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.


September 2014
August 2014

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Have a great year! you are correct; it is the students that the school year is all about. And yes, many fellow teachers are really helpful or can give you a smile or laugh when things are not going so well. Ask for help or advice especially on those small things that never come up in Teacher Ed. like fire drills, attendance, and heat waves or cold rooms etc.


Great article.



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Painting with mud

“Dirt,” the second-grade teacher told me when I asked her what they were learning in science class.  Since St. Joan of Arc is a STEM school, I’m trying to tie material from other classes into my art lessons. The eighth grade was learning about heat, so we used a hot plate and crayons to create melted wax images on aluminum foil. The seventh-grade was learning about solubility, so we combined salt and watercolor paints for a cool tie-dye effect. But, dirt?

Naturally, I consulted Google for advice. I found a home-school mom’s website with pictures from a mud day.  Her children were encapsulated in dirt and mud. I decided rather quickly that I should make every effort to keep my students’ uniforms crisp and white.

Then, I stumbled upon something awesome: the dirty car artist, Scott Wade. This guy carves masterpieces into the thick dirt found on the back windows of people’s cars.  But, where was I going to find 18 dirty cars (and stepstools) to make this happen?

Louisiana Mud Painting looked promising, until I learned that I’d need to travel all over Harford County –and perhaps even the state of Maryland—to find the many types of soil I’d need to offer a range of colors.

I was stumped and running out of time.  That’s usually when I pray. I fixed myself a sandwich (also a good time to pray) and returned to Google one last time before deferring to a plan B assignment. This time, I stumbled upon something new: Korhogo Cloth (African Mud Painting)

The material used for the painting looked similar to burlap.  I had a roll of it left over from Collin’s Scarecrow costume last year and a pot of dirt that used to be a plant (I’m a horrible gardener for a farmer’s wife), so I mixed some dirt and water in a plastic bowl and used one of Frank’s old paintbrushes to paint a house on the fabric.  It looked great, but when I moved it after it dried, all of the mud flaked off.

As it turned out, it needed a binder.  We were out of eggs, so I used some brown tempera paint (it has egg as a binder) to make the mud smoother and stickier.  This time, it looked great.  I mixed up a bucketful for the students, poured into little white plastic bowls, warned them that even though it looked like chili, they shouldn’t eat it, and let them go to town on their pieces of burlap.

Thanks to God for directing me to a cool project idea, the students’ projects were a great success.




September 09, 2014 02:44
By Robyn Barberry

The best advice I've ever received as a parent: 'It gets better'

While I was waiting to pay for Frank’s haircut, a boy three times his size played peekaboo with Frank from behind a tower of shampoos and conditioners. Frank shrieked with delight, looking especially dapper with his newsman hair. The bigger boy’s father sat across from me in a Miami Dolphins hat and jersey. His eyes were the color of the Caribbean. He’d passed them-along with thick black hair and eyebrows-onto his son.

“It’s been so long since my boy was that size,” he said. 

I braced myself for another lecture on how “time flies,” “enjoy it: they grow so fast,” “you’ll miss this,” and, of course, “these are the best years of your life.”

I know that people mean well when they say things like that, but it always brings me down. It’s a reminder that all the joy I’m experiencing is fleeting. I’ll soon be alone, without a sense of purpose, and before I know it I’ll be dead.

Of course, that’s not the intention. People are taking a moment to live vicariously through my life as the mother of three very young boys. They’re wistfully recalling their own experiences and regretting the times they so desperately wanted their children to grow up. They don’t want me to make their mistakes. No “Cats in the Cradle” to be had here. These kind strangers want me to appreciate the humor, the warmth, and the light which permeates my every day by the very presence of my beautiful sons. And so, they remind –no warn—me of the changes to come.

But this Dan Marino look-alike was different.

“It was fun, but I don’t miss it,” he says. “It’s so much better now.”

He explained that his wife works an intense job, so he is the primary parent to their 10-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter. He enjoyed taking care of them as babies, but hasn’t forgotten the frustrations of diapers, sleepless nights, and carrying around more luggage than most airlines would allow.

I dashed toward Frank to keep him from running out the front door and into the busy parking lot, but his big friend got there first and picked him up. I asked his father, “So, how is it better?”

“You get to know them for the people they are. They have more developed personalities. You can have real conversations with them. They make you laugh. You get to work on projects together. You can take them anywhere, even on roller coasters.”

I was intrigued. I’d never had this conversation before. All I hear about is how the life I’m living at this very moment is the best that it will ever be. That’s no way for anyone to live. My boys are sweet, and funny, and loving right now, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be in the future. Why can’t I keep loving them more and more every day? I know that they will separate from me eventually, and that there will be times I will want to send them back to Franklin Square where I found them, but that will be the right time for me to pursue that PhD and write that book I’ve been dreaming about. And there will be time for baseball games and science fair projects and stroller-free family vacations in between.
So, thank you, Super Dad, from Super Cuts. It would be nice if more people shared your perspective on life. I hope I can maintain it, even when the going gets rough. Watching your son play with mine was a nice peek at the good things headed my way.    

September 08, 2014 09:17
By Robyn Barberry

The BooHoo/YeeHaw Breakfast

It was an emotional week for many of my friends as we sent our 5-year-olds off to kindergarten. Some are excited, some nervous, some relieved, and some devastated. It is, after all, a major transition from raising the little kid whose life revolves around home to raising the big kid whose life revolves around school. I imagine this is an especially tough separation for moms who stay at home, so I will say some extra prayers for them and encourage them to volunteer at their child’s school if they can.

I’m handing it considerably well. I worked two jobs and went to grad school when Collin was little, so I’ve already experienced being away from him for long days at a time. It doesn’t mean that it was easy then or even easy now, but it’s somewhere I’ve already been. Even when I wasn’t working, I sent Collin to five-day preschool last year and all day camp twice a week this summer to get him used to being in a more structured environment. It also helped me to get used to Collin being somewhere else … but it’s still a little too quiet! I’m blessed to have the opportunity to send him to St. Joan of Arc, a family-like environment, with rigorous academics and strong a strong base in faith, right in our neighborhood, and where I also happen to work. I’ve gotten to know his teachers over the past couple of weeks and couldn’t trust him to more capable hands. I’m looking forward to being his teacher, too … though I imagine there will be some stories to come out of this experiment.

One of the greatest gifts St. Joan of Arc has to offer is a sense of community. I was delighted to find an invitation to the BooHoo/YeeHaw Breakfast for parents of new preschoolers and kindergarteners in Collin’s folder. There, in the church hall, I found a host of yummy breakfast treats and a warm circle of welcome from the Home/School Association, headed by Megan Cornett. She and other experienced SJA moms perambulated the room, introducing themselves and answering questions about school life and events.  

There seemed to be a whole lot more “Yeehawing” going on than “Boohooing,” which was uplifting. 

There were also two tables worth of volunteer sign-in sheets for various activities throughout the year. Halloween Party, Bowling Club, and Game Night, here I come!

It was most exciting to get the chance to meet some of the other parents. Not only could I bond with them over our common experience of handing over our children for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week for the first time, but I also got to know a little bit about their children, who will be my students and Collin’s friends for many years. As I fed Frank and Leo bits of a blueberry bagel, we had some great conversations about exciting fundraisers, choosing the right high school for each of your children, and the effect of social media on kids’ attention spans.

I walked away from the breakfast knowing that even when I do have boohoos while my children are St. Joan of Arc students, I’m surrounded by compassionate parents who have either been in my shoes, could imagine being in them, or are willing to let me borrow theirs for a while. And when we have yeehaws, there will be plenty of cheerleaders on our team!

September 03, 2014 04:56
By Robyn Barberry

A teacher's spirit

Believe it or not, there are a good number of teachers who cringe at the words “back to school.” I know they exist because I used to be one of them. I’d hide under my blanket (wait … it’s summer … how about beach towel?) when the first commercials for backpacks and notebooks aired. When that dreaded week of teacher return arrived, I’d suffer through one professional development and the next, longing for peaceful days uninhibited by rigid schedules forcefully punctuated by the garish sound of an electronic bell (if you can call it that).

Meetings about the educational theory du jour (insert acronym here) dragged on for hours and seldom themselves embraced the strategies they aimed to promote . The weight of 180 days’ worth of squabbles, stand-offs, and the doldrums caused me to sink in my chair, as I doodled my way through a drab lecture on discipline.

Once the kids arrived, I remembered why I was there. From the first handshake and smile I exchanged with the young people entrusted to my care, I felt that fire reignite.

Fortunately, most teachers who dread going back to school are, like me, soon reminded of how and why we got there in the first place. But, the meetings which precede the start of the school year needn’t be pointless and lackluster. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that to be the case over the past two weeks as a new teacher in the Archdiocese of Baltimore.  

The biggest difference between public schools and here, is that great care is taken to nourish a teacher’s spirit before the school year begins. I will admit, I had a stormy grey cloud over my head (figuratively and literally) when I drove to a new teacher retreat at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ellicott City. It was a long ride from my Aberdeen home, and I spent most of the time thinking about how much I wanted to be with my boys. But when I left that afternoon, I was changed. Here’s what happened:

·                    I joined a group of about 50 Catholics in the lovely and spacious Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church for prayerful reflection. I felt so encouraged in finding myself surrounded by teachers who were not only new to the system, as I was, but who also share my faith. In our small group discussions, we found we shared the same apprehensions and directed each other back to God in looking for solutions for our problems.

·                    We were led through various spiritual exercises by the gracious and able hands of Sister Sally Russell and Mrs. Julie St. Croix. Sister Sally is witty and stimulating, while Mrs. St. Croix is thought-provoking and soothing. They’re perfect complements for each other, and excellent teachers, who always kept our minds and spirits moving as we pondered things like identity, relationships, creation, Psalms, the trinity, and how we can improve our own faith communities.

·                    I left invigorated at the end of the second day, ready to embrace the Holy Spirit and to allow the Holy Spirit to embrace me. I smiled every time I thought about the presence of the Lord in my classroom being welcomed, rather than being told to leave my God at home. He’s always been with me. Now I can share Him with my colleagues and students.

Newly energized, I arrived to the St. Joan of Arc back-to-school meeting to find myself amongst kindred spirits. It’s a very small school, with less than 20 teachers, all of whom exude love for what they do. We met in a social studies and language arts teacher’s classroom which was so embellished with posters, maps and artifacts, I could barely tell what colors the walls were.

Everything in the room was beautiful, educational and inspiring. As I took in the replica ships and pirate statues (to connect to an upcoming novel) and an astonishing array of graphic organizers, I wanted to be one of that teacher’s students, and hope that my boys will be in a few years.

As we were waiting for the meeting to begin, our principal was passing out St. Francis prayer cards. “I had these blessed in Assisi,” she told us. She enthusiastically shared her vision for the year, touched on a few housekeeping matters, and sent us on our way to prepare for the students.

The next day, there was a brief technology meeting, followed by much more time to organize, plan, and decorate. I have never been blessed with so much time to get ready for my students, and for that I am tremendously grateful.

Friday was, for me, the highlight of the week. We celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of Mary our Queen with Archbishop Lori. I was greeted at the door by Elizabeth Ann Seton (okay, maybe it was an impersonator), and opened the door to find the entire edifice packed with people, teachers, who believe in God’s word and wish to pass it along (with some other material, too).

There were screens on either side of the church displaying photographs of teachers from the archdiocese who had met milestones in their careers. I was delighted to see the face of Mr. Craig White, my middle school social studies teacher and the world’s biggest fan of Hollywood’s golden age. He’s been teaching at St. Margaret’s for 40 years. I was equally excited to run into Mrs. Kathy Petrone, my second-grade teacher, who hasn’t changed a bit. (Maybe teaching is the secret to the fountain of youth.)  
The Mass was beautiful with traditional hymns, such as “Hail Holy Queen,” “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones,” and, of course, “Ave Maria.” The performers were excellent, with operatic vocals enveloping the space along with warm brass notes and the triumph of the organ. The Gospel, Luke 1:26-38 told the tale of the Annunciation. I reflected on how just as God called Mary to be the Mother of God’s Son Jesus, I feel that God planted the seed in me to be a teacher. I tried to stifle that light, but He reminded me of who I am meant to be by leading me to St. Joan of Arc. In his homily, the Archbishop urged us to call on Mary in times of distress and to live according to the beatitudes. All excellent advice for teachers embarking on a great new year.

Finally, the most special moment of the week occurred when my two cousins and I met outside of the church after Mass. By the grace of God, we have all found ourselves privileged enough to serve as teachers for the Archdiocese of Baltimore. My grandfather (their great-grandfather) set out to be a teacher during the Great Depression to follow in his sister’s footsteps. How wonderful it is that we’ve chosen to follow in his?

Having completed my first week, I am calmer, happier, and more motivated than I have ever been at the beginning of a school year. I attribute it to the meditation I was guided through at the retreat, to the warm welcome and generous gift of time I’ve received at my new school, and to the blessings I received during one of the most beautiful Masses I’ve ever attended. This year, it’s not going to be about survival, but spiritual growth.   

September 02, 2014 11:44
By Robyn Barberry

Back to school

When I put in my resignation letter to the public school system after delivering Leo in October, I didn’t think I’d ever find myself in this position again. I envisioned the end of August as being a time for me to prepare my own children for school, while anticipating a much-needed respite for myself. Instead, I’ve found myself surrounded by my own books, binders, posters, markers, and crayons, as I tumble into a great new teaching – and learning - adventure.

This time, it’s a whole new world for Mrs. Barberry. I spent the past 8 years teaching English, Creative Writing, Yearbook, and Drama to high school students in some of the most challenging public schools in the metropolitan area. And now? Art! - to preK-8 students at St. Joan of Arc (SJA) in Aberdeen.

I was honored when the school’s principal, Virginia Bahr, offered me the position. I’d mentioned that I’m certified to teach art a few years ago when I ran into her after Mass. She hadn’t forgotten, the opportunity had opened up, and the rest is history!

We were just getting ready to register Collin for kindergarten at SJA, when Mrs. Bahr invited me to join her faculty. It couldn’t have come at a better time, as we were struggling to find a way to pay his tuition on one salary. I prayed, and God answered. Now, I have to face the challenge of having my own child as a student!

But beyond the gift of additional income, I also feel that God has called me to SJA for a purpose. I’m not sure what that may be quite yet, but I imagine He may want me to help bring out the artist in every student, particularly those who lack the confidence to harness the creativity He instills in them. I aim to believe in my students the way my favorite art teacher, Mrs. Dunaway, did. “Anyone can learn to draw,” she said on the first day of 9th grade. “But, first you must learn how to see.”

Photo via Flickr Creative Commons/See-ming Lee

I’ve never been so excited about going back to school as I am this year. There are a number of reasons why:

1. I entered college as an Art Education major and only switched to English because writing papers was so much easier for me (Thanks, Mrs. Strong!). But art was my first love. I continue to pursue art classes and creative endeavors on my own and am so excited about sharing one of my greatest passions with budding young artists.

2. Coming from a big family and a busy neighborhood, I have been surrounded by children my whole life!  Even though I’ve spent the majority of my career working with high school students, elementary and middle school students have the same basic needs: to be loved and to feel like they belong. In working with younger students, I will approach my students needs at a different level (literally and figuratively). I’m looking forward to witnessing the fruits of all of their imaginations. Now, I’ll channel my inner Julie Andrews…

3. There was very little parental involvement in my former schools. This is not the case at St. Joan of Arc. After all, these parents are extending themselves to ensure their children are well educated. I can relate to the SJA parents, because I am one of them. I share their concerns and can comprehend the depths to which they love their children. I aim to be a partner with my students’ parents in ensuring their children’s success in art class and beyond.

4. St. Joan of Arc is a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM school), so integrating technology into my lessons is a must! I started teaching with an overhead projector, walking around with the trademark green smear on the side of my wrist. Now, I have an LCD projector linked to my iPad, so I can show YouTube videos (try making sense of that sentence 20 years ago…but, wait, in 20 years, what will they say about it?!?!) I’m also excited about using technology to bridge cross-curricular content, so that my students can be learning about Ancient Egypt in social studies and making hieroglyphics in my class.

5. By far, the most exciting thing about teaching about St. Joan of Arc is that God is welcome there. I can (and will) begin each class with a prayer. I can teach about Michelangelo’s “Sistine Chapel,” “Pieta,” and “Madonna at Brughes.” My friend who teaches art at a public school told me, “I can’t even show a picture of Jesus…There goes the entire Italian Renaissance!” But, centuries of art created in the name of faith will have a safe place in my classroom. So, too, will the masterpieces my students make, with the hand of the Holy Spirit guiding each pencil mark and brushstroke.  
I still have a little over a week until my first students arrive, but I will be ready for them with a smile and plenty of paper, waiting for them to make their mark. 

August 19, 2014 02:15
By Robyn Barberry


One of my best childhood vacations was when I was 9 and it rained the entire time we went to the Outer Banks with 10 of my cousins. I devoured Roald Dahl’s Matilda while my brother conquered Ninja Turtles on his Gameboy.

But our main pastime was gathering with our cousins around a TV the size of some computer monitors to watch Hook on VHS. In this story, the grown up Peter Pan has abandoned the child inside of him in favor of joining the regimented adult world in which he’s chosen to be a workaholic lawyer. His son and daughter, whom he treats coldly, are kidnapped by Captain Hook and taken to Neverland, where Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys educate and encourage Peter to find the boy he once was so that he can rescue his children.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons/Tom Simpson

The play button was pushed at the first hint of sunlight. We fought with swords we bought at a T-shirt shop while the tape rewound. Soon, we were reciting every line, laughing at the same jokes, taking turns playing roles, eating every one of our meals on paper plates in front of the TV so that we didn’t miss a moment. We fell asleep watching Hook and allowed Peter Pan and Captain Hook to commandeer our dreams. We were the Lost Boys (and girls). This was the movie that defined my childhood.

Fast forward 20+ years. Unlike the Lost Boys, my cousins and I have grown into teachers, engineers, physical therapists, and musicians. We still love pirates and even throw occasional pirate costume parties. We’ve never forgotten that summer and how we refused to let a washed-out beach week threaten our fun.

This summer I took my own children to Ocean City. The weather was far from gorgeous. Friday night, after a delicious meal at Lombardi’s, was the perfect kind of day to introduce Collin to Hook.

He sat down next to me on the love seat and was unusually quiet for the majority of the movie, as was I. It was the first time I had watched the movie since I was a child. The frightening part was that I saw so much of myself in Peter Pan, the father who was always on his phone (which is the size of a shoebox), fails to acknowledge his children when he’s preoccupied by a seemingly more important task, and explosively loses his patience. How did I end up like that?

The shame I felt began to disappear when Peter became reacquainted with the Lost Boys. There’s a scene when they’re having an imaginary food fight and Peter begins to remember who he used to be. At that point in the film, so did I. I thought back to myself as a teenager, babysitting for every kid in the neighborhood, making up games and songs, playing dress-up, telling stories. What happened to that girl? She was the mom I always wanted to be. I had to bring her back.

At the end of the movie, there were tears, but not mine. Collin held on to me, sniffling, his tears running down my arm. I didn’t think a 5-year-old could sense the gravity of such a movie. I know I didn’t before now. So, I asked why he was crying.

“Why did the baby in the carriage roll away?” he asked.

I hugged him, my heart pounding at the recollection of the image. It was more disturbing than I had remembered. I squeezed him tighter, brushing a hot tear from his sunburned cheek. “Ohhh, it’s okay, Collin. Why are you worried?”

“The baby’s going to get hurt!”

“The baby is fine. He rolled away because he didn’t want to grow up, but he grows up to be Peter Pan.”

“But, I don’t want to grow up!” he said.

“We all have to grow up sometime,” I told him, recording in my mind the softness of his skin and hair as I rubbed his head, knowing I would not be able to hold him like this forever, “but that doesn’t mean we have to stop having fun.”

I thought about my own words as they came out of my mouth. What happened to my imagination and how can I get it back? Could I postpone a phone call for five minutes so I can build a tall tower of blocks? Is it possible to get silly rather than getting angry over small things? How can I remember to pray for the patience it takes to address my children’s needs?

Collin has made it clear that he doesn’t like Hook and that’s okay. Maybe he’ll give it another shot when he’s older, and he’ll get something else out of it. I know I did.
***I began writing this piece after returning from Ocean City in July. On August 11th, I learned of Robin Williams’ tragic death. Oddly enough, I didn’t immediately associate the immensely talented actor with Hook until my cousin posted a photo from the film on Facebook and tagged my cousins, my brother and I. It started a conversation among us that took me straight back to that epic vacation when we learned the real meaning of the word “Bangarang!” Peter Pan was never Robin Williams to me. He was Peter Pan. That’s what good actors do.

For me, Robin Williams’ greatest talent was playing a father in crisis, who loved his kids so much it hurt, and who learned in big and little ways, through trial and error, how to be a better parent. I imagine that in the real world he was the same way. May his children be blessed. I thank Mr. Williams for helping me to see my faults as a parent and for guiding me toward what’s really important when it comes to raising children. 

August 14, 2014 02:52
By Robyn Barberry

Apology to a mother wolf spider

I first spotted you outside my back door on my return trip from taking out the trash. You were about the size of a quarter, coffee brown with eight legs, a gazillion eyes, and a lumpy back. You looked like a brown recluse, the type of spider that bit my mom just before my wedding. The scar was so horrendous, her satin periwinkle dress had to be altered to cover it. I was afraid you’d bite one of my children. I was wearing flip-flops, so I tracked down the nearest blunt object, a citronella candle in a red, white, and blue striped metal pail, and squashed you.

Normally, this type of extermination is strictly business. Just ask the ants who manage to find their way onto my kitchen counter after a big rain. For a vegetarian, I’m surprisingly ruthless when it comes to insects (and arachnids, like yourself) invading my turf. But, when I killed you underneath of the porch light, it was different.

Immediately after I squished you to pieces, I was amazed at how many pieces there were, and how far they were spreading, and how they appeared to be moving. They were. Within moments of your death, thousands of teeny tiny spiders, the size of couscous grains, scurried about in every direction.

I didn’t know what to do. The protective mother lion in me thought I’d better squish them all before my home was overturned by an infestation only seen in nightmares and horror movies. But I chose to watch and wait. I assumed that you were pregnant, and that these little guys were stolen from your womb too soon. By the looks of them, they wouldn’t last a day. I set down the candle and headed to my bed.

Like any curious and/or confused American, I Googled the situation and learned that you were a wolf spider. (The Brown Recluse looks similar, but has a characteristic “violin” on its back). Although you do have venom and aren’t afraid to use it, you’re relatively harmless to humans. In fact, you seldom enter people’s homes, preferring to stalk the outside perimeter at night, searching for food. And you carry your babies (spiderlings) on your back until they’re big enough to make it on their own.

I sighed, put down the phone, turned out the light, and lay awake on my pillow, gazing into the moonlight outside of my window, replaying our encounter over and over again. You didn’t deserve to die. You were a creature of God, designed for motherhood. Like me, you took your babies everywhere, you were always on the lookout for food, and you were vigilant about keeping your precious little ones safe. But then again, that’s why I squashed you in the first place. Now that I know the difference between you and your dangerous doppelganger, the Brown Recluse, I’ll spare the next mama wolf spider I find.     

August 11, 2014 10:36
By Robyn Barberry

Vow of Silence: Lessons learned from laryngitis

I have been without a voice for five days. With very little warning, it was gone when I woke up Saturday morning. Instead, I was left with a coarse whisper and occasional bursts of pitchy, creaky utterances. I feel fine, but I sound terrible. I’m not sure when my real voice will return, but I’ve come to think of this time as a learning experience. I’ll share my lessons with you:

1.     Without a voice, parenting becomes even more complicated. Though I wouldn’t say I “yell at” my children, I do from time to time raise my voice at them from across the room, particularly if they are at risk of hurting themselves or each other. Leo finds one of Collin’s Legos and puts it in his mouth. Frank jumps off the back of the sofa. No matter how childproof I try to make my home, they always find trouble. For that reason, until my “mommy voice” returns, I keep Frank and Leo at arm’s reach, literally. I don’t get done everything I normally would accomplish, but at least they’re safe. Collin seldom finds himself in danger, but at 5, he’s still needy. Unfortunately, he doesn’t read fluently yet, so writing notes to him is out of the question. Instead, I croak out responses to his questions and demands. He keeps asking where my voice went. Wouldn’t I like to know.

2.    I’ve become very selective about choosing when to speak. What I have to say must be important, as should be the recipient of my message. I’ve just about abandoned the Bluetooth that enables me to hold phone conversations through my car’s audio system. I’m more focused on the road now. When I’m not in the car, I count on text messages and social media to speak for me, unless I’m in a quiet, one-on-one conversation - the briefer I speak, the better.

3.    I’m becoming a better listener. At Patrick’s surprise birthday party, I didn’t talk about what was going on in our lives, I got some organization tips from Alex as she discussed her new built-in cabinets in the den, discovered the benefits of Melissa’s interesting new “cruelty-free” diet, and learned how Ms. Joan’s grandkids got their names - a topic I’ve always loved. At Mass, I concentrated on every word of the Apostle’s Creed, rather than mumbling along as I tend to do. I also have a better appreciation for nuances in music and have even come to love the whir of the ceiling fan as I fold laundry.

4.    I’ve had a taste of what it must be like to have a disability. I got frustrated within a few hours of whispering Saturday morning. There were so many words in my head that I wanted to get out, but I couldn’t. This must be how Frank feels, I told myself. No wonder he bites! On Sunday, we spent some time with our friends and their two children, one of whom is deaf. She and I were frustrated because we could not communicate unless our faces nearly touched. It made me wish I knew sign language. I also faced challenges handling customer service phone calls, making requests of Siri, ordering my lunch (Pita Pit because Chipotle is too noisy), and yelling “Stop!” at the woman who was about to back into the grocery cart containing my children. Thank God for Good Samaritans.

You may be familiar with the phrase, “Let your voice be heard.” In many instances, this is true, such as standing up for your faith or protecting your children. But, I know I tend to overuse my voice and underuse my ears. When my vocal cords finally decide to return from their summer vacation, I’ll remember what I’ve learned during this time of silent reflection.

August 06, 2014 03:53
By Robyn Barberry

Family unfriendly dining

A popular California restaurant has installed a "no children" policy, including a prominent sign which reads, "No Strollers.  No High Chairs.  No Booster Seats.  Children crying or making loud noises are a distraction to other diners, and as such are not allowed in the dining room."  My brother sent me a link to the article detailing the situation and asked me my opinion.  He was surprised by my response.

Patrick and I established a rule when Collin was an infant that if a restaurant has high chairs and a children’s menu, no one should complain about the presence of our children.  We go out to eat rather frequently, leaning toward not-quite fast food places like Noodles & Company and Chipotle, who offer menu options to cover a broad range of dietary needs at a fair price in less than fifteen minutes. These are the kind of places where the occasional screaming child fades into the background of loud music and the bustle of diners rushing through their meals so they can get to their next destination.

Sometimes we find ourselves in fancier establishments where the meal itself is the destination. We walk in the door, towing three tidy little boys in collared shirts and khakis. There’s always at least one person who shoots us a look of disgust when we’re seated at a nearby table with two high chairs on the end. Usually the wait staff are courteous, offering crayons and children’s menus if they are available. I’ve seen some parents bring iPads to keep their children occupied, but we’ve chosen to train the boys to learn how to wait patiently without electronics (except in a few dire circumstances), mainly by enjoying conversation with each other and playing silly games like, “Find something red.” Collin and Frank do their best to eat neatly, but seeing as how they’re still trying to master their fine motor skills, sometimes they make a mess. Even in a restaurant, we still pick up under their chairs. If the server has been particularly attentive to our children’s needs, as are the phenomenal waitresses at Chopstix in Forest Hill, I tend to tip higher. Usually when we leave, that person who gave us the dirty look smiles and compliments their good behavior.

Why do my children know how to act in a restaurant?  Because they’ve had a lot of practice – at home and in the real world.  Just playing “restaurant” teaches kids the behavior expected of them at a dinner table other than their own.  And when restaurants open their doors to children, they are offering them the opportunity to gain the experience they will need as adult diners.  

  Image via KSBW

Dining in a restaurant with small children is possible, but only as long as families are made to feel welcome.  Chris Shake, the owner of Old Fisherman’s Grotto in Monterey, California, has made it clear that he doesn’t want children in his dining room. Some people are infuriated over this issue.  “Kids have rights, too,” they cry.  Though there are many important laws to protect children, none exist to guarantee them the right to be in any public place other than a classroom. Sadly, there are some people out there who just can’t tolerate kids. Maybe they never got to be kids themselves or forgot what it is like, but for whatever reason, the mere sight, and particularly, sound, of children is agonizing for them.

Fortunately I am not, and presumably you are not, those people.  Still, it’s best to heed their signs when they are posted, lest we deprive ourselves of a good time by patronizing a stuffy establishment.  And if there are no signs?   I learned a long time ago to ignore fellow diners (and even parishoners) who glare at me if one of my children makes a sudden loud noise.  It’s the same squeal the young woman a table over makes when a small black box containing a very shiny ring opens before her.  It’s the same resounding clunk the busboy makes when he drops a plastic tub of silverware.  It’s Grandma’s loud cell phone conversation with her podiatrist in the back booth. It’s that guy at the bar with the room-clearing sneeze…during allergy season.  Kids are loud sometimes, but so are adults.

Noise seems to be the primary complaint of those who dislike children.  It may be as simple as a sensitivity to the high pitches of their little voices or it could simply be how jarring and abrupt their noises can be.  It’s hard to control what comes out of children’s mouths, such as the random happy screaming phase Frank went through just before he turned one.  If we were in a restaurant, Patrick or I would take him outside immediately after the first scream, covering his mouth on the way out the door.  I know I remember it, but I doubt any particular diner was scarred for life by it.  Fortunately none of my boys had colic, but I imagine it must be difficult to go anywhere when the poor baby just can’t stop crying.  Collin’s first two days were like that.  Overwhelmed, I broke down and the nurse told me, “He didn’t ask to be here.” I think of that every time I hear a baby crying uncontrollably.

Thankfully, there are those people who understand when your kids are acting up.  The kind who shoot you a kind, sympathetic smile when your jaw is so tense you’re about to crack a tooth.  Sometimes you can even find them in fancy restaurants and almost always in churches, but probably not at Old Fisherman’s Grotto.  And that’s okay. 

Some people go out to eat to celebrate special occasions, or maybe because it’s Tuesday, and they’re entitled to the right to a peaceful meal.  But there will always be families like mine who run the risk of disturbing this special time, unless we are made aware up front that we are not welcome.  Having a restaurant where rowdy crowds are not allowed is similar to housing developments designed exclusively for college students or senior citizens.  Though a particular group of people is being excluded, it’s in the name of comfort for those being served and not as a means of intentionally harming the excluded group.  If I’m excluded from something, I tend to conclude that I’m not missing out on any people, places, or things I would be interested in.  My family doesn’t plan on visiting Monterey any time soon, but if we do, I know where we won’t be dining.  



July 31, 2014 03:27
By Robyn Barberry

The only word he knew: Go!

For Frank’s second birthday in May, I gave him a book called Go! Go! Go! Stop!  It was an ironic purchase, made based solely on the title, since Frank refuses to sit still long enough for me to read to him.  (For a parent with an English background, it’s almost painful.) I wrote him a little note inside, praising his curiosity and tenacity.  I also wished for him the power of speech.

The fact that Frank can’t tolerate being read to was one of the concerns addressed by the special educator and speech therapist at Frank’s evaluation by Harford County’s Infants and Toddlers program.  They observed as he buzzed about the room, pollinating one toy and the next.  They struggled to get him to tend to the tabletop tasks required by the testing books before them.  After a laborious session, they diagnosed him with a nine month speech delay and a fourteen month social-emotional delay.

I spent two days speculating over the causes, questioning his life events (being displaced from his home as an infant; gaining a sibling when he was still a baby, himself), blaming myself, consulting trusted friends and relatives, and praying.  I ultimately decided that “Why?” wasn’t as important as, “So what do I do now?” and began to take action.

It will be a month before the special education teacher and speech therapist from the Infants and Toddlers Program will begin visiting our house every week.  In the interim, based on advice I’ve read and received by friends in the field, I plan to do the following:

  • Encourage Frank to use words like, “juice,” “milk,” “more,” and, silly as it might be, “nummies” when he wants something to eat or drink.  Attaching meaning to words will make him more likely to see them as a commodity.

  • Think aloud.  Describe each purchase I make at the store.  Narrate as I cook dinner.  Talk about each toy as I clean up at the end of the day.     

  • Read.  Read even if he’s bouncing from one place to another.  Or, on the contrary, put him in a position where he is “forced” to hear me read.
Such was the case this morning.  As we sat down at our round table to a breakfast of Cheerios, watermelon and blueberries, Leo in his highchair and Frank strapped into his booster, I saw an opportunity to capture Frank’s attention just long enough to squeeze in a story or two.

I started with a board book about the parts of the body, an area in which Frank is deficient.  Leo seemed more interested, raising his eyebrows at babies’ faces expressing a range of emotions.  Frank stared down at Buzz and Woody peering up through the holes of his Cheerios.

Next, we tried Frank was a Monster who Wanted to Dance¸ a silly book about Frankenstein.  It brought Collin over and inspired occasional glances from my own Frank whenever he heard his name.

An animated rendition of Green Eggs and Ham drew bursts of attention whenever I read really loud and really fast, but we lost him with the kitten book.

Finally, we brought out Go! Go! Go! Stop!, which has become one of Collin’s favorites.  We read it at least twice a day in the oversized green chair under the windows, while Frank strews toys and stuffed animals about the room and Leo pokes at them.  At this point in our breakfast book club, Frank was throwing his blueberries on the floor and the “Get me out of here!” meltdown was upon us.  I knew I’d have to rush.  And so I began,

“One day, Little Green said a word.  It was his first word.  He had never spoken before.  The word was…”

Frank stopped everything he was doing and yelled, “Go!”

I began to tear up.  As it turns out, he does listen when I read, just in a different way.  As we turned our way through the story, about a busy construction site in need of a functioning traffic light, Frank stayed with us the whole time, shouting “Go!” at the appropriate moments.  He hasn’t figured out “Stop!” or “Slow down!” yet, but as soon as he does, I think Frank will start to catch up.     

July 25, 2014 02:34
By Robyn Barberry

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