Every morning when I get everyone dressed, I’m thankful I have three boys, as the parents of daughters are up against forces beyond my threshold. I know from my experience as a daughter. When I was 14, I was desperate to look like a punk rocker and rebel against the look my parents had in mind for me. But, as it has with Collin, it began when I was 4.
My dad told me to put on some shoes. It was winter, but I came downstairs in sandals. This is when I received my lesson in the anatomy of the foot. “This is your heel,” he told me. “Now go put on some shoes that cover it.” After a few more attempts, including a pair of slippers, I figured it out.
At 4, we worry about our children “catching cold” or “getting boo-boos.” We’re stern about what they wear because we don’t want them getting sick or hurt. As they get older, we have even more to protect them from as they enter the world without us.
At 4, we’re worried about the role of our children’s clothing in their overall health, but also as it reflects our reputations as parents. At 14, we’re still worried about their health, but as they’re forming their own identities and the reputations that go along with them (theirs and ours), we want them to understand that the old adage “the clothes make the man” is true. Young people use their clothing to express themselves, but when the message they are sending conflicts with our values, what can we do?
The first step is to set aside our own personal tastes. Right now, Collin wears clothes that I think are cool, but he may end up hating pirates or plaid. I can’t force him to like the same things that I do as he gets older. Certain styles may not appeal to us, such as head to toe black, or it’s opposite, neon colors, but we can’t expect our kids to dress like us. We even have some friends whose son is, for reasons unknown, a Seahawks fan, and they never make him wear purple on Sunday.
When trends come into play, that’s when most teens and parents butt heads. Each generation is wired to shock their parents and grandparents. Our expected role is to be offended by what young people wear. The trick is to ignore most of it. Ripped or baggy jeans? Brightly colored hair? Harmless, really, as long as it’s weather appropriate and complies with school rules during the school day.
But, T-shirts with offensive slogans and excessively revealing shirts and skirts? That’s where we have to step in. But rather than yelling or forbidding such attire, it’s best to calmly and quietly ask why he or she is wearing the offending garment.
If it’s because “everyone else is,” remember that your child’s goal is to detach from your family and assume the norms of their “new” family – their group of friends. Obviously you aren’t dressing that way, so after pointing that out, you ask, “do you mean all of your friends are wearing it?” Rather than forbidding your child from speaking to those friends, ask if you can meet them. If you’re genuine about it, you may be surprised by the outcome.
If your child says, “I don’t know, I just like it,” sit down and talk about what they like about the item. They’re testing themselves and you by pushing the boundaries of the family’s values. It’s another part of that detachment process. In some cases, a similar, more suitable option is available – with a slogan that’s funny but cleaner or in a longer length. Use this time as a chance to reaffirm your values and expectations in a calm, accessible tone.
Our children’s clothing is such a hot button issue because it’s reflective of our ability to parent. It would be irresponsible for me to let Collin out into the cold without warm clothes. It would be irresponsible for the parent of a teenager to allow his or her child to wear something that could get him or her into trouble.
We always see the goodness in our children, and we want the world to know it. And, we want others to think just as highly of them. So, we must find a way to balance who they want to be and who we want them to be as we send them out the door every day. It starts with what they wear.
December 05, 2013 04:10
By Robyn Barberry
It began with a bargain – bribery, really.
“Collin, if you get yourself dressed for school, I’ll get you a donut.”
I know what you’re thinking – bad parenting – and in many ways, you’re correct. Promising food as a quid pro quo token is a big no-no. Offering a sugar-laden pastry for breakfast is worse yet. But with two other little ones to dress, I was thinking I’d save a little time. I was mistaken.
“Look, I already put your clothes out on the bed,” I said, gesturing to the underwear, socks, khakis, long sleeved t-shirt and rugby jersey beside him. I held up the underwear, and indicated which part is the front and which part is the back, like a flight attendant demonstrating how to use an oxygen mask. “You can do it!” I cheered.
“I’m just wearing that gentleman shirt,” Collin said. (Definition: any shirt with a collar and/or buttons, in this case the white and blue rugby shirt). I’m not wearing that other shirt with it."
“Collin, it’s really cold outside, so you have to wear two shirts.”
“No! I’m just wearing that gentleman shirt.”
I pictured him, coloring in class, with the placket wide open bearing his chest, like he was John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.
“You have to wear some sort of a T-shirt underneath,” I said, tearing through his T-shirt drawer.
“Okay, then how about my sharp (shark) shirt?”
“That’s fine,” I said. After a minute of sifting through 5T tees, I realized that it was in the wash. I tracked down another shark shirt. It was bright red and wouldn’t match his other shirt, but at this point I didn’t care.
“Here’s a shark shirt,” I told Collin.
“I don’t want the pirate sharp shirt,” he said. “I want the president sharp shirt.”
And he lost me. After a minute I realized that he didn’t like the shirt with the skull made of sharks on it, he wanted the shirt in the wash, which his godmother brought back from Puerto Rico. It had the Puerto Rican flag on it, and Collin calls flags “presidents.”
My son’s wardrobe has its own language, and translating it takes time. With each passing second, our Dunkin Donuts window was closing. Instead of having a carload of warmly dressed children, I was standing before a boy in race car pajamas.
“Collin, do you still want that donut?” I asked.
“Yes! Yes! Yes!”
“Then you have to wear your pirate sharp shirt and your gentleman shirt and get dressed.”
I departed to change a couple of diapers and stumble my fingers over a few dozen onesie snaps. Despite the amount of work involved in dressing an infant and a toddler, within five minutes, I was putting on Frank’s shoes as he sat on the washer in the mud room. I didn’t hear Collin approach over the rumbling.
“Ta-da!” Collin said. He was wearing his khakis, underwear (I presumed), and pirate sharp shirt. “I even fingered out how to put on my socks!”
They were inside out, but I didn’t care. He was 85% dressed. “Great job, Collin! I’m so proud of you!” I smiled at him as I wiggled Leo into his snowsuit. Then, I had to get serious. “Where’s your gentleman shirt?”
“I’m not wearing my gentleman shirt. I’m wearing my pirate sharp shirt,” he said.
“It’s really cold outside, so you need to wear both shirts,” I explained, as calmly as I could. There would be no donut, even if he did dress himself. We’d be lucky to get to school on time.
“I’M NOT WEARING TWO SHIRTS! I’M JUST WEARING ONE SHIRT!”
“Collin,” I calmly began. “Like I said, it’s really cold outside.” I opened the back door for emphasis. He briefly covered his upper arms with his hands before returning them to fists at his side. “When it gets really cold like this, you can get sick really easily if you don’t have on enough clothes. I don’t want you to get sick, so I’m going to go upstairs and get your gentleman shirt so you can wear it because we are running really late now.”
“I can wear my coat,” he said, stopping me as I passed to point out his parka on the hook on the wall.
“Great thinking, Collin! You are going to wear your coat…on top of your gentleman shirt.”
“NO! I’m just going to wear my pirate sharp shirt and my coat and that’s it.”
“But you’ll have to take off your coat and put it in your cubby at school and your arms will get cold during class.”
“No, because everyone wears their coats during class.”
“Then, why do I see them in their cubbies when I drop you off and pick you up?”
I’d stumped him. But, I’d also come up with a solution.
“What if you wear your Jake and the Neverland Pirates sweatshirt with your pirate sharp shirt? It has a zipper in the front, so we can still see your sharp shirt.”
“Uh-uh,” he said, shaking his head “no” and putting his hands on his hips.
I was halfway up the stairs before he could display his full pout. I grabbed the sweatshirt and presented it to him like I was on “The Price is Right.”
“Okay,” he said, a tinge of resignation in his voice.
Once Collin was finally dressed appropriately for the weather, we headed off to school, our Dunkin Donuts trip on hold for now.
When I picked Collin up, he was wearing his red sharp shirt. His sweatshirt and his coat were in his backpack. He wore a victorious smile, instead. I let him think he’d won until the frigid air hit his bare arms and cheeks and he begged for something warm with sleeves. I was happy to reach into his backpack and oblige, wearing my own victorious smile.
I know that this was not the last battle Collin and I are going to have over clothes. I imagine him wearing the same T-shirt three days in a row or wanting to head off to homecoming in jeans and a sweatshirt some day. On the other hand, he might want to wear designer clothing we can’t afford. Either way, I know that someday Collin is going to make choices for himself that contradict what I have in mind. And, for now, we’re just talking about what to wear.
December 04, 2013 12:36
By Robyn Barberry
Frank is just like my dad, a.k.a. Bob-Bob. And if there’s one thing they love, it’s sports. With that in mind, last Christmas Santa brought Frank the Little Tikes Discover Sounds Sports Center. It features: a bead-filled football, which rattles when you spin it, a baseball attached to a lever, which creaks and rotates when hit with the included yellow plastic bat, and the piece de la resistance – a basketball hoop in the middle, which racks up points on a digital scoreboard when Frank slam-dunks the tangerine-sized basketball.
Even though Frank received the toy almost a year ago, he still plays with it every day. Like most Little Tikes products I’ve encountered, it’s held up well despite the abuse young children tend to inflict upon their toys. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch Toy Story 3, to see an ambush at a day care center. Speaking of which, there’s even a Sports Center in the nursery at our gym. Naturally, Frank goes right for the orange ball as soon as we drop him off. Being just about a year and a half old, Frank cannot explain what draws him to this toy, but I’m sure that the exciting sounds and flashing lights have a lot to do with it.
What I like about the toy is that it teaches various forms of fine motor skills, especially hand/eye coordination. It takes continued practice to push the football forward with enough follow-through to make it spin, to connect the ball and bat, and to precisely make a basket through the hoop or the hole in the backboard (for additional points). By honing those skills, Frank has developed quite an arm and some dexterous little fingers, too. Who knows? We might see him in an orange or purple jersey someday thanks to the Little Tikes Discover Sounds Sports Center.
The Little Tikes Discover Sounds Sports Center is recommended for babies and toddlers from 9-24 months and retails for $29.99 at Toys ‘R Us.
November 21, 2013 02:52
By Robyn Barberry
I try not to think about death. When you’re prone to hysteria and crippling panic attacks, as I am, mental health professionals advise against it.
We’re trained to avert our thinking to something more pleasant. Usually it’s not too hard to do.
Lately, Collin has been throwing the term “die” around, usually while he is playing. He likes watching Halloween shows, but Patrick and I decided to keep him away from the scary stuff until he has a better grasp of reality. As it turns out, he understands the gravity of death better than I ever have.
During the children’s liturgy last Sunday, he brought up a paper that included a prayer for an angel they knew in heaven. He had (with help, I presume) written the name “Kurt,” who was the cat I had from when I was 14 until Collin was 3. It made me smile, especially because the Gospel had me feeling sad.
In Luke 20:27-40, Jesus tells us that marriage doesn’t exist in heaven. I don’t even like being away from Patrick when we’re at work, and now I find out that we won’t be together for eternity? How can God be so cruel?
But the small act of Collin showing me his paper about Kurt made me think that I will be reunited with the people I love in heaven, only in a different way.
There may even be sweet treats in heaven, according to Collin, who told his bag of Halloween candy, “You’re going to die,” as we headed out the door to school.
Once everyone was situated in the car and we were on the road, I asked Collin, “What happens when we die?”
“You can’t talk. You can’t go potty. You can’t see. You can’t smell. You can’t see the firehouse, and you can’t be a firefighter. Or a doctor. Or a dentist. And you can’t feel anything.”
I was overwhelmed by his response. He understood what it meant to die – to cease to exist. There are no earthly needs or sensibilities. There are no aspirations or emotions.
“Where do you go when you die?” I asked.
“You can’t see. But there’s a light in your stomach, inside of you.”
“But then where do you go?” I asked again.
After a long silence, he said, “Heaven.”
“Yes,” I told him.
“My friend says sometimes babies go to heaven,” he said.
“Yes, that’s true,” I told him. “And we pray for them.”
The light in my stomach faded and dropped. Just the thought of losing a child makes my mind spin, my respiration accelerate, my body ache, and my heart alternate between racing, slowing down and feeling like giving up. I began to panic. Would I need to pull over the car? Would I need to take an emergency dose of anxiety medication? Why can’t I handle problems like a normal person? Will I ever be able to overcome my fear and trust the Lord to take care of my family?
I’d drowned out whatever Collin was saying until I heard, “When you get to heaven, Jesus fixes you.”
“Yes, he does,” I replied.
In death, connection to the concrete world is cut. We lose the five senses, the things we dream of accomplishing, and the people, places, and pets we love. But, we also lose our worries, anxieties, and fears – the things that make this life so painful.
Dying itself isn’t scary – it’s not like we can avoid it - but worrying about when and how it’s going to happen for us or our loved ones is the source of everything that vexes us. As people of faith, we should focus on that light inside of us that will lead us to the ultimate repair shop – heaven. Hopefully the waiting room will be full of familiar faces.
November 19, 2013 09:39
By Robyn Barberry
"When patients bring me three page birth plans, I have to laugh," my OB said. "I tell them that the opposite will happen. If they'd just relax and realize it's all in God's hands, everything would be better."
She and I were finalizing my "birth plan," or my preferences for delivering baby number three. Since she'd delivered Collin and Frank, she knew to expect another stubborn, big baby. Fortunately I'm an incredibly patient person, so we would put off a C-section until it was an absolute medical necessity. However, I have little tolerance for pain, so she checked "yes" next to epidural. I had dilated to 3 cm, which meant labor was close. Now all I had to do was wait.
The contractions started Sunday morning, Oct. 13 as I was getting ready for church. Patrick wanted us to stay home in case we needed to call the doctor, but I insisted on going to Mass, especially if I was in early labor. I waddled down the street, sunk into the pew, and "sneeled" my way into the kneeler. The contractions were coming strong and regularly, exactly 10 minutes apart. We had sent Collin downstairs with the other kids for the Liturgy of the Word, but Patrick, who had been watching me and timing the contractions himself said, "when he gets back up here, it's time to go."
So, in odd fashion, we left Mass before Communion, packed up the car, called my mom to take the boys, and checked in with the doctor, who told us to head to the hospital. When we got there, they put me on a monitor and determined that my contractions weren't strong and regular enough to admit me. So, they told us to take a walk around the hospital and its grounds for two hours.
While we walked, I prayed. I wanted so badly to meet my baby, and I wanted it on that very day. Being sent home is the worst feeling in late pregnancy. Prolonged discomfort. So many nagging questions and comments from well-intended people you know and don't know. The shame of not knowing false labor from the real thing. When I got home, I stuffed myself in my bed, swearing not to come out until it was time to have the baby.
I was on edge all week, expecting my water to break at any second. Having never experienced it outside of a hospital bed before, I didn't know what to expect. And every stomach cramp felt like a contraction, but it wasn't. I prayed for my water to break or the contractions to start, but they didn't. And there was nothing I could do about it.
The good news was that there was an end in sight. My OB had scheduled me to be induced on Friday October 18th because an ultrasound had measured my baby to be big. Given the size of the older brothers at birth (Collin was 9 lbs, 14 oz and Frank was 8 lbs, 13 oz), she wasn't willing to risk birth complications or a C-section. So, I counted down the seconds until October 18th, praying for the patience to get me through to that day.
On the morning of the 18th, Patrick and I were running late getting out of the house. We were supposed to be at the hospital by 6 a.m. to start the induction, but we would be there closer to 6:30. I began to panic. "What if they make us reschedule?" I asked Patrick, as I frantically called the registration desk over and over, and finding no answer. "We'll be okay," he said. I prayed for mercy to trump my tardiness. It did.
Once we were checked in, we were introduced to our nursing staff for the next half hour. I really liked our nurse, a bubbly blonde with a daughter Collin's age and a passion for Halloween, and was worried that after she left we'd be stuck with a grumpy old troll by our side. I prayed for another nice nurse. Then, in walked Donna, the easy-going, attentive nurse who helped deliver Frank. Plus, my own two doctors would be on staff all day when it came time to deliver. It was a fantasy birth experience, and these were my star players.
I waited until the contractions were just painful enough to make me clench my jaw at a tooth-cracking intensity before I asked for the epidural. With Frank, I had a spinal migraine afterwards, so I was nervous just getting the numbing needle. I said a few Hail Marys while the anesthesiologist did his thing, reflecting on the admiration I have for Mary and every other woman who ever brought or will bring a baby into this world without anesthesia. The entire procedure was done, and I was numb in no time.
Just as it did with Collin, Frank, and even this little one on the previous Sunday, my labor slowed down for several hours. "They're not sending me home, right?" I half-jokingly asked. "Nah, you're leaving here with a baby," Donna said. I said a few decades of the Rosary, just as I had with my older two, and before I knew it, my OB showed up and said it was time to push.
In the final moments before my baby entered the world, I reflected on what an incredible journey this pregnancy was. With my circumstances, there were so many things that could have gone wrong. But they didn't. When we first saw this baby on the ultrasound just after Valentine's Day, a tiny beating heart was all there was to see. When we met with the high risk doctor, we were told that heart might be defective because of the medications I had to take. Scan after scan came back clear. Our baby was growing strong only because we kept praying and believing.
After a final prayer, not asking for anything, but thanking God for the gift He was about to give me, Leo Matthew was born. At 11 lbs, 12 oz he made a big entrance into this big world. With a first name that means "lion," he's sure to be courageous - he's already fought his way through a number of obstacles. With a name that means "gift from God," he's already been the answer to my prayers.
October 29, 2013 04:28
By Robyn Barberry
I looked at my calendar one day in early October and realized that my due date was closer than I realized. I felt a rush, but of joy, not panic, even though I had done little to prepare for our new arrival. This time, I knew what being ready truly meant.
With Collin, making way for baby was a different story. He was my first and everything needed to be perfect. Every detail of his farm-themed nursery was in place six weeks before I expected him. Sky blue walls, new carpet, an espresso covered crib with embroidered linens, photographs of livestock I’d taken in Ireland hanging above a well-stocked bookcase. Tiny clothes meticulously organized by size and color lined the closet and dresser. Diapers and wipes were stuffed into baskets around the house. No less than 30 receiving blankets waited to swaddle him. A dozen bottles had been washed and neatly stored. I’d already started filling out the baby book as I stared down the calendar, anxiously waiting to meet my first born child.
With Frank, I had experience, more realistic expectations, and the needs of an almost 3-year-old to guide my preparations. I still spent a lot of time decorating his storybook-themed bedroom, but I brought out less clothing and blankets, had lost a few bottles along the way, and had developed a more practical diaper-management system. I neglected the baby book until one afternoon when he was about 6 months old, and haven’t touched it since. I had tremendous anxiety waiting for him to arrive, but once Frank made his appearance, I had everything I really needed -and nothing more- in place.
With my third baby, I found myself overwhelmed with work and duties to the older siblings. I moved the two of them together into a big bed in Frank’s room, but the baby’s room remained rather bare. We converted the toddler bed back into a crib, but a stripped mattress remains while the pack ‘n play is still in use. A cross is the only thing hanging on the still sky-blue walls. The bookcase has been picked through and what’s left is a jumbled mess. Most of the clothing was in a laundry basket, only half folded. Five bottles remained and an unopened box of diapers sat in the closet downstairs. The receiving blankets are nowhere to be found. The baby book does not exist. And yet, I’m more prepared for this baby than ever.
Baby number three's room
This time, I know just how little it takes to bring home a new addition to the family. He or she will need clothes, food, diapers, a place to rest. They don’t need to be perfectly organized or beautiful, just there. The most important things any baby needs are love and prayers. And in this family there are plenty of those to go around.
Every night at dinner, we ask that God bring us a baby that is happy, healthy, strong, and (Collin’s addition) lovely. Hopefully, all those things will come true for us soon. Because we’re ready.
October 23, 2013 12:14
By Robyn Barberry
As I enter the final week of my pregnancy, I’m amazed by the amount of patience I have this time around. Last time
I was at this stage I was downright miserable – tired of comments and unsolicited advice from strangers and people I know, anxious about the delivery, and at my threshold for physical discomfort. I prayed for Frank to be born as soon as divinely possible. But this time, it’s different. This time I prayed for patience.
Like last time, I’m still working, even though I look and feel like a slow-moving, enormous floating orb when I move through the halls and around my classroom. The difference is that now I am kinder to my students, put in the same amount of effort as I would without a baby in my belly, and don’t watch the clock. I follow Mother Teresa’s advice and “do small things with great love,” and I’m all the happier because of it.
A statue of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta is seen in Calcutta, India, Aug. 25. (CNS
photo/Rupak De C howdhuri, Reuters)
If I had decided to take off, and wait around at home for the baby to arrive, I’d drive myself crazy with a circuit of chores. I’d pace the floors, fussing over the little details that really don’t matter to our newest family member. Instead, I’m using my home as a place for rest and enjoying playtime with Collin and Frank. Allowing myself some leisure is another way I’ve kept my spirits up.
I’ve wondered where this new patience is coming from and decided that this past year and all of its challenges have taught me that we can’t always control when things will happen. All we can control is our reactions to our circumstances.
Being diagnosed with a serious disease was unexpected and nerve-racking. It took three months to regain my strength. I kept asking my doctors when I’d be myself again. They told me it would take time. When I stopped trying to control the situation, I got better. I trusted God and He did not fail me. Once again, I place the birth of my baby into His hands and know in my heart that despite the odds He will give us another beautiful, strong, happy, healthy child.
Fixing our house after the tree fell on it took four and a half months. People kept asking us when we were going home, and we said, “when it’s done.” We wanted our house to look and feel just right. That couldn’t be rushed. It’s not unlike how I look at the arrival of my new baby. He or she will join us when he or she is done living inside of me and is ready to be a bigger part of our world.
So, in teaching me how to wait, God has blessed me with the gift of patience. And I’m much happier as a result.
October 11, 2013 05:09
By Robyn Barberry
Despite having two degrees in English, it’s rare that I find the time to read. Chasing after two boys and their messes; planning lessons, teaching and grading; and of course, commuting, all take up a great deal of my time. Thanks to Audible, I’m able to enjoy a good book every day while I’m tackling a few of those things (especially cleaning – which I hate!).
is a web-based service through which you can download digital audiobooks to your cell phone or mp3 player. You may purchase books one at a time, paying anywhere from 5 to 30 dollars each, or subscribe as a member to one or two downloads a month for $14.95 and $22.95, respectively.
A wide range of titles are available, but I tend to stick with books that motivate me, make me laugh, or teach me something fascinating about human life. I particularly like to hear other people’s stories about parenthood. I just finished a fantastic book on that subject, Dad is Fat
, by stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan.
I’d seen Dad is Fat on my Amazon home page and in Barnes and Noble several times, but I bypassed it in knowing that I seldom get to read books without pictures or curricular obligations. As soon as I found out it was available on Audible (and after my school librarian strongly recommended it – his kids are the same age as mine), I downloaded it to my iPhone. I plugged it in to the auxiliary jack on my car’s stereo system* and set off for a pleasant 40 minute ride to work.
I’ve been a Jim Gaffigan fan for awhile, but find his material especially appealing now that my family is growing almost as fast as his. In Dad is Fat, the Catholic father of five makes observations that only former or current parents of young children can appreciate, such as their innate urge to scream at nice restaurants (A-hem, Frank) or during Mass, or their refusal to go to the bathroom until you’re in the middle of a park with no suitable facilities to be found.
Unlike some of the “comedians” on Nick Mom, Nickelodeon’s late night show, Gaffigan never actually complains about his kids or makes it seem as though his life would be better off without them. He’s able to point out the everyday idiosyncrasies that turn parents’ faces red with embarrassment or anger in such a way that we sigh with relief in knowing that we are not alone. And in the tradition of Bill Cosby, every joke or story is punctuated with a subtle note of, “But, we love them no matter what.”
Laughing out loud during my commute to and from work is a great way to start my morning and transition back home to my family. Sometimes I’ll listen to Zig Ziglar or Stephen Covey when I need a dose of positivity or organization. One of these days I’ll find a story to lose myself in – as long as I’m still focused on the road.
For now, at my most stressful time of the year, Gaffigan’s ultimate message – stop worrying about what everyone else thinks and appreciate every moment (no matter how frustrating or humiliating) you have with your children just the way they are– was just what I needed to hear during my lonely sojourns in our toy, sock (so that’s where they went!) and sippy cup-laden SUV.
*You may have an auxiliary jack without even knowing it. It’s a hole the size of a pencil eraser, usually somewhere near your radio. You can get an auxiliary cord at Radio Shack or WalMart for super cheap and hook up your phone or mp3 player right to your car’s sound system!
September 17, 2013 11:07
By Robyn Barberry
In the past few weeks of Bible study, I’ve read a good bit about the entrance to heaven being a narrow gate. I struggled with the notion, tossing and turning over my own worthiness of entering God’s Kingdom. Was I really obeying God’s Commandments as he intended them to be followed? What about all the times I slipped? It seemed as though I’d never meet God’s standards. I’d never fit through that narrow gate.
A recent excursion to the Maryland Zoo on Free Zoo Day made it easier for me to envision the entrance to heaven. I’d learned about the event through a post my cousin Nancy made on Facebook. It was one of the last days of summer break for me, and I thought Free Zoo Day would be a great way to spend some time with the boys and my mom before I found myself back in the classroom.
Since I didn’t discover that the zoo was free until late in the day, we got there an hour before it closed only to find the closest place to park was about a one mile (mostly uphill) walk to the zoo’s gates. But, we were determined to get there, especially because I wanted to catch a glimpse of my favorite animal, the polar bear. (Collin’s favorite animal, the squirrel, could be seen in our back yard, and Frank is only after our cats). A little huffing and puffing as I lugged my heavily pregnant body through the city summer heat would be worth the while.
When we finally reached the zoo entrance, it felt like surmounting a mountain summit. Fortunately, I’d remembered my stroller because the area seemed a little congested. We stepped right into the park, eased past a small crowd and found a spot of glass through which we gazed upon three prairie dogs who ducked into and out of their holes. As the drone of a thousand voices engulfed me, I kind of wished I could join them.
But just as Dorothy was determined to see the Wizard, I insisted we move forward to drink in the glorious sight of that species which is Ursus maritimus. The tram was usually located right next to the prairie dogs, but signage indicated that it had been moved behind said diggers, so we followed the directional arrows to the loading point.
As we moved closer to the tram, the crowd seemed to thicken. Collin wanted to get out, but I told him there were too many people and he needed to stay in the stroller. The wait for the tram was half an hour, and the zoo closed in forty-five minutes. Besides, there were elderly and disabled people who needed the tram more than we did. So we chose to walk.
The densely wooded path was six-to-eight feet wide and roped off to the right of the tram area. It was mostly downhill, but it was tight quarters. There were mere inches between us and those in front of us and behind us, who were also headed to the exhibits. There were also people to our left who were returning from the exhibits and presumably headed for the exits. No one looked happy.
Perhaps everyone’s apprehension was due to the claustrophobic feel of the place, even though we were outdoors. It may have been because of the heat or because it was late in the day. Or maybe it was because every third group of people had a stroller, and with all the sudden stops, there were some mild Achilles’ heel and ankle lacerations and contusions in the works. The line was long and slow. The quarters were tight. And we all just wanted to see our favorite exotic animals.
Fifteen minutes later, we emerged from the trees into the sunlight. And there on the right were the polar bears. Collin burst from the stroller. I didn’t even try to scold him. I just took his hand and we dashed up to the ramp towards the water tank where Magnet and Anoki, the Maryland Zoo’s polar bears would swim with the grace of their fellow Baltimore aqua-athlete, Michael Phelps. My mom and Frank followed as closely behind us as they could with my intrusive double stroller.
A crowd of fifteen had gathered around the water tank. They pointed at and took pictures with their cell phones of … a beach ball. There was no bear.
A larger crowd, double the size had pressed itself up against the glass of the enclosure further up the ramp. They shouted as they maneuvered their phones overhead so that they could capture a glimpse, a moment, a pixilated molecule of the animal I adored.
Collin and I squeezed in as close as my belly and innate need for personal space would allow. A flash of white fur hind legs and rump jutted out in our direction from the far fence line.
There. We’d seen it. A real polar bear – or the back of it, anyway. And at that, we departed, returning to the mass exodus in queue. In just thirty minutes, we’d be back to our car and headed to Sweet 27 for cupcakes that would make us forget our struggle.
So, how was my experience at the zoo like that of the narrow gate?
1. We received a free invitation to this place.
2. So did everyone else.
3. We showed up after a long and arduous journey – and still needed to wait.
4. We had to learn to coexist with the others who would be joining us.
5. It was worth the struggle.
Father Willie, our pastor, explained that the narrow gate doesn’t mean that heaven is a small, exclusive place reserved for saints. We all are invited. We all are sinners. We all can be forgiven. God invites all of us to join His kingdom. Getting there just might be a challenging journey. If we stay the course, with our eyes and hearts focused on our destination, we will find a way through the narrow gate.
September 03, 2013 02:09
By Robyn Barberry
I’m a firm believer in the importance of understanding geography. In an increasingly global world, having an understanding of the different places in the world and where they are located makes for a complete education. When we meet people from other countries, it’s nice to have an idea of where they are from. It’s also good to set goals for interstate and international travel. God made this big, beautiful world for us to explore.
Even though I teach English, I keep maps in my classroom so students can geographically track everything we read. Once, I asked a student to mark Maryland with a post-it note and he stuck it somewhere near Texas. Seeing as how geography is no longer taught in most public high schools, I feel students are being done a great disservice.
I want Collin and Frank to have an understanding of the world, so I’ve already started teaching them Geography. For Christmas, Santa brought Collin the Little Tikes iTikes Map.
It’s a little wider than a laptop with interchangeable maps of the solar system, dogs of the world, cats of the world, world music, U.S. monuments and landmarks, and U.S. dinosaurs. Facts about the different places pictured on each map are revealed using the included electronic pen. The map also interacts with a free app for the iPhone or iPad. (Unfortunately, my iPhone 5 does not connect to the map as earlier versions can). The app allows for animated video content for enrichment when the Apple device is guided over the map. Quizzes at different levels are available for each item on the map, as well.
Collin is a little young to reap some of the map’s benefits, but the unstructured discovery time he’s spent is beginning to pay off.
On Monday, while we were at Noodles and Company, Collin saw a picture of the Earth on a poster and said, “Look, Mommy! That’s our planet! That’s where we live!” When I ask him what country he lives in, he still says, “Afastrolia,” but a little more supervised time with the map will help him improve. (At least he can recognize the flag and name our town.)
I had a lower-tech version of a similar US map as a child, and I still picture that map and the associated facts whenever someone mentions a state. When I had to memorize every country in the world for a college geography class, and summoned a visual snapshot of the map we had hanging in our toy room. Some of the countries had changed over the years, and even since my college course, but being able to picture the places of the world has helped me to make many new friends and hold a greater appreciation for literature, film, news, and my own dreams of touring the world. I hope the iTikes Map will offer the same rewards for my boys.
August 13, 2013 02:17
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By Robyn Barberry