What’s wrong with sex ed in America?

May 22, 2015

By now you’ve heard the news du jour that the heir to the throne of America’s biggest TV family molested his younger sisters and a family friend as a young teenager. The internet is predictably delighted, because nothing is more delicious to progressives than a stumbling, screwed-up Christian. Never mind that it happened over a decade ago and he has repented and reformed; because he and his family live a life of publicly-demonstrative faith, they must be stoned for their crimes.

The real victims in this whole disaster are, of course, his younger sisters and the girl who suffered his unwanted advances and touching, and his own children who are now going to grow up in a world where daddy’s dirty adolescent laundry will be forever enshrined online.

I am in no way excusing Josh Duggar for the abuse he committed against his own sisters. I know plenty of women who were once little girls who suffered molestation by family members, friends, and peers, and the healing can be the work of a lifetime. And sometimes it doesn’t come.

But I am a little confused as to why, in this sexually-permissive freewheeling society of excess we dwell in, it’s being treated as such bombshell.

If every boy I went to middle school with had his behavior from that time period made public, I can guarantee we would have a massive influx of registered sex offenders added to the roster, for one thing.

But then, I went to public school.

The Duggars, homeschooled and sheltered as they were, ought to have known better. Ought to have acted better.

But sin is the damnedest thing, isn’t it? There’s no guarantee that, no matter the efforts you make as a parent, no matter the values you strive to instill in them, your kids aren’t going to turn out to be delinquents. Or at least screw up royally at some point.

But here’s my question. Why, in a culture pushing sex sex sex at younger and younger ages, passing out condoms and dental dams in 6th grade health class and schooling kindergarteners on proper masturbation techniques, is it shocking or disappointing when a kid goes ahead and acts on the information we’re saturating their developing brains in?

But of course, Josh Duggar wouldn’t have been in any public health class. He would have been learning at his kitchen table what does and doesn’t constitute good and bad touching, what sex is and what it’s for, and how God fearfully and wonderfully designed us to give and receive love within His plan for marriage.

But perhaps that’s not exactly the message his parents were sending, either.

I don’t pretend to know the specifics of what the Duggar family – or other fundamentalist or even more mainstream Christian denominations – are telling their kids about sex. But I’ve read enough of their best selling books to guess it goes something along the lines of “no touching till you’re married, and then all bets are off.”

And guess what? That message is still flawed. Perhaps not as obviously or as disturbingly as free condoms at the nurse’s office and a parent-funded prescription for Ortho as a “now you’re a woman” gift, but for different reasons.

When I was a searching teenager gobbling up books like “Why I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and “When God Writes Your Love Story,” I was reading a different narrative, but one which still left a lot to be desired.

In retrospect I can identify what was so lacking in those hopeful tomes of white-knuckle chastity I dog-eared, but at the time it just struck me as somewhat…lacking. To be told to find the line you should not cross and to point to it and say “there’s the boundary. Don’t touch.” and to leave it at that.

To expect kids to sign pledge cards and exchange chastity rings with the instruction that “true love waits,” and to not take them deeper into the explanation of why? That’s crazy.

And that’s what I found lacking in my middle class upbringing and sexual education. My parents did the best they could, pulling us out of health class and protecting us from the condom flinging freaks running the guidance counseling office, but 15 years ago there honestly wasn’t a whole lot of great information out there for them to counter the cultural narrative with, both mainstream and Christian.

I think that has been true for plenty of Catholic families.

Now they’re older, wiser, and in possession of countless copies of “Theology of the Body for Beginners” and “Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love,” and so my youngest brother has plenty of personalist philosophy and sexual ethics to read about, helpfully laid out in laymen’s terms, while he sits out chlamydia class in the cafeteria.

But that hasn’t always been the case. And part of the very real success of the so-called Sexual Revolution has been the deafening silence on the side of conservative Christians, those of us who are supposed to be communicating truth, goodness, and beauty to the world.

But how, when we can’t seem to have those conversations with our own children?

How can we expect to produce integrated, chaste, loving, self-sacrificing adults capable of becoming faithful spouses when all we’re saying in reply to the culture’s sex-a-palooza message is: wait till you’re married.

And then what? All that pent up sexual energy and frustration and curiosity are unleashed on your unsuspecting and inexperienced spouse? How is that setting up marriages for success?

That’s why the Catholic teachings on sexual ethics and sexuality have always been – and will continue to be – so profoundly life-giving. Even if we’ve made a few generational missteps in getting the information out, both from the pulpit and around the kitchen table, the truth of it has always been there: sex is good, sex is holy, your body is fearfully and wonderfully made…and there is a purpose for this part of you.

Sex is not reducible to an appetite, a mere craving or desire. Sex isn’t about scratching an itch or pushing the limits (or running right up to them and stopping short) or racking up carnal experiences over the course of a lifetime.

Sex is profoundly more than all of that.

And that’s the message our kids need to hear, from early on, and then continuously, for as long as they’re in our homes and then yes, even once they leave our nests. Especially once they go out into the sexually carnivorous world of college life and beyond. And then still, once they seek out spouses and begin to assemble nests of their own.

It’s not enough to tell them, “don’t touch that, don’t think those thoughts, and don’t do that before you’re married.” 

And it’s certainly not enough to sheepishly hand over your credit card with one hand over your eyes, telling them to “be safe” and to “use protection.”

Here’s what I think they need to hear from us. And I speak as a mother with only very young children so far, but as a former teenager and very lost college kid.

Sex is holy. Your body, male or female, was designed with intention. The way you feel about the opposite sex is good – it’s meant to draw you into relationship with your husband or wife one day, and to bring forth new life, new souls. You are created with the capacity to create with God, within the relationship you’ll have with your spouse one day.

There are a lot of things you’re going to hear about sex as you get older, especially once your friends start dating. And it’s okay that you’re curious, that on the one hand, you don’t want to hear about their exploits and conquests, but on the other hand maybe you feel drawn to know what they’re experiencing. There is nothing wrong with being curious about sex. It is purposefully designed to be very, very attractive and very enjoyable.

What we’re going to help you understand and integrate is that sex is designed with a specific purpose: to bond you to your spouse for life, and to bring forth new life.

If you have a sexual thought or daydream, that’s okay. It’s not dirty to think about sex, and it doesn’t make you a creep. It’s not okay, hover, or healthy, to dwell on the sexual thoughts and impulses you’re going to experience. That makes the practice of chastity – of rightly ordering your desires and behavior – more difficult. When you find yourself experiencing a sexual though or a temptation, bring it to the Lord in prayer and tell Jesus, “thank you for making me this way, thank you for the gift of my body, teach me how to love as You love.”

You don’t have to be afraid of your body, or of the gift of your sexuality. You do, however, have to learn how to use it properly, how to integrate what we are going to teach you and what you will learn over your lifetime about chastity and love, for the sake of your soul and for the good of your husband or wife. We love you. We’re glad you’re maturing and becoming an adult, and God has a plan for your sex life that is better than anything the world can offer. You can trust us. We will always be open and honest with you.

At least, I think that’s a decent start.

My prayer is that my children and their friends and future spouses can grow up to witness to – and perhaps participate in – the destruction and conversion of our sexually perverse and dying culture.

Now that’s something worth waiting for.

sex ed

It’s ok to have a large family

May 21, 2015

Today I’m excited to feature one of my favorite bloggers and a fellow Coloradan, Brianna Heldt, whose beautiful family and incredible story never ceases to leave me shaking my head in amazement. Her tales of life with her larger-than-average, biracial, special needs, internationally-adopted-mingled-with-biological-children are captivating and inspiring. And also? She and her husband Kevin are currently hosting a family of itinerant raccoons who’ve taken up illegal residence in their attic. Lots of material there. I know you’ll enjoy getting to know this lovely lady.


In a Facebook group I belong to, a mom recently asked if people would share how many children they have.  She’d always wanted a large family, she said, and was just curious whether or not people actually did that.

So, being the mother to eight that I am, I chimed in.  And went on my merry way.

Of course I kept getting the notifications telling me when another person would post a comment.  And as I glanced over the responses, I was astounded to see that no small number of people had taken this as an opportunity to tell us big families that: it is impossible for our kids to be happy, our families are not “viable”, and there is no way for these kids to receive the attention and love that they need.

I suppose it wasn’t terribly surprising, considering the group, but it WAS kind of sad.

Since when did fertility and the love between husband and wife become so detestable?  I’m not saying everyone has to want a bunch of kids, and I’m not saying all open-to-life people will go on to have a bunch of kids, but these people were genuinely suspicious of families with more than two children.

Truth be told I often forget that we are not the norm–that having eight kids is not typical.  And I forget simply because this is my life, and I’m busy living it, and I’m not (usually) too worried about what other people think.  Of course I’m reminded of our relative uniqueness whenever folks with two or three understandably wonder how we do it, because they already feel maxed out.  But I suspect this tendency to question the capability of large families is based on the assumption that when you add to your family, the dynamic remains the same, while the workload increases a certain amount for each additional child.  When, in my experience, that is not actually the case.

Because families are comprised of people, they are ultimately a complex series of relationships.  I may have eight kids, but my oldest is eleven years old now–and this is much easier in many ways than when we had three kids ages two and under.  Or four kids three and under.  Oh, the good old days!  It’s true that I now have more laundry, more meal prep, and more to manage, but it’s just different.  Kids are more independent in certain ways, and able to pitch in.  Our family functions pretty well if I do say so myself, and things did not get infinitely more difficult with every baby.  Not that there aren’t trials and joys implicit in each parenting phase, because there are.  But you know what I mean.

So why have a big family?  I used to feel a little bit guilty about it, wondering if we were indeed short-changing our children by giving them so many siblings.  If we had fewer kids they could have their own rooms, we could eat out more often, and I’d have more spare time.  I probably wouldn’t yell as much.  But over time I’ve seen the wisdom and beauty in living out openness to life in our marriage, in giving our yes to the Lord and allowing Him to bless us with a tangible expression of our married love.  I won’t tell you that raising a large family is easy, but I will say that there is a lot of love, and so, therefore, it is good.

One of the things that came up in the Facebook group discussion was the issue of priorities.  Because you just can’t do it all.  And sometimes I think outsiders assume that in being open to life, we are trying to do it all.  But it is actually quite the opposite–having many children forces you to figure out what’s important, and drop the things that don’t matter.  Otherwise you’ll go positively crazy.  In my own experience, this has actually been a good thing, because who of us couldn’t stand to simplify?  Or to practice detachment a little bit more?  But this issue of priorities is probably the reason many couples opt not to have a big family, because changing an endless stream of diapers doesn’t really measure up to the alternatives (travelling, having a career outside of the home, not losing sleep over how you’ll pay for college.)  So they choose the latter.  Assuming we big families are the only ones making big sacrifices, even though in limiting their family size, they’re actually sacrificing something too.

I recently read somewhere that folks should not use the word “sacrifice” when talking about parenting their kids.  There is a sense in which I agree with this (because no child should have to feel that he or she is a burden), but in another?  I think it’s ridiculous.  Because parenting is the height of sacrifice!  We set aside our own comforts, dreams, and wants, for love of another.  We run the risk of losing ourselves.  We give until it hurts.  Moms to many do this several times over, but there’s a secret we’ve learned somewhere along the way, too.  It’s something other people don’t always understand, and it’s nearly impossible to quantify or explain.  And it is this: when you abandon yourself to the joys (and sorrows) of motherhood, you experience a depth of fulfillment that is unparalleled.  When marriages, intrinsically ordered towards children, bring forth new life, we are seeing the creative capacity of God and of man.  It is a thing of beauty, mystery, and renewal.  It is in keeping with natural and divine law.

And yet, we women are supposed to have evolved beyond having babies.  We have the pill, we have the IUD, we have the capacity to limit our family size in a way greater than any prior generation.  And not only that, but public opinion, and the mainstream medical community, are  now on the side of birth control–something our female predecessors did not enjoy.  We are living in what is arguably the golden age of contraception and family planning.  So the very idea of someone eschewing the cultural narrative, and of opening themselves up to the messiness, unknowns, and trials of large family life, is absurd.  And even a little obscene.  It confounds modern minds because it is most definitely anti-modern.

So we large families find ourselves and our beliefs vulnerable to speculation, interpretation, and occasionally attack.  It makes little sense in the world’s economy to welcome needy person after needy person into our homes and hearts.  When parenthood is seen primarily in the form of a pie chart–where there is a static, finite amount of love and attention available, to be divided up equally among members–it is a scandal that you would behave in such a way so as to produce smaller pieces of pie.  But this context for understanding the family does not take into account the love that flows between siblings, or the way that love grows exponentially with the addition of each new family member.  It doesn’t reflect what happens when a squishy baby arrives, and softens everybody’s rough edges.  It doesn’t tell the full story.

There was a time when I too would have questioned the judgment of a married couple throwing caution, good sense, and money to the wind in exchange for a fifteen-passenger-van and four sets of bunk beds.  But that was before I had the misfortune of actually using the pill to prevent pregnancy, and it was before I became a mother, and before I encountered the life-giving truth about the vocation of Holy Matrimony.  Now, I’m raising my eight kids, ya’ll!  Which is funny, because I never really anticipated having a big family, but here I am.  And I don’t worry too much about whether or not other people think that’s the best thing or a good thing or the right thing for kids, because I know, I know, that children are not only a precious gift but that they are also natural to, and good for, marriage.  And I now know too that children are a gift to one another.

Contrary to what people on Facebook were arguing, raising many children is not the same thing as being a teacher or running a daycare, neither of which ever appealed to me in the least.  And contrary to what most people think you don’t have to be a saint.  Kids (usually) come one at a time.  You learn as you go.  Sometimes you mess up.  There are happy moments and sad ones, too.  It’s life, and it’s full.  Oh.so.full.

If you’re thinking about having a large family, you will no doubt encounter those who say that having more than a few kids is unnecessary at best, and selfish and irresponsible at worst.  Women today have recourse to contraception, good earning potential, and even just two children will keep you plenty busy.  But take heart, because well-meaning as these people may be?  They simply don’t see the whole picture.  You can have a happy, fulfilling marriage while also being open to life.  You can have joy-filled, funny, well-adjusted children who have many siblings.  It won’t always be easy, but like most good things, it’s worth it.  Dinners around a full table, lively road trips to the coast, the Christmases and birthdays and even the mundane moments, they are a gift of inestimable worth.

It really is okay to have a large family!

In her own good time

May 20, 2015

Our sweet Evie doll is, at long last, taking independent steps on her own. And there was really nothing that we did, per se, that helped her.

Except, I suppose, dropping $2.99 on a Fisher Price ride along 3-wheeled giraffe at Saver’s last week, which she has appropriated as her own personal mobility device. Grasping one of it’s horns, she gingerly two steps around the house with her new plastic friend, occasionally breaking loose for 1-2 independent steps of her own before thudding on her diaper padded butt and looking around for raucous applause from her fan base.

Actually, she applauds rather enthusiastically for herself when she stands solo, which directly undermines her efforts about 80% of the time, landing her back on her booty. Great self esteem, that one.

She has been the most unpredictable baby for us, in terms of milestones, yes, but also how she reacts to certain situations. She’s very vocal about her displeasure when her brothers cross her. Which they do. Hourly. There is ample screaming mingled with heartbreakingly lovely reconciliation hugs and kisses. She’s a fierce little wolf cub, and we tell her daily how spicy she is. Which is probably encouraging her and gets us ejected from Mass at least 2-3 times per Sunday.

But I wouldn’t change a thing about her. She has taught me the most about how doing all the “ideal” parenting things: breastfeeding, sleep training from an early age, encouraging lots of independence and giving endless amounts of encouragement and affection, have so little to do with how the kid in question actually turns out.

I was prepared to nurse her for a year and beyond. She, however, went on a iron-willed nursing strike at 9 months which tanked my milk supply and left me humbled before the formula aisle.

I’ve dragged her to at least 2 dozen physical therapy appointments to address her “low muscle tone” and delayed gross motor milestones. She continued to eschew traditional crawling, right up until the ripe old age of 16 months, in favor of a bizarre butt scoot oddly reminiscence of a world-class pommel horse routine.

She has been poked and prodded by a cadre of specialists at our local children’s hospital who passed her from one department to another in search of the locus of her teeny stature and her staunch aversion to traditional mobility. All we have to show for that is a laundry list of copays, some x-rays of her perfectly healthy hip joints, and a vague diagnosis of “idiopathic short stature” which basically translates to “wtf, she’s super short. Come back in a year for more blood work.”

In sum? She is who she is, despite our best efforts and our greatest shortcomings. 

And that’s true for all our kids, whether we want to admit it or not.

I mean sure, there’s plenty we can do in terms of effort. Ample opportunity for blood, sweat, and prayers. But at the end of the day I have been unsuccessful at coaxing my now 17-month old to walk. Her free will + innate ability trumped the force of my will and the sum of my best efforts.

I guess there’s probably an analogy in there somewhere about God’s grace and our willingness/disposition/ability to cooperate with it. Not that Evie’s reluctance to pursue traditional mobility is comparable to sin, but just that parenthood, at least on a human level, is often fraught with brick walls of frustration resultant from a little person with a mind – and motivations – all her own.

evie doll

State of the belly (and budget)

May 17, 2015

Here I am, lumbering over the threshold of the third trimester and feeling every bit of it. It’s funny, because a week or three ago I would have smilingly copped to feeling physically “fine, actually!” for much of this pregnancy, but nature has a way of tapping the brakes coming into the homestretch, or something like that.

Plus, I think with this being my fourth championship round in 5 years, my body be like “oh hellllll no, not doing this again.” And so I find myself feeling suddenly very much like a nap-seeking elderly missile tottering through the afternoons trying to keep bleary eyes peeled wide enough to read the instructions on the Trader Joe’s pizza dough bag.

Know what I think the biggest culprit is?


Oy. I’ve never called myself a sweets person, always preferring the salt and vinegar chip bowl over the cookie platter, but I’m definitely seeing an uptick in my refined crack consumption this pregnancy. Maybe it’s because we’ve discovered Honey Maid graham crackers are dairy free and, therefore, have a seemingly endless supply of them on hand for poor casein-averse Joey, or maybe it’s because I’m gaining weight like a freight train anyway, so yolo, Cherry Garcia, but…enough.

I’ve been toying with the idea of going off sugar during this pregnancy for a while now. I did a 30 day no sugar challenge with Nell right after Christmas and felt so good by the end, but then I just went right back to my jelly-on-toast loving ways. Because here’s the thing, it’s actually much easier for me to be abstinent from something entirely than to exercise moderation, which is both an innate personality trait and a moral flaw that needs refining.

Case in point? (And here’s where the “budget” piece of this comes in): I haven’t set foot inside of Target for 5 solid months. And while I dearly miss my Up and Up brand diapers and my quick emotional pick me up on those difficult mothering days, it has essentially cured my overspending in the “home goods/clothing/blow” category (well, almost) just to stop shopping there.

And hey, if I can quit Big Red, I should be able to walk away from my beloved morning toast with jam. Right? Right.

I’d venture to say that for many women, pregnancy is tough in one way or another. For some moms it’s debilitating morning sickness and months-long nausea. For others it’s gestational diabetes, feelings of extreme anxiety or depression, or just a general experience of aches and pains. Maybe it’s fatigue or heartburn. Or maybe it’s just hard to see those numbers going up on the scale and that waistline expanding ever outward. For moms who were once girls who struggled with eating disorders, it can be a traumatizing jaunt down memory lane, into the land of the scale-as-god, good food vs. bad food, and punishing consequences for making the wrong choices at the table.

I’ve definitely found myself in the latter category, now four times over. And honestly? It hasn’t gotten a whole lot easier. If anything I’m more resigned to the inevitability of the weight gain because I know what happens despite my best intentions and most diligent efforts at the gym, and yeah, also because so far, I’ve been able to regain some measure of bodily equilibrium in between rounds.

But it’s still tough. And it’s really tempting to just admit defeat and eat the (insert cliche pregnancy craving here), because no matter what I put into the tank, that belly is just getting bigger and bigger.

However, with three other little people depending on me to keep my energy up and my mood stable for the whole day, not just until 3 pm, I really have to rethink my technique, especially now heading into (dare I hope?) summer.

So would you do me a favor? Would you pray for me? The spirit is willing, but the maternity-denim clad flesh is weak. Especially around nap time every afternoon.

And let me know if you have any tips or tricks up your sleeves? Got any third trimester best practices to share? Do tell.

2 john pauls

Unrelated photo of baby John Paul and baby John Paul II in honor of the elder’s birthday today.


All Aboard

May 15, 2015

Today one of my very favorite bloggers is sharing her story in this space, and it’s a good one. Katrina works and chases her two sweet baby boys (plus one on the way) in South Bend, Indiana alongside her scholarly husband Chris. She recently opened a gorgeous Etsy shop, Hatch Prints, featuring stunning hand-lettered Catholic and Christian artwork, and I hope when you’re done reading you’ll click ourself over there and start swooning.


This is really long. Everyone always says that people don’t want to read long things, but I’m not everyone. I normally want to read long love story posts and long NFP posts, and I want it all in one place. So maybe take breaks if you aren’t like me.

I’m not going to get into the teachings on NFP because you can find those very eloquently written about in many forms whether they be encyclicals or blog posts. I don’t intend any of this to end in debate. I hate confrontation. This post has been in my drafts for months and my mind for longer, but I was finally inspired to share by this post to finish it and press publish. As you read, remember that this is our ongoing relationship with using NFP, not everyone’s.However, I feel like there are more practicing couples out there that would resonate with some straight talk.


“All aboard! All aboard!” Ryan kept bellowing from atop an upside down white laundry basket.

He had recently woken up which, of course, began the domino effect of his being up spurring his baby brother being up spurring me being up. We were up!

“All aboard!”

I asked him, “Are you a conductor?”

“No. I’m just a kid saying. ‘All aboard!'”


We knew and currently know the beauty of the teachings behind NFP. When we were engaged, there was never any question if we were going to use NFP, but there also wasn’t any question if we were going to wait or not to expand our family of two to a family of three. We were going to wait. Sure, I’d daydream about having our babies the second we got married, but that just wasn’t in the plans.

Two years. Yes, two years. Two years would give us plenty of time to pay a good chunk of student loans off. There was no way we could afford children while paying off students loans at first. Plus, we were already going against the grain by tying the knot, and I couldn’t imagine ruffling more feathers by putting eggs in the newlywed nest.

But, I didn’t do anything about it until four months or so before the wedding. This demonstrates that the gravity of our financial situation maybe wasn’t as grave as we thought.

I finally saw a flyer at my school for NFP classes and went by myself. I really was actually by myself because I was the only person beside the teacher who showed up, and Chris lived almost two hours away at the time. Fortunately for the kind teacher, NFP was already going to be the way for us, I didn’t need any convincing. She had been teaching for decades, and her material showed it. She taught using slides. Not PowerPoint slides. Real, click, click slides. The rest of her outdated materials are beside the point. What I heard from her that came from her well-intentioned heart, was that NFP would be easy. The idea wasn’t that abstaining would be easy, but that the science of it would be easy. It was the same thing I heard from every other couple I had asked. Just temp and check throughout the day and chart and you will be able to tell when you ovulate! What a blessing!

(I want to put it out there that I am not a good example if you do really do have grave reasons to avoid pregnancy and need to be diligent about charting and avoiding. Find a teacher who works for you and begin at least six months before your wedding. It’s never too early to learn NFP. I’m pretty adamant about teaching our daughters someday about NFP once they reach maturity and raising our boys to know that NFP takes two people. There is nothing dangerous about knowing more about how a woman’s body works – Chris might claim there’s something distinctly dangerous about NOT knowing how it works).

I half-heartedly starting charting using a computer program, and I was as stumped as my sophomore self in macroeconomics. My mind was mostly preoccupied with what our honeymoon would be like, fun or not, and every new day charted seemed to contradict the previous day’s forecast for fun or not. With a generous estimate, I had maybe three full charts completed before April 2011. But, oh well, I was told that it was going to be easy so I naïvely thought it would take care of becoming easy on its own! We were totally good was my stubborn thought.

Our honeymoon consisted of alternating between having the time of our lives and shrugging bewilderedly at the signs of the day.

I remember someone strongly telling us on our honeymoon to wait two years to have children, and I completely agreed, definitely. We were going to wait.

Then I remember being home in Chicago a couple weeks later and venting to Chris in our room that I had no idea what was happening and that we could be pregnant. That thought – that possibility I let gestate in my mind suddenly became something that I wanted. It was kind of like the moment I realized I had a crush on Chris. I didn’t know I liked him until I realized he might not ask me to be his date, and I didn’t know I wanted a baby until I realized there might not be one. I realized I wanted to be a mother right then, but damn it, wasn’t NFP supposed to be easy?

Chris told me that if we were pregnant, it would be wonderful. That would be a gift – but also that the odds were incredibly low. We weren’t intending to try, but we always knew our intimacy was open to God’s plan.

His words soothed me and they are some of the most favorite words he has ever spoken to me, but as the week went on, there was that tug-o-war I had planted in my mind. I want a baby, but I’m supposed to make NFP work – I can’t be a part of another “‘What do you call people who use NFP?’ ‘Parents!'” joke.

NFP didn’t make us parents. The birds and the bees made us parents.

And then April 29th came. It was the 35th day of my cycle and the longest cycle I had had before the wedding that had been charted was 35 days. I watched the Royal Wedding in the wee hours of the morning, and that night the test turned positive pretty much before I could say wee. That’s a slight exaggeration, of course.

I was ecstatic to be pregnant. But there was that tug-o-war! At the same time, I was also mortified to be pregnant. To my mistaken mind, our honeymoon souvenir meant that I lost a victory for NFP. Easy NFP that is already such a hard sell. I felt horrible that I was going to deter couples from even considering it.

When I told all of my friends we were having a honeymoon baby, I’d follow up each time with a quick plea, “But make sure you tell everyone that we didn’t follow the rules! We knew we were open! NFP does work, we just didn’t really use it correctly!”

Thank you, God, for that.

Thank you, God, for not giving us our plan.

Thank you, God, for showing us that there doesn’t have to be a one hundred percent success avoidance rate for NFP to work.

Thank you, God, for showing us that, bottom line, NFP is about life.

Thank you, God, for giving us our honeymoon souvenir.

Thank you, God, for giving us someone who is half me, half my husband, and all yours. Thank you for giving us our son.

A honeymoon baby seems to have made us more daring because we are more at peace with a plan that isn’t our own. I can tell you that if Ryan hadn’t been born, Chris wouldn’t be chasing our dream in grad school right now. He would still be working a lucrative, cut-throat job that made him miserable.

We have learned that for us at this time of life, NFP is fittingly more like a dare than a promise. I dare you to trust me. Now, I’m more of a truth girl, but I’m going to keep choosing dare.

Once Ryan was uncorked, we knew that we wanted to him to have siblings so Conor was planned. Well, he was loosely planned. This baby just made us laugh. I’m already brainstorming what method will be employed after this little girl or boy. My planning ahead shows that we aren’t considering jumping ship.

But that doesn’t mean it is easy.

NFP is gold, but NFP is hard.

Attempting to learn NFP while nursing and walking in the fuzzy cloud of newborn mom brain for months was, no wait, will continue to be agony.

At present, our reaction when we look at my charts the majority of the time would be most accurately and almost most bluntly described as, “WTF WTF WTF.”

However, we choose to be here. I personally don’t feel enslaved to Church teaching, I feel free, humbled and pretty damn lucky.

But how can we fix the marketing? How can we enhance how NFP teachers and users communicate the stunning difficulty to those dipping their toes into the waters without scaring them away? That, yes, NFP is beautiful, but often the beauty really starts to shine and grow after sifting through the grit. I don’t have answers for those complex questions, but I know that I can start by being honest about its beauty and its cross when couples come to me asking questions.

It’s been over four years since I saw those blue lines cross, and I still cringe at my attempts to defend NFP rather than fully and unabashedly celebrating our newest vocation. Is Ryan a lost victory for NFP? No, he is just a soul saying, “Lead me home!”

What ongoing conversion looks like, in spandex

May 13, 2015

Well, that was a little weird…I never imagined the post I’d finally have to disable comments for – after all the crazy, controversial, hard to swallow stuff we’ve discussed here over the years – would be about pet parenthood. Internet, you so crazy.

It’s worth noting, I think, that when something is so controversial, has become so much of an aptly-named cultural sacred cow that you mustn’t dare to question it lest you become the target of vicious ad hominem attacks…you’re probably on to something.

Know what I mean?

(Oh, and just an FYI, if your diatribe is so incoherent/caustic/profane that I wouldn’t let you say it to me in my living room…it’s getting deleted.)

Anywho, I plan to revisit the insanity that is the fur baby phenomenon sometime at a later date, because there’s a whole lot more there to unpack, but for now let’s sail into more civil waters and talk about race relations and climate change.

(Just kidding.)

What I really want to talk about is how I spent the end of the day yesterday publicly debating the death penalty with a 50 year old man at the gym, and how surprising it was for me to find myself arguing not for capital punishment, but against it.

(Gosh, this one’s going to be touchy too, isn’t it? Forging ahead anyway.)

So there I was, stretching out after a vigorous 2.5 mile stroll to the tune of back-to-back episodes of Flip or Flop when the conversation of another gym goer and his personal trainer became so animated I couldn’t help but listen in. I probably could have refrained from commenting if only the gym rat in question hadn’t seen fit to illustrate his enthusiastically pro death penalty position by turning, making a gun out of his thumb and pointer finger, and pretending to shoot me in all my spandex-d pregnant glory while loudly asking his dumbfounded spotter,

“What about now, is it okay if I shoot her and her baby? Now do I deserve to die?”

They probably didn’t count on me joining in on their very public discourse at that juncture, but let me just say, he picked the wrong pregnant woman to mess with, and on the wrong day.


I raised a sweaty eyebrow at him from my precarious position on the mat and unleashed the full force of my motherly hormones.

“Excuse me, do you think it’s appropriate what you just did there, using me and my unborn child as a prop in your ridiculous argument?”

Crickets, then hysterical laughter masking the obvious panic in both their eyes. (Especially the gym employee’s, I might add. Don’t worry buddy, I won’t report you. Wink.)

“Furthermore,” I continued, building up steam, “the conversation you’re having? It’s crazy to suggest that shooting up everyone on death row is going to contribute in some way to the healing and rebuilding of our broken culture.” He had been listing off mass murderers and terrorists of recent notoriety, Holmes and Tsarnov being his two final entries.

He chucked at me and guffawed a patronizing you don’t want to be debating philosophy with me, sweetheart.”

Oh, hell yes I did.

“Is that right?” I returned sweetly, cocking my head. “You probably shouldn’t have invited me into the conversation the way you did, then.”

We went back and forth for a good 10 minutes, trading statistics (he was vvvvvery excited to point out that bullets cost only .$35 cents a piece when I asked him what was the value of a single human life) and concepts of the soul, morality, divine justice and the price of vengeance.

I don’t think I changed his mind, and he certainly didn’t change mine, but the last exchange between us will haunt me forever.

“What about the person whose duty the execution itself will fall to? What about the burden on his or her soul, to force an innocent third party to take a human life at the instruction of the State? What about the cost to their soul?”

“Doesn’t matter,” my trigger happy friend shook his head emphatically, “the animal forfeited his right to life when he did the crime. Now he has to die.”

“But,” I persisted, “there’s a difference between a concealed weapon carrying movie-goer taking him out during the killing spree (dear God I wish that had been the case) and a prison official flipping a switch 3 years after the fact. One is self defense, the other is another murder.”

“Hell no it’s not,” gym guy shouted, “it’s vengeance! Justice is ugly!”

And then I pointed one swollen finger to the ceiling of the gym and shook my head slowly back and forth, “not His justice.”

He laughed and waved me off and I returned my foam roller to the pile and started to walk away. But I stopped and turned to him and left him with one final zinger,

“My dad’s a card-carrying NRA member, just so you know. I know how to shoot a gun, and I wish to God someone with a concealed carry permit had been there in the audience that night, to take down James Holmes when he opened fire in a theater full of innocents. But there wasn’t. Killing him now, 3 years after the fact, and calling it justice? That’s not self defense. And it doesn’t bring any of his victims back to life.”

He waved me off and gave me a thumbs up and said something about the Second Amendment and we parted ways, and I dazedly wove my way through rows of weight training equipment to the exit.

It was a weird ending to an even weirder day, and as I slipped behind the wheel of my mini van to drive home, maneuvering my growing belly as I turned the key, the adrenaline draining from my tired body, I couldn’t believe that I’d said the things I’d said.

One, because public discourse with strangers at the gym isn’t exactly my forte, especially while visibly pregnant. But more than that, I was shocked to discover that the things I’d said to him were truly coming from my heart and not just my brain.

Because, you see, up until a year or two ago, you’d have found us both on the same side of the argument: his.

I thought about how transformed this particular area of my heart had become, even now in my thirties when my opinions and worldview were fairly well-shaped, and how unlikely it was that I’d actually done a complete 180 on the matter.

College Jenny would not have recognized mother-0f-4-Jenny, let’s just say that.

Justice has always been easier for me to swallow than mercy. But the older I get, the more I see how desperately I depend upon the later, even while more naturally identifying with the former.

Most of all I thought about all the conversations I’ve had with friends and strangers alike about the issue of abortion, particularly the “hard cases” involving rape and incest. Their arguments all hinged very much on a warped understanding of justice, a very real – though misdirected – “eye for an eye” mentality.

“If I could be won over to the side of mercy for the most heinous criminals, there’s no pro-abortion apologist who is beyond redemption,” I found myself almost whispering in the silence of the car.

Truly, none of us are beyond hope, not until the very moment of our death.

Such is the wisdom of our Mother the Church who calls us to ongoing, lifelong conversion, both in matters to which we readily give our allegiance and to the harder things, the ones that cause us to wrestle and struggle and catch our breath in frustration. Where there is resistance to the wisdom of the Church, there is room for the Holy Spirit, just so long as we leave the door open.

God, help me leave even the tiniest crack. You’ve done more with less, I can see that plainly now. (And also, at least for the next 3 months? Maybe fewer opportunities like that one, because I don’t know how good it was for my blood pressure. K, thanks.)

ocean mercy

To the dog mom in Whole Foods

May 11, 2015

Man, some titles just write themselves, you know what I mean?

But seriously, yesterday, Mother’s Day, did indeed find me pounding the polished floors of Whole Paycheck for a quick pickup of vegan donuts (fail. The vegans come early on Sundays, I guess) and a last minute (sorry, mom!) bouquet of peonies to bring to brunch at the in laws. I figured I’d grab a quick cappuccino for my troubles on the way out, since I’d otherwise be leaving the premises for under $30 and therefore probably stopped and searched.

I stepped into a robust line of caffeine seekers bellying up to the coffee bar and observed the friendly chaos bustling around me. Off to the cafe side of the store wound a busy buffet line filled with happy breakfasters loading up recyclable paper plates with all manner of frittatas and free range goodies. I correctly deduced it to be some kind of Mother’s Day brunch, and it smelled fantastic.

As I waited for my dry cappuccino to materialize from behind the bank of espresso machines, a young woman carrying a ceramic teapot let herself behind the bar to fill up with hot water and chat up the barista on duty. Gesturing to the busy crowd of diners she remarked on the morning’s success to her (I presumed) co-worker.

“So are you a mom?” teapot girl asked barista girl

“Oh, no. Well, I mean, I’m a dog mom, I guess.”

Teapot girl excitedly clapped her teapot lid back down and put a reassuring arm on barista girl’s shoulder while giggling delightedly,

“Well that’s a mom! Of course that’s a mom! Happy Mother’s Day to you!”

Barista girl smiled and returned the question, causing teapot girl’s smile to waver.

“Oh, I just don’t have enough to give to an animal right now. I really want a cat, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be around enough to give it what it needs.”

Barista girl nodded sagely and complimented teapot girl on her maturity and discernment and the conversation came to a close, but not without a final “Happy Mother’s Day!” and a giggle exchanged for the canine caretaker.

On the one hand it was funny, because here I was witnessing a living, breathing Whole Foods stereotype as it played out before my own eyes. You can’t Youtube parody something that good.

On the other hand, I felt a deep pang of sadness and, honestly, something a little bit like anger, because ladies, ladies…being a pet owner does not make you a mother.

I understand (intellectually, at least, because poop in the grass and shedding….ugh) that a dog can theoretically be a delightful companion, and that people can – and do – form real bonds with animals.

But at the same time my heart aches over the idea that the lofty calling, the sacred vocation of motherhood which is written into the very fabric of the feminine soul…has come to mean so little, at least in some circles.

And before anybody brings it up, yes, I realize they could have been joking, and yes, sarcasm and all that…but if you could have heard the sincerity in their exchange and seen the fervor in their eyes as they discussed responsible pet parenting, you wouldn’t be so quick to jump to that perhaps more logical conclusion. Maybe if the exchange had taken place in Costco or Trader Joe’s.

We live in a culture that has been quick to discard traditional roles and definitions of virtue, and where the rights of self definition and choose-your-own identity have come to be regarded as synonymous with freedom.

And yet the human heart still aches to do what it was made for: to give and to receive love.

Not merely affection, not only companionship, not just a salve for loneliness and a convenient prop for selfies, but real love. Demanding love. Painful and pain-filled love. A love that suffers and, yes, perhaps even dies for the beloved.

So unless you are Lassie’s mommy, this probably doesn’t carry over into the typical scenario of pet ownership.

Yes, pets can be wonderful companions and bring life and joy to the family – but they can never be your family. They cannot return life-giving love, nor do they demand it in return.

No matter how much you feel your dog loves you, the absence of a rational, immortal soul renders that sweet and furry creature incapable of truly returning your affection. Slobbery kisses, maybe, but the capacity to truly “will the good of the other” as defines human love, even unto to the point of death?

Sorry, ain’t happening.

And the other thing about dog “motherhood?” Well it’s the perfect substitution for a generation such as ours, because it’s so much less demanding than the real thing, as Pope Francis himself helpfully illustrated last summer. And we’re nothing if not stingy in our capacity for self donation. (yours truly vvvvvvvery much included in this indictment.)

No matter how tiny and needy and cute, a puppy will never, ever ask of you what a baby will.

A dog can (usually) be satiated with a dish of food and a warm place to sleep. He can be dropped off with a neighbor or checked into a kennel for a spontaneous girl’s weekend in Vegas. When a major illness or a life threatening injury strikes, he can even be euthanized to spare him from additional suffering.

In other words? Dogs don’t suffer much from the narcissistic shortcomings of their “parents,” and there’s a finite capacity of self investment required.

Win/win, right?

Well, not quite. Because there is still that pesky, innate desire to nurture and to be needed, that capacity for self gift and receptivity which every woman is uniquely designed with, whether or not she ever actually physically bears children. 

Isn’t that wild?

St. John Paul II spoke almost constantly of the feminine genius of receptivity, and that every woman is uniquely and unequivocally called to motherhood, regardless of her state in life or even her physical capacity to bear it out.

Ven. Fulton Sheen put it in plainer terms: “Every woman in the world was made to be a mother either physically or spiritually.”

To conflate motherhood with pet ownership is wrong because the object of the love is too finite, yes, but also because the lover in question – the mother – is capable of so much more, and indeed, is called to so much more.

So I propose a striking of the term “dog mother/ pet parent” from the collective lexicon. It might be good for a laugh, but when you start to notice real conviction and fervent practice behind the concept, it’s not quite so cute.

(Thanks for the great material, Whole Foods. And in all seriousness, your vegan donuts are absolutely delicious. Next time I’ll come earlier.)


Coffee Clicks {Volume 3}

May 8, 2015

Greetings from the Pacific Northwest. Seriously. We’re on day 4 of a solid week of forecasted rain, thunder storms, and then (oh joy) snow on Sunday, and it’s so lush and green (and humid!!!!!!!) outside that my dry, cracked Colorado heart can hardly stand it. And I don’t mean that in an endearing way.

Still, it’s good for fire season, or the hopeful lack thereof.

I have some super interesting stuff for you guys to feast your brains on today, but first can I just share a little thriftstore victory with you?

This wall above our bed has been nekkid (or decorated well beneath Lord David’s tastes. RIP gold stick on 3D Target flower decals) for the past 18 + months we’ve lived in this house, and I’m soooooooo happy to have something I really love filling that space at long last. And the best part? Under $6 at my fav local thrift store. All the heart eye’d emojis for Littleton Saver’s 4ever.


1. This first piece answers a burning (and maybe politically incorrect?) question I’ve long wanted to ask but never quite been able to find the polite phrasing. (Though my mom’s usual nail tech is actually a Vietnamese man who rescued an incredible number of fellow refugees from a boat wreck off the coast in their escape attempt and lived to tell the tale. He’s amazing.) But isn’t this so cool?

2. This one is kind of gross, and science-y…but Dave and I both read it and were positively enthralled (and kind of disgusted). I think you’ll feel similarly. Especially about his eye changing from blue to green. (Shiver.)

3. Maybe this will break your heart, and maybe it should. All the prayers for the consolation of beautiful Madison’s family, and a sobering gut check for the rest of us on the dangerous discrepancy that can exist between the real world and the world we edit/filter/share on social media. Rest in peace, and may her story inspire courage and compassion for other victims of depression and anxiety who struggle with suicidal urges. It’s never, ever too late to ask for help. (And it’s never too late to reach out to someone and act on that uneasy feeling in your gut, either.) Until it is.

4. Is there anything more hilarious than a left leaning human of the masculine persuasion trying to dissect the Catholic Church’s “oppression” of women from the female perspective? Nope, didn’t think so. Brilliant job, Mary.

5. Katrina nailed this one down tight. I sometimes struggle with the balance of portraying the realness of NFP with the heartbreaking beauty of it. She cuts right to the heart of the matter, and does it much more gently than I usually manage.

I hope you have yourselves a fabulous weekend, friends. And I hope you are able to offer the mama in your life (I’m talking to you, guys) what she’s really hoping for this Mother’s Day: unconditional love.


The best Mother’s Day gift ever (and it’s probably not what you’re thinking)

May 7, 2015

Once upon a time during the last stretch of post partum insanity in our house, I found myself brushing my teeth and simultaneously indulging in one of those always, always ill-advised  full-length mirror assessment sessions.

As I scrubbed and flossed and spit, my eyes narrowed as they travelled discontentedly from north to south, critiquing, assessing, and generally surveying the damage wrought by sweet baby number 3, at this point nearing her 5th month ex utero.

(grumble, inaudible huffing, grouse) “I’m still so fat. I can’t believe this is real life.”

No response from the master bedroom which adjoins our bathroom.


Silence from beyond the door, then the sound of a page turning.

Rolling my eyes, I holstered my toothbrush and returned to the bedroom, flopping onto the end of our bed and sighing heavily. Dave looked at me over the top of his book and his eyes softened as he lowered it to his chest. Now I had his attention.

“Sweetheart, you’re beautiful. And you had a baby not too long ago. Be merciful with yourself.”

I was in no place to be so easily consoled, so I grumbled something about that elusive “body after baby” and how hard I’d been working out with a trainer at our gym, and how wasn’t it a delightful fairytale spun by lactation elves that breastfeeding melts away the baby weight?

Undeterred, he spoke again, and this is where he said the thing that I’ll remember forever, the thing that told me that we’re in this for the long haul, and that he gets it, that he sees what I’ve given up and what’s been given over and what, exactly, has been sacrificed on the altar of motherhood:

“Don’t compare yourself to women who are contracepting. You’ve been generous with your body, and it shows. You gave life to our children.”

My jaw dropped and I promptly burst into tears, because there it was, in three simple statements.

Here was the actualization of what we’d been professing in those early years of our marriage, what we’d spoken in our vows, and what we had discerned time and again as the prudent course of action (another baby, another little soul…and another 18 months of utter loss of bodily autonomy for mommy.)

And he got it. He got it in a way that I didn’t even fully get, at least not without his help.

Ever since my wise husband spoke those life-giving, life-affirming words to me, I’ve found such solace and some real healing in what has been a life-long struggle with disordered eating and poor body image and a general disposition towards self deprecation, particularly where full-length mirrors are involved.

And while I’d certainly never have put my finger on it without his help, his observation was spot on, at least for me.

And it’s the greatest gift I’ve ever been given as a mother (I mean, besides the kids themselves.)

I have never looked “recovered” from childbirth and pregnancy within the culturally-expected timeframe, at least not the one playing out in my mind. Even “nine months on, nine months off” has proven a tad ambitious in my case, at least beyond baby number two. This is not the case for every mom, because genetics and body types and all kinds of reasons beyond anyone’s control.

But the point is, I’ve never looked like I didn’t have a baby a year after the fact. One, because I had, in fact, had a baby, and two, because, at least so far by that point, there’s always been another little someone coming down the pike.

I’m not saying this scenario is familiar to everybody, or that it will resonate for every woman, but there is a common truth that I’ve clung to, and that I wish I could speak to the heart of every married woman, whether she be 24 or 67, and it’s this:

It’s okay to look like a mother.

It’s okay to look like you’ve had babies, to have babies, to have a body that is strong and capable and soft and maybe a few (or more than a few) pounds heavier than you would prefer it to be.

It’s okay to be criss-crossed with Cesarian section scars, weighted down by the unwanted pounds that accompany hormone injections and which linger long after the broken hopes and dashed dreams following a(nother) miscarriage.

It’s okay to look like we’re doing battle here, because we are.

And it’s so, so much easier (still not easy, but easier) to come to a place of acceptance of the natural consequences of openness to life and generosity when you have a man by your side who has eyes to see the beauty, the sacrifice, and the realness of motherhood, and who can tell you with a straight face that it’s fine that you don’t look like your neighbor or your best friend or his co-worker in the office down the hall or a faceless stranger on the internet…because his eyes and his heart are working in tandem, and they’re both looking at you.

And I think that NFP has a lot to do with that. Aside from his natural virtue, his pursuit of holiness, and his dedication to the vocation of marriage and fatherhood, I see how NFP has taught us both rich, deep, hard lessons about what is real, about what matters, and about what real beauty constitutes.

I’d say this is the number one benefit to practicing NFP, at least in our experience.

Because yes, it’s hard, and yes, so much is about sacrifice and self denial and sometimes even suffering. But I look at the fruit of it and I have nothing but gratitude. Well, and stretch marks. But hey, there’s a cream for that now!

week of motherhood

The Baby Some Said We Should Never Have

May 6, 2015

When I read Kathryn of Team Whitaker’s beautiful birthday tribute to her sweet baby girl, one-year-0ld Gianna, I knew I had to share it with you guys. Kathryn is the sweet mama to 6 beautiful children, wife to Scott, and a master decorator (and party planner extraordinaire of the greater ATX, I suspect).

Ready your Kleenex for some beautiful words on motherhood. And happy birthday, baby G!


Dear Sweet G,

You are one today. ONE. Dang, that 365 days flew by in a hurry.

When we shared with the world that we were expecting you, we got lots of raised eyebrows. It happens when you’re baby number six. It also happens when the baby before you was born premature and had a really, really rough go.

But you know what?

All those raised eyebrows people would be shaking their heads in shame because the joy and the healing that you’ve brought to this house is immeasurable. We had no idea when we prayed to God to heal our family, to take away our fear and to transplant it with faith and love that He would send us you.

That God, He’s smart. And generous.

You have so many nicknames – Sweet G, Geeger McGeegerson, Gigi, Geegers – and you smile at them all.

In the last two weeks you’ve started crawling. But in typical Whitaker fashion it is not a “traditional crawl.” It’s a bit of a pike, with a foot drag and a booty shake. It’s hilarious and we love it. The kids are finally starting to believe me about putting up the legos. Can you get them to put up their socks, too?

You sleep great at night, but the day times are dicey. I can’t say that sleep is your forte, but really it’s just so overrated.

All your siblings fight over holding you, playing with you and sitting next to you. They scatter like monkeys when I ask for assistance in diaper changing, though.

We tend to fall in the conservative camp when it comes to feeding. You just started a few table foods in the last week or two and you’re particularly taken with Babybel cheese and yogurt. Ah, another dairy lover. Be still my agricultural heart.

I think it’s because I’m still what you like to call “dinner,” but you and I are pretty tight. You’re not a big fan of me leaving for any period of time. I’m not sure how many more weeks or months I have left to nurse you, but I have cherished every single session. Thinking about giving that up brings me to tears so please don’t give up on me now.

Over this past year, I’ve been able to see motherhood in such a different light. I thought we had it all figured out with you. I mean, we’ve sleep trained babies before, we’ve transitioned them to cereal and encouraged them to find their new-found crawling freedom. But what I wasn’t expecting is how much you would change us, at our core. How much joy you would bring to our house. How much clarity in the things that matter. How much greater you would increase our faith.

To be 100% honest, I would go back and live your “birth” day in a heartbeat. Was that natural birth one of the hardest things I’ve ever done? You bet it was. But, girl, you sanctified me. Scott and I poured so much love into that delivery. It was life-changing.

You see, us moms of six *think* we have it figured out and then a new life comes along and surprises us. You remind me that I need to slow down a little, enjoy this season of parenthood more and put more faith in God’s plan for our life.

What one man once called our oops, I call our saving grace.

Gianna, for all my living days I will credit you with showing our family how to live. With joy, and faith and purpose – and not giving a damn what other people think. This is the good life and having you here with us is a tremendous blessing.

Happy birthday sweetheart. Let’s go take one by storm. I love you.

week of motherhood