

A fellow teacher said she encourages her middle school students to think about whether they’re “helping” someone or “hurting” someone in every encounter.

A high school librarian said she believes more attention needs to be paid to "developing a clear understanding of what sexual assault is, particularly for boys and the consequences.” She offered two book titles for me to read (and I will!) about raising boys to be responsible men who treat women properly, "Season of Life" by Joe Ehrmann (a former Baltimore Colt) and Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. Her students are at the prime time for that conversation, perhaps through the Green Dot program that is being used to educate students about sexual assault in high schools.




Here’s what I decided to tell my kids while they’re under my watch:

  • Our family is Catholic. Not every family is like ours, and that’s okay. But we will share our values with you.

  • We believe that our bodies are a gift from God. It’s up to us to take good care of them with healthy food, exercise, and safe contact with other bodies. (That also means stop hitting each other!)

  • Our faith teaches us that the best thing to do is to wait until we’re married to have sex. It keeps us healthy, saves us from a lot of heartache, adds depth to our marriages, can make parenting easier, and makes God happy.

  • Since we’re all born sinners, that doesn’t always happen. When it comes to sex, we have the choice to obey God or to do as we will. But, sometimes someone else makes that decision for us by forcing their body on ours. This is called rape and it is NOT YOUR FAULT. It makes you feel bad about yourself, but you did nothing wrong. And because of that, this is something that you would never do to someone else.

Daughter

  • You are more than just your body. You are your mind and your spirit. Your relationships with others should reflect all of those things.

  • You are biologically more vulnerable than your male counterparts. You’re smaller than most men. You probably have less muscle tone. Your private parts go in, not out.

  • Sometimes clothing matters. You don’t wear jeans to a job interview because your prospective employer will think you don’t take them (or yourself) seriously, no matter how nice or smart you are. In a similar fashion, the more skin you show, the more attention you’ll receive. Whether you intend it to be or not, some men see this as an invitation to touch your body. Be prepared to respond accordingly.

  • Male sexual predators do exist and it seems like certain situations make them more likely to attack, like if they see you alone in an isolated area. Stay as safe and in control as you can everywhere you go. If you start to feel uncomfortable, GET OUT. Make an excuse. Call someone. Walk away. Run if you have to.

  • Rape can’t always be avoided or prevented. Sometimes it’s not about alcohol or short skirts or walking alone or flirting. The Stanford victim wore a beige cardigan to the party where she was raped. Even if those are factors, they are NEVER excuses for a man to force himself upon a woman.

  • You should NEVER be blamed if your body is violated against your will.

  • Not all men are bad. In fact, most of them are good, like your brothers, father, uncles, and grandfathers. Sure there are “bad guys,” but the entire male population isn’t out to get you.
Sons

  • Sexual assault can happen to you, too. If someone touches you anywhere, and it makes you feel uncomfortable, you need to tell someone.

  • If a woman is wearing revealing clothing, it does not automatically mean she is making herself available to you.

  • Women are not objects. The sex industry wants you to believe that, but it’s not true. Women are people with feelings, not just bodies to be used for your pleasure.

  • Many women are also sisters, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers like your own. Think of how much you love us when you see them. Chances are someone loves them, too.

Both

  • Treat people and all living things with respect and dignity.

  • Don’t touch anyone without their permission. Likewise, no one should touch you without your permission. (Including rude people in the grocery store who poked you when you were in my belly.)

  • Socialize responsibly. Surround yourself with friends. Never take an eye off your drink. Know when you’ve had enough. Know when someone else has had enough. Call if you need us to come get you. No questions asked.

  • “No means no” at any point of a conversation. If you hear the word “no,” that means your plans must change at that moment. Remove yourself from the situation if at all possible.

  • If someone violates you after you have told them “no,” it’s not your fault; it’s theirs.

  • If something happens to you that makes you feel violated, tell someone. A friend, a guidance counselor, the police, anyone who can help. But, we’d hope you would come to us first. It is NOT YOUR FAULT. Let us help you.

  • If you violate another human being in any way, you will be punished. If not by the fullest extent of the law (which we would encourage), then by us and by God. We will never stop loving you, but we will not stand up for you. We will not stand beside you. We will not stand by you. We raised you better than that.

As of right now, that’s my road map for getting through the tough conversations I have ahead with my sons and daughter. Some of those seeds need to be planted now when my children still think I’m a celebrity and others are lines that will take me several years to memorize before delivering them to an audience of eye-rolling adolescents who think I’m an embarrassment. (At the very least, they can check my blog archive and pull this up as a reference when they’re away at college.)    

Not all parents raise their children like my friends and I are raising ours. Unfortunately it will take a very long time before every man in the world knows that a woman’s body is hers and not his for the taking, no matter what she’s wearing or what she’s had to drink or what she said earlier that night before she changed her mind. We may never reach that point. But we can try. And it starts by talking to our girls AND our boys, early and often.

 

June 13, 2016 10:22
By Robyn Barberry

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